Reinventing the library by Alberto Manguel

The Oberlausitzische Library of Sciences in Gorlitz, Germany. Credit Florian Monheim/Arcaid via Corbis

Plato, in the “Timaeus,” says that when one of the wisest men of Greece, the statesman Solon, visited Egypt, he was told by an old priest that the Greeks were like mere children because they possessed no truly ancient traditions or notions “gray with time.” In Egypt, the priest continued proudly, “there is nothing great or beautiful or remarkable that is done here, or in your country, or in any other land that has not been long since put into writing and preserved in our temples.”

Such colossal ambition coalesced under the Ptolemaic dynasty. In the third century B.C., more than half a century after Plato wrote his dialogues, the kings ordered that every book in the known world be collected and placed in the great library they had founded in Alexandria. Hardly anything is known of it except its fame: neither its site (it was perhaps a section of the House of the Muses) nor how it was used, nor even how it came to its end. Yet, as one of history’s most distinguished ghosts, the Library of Alexandria became the archetype of all libraries.

Libraries come in countless shapes and sizes. They can be like the Library of Congress or as modest as that of the children’s concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the older girls were in charge of eight volumes that had to be hidden every night so that the Nazi guards wouldn’t confiscate them. They can be built from books found in the garbage, like the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., set up in 1980 by the 24-year-old Aaron Lansky from volumes discarded by the younger generations who no longer spoke the tongue of their elders, or they can be catalogued in the mind of their exiled readers, in the hope of resurrection, like the libraries plundered by the Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories of Palestine. It is in the nature of libraries to adapt to changing circumstances and threats, and all libraries exist in constant danger of being destroyed by war, vermin, fire, water or the idiocies of bureaucracy.

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Librarians as Agents of Transformation by R. David Lankes

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“Librarians as Agents of Transformation” Informatie aan Zee 2015. Oostende, Belgium.

Abstract: What can be learned from the U.S. librarians’ response to the economic crisis, and the importance of hope and optimism in librarianship.



Major Points: Major points

Why do people who love libraries love libraries? by The Ubiquitous Librarian

September 19, 2014, 2:15 pm

Why do people who love libraries love libraries? This has been on my mind a lot lately. Whenever I find a patron who is passionate about their library I try to decode those tangible and intangible qualities that made the experience so powerful for them.

Our library’s feedback form a great source of insight. Each semester we have a handful of students point out customer service problems, confusing policies, or facilities issues. They are telling us these things because they care and want us to improve. We address matters when we can. For example, one student suggested a new software configuration in our scale-up classroom that we enacted and it greatly improved usability.

This week I had a student share an opinion about our bathrooms. She was frustrated because while we are renovating some parts of our library we are not upgrading the restrooms. Our original building is from the 1950’s so it is definitely long overdue for some infrastructure enhancements. I checked the maintenance logs and from January 2014 to July 2014 we had 224 items reported: 104 of those were related to leaks or clogs. There is only so much you can do about plumbing; it’s an issue that I think about daily.

Yet despite the facilities the building is as busy as ever. Like many academic libraries we often cannot accommodate the demand. This brings me back to the student and the bathrooms. During our correspondence I wondered why is she here? There are so many other places on campus: why the library? So I asked. This part of her response was very powerful:

 The other thing about the library:  There’s a group of regular library people who are always here. I’ve made some really wonderful friendships in the library. There’s just kind of a library community of library people doing library things… you get used to seeing specific people every day, and it’s really nice. Then sometimes there are little library surprises–like the dog-petting thing or the grilled cheeses, or even some of the programs and lectures. Those things happen and it’s like the library is telling you it loves you back.

I don’t want to ruin this by trying to analyze her thoughts, but it dovetails nicely with a theme I have been expressing: shifting our thinking from library commons to library communities.

When librarians talk about a commons it is almost always about “the stuff in the space” – whereas communities are about “people doing stuff together.” I’m trying to move away from a focus on serving “the user” and instead trying to appreciate that we engage and support a multitude of different people with diverse and different needs. Our libraries are different things to different people. We cannot be everything to everyone, but we can be very good at being some things to many people. Read more…