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Posts Tagged ‘public 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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“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

Check it out…

 

Public libraries are repositories of books, of course; and of late, a source of e-book, CD, and DVD loans.  But lest we think that that our options are limited to intellectual property, we can also take out fishing poles, puppets, state park passes, even seeds for our gardens…   Check out a representative list of items on offer at “Weird Public Library Stuff.”

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As we renew our cards, we might spare a thought for Francis Lieber.  A  jurist, gymnast and political philosopher, he edited an Encyclopaedia Americana and authored the “Lieber Code” during the American Civil War (AKA the Code for the Government of Armies in the Field (1863), which laid the foundation for conventions governing the conduct of troops during wartime).

Lieber, who believed that training the body was as important as training the mind, fell in with Charles Follen, who opened the first gymnasium in the U.S. in 1826.  Then, on this date the following year, Leiber followed suit, opening the first public pool and swimming school in the U.S.  It was such a phenomenon that then President John Quincy Adams visited and took a dip.

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Birdbrains…

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Readers will recall “The Monty Hall Problem”:

Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

As explained in “Riddle Me This…,” the Bayesian peculiarities of the answer are not always intuitively obvious.  Indeed, as Discover reports,

Over the years, the problem has ensnared countless people, including professional mathematicians.  But not, it seems, pigeons.  Walter Hebranson and Julia Schroder showed that, after some training, the humble pigeon can learn the best tactic for the Monty Hall Problem, switching from their initial choice almost every time.  Amazingly, humans who get similar extensive practice never develop the optimal strategies that the pigeons pick up.

The original paper “Are birds smarter than mathematicians? Pigeons (Columba livia) perform optimally on a version of the Monty Hall Dilemma” from the Journal of Comparative Psychology is here… but the Discover article is a good– and for the humans among us, chastening– summary.

As we retreat to our fingers for counting, we might recall that it was on this date in 1833 that the first tax-supported public library was founded, in Peterborough, NH.  The original collection consisted of about 100 books and was kept in Smith & Thompson’s General Store, which also housed the Post Office.

Smith & Thompson’s (on left) in 1870

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