Sunday, April 28, 2013

Indie Bookstores' Staff Picks Displays

Whenever I visit one of my favorite independent bookstores, I at some point make a beeline for the "Staff Picks" display. I'm always curious about what the bookstore's staff members are reading. It's also quite entertaining to read their brief yet colorful descriptions - often carefully handwritten on slender strips of paper - of the books that they're recommending.

Staff picks on display at McNally Jackson Books in New York City.  
Image via localpagesnyc/Flickr.

Seeing books that you already own underneath the "Staff Picks" sign is immensely gratifying - it feels like validation of your good taste in reading material. More often than not, though, there are books on display that you have never heard of before but now want to pick up because an employee's description piqued your interest. And from a purely aesthetic point of view, the recommended books are usually arranged in a way that is visually appealing. So it's also a treat to take in the bookstore staff's creativity.

Staff creativity and sometimes quirky book picks are almost always exhibited - and proudly so - at indie bookstores' "Staff Picks" sections. Flavorwire recently spotlighted this section of the bookstore at a few independent booksellers across the country, including San Francisco's Green Apple Books, Brooklyn's WORD, Denver's Tattered Cover, DC's Politics & Prose, and Iowa City's Prairie Lights. What Flavorwire found were eclectic selections that reflected a diversity of interests and sensibilities. But what they all had in common was a love of books.

If you want to take a "Peek at Staff Picks Shelves from Indie Bookstores All Over America," be sure to go to THIS LINK.

Friday, April 26, 2013

5 of the Best Books on Bookmobiles

As I finish up my current paper, I think back to the paper I wrote for my first library school class. It was on bookmobiles, and it was interesting to write and to research. The sources I referred to in writing the paper were quite academic. Although chock full of useful information, I'm sure they weren't as fun to read as the 5 books on bookmobiles recently highlighted by BookRiot.

Image via

BookRiot, a website whose motto is "Always Books. Never Boring," listed its "5 Great Books About Bookmobiles." Most of the selected books are fiction in the form of romance and adventure stories and novellas. For instance, there is Here Comes the Bookmobile, a 1952 novella about a young boy accompanying his aunt, a librarian, as she makes the rounds in a bookmobile across the county. There's also With a High Heart, a 1945 romance novel about a librarian who finds love along her bookmobile route in rural New Jersey. Very escapist literature!

The fifth book on the list, Reading Places: Literacy, Democracy, and the Public Library in Cold War America, I could've actually used in writing my paper that first semester. According to BookRiot, Reading Places "tells the story of a bookmobile program in two Wisconsin counties in the 1950s. That might sound a bit dull, but it's actually anything but. Nicely written and finely detailed, [it] manages to put these Wisconsin bookmobiles in the rich context of the history of books and reading in America."

To see all "5 Great Books About Bookmobiles," with photos and brief descriptions of each, go to the BookRiot article at THIS LINK.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Naomi Klein on the Library Profession

Reading the second issue of the zine The Borough Is My Library, I came across an amazing quote from Naomi Klein on the radical nature of the library profession. 

Author and activist Naomi Klein. (image:

The Canadian author and social activist, most famous for her book No Logo, had this to say about librarians*:

"You probably didn't think that helping people to share books was subversive when you decided to become librarians. And it shouldn't be: sharing, giving, saving, and reusing are the most human of impulses, and we are at our best and most human when we act on them. The desire to share, as you know, is immense. Yet the fact is that you have chosen a profession that has become radical. Being a librarian today means being more than an archivist, more than a researcher, more than an educator. It means being a guardian of the embattled values of knowledge, public space, and sharing that animate your profession. You may not have chose it, but the fight against privatization and in defense of the public good has been thrust upon you by the mania for privatization, public private partnerships, and outsourcing."

* Spoken at the Joint American Library Association/Canadian Library Association Conference in Toronto on June 24, 2003

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Extraordinary Women in Library History

A woman made history as the first black supervising librarian in the entire New York Public Library system. She also co-founded a theater company, was a playwright, and hosted dinners that brought together many of the intellectuals and writers active in the Harlem Renaissance. She was even recognized at the 1939 World's Fair. Who was this extraordinary woman? Regina M. Anderson.

Regina M. Anderson, the first black supervising librarian at NYPL.
Image via

Anderson and other trailblazers are profiled in Women of Library History, a blog created by the Feminist Task Force (FTF). A division of the American Library Association, the FTF started the blog "to remember the contributions of these important women in librarianship." Women such as Lora Lashbrook, the first female librarian at the all-male University of Notre Dame Law School; Jane Van Arsdale, who was the first curator of one of the first rare book collections in a public library in the United States; and the women of the Everett Woman's Book Club, of Everett, Washington, who founded the city's first library in 1898.

Although created for Women's History Month 2013, the Women of Library History blog is still up and running. It's just four pages long, but it contains a wealth of information that will surely benefit anyone writing a paper on women in library history or those who are simply curious about the subject. You can access the Tumblr blog Women of Library History at THIS LINK.

More on the incredible life of librarian Regina M. Anderson is HERE and HERE.

Friday, April 12, 2013

OWS Library Wins Lawsuit Against NYC

In the early-morning hours of November 15, 2011, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and city sanitation workers swept into Zuccotti Park, renamed "Liberty Park" by the mixture of people who had settled there two months earlier to protest income disparity, financial industry corruption, the high costs of education and healthcare, and more. In the process of removing the protestors from the park - with the approval and complicity of Brookfield Properties, owner of the park - the NYPD destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property, including books and equipment from the People's Library.

A young woman and older man (in the background) browse the People's Library.
Image via

The People's Library, established in the northeast corner of Liberty Park, consisted of shelving and crates containing more than 5,000 books, a few of which I donated as a supporter of Occupy Wall Street. In that same corner of the park, tables were set up for library users and computers with WiFi connection were made available to any patron who wanted to use them. The People's Library was a grassroots effort - created, organized, and managed by a dedicated group of actual librarians, information professionals, and book-loving volunteers who valued the democratization of information. When I visited, the People's Library was a bustling hub of people from all backgrounds flipping through, reading, and donating books.

In the November 2011 raid, the NYPD tossed thousands of these books into trash-compactor trucks, then hauled them to a storage facility, where OWS library workers were later told that they could retrieve them. Arriving at the storage facility, the library workers were alarmed to find that only 1,000 of the books were salvageable and the rest were damaged beyond repair: smashed, wet and moldy, and covered with food and waste. Occupy Wall Street decided to sue the City of New York for damages, asking for $47,000 in compensation to be paid to the movement's Library Working Group. The famous civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel took their case and the suit was filed in February 2012.

On Tuesday, April 9, 2013, OWS won their case against New York City. Rather than going to trial, the City of New York and Brookfield Properties agreed to settle, paying more than $230,000 in damages and legal fees. OWS got the $47,000 it sought for damage to the People's Library.

"Our clients are pleased," Siegel told the Village Voice. "We had asked for damages of $47,000 for the books and the computers, and we got $47,000. More important - we could not have settled without this - is the language in the settlement. This was just not about the money, it was about constitutional rights and the destruction of books."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pullman Pulls No Punches in Defending Librarians

In my day job, I went over a book on Philip Pullman, British author of The Golden Compass and other best-selling fantasy novels. While perusing the biography, I was delighted to discover that Pullman is an outspoken advocate of librarians. 

Philip Pullman, best-selling novelist and defender of librarians.

With libraries in England facing severe cuts, a council member suggested that volunteers run the libraries instead. In response to this councilman, Pullman said:

Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centers or running a local football [soccer] team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead? 

Thank you, Mr. Pullman, for boldly defending us librarians (and librarians-to-be)!

What NOT to Say to a Librarian

Anyone who has ever worked with the general public knows that every day on the job is different, mainly because different people with often wildly different personalities come to your workplace. This variety in patronage can be endlessly entertaining to you as an employee. But it can also be highly aggravating, as you're a captive audience to whatever brand of crazy they bring to you.

"Must be so nice to have a peaceful and quiet job!" Oh, really?
Image via

Librarians, especially those who work at large public libraries, often find themselves on the receiving end of all sorts of patron mutterings and musings. Much of it is idle chatter I'm sure, but some of it is utterly baffling or outright disrespectful. Whether or not the patrons actually intend it to be is up for question, but that does nothing to erase the awkwardness or the "ick" factor.

Miss Ingrid, a children's librarian who works at a public library in New York, asked her fellow librarians via Twitter for suggestions on what NOT to say to a librarian. Here are things that clueless (or simply uncouth) patrons have said to them:

* "Are you a volunteer?" (Odds are, they're not.)

* "It must be so nice to read all day!" (They're too busy to have a chance to.)

* "I hate to bother you!" (Librarians want you to approach them.)

* "Are you busy?" (Again, librarians are there to help you.)

* "Know what I miss? The card catalog." (Often said by hipsters and seniors.)

* "Are you married?" (Not cool to sexually harass someone.)

Ingrid's responses to these questions are so funny and so right on that you want to give her a high-five. And her blog post on this subject generated more than 100 responses, many of them from librarians commiserating with her and/or sharing their own stories. Whether you're a librarian, a library school student, or a library patron, you'll get something out of reading Ingrid's post. If you work in a library or want to, be sure to check out the blog post's comments section for helpful coping strategies for when you find yourself face-to-face with a patron who didn't follow the 3-second rule before speaking to the librarian.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Believe in Magic? Visit This Library!

Everyone finds their library enchanting, but the Conjuring Arts Research Center is a truly magical place. Housed in an undisclosed location in midtown Manhattan, the library is a hidden treasure of rare books, many of them secretly published, by magicians for magicians. A magician, William Kalush, founded the library in 2003.

Carrington, "Le Formidable Magicien," stares down at vistors to Conjuring Arts Research Center.

"I'd always had a healthy interest in the history of magic," Kalush told the Wall Street Journal, "and a few books and a few bookshelves over a short window turned into a lot of books. So I looked around one day and I realized that I had a pretty substantial personal collection, and I thought, 'I'm going to turn it into a foundation and make it accessible to people."

Anyone with a specific interest or query can access the Conjuring Arts Research Center by making an appointment; however, no browsing is allowed and visitors are supervised. Increasingly, the library is making more of its holdings available online. Trade journals, magicians' personal papers, and other items are being digitized and added to the library's online database, "Ask Alexander," named for a poster of a turban-wearing stage mentalist. Library members pay up to $500 annually for access to this database.

World-famous magician David Copperfield praised William Kalush's efforts to preserve and make accessible these usually elusive materials on magic. "He's made arcane and secretive knowledge that's been buried throughout time available to the people who need it," Copperfield told the Journal. "It's an enormous gift for the history of magic."

One of the books that's available to researchers at the magical library in midtown Manhattan.

The Conjuring Arts Research Center has over 15,000 books "dating from yesterday back to the late Medieval period," Kalush said in the Journal interview. The books are arranged in sections by topic, including mentalism, ventriloquism, hypnosis, escapology, sleight-of-hand, juggling, and cheating at gambling. There are volumes such as "Indian Rope Trick" and "Mnemonica," on memorizing cards. The books are kept on towering bookshelves in rooms furnished with antique tables and chairs, and the windows in these rooms are cloaked in heavy velvet curtains. Vintage posters of magicians adorn the walls.

In addition to published books, the library also features manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, and artifacts, such as a pair of handcuffs owned by Harry Houdini that are on display in a glass case. Materials are handled by a team of volunteers and interns, plus a staff of six. The head librarian, Jen Spota, has been playfully called "a Muggle." She said that Harry Potter references fly forth whenever she tells people that she works at a magical library.

For more about the Conjuring Arts Research Center, see the Wall Street Journal article HERE. The article contains a video interview of William Kalush that was recorded within the mysterious confines of the library.

* Top photo: CJSC/Flickr; bottom photo: Brian Smith/Wall Street Journal