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Posts Tagged ‘public libraries

“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

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Written by LW

October 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“What is more important in a library than anything else – than everything else – is the fact that it exists”*…

 

Library built by ex-slaves, Allensworth, Calif.

Since 1994, photographer Robert Dawson has photographed hundreds of the over 17,000 public libraries in this country.

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.

The first Carnegie library: the Braddock Carnegie Library, Braddock, Penn. “The once glorious but now faded interior included a gym, a theater, and a swimming pool, as well as book collections and reading rooms.”

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

* Archibald MacLeish

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As we check it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1895 that the two then-largest libraries in New York City, the Astor and Lenox libraries, agreed to combine with the Tilden Trust (a bequest left by a former Governor to fund a public library) to form a new entity that would be known as The New York Public Library. Sixteen year later– on this date in 1911– President William Howard Taft presided over the dedication of the Library’s new home, the beaux-arts masterpiece on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street– at the time the largest marble structure ever erected in the U.S.  Originally the Library’s only location, it became the “main branch” as a bequest from Andrew Carnegie funded a system of branch locations across the city built out over the next few decades.

The Library building, near completion. (Note that the signature lion statues have not yet been placed at the steps.)

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Written by LW

May 23, 2014 at 1:01 am

Convenience food for the soul…

 

There are more public libraries (about 17,000) in America than outposts of the burger giant McDonalds (about 14,000) or than the coffee titan Starbucks (about 11,000 coffee shops nationally).

“There’s always that joke that there’s a Starbucks on every corner,” says Justin Grimes, a statistician with the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington. “But when you really think about it, there’s a public library wherever you go, whether it’s in New York City or some place in rural Montana. Very few communities are not touched by a public library.”

In fact, libraries serve 96.4 percent of the U.S. population, a reach any fast-food franchise can only dream of…

To illustrate his point, Grimes built a click-and-zoomable map this past weekend during the National Day of Civic Hacking, using the agency’s database of public libraries. Each dot on the map above refers to an individual branch library (and a few bookmobiles), out of a total of 9,000 public library systems.  His inspiration was his organization’s on-going project to map all 35,000 museums in the U.S.

Read the whole story at “Every Library and Museum in America, Mapped.”

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As we renew our cards, we might check out Catherine Cookson; she was born on this date in 1906.  The illegitimate daughter of an alcoholic, Cookson was raised in relative hardship in Northeastern England… a background on which she drew in over 100 books, which have sold more than 123 million copies.  She was the most borrowed author from public libraries in the UK for 17 years; in 1997, nine of her novels were among the “ten most borrowed” books.

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Written by LW

June 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

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