On the road…to libraries


Happy National Library Week!


…that being why I’m in Detroit, celebrating with the patrons and staff of the Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Farmington, and Royal Oak libraries. Wednesday I got up at Oh God Hundred hours and drove to San Francisco, there to be locked into a plane with far too many other bodies and a number of children who had no quiet voices (Is this a result of day-care, or is it just the kids??) Both I and the nearby noisemakers survived the five hours, although it was a near thing—and have all airlines cut their drinks cart service to one time across the country, or is it just Northwest?


I was picked up at the airport by Sarah from the Baldwin Public Library, who fed and caffienated me and replaced the sound of screaming children in my ears with sensible conversation. She then fired up her Prius and drove me to my hotel, then drove me to my real hotel when the first place was, rather disconcertedly, padlocked, unkempt, and leaf-blown. I had a whole half hour to shower and change before she whisked me away to the library to talk to a standing-room crowd.Â

Libraries fascinate and excite me, always have. When I was a kid, we moved a lot, the rumor being that my father would read his way through a library and went to move on to another. We didn’t buy books, not much, but libraries were a regular part of every week.Â

Now, however, the library is changing. The ubiquity of the Internet has reduced many of the traditional uses of the library. Instead, it’s becoming a place of community, where kids can study, the connection is high-speed, and entertainment or enlightenment are equally available.


However, librarians, rather than fighting last-ditch efforts against obsolescence, turn out to be at the forefront of the revolution—the Baldwin Library’s motto is “Books and Beyond”. In 1869, Martha Baldwin and nineteen of her friends started the Library Association with 48 books, and it hasn’t looked back. The actual building reflects its history: one section from 1927, another from 1959, and a third in 1983—not necessary an aesthetic success, but symbolically very true.


When I wrote The Game, a book that would have been impossible without a good research library, I dedicated it to librarians the world, around, who spend their lives in battle against the forces of darkness. All I can add to that is, Librarians rule!


And to show our love, the LRK site has chosen the winners of the fifteen sets of Picador Russells, the first four books—we’ll post the names tomorrow.

 And if you’re in the vicinity of Detroit, come and play with us at the libraries.

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  1. ladonna on April 17, 2008 at 9:13 am

    And a Happy Library Week to you all! “The ubiquity of the Internet has reduced many of the traditional uses of the library.” Perhaps changed rather than reduced? We (yes, I’m a librarian — of the cataloguing persuasion) have always been about providing ordered and reliable access to information resources. The difference now is that the internet makes information access “easier” — but not necessarily more reliable or in better order. Libraries and librarians mediate information access — not all internet information resources are quality or reliable. Trust a librarian to sort things out for you and get you on the true path. I like the idea of being in “battle against the forces of darkness” — reminds me of Rex Libris — comic book character, librarian, superhero.

    La Donna, M.L.S. (Masters in Library Science), MCLIP (Member, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, U.K.)

  2. LaideeMarjorie on April 17, 2008 at 10:21 am


    What you need, really need, is a pair of those Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling headphones. Yes, it’s a $300 investment, but they really do help with a plane ride, whether you have it plugged into a music source or just on its own. They have two versions, over the entire ear and on the ear. Although the over the ear is bigger, I think it’s better. They won’t completely block out crazed tots, but it helps a great deal.

    Libraries have always been a huge part of my life, but the Boston Public Library holds the dearest place in my heart. I was at college, away from home for the first time, and the BPL gave me a place to go and read, learn, play and feel so alone. During my freshman year they were showing a series of silent films (free to all) and I was able to see incredible works with people like the Gish sisters, Richard Barthelmess, Chapin, Lloyd, Keaton, Pickford, Etc. And on a big screen! If I liked early cinema before, I loved i after that rich exposure. I am grateful for libraries and for librarians who seem to be infinitely patient and incredibly smart.


  3. LaideeMarjorie on April 17, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Whoops, that mean to say “NOT feel so alone”, of course, with regards to the BPL.

    And don’t even get me started on the British Library. I could live in there for months and be happy as a clam.


  4. tangential1 on April 17, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Sadly, I have never really had a good library near me, other than my university library. The libraries either had tiny collections with absolutely nothing I wanted to read or else the librarians were very condescending, making me not want to be there for very long.

    My Uni library was the only library that I really enjoyed being in. I loved the atmosphere of the library proper (as opposed to the reading rooms, which always seemed very tense to me, with everyone stressing over papers). All those books sleeping on their shelves, waiting to be picked up once a year, maybe. And very often you’d find students sleeping on the window ledges and alcoves along with the books;) It was very comfortable.

    And regarding air travel: I think most of the airlines have cut back dramatically on what they provide on flights. They seem to be going more off of a request basis now. They come through and take drink orders once and if you’d like something else after that you have to ring the bell.

  5. ladonna on April 17, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    I meant to share this National Library Week video — http://alfocus.ala.org/videos/national-library-week-reference-desk
    (And this is why I’m a cataloguer and not a reference librarian … this is too close to reality … cataloguing is much safer/saner.)

  6. Phil the Badger on April 17, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    You mean:- “Librarians Rule, OOK!”

  7. ladonna on April 17, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Ook, ook, ook. As long as we have L-space and bananas. (And for those who think that Phil and I have lost it — Terry Prachett’s (Discworld novels) Unseen University librarian was turned into an ape and prefers to remain so because it is easier to reach the books.) Brilliant.

  8. Roxanne on April 18, 2008 at 8:22 am

    La Donna:

    Thank you for the link to the ALA video. What a hoot! It had me laughing out loud in my little cataloguing librarian’s cubicle. Thanks for the giggles. Ook.

    Sister Cataloguing Librarian, Roxanne

  9. Kerry on April 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Let’s hear it for libraries and librarians! My husband started his professional career as a reference librarian, and I remain in total awe at how easily he finds the most obscure information. Plus, how great is a librarian husband for an academician???

    My favorite public library was the Ernie Pyle Memorial Library in Albuquerque. It was in an old house (I think it was one of his), within walking distance of our house in the “student ghetto.” The collection wasn’t huge, but it was diverse, and it was a lovely break from school and my toddler to spend an hour or so wandering around the rooms, browsing for books, both for myself and for me to read to her. I always got a sense of freedom walking in the door; no cares in the world except to hunt down some old childhood favorites to share with my child and to find some nice other-world I could visit to escape the rigors of grad school. Heaven.

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