Tag Archives: books

Using Collections – Virtually

I heard a remark the other day that struck a cord – or, churned my butter, a bit.

The gist of it was, “we should make digital facsimiles of our library materials (especially rare materials) and put them online, so they spark library use when people visit to see them in person, after becoming aware of them thanks to the digitized versions.”

Now, at Penn, we have digitized a couple of Japanese collections: Japanese Juvenile Fiction Collection (aka Tatsukawa Bunko series), Japanese Naval Collection (in-process, focused on Renshū Kantai training fleet materials), and a miscellaneous collection of Japanese rare books in general.* These materials have been used both in person (thanks to publicizing them, pre- and post-digitization, on library news sites, blogs, and social media as well as word-of-mouth), and also digitally by researchers who cannot travel to Penn. In fact, a graduate student in Australia used our juvenile fiction collection for part of his dissertation; another student in Wisconsin plans to use facsimiles of our naval materials once they’re complete; and faculty at University of Montana have used our digital facsimile of Meiji-period journal Hōbunkai-sui (or Hōbunkai-shi).

These researchers, due to distance and budget, will likely never be able to visit Penn in person to use the collections. On top of that, some items – like the juvenile fiction and lengthy government documents related to the Imperial Navy – don’t lend themselves to using in a reading room. These aren’t artifacts to look over one page at a time, but research materials that will be read extensively (rather than “intensively,” a distinction we book history folks make). Thus, this is the only use they can make of our materials.

The digitization of Japanese collections at Penn has invited use and a kind of library visit by virtue of being available for researchers worldwide, not just those who are at Penn (who could easily view them in person and don’t “need” a digital facsimile), or who can visit the library to “smell” the books (as the person I paraphrased put it). I think it’s more important to be able to read, research, and use these documents than to smell or witness the material artifact. Of course, there are cases in which one would want to do that, but by and large, our researchers care more about the content and visual aspects of the materials – things that can be captured and conveyed in digital images – rather than touching or handling them.

Isn’t this use, just as visiting the library in person use? Shouldn’t we be tracking visits to our digital collections, downloads, and qualitative stories about their use in research, just as we do a gate count and track circulation? I think so. As we think about the present and future of libraries, and people make comments about their not being needed because libraries are on our smartphones (like libraries of fake news, right?), we must make the argument for providing content both physically and virtually. Who do people think is providing the content for their digital libraries? Physical libraries, of course! Those collections exist in the real world and come from somewhere, with significant investments of money, time, and labor involved – and moreover, it is the skilled and knowledgable labor of professionals that is required.

On top of all of this, I feel it is most important to own up to what we can and cannot “control” online: our collections, by virtue of being able to be released at all, are largely in the public domain. Let’s not put CC licenses on them except for CC-0 (which is explicitly marking materials as public domain), pretending we can control the images when we have no legal right to (but users largely don’t know that). Let’s allow for free remixing and use without citing the digital library/archive it came from, without getting upset about posts on Tumblr. When you release public domain materials on the web (or through other services online), you are giving up your exclusive right to control the circumstances under which people use it – and as a cultural heritage institution, it is your role to perform this service for the world.

But not only should we provide this service, we should take credit for it: take credit for use, visits, and for people getting to do whatever they want with our collections. That is really meaningful and impactful use.

* Many thanks to Michael Williams for his great blog posts about our collections!

Free Information Literacy Book

This is belated news, but the School of Information class SI641 (University of Michigan) has published a book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Information Literacy But Were Afraid to Google, ed. Kristin Fontichiaro, online. The book can be found at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/266557).

It ranges from K-12 to higher education and specialized settings (including archives and special academic libraries), and thoughts on creating content and methodologies.

Briefly, from the book regarding SI641’s content and objectives (this is a core course in the LIS curriculum, and I took it too!):

This course introduces theories and best practices for integrating library-user instruction with faculty partnerships. Instructional roles are presented within the wider context of meeting institutional learning goals. Students acquire explicit knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to design, develop, integrate, and assess curriculum and instruction in a variety of information settings, including educational and public organizations. The integral relationship between technology and information literacy is examined. Students are given opportunities to partner with professional mentors in schools, academic libraries, museums, and in other educational institutions.

Please check out the book!

why print?

I recently uploaded a new (and my first) resource to my site, a guide to print reference resources for Japanese humanities held by the University of Michigan. This guide was originally made for a reference class in 2008, so it’s about time that it saw the light of day. It certainly wasn’t doing much good sitting on my hard drive.

You might ask, though, on viewing this: Why would Molly make a resource guide for only print books? Aren’t they a little, well, archaic and outdated? Isn’t it more convenient to check out digital resources from the comfort of my own laptop, perhaps in bed? After all, there are fantastic reference resources – available through institutional subscription – such as the JapanKnowledge database that suit many needs, and bring together information from a wide variety of (originally) print sources and other databases. With something like JapanKnowledge, going to the Asia Library Reference Room and thumbing through dictionaries seems a little slow and pointless.

Let me tell you something. In the process of looking at the various humanities reference resources, for literature in particular, I found a large number of unique sources that aren’t available online. These range from the legendary Morohashi Dai kanwa jiten Chinese character dictionary to synopses and reception histories, guides to folk literature, a multi-lingual proverb dictionary (it has translations and annotations in Japanese, English, French, and German), and a guide to Buddhist terms found in Japanese literature that include the original Sanskrit and phrases from the classic literary works containing the terms.

Among the books that are entirely unique – an equivalent resource doesn’t exist in any other format (or, sometimes, language) – are a biographical dictionary of foreigners in Japan from the 1500s-1924, an annotated bibliography of translations into European languages dating from 1593-1912, an annotated bibliography of Japanese secondary sources on literary history published between 1955-1982, poetry indexes, and a dictionary of popular literature (taishū bungaku).

The process of making this bibliography was the pure joy of a scavenger hunt, and did I ever come up with a list of treasures. Leafing through a book of English-language synopses of untranslated Japanese work from the 19th-20th centuries may not sound exciting, but the fact that it exists as a quick reference resource for those looking to read some Meiji or Taishō literature is pretty amazing. I had a good time in the Reference Room finding these resources, and I’ve put some of them to very good use over the years.

Yes, I use digital resources; in fact, I couldn’t have come up with my dissertation topic without them. (As always, many thanks to the National Diet Library for the existence of the Kindai Digital Library.) But Japan is still a world of print – it’s nigh impossible to get a journal article in electronic form at this point – and, more importantly, print reference sources like these don’t go out of style. A guide to poetic allusions from the 1950s, or a popular literature dictionary from 1967, do not become outdated or irrelevant; we may wish for an update to the latter, but the information it provides is still valuable. Being able to use print reference works opens up a world of information to us by supplying that which has not been converted to database form.

Finally, why this guide? Is a guide coming for electronic resources? The short answer is, save for one-off blog posts, no. There are already so many excellent guides to electronic resources out there on the Web that my own meager contribution wouldn’t make much of a difference. The reason for this guide is that I haven’t found a good annotated bibliography of print reference books for Japanese literature specifically, and humanities more generally, that live at what used to be my own institution. I wanted to both know for myself, and share with others, what treasures were hiding on those rarely-used shelves (and, worse, in the off-site book storage) – what treasures were at my fingertips.

I hope you find it useful, and if you’re at the University of Michigan – or hey, anywhere else, for I can always check the catalog – and you have your own preferred humanities reference works, please send them along or leave the info in the comments. This is an evolving work and I’d like to include everything I possibly can!

what books to read and how to read

I came across a book a while ago from 1912 entitled What Books to Read and How to Read when searching around in the university library basement. (Incidentally, this is where all of my wonderful finds come from – including the ones that make up the basis of my research!) It’s such a fascinating and still-relevant book that I’d like to introduce it here. (Full citation: David Pryde, LL.D. What Books to Read and How to Read: Being Suggestions for Those Who Would Seek the Broad Highways of Literature. New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1912.)

The book starts off with the anxiety that is surely familiar to us: there is too much information out there, and it’s growing exponentially. It’s overwhelming. The number of books being printed is too much for any one human to deal with and the problem is only getting worse. What to do in the face of this?

Well, this book has an answer. First, how to read books. You don’t want to become a “dungeon of learning,” someone who reads a wide variety but can’t apply any of it to real life. Instead of just ingesting, investigate first. The advice reads like a library seminar on reliable sources and searching for research leads. Learn something about the author first. Read the preface carefully. Take a comprehensive survey of the table of contents – “if the preface is the appetizer, the table of contents is the bill of fare.”

Give your whole attention to whatever you read. “A book is a representation of the best workings of the author’s soul. In order to understand it, we must shut out our own circumstances, cast off our personal identity, and lose ourselves in the writer before us. We must follow him closely through all his lines of thought, understand clearly all his ideas, and enter into all his feelings. Anything less than this is not worthy of the name of reading.”

Be sure to note the most valuable passages as you read. Write out in your own language a summary of the facts you have noted.

Most important? Apply the results of your reading to your every-day duties.

This guide is a paean to close reading and taking books to heart. It’s a guide to knuckling down and processing information in a useful way, rather than simply succumbing to the overwhelming amount of books out there. It’s reading for use, not reading for reading’s sake.

The second half of the book involves a full bibliography of books you should read, and annotations of them. It’s a catalog of useful knowledge that everyone ought to be familiar with.

There is much to be said for going outside a set canon and reading widely, and for not relying on authoritative sources to tell you what to read. But I can’t help but wish there were an updated version of this book – and perhaps the “how to read” does not really need to be updated. Actually, the bibliography probably doesn’t need to be either. But it could be adapted and expanded to meet the specific contents of our information overload now. In any case, I found it remarkable that 100 years ago this year, someone was writing in a very 21st-century way about just the same problems that we wrestle with now, and over which many anxious words have been spilled.

Information. It’s always a problem. The question is what you’ll do about it. Say what you will about the contents of any particular bibliography, but the advice of Mr. Pryde is timeless.

Japan in Days of Yore

I found an interesting book in the library a while ago that I’d like to introduce before I return it. It’s entitled Japan in Days of Yore and is from 1887.

There are several interesting tidbits about this book. First of all is the translator, Walter Dening: he’s a mathematician and missionary who was friends with Lafcardio Hearn. Second, what on earth is the random text that has been translated here, a samurai tale? Who knows.

The book contains a pull-out illustration at the beginning, an “old-fashioned” woodblock print that is in keeping with both the book’s content and its binding. Despite being a hardback book, the paper is bound in Japanese style, with pages printed on only one side and then folded in half, with the edges bound in the spine, instead of being single sheets printed on both sides. This means that each page edge is a fold, creating “double” pages that one can peek into (although there’s nothing printed on the inside).

This isn’t the only book in the Days of Yore series. There are at least five books, three of which are a three-volume life of Miyamoto Musashi. Japan in the days of yore definitely consists of epic samurai tales. The last volume I’ve found was published in 1906, but even then, the traditional Japanese-style paper binding persists even within Western hardback covers. It’s a fascinating combination of technology, American missionaries, ideas about tradition and past, and the persistence of Edo-period (1600-1867) fiction into the 20th century – even in translation.

Given the dates, these stories are some of the first Japanese literature translated into English. Yet they would have been considered light fiction, adventure stories. They’re not considered the great literature of Japan’s past, like The Tale of Genji (which was first translated by Kencho Suematsu in 1900, contemporaneous with Days of Yore). They’re not even generally read anymore: they’ve disappeared into the mass that is samurai tales from the Edo period, hundreds upon hundreds of titles – not to mention the massive amount of parodic fiction and love stories that also exist from this time. Edo literature is often skipped over these days, save for Ihara Saikaku (who only became part of the canon after these translations were published). We read Genji and Kawabata and Murakami Haruki instead. But at the turn of the 20th century, these stories are what Americans in Japan found worthy of translation and publication, and clearly Japanese publishers felt the same way. Days of Yore came out around the same time as Hearn’s translations of Ueda Akinari’s ghost stories, again from the Edo period. Samurai and ghosts: Japan of yore to American missionaries of the late 19th century, and Japanese translations of yore to us now.

is it ephemeral?

I work largely with sources that you would call “ephemeral” in my research these days. By that, I simply mean “in danger of disappearing easily, or have already done so.” Things prone to disappearing can range from things like theater playbills and concert programs to magazines and newspapers, to gum wrappers and signs and internet forum posts, not to mention non-archived Web sites and things that can be lost easily in a hard drive crash with no backup.* I’m being somewhat narrowminded by considering “non-ephemeral” sources to basically be books, but they are made for persistence through time, and they are often so redundant that they are de facto preserved through this.

In any case, I’ve been thinking as I write my dissertation, especially the current chapter that I’m working on, about what happens to ephemera when one decides to preserve it in a non-ephemeral form. Here, I’ll use the example of reprinting something in a book or putting it on microfilm. Not all magazines and newspapers are thrown out completely, although they do tend to be tossed out en masse every week throughout the world. Newspaper companies keep archives and libraries bind periodicals for preservation and (through) access and redundancy. Things get microfilmed. Sometimes they are reproduced in a traditional bound form at some point, as though they were books to begin with.

I’m working with two authors in particular who published almost solely in magazines that are now extremely hard to get ahold of, about 120 years ago. I’m studying the act of reprinting those stories in book form, here in anthologies of the “complete works” of those authors.** I talk a lot about the crucial role that reprinting in the form of an anthology plays in access and preservation: without reprints, these stories, published in sources that are very easily lost to us, may never have been accessible at all after a few decades of their original publication. The paper of these types of publications is rarely very durable and as time goes on, the surviving owners of the publications tend to throw them out, or the executors of their estates do it for them.

In fact, one magazine in particular is an extreme example of ephemerality. It was a handwritten magazine – really, a zine from the 1880s – that was passed around between members of a literary club, who annotated it as they went along, writing in the margins and then passing it on to the next member, sometimes making their own handwritten copies as well. In this way, the publication and distribution was profoundly decentralized and depended entirely on the efforts of the members of that club. Yet, they were all quite committed to literature and to each other, and so it was relatively successful – if you can call a magazine with only a few hand-written, hand-circulated copies successful.

The problem with the issues of this magazine (before it later was printed and sold commercially) is that they are literally no longer available. Garakuta bunko from the late 1880s is simply inaccessible to us as literary scholars and historians. There are no accessible copies, and possibly no surviving copies at all. This was the case even in the early 20th century, when the extant copies dwindled to a single set held in a private collection; only the tables of contents were published, reprinted in a book on the literary club. Now, that private collection is even inaccessible, and all we have left are those reprinted tables of contents.

Why is this important? It is now impossible for me to investigate, for example, early uses of pseudonyms by some of the authors that I study, and impossible to read their earliest works to evaluate their first efforts in literature. As this group became extremely influential from the late 1880s through the early 1900s, this is a big problem for studying its development over time, its roots, its connections with the literature of the late Edo period (1600-1867), and its early influence on others. In short, this work has been rendered impossible and these questions unanswerable.

Even as early as the 1920s, there were reprints of the publicly distributed, later issues of this magazine. It was a set of only 500 copies and its preface is extremely telling. Edited by former members of the club, the reason for the reprint is stated unequivocally: the number of surviving copies is very few, they are limited to the collections of private individuals, and the early works of club members are nearly impossible to get ahold of. It has been reprinted for posterity and for access at the time of the reprints. There are those who would like to read the works, and the reprints are made and distributed so it becomes possible again to do this.

This is a noble undertaking, and one that is extremely important to our access now. It is reasonable to wonder whether, if not for this early reprint set, even more of Garakuta bunko would be lost to the ether over time. We have more reprints now, in book form, and they are likely to persist through time thanks to this. But what if those reprints had nothing to reprint?

Finally, I come to the sticking point of all of this. It’s prompted by a question from a month or so ago: if ephemeral materials are preserved in such a way, through a digital archive, through photographs, through reprints, does that fundamentally change their nature as ephemera? I don’t have a concrete, definitive answer to this, but I do think there are two issues at the heart of this. One is a practical issue – the major difference between ephemera and other sources when attempting to create a digital archive is that there is even more impetus for careful preservation, because the danger of loss is so high. If a magazine could almost entirely disappear less than 50 years after its initial publication, what does that say about even more volatile materials? We lose a major part of the historical record and in most cases we will be unable to ever retrieve it. This means that there are historical, cultural, and literary questions that we simply cannot ask – or rather, can never answer. It reduces our understanding of the past and even of the present, given that ephemera can disappear in the blink of an eye, historically speaking.

The other issue is thornier. My answer on reprints or digital reproductions is this: it does not change the status of the source as ephemeral. Rather, I think that in some way it both attempts to obscure its ephemeral nature, and yet also makes it even more evident. What is the need for a reprint, after all, if there is no danger of disappearance? If a work is already persisting through redundancy, is there a need for preservation? And there is the issue of the reprint fundamentally altering the context, and thus the meaning, of that ephemeral source. That highlights even more its ephemeral nature, because by recuperating its pre-reprint context, its pre-preservation context, we cannot help but focus on its ephemeral nature, because we are reprinting ephemera, preserving ephemera.

In other words, we can perhaps think of reprints or digitally archived versions as separate objects entirely from the ephemera that they preserve, and this stresses even more the ephemeral nature of what has been preserved. Of course, a work reprinted in book form is less likely to be ephemeral. But what has been reprinted, a serial in a newspaper or in a magazine, is tremendously so, and this very gap in the nature of the medium is emphasized in the process. These are ephemera, preserved. Preservation does not change the fact that these sources are always, will always be, in imminent danger of permanent loss.***

Thoughts?

* In fact, I have lost some of these things that I had never considered ephemeral until they were gone. How fragile is an older hard drive full of personal data and artwork? Very. How about things you burn to a CD-ROM for safekeeping? Even worse. A personal web site that you had a few years ago? If the Internet Archive didn’t grab it, it might as well never existed. We talk quite a bit these days about the danger of things never being erased if you put them out in public, on the Internet, but they’re more endangered than we give them credit for.

** Take that with a grain of salt; “complete” is more aspirational than literal, and it has quite a lot to do with “completely” being able to know or possess the author as an author, rather than a complete set of works in themselves. I digress.

*** The fact that Garakuta bunko was reprinted in the 1920s, after all, does not change the fact that the original copies of the magazine are in grave danger of being completely lost to us. A reprint is not the same as the source that it reprints. The reprint, if not an ephemeral source in itself (this short print run of the Garakuta bunko reprint suggests that it can qualify as such), is not ephemera. But what it reprints will never stop being ephemeral.

footnotes: paper books still do it better

Obviously, being in librarianship (training) and at the School of Information, I hear lots of things about the “death of the book” and the rise of e-books. Many are mainstream media articles that border on the downright silly; others are from tech leaders with interesting speculations; still others are inflamed (but sometimes reasonable) discussions on our school listserv.

To summarize, I hear the following: 1) you can’t get rid of paper books (because you’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands) because there’s just something special or nostalgic about them that I can’t put my finger on, or 2) market forces will drive out paper books for good shortly in the future, because there just won’t be enough demand once everyone is on board with e-readers. Get used to it, suckers.

You’d think I have a strong investment in one or the other, but I don’t. Both sides sound vaguely ridiculous to me. I say this as someone with a used book collection that is really larger than a sane person should have. It takes over large regions of my apartment and yet still at least half is in storage elsewhere. I don’t buy a lot of e-books.

Here’s my very strong opinion on the issue: I use both at the same time, and I want to keep doing so. I have a strong preference for e-books (because I have a Kindle now and find it so easy to read on) for pretty much everything that suits the medium, because frankly, they won’t take up physical space and create even more of a nuisance for me than my book collection already does. Why carry around some big trade paperback if you just want to read, and your Project Gutenberg edition is free anyway, for God’s sake. I love having an e-book option and I spend most of my time angsting not over the change, but over the fact that a lot of the selection still sucks, the quality often sucks, and I can’t get enough of what I want on the Kindle.

But why do I still maintain that I need print books, if I love getting an electronic version so much? Because e-books can’t do what paper books do best for me: serve as reference books that demand looking in multiple places at once. I don’t rank “the tactile sensation of paper and the smell of a new (or old, ugh) book” as the positive qualities that paper books offer. Incidentally, I am frustrated that people do not think about the tactile qualities of e-book readers and tablets and their computers, ever. At least no one’s talking about them. Reading PDFs on my 27″ desktop monitor has a certain physical quality that I really enjoy (that big screen where I can read about 3 side by side and move them around!), and my Kindle has some awesome tactile qualities that I really love. (Being approximately the same reading experience on the page as a small paperback book is particularly great, because it is nostalgia central for me.)

So, because of this lack of ability to conveniently and easily keep multiple pages “marked” (often with fingers, right?) to flip back and forth between easily, or even look at them semi-simultaneously (I know I’m not the only one who kind of keeps both sections of the book half-open when I’m looking back and forth), I cannot give up paper books. This is a key feature for at least 50% of what I read and it’s so important that if an e-book does it poorly, I am not going to put up with it.

Most of my experience is with PDFs on the computer and the Kindle, but I haven’t found any electronic book that does footnotes well – I’m talking about endnotes here too. The Kindle tries and fails pretty miserably. The process is so slow that it is nothing like mimicking flipping back and forth between the endnote section and the page you’re reading. PDF hotlinks are pretty much as bad, or worse.

So what I use my Kindle largely for, right now, is reading some stuff that I don’t have to read too hard (news, fiction, short or light non-fiction), and for previewing books that I have to buy in physical format.

The ones I can’t buy on the Kindle (even though yes, a version is available): Reference-style books. Any book with a lot of foonotes. Programming or technical books. (seriously, who wants to try to view code examples on a page that small?) Any book that needs to be larger format to be readable. Books with a lot of pictures. (Duh.)

Books for “school” (i.e. related to my dissertation or other research) fall into this category too: I fill them with post-it notes and frequently have to flip between sections when I’m writing, keep track of many pages that I’m using all at once, referring to earlier or later sections, using the abundant footnotes. There’s no way I can look at this stuff on an e-reader, or on a computer.

Yes, a PDF viewer on my large monitor that let me keep pages from the same book open in new windows all right next to each other would be helpful, but as far as I know this doesn’t exist. Tabs wouldn’t cut it. The problem with “flipping” between foonote links and a page, or between tabs, is just too slow. E-book don’t give me the speed that paper books do.

Honestly, I would be a happy camper if someone were to solve this ergonomic problem and let me buy more e-books to free up valuable apartment space. O’Reilly books are a particular offender. But I’m not holding my breath here; like being a PPC user, am I relegated to a shrinking and soon-to-be obsolete “user” or “consumer” base here? I hope not.

kawasaki reading room ・はじめに

I finally got a chance to visit the Kawasaki Reading Room at the new Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center here at UNL. With it being summer, full of international travel (for those of us in Japan studies especially) and family events, it took me a while to get an introduction to the center.

The reading room is unique in the Asian-language libraries that I’ve visited here in the U.S. It’s not part of the UNL library system, and yet it is. The collection was started by a large donation from one individual – with diverse interests, let’s put it that way – but is now kept going by additional donations from all over. The collection is eclectic: zenshu of canonical literature; dictionaries and reference books; Japanese language test prep materials; a wall of manga; and a growing collection of tapes and DVDs of all kinds. (Death Note and Nobody Knows on the same shelf!)

As I type, the Kawasaki Reading Room’s collection is continuing to be integrated into the UNL library system, but much of it is not. Other shelves have handwritten “not for cataloging” signs on them. It’s a place in flux. And the library’s own relationship to it is hard to explain. It’s a “partner” but not “part of.” There are limitations on what kind of obligation that relationship can entail. It’s an opportunity for me, new librarian, to be learning about the complex realities of campus units and their varying degrees of integration with the central library system.

The Reading Room sadly has limited hours, but it’s welcoming and friendly. It may be small but that cozy space gives a sense of informality, where one can feel at home right away. When I visited I spent most of my time chatting with the director, Reiko Harpending, who was kind enough to give me a personal tour. While we talked, a mom brought in her elementary-school age son who wasted no time getting absorbed in a kids’ manga series. I felt like I was in a tiny but wonderful public library, one where almost everything is in Japanese.

This is in contrast to my experience before: I am a student at a large research university with an equally large Asian-language collection. It, too, has a physically odd relationship with the library in that it’s so isolated: it has its own 3 floors of stacks, for all Asian-language books, and its own office and cataloging area. It has its own reading lounge. This is all great. But not having been in an environment like this until graduate school, I couldn’t quite figure out why all of this had to be cordoned off from all of the other books in the library – ones in English, French, German, Russian, and so on, which were all mixed right in with each other. At this point, I chalk such things up to “an artifact of how Area Studies historically developed as fields.” On the other hand, though, the Asia Library is an integral part of U of M’s library system and is fully integrated with the library catalog system. There’s not really a question of whether the library budget can be used for the Asia Library’s projects; it’s a question of how much funding the Asia Library is getting to allocate as they will.

So why am I posting about the Kawasaki Reading Room? It’s a unique, friendly place, and I only wish it were open at hours other than 1-5pm on weekdays because I’d have spent some more time among the books and DVDs. I have a week left here in Nebraska, though, and one of my goals is to spend a good chunk of an afternoon there and do some personal research. I want to get a better sense of the collection, its shape and contents, and interesting finds that may be hiding around in there. On my first visit, I spotted a dictionary of naval terms while talking to Reiko that turned out to be the “property of the U.S. Navy” (don’t tell anyone!) and dated from WWII. I can’t wait to see what else is lurking there and to report back! With pictures. Stay tuned.

killing time at the bookstore – not the library

A quick observation – while reading a New York Times article on the closing of Barnes & Noble stores, I was immediately struck by their first interviewee’s comment: I kill time at the bookstore.

The theme of the article is that bookstores are used in non book purchasing ways just as often, and that the demise of a brick and mortar store is saddening those who don’t buy anything on top of both employees and those who do enjoy purchasing while they browse.

Or just browsing, in general. Amazon does a fairly good job of this but it’s far from the real thing.

I couldn’t help thinking about this situation in terms of libraries: because that’s what libraries are for. I think rather than talking about libraries attempting to simulate the bookstore experience – comfortable furniture, events, coffee – we could think of this from the perspective of the large chain bookstore taking over the library’s role in the community.

When it’s far more convenient to get to a Borders or Barnes & Noble (and there are more of them, making it easier to just pop in wherever you are), why bother funding libraries? If they let you hang out and read as much as you want (again, the interviewee talks about reading a book a chapter at a time when he comes in with time to kill), what need are libraries fulfilling, other than letting you check the books out without paying something on top of your taxes?

Why not rethink this upsetting situation in which bookstores are closing as an opportunity for libraries to make their case as the original entities fulfilling this role, and as an essential part of the community?

It seems to me that “community” spaces are more and more private, commercial spaces in the US. The bookstore, the coffee shop, the gym. I can’t remember ever going to a community center in my entire life. And my local library in Ypsilanti is very isolated, a drive away from where I live downtown, and is not even on public transit (which I use most of the time rather than driving). It’s easier for me to wander into the Barnes & Noble or Borders (or three) that are on my local errand runs – and that are on multiple bus lines – than to take a trip out of my way to the library.

Instead of focusing on single focal points, why not a distributed form of libraries – small storefronts, if you will? I can’t think of anything that could serve a community better than more spread-out, accessible, convenient service that promotes itself clearly and loudly as an antidote to disappearing bookstores – and as an irreplaceable part of the private-but-public fabric of the community.