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The Anarchist in the Library

Since it’s November I think I can safely put this book on the 2004 top ten list. I read it on the plane on the way to a workshop on The Information Commons which was somewhat less interesting than this book. Siva is only sort of flirting when he talks about anarchism since his conclusion basically says “we don’t want anarchy, but we need something better than this” He’s a scholar but one who uses the tools he discusses. That, combined with a very readable style and a good sense of humor make this book a must read.

He goes deep into the models for sharing information and explains how our previous pathways to free and open sources of information are being shut down by people who want to be able to charge us for it. Not only that, they have been re-framing the debate, so that wanting to access this information in an easy and user-friendly way gets us branded as criminals ["anarchists"] by the powers that be. They basically make the argument that they’re keeping us safe by adding all these levels of copy protection and legislation when in reality they’re just protecting their own private proerty model and revenue stream that comes from that model.This is, of course, a horribly brief synopsis of a complex and wonderful book. If you’d like more from Siva, feel free to read the FAQ about this book, or just start reading his blog.


Library cartoons. As librarians, we’re sent a link or a clipping any time someone sees a cartoon that is vaguely about a library or a librarian. Too often, these suffer from a lack of understanding about the profession and so they fall into the same old gags and gaffes that librarians have seen a thousand times before. Handman is different, he actually is a librarian and a good cartoonist besides. With a spcial flair for drawing Rube Goldberd like apparatus, he makes astute observations and wry inside jokes and even throws in an obscure cataloging reference or two. A delight from start to finish, even for the most jaded librarians.

Book of Speculation

I really may need to reconsider whether I hate ALL books with multiple storylines in alternate chapters or just most of them because I loved this book and it does that thing. I think part of it is that usually I find one of the stories so much more compelling than the other one (looking at you Diamond Age) that it’s like reading one bad story and one good one. Not for this book. It’s a great tale with a librarian at the center and the two stories involve past and current generations of circus performers--a traveling circus in the late 1700s and the descendants of a circus mermaid in the current day. Enter a falling down house left to the kids by their weird dad and I was hooked. So good.

The Collectors

This book was on a popular reading table at the school I work at and I noticed it was about libraries. I guess Baldacci has a whole slew of these books and this one felt like being dropped in the middle somewhat. It’s a story about cons and rare books and libraries and Washington DC and killers and spies and double-crossers. It kept me interested while I was reading it but one of the main plot points didn’t wrap up and now I feel like I have to consider reading the sequel. I’m not totally sure I want to go all in with this particular series, though I enjoyed some of the scenes featuring the library and librarians and there are little fun parts for library lovers.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

This was a terrific palate cleanser after The Librarianist. Written by someone who actually knows what goes on in a rare books department of a university library, it’s a story about missing books but ultimately about power and money and what “progress” looks like. Female protagonist, a lot of complicated characters, takes place in Canada but could be at nearly any large Western university. There’s a mystery at the center of it and a bunch of terrible people but also some redeeming ones.

I work in a public library

A collection of fun anecdotes ripped straight from Tumblr that was more entertaining and less problematic than I thought it would be.

The Librarian at Play

More library humor from the early part of the last century. This one is a collection of essays, some inspired, some that seem more dated. My favorite essay deserves some discussion... It comes in the form of a letter found in a bottle. The writer is an essayist who recently had won a contest where he listed his 100 favorite books that he’d like to bring to a desert island. Well, he chooses all sorts of scholarly and erudite stuff. His prize is a cruise with these 100 books as his companions. Predictably, the boat sinks and he is marooned with nothing but the works of Plato and Homer while her wails about wanting to read something about knot-tying. His journal entries include such gems as “Aenid eaten by a goat” etc.

This book, in addition to the one I read previously, highlight that while the library profession has been steadily evolving, the role of the library in modern society, has stayed more or less the same. Annoying patrons are still weird in the same way; librarians are still stereotyped as overeducated and undersocialized. This book is a gem and worth tracking down at your local library archives.

A Librarian is to Read

Found this hidden on a shelf with the other books about libraries. Vogel used to be a Seattle Public librarian and her collection of short essays about libraries, library school and the job of being a librarian, will ring true to anyone who reads.

Vogel covers such topics as “sex in the library” and “god in the library” with humor and a certain level of respect for even the craziest of patrons. It is clear that she loves her job, despite griping about low pay and low status. I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to check out a book or two when she was working at SPL.

The Library

A swirling collection of vague ideas made really interesting by Chihoi’s illustration style. It was fascinating for me to see hs sketches of his deceased father coming back and ... doing things. I thought I was the only one with zombie dad dreams. The library part is minimal but overall it’s an interesting book outside of the usual moody graphic novels I usually read.

The Library at Mount Char

I think I thought this was going to be more like the John Dunning bookish mysteries. Instead this is a full out fantasy torture porn book that happens to have a library (and reading) featured in it. It ends on a slightly up note which I was hoping since the book, while well written, is a serious gorefest and slog. Read the interview with the author in LJ and while he seems like a decent guy this book was horrifying and not always in a good way. Lots and lots of brutality against everyone: children, adults, dogs, the planet.

The Library Book

Oh this book! Saw it on a table during National Library Week and had to have it. I’d heard about it and wasn’t sure there would be anything in it for me... don’t I know all the librarian stories? I DO NOT. This was a great tale of the fire that gutted LAPL but also a history of the library itself, all lovingly told by Orlean who loves libraries. I enjoyed every minute I got to hold this book which was itself a nice work of art, great attention to detail spent on the binding, end pages and everything else. Made me want to go look things up. Such a great book. Best of this year.

Library Card

I have been reading some more YA books lately since the weather and the short days are conspiring to give me a very short attention span. This book is actually a collection of short short stories for young teens. They profile a few different situations where kids in tough straits -- living in a car, moving to a new town, watching too much TV, hanging out with tough kids in the city -- find a library card and get some help at the library. The stories have a wee bit of a supernatural edge to them, but for those of us who are pretty convinced of the magicalness of libraries, this does not seem that suprising.

Library Jokes and Jottings

I have a ahrd time laughing at comtemporary attempts at humor. It may be that I find the authors trying to hard, or maybe they are assuming a frame of reference that I don’t share. However, once I convinced the librarian to please let me take home this reference book just this once, I sat in the backyard and laughed.

The funniest part, sadly, is that librarianship has changed so little in the last hundred years or so. We still have religious zealot patrons, and the guys who sit there all day long reading the newspapers. People still expect all sorts of entitlements because they are the taxpayers that keep the library open and children are still a constant threat and simultaneous delight. This books did not have the word “masturbator” in it, like a current library humor book might, but many of the situations were the same. Some of the jottings also included many humorous pieces that were in some ways quaint because they were not ribald or racy; plays on words with book titles, the amusement of dirty children not washing their hands, the plaitive yowlings of the patron who owes overdue fines. Find it through interlibrary loan if you possibly can.

The Library of Lost and Found

On the new shelf at the library. A sweet not-too-complicated book about a librarian who finds a secret in a book that reveals something about her family. You think it’s going to go one way and then it goes... a slightly different way. I enjoyed it, was a light summer read. Relatable librarian.

Library of Shadows

A good mystery book with a bit of a magical realist vibe to it, this is the story of a high powered lawyer whose father dies mysteriously who then finds himself the heir to his estranged father’s bookstore. Then he comes upon a shadowy collection of book folks who have some slightly supernatural powers, and then stuff starts to get even deeper and more involved. This book was translated from the original Danish which may or may not explain a bit of why it sounds so stilted. I enjoyed the characters and the story but occasionally felt that it lapsed into cliche and/or tropes. However, at its core this is a story about books and readers and listeners and that alone (well maybe in addition to the long train ride) propelled me forward into finishing it to figure out what happened and whodunit.

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

A great book by an Australian author about some of the great stories in the history of the world’s libraries, some I knew and some I did not know. I’ve read a LOT of these kinds of books, libraries are easy to love. But they can get a little samey in many respects because a lot of them have a lot of the same stories. This one had some new stories (as well as some old ones) and I learned some things and enjoyed reading it the whole way through. The author is a notable rare/old book collector so his interests point in that particular direction.

Magic and Madness in the Library

This book was one of those rare finds and exciting also because it was newly printed. It is an attractive letterpressed book from a small press of excerpts of library stories. If that weren’t enough, it is illustrated by custom woodcuts by Frank Eckmair. Some of the excerpts are already well-known to the library community, such as Borges' library story and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Others are just small excerpts from other well-known texts like a few paragraphs from Don Quixote or Voltaire. The overall result is a book about books and reading that is in and of itself wonderful to read and look at. A tour de force!

Our Singular Strengths: Meditations for Librarians

Michael Gorman gets libraries. In some ways, he seems wistful that he has advanced to a management position and no longer gets to deal with patrons on the front lines so much. This thoughtful book of koans celebrating libraries and librarianship can make even the most crusty librarian feel honorable about their profession and give them food for thought. Gorman offers topics -- intellectual freedom, learning to be a librarian, the war of AACR2 -- and writes short paragraphs on them and ends each section with a final thought: I will accept no substitute for the unique value of books and reading, I will beautify my library to honor its guests, I will do what I can to make my library a compassionate place. He delights in Ranganathan and even goes so far as to offer his own New Laws of Librarianship. While I don’t always agree with Gorman, I respect the effort he made for the profession.

Paper Machines

Got this book as a trade for doing some book reviewing for MIT Press which explains how I came to be reading what was basically someone’s PhD thesis on the history of card indexes (not quite card catalogs though they do show up). The author is from Vienna and it was fascinating to see an outsider’s view of Dewey, to see how some of his manias looked from outside the profession and outside the country. I learned a lot of stuff in this book, dense though it was, and grew to appreciate the author’s sense of humor, there is a lot of quirky and interesting wordplay in this book just in terms of what is a book, what is an index, what is a card, that sort of thing. I don’t read much academicky stuff lately and books like these make me think I should get back into it.

Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian

Librarians will be driven crazy by this book’s cover because the cover shows someone standing on one of those noisy library stepstools, but it’s tilted which is, as we all know, impossible. This book, which I got as a proof copy from Scott, was a fun read. Scott is a public librarian in Orange County California and he tells some of his stories here. The book relates him being a library page, going to library school, moving to a new branch, watching his old branch be destroyed and, most of all, interacting with crazy people.

I emailed Scott and told him he probably needed a few synonyms for “crazy” because he used it so much. The crazy people in his stories are both patrons and staff and in fact I found his portrayals of the weird tics of library staffers to be even more true-to-life seeming than the patron stories which sometimes seemed embellished for effect. This book is amusing but it’s not just the library world played for laughs. Scott includes a lot of (too many) footnotes with interesting asides and even includes little research dossiers on particlar topics that will inteerst the librarian reader. You can go pre-order the book now from all the usual places and I suggest that you do.

Sex Magazines in the Library Collection

This book describes itself as a monographic supplement to the Serials Librarian magazne, but it looked like a book to me. I’ve been intrigued by some of the titles I’ve been seeing lately about librarians and sex, my favorite being “For Sex, See the Librarian” [about censorship, I believe]. This book is a collection of fairly scholarly papers dealing with how libraries deal with sex periodicals. The papers are easy to read survey types with no information that will knock anyone out, but some humorous parts. Most of the focus is on magazines such as Playboy, Penthouse and Oui, but some of the writers explore more hardcore literature

The book wraps up with a long listing of sexually useful [as opposed to either LC or DDC’s sexually backward] subject headings. Sandy Berman is always a delight and I think I would even enjoy reading his shopping lists. This article is no exception titled “If There Were a Sex Index” he does an index -- with his own subject headings, natch -- of twelve sex magazines, ranging from the scholarly to the hardcore. The nomenclature becomes extra funny because, of course, all the headings are written in all caps, making all the smutty words seem like they are being shouted at you: GAY SOCIALISTS, SEX ON ROLLER COASTERS, SUCKING OFF See FELLATIO. You can see how amusing this is.

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library

I am a sucker for any book that takes place in a library. Doubly so when they are written by Vermonters. And so when Ms. Halpern wrote me and said “I’ve written this book, how do I get it into the hands of librarians?” I said “Well send me a copy, for starters.” This doesn’t always go well for me. Many books sent to me languish on my To Read pile for far too long. This one, however, fit right into a reading slot and I picked it up and was instantly hooked. it’s two stories: the story of the librarian’s marriage--she’s not married anymore and you don’t know why--and the story of the 15 year old who has to work in the library doing community service over the summer. There are a host of supporting characters, some more character-ish than others.

The facts are revealed slowly. At first I had a hard time with the librarian character who said she wanted to work in a library because she liked the quiet... but eventually I realized there was more to it than that. As someone who had a cousin who was raised in somewhat similar circumstances to the kid who had to do community service, I found empathy with her off-the-grid family and her ability to evaluate the statements they made about the way to live the good life. Above all that I appreciate that even though there was another librarian-aged male character, this was not a love story, it was a story of many different kinds of friendship, and of small towns, and civics and the way we can hold space for one another’s difficult feelings. I am very happy I read it.

Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library

This book is really optimized to be a reference work for libraries wanting to do a UX overhaul. Schmidt and his co-author Amanda Etches do a great dissection of the many different ways a library interacts with users and then how to improve all of these ways. It can be a little overwhelming if you are a small library that can maybe only do a few things, but the tone is friendly and the examples are quite good. I’m happy I picked up this book and I plan to give it to a favorite library.

The World’s Strongest Librarian

This book is a quick read about Josh, a Mormon with Tourettes. Over time he learns strength training and after a long period of being worried that he’s unemployable, finds a good space for himself at the Salt Lake City Public Library. I liked but did not totally love this book because I felt the author took a lot of potshots at the library early on as a way of “setting the scene” and even though he talks a lot more and a lot more well about the library later, it was a weird foot to start off on. Hanagarne sounds like a nice guy with poorly-managed Tourettes and it was tough to tell from his narrative how much he’d tried and how much his story was a bit of a “we didn’t go to doctors much in my family” situation. Like many early-memoirs, it will be interesting to see where Hanagarne goes from here.