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Image: Jennifer Luxton / Seattle Times
Richard Brautigan, best know for the quirky
Trout Fishing in America, encouraged unpublished writers to express themselves. Now there’s a library in his honor — a library of unpublished manuscripts.

In bookshops, I have often perused books by Richard Brautigan but have always concluded they were too odd for me. After reading about the unusual library the writer inspired, however, I have changed my mind. I’m going to take the plunge.

Megan Burbank writes at the Seattle Times, “It’s easy to trace the lingering influence of Tacoma-born writer Richard Brautigan if you know where to look. Though known for depicting San Francisco’s counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s with surrealistic flair, you’ll find one of his greatest legacies on three bookcases in the basement of Vancouver’s Clark County Historical Museum.

“Known as the Brautigan Library, the collection spans family histories, absurd Brautigan-esque capers, DIY religious tracts and memoirs of ordinary lives. They don’t feel like books at all, really, so much as the complete, unfiltered contents of other people’s minds. And they all have one thing in common: They’re unpublished. …

“When I visited the Brautigan Library in February, I couldn’t stop thinking of a passage from ‘Trout Fishing in America,’ perhaps Brautigan’s best-known work, that compares a bookstore to a graveyard:

‘Thousands of graveyards were parked in rows like cars. Most of the books were out of print, and no one wanted to read them any more and the people who had read the books had died or forgotten about them …’

“The books I encountered, crouched on the floor in that vaguely antiseptic-smelling basement, ran a fierce gamut. … Some stood out for their titles alone. My favorite was Alyce Cornyn-Selby’s ‘Did She Leave Me Any Money? A philosophical comedy about men, money, motivation, winning strategies, architecture, nudism, trucking, corporate assassinations, heart attacks, sexual politics, hometown parades, Spiritual Warriors, and the dredging of Willapa Bay.’ …

“The rows of manuscripts are punctuated with little cardboard printouts of mayonnaise jars, a nod to the collection’s cataloging technique, known as the Mayonnaise system.

“The name is a reference to the last line of ‘Trout Fishing in America.’ (‘Expressing a human need, I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word Mayonnaise.’)

“When Richard Brautigan died in 1984, control of his literary estate fell to his daughter, Ianthe Brautigan Swensen. [She] started getting letters from a man named Todd Lockwood. … His request [to create a library like the one in a Brautigan novel] was the first proposal Brautigan Swensen received that reminded her of the person her father had been.

“ ‘All of the sudden, I was like, “Right, this is the father that I remember,’” ‘ she says. ‘And right after my dad died, I was so — obviously — devastated and I thought in my mind that I’d lost him forever, and I picked up one of his books and there he was.’ …

“In 1990, Lockwood took on [the role of the novel’s librarian, who collected manuscripts.]. His Brautigan Library, based in Burlington, Vermont, operated as a nonprofit. At its peak, he says, it had about 100 volunteer librarians and attracted visitors from out of town.

“But in 1997, it closed due to lack of funding, and the manuscripts were put in storage in Lockwood’s basement.

“This caught the attention of John Barber, a faculty member in the Creative Media and Digital Culture program at Washington State University, Vancouver, who had once studied under Brautigan.

“He found space for the collection at the Clark County Historical Museum, and the library was moved and reopened in 2010. The manuscripts in the library date from the Vermont years: 1990-96. In 2013, it began accepting manuscripts again, but only electronically; there’s not enough space to keep accumulating paper volumes.” More.

What fun! This could be for you!

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Photos: Sian Cain/The Guardian
Where libraries are scarce, Indonesians have risen to the challenge. Sutino ‘Kinong’ Hadi, above, runs the Bemo mobile library in a Jakarta suburb.

Books are important for children, but there are many places around the world where books are scarce. Caring adults do what they can to fill in the gaps, sometimes even going without food in order to buy more books.

Sian Cain writes at the Guardian, “With a great heave, a young man pushes the ancient, three-wheeled rickshaw down a ramp and it splutters to a start. The driver, Sutino ‘Kinong’ Hadi, laughs as he putters his tiny Bemo in a loop outside a preschool in Tanah Abang, in central Jakarta. It’s all the signal the children need; around 20 flood out to envelope the car, pulling at hangings, clambering into the front seat. It’s an exciting time: their library has arrived.

“Kinong is one of thousands of Indonesians who have opened their own library in their own communities. Estimates suggest there are thousands of such libraries in Indonesia, started by ordinary people with great initiative to address the lack of books in their area and funded by occasional donations.

“There is the Perahu Pustaka, a library boat that sails around West Sulawesi. There are libraries on the back of vegetable carts, shelves lugged around by horses in Serang and in West Papua. Across Banten, a 200-strong motorbike gang called the Komunitas Motor Literasi (Moli), brings books to homes from a box attached to their vehicles, delivered with the ease of a takeaway. …

“The persistent myth that Indonesians aren’t interested in reading still pervades; last September, Jakarta governor, Anies Baswedan, told the Jakarta Post: ‘We are challenged to improve our reading interest, particularly in an era where people are far more interested in reading WhatsApp [chats] than in reading books … People nowadays prefer to skim rather than read.’

“But civilians argue that interest isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of infrastructure. ‘Reading appetite isn’t low in Indonesia, it’s just hard to get books,’ says Laura Prinsloo, a publisher … ‘A lot of the people operating these libraries don’t have an education, which makes it hard in a place where it’s about who you know. So if you don’t know anyone, you just do it yourself.’

“Like Andri Gunawan, a wiry young man who heads up the Komunitas Motor Literasi. He never had a library in any of his schools and only became a voracious reader as an adult. ‘Contrary to what a lot of people say, it’s not that there is no interest in reading, it is that there are no books,’ he says. …

“Or Kiswanti, a 52-year-old woman who started out delivering books door-to-door for free on her bicycle. Now, her library and school Warabal, found in Parung, Java, is 21 years old and houses 15,000 books, looked after by 25 volunteers for 1,700 members. …

“ ‘My father apologised as he couldn’t send me on to further education’ she says. ‘But he told me, if I wanted to be smarter, I had to read.’ …

“When Kiswanti opened Warabal in 1997, she even began fasting 10 days each month to buy more.

‘I needed 3,000 rupiah (16p) to eat a day,’ she explains. ‘If I didn’t eat, I can save 30,000 (£1.66) in 10 days – so I could take our best students by taking them to bookshops and buy them any book they want.’ …

“ ‘Reading transports me and introduces me to new worlds – I want to give children that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. For similar stories on seat-of-the-pants libraries around the world, search the blog on the word “library.”

This mobile library has been running since 2013. The children are eager for books, but Hadi has found it’s not advisable to let the books go home if  he wants them back.

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trends-laundromat

Photo: Chicago Public Library
Chicago Public Library STEAM Team First Assistant Librarian Alejandra Santana (left) reads to storytime attendees at Bubbleland laundromat.

Suzanne and Erik’s son went through a period of being utterly enraptured and entranced by washing machines. When his uncle came to visit from Denmark, he made him sit on the floor of the bathroom with him and marvel at the wash cycle. When his sister was born, he pushed her baby bed in front of the washing machine to show her the greatest wonder of life. When my husband babysat him, he insisted on visiting the local laundromat just to watch the machines work. All the staff knew him.

So when I saw this story about the Chicago library system setting up story hours for young children in laundromats, I thought of my grandson. He would have considered library outreach an intrusion on his contemplation (he once sent my husband out of the laundry room because he was in the way), but I think that for other kids, libraries in laundromats would be fantastic.

Anne Ford writes at American Libraries, “Laundry: It’s got to be done. And if you’re in a family with small children and no washer or dryer at home, it’s got to be done at the neighborhood laundromat — probably every week, probably on the same day every week, and probably with those children in tow.

“That’s why, in 1989, Chicago Public Library (CPL) Children’s Librarian Elizabeth McChesney (now CPL’s director of children’s services and family engagement) visited a local laundromat to introduce herself to families. How she responded to what she saw there would help change the landscape of children’s literacy initiatives for decades to come.

“ ‘What I saw was that these were families who, because of a variety of circumstances, were not likely to come to the library for storytime,’ she says. So she went back to the library, threw some books, a couple of puppets, and a tambourine into a laundry basket, walked it back to the laundromat, and held a storytime for the kids there — right on the spot, as the washers whirred.

“McChesney’s not claiming she started the laundry-and-literacy movement. ‘People have done this off and on for the last 25, 30 years,’ she says. Still, thanks to her, CPL continues to hold regular storytimes at laundromats across Chicago. And, she says, the librarians who participate continue to see rewards.

“ ‘Families are now changing their behavior, showing up to do their laundry when the library is going to be there,’ she reports.

‘One little boy just recently said: “Let’s do laundry every day, Mom!” ‘ …

“Can’t these children simply go to a branch library instead? Not necessarily. As a recent paper on book deserts by Susan B. Neuman and Naomi Moland in the journal Urban Education (vol. 54, no. 1, p. 126–147) points out, in some areas, decreased funding for libraries has led to ‘limited hours and curtailed services’ — and in many low-income communities, demand has exceeded capacity or parents are often hesitant to check out books because of potential library fines. …

“Not all laundromat library programs are alike, though most operate with some type of librarian participation, direction, or materials curation.

“Wash Time Is Talk Time, an effort sponsored by [the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail (TSTF) early-childhood initiative and the Coin Laundry Association’s LaundryCares Foundation (LCF)], distributes posters in English and Spanish that encourage parents to talk, read, and sing with their children while they do laundry; it also provides books to some laundromats to lend out. …

“How effective are these programs, and what kind of impact are they having on children’s literacy? To find out, [the Laundry and Literacy Coalition (LLC)] is working with Neuman. … The first part of that evaluation, conducted last year, found that children in laundromats with literacy resources engaged in 30 times more literacy activities — such as talking with their families, singing songs, drawing, and reading books — than children in laundromats without those resources. The second phase, announced in March, found that librarians in these programs increased child engagement in literacy-related activities.” More here.

Bubbleland on Western, a Chicago laundromat

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Photo: Book Aid International
The first shipment of books for the University of Mosul’s library arrives in Iraq for Alaa Hamdon’s Book Bridge campaign.

It’s a good thing that humans are like ants in one regard because as soon as a community is destroyed, people begin the work to build it back up. That is what is happening in Mosul, Iraq, a city that was overrun by the culture-hating forces of Isis not that long ago.

Olivia Snaije writes at Publishing Perspectives, “Since the destruction of the University of Mosul’s library, momentum is building for Book Aid International’s efforts to coordinate and enable publishers’ contributions to rebuilding. …

“Most news accounts date the main destruction of the University of Mosul library to 2015, following the start of the Islamic State group’s occupation in June 2014. … The library had been one of the most important in Iraq and the Middle East, a repository of information on the cultures, religions, and ethnicities that make up the region. The destruction of thousands of books, many of them precious, was a tragic addition to the country’s list of tremendous cultural losses in recent years.

“Used by up to 40,000 students, the library was, in the words of Alaa Hamdon at the London Book Fair, ‘an icon for the university, a lighthouse for students and the community, a shining light at the heart of the university.’ Hamdon is the founder of the Mosul Book Bridge campaign to rebuild the library. …

“When Mosul was liberated from ISIS in 2017, Dr. Hamdon decided to establish the Mosul Book Bridge effort to rebuild the university’s library, and contacted Book Aid International. The British charity works with more than 100 publishers in the UK and reports sending up to 300,000 books to countries worldwide.

“Traditionally, Book Aid’s service area has been mostly in Africa. But [Alison Tweed, chief executive, said] that reports of the deliberate cultural and intellectual destruction in Iraq were so moving that she offered to partner with Hamdon’s Mosul Book Bridge campaign.

“ ‘We have infrastructure and logistics,’ she said, ‘and it seemed like a wonderful partnership. … We like a challenge. We made a selection of books and put them onto trucks. They sat in Bulgaria for a few weeks and then limped across the border. The situation is volatile and ever-changing, but the books got there.’

“When the first shipment of 3,750 or so books arrived in Mosul in March 2018, Hamdon said he and his colleagues danced in the street. Tweed said that her colleagues danced in the office. ‘That appreciation is everything for us, it makes our work worthwhile.’

“What made Book Aid’s coordination and contribution especially valuable was that they delivered new books that the University of Mosul had specifically requested, said Mehiyar Kathem, whose Nahrein Network helps people across the Middle East to ‘reclaim their ancient heritage as local history, putting it to constructive use for their communities.’ …

” ‘I visited Mosul in January,’ Kathem said. ‘I’d like to stress how important it is to have the physical books there because the Internet doesn’t work well. These are brand-new important books, because you also have out-of-date books donated, like a book on electronics from the 1980s.’ …

“Hamdon said that rebuilding the library can help ‘give hope to everyone living there, that culture is back. People will feel reassured about their education and their future.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: CNN
Garbage collectors in Ankara, Turkey, created a library from abandoned books.

This story seems to go with the one about the homeless man in South Africa who sells used books to passersby. The books in the CNN article, however, are not only used — they have been thrown in the trash or abandoned.

Garbage collectors in Ankara thought it was a shame that so many salvageable books should be landfilled when there are people who would appreciate access to them.

Here’s the report from Spencer Feingold and Hande Atay Alamat.

“Garbage collectors in the Turkish capital have opened a public library composed entirely of books once destined for the landfills. The library, located in the Çankaya district of Ankara, was founded after sanitation workers started collecting discarded books.

As word of the collection spread, residents also began donating books directly.

“Initially, the books were only for employees and their families to borrow. But as the collection grew and interest spread throughout the community, the library was eventually opened to the public in September of last year.

” ‘We started to discuss the idea of creating a library from these books. And when everyone supported it, this project happened,’ said Çankaya Mayor Alper Tasdelen, whose local government oversaw the opening of the library.

“Today, the library has over 6,000 books ranging from literature to nonfiction. There is also a popular kid’s section with comic books and an entire section for scientific research. Books in English and French are also available for bilingual visitors.

“The library is housed in a previously vacant brick factory at the sanitation department headquarters. With an aged brick façade and long corridors, the space was ideal for a library. …

” ‘On one hand, there were those who were leaving these books on the streets. On the other hand others were looking for these books,’ Tasdelen said.

“The collection grew so large the library now loans the salvaged books to schools, educational programs, and even prisons.

” ‘Village schoolteachers from all over Turkey are requesting books,’ Tasdelen said. The city government also hired a full-time employee to manage the library. …

“The library is especially popular with cyclists who bike in the nearby valley and break for a quick read and cup of tea.” More here.

You know what I love best about this? It shows how a good idea attracts people of good will as fast as honey attracts flies.

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Photo: Getty
Auckland Libraries in New Zealand figured out why their books were going missing and came up with a win-win solution.

If you know how to read, you want to read, and librarians want you to read. But not everyone has easy access to books. That is why some readers in New Zealand were sneaking books.

Mark Molloy writes at the UK’s Telegraph, “A New Zealand library has finally solved the mystery of why some books were going missing from its shelves.

“Auckland Libraries staff were bewildered after finding some books were being hidden in random places. They initially thought kids playing pranks were to blame, but later discovered it was the city’s rough sleepers who were actually stashing the books so they could return the next day to continue reading.

“ ‘A lot of our street community were wanting to put them underneath the couches or underneath book shelves and kind of hiding them in various places,’ librarian Sean Taylor told TV NZ. … Without a permanent address they were unable to sign up for a library card that would allow them to take the literature away.

“As a solution, Auckland Library created a new section where books can now be left overnight and picked back up again the next morning. …

“ ‘They are really well read. We’ve got a guy who I’ve had a discussion about the meanings of words and we’ll talk about the reference section and it’s the kind of intellectual conversation you’d expect from an academic.’ …

“Auckland Library says it sees itself as a ‘home for the homeless’ and holds regular cinema screenings and a book club for those sleeping rough. …

“ ‘One guy told me he moved to the city several years ago, and that none of his family back home knew he was homeless,” [said Rachel Rivera, manager of Auckland Libraries]. He used our computers to keep in touch with them. It was his lifeline to his family,’ she said.

“ ‘They value our service, like many of our communities do, for different reasons. But they don’t always feel safe and welcome, and that is something we can and should take steps to address.’ ”

More at the Telegraph, here. And look: Everything at the Auckland libraries website is in both English and Maori.

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Photo: Walter Siegmund
Storm Reyes, who grew up in an impoverished Native American community, says her life was transformed by a bookmobile. The first book she chose was about volcanoes because the previous night she’d heard a scary story about Mt. Rainier erupting.

Maria Popova has a wonderful blog that she often links to on twitter, which is where I picked up her heartwarming story about what access to books can mean in a poor child’s life.

From Brainpickings: “A beautiful testament to that emancipating, transformative power of public libraries comes from one such troubled little girl named Storm Reyes, who grew up in an impoverished Native American community, had her life profoundly changed, perhaps even saved, by a library bookmobile, and went on to become a librarian herself. She tells her story in this wonderful oral history animation by StoryCorps:

“The piece was adapted into an essay in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work

“Here is Reyes’s story, as it appears in the book:

Working and living in migrant farmworkers’ fields, the conditions were pretty terrible. My parents were alcoholics, and I was beaten and abused and neglected. I learned to fight with a knife long before I learned how to ride a bicycle.

When you are grinding day after day after day, there’s nothing to aspire to except filling your hungry belly. You may walk down the street and see a row of nice, clean houses, but you never, ever dream you can live in one. You don’t dream. You don’t hope.

When I was twelve, a bookmobile came to the fields. I thought it was the Baptists, because they used to come in a van and give us blankets and food. So I went over and peeked in, and it was filled with books. …

The night before, an elder had told us a story about the day that Mount Rainier blew up and the devastation from the volcano. So I told the bookmobile person that I was nervous about the mountain blowing up, and he said, ‘You know, the more you know about something, the less you will fear it.’

At Brainpickings, you can find out what happened next, here.

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