Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Random stuff - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Random stuff
There are three different things I should be writing, and I'm not writing any of them. Must engage brain.

Some of the kids want to do a Jackson Pollock day--they were playing with this link that verdenia gave me--throwing paint at a canvas (I couldn't afford a canvas, but maybe I could get some big cardboard). It sounds like it might be a bit messy for the library, though; I'll have to think about that to figure out how to handle it. I think March is Art History month, so it would be a good time. I also want to get some posters from different movements. I also want to get someone to come talk to them about why it's art when Jackson Pollock throws paint at a canvas, because I barely have an emotional understanding of it, let alone an intellectual enough one to try and teach them!

Did I mention that I read the book Catastrophe, by David Keys? He basically posits the fall of the Roman Empire and the entire creation of the modern world on an early eruption of Krakatoa. Interesting, but a bit flawed--creating the circumstances that make a thing possible isn't really the same thing as causing it. I think it just put a little too much on a single event, though it made a convincing case for the importance of it. I was especially interested in the theory that it was what initiall pulled the Plague out of its reservoir and kicked off Justinian's Plague.

BTW, interesting article on libraries. I'd love to get people's thoughts.
19 comments or Leave a comment
hermia7 From: hermia7 Date: January 4th, 2007 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Re. Pollock Day: You'd be surprised by how cheap big canvases are as long as you aren't picky about a gallary wrapped (smooth, no staples showing) edge. I used to buy 18" x 36" at Utrecht's for about $12, and it might be fun to have a contest or something for the kids--let them all use that posterboard you can get at Staples or where ever, but have a drawing so one kid gets to use real canvas? There aren't many sizes on the Utrecht website, but they start at $2.99 for smallish ones! http://www.utrechtart.com/ go to canvas/pre-stretched cotton canvas/value canvas

Re. the library article.... Wow. As if the thing a few weeks ago about the Honor Roll hadn't made me sad enough. Two points that I really think are important:

There's a fine line between an institution that aims to edify the public and one that merely uses tax dollars to subsidize the recreational habits of bookworms.

New words come in and old ones go out, but a reliable lexicon becomes a foundation of linguistic stability and coherence. Likewise, libraries should seek to shore up the culture against the eroding force of trends.

As the child of a librarian, a life-long voracious reader, and a child who grew up reading my way through the public library with very little regard for popularity of a given title, I'd hate to see books kicked out because they don't circulate. On the other hand, I do understand the problems with storage and sheer volume control. What a difficult dilemma--I am sure I was one of the only people checking out the various Rumer Godden books I adored as a child, but I like to think that if they stayed on the shelves eventually another curious kid would stumble upon them too. As for trading Hemingway for Patterson.... Sob.

By the way, I very rarely just pick up a random book these days, since I'm NOT using a library and can't afford to buy on a whim, but I read the first 6 chapters of something at B&N over the weekend and liked it enough to bring home. It's called "The Case of the Missing Books," by Ian Sansom, and while it sounds like an Encyclopedia Brown story it's actually a very funny story about a sad-sack wannabe librarian who thinks he's got a good job as a branch librarian in an Irish town, then shows up to find the library closed and a rusted out old "Mobile Library" waiting for him. And all the books are missing. It's amusing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2007 06:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Sounds fun; I'll look for it.

Weeding is always a harsh dilemma. Luckily, my particular collection has always been strong on duplicate copies, so when the popularity wanes, we can usually pull one copy and leave the other.
veryshortlist From: veryshortlist Date: January 4th, 2007 05:58 am (UTC) (Link)
That article made me sad and furious in equal parts, a condition I go to libraries to rid myself of.

It's only one library that's doing this. Right? Cause I can't afford to just go buy the book, hate clutter, and simply like the idea of borrowing books.

I never got Pollock. But the project sounds fun.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2007 06:15 am (UTC) (Link)
It's only one library that's doing this. Right?

Sirsi-Dynix sells nationwide, and their new software is responding to very current theories of collection management in library schools.

It wouldn't interfere too much with borrowing for recreational reading (unless you have unusual tastes); it would mostly involve pulling things off the shelf when they haven't circulated for X amount of time, in order to have more copies of current stuff.
veryshortlist From: veryshortlist Date: January 4th, 2007 06:45 am (UTC) (Link)
slyvermont From: slyvermont Date: January 4th, 2007 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)
On your Jackson Pollack project -- newspapers usually have end-of-roll newsprint for very cheap, and sometimes free for teachers (the two dailies I've worked for give it away to educators). My daughter did this very exercise for an art history class she taught, and said the kids enjoyed this activity a lot. But it was very messy.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 4th, 2007 06:16 am (UTC) (Link)
"There's a fine line between an institution that aims to edify the public and one that merely uses tax dollars to subsidize the recreational habits of bookworms."


There's a difference?

I mean, other than one is said with respect and the other is trying as hard as it can to make the preservation of civilization sound like it's "only" the recreational habit of bookworms.

Civilization should be a habit, and would that more people thought of it as recreational rather than cultural equivilant of eating your lima beans.

But then, I'm just coming off my long, Christmas-is-coming-and-I-can't-buy-something-someone-else-might-give-me personal book buying freeze. I've gone a little crazy but, hey, it's worth a couple months of a high ramen diet.

Of course, civilization-wise, I'm the kind of person who doesn't like Hemingway, loves Shakespeare, and had to choose this between an evening with the classics and MS3K (MS3K lost, but it was a near thing).

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2007 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I honestly don't care for Hemingway, either, but at the same time, I would certainly expect that if I needed to read The Old Man and the Sea or some other title that more or less everyone knows, I could go the library and grab a copy. It's just one of those things that it would be very surprising to go in and not find there.
lannamichaels From: lannamichaels Date: January 4th, 2007 07:57 am (UTC) (Link)
It's an interesting article. I don't know the first thing about how libraries are organized or how they make decisions on what to buy, but I use my local library for two things: books and movies. Since blockbuster closed, the library is the only way to "rent" movies without resorting to doing it online or driving for a half hour. The local grocery store chain has a movie rental thing in a couple of the stores, but there's no selection. I usually get movies that have either come out in the last year, or in the last ten. I once spent a month watching all the Sharpe movies, but I've also gotten National Treature. I don't tend to go for the classics, like Casablanca. That has nothing to do with the article, but I've seen some stuff about how horirble it is that libraries carry movies, so I thought I'd toss that out there.

But for books, I'm all over the map. I don't go the library for best sellers. If I want to read a best seller, I usually wait until it's not, or I go to BN and read it in the store. I like the library for books BN doesn't have. I like Elaine Bergstrom, but I only discovered her by reading a recs list online and then checking each rec to see if the library had it. They had one of her books and I put the rest on ILL and got the fourth one two years after I requested it. But it was worth it. I still remember opening it up and reading the first page under my desk in spanish class in high school.

The idea that libraries need to have "the classics", well, I want to know is, for whom? Is it for students who are reading them for class? Is it for people who want to become well read? Or is it just to have on their shelves and look important? If no one's reading a book, that doesn't mean there's never going to be any audience, but, uh, sci-fi reader showing through, not all classics are books people really want to read. I've felt for a while that some books called classics are books other people want you to read, but would never read themselves, because they're boring. Obviously, books I don't like still have people who like them, but the use of Hemingway as the example in the article makes me laugh, because you'd have to put a gun to my head to make me read Hemingway.

I guess what I'm saying is, for me it comes down to appealing to casual browsers or to focused readers. Casual browsers like me will see a book rec and try to track down that book and libraries are great for that. Focused readers have a list of Books To Read, and those books are Set in Stone, and maybe they're building their own personal collection, and are looking for bestsellers and The Classics. I personally don't think the library should have more than one or two copies of any book, and having stacks and stacks of the bestsellers like I see at my local library (not sure if this is widespread) is pretty wasteful. Buying twenty copies of a best seller doesn't help you after a few years and no one's reading that book anymore. It just takes up space. Libraries, imho, shouldn't be in competition with book stores. Book stores serve the purpose of getting out the popular stuff and the books people have to read, like Dickens & Co. I think libraries should have more to them than your college reading list.

I don't think that made any sense. That article just confuses me. Of course libraries shouldn't toss the classics. But Every unpopular book that's removed from circulation, after all, creates room for a new page-turner by John Grisham, David Baldacci, or James Patterson--the authors of the three most checked-out books in Fairfax County last month. I don't get it. How many books do these guys put out yearly? I don't think collected their stuff would take more than three rows on a bookshelf. Or am I being naive? If it's together like 50 books, why would you need to toss the collected works of Emerson or whoever to make room for the latest literary fad?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Or is it just to have on their shelves and look important?

Or to have on their shelves because they are important in and of themselves, actually. But yeah, that's a quibble. As a librarian, I think the difference is between the ephemerally trendy and the books that have some staying power. SF/F is a good example here. Most books will get a little boost when they first come out, and if new books in a series come out, but it's a genre where weeding is insanely difficult, because you never know when a rec is going to sweep through fandom and you'll end up with twenty requests on a book that's a few decades old. There other books--usually not genre books, though I have my suspicions about Lemony Snicket--that have the "everybody's reading it" phenomenon going on. They'll sweep through a school--or around the water cooler at work--and everyone just has to have them while they're fresh, and going by demand, the library needs vast numbers of copies... then gets stuck with all of said copies when the fad moves on to something else. (James Frey, I'm looking at you with a very irritated glare.) So do you spend your budget in such a way that those readers won't be frustrated by the wait, or do you spend that money and shelf-space on a greater variety of books? And when you weed, do you pull off the single copies of things that haven't circulated for a while, or prune out the multiple copies of best sellers, even if the circ-spike hasn't quite disappeared yet?

Two copies of a best seller in a city library aren't enough (well, maybe in a small branch)--HP gets hundreds of holds on it, and with a three week check out period, it could literally take years with only two copies in the system... and that's not accounting for the inevitable thefts and damage. There are ways to make deals to "lease" multiple copies of best sellers which can be returned to the company when the fad dies off, but they're fairly expensive. That said, yes--they are talking about moving away from variety so that they can have a hundred or more copies of a best seller in the system so that people don't have to wait.
verdenia From: verdenia Date: January 4th, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Glad they are enjoying it! That newsprint idea sounds great, and cardboard form appliance boxes makes sense to me, also.
springdove From: springdove Date: January 4th, 2007 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think this is an interesting article. I felt like I could see both sides of the coin for most of it. The only thing that got me a little miffed was this line: If public libraries attempt to compete in this environment, they will increasingly be seen for what Fairfax County apparently envisions them to be: welfare programs for middle-class readers who would rather borrow Nelson DeMille's newest potboiler than spend a few dollars for it at their local Wal-Mart.

Of course, I'm slightly socialist (I'm just glad I wasn't living in the 50s), so that probably affects my tendency to take offense at this statement. My problem is twofold: 1) I've worked at an inner city library that had an amazing selection, despite its small size. The selection of many different types of books (not all necessarily hugely popular) was one of the things I most loved about that library. 2) I've worked at an inner city library where the patrons really could not afford to just go out and buy whatever book they wanted. I often felt that if the kids at that library didn't have that place to go, they might not have ever read many books outside of school.

Additionally, I agree with someone who commented earlier that I am trying to clean OUT my clutter and not get more books to add to it! Also, there are several books that I don't actually wish to own, but I do wish to read them. For instance, I read several of Jane Austen's books from the library last year. I didn't particularly wish to go buy them, but I wanted to enrich my literary life by reading something by that author. I am becoming more and more picky about what I'll buy. I've found that if I check a book out from the library and REALLY enjoy it, I'll probably go buy it so that I can own it and read it multiple times. But if I hadn't been able to check it out from the library for that initial read, I may never have gotten it. (I read OotP for the first time from my local library when I didn't have the money to pay $35 for a book.)

I don't know the best answer. I understand the need for space and keeping books that the public wants to read. I guess the thing that concerns me most is the attitude that seems to be creeping into the American mindset that libraries are becoming obsolete. I'm a big fan of the physical written word (as opposed to the electronic written word). It just...scares me a bit.

Alright, I suppose I've pontificated enough. I shall be off. Thank you for this interesting post to ponder.
sep12 From: sep12 Date: January 4th, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
As a librarian-in-training, I think that it's an interesting question. As a child I used the library to get books I would never have had the opportunity to read otherwise, like Hemingway as a matter of fact, and part of me is absolutely appalled that they want to remove anything from the shelves. On the other hand I do understand the need to have available copies of books that are popular. If I were waiting for two years for a book to become available... well, I probably wouldn't wait two years for a book to be available if I wanted to read it. And then you run the risk that people stop coming to your library because they can't ever get anything they want and that just ends badly.

But I think we need to try and determine what we want libraries to be. For me, the library has always been a wonderful place that I could go to read things I wouldn't have had access to otherwise and might not have even known about. I think a big part of a library's place in the world is to provide classic books to everyone because I really do think that there are some books everyone should read (even if it turns out that they think it's a horrible book) because they are important to our culture. Like Hemingway. Or Homer. I want to be a librarian because I remember the feeling I had as a child when I walked into my local branch and thought that all the knowledge in the entire world must be there. And the feeling when I walked into the new main library downtown which was so much bigger than my tiny branch. And the feeling after a librarian showed me how the library worked and I was allowed to take anything I wanted from the shelves and on and on...

I guess I'm rambling, and I'm sorry, but the point is that I do understand that space and storage and circulation are important factors to consider, but I also think that the larger picture should be taken into account too, and that larger picture is what The Library as an institution means to our society and our culture as a whole. There really are people who can't afford to go out and buy books, and there is a lot more to literature than what is popular, and I think that the Library and librarians have a duty to society to help maintain and protect that history of books, all books and make sure it is available to anyone who wants it, even if anyones are few and far between. After all, a museum would never get rid of King Tut's coffin or the Mona Lisa because no one wanted to see it.
matril From: matril Date: January 4th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting article. It's funny they mentioned Marlowe's Faustus at the end, because my husband just finished teaching that play to his 9th-graders.

So, I understand the issue with limited space, but it makes me anxious that anyone would start treating libraries like bookstores. Libraries have a separate purpose. I think a big part of that purpose is, in fact, having some of the older, more obscure books that a bookstore won't have. And much as I love having my own bookshelves crammed full, I still do like to have a place where I can borrow books and give them back when I'm done, because I don't need to own everything I read. I love libraries. I don't want to see them fade because they're attempting to compete with bookstores and haven't the slightest chance of keeping up.
parallactic From: parallactic Date: January 4th, 2007 09:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
On a tangent--I don't like how the article seems to be operating on a basis of High Culture vs. popular culture. He seems to books as a binary, which I don't agree with. There's stuff like who gets to decide what counts as a cultural artifact that should be good to have; what about genre classics like Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, and Toni Morrison for African-American literature? Or what about the next Charles Dickens--a populist writer who only later on became considered a classical writer?

To get to the point of the article, I don't think libraries should compete with bookstores. I like how libraries have a wide selection of old, out of print, esoteric works from indie print presses, and popular works. I think while libraries should be responsive to current reading trends, what I value the most is the easy accessibility to a broad variety of works. I know that I wouldn't have read the (traditional) classics I did if it weren't for my libraries; I'd have been put off by plunking down money for something I probably wasn't going to like and was only vaguely curious about. I look at libraries as sites of cultural exploration, where I can try out things from esoteric translated works of foreign literature, dabble in new types of works like magical realism and new authors like Toni Morrison, delve deeper into favorite genres like old sf/f works that are out of print, and check out classics on a whim.

I think bookstores are too driven by market demand for that. Also, the people who could most benefit from free exposure to the classics the article have in mind aren't necessarily the ones who own a personal computer, or have enough time on a PC to read a copyright expired classic. So ebook versions of classics are out for them.

(I have no practical solutions. I didn't even address the problem of limited shelf space, or a limited budget at all. Hm, what about the role of interlibrary loans for optimizing shelf space? Is that just a stopgap measure?)
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: January 5th, 2007 12:09 am (UTC) (Link)

What I Think About Libraries

I think, with my usual spirit of wishy-washiness and general compromise, that some libraries ought to be "cultural storehouses" and some ought to be "actual stores".

There are huge libraries, like the NYCPL, that should store and preserve our culture so that things won't be forgotten just because the public isn't interested in them at the moment. But there are smaller libraries, small-town libraries, that really have no space and aren't storing culture for people, they're providing a way for everyday people to read the books they want to read. These smaller libraries ought to have a sacrosanct classics section, though, because maybe only a few people want to read Dickens, but they still should be able to. Then it'd be the bestsellers that are forgotten a year later that get pushed off the shelves instead. But what about the people who have just discovered an author and want to read the rest of their work? (Not a rhetorical question; just me, thinking "out loud".) Instead of permanently discarding the books (which would eventually lead to the recycling station, because my mom runs the library book sale and I know what happens to most of the library discards), they could be sent to a holding warehouse so people could order them. Like Netflix. And this system is becoming very unwieldy.
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: January 5th, 2007 12:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: What I Think About Libraries

And now I've read the rest of the article. I really like the idea of the librarians choosing what stays and what goes, except that then I'd be worried about bias, and the old lady librarians in my area always keeping the stupid old mysteries. D:
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: January 5th, 2007 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: What I Think About Libraries

Unfortunately, whenever my friends discover an author they like and want to read the old mysteries, they've all been weeded...
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: January 5th, 2007 01:40 am (UTC) (Link)
If you ever get your hands on what the Boston Public Library actually offered to have in its collection when it opened, you'll discover that it meant to have both books which would be popular and books which only the rare reader could appreciate.

The main trouble with SirsiDynix is that two years is ridiculously short in the life of a book. I've been going through my nonfiction and I can show you titles which didn't circulate from 1991 until 2006, but were obviously just the right book for the person who read them in 2006. (One of them I showed to a patron myself, so I know it wasn't a matter of ordering a random title via the computer.)

The truth is that libraries need to do both jobs - to provide the popular stuff, but also to retain that body of literature with long legs for the sake of the readers who will come along behind us. Particularly (ahem) libraries which get oodles of money for being the library of last recourse. Fairfax county is depending on ILL, and the idea that someone else will have the title if they actually need it.
19 comments or Leave a comment