Who can save our archives? Turning to the private sector for digitization.

This morning I was catching up on listservs and came across a link to this article in The Chicago Sun Times:

The Sun-Times Preserves Its Photo Archive by Selling It
Posted by Michael Miner on Thu, May 6, 2010

It’s worth a read. The title isn’t misleading, but there’s more to the story. The paper’s archive was sold off to a private individual, John Rogers, who is digitizing the entire collection. When finished:

The Sun-Times retains “all the intellectual property, all the copyrights,” Barron said. What’s more, Rogers is obliged to re-create the “entire library in digital searchable form,” and make it accessible to the Sun-Times. This means Rogers is doing for the Sun-Times something it couldn’t afford to do for itself but dearly wanted to. “If we could have pulled it off,” said Barron, “it would have taken years and years and years and millions of dollars.” So the deal was a “dream come true.” And far from surrendering its photo archive, he says, once it’s digitized the Sun-Times will be able to exploit it to tap a growing “aftermarket” for copies of old news photos.

The items that are appearing on eBay are duplicates, Rogers clarified. Or “things I don’t want”, he also said, which I found a little too vague. Still it’s hard to argue with what this man is doing to preserve a unique collection. That is, assuming he’s doing it right, as opposed to the sloppy way Google is digitizing books (in my humble opinion).

(Make sure to read the updates at the end of the article, with further information. I’m especially glad they clarified the bit about the library who was “keeping their photos in the basement”, making it sound like they were in old fruit boxes next to the washer, as opposed to being carefully stored in an archive.)

Cameras in the Archives

I’ve been following a discussion about allowing scanners (and presumably cameras) in archives, over on an SAA listserv. Coincidentally, OCLC just released a report on “capture and release”, the use of digital cameras in archives reading rooms.

Digital cameras and other mobile capture devices are revolutionizing special collections reading rooms and the research process, but at the same time are being wrongly framed as a threat or a challenge for some repositories to remain relevant. While some librarians and archivists have resisted digital cameras, others have embraced them—and rightfully so. Researchers, repositories, and collection materials can reap undeniable benefits from using digital cameras. In addition, digital cameras can help librarians and archivists achieve their fundamental goals of improving conditions for their collections materials, facilitating greater research economically and efficiently, and resolving competing demands for resources and maximizing the productivity of their staff.

A lot of my patrons are out-of-towners, genealogists traveling home to see family and with limited time to spend in my library, which does not circulate. Copies are expensive and some items can’t handle a photocopier, for various reasons (fragility, size, etc.). I encourage patrons to bring along a laptop, and a digital camera. A quick flash-free snapshot of that family tree found in an oversized, crumbling old bible is a simple way for a researcher to get the information they need fast. It’s a win-win, in my books, but surprisingly, not all librarians and archivists feel the same way. Many institutions prohibit the use of cameras in their facility.

Libraries have always been masters of adaptability; that’s why we’re still around. We don’t always like change, but we’ve rolled with it, giving up our bound encyclopedias and handsome card catalogs with a whimper, it’s true, but giving them up nonetheless. I have faith that the library community as a whole will, for the most part, continue to embrace innovation. But can we do it fast enough, and not get left behind?

Love in the stacks

One of my favorite Friends episodes is the one where Ross discovers that the aisle where his dissertation is shelved, in the university library, is where everyone goes to have sex — presumably because it’s generally deserted. This list from Flavorwire seems like a tailor-made accompaniment: 10 Best Songs About Libraries and Librarians. My favorite quote is from “Swinging London” by The Magnetic Fields: “I read your manifestos and your strange religious tracts/You took me to your library and kissed me in the stacks.”

Here’s the rundown, but click through to the article above for details & song samples.

1. “At the Library” by Green Day
2. “In the Army Kid” by Of Montreal
3. “Swinging London” by The Magnetic Fields
4. “Young Adult Friction” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
5. “Lost in the Library” – Saint Etienne
6. “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
7. “Library Card” by Frank Zappa
8. “Fun Fun Fun” by The Beach Boys
9. “Librarian” by My Morning Jacket
10. “Library Rap” by MC Poindexter & The Study Crew

Got any late library books? Well, what’s your excuse?

One of my volunteers also works as a clerk at the local public library. What she has to tell me about people running up late fees is disheartening. People come in, take out stacks of DVDs (more often than books) and then keep them too long, and are shocked that there’s a late fee — shocked, I tell you! — despite the signs posted every five inches throughout the library. Children lose books, on their card or their parent’s, and said parent is offended at the idea that they have to pay to replace it. And my favorite: the library around here has a policy that if you’ve got more than $5 in late fees on your account, you can’t take out more books. Personally, I think that’s generous. But do you know what most people do? They’ll owe, say, $6.25 total. So when they try to take out a book and can’t, then they’ll pay $1.26. That’s right — just enough to get them under the cutoff. But not the whole fee. And lest you start feeling bad and thinking these people can’t afford more (ignoring that all they had to do was bring their items back on time to avoid these fees in the first place), remember that I live in ritzy affluent suburban town. The library parking lot is full of Mercedes, Ford Explorers and Jaguars. My volunteer has had a woman in a fur coat pull that pay-just-enough routine on her. On all of you, really, you know — public libraries are taxpayer-funded. When someone refuses to pay their fines like that, it makes more work for the library, which costs more, and it means that the library is without materials for longer. Just a thought.

Last May, the San Francisco Public Library released a great series of short videos called “Celebrity Excuses” to promote their Fine Amnesty Period. Many public libraries have a “fine amnesty” event, from time to time. Why? Because bad as late materials are, some go missing for years and it’s more expensive to replace books than it is to forgive fines. Replacing a book isn’t just the cost of the book, it’s the time, the staff hours, etc., processing it, too. And also, it’s good community relations. SF’s celebrities include writer Beth Lisick, comedian Marga Gomez, and my personal favorite, pilot “Sully” Sullenberger, who says, “You’ve misplaced your library book. Perhaps you’ve just forgotten to return it until it’s late and you owe fines. Or maybe you’re just trying to think of a really, really good excuse, like, ‘It got lost in the Hudson River.’ ”

So if you’ve got late library books — and I’m assuming anyone reading this blog would never do such a thing — and unless you share Captain Sullenberger’s excuse and for the same reason (and FYI: he contacted the library about the book he had with him on the plane, but I understand they were waived in light of the fact that he’d been, you know, saving lives when it happened), return them and pay your fines as soon as you can.

Challenges and banned books: How to handle books that offend

My friend Rose reminded me the other day that Banned Books Week is coming soon (Sept. 26 – Oct. 3). I’m glad she did because it always sneaks up on me, which is another way of saying I usually forget to put it in my Google Calendar, and if I don’t put something in there, I have no chance of remembering it later. But I also got a reminder from an article in the New York Times yesterday:

By By Alison Leigh Cowan
Published: August 19, 2009
Librarians are trained to listen politely but stand firm when patrons object to the presence of a book or other item on a library shelf. But patrons who persist are entitled to file a challenge.

Give it a read, especially if you’re not a librarian. Those of us in the field all have a pretty good understanding of how challenges work, and what goes on in libraries, and what methods we all use to try to circumvent one of these situations turning ugly, but it occurs to me that many library users and readers in general may not. As a rule, we try our best. There’s no black and white to this issue, and a lot of shades of gray. Sometimes it seems obvious; of course wanting a book out of the library or off the shelves is always wrong, right? But what if it’s a book that’s racially offensive? Do we still defend that book with the same fervor, when its presence may offend those we normally would champion? It’s not a simple situation, and the librarians dealing with challenges, those people working on the front lines, they get the brunt of it. They may be under pressure or misguided, but they’re in there trying, at least.

Also the Times article made me think about Banned Books Week in a way that I never have before. Maybe it’s not an entirely bad thing that books get challenged, not so long as there are voices ready to defend them. Maybe Banned Books Week doesn’t have to be about the evils of censorship, or attempted censorship. Maybe on some level, we can make it be about celebrating the process. When a book is challenged and people stand up to decry its existence, I cringe; but when someone else stands up to defend that book, often with great passion, I can’t help but feel sort of patriotic, in a way. It’s sort of great that here in the U.S. we live in a time and place where that kind of outcry and defense can go on, and the people of a community, a state, a country can discuss what they believe to be right and wrong, democratically. Democracy isn’t easy, after all; as Aaron Sorkin once said, “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

Personally I’m willing to work for it. Would I want to live in a world where nothing controversial ever got published, where no one questioned anything? No. Because I think if they shoot at you, you must be doing something right. So maybe this year, for Banned Books Week, I’ll be celebrating the right of every crazy person who wants Harry Potter off the school library shelves because it advocates sorcery (I always wonder, what would be so bad about that, anyhow? sorcery seems like it would be rather useful), and each individual who is horrified at the mere existence of Heather Has Two Mommies, since it’s clearly recruiting material for the Gay Agenda that threatens to put an end to heterosexualism (look, I can’t get my guy friends to stop being attracted to girls with big breasts and lousy personalities… you think a book’s going to magically make someone attracted to a different gender?). Because when I hear them decry those books at the top of their lungs, what I’ll really be thinking is: oh yeah? Well, then we must be doing something right.

That’ll be £2,500… library book returned 70 years overdue

I’m such a geek. If I have a library book out even just a couple of days late — something that hasn’t happened in a decade, at least — I feel like I need to apologize to the library, or something, perhaps with a note but at least a stammering “mea culpa” of shame.

But, not to judge. That’s the whole point of fine amnesty programs, so that books like this one get returned instead of disappearing from the collection forever.

Library book returned 20 years on

BBC News

A library book borrowed on the eve of World War II has been returned to an east London council – 70 years overdue.

Iris Chadwick, 83, borrowed the score of the musical Rose Marie from Cubitt Town Library, Tower Hamlets, in 1939.

The library’s 10p per day penalty for overdue books would equate to a fine of more than £2,500.

But Mrs Chadwick, who lived on the Isle of Dogs before moving to her current home in Dorset, was relieved when the council agreed to waive any fine.

While the book sat on her piano stool communism rose and fell, England won the football World Cup and man set foot on the moon.

But Mrs Chadwick’s conscience finally got the better of her when she encountered it while clearing out her house.

I’ve hung on to the book for so long because it was part of my childhood
Iris Chadwick

She said: “I was going to take it to the charity shop, but thought it still belongs to the library so perhaps I should check.

“I’ve hung on to the book for so long because it was part of my childhood.

“It brings back memories of the teacher who caught me playing the piano and instead of telling me off, told me to go to the library and borrow the music.”

Tower Hamlets Council has now introduced a three-month amnesty for late library books.

Councillor Rofique Ahmed, said: “It just goes to show it’s never too late to return a book.”