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Posts Tagged ‘Library

“A public library is the most democratic thing in the world”*…

 

Bates Hall, the reading room at the Boston Public Library, 2017

 

[Sociologist Eric] Klinenberg is interested in the ways that common spaces can repair our fractious and polarized civic life. And though he argues in his new book, Palaces for the People, that playgrounds, sporting clubs, diners, parks, farmer’s markets, and churches—anything, really, that puts people in close contact with one another—have the capacity to strengthen what Tocqueville called the cross-cutting ties that bind us to those who in many ways are different from us, he suggests that libraries may be the most effective. “Libraries are the kinds of places where ordinary people with different backgrounds, passions, and interests can take part in a living democratic culture,” he writes. Yet as Susan Orlean observes in her loving encomium to libraries everywhere, aptly titled The Library Book, “The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace.”

As Klinenberg points out:

“Infrastructure” is not a term conventionally used to describe the underpinnings of social life…[but] if states and societies do not recognize social infrastructure and how it works, they will fail to see a powerful way to promote civic engagement and social interaction, both within communities and across group lines.

To glimpse what he means, one need only dip into Frederick Wiseman’s epic and inspirational three-hour-and-seventeen-minute documentary Ex Libris, a picaresque tour of the grandest people’s palace of all: the New York Public Library system, a collection of ninety-two branches with seventeen million annual patrons (and millions more online). Wiseman trains his lens on the quotidian (people lining up to get into the main branch or poring over books), the obscure (a voice actor recording a book for the blind), and the singular (Khalil Muhammad discussing the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), and without saying so explicitly (the film is unnarrated), he shows the NYPL to be an exemplar of what a library is and what it can do. Here we see librarians helping students with math homework, hosting job fairs, running literacy and citizenship classes, teaching braille, and sponsoring lectures. We see people using computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and, of course, books. They are white, black, brown, Asian, young, homeless, not-so-young, deaf, hearing, blind; they are everyone, which is the point… 

Read this paean to that paragon of “Public Goods” in full: “In Praise of Public Libraries.”

* “A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough…People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination. If you read, you can learn to think for yourself.”         – Doris Lessing

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As we check it out, we might spare a thought for an author shelved in any good library: Aphra Behn; she died on this date in 1689.  A monarchist and a Tory, young Aphra was recruited to spy for King Charles II; she infiltrated Dutch and expatriate English cabals in Antwerp during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.  But on her return to London, George II turned out to be a stiff; despite her entreaties, the King never paid her for her services.  Penniless, Aphra turned to writing, working first as a scribe for the King’s Company (the leading acting company of the time), then as a dramatist in her own right (often using her spy code-name, Astrea, as a pen name).  She became one of the most prolific playwrights of the Restoration, one of the first people in England to earn a living writing– and the first woman to pay her way with her pen.  She was buried in Westminster Abbey, where the inscription on her tombstone reads, “Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be / Defence enough against Mortality.

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“When in doubt, go to the library”*…

 

libraries

 

Two great champions of reading for pleasure remind us that it really is an important thing to do – and that libraries create literate citizens: “Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell on why we need libraries – an essay in pictures.”

* J. K. Rowling

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As we browse in bliss, we might recall that it was on this date in 1779 that Sir Frederick Haldimand, Governor of Quebec, asked British dramatist Richard Cumberland to select books for the first subscription (public) library in Canada.

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The library of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which incorporated the collection of Haldimand’s library in the mid-19th century.

 

Written by LW

September 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Librarians are the secret masters of the world”*…

 

Interior view of the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos scientific library

If library work was among the most tedious [at Los Alamos], the award for the most unenviable job likely belonged to its head librarian: Charlotte Serber, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, statistician, and freelance journalist who at one point interviewed Frank Lloyd Wright for The Boston Globe.

In 1942, J. Robert Oppenheimer selected Serber to spearhead the project in part because of her lack of librarian experience. He wanted someone who would be willing to bend the rules of cataloguing.

Her appointment was a victory for the women on the Hill. Though women were integral to the success of the Manhattan Project—scientists like Leona Woods and Mary Lucy Miller played central roles in the creation of the bomb—none occupied leadership positions.

In this respect, Serber stood alone. As the head of the scientific library, she became the Manhattan Project’s de facto keeper of secrets, a position that soon saw her targeted for an FBI probe—and almost ended in her being fired from the project…

The remarkable true tale of the woman who dodged accusations of communism, and made the atomic bomb possible: “The Librarian Who Guarded the Manhattan Project’s Secrets.”

* Spider Robinson

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As we check it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1687 that Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy),  was published.  Often referred to as simply the Principia, the three-volume work outlines Newton’s laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics; Newton’s law of universal gravitation; and a derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which Kepler first obtained empirically).  This first edition was written in Latin, the universal language of scholarship at the time; an English edition was published in 1728.  It remains one of the most important works in the history of science.

Title page of the first edition

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Written by LW

July 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book”*…

 

For 20 years, Columbian rubbish-collector Jose Alberto Gutierrez has been holding on to the books he finds while on his rounds in Bogota.

After two decades his collection totals more than 20,000 books – many of them thrown away by the people of the Colombian capital, now given a new life in the huge library Jose has amassed.  The books take up several rooms in the Gutierrez family home, from where they’re lent out to neighbors through a free community library, which Jose runs with the help of his wife, Luz Mery Gutierrez, and their three children…

Check it out at: “This dustbin man built a huge public library from books other people had thrown away.”

* Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel

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As we pile ’em high, we might recall that it was on this date in 1916 that the first and only edition of the magazine Cabaret Voltaire was published, containing work by Hugo Ball, Kandinsky, Jean (Hans) Arp, Modigliani, and the first printing of the word “Dada.”  The (not so) periodical was named for the nightclub that Ball has started earlier in the year in Zurich with help from friends including Arp and Tristan Tzara.

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Written by LW

June 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We are the only species on the planet, so far as we know, to have invented a communal memory stored neither in our genes nor in our brains. The warehouse of this memory is called the library”*…

 

The Internet Archive has been saving copies of the web for almost as long as the web has been around. Brewster Kahle, the archive’s founder, studied artificial intelligence at mit in the 1980s. Later he helped found two technology companies — Wide Area Information Server, a system for text-searching databases on remote computers, which was bought by aol, and Alexa Internet, which helped catalog the web and was acquired by Amazon. Kahle launched the Internet Archive in 1996, in a San Francisco attic. Over the years, a few computers have blossomed into one of the largest digital libraries in the world, encompassing 279 billion web pages, 12 million books, and millions more copies of music, films, television shows, and software. (In the lobby, a new arcade machine lets visitors play 500 vintage games from the past 40 years.)…

On the day after the election, Kahle published a blog post addressed to the Internet Archive’s supporters. “I am a bit shell-shocked — I did not think the election would go the way it did,” he wrote. “As we take the next weeks to have this sink in, I believe we will come to find we will have new responsibilities, increased roles to play, in keeping the world an open and free environment.”

The archive had already started backing up copies of every government website that existed during the Obama administration — a practice they began at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. And this January, they released a searchable database containing 520 hours of Trump’s televised speeches, interviews, and news broadcasts.

Still, they were not prepared for the spike in public attention after Trump’s election. A few days after the inauguration, Reuters reported that White House officials had ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to take down its climate change page. People sent messages to the archive, asking if they planned to preserve the information. Similar questions came when the Department of Agriculture abruptly removed thousands of documents from its website, including animal welfare inspection records for some 9,000 labs, zoos, and breeders across the country. “We have all that,” Graham said. Lately the archive has started receiving phone calls from people claiming to have inside information about government websites under threat of getting scrubbed…

More at “Save all- Archiving the Internet in the Trump Era.”

And for an even richer look (and listen) to the Internet Archive and its band of bad-ass librarians (including a fascinating interview with Brewster Kahle), check out “Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive.”

Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.

– Thomas Jefferson

* Carl Sagan

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As we prioritize preservation and access, we might spare a thought for Judith Fingeret Krug; she died on this date in 2009.  An American librarian, proponent of freedom of speech , and critic of censorship, Krug became Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association in 1967. In 1969, she joined the Freedom to Read Foundation as its Executive Director. Krug co-founded Banned Books Week (and here) in 1982.  The eighth edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, published in 2010 by the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, was dedicated to Krug’s memory.

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“The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance”*…

 

Interference Archive was founded in 2011 by Kevin Caplicki, Molly Fair, Dara Greenwald, and Josh MacPhee. Our initial collection grew out of the personal accumulation of Dara and Josh… through their involvement in social movements, DIY and punk, and political art projects over the past 25 years…

The mission of Interference Archive is to explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in an open stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including as exhibitions, workshops, talks, and screenings, all of which encourage critical and creative engagement with the rich history of social movements…

The archive contains many kinds of objects that are created as part of social movements by the participants themselves: posters, flyers, publications, photographs, books, T-shirts and buttons, moving images, audio recordings, and other materials.

Through our programming, we use this cultural ephemera to animate histories of people mobilizing for social transformation.  We consider the use of our collection to be a way of preserving and honoring histories and material culture that is often marginalized in mainstream institutions…

Visit the Archive online, and if you’re in the New York area, visit their current exhibit.

[TotH to the always-inspirational Ganzeer]

* Thomas Paine

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As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that the U.S. Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The House passed the Amendment January 31, 1865, and it was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865.  On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption.

Thomas Nast’s engraving, “Emancipation,” 1865

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Written by LW

April 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train”*…

 

As part of its ongoing overhaul, the New York Public Library has installed a very clever conveyer train that moves research materials from the expanded Milstein Stacks underneath Bryant Park to the main Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Each adorably bright red car is able to travel either horizontally or vertically using conveyor rails embedded throughout the library, efficiently delivering its contents directly to library staff…

More on the system, which begins operating this week, at Laughing Squid’s “An Adorable Red Train That Delivers Books From Storage to the Main Branch of the NY Public Library” (and at Boing Boing, which is the source of the photo above).

* Charles Barkley

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As we check it out, we might send finely-drawn birthday greetings to Giovanni Battista (also Giambattista) Piranesi; he was born on this date in 1720.  An Italian artist, he is best known for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric “prisons” (Le Carceri d’Invenzione).  The latter, with their Kafkaesque, Escher-like distortions, influenced Romanticism & Surrealism.

Carceri Plate VII – “The Drawbridge”

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

October 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

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