Champion of a Cause: Essays and Addresses on Librarianship by Archibald MacLeish
(American Library Association, 1971, 248 pages)
Archibald MacLeish, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, playwright, journalist, and lawyer, served as the Librarian of Congress from 1939-1944. Though he had no previous experience as a librarian, MacLeish did a lot to shape modern librarianship in these years. In the lead up to WWII, he cast librarians as defenders of democracy and the culture of freedom against European fascism. This political stance infused a sense of activism that has come to be a defining aspect of librarianship. This collection brings together MacLeish’s essays and speeches on librarianship.
In addition to writing about how libraries support the democratic process, MacLeish also gives a detailed (and frankly pretty boring) description of the massive reorganization of the Library of Congress, which he oversaw. He also writes about the plans that the Library made to preserve important books and artifacts in the event of an attack on the capital. Between helping to define the role of librarians and modernizing the operations of the nation’s foremost library, MacLeish made a remarkable impact on American libraries in a very short amount of time. The final few address were given in the 1950s and 60s, well after MacLeish had left the position of Librarian. In these, MacLeish speculates on the future of libraries in ways that are still relevant today.
This collection of essays and addresses is fascinating, both for what it reveals about the development of the profession and as an example of how people in government positions reacted to and prepared for America’s involvement in WWII. MacLeish is also an excellent writer, which makes these essays that much more enjoyable.
Information Now: A Graphic Guide to Student Research
by Matt Upson, C. Michael Hall and Kevin Cannon
(University of Chicago Press, 2015, 115 pages)
This graphic novel takes a different approach to making information literacy approachable. As a librarian, it seems like as soon as you say the words “information literacy” students immediately start to tune out. You have to admit, it doesn’t sound exciting. But being information literate is SO important. Not just in the academic world, but in life.
I read this book in preparation for a research class I’ll be teaching. I wanted to see if there might be some more engaging ways to convey aspects of information literacy to students. I definitely picked up some examples for how I could phrase things that might be a little more straight-forward, but overall I came away from the book feeling confident that I was pretty spot on with how I typically teach the concepts.
That being said, I think this would be a great text to offer to incoming college freshmen who are looking to understand and acquire information literacy skills. The graphic novel format and the conversational language make it accessible. Plus, each chapter ends with questions that have the reader apply what they’ve just learned in a way that builds as the book goes on.
BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google
by John Palfrey
(Basic Books, 2015, 288 pages)
As the digital age progresses and grows ever more complex, it is not always clear whether we should talk about the plight of libraries or of their growing importance. Do the continually diversifying channels through which we are permeated with information make libraries more or less relevant? John Palfrey, the former director of the Harvard Law School Library, perceives a definite crisis for libraries, but this crisis encompasses both challenges and opportunities. He calls for libraries to redefine themselves in a “digital-plus” era – an original and very descriptive term. Libraries must find new ways to function more effectively as a public option for knowledgeable and personal guidance to information. Finding new ways to promote democratic access to information becomes increasingly important as the privatized interests of Amazon and Google continue to dominate…
To read more of Andrew’s insightful review, check out his post at The Englewood Review of Books.
The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges; illustrated by Erik Desmazières
(David R. Codine Publisher, 2000, 39 pages)
Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, “The Library of Babel,” imagines the universe as a vast library “composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries” (19). It deals with such expansive topics as the nature of rationality and the existence of God as it depicts a labyrinthine library containing every possible book. This edition pairs Borges’ story with equally imaginative etchings by Erik Desmazières.
Borges’ story could be considered a parable, a thought experiment, a fantasy, or possibly even a mystical vision. Whatever it is, the library galleries are described with concrete precision while trying to conceptualize the library as whole is dizzying. The appearance of rationality and order gives way to the possibility of endless confusion and incoherence as searchers try to find meaning and order amongst the library’s collection. It would seem that this paradox would make illustrating this creation an incredibly difficult task.
Desmazières handles the task well. His engravings, both intricate in detail and expansive in scope, depict the hexagonal galleries of the library and the tower like exterior of the building. They communicate the vastness and complexity of the library’s galleries, but they do not adhere to the precise layout and dimensions that Borges describes. As Angela Giral says in the book’s introduction, “Desmazières’s etchings are no mere illustrations of the writer’s words; they are the product of a parallel imagination, inspired to create in visual images his own, equivalent, universe” (9). While I initially read this story in Borges’ Collected Fictions, reading it again in this edition added a lot to the experience.
I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks
by Gina Sheridan
(Adams Media Corporation, 2014, 157 pages)
One of my co-workers and I had talked about this book after seeing a write-up in The Riverfront Times so it worked out perfectly that she lent me this title. I Work at a Public Library is a collection of stories/encounters that actually occurred at public libraries around the United States. Sheridan is a public librarian at the St. Louis County Library and she has a blog that highlights her “entertaining” experiences and the experiences of other public librarians when it comes to dealing with various library users.
While I think you’ll have a deeper appreciation for this book if you do work in a library it would be an amusing read for those outside the library profession as well. There were parts where I laughed to myself, a few stories I definitely related to, and some stories that made me cringe, but Sheridan ended the book with a chapter called “809.9339 Volumes of Gratitude” (yes, chapters are broken down using the Dewey Decimal system) that focused on experiences that remind you why you became a librarian in the first place (in my case) and show how much librarians do care for their patrons.
This book is slim and it reads quickly. My favorite chapters were “611 Human Anatomy” and “809.9339 Volumes of Gratitude.”
Bite-Sized Marketing: Realistic Solutions for the Overworked Librarian
by Nancy Dowd, Mary Evangeliste, & Jonathan Silberman
(American Library Association, 2010, 140 pages)
I read about this book in one of the library blogs I frequent and it seemed like it would be helpful in terms of working on marketing our library to our users. The book was very accessible and set things out in a very clear manner. It seemed primarily focused on how public libraries could market themselves and their services to their communities, but there was plenty that libraries of all types could take away. I was note-taking the whole time I was reading and I took a lot away from Bite-Sized Marketing. It gets you excited to try and re-market/re-brand yourself to your primary audience so they understand all that you have to offer them.
I’ll try and keep the momentum I got from reading this book going. I’d recommend this to any library/librarian that is working on increasing their visibility or that wants to try a new strategy for marketing to their users. Hooray professional development 😉