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Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

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.”

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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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Future Library

June 26, 2014 | by

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© Katie Paterson; commissioned by Bjorvika Utvikling and produced by Situations

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© Katie Paterson

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© Giorgia Polizzi

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© Katie Paterson

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© Katie Paterson

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Photo © MJC

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© Giorgia Polizzi

Right now, one thousand new trees are growing about twenty minutes outside Oslo. In the city’s new library, a window from a quiet room on the fifth floor faces out onto the nascent forest, which you can see across the harbor. These—those trees, this room—are the basic components of the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s Future Library, a century-long project that contemplates the full scale of the publishing process, with its many tangibles and intangibles:

It will be 100 years before the trees are cut down to provide the paper for an anthology of books—a Future Library for the city of Oslo—read for the first time in 2114 … Every year from 2014 to 2114, a writer will be commissioned to contribute a new text to a growing collection of unpublished, unread manuscripts held in trust in a specially designed room in the new Deichmanske Public Library in Bjørvika until their publication in 2114.

That room, intended to be “a space of contemplation,” is lined with wood from the felled forest; once the initial clear-cutting was complete, Paterson and a group of loggers planted the new saplings themselves, as photographed above.

An eight-person trust will guide the project into the future, with a small editorial panel—including the Booker Prize’s Ion Trewin—selecting the writers, the first of whom will be announced in September. Writers have no obligation to say what they’ll write or how long their manuscripts will be; they can produce whatever they want. A particularly ambitious or deranged author could take it upon himself to write an epic, laying waste to a significant percentage of the forest in so doing.

Paterson has also designed a limited run of certificates made from the trees that were cut down to make the new library. The double-sided print features a graphic of a tree trunk and functions as a deed or a share, entitling its owner to receive the anthology of Future Library books in 2114. New York’s James Cohan Gallery is showing the certificate in “The Fifth Season,” a group exhibition whose opening reception is tonight at 6 P.M.

“It grows in the mind,” William Pym, a curator at the gallery, said of the project. “There’s really not much to see.” Given its duration, Future Library is destined to be “forgotten and then remembered again,” he added, noting that attention paid to the project will ebb and flow over the years as new writers are chosen and as printing technologies advance.

The project foregrounds the most easily or willfully forgotten part of bookmaking: the trees. A bound book sits at a far remove from the natural world it came from—Future Library reminds us of the geographical realities of publishing, of the time and resources necessary to make paper. And as, presumably, digital media will continue to proliferate over the next century, Paterson’s art is resolutely, provocatively analog: every part of its process is tethered to the physical world. A visitor in Oslo can stand in the library and point to the source of the paper.

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Razed in Cincinnati

June 19, 2014 | by

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Photo: Cincinnati Public Library, via Flickr

A few days back, MessyNessyChic—let’s not dwell on the name—posted a series of photographs of Cincinnati’s old public library, erected in 1874 and demolished in 1955. Even if you’re disinclined to fetishize the past, it’s hard not to greet these images with awe and a certain degree of wistfulness. This was one hell of a library, with a checkerboard marble floor, soaring shelves, cast-iron alcoves, and several stories of spiral staircases. In the grandeur of its design, it’s something on the order of McKim, Mead, and White’s original Penn Station—a work of architecture so self-evidently valuable to the contemporary eye that its demolition can be met only with bewilderment and righteous despair: What clown authorized the wrecking ball here?

But aesthetics were not then, and aren’t now, a high municipal priority—as evidenced by the criticism of the time. Harper’s Weekly once wrote about the library, “The first impression made upon the mind on entering this hall is the immense capacity for storing books in its five tiers of alcoves, and then the eye is attracted and gratified by its graceful and carefully studied architecture …”

It seems backward, and dismayingly utilitarian, to note the “immense capacity” first and the “graceful” design second—by that logic, the world’s warehouses and hangars rate among our architectural marvels. But maybe they do; we won’t know for sure until we start tearing them down.

The Cincinnati Library’s Flickr collection hosts even more photographs of the building—they’re much easier to digest if you pretend it’s still standing. Read More »

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Books from the Met, Unsorted

May 21, 2014 | by

A Stallian, Habiballah of Sava, 1601-6

Habiballah of Sava, A Stallion, 1601-6

A Prospect of the City of London, Westminster and St James Park, Johannes Kip, 1710

Johannes Kip, from A Prospect of the City of London, Westminster and St. James Park, 1710

Camera Work, No. 14

Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work, No. 14, 1906

Alphone J Lie'bert Barracks Post, Place de la Bastille Canal Tunnel and July Column, 1871

Alphonse J. Liébert, Barracks Post, Place de la Bastille; Canal Tunnel and July Column, 1871

bauhaus archive Gertrud Preiswerk

Gertrud Preiswerk, from the Bauhaus Archive

La Caricature Charles Philipon 1830-35

From La Caricature, a journal founded by Charles Philipon, 1830-35

Fishes

Fishes, Seki Shūkō, from the Meiji period (1868–1912)

Le Jardin des Supplices Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau, 1902

Le Jardin des Supplices, Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau, 1902

Manuscript Illumination with the Visitation in an Initial D from a Choir Book late 19th c

Manuscript Illumination with the Visitation in an Initial D, from a choir book, late nineteenth century

The Singer of Amun Nany's Funerary Papyrus

The Singer of Amun Nany’s Funerary Papyrus, c. 1050 BC

Two Lovers in a Landscape, 17th c, Iranian

Artist unknown, Two Lovers in a Landscape, seventeenth century, Iranian

Yesterday, the Met released nearly four-hundred thousand images—394,253, if you’re counting—into the public domain. Verily this is a horn of digital plenty, and the museum has made it easy, even fun, to peruse: users can sort the images by artist, maker, culture, method, material, geographical location, date, era, or department. To give you a sense of the collection’s scope, I sorted it, not especially imaginatively, to show only books, which left me with an unwieldy 2,701 results—and then I dove in. Above are a few of the more striking images I found, all of them deeply miscellaneous.

There’s something enjoyable in a stochastic approach to browsing, though you’d be right to call it dilettantish. The pieces I found have nothing in common—no cultural background, no thematic unity, no philosophy or aesthetic, no chronology, not even a shared mode of production—except that they all come from books, and they were all created by, you know, the people of Earth. Imagine wandering a library in complete disarray, with no organizing principle and no particular ambition: all the context disappears, along with most notions of the cumulative, but it’s hard not to come away feeling humbled by the vastness of artistic accomplishment. If this is a cheap kind of awe, it doesn’t feel that way; a few minutes of randomized images did wonders for my sense of humanism, and I saw only an infinitesimal fraction of the collection.

You can peruse the Met’s online collection here, as purposely or as arbitrarily as you’d like. Bookmark it and return whenever you’re feeling misanthropic.

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