The Rare-Book Thief Who Looted College Libraries in the ’80s

24 July 2017

From the Atlas Obscura:

On the evening of December 7, 1981, Dianne Melnychuk, serials librarian at the Haas Library at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, noticed an unfamiliar gray-haired man of early middle age lingering around the card catalog near her desk. He had attempted to appear inconspicuous by way of nondescript, almost slovenly dress, but at almost six-and-a-half feet tall, with a 225-pound frame, he stood out.

Something about him rang a bell. Melnychuk discreetly followed him up to the sixth level of the stacks, and carefully observed him from the end of a row of shelving. In spite of the glasses he wore that evening, his face clicked in her memory.

A few months earlier, a photo of this man, who went by the name James Richard Shinn, had appeared in an article published in Library Journal. Patricia Sacks, director of the Muhlenberg and Cedar Crest College Libraries, had shared the article with her staff with an accompanying memo: “Take a good look at the face,” she wrote, “and, more importantly, keep your eye on strangers whose behavior may be a tipoff.”

James Richard Shinn was a master book thief. Using expert techniques and fraudulent documents, he would ultimately pillage world-class libraries to the tune of half a million dollars or more. A Philadelphia detective once called him “the most fascinating, best, smartest crook I ever encountered.” And yet, despite the audacity of his approach and the widespread effects of his crimes, Shinn has been relegated to a footnote in book history.

. . . .

Shinn’s motel room contained 26 stolen books and a file full of inventory cards for another 154 volumes. He was well-educated in book history, restoration and binding, and the tools of his trade filled the room: color-stained cloths and Q-tips with jars of shoe polish, used to color-match and conceal library markings on book spines. A folder of facsimile title pages, used as replacements when a book’s true title page was stamped or contained other identifying marks. All were designed to remove libraries’ marks and render the stolen works unidentifiable and thus saleable to unsuspecting book dealers and collectors.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura


Best Excuses for not Returning Library Books on Time

20 July 2017

From Book Riot:

The best part about being a librarian is being able to help community members with their information needs. Patrons frequent their public libraries to check out new books, make prints, fax papers, apply for jobs or simply to visit their favorite librarian.

. . . .

So, I would be lying if I told you I did not like my job. The truth is, it is the most rewarding career I could imagine. Most patrons are so genuinely thankful for the assistance their librarians provide that they know they can always turn to them for help with the most difficult questions. However, when it comes to turning in books late and racking up fines, some patrons do not mess around. They hate racking up fines and hate it even more when they have to pay those fines.

. . . .

“I couldn’t find the keys to my car that day.” So I guess you could not find them every day after that either? I wonder how you got to work or dropped your kids off at school. Hmmmm.

“I didn’t know they were due that day. I never bring back my books late. I’m always on top of things like that.” ::Checks account, sees a long history of returning books late::

. . . .

“I’m a taxpayer and I shouldn’t have to pay fines.” What would this world come to if you weren’t held accountable for paying your late fees? Yes, you can speak to a commissioner or the mayor if you would like.

But my all-time favorite has to be: “It was just too hot that day to return my books.” Listen, I know it’s Texas and 110 degrees but “too hot outside” is not an excuse I can mark on your account. You have to give me something better than that.

Link to the rest at Book Riot


A Childhood of Reading and Wandering

19 July 2017

From The Literary Hub:

There are ecological reasons to question how books are made out of trees but metaphysical reasons to rejoice in the linkage between forests and libraries, here in this public library, in the town I grew up in, with the fiber from tens of thousands of trees rolled out into paper, printed and then bound into books, stacked up in rows on the shelves that fill this place and make narrow corridors for readers to travel through, a labyrinth of words that is also an invitation to wander inside the texts. The same kind of shade and shelter that can be found in an aisle of books and an avenue of trees, and in the longevity of both, and the mere fact that both, if not butchered or burned, may outlive us.

In the most egalitarian of European—and New Mexican—traditions, forests were public commons in which common people could roam, graze flocks, hunt and gather, and this is another way that forests when they are public land and public libraries are alike: as spaces in which everyone is welcome, as places in which we can wander and collect, get lost and find what we’re looking for.

The United States’s public libraries sometimes seem to me the last refuges of a democratic vision of equality, places in which everyone is welcome, which serve the goal of an informed public, offering services far beyond the already heady gift of free books you can take home, everything from voter registration to computer access. I’ve joked for a long time that if you walked up to people in the street and asked them whether we could own our greatest treasures collectively and trust people to walk away with them and bring them back, a lot of people would say that’s impossibly idealistic and some would say it’s socialist, but libraries have been making books free for all for a very long time. They are temples of books, fountains of narrative pleasure, and toolboxes of crucial information. My own writing has depended on public libraries and then university libraries and archives and does to this day. I last used a public library the day before yesterday.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub


60 Library Systems are on Pace to Hit One Million Digital Checkouts in 2017

18 July 2017

From Overdrive Blogs:

Last year, a record 49 different OverDrive digital library collections hit one million checkouts and we’re excited to announce that it looks like, once again, a new benchmark will be set. Records are meant to be broken, after all. In 2015, the number of library systems hitting one million checkouts was 33 and two years later we’re within range of doubling that amount. When we reached the end of June, 60 digital collections had surpassed 500,000+ circulations and another ten are just off that pace. In fact, 15 of them have already passed the one million checkout threshold.

The Million Checkout milestone is both a great achievement and a marketing tool for our library partners. Many libraries boost their marketing efforts during the holidays to promote the service and reach that goal. Neighboring libraries have even created friendly competitions to see who can circulate the most eBooks, audiobooks and other digital content. These events often spark inspiration for other libraries to say, “Next year that will be us!” While we love this gumption to plan for next year, there’s still time to reach new heights in 2017.

Link to the rest at Overdrive Blogs


The Book Blind Taste Test – Pick a book… any book…

16 July 2017

From All About Romance:

I have always loved libraries, but I admit I had fallen out of the habit of using my local one recently. One of my dear friends is a middle school librarian and she (appropriately) shamed me a bit for it, telling me the best way to make sure libraries stay around and keep their funding is to use them. So, a few months back, I started building weekly trips to my local temple of knowledge into my schedule and added a particular challenge to myself. I would walk directly to the New Releases section and pick up the first book by an author I didn’t recognize.

This has led to some real gems (Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinsborough was one) and some duds (which I will leave out for politeness). I told the AAR Staff about my new project and several of them jumped on board, saying it sounded like a great challenge. So many other staffers joined me, in fact, that we’ve decided to make it a regular blog.

The parameters of the project are fairly simple: you must read one book by a new-to-you author, either one you’ve never heard of or one you’ve been meaning to get to, and give it at least fifty  pages. For AAR, our additional rule is that the book involves women; written by one or has one as a protagonist. How you acquire the book is up to you; library, bookstore, TBR pile that is threatening to overrun your house. Just make sure you haven’t read the author before.

Link to the rest at All About Romance


Waukegan Public Library Employees Confront Sexual Harassment of Librarians

8 July 2017

From Illinois Leaks:

During the American Library Association’s (ALA) latest conference (held in Chicago in June 2017), two Waukegan Public Library employees delivered a standing-room-only presentation on sexual harassment experienced regularly by public librarians.

Amanda Civitello (Waukegan’s Marketing and Communications Manager) and Katie McLain (Reference Assistant) opened their remarks to the packed room with the story of what it’s like to be a public librarian and having to tell friends and family about working in a sexually hostile work environment (when no one in America, under the EEOC Act, has to suffer like that).

Civitello talked about being out to dinner with friends and sharing stories about male library patrons sexually harassing her and feeling like she was required to take that abuse as part of her job. Her friends — all people employed at private companies or in other lines of work besides librarianship — were gobsmacked that Civitello felt that she had no recourse and had to just put up with sexual harassment on the job because it was coming from the public. “Haven’t you heard of the EEOC? You don’t have to take that abuse, Amanda,” she reported her friends repeating over and over again. But the two presenters confronted the ugly truth about public libraries: for whatever reason, employees are still being told by management or otherwise pressured to feel that they do have to take that abuse or lose their jobs.

. . . .

The overwhelmingly positive response that Amanda Civitello and Katie McLain received for their presentation was followed by an extended question and comment session that could have run all night but was limited for time. Dozens of library employees from around Illinois and across the nation jockeyed for time at the microphone to tell their horror stories about encountering sexual harassment from library patrons…and often having to later deal with Baby Boomer library management that wanted to downplay the events, hide them from the record, and tell the employees that taking such abuse is just part of their jobs. In addition to library employees being made to feel uncomfortable by male patrons openly viewing pornography on library computers (a problem that plagued Orland Park for many years), the female employees told stories about being stalked by members of the public who would continuously ask them out on dates or comment suggestively on their appearance and make them feel unsafe in the workplace by following them around the stacks or lurking around corners. Some male library employees also reported instances of themselves (or other male coworkers) being stalked and sexually harassed by members of the public as well.

Link to the rest at Illinois Leaks and thanks to Lucy for the tip.


Austerity and the British Library

29 June 2017

From The Millions:

The Hornsey Public Library sits off a gravel-paved sidewalk on a residential street in an outer borough of London. There are many beautiful libraries in London, but the Hornsey Public Library was built at a time in the 20th century when London did not require its libraries to be beautiful. The concrete and brick exterior has many right angles and determinedly unadorned surfaces. A marble plaque near the entrance says it was dedicated in 1965 by Princess Alexandra, a cousin of the queen and one of the corps of expendable royals dispatched to things like suburban library dedications.

The one very beautiful thing in the Hornsey Public Library is a large glass etching of an old map of the Parish of Hornsey on the floor-to-ceiling window near the north stairs. It is interesting to look at but feels hidden and out of place, as though added at the last minute when someone realized that the library should have at least one beautiful thing. The library’s interior is tidy and spacious. It has high ceilings lit by fluorescent tubes behind plastic panels. The walls are mint green and the floor is covered in that rough short-nap carpet that comes in squares. It feels dated but in a timeless way, as if there’s been no point in its existence when it wasn’t comfortably out of style.

The neighborhood that shelters the Hornsey Public Library used to be called the Parish of Hornsey. Now it’s called Crouch End. Crouch End is in the middle-outer rings of London, between the northern forks of the Piccadilly and Northern lines. It has a cobbler, a fishmonger, a poulterer, and several fruiterers. It has many strollers that frequently obstruct crosswalks and sidewalks. It supports multiple patisseries and health food stores.

. . . .

Crouch End has council housing, which is what the English call public housing, and it also has houses that are quite posh, which is what the English call things that cost a lot of money. English towns are rarely like American towns, where an address or intersection stage-whispers its inhabitants’ socioeconomic status. In neighborhoods like Crouch End the housing stock is jumbled together, with million-pound homes sharing a block or even a wall with crumbling rental conversions. Even with this democracy of address, class anxieties rumble.

. . . .

The inside of the Hornsey Public Library feels different from the neighborhood outside. In Crouch End there are many people who like the idea of community, but who also have the money to pay for nicer things than those available in communal facilities. They prefer to buy their books at an independent bookshop, but often, guiltily, on Amazon. Inside the library there are people who do not have the money to pay for nicer things and so need to use communal facilities. Not all of the people in this second category like the idea of community. The percentage of people who can be seen muttering softly to themselves is also greater inside the library than outside of it.

. . . .

The Hornsey Public Library does not possess a staggering number of books. On the ground floor, past the checkout desk, is a long wall of fiction. History hides under the stairs; gardening and cookery hug the back wall; and economics, sociology, and assorted non-fiction line a few shelves upstairs. It is an eclectic mix of bestselling and obscure authors, new titles and old. If there is a special book you have in mind—a lesser-known short story collection by a famous novelist, for example, or a book on Burma that you saw in an airport bookshop—chances are the library does not have that book. If you are not committed to a particular title and have the time and inclination to browse the shelves looking for something interesting to read, then certainly you will find at least one book that fits your personal criteria of readability.

Books are only a small part of the library’s mandate. When the council elected to spare its libraries from cuts, it announced that they would be redeveloped as “community hubs.” Among the groups using the library’s facilities for regular open meetings are stroke survivors, cancer survivors, seniors, dads, knitters, aspiring songwriters, Pilates enthusiasts, and philosophy buffs. There is an art gallery and a café with tea, coffee, and a refrigerated case with a small selection of juice and boxed sandwiches. No one ever eats the sandwiches.

Link to the rest at The Millions


Concerns over Forest Hill Library plans to rent desk space

29 June 2017

From The Bookseller:

Forest Hill Library in Lewisham has started renting out desk space at the cost of £200 a month.

The library has 12 desks to rent and said the “dedicated co-working space” will be for the exclusive use of creatives, freelancers, entrepreneurs, social enterprises and charities. The space comes equipped with lockable storage and wifi.

. . . .

Dawn Finch, library campaigner and former president of CILIP, told The Bookseller that she had “great concerns” over who will be profiting from the enterprise. “Whilst I fully understand that in times of austerity, a public library may well need to explore creative methods of income generation, I have great concerns over the type of companies that are circling community libraries in search of a profit. I feel that as some library groups are desperately in need of an urgent solution to funding problems, they will be forced to make decisions that are, in themselves, unethical.

“The provision of a library service is a legal and statutory requirement for every local authority. As they wash their hands of the problem by handing libraries over to small groups, they force community groups to desperately try to hang on alone. This will inevitably lead to some groups making decisions that are not inclusive, and do not serve all in the wider community.”

Author Catherine Johnson said: “I couldn’t believe this. It makes me incredibly sad and angry. What a crass attempt at squeezing cash for locals. The whole ethos of libraries as free to their communities is broken by this initiative. Libraries were set up to be the universities of the working class: a place to study, to do job applications. These opportunities are now denied to all but those to pay. A sign that volunteer run spaces do not work.”

. . . .

However, the library has defended the move, stressing that the space was previously unused and that all revenue will be reinvested into the running of the library.

Tara Cranswick, founder and director of V22, said: “The desk space we’re renting out was previously unused and all funds received will go back into the library. It’s a large space that used to house the teen section and film clubs and events, but now the teen section has been moved into the main library and the clubs and events in the community space next door. All the desks in the main library are still there to use free of charge.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller


The Librarian Who Guarded the Manhattan Project’s Secrets

27 June 2017

From the Atlas Obscura:

The residents of Los Alamos, New Mexico—a town that wasn’t supposed to exist—lived in a viscous state of secrecy during World War II. To disguise the existence of the nuclear bomb being built there, the group of Manhattan Project scientists, security personnel, and families needed to consider and reconsider their every move. They couldn’t leave “the Hill,” as Los Alamos was known, without required passes. Their mail reached New Mexico through a series of forwarding addresses set up across the United States, arriving in a P.O. box 20 miles away in Santa Fe. Food was purchased from a single commissary; a trip to Santa Fe was “a major event.”

When they first arrived at Los Alamos, they were told to buy train tickets to New Mexico from a variety of locations. One Princeton physicist recounted how he and his colleagues had to avoid the local train station, because it was so small, and too many people purchasing tickets to Albuquerque from there might raise suspicions.

The importance of silence at Los Alamos was doubly true for scientific breakthroughs. One woman, Adrienne Lowry, only learned that her husband Joseph Kennedy had discovered plutonium when she was cataloguing books and kept seeing the acronym “PU.” When she asked her husband about it, he confessed that “PU” stood for plutonium—an element he’d helped to identify a few years earlier.

. . . .

One of the most significant features of this elaborate security apparatus was the scientific library, a virtually unknown space that, during the 1940s, housed the secrets of the nuclear bomb.

. . . .

Nestled alongside the massive Los Alamos lab—which Lisa Bier in Atomic Wives and the Secret Library at Los Alamos described as emanating an “aura of utilitarian haste” with its unpaved streets and barbed wire gates manned by guards—the library appeared quite bleak. The photos that exist today show a small space crammed with books, shelves, file cabinets, and a Ditto machine (an early copier). Because the library was expected to be demolished after the war, everything was built from cheap wood.

The library had two sections: the main area, pictured at the top, and the document room—a locked vault containing reports and designs from Los Alamos and the other Manhattan Project sites. The library’s all-female staff—a mix of wives and Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps officers—needed to catalog, secure, and distribute thousands of books and manuscripts in a matter of months.

The rapid pace made the work so intense that, when one WAAC officer was offered a job at the library, she “took a look at the huge stack of technical reports from chemical companies, piled up ‘like a teepee,’ the classification of which would be her primary task.” According to Atomic Wives and the Secret Library at Los Alamos, “she avoided this sentence, which she termed ‘solitary confinement,’ by opting instead to drive trucks.”

. . . .

Here is a puzzle. You have no library experience, and you are tasked with a) heading a top secret facility, b) devising security protocols to ensure the U.S. military’s greatest secrets stay hidden, and c) importing thousands of documents to a site in the middle of nowhere—all in a vanishingly small window of time as World War II unfolds. How do you do it?

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura


Download More than 2,500 Images of Vibrant Japanese Woodblock Prints and Drawings From the Library of Congress

25 June 2017

From Colossal:

Thanks to the Library of Congress, you can browse and download high-resolution copies of more than 2,500 Japanese woodblock prints and drawings from the library’s online collection. The prints, most of which are dated before the 20th-century, were amassed from a large group of collectors, including notable donors such as President William Howard Taft and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Despite the diversity of genres and traditions represented by the library’s large collection, the most prolific works are ones created in the tradition of the Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e or Yokohama-e. Ukiyo-e was developed in the city of Edo (now Tokyo) between 1600 and 1868 during a relatively peaceful period. The subject and inspiration for many of the prints includes that of entertainment and leisure, such as scenes from kabuki theater and fashionable restaurants.

Link to the rest at Colossal and thanks to Nate for the tip. Here’s a link to the Library of Congress Collection.

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