From The Literary Hub:
Libraries function in myriad ways. They’re public spaces, information repositories, and places you can go to break the copy machine by stuffing them full of broken crayons. They’re also living organisms—a body that is constantly morphing and shifting, aligning itself with whatever the community needs. A library is the materials it houses, but it’s also the people who use it.
Susan Orlean writes about the library body extensively in her upcoming book, The Library Book. Her work examines how libraries function—including deft research of essential library history and an investigation of the massive fire that incinerated over 400,000 at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986—but it’s also a look at how loss and trauma can lead to necessary growth. The book is startling and gorgeous. As a librarian, I find it to be an essential text on the past, present, and future of libraries.
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Kristen Arnett: You speak a lot about libraries as community spaces. You talk about the ever-present noise; how odd it is when you’re finally in the building before opening and it’s actually quiet for once. Libraries are generally bustling! Was this surprising to you? Did you find yourself preferring the noise over the quiet?
Susan Orlean: There’s such a stereotypical image of a library as being a hushed place with stern librarians keeping everyone quiet, so it was a delight to realize that libraries are lively, bubbling with activity and even conversation. I found the noise really pleasant—it’s the noise of people engaged in what they’re doing, which delighted me.
KA: I know we both prolifically use Twitter—have you noticed a difference in how libraries are keeping up with their communities via social media platforms? Have you had any libraries approach you this way regarding your book?
SO: Social media has been a great boon for libraries—it allows them to stay connected to their communities and highlight their programming. I’ve had a lot of libraries say hello to me on Twitter since I began tweeting about the book, and I love it. I also love how being active on social media makes libraries feel like part of the here-and-now and not the fusty old institutions some people might imagine them to be.
. . . .
KA: Since you don’t work in libraries, did you come up against any push back from librarians or library staff about writing this book? Were there any issues with providing information for your book regarding privacy rights of patrons?
SO: The librarians I encountered were all helpful and patient and, I think, excited that someone was looking at their profession with real interest. There were details about patrons that they couldn’t share, but it never became an impediment to my reporting. I loved writing about librarians; they remember everything and they’re so organized that they could find anything they wanted to share with me!
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KA: When I was in undergrad, I had a professor who told me they didn’t use library books because they didn’t like the idea of someone else having that book before them. You write a lot about the appeal of new books—that idea of owning something personal and important, the particular smell, the feel and sound of cracking a fresh spine. What would you say is the allure of circulating materials? Is there a different kind of love affair to be had with a book that a community owns versus a book that a single person owns?
SO: There is something about sharing that makes a library book different; maybe it’s just our ability to imagine who else has held the book and experienced reading it before us, and who might after us. It’s like being part of a daisy chain of narrative. There is also something heartening about being part of a community that shares—the way being in a public park has a different feeling than being in a private backyard. It feels good to know we can cooperate with one another peacefully.
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub
PG thinks he may have experienced the appeal of new books when he was young. However, the cost of buying books during college and law school dimmed that appeal and it has never brightened since.
A used book was a much better experience. Obviously, it didn’t cost nearly as much as a new book, but there was sometimes the added bonus of someone smart being the original owner and underlining the important parts.
When he first was looking at a used book that had been underlined, PG sub-consciously analyzed the academic skill of the prior owner to determine how much he could count on the underlining to skim past the dull parts while still getting the gist of the topic necessary for the final exam. If the bookstore had more than one used book for a course, PG sometimes compared the underlines of the books to select the most valuable one for acquisition.
When he went to law school, he usually encountered a somewhat different situation that reflected the developing business philosophy of academic publishers. Legal publishers issued new editions of their case books quite often. (In the United States, legal textbooks, particularly for lower-level classes, are often composed of case summaries that illustrate the particular legal principle being taught. It is (or was) not unusual to find excerpts from the original decision written by the court comprising over 90% of a summary with only small additions from the publisher.)
Often the changes between the new edition and prior edition were small, but the addition of a new case summary that wasn’t in the previous edition and which might be the subject of one or two class periods increased the risks of buying a used legal text. Given enough advance notice, a student might be able to obtain a copy of the original case opinion from the school library, but casebooks would often distill a 20-page court decision down to 3-4 pages that illustrated a particular legal principle that was only part of the original opinion so there was a time penalty involved in reading the entire opinion.