Inside Chinguetti, the Saharan desert city of libraries

22 November 2015

From Metro:

Ancient Egyptians believed the Sahara to be the Land of the Dead, and the sunset side of the desert was where one’s soul would find its final dwelling for the afterlife.

It is no coincidence that the Valley of the Kings and the Old Kingdom Pyramids are on the western side of the Nile.

. . . .

They were not completely wrong, those ancient Egyptians, as the endless, sun-roasted dunes and deceptive sands and mountains, born out of our planet’s slow digestive processes, are almost as hostile to any form of life as you might imagine Mercury to be.

. . . .

Scorched by the sun, whipped by the wind, and strangled by the sand, some of those dry towns made of rough stone would nevertheless become centres of learning, attracting those who sought knowledge from the Maghreb and beyond.

The legendary Ibn Battuta travelled here once, before setting off for China.

That lasted for centuries, but not forever.

The Sahara has now once again returned to being almost empty and quiet.

. . . .

Although there are no more grand caravans, and the countries in the region no longer excel in the realms of knowledge, tiny little gems of that era still remain, the subtle traces of what used to be, and which will never return.

One of those traces is the desert town of Chinguetti in Mauritania, protected by jagged mountains on one side and unbounded, pale gold plateaux on the other, inconspicuous amidst the cruel trickery of deceiving mirages and illusions on the horizon.

. . . .

Follow through a labyrinth of sandy old streets, and you might find a tiny wooden door, a discreet opening in a stone wall.


It seemed like he’d always been there, and always would be, until the end of time.

He carefully showed us ancient, leather-bound volumes, elegant books, booklets, and vellums. Faint smell of old paper or parchments was in the air when his gloved hands showed us notes jotted in red ink on the sides of one of the books, and reports of rich caravans coming into town, with tens of thousands of camels every day.

Centuries ago, people from all over the Islamic world travelled to this and other Chinguetti libraries to learn – and learn for free at that, because owning a library was a symbol of high status and not a source of income.


As the librarian looked at us smiling, I noticed this peculiar dignity to him, and I immediately liked him. I think he liked us too, and was proud and happy to share his treasure with us.

There was something sad and nostalgic about him as well, as if he didn’t know that no one was coming to his library, as if he hadn’t quite yet realised or hadn’t been told that the world had moved on, and there was no going back.

Link to the rest at Metro and thanks to Julia for the tip.

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Beneath New York Public Library, Shelving Its Past for High-Tech Research Stacks

16 November 2015

From The New York Times:

As they skate or snack in Bryant Park, visitors might dismiss the stately New York Public Library next door as a dog-eared relic in an age of digital information.

But unbeknown to most of them, 17 feet below ground, in a concrete bunker worthy of the White House, the library is expanding and updating one of the most sophisticated book storage systems in the world.

Since March, after abandoning a much-criticized plan to move the bulk of its research collection to New Jersey, the library has been working instead to create a high-tech space underground for the 2.5 million research works long held in its original stacks.

The books will begin arriving in April, and by the end of spring library officials expect to be using a new retrieval system to ferry the volumes and other materials from their 84 miles of subterranean shelving, loaded into little motorized carts — a bit like miniaturized minecars carrying nuggets of research gold.

To fit all the books in the allotted space, the library will have to abandon its version of the Dewey Decimal System, in which shelving is organized by subject, in favor of a new “high-density” protocol in which all that matters is size.

Books will be stacked by height and tracked by bar code rather than by a subject-based system, making for some odd bookfellows. “Best Food Writing 2013,” edited by Holly Hughes, for example, will be stored next to “War Dog: The No-Man’s Land Puppy Who Took to the Skies,” by Damien Lewis; and “Old Romanian Fairy Tales,” translated by Mirela Roznoveanu, will sit beside “The Hot Dog Companion: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Food We Love,” by David Graulich.

. . . .

The climate-controlled repository encompasses more than 110,000 square feet divided between the two stories. It stretches from beneath the back wall of the main building, which fronts Fifth Avenue, a full block west to Sixth Avenue, and from 42nd Street to 40th Street.

To complete the second floor, engineers used a hatch that opens onto Bryant Park to funnel in the tons of concrete needed to finish the floor. Because moisture is a dire threat to the books, builders surrounded the space with an extensive drainage network.

Soon, just below where skaters sip cocoa, a nerve center of librarians, curators and clerks, working at computer terminals in a constant 65-degree environment (with 40 percent humidity), will receive electronic requests for the research books and other items.

The retrieval system aims to get the materials from shelf to scholar in less than 40 minutes.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

King County Library System book-sorting crew reclaims ‘national’ title

12 November 2015

From The Seattle Times:

In his office at the King County Library System distribution center, in front of a crowd of cameramen and reporters, Tony Miranda called up his counterpart in New York to compare results in Tuesday’s bicoastal book-sorting smackdown.

The New Yorkers were 201 books short.

So while the Sounders are out, and the Seahawks are struggling, it appears books will be one domain in which the Northwest reigns supreme (at least until next year).

With that call, the KCLS secured the 2015 National Library Sorting title, defeating the New York Public Library by sorting 12,572 books in one hour. In so doing, KCLS got revenge after losing last year’s competition, and is leading the series at 3-2.

The annual competition began after the NYPL folks came out to look at KCLS’ automated materials-handling system — installed in 2005, the first of its kind — and decided to implement their own at their distribution center in Queens. Soon after, phone calls to KCLS by NYPL seeking some advice quickly led to friendly trash talk, and by 2010, the competition was born.

“We’ve made them what they are,” said Miranda, the manager of materials distribution for KCLS.

. . . .

Routinely among the busiest library systems in the country, the KCLS sorting facility processed 14 million books last year, compared to BookOps’ 7.9 million. The Preston facility, east of Issaquah, is where library patrons’ holds are processed. It’s the middleman among the 48 branches in the system.

Though there are fewer patrons served by King County’s library system, KCLS patrons on average check out eight to 10 items a year, a number that assistant distribution manager Steve Albert calls a “lifetime’s worth” for an NYPL patron.

. . . .

If there were an MVP for the whole thing, it would have been Timatha Weber. She was placed at the head of the sorting line, grabbing books from big gray totes and putting them on the conveyor belt, emptying as many as 75-80 totes per hour.

Link to the rest (with a video) at The Seattle Times

Death to noisy typists! And other rules for working in a modern library

2 November 2015

From The Guardian:

In another sign of just how far and fast Scotland is pulling away from England in all the important measures of civilisation, the University of St Andrews is to start issuing parking ticket-style warning notices to users of its library who leave their belongings on desks and then disappear for hours, leaving workspaces unavailable for those who actually want to – uh – work, which say “These belongings have been left on this table for more than one hour. You are free to use this seat for study.” This is a righteous move, but it does not go far enough. As a user of libraries to work in when my home office walls start to close in, I suggest we also need penalties, ranging from polite notices to death, for the following:

Heavy typists

I don’t mean overweight people. I mean the kind of people who hammer at their laptop keyboards as if they were miniature Test Your Strength games at a fairground, so that the very air around you reverberates to their unrhythmic pounding. Stop it, or I will set fire to your hands.


All persistent talkers should be killed. But at The London Library, where famous people are forever having famous gossipy conversations just out of earshot, special measures are required. Namely, to be forced to repeat their famous gossipy conversations within earshot so that I can sell on any salient tidbits to appropriate tabloid outlets. Then they should be killed.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Library Journal’s 2015 Survey of Library eBook Usage is Friendly to Self-Pub

31 October 2015

From The Digital Reader:

Library Journal published its 6th annual survey on ebook in public libraries last week.

The report, which you can download here (PDF), tells us that the number of US libraries that lend ebooks to their patrons dipped slightly in the past year (to 94%) while the average size of an ebook catalog grew from a median of 10,484 to 14,397 (this, in spite of the high prices for library ebooks).

The report is chock full of information, including the news that fiction continues to be more popular than non-fiction, with “three-quarters (74%) of public libraries’ ebook collections are fiction titles, while 26% are nonfiction titles.”

. . . .

And the report had this to say about self-published books:

There is no shortage of data on declining ebook sales—and declining book sales in general, especially fiction. The headline—“Ebook sales declining”— misses some crucial nuances. Traditional sales tracking methodologies don’t capture the rise of independent and self-­published ebooks, which should not be ignored. It’s not just “vanity publishing” anymore.

We have found that the majority of libraries do not offer self-published ebooks, with the primary difficulty being not knowing what’s available and what is of sufficient quality. There are few booklists and lists of new releases—or even reviews—to guide them, so unless it’s a patron-­driven acquisition or a local author, the library has no way of knowing such a book even exists.

Given the problems that librarians face in acquiring books through non-traditional channels (by which I mean all books, and not just self-pub), it’s no surprise that self-pub titles are lacking.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

How To Get Self-Published Books into Stores and Libraries

25 October 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

While many indie authors have mastered online sales, even strong-selling writers tend to see distribution to libraries and bricks-and-mortar stores as difficult to impossible. However, they should consider giving it another go. Industry experts and indie authors who have tried to get wider distribution have recently found surprising success—both in expanded availability and greater awareness of their work.

“If a library truly commits to your title and plans to not only make it available to patrons but also include it in library marketing materials, then authors can expect a nice discoverability boost,” says Jane Friedman, CEO of Open Road Integrated Media and an expert on self-publishing. “Library collections are highly curated, and so the discoverability is better than if you’re available through your average online outlet where millions of titles are stocked.”

. . . .

Often, the first step to getting into a library or bookstore is to go speak to someone in person. Laura Rossi Public Relations founder Laura Rossi Totten, whose 24 years as a book publicist include in-house stints at publishing houses like Viking and Penguin, urges authors to get face time with potential outlets.

“My number one piece of advice for self-published authors is to use the tried-and-true method of hand-selling the book,” Totten says. “By this I specifically mean personally visiting libraries and bookstores with copies of your book. Load up your trunk and hit the road. Make carrying your book easy and fun.”

. . . .

 Laura Lahm, who has published two coloring books that encourage kids to explore the cities of Seattle and Tokyo, respectively, has found success in what she calls a “two-pronged approach.” She begins by determining an area buyer and sending an email with a general introduction and sales sheet. Then she personally delivers a copy of the book, along with a hard copy of the sales sheet. “This has been working very well for us, as folks love a local book,” Lahm says.

. . . .

But Open Road’s Friedman cautions that just getting distribution through a large company that libraries use, such as OverDrive or Ingram, does not ensure that a title will be added to a library’s collection or get noticed by librarians.

“You have to be visible to the library in other ways—through reviews, word of mouth, and major blogs in your genre,” she says. “In some ways, making your book known to libraries isn’t that different from promoting your book in general. A library needs to see some evidence or social proof that will help persuade them to add your book to their collection.”

Friedman also points to a pair of services aimed at helping librarians discover self-published titles: Self-e (a joint venture from BiblioBoard and Library Journal) and eBooksAreForever (launched by indie author J.A. Konrath). If authors can work to get their books noticed via these services, they might provide another way—in addition to reviews or strong online sales—to catch a librarian’s eye.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Pew report suggests most people don’t use library e-books

19 September 2015

From Chris Meadows at TeleRead

Pew Research has a report out on how people interact with libraries. … Of particular note, more people now know their libraries lend e-books (38%, up from 31% in 2012) but 46% of library patrons 16 or older don’t know if their library has e-books. Given that 95% of all libraries in the US do have e-book collections, this seems like a pretty big knowledge gap.

Even those who are aware their library lends e-books don’t necessarily take advantage of it:

<i>Some 16% of those who are aware their library lends e-books have downloaded an e-book from their public library – that amounts to 6% of all those ages 16 and older who have borrowed an e-book from their library.</i>.

. . .

Other interesting findings: 50% of public library website users accessed it with a mobile device (tablet or smartphone), up from 39% in 2012.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Posted by vacation blogger Bridget McKenna

How Much Money do Libraries Spend on e-Books?

17 September 2015

A breakdown of what Douglas County, CO, library pays for ebooks.

A staggering 95% of all libraries in the United States have an e-book collection. Sometimes we take this granted and get irked that there is a long waiting list for a New York Times bestseller. Why can’t libraries simply have enough titles to meet the demand? The answer, is that libraries are gouged on the price for digital content from the publishers.

This might surprise a fair amount of people, but the average library paid six times the consumer price for e-books on the USA Today bestseller list.  This is not greed due to distributors such as 3M, Baker & Taylor or Overdrive, but the publishers.

James Larue of the Douglas County Library system recently said “libraries and taxpayers who support libraries are being ripped off in ways that not only outrageously inflate the payment to publishers (surely their costs are not three times greater to provide the book to us than to the consumer), they also greatly reward distributors. The result? At a time when about half of our patrons use e-readers, we barely offer 10% of our collections to them in their preferred format. When does a vicious price become complicity between publisher and distributor, to the detriment of the public?”


All data is interesting, says vacation blogger Karen Myers.


7 September 2015

From SOMA:

On most days, twenty-eight-year-old Alicia Tapia works as a private school librarian in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, constantly surrounded by books and the young minds in which she instills a love for reading. Tapia is also the proud creator of Bibliobicicleta, a mobile bicycle library that hands out free books to people of all ages. The Bibliobicicleta motto? “To promote a love of learning and literacy: page by page, book by book, pedal by pedal.”

Inspired in part by the Little Free Library movement, Bibliobicicleta is a completely independent, donation-based library. Tapia first began toying with the idea in 2010 while studying to become a librarian at the University of Hawaii. “Someone asked me, ‘How do you say librarian in Spanish?’ The word is bibliotecario. I told him, and he was like, ‘What? Bibliotaqueria?’ So for the longest time I had this silly idea to start a taco truck that’s also a library, so people can read and eat tacos. Then I thought if people are eating tacos and reading, they’re going to fall asleep.”

It wasn’t until the Hawaii native moved to San Francisco and made friends with another bike-loving librarian that the idea for Bibliobicicleta came to fruition: “We kind of joked about it like, ‘Wouldn’t it be really funny if we had a library on the back of our bikes?’” The idea would continue to resurface for weeks until one day Tapia decided enough was enough. “I was so tired of talking about it and decided to just do it. Then I put a Kickstarter up.”

. . . .




The trailer was quickly found through Bikes at Work, a bicycle cargo trailer manufacturer out of Iowa. Constructing the wooden bookshelf for the trailer, however, proved to be a more challenging task. After the original builder backed out of the project, Tapia decided to place an ad on TaskRabbit. There she would meetJasper Montgomery. “We talked about the vision of it and he really improved it,” Tapia explains. His design allowed for airflow to pass through the bookshelves, greatly increasing mobility—especially on windy bike rides.

Tapia, who also holds her master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington, can often be seen parked around the Panhandle, in addition to San Francisco’s various Sunday Streets events. “Free books!” she proclaims to fellow bike riders, joggers, and families who pass by—some will stop and take a book; some drop books off. The shelves hold a variety of fiction and non-fiction for both children and adults. The titles are constantly changing as books exchange hands, taken off of the shelves as often as they are replaced.

The response for Bibliobicicleta has been overwhelmingly positive over the course of its first year. “Kids are my weak spot, obviously. It’s why I teach,” says Tapia. “The first time I took it out, this little girl walked by and said, ‘That is the prettiest bookshelf I’ve ever seen.’ That made it all worthwhile. By seeing this crazy bookshelf, that kid is going to think that reading is something that’s important—reading is something cool.”

Link to the rest at SOMA and thanks to Dave for the tip. Photos from the Bibliobicicleta Kickstarter site and thanks to Dave for the tip.

This is the end of the library as we know it

26 August 2015

From Quartz:

When, in 2005, the University of Chicago entered into an $81 million renovation of a major library building, one of the primary goals was to ensure that the university’s collection of printed books in the social sciences and humanities would remain under one roof.

That goal was achieved six years later. However, it also meant that a good part of the library’s print collection, while technically being “under the library roof,” was moved “under the ground.” The renovation included a subterranean automated system that can store and retrieve up to 3.5 million books.

Chicago’s library project could well represent the end of an era—the era of colleges and universities expending millions of dollars so that printed books can be housed in on-campus libraries.

. . . .

While I believe there will always be a place for the book in the hearts of academics, it is far less likely there will be a place for the book, or at least for every book, on the academic campus.

. . . .

Keeping a printed book in a library is not cheap.

The most recent analysis pegs the total cost of keeping one book in an open library stack (the kind that allows browsing) at $4.26 per year (in 2009 dollars). High-density shelving, a less costly alternative to open stacks, comes at $.86 per book, per year (again, in 2009 dollars).

And given the costs, academic financial officers blanch at proposals to build new on-campus storage capacity for thousands, in some cases millions, of books.

. . . .

At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the web page providing information on the construction of a new library building for the Monroe Park campus proclaims: “90% of the new space will be for student use, not for storing books or materials.”

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) is in the midst of an addition and renovation project that will add 60,000 square feet of new library space and renovate 92,000 square feet of existing library space.

The stated goals of the UCSB project include such desiderata as “expanded wireless access,” “additional and enhanced group study and collaboration spaces,” and a “faculty collaboration studio.” Additional book capacity is not part of the plan.

Even more extreme, the University of Michigan’s $55 million renovationof its Taubman Health Sciences Library (completed in 2015) has removed all print books from the library in order to accommodate classrooms and “collaboration rooms.”

An entire floor is now devoted to “clinical simulation rooms” where medical students hone their diagnostic and clinical skills through simulated hands-on practice.

All these are part of a mainstream trend in which the printed book, though still part of the academic library ensemble, is being relegated to the role of supporting player rather than the lead actor.

Link to the rest at Quartz

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