What I’m reading this week: “The Library Book,” by Susan Orlean 📚🔥 It’s every librarian’s nightmare. A devastating loss to a vibrant city’s collective culture and memory. In 1986, the same week as the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown crisis in Russia, the Los Angeles Central Library was set ablaze by an arsonist. The fire spread quickly through the old building and incinerated everything in its path, reaching temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds of thousands of books and priceless archival items were reduced to ash. Hundreds of thousands more were irreversibly damaged or severely threatened by water and smoke damage. The next day, thousands of volunteers converged on the building and formed a human chain, handing waterlogged books out of the building and rushing them to local commercial freezers to prevent mold from destroying them forever.
I’m partway through this extraordinary paean to the glory of libraries and their uniquely important place in the American social edifice. Author Susan Orlean combines a detailed journalistic style with her characteristically vivid and evocative prose to do more than simply tell the tale of a devastating fire and rebirth. Along the way, she rekindles her (and our) love for the American public library, and illustrates why this beloved institution perpetually rises from the ashes, again and again.
#library #books #community
With polling numbers like this, maybe public libraries should run for office! 🙂
“This graphic highlights results from the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, released December 2013. More than 6,000 Americans ages 16 and older were asked about their views of public libraries and the role these institutions serve in their communities. The results show that an overwhelming majority of Americans value libraries.”
View the full report (PDF):
[Graphic: American Libraries Magazine]
Image: Weekes Branch Library, Hayward, Calif.
“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” ― Andrew Carnegie
The local newspaper reporter called me up earlier this week, wanting to do a story on our seed lending library. Already, I’m thrilled. So we talk for a while about the project, about libraries, about card catalogs and antique dealers, and in particular about the enduring power of books. All in all, a very nice conversation with a very kind, very generous journalist.
Then the story comes out in this morning’s paper. I’m excited to see it there on the front of the local section, but apprehensive because you never know what angle a newspaper will take with a story until you read it. So I read it. And I’m even more thrilled. It goes something like this: Libraries are checking out more books — real, printed books — than ever before. Even in today’s world of computers everywhere, people have a seemingly unquenchable desire for real, physical books and libraries. Plus, libraries are adding new services that people want and need, like after school homework tutoring centers and seed lending libraries. They’re even bringing back the card catalog, which they have kept in storage all these years, just waiting for the right time to bring it back into the sunlight again. Old is new again, and it’s a good thing.
It warms my heart. Given the theme of the article, it seemed only appropriate to share it in true “vintage” printed newspaper format and layout. The web version doesn’t really do it justice.
Image: Sign spotted at Pike Street Market, Seattle, during the American Library Association midwinter meeting, January 2013.
Lately we’ve been seeing more and more common sense, passionate appeals in favor of libraries and their continued importance in society. This new, distinctly 21st century sensibility to libraries has the feeling of rediscovering an old friend, and riffs on a central theme: The public library is a vital local resource; it is well-known and heavily used more than ever before, even in this digital age; and it has a rich and vibrant history rooted in the foundations of human civilization itself.
What is perhaps most remarkable, is that this new trend of pro-library sentiment is showing up all over, from the mainstream media to the relatively obscure corners of blogosphere where one finds stories like the one linked above (and where City Literal proudly resides). This reversal of fortune, which may be an outgrowth of the “new normal” created by the Great Recession, is so astonishingly different than the zeitgeist of just a few years ago when everyone was gloomily (or gleefully, depending on who you listened to) predicting the final demise of the library. The change is, well, refreshing. And frankly, it’s long overdue (no pun intended).
Link to blog post: Why Libraries Are Important. (from “A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff.”
Did you know that people who read books in their free time are also more likely to attend a sports event? And readers are over two-and-a-half times more likely to volunteer in their community. Reading books is good not just for the reader, but for the community and the economy. So today, put down your smartphone and close your laptop for one hour, and put your face in a book.
(Data source: “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” a 2009 report by the National Endowment for the Arts.)
Medieval cat’s paw prints on a manuscript, circa 1100 A.D.