This Is Why Books Are Dangerous

I recently finished reading The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, edited by Alice Crawford (Princeton University Press, 2015). Several passages from the concluding essay, “The Modern Library and Global Democracy” by James H. Billington, stood out:

Books are our guardians of memory, tutors in language, pathways to reason, and our golden gate to the royal road of imagination. Books take us to new places where boundaries are not set by someone else … . Books help us to pose the unimagined question and to accept the unwelcome answer. Books convince rather than coerce. They are oases of coherence where things are put together rather than just taken apart. Good books take us away from the bumper cars of emotion and polemics in the media into trains of thought that can lead us into place we might not otherwise ever discover. (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of books. This is why some people see certain books as a threat. Books are transformative, books empower—books encourage independence of thought. This is why some people seek to control them.

Libraries are antidotes to fanaticism. They are temples of pluralism, where books that contradict one another sit peacefully side by side on the shelves just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other … . (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of libraries. This is why some people see libraries as a threat. This is why some people seek to control them. Pluralism is anathema to control and dominance.

My favorite quote, though, and the best conclusion we can come to, is this:

Reading can balance our noisy, hurry-up, present-minded world with what Keats called “silence and slow time.” Whatever else you do in life, do not fail to experience the simple pleasure of being alone with a good book on a rainy day. (p. 265)

Public Domain Matters

I recently reviewed Cory Doctorow’s book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free. Copyright is a passion of mine and I think this is a good opportunity to summarize my position on the matter.

For me, the single most important aspect of copyright is the public domain.

Most of the major copyright reforms over the past half century have made it a priority to prevent creative works from entering the public domain for as long as possible. On the other hand, there are many creative workers and educators of all stripes who depend on public domain materials to do their jobs—people who can’t afford to pay for usage rights to copyrighted stuff. This is one of the central conflicts of our copyright system.

When I was first taught about copyright, I was told that there were two equally important purposes that it was designed to serve:

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Logos vs. Branding

My rant last week about library logos arose from a discussion I had with a co-worker about branding libraries.

Too often, people seem to think that their logo is their branding. Or that coming up with a good logo is the most important first step in creating their brand. The conflation of logos with branding is such a universal issue that there’s a whole school of thought dedicated to correcting this misunderstanding. Google “branding is not a logo,” or “brand vs logo,” and survey the results.

Whenever I discuss library logos, someone always brings up the New York Public Library’s lion as an example of how effective a logo can be. But the reason the lion works so well as a logo is because it was already an iconic image of a library with a deeply rooted history in the community. It’s specific to the NYPL and encapsulates the reputation and history the library already has.

The purpose of a logo is simply to reference the larger identity of an organization.

That larger identity—not your logo—is your true brand. Your brand grows out of the interactions you have with your patrons and the role your library fulfills in its community.

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Death to Book Logos for Public Libraries!

Survey the websites for public libraries in the United States, and how many do you think feature some kind of book as their logo? It’s got to be well over 50% of them.

Some of my own favorite library systems use book logos. Take a look:

Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois
Mid-Continent Public Library in Missouri
Garfield County Libraries in Colorado

These are fantastic libraries that do great work in their communities. I follow their work avidly. But seriously—what’s with the book logos?

I’ve developed an almost visceral aversion to seeing book logos on library websites. Why?

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Checking My Privilege

Last year, I vowed to be more aware of how my life is very different from the lives of many in the community I serve through my library work.

I recently read the book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, and it opened my eyes to yet another way that I’m really quite privileged compared to many.

When I completed my Master’s degree and began my job search, my top priority was to get my wife back home. She’d spent several years living away from her family and wanted to be near them again.

Everyone I spoke to for job search advice, every article I read, they all told me that I had to be willing to go where the work was, wherever that happened to be. Librarianship is a highly mobile profession. When I restricted my job search right out of the gate to a fairly narrow region of the country, it went against common wisdom. Some people told me I was making a mistake, narrowing my options too soon. Indeed, I passed over many professional opportunities because they were in the wrong part of the country.

But family was my first priority. Getting my wife back home was the most important thing. Luckily, I found a great job at a great public library, right where we wanted to be.

When I tell people why I did what I did—that I chose to put family first despite the potential risk to my career—many people praise me. For much of my life, there has been a sense that families suffer for our culture’s obsessive focus on work and career. Many people tell me how refreshing it is to see someone living with different values.

Now consider a young man very like Robert Peace:

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The Potential of Ebooks, Part 2: Another Modest Proposal

S. by Doug Dorst & J.J. Abrams
I keep thinking about the novel S. and how Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams intended it to be a celebration of the printed book—they created an experience calibrated to take advantage of aspects that are unique to printed material.

It has me wondering—how do you create a story that equally celebrates ebooks and takes full advantage of the aspects that are unique to electronic formats?

Part of the challenge with such a goal is that we haven’t even come close to developing the full potential of ebooks yet: multimedia integration, burying easter eggs in the pixels, ereader versions of the Konami Code… There’s tremendous opportunity for a level of interactivity that print simply can’t match and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
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