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Article – Libraries ‘have had their day’, says Horrible Histories author

Radio silence much?

Yeah, we’ve been a bit busy over here, so the blog’s been a bit neglected. I’ve got Warm Bodies and plan to start reading it tonight (woop!). Otherwise, I’ve been working hard on my resolution to read at least one book per month that’s not related to the book club. I did that with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in January (review to come; I’m so behind) and a sequel to a book I’ve already read (I believe I’ll be reviewing the first book at some point).

Why have we been so busy? you ask, and rightfully  so. I can only speak for myself, of course; I believe Meghan may be involved with some international espionage. I’m now the head editor of the South Carolina page at I Need A Library Job, so that’s been a bit hectic. And of course, I’m busy job searching and really trying to focus my efforts in that direction.

I swear, one day I won’t have to job search anymore. On that day I won’t know what to do with myself.

Ah, but I haven’t started this post just to update you on my life (riveting as that may be). No, my friends; I write because of this atrocity:

Libraries ‘have had their day’, says Horrible Histories author

Oh, Terry Deary. I can only hope that you’ve done this as some sort of reverse-psychology. “If I spew the same rhetoric their saying, perhaps they’ll see the idiocy of sentiment!” Please, let this be a mastermind plot that’s secretly in support of libraries. Otherwise, you’re just horribly dense.

Yes, dense. I could use other descriptive nouns or adjectives, but I’m trying to keep this blog suitable to all audiences. So let’s go into the actual article.

Terry Deary told the Guardian that libraries are “no longer relevant”. (You know my librarian-senses are rankling at that, but I shall try to remain objective, or at least coherently subjective.) Deary believes that libraries should close branches in an effort to save money, even as other authors are rallying against this. According to him, libraries “have had their day”.

I think the most coherent way to go about summarizing this is to string together Deary’s quotes, interspersed with my erudite comments:

“I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant… Because it’s been 150 years [since the Public Libraries Act], we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that”.

I…it…really? According to this, the entire purpose of a library is to provide free reading material to people who don’t want to shell out money to support authors. I shall continue to shout it from the rooftops: libraries ARE NOT merely repositories of books. They provide access to information. And it’s not free; they’re supported by tax dollars. And libraries pay for the books that circulate, which don’t hold up forever and need to be replaced (one of the issues behind e-book prices, but that’s for another post).

Deary claims that his opinions aren’t merely based upon selfish financial concerns:

“If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?… [Bookshops are closing down] because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I’m afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century”.

Libraries are killing the book trade? Is that really what you believe? Because I know I’ve bought more books because of what I’ve discovered at my public library than I would have otherwise.

But let’s not take my word for it, let’s look at something Neil Gaiman did. In 2008 Gaiman convinced Harper Collins to offer the e-book of American Gods for free online for an entire month. Wanna know what happened? While the book was available for free, book sales increased. Yes, increased. They then fell after the free period was removed. (For a longer explanation, read his explanation here.)

So no, Deary, offering a book for free will not kill bookstores. Your argument is invalid.

Deary then gets off his high horse about the poor bookshops and continues on about his own finances taking a hit.

“People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn’t make sense… Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed… Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?… We can’t give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it. But because libraries have been around for so long, people have this idea that books should be freely available to all. I’m afraid those days are past. Libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people.”

Here’s the thing: libraries haven’t existed this long out of “sentimentality”; they’re still around because they work. And if Deary honestly thinks that a diminishing amount of people are making use of libraries, he likely hasn’t stepped foot in one for many years. Libraries are being used more than ever, especially since the recession started. Don’t believe me? Check out the stats on the American Library Association page. Think this is a trend in the US and not the UK? You’d be partially correct. This article shows that library usage has gone down in the UK. But guess what? So have the number of open branches, which appears to affect the usage numbers. There was also a decline in book-borrowing and library purchasing of books. What did increase was the number of volunteers, needed to keep some branches afloat after necessary staff cuts due to budget problems. Why get volunteers and not just close down the libraries with the cuts?

Because they’re important, because people use them, and based on the stats they’re not just using libraries for borrowing “free” books. (Physical visits to libraries decreased less than book borrowing, which shows people are going to the libraries for other reasons.)

In closing, Deary, I truly hope this is some sort of double-play, that you don’t actually believe all the crap you’ve spouted, because otherwise you’re an ignorant fool.


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Review – Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

A friend posted this article on Facebook today.

Ron Howard in talks to direct Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

I can barely contain my glee. The Graveyard Book! As a movie! Be still my heart.

If you hadn’t realized by now, I’m a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan. OI mean, our first book to review is Good Omens. It even says “Neil Gaiman Enthusiast” on my business card. (Seriously, it does; right next to “World Traveler” and “Librarian Extraordinaire”.)

I felt I should take this time to review The Graveyard Book.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

From Amazon:

It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.

I live in New York and Hurricane Sandy (Superstorm Sandy? Holy-Crap-That’s-A-Lot-of-Wind Sandy?) hit us. We were without power for five days, which suited me fine because I just read by candlelight. As it was dark and the end of October, The Graveyard Book seemed perfect.

The story itself seemed very familiar. A small child, displaced and raised by Others, watched over, episodic… I’m ashamed to say how long it took me to realize that Gaiman had modeled The Graveyard Book on The Jungle Book. That made the story so much richer! I could see all the parallels, and the otherworldly atmosphere of the graveyard was a perfect parallel to the jungle. And the characters! This realization made me love the book even more.

My mother? Didn’t like the book so much. In her own words, “It’s just so fantastical.” Yes, a book about a small child being raised by the denizens of a graveyard is too fantastical for my mother. I believe it needs to be said at this point that my mother rarely reads (don’t ask how it’s possible that a I’m the progeny of a non-reader, I’ve been wondering for years on this point), and when she does she sticks to true crime stories or horribly depressing memoirs. However, I forced her to stick with it and she couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Bod in the end. She was hooked, and loved Gaiman’s descriptive detail once she got used to it.

I’ve contended for years that Neil Gaiman isn’t an author, he’s a storyteller, a bard, a weaver of tales. He transcends “author” and makes the reader part of the story; not in the way of Stephen King, where the reader is written into the story, but in a way where the world in the tale is described so eloquently that it becomes a tangible thing.

In short, you will love this book. I’ll describe it as YA, but it’s rich and vibrant and meaty enough for even the most adult tastes. It’s also very dark, just as Coraline was, but to another level. The opening lines are, after all,

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.”

How’s that for a hook?

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Article – Book-less Library

A friend alerted me to this article, and I feel it’s very much related to yesterday’s post.

No-Book Library? BiblioTech is Coming

Yes, a book-less library. And do you want to know something? (Of course you do, my opinions are always the shining highlight of your days.) I’m perfectly happy with this.


Yes, I am a librarian and I am perfectly happy with a book-less library. Heck, I’m a rare books librarian and I’m fine with this. Why? Because libraries are NOT repositories for books, and librarians are not the keepers of books. We aren’t book-hoarding dragons who sleep upon our piles of treasure and regulate who can borrow what.

Libraries provide access to information, and librarians facilitate this. A library is a bastion of knowledge, and nowadays most knowledge can be accessed digitally.

Libraries and librarians need to take the needs of their patrons into consideration in all things; the library is, after all, there to serve the public. If a book-less library optimally serves the public then it’s totally viable. There are issues associated with a wholly digital library, of course; instead of the issue of physical space you have the issue of needing the technology to facilitate patrons. Think on this: in a library that provides information via books, you can fill the building to capacity and everyone will be able to do what they need to do (unless everyone needs to access the exact same bookmy eleventh-grade high school English teacher, I’m looking at you). But in a digital library, you’re limited by the amount of computers you can house. There will always be issues librarians have to deal with, but they always strive to best serve the needs of those they serve.

So a book-less library is still a library and no, the printed book is still not dead.

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Article – The Form of the Book: or, Why the Book IS NOT DEAD

*slams head against desk*

People, can we please stop asserting that e-books are killing printed books, or that printed books are dying or dead? Because they’re not, and this isn’t just me clutching obstinately to a well-loved medium.

I can’t tell you how many articles or posts I’ve seen where someone has announced, “the book is dead!” Part of me thinks they do it to get a rise out of people, like trolls on the internet. If they actually believe this, though, they’re being very short-sighted.

What brings this up now, you ask? Well, first off, I have yet to rant on this topic here (I have yet to rant about pretty much anything here). Recently, though, I read the following article:

Good-bye Books, Hello E-Books

The article discusses how, in December 2012, more e-books were sold than print books. There are a lot of other facts as well, all perfectly accurate as far as I can tell. But after going into these facts, which concern technologies used to access e-books and figures associated to sales, the author offers this conclusion:

“I can read the writing on the wall. The days are numbered for physical mass-market books —even if that number isn’t a small one. Sure, some books, newspapers, and magazines will live on. But, horses lived on after the arrival of the car, too; you just don’t see them very often anymore. The same fate awaits physical, paper-based books.”

No. Just no. Discussing how more people bought e-books than printed books and then concluding that the printed book is dead is like saying, “more people apples than pears last year, thus the pear shall no longer be farmed next year.” It doesn’t hold water. All these stats say is that more people bought e-books than printed books, which shows the popularity of both e-books and the technology necessary to access them.

Actually, I’m more apt to say that magazines and newspapers will cease to exist in print. Their very ephemeral nature melds well with electronic technology; you read them, you throw them away (or you recycle them, if you’re a good person and wish my continued respect). You might save a clipping or an article, but you generally don’t keep the entire publication. If you truly want to save an article or clipping from a newspaper or magazine you accessed through an e-reader or computer, you could save it to your computer or print it (if that EVER becomes possible; let me know if you figure out how to do so), or you could take notes by hand (a shocking idea).

Let me explain to you why e-books will never cause the extinction of the printed book. Picture this: you have a printed book. Now, mentally throw it across the room and slam it into a wall. Walk over and stomp on the book for good measure. Do a spirited flamenco dance on it, for good measure. Now pick it up and read it, because you can; the book is intact. Can’t say the same for your laptop or e-reader, can you? You can do pretty much anything to a book (short of it burning to ash in a fire) and still be able to access the information it contains. You can even soak it in water and you can read it, so long as you dry out the pages correctly. This is one of the reason books have survived for so long: they’re durable.

Let’s try this another way. Remember video tapes? Cassette tapes? I bet you loved those in the ‘90s. Saved family videos on them, saved favorite music on them. Can you watch or listen to them now with ease? Most likely not (unless you’re me, and you still have a functioning VCR hooked up to your TV and a Walkman easily accessible). You can’t access the information on video tapes and cassettes without the right technology. Same goes for floppy discs. It’s hard enough to find something to read a hard disc, but floppy discs? You’d have to go to a museum of technology or someplace that really needs to upgrade their computers.

And that’s the crux: access to information. If you can’t access the information it’s useless. It’s one of the challenges facing libraries and archives today: with so much information requiring electronic technology for access, how do collection policies and the needs of accessing the collection change? While the issue of physical space may not be such a challenge anymore, how do you continue to provide your patrons with information? Other issues arise to take over.

Am I saying electronic access to books and other information will stop? No, not at all, and it shouldn’t. What I am saying is that what we know as the printed book is not near death.

To make this a bit more understandable, let’s stop thinking of print books as print books. Instead, they are physical objects with words inscribed physically upon them. These have existed since the advent of writing. Cuneiform tablets, papyrus, manuscripts, all of these are included under this umbrella. This is the Form of the physical book, the theoretical and general ideal (I’m getting Platonic on your butts; booyah course on Medieval philosophy!). The only technology required to access information here is the ability to read (and the ability to inscribe the information in the first place). That’s it; it requires us. E-books, by contrast, require some form of technology. You depend upon something else to be able to access the information.

And that is why the book is not, and never will be, dead. It will evolve, of course, but it will never cease to be so long as we survive as a species.

End. Of. Story.


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Article – “Secret Lives of Readers”

This is another article a listserv alerted me to.

The history of readership is fascinating (to me, at least). Reading trends can tell you so much about social history and is intimately tied to book and provenance history, which I also find fascinating (because I’m a fascinating person). This article sets forth what the history of readership encompasses and why it’s important.

So go forth, read the article, and realize how your own reading habits affect the ongoing history of readership.*

*Question: Do I even want to know what 50 Shades of Grey says about our society?

Secret Lives of Readers

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Article – Robin Sloan’s Double Dagger Idea

I received this on a listserv last week and thought it interesting enough to share with everyone. I’m hoping I’m giving enough credit where credit is due; let me know if I’m not and I’ll get on that.


*On a side note, I just started Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore and it’s lovely. I’m identifying with the main character to a scary degree. So far, so good 😉 


From: Robin Sloan <robin@robinsloan.com>
Subject: ‡ So, about that dagger
To: abpc@snet.net
Date: Friday, December 28, 2012, 11:50 AM


It’s almost 2013. Okay it basically is 2013. For the New Year, then: an idea, a question, and a resolution.

(Remember, you’re receiving this message because you signed up to get ideas and/or questions and/or resolutions from me, Robin Sloan. You can unsubscribe instantly.)


If you keep an eye on the New York Times Best Seller list, every so often you’ll notice a little notation next to a book’s ranking, like this: †

It indicates that some booksellers have reported receiving bulk orders for the book in question. In other words, someone — some rich benefactor! — is buying whole boxes, almost certainly in an attempt to drive up the book’s ranking.

First, I have to say: I love the use of the typographical dagger there. I know I’m projecting, but it totally implies sneakiness and skulduggery. It even seems to sort of prick the ranking itself, deflate it a bit.

(Second, an aside, which I include because I learned it only recently and I think it’s interesting: the Times rankings don’t reflect a straight tally of books sold. Rather, they’re based on a variety of sales reports, all weighted and balanced to divine some deeper signal: a sense of a book’s commercial vitality, its momentum. Interesting, right? We think of the Best Seller list as being quite old-school — and it is — but really, that approach isn’t so different from Google’s. It’s totally an algorithm; it just happens to be executed by humans. [In my imagination, those humans roam the country in a bookmobile-turned-RV, stopping at out-of-the-way bookstores, assessing the front tables, updating their spreadsheets over assorted truck-stop breakfasts. Yes, I know they actually just live in New York.])

Anyway: Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore had a nice run on the hardcover fiction list, peaking at around 22. But I think, in fairness to the other books on the list, Penumbra’s ranking should have carried some special notation of its own. I mean, a book gets the dagger when it benefits from the bulk orders of rich benefactors… but what about when it benefits from the support of a secret society, assembled slowly over many years, such as the very one receiving this email??

It’s hardly fair.

So, I propose a new notation, to be attached to books buoyed by such shadowy networks: the double dagger. It looks like this ‡ and oh I think it’s just perfect. The double dagger stands for the unexpected advantage. Like this: in a dark alley you are beset by a black-clad assassin; he brandishes a switchblade; grins evilly. You shake your head, full of rue, because suddenly you are holding a double dagger, its twin blades warping and flickering — they are made from pairs of steel molecules split apart, one assigned to each blade, both still quantum-entangled — and slicing through probabilities, all of them bloody.

Wisely, the assassin flees.

The double dagger. The secret weapon. I don’t know if the Times will go for it, but me, I love it. From here on out, I’ll always put one in the subject line to remind you what we’re about here. Watch for it — the sharp little ‡.


Three months and two emails ago, I asked for your advice on large-group collaboration tools. Several people suggested the website Branch, which wasn’t, at that time, quite what I had in mind. But recently, Branch added a group feature that I think looks super promising. So let’s try it out:

I’ve been thinking about something and I need more ideas than the ones currently available in my brain. I require caroms. Perturbations.

First, some background: I’ve always loved the trope in which a person placed in some new environment finds his everyday ho-hum capabilities suddenly quite super. You know the classics, of course: Kal-El of Krypton discovers that Earth’s bright yellow sun charges his cells like batteries; John Carter of Virginia discovers that Mars’ weak gravity allows him to leap like a grasshopper.

Right now, I am in the business of imagining alternate worlds that might result from a tweak in our own. (Seriously, do you understand? This is my job now.) I’m not looking to make people super; in fact, the subtler the change the better. I’m trying to come up with characteristics of our world that we take absolutely for granted, more on the level of physics and planetary composition than politics or human psychology.

For example, I’ve toyed with the idea of energy being a bit “cheaper” — the laws of thermodynamics being just slightly more liberal. What new things might that make possible? What would it be like to visit that world?

Another example: what if Earth’s plate tectonics worked differently? I’m looking for changes in the bedrock here. Literally.

I’ve found this fun to think and talk about; maybe you will too. Here’s a link to join in — and to the person who clicks it first and is greeted by an empty group, as if I’m throwing a big party and you’re the first to arrive, so it’s just you and me and the snack table: MAY I OFFER YOU AN ENTHUSIASTIC AND AWKWARD HELLO!


You’ll need a Twitter account to join, but I hope that won’t deter you. If you don’t have one already, you can always just make a little throwaway account. I do believe @AjaxPenubra is still available…

This is totally an experiment: if Branch works well and feels good, we’ll keep using it; if it doesn’t, we’ll keep looking. Feel free to send me your impressions. As before, and as always, you can just hit reply.


It’s almost 2013, and for me, as never before in my adult life — at least not since I was in college — the year ahead is a blank canvas. But I know what I am about: I will write a new book and I will produce a story-app-something-or-other designed expressly for tablets. If we reconvene at this time next year and I’ve done zero or one of those things: berate me. But why should I fail to do both? There’s such clarity here. And also, sure, a bit of attendant fear: the kind that comes from naked culpability. Why, indeed, should I fail? Can’t blame the bureaucracy. Can’t mutter about office politics. I am the office, and 100% of the bureaucracy is right here, between my head and the keyboard. Oy.

May you have clarity, too, and the culpability that comes with it, and may you paint the canvas of your 2013 — whatever part of it is yours to define — in a way that makes you proud. I’ll report back on my resolutions in a year, and of course I’ll send updates along the way. Thanks, as always, for following along.

From Berkeley,

P.S. Here’s the link to the group one more time: http://branch.com/groups/the-double-dagger/join/d0fd5fbdd86

P.P.S. If you are serious about Effective Email Marketing™ you always Give Them The Link One More Time™

P.P.P.S. Zombo.com!

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Article – A Town Buys a Rare Book

This goes a bit beyond our scope of reviews, discussions, and posts about articles related to reading and literature, but I think it’s rather fitting.

This article from Fine Books Magazine tells the tale of why a particular copy of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol is so important to one particular town. This is one of those instances where a personal dedication by an author, which is usually worth less than a more-generic signed copy, can make a copy very, very valuable to a particular person or place.

The Town That Bought a Rare Book


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