Passion: Libraries

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[Thanks to scottbenbow for pitching this show.]

British library

The Reading Room at the British Museum in London is another one of my favorite libraries. Marx, Lenin, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, and H.G. Wells all had carrels there! [Christopher Chan / Flickr]

My own passion for libraries started early. I loved my local library. Growing up, I would go there at least once a week, browse with no agenda, and leave with two or three surprises. I read Paul Auster before I knew who Paul Auster was. I went through a biography phase, a John Bellairs phase, and an Ayn Rand phase (although I’d rather not think about that last one now). In that library were all the landmarks of my literary childhood.

On top of that, my mother works at the Library of Congress, a place she cheerily refers to as “the world’s largest repository of organized knowledge.” She’s one of the lucky few with check-out privileges, and when I was little she would occasionally bring me into the stacks — 530 miles of shelving that house 29 million books. I remember glancing through the shelves to find a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin printed in the 1890s, in Russian, or an obscure Japanese architecture magazine with an article about the Italian Futurists. It’s an amazing, cavernous place. And would you believe the librarians blared music while they reshelved?

Apocryphal stories about people like Malcolm X reading every book in the library (in his case, the prison library in Norfolk, Massachusetts) always gave me the sense that libraries are magical places where people who will one day run the world (or write about it) go to receive the wisdom of the ancients. The fact that Mary’s ferociously smart 9-year-old daughter, Annie, aspires to read every book in her school library only proves the point.

What is your favorite library or your favorite library memory? What did you get out of libraries that you might not have gotten elsewhere? Our favorite blogging librarian, Karen Schneider, told David that today’s librarians must be “spiritual advisors for information.” How should libraries adapt now that most people would rather google something than look it up? Are you worried about the future of libraries in the digital information age?

Update, 5/21/07 6:08pm

hurley was kind enough to point out that scottbenbow is not the only one who’s been angling for this show for some time now.

Long live the public library! Especially for kids!!! In our little town here in central MA we are having trouble getting it together to put up a huge addition to our little library which began as a private lending institution in 1792 and grew into a public institution by the 1880’s. Today it is the tiny library that it was a hundred years ago and it desperately needs updating. Will the town fight for it?

Is the library essential anymore or a luxury today?

I think a show devoted to libraries and how they are changing or have to change to survive, how important they are to us as a society would be a a great topic.

Potter, in a comment to Open Source, 12/6/05

I think a show focusing on the nature of libraries in the digital age would be fascinating. Some of the points brought up during the Google Print show touched on some of these issues, and I think it was clear that this is a deep topic worthy of exploration. How has the way we understand and access information changed? How does that impact the role of libraries, schools, and unversities and guardians and storehouses of knowledge?

tsackton, in a comment to Open Source, 12/6/05

Thanks guys.

Rick Prelinger

Founder, Prelinger Archives

Board President, Internet Archive

Paul Whitney

City Librarian, Vancouver Public Library

Bernard Margolis

President, Boston Public Library

Amanda McKeraghan

Director, Stevens County Rural Library District in Washington state

Extra Credit Reading

Michael Baldwin, Can Libraries Save Democracy?, Library Journal, October 15, 2002: “The American public library is the most important invention of our democratic society after the Constitution itself. Libraries can provide the social leverage to return America to a democratic destiny. We will be condemned by history and by ourselves if we allow democracy to perish. I’m no Tom Paine, but I’ll borrow his mantle for a moment. Now is the time for all good librarians to come to the aid of their country!”

Ron Miller, It’s Comforting to Know The Librarian is Still a Journalist’s Best Friend, by Ron Miller, May 8, 2007: “Honestly, I do most of my research online now, but remembering this chestnut of wisdom, I decided to ask the expert. She suggested I go to the University library, so I got in my car again, drove to the University library and spoke to the UMass research librarian, a fellow who looked very harsh sitting up in his chair, but smiled warmly as soon as I addressed him.”

Megan Shaw Prelinger, To Build a Library, Bad Subjects, April, 205: “Most libraries in educational and research institutions hold books in closed stacks. Closed stacks structure access to knowledge in a query-based format. In query-based access, users have to know what they are looking for in order to request it, in order to “find” it. In this system the process of discovery is channeled from one direct link to the next.”

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Siva in Chronicle of Higher Ed: A Risky Gamble with Google,, December 2, 2005: “It pains me to declare this: Google’s Library Project is a risky deal for libraries, researchers, academics, and the public in general. However, it’s actually not a bad deal for publishers and authors, despite their protestations.”

Phil Bowermaster, Library Conference, Day 2, The Speculist, May 9, 2007: “So we’ve got all these older people, showing up in libraries because of an extraordinary invention called retirement. Very recent – roughly 1900 did the idea of a pension-supported retirement emerge. Before that, you just became incapacitated. Often impoverished and then dead.”

Joshua Harris, The Room, via “When I came to a file marked ‘Lustful Thoughts,’ I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded. An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: ‘No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!'”

Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, Unshelved, Overdue Media.

LOLbrarians: “im in ur cattylog, makin up subj3ck hedinz.”

Marian the Librarian

Related Content

  • Libraries freaking rock. My friend Bill Barnes writes a niche web comic about librarians. pretty funny.

    Anyhow, the Tacoma Public Library is rad.

  • Potter

    I am so happy you are doing this show. I was aiming to make a big pitch about doing such a show. Libraries have meant a great deal to me all my life.

    When I was five years old my mother took me to the local library ( in The Bronx) to get my first card. This was my first form of identification; it verified that I was a person, a bonafide member of society. It was truly a rite of passage. I couldn’t believe that I could actually choose a few books to take home- to borrow. This taught me (beautifully) what borrowing was about. Others had read these books before me and I had to take care of these books so that others could read them after me. My mother helped me choose ( I loved fairy tales, she chose Child’s Garden of Verses) and at home she would read to me. In those days we had no children’s books at home. We could not afford them. And then after a time we had to go back to return the books and so we could get others.

    I feel like a five year old again writing this. That was my first library experience. Later on I used libraries to find solitude and refuge ( especially during my college years) and to explore endless things that interested me. Libraries really opened up my world.

    Libraries of my past:

    The Brooklyn Library ( my aunt took me to it when I was 12. She taught me the card catalogue)

    The New York Library- 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue

    The Donnell Library ( across from the Museum of Modern Art in NYC)

    Hunter College Library- University of the City of New York ( for solitude and for the music)

    The Morgan Library- a museum really

    Massachusetts libraries I love:

    Cambridge Library

    Sudbury Library (Massachusetts)

    Lincoln, Framingham, Wayland libraries

    Shrewsbury, Northboro and Worcester Libraries

    In my town we have a very tiny and old fieldstone library that we are struggling to replace or repair and extend. I have been a member of the library foundation for a number of years and it has been an uphill battle…..

  • farouet

    Lots of library memories that are like a welcome meal, true love, or religious experience. I’ll go with this one for now: high school forays from our suburb into downtown L.A. off Pershing Square, nighttime — 8 ish. Researching school projects in the big library there. It has since burned down, and they’ve rebuilt a new one.

    But the old had a large entry room with a mythic WPA mural. It had one foot in FDR ‘greatest generation’ history and the other deep inside my imagination. Best to walk up the steps and emerge on an upper story stack. Books from years before smelling musty, being haunted by the fingers of other people curious about the same things I was.

  • orlox

    My library is a movie star.

    It is hard to go a week without seeing it transformed into a bad guy’s hideout, or blown up by alien attack or wrecked by the Antichrist.

    The architecture is magnificent however, inside and out, a ‘must-see’ in Vancouver.

  • Dora

    I was particularly struck by one of your questions, Robin:

    “How should libraries adapt now that most people would rather google something than look it up?”

    Frankly, a lot of people might want to google something but can’t because they can’t afford to buy computers. It seems to me that public libraries were originally founded because there was a sense that democracy requires an educated citizenry. Nowadays our society, in my opinion, does a poor job making information accessible to ordinary people. Unless you can afford a $1,000 for a computer and $40/month for a broadband connection, the library is the only place you can go to get access to the Web. (Free Wi-Fi in cafes doesn’t help people living in the country.) Whenever I hear the “why do we need libraries now that we have the Web” meme, I always think of the sort of people who are not “we”–that is, the people who (unlike most of us Open Source listeners) still don’t have personal access to the Web. People who don’t have computers at home aren’t going to be able to find what they need doing google searches at the library; the Web is not second nature to them and they’re going to need librarians to help guide them through the process. So, first of all, I would say that we can’t assume that access to Google is anywhere close to universal.

    There’s a more important related point, however, and that is the fact that libraries are a sort of “commons.” Those of us with computers can sit at home alone and surf the Web. But do we really want to be a nation of people who are retreating further and further into our own private lives? I think this is what Chris was alluding to when he asked David Weinberger of what, potentially we’ve lost as a result of the Web. Frankly, I think we do need an institution where people can see each other face to face. This is what we’re losing, and it’s a bigger deal than Weinberger wants to admit. If we get our personalized news feeds and sign on to our Yahoo! groups, we can meet like-minded souls, but that insulates us from the reality of living in a democracy with people who don’t agree with us. As Chris was saying on that show, the editorial decision to feature one thing or another on the front page of the Times used to have a kind of solemn significance. Now there’s no sense of there being something that all members of society should know–. The next incarnation of libraries (I’ll call it The Library 2.0) may be more important for its ability to create a kind of common ground than for it ability to cater to the idiosyncratic needs of each individual patron.

    Finally, I think we really need to remember that libraries are a place where information is not commodified. Google Books may turn out to be useful (though it isn’t, yet) but people forget that Google will always do what’s best for Google, not what’s best for readers or writers. It’s high time to strike a blow against the notion of enlightened self-interest. What’s the suffix that’s synonymous with the Internet? Is it “.org” or “.edu”? No, it’s “.com.” Comparatively little of what’s out there on the Web adheres to the ideals of the open source movement. It’s mostly just junk that people are peddling either to make money directly or to promote themselves somehow. Libraries of course buy all kinds of information—both print and digital—but the librarian is truly committed to getting patrons the best information. Sometimes there are better sources of information than what’s available on the Web. (Think of the profound difference in quality between Wiktionary and the Oxford English Dictionary.)

    Jeffrey Toobin’s article on Google Books some months ago asks us to ponder the question of what happens if Google gets this model of a free Internet library wrong. What then? What will happen to this dream of a digital Library of Alexandria if publishers and writers all sell the rights to their works to Google and Google proves not to be infallible? I think it’s sort of tragic that we want the future of information to rest entirely in the hands of a self-serving corporation. (Even one that has done great work and that stresses the need to not be evil.) In my opinion, this role should be played by an institution such as the Library of Congress not a private company such as Google.

    As for favorite memories of libraries, I think of spending afternoons in Margaret Clapp library at Wellesley College in the mid-80s reading copies of the Melody Maker, a now-defunct British music magazine that I couldn’t possibly afford to subscribe to as a college student. Nowadays, so many foreign publications are available on the Web—and yes, I can read the Guardian and Libération online—but at the time it was life-altering to be able to read not just British books (which were affordable) but British periodicals (which weren’t). I felt that I was being given the miraculous opportunity to experience the London music scene in real time, even though I was living in suburban Boston.

  • Dora

    Since my last post wasn’t long enough, I wanted to add something.

    In my last post, I was thinking very much of information in the present tense. That is, the current world of information as it exists. But I wasn’t addressing the role of libraries as preservers of information.

    So, for example, right now there’s a glut of information available on the web. But let’s say that Congress desides to end net neutrality tomorrow. (My scenario is hypothetical, but not at all fanciful; we could have lost and still might still lose net neutrality.) If such a thing comes to pass, many valuable websites—especially non-profit or low-profit sites—will close up shop. Where will the information go? How will people access it? Who on the Web is thinking about preserving what’s there so that people in the future will be able to use it.

    Libraries don’t just help people find information, they also preserve information. For example, the new DVD of the movie “Babyface” (the film that was so outrageous that Hollywood had to start enforcing the Hays code lest anything so immoral ever be made again) is based on a version of the film housed in the Library of Congress. One of the librarians there noticed that the LoC version of the film was longer than the official bowdlerized version and realized that what the library had was an intact version of this wonderful film. So now we can see Barbara Stanwyck in all her degenerate glory on our TV screens. This is thanks to the Library of Congress, and no thanks to the movie studio that made the film but couldn’t care less about preserving it.

  • Librarians remain the guardians of free speech and information access in this country. Two of my four sisters are librarians.

    I heard Seattle author Sherman Alexie recently give a description of the downtown Seattle Public Library . He described it as if discovered by a future civilization that would understand it to be a temple to the written word. Which it is. Seattle also has a celebrity Librarian in Nancy Pearl and there is even an action figure based on Ms Pearl.

    But it is the small Island libraries I love best. My hometown library has anything you’d find at a big library and through Inter-library loan access to most things in print. They teach classes in computer use, hold author events, children’s story hour, teen book clubs ect. Lately I just breeze in to check out the DVD collection, which unlike the local video shop contains a subscription to current foreign films, BBC series, and an odd assortment of classic movies.

    Libraries are more important now than ever.

    From American Library Association…..

    * 99 percent of public libraries provide free public computer access to the Internet (another study released in March showed that only 69 percent of U.S. households have Internet access)

    * Visits to public libraries in the United States increased 61 percent from 1994 and 2004.

  • from the late great Kurt Vonnegut…

    “And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

    So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

    Kurt Vonnegut

  • article about Seattle’s new downtown library

  • Librarian Action Figure

  • Aganita Varkentine

    I graduated from library school (Florida State University) in 1962. I worked in both public and academic libraries and since 1978, I have worked as an indexer of (at various times) magazines, newspapers, software and online reference materials. I am simply amazed at the tremendous changes in libraries since I graduated. The recent show on Weinberger’s Miscellaney was eye opening. That led me to Wow!

  • tbrucia

    My ‘library moment’ came in junior high school about 1960. The town library in Somerville, New Jersey, was stilled housed on the first floor of old Victorian mansion, and I discovered a row of books about four feet wide arranged spine-up in a bay window. They were science fiction books, arranged in alphabetical order by author from left to right. I decided right then and there to read them all (there must have been 40 or 50!) over the course of the summer…. and that’s what I did, starting at Asimov, proceeding through Campbell, and reading lord who knows what else… It was a good summer, though my mother’s nagging (‘Why don’t you put down those books and go out and play!) still sounds in my mind after more than 40 years… It wasn’t a bad way to spend my time, frankly!

  • tbrucia

    My other ‘library story’ was my part time job working in the St. Vincent College library… My job was to take faculty book requests (which were arranged in chronological order of receipt), look up the ISBN numbers, and pass them on to the librarian for ordering. As one might have expected, I took all the book requests by my favorite faculty members and sent them through for ordering, and left those from my least favorite faculty sitting in the request box. No one ever noticed. That was my first glimmer that bureaucracies (even little ones) are not very good as noticing strange patterns…

  • rahbuhbuh

    From a very enjoyable book “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón:

    “To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world…”

    I was sold on that pitch. It gets a bit silly and Hollywood mysterious from there, but in a good self-aware way.

  • danielle

    I very much equate libraries with childhood. I always seem to feel much more comfortable in the children’s wing of a library than in the rest of the sections. I spent a lot of time at the Framingham Public Library as a kid. I was one of those dorky kids who was overjoyed to receive the summer reading lists every June and to make my way not just through the list for my grade level, but also through most of the books from the grades above me. (I won awards! It’s a wonder that I didn’t get beat up!) I taped off rectangles on my desk in my room and labled them. Books to be read in one rectangle and books to return in the other. Plus, the FPL hosted excellent arts and crafts classes of the egg-carton-and-feathers variety.

    This is probably a very cliche book to have a -library moment- over, but very clearly I remember being 11, maybe just turned 12, sitting on the floor of the Nesmith Library and finding a curious looking book that I had never heard of before. There was no picture on the front, and I decided to take it home and read it based on its pretty dark red cover. I fell in love with the thing. As it turns out, The Catcher In The Rye happens to be a pretty famous book. The red covered copies have been out of print now for over 30 years, and Barnes and Noble only sells non-descript looking white covered copies of Catcher now. Of course, I would have eventually learned about the book, if it weren’t for the library’s 35 year-old blood red copy, my mal-adjusted adolescence might have been very different!

    Here’s the thing though. Libraries? I hate them. I am probably going to be in the minority here. Maybe it’s the fact that I equate them with homework and research now, or maybe it’s because I am allergic to everything old, but libraries are not fun. And, in my experience, they seem to be becoming less functional. I go to college at a state university. The library there? I use it to check my email and to grudgingly search for things that usually are not there. My library education in school involved a wooden cabinet with tiny drawers and cards. Now, I am well-enough versed in desktop computing to run catalogue and journal searches online, but there’s absolutely no pleasure in it. If anything, it becomes almost more frustrating as you search vast digital indices and still can’t find what you’re looking for. And if you do, often as not, it’s not found in a database your library subscribes to. As far as I’ve seen, libraries are out of date, print-wise, because they focus their money on new digital resources. However, most of the users of regular libraries today were educated in how libraries were, not how they’re going to have to be in the future to remain relevant. And libraries certainly are going to have to change. I’m not sure how, but I believe that many are about to outlive their usefulness, especially underfunded town libraries. College libraries will always exist in some form or another. And the Library of Congress is a whole other animal. As changes happen in the libraries themselves, it will be very important to re-educate the public–the users–on how library ‘2.0’ works. And those users will likely have to be sold on the concept as well, because if we can google at home and we don’t think the library will help us more than Google, in all it’s infinite wisdom, can, these new libraries will remain very empty indeed. In which case we ought to just move arts and crafts time over into the adult stacks. There’s a lot more room over there now that all the books are gone.

  • My memorable library moment was is the tiny public library on Lopez Island. I’d just come in for a browse and as I was leaving when a face on the cover of a book on the new books shelf caught my eye. I recognized the face. A few years prior I’d seen the same face in the Seattle Times where they listed political prisoners to write to. This woman’s face caught my attention then because she looked so much like one of my sisters but she was a Russian Poet in prison in the Soviet Union. The Times said that she was writing poems on bars of soap because she had no paper. I’d taken the article to my women’s circle and we all wrote to her. The book was, Grey is the Color of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya about her experiences in prison. She was then out of prison and living in England. I read her book and then wrote to her in care of her publisher. I told her that we’d written to her in prison. She wrote me back a beautiful letter and told me that the letters written to her really did make a big difference in her being released. I’ve been writing to political prisoners ever since.

  • Aganita Varkentine

    From early childhood, I loved to read, but there were no libraries in our small town of about 500 people. I just read the books we had at home or that from a bookmobile that occasionally came to our school. I went to several high schools where there were libraries, although I don’t remember going to public libraries then. When I went away to college, I was trying to decide whether to major in English literature or in elementary education. For a semester, I tried elementary education, but was soon bored with the classes. However, one class in children’s literature interested me, and I soon changed to a joint English-library science major. After my BA, I stayed at Florida State to get my MA. in library science in 1962, as i said above. My first library job was at the Bloomington Public Library in Bloomington, Indiana. I was hired as a reference librarian, but when I arrived, I was told that the children’s librarian had just quit, and i was the new one. After one year at the public library, I became a reference librarian at the Indiana University undergraduate library, where I stayed for three years. I then taught library science, mostly to undergraduate elementary school education majors plus occasional extension courses. My last full-time library job was at the Thayer Public Library in Braintree, Massachusetts, where I was reference librarian. I especially enjoyed my times doing reference work and wish I had been able to do more research. I always though my dream job would be doing extensive research for books on history, historical fiction and/or biography.

    Subsequent to the above experiences, I moved to California and took some time off to raise my son who, by the way, is an avid reader and library user. I worked part time at the Menlo Park Public Library, both as a children’s librarian and a reference librarian. That was mu last job in a library because after that I became an indexer of various media used in libraries.

    My favorite libraries as a user are the Mountain View and Sunnyvale public libraries in California and several of the branch libraries of the Seattle Public Library. I am not all that impressed with the main library in Seattle, as I much prefer cozy comfort in a library to high art.

  • loki

    About 11 years ago, Malcom x’s brother spoke at UMass-Amherst. He stated that he recommended that Malcom read the Enccl. Britiana from A-Z. He said Macloms’s favorite book was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Infuence People.”

    Eldbridge Cleaver has a moving story about his teacher in Prison.

    Great Show idea!

  • japhyryder

    i enjoy some of the odd names of library’s…it adds to the mystique for me…an example of which is the Homer Babbage Library at Uconn

  • galoot

    I work in a law library at a UK university and it is a wonderful environment. We’re in a listed 60’s modern building with cork floors we cannot touch (for instance to install ethernet cabling – thank goodness for wireless). Downstairs in locked cases are legal documents from the reign of George III. One thing I’d be interested in discussing is why librarians are taking to Second Life in a big way – I’m involved in helping our institution create a presence there, and the library community on the Info Island complex is very active. It is spearheaded by a coalition of Illinois libraries… info at They are cooperating with UIUC to teach a course on “Second Life librarianship”.

  • Robin

    Hey Dora – your point about internet access is really well taken. My statement was pretty classist, wasn’t it? I definitely want to talk about that whole thread of conversation in the show. (Don’t be surprised if your comment ends up on the air!)

    Everyone’s library memories are really fun to read. And that librarian action figure is great, Peggysue. Should I call Nancy Pearl as a possible guest, do you think? I’d like to know what Seattle’s super librarian has to say.

  • Aganita Varkentine

    I think Nancy Pearl would be a great guest. I hear her regularly on a local public radio program, and I think she would have a lot to offer.

  • W.M. Palmer

    In Vernor Vinge’s newest SF novel, set several decades down the road (which I skimmed – it was not as good as advertised), there is an ongoing protest at the UCSD library, where the books are being shredded by a machine for mechanical digestion and reconstruction (along the lines of the shotgun method used to analyze the human genome) so that they can be made available through the web . . .

    My sense is that libraries as places of research will quickly fade, except to the extent that they provide computer access to those who do not ahve it, or for a user not computer literate – which will become unnecessary as computers become embedded in our environment and respond to voice queries . . .

    They may remain as places of respose, stripped of their essential purpose, reminding us of an earlier time – giving one a sense akin to that one has when standing in the quiet of a church in Europe – the celebrant masses long buried by time.

    The most quintessential library experience right now that bridges both of these worlds may be working from one’s laptop on the fifth floor of the Boston Athenaeum.

  • silvio.rabioso

    Wow, I was just thinking that too much time had passed since I last cited Jorges Luis Borges on ROS.

    For those of you who know Borges, this seems like a great excuse to re-read one of his best stories. For those of you who have never read _The Library of Babel_, your time has come.

    English translation here

    Original here

    You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?

  • I loved Dora’s loooong post. Libraries should be more relevant today in the age of google, but not as competition to google, but as a relevant place in your community. Third places, outside of work and commerce and home, where we come together as citizens are becoming harder to find. Libraries can lead the charge into reestablishing these places in our landscapes.

    Here is my favorite piece on libraries: Can Libraries Save Democracy?. I think the author, Michael Baldwin of the Benbrook Public Library in Texas, would make a great guest.

    My favorite library memory is happening right now. I’m talking with my community librarian and the head of our local friends board to see about starting an “evening auxilary” to the friends group. Our current Friends are mostly older folks who like the meet during the day, putting us working 30 somethings out of luck if we want to help out. Mr. Baldwin’s essay put me to work trying to iron that one out.

    Lastly, I just want to ask, there seem to be a lot of library memories connected with childhood. Are we missing the magic of libraries as adults?

  • Dora

    I like you too, Emmett.

    I had a magical experience at the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library a couple of years ago. I was browsing in the literature section when a teenage girl shyly approached me and asked if I could help her find a translation of Dante’s Inferno. I talked to her a bit about what she might be looking for in a translation, and how different translations can have different advantages and disadvantages. I admired her so much having the ambition to attempt Dante on her own at such a young age. Clearly, she was not reading him for school. She just wanted to have her intellectual curiosity satisfied. I felt so lucky to have experienced this serendipitous little moment of intellectual connection. I sent her off with the Pinsky translation, by the way.

  • Robin, I think Nancy Pearl would be an excellent guest for this show.

  • Dora

    We’ve been talking about libraries as public institutions. But there’s also the idea of libraries as a place to explore and share personal obsessions—taxonomy as art practice. (also see the “A World in Three Aisles” in the May 2007 of Harper’s) (click on “interdisciplinary exhibits” and be sure to scroll all the way down)

  • enhabit

    as a designer, a library commission would be at the top of the list of sexy projects…

    loaded with everything that concerns humanity’s hopes and ambitions.

  • enhabit

    i’ve mentioned ivan illich before on ROS.

    he thought that libraries were more important than schools.

  • loki

    Remember that the U.Mass-Amherst library was closed for more than a year. Despite Ivan Illiach’s comment-the school pretended to go on!

  • joshua hendrickson

    I live in Southern Oregon, where a sudden loss of federal funds has resulted in the catastrophic closure of all public libraries in several counties. In my hometown, we just finished building a brand new library; it stayed open for about two months. I have heard that ours is the only situation of its kind in the nation at present. To say the least, this miserable state of affairs has been deeply depressing to a lifelong bibliophile like myself. I’m not alone in my dismay; many local people are struggling to reopen the libraries somehow (and, of course, there are any number of philistines who don’t want public dollars supporting “useless” libraries). But I have little hope that a majority of my fellow citizens will vote in the upcoming special election to fund these essential elements of any civilized society.

  • enhabit

    i don’t understand loki..what do you mean? illich meant that libraries were available to more people than schools..and therefore had greater potential.

  • rahbuhbuh

    Dora: There’s a more important related point, however, and that is the fact that libraries are a sort of “commons.”

    During normal “business” hours, libraries are a collection of individuals sitting alone reading or browsing the books alone. Interraction is shushed. I can sympathize with concern over the nation’s “bowling alone” and diminishing sense of community, but a library is no more a “commons” than the neighborhood book store, school, ymca, or public park hosting extracurricular activities spurring interaction. I always see more people talking outside the library than inside. The sidewalk is a commons, not the stacks. But perhaps this is their path in the future, as Emmett O’Connell suggested. There was a bit on “rebranding” libraries on This American Life, involved rock bands and concerts for children.

    I know Boston local Harry and the Potters do much the same thing.

    Peggysue: Librarians remain the guardians of free speech

    We should not be so quick to champion librarians en masse. They get to choose what is deemed appropriate for multitudes of students of all ages. They can and do sometimes use their powers for misinformation based on political or moral bias. I cringe at stories of librarians backing down to parents seething about their child read a book with gay characters, the book is removed from circulation. Or, certain highschoolers can’t get proper information regarding sexual health because there simply isn’t literature on the shelves curated by a librarian.

    All that said, I love my library and ex-libraries. We are still on very good terms. My first library was stuck in a small town 60s dead-hue green basement of some official building. It was poorly lit, had rickety dusty industrial shelving, and smelled of old book combined with dank basement. In the middle of the room was a glass display case showing off an architect’s model of a promised new library boasting natural light and widened roama-ble aisles.

  • silvio.rabioso

    People have mentioned the new Seattle Public Library. I visited last year, and I saw what may have been the first completed rethinking of the institution of the public library. It would be interesting to interview someone from OMA to hear an architect’s vision of the future of the physical library in a digital age.

  • silvio.rabioso

    More from OMA:

    Unless the Library transforms itself wholeheartedly to aggressively orchestrate the coexistence of all available technologies to collect, condense, distribute, read and manipulate information, its unquestioned loyalty to the book will undermine the Library`s plausibility at the moment of its potential apotheosis.

    New Seattle Public Library

    The ambition is to redefine and reinvent the Library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book, but as an information store, where all media – new and old – are presented under a regime of new equalities. In an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and the professionalism of their presentation and interaction, that will make the Library new.

  • rahbuhbuh

    In thinking more on the quantity of information accessible in libraries, and the act of sifting, I remembered an article called “The Bandwith of Books” about the future of publishing and how this will fill libraries:

    According to the Mexican critic Gabriel Zaid, writing in “So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance,” the human race publishes a book every 30 seconds. If current trends continue, by 2052 the number of people writing and publishing a book in a given year will exceed the number of people who will read one. Zaid sympathizes with the overwhelmed reader and points the finger at the inconsiderate author for whom, in extreme cases of verbosity, he recommends a “chastity glove.”

    “Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant,” writes Zaid…

    In the age of “new media,” it’s the history of publishing that appears to provide much of the inspiration and content for today’s publishers. Now that the larger projects of news and reference dissemination can be taken care of online, printed publications become available for the exploration of increasingly idiosyncratic obsessions — the more quirky, obscure and esoteric, the better.

    –Alice Twemlow, chair of School of Visual Arts’s Design Critism MFA program:

    full article here:


    And some more on the institution of the printer and publisher, similar in content and written in the same reverent tone used when we personify librarians as the sentry of knowledge:


    Crossroads of civilization | Refuge of all the arts against the ravages of time | Armory of fearless truth against the whispering rumour . Incessant trumpet of trade | From this place words may fly abroad, not to perish on waves of sound, not to vary with the writers hand but fixed in time having been verified in proof | Friend you stand on sacred ground, this is a printing office

    –Beatrice Warde, 1932 (whom would chastise me for setting her prose so sloppily, but I don’t care. The internet and screen, despite attempts from Microsoft’s Silverlight and the NYT Reader*, are still too typographically unsound for her purist propaganda)


    obviously, Warde’s “words may fly abroad, not perish on waves of sound” speaks to wariness about liquid and flexible internet publishing.

  • rahbuhbuh – true… I was making a sweeping generalization.. “Librarians remain the Guardians of Freedom of Speech”. I’m sure there are exceptions and circumstanses, for instance a school board pressuring a school to remove books from a school library. But as a whole I believe librarians do a great deal to keep freedom of speech alive. Michael Moore’s book Stupid White Men would never have been distributed if librarians had not stepped up and applied their influence.

  • Dora

    rahbubub–I was thinking of the interaction between librarians and patrons as forming the commons, and the interaction between the patron and the world of information as well (not the interaction between patrons so much, although I certainly talk to other people in the library). For example, research shows that the liberal blogosphere and the conservative blogosphere have absolutely no overlap. It’s not the same people reading these sites. So each one is a sort of echo chamber where there’s no need to answer to the public the way traditional newspapers did–there is no “public” in this case, just the choir that the bloggers happen to be preaching to. I’m just a little concerned about the private echo chambers we create at home with our one-on-one interaction with the Internet. It’s good to talk to a reference librarian–he might make you think about sources that you’d never have considered on your own. Also, browsing in the stacks is a different kind of experience than finding access to information on the Internet via keywords.

    That’s the sort of thing I was thinking of…that and the fact that you might sit down at a table in the New York Public Library and have to deal with the fact that a homeless person is sitting next to you.

  • herbert browne

    I want to offer thanks for the word “carrel”, which was unknown to me (before reading the caption below the picture, above). So many of my experiences seem to have been part of common threads, here… the discovery of sci-fi in jr. hi (& subsequent devouring of same, a la tbrucia- what came after “Van Vogt”?); the delight at nearby big city libraries, then and now (Seattle’s new library finally lured me inside of an evening, to listen to, & behold, Joan Didion); my own little “island library”, here, on Vashon, where the reference librarian, Rayna Holtz, spent a good half an hour trying to help me find the name & artist of a tune from a blues anthology (no label known), that had been in the County system collection 25 years ago (& gone, now). All that I remembered was part of the name of the tune… and we didn’t find it. Two days later I got a call from her, stating that I’d left out a descriptive word in the song title, which she had found; and that it had been re-issued on a CD collection; and that she had the pertinent information (artist, etc)- and, now, so do I. Their automated system calls to tell me that a requested book or tape will be waiting for a week on the shelf, if, indeed, I really wanted it. The glass cases in the lobby will contain historic memorabilia one month, a retrospective of a particular author or genre the next, and local artwork the next… The public restrooms are the best in town- always clean and well-appointed. It’s open 7 days a week. Patrons drop off old books, magazines, etc which are resold to other patrons from an honor stand in the lobby, at prices lower than the local thrift stores’. The meeting room is well soundproofed, and has comfortable chairs… and, in many cases, is free to use, for the asking. The library is a statement about the values of the community that it serves.

    (from rahbuhbuh) ..obviously, Warde’s “words may fly abroad, not perish on waves of sound” speaks to wariness about liquid and flexible internet publishing..-

    Perhaps it’s also a reference to oral traditions, as well… and how that medium suffers by comparison to the unalterable verities of the Word, in Print… ^..^

  • Wow, a lot of people are talking about the new downtown public library in Seattle. My memory of it was that it was big, and since I walked up the hill to see it, I was hot.

    I’m more impressed with what they’re doing up there with their smaller libraries:

    “Libraries aren’t quiet anymore,” said Chapple Langemack, managing librarian at the Bellevue library.

    Indeed, today’s libraries are morphing into the new town halls. It’s a change spurred by technology and the need to stay relevant.

    The King County Library System and Seattle Public Library are embracing this change and pursuing, within most of their branches, the “Third Place” concept — an idea that people like to hang out at a location other than work or home.

  • hurley

    herbert browne says:

    The library is a statement about the values of the community that it serves.

    Wonderfully put. I’d copyright it before those frisky librarians mentioned in an earlier show appropriate it to themselves. At the very least, a great intro for your intro.

  • hurley

    No offence to scott benbow, but I think credit also due to Potter for pitching this show in November of 2006. I thought it was a great idea then, still do:

    Potter: I very much like your suggestion for a show about libraries. The American library system is (was?) one of the great contributions to both American and global culture. I’ve never seen anything like it abroad, anywhere. I’ve had more library cards than I can count, from the most humble one-room regional libraries to some of the grandest university libraries in the country (not forgetting the Library of Congress: Can one still simply walk in the door, sit down, ask for a book? One of the closest things to a transcendental patriotic experience I’ve ever had.).

    In my experience, local libraries were the places people went not only to read, but also to reinvent themselves (vocational training, etc.), and in some dire instances to save themselves. I remember those terrifying loose-leaf folders with titles like Cancer, Alcoholism, Diabetes, and the troubled people consulting them. I imagine these books were life-lines to some, death-warrants to others.

    And then there was the curiously maligned figure of the librarian herself, who was often in a position to make a difference. The internet has probably usurped some of the old library’s purpose, but what has been lost as a result? A great deal, I suspect.

    Thanks again, Potter. I’ll keep an eye on this idea, contribute what I can.

  • Potter

    Thank you Hurley- I remember I did suggest when we had the Google show I think b/c of that wonderful librarian on the show- she really impressed me. But I did not develop the pitch although I was meaning to. I appreciated your post and here again. I think a lot of suggestions get lost perhaps.

    I want to add to this excellent thread, which I have not read completely, that I think librarians dress very nicely……..something I have noticed. Is this part of their training?

  • rahbuhbuh

    Dora: “browsing in the stacks is a different kind of experience than finding access to information on the Internet via keywords.”

    A code-savvy friend had been charged with updating a college’s library search to include something new fangled a la iTunes. I wish I could remember the application’s name, because it was the first to replicate visual BROWSING as well as text-prompted searching. The browsing was more effective than wandering the stacks considering you could view covers rather than spines. It was the first successful olive branch I’d seen between the physical librarians and digital technology. This adaptation is one of the better bridges between traditional library shelving and the randomness described in the “Weinberger’s Miscellany” show.

    Good point about the NYPL mix of research and homeless classes (and endless tourists’ blasted flashbulbs) but I’m not sure it’s any more valid an illustration than a broadband liberal/conservative blogger sitting on the same subway bench as a homeless person. I think there is a push to make libraries more communal and perhaps vocal to stay afloat and prosper… but how?

    herbert browne: sorry, i should have written “adapts to wariness about liquid…”

  • Potter

    Okay- I did some research. My suggestion was on the Google thread November 2005 and poster tsacton followed with a supportive comment:

    Then tsaction posted this:

    I posted a suggestion in November 2006 about the Bush administration destruction of the EPA libraries (which could be part of this discussion but maybe it’s a different issue- though very important) and I remembered the library topic in general.

    And Hurley posted his expanding the idea.

    So there have been several requests starting from Nov 2005.

  • orlox

    Science Friday will do a show about digital libraries this week:

  • christyanthemum

    Awesome show idea! 🙂 I don’t get to the library nearly enough…

    Because I’m a full-time bookseller, I have the chance to see many libraries every year as I travel to various book sales. Each one is truly unique, yet I always get the same magical sense of ease and accessibility. Whether I’m at a large downtown city library, a well-endowed private university library, or a tiny/cramped rural library…it’s a space like no other, a place that truly typifies the concept of democracy to me.

    As someone who’s hopelessly shy, the library has always been a comfortable and accommodating place, quiet and bookish (like me!). Libraries (and books) have always been central in my life. My “first library” was the Lisbon Hepburn Library in tiny Lisbon NY ( I lived down the street, which allowed me to walk or ride my bike whenever I wanted to go–one of the first freedoms I had as a kid; just tell Mom I was going and I could stay until closing! One of the first books I checked out was called “How My Library Grew: by Dinah” by Martha Alexander. In fact, I recently bought 2 long wooden library tables from this library when they were “downsizing” some bulky old furniture and I consider them prized pieces with so many vivid reading memories attached to them! I had an antique dealer/furniture restorer offer me 5 times what I paid for them, but I couldn’t consider it for a second! 🙂

    In elementary and middle school, I was in “Library Club,” happily shelving books and helping younger kids. In High School, the library was where I could gorge on all the Seventeen/Glamour/People magazines I wanted to during Study Hall (contraband at home!). Libraries took on a whole new look in High School when our English class visited a nearby university library—St. Lawrence University’s Owen D. Young (ODY) library ( This place was amazing! Before the recent renovations, it had this funky retro décor: oversized purple chairs, thick red stripes in the carpet, and bright yellow-painted heating ducks in the stacks! But, best of all, the coolest thing by far were the “treehouses”—double-decker study carrels, so you could climb up the ladder and study above the stacks, above the trees… Someone recently posted a picture on Flickr: My library memories can go on forever… 🙂

    I would especially love to hear from Library Science students or recent grads (or profs). I’m thinking about going back to school for Library Science in the next few years and I’ve love to hear about what others are doing, teaching, etc… Can I learn Library Science thoroughly enough via online classes or is better to enroll “the old-school way”? It seems to me that there is a whole new set of skills that 21st-century librarians must learn (in terms of computers/technology) and I wonder what challenges/advantages/etc this creates? One blog sorta on the topic (and others) that I read regularly and greatly respect:

  • christyanthemum

    Audrey Niffenegger’s story, “The Night Bookmobile,” an amazing sort of library tale was recently read by Christina Pickles on Selected Shorts:

  • tbrucia

    Fascinating thread here! When I go to Borders and see folks reading on the chairs and sofas thoughtfully provided, I wonder if the bookstore is not the 21st century’s expansion of the library concept. Bookstores have coffee bars, and the student population seems to gravitate there to do homework. And I wonder why public libraries don’t have coffee bars…. (Any professional librarians here who can explain that lacuna?). When I think about books, that raises interesting questions, too. I love paper books, but they are HEAVY, and it’s impossible to do a digital search for a specific word or phrase in a 700-page text (and 98 percent of the indices suck — badly). On the other hand, if I spill some coffee or food on a book, it still works. Not so with my computer. (Plus books don’t require batteries or cords…) A library is not only a physical building (IMHO), but a mental place. Is the essence of a library that you have to bring the books back or be fined? If so, is the essence of a library an invisible thread of ownership that imperiously ties one to the stern-faced person (or young kid) at the checkout? But what to say of my PRIVATE 3,000-volume library — gradually expanding and threatening to devour my living space. It is mine. The problem is that I can’t persuade friends to come into my house, sit down with a cup of coffee, and spend the day reading in my living room. Their conditioning is such they can’t seem to do that. (Yet I remember doing exactly that in the houses of my close friends way back in junior high school… times change…) Finally, if libraries are places where you can get knowledge at no charge, what am I to make of this glowing cathode ray screen staring at me now. Is wikipedia part of my ‘library’? Is Google my ‘card file’? And are the millions and millions of links the new world library? I guess that all depends on how one thinks of a book… and to what extent one loves brick and mortar…. and paper and ink and coffee and librarians and the smell of glue and mildew and the sound of the air-conditioning system softly humming in the background…

  • tbrucia,

    I believe the new downtown Seattle library does have a coffee bar.

    The bookstore I work in is just now in the process of moving to a new space. We will have twice the room we have now and yes, a coffee bar. This is a survival decision. With books so easy to purhase online a small independent bookstore has to offer more than just a place to purchase a book. We do expect people to buy their books before they spill coffee on them! There is an obvious reason to keep food out of the library, mess and possible damage to books. But it is what the people want. Our customers are telling us they are “excited” even “thrilled” about our move and the prospect of coffee and places to sit within their bookstore.

  • enhabit

    in my home town there was open access to all libraries..and public libraries were open on sunday.

    we took it for granted..

    digital can presuppose that you know precisely what you are looking for..sometimes it’s best to just go to that section, sit on the floor and look around..of course, one can drift on the web a bit, put a general term in the search parameter for example, but that can yield too much.

    i’ve learned a lot from serendipidous wandering through the stacks..nicer than typing

  • rahbuhbuh

    tbrucia, regarding your mammoth and growing private library: this was once a crucial component to my definition of success. I think most people have an “i’ve made it when…” gauge. Mine included a big library room with a sliding rail ladder to reach those tomes up on high. Frequent moving has sifted my library into something spartan, and I’m beginning to appreciate a stripped down essential set which I use rather than a dense horde. It’s more intimate.


    have you ever gotten lost (in a good way) in a series of contextual “if you like this book/movie/band/product, then try these…” links? While compounded meta data distrubs me on a surveillance level, I really appreciate the communal “knowledge” it offers, even if it is only math. I think this effect becomes a mega-librarian, one who will not get tired of answering endless open questions. Contextual linking is our new method, supplemental to the reference librarian or “serendipidous” browsing.

  • enhabit


    definetly a fan of web browsing..i’ve found some unbelievably important stuff.

    but i don’t know that it can replace having a great library nearby, call me a romantic, like the carnegie back home or the furness at school …and you can’t use it as an excuse to meet a friend or lover either (a reliable high school technique).

    of course most of us, including me today, have to settle for the net, effective as it’s nearby just about everywhere.

  • tbrucia

    As a friend (with a PhD in education) reminds me, there are tactile learners, visual learners, and audio learners. (I’m a tactile/visual…) Those in my tribe love to write in the margins, underline, and riffle through the pages of a hefty tome (not to mention the feel of the volume on one’s lap)…. It’s nuts, but the problem with online books is partly that they fail to ‘touch us’.

    I won’t even get into the issue of learning through smell. It would be interesting, though, to know how cats and dogs feel about books 🙂

  • clamdog

    When I was in junior high school, I walked home each day past the Newton Branch Library (the building is now a bank since the town consolidated branch offices in the stately new building).

    Many many times on my walk home I would go into the stacks and browse, finding interesting books and reading there, standing up, until it was time to go home for dinner.

    Consider the idea of open stacks in a library. They give the user a random walk through the collection. Googling a specific book or searching a card catalog does not open up the richness that is available by just walking the stacks. I love the smell of old books. I love the way open stacks by their very organization open up the richness of random access to the browser.

  • enhabit


  • rahbuhbuh

    I wonder how many libraries have worked the following into their arsenal?:

  • I mentioned above a library moment when I recognized the face Soviet Dissident Poet Irina Ratushinskaya on her book and how my subsequent correspondence with her convinced me of the value of writing to political prisoners, something I have continued to do.

    How could I have forgotten about some of my most delicious library moments ever in the small county jail libraries of North Central Idaho that I earned the privilege of visiting during my career as a radical tree-hugger. And I mean earned privilage. You don’t just get to go to the library in jail; you must earn the privilege by being good. I, for the most part, was a model prisoner. Spending day after day in a 12 x 12 foot room where the only entertainment is the Country music radio wafting through the meal tray/mail slot in the door made a trip to the jail library a rare and coveted experience. I remember running my hand along all those battered Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour paperbacks, reading the covers of a small selection of cheesy romances and finally settling on a series of Time/Life books on Ancient Egypt. Luckily I also had many friends willing to send me books and I took great pleasure in contributing to the selection of those jail libraries. I have been sending books to prisoners ever since. I know from personal experience what a huge difference the mental escape into a good book can make. I think the best book I read while incarcerated was Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams.

  • Dora

    tbrucia, just wanted to say that a) coffee bars are indeed all the rage in libraries these days (Seattle is just one example) and that b) some libraries are reluctant to go that route because of preservation issues. That is, bookstores are want to see their books sold and out the door, while libraries are trying to preserve their collections for decades, if not centuries. The nasty little beasties that are attracted to food like to chew on books, too. The idea of food in libraries makes some librarians nervous.

    peggysue, I salute you for making such huge personal sacrifices for your beliefs. I hope you’re not upset with this whole thread, which has become a veritable celebration of the destruction of trees (in order to make books).

  • underwritersinc

    In Russia when I was growing up there was no such thing as a “lending” library – you had to go to the library, and read all the books there, and return them to the desk before you left. This, added to the fact that many books were hard to find, made library hours especially important.

    Some people I knew took out a whole stack of books, and gave new meaning to the word “voracious” as they devoured several before the library closed.

  • Dora,

    I seriously objected to clear-cutting old-growth forests just to publish the LA phone book but luckily paper can be made without desecrating ecosystems. But yes, trees die to fill our libraries. As an artist I probably waste more paper than the average person while I try to be conscious of the origins of the paper I use. I live in a wood house, own some wood chairs, and regularly use a few other paper products. Worse yet I drive a car. It’s hard to be a human, especially an American, without being a scourge on the planet. For all my tree-hugging I recognize that the one real good thing I’ve done for my planet is, I have not reproduced. My gluttonous paper use will die with me.

  • Ridenbaugh Press has a very thoughtful post about the failure yesterday of a ballot proposal to reopen libraries in southern Oregon. Almost 60 percent voted No on the libraries.

  • clayton

    Some very thoughtful posts, I’m looking forward to the show.

    As we consider our environmental impact, what better way than to share – do we all really need to own a copy of a book we’ll maybe read all the way through once? How many of the books you own do you actually open regularly? How about music or movies? If we all chip in we can have access to a much greater library than any of us could ever house and maintain on our own. One of the greatest reasons I love public libraries is this socialist collective.

    There’s been discussion of the “higher purpose” of public libraries, and I applaud 12 year olds reading translations of Dante, but I also applaud the reading of graphic novels, sharing video games, lending laptops, popular movies, music and the like.

    I’d like to see a discussion of collection development purposes – preservation vs. serving the public. Shouldn’t libraries stock the shelves with what people want to read, watch, and listen to? If a “classic” isn’t being read, which library should keep it? Surely we don’t need every “classic” in every library – but perhaps we do need a copy of the latest Paulo Coelho? How about every library making sure they have a copy of Reno 911: Miami – and every other movie that packs people into the box office? Dickens was originally published in the daily paper and considered popular entertainment. Libraries once frowned on collecting fiction. Can we admit what we like to read, watch, and listen to and develop a library to serve our real needs?

    Final thought – a librarian is not going to withdraw something if it sees a lot of circulation – so if you think its worth keeping on the shelf, check it out and encurage your friends to do the same. Does your library have Hegel? How about erotica? Start requesting through inter-library loan the stuff you can’t find locally – librarians pay attention to what they regularly have to “go outside” to get.

  • clayton says:

    I’d like to see a discussion of collection development purposes – preservation vs. serving the public. Shouldn’t libraries stock the shelves with what people want to read, watch, and listen to? If a “classic” isn’t being read, which library should keep it? … Can we admit what we like to read, watch, and listen to and develop a library to serve our real needs?

    What you’re describing is what I understand to be the underlying logic behind what was called the “customer driven library,” which was popular starting (I think) in the early 80s. The counter argument is that book stores are for what you want, recreational reading and all that. Libraries are for what you need, more along the lines of schools in terms of purpose. In that way, what the library does is deeper than a consumer decision, but rather a community expression of what they feel is important. Hardly anyone reads the amateur histories of Olympia, WA in our library, but they are extremely important to us, so we keep them.

    To that end, I’m surprised we haven’t covered the founding of the “the first publicly supported free municipal library in the world,” the Boston Public Library. From a letter seeking funding for the BPL:

    ‘It is of paramount importance that the means of general information should be so diffused that the largest number of persons should be induced to read and understand questions going down to the very foundations of social order, which are constantly presenting themselves, and which we, as a people, are constantly required to decide, and do decide – either ignorantly or wisely.’


    Customer service is the area that our cities’ public libraries need to improve. From the moments you approach your favorite city’s public library to the moments you leave there needs to be a better development in how the people behind the counters and desks interact with people. Our Boston Public Library’s mission is stated, but the interaction with BPL people comes up short relative to that mission. Navigating the buildings, floors, departments, collections is very problematical to decipher. The usability of our cities’ public libraries are diminished by the lack in customer service.

  • Dora

    Clayton: I love your way of putting this:

    “If we all chip in we can have access to a much greater library than any of us could ever house and maintain on our own. One of the greatest reasons I love public libraries is this socialist collective.”

    That’s sort of what I was driving at when I was writing earlier about this idea of libraries being the great leveller, and our society’s desperate need for a public space outside the commercial realm.

    I think you’re right that the show should include a discussion collection development. I agree with you that libraries should be buying books that people want to read. But I bet the 50-year-old copy of Middlemarch that some library owns has been checked out plenty of times in the past 10 years, whereas the best-selling book of 1997 (whatever it was) probably gets no attention from the library’s patrons these days. So there is this issue of developing a collection full of books people will want to read for years to come, rather than putting a lot of money into fads. However, if the library is a sort of socialist collective then maybe fads are just fine. Instead of everyone in a community buying The DaVinci Code the whole community can buy it and share it. I suspect that most libraries strive for a balance between the two approaches.

    Emmett: I love your sentence, “In that way, what the library does is deeper than a consumer decision, but rather a community expression of what they feel is important.”

    And peggysue, I really did mean it when I thanked you for your committment to trees. I was being a bit flippant when I said that our love of books meant that we were celebrating the destruction of trees. Collective ownership of books (as in a library) allows people to have access to a wide variety of books while minimizing the damage to the environment.

  • Truth B Known

    Next burgeoning Bush Administration scandal:

    Closing of Federal Agency libraries, e.g., EPA; downsizing of FERC Library to 40% of its former space; elimination of all print materials from DOE Libraries. These efforts to eliminate Federal employee access to crucial information at regulatory agencies is tantamount to the book burning of the Third Reich. Eliminating information can only harm the successful performance of these and other regulatory agencies. The operation of an unfettered free market economy is no excuse.

    Ask your congresspersons about the condition of Federal agency libraries.

  • So many things to say and nobody, so far, has said a single thing about art:

    I grew-up in libraries, they gave me my education. I experienced a serendipitous conjunction between the bus and books because the library was next to the bus stop both in elementary and high schools and I wound-up among the books when there was no bus to get on. Eventually, boarding a bus took me to the main library down-town on my way home (with an arm-load of books). I know the meaning of the word “blessing.”

    My wife and I are both docents at the Boston Public Library. Every library tour we lead, we tell the people that here is the long-term memory of the human race. We describe the “Brahmins” who decided that Boston should have a library “Free to all.” We talk about the art that was considered as important as the books for creating an environment where people felt good enough about themselves to improve themselves. The art collection of the Boston Atheneum, a subscription library that predated the BPL, became the foundation of the Museum of Fine Art (which has a library). At the BPL, we have the building by Charles Follen McKim with its magnificent staircase, the Puvis de Chavanes, Abbey, and Sargent murals, and MacMonnies’ “Baccante” in the courtyard. Our tourists see a ton and a half of art before they see a single book!

    Digitization is pure magic! Consider the Leventhal Map Collection at the BPL where all of us can instantly access maps that have become too fragile for any one of us to touch. This is true of many rare and fragile books. BPL is very egalitarian in that any bum off the street (such as myself) can read the books in the Rare Book Room but most libraries restrict physical access to their most valuable books. Digitization gives these volumes to us all.

    And let us not forget our Republican neighbors, not Boston Brahmins and unwilling to contribute to a common they feel no part of. “I pay for cable, why should I pay for a library I don’t use?” Computers are cheap and broad-band costs less than cable. Digital books are better than none at all and the library is now everywhere accessable to everybody who wants it.

  • tbrucia

    A bit of trivia: ‘The largest book burning in history reportedly occurred in 1992 when Serb forces attacked Sarajevo’s National Library. The three-day assault destroyed more than 1 million books and 100,000 manuscripts and records.’ Since we live in a world where old records are constantly being broken, what will the next ‘record book burning’ be like? Will nuclear weapons be the great ‘destroyer of books’, or will men come up with more creative (perhaps simpler) methods of destroying the efforts of many in a few minutes?

  • girlsforscience

    My favorite library also involves my first library experience. When I was not yet school age, we lived in a very remote area of the Olympic Penninsula along the Duckabush river. Life there was not easy. The majority of residents raised their children on welfare, work was back-breaking, and there wasn’t enough of it. The economy was very poor. My first visit to the library was a very exciting morning. My father woke us both up early and we all dressed up. We were very excited. Keep in mind that we didn’t have TV and a lot of the amenities that most people take for granted. With my toddler brother and my 4-year old self in tow, my father drove us a long way in his big, old green pick-up. He pulled off to the side of the road after what seemed like a long time, and there were other cars parked near us in the turn-out with people milling around. Our library was on wheels, huge and red, with 2 young women smiling big as we stepped up into the back. It was beautiful! My father spent most of his time working hard either on sparce construction jobs or at keeping our farm going. He loved books, but there weren’t a lot of them around. He occasionally drove the 3-hour trip north when he could afford it to visit the Port Townsend area for them, or maybe would talk to somebody who would lend him some. It was as exciting for him I think a it was for us. To me, it was overwhelmingly wonderful, because childhood objects, including books, were a luxury in our household. I could hardly believe that they would give me stacks of clean, new, colorful books all to myself! My favorite trip as a young girl was a chance to visit the book mobile. There were times when it couldn’t come, because they didn’t have the money for gas, and I was always very sad. However, I learned to love books and read early, and I am still very fond of what those ladies did.

  • Robin

    Huh. Well, thanks hurley and potter for sleuthing and pointing out our oversight. It’s true, sometimes ideas get lost in the shuffle. (But we’re better at staying on top of them than we used to be, I think.) I used to have a painting teacher who said that if you put the “right” touch of color on the canvas too soon or too late, it became the “wrong” color. Maybe sometimes pitches are like that – sometimes their stickiness (as Malcolm Gladwell would say) is all about timing. At any rate, it makes me that much happier we’re doing this show given I guess it’s an idea that’s been floating around the community for the last two years.

  • proxy4me

    “I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

    I dunno, but I love my libraries. So many possibilities every time I walk in. And I do walk in, though I also access *them* online as well when needed. One thing lately that makes me smile every time I walk in is seeing the place full and active with such a diverse range of people using it. I mean it looks like some sort shot for an advertisement with all the mix of colors and ages. Kids pulling down book and poking around on the Net. Elders sitting around next to each other reading newspapers from various parts of the world. If you staged it, no one would believe it because it looks too – too, but it seems to reoccur every afternoon or early evening when I walk in, so I’m figuring it’s not just a setup for me. 🙂

    Also, maybe you should consider adding a local librarian to maybe add to your reading list related to each show as you do it.

    And thanks for allowing us to comment.

  • Truth B Known

    Read what i have said above about the Bush Administration dismantling of Federal Libraries. If you all truly love libraries, this should be quite alarming. Let’s thwart these evil doers!!!

  • mynocturama

    Libraries, to my mind, exemplify the importance of public space, of public availability, as many here have said.

    I’d like to approach this with a question slightly askew. I’m curious if the large-scale chain bookstores, and their (perhaps suspiciously) low-pressure staff, have impacted library attendance and use. Most of these stores have desks to work and study at. So that aspect of a public library, as a place to sit quietly and read, study, work, whatever, is provided privately (though often, too often, with a soundtrack over store speakers). But, more than that, I’ve seen some “customers” stack books literally ten or twelve high, gathered from around the store, find a nice corner to sit, and spend an entire afternoon reading at their leisure, then leave the store without having purchased a single thing. I’ve never seen a member of the staff discourage or even question this. Plus, these larger stores have selections that sometimes rival even the better local libraries.

    Not that I’m outraged by this or anything, nor am I advocating more vigilant or pressuring bookstore workers. But I’m wondering if this phenomenon, of a private company curiously providing something close to a public service, has affected libraries in any way. In other words, is this an instance of private forces encroaching on the province of the public, in this case public libraries? Are these stores, in effect, co-opting library services, library space?

    A certain coffee shop chain, especially in higher-density urban areas, provides another curious instance of a private company providing something like a public service. Don’t know about you, but on more than one occasion, walking along city streets, the urge to, how shall I put it, dispose of waste, has imposed itself upon me, often, as it turns out, in convenient proximity to one of the aforementioned stores. These stores, popular as they are, tend to be high traffic, with a lot of people coming in and out. So it’s pretty easy to blend in, without suspicion.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the large-scale impersonality of private companies allows for (either) this being taken advantage of, or, rather, maybe, this purposeful encroachment on public space. In a smaller, single-owned, independent bookstore, a person, I think, is much less likely to pile up books and just sit there and read them, even finishing some of them. Similarly, in a smaller, more personal and intimate café, coming in just to use the bathroom, and leaving without buying a thing, is more visibly deceitful, shameful even. And perhaps the person is more likely to feel guilty for doing so, in a more personal setting.

    So, are people being drawn away from libraries by these bookstore chains? Is this a case of a dangerous blending or confusion of public and private? Or have I once again merely wasted your time with another overly long post?

  • Potter

    Thank you for posting my quote. I had forgotten I wrote that. I have an update. We are still struggling. We had to give the state back it’s matching funds that we waited so long to get because the various boards in town did not approve the variances we need for the addition, and most upsetting and probably why, one abutter was giving us a lot of trouble ( even though this is a relatively undeveloped- unbelievably so- center of town.

    We have a lot of library lovers and donations to match including a very large grant from one family. However when all was said and done the kind of addition, long overdue, that we need to make up for what was not done in the past- will not fit on that land without variances. (The state grant mandates that we build to meet needs 20 years into the future.)

    We just had a vote for an override ( prop 2.5) to deal with a school budget so there would not have to be cutbacks in the schools and THAT was voted down. We need a new library to be built elsewhere in town and there is still enthusiasm but the town as a whole is having a hard time voting to raise taxes for the schools, nevermind a new library. (This was precipiated by cutbacks in state funding to cities and towns…..)

    Bottom line— it’s a struggle and it takes a lot of determination. Yet a town with a library has a lot to be proud of… especially these days.

  • LollyWillowes

    My sister and I learned to read before we started school but I never saw the point of learning letters in alphabetical order, until we went to the library! (I don’t only love knowledge that is applied)

    I hope people aren’t too irritated that I’m sharing a poem of mine about a particular beloved library in Groton, CT. My excuse is that it seems to take fellow library lovers

    to realize that this is not a sad poem:

    Bill Memorial Library

    It’s a small square building

    set off the street.

    Once I’ve walked round my car,

    the path is a slow straight rise.

    If some of the New Releases were good,

    I’ll go back through the stacks

    for earlier books by those authors.

    Some improve with each book;

    some get cocky

    and take their accomplishments for granted.


    through windows set high in the walls

    washes oak reading tables

    that are a little heavy.

    The sun on the tables

    is not hot but warm and calm.

    After you leave,

    I’ll sit at these tables

    Mondays and Thursdays

    to learn about the life

    I’ll watch wolves lead.

    Just as when I repeated taped phrases

    before I went to Montreal,

    now too

    I want to show

    that I have prepared;

    I have respect.

    They will always be they, never you.

    In Swedish, addressing someone

    in the third person

    is a sign of humility,

    a grammatical offering of the throat.

    We never bought that big desk,

    so I’ll need these tables

    to study glossy plates

    of maned wolves

    and pale-footed Asian wolves:

    tempting, but I’ve chosen

    the large timber wolves of North America.

    The wolves’ size is determined

    by the size of their prey.

    Unlike dogs,

    they come into heat

    only once a year.

    They don’t think about it

    the rest of the time.

    Nor will I.

    Since they have no collarbones,

    they’ll never admire mine.

    They’ll pity my lack of tail.

    Wolves join for a lusty howl

    before hunting.

    They return to the den

    when they’re meat-drunk.

    Feline predators can crush only

    vertebrae and ribs with their teeth.

    better for me to learn from wolves,

    who easily crunch long limb bones.

    they can’t get rid of me

    till they’ve taught me to prey.

  • Sir Otto

    You know, I was walking through the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza the other day and I looked over the shoulder of this little kid about 10 years old. He was on the computer at an obscene hip-hop web site. Should there be no oversight?

  • FireFlower

    I am writing from Rogue River, Oregon, just a quarter mile from a beautiful new library building, locked with all its precious books inside, for lack of funding. As with all 15 libraries in Jackson county, it is closed indefinitely pending funding. This is the largest library closing in American history. We have just failed to pass a levy which would have reopened our libraries. My heart is broken. I am sad, angry, frustrated, and thinking of moving somewhere else. I’m not sure I can raise my two small children in a place which would lock up their libraries rather than pay a bit more in property taxes. Please highlight this issue.

  • jusjer57

    Here in Southern Oregon we’ve just lost access to our public libraries in two counties.

    I feel the loss in my soul and am frustrated in my own inability to convince others that Libraries ARE more important than they realize. I have learned more just “walking the stacks” than I ever could browsing the web.

  • orlox

    Now my library is a radio star too! 🙂

  • petitionsig

    I live in Jackson County, Ashland, Oregon. Our libraries just closed for “lack of funding”. Actually, our library money is NOW in IRAQ! The Federal subsidies our area received were “yanked” and put into the military budget. People here voted down a measure to fund the libraries with a SMALL increase in property taxes…newspaper editorials from the local REPUBLICians continually stated libraries were NOT a necessity. BE CAREFUL PEOPLE–this IS THE CUTTING OF THE ROOT of DEMOCRACY. Freedom of Information is OVER in Jackson County Oregon. Why is it so many people have fallen asleep and can’t see the INHERENT DANGER in the closure of libraries? WAKE UP!!!!

  • bookworm

    Hey, read the diary of Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive:

    This is a link to it from the British Library website.

    Too bad I was driving while listening to the program or I would have supplied the link before the end.

  • katemcshane

    I grew up in Philadelphia, a huge city, but we had no local library until I was in high school. We had no library in my Catholic elementary school, either (imagine that), and when I think of how much I need books, I cannot fathom my childhood without them. For one year, in 7th grade, there was a bookmobile. Kids were allowed to take out five books a week. The joy this gave me once a week felt like Christmas. Once, when the bookmobile arrived and opened their door, a librarian told us that we could take out only one book that week, because they were short of them, I guess. I can just picture what my face looked like, because she looked at me and whispered, “You can take out five.”

    I was out of work a few years ago for over a year, and I went every day to the Connolly Branch of the BPL in Jamaica Plain. I applied for jobs on their computer. Once one of the librarians printed an application for food stamps for me. She didn’t charge me for the use of the printer. Once, after I lost my apartment, I was sleeping on someone’s floor, and I locked myself out. I was wearing a sweatshirt, leggings, and slippers. It was mid-December. I walked several blocks to the Connolly Branch and they lent me money to take the subway downtown, to get a spare set of keys. At Christmas, they had a party with a jazz band. I remember how depressed I was being unemployed and homeless, and I remember one of the librarians hugging me when I came to the party. Recently, they had their 75th anniversary party, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t know about it until too late.

    As an adult, I didn’t use the library for a long time, probably because I hadn’t had one as a kid. Since the year at the Connolly Branch, I am at the BPL several times a week. I used to buy books all the time, but many people cannot afford to do that anymore. I know more people who use libraries than ever before. I came to them late and I’m grateful, I swear, everry single time I pick up a book or a DVD.

    I really liked Amanda McKeraghan. Her story reminded me of the Connolly Branch and the librarians there, whom I miss. And Chelsea’s interview with Matthew was extremely moving.

  • Nancy

    I, too, live in Ashland, Oregon, where we have just lost our entire county library system. It’s still hard to believe that 58% of our voting citizens care more about “no new taxes” than they do about their libraries — but they have been well taught for many years by a constant barrage of far right Republicans hammering away with their “I’ve got mine” message. We seem to have become an incredibly selfish and violent culture.

  • chasbow

    I was driving home listening to the program and it was one of those few times I wish I had a cell phone so I could pull over and call the show to comment. I love, Love, LOVE my town’s libraries, as well as any others I am lucky enough to visit.

    I miss somethng at the library from my childhood though. It was called a card catalog, it was this monstorous thing, with hundreds of the deepest drawers I had ever seen. Each drawer awaited my delving mind and fingers, ready to reveal its hidden secrets to me. It was some of the best instant gratification I enjoyed as a child. I so dearly long to again browse eagerly through the shelves via the magic of the card catalog. Alas, that pleasure is no longer available at my local library nor would I guess many others.

    We were all gipped I’m sorry to say when the computer terminals arrived at our local library. The “real” card catalog contained typically anywhere from 120 to more than 300 access points for patrons. Realistically every drawer of the card catalog was available for patrons. Now it’s a dozen or so compouter terminals and some internet computers. The numbers don’t lie people, and if you’ve never experienced eureka in a card catalog drawer you are really missing something, I sure don’t get it from the terminals. All the software I’ve used is cumbersome compared to a drawer filled with 3″X5″ title cards.

    For at least the last fifteen years it has irked me no end that whoever designed the interface for electronic catalogs also took it upon themselves to redesign title cards and redeploy the information so now I have to go to a second page to get a call number for the book I want! As Lewis Black would say “Are you kidding me!?”. How is it that we used to be able to fit all the pertinent data on one side of a 3″X5″ card and now it takes a 17″ screen to see it all, only not all at the same time!

    My idea was always that the home screen for library software should be a facsimilie of the old five drawer high by sixty wide and I would just take my mouse to the type catalog – Subject, Author, Title. and click on it, which would then enlarge to show me alpha choices then as I type in or choose the first few letters of my search item the software is assembling “my drawer” so that I can flip through a page at a time, or skip ahead, read, retreat, read some more, put a marker, then branch elsewhere. I fully expected the software would be smart enough to anticipate I would want to look at the next 10, 20, or 100 records and have them ready. Our software seems amazed that we want to look at the call number! I invisaged an endless drawer of enlarged 3″X5″ cards stretching out before me. Somewhat similar to what microsoft has done woth one of their newer softwares.

    I long to become a commercially successful inventor. Not just one idea, but dozens in numerous areas. I already have that many and more seem to show up almost weekly. Please realize that this is the first time I have publically revealed one of my ideas, having decided this is an open forum and therefore safe and not subject to dispute as to the timing of my ideas presentation to the world. I am taking a chance that if somebody, or some company develops it they will remember me well with $$$$ (2-4% of gross) of which I will donate one-half to charity (say Habitat, UNICEF, and two others of their choosing {each receiving 25% of the donated one-half}) I am quite serious. I have three ideas for GE alone, A pension revamping idea for the auto, airlines and other such industries that will blow your socks off. Thanks for listening. charles

    Thanks for letting me vet. I hope you all mean it when you say you read all these. I phoned in once and it was a gas. There don’t seem to be as many callers on as there used to be.

  • kristine

    Thank you for such a fabulous show. I listened intently as I was making my hour and a half commute home to central Massachusetts from Simmons College in Boston, where I am pursing my library degree (a dual degree in history and library science, concentrating in archives management). I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was to hear the topic of tonight’s show!! It certainly helped the commute go by faster! I of course whole heartedly agree with all of your guests about the importance of libraries to individual communities and, in a broader sense, to a democratic civilization. Access to information, library as place, and enjoying the grand pleasure of reading are but a few of the many treasures that libraries hold. I could have only hoped that the broadcast was televised in place of “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” in order to tap into a larger audience. Keep up the great work!!

  • jboylan

    Nice show.

    In the Pennsylvania town where I grew up, the town library was actually a wing of one the town’s churches. This was a huge Georgian brick pile, with big Ionic columns across the front: (It’s the spire to the left in this picture:

    The Himmelreich Library was a miniature version of the adjacent church, but was still stately in its own right. Inside, everything was dark wood and glass-fronted cabinets, with mazes of bookshelves lit by small, warm, wall lamps, and all the strange variety one might expect in a good small-town library.

    The reading room had a high ceiling, with a frieze running around the room, well above head-height. It depicted a beautiful Jesus reading to enraptured children.

    I still recall the first book I borrowed from this Library, as a child. It was a mystery, the first mystery I can recall.

    The town library long ago moved to a new building out on the edge of town. When I last visited, this old library was still around; it had become a religious library, filled with Christian books. It still had that amazing beauty.

    Seattle’s big Koolhaas library has its pros and cons. I think that the Vancouver library is more beautiful and community focused. But it’s the neighborhood libraries in any city that matter in the end, that still allow for the sort of magic that the old library in Pennnsylvania had. It’s something that the Web, for all of its reach and speed, can never achieve.

  • Oh libraries, how we love thee. Usually anyway. Thanks for an interesting program, which I plugged on my little library blog here:

    I agree with an earlier poster that a program with a focus on challenges and practical, exciting ways libraries are using technology shifts to better accomplish their missions… and be more useful and effective. There are some startlingly novel, practical and inspiring things going on right now that we (library folk) are working on getting right and I think it would serve the general population well to hear about these. Besides, this practical groundswell that we are working to nurture is just plain, flat out, COOL!

    Thanks for this great show!

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  • Martin Brock

    I’ve hardly entered a conventional, brick and mortar library in years, but a portal to the greatest library in history, far surpassing anything before it, sits in front of me right now. It’s the most wonderful thing to appear in my lifetime, and I spend an incredible amount of time glued to it.

    I suppose we’ll preserve a few book repositories as historical landmarks, but most are gone in my children’s lifetime, and my grandchildren don’t miss them. They make better use of the space. Call an illibrarial curmudgeon, but that’s how I see it.

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  • Perhaps I’m just a contrarian, but what the heck are libraries doing:

    * Providing free broadband Internet access?

    * Providing free computer time (other than for book searching)?

    * Renting video tapes and DVDs (in competition with video rental stores)?

    It seems to me that these things are well outside the traditional notion of free public libraries, our digital age notwithstanding.

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  • christyanthemum

    I just stumbled across this Mr. Bean sketch via “The Library.” 🙂

    (Also, s/he posted one on Cookie Monster in the library).

  • I object to the CONSTANT use of the word “Google” in this show. Google is ONE kind of web serach. It should not be used to refer to all web search, and the sum of all information on the web. I know, I know, sometimes a brand name enters the language and comes to mean that exact same product. However, there’s more to the web then Google. Google is an advertising company, that uses the cashe that you lend it be saying their name over and over to sell pay per click ads. The show is “Open Source, “not “Doing Exactly What Someone’s Briliant Marketing Campaign Tell Us To Say.”

    All I am saying is you don’t HAVE to use Google, or Yahoo, or Live Search, or any other search engine name, just say “search, or internet serach.” Especially in this case when the show tries over and over to say that the library transends the commercial, and all that is bad about it, why polute the idea by giving too much credit to Google?

    Well I’ve gotta go.. I need to Hover the carpet, stock the Fridgidaire, go out and buy some Band-Aid’s and Q-Tips, and Xerox some things.

  • Marc McElroy writes:

    I object to the CONSTANT use of the word “Google” in this show. Google is ONE kind of web serach. It should not be used to refer to all web search, and the sum of all information on the web. I know, I know, sometimes a brand name enters the language and comes to mean that exact same product. However, there’s more to the web then Google.

    While I agree in principle, the whole point of ROS is communication, and the word “Google” now probably communicates the concept of Web search better than the actual generic term “Web search”. So while I think it would be good to note and link to other forms of Web search in the show notes, I nonetheless think it makes sense to use the term “Google”, just as “Xerox copy” communicates better than “copy by electrophotography”. 😉

  • [Oops! Screwed up the HTML tags, and there’s apparent no way to edit posts (as there should be!), so hopefully someone from ROS will delete that comment, leaving this one in its place. (A preview feature would also be nice. This blogging software is pretty crude.)]

    Marc McElroy writes:

    I object to the CONSTANT use of the word “Google” in this show. Google is ONE kind of web serach. It should not be used to refer to all web search, and the sum of all information on the web. I know, I know, sometimes a brand name enters the language and comes to mean that exact same product. However, there’s more to the web then Google.

    While I agree in principle, the whole point of ROS is communication, and the word “Google” now probably communicates the concept of Web search better than the actual generic term “Web search”. So while I think it would be good to note and link to other forms of Web search in the show notes, I nonetheless think it makes sense to use the term “Google”, just as “Xerox copy” communicates better than “copy by electrophotography”. 😉

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  • What is it about libraries (some at least) that makes them think it’s OK to harass their customers (patrons)?! Local libraries here are so concerned with closing and locking the doors exactly on time that they:

    * Repeat heavy-handed announcements over the PA during the last 30 mins before closing, flashing the lights, and wander around asking if you heard them.

    * Lock the bathrooms more than 15 mins before closing. Perish the thought that you might need a bathroom on your way out.

    * Turn off most of the lights more than 10 mins before closing. I guess everyone is supposed to have a flashlight to pack up and find the door.

    * Lock the doors (out as well as in) right at closing time.

    Is there a big problem with people failing to leave that warrants such measures? No.

    How would you feel if a commercial bookstore did these things? Wouldn’t you shop someplace else? Is it any wonder that so many people are turned off on government running things?

  • Potter

    What an interesting post above. Not a post really but a pseudo-post or a post-modern post or a deconstructionist post, or post-structuralist post, resembling a work of art……..whatever I meant by that.

  • Potter

    Yikes I got swallowed by it!

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  • Potter

    Did we fix the problem?—testing.

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  • I myself love to spend time in the libraries. I’m fortunate to live in a city that has many libraries. Nice post.