If you know me, you know how much I love libraries, and how I like to duck into libraries when I travel. Today I posted this picture of the 3rd floor of the Oak Park Public Library and added the hashtag #librarytourism on a whim. Turns out a ton of people use it — I lost quite a few minutes scrolling through…
My favorite part of the library is the 4th floor, which used to just be storage (hence the sign when you come out of the elevator: YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE), and is now a gigantic creative lab, with a Zine collection, 3D printers, laser cutters, a vinyl plotter, photography studio, screen printing, power tool, and all sorts of other stuff:
On the second floor, there’s even a full-blown recording studio that you can reserve for a 3-hour session with your library card:
I love doing library gigs so much, because 1) I’m a former librarian and librarians are my people 2) I get inspired by all the amazing ways libraries are adapting themselves as resource centers for their communities.
As I’ve written before in my posts about how much I love my local library, library tourism, and my summer reading assignment, I think of the public library as one of the last spaces in this country where you can go and feel like a real citizen. You’re not being sold anything. You’re welcome to be who you are, or work on becoming what you want to be. The library is there for you.
Here I am speaking with Mayor Andy Berke in the wood-paneled auditorium. (It’s a bicentennial building, built in 1976.)
Here’s a bonus photo of Josh — he teaches marketing to culinary arts students — I loved how his tie matched the post-it notes that were packed all over his copy of Show Your Work! so I asked if I could take a picture.
(You also learn something every time you visit a library: one of the women in the signing line was named Tonette — a musical instrument I’d never heard of!)
Special thanks to Corinne Hill, Mary Jane Spehar, Andy Berke, and the Friends of the Chattanooga Library and the Chattanooga Airport for having me out. (If you’d like me to speak at your library, drop me a line!)
I indulge in silly little writer fantasies, like rehearsing my answers for the “By The Book” column in the NYTimes. (“If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?” Lydia Millet had a good answer: “This president? Yes. One book.”)
On Twitter, Erika Hall asked, “If you could assign every American to read one book over the summer, what would it be?” She got good answers, many of which might be on my list: Amusing Ourselves To Death, A People’s History of the United States, The Fire Next Time, etc.
If I gave a summer reading assignment to every American, here’s what it would be:
- Visit your local library and apply for a library card. (Or pay your fines and renew.)
- Ask a librarian for a tour of the library building, the online catalog, and the digital holdings. Ask the librarian to show you how to put materials on hold, how to request materials for purchase, and how to use interlibrary loan.
- Check out at least one item. (So you have to return.)
From our home base of Melbourne, Australia, we would build the trip around highlights. In Switzerland: Zurich’s Bibliothek and the wonderful 18th-century Abbey Library of St. Gall. In London: the British Library and Lambeth Palace. At Oxford, the Bodleian. In the U.S., the Morgan, the Folger, the Houghton, the Smithsonian, plus the great public libraries of New York and Boston, and the “head office” of them all: the Library of Congress.
A lovely idea: library tourism!
Even if you don’t plan a whole trip around them, libraries are excellent spots for weary travelers: free, quiet, cool, full of locals, and staffed by people whose job is to help any visitors who walk in the door.
Wherever I travel, I research the nearby libraries and try to pop into any I happen to come across while walking around. In Milan, I stumbled onto the Braidense National Library and saw an excellent exhibit of book art. Driving the California coast, I discovered that the public library in Encinitas has a view of the Pacific. This summer we’re planning a visit to the brand-new Eastham Public Library during a week on Cape Cod.
Of course, I’m also a big proponent of being a tourist in your own town. Here in Austin, we have a glorious new central library, and yet, I still meet people in town who haven’t seen it!
When friends visit, I say, “Let me take you to the library!” They think I’m nuts, but it’s really the best this city has to offer right now. (Especially in the sweltering summer.)
Above: inside the APL, below: outside the library, on the pedestrian path under the bridge
We finally got to visit the new central library here in Austin and it’s better than I had even hoped for. A stunning building full of spectacular views and wonderful spaces. We had to bribe the kids with lollipops to get them to leave.
The atmosphere was different from that in other public buildings. Unlike a museum, it had no price of admission, and the security guards were unobtrusive; the stacks were open, and the books were there to be picked up and leafed through. There was also a more mixed crowd than one finds in a museum or a concert hall: groups of teenagers, elderly men and women, college students, street people. In a period where even art museums are beginning to resemble shopping malls, this library stands apart. It didn’t make me feel like a consumer, or a spectator, or an onlooker; it made me feel like a citizen.
Feeling like a citizen. That’s it. Walking around this building might be the first time in a decade of living here that I’ve actually felt real civic pride. In his opening remarks, Mayor Adler called it “our cathedral… nothing less than a holy place for your imagination and collaboration.” I love that.
In a garbage year full of so many losses for democracy, this feels like a win.
This morning I stuck copies of Show Your Work! in Little Free Libraries around my neighborhood.
What is a Little Free Library?
It’s a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share. You can, too!
“…we’re gonna live on our wits
we’re gonna throw away survival kits,
trade butterfly-knives for adderal
and that’s not all
ooh-ooh, there will be snacks!”
I’ve been thinking lately about paper.
After the Great Powerbook Crash of ’06, I’m growing ever more skeptical of digital media. Even though I do a great deal of my drawing on the computer, I’m rediscovering the joy and permanence of filling notebooks.
And ever since we had to cancel our subscription to the New York Times, it’s been a real treat to head over to the future parents-in-law’s to dirty up my fingers with newsprint.
* * *
What else got me thinking about paper?
Cartoonist Kevin Huizenga (who has a new book coming out soon) had a great post a few days ago about Bill Blackbeard, the history of archiving Krazy Kat strips, and Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold. Here’s the jacket copy from Double Fold:
Since the 1950s, our country’s libraries have followed a policy of “destroying to preserve”: They have methodically dismantled their collections of original bound newspapers, cut up hundreds of thousands of so-called brittle books, and replaced them with microfilmed copies — copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustrations, and deteriorate with age. Half a century on, the results of this policy are jarringly apparent: There are no longer any complete editions remaining of most of America’s great newspapers. The loss to historians and future generations is inestimable.
In my brief tenure working in a public library, I’ve witnessed this depressing phenomenon first-hand. Due to budget restrictions, libraries are increasingly being run as retail chains (like everything else in this country, the pull towards privatization is strong), and so, in a bid for more space, the mantra is if you can get it online, drop the paper copies (so we can make room to put in more computers for tax payers to check e-mail and look at porn.)
The problem is, the majority of online references include no layout or graphics. So yes, you can read that Plain Dealer article from 5 years ago, but you won’t see any photography or the graphics that went with it. (Some databases, like the New York Times Historical Database or say, The Complete New Yorker, remedy this problem beautifully by using PDF technology.)
The only reason Krazy Kat survived this coup was through the efforts of a dedicated fan who clipped each and every color strip and donated his run to a historical society in Wisconsin.
Otherwise, the strips would be rotting in a dumpster somewhere.
* * *
Cool fact: 2 hours away, the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State has six tractor-trailers worth of old newspapers that Bill Blackbeard sold to the university.
I’m researching a good deal of The Book through microfilm, and therefore, spending a lot of time squinting.
The nice thing about paper? It’s ridiculously high-resolution. No squinting required. And you can stick it in a big file folder to sift through later.
Edward Tufte, in his brilliant tirades against PowerPoint, has repeatedly championed this triumph over digital media:
Overhead projectors and PowerPoint tend to leave no traces; instead give people paper, which they can read, take away, show others, make copies, and come back to you in a month and say “Didn’t you say this last month? It’s right here in your handout.” The resolution of paper (being read by people in the audience) must be ten times the resolution of talk talk talk or reading aloud from bullet lists projected up on the wall. A paper record tells your audience that you are serious, responsible, exact, credible. For deep analysis of evidence and reasoning about complex matters, permanent high-resolution displays are an excellent start.
So yeah. Let’s hear it for paper!
We’re starting a 20 and 30 somethings book discussion group at the library, and I’m in charge.
Because this demographic isn’t the biggest on book discussions, I’m trying to use pizza as bait. So spread the word. We’re going to read sweet books–a nice mix of graphic novels, prose fiction, and memoirs. If you live in Cleveland and fit the profile (even if you’re off by 5, 10, 15 years) you are invited!
Our first book is going to be Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS.
Check out our Myspace page, and if you’re so inclined, add us as a friend.
*** I would like to note that I did NOT design the flyer above. When it comes to publicity, I am at the mercy of our marketing department.