unfashionable libraries

kate spade ipone case

For $40 you can have a iphone case that looks like it was taken from a library that doesn’t believe in patron privacy. As much as I adore the idea that someone would be checking out a Shakespeare book nearly weekly (in 2013! It’s free on the internet) and personally love the iconography of these cards, it’s always amusing to see them in the wild appropriated as something fashionable. Kate Spade has a bunch of new library-themed items which must mean that at least somewhere, libraries are seen as something that are worth money. Fun fact, the signatures on the library card–the ones that make my librarian heart agitated–are names of Kate Spade employees. Hester Sunshine is a Kate Spade blogger. Erin Graves works in marketing, as does Noura Barnes and Sophia Smith and Wendy Chan. Julie Ly is in PR and Suzanne Schloot works in social media marketing. Other folks have signatures that are too obscure (smart move) or names that are too general to track down.

So hey, this is nice and a bunch of people have sent it to me. At the same time, it sort of fetishizes the library (and makes money for the creators) without really passing on any of that whuffie to the library itself (especially in New York with its sets of beleaguered library systems). I have similar feelings about the Little Free Libraries. I like them. They are a fun and neat idea for people to get other people interested in reading and the community-building power of books. I am all for both of those things. But because they are called libraries, people look to me and my library worker friends and say “Hey what do you think? Do you wish you’d thought of this?” and my response, which I try to keep from sounding crabby, is that I love these things but I’m not sure why they call them libraries instead of, you know, community bookshelves which is actually what they are.

Except I know why. Because the word library is evocative of a whole bunch of things, from now stretching deep into the past. It has gravitas and comes with a bunch of associations that you can sort of get for free by linking your thing to libraries. Except libraries aren’t free. And the work that goes into keeping them running (which is a lot more than keeping a bookshelf stocked) is complicated, sometimes thankless and under attack from people who think somehow that libraries are not fashionable enough, not hip or current enough, that our day has passed. So please feel free to quit sending me this iphone case, as much as I love it, and think about why New York loves this sort of thing and is trying to sell off their library real estate in New York City and gut the stacks.

What is going on with New York’s public libraries?

chart showing rising demand and program attendance at NYs libraries and lowering support

Rising demand for NY’s libraries and lowering support. Source.

I know people are probably pretty up on the general level of change, upheaval and consternation that are happening surrounding NYPLs big changes, most notably the changes at the Central Library but also the closure and sale of the Mid-Manhattan branch. You may not know about the closure and sale of some of the Brooklyn Public Library’s branches in which buildings are being sold and new spaces are being leased/rented to fit the library collections, programs and staff into. I know we’ve been fighting against some of the major downsides involved in leasing versus owning content, I think it’s important to think about the major downsides involved in renting rather than owning real estate. Here is some further reading about the Brooklyn plans.

Want to get involved?

storytime: hunting a time capsule at NYPL and elsewhere

Thomas Lannon occasionally posts on NYPLs blog. He is the assistant curator of their manuscripts and archives department. He also figures into this Fast Company story about a time capsule created by a group called the Modern Historic Records Association. The time capsule was never found, not exactly, but this story, an early example of the LOCKSS (lots of copies keeps stuff safe) phenomenon does have a happy ending, thanks to some sleuthing and some librarians.

living inside the library, some photos

A comment in my previous post led to a blog post, nominally about NYC’s Fashion Week, but including some photos of the apartment over the 67th Street Branch of NYPL.

Grandpa’s Grandpa was a Norwegian immigrant. He lived on East 67th Street between First and Second Avenue, in the penthouse apartment above the 67th Street Branch library. He was the custodian of the three-story building, and at the time, the custodian lived above the library (there was a dumbwaiter, but no elevator) as part of his employment package.

Angry Birds for the Thinking Person – National Library of Finland crowdsources fixing OCR errors

A nice long post from ReadWriteWeb about how the National Library of Finland has created some microtasking games to help get the OCR errors in their massive digitzation project fixed up. Related, a panel at NYPL from a few days ago sounds interesting.

two previews for you

1. new.nypl.org
2. americanlibrariesmagazine.org

Both in beta. Both delicious improvements, in my opinion. Enjoy. Happy holidays!

Bernie Margolis

Bernie Margolis, ousted former head of Boston Public Library is starting a new job as the New York State Librarian.

Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the 67,000-member American Library Association, said Margolis has earned “a great deal of respect throughout the profession” and called him one of ALA’s most active members in standing up to censorship. Margolis, who grew up in Queens and New Rochelle, credits his activism to his dad, who was a fundraiser for the Anti-Defamation League. He calls reading the New Yorker magazine “part of my religious practice.”

on reading – librarians vs. writers

I’ve been blogging less because I’ve been reading more. One of the things to catch my attention lately was The Lion and the Mouse (printable), a months-old piece from the new Yorker about Anne Carroll Moore, the woman who “more or less invented the children’s library.” At the same time as she was opening up libraries to and for children, she was also exerting her considerable power over what books got purchased at NYPL at elsewhere. The essay concerns

the end of Moore’s influence [which] came when, years later, she tried to block the publication of a book by E. B. White. Watching Moore stand in the way of “Stuart Little,” White’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, remembered, was like watching a horse fall down, its spindly legs crumpling beneath its great weight.

It’s a wonderful read; even though the librarian in it is wincingly marmish and pretentious, she’s also well-read and driven. It’s a great look at an imperfect person in an imperfect profession with some bonus trivia about Stuart Little in there for good measure. Please consider reading it.

A few New York City libraries

music stand, jefferson market branch

Hi — I just got back from a short trip to New York City (real short, get in Wednesday and go home Friday) but I did manage to see five libraries. I know it’s been a while since I did a library recap but here’s a few links to photos and stories. NYPL has a lot going on lately in both good and bad ways. I’m always interested in the branch/main division personally and as I was on two long walks around Manhattan [1, 2] I tried to stop into as many libraries as I passed.

The first thing you notice when you’re walking is that the libraries have big blue banners hanging in front of them. This means you can see them from a block or two away and know you’re in the right place. So armed with that information and this library location mashup, I ventured in to the city. Here are the libraries I went to.

  • Jefferson Market Branch – this library is housed in a former women’s detention center and has a rich sense of history as well as an incredible building generally. Like many historic buildings that become libraries, the services are a little… smushed in there. There’s a big reference desk on the main floor that is empty and stacked with boxes and the reference librarian is actually in the basement with the reference collection. He seemed happy there. Outside there is an incredible set of gardens that were a joy to walk through.
  • Muhlenberg Branch – this library had just opened for the day and it was totally full of people. There was some confusion about how much of the library was open [see sign] and I just wanted to sit someplace cool and check my email using my laptop but couldn’t find an easy place to do that.
  • I kept walking and wound up at Bryant Park outside the big main NYPL research library. I ate lunch in the park and went inside to do a little work. The periodicals room has the best wifi, but no outlets, a way to I guess keep people’s visits to a reasonable time limit. I ran afoul of the wifi filters, not on purpose. You can see the page that was blocked. Graphic subject matter, NO graphic imagery.
  • The next day I went to the Tompkins Square Branch which is right near my friend Jenna’s place. It’s a lovely Carnegie building and was busy and full of folks. It had a really large Russian Language collection.
  • Then I wandered on to go by the Braille and Talking Book Library which had been closed the last time I walked by it. I was sort of interested whether there was any public information about the recent decision concerning the class action lawsuit that the National Federation for the Blind brought against Target concerning web site accessibility for businesses that sell things online. I enjoyed my time in the library. It’s brightly lit and has large easy to read signage and finding aids. It drove home the point that I tend to belabor which is that making things more usable really benefits everyone, not just whatever population happens to need accomodation. I liked having a bright library with wide low shelves and simple signage, who wouldn’t?

That wraps up my short tour of some Manhattan libraries in the NYPL system. Next time I’m in town I swear there will be meetups and beer drinking.


The New York Public Library is blogging. A little more backstory from Jay and Josh at the labs. It’s really neat to see the blog being used to surface content from the collection, not just fancy images, but all sorts of stuff: NY history, ephemera and even a little conversation.