Friday, October 29, 2010

Libraries in Pop-Culture

Why The Next Big Pop-Culture Wave After Cupcakes Might Be Libraries
by Linda Holmes

I realize we're picking the bones from the Old Spice campaign at this point, but when I saw that the Brigham Young University parody of the Old Spice ads had gotten more than 1.2 million views (Old Spicy himself — that's what I'm calling him — did a video for libraries), it got me thinking.

Specifically, it got me thinking about the very enjoyable Librarians Do Gaga video that everyone sent my way after the debut of the NPR Does Gaga video.

And about the fact that a local news story skeptically questioning whether libraries are "necessary" set off a response from Vanity Fair, and a later counterpunch by Chicago's Public Library Commissioner won her support from such diverse, non-library-specific outlets as The A.V. Club and Metafilter, and from as far away as The Guardian.

Call it a hunch, but it seems to me that the thing is in the air that happens right before something — families with a million kids, cupcakes, wedding coordinators — suddenly becomes the thing everyone wants to do happy-fuzzy pop-culture stories about. Why?

Libraries get in fights. Everybody likes a scrapper, and between the funding battles they're often found fighting and the body-checking involved in their periodic struggles over sharing information, there's a certain ... pleasantly plucky quality to the current perception of libraries and librarians. Yes, it plays a little ironically against the hyper-stereotypical buttoned-up notion of what a librarian is, but the sense that they're okay with getting mad in public — like Chicago's Public Library Commissioner did — gives library people a spark they might not otherwise have.

Librarians know stuff. You know how the words "geek" and "nerd" have gone from actual insults to words used to lovingly describe enthusiasts? Well, if we haven't gotten past venerating people who don't know anything, we've certainly reduced, I'd argue, the degree to which we stigmatize people for knowing a lot. This alone might not make libraries cool, but it takes away from the sense that they're actively not cool. More specifically, they live in the world of information, and are employed in part to organize and make accessible large quantities of data. If your computer had feet and a spiffy personality, you see.

Libraries are green and local. This is where there's a lot of potential appeal for the same people who like organic produce and reusable grocery bags. You can pretty easily position a library as environmentally friendly (your accumulation of books and magazines you are not reading is fewer trees for the rest of us, you know), not to mention economical (obvious) and part of your local culture. This is the part of the potential appeal that's anti-chain-store, anti-sprawl, anti-anonymity, and so forth.

Libraries will give you things for free. Hi, have you noticed how much hardcover books cost? Not a Netflix person? They will hand you things for free. That's not an especially hard concept to sell.

"Open to the public" means "some days, you really have to wonder about people." This is where you get the spark of an idea for TLC or somebody to do some goofball show called The Stacks, which follows a small local library through funding problems, trying to get book clubs started, whatever. When your building is open to the public, that means open ... to ... the ... public. And you know what's a little unpredictable? The public. This is where you might get your drama. (When I was in college, the information desk used to post the best questions it received, one of which was "How long do you cook spaghetti?" I suspect many libraries have similar stories.)

There seems to be a preposterous level of goodwill. Quite honestly, I feel like you can go on YouTube and act like a complete goof (in the best way), and if it's for libraries, people have that same rush of warmth that they used to get about people who had sextuplets, before ... well, you know. Before.

I don't know whether it's going to come in the form of a more successful movie franchise about librarians than that TV thing Noah Wyle does, or a basic-cable drama about a crime-fighting librarian (kinda like the one in the comic Rex Libris), or that reality show I was speculating about, but mark my words, once you've got Old Spicy on your side and you can sell a couple of YouTube parodies in a couple of months, you're standing on the edge of your pop-culture moment. Librarians: prepare.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Library book returned to Va. college 35 years late

October 23, 2010

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - A novel checked out in 1975 from the College of William & Mary library is back in the stacks.

The long-term lender is alumnus Pat Harkin, who found the book of Leon Uris' "QB VII" in a box. He says he planned to return it for the past several homecomings, but he finally made good on his intentions Friday.

The library caps its fees at $35. Otherwise, the overdue fee could have hit $1,400 at today's dime-a-day late fee.

To atone for his late return, Harkin told the Daily Press of Newport News he made a cash donation to the library. He says it was more than the $35 overdue fee, but less than the $1,400 he might have owed.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Future etched in city libraries

This is just an excerpt from an article I came across today:

But public libraries are different. You don't need a reservation or a ticket. You don't need to pull any strings to get VIP treatment. In a public library, everybody's a VIP.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

George Washington racks up late fees at NY Library

If George Washington were alive today, he might face a hefty overdue library fine.

New York City's oldest library says one of its ledgers shows that the president has racked up 220 years' worth of late fees on two books he borrowed, but never returned.

One of the books was the "Law of Nations," which deals with international relations. The other was a volume of debates from Britain's House of Commons.
Both books were due on Nov. 2, 1789.

New York Society Library head librarian Mark Bartlett says the institution isn't seeking payment of the fines, but would love to get the books back.
The ledger also lists books being taken out by other founding fathers, including Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and John Jay.

The entry on Washington simply lists the borrower as "president."

All material © 2010 ABC Inc., KTRK-TV Inc. & 2004-2010 LSN, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The File on Fraulein Berg

There is a book fair that I go to every year that is always so much fun; I really really love it - and I have found some of my most favorite books there - all books have something in them as my sister says, they are all something. In elementary school, when I began to go to this book fair, I found a book called The File on Fraulein Berg by Joan Lingard. Here is an excerpt from the author's web site:

1944, Belfast. World War 11 drags on and Kate, Harriet and Sally are a little bored. They long for something exciting to happen. They read spy stories and imagine themselves performing deeds of great daring.

Their heads are so full of anti-German propaganda that, when Fraulein Berg, a real live German, arrives at their school, it doesn't take them long to decide that their new teacher must be a spy. The girls now have a mission. To watch her. Follow her. Track down her every secret. Prove that she is the enemy.

But there is something that they do not know about this woman and The File on Fraulein Berg reveals a very different story - one that will haunt Kate for the rest of her life.

One thing is sure - this book has most definitely haunted me, just as the events in it must haunt the main character, Kate. The book's secret - what is revealed towards the end, is heartbreaking, heart shattering. This is a beautifully written book, the tone is nice and calming, but there is also an element of sadness; I always picture the skies gray and dull, the days slow, just as the girls see them. I cringe whenever they follow Fraulein, when they see her and when they spy on her. I remember playing many spy games when I was young, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why I cringe. I have never met anyone who has read this book, but I love it and highly recommend it. I was very lucky to have found that book that day at the book fair and to have chosen it. It still sits on my bookshelf.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

UK Archivist Uncovers Quasimodo

UK archivist says uncovers real-life Quasimodo

By Mike Collett-White
LONDON | Mon Aug 16, 2010 7:57am EDT

(Reuters Life!) - A British archivist believes he has uncovered the real-life inspiration for French novelist Victor Hugo's mysterious character Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Adrian Glew, who works on the Tate collection's archives in London, was studying the seven-volume handwritten autobiography of 19th century British sculptor Henry Sibson when he came across a reference to a Frenchman whose nickname was "le bossu," or hunchback.

Sibson had been employed in the 1820s to carve stone as part of the renovation of Notre Dame in Paris which had suffered damage during the French Revolution in the 1790s.

But he fell out with one of his contractors and applied for another job at the government studios where he met a carver called Trajan.

According to Sibson, Trajan was a "most worthy, fatherly and amiable man as ever existed -- he was the carver under the government sculptor whose name I forget as I had no intercourse with him. All that I know is that he was humpbacked and he did not like to mix with carvers."

Glew immediately thought he was on to something.

"It was almost like peering into Tutankhamun's tomb and you see a glimpse of something that attracts your eye," he told Reuters.


He noted that Sibson was describing French artisans active in the same part of Paris where Hugo lived in the 1820s and, with his interest in the restoration of Notre Dame, the writer may have seen and even known Trajan and his hunchbacked boss.

"And also, Hugo proposed to his wife-to-be in Dreux, at a time when the team of sculptors and carvers were working there," he added.

Sibson was part of the team who went to Dreux, a town near Paris, which included both Trajan and M. Le Bossu, "a nickname given to him and I scarcely ever heard any other.

"M. Le Bossu was pleased to tell M. Trajan that he must be sure to take the little Englishman."

Further supporting his theory, Glew added, was the fact that the Almanach de Paris of 1833 listed all professional inhabitants in the area and included the carver Trajan.

That indicated he continued to work there during the period when Hugo wrote his famous novel (1828-1831). And in an early version of Hugo's "Les Miserables," the main character is Jean Trajean, a name Hugo later altered to Jean Valjean.

Glew has yet to discover Le Bossu's real name.

"It is tantalizing that we don't know what he was called," he said. "I'm still researching that."

Sibson's memoir will be on display outside the Hyman Kreitman Reading Room at the Tate Britain gallery from August 16 until the end of the month. Tate Archive celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

(Editing by Steve Addison)


Monday, October 4, 2010

Keeping It Public

Keeping it Public (If the Libraries Don't Sway You, the Blazing House Might)
Amy Traub

Last week, the New York Times reported on Library Systems & Services, a private, for-profit company that an increasing number of towns are contracting to take over their local public libraries. The company pares budgets and turns a profit by, among others things, replacing long-term employees with those who will "work." In the article, CEO Frank Pezzanite mocks "this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries" and ridicules the idea that "somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization." The problem? Local residents seem to believe there is something all-American - and possibly sacred - about this community institution. I know where they're coming from.

Public libraries represent the best American tradition of local communities chipping in for the common good, while advancing democratic values of free inquiry and universal access.

Through our local libraries, we all contribute to a public space where anyone can access the world's outstanding literature, music, and film; popular entertainment; the fruits of human knowledge and insight; computer and internet access; resources for jobseekers and students; edifying speakers; programs that engage schoolchildren; and story hours that delight the youngest members of our community. I'm never going to check out that new Janet Evanovich novel (or, for that matter, Bill O'Reilly's latest bestseller) but I'm damn glad my tax dollars paid for it to be available on the shelves. The common resource is bigger than any of our individual tastes.

Something of that is lost when a profit-driven company turns a community institution into a source of private gain. It's not just the likelihood that public employees earning middle-class salaries will likely be turned out in favor of less experienced staff - although I've written in opposition to that as well. Rather, it's the idea, articulated by American Library Association President Robert Stevens in response to the Times article, that for-profit libraries may not "remain directly accountable to the publics they serve." Or, in the words of the late historian Tony Judt, "shifting ownership onto businessmen allows the state to relinquish moral obligations... A social service provided by a private company does not present itself as a collective good to which all citizens have a right."

The point may be subtle when we're talking about computers and books on a shelf (no matter how critical a part of democracy) but it's hard to ignore a house on fire. This morning at Think Progress, Zaid Jilani describes the situation in Obion County, Tennessee, where fire services are funded by subscription fees rather than general tax revenue. Those who pay the fees can call the fire department to save lives and extinguish blazes. For those who can't or won't shell out for the service, Jilani's headline says it all: Tennessee County's Subscription-Based Firefighters Watch As Family Home Burns Down. Maybe there's something to the "American flag, apple pie" thing about public services after all...