By Christian Jarrett Three years ago, a pair of psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York attracted worldwide interest and controversy when they reported in the prestigious journal Science that reading just a few pages of literary fiction boosted research participants' recognition of other people's emotions, but that reading pop fiction (also known…
In Library: An Unquiet History, historian and curatorial fellow for Harvard’s metaLAB Matthew Battles describes Melvil Dewey’s impatience with inefficiency in library work in the 1870s. “To Dewey, local interests and special needs were less important than the efficient movement of books into the hands of readers,” he writes. That crisp statement of purpose should be an inspiration to the current discussions around making library collections and programs visible and available on the web.
When a place has been besieged for years and hunger stalks the streets, you might have thought people would have little interest in books. But enthusiasts have stocked an underground library in Syria with volumes rescued from bombed buildings - and users dodge shells and bullets to reach it. Down a flight of steep steps, as far as it's possible to go from the flying shrapnel, shelling and snipers' bullets above, is a large dimly lit room. Buried beneath a bomb-damaged building, it's home to a secret library that provides learning, hope and inspiration to many in the besieged Damascus suburb of Darayya. "We saw that it was vital to create a new library so that we could continue our education. We put it in the basement to help stop it being destroyed by shells and bombs like so many other buildings here," says Anas Ahmad, a former civil engineering student who was one of the founders.
Australian academic and author Germaine Greer once enthused, “Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark … In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.”
Therein lies the beauty of libraries, past and present. Often referred to as cathedrals of knowledge—and free ones, at that—libraries remain civic and cultural icons within their communities where visitors can do everything from read international publications and learn computer skills to launch a business idea. In an age when information is ubiquitous and universally accessible at the click of a button, libraries are adapting to an increasingly digital society while remaining true to their heritage as a welcoming gathering place, with their alluring stacks of books, striking architecture and knowledgable staffs.
There's a saying in libraryland that if library workers are on strike then things must be really bad, well things are really really really bad! ` For the last 3 or so weeks library workers in Mississauga, Canada, have been striking for a better pay deal and terms and conditions. For the last two years they've been offered 0.5% and with 50% of the library workforce on part-time contracts with no holiday or sick allowances their union branch CUPE Local 1989 decided emough was enough and brought their members out. With wonderful support from their local community and library users they've managed to secure a better deal albeit a tentative one.
Recently, I was teaching a privacy class for librarians, and the topic turned to the privacy versus convenience trade-off—the occasional annoyances of using privacy-enhancing technologies online.
Via Ken Haigh
Speakers came from London, Mississauga and Quebec to offer support for local striking librarians but it was an articulate retired social worker who stole the show Thursday.
Sandra Kyle asked to speak near the end of a rally to support the striking members of CUPE 2974 held on the lawn of the Essex Civic Centre.
“I hope that our librarians will begin to receive the respect and just the common decency from people in our community and from their employers,” Kyle said to cheers from the crowd. “I don’t know that their employers recognize the value of their work.”
Kyle said she goes to the library in either Tecumseh or Lakeshore every other day.
“I have never stopped reading and researching and I’m looking into doing some publishing,” the 69-year-old said. “The librarians, they’ll understand you because they take the time to do that.”
At the low-cost end of the spectrum for libraries is providing relatively hands-off assistance for local scribes: dedicated space for them to work in, perhaps together, and books that will aid them in jump-starting their creativity or improving their writing skills (see Learning the Craft for recommended titles). Using this approach, a library can foster a welcoming environment for local ingenuity and perhaps boost circulation. Tapping expertise from local authors can promote engagement and build community. The Montclair Public Library, NJ, for example, offers meeting space to the long-running Write Group, an independent gathering of writers that runs several subgroups dedicated to memoir, novels, and short stories; the Write Group also hosts general writers’ support groups, “Free-for-All” events, and “Free Write” workshops that start with a prompt and take off from there. (A writing group at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, KS, the 2016 LJ Library of the Year, collaboratively writes and releases a novel annually.) Lissa Staley, a public services librarian who helps run the library’s writing program, explains that she and her colleagues also promote the option of submitting work to SELF-e, a database that provides a home for self-published work, to their customers. Created by LJ and BiblioBoard, it chooses the best self-published work submitted and makes them nationally available in various genre modules. Works not selected for the modules can still be made available within the author’s state.
In a few short weeks, bright-eyed college freshmen will be ambling onto campuses and into their first lectures. Which means a whole lot of newly minted undergrads are about to get freaked out by their on-campus libraries.
Library anxiety is real. The phenomenon, which involves feeling intimidated, embarrassed, and overwhelmed by libraries and librarians, was first identified by Constance A. Mellon in 1986. Her paper, "Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory and Its Development," reported that college students in particular are prone to library anxiety because they believe their research skills are inadequate, which makes them feel ashamed and unwilling to talk to the very librarians who might be able to ease their worries.
Some students in Mellon's study did their best to avoid the library altogether. "I know that nothing in here will hurt me," wrote one freshman, "but it all seems so vast and overpowering." Another first-year student described the library as "a huge monster that gulps you up after you enter it."
Founded by a Muslim woman, the University of Al Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, opened its doors in 859. Its library has been restored during the last three years by another woman, Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni. A wing will be open to the general public later this year. The library houses a collection of 4,000 rare books and ancient arabic manuscripts written by renowned scholars of the region. According to the AP, the manuscripts include a 9th century version of the Quran and a manuscript on Islamic jurisprudence written by philosopher Averroes. The University complex was founded as a mosque by Fatima Al-Fihri, who inherited her merchant father’s fortunes after the family moved from Al Qayrawan, or modern day Tunisia.
In the midst of a grim summer of terrorist attacks, political strife and racial tension, it can be difficult to stay focused on the positive. But folks at the Denver Public Library, which has been at the vanguard of discussions about homelessness in the city, have an unusual day of services, events and activities coming up this weekend that promises to create more connections than divisions on the issue — and even a few hugs in the bargain.
In the early to mid twentieth century, the majority of the city’s libraries had live-in superintendents. Like the superintendents who still live in many of the city’s residential buildings, these caretakers both worked and lived in the buildings for which they were responsible. This meant that for decades, behind the stacks, meals were cooked, baths and showers were taken, and bedtime stories were read. And yes, families living in the city’s libraries typically did have access to the stacks at night—an added bonus if they happened to need a new bedtime book after hours.
At North Carolina State University Libraries, under the stewardship of LJ Mover & Shaker Jason Evans Groth, the belief is that harnessing the power of imagery and sound to build on research is important. “A well-organized non-written piece of communication about research in which we’re invested hasn’t lost any value,” says Groth, User Experience Librarian for Digital Media. “If anything, it’s more valuable — and research is just one person’s daydream unless it’s accessible.”
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