This University Library Discovered Three of Its Books Were Poisonous

3 July 2018

From Science Alert:

Some may remember the deadly book of Aristotle that plays a vital part in the plot of Umberto Eco’s 1980 novel The Name of the Rose.

Poisoned by a mad Benedictine monk, the book wreaks havoc in a 14th-century Italian monastery, killing all readers who happen to lick their fingers when turning the toxic pages. Could something like this happen in reality? Poisoning by books?

Our recent research indicates so.

We found that three rare books on various historical topics in the University of Southern Denmark’s library collection contain large concentrations of arsenic on their covers. The books come from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The poisonous qualities of these books were detected by conducting a series of X-ray fluorescence analyses (micro-XRF).

. . . .

The reason why we took these three rare books to the X-ray lab was because the library had previously discovered that medieval manuscript fragments, such as copies of Roman law and canonical law, were used to make their covers.

It is well documented that European bookbinders in the 16th and 17th centuries used to recycle older parchments.

We tried to identify the Latin texts used, or at least read some of their content. But then we found that the Latin texts in the covers of the three volumes were hard to read because of an extensive layer of green paint which obscures the old handwritten letters.

So we took them to the lab. The idea was to filter through the layer of paint using micro-XRF and focus on the chemical elements of the ink below, for example on iron and calcium, in the hope of making the letters more readable for the university’s researchers.

But XRF-analysis revealed that the green pigment layer was arsenic. This chemical element is among the most toxic substances in the world and exposure may lead to various symptoms of poisoning, the development of cancer and even death.

. . . .

The green arsenic-containing pigment found on the book covers is thought to be Paris green, copper(II) acetate triarsenite or copper(II) acetoarsenite Cu(C₂H₃O₂)₂·3Cu(AsO₂)₂. This is also known as “emerald green”, because of its eye-catching green shades, similar to those of the popular gemstone.

The arsenic pigment – a crystalline powder – is easy to manufacture and has been commonly used for multiple purposes, especially in the 19th century.

. . . .

Industrial production of Paris green was initiated in Europe in the early 19th century. Impressionist and post-impressionist painters used different versions of the pigment to create their vivid masterpieces. Th

Link to the rest at Science Alert and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Yet another benefit of ebooks – guaranteed arsenic-free!

Used Book Collection Bins Are Filling Up

27 June 2018

From BookRiot:

If you live in the United States, you have seen collection bins in grocery store parking lots. Collection bins for clothes are the most common. But did you know there are also donation bins for books?

My husband works in a grocery store, and about a month ago he noticed that the book collection bins were overflowing. More than overflowing—several stacks of books had appeared around the collection bin and it had just started to rain. He’s a book lover, and he hates to see good books get ruined, so he talked to his manager and got permission to haul the pile indoors to await collection. His manager called the company, Big Hearted Books & Clothing, to come get their donations.

But there was a problem: Big Hearted Books never showed up and, it turned out, would not be showing up.

. . . .

Big Hearted Books & Clothing, of Canton, Massachusetts, declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy this spring. The company’s assets are being sold off by a trustee, and those proceeds are being used to pay the company’s creditors.

The company’s closure is a loss for New England readers. Big Hearted Books’s more than 1,000 donation containers have served as repositories for the region’s unwanted and used books since 2009. The company, a for-profit, collected the books, donated some, sold others, and recycled the balance.

The company’s website cites embezzlement by an employee as the reason for its bankruptcy (complete with that employee’s name and a photograph) and Worcester attorney James P. Ehrhard, who has represented Big Hearted Books during the bankruptcy proceedings, confirmed that embezzlement was a contributing factor.

. . . .

When it became obvious that the pile of books in the grocery store was not going to be picked up, the store manager asked my husband if he could get rid of the books. Full disclosure: our family took what we wanted from the pile, and brought everything else to our local Friends of the Library group for their annual book sale. We discovered that they too were talking about Big Hearted Books.

“We don’t have any storage space, so at the end of the sale we have to find places for these books,” said Del Shilkret, president of Friends of the Granby Public Library.

Turns out, many local Friends groups in the Friends of the Connecticut Library organization relied on Big Hearted Books.

. . . .

At Farmington’s last library sale, Big Hearted Books removed seven gaylords—large pallet boxes—for free.

That’s a service one of its competitors charges for, and one that’s tremendously helpful to the volunteers who run book sales, many of whom are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and can’t do a lot of hauling themselves—especially after a long sale.

“Our problem is now: what do we do with these leftover books?” said Chapron. She joked that donating books can be either very easy or very difficult and this year, donating books may be on the difficult side for Library Friends in the Northeast.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

In a heretical mood, PG suggests that at some point, used books become trash.

He understands that someone somewhere might be interested in reading one of the used books, but wouldn’t digital be a far better alternative? No bins in the parking lot, no fossil fuel expended transporting used books from the bin to wherever, etc., etc.

A lot less in the landfill and recycling electrons is orders of magnitude more efficient than recycling dead trees.

Do libraries run by volunteers check out?

25 June 2018

From The Guardian:

It is just before 7pm on a Tuesday and Wilsden library is about to close. There are a few stragglers, mainly mums with small girls who have been at the dance class in the village hall, where the library occupies one corner.

Wilsden is just one of 15 community-managed libraries in the borough of Bradford, West Yorkshire. It opens for one day a week and is staffed completely by volunteers such as Simon Dickerson, whohas volunteered at the library since it became community-managed in 2011. Prior to that, the library was run and staffed by Bradford council, but budget cuts meant that Wilsden’s library, along with branches in nearby Denholme and Wrose, were earmarked to close.

“It was inconceivable that our library should close,” says Dickerson. “There was a village meeting called. About 100 people turned up and there was a very strong feeling that the library should continue.”

Those three villages became the first of Bradford’s community-managed libraries. Now Wilsden has a pool of 40 or so volunteers who can work a couple of hours on a Tuesday.

Eight years ago, there were only a handful of libraries run by volunteers – around 10, estimates Public Libraries News. These days, 500 of the UK’s 3,800 libraries are operated by ordinary people, working for free in a role once regarded as a profession.

. . . .

The positive side of volunteer libraries is that communities who would otherwise lose their library can keep them. The downside is that professional librarians are rapidly declining in number. In 2016/17, local council funding for libraries was cut by £66m, with 5% of librarians – almost 900 people – losing their jobs. It isn’t just public libraries feeling the pinch; most recently, the Scottish Borders council was criticised for replacing school library staff with pupils.

. . . .

So far, only one has closed (and that was due to a third-party lease on the property not being renewed). The rest were saved, due to the strength of community interest in keeping them open. But does that mean volunteer-run libraries are a success, or just delaying inevitable closures?

. . . .

Even before it was passed into community hands, Wilsden was only open on Tuesdays. The day coincides with the aforementioned dance classes, as well as a luncheon club for the elderly. It plays host to three or four children’s events a year, and it houses a book group. As a volunteer, does Dickerson feel it is working? “We get young people in to use the laptops, but not as much to borrow books. And perhaps if everyone who turned up to the meeting to save the library actually used it, I might be a bit happier,” he says.

. . . .

There, community ownership has not just allowed the library to survive, it has revived it, according to volunteer and former parish councillor Niccola Swan. “The library wasn’t exactly dead before, but it was a lot quieter,” she says. “When the announcement came through about library funding, it was a no-brainer for Burley. The parish council immediately said that we were not going to lose our library.”

Like other community-run libraries, Burley lost all of its paid staff, who were replaced with a team of around 50 volunteers. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, Swan says. “The library staff we had weren’t local, they came in to do a job. While it was often a perfectly fine job, they didn’t have the incentive to be as engaged with the community.”

Usage of the library has grown steadily month on month, Swan says, both in terms of visitors and books borrowed. “I’m really thrilled with what we’ve achieved,” she says.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Watching You Watching Me: Preserving Reader Privacy in the Age of Digital Surveillance

24 June 2018

From No Shelf Required:

The issue of reader privacy has been at the forefront of much debate about Web 2.0 technologies and their ability to monitor reading behavior at a granular level. This includes the reading habits of readers who purchase digital books and other digital content online through such sources as Amazon as well as users of public, academic and school libraries who check out ebooks or use electronic resources for research. While the topic of protecting reader privacy continues to permeate online discussions around the world, the issue reader privacy, particularly in the context of library patron privacy, has been around for as long as library cards have been around. But Web 2.0 technologies and the plethora of media and software companies that have changed the way we share information online have drastically challenged our notions of privacy, which many argue has become a ‘privilege’ rather than a ‘right’ of every user, and it has become a matter of what information about him/herself the user is willing to trade to consume content for free.

In an age when millions of users gladly—and without much regard for the consequences—share their personal information online to be able to benefit from the tools afforded to them by and through social media and various other platforms, librarians and information science (LIS) professionals remain adamant about the dangers of not protecting one’s privacy while reading.

. . . .

Ethical issues have long been an important topic of discussion in the realm of information sciences, and the term information ethics has been thoroughly analyzed by academics in the past few decades. Don Fallis provided an accessible definition when he defined information ethics as that which asks, “who should have access to what information” (Fallis 3). In the same paper, Fallis discussed four core issues (or principles) of information ethics, which have become the cornerstone of the LIS profession: intellectual freedom(librarians must resist all efforts by third parties, including the government, to censor reading materials); equal access (librarians must ensure all library users have equal and free access to information); intellectual property(librarians must honor copyright laws and author rights); and information privacy (librarians must defend the reader’s right to privacy and protect library records from intrusion of external sources).

According to Fallis, if we examine how libraries function today through the prism of four key ethical (or moral) theories in philosophy—consequence-based theory, rights-based theory, virtue-based theory and duty-based theory —we can discern that each of the core issues of information ethics—intellectual freedom, equal access, intellectual property and information privacy—has deep roots in at least one, if not all, of these ethical theories.

. . . .

The rights-based theorists argue that the right thing to do is determined by the rights that human beings have simply for being human. This is a strong argument for equal and free access, and many have, in fact, argued over the years (e.g., Woodward 13) that people have a ‘natural’ right to information and knowledge—that if we can define a man as a ‘rational’ being,’ then that man has a right to that “which he needs to exercise his rationality. In other words, accessing information for the sake of educating oneself is not a matter of privilege but a necessity allows any human to maintain his rationality. The same ethical theory could be applied to the meaning of intellectual property. Philosopher John Locke, for example, also called it a ‘natural right’ to reap the benefits of one’s intellectual labor.

. . . .

Pendergrast asked in 1988: Should libraries put a warning label on an encyclopedia that contains seemingly inaccurate medical information? Nesta and Banke asked in 1991: Should libraries accept a book if it is donated by a racist organization? Wolkoff asked in 1996: Should libraries include Holocaust denial literature in their collections?  (Fallis 1-2) And many others have asked and continue to ask to this day: Should librarians cooperate with the government when asked to disclose a patron’s reading records to help prevent a potentially criminal act?

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Impatient former Hong Kong library worker arrested after stealing customers’ personal data to borrow books faster

19 June 2018

From Hong Kong Law and Crime:

A bibliophile who worked in a Hong Kong public library has been arrested for using the personal information of about 130 customers without their permission so she could quickly borrow their loaned books.

. . . .

The 25-year-old woman, who formerly worked for a contractor company for Tseung Kwan O Public Library and was responsible for handling returned library materials from readers between 2015 and this year, was arrested on May 24, according to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which operates the library, and police.

A police source said she had used the personal data of users to file loss reports for library cards on their behalf. After the report, customers would no longer be able to renew loaned books and were required to return them immediately. That would allow the woman to borrow those items.

Link to the rest at Hong Kong Law and Crime and thanks to Gary for the tip.

The Bats Help Preserve Old Books But They Drive Librarians, Well, Batty

18 June 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

During the day, as visitors file through the University of Coimbra’s 300-year-old Joanina Library, the creatures remain hidden behind the grand, gilded bookcases.

At night, they come out to protect the books.

They are a group of perhaps a dozen resident bats. As lovers of literal bookworms—they eat the moths and beetles that devour glue and paper—they are also the library’s unwitting conservationists. And their presence is driving Joanina’s staff batty.

The bats are getting too much attention. The librarians want people to know Joanina for its books and the knowledge they contain, not for its flying mammals. Instead of fielding scholarly inquiries about rare, hand-illustrated Bibles or century-old world atlases, staff members find themselves mostly answering questions from visitors about the lives and habits of the bats.

“It pains me,” said Jorge Manuel Neves Justo Alexandre, who has been caretaker of Joanina since 2000. “Here you have all this beauty, this knowledge, and they are asking where the bats poop.”

Mr. Alexandre was recently discussing the issue with Celeste Mateus, a library worker who was vacuuming the main entrance, when a visitor interrupted. “Are the bats behaving?” asked Pinto Almeida, a judge from the Portuguese town of Coriscada.

. . . .

The university—which was named a Unesco World Heritage site five years ago—is partly to blame for the problem. It promotes Joanina’s bats on its website and in booklets, and the gift shop sells pencil covers of a smiling bat holding a candle and reading a book. The university drew around 500,000 visitors last year, more than double the number in 2013, said Joanina deputy director António Maia do Amaral.

The library’s bats are small, often no more than 1 1/2 inches long, from a species called pipistrelle. A second species, called European free-tailed, may be present as well, based on a bat expert’s evaluation of the sounds they made during an inspection years ago.

The creatures are seldom seen during the day, when they mostly sleep behind the shelves. They sometimes fly out at night through cracks in the doors to feast on flies. Mr. Maia do Amaral said that visitors’ best chance to see them is on evenings the library holds classical music concerts.

No one is sure how long bats have been at the library, built in 1728 and furnished with black lacquered shelves, wood carvings and gold brought in from the Portuguese colony of Brazil. The library’s six reading tables are covered every evening with leather shrouds, which shield the wood from corrosive bat droppings and need to be vacuumed regularly. Mr. Maia do Amaral said he found old documents that showed the university imported lengths of leather from Russia in the late 1700s—he suspects for the same purpose.

. . . .

Mr. Maia do Amaral acknowledges that many of the library’s visitors aren’t really interested in those facts. “An old director used to grumble that the bat obsession was offensive to the library’s intellectual nature,” he said.

Still, he appreciates the bats’ help in preservation. “The glue used in old books in particular is made for an insect banquet,” he said, calling the bats his “honorary librarians.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

PG says the photos of the library in the OP are spectacular. If the WSJ’s paywall won’t let you through, you can do a Google Image search for the Joanina Library

How Lizzie Bennet Got Her Books

17 June 2018


There are plenty of mentions of novels and popular literature in Jane Austen’s books. But books were expensive in the early nineteenth century, and women weren’t necessarily encouraged to read them. How, then, did her heroines get their book fix?

. . . .

[C]irculating libraries didn’t really resemble modern libraries. You had to pay to be a member, and if you patronized one you were likely of the leisured classes. And while modern libraries are predicated on a demand for books . . . circulating libraries created that demand.

The libraries, which were found in fashionable watering holes like Jane Austen’s fabled Bath, began as offshoots of bookselling. They became social gathering places that people subscribed to as soon as they got to their vacation destination. They weren’t just for books, either—they held raffles and social events, and the subscription record books were a good place to figure out who was in town. If you lived in a rural area, though, you were probably out of luck. No businessman would set one up in an area that couldn’t sustain it.

At the time, industrialization hadn’t yet made printing affordable, so only the richest could afford books. . . . [T]he average three-volume novel cost the equivalent of $100 at the time, which makes Darcy’s extensive library even sexier. And since anyone with enough money for a subscription could use a circulating library, it became a way for women to gain knowledge without asking a man for permission to use his library or borrow his books.

. . . .

Not everything in a circulating library was intellectually uplifting, though: They were repositories for the Regency version of beach reads. The hottest novel might be available for several months, then be replaced by the new big thing. This led to big demand for new books, and that demand drove bigger print runs. Authors also started writing with the libraries in mind, which led to the rise of genres like the gothic novel.

Link to the rest at JSTOR

Reversing the Slide in Voter Support for Libraries

27 May 2018

From the Library Journal:

We need a significant shift in our tactics to turn around voter attitudes about the core work of libraries.

The 2018 “From Awareness to Funding” study should inspire deep reflection within the library community about how we have been doing public outreach, voter engagement, and everyday advocacy over this past decade.

As a founder and executive director of EveryLibrary, the only national political action committee for libraries, I am deeply concerned by the top-line loss of voter support for libraries. To see the drop from 73% “possible yes” voters in OCLC’s 2008 report of the same name to the new reality of 2018’s 58% was crushing. At EveryLibrary, we have seen the erosion of voter support and respect for libraries in polls and surveys from dozens of towns, cities, and counties over our short time working on library campaigns.

. . . .

I am most deeply troubled by the declining perception about the core work of libraries and core competencies of librarians. When there is a nine point drop in the perception about libraries offering “Free access to books and technology that some people may not be able to afford,” how do we recapture that narrative? Today, 20% fewer voters agree that “the library is an excellent resource for kids to get help with their homework” than ten years ago (71% then, 51% now). How is that possible when every story we tell is about a kid learning to read in order to succeed later in life? How do we fight a hostile city hall or recalcitrant county commission when the feeling that “having an excellent public library is a source of pride” is only shared by 53% of voters (20% fewer than in the 2008 report)?

. . . .

Voter perception of librarians as “Friendly and approachable” has fallen from 67% to 53%. Perception of librarians as “True advocate[s] for lifelong learning” has dropped from 56% to 46%. The feeling that librarians are “Knowledgeable about my community” fell from 54% to 42%. I hope we have found the bottom at 31% of voters (down from 40% ten years ago) who think that librarians are “Well known in the community.”

Our core messaging and value propositions have taken a massive hit. This decline cannot persist if we expect libraries to be funded through taxpayer support. Ten years ago, three-quarters of voters thought that libraries were important for youth. Today, it is down to just two-thirds. What have we been doing that made us lose this kind of ground? In 2018, only 55% of Americans think that “if the library were to shut down, something essential would be lost.” It was 71% ten years ago.

Link to the rest at Library Journal

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