Libraries

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

10 March 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

It is difficult to imagine a figure more famous than Christopher Columbus, whose Atlantic voyages changed the course of history. Far less familiar is the story of his son, the great librarian Hernando, who has long lived in his father’s shadow. In the superb biography “The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books,” Edward Wilson-Lee, who teaches English literature at Cambridge, throws light on Hernando’s astounding accomplishments, giving us a man no less boldly visionary than his father but with a “genius for ordering.”

Hernando was a “natural son,” born out of wedlock—a precarious position for an heir, though Columbus would eventually name him, along with his brother Diego, mis hijos legítimos, legitimate sons. As a boy in the Spanish courts of the crown prince and Queen Isabella, Hernando showed promise as a list-maker extraordinaire with an eagerly organizational mind, making catalogs, encyclopedias, inventories and logbooks. He was already investigating methods whereby he later “tamed a wilderness of miscellaneity through the magic of lists,” Mr. Wilson-Lee writes, adopting “the tools used by bankers and employing their accounting techniques.”

Existing libraries, such as the Vatican’s, acquired only weighty works in Greek and Latin. Hernando’s compulsion to collect “gloriously failed to exclude things most people thought unimportant.” His universal vision encompassed prints (not generally collected at the time), music and books in many languages on every topic. Chaldean and Arabic works shared shelves with German and French ones in a library “open to all books in all subjects from within Christendom and without,” as Hernando envisioned a library that would be “universal in a sense never before imagined.”

. . . .

Hernando mimicked his father’s journeys as he restlessly crisscrossed Renaissance Europe in pursuit of ever more books. On a single visit to Venice, he acquired no fewer than 1,637 titles, leaving instructions for them to be shipped back to Spain while he continued on his book-buying spree north of the Alps. Only upon return home did he learn that the books he had bought in Venice were resting at the bottom of the Bay of Naples. Though the books were lost, their titles remained. Hernando, determined to find all of them again, dubbed the vanished trove his “catalogue of shipwrecked books.”

Why was Hernando’s library important? He understood, as no one else did at the time, that a library cannot exist in “one perfect state” but is a “growing, organic thing,” “a form of the world in miniature,” as Mr. Wilson-Lee puts it. He tried and abandoned a number of methods of organizing his astonishing collections before creating a set of hieroglyphs, or “biblioglyphs,” that harnessed geometric forms to express everything from a book’s size to an author’s use of a pseudonym. His “Book of Epitomes” was an effort to distill the contents of each volume, making the library more easily searchable. He also began work on a “Book of Materials,” in which he intended to further illuminate the library’s contents, explaining that “a single thing might be referred to in many different ways.” With these aids, Mr. Wilson-Lee suggests, “Hernando had created a search engine.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


Finland’s Flagship Library Oodi Opens to the Public in Helsinki

20 January 2019

From YLE.fi:

The new Helsinki Central Library Oodi – Finland’s largest and arguably most lavish – opened its doors to the public on Wednesday.

Although it’s technically a library, it goes far beyond merely a place to borrow books. The facility features many spaces for meeting people and socialising, and offers the opportunity for people to participate in activities like readings, workshops and special events.

Apart from books and other reading materials, Oodi is also equipped with 3D printing gear and sewing machines for creators, rehearsal rooms for musicians, a small cinema and spaces that can be reserved for a variety of uses. There’s also a café as well as the possibility to try out virtual reality technology.

. . . .

The significant investment in Oodi represents the central role that public libraries play in Finland. It is also a symbol of how the country has changed from the time the first public library was founded in Vaasa in 1794.

During the 1800s, the number of public libraries increased and the idea was to offer Finns the possibility of learning to read and increase literacy. The libraries of the time were financed and maintained by different foundations and organizations.

”We have had a very strong idea that literacy will take Finland forward. Without libraries our county would not have developed into its current welfare state status,” says Rauha Maarno, Director of the Finnish Library Association.

The period following the First and Second World Wars until the 1980s was the so-called Golden Age of libraries in Finland. Libraries were built at a rapid pace and the number of users grew rapidly.

. . . .

With the addition of Oodi, there are now 730 public libraries in Finland.

Finnish libraries are also well used and book-borrowing is among the world’s highest. In the Nordic countries, Finland is number one in terms of library usage.

Last year nearly one million people attended events at libraries in Finland last year.

Link to the rest at YLE.fi

PG will note that Finland has a total population of about 5.5 million.


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Open Access: Germany’s De Gruyter Signs ‘Read and Publish’ Deal

13 January 2019
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From Publishing Perspectives:

The Berlin-based independent publisher De Gruyter has announced this week the signing of a “read and publish” agreement with Iowa State University Library, the first of its kind for the German house in North America.

The three-year pilot agreement, according to the publisher’s media messaging, “allows for all articles written by authors at Iowa State University to be made open access immediately upon publication.

“In addition, Iowa State patrons will be provided with access to De Gruyter’s “Research Now by De Gruyter” package, which includes all De Gruyter journals that are subscribed to by North American ARL institutions.”

De Gruyter’s “hybrid journal pricing structure” is in play here, with journal subscription prices adjusted based on the percentage of open access articles. A deep discount is provided, as well, the company says, “to Iowa State authors who publish their articles in one of De Gruyter’s many pure open access journals.”

. . . .

OA2020 is to a Munich-based collaborative effort signed by institutions in many parts of the world to replace “the subscription business model with new models that ensure outputs are open and re-usable and that the costs behind their dissemination are transparent and economically sustainable.”

The endorsement carries several stipulations to which signatories agree.

First, they’re asked if they agree that:

  • Researchers should retain full rights to share their work and the freedom to publish in the journals of their choice and participate in the publishing services they wish
  • The current subscription model, with its ever-rising paywalls, is an unsustainable barrier to the full fruition of scientific research and the fundamental objectives of open access
  • Scholarly publishing should be supported with economically sustainable and transparent business models and released from the constraints of an obsolete system of dissemination

And then they’re asked to promote the primary principle: “We aim to transform a majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to OA publishing in accordance with community-specific publication preferences. At the same time, we continue to support new and improved forms of OA publishing.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Binding the Ghost: On the Physicality of Literature

13 January 2019

From The Millions:

At Piazza Maunzio Bufalini 1 in Cesena, Italy, there is a stately sandstone building of buttressed reading rooms, Venetian windows, and extravagant masonry that holds slightly under a half-million volumes, including manuscripts, codices, incunabula, and print. Commissioned by Malatesta Novello in the 15th century, the Malatestiana Library opened its intricately carved walnut door to readers in 1454, at the height of the Italian Renaissance. The nobleman who funded the library had his architects borrow from ecclesiastical design: The columns of its rooms evoke temples, its seats the pews that would later line cathedrals, its high ceilings as if in monasteries.

Committed humanist that he was, Novello organized the volumes of his collection through an idiosyncratic system of classification that owed more to the occultism of Neo-Platonist philosophers like Marsilio Ficino, who wrote in nearby Florence, or Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who would be born shortly after its opening, than to the arid categorization of something like our contemporary Dewey Decimal System. For those aforementioned philosophers, microcosm and macrocosm were forever nestled into and reflecting one another across the long line of the great chain of being, and so Novello’s library was organized in a manner that evoked the connections of both the human mind in contemplation as well as the universe that was to be contemplated itself. Such is the sanctuary described by Matthew Battles in Library: An Unquiet Historywhere a reader can lift a book and test its heft, can appraise “the fall of letterforms on the title page, scrutinizing marks left by other readers … startled into a recognition of the world’s materiality by the sheer number of bound volumes; by the sound of pages turning, covers rubbing; by the rank smell of books gathered together in vast numbers.”

. . . .

There were libraries that celebrated curiosity before, like the one at Alexandria whose scholars demanded that the original of every book brought to port be deposited within while a reproduction would be returned to the owner. And there were collections that embodied cosmopolitanism, such as that in the Villa of Papyri, owned by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the uncle of Julius Caesar, which excavators discovered in the ash of Herculaneum, and that included sophisticated philosophical and poetic treatises by Epicurus and the Stoic Chrysopsis. But what made the Malatestiana so remarkable wasn’t its collections per se (though they are), but rather that it was built not for the singular benefit of the Malatesta family, nor for a religious community, and that unlike in monastic libraries, its books were not rendered into place by a heavy chain. The Bibliotheca Malatestiana would be the first of a type—a library for the public.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Here are a couple of photos of the Malatestiana Library:

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Diego Baglieri [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons


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Draft2Digital, Baker & Taylor, and OverDrive

2 December 2018
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From Indies Unlimited:

Those of you who use Draft2Digital to distribute eBooks outside of Amazon should have recently received a message that Draft2Digital has now partnered with Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 eBook distribution platform.

Baker & Taylor, a massive distributor of books, movies, DVDs, and other entertainment, has been in business for over 180 years.

. . . .

But wait, you may be thinking (or at least I was), Draft2Digital already uses OverDrive to reach libraries. Why do we also need Baker & Taylor?

The short answer is that they offer different services and are used by different libraries. The long answer is more complicated.

OverDrive, as you probably know, also distributes eBooks to schools and libraries. OverDrive was founded in 1986, originally to convert analog video and audio media to a digital format. In 2000, they extended their business online and began what would eventually become one of the first – and biggest – eBook distributors to retailers, libraries, and schools. OverDrive is compatible with just about any ereader on the market.

. . . .

When Baker & Taylor decided to branch out into the distribution of eBooks, they became … well, you could say frenemies … with OverDrive. In 2009, believing they were forming an exclusive partnership, OverDrive signed on to help Baker & Taylor develop their own eBook distribution services, one that was superior to the one OverDrive was currently using. They even gave Baker & Taylor access to their list of accounts, sales and marketing data, inventory, and servers. It didn’t end well.

Now they’re competitors when it comes to distributing eBooks to libraries. Some libraries use both systems; some only use one. Because OverDrive has been in the business of eBook distribution longer, they’re used by more libraries and have, according to some, better developed technology. Because Baker & Taylor has over 180 years of paperback and hardback book distribution behind them, they’re catching up quickly.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

PG notes that libraries tend to purchase their books from sales organizations that tailor their services to meet the needs of libraries.

By opening their doors to indie authors via Draft2Digital, Baker & Taylor and Overdrive are making it possible for libraries to easily purchase books from local indie authors as well as the increasing number of nationally-known and read authors who self-publish.

The Competitive Book Sorters Who Spread Knowledge Around New York

15 November 2018

From Atlas Obscura:

The Lyngsoe Systems Compact Cross Belt Sorter hogs most of a drab, boxy basement under an unremarkable office building in Queens—238 feet of fast-flying conveyor belt, like a cross between a baggage carousel and a racetrack. The machine scans the barcodes on thousands of library books an hour, and shoves them quickly, efficiently into bins so they can make their way between branches of the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries.

Requested books are dropped off here every day by the truckload and, once processed, are promptly shuffled off to eager readers all over the city.

A day’s work is typically about 40,000 requests, and each one of those books needs to be placed—by hand—onto an empty space on the relentless sorter, with the barcode facing the right way.

But November 9, 2018, is no ordinary day. For the sixth time, an elite squad of 12 professional New York sorters—the fleet-fingered men and women who feed books into the machine—will compete with their counterparts from Washington State’s King County Library System to see who can process the most books in an hour.

Losing to King County, which serves the Seattle suburbs and was the first library in the United States to get a Lyngsoe sorter, is not an option.

Enter Sal Magaddino, Deputy Director of Logistics for BookOps, the collaboration between the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries that operates this facility. Formerly the NYPD captain in charge of Brooklyn’s major crimes investigations, Magaddino glides around the machine, with one hand gesturing to its component parts and the other clutching a styrofoam cup of coffee. Wearing a checked suit, he gloats in consummate Brooklynese about the remarkable operation this beast enables.

Sorting items that move every day from the tip of the Bronx to the lip of Staten Island, his team tallied nearly 7.5 million successful deliveries last year. It seems like an odd gig for a former major crimes investigator, but to him it brings to mind the challenges of the 2000 World Series, when the Yankees played the Mets and Magaddino helped secure the airspace for the NYPD. “You have to have a logistic component” when dealing with homicides and robberies, he says. You have to know “how to use resources.”

It is the same here, and the whirring giant in the room is only one of his resources; another is the team being put to the test today. A perfect score for them—not a book slot missed—would be an astonishing 12,800, the most the machine can handle in an hour. And that’s his goal. A perfect game in the World Series.

. . . .

With minutes to go until game time, the 12 elite sorters have emerged, wearing matching BookOps T-shirts. They march toward the machine as if boarding Apollo 11. The offices upstairs have emptied into the basement, and a wide variety of library personnel fill every available space in the room to cheer the sorters on. “We’re gonna take ‘em down, it’s not gonna be an issue,” says Michael Genao, a 22-year-old sophomore sorter with a linebacker’s build. “I guarantee it,” he adds, as he paces between his teammates, the last few bites of a chocolate donut in his hand.

“You guys are the best in the world,” Magaddino assures his team. “I know you’re gonna prove it today. So the only thing I ask is that you give it 100 percent, and when your hands start cramping, just move on, get through it. It’s only an hour.”

. . . .

The sorters take their places, two to a station. Miguel Roman, Manager of Automatic Distribution, reminds them, “We have no malice, they just have what we deserve.” As observers are escorted to a safe viewing distance, away from where new batches of books arrive by motorized cart, Kanye starts booming, red lights start spinning, gears start churning, and books start flying.

The belt on the machine goes by at 1.5 meters per second, which looks faster than it sounds. It’s covered with square pads, and the idea is to get one book, properly oriented, onto each, which carries it under a bright red barcode scanner. Then, after a quick hairpin turn, they head down a long straightaway lined with bins, each marked for a different branch. The system is smart enough to know just where to deposit each item without slowing.

In each sorting team, one member stacks arriving books, while the other deftly shuttles them onto the pads. It’s a simple proposition but a complicated task, requiring the nimble dexterity and improvisational flair of a jazz drummer. The sorting teams are in sequence along the belt, so not every pad is unoccupied as it passes by—the pattern is always changing.

. . . .

As they stream by, the books are a reflection of the city itself. There’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, for a child just learning to read. Then there’s a slew of how-to and self-help, from SAT prep to Economics for Dummies to a five-copy stack of Easy Vegan BakingTo Kill a MockingbirdCat on a Hot Tin Roof, and As I Lay Dying are there for the literary types, alongside biographies of Richard Nixon, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Frida Kahlo. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Barack Obama’s Change We Can Believe In, and a book of essays on race called We Can’t Breathe join the “Twilight” series, a chunky Ayn Rand opus, and lots and lots of Lee Child thrillers. It’s like a look into New York City’s mind, through the 8.6 million minds that compose it.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura and thanks to Davd for the tip.

The Books That Saved My Life in Prison

6 November 2018

From Medium:

From where I grew up on Division Avenue in Washington, D.C., it was eight blocks to the East Capitol Library. The route was through the Lincoln Heights Houses, a notorious public housing project, but I walked it by myself at least once a week. This was the late 1980s; bullet casings and baggies littered the ground. Crack never came in vials in my neighborhood.

At East Capitol, I escaped that reality. I traveled the world: China, England, Africa. I listened in wonder to stories of the great ancient library at Alexandria in Egypt, which in my mind was a hundred stories tall and where all the sailors came to find maps of the world. I checked out children’s versions of classics and read them at night, wrapped in my sheet on the floor. There were so many drive-bys, I was afraid a stray bullet might come through the window and hit me if I slept up high in my bed.

I thought, The world is so big. It’s full of ideas and people. I can go anywhere. I can do anything. I can be anyone I want.

It didn’t happen. At 17, I killed a man in a confrontation. I was sentenced to life in prison with no hope of parole. I sat on my bunk that day, in my solitary confinement cell, and cried, because my life was over.

About a year later, I noticed an inmate named Steve. He was a lifer like me, in since 15, but he read books every day, all day. One day, I asked what he was reading. He showed me a book on computer coding. I laughed in his face. We didn’t even have computers at Patuxent in those days. Who was he fooling?

But I admired his persistence, and I admired his optimism. Steve didn’t care what other people thought. He didn’t care about the odds. Despite his impossible sentence, he was determined to make something of his life.

So I started reading. Not computer coding! I read about entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban. I read about historical figures like Frederick Douglass, Leonardo da Vinci, and Napoleon. I loved Napoleon, because he was an outsider like me. Nobody wanted him. But he went to a library and learned everything there was to know about military tactics so he’d be ready when they couldn’t deny him anymore.

. . . .

I read self-help books, too, like Leil Lowndes’ How to Talk to Anyone. Other prisoners laughed at me: “What, Chris, you don’t know how to talk?”

I said, “I’m improving myself, inside and out. I’m improving my body and my mind. You should too. Just because you’re in here doesn’t mean you can’t do great things.”

Steve became more than my best friend. He became my brother. We got cells across from each other and exchanged books through the bars. My family wrote me off. My mom said, “You got life. What’s the point?” and stopped answering my calls. Steve’s parents took me in. They offered to spend $50 a month on things I needed. It was the first spending money I ever had. I asked them to buy me books. I kept the best ones on a shelf in my cell. The rest I loaned out to other inmates or gave to the prison library.

Eventually, I got my GED. Then Steve and I convinced the prison to start a college program. In college, we had full access to the prison library. I lived in that library. I lived for that library. It took me everywhere: deep into outer space, deep into history, and even deeper into myself. I’ve probably spent more than 10,000 hours in the Patuxent library. I’m practically a librarian!

. . . .

I didn’t just live for that library. I lived because of that library. The Patuxent prison library saved me from crushing despair. It saved hundreds of other guys, too.

. . . .

People often ask about my favorite book. It’s 500 Spanish Verbs, a book I carried with me every day for more than four years while I taught myself the language. (I’m fluent in Italian, too.) For me, that book is a symbol of my hard work and commitment.

Link to the rest at Medium

Librarians Are Heroic

16 October 2018

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.

. . . .

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!

. . . .

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.

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