Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

Photo: Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection/Kentucky Digital Library
A Pack Horse Librarian returning over the mountainside for a new supply of books.

Here’s another story about dedicated book people making sure that books get to people in remote places. This one is from the 1930s Depression in the United States.

Eliza McGraw writes at Smithsonian, “Their horses splashed through iced-over creeks. Librarians rode up into the Kentucky mountains, their saddlebags stuffed with books, doling out reading material to isolated rural people. …

“The Pack Horse Library initiative, which sent librarians deep into Appalachia, was one of the New Deal’s most unique plans. The project, as implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), distributed reading material to the people who lived in the craggy, 10,000-square-mile portion of eastern Kentucky. …

“In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read. Residents wanted to learn, notes historian Donald C. Boyd. Coal and railroads, poised to industrialize eastern Kentucky, loomed large in the minds of many Appalachians who were ready to take part in the hoped prosperity that would bring. ‘Workers viewed the sudden economic changes as a threat to their survival and literacy as a means of escape from a vicious economic trap,’ writes Boyd. …

“There had been previous attempts to get books into the remote region. In 1913, a Kentuckian named May Stafford solicited money to take books to rural people on horseback, but her project only lasted one year. …

“Unlike many New Deal projects, the packhorse plan required help from locals. ‘Libraries’ were housed any in facility that would step up, from churches to post offices. Librarians manned these outposts, giving books to carriers who then climbed aboard their mules or horses, panniers loaded with books, and headed into the hills. …

“Carriers rode out at least twice a month, with each route covering 100 to 120 miles a week. …

“The books and magazines they carried usually came from outside donations. [Lena Nofcier, who chaired library services for the Kentucky Congress of Parents and Teachers at the time] requested them through the local parent-teacher association. She traveled around the state, asking people in more affluent and accessible regions to help their fellow Kentuckians in Appalachia. …

” ‘ “Bring me a book to read,” is the cry of every child as he runs to meet the librarian with whom he has become acquainted,’ wrote one Pack Horse Library supervisor. ‘Not a certain book, but any kind of book. The child has read none of them.’ …

“Some mountain families initially resisted the librarians, suspicious of outsiders riding in with unknown materials. In a bid to earn their trust, carriers would read Bible passages aloud. Many had only heard them through oral tradition, and the idea that the packhorse librarians could offer access to the Bible cast a positive light on their other materials.”

More here.

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You probably know that a library is a haven. But in case you didn’t, here is a story about what libraries mean to New Yorkers these days.

Winnie Hu writes at the NY Times, “Matthew Carter’s summer hideaway … does not require a car ride or a small fortune to keep up.

“Mr. Carter, 32, an adjunct professor of music at the City College of New York, simply holes up at the Inwood Library in northern Manhattan with his research books. It is quiet, air-conditioned and open every day.

“ ‘I’m a total leech of public libraries,’ he said. ‘It’s my summer hangout. It’s where I spend the majority of my time, and where I’m most productive.’ …

“Far from becoming irrelevant in the digital age, libraries in New York City and around the nation are thriving: adding weekend and evening hours; hiring more librarians and staff; and expanding their catalog of classes and services to include things like job counseling, coding classes and knitting groups. …

“Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association, said library workers had shown people how to file online for welfare benefits and taught classes in science, technology, engineering and math to children who could not afford to go to summer camps. …

“A recent contest to recognize neighborhood libraries underscored their vitality: 18,766 online and paper nominations were submitted in one month, up from about 4,300 when the yearly competition was started in 2013. Nearly every library was nominated at least once. Some received hundreds of nods.

“One young man wrote that he was homeless when he started going to the Arverne branch of the Queens Library, where the staff not only helped him study to become a security guard but also hired him to work as a mentor to teenagers. Today, that man, Richard Johnson, has two jobs and his own apartment.

” ‘Ever since becoming a member of the Queens Library, I have been bettering my life,’ he wrote in his statement. …

“The recent gains by libraries have delighted Christian Zabriskie, a librarian and executive director of Urban Librarians Unite, an advocacy and education group that organizes an annual ‘read-in,’ in which people take turns reading nonstop for 24 hours, to support the libraries.

“ ‘In New York City, there is somebody using library materials every second, every day of the year,’ Mr. Zabriskie said. ‘It’s showing that libraries are the fabric of society.’ “

More here.

Photo: Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times
The Inwood Library in northern Manhattan is quiet, air-conditioned and open every day.

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In a delightful post at BookRiot.com, blogger David Attig offers some of his research on bookmobiles and libraries in out-of-the-way places.

In one example, he writes about “a delightful twist on the Pack Horse Library. Since 1990, teacher-turned-mobile-librarian Luis Soriano has brought books to thousands of children in rural Colombia, all from the back of a donkey. The biblioburro, as Soriano calls it, helps poor children have access to more books and thus a chance at a better education. ‘That’s how a community changes and the child becomes a good citizen and a useful person,’ Soriano told CNN. ‘Literature is how we connect them with the world.’ Soriano and his biblioburro are the subject of a children’s book by Monica Brown and John Parra, proceeds from the sale of which go to support Soriano’s work.”

“Derek Attig writes and teaches about book culture, technology, and history,” says BookRiot. “In addition to writing a book about bookmobiles in American life, he blogs at Bookmobility.org.”

Read the whole post at BookRiot, where you will find a Works Progress Administration bookmobile visiting Bayou De Large, Louisiana, pack horse librarians posing in Hindman, Kentucky, a booketeria in a Nashville supermarket, a vending machine library at a Bay Area school, a library at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and more.

Photo: Luis Soriano

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Art: Vita Wells
‘Flights of mind,’ 2007. Book, hair, lights, fan, key, screws, hinges, glue.

Maria Popova’s website, Brain Pickings, is a never-ending source of inspiration, and my only regret is that when her e-newsletter arrives each week, there never is enough time to savor it.

In a recent one, she was a reviewed Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed, which she got at the library. The pictures are terrific and remind me of other items we’ve featured. (Remember the lead from Asakiyume about the stealth artist in Scotland who made sculptures from books and left them in libraries? I wrote about that here.)

“As a fervent lover of papercraft, book sculpture, and creative repurposing of physical books,” writes Popova at Brain Pickings, “I was instantly taken with Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed (public library) — a compendium of extraordinary artworks from the around the world, using the physical book as raw material for creative contemplation and cultural commentary.

“Sensual, rugged, breathtakingly intricate, ranging from ‘literary jewelry’ to paperback chess sets to giant area rugs woven of discarded book spines, these cut and carved tomes remind us that art is not a thing but a way — a way of being in the world that transmutes its dead cells into living materials, its cultural legacy into ever-evolving art forms and creative sensibilities.”

Read more here, and be amazed by the other pictures of book art.

Art: Jennifer Khoshbin
“Prove It,” 2009, cut book.

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A Little Free Library has come to Cambridge.

Writes Jan Gardner at the Sunday Globe, “About a block from the Cambridge Public Library, its Lilliputian cousin is perched atop a post on the sidewalk. At this Little Free Library, open since mid-October, there are no due dates, late fees, or library cards. Made out of recycled wood, it consists of a single shelf that holds about 20 books.

“The library’s founders are Laura Roberts and Ed Belove who put it in front of their house at 1715 Cambridge St. so they can keep an eye on it. …

“Sabrina Françon, a student at the nearby Harvard Graduate School of Design, sees the Little Free Library as an example of tactical urbanism, a trend she is studying. She wants to determine whether small playful citizen projects like the Little Free Library influence a neighborhood’s social capital.” Roberts reports to Françon what she sees from the window.

“The little library had its origins on Facebook. A friend of Roberts posted a message about Little Free Library, a nonprofit that started in Wisconsin three years ago. Founder Todd Bol built the first library in tribute to his late mother, a book lover.”

More from the Globe. You may also want to read my earlier post on the concept here. By the way, have you ever noticed that the Globe posts weekday articles fast, but Sunday Globe articles like this one may wait until Tuesday.

Photograph: Laura Roberts

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I remember trying some years ago to persuade a certain lobster fisherman I know that fiction has value. A recent Boston Sunday Globe article has left me feeling validated.

Washington & Jefferson College’s Jonathan Gottschall writes, “Fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape. But perhaps the most impressive finding is just how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better, not for the worse. Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds.”

Read more here.

As Dickens said in Hard Times, it’s important to make room for Queen Mab among all the hard facts.


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The other day John brought up the topic of Andrew Carnegie. Whatever else might be said about this 19th Century steel baron, you have to give him credit for putting so much of his fortune into philanthropy, especially libraries.

Today John Wood is carrying on that work in impoverished countries around the world. As Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times, “Wood’s charity, Room to Read, has opened 12,000 … libraries around the world, along with 1,500 schools. …

“He has opened nearly five times as many libraries as Carnegie, even if his are mostly single-room affairs that look nothing like the grand Carnegie libraries. Room to Read is one of America’s fastest-growing charities and is now opening new libraries at an astonishing clip of six a day. …

“He also runs Room to Read with an aggressive businesslike efficiency that he learned at Microsoft, attacking illiteracy as if it were Netscape. He tells supporters that they aren’t donating to charity but making an investment: Where can you get more bang for the buck than starting a library for $5,000? …

“ ‘In 20 years,’ Wood told me, ‘I’d like to have 100,000 libraries, reaching 50 million kids. Our 50-year goal is to reverse the notion that any child can be told “you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and so you will not get educated.” ‘ ” Read more.

Photograph of John Wood: Room to Read

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