Why is this interesting? - Thursday, April 10

On libraries, libraries, and National Library Week

This is a little bit of an experiment. Everything in today’s issue is on one topic: Libraries. - Noah (NRB)

Noah here. It’s National Library Week! From the American Library Association: “National Library Week is an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening our communities.”

Why is this interesting?

Well if you’ve spent any time with me over the last two years you’ll know I’ve become a fairly serious library cheerleader. It started when I was trying to do some research and realized I was getting tired of the work required to get around access requires for journal articles. Not knowing the first thing about the library, I started by seeing if NYU, my alma mater, offered any alumni library services. They did, and all of a sudden I found myself with free JSTOR access. From there the slide into full-blown library nerdom was fast and deep. I got my Brooklyn Public Library Card within weeks and followed that up with one from the New York Public Library. (In case you’re curious, Brooklyn and Queens refused to merge into the New York Public Library system in the early 1900s.)

Libraries, I came to found out, have kept up with the times. The NYPL offers access to 254 digital archives from home with a library card. These include historical archives for the New York Times, Economist, and Financial Times, as well as services like Kanopy for film streaming, Flipster for full magazine issue access, and even an archive of all the Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions books. Oh, and ebook lending through Overdrive/Libby, which is amazing and just gets pushed directly to your Kindle when your hold comes through on a book.

More than that, though, libraries have found ways to adapt to the times while staying true to their foundational idea as a free public good. As Susan Orlean describes in her aptly titled book about libraries The Library Book, this doesn’t come without its challenges:

“The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace. The commitment to inclusion is so powerful that many decisions about the library hinge on whether or not a particular choice would cause a subset of the public to feel uninvited. In the case of the beehives, that subset might include people who are afraid of bees or are allergic to bees. Hives on the roof are a more modest proposition than, say, beehives in the main reading room. But there was the chance that bees living on the roof would wander into the building, or start to hang around the entrances, or be a nuisance in some other way. Szabo seemed to love the idea of making use of the roof, especially for something unexpected, like beehives, but he said the decisive fact would be if there were people who would stay away from the library on account of them.”

What amazes me most about libraries is to think about how hard it would be to ever create them today. Imagine pitching the idea to your local mayor or congressperson to offer a place where you were going to house intellectual property and loan it out for free. You’d be laughed out of the room. (NRB)

Poem of the Day:

My First Memory (of Librarians) by Nikki Giovanni from the excellent @POETSorg account. (NRB)

Chart of the Day:

Pew Research on the value different age groups find in libraries. (NRB)

Quick Links:

  • A few months ago I wrote all about the library and ebook lending over at my blog. (NRB)

  • From a September New York Times op-ed on libraries: “Libraries are being disparaged and neglected at precisely the moment when they are most valued and necessary. Why the disconnect? In part it’s because the founding principle of the public library — that all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage — is out of sync with the market logic that dominates our world. But it’s also because so few influential people understand the expansive role that libraries play in modern communities.” (NRB)

  • The world’s most beautiful libraries. (CJN)

  • Quartz on library fines: “In October [2017], The New York Public Library, along with the Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library, took a step in the right direction, offering a one-time fine amnesty for kids and teens. All students got a fresh start, no questions asked, hopefully prompting them to return and use our array of free resources.” (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)