innopac

The New York Public Library

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"Upheaval at the New York Public Library" by Scott Sherman, November 30, 2011, The Nation

http://www.thenation...brary?page=full

Although the performing arts are not mentioned I would imagine that the issues covered in this article would have implications for the Performing Arts Library.

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I'm a student at a N.Y university, I study classical voice performance and personally feel that the Performing Arts Library has drastically declined in quality. The staff is generally inept and rude, there's a man who apparently is in charge of the music scores in the reserve floor who looks like a bum, I can't believe they have someone like that working there. The scores that are on reserve cannot be photocopied, what is the point of having these scores then? To take up space? They have scores that nobody can use. Personally, I never go there, I prefer buying the scores either on the internet or the Juilliard Bookstore.

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"Upheaval at the New York Public Library" by Scott Sherman, November 30, 2011, The Nation

http://www.thenation...brary?page=full

Although the performing arts are not mentioned I would imagine that the issues covered in this article would have implications for the Performing Arts Library.

University libraries here on the other coast are getting rid of their stacks to make room for more group study areas and non book related business. If you want a book from the stacks, a robot gets it for you. No one wants to stand in the way of "progress." of course, but the whole point of stacks is to be able to wander through them and pull books at will. Browsing through titles electronically is not yet anything like the same thing. Oh, well.....

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I'm a student at a N.Y university, I study classical voice performance and personally feel that the Performing Arts Library has drastically declined in quality. The staff is generally inept and rude, there's a man who apparently is in charge of the music scores in the reserve floor who looks like a bum, I can't believe they have someone like that working there.

Since I know them, I can tell you this: The staff is very demoralized. Their numbers have been reduced probably by at least half in the last ten years, thus each one's work load has increased proportionally, and they are paid shockingly badly; yet they care deeply about what they do but must watch as the NYPL system is dismantled to the point where it can barely function as the great research institution it once was. I don't mean to defend the unhelpfulness or rudeness one sometimes has to put up with. But a little understanding and pity is in order. Also, remember, if they fired these people nobody at all will replace them.

The scores that are on reserve cannot be photocopied, what is the point of having these scores then? To take up space? They have scores that nobody can use. Personally, I never go there, I prefer buying the scores either on the internet or the Juilliard Bookstore.

Yes, and buying them is exactly what you are supposed to do, right? Or, if a score is in the public domain, nine times out of ten you can find it free on the web.

The Music Division is a research collection. The materials are meant to be used on the premises, for study, for writing your dissertation, for learning, for exploring. It is one of the world's premiere music collections, vast and deep: no matter what your subject is, you will never come to the end of it using that collection. How did they get such a collection? It is their mission to obtain one--one!--copy of every score and book they can get their hands on. They then must preserve that one copy in perpetuity--forever and ever, until the world ends. Now, imagine if they just let everybody come in and slap any old thing on the copy machines.

In fact, they do allow a certain amount of this, but the item must in good condition and able to survive the process. It must also be in the public domain. If NYPL let everybody photocopy copyrighted materials, publishers would not be so generous in donating their materials to them. And NYPL would be sued into oblivion. (ASCAP's offices are right across the street.) Criticisms of rudeness and ineptness are fair (believe me, I know all about it), but please don't also criticize the librarians when they do exactly what they need to do.

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Thanks, Anthony_NYC. Most informative.

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I am concerned no one is asking what the "weeding" policy (the removal of books from the collection) is in the light of storage issues. Is there pressure to "weed" at a higher rate than in the past?

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No doubt about it, innopac. I suppose there is some "weeding" that can be done responsibly, but I don't necessarily trust those doing it to do so responsibly.

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Thanks so much for posting this link -- I remember when the article ran earlier this year, but didn't have a chance to think about it then.

Libraries all over the place are running into big capacity problems, at the same time that we are generating archivable materials faster than we ever have before (and I won't even mention the challenge of saving items in various electronic media as they become obsolete). Things need space, real things (corporeal things) need real space, and that's hard to find for institutions that have limited resources.

But the real difficulty here, which is at the heart of this article, is the changing mandate for libraries. In the past, we wanted the flagship collections of our public library systems to act as archives -- there was a certain formal and deliberate quality to the work they did. The job of the library was to collect the intellectual documents of the community and the culture, to safeguard them and to make them available for use to people who needed that specific, sometimes arcane material. Because scholarship is often a solitary and painstaking endeavor, and needs a kind of environment that lets you sit and think without too many distractions, the library was seen as a quiet and peaceful place. Democracy and public education made libraries open to everyone, but they were there for particular kinds of work. There were other public organizations and facilities that served other needs in our communities.

But public libraries are a part of the social safety net now. You go to the library if you need your taxes done, or your math homework checked. You go to the library if you can't afford a computer at home, or if you're meeting with your local garden club. You go to the library if you need a warm, dry place to sit, or if you don't have anyone at home after school. You go to the library to hear a preview of the local opera company, or a folk music group for kids, or a talk on dealing with your teenager.

These are all things that my local library system offers, and I'm grateful for it all, but they take place in a different kind of environment than the contemplative, scholarly spaces we remember. Some of you are probably familiar with Nancy Pearl (the public radio librarian and author of "Book Lust"), and you may have seen the action figure modeled on her with "shush-ing action" -- she's said many times that the gesture is outdated for contemporary librarians. They are far less concerned about keeping things quiet as they are about answering questions and helping people find resources.

I'm terrified of the winnowing process going on in libraries everywhere -- my packrat soul is offended by the disrespect to the past and I'm worried about what we'll find ourselves missing in times to come. But as public libraries are being pressured to offer an increasingly wide variety of services to a public who looks to the internet for the materials they used to find on the shelves we are going to see more of these changes rather than less. The job of safeguarding the stacks may be shifting from the librarians to some other group -- I just hope we find a way to make that happen safely.

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I'm terrified of the winnowing process going on in libraries everywhere -- my packrat soul is offended by the disrespect to the past and I'm worried about what we'll find ourselves missing in times to come.

I'm with you 100 %. The Miami Beach library is full of homeless, who only need to have a newspaper in their hands for them to be permited to stay. The kids are all in the computers playing games, and the environment in general is far from what I remember as the quiet, sacred institution I knew from my teenage years. I don't even go any longer to read there...I prefer to do it at the beach.

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I knew things had changed when there was a single "quiet room" in my local branch :)

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Some of those less fortunate than most of us who post here are availing themselves of one of the few public places where they are allowed to stay for any period of time. I've seen some in my own library. Many of those who are still suffering from our ongoing disastrous rate of unemployment also spend a great deal of time in the public library.

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Many of those who are still suffering from our ongoing disastrous rate of unemployment also spend a great deal of time in the public library.

And many of the libraries around here have made extra efforts to collect job listing materials and set up employment workshops. I am so proud of the work that libraries have done to accommodate all parts of their communities, especially as other social service providers have been cut back or eliminated altogether. The frustrating part is that libraries haven't received extra support for these additional services -- instead, they've had to re-purpose parts of their own shrinking budgets to make this happen. In my version of the perfect world, we'd find more community centers (rather like Jane Adams' Hull House) that could offer shelter and education to people so that they don't need to find those things in the libraries next door, down the street from the dance schools and the theaters...

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I am so proud of the work that libraries have done to accommodate all parts of their communities, especially as other social service providers have been cut back or eliminated altogether.

Just so.

What worries me are the culling of valuable books from collections and the elimination of hard copies of periodicals after a certain point. That's been going on for decades now, of course. Obviously it's important to have plenty of computers in the library since so many people still don't have internet access at home and one understands that. But it seems to me that for now libraries are still for books and that's how it should be.

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I think that libraries are for archival material, and that there are many different media on which the material can be stored.

Libraries had transferred records and other print materials to fiche for decades, and as Anthony_NYC pointed out, physical books become fragile. When a library reaches its physical capacity, whether or not space is now dedicated to a computer bank or a presentation theater like in the newish Seattle public library, those books are transferred to other media and/or are stored elsewhere. That real estate is usually expensive, and access can take time. Climate control can be iffy as well in off-site facilities.

One of my work-study jobs at college was retrieving books from the offsite facility, from which I would return sniffling from each run, which I hoped was due to dust rather than mold. We had one hour a day to retrieve the previous day's requests. There was no time to look for items that were mis-shelved, and these books' existence was an abstraction.

I'm proud that the Seattle Public Library system has as many resources as it does for foreign-language and ESL resources to support our immigrant communities.

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In San Francisco the libraries are supported almost passionately by the community and all the branches are very active - the Chinatown and Richmond libraries are especially busy with a fairly big social cross section of society. This may have been as a reaction to the events of a decade or so ago when the Main library moved to a new building which turned out to be too small to house the collection - and so large numbers of books and other materials unceremoniously went into dumpsters. Nicholson Baker did an article about the folly of this - of assuming everyone else had kept the full original, when no one had.

At the New York Public Library this seems like a double scandal. An architectural one - of far greater significance than the controversial change of elevator orientation in Gordon Bunschaft's Manufacturers Hanover Trust Building - but also about Fifth/Astor/Lennox's gradual abandonment of its role as a research library. Wasn't that building renovated just 15 years ago with stacks added going into or under Bryant Park?

What is so curious is that we're awash in angel investor money seeking new out new blockbuster Apps - which are really utilities for content - and no money to preserve and generate actual content. It's a world where content means "content curatorship," posting something someone has posted before, and in which no one will pay for newspaper stories thinking they'll always somehow be there, magically generated.

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Books aren't that fragile. Obviously you don't want to keep around volumes that are falling apart, and as stated earlier, responsible culling of collections is plainly necessary. (The transfers to fiche were disastrous - horrible to read, horrible to use.)

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Books aren't that fragile. Obviously you don't want to keep around volumes that are falling apart, and as stated earlier, responsible culling of collections is plainly necessary. (The transfers to fiche were disastrous - horrible to read, horrible to use.)

The use of acidic paper from the mid-1800s to 1980s was a disaster for preservation of books. The National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Preservation, has awarded many, many millions in grants, starting in the Reagan administration, to preserve crumbling books. For an interesting report on preservation problems:

http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub82/pub82text.html

If you google: NEH acid paper books

you'll see lots of reports on this major problem and what NEH has tried to do about it.

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Thanks, California, but I wasn't talking about books that are falling apart (apologies for repeating myself). I'm talking about the discarding of viable and valuable books and periodicals, which has certainly happened.

No question that it's important to keep up with changing times. But the old one about throwing the baby out with the bathwater invariably comes to mind when this subject arises.

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Electronic storage is significantly better than microfiche, and many magazines today are published in electronic format as well as print format.

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My comment on the move to microfiche not turning out so well was a comment on your post noting that libraries had been moving material to fiche for decades. As I noted in response, that decision had its drawbacks. The move of print publications online is still very much in early days. No doubt eventually the electronic environment will look much different - the Internet, after all, is still very young. In the meantime, it is worth watching closely what libraries are doing with their books and periodicals and how such materials are being maintained.

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My only point was that transferring from print formats for books, magazines, and records to another media isn't new and occurred before there was any thought of electronic storage on a large scale, and that lack of storage capacity before community services expansion was the driver for it. Not that many books in the big picture would fit into the physical footprint of where the computers are in either of my local libraries.

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A librarian I talked to said that when things are in offsite storage it means they've in some way been already been culled or weeded.

Part of the problem are the lack finding guides to get to the interesting stuff. Nicholson Baker poined out that when card catalogues were tossed, valuable informal notes fields - years of pencilled in comments - disappeared too. If new notes fields could be added to electonic catalogues where librarians and serious readers, such as those who contribute to Wikipedia - could leave comments about the particular value of an edition or variant or translation, this would be a great help in calling books out of storage.

The migration of print to electronic is very spotty and will continue to be so. Getting in-depth material for serious research is quite difficult, much of it now behind very pricey pay walls.

The problem with microfilmed materials is that the quality was very poor, and libraries tossed out the originals before they could be electroncially scanned. Some of the historical New York Times looks as though it came from previous selected clippings, from what used to be called newspaper morgues.

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Happily, electronic print files don't have to suffer from the same degradation as microfiche and microfilm. (Graphics and photographs are another story.) The upside of many electronic formats is that they can be printed out as pages or books in print-to-demand services.

Access is immediate or close to it and doesn't require retrieval, inter-library loans, or intra-library physical transfers.

As a teenager, I was allowed to go into NYC or to anywhere in Bergen County on my own, if my destination was a library. I spent many happy hours in the Performing Arts Library. Now I'd be told to get it electronically and never leave the house.

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My point was that said transfers did not always work and were undertaken hastily, as Quiggin notes. Lack of storage capacity was the proffered excuse and often, not always it was true, but the end result was the same.

Part of the problem are the lack finding guides to get to the interesting stuff. Nicholson Baker poined out that when card catalogues were tossed, valuable informal notes fields - years of pencilled in comments - disappeared too. If new notes fields could be added to electonic catalogues where librarians and serious readers, such as those who contribute to Wikipedia - could leave comments about the particular value of an edition or variant or translation, this would be a great help in calling books out of storage.

It would certainly help. No doubt there will one day be an electronic equivalent to browsing freely through the stacks, but we' re not there yet.

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Access is immediate or close to it and doesn't require retrieval.

More and more of it is behind expensive pay walls. Small cites of law texts come through Westlaw & Lexis at $50 a gulp, and much of periodical storage is in Jstor and good luck in paying for that. And none of the original content providers seem to share in any of the royalties for their work.

What's happening here has already happened in other fields:

Right now, if you want to read the published results of the biomedical research that your own tax dollars paid for, all you have to do is visit the digital archive of the National Institutes of Health. There you’ll find thousands of articles on the latest discoveries in medicine and disease, all free of charge.

A new bill in Congress wants to make you pay for that, thank you very much. The Research Works Act would prohibit the NIH from requiring scientists to submit their articles to the online database. Taxpayers would have to shell out $15 to $35 to get behind a publisher’s paid site to read the full research results. A Scientific American blog said it amounts to paying twice.

http://www.propublic...ehind-pay-walls

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