(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Libraries

“Wherever I found a library, I immediately felt at home”*…

 

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The nation’s smallest library (now closed), Hartland Four Corners, Vt., 1994. “At the time I made this photograph, its entire collection of 70 boxes of books had been sold to a local used-book dealer for $125.”

 

In celebration of National Library Week, (Roughly) Daily is revisiting photographer Robert Dawson

There are over 17,000 public libraries in this country. Since I began the project in 1994, I have photographed hundreds of libraries in 48 states. From Alaska to Florida, New England to the West Coast, the photographs reveal a vibrant, essential, yet threatened system.

A public library can mean different things to different people. For me, the library offers our best example of the public commons. For many, the library upholds the 19th-century belief that the future of democracy is contingent upon an educated citizenry. For others, the library simply means free access to the Internet, or a warm place to take shelter, a chance for an education, or the endless possibilities that jump to life in your imagination the moment you open the cover of a book…

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Library, Death Valley National Park, Calif., 2009. “This remote library in a trailer is the only library for hundreds of miles.”

See more at American Library, peruse Dawson’s The Public Library: A Photographic Essay, and visit his site.

And while physical libraries are closed for the time being, don’t forget “7 digital libraries you can visit from your couch“– and the mother of all online library resources, the Internet Archive.

* Charles Simic

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As we check it out, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Immanuel Kant; he was born on this date in 1724.  One of the central figures of modern philosophy, Kant is remembered primarily for his efforts to unite reason with experience (e.g., Critique of Pure Reason [Kritik der reinen Vernunft], 1781), and for his work on ethics (e.g., Metaphysics of Morals [Die Metaphysik der Sitten], 1797) and aesthetics (e.g., Critique of Judgment [Kritik der Urteilskraft], 1790).  But he made important contributions to mathematics and astronomy as well; for example: Kant’s argument that mathematical truths are a form of synthetic a priori knowledge was cited by Einstein as an important early influence on his work.  And his description of the Milky Way as a lens-shaped collection of stars that represented only one of many “island universes,” was later shown to be accurate by Herschel.

There is … only a single categorical imperative and it is this: Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

– Chapter 11, Metaphysics of Morals

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Written by LW

April 22, 2020 at 1:01 am

“A great library contains the diary of the human race”*…

 

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In 48 BCE, embroiled in a campaign against his rival Pompey, Julius Caesar laid siege to the Egyptian city of Alexandria…

The Roman ruler laid siege to the city and decided there was only one way to break the stalemate and maintain military control of the harbor — he lit his docked fleet on fire.

The ensuing blaze quickly spread through the city as fires were wont to do in the days of wooden ships and nonexistent fire departments. The flames soon reached the beloved Library of Alexandria. It is believed that nearly 10 percent of the building went up in flames that day, although the specifics of what was burned and the extent of the damage are unknown.

It was the first time the library — a grand church of universal knowledge and scholarship the likes of which the world had never seen — was attacked. It wouldn’t be the last… [source]

But what if things had unfolded differently?

Julius Caesar’s Egyptian excursion almost ended in catastrophe. Battles broke out in Alexandria, and from the burning ships, the flames moved to the structure of the great, famous library. Already a good 200 years old, it contained the entirety of ancient knowledge and culture. It’s frightening just to think what dark ages would have fallen on the Earth if we had lost this invaluable collection of books.

We owe the rescue of this treasure to Julius Caesar himself. It was he, seeing that the building with tens of thousands of books was threatened, who ordered the Roman soldiers to halt their attack, and threw himself into the battle against the flames. While putting out the fire he was severely burned, losing his left thumb. It was then that he said the famous words: “When books are burning, it’s time to lay down the sword.” Ever since that moment, the divine Julius has been sculpted and painted without his left thumb. And the Roman salute – the left hand raised, with the thumb hidden – gained popularity as a sign of people who are educated and hungry for wisdom….

In this engaging alternative history, the literature preserved in the library, notably Greek writings about steam power, are enough to kick-start an industrial revolution in ancient Rome.  Roman steamships cross the Atlantic and discover America.  The great historic event of 1492 was the first Moon landing.  Contemplate it in its entirety: “Empire of the Alexandrinas: An alternative literary history.”  [Via The Browser]

For more on the actual history of Alexandria’s amazing library, see “The Library of Alexandria Is Long-Gone – And All Around Us.”

* George Mercer Dawson

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As we explore the road not taken, we might recall that it was on this date in 1520 that Martin Luther burned his copy of the papal bull Exsurge Domine outside Wittenberg’s Elster Gate.  The Bull had been published the prior June, in response to Luther’s teachings (which, of course, opposed the views of the Church).  It censured forty one propositions extracted from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses and subsequent writings, and threatened him with excommunication unless he recanted.  Luther refused and responded instead by composing polemical tracts lashing out at the papacy– and by publicly torching a copy of the bull.  As a result, Luther was indeed excommunicated in 1521.

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Title page of the first printed edition of Exsurge Domine

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“Books are a uniquely portable magic”*…

 

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A “Pack Horse Librarian” returning for a new supply of books

 

The Pack Horse Library initiative, which sent librarians deep into Appalachia, was one of the New Deal’s most unique plans. The project, as implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), distributed reading material to the people who lived in the craggy, 10,000-square-mile portion of eastern Kentucky. The state already trailed its neighbors in electricity and highways. And during the Depression, food, education and economic opportunity were even scarcer for Appalachians.

They also lacked books: In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read. Residents wanted to learn, notes historian Donald C. Boyd. Coal and railroads, poised to industrialize eastern Kentucky, loomed large in the minds of many Appalachians who were ready to take part in the hoped prosperity that would bring. “Workers viewed the sudden economic changes as a threat to their survival and literacy as a means of escape from a vicious economic trap,” writes Boyd.

This presented a challenge: In 1935, Kentucky only circulated one book per capita compared to the American Library Association standard of five to ten, writes historian Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer,. It was “a distressing picture of library conditions and needs in Kentucky,” wrote Lena Nofcier, who chaired library services for the Kentucky Congress of Parents and Teachers at the time…

Unlike many New Deal projects, the packhorse plan required help from locals. “Libraries” were housed any in facility that would step up, from churches to post offices. Librarians manned these outposts, giving books to carriers who then climbed aboard their mules or horses, panniers loaded with books, and headed into the hills. They took their job as seriously as mail carriers and crossed streams in wintry conditions, feet frozen in the stirrups.

Carriers rode out at least twice a month, with each route covering 100 to 120 miles a week…

A New Deal program brought books to Kentuckians living in the most remote areas: “Horse-Riding Librarians Were the Great Depression’s Bookmobiles.”

* Stephen King, On Writing

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As we check it out, we might send shocking birthday greetings to the enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud; he was born on this date in 1854.  In his adolescence and early adulthood (he wrote his final work when he was 21), and with his buddy, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud was a leader of the Decadent Movement; fueled by absinthe and hashish, he succeeded in shocking a literary establishment that was nonetheless awed by his visionary verse, which influenced modern literature and arts, inspired a number of important musicians, and prefigured Surrealism.

All known literature is written in the language of common sense—except Rimbaud’s   – Paul Valéry

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“A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation”*…

 

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The librarian greeted me, asked for my name, and scanned a shelf of books along the wall. She pulled one from the collection, and placed it on the counter—but left her hand on the book. She smiled. “Don’t remove this white band,” she said. “Don’t rip it. Don’t touch it. It will cause problems.” I nervously smiled in return. There is nothing more frightening than a confident librarian.

The white band on the book, as fellow devotees of the glorious InterLibrary Loan system know, contains all of the information to facilitate return of the item to the lending library. Removed bands slow down the system. And the last thing that I would ever want to do is hurt, in any way, a system that has been so good to me…

A brief history (and celebration) of the apex of human civilization: “InterLibrary Loan Will Change Your Life.

* Henry Miller, The Books in My Life

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As we disobey Polonius, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that a jealous Robert Frost heckled Archibald MacLeish at a reading of the latter’s poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vt.  Bill Peschel recounts:

The gathering was held at Treman Cottage, and Frost was among the attendees, sitting in the back. It was a time when Hitler was on the ascendant, and the United States was divided between warning against the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy, and those who didn’t want to intervene in another European war. MacLeish was anti-Fascist, and Frost despised MacLeish’s support of Roosevelt.

That night, as MacLeish read from his poetry, Frost began heckling him. “Archie’s poems all have the sametune,” he said in a whisper that could be heard. When MacLeish read the single-sentence poem, “You, Andrew Marvell,” smoke could be smelled. Frost had accidentally, on purpose, set fire to some papers and was beating them out and waving away the smoke.

Most people accepted the story of the accident, and the reading eventually concluded. MacLeish was still the center of attention, and he was asked to read from one of his plays. But Frost was not done with him. As [Wallace] Stegner wrote:

“His comments from the floor, at first friendly and wisecracking, became steadily harsher and more barbed. He interrupted, he commented, he took exception. What began as the ordinary give and take of literary conversation turned into a clear intention of frustrating and humiliating Archie MacLeish, and the situation became increasingly painful to those who comprehended it”. Even Bernard DeVoto, a scholar and friend of Frost, had enough, calling out, “For God’s sake, Robert, let him read!” Frost ignored him, but shortly thereafter, on some pretext, “said something savage,” and left.

Afterwards, Frost’s defenders tried to kick sand over the events. One friend wrote only of “unfounded allusions” and “behavior not proven by fact.” There were people there who didn’t even notice what Stegner saw that night. But baiting MacLeish had caused a permanent rift between DeVoto and Frost. At the end of the conference, when they met and shook hands, DeVoto told him, “You’re a good poet, Robert, but you’re a bad man.”

 

“I rather think that archives exist to keep things safe – but not secret”*…

 

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For hundreds of years, families in Mauritania have been maintaining libraries of old Arabo-Berber books.  Originally on the route of pilgrims traveling to Mecca, the libraries are now at risk from the spreading Sahara and ever dwindling numbers of visitors, in part because of security restrictions due to terrorism.  One center of this preservation is the vanishing city of Chinguetti.

Most of Chinguetti consists of abandoned houses which are being swallowed up by the ever encroaching dunes of the Sahara. But this was once a prosperous city of 20,000 people, and a medieval center for religious and legal scholars; it was known as “The City of Libraries.”

Seen as a legacy from their ancestors, the families feel it’s an honor for them to care for these books:

About 600km north-east of the capital, in Chinguetti, once a centre of Islamic learning, the Habott family owns one of the finest private libraries, with 1,400 books covering a dozen subjects such as the Qur’an and the Hadith (the words of the Prophet), astronomy, mathematics, geometry, law and grammar. The oldest tome, written on Chinese paper, dates from the 11th century…

Precious Arabic manuscripts from western Africa are under threat as Mauritania’s desert libraries vanish.  Learn more– and marvel at the photos that you’ll find at “Mauritania’s hidden manuscripts” (source of the direct quote above) and “Desert libraries of Chinguetti” (general source).  See also @incunabula and the photos at Messy Nessy.

* Kevin Young

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As we treasure treasures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1846 that President James K. Polk signed the legislation that established the Smithsonian Institution as a “trust instrumentality” of the United States, to be administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian.

Based on the founding donation of British scientist James Smithson, and originally called as the “United States National Museum,” it now houses over 150 million items in 19 museums, nine research centers, and a zoo, several of which are historical and architectural landmarks.  “The Nation’s Attic,” as it is fondly known, hosts over 30 million visitors a year.

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The “Castle” (1847), the Institution’s first building, which remains its headquarters

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Written by LW

August 10, 2019 at 1:01 am

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