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Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

Hidden Mother, and Other News

September 12, 2014 | by

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Spot the mom. “Photographer Laura Larson’s series, Hidden Mother, presents a survey of nineteenth-century tintype portraits in which the mother of the child was included in the photograph, but obscured.” Image via the New Republic

  • All American fiction is young-adult fiction … to be an American adult has always been to be a symbolic figure in someone else’s coming-of-age story. And that’s no way to live. It is a kind of moral death in a culture that claims youthful self-invention as the greatest value. We can now avoid this fate. The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all. We have our favorite toys, books, movies, video games, songs, and we are as apt to turn to them for comfort as for challenge or enlightenment.”
  • Alan Moore, the author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta, has written a million-word novel. “To put that ‘more-than-a-million-word document’ into context: Samuel Richardson’s doorstopper, Clarissa, runs to around 970,000 words, 200,000 more than the Bible. War and Peace is around 560,000 words long.”
  • The latest chapter in the reinvention of the lending library: lending helpful objects alongside books, e.g., a pole and tackle, knitting needles, cake pans, GoPros, telescopes.
  • The tintype portraits of the nineteenth century needed long exposures, which meant that any family trying to get baby pictures had to have extremely patient children. How to get the kids to sit still? Include their mother in the shot—but obscure her, because these are baby pictures, after all. “In some instances, the mother would hold her child, with a cloth or props hiding her from the lens. Or, she would be painted over by the photographer after the image had been taken. In other examples, the mother is entirely absent from the frame, save for an arm, holding the child in place. The results are both funny and slightly disturbing.”
  • Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival is touted as “the best novel ever set in the Virgin Islands.” A new novel by Tiphanie Yanique aims to set its record straight: “Virgin Islanders don’t really give [Don’t Stop the Carnival] much thought. We don’t think it’s a good representation of who we are. And yet this was the book being marketed as a credible anthropological text … The Virgin Islanders in the book are buffoons … I wanted to write something that people would say, ‘If you’re going to read the Herman Wouk, you have to also read the Yanique.’”

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The Kids Are All Right, and Other News

September 11, 2014 | by

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New research suggests that this American youth and those like him have not entirely gone to seed.

  • Young Americans at the library: do they even, like, get it, what with all their young-person gizmos and e-gadgets? They do, kind of. Among the findings of a new Pew survey: “Despite their embrace of technology, 62% of Americans under age thirty agree there is ‘a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the Internet,’ compared with 53% of older Americans who believe that … 88% of Americans under thirty read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those ages thirty and older.” But: “36% of Millennials say they know little or nothing about the local library’s services, compared with 29% of those thirty and older.”
  • Not unrelatedly: “In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, America’s book publishers took an audacious gamble … over the next four years, publishers gave away 122,951,031 copies of their most valuable titles … By giving away the best it had to offer, the publishing industry created a vastly larger market for its wares. More importantly, it also democratized the pleasures of reading, making literature, poetry, and history available to all.”
  • Fact: Tolstoy was, in 1910, captured on film. (Alas, by the time the talkie was invented, he was no longer among the living.)
  • The history of “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”, the once-thriving advice column from Ladies’ Home Journal: “For a modern reader of the column’s 1950s and sixties archives, it’s hard not to be horrified by the complete and utter awfulness of many of the husbands … more shocking still are the counselor’s responses. No matter how bad it got, the counselor always managed to find a way to blame the woman for the couple’s problems.”
  • Before the Man Booker Prize shortlist, with only two of its six authors hailing from the U.S., was announced, defeatist British novelists feared the list would be overrun with Americans. “Why did they assume their American counterparts were better? Or if they thought Americans were just different, why did they assume judges would prefer the game the Americans were playing? Saul Bellow is dead. John Updike is dead. David Foster Wallace is dead, and Philip Roth has made announcing his retirement a full-time job.”

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Pynchon Defends Homer, and Other News

September 4, 2014 | by

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The Simpsons’s executive producer Matt Selman tweeted this script with Pynchon’s remarks.

  • Before he made his second “appearance” on The Simpsons in 2004, Thomas Pynchon made a few edits to the teleplay—he crossed out a pejorative line of dialogue about Homer’s ample posterior. “Homer is my role model,” he wrote in the margins, “and I can’t speak ill of him.”
  • Walter Benjamin’s “vexed relationship with academia”: “Benjamin could do first-paragraph seduction with a vengeance; yet on the several occasions when certain essays were the key to a prestigious university post—when those powers of seduction would really have worked in his favor—what does he do? He goes in the opposite direction, producing dense thickets of prickly, forbidding verbiage. Today, there isn’t a university press anywhere in the world that wouldn’t kill to get the rights to publish those same contentious, rejected essays.”
  • Now that so much of our media is stored in the Cloud, “the tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”
  • From If Only He Knew: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding, and Loving Your Wife, a 1988 Christian relationship guide that seems to presume marriage is a total bummer: “While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation … Comfort her when she is down emotionally. For instance, put your arms around her and silently hold her for a few seconds without lectures or putdowns.”
  • In which a Roald Dahl story moves a man to pursue beekeeping, a hobby that teaches us much about the nature of loyalty (and the loyalty of nature).

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A Library Without Books, and Other News

August 25, 2014 | by

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Florida Polytechnic University's new library is bookless. Photo: Rocket Science Photography / Florida Polytechnic University, via the Los Angeles Times

  • We’d all like to believe in untranslatable words. It’s such a romantic thought: that there exist out there, like undiscovered desert islands, ideas we have never even conceived of…” Alas, it isn’t so. Ostensibly untranslatable terms like hyggelig (Danish) or saudade (Portuguese) have plenty of serviceable equivalents.
  • Today in the sad obsolescence of print (or, depending on whom you ask, the ineluctable march of progress): a new library with no books. At a center of higher education, no less.
  • And today in seemingly unobjectionable advice that’s actually terrible, vacuous, entitled, meaningless advice: “Do What You Love” is “the unofficial work mantra of our time … [a] secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.”
  • On the literature of Alzheimer’s: “Because the full, internal experience of Alzheimer’s is an account that fiction alone can deliver, it’s no surprise that the go-to book for caretakers and early-stage sufferers is a novel.”
  • “For me, there’s a sure sign I’ll be able to muster the maturity to it takes to make art out of my life: When I’m finally able to laugh at a younger version of myself.”

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Unpleasant Vibrators Need Not Apply

August 12, 2014 | by

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A librarian at the card files at a senior high school in Minnesota, 1974. Photo: David Rees

From The Library Assistant’s Manual, a guide by Theodore Koch “issued on the occasion of the 61st annual meeting of the Michigan State Teachers’ Association, Ann Arbor, October 30–November 1, 1913.”

Qualities that unfit one for library work in general are physical weakness, deformity, poor memory, a discontented disposition, egotism, a lack of system in one’s method of work, and inability or unwillingness to take responsibilities, a tendency to theorize, criticize, or gossip, inability to mind one’s own business, fussiness, and long-windedness.

One librarian advocates listing the virtues and personal qualities of the staff and apprentices by having a questionnaire like the following filled out for each assistant:

Has she tact?
Has she enthusiasm?
Has she method and system?
Is she punctual?
Is she neat?
Is she kind?
Is she a good disciplinarian?
Is she sympathetic?
Is she quick?
Is she willing to wear rubber heels?
Is she a good worker?
Is she accurate?
Has she a pleasing personality?
Has she a sense of responsibility?
Is she patient?
Is she courteous?
Has she self control?
Is she cheerful?
Has she a knowledge of books?
Are her vibrations pleasant?
Has she executive ability?
Can she speak French, German, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish?
Has she social qualifications?
Can she keep a petty cash account?
What are her faults?

Mr. Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, gives the following advice to aspirants for library positions:

“First, secure the best possible general education, including, if possible, a college course or its equivalent; second, acquire a reading knowledge of at least French and German; third, add to this a training in a library school; fourth, if a choice must be made between the special training in a library school and a general course in a college, choose the general course, but make every effort to supplement this by the special course if only for a brief period; fifth, if an opportunity occurs for foreign travel, utilize it; sixth, if you have not been able to contrive either a thorough general education or special training, your best opportunities in library work will be in a small library where your personal characteristics may be such as to offset these other deficiencies; seventh, without at least a fair reading knowledge of French and German you cannot progress beyond the most subordinate positions in a large library.”

17 COMMENTS

Sound Off

July 31, 2014 | by

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The Cincinnati Public Library card catalog. Image via Retronaut

The other day, a friend sent me a link to a Reddit conversation: What common sounds from a hundred years ago are very rare or just plain don’t exist anymore? 

This, in turn, led us to the Museum of Endangered Sounds, which I highly recommend to anyone with a pair of headphones and a few hours to kill. Of course, we can’t even document some of them—the early-morning scuttle of coal, for instance, was probably too humble ever to rate a recording. I mean, how many of us have bothered to record the hiss of a radiator—and presumably that won’t be around forever. For that matter, someone ought to memorialize the rattle of a dead, incandescent bulb.

I must have had this in mind when I ran across this image on Retronaut. Because the sound of a card catalog—the squeak of the drawer, the slight ruffle of the stiff paper, the sliding noise as a card is pulled from the file—is almost certainly on the endangered list. (To say nothing of everything else in the picture.)

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