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Posts Tagged ‘Libraries

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”*…

 

special collections

The Special Collections Room, University of Pittsburgh Library [source]

I travel a lot for work, and sometimes I travel to cities where I don’t know a lot of people and there’s not a lot of tourist stuff I want to do.

When I’m traveling and am at a loss for how to spend my time, I look up as many libraries I can in the area I’ll be traveling to, and I check to see if they have special collections. Then I make an appointment with the library to visit those special collections, and usually it means I get to spend a day in a quiet, climate-controlled room with cool old documents. It’s like a museum but with no people, and where you have to do all the work, which is honestly my idea of a perfect vacation.

I will sometimes mention this to people and they respond saying “Okay that sounds great but I wouldn’t know where to even start.” So this post outlines the nuts and bolts of setting up this kind of thing for yourself.

Broadly, the steps go:

  • find some libraries
  • check out their special collections on their website
  • use a finding aid or whatever other information is there to figure out what you’d like to see
  • read the rules of the special collection
  • make an appointment and submit a request

Just in time for vacation planning, Darius Kazemi explains “How to be a library archive tourist.”

* Ray Bradbury

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As we unearth gems, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that cartoonist John Randolph (J.R.) Bray first exhibited his animated film, “The Artist’s Dream” (later reititled “The Dachshund and the Sausage” for reasons that will be obvious).  Bray was not the first animator; indeed, he was following purposefully in the steps of fellow cartoonist Windsor McCay, who had added animations of “Little Nemo” and “How a Mosquito Operates” to his stage presentations.  But Bray earned a place in the history of the art by being among the first– arguably the first– animator to organize his work and his studio according to the principles of industrial production (that’s to say, with division of labor)– an approach that has survived to this day.

 

Bray source

 

“It is likely that libraries will carry on and survive, as long as we persist in lending words to the world that surrounds us, and storing them for future readers”*…

 

library

 

Many visions of the future lie buried in the past. One such future was outlined by the American librarian Charles Ammi Cutter in his essay “The Buffalo Public Library in 1983”, written a century before in 1883.

Cutter’s fantasy, at times dry and descriptive, is also wonderfully precise:

The [library], when complete, was to consist of two parts, the first a central store, 150 feet square, a compact mass of shelves and passageways, lighted from the ends, but neither from sides nor top; the second an outer rim of rooms 20 feet wide, lighted from the four streets. In front and rear the rim was to contain special libraries, reading-rooms, and work-rooms; on the sides, the art-galleries. The central portion was a gridiron of stacks, running from front to rear, each stack 2 feet wide, and separated from its neighbor by a passage of 3 feet. Horizontally, the stack was divided by floors into 8 stories, each 8 feet high, giving a little over 7 feet of shelf-room, the highest shelf being so low that no book was beyond the reach of the hand. Each reading-room, 16 feet high, corresponded to two stories of the stack, from which it was separated in winter by glass doors.

The imagined structure allows for a vast accumulation of books:

We have now room for over 500,000 volumes in connection with each of the four reading-rooms, or 4,000,000 for the whole building when completed.

If his vision for Buffalo Public Library might be considered fairly modest from a technological point of view, when casting his net a little wider to consider a future National Library, one which “can afford any luxury”, things get a little more inventive.

[T]hey have an arrangement that brings your book from the shelf to your desk. You have only to touch the keys that correspond to the letters of the book-mark, adding the number of your desk, and the book is taken off the shelf by a pair of nippers and laid in a little car, which immediately finds its way to you. The whole thing is automatic and very ingenious…

But for Buffalo book delivery is a cheaper, simpler, and perhaps less noisy, affair.

…for my part I much prefer our pages with their smart uniforms and noiseless steps. They wear slippers, the passages are all covered with a noiseless and dustless covering, they go the length of the hall in a passage-way screened off from the desk-room so that they are seen only when they leave the stack to cross the hall towards any desk. As that is only 20 feet wide, the interruption to study is nothing.

Cutter’s fantasy might appear fairly mundane, born out of the fairly (stereo)typical neuroses of a librarian: in the prevention of all noise (through the wearing of slippers), the halting of the spread of illness (through good ventilation), and the disorder of the collection (through technological innovations)…

Far from a wild utopian dream, today Cutter’s library of the future appears basic: there will be books and there will be clean air and there will be good lighting. One wonders what Cutter might make of the library today, in which the most basic dream remains perhaps the most radical: for them to remain in our lives, free and open, clean and bright.

More at the original, in Public Domain Review: “The Library of the Future: A Vision of 1983 from 1883.”  Read Cutter’s essay in its original at the Internet Archive.

Pair with “Libraries of the future are going to change in some unexpected ways,” in which IFTF Research Director (and Boing Boing co-founder) David Pescovitz describes a very different future from Cutter’s, and from which the image above was sourced.

* Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night

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As we browse in bliss, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 that the most famous early computer– the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer)– was dedicated.  The first general-purpose computer (Turing-complete, digital, and capable of being programmed and re-programmed to solve different problems), ENIAC was begun in 1943, as part of the U.S’s war effort (as a classified military project known as “Project PX”); it was conceived and designed by John Mauchly and Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania, where it was built.  The finished machine, composed of 17,468 electronic vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints, weighed more than 27 tons and occupied a 30 x 50 foot room– in its time the largest single electronic apparatus in the world.  ENIAC’s basic clock speed was 100,000 cycles per second. Today’s home computers have clock speeds of 1,000,000,000 cycles per second.

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Written by LW

February 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“When I got my library card, that’s when my life began”*…

 

Orlean-Libraries

I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way. My family lived in the suburbs of Cleveland, about a mile from the brick-faced Bertram Woods Branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library system. Throughout my childhood, starting when I was very young, my mother drove me there a couple of times a week. We walked in together, but, as soon as we passed through the door, we split up, each heading to our favorite section. The library might have been the first place that I was ever given independence. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to go off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I reunited at the checkout counter with our finds. Together, we waited as the librarian pulled out each date card and, with a loud chunk-chunk, stamped a crooked due date on it, below a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times.

Our visits were never long enough for me—the library was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the shelves, scanning the spines of the books until something happened to catch my eye. Those trips were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I desired and what she was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I wanted. On the way home, I loved having the books stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read. We talked about the order in which we were going to read them, a solemn conversation in which we planned how we would pace ourselves through this charmed, evanescent period of grace until the books were due. We both thought that all the librarians at the Bertram Woods branch were beautiful. For a few minutes, we discussed their beauty. My mother then always mentioned that, if she could have chosen any profession, she would have chosen to be a librarian, and the car would grow silent for a moment as we both considered what an amazing thing that would have been…

In an excerpt from her newest, The Library Book, the superb Susan Orlean on the crucial treasures of the public library:  “Growing up in the library.”

* Rita Mae Brown

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As we check it out, we might send learned birthday greetings to Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, better known simply as Erasmus; he was born on this date in 1466 (though some sources place his birth two days later).  A Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, translator, and theologian, probably best remembered for his book In Praise of Folly, he was the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance, the first editor of the New Testament (“Do unto others…”), and an important figure in patristics and classical literature.  Among fellow scholars and philosophers he was– and is– known as the “Prince of the Humanists.”

Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1523) by Hans Holbein the Younger

source

 

Written by LW

October 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often”*…

 

bodleian

Interior of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, by David Loggan, 1675. Rijksmuseum.

 

In the nineteenth century some librarians became preoccupied with the morality or lack thereof displayed in some of their texts. Consequently a number of libraries created special shelf marks or locations for restricted books to ensure that only readers with a proper academic purpose might access them…

Take a tour of the restricted collections in remarkable libraries: “Do Not Read.”

* Mae West

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As we cover our eyes, we might consider censorship’s close cousin, misinformation: it was on this date in 1964 that Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  A response to a reported attack by the North Vietnamese Navy on the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Resolution gave President Lyndon B. Johnson authorization, without a formal declaration of war by Congress, for the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia– a right that Johnson exercised vigorously.

In 1967, A senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation determined that the incident had not unfolded as earlier reported, and repealed the Resolution.  An NSA study of the incident, declassified in 2005, put it bluntly: “It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night.”

275px-Tonkin_Gulf_Resolution source

 

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library”*…

 

In the ninth century, Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Tunisia’s Kairouan, arrived in Fez and began laying the groundwork for a complex that would include the Qarawiyyin library, the oldest in the world, the Qarawiyyin Mosque, and Qarawiyyin University, the oldest higher education institution in the world – with alumni including the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, the great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, and the Andalusian diplomat Leo Africanus…

Now, after years of restoration, the library is finally set to reopen – with strict security and a new underground canal system to protect its most prized manuscripts.

The library’s restoration comes at a time when extremists are rampaging the region’s heritage. Across Syria and Iraq, the militants of the Islamic State have carried out cultural atrocities that include ransacking the great library of Mosul, burning thousands of manuscripts, bulldozing ancient Assyrian cities like Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq, blowing up the Temple of Bel in Palmyra and sacking the oasis city’s museum, in addition to destroying tombs and mausoleums of Shia and Christian saints…

“The people who work here jealously guard the books,” says one of the caretakers. “You can hurt us, but you cannot hurt the books.”…

Read the whole story at “World’s oldest library reopens in Fez.”

* Albert Einstein

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As we browse in bliss, we might spare a thought for S. R. Ranganathan; he died on this date in 1972.  A mathematician and librarian, he is best remembered for his five laws of library science and the development of the first major faceted classification system, the colon classification (in which books are classified by facets rather than in a hierarchical taxonomy). He is considered to be the father of library science, documentation, and information science in India and is widely known throughout the rest of the world for his fundamental thinking in the fields. His birthday is observed every year as the National Library Day in India.

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“I intend to put up with nothing that I can put down”*…

 

Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner, two Michigan public librarians, have struggled for years to prune their collections.

As The New Yorker notes, librarians call it “weeding,” and the choice of words is important: a library that “hemorrhages” books loses its lifeblood; a librarian who “weeds” is helping the collection thrive. The key question, for librarians who prefer to avoid scandal, is which books are weeds…

Seven years ago, we visited the blog on which they memorialize their choices.  Now Kelly and Hibner have written a book, Making a Collection Count: A Holistic Approach to Library Collection Management, which proposes best practices for analyzing library data and adapting to space constraints.

Learn their lessons at “Weeding the Worst Library Books.”

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we dither over deacquisition, we might recall that it was on this date that “the brave engineer” Casey Jones died in a train wreck in Vaughan, Mississippi, while trying to make up time on the Cannonball Express.  He was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train on a foggy, rainy night.  His dramatic attempt to stop his train and save lives made him a hero; he was immortalized in a popular ballad sung by his friend Wallace Saunders, an African-American engine wiper for his line, the Illinois Central, and later recorded, among others, Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger, Furry Lewis, Johnny Cash, and played live by the The Grateful Dead (hear it on Spotify here).

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Written by LW

April 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves”*…

 

From Library planning, bookstacks and shelving, with contributions from the architects’ and librarians’ points of view, Snead & Co. Iron Works, c. 1915.

Before the early 20th century, public libraries typically used wooden bookcases with fixed shelves to house their volumes. In the 1910s, new public literacy initiatives like Andrew Carnegie’s library-building projects, as well as institutional expansions at the Library of Congress and many universities, drove the need for a different kind of library shelf. The new wave of libraries—bigger and more comprehensive than their predecessors—needed bookshelves that could accommodate their rapidly growing collections of books. The New York Public Library, for example, installed 75 miles of new bookshelves in 1910 in preparation of its grand opening the next year. And the shelves from earlier decades simply weren’t going to cut it.

So where were these new libraries going to get bookshelves that were up to the challenge?  Snead & Company, of Louisville, Kentucky, was a cast-iron works business that manufactured everything from window frames to tea kettles to girders to spittoons. In the 1890s, the company took its expertise in metal work and turned its attention to the design of bookshelves, when it became apparent that metal shelves offered a unique solution to the turn-of-the century’s bookshelf crisis. From 1890–1950, Snead & Company designed, patented, manufactured, and installed an unprecedented measure of shelves, generating hundreds of miles of new shelf space.

Snead shelves were multi-tiered, self-supporting bookstacks that, simply put, allowed more books to be packed onto more shelves. The bookshelves were architectural as well as aesthetic. Snead bookstacks were characterized by narrow aisles with very closely spaced shelves. The stacks rested on marble, glass, or slate slabs that were robust enough to support the massive weight of the shelves and the books they housed. The bookshelves had a “z” notch that would allow each shelf to be moved up and down to best deal with the height of the books being stored there. Early Snead bookstacks were built out of exposed steel or cast-iron columns that served as structural reinforcements for the building.

Snead & Company dominated the bookshelf industry for two generations. The company’s influence on the American bookscape diminished in the 1950s—due, in no small part, to the changing nature of library design, which de-emphasized large public institutions in favor of smaller library buildings. But Snead & Company’s behemoth bookshelves are still housing books at countless older libraries across the country, from the Library of Congress to University of Michigan…

* Anna Quindlen

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As we agree with Anthony Powell that “Books Do Furnish a Room,” we might send soaring birthday greetings to Mary Violet Leontyne Price; she was born on this date in 1927 (though yesterday’s date in given by some sources).  As a child in Laurel, Mississippi, Price played the piano and sang in her church’s choir through high school, then headed to Wilberforce College (in Ohio), where she began training to b a music teacher. Her singing talent got her an audition at Julliard; Paul Robeson performed a benefit to her her with the tuition.  She rose to international acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s, one of the first African Americans to become a leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera.  Among her many honors are the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), the Spingarn Medal (1965), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the National Medal of Arts (1985), numerous honorary degrees, and 19 Grammy Awards (13 for operatic or song recitals, five for full operas, and a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989– more than any other classical singer).  In October 2008, she was one of the recipients of the first Opera Honors given by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Written by LW

February 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

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