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Extra: Library Evolved


Recently I read an interesting article in The New York Times about the changing role of libraries to become a replacement of loss of traditional bookstores. From my own experience, as a kid, the joy of visiting the library is the serendipity of discovering another book, even though I was actually looking for something else in my mind. While libraries will not relinquish the responsibility to provide patrons with the opportunity to discover literary works of merit, they also have to adapt their collections to meet demands of the patrons. Yes, it would be nice to have deluxe hardbound edition of The Inferno, but what about the long queuing for Fifty Shades of Grey and The Life of Pi? To make room for the new acquisitions, weeding, or in library parlance, deselection, is inevitable. Over the years I have seen my public library has deacquisitioned well-known books by classic writers, while books by James Patterson know no bound. It would be nice to maintain a balance between quality literature and rotten fiction. Since I work in an academic institution, the situation is exactly opposite: no low-brow fiction is to be considered for acquisition. Books that are discharged permanently might enjoy a happy life after being sold.

O Library!

Working in an academic institution makes me forget how depressing a visit to the public library is. Public library is a place for the community to learn, to research, and to read. I have been a firm supporter of our public library–in terms of donation and patronage, and will continue to show my support. But I can’t help feeling sad about how the nature of library use has deviated from its intended cause. The Main Library has become not so much a library as it is a haven for the homeless, the crazy, and obnoxious kids. Plan on using the computers, especially the public internet stations? Bring some Lysol, Purell, and a face mask. You’re going to be sitting next to crazy people who haven’t seen a bar of soap, shampoo, or, likely, toilet paper in quite some time. If the stink doesn’t get you, then the ranting will. Now that summer has arrived and that school is out for break, joining in the competition for these computers are kids. I don’t really care for the computers since internet has never been my purpose for a library visit. But it’s their noise that unnerves me. I guess the parents are not teaching them about self-entitlement–the need to purge it. Isn’t it ironic that you’re learning–in a library–that so many of today’s youths have absolutely no future?

The best part is about complaint. If you talk to someone at the information/reference/help desk, they would just shrug apologetically and smile. They’ve heard it all before and will have no solutions whatsoever. What can they do, really? I actually feel sorry that their professionalism is inevitably reduced to handling with guests whose interests are far cry from what library is created to function. The whole floor is filled with people from the streets who hang out there all day, with their luggage in tow and phones charging at the study tables. If anyone has to brace against the filthiness, the smell, and the madness, it’s the poor staff. Now I map out my visit and get out as soon as I’m through. No lingering around to read and to work on the laptop–I’ll go find a cafe.

Now the bright spot of my library visit is the weekly step sale in which every book is $1. There are great treasures to be had here if you’re patient to work your way through the tables because it can be blustery. I scored five books in excellent condition.


Show Your Books Love

Books deserve respect. Handling library books with care is a civil responsibility. It irks me whenever I see people tug books off the shelf by the upper lip of their binding, which is the number one cause of broken spines in hardbacks, I want to scream at them. Library should educate the public by posting signs with hints on handling books. Repairing a book with broken/loose spine is just as costly as replacing it—if the book is still in print. To minimize the risk of damage, try this: Push in the books on each side of the volume you want, then pull it out by grasping both sides of its spine. You’ll also know where to return it. Look for the two books that are pushed out of place.

Inside a book from the Paris haul, I found a slip inserted in a turn-of-the-century volume that reminds reader of the proper etiquette in handling a book. It bears a thoughtful message:

From Modern Bookbinding:
Hold the book with its back on a smooth or covered table; let the front board down, then the other, holding the leaves in one hand while you open a few leaves at the back, then a few at the front, and so on, alternately opening back and front, gently pressing open the sections till you reach the center of the volume. Do this two or three times and you will obtain the best results. Open the volume violently or carelessly in any one place and you will likely break the back and cause a start in the leaves. Never force the back of the book.

and a funny anecdote:

“A connoisseur many years ago, an excellent customer of mine, who thought he knew perfectly how to handle books, came into my office when I had an expensive binding just brought from the bindery ready to be sent home; he, before my dyes, took hold of the volume and tightly holding the leaves in each hand, instead of allowing them free play, violently opened it in the center and exclaimed: ‘How beautifully your bindings open!’ I almost fainted. He had broken the back of the volume and it had to be rebound.”

Grim Reality

Musing Mondays2

In this week’s question, the host of Musing Mondays is confronted by a harsh reality:

The local Catholic school board is closing its school libraries, and parents and teachers, and even the students—are in an uproar. Budget cuts demanded that the board choose something to get rid of… they choose libraries. As such, many librarians have lost their jobs. And, the board is moving the books to the classrooms, instead. They feel that it is a good solution.

What do you think? Should the schools be without an actual “library” room? Is this a good solution?

I’m outraged that budget cuts have taken a huge toll on the quality of education, which is the gateway of our future. All over California education is taking the axe from an ever diminishing budget. Some school districts anticipate even fewer school days and close for summer vacation early. Others have opted to cut peripheral services such as after-school programs and library hours. The most macabre story I heard is the reduction of library service to one hour a day, four days a week.

While not all kids are (going to be) fanatic readers who bury their noses in a book, library is still an integral component of a quality education. Libraries foster an atmosphere for inquiring and researching for knowledge, encourage reading, and provide an interactive learning experience in which kids seek the expertise of librarians, who are usually resourceful and very well-read.

Public libraries are considered non-essential agencies which are unfortunately the first to take the brunt when there is a budget cut. What outrages me the most is that even a private school has to axe libraries and deprive students of the one place that will mold and prune their minds. From elementary school up until college, I spent most of my free time in the library—doing homework, working on a term paper, or browsing for books. I couldn’t imagine completing the dissertation without the services of the library, which has played a role in shaping the person that I am. I feel sorry for the kids whose scope of the world ceases to exist beyond textbooks.

Library Sale

The last day of the Friends of San Francisco Public Library book sale had a surprise for book lovers—Everything is $1 each. I wasn’t going ballistic, just keeping an eye on target authors, ones you recommend and ones with whom I fall in love.

Raise the Red Lantern Su Tong
The Painter of Shanghai Jennifer Cody Epstein
Latecomers Anita Brookner
A Shooting Star Wallace Stegner
Two Lives William Trevor
Force of Gravity R.S. Jones
Echo House Ward Just
Death in Summer William Trevor
A Mercy Toni Morrison

Books with the most copies seen: Da Vinci Code (several boxes), The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Plainsong, Tales of the City, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Also abundant in supply but all of which are in poor condition is The Fountainhead, a book I actually want to read. I saw a couple copies of Crossing to Safety, but had no luck with The Spectator Bird. For a quick two-hour scour, I thought I did well with finding books popping up in my radar.

Shhhhh: Silence is Golden

I enjoy going to the local library. My branch has a special LGBT collection that represents the neighborhood’s demographic and relevant. What used to be comfort and shared silence in an institution of knowledge is no more. Burst in shortly after the library opens is a bevy of SUVs strollers in which sit little human beings that make all kind of noises. The kids, some are toddlers, have barely developed speech, let alone the ability to read. With their nannies chasing after them, these kids roam around the library, screaming to the extent that the sound waves undulate across the building to reach the reading room. I understand the library’s need to integrate the interests of community and foster an atmosphere of an converging ground. The nursery rhyme session is going overboard because some of the behaviors (or the lack of discipline on the part of parents and nannies) breach the library’s code of conduct made known to generations of readers. Silence is golden. Silence is prerequisite to a pleasant library experience in an atmosphere conducive to study, reading and appropriate use of materials and services. I even refrain the use of cellphone within the library lest to breach the silence. Maybe the times are really changing that these values are no longer appreciated. I remember being told when I was a first grader that I should make every effort to preserve that enormous, almost staid, silence that prevailed the library as soon as I walked through the threshold. Gone is time when the purpose of library was primarily on books, as more patrons come to the library to use computers to access the internet (don’t get me started about racy and pornographic materials some of the users are accessing). I still believe that certain ground rules are timeless and therefore should be enforced regardless of the advent of time. How would kids know the proper manner to behave if they are not educated? On a few occasions I even sighted consumption of snacks on the premise. Library is not your living room.

Big Book Sale

If I read correctly, over 4 million volumes were available at this year’s big book sale. Books are organized in categories designated by a number. Fiction was sub-divided into genres but books were in random order. You have to grab what catches your eyes and decides later because you will never see the book again.

I didn’t drive a van into which I load up boxes of loots like some women did. I brought a duffel bag and that was more than suffice to carry these goodies:

Number 9 Dreams David Mitchell
After Dark Haruki Murakami*
Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami*
Love Toni Morrison
Alternatives to Sex Stephen McCauley
The Other Side of the Bridge Mary Lawson*
Moloka’i Alan Brennert*
Zeitoun Dave Eggers*^
The Space Between Us: A Novel Thrity Umrigar*
The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel Debra Dean*
A Gate at the Stairs Lorrie Moore#*
The Glass Room Simon Mawer*
East of the Sun: A Novel Julia Gregson*
Crossing to Safety Wallace Earle Stegner*
The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel Jennifer Cody Epstein*
As I Lay Dying (Norton Critical Editions) William Faulkner

*New author to me
#Short-listed for Orange Prize 2010
^One City, One Book selection

Patience is rewarding. I never expected to find these books since I missed the exclusive preview for members of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library on Tuesday.

A Pier Full of Books

Annual big book sale, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library

Best-Kept Secret

I sat inside the library reading The Girl Who Played with Fire while waiting for my prescriptions. It’s my first visit since the back annex opened after seismic retrofit. The study tables locate toward the back of the building, away from the activities of the circulation desk. Shelved neatly on one wall are fiction titles. Books are lined up to the edges in perfect order without a noticeable gap except in the L section: Nothing by Larsson. (I wonder why?) The other side of the study hall finds aisles of non-fiction shelves. Silence reigns other than the occasional riffling of newspaper. During the one hour that I was there, I noticed some interesting patterns in patron activities. This branch, despite its decent selection of fiction, which makes it the city’s best-kept secret, doesn’t circulate much of this genre. Multiple copies of The Historian, The House at Riverton, The Little Bee, and Cutting For Stone—titles that make the Bay Area bestseller list, are found here. Available. I know where to look for hot-off-the-press novels in the future—at least to check out if I should buy them. The battlefield lays in the media section. Patient patrons hogged the DVD trolley as soon as the clerk wheeled it from the circulation deck for re-shelving. These were the people sitting idly at the table, armed with shopping bag, waiting to scour the just-arrived videos. Comic books are also popular here. The one social group that was not represented here was the laptop camper. For a small city, San Francisco really has distinct neighbor color. At this branch, I become a minority in language spoken, materials used, age, and sexual orientation. Keeping my company are seniors who peruse Chinese newspapers and books in simplified Chinese and kids, most likely their grandchildren of these seniors who are out of school for summer. Library is one place that perfectly demonstrates the social and cultural dynamics of the society.

Chinatown Branch
1135 Powell Street, San Francisco

Library Steps Sale

If finance is not a factor (so is storage space for some), bibliophiles and readers would shop until they fall at the bookstores. What if all books are $1 each and the money will benefit the public library? Summer sees the return on the public library’s bimonthly steps sale. Do you bring a list of books to such a sale or just browse and see what interest(s) you? I tend to be less picky with the books and more generous with my wallet as everything is just a dollar. Even chick lit and deluxe paperback mystery would be fine at such bargains!