Review: The Library Book

The Library Book

The Library BookSusan Orlean. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Summary: Centered around the fire that destroyed much of the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, chronicles the history of the library, and why libraries are such important parts of our communities.

I grew up going to the Reuben B. McMillan Library in Youngstown, Ohio, and later to the branch library near my home, losing myself in books. In the course of my life, I’ve lived in two cities with great library systems, Cleveland (where the author of this work grew up) and Columbus. I don’t allow political signs on my property–except for the library.

Susan B. Orlean’s book on the Los Angeles Public Library reads like a love letter to libraries. She describes her own childhood, going to the Bertram Woods Library in Shaker Heights, and the library near her Los Angeles home, followed by a tour of the Central Library where she learned about the fire of April 29, 1986. The fire began in the northeast stack of the fiction section and reached 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, so hot that the flames were pale blue in color. Over 400,000 books were lost, another 700,000 damaged. We learn about the laborious salvage operation that restored books soaked in water, books that would quickly have succumbed to mold and been rendered useless.

She describes what that day was like for library employees, who felt like they were witnessing a death. She describes the investigation of the fire, believed to be arson, and reveals how difficult in many cases arson is to prove, and how some of the assumptions investigators make can mislead them. The lead suspect is profiled, a sometime actor named Harry Peak, who told a different story of his whereabouts every time he was asked. Descriptions that fit him and the inconsistent stories led to his arrest as a suspect, but insufficient evidence existed to try, let alone convict him. It turns out Harry lied all the time. Conditions were such in the library that spontaneous combustion was a real possibility, and the stack designed created the ideal fire. Harry received a $35,000 settlement from the city for damage to his reputation that barely put a dent in medical expenses he incurred as he died of HIV/AIDS.

I found the Harry Peak part of the story the least engaging part of the book. He was a sad figure, especially compared to some of the early head librarians like Mary Foy, and Charles Lummis, a colorful journalist who succeeded her when it was decided that a woman couldn’t head up a library, even though she had capably done so. Actually, they both gave great leadership in developing the institution, its outreach to the community, and the growth of its collections.

Orlean traces the history of the building from its conception, the changes it underwent over the years and deteriorating condition prior to the fire, followed by its restoration and the modern addition to it afterwards. She takes us around to the different departments of the library and volunteered with The Source, a gathering of social agencies at the library allowing L.A. residents a one-stop way to connect with agencies that could address their particular set of needs.

This also served as an example of her description of the changing landscape of library services which range from homeless center to social services, to an adjunct to educational institutions, and a technology hub offering access to various forms and media of information, books and far more. Orlean summarized her conversation with Eva Mitnick, head of the Central Library:

Mitnick and I talked about the future of libraries. She is an idealist. She thinks libraries are adapting to the world as it is now, where knowledge streams around us as well as being captured in physical books. . . . Mitnick sees libraries as information and knowledge centers rather than simply as storehouses of material. She is one of a large cohort of library people who believe libraries will remain essential to their communities. By most measures, this optimistic cohort seems to be right. According to a 2010 study, almost three hundred million Americans used one of the country’s 17,078 public libraries and bookmobiles in the course of the year. In another study, over ninety percent of those surveyed said closing their local library would hurt their communities. Public libraries in the United States outnumber McDonald’s; they outnumber retail bookstores two to one. In many towns, the library is the only place you can browse through physical books.

Actually, Orlean has written far more than an account of a fire, or an account of an arson investigation, or a library history, or even a love letter to libraries. What she has done is articulate why libraries are vital cultural institutions worth preserving and supporting and patronizing, and the vital works librarians are engaged in as they both preserve and advance learning in service of the public good.

Do We Need a New Andrew Carnegie?

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By Theodore Christopher Marceau – Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Andrew Carnegie was a steel and rail baron of the nineteenth century who made a fortune, and then spent the last two decades of his life giving much of it away. All told, he gave away approximately $350 million (the equivalent of $65 billion) in today’s dollars. Some say he was atoning for the ruthless practices involved in acquiring his fortune. He was a pioneer in developing the vertically integrated industry in which rail, coal, steel, and steamship lines controlled every aspect of production.

After selling his industries to what became U.S. Steel in 1901, he turned his focus to giving away his fortune. One of his major investments was libraries. His idea was to give his resources so that the poor could help themselves, and libraries were a key component of his philanthropic strategy. His first library was built in Dumferline, Scotland in 1883. He built libraries in Great Britain, Canada, other English speaking countries and in the United States. The first in the U.S. was in nearby Braddock, Pennsylvania, opened in 1888.

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Source unknown, widely attributed to Andrew Carnegie

According to Wikipedia, by 1923, 1419 grants totaling $45,865,440.10 resulted in the building of 1647 libraries. An NPR story puts the total at $60 million building 1689 libraries. Worldwide, his grants funded construction of over 3,000 libraries. In addition, he invested in educational institutions, including Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) and Tuskegee Institute (a historically Black college). He also invested in pension funds for his workers and in the arts.

Many of the library buildings constructed with his grants are still standing, often among the distinguished architectural structures in their towns, whether still in use as libraries or not.

So what is the situation today? Libraries offer a tremendous array to Carnegie’s working man or women and their children. In addition to books, a variety of digital resources are available for lending, children’s programs, tutoring programs and a variety of adult education programs are offered in many communities that assist with job skills and job hunting. Computer resources provide online access for those who cannot afford these or have only limited access. Most libraries are providing ever-growing numbers of people with greater numbers of services, often at fairly static funding levels, making them among the most efficient organizations.

The funding picture of libraries is primarily through state funding and local property tax levies. Ohio, where I live recently raised the percentage of its state budget going to libraries from 1.68 to 1.7 percent. This money provides roughly half of library funding overall. The reality though is that while some municipalities invest heavily in their libraries, others, often in cash-strapped rural settings, live almost entirely on state funding. The good news is that there is a great return on investment in library funding. A recent study found that $1 invested in Ohio libraries returned nearly $5 in economic value and Ohio has the highest per capita library use in the country. Federal funding for the Museum and Libraries Services was recently renewed and increased by $11 million, despite Trump administration opposition.

So while there is some good news on the U.S. funding front, many small libraries are struggling, and I hear of some that have closed, leaving “library deserts” in some areas of the country. The situation is worse in the United Kingdom, where nearly 130 libraries closed this past year and many are being run by volunteer staff. Certainly, the situation is more dire yet in other parts of the world.

Could philanthropists play a bigger part? For twenty years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did that, but announced in 2018 that they are winding down their program after funding free internet access in U.S. libraries, and greater technology access throughout the world. While some places like Harvard have huge endowments of $36 billion. A Washington Post article reports that by contrast there are only several billion dollars nationally in library endowments. The case has been made for a National Library Endowment with a goal of $20 billion. How could it happen? The Post article notes that the top 400 wealthiest in this country are worth $2.4 trillion. In other words, less than one percent of this wealth could fully endow this fund at $20 billion, and continue to build it in succeeding years. This could mean hiring librarians in cash strapped urban systems, expanding digital access, developing school libraries, and enhanced technology for research libraries. Mackenzie Bezos has committed a portion of her Amazon fortune to The Giving Pledge, organized by Warren Buffett to encourage just this kind of philanthropy.  Wouldn’t it be a bit ironic if she gave this toward a library endowment? Stranger things have happened.

Libraries continue to provide huge benefits to their communities and serve as “springs in the desert.” Who will take up the mantle of Andrew Carnegie in this generation? One hopes the day may come where alongside Carnegie’s name, we see those of Zuckerberg, Buffett, Bezos, Brin, Ellison, Bloomberg, Winfrey, and Cuban. All it would take is for these folks to put their heads–and their money–together and decide to make it happen. The whole country would be richer for it.

Why Libraries are Worth Our Support

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Rose Reading Room, New York Public Library. Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia.

Right now, libraries in many parts of the U.S. are facing cuts to funding. The most visible case of this is the New York Public Library, which while not technically facing a cut is only receiving an increase from $387.7 million to $388.8 million, which given inflation and increased demand for services, amounts to a cut. High profile figures, including Sarah Jessica Parker have joined the fight to increase library funding in the different boroughs of New York City.

I think libraries are one of the best deals out there today for those who pay taxes. I only occasionally borrow books at the library, but even my occasional borrowing, if I consider the retail price of the book, more than offsets the portion of my taxes.

My basic argument for libraries is that they are one of the most powerful weapons we have for sustaining our democracy, particularly given the growing income disparities in our country.

  • They provide online access, computer terminals, and printing facilities for those who cannot afford these.
  • They offer books for children who cannot afford them, fostering literacy at the most critical time of life.
  • They provide resources for job searches, and often basic courses in job-seeking, and computer literacy that is fundamental for many workers.
  • Many offer homework assistance for students and language assistance for immigrants wanting to learn English.
  • Libraries make available expensive manuals and reference materials for those who by necessity are do-it-yourselfers.
  • Many offer help with college admissions tests, helping to offset the advantages that more affluent students have with test prep courses and other assistance, legal or illegal, in getting admitted to colleges.

In addition, libraries offer so much at no cost to patrons simply for personal growth and entertainment–books, recorded music, videos in both physical and e-formats. They offer a range of programs serving every age group from children to seniors for personal enrichment. The demand for all these services continues to rise, often meaning personnel in the libraries are trying to stretch funding to acquire materials, and often the same people are working harder and longer–many of whom hold at least masters degrees in library science.

Librarians also are increasingly have to cope with the social challenges of our age. Librarians may be the first to spot child abuse. In urban centers, librarians often serve patrons who are homeless, chemically dependent, or mentally ill. In some instances, librarians are the first to respond to a drug overdose and many are trained to administer Naloxone.

All this is to say that I am proud to support the library in my community and extremely impressed with all that they accomplish with our tax dollars. I would venture that this is true in most communities. Why not take time to thank a librarian this week? And if there is a tax issue on the ballot, the best way you can say thanks is to vote yes. It not only is a great bargain (often less than your Prime membership, and certainly your cable bill), but it is one of the best investments I can think of in sustaining our democracy.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Reuben McMillan

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Reuben McMillan

When I was a young boy, my father took me to the Main Library each Saturday to take books out of the library–the Reuben McMillan Library. I didn’t give it a thought as a kid, but as I explore our shared history, I keep coming across the names of people who helped make the city of Youngstown what it was and still is. Reuben McMillan is one of these people.

McMillan was born October 7, 1820 in Canfield. He went to various schools until age thirteen and then took up the trade of harness making. Working during the day, he studied Latin, algebra and geometry and other advanced subjects in the evenings. By 1837 (at seventeen!) he started teaching in rural schools and used his earnings to continue to advance his own education from 1839 to 1843 at a private academy. By 1849, he was serving as superintendent of the Hanoverton schools in Columbiana County, then Lisbon and New Lisbon schools until he retired in 1853 due to health issues which dogged him throughout his life. Regaining his health, he became superintendent in Salem in 1855, then Youngstown in 1861.

He served as superintendent in Youngstown for six years until failing health necessitated his resignation in 1867. Were it not for this, he could have been superintendent of the Cleveland system. That was not to be, to Youngstown’s benefit. By 1872, restored health permitted him to return to his superintendent’s position in which he served until 1886. In Joseph G. Butler, Jr’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, he describes why Reuben McMillan was so highly esteemed:

“It was not mere length of service, however, that endeared Youngstown school pupils and Youngstown men and women of mature years to Reuben McMillan. Blessed with great ability, he was also one of the kindliest of men, tender, considerate, devoted to his work and caring little for personal gain. The poorer children of the schools were the object of his
special solicitude. His beauty of countenance of itself stamped him as one of nature’s noblemen. He was a tutor by example as well as precept, living the God fearing life that he encouraged in the youth of Youngstown. In religion he was a Presbyterian, and for some years was an elder in the old First Church here.”

While libraries had been part of Youngstown schools since the 1840’s, McMillan, joined by two teachers and two physicians, formed the Youngstown Library Association on October 27, 1880. The library began with 168 volumes and the two teachers, Miss Pearson and Miss Hitchcock were the first librarians, working out of a building on West Federal Street. The library went through a reorganization and on March 5, 1898 was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library Association, which is still the official name of The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. This was a special honor since McMillan was still alive at this time, passing on June 23 of that year.

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Richard A. Brown home, an early location of the Youngstown Public Library

The other special honor bestowed on McMillan came later. From its original home on West Federal, the library moved to the Richard A. Brown home in 1891 (now the site of the Mahoning County Courthouse). In 1907, a $50,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie made possible construction of a library at the corner of Wick and Rayen Avenue. When the library opened on December 3, 1910, with a capacity of 225,000 volumes, it was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library. Usually, the library is named after the major donor and there are many Carnegie libraries around the country. This was a case of a leader whose contribution was more important than money — an idea — a free library open to all residents of the city.

A large portrait of Reuben McMillan was hung in the library with this tribute from John H. Clarke, another advocate for the library, who helped pass legislation to allow tax levies to support public libraries:

“A man who sought neither wealth nor honor save as these were to be found in the faithful doing of his duty. He spent a long life for meager salary in training the youth of the city to live the highest intellectual life. When his name was chosen for the library it was because his generation chose to honor and revere that type of manhood which finds its best expression in that high stern-featured beauty of steady devotedness to duty.”

Reuben McMillan never enriched himself as an educator, but left a rich legacy to Youngstown in establishing a library to enrich the lives of children and adults from every walk of life in the city–a mission it continues to carry out to this day.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Michael Kusalaba Library

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Michael Kusalaba Library, Photo courtesy Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. Used with permission.

Those of you who have followed this blog know that I grew up on Youngstown’s West side, and that I am a bookish sort of person. Some of this was due to a mom who was a reader and to inspiring teachers. A good part of this was also due to the hours I spent at the West Side Library as a kid. I wrote recently that when I think of going to a happy place in my mind, the most likely place I would go is a library.

One of the rites of passage in my life was getting my own library card. When I was growing up, the card was printed on cardboard, with your name typed on it by the librarian after completing a handwritten application. I felt a little more grown up when I received that card! It had to be renewed periodically, if you had no overdue books. Having overdue books felt like a sin. I wonder if my Catholic friends ever brought that up at confession!

It was a wonder, though, to walk up Mahoning Avenue the half mile or so from my home on N.Portland and go to my favorite sections, which tended to be sports, science and science fiction, and military history. It was the era of the space program and many of us were fascinated by rockets and space. I’d pick out as many books as you were allowed to check out (I think the number was six) and walk up to the check out desk, present my card, and the librarian would use this photo device and scan my library card and the book’s card, stamp the due date in the book, and I had an armload of books to read!

Later on, we learned how to use card catalogues, and how the Dewey Decimal system worked, and other reference resources so we could find information for reports and papers we needed to write for school. It was another rite of passage when you were allowed to use the “adult” part of the library.

So much for library memories. On trips back to Youngstown, we’d drive past the West Side Library, and apart from new signs, it looked the same from the outside. That is no longer the case. The old West Side Library served its last patrons on April 30, 2016 and was torn down to make way for a sparkling new, larger library on the same site.

A West side neighbor, Michael Kusalaba, and his family helped make that possible. Kusalaba grew up nearby on N. Maryland Avenue (I never knew him) and like me spent many hours at the library growing up, and throughout his life. He had a successful career with Ohio Edison and served as a trustee with the CASTLO Community Improvement Corporation. Before he passed in 2009, he established The Michael Kusalaba Fund with the Youngstown Foundation. On October 9, 2015, the Youngstown Foundation announced its largest gift to date, a $1.68 million gift for the construction of a new West Side library from The Michael Kusalaba Fund. Fittingly, it was decided that the new library would bear his name. The total project was budgeted at $3.775 million, the remainder coming from funding set aside for this purpose. The library operates debt-free.

The new library will open next week on February 14, a Valentine’s Day gift to the West side, and all of Youngstown. A formal dedication will follow on February 24. The new library is larger, at 11,514 square feet. It includes children’s, teen and adult areas, a casual Community Living Room area,  public meeting room, multimedia collections, a Technology Hub, with public access computers and other digital technology. There are self check-out and patron assistance kiosks. It also sounds like there will be an outdoor reading area and a courtyard for public events. A recent gift from the Slanina family sponsored the Community Foyer. Sponsorships of other areas of the library are still available.

The library will be open 10 am to 8 pm Monday through Thursday and 10 am to 6 pm on Friday and Saturday. It will also serve as the base for the library’s “Pop Up” mobile outreach throughout the county.

Michael Kusalaba was a leader in community development and a lover of the library. This facility, which bears his name, will hopefully inspire more new development on the West side. It will also be a place where a new generation of West side children might discover the joys of reading and discovery, and residents of all ages can gather for community events and pursue lifelong learning. I can’t wait to see it myself.

Librarians in Dystopia

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Patchogue-Medford Library, [CC BY-SA 2.5] via Wikimedia

Remember when the role of the librarian was to help you find research materials for your homework, sign you up for a library card, help you log onto the library computers, and check out your books? Remember when librarians were the guardians of a safe, quiet place of discovery?

Our news is filled with accounts of opioid abuse and overdose deaths, gun violence, and sexual harassment and abuse. In many of our minds, we consider the library a sanctuary from such things, a place to read the newspaper, to hunt for your next read, to do research on a business start up idea. When, in my mind I conjure up my idea of a “safe place” or my “happy place” some version of a library often comes to mind.

Sadly, the reality of the evening news has invaded my safe and happy place. A recent story run by our local CBS affiliate cited the statistic that police answered 3200 calls to our city’s libraries in the last two years. They received calls for drug overdoses, shootings, gang fights, and sexual harassment and assaults.

In one incident, a librarian was punched in the head by a 12-year old boy after asking him to be quiet. Plainly, librarians are being called upon to deal with situations most of them probably never dreamed of when they decided to pursue the profession. This was the subject of a recent Bookriot article by Katie McLain that gives a glimpse into the brave new world librarians are confronting each day. In some major cities, for example, librarians are receiving training in administering Naloxone. One Philadelphia librarian, Chera Kowalski, has saved dozens of lives and was recognized by Hillary Clinton for her work at the 2017 American Library Association convention, according to Fobazi Ettarh’s article, Vocational Awe and Librarianship.

In addition to confronting crises like those named above, librarians often are confronting issues once addressed by social agencies, the health care system, and other neighborhood institutions like churches, parishes, and other religious bodies. They are called upon to address homelessness, unemployment and mental health issues along with the more usual questions for which they trained. McLain asks the question of whether we are asking librarians to be our local “superheroes,” a role that can be exhausting, albeit rewarding.

It seems to me that this new reality that our librarians face in our dystopian world is something they should not face alone. It seems at least three things are important:

  1. If they are expected to regularly handle these situations they should be trained, institutionally supported and appropriately compensated.
  2. Libraries will need to spend more on security. The local news report I mentioned above indicated that our metropolitan library has spent $600,000 in upgraded security cameras in addition to hiring more security personnel. If we want our libraries to be safe and to provide the same or enhanced levels of service, in most municipalities, we should be prepared to pay for it.
  3. We need to recognize that, in addition to societal factors, the erosion of other neighborhood institutions puts more stress on the libraries to fill the gap. In particular, I think we have seen a decline in neighborhood religious institutions, which, along with mom and pop stores, have yielded to “big box” facilities 5, 10, or 20 miles away that have no connection with where their parishioners live. Likewise, many social agencies are in a central location, often distant from different parts of the city, and inaccessible to those lacking transportation. What can we do to strengthen networks of care in our local communities?

Finally, it probably won’t hurt to thank your local librarian for all that he or she does. It may in fact be far more than you think.

Books on Books

20160601_204859One of the ways you know you are a bibliophile is when your reading includes books on books, or bookish subjects! Margaret Aldrich posted a great list recently on BookRiot of 100 Must-Read Books about BooksWhat particularly impressed me about this list were the number of fiction books that “give books a starring role.” About the only one on the list I had read was Fahrenheit 451, and that in my adolescence! One things bibliophiles always like is finding a whole new treasure trove of books. In this list I think I found one.

The non-fiction list was equally delightful. Roughly, it divided into two kinds of books. One was lists of great books, or the experience of reading them. We have for example, 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall. Books like these are a great shortcut to discovering interesting books you’ve not heard of. I discovered there is even a website based on the book where you can go through and check off all the books on the list that you’ve read and compare your reading with that of others.

The other part of the list are books having to do with various aspects of our passion for reading. One that looked intriguing was At Home With Books: How Booklovers Live With and Care for Their Libraries.  Personally, I am more on the end of being interested in what is between the covers, but there are many people who collect and lovingly display books and a number of books on this list discussed this aspect of our love of books. One that I reviewed not too long ago is about The Man Who Loved Books Too Much describing the search for and character of a book thief, and why he loved stealing and collecting books. There was one book that I thought aptly described my own life as a bibliophile: The Polysyllabic Spree: A Hilarious and True Account of One Man’s Struggle with the Monthly Tide of the Books He’s Bought and the Books He’s Been Meaning to Read by Nick Hornby. The title nails it for me, particularly if you add in the books that show up in my mailbox or on my doorstep from publishers to be reviewed.

I was surprised not to find David Denby’s Great Books, describing his decision at forty-eight to enroll in Columbia’s two core courses on the Great Books. In a similar vein, the list did not include the account of the birth of the “Great Books” phenomenon, A Great Idea at the Time (reviewed here). I suspect that this idea has fallen out of favor with the rejection of the idea of a canon of literature and the interest in more diverse books and voices. The World Between Two Covers sounded like a great way to read one’s way around the world.

I also have a couple on my TBR stacks (pictured above) that I did not find here that look interesting. One is Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co, by Lynne Tillman. This is the story of a classic New York City bookstore from its opening to its closing. So many bookstores have a lifecycle like this, and leave behind a legion of fans who loved hanging around them. The other is BiblioTECH: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, by John Palfrey. I’m intrigued with the whole question of how libraries are defining their mission with the advent of so many new technologies.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Margaret Aldrich’s post is that it part of a whole other genre of writing about books, of which BookRiot and Bob on Books are a part. There are a whole group of us who are not writing books about books per se’, but in the serialized format of blogging are doing what amounts to the same thing. Perhaps we are trying to recover, in the words of another title on Aldrich’s list, The Lost Art of Readingperhaps because we believe the assertion of the subtitle, that “books matter in a distracted time.”

Tim Spalding, Founder of LibraryThing

tim_1_grandeSomehow, it just seems like the kind of thing a Greek and Latin graduate student with free lance experience in web development would do. It began as a pet project of Tim’s to catalog his own books, and those of his book-loving friends. And so began the first social book cataloging site. LibraryThing.com launched on August 29, 2005.

What made this thing go, it appears, is that Spalding is a computer geek who leveraged experience in Houghton-Mifflin’s instructional technology division to acquire the tech savvy for an enterprise like LibraryThing. As he put the site together, he realized it was better than anything out there at the time. To help finance the effort, he sold a portion of the company to Abebooks, now owned by Amazon. So Amazon, which also owns GoodReads and Shelfari, does have an interest in LibraryThing. Spalding still holds the largest share of his company. He is fairly adamant about providing alternatives to the Amazon/GoodReads world. He wrote on the “talk” page of LibraryThing:

“We need to embrace being the “un-Amazon” and “un-Goodreads.” If they zag, we should zig. This is the way I like it—I find Goodreads too pushy on the social side, too cavalier about user data and–on average–not as intellectual as LibraryThing can be(1). So I want to be unlike them. But it’s also good business practices. If you want a ham sandwich, Goodreads will give you one. We need to be the site for people who hate ham sandwiches…. Trust me or don’t, but my motives are pretty pure. I like my job and I’m not looking to flip the company to Amazon or anyone else.”

One of the big things Spalding has done is integrate capabilities to search and incorporate library information from over 1000 libraries using Z39.50 connections (a data sharing protocol) that allows users to access cataloging information available through Dublin Core and MARC records. At the same time, Spalding is zealous in protecting user privacy. No email is required to set up an account and collections can be set to private, so that no one need see the books you have.

In a 2006 interview with Abebooks, he describes the features of the site he developed in this way:

“The idea is simple: You enter an ISBN, a title or a keyword, and it picks up the rest from Amazon, the Library of Congress or over 30 libraries around the world. Deweys, LC Call Numbers and MARC Records are all available. Once you’ve entered some books, the system points you to other users with eerily similar tastes. You can start a conversation with them or just browse their libraries to get ideas. The system also generates great automatic recommendations; it turns out “people who OWN X also own Y” can be more interesting than “people who BOUGHT X also bought Y.” I had cataloged my books one way or another since childhood, and making LibraryThing was a dream for a few years before I went ahead with it. I barely hoped that it would eventually repay the month of programming it took to launch the basic service, but it took off beyond my wildest dreams.”

A significant part of LibraryThing’s business is with libraries. LibraryThing for Libraries provides information that enhances online library catalogs. This helped me understand how they stay afloat. I wondered how they did it on annual memberships of $10.

Tim Spalding lives in Portland, Maine with his wife, author Lisa Carey, and their son Liam. Among the books he is currently reading according to his LibraryThing page are John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Enrico Ascalone’s Mesopotamia: Assyrians, Sumerians, Babylonians, and J.R. Ward’s Lover Avenged.

 

National Library Week 2016

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Did you know that April 10 to 16, 2016 is National Library Week, a campaign of the American Library Association (ALA) to promote the important contribution our libraries make in our lives, our communities, and our country. And within the week’s celebration, did you know that today, Wednesday April 13 is National Bookmobile Day celebrating the work of librarians who take their services on the road to those without easy access to the library.

This year’s theme is “Libraries Transform”. They even have a contest that involves completing the “Because” statement in the graphic above and submitting it through one of the following ways:

Entries can be posted to Twitter, Instagram, or on the I Love Libraries Facebook page during National Library Week for a chance to win. Entries can be a picture or text.  Creativity is encouraged. Just be sure to include the word “Because” and the hashtag #LibrariesTransform for a chance to win. Entries can also be submitted directly to the Libraries Transform website. The promotion begins Sunday, April 10 at noon CT and ends Saturday, April 16 at noon CT.  

My own answer for our local library is “because our library serves as a community hub and provides critical resources and technology for those of every age.” I wish I could distill that to fewer words, but here is what I have in mind.

Our library is a community hub in a suburban community that did not have one until it was built. When a group of us met to save a local wetland from being turned into an office development, where did we meet? The library. Where do we post information for our church’s community garden or the concert announcements for the community choir I sing with? At the library. In fact, the library hosts a number of meetings, book groups, teen gatherings, and, in the summer, outdoor concerts. Whenever I drive by, the parking lot is always full or nearly full.

The other part of my “because” statement has to do with all the critical resources our library provides, including current state of the art technology as well as information resources one might not be able to access on one’s own. It is still the case that 25 percent of American households still lack internet connections. Computers at our library have high speed access as well as all the basic office software. For others, it is free access to online e-books. For others like myself, it is the ability to reserve books online that I want to read but not own, either from our library system or via inter-library loan. For students, there is a homework help center, and there is a job center for those looking for work or seeking a better job. You can see the list of all the things my library offers at their website.

Of course, libraries, along with families and schools, are great places to encourage the love of reading. From read aloud and summer reading programs to the simple fun of wandering the stacks and the shelves with new releases, there is always the fun of that serendipitous discovery of a book you’d not know about that piques a personal interest. More than once, I’ve gone to the library for one reason, and come away with a new book to read, just because something caught my eye.

This is a good week to stop by your local library. If nothing else, your taxes contribute to its operating budget and you should check out how they are being spent. When I look at our library through this lens, I’m always delighted, as I see the way staff serve the public and all the ways our library enhances our community. Reviewing my property taxes, I see that I contribute $18 a month toward our local library. That’s less than the cost of most new books these days, less than half what I pay for internet service, probably less than I spend at Starbucks in a month. The value to me is not just the personal benefit I receive but also the recognition that it is one place that is providing, not a hand out, but a hand up to those who are trying to make a better life for themselves. The value is how the library makes my community a good place to live.

While you are at the library, take some time to look at who is using the facilities. Notice all the programming that takes place. Talk to a reference librarian about the resources at the library or online that might be helpful to you. Just spend time browsing the books and other media available. And, if you don’t have one, or it is out of date, sign up for a library card. You will be amazed at most libraries with all the things you can do with that little card, many from wherever you are! And, if you have the chance, thank someone at the library for making all this possible. National Library Week is a good time to do that.