April 7th, 2013 at 4:08 pm (Books, Library School)
At sea for ten months. What would you take on your Kindle?
Sailors in the 1800s, of course, had no such luxury.
The American Seamen’s Friend Society, starting in 1837, took it upon itself to package up book collections and ship them out on as many sailing vessels as possible. By 1930, they had distributed 30,040 libraries, which could be exchanged for a new set when the content was exhausted. Each library contained about 40 books, mostly religious or focused on self improvement.
Sailors wrote back with reports on the libraries they received. Here is one example:
“No. 3,095. — Books all read; ‘Four Pillars of Temperance,’ ‘Laurence Monroe,’ ‘Light on the Ocean,’ ‘Blind Tom,’ and ‘Alcohol’ were most read. The last named book I read aloud to the crew, with delightful results. All signed the pledge. The books have been a great blessing; better send ‘Alcohol’ in every library. It is just the thing for sailors.” — A. Morrill, Capt. schr. W.H.Rogers.
Because they were commonly provided in a standard wooden box, painted red, the libraries came to be known as “Little Red Box Libraries.” One has to wonder if there is any connection to today’s DVD provider, Redbox. I wasn’t able to dig up any details on how the company selected its name to find out. I wonder!
March 24th, 2013 at 8:00 am (History, Library School)
Leave it to Benjamin Franklin to conceive of the idea of a shared lending library. He hypothesized that a group with pooled resources could build a book collection that would go beyond the means of any individual member. In 1731, the Library Company of Philadelphia was incorporated as a subscription library. Wikipedia cites this motivation for the library’s creation:
“… they had discovered that their far-ranging conversations on intellectual and political themes foundered at times on a point of fact that might be found in a decent library.”
Members paid 40 shillings to join and 10 shillings per year after that. This library still exists today (with about 500,000 books) and still works under a subscription model ($200 to join and $100 per year).
In addition to benefiting its direct subscribers, the Library Company offered free access for delegates to the Continental Congress and Constitutional Conventions in 1774 – 1787. Perhaps they, too, stood to benefit from resolving points of fact that arose during debate. Hooray for fact-based discussion and resolution of arguments! Thank you, libraries one and all!
March 23rd, 2013 at 1:55 pm (Books, Computers, Library School)
Imagine a library that has no books. Instead, the stacks have been replaced with computer terminals, e-readers (for circulation and checkout), and “collaboration areas.” That’s the plan for the new BiblioTech library in San Antonio, Texas. It will be an almost 5000 square-foot library, with precisely zero physical books.
Read more: The First Bookless Public Library: Texas to Have BiblioTech
Libraries (especially public ones) continually seek to reinvent themselves to suit patron needs and desires. A publicly funded service must necessarily stay relevant to its funding source, but from what I’ve observed, the people running libraries and working in them also embody an ethic of relevance, benefit, and impact as a matter of course. This move is inspired by the observation that many people today have less need for physical books, or they appreciate the convenience of electronic access, and some can benefit greatly from circulating e-readers if they do not have the resources to purchase one of their own.
However, the move to an all-digital, all-virtual content library is a radical one. It may be risky, since libraries are still engaged in an excruciating wrestling match with publishers who dole out library access to e-books grudgingly or not at all, and often at steep prices when they do. (Consumers currently get far better deals, in terms of selection and price, when purchasing for themselves, than libraries do.) If publishers were to shut libraries out completely from e-books, what would the bookless library have left to offer? Further, if the content is all electronic, why bother having a physical building at all? Will people come to it?
And yet there’s something to be said for a physical-virtual library. People use libraries for a surprisingly diverse array of activities, not simply removing and returning books from a warehouse. They gather to have meetings, to study, to roam the Internet; they form book clubs and attend workshops and fold themselves into cozy armchairs for naps. Children attend storytimes and activities and get involved in volunteer programs. Reference librarians provide a uniquely valuable service in the form of guidance to relevant resources, through an increasingly overgrown jungle of information glut, and they do not charge a consulting fee. Altogether, these areas are where the library manifests as a community resource, above and beyond its store of books. Even with all-virtual content, there will still be value in these face-to-face activities… if people can be persuaded to leave their home and come. Bring on the coffee bar!
February 20th, 2013 at 8:55 pm (History, Language, Library School, Vocabulary)
If I thought about it at all, I assumed that upper case and lower case were just two different cases (options) for big, or small, letters. You might therefore assume that these terms have been with us since the invention of writing, or at least writing in two sizes.
These terms came into being with the invention of moveable type and the printing press (1450 A.D.). Typesetters would pick letters from a large case organized by letter. And — you guessed it — capital letters were in the “upper case” and the rest were in the “lower case.” The terms referred to their physical location, which quickly became convention, because then a typesetter from one press could quickly adapt to another press. Yet now the terms are so generic that they are used even in handwriting instruction. The printing press’s influence echoes down the ages!
Notice the upper-case letters had slots of equal size, while the lower-case letters (more often used) had slots proportional to their frequency of use (in English). This is what you’d need when setting a single line of type.
There were already existing terms for the two cases. Capital letters were referred to as “majuscules” and small letters were “minuscules.” But such was printing’s influence that the jargon of the trade has spread out to general use. Also, scripts that have two sizes, like this, are referred to as “bicameral” scripts (just like bicameral government!).
I learned about this in “The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800″ by Febvre and Martin, which I am reading for a library school course on the history of books and libraries. This book contains other interesting tidbits, like the fact that once the printing press got going, it was very productive; skilled teams could produce a sheet every 20 seconds. Further, there’s a sordid and fascinating story behind Gutenberg and his associates Fust and Schoeffer, who took over his printing press just as he was finalizing the process, because Gutenberg defaulted on a loan; as a result, none of the books printed with his press bear his name as the publisher, although the history books have given his name full credit.
Nowadays even fonts displayed digitally continue the use of “upper” and “lower” case to distinguish these two components of the English script. The very term “font” is also an echo of early printing press technology developments, as it comes from “fondue” which means something that has been melted; early fonts were cast in metal at a type foundry. Can we imagine “tweet” or “text” or “facebook” persisting in our vocabulary for a similar span of more than 500 years?
February 16th, 2013 at 3:22 pm (Education, Library School, Psychology)
The Library Science program I’m in (at San Jose State Univ.) has a career guidance site that includes a recommendation to take the Eureka self-assessment to learn more about your “interests, skills, and personality characteristics.” Like all such instruments, it can only tell you what you already know at some level, but who doesn’t enjoy being categorized by a quiz?
Here is what I learned from Eureka about myself:
- Personality: “You are a natural leader.”
- Learning style: Logical/independent.
- Most important values: Education, independence, integrity, accomplishment, and health.
- Least important values: Money/wealth, recognition, security, family, and belonging.
The first one made me reflect for a little while. I don’t think of myself as a leader, and certainly not a “natural” one (“natural” to me implies something that comes with ease). If anything, I’m a reluctant leader. And yet there’s something that drives me to step in when leading (or organizing) needs doing. Maybe that’s what they meant. If only I had more charisma and less cynicism, I could go into politics :)
Their longer description of this characterization did resonate with me:
“You respect competence and intellectual abilities both in yourself and in others. You may want to understand and control the realities of life, and are on the lookout for new projects, new activities and new procedures. You are usually the driving force behind any organization or activity in which you participate.”
“You tend to lose interest once the work is no longer challenging.”
The second statement is that I am a logical/independent learner. Their text includes this gem: “If you are a logical learner, you may like using your brain for logical and mathematical reasoning.” I enjoyed this characterization:
You may use phrases like these:
- That’s logical.
- Let’s make a list.
- Follow the process, procedures or rules.
- We can work it out.
- There’s no pattern to this.
- Prove it!
Those are all very familiar!
Another great quote: “Out of order issues, materials or people may cause you stress.”
The summary of my values pretty much nails them, except that I’d place family higher. (The questions about family all were phrased as family you live with, which I don’t.)
The site also encourages you to discuss these results with those who know you to gain additional perspective. If you agree/disagree with these items, feel free to comment!