Libraries

Google, Shmoogle. Reference Librarians Are Busier Than Ever

17 November 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

PITTSBURGH—Sherry Yadlosky, a staff member at the Carnegie Library in this city’s Oakland district, answered the phone in her cubicle late in the afternoon of Nov. 1. A woman wanted to know who would be pitching for the Dodgers that night in the final game of the World Series.

Ms. Yadlosky consulted a sports website. “It looks like they’re going to be starting Yu Darvish, ” she said. The caller asked whether Mr. Darvish was a good pitcher. Ms. Yadlosky thought about it for a moment, then said: “It depends on your definition of good.”

After taking the call, Ms. Yadlosky, 28 years old, recalled a library patron who once asked her whether bar codes on store merchandise contained the Mark of the Beast, a symbol discussed in the Book of Revelation. “Um, no,” she said.

Carved in stone over the library’s arched entrance is the motto “Free to the People.” That applies not just to books but to answers for almost any question posed to librarians.

Even in the internet age, reference librarians still dig up answers that require extra effort, searching old books, microfilm and paper files, looking for everything from owners of long-defunct firms to 19th-century weather reports.

Though online searches are now at the fingertips of most people, many still prefer to call or visit a library. Some can’t or don’t use computers; others recognize librarians have search skills and access to databases that search engines can’t match.

. . . .

Librarians generally are happy to receive questions, partly because serving lots of people helps them justify taxpayer funding. The Hennepin County public libraries in Minnesota calculate that they answer about 1.3 million questions a year. The county’s population is about 1.2 million.

Privacy is respected. When someone asked the Pittsburgh library how to build a guillotine, a librarian emailed diagrams from a German website without asking questions.

. . . .

James Scott, a Sacramento librarian, said one woman woke up with a red blotch on her skin and wanted to know if it was in the shape of any meaningful symbol. He offered books on symbology.

“We’ll get folks that call up and say I woke up this morning and I had this trippy dream and I wonder if you have anything that can help me,” Mr. Scott said. He recommends books on the interpretation of dreams.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The OP reminded PG of more than one time in the distant past when a law librarian was enormously helpful to him.

On more recent occasions, PG has become aggravated with Google because its search engine is not sufficiently precise. Having spent a lot of time with Lexis and Westlaw (two online legal research services), PG knows how to structure a detailed query calculated to pull a particular needle from the right haystack.

Unfortunately, Google always wants to please a visitor, so it’s programmed to provide more than the searcher may really want to see. On occasion, a researcher may want to confirm that nothing exists within the search parameters, e.g. no murder trials were held in Henry County, Iowa, during August, 1939. Google’s search engine really hates to admit nothing exists that responds to a search so it will return a lot of information about murders, real and fictional, ancient and modern, that mention Iowa anwhere.

Google Scholar is a step in the right direction and includes some useful filters, but, in PG’s experience, it won’t ruthlessly abide by a carefully-structured query.

The Tianjin Binhai Library

16 November 2017

From The Telegraph:

A futuristic library which has opened in China with 1.2 million books on display is something of a bookworm’s dream.

The library was built in Tianjin, a coastal metropolis located around 100km outside of the Chinese capital of Beijing.

Dutch architects MVRDV, in collaboration with local designers TUPDI, created the library to resemble a giant eye.

The five-storey building features a floor-to-ceiling bookcases cascade, which acts as “everything from stairs to seating”.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Jan for the tip. More photos at the link.
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Books from 1923 to 1941 Now Liberated

14 November 2017

From Internet Archive Blogs:

The Internet Archive is now leveraging a little known, and perhaps never used, provision of US copyright law, Section 108h, which allows libraries to scan and make available materials published 1923 to 1941 if they are not being actively sold. Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a copyright scholar at Tulane University calls this “Library Public Domain.”  She and her students helped bring the first scanned books of this era available online in a collection named for the author of the bill making this necessary: The Sonny Bono Memorial Collection. Thousands more books will be added in the near future as we automate. We hope this will encourage libraries that have been reticent to scan beyond 1923 to start mass scanning their books and other works, at least up to 1942.

. . . .

If the Founding Fathers had their way, almost all works from the 20th century would be public domain by now (14-year copyright term, renewable once if you took extra actions).

Some corporations saw adding works to the public domain to be a problem, and when Sonny Bono got elected to the House of Representatives, representing Riverside County, near Los Angeles, he helped push through a law extending copyright’s duration another 20 years to keep things locked-up back to 1923.  This has been called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act due to one of the motivators behind the law, but it was also a result of Europe extending copyright terms an additional twenty years first. If not for this law, works from 1923 and beyond would have been in the public domain decades ago.

. . . .

But there is an exemption from this extension of copyright, but only for libraries and only for works that are not actively for sale — we can scan them and make them available. Professor Townsend Gard had two legal interns work with the Internet Archive last summer to find how we can automate finding appropriate scanned books that could be liberated, and hand-vetted the first books for the collection. Professor Townsend Gard has just released an in-depth paper giving libraries guidance as to how to implement Section 108(h) based on her work with the Archive and other libraries. Together, we have called them “Last Twenty” Collections, as libraries and archives can copy and distribute to the general public qualified works in the last twenty years of their copyright.

Link to the rest at Internet Archive Blogs and thanks to Dave for the tip.

The Important Emotional Labor of Librarians

28 October 2017

From Medium:

Most people intuitively understand the emotional load taken on by professions like social workers, nurses, 911 operators, and teachers. Rarely, however, do people consider the emotional labor of librarians. Spend a day at the service desk of a busy library and you’ll see people on their best and, too often, their worst days. Spend a few months and you’ll begin to follow the lives of your repeat visitors — you’ll be privy to, and sometimes help them solve, life’s hardest problems.

. . . .

There’s plenty of good, too, though. You get to see cute three-foot tall 2nd graders grow into furtive gangly young adult giants, seemingly overnight. You hear about (and sometimes get invited to) weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other important life rituals. And throughout all of that, you keep up a running dialogue about books, movies, vacations, life! You feed the curiosity of your community, and if you’re around long enough, they come back and tell you about your influence!

There were a few librarians that saw me grow up. I don’t know all of their names, but I remember their faces, and recall the joy with which they served. Ours wasn’t a large library, it was just a small branch library in a neighborhood. But a child isn’t very big either, so I was never at a loss for something to read.

It was Senior Librarian Hannah Kramer that put me on the path to becoming a librarian. She was kind, and paid attention to all of the kids. As I grew into my teenage years, she didn’t tell me how to be a yea-saying librarian, she exemplified it every day. Only later did I learn how hard she fought to establish a Russian literature collection for our community of Soviet refugees. It should be noted that Hannah did not read a word of Russian, but like a perceptive librarian, she noticed highly literate immigrant parents bringing their kids to the library and recognized a need. Thanks to Hannah, my father could relax a little after his 12-hour workdays, reading before bed.

Link to the rest at Medium

What’s a Library to Do? On Homelessness and Public Spaces

24 October 2017

From The Millions:

Russell had a long beard that at least one librarian likened to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s. Every day he showed up to the Central Library building in downtown St. Louis, and because he always wore the same clothes, bearing the logo of the city’s former NFL team, the staff privately nicknamed him “Rams Jacket.” It was increasingly becoming a problem that hundreds of people like Russell, who spent their nights at the homeless shelter across the street, would spend their days in the library. But Russell was, according to one librarian who worked at Central at the time, “the most regular of the regulars.”

He always sat in the exact same room, at the same table, in the same chair. He usually read quietly, and when not reading, he napped sitting with the book propped up in front of him. He was in many ways the ideal library patron. However, Russell slept at a shelter where a different person used every bed each night, the linens changed only once a week. He became afflicted with bed bugs. He suffered from painful, suppurating sores.

Homeless people spending time in and around public libraries are nothing unusual in metropolitan areas. It has been written about before, widely. But at this central library in St. Louis, the city system’s crown jewel, a conundrum that exists all over the country was heightened to a rare degree. A library is supposed to be a place for all people. But how does the library keep its doors open to all?

The New Life Evangelistic Center, where Russell slept, was a controversial homeless shelter. Run by a reverend and sometimes-third party mayoral candidate named Larry Rice, the shelter took in as many as 300 people every night, and every morning at six, these people were told to leave for the day.

. . . .

Across the street, however, the Central Library where Russell spent his days had undergone a $70 million renovation. Its floors perfectly reflect the sunlight shining in through massive stained glass windows. Frescoes adorn the high ceilings. Footsteps and low voices echo in exactly the right hallowed way. The building itself is more than a century old, designed by the architect of the Woolworth building in Manhattan with construction funded by Andrew Carnegie. Canonical names are etched around the rim of its granite exterior: Goethe, Milton, Racine.

Between the Central Library and the NLEC sits tiny Lucas Gardens Park, where many people who slept the previous night in the shelter waited out the days. If you’d visited the area as recently as this spring you would have noticed the crowd congregated there, people who seemed to have everything they own clutched in their hand or stored in bags at their feet. At times there were so many people in the park that it looked as if an event were about to begin.

Unable to use the NLEC’s facilities during the day, many of its residents used the library’s bathrooms, water fountains, and air conditioning, which meant that, according to one former librarian, the Central Library was a “de facto day shelter with hundreds of people.”

. . . .

[I]t was common in the library’s Great Hall for every chair to be occupied by someone experiencing homelessness. This deterred research, fewer people checked out books, and parents were hesitant to bring their children. The library’s executive director testified that Central Library was more and more, “used not as a public library but as a shelter, a place to keep warm, a place to keep cool, a place to sit, a place to meet.” Due to the volume of people outside, some library staff were escorted to and from their cars at the beginning and end of their shifts. Representatives from the library stated that Central employed a full-time custodian whose entire job was to, “constantly walk the perimeter of the building, cleaning up large amounts of blankets, clothing, food containers and trash, as well as urine, feces, vomit, and drug paraphernalia.” This custodian removed human feces “virtually every day.”

. . . .

“If you smell or you look like you haven’t changed your clothes and you truly are homeless on the street, they will not let you in,” Megan Ferguson says. “The police will put you out. There’s actual police in there that will put you out.”

. . . .

“There was a big $70 million investment in the renovation,” he said. “And certainly some of the library’s leadership felt that NLEC folks were discouraging other patrons from visiting, bringing their kids downtown. This is a real concern. Central Library is a stunning building, a shared asset that everyone should be able to enjoy safely. It’s an extremely difficult and complex problem, balancing the safety of the library on the one hand with the acknowledgment on the other that the homeless and marginalized are real patrons, too.”

. . . .

Faye Abram, a social work professor recently retired from St. Louis University, says that it helps to bear in mind that even though homeless people don’t have a home, they still have a home base. In this particular case, she says, the Central Library didn’t attract the homeless so much as it was located within the community of the homeless. The NLEC was next door, and about five blocks north is a Catholic Charity-run center offering support for people experiencing homelessness. Resources for utility assistance and pro bono legal services are also within a few blocks. “The library was part of their community,” Abram said. “And the library because of its generally open policies and liberal hours was like a safe space.”

Abram, who was asked to testify at the hearings related to the NLEC, says she never perceived the Central Library as an institution asking itself what it should do to be more responsive to the needs of homeless people in the area. But, she said, she isn’t sure that is a fair burden to put on the library. It’s asking the library to do more than what libraries are typically asked to do.

. . . .

Cooke pointed to libraries in San Francisco that have coordinated with a mobile shower facility that parks outside various branch locations, which provide the necessary water hook up. Abram mentioned that some libraries allow people moving into areas to use the local branch address as their home address until they are settled. At a library in Philadelphia, librarians have been trained to administer Narcan in the case that someone in or near the library overdoses on opioids. In a recent article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a reporter chronicled the story of one librarian who helped save the lives of three overdose victims in as many shifts.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG says it’s a tough problem with no easy answers.

However, he suspects many parents will not bring their children into the kind of environment described in the OP. When the next library renovation requires funding, political support may very well be absent.

Regarding a central city library building being viewed as a “crown jewel” of a city, those days may be over.

 

Napoleon’s Traveling Library

14 October 2017

From the Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 53, Number 90, 6 June 1885:

Many of Napoleon’s biographers have incidentally mentioned that he […] used to carry about a certain number of favorite books wherever he went, whether traveling or camping; but it is not generally known that he made several plans for the construction of portable libraries which were to form part of his baggage.

Some interesting information upon this head is given us by M. Louis Barbier, who for many years had the care of the Louvre Library, and who bases his information upon sonic memoirs left by his father, who was librarian to Napoleon himself.

For a long time Napoleon used to carry about the books he required in several boxes holding about sixty volumes each.

These volumes, which were either octavo or duodecimo, stood upon shelves inside the boxes, which were supplied by the well-known cabinetmaker, Jacob. They were made of mahogany at first, but as it was found that this was not strong enough for the knocking about they had to sustain, M. Barbier bad them made of oak and covered with leather.

The inside was lined with green leather or velvet, and the books were bound in morocco. There was a catalogue for each case, with a corresponding number upon every volume, so that there was never a moment’s delay in picking out any book that was wanted. As soon as the Emperor had selected his headquarters during a campaign these cases were placed in the room which was intended to be his study, together with the portfolios containing his letters and maps.

Link to the rest at the California Digital Newspaper Collection and thanks to Austin Kleon for the tip.

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Here are some traveling libraries:
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The City of Opatija is a Free Reading Zone

2 October 2017

From No Shelf Required:

No Shelf Required is pleased to announce the launch of a new FREE READING ZONE under its leadership in the Adriatic city of Opatija, known for its promenade, luxury hotels, and a long history of cultural and business tourism. Starting today, on World Tourism Day, Opatija becomes an open virtual library, called Opatija Reads, accessible to all people inside the city limits, without a library card or access code. To celebrate this milestone, the city is enveloped with flags bearing the signature FREE READING ZONE logo and featuring quotes about the importance of reading and access to books.

“At the core of the FREE READING ZONE Project lies the belief that the power of technology to transform how books and knowledge reach us is profound. We can do with them what we have never been able to do with paper books,” said Mirela Roncevic, Director of No Shelf Required. “The city of Opatija today stands as an inspiration to other tourist destinations, because it shows that the tourism industry can be transformed through technology,” added Roncevic.

“Technology has long been breaking down barriers, equalizing access to content and information, and connecting people. We have created an unbreakable relationship with it. Because of it, we read news freely, listen to music freely, even watch movies freely. Why should the book not be given the same chance to reach the widest audience possible?,” added Roncevic. “The eye-catching installation in the city’s center symbolizes our passion to connect human thoughts, ideas and knowledge in inextricable ways. Today in Opatija, tomorrow in New York, the day after tomorrow in Aleppo.”

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

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For anyone who doesn’t get why old book smell is special, meet these two scientists

19 September 2017

From Upworthy:

Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič remember how it smells to enter the library of Dean and Chapter.

The library is nestled above the main floor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, tucked away behind the southwest tower. Coming through the long stone corridors of the cathedral, a visitor is met with a tall wooden door, usually kept closed. The outside world might be full of the smell of fumes from central London’s busy roads or the incense that wafts through the church, but once you open that door, a different smell envelops you. It’s woody, musty, and a little bit familiar.

“It is a combination of paper, leather, wood … and time,” said the pair.

. . . .

Bembibre and Strlič are scientists from the University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Heritage. Many people might find the aroma of an old, yellowing book nostalgic, but for Bembibre and Strlič, it can be so much more.

For them, what we smell is just as much a part of our heritage as what we see or hear — and they’re on a mission to preserve it.

. . . .

For their latest work, the pair used both high-tech chemistry and an old-fashioned human nose to document the smell of books.

Volunteers were asked to describe either the aroma of the cathedral library (woody, smoky, vanilla) or antique books (chocolate, burnt, mothballs). Bembibre and Strlič then combined these descriptors with analyses of the faint, airborne scent-laden chemicals (known as VOCs) that the items or locations were giving off.

The pair then synthesized these findings into the Historic Book Odour Wheel, which pairs the chemical signatures and human descriptors together. Using it, you can see that a book with a rich caramel smell might be impregnated with the chemical furfural or one with an old-clothing funk might be giving off the chemical hexanal.

. . . .

“Our knowledge of the past is odourless,” the authors write in their paper. But our lives aren’t.

Link to the rest at Upworthy

PG prefers the aroma of cinnamon rolls in the oven.

Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World’s Oldest Continuously Run Libraries

6 September 2017

Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt. (Berthold Werner/Wikimedia Commons)

From Smithsonian:

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, a sacred Christian site nestled in the shadow of Mount Sinai, is home to one of the world’s oldest continuously used libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and books are kept there—some of which contain hidden treasures.

Now, as Jeff Farrell reports for the Independent, a team of researchers is using new technology to uncover texts that were erased and written over by the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. Many of these original texts were written in languages well known to researchers—Latin, Greek, Arabic—but others were inscribed in long-lost languages that are rarely seen in the historical record.

Manuscripts with multiple layers of writing are known as palimpsests, and there are about 130 of them at St. Catherine’s Monastery, according to the website of the Early Manuscript Electronic Library, which has been leading the initiative to uncover the original texts.

. . . .

To uncover the palimpsests’ secret texts, researchers photographed thousands of pages multiple times, illuminating each page with different-colored lights. They also photographed the pages with light shining onto them from behind, or from an oblique angle, which helped “highlight tiny bumps and depressions in the surface,” Gray writes. They then fed the information into a computer algorithm, which is able to distinguish the more recent texts from the originals.

. . . .

But perhaps the most intriguing finds are the manuscripts written in obscure languages that fell out of use many centuries ago. Two of the erased texts, for instance, were inked in Caucasian Albanian, a language spoken by Christians in what is now Azerbaijan. According to Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura, Caucasian Albanian only exists today in a few stone inscriptions. Michael Phelps, director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, tells Gray of the Atlantic that the discovery of Caucasian Albanian writings at Saint Catherine’s library has helped scholars increase their knowledge of the language’s vocabulary, giving them words for things like “net” and “fish.”

Other hidden texts were written in a defunct dialect known as Christian Palestinian Aramaic, a mix of Syriac and Greek, which was discontinued in the 13th century only to be rediscovered by scholars in the 18th century. “This was an entire community of people who had a literature, art, and spirituality,” Phelps tells Gray. “Almost all of that has been lost, yet their cultural DNA exists in our culture today. These palimpsest texts are giving them a voice again and letting us learn about how they contributed to who we are today.”

Link to the rest at Smithsonian

If you click on either image in this post, you’ll see a larger version.

This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive).

Print Book Use Is Falling Faster in Research Libraries

27 August 2017

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

In late 2010, I was thinking quite a bit about book use in research libraries. The conventional wisdom was that “no one uses print books anymore” in libraries like mine, and indeed annual data provided by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) showed a pretty clear decline in book circulations: between 1991 and 2008 (the most recent data available at that time), the number of initial circulations in ARL libraries had fallen by over a quarter. And when I ventured into the book stacks in my own library I usually found them spookily deserted.

. . . .

But I was haunted by a passing comment a colleague had made to me a few years earlier, noting that the conclusions we draw from library usage data can easily be confounded by changes in the library’s user population. It occurred to me that if we really want to understand what’s happening with regard to library patrons and printed books, we need to take into account the changing nature of our patron base. And the simplest and most consistent change in that population is growth over time: university enrollment tends to grow from year to year.

The question I decided to examine, then, was: how much of the change in individual patron behavior is being hidden by raw circulation data? Clearly, if the size of your patron base is growing while circulation numbers remain the same, that means that the average patron is using the printed collection less; and if the circulation numbers are actually falling while your patron base is growing, that means the average patron is using the library at a more steeply-declining rate than the circulation data suggest.

. . . .

ARL libraries had seen a fairly steady number of initial circulation transactions between 1995 and 2008, with totals hovering between 36 and 40 million. However, during that same period the aggregate circulation rate fell by almost 50% —a significant change in patron behavior, and one entirely masked by the raw circulation trend.

. . . .

What came next was, for me, even more interesting: I had a great deal of trouble getting my study published. I submitted it to a journal with a particular interest in collection development in research libraries, and it was rejected. Then I submitted it to a journal focused on library management; no luck there either. I eventually decided to submit it in an abridged version to a less formal venue, and the report was published in Library Journal under the title “Print on the Margins: Circulation Trends in Major Research Libraries.” The data set was too large to embed into the article, so I pulled out a few noteworthy institutional examples and provided a link to the full data set for those wanting to investigate further.

That piece was published in mid-2011, and over the past couple of years I’ve been feeling a growing sense that it was time to revisit the ARL data and see what’s happened in research libraries since.

. . . .

In 2009, what had been a fairly steady state in initial circulations between 1995 changed dramatically, and there has been a hard and steady decline ever since. Between 2009 and 2015, total initial circulations in ARL libraries fell by almost half (from 36 million to 19 million).

. . . .

[A]ny library that is seeing a steep decline in the use of its print collection should probably let that trend inform a serious examination of its space and budget allocations. (And given that the average decline in circulations per student since 1995 has been so dramatic — from 25 to 7, a 72% decrease — there are lots of research libraries seeing steep declines.)

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen

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