Tag Archives: Libraries

Why libraries matter: “Libraries Now — A Day in the Life”

If anyone out there is still wondering whether libraries are relevant in the 21st century, let this powerfully moving video by Julie Dressner and Jesse Hicks remove all doubt:

Help make sure that libraries can keep doing good. Wherever you are, support your local library today.

And whether you live in NYC or not, you can donate to the New York Public Library here, the Brooklyn Public Library here, and the Queens Library here.

(via Gothamist)

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Why libraries matter, cont’d: “A satisfying reversal, a balancing of the power”

Caitlin Moran, author of the very excellent How to Be A Woman, defends and celebrates the endangered small libraries of England — including the one that nurtured her:

Everything I am is based on this ugly building on its lonely lawn — lit up during winter darkness; open in the slashing rain — which allowed a girl so poor she didn’t even own a purse to come in twice a day and experience actual magic: traveling through time, making contact with the dead — Dorothy Parker, Stella Gibbons, Charlotte Brontë, Spike Milligan.

A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate “need” for “stuff.” A mall — the shops — are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy’s taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead. A satisfying reversal. A balancing of the power. […]

A library is such a potent symbol of a town’s values: each one closed down might as well be six thousand stickers plastered over every available surface, reading “WE CHOSE TO BECOME MORE STUPID AND DULL.”

The danger:

While I have read a million words on the necessity for the cuts, I have not seen a single letter on what the exit plan is: what happens in four years’ time, when the cuts will have succeeded, and the economy gets back to “normal” again. Do we then — prosperous once more — go round and re-open all these centers, clinics and libraries, which have sat, dark and unused, for nearly half a decade? […] Unless the government has developed an exit strategy for the cuts, and insisted councils not sell closed properties, by the time we get back to “normal” again, our Victorian and post-war and 1960s red-brick boxy libraries will be coffee shops and pubs. No new libraries will be built to replace them. These libraries will be lost forever.

And, in their place, we will have thousands more public spaces where you are simply the money in your pocket, rather than the hunger in your heart. Kids — poor kids — will never know the fabulous, benign quirk of self-esteem of walking into “their” library and thinking, “I have read 60 percent of the books in here. I am awesome.” Libraries that stayed open during the Blitz will be closed by budgets.

Read the rest here.

(h/t Tor.com; image via Cerebration)

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Why libraries matter, cont’d: “Permanent, unlimited, free”

Ursula K. Le Guin. in a must-read post, makes the case for why libraries matter in the digital age:

Libraries are essential because they keep permanent collections — even of unpopular books, even of impermanent, seemingly valueless items — a samizdat from 1940, a newspaper from 1933. Ebooks, including self-published ebooks, would become part of permanent library collections, which could then join the worldwide network of electronic libraries.

The existence or disappearance of a library’s permanent collection isn’t a sexy issue. But it’s absolutely basic to access to information and to the continuity of human knowledge. […]

The goal of the public library has been to give anyone who needs or wants it permanent, unlimited, free access to books. All books.

The goal of the public library in the electronic age is what it always was: to give permanent, unlimited, free access to books — print books, ebooks, all books — to everyone.

She outlines the threat libraries face from stingy corporate publishers:

For a long time most Americans agreed on the importance of the free public library to the well-being of the community and the country. A publisher then would hesitate to be seen deliberately making things hard for libraries. But reactionary ideology has weakened the idea of community; muddy thinking has convinced people that information on the Internet is free; and libraries are being conveniently misrepresented as mere outmoded warehouses for print books. Readers may assume that libraries don’t and won’t buy and circulate ebooks.

In fact, despite the expense of constantly changing technologies, the non-support of voters bleating anti-tax mantras, and the aggressive tactics of corporate publishers, the great public libraries have kept abreast with the electronic age, and they very much want to buy and circulate free ebooks.

Since corporations don’t consider human rights or needs, only corporate profits, they feel free to use tactics that infringe, ignore, or flout the rights of readers. They are in fact practicing commercial censorship. They are keeping books from us.

If the part libraries play in distributing ebooks gets “frictioned” into insignificance, it will be easier for the corporations to take further control of what ebooks you personally can obtain, how long a book will stay on your reader before you have to pay for it again, and whatever else they want to control. If they see profit in doing any of this, they’ll do it. If small publishers try to sell the books they don’t sell, the big corporations will eliminate the small publishers.

And cross-file this under “Books are made of win”:

If ebooks largely replace printed books, and the public libraries are decimated or eliminated as a permanent resource open to everybody, we may be able to access books only through the corporations. It will not be easy to get a book the corporations have decided is unprofitable, outdated, unnecessary, or unpleasing; it may be very difficult to find out whether a text has been cut or tampered with; there may be no way to know that a book ever existed.

Much more here, and as always, worth reading.

(Video via Ebooks for Libraries)

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Why libraries matter, cont’d: Help a library grow!

The public library of the town of Shutesbury, Mass. needs your help:

From their YouTube page:

We’re a small town in Massachusetts, population ~1800. Our cute little library was built 110 years ago, for a town of 400 people.

Features of our current library building:
* No running water. The composting toilet and hand sanitizer goes only so far with kids in tow
* So small that our weekly story hours can only accommodate 5 or 6 children
* Librarian must turn away volunteers, since we can only fit two adults behind the desk
* Can’t fit people lingering over the stacks; it’s in, a quick browse, and out
* No room for students to study
* Zero privacy for people wanting to use one of our two computers
* Can’t host any events or meetings for more than a handful of people
* Free wifi (only part of our town has high speed internet of any kind). People sit with their laptops in their cars, since there’s literally no room in the building

That’s right–there’s no room in our cute little library to sit and read a book!

Here’s the awesome news: The state Library Commission has agreed that we desperately need a new building, likes our plans for one, and has promised to fund 60% of it. That means they’ll kick in $2.1 million — as long as we raise $1.4 million by June 30. So far, we’ve raised about $180,000.

A generous anonymous donor has provided us with a $150,000 matching gift. Will you help us reach this goal?

Every little bit helps.

You can make a donation on their website. Come on, folks! In an era when small individual donations can power a candidate to the presidency, surely we can all pool our resources and help a small-town library out. Chip in (by June 30), and spread the word. Thanks.

(via AbeBooks)

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Why libraries matter, cont’d: “Home. That’s it.”

A very inspiring video from the New York Public Library:

Unlike critics of the Library’s plan to transform the central branch from a researcher’s storehouse into a vital hub of activity — a former curator sniffs that the Mid-Manhattan branch across the street is “utter chaos. And it will all come here — the noise, the teenage problems, the circulating DVDs” — I think the Library has it exactly right. The fabled stacks of books in the main branch will merely be relocated, not destroyed, not made inaccessible. But a living library should be a vibrant gathering place for the community, especially the next generation — those thousands of noisy kids and teenagers that the supporters of the library-as-silent-crypt disdain. Democracy IS noise and chaos — that’s how people engage with ideas and with each other, and learn to become citizens. And the library should be its beating heart.

Give to the NYPL here. And support your own local library as well.

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Voices from the 99%: the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology

You must download this: a massive (and still-ongoing) compilation of poetry (and, it seems, a few prose pieces) submitted to the People’s Library by people from around the world, professional writers and amateurs alike, in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Editor Stephen Boyer explains the philosophy behind the anthology:

First of all, we don’t say no to anyone. Everyone that sends their work gets their work into the anthology. It’s not that I’m against anthologies that are critical about what they print. It’s just that this movement is a move toward inclusiveness and the Occupy Wall St. Poetry Anthology must reflect that. And this inclusiveness allows for a range of work that I’ve never seen. Children are sending their poems. Queer writers are sending their poems. Kids obsessed with hip-hop are sending their poems. Grumpy old men are sending their poems. Daydreamers are sending their poems. Professors are sending their poems. Homeless people without access to computers or places that put out calls for submissions are sending their poems. Famous poets are sending their poems. It’s truly an anthology made of and by and for the people. It seems that someone from every walk of life is making space for their vision in the anthology.

The first poem, “Taking Brooklyn Bridge” by “Stuart,” is a sprawling, soaring, joyous, and brave response to Walt Whitman that embodies the anthology’s spirit. A taste:

I came to atone for my apathy,
I came to teach the future vigilance,
better to be loud, be awkward, be dirty, be flawed,
you who are to come, make the people uncomfortable
because they are too timid to join you,
make the leaders uncomfortable
because they know you are unafraid,
I tell you that it is better to be one of the great democratic
people than it is to be a lord or a peasant.

We began to march from Liberty Square, a place
that now fully deserves its name, toward
the Brooklyn Bridge, and we chanted and sang
and called to those who watched to join us,
and there was a feeling in the air, a passion that
joined together every hearty soul, we all knew
we were on the side of the just, that we meant
no harm to any person, that we sought no more
than what was fair and sought it not only for ourselves,
and several times on the march my eyes welled with tears,
my emotions overwhelmed by the chaotic, brilliant
beauty of those marchers, of that which we marched for.

The long line of the protestors wound beneath
the towers of those who would squander the world,
devouring all that is good with their insatiable appetites,
making our way to the Brooklyn Bridge and when I saw
the towers of the bridge before me I started to laugh,
what better way to pay back Walt Whitman than to honor
his song at the crossing to Brooklyn, to march across the bridge
over the waters he crossed so many times, the bridge that poets
have embraced as a symbol, not only of ingenuity and progress,
not only of endeavor and perseverance, but as a symbol of democracy,
of the great crossing of humanity from tyranny to freedom.

They are here Walt and I am with them, the African father
pushing his daughter in a stroller, she holding a sign that proclaims
she too will fight for her future, the old man singing
‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ with wit and irony,
the veterans who know only too well of betrayal, the young girl
with bright fiery hair whose strong voice chants, “We got sold out,
banks got bailed out!” the unshaven college boy who has slept
in the park for two weeks seizing the future with determined hands,
the middle aged lady, vibrant and experienced, rallying us
to raise our voices, the mother and daughter holding a sign
that reads — America, Can you hear us now! All ages, all races,
all voices, songs and chants overlapping, strangers becoming comrades.


I knew that we had come to the Brooklyn Bridge and given it the
poets had sought to give it in their words, we had brought
the rough, sacred spirit of democracy to the Brooklyn Bridge,
we had restored Whitman’s song to it’s very birthplace,
for he had called to us, the future, in his song, he sings to us now,
he knew that we would be here, he stands with us, chants with us,
and here I am on the Brooklyn Bridge on a day as important
as any day that has ever passed, watching Walt Whitman
above the bridge towers, sounding his barbaric yawp
above us, calling down the sign of democracy,
calling us to remember, not just one amazing day,
but the task to come – Sing on – Sing on – Sing on!

More — much more — here.

(Image by mollycrabapple)


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Why libraries matter, cont’d: The library is the weapon of the people

The website of the People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street has a roundup of media coverage of the library’s destruction by the police on November 15. The sharpest and pithiest of the commentaries must surely be Salman Rushdie’s scathing remarks on Twitter. In an op-ed for Al Jazeera (worth reading in full), Mark LeVine expands on the central role — both in symbolic and practical terms — of the protest library:

The “People’s Library” was at the heart of the OWS encampment at Zuccotti Park, and has played a similar role in other large occupations, such as Los Angeles. It is the necessary complement to the actual physical occupation of urban space represented by the OWS movement. Many people might wonder why it’s so important for protesters permanently to camp when the reality, especially as the weather turns bad, is that few people are actually doing anything at night besides sleeping.

But the point of the occupation is precisely to reconquer space that has been taken over, either by the state or by private interests — a kind of “eminent domain” of, by and for the people – and create a permanent presence that can engender and nourish the kind of community and solidarity that have so disappeared in the United States in the last forty years. By permanently occupying Zuccotti and other parks, the OWS movement created a space where people could gather, create libraries, share books and ideas, and even meals. Where they could plan for another world that isn’t merely possible anymore, but the only hope for the survival of humanity as a civilisation.

The library, which took weeks to establish, reflected the uniqueness and power of the still young 99 per cent movement. “From the very beginning [says friend and radio producer Alan Minsky], the OWS encampments were not just gestures of protest thinly focused on making statements about the ills of society, but were efforts to build community where people were knowledgeable and participated in informed dialogue. The libraries, at least in Zuccotti and in Los Angeles, have been central. Here in LA a graduate student made her entire personal library available to occupiers. These libraries have contemporary theory, classical literature, incisive analyses, and all sorts of books that have been marginalised from the mainstream media and culture. But when the history of this period will be written, these are the books that will be remembered.”

So much did the “people’s library” idea resonate that the OWS library couldn’t keep up with all the donations they’ve received and encouraging people to take books out. The website lists some of the newest arrivals in the days before the raid: Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, by Savo Heleta, Nuclear Nebraska, by Susan Cragin, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, From the Heat of the Day, by Roy A.K. Heath, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, and innumerable other books that were opening the minds of all who passed through OWS and the many peoples’ libraries it has fostered across the country.

Minsky continued, “This open philosophy stands in stark opposition to the world of corporate culture. Trashing the library was symbolic of what the combined forces of Bloomberg and the NYPD feel about learning and the society in which we live.” (Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg, who claimed full responsibility for the raid’s execution, had to know about the library. Yet his “minutely planned raid” — as the New York Times described it — shovelled thousands of books into garbage trucks to be carted away to the nearest sanitation facility).

In contrast to those who now argue that OWS must grow beyond the goal of occupying physical space, LeVine argues that taking up space — with bodies and with books, in a very real, present, and visible way — is one of the most powerful weapons that the Occupy movement has in its arsenal. And here, again, the need for a real-space library is key:

As soon as he heard about the library, [Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni’s] thoughts turned to Heinrich Heine, the great 19th century German poet and critic, who exclaimed in his Almansor the famous words: “Where they burn books, they’ll ultimately burn people too”.

Of course, New York City isn’t burning books, but for Aloni, carting them away in garbage trucks is not that far removed. “When they disrespect books, they disrespect humankind, and when they destroy books, they destroy the spirit of humanity. The library was great because people gave more than they took. OWS was not just a place for activism, but also a place for education and rethinking; not for just blathering on when you don’t know, but being humble and willing to learn. By taking out the library, they’ve tried to stop that crucial process.” […]

And this is precisely why, despite arguments by some that it’s time for OWS to “declare victory and go inside” for the winter, it is crucial that the movement has identifiable permanent locations where people can publicly meet, read, discuss and debate the crucial issues raised by activists. […]

It turns out that in the 21st century, seizing and holding territory — both the public square and the public sphere — are inextricably bound together. As Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street continue their battle for the soul of American society into the winter and then an election year, the flood of knowledge represented by the OWS People’s Library is one of the best weapons protesters have to hold their ground against their much better financed, and armed, adversaries. If municipalities and their corporate sponsors are able to push OWS out of public sight, it will be a lot harder to ensure it doesn’t fall out of mind for the millions of Americans who have just begun to feel safe imagining that through direct action, they too can change a system that has never seemed more stacked against them.

The good news is that the people aren’t giving up the library without a fight. Christian Zabriskie gives an account of how, hours after the eviction from Zuccotti Park, the People’s Library is rising from the ashes:

Protesters were allowed back into Zuccotti Park less than 24 hours after they were cleared out, following a variety of legal decisions. The library was immediately restarted with a half a dozen paperbacks. Within two hours the collection was up to over 100 volumes and the library was fully functioning — cataloging, lending, and providing reference services. “The library is still open” was repeated like a mantra. “This is why I became a librarian, this is why I went to library school,” Library Working Group member Zachary Loeb said of the rebuilding. […]

Zuccotti Park looks very different now. The various stations for food, information, comfort, first aid, and the like had created a village atmosphere. Now all of that has been cleared away, the park is practically just another sterile stretch of stone in the city. “You can clear the tents but you cannot clear the people” has become a new OWS slogan. Within hours of the park reopening, and despite strict access and security protocols, more than 1,000 people were there for the first General Assembly and their claps and shouts echoed off the skyscrapers around the site.

Amidst it all, there was also a functioning library, a small one under fire, but a library just the same. While the future of the Wall Street occupation is unclear, these protesters still believe in what libraries offer everyone. For these activists “The library is open” has become a battle cry.

And it’s open in more ways than one. As a response to the destruction of the first library, OWS has launched a new website, Occupy Educated, to provide recommendations for essential books, articles, and films exploring the relevant issues.

Long live the People’s Library.

(Image via GalleyCat)

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