Twenty-five years ago, Sven Birkerts published “The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age.” Have his fears and projections come to pass?
“Four years later, Dickens had written something that possessed still more “astonishing capabilities.” A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas was first published just before Christmas in 1843, and since then it has never been out of print. Originally written as a tract for the times, this cautionary tale about the ongoing tussle between greed and goodness has been thought of as timely whenever it has been read. Enjoyed by its first readers as a modern expression of the spirit of Christmas—as modern as Christmas cards, which were sent for the first time in the same year as the Carol’s publication—it has since become popular for quite different reasons: the sense of tradition it is thought to embody, a reminder of the simple pleasures that seem to have been lost sight of in the seasonal scrum of shoppers, an annual invitation to the pleasures of nostalgia.”
“For the sociologist Eric Klinenberg, a vision of the good city begins in the local library. It’s a place where a huge amount of knowledge is available permanently, free of charge. It’s a computer centre; it’s a place where everyone goes, including the marginalised young and elderly. Security is light-touch – “you rarely see a police officer in the library”.
“It is adaptable in a crisis. During Hurricane Sandy, a branch library in Staten Island became the place where local people sheltered and where relief was coordinated. In north-west Bangladesh, libraries float on moored boats in flood-prone areas. All this passes almost unnoticed. Libraries are closing across the UK and the US at a scarily rapid rate (nearly 130 have closed in the past year, it was recently revealed). The public library is not, and inherently never can be, a market, and so, Klinenberg writes, “If it didn’t already exist, it’s hard to imagine our society’s leaders inventing it.”
Tiffany King, author of Eat at Home Tonight, argues why libraries are relevant, why they matter, and how these unsung heroes hold communities together.
“Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced today the annual selection of 25 of America’s most influential motion pictures to be inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress because of their cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the nation’s film heritage. These films range from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Paul Newman’s unforgettable “Hud” to the opulent musical “My Fair Lady” and the rocking sounds of “Monterey Pop.” Selection to the registry will help ensure that these films will be preserved for all time.”
New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean continues her usual practice of captivating readers by investigating her own obsessions.
“Unexpectedly engaging sections are tied to architects and landscaping and budgets, plus the overwhelming modern challenges of homelessness and mental illness. (“Every problem that society has, the library has too, because the boundary between society and the library is porous…,” Orlean wrote.) We learn how “teen departments” evolved and about the delicate politics of loaning out music scores, and hear some of the odd questions asked of the reference desk pre-Google; “they read like synopses of a play; each one seems like a snapshot of life that concluded with someone saying “Let’s just call the library!”
They almost got away with it.