Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Secret Libraries of History

After news emerged about an underground reading room in Damascus, Fiona Macdonald discovers the places where writing has been hidden for centuries.

by Fiona MacDonald
August 18th, 2016

Beneath the streets of a suburb of Damascus, rows of shelves hold books that have been rescued from bombed-out buildings. Over the past four years, during the siege of Darayya, volunteers have collected 14,000 books from shell-damaged homes. They are held in a location kept secret amid fears that it would be targeted by government and pro-Assad forces, and visitors have to dodge shells and bullets to reach the underground reading space.

It’s been called Syria’s secret library, and many view it as a vital resource. “In a sense the library gave me back my life,” one regular user, Abdulbaset Alahmar, told the BBC. “I would say that just like the body needs food, the soul needs books.”

Religious or political pressures have meant that books have been hidden throughout history – whether in secret caches or private collections. One of those is now known as ‘the Library Cave’.

The Library Cave

On the edge of the Gobi Desert in China, part of a network of cave shrines at Dunhuang called the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, it was sealed for almost 1000 years. In 1900, Taoist monk Wang Yuanlu – an unofficial guardian of the caves – discovered the hidden door that led to a chamber filled with manuscripts dating from the fourth to the 11th Centuries.

Provincial authorities showed little interest in the documents after Wang contacted them; but news of the cave spread, and Hungarian-born explorer Aurel Stein persuaded him to sell about 10,000 manuscripts. Delegations from France, Russia and Japan followed, and most of the ancient texts left the cave. According to The New Yorker, “By 1910, when the Chinese government ordered the remaining documents to be transferred to Beijing, only about a fifth of the original hoard remained.”

Despite that, many of the original manuscripts can now be seen: an initiative to digitise the collection was launched in 1994. The International Dunhuang Project – led by the British Library, with partners worldwide – means that, as The New Yorker says, “Armchair archive-divers can now examine the earliest complete star chart in the world, read a prayer written in Hebrew by a merchant on his way from Babylon to China, inspect a painting of a Christian saint in the guise of a bodhisattva, examine a contract drawn up for the sale of a slave girl to cover a silk trader’s debt, or page through a book on divination written in Turkic runes.”

No one knows why the cave was sealed: Stein argued that it was a way of storing manuscripts no longer used but too important to be thrown away, a kind of ‘sacred waste’, while French sinologist Paul Pelliot believed it happened in 1035, when the Xi Xia empire invaded Dunhuang. Chinese scholar Rong Xinjiang has suggested that the cave was closed off amid fears of an invasion by Islamic Karakhanids, which never occurred.

Whatever the reason they were originally hidden, the cave’s contents have altered history since they were revealed just over a century ago. One of the Dunhuang documents, the Diamond Sutra, is a key Buddhist sacred work: according to the British Library, the copy in the cave dates back to 868 and is “the world's earliest complete survival of a dated printed book”.

It’s a reminder that paper and printing did not originate in Europe. “Printing began as a form of prayer,” says The New Yorker, “the equivalent of turning a prayer wheel or slipping a note into the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but on an industrial scale.”

A wing and a prayer

The location of another hidden stash of religious texts has been known since it was founded in 1612 – yet that hasn’t stopped it being the subject of conspiracy theories. The Vatican Secret Archives feature papal correspondences going back more than 1000 years, and appeared in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, as a Harvard ‘symbologist’ battled the Illuminati. The rumoured contents of the collection include alien skulls, documentation of the bloodline of Jesus and a time machine called the Chronovisor, built by a Benedictine monk so that he could go back in time and film Jesus’ crucifixion.

In an attempt to dispel the myths, access has been opened up in recent years, and there was an exhibition of documents from the archives at the Capitoline Museums in Rome. Pope Leo XIII first allowed carefully vetted scholars to visit in 1881, and now many documents can be viewed by researchers – although browsing is prohibited. The word ‘secret’ in the name comes from the Latin ‘secretum’, which is closer to ‘private’; yet areas of the archives remain off-limits.

Scholars aren’t allowed to look at any papal papers since 1939, when the controversial wartime Pontiff Pius XII became Pope, and a section of the archives relating to the personal affairs of cardinals from 1922 onwards can’t be accessed.

Housed in a concrete bunker, part of a wing behind St Peter’s Basilica, the archives are protected by Swiss Guards and officers from the Vatican City’s own police force. They reinforce the power of the words held within. As well as correspondence between the Vatican and figures such as Mozart, Erasmus, Charlemagne, Voltaire and Adolf Hitler, there is King Henry VIII’s request to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon: when this was refused by Pope Clement VII, Henry divorced her and sparked Rome’s break with the Church of England. The archives also contain Pope Leo X’s 1521 decree excommunicating Martin Luther, a handwritten transcript of the trial against Galileo for heresy and a letter from Michelangelo complaining he hadn’t been paid for work on the Sistine Chapel.

Another brick in the wall

Not defended by armed guard but by centuries of forgetting, one collection in Old Cairo (Fustat), Egypt was left alone until a Romanian Jew recognised its significance. Jacob Saphir described the stash in an 1874 book – yet it wasn’t until 1896, when Scottish twin sisters Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson showed some of its manuscripts to fellow Cambridge University academic Solomon Schechter, that the trove became widely known.

Hidden in a wall of the Ben Ezra synagogue were almost 280,000 Jewish manuscript fragments: what has come to be called the Cairo Genizah. According to Jewish law, no writings containing the name of God can be thrown away: those that have fallen out of use are stored in an area of a synagogue or cemetery until they can be buried. The repository is known as a genizah, which comes from the Hebrew originally meaning ‘to hide away’, and later known as an ‘archive’.

For 1000 years, the Jewish community in Fustat deposited their texts in the sacred store. And the Cairo Genizah was left untouched. “Medieval Jews hardly wrote anything at all – whether personal letters or shopping lists – without referring to God,” says The New Yorker. As a result, “we have a frozen postbox of some two hundred and fifty thousand fragments composing an unparalleled archive of life in Egypt from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries… No other record as long or as full exists.”
Ben Outhwaite, the head of genizah research at Cambridge, told The New Yorker how important the Cairo Genizah collection is for scholars. “It is not hyperbole to talk about it as having rewritten what we knew of the Jews, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages.”

The fragments reveal that Jewish merchants collaborated with Christians and Muslims; that Jews were treated more tolerantly than previously assumed, and anti-Semitism was less common than thought. Their importance is increasingly being acknowledged. In 2013, the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge Universities joined together to raise funds to keep the collection intact – the first time they have worked together in this way.

At the time, David Abulafia, author of The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, said: “The Cairo Genizah documents are like a searchlight, illuminating dark corners of the history of the Mediterranean and shedding a bright light on the social, economic and religious life of the Jews not just of medieval Egypt but of lands far away. There is nothing to compare with them as source for the history of the 10th to 12th Centuries, anywhere in Europe or the Islamic world.”

Between the lines

In 2013, the Dutch Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel described ‘a remarkable discovery’ made by students in a class he taught at Leiden University. “While students were systematically going through the binding remains in the library,” he says in a blog post titled A Hidden Medieval Archive Surfaces, they found “132 notes, letters and receipts from an unidentified court in the Rhine region, jotted on little slips of paper. They were hidden inside the binding of a book printed in 1577”.

Rather than being ‘sacred waste’ too important to throw away, the fragments were examples of rubbish recycled by bookbinders. “Recycling medieval written material was a frequent occurrence in the workshop of early-modern (as well as medieval) binders,” writes Kwakkel. “When a printed book from 1577 was to be fitted with its binding, the binder grabbed the 132 paper slips from his equivalent of a blue recycling bin and moulded them, likely wet, into cardboard boards.”

The process means that words never intended for posterity can still be read today. “The slips are first of all remarkable simply because such small written objects rarely survive from medieval society… There are few places where such objects can slumber undisturbed for centuries,” he says. “This is when their long journey to our modern period started, as stowaways hitchhiking on 16th Century printed matter.”

Including receipts, requests to servants and shopping lists, it’s a collection that’s rare for historians. “Messages like these bring us as close to real medieval society as you can get,” writes Kwakkel. “They are the medieval voices we normally don’t hear, that tell the story of what happened ‘on the ground’.”

And it’s a collection that could be far bigger than first thought. Using an X-ray technology created to look beneath the surface of paintings and detect earlier stages of composition, Kwakkel has developed a way to see through fragile book bindings. In October 2015, he began scanning early printed books in Leiden University Library.

“The new technique is amazing in that it shows us fragments – medieval text – that we could otherwise never see because they are hidden behind a layer of parchment or paper,” wrote Kwakkel in a blog post about his Hidden Library project. While the technology needs to be improved, it hints at a process that could reveal a secret library within a library. “We might be able to access a hidden medieval ‘library’ if we were able to gain access to the thousands of manuscript fragments hidden in bindings.”

Source: BBC

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mississauga News: Mississauga Comic Expo highlights works of locals and GTA artists

Oct 17, 2016 

Mississauga Comic Expo highlights works of locals and GTA artists

Comic expo
Comic Expo
The Mississauga Comic Expo runs this Friday (Oct. 21) and Saturday (Oct. 22) at the Central Library

Mississauga News
There’s just something about comic books that makes people absolutely love them.
Some are filled with classic stories of good triumphing over evil featuring archetypal characters while others are more contemplative explorations of the human condition. And, there are plenty of others that don’t fit neatly into any genre but are still adored by readers.
Fans can learn more about what it takes to create them and also connect with Mississauga and GTA artists and illustrators at the Mississauga Comic Expo, which runs Friday (Oct. 21) and Saturday (Oct. 22) at the Central Library.
Haider Rizvi, the expo’s lead coordinator, said they’ve expanded the second annual event to two days after last year’s success.
The expo will highlight the works of Mississauga and GTA artists, such as local Jason Loo. He’s one of the expo’s coordinators and is also author and illustrator of the Pitiful Human-Lizard. Other Mississaugans taking part include Joy San, Stephany Lein, Brian Wong, Aaron Ong (Maddsketch) and Andrew Thomas.
Rizvi said the expo is a great event for fans but is also a way to introduce people to the library system.
For example, the library stocks the works of many of the creators participating in the event. So, if someone falls in love with a comic over the weekend, there’s a good chance they will be able to check it out of the library that day.
“They are some of the faces behind what we have on the shelves,” said Rizvi.
There will be a number of comic workshops and panels focusing on how to create your own hosted by industry veterans including Alfonso Espinos (founder of Studiocomix Press), Brian McLachlan (OWL Magazine’s The Outrageous World of Alex and Charlie and author of Draw Out The Story: Ten Secrets To Creating Your Own Comics) and Jay Torres (Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Teen Titans Go).
While a big part of the event is focused on comics, fandom will be serviced over the two days with a variety of different activities and promotions.
Things kick off Friday (Oct. 21) with a screening of the Captain Canuck web series followed by a concert with performances by Wordburglar, More or Les and The Cybertronic Spree, which is a group of musicians who dress up like Transformers and play live.
On Saturday (Oct. 22), there’s video games, board games, tabletop RPGs, a sketch challenge, children’s costume parade, Magic: The Gathering tournament, crafts, stories, Lego stop motion animation, cosplay, an escape room and costume creation tips by the Toronto Steampunk Society.

From: The Mississauga News

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tome-team advantage: How Toronto’s librarians bring baseball trash-talk to social media

by Jill Mahoney
October 14th, 2016

Librarians are not generally known for their sports taunts, but the Toronto Public Library has not-so-quietly become an avid booster of the city’s teams with cheeky social media posts.

In a practice that began last year, Toronto Public Library staff have lobbed gentle catcalls at their library counterparts in cities whose teams have faced the Blue Jays and the Raptors in the playoffs.
Now, with the Jays in the postseason again, library staffers are back at it. The posts, which are written as poetry using the spines of books accompanied by props, have been well received by fans as well as librarians in opposing cities. 

“We know that the fans love it and it’s also a fun exercise for us at the library too,” said Mabel Ho, the Toronto Public Library’s social media lead. “It’s a good opportunity for us to build off the momentum and the excitement from the city.” 

The bookish Twitter war began last year when the Kansas City Public Library tweeted at the Toronto Public Library to mark a win by the Royals over the Jays in the American League Championship Series.

Not to be outdone, Toronto library staff fired back the next day.

The trash talk continued until Kansas City eliminated the Jays.

The Toronto Public Library also lobbed gibes when the Toronto Raptors played the Miami Heat in the National Basketball Association Eastern Conference semifinals, going so far as to stage a photo showing raptors claws about to mail a book on strategy after Toronto won the series.

With the success of the Jays this year, the city’s library staff are again planning witty posts, which appear on the library’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Last week, they put up a post apologizing for the throwing of a beer can onto the field during the wild card game between the Jays and the Baltimore Orioles while standing behind Jose Bautista’s bat flip last year while playing the Texas Rangers.

Library staff planned another post on Friday when the Blue Jays play the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Source: Globe and Mail 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The New Yorker: The Rose Reading Room and the Real Meaning of "Luxury" in New York City

The Rose Reading Room and the Real Meaning of "Luxury" in New York City

October 7, 2016

By Alexandra Schwartz

The Rose Reading Room is luxurious
in the way that only certain shared spaces can be.
Its grandeur attracts its visitors,
and is in turn amplified by their presence:
the true urban symbiosis.
To say that the ceiling of the Rose Main Reading Room, at the New York Public Library’s main building, on Fifth Avenue—the biggest room in the biggest public-library branch in the country’s biggest city—is an ornate piece of work is putting it mildly. Even by the building’s Beaux-Arts standards, there are a lot of gilded curlicues and cornucopias and flute-playing cherubs cavorting up there, around celestial murals of soft pink clouds. The impression that such splendor gives is one of divine order and equilibrium, but cherubs are subject to the laws of entropy just like the rest of us. In the middle of a May night in 2014, one of the plaster rosettes that flank the ceiling came loose and crashed to the ground. From the floor, fifty-two feet below, the rosettes look like 3-D doilies; up close, they’re big as a bear’s head. You would not want one to fall on yours. The Fifth Avenue branch, officially known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, was then celebrating its hundred and third birthday. Subsequent investigation revealed that the lifespan of the rosettes tends to max out at a century. Clearly, the time had come to renovate.

This past Wednesday morning, the reading room reopened to the public after two and a half years of repairs and restorations. It’s a pleasure to have it back. The room is one of the city’s great public spaces, a shared chamber devoted to private mental endeavors, and it’s looking good. The marble walls gleam. The ceiling fixtures, reinforced and polished, glisten. Light streams through the room’s freshly scrubbed casement windows and radiates from the bulbs of its eighteen tiered chandeliers, which hang suspended over the rows of work tables like upside-down wedding cakes. The library’s sounds are restored, too, comforting and familiar: the industrious typing and page-turning, the zippering open and shut of backpacks, the scuffing of solid wooden armchairs on floor tile. As the first murmuring visitors settled in the other day, guards strolling the aisles shushed them—preĆ«mptively, it seemed, but understandably so. Two and a half years is a long time for a library guard to go without shushing.

If you were feeling prognostic, back in 2014, you might have considered the fallen rosette an ill omen of what could have been in store for the N.Y.P.L. if its controversial Central Library Plan were to come to pass. The C.L.P. called for the library’s Mid-Manhattan branch and its Science, Industry and Business Library to be sold and their books moved into circulation at the main building, many of whose own books would be transferred in bulk to a storage site somewhere in New Jersey. The city’s main research library, in other words, would no longer have exclusively been a research library at all, nor would its building, which was slated for a major overhaul by the architect Norman Foster, have looked like the one that generations of New Yorkers have known and loved. When the plan was finally scrapped, that June, after much criticism, its failure was almost universally declared a victory for the people. Now the library has renovated and expanded the stacks under Bryant Park which house its research volumes; when one is called up, it’s loaded onto a red “book train” that looks something like Mister Rogers’s trolley in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, for a trip to the Rose Reading Room that takes about half an hour.

When I first saw early renderings of the C.L.P.’s proposed atrium renovation, I thought it looked like a spaceship. Many architectural renderings look like spaceships, but this one really looked like a spaceship, a sleek, sketchy notion of the future that seemed bound to grow dated within five years. I’m no Prince Charles; I have nothing against Norman Foster or spaceship-style architecture, but surely there are enough sleek new buildings being constructed in this city to allow us to preserve and enjoy one whose early-twentieth-century atmosphere and patina of aspirational oldness have attracted and inspired millions of people to seek it out as a place to do the reading and writing and thinking they might otherwise struggle to accomplish at home or in a coffee shop. The Fifth Avenue main branch is a luxurious place, and not in the current New York sense of the term, when every new building constructed in the city, from the empty oligarch towers on Fifty-seventh Street’s Billionaire Row to four-story rentals in Crown Heights, come advertised as “luxury” properties. The word is greedy, used that way, a sales pitch based on the appeal of having something at home that your neighbors don’t. The Rose Reading Room is luxurious in the way that only certain shared spaces can be. Its grandeur attracts its visitors, and is in turn amplified by their presence: the true urban symbiosis.

Tony Marx, the library’s president and the man who presided over the indignant reception of the C.L.P. and its failure, made a similar point at the Rose Reading Room’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Marx has a New Deal politician’s optimistic bounce; his speech was heavy on the word “democracy,” and on the crucial role that libraries, and the New York Public Library, play in sustaining ours. Amen to that. After he finished, the poet Elizabeth Alexander offered a benediction in the form of two poems: Wallace Stevens’s “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm,” and “Branch Library,” by Edward Hirsch. Scissors were handed out, and the red ribbon snipped to applause.

In the hallways outside the Rose Reading Room, a temporary exhibit displays photos and artifacts relating to the recent restoration—the sacrificial rosette is there—as well as older images of the library’s history. There’s a picture of New Yorkers crowding the front steps to donate books to the troops during the First World War, and one of the beloved Library Lion statues being molded from clay at the Connecticut studio of the sculptor Edward Clark Potter. Others go further back, showing the library site when it was still the Croton Reservoir, the massive stone structure that housed the city’s drinking water when that part of Manhattan was more mid-country than midtown. That beautiful metaphor of a city’s insatiable thirst doesn’t get old. Come by the reading room. Take a seat, look up at the ceiling, and drink.

Source: The New Yorker

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Yellowknife News: Libraries in Yellowknife, Corner Brook Compete for New Readers

Yellowknife News: Libraries in Yellowknife, Corner Brook Compete for New Readers
October 3, 2016
By Mike Gibbins

Bragging rights are on the line for the public libraries in Yellowknife and Corner Brook, N.L. as they square off against one other in a ‘Library Smackdown’.

The two libraries are competing against each other all October long as part of Canadian Library Month.

Either one can win the competition by circulating more items, recruiting more new members or drawing more people to its programs than its competition.

Yellowknife librarian John Mutford came up with the challenge back in April.

“I thought of Corner Brook because I’m originally from Newfoundland and I knew Corner Brook’s population was roughly the same size as ours,” he told Moose FM.

On average, Mutford says anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people visit Yellowknife’s public library every day.

According to its website, the library has a collection of 60,000 items in the form of print, audiobooks, e-Books and more.

On top of its regular programs, the library will be hosting a number of special events throughout October – including a book sale, open house, author presentation and film night.

While the competition is light-hearted in nature, Mutford says there’s plenty up for grabs.

“Definitely bragging rights,” he said. “We haven’t come up with an actual prize yet but we’ve been asked that question quite a lot so we’re open to ideas from the public.”

Source: Yellowknife News

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 Trove of historic documents heads to Vancouver Public Library

Trove of historic documents heads to Vancouver Public Library
Move coincides with improved digital access to historic federal documents

October 5, 2016
By Jane Armstrong

Thousands of boxes of aging federal documents, containing reams of information on B.C.'s First Nations, will move to downtown Vancouver as part of a new collaboration between the national archives and the public library.

Altogether, about 5,500 boxes of original documents dating between 1870 and 1970 will be transferred from Burnaby, where they're stored in a warehouse, and moved to downtown Vancouver and made accessible to library users.

The material belongs to Library and Archives Canada.

It includes documents from the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs containing hard copies of government records, including treaties, dating between the 1870s and 1970s.

The documents can be viewed in downtown Vancouver beginning in spring 2017, according to an announcement made Wednesday by Library and Archives Canada and the Vancouver Public Library.

Bella Coola First Nations group
during a tour of Germany, 
circa 1884. 

From Vancouver Public Library's
historical photograph collection. (Carl Guenther)

As well, the national archive is transferring thousands of other federal documents to digital platforms.

That material includes census documents, photos, films, art, maps and sound, said Canada's Chief Librarian and Archivist Guy Berthiaume.

Much of this material is already available online. But under the new collaboration, the digital archives will be available to view at Vancouver Public Library's main downtown branch.

Berthiaume and Sandra Singh, chief librarian at the Vancouver Public Library, said the changes will allow more people to view material previously available only in Burnaby.

"This is an extraordinary opportunity for patrons to access new resources to achieve their goals and aspirations," Singh told reporters at the Vancouver Public Library.

"Like grade school and high school students looking for sources for history projects, patrons searching out local First Nations' histories and the scores of people who come to research their family history."

This photo, from Library and Archives Canada, depicts the Royal Canadian
Air Force (RCAF) Flyers, a hockey team hastily assembled to represent Canada
at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The Flyers won gold. The photo is part of the national archives' digital collection.
Records of ancestors

Berthiaume said the digital material includes documents pertaining to Ottawa's decisions during the First World War, including troop deployment.

"For genealogists, that's a gold mine," Berthiaume said. "They can find records of their ancestors, every single thing. Their medical records, where they went, what salaries they got, etcetera."

As for the new hard documents soon to be available in Vancouver, Singh said nothing compares to viewing an original document.

"Looking at a digitized copy of our Constitution is not nearly the same as seeing it in person and standing there and looking at it, and seeing where the water drops were because it was raining that day," she said.

"Just that sense of connection to the past in this very real physical world that you don't get with the digital."


Monday, October 10, 2016

Pew Research Center: Younger adults more likely than their elders to prefer reading news

Younger adults more likely than their elders to prefer reading news

October 6, 2016
By Amy Mitchell

When it comes to technology’s influence on America’s young adults, reading is not dead – at least not the news. When asked whether one prefers to read, watch or listen to their news, younger adults are far more likely than older ones to opt for text, and most of that reading takes place on the web.

Overall, more Americans prefer to watch their news (46%) than to read it (35%) or listen to it (17%), a Pew Research Center survey found earlier this year. But that varies dramatically by age. Those ages 50 and older are far more likely to prefer watching news over any other method: About half (52%) of 50- to 64-year-olds and 58% of those 65 and older would rather watch the news, while roughly three-in-ten (29% and 27%, respectively) prefer to read it. Among those under 50, on the other hand, roughly equal portions – about four-in-ten of those ages 18-29 and ages 30-49 – opt to read their news as opt to watch it.

Most of that reading among younger adults is through digital text rather than print. About eight-in-ten (81%) of 18- to 29-year-olds who prefer to read their news also prefer to get their news online; just 10% choose a print newspaper. The breakdown among 30- to 49-year-olds is similar. News readers who are ages 50-64, on the other hand, are more evenly split between a preference for the web (41%) and print paper (40%), while those 65 and older mostly still turn to the print paper (63%).

There is also evidence that younger adults who prefer to watch their news are beginning to make the transition to doing so on a computer rather than a television. While 57% of 18- to 29-year-old news watchers prefer to get their news via TV, 37% cite the web as their platform of choice. That is far more than any other age group, including double the percentage of 30- to 49-year-old news watchers.

While news listening garners a smaller fan base overall, 18- to 29-year-olds who prefer this method of news again show signs of digital migration: Three-in-ten of these news listeners prefer the web for their news, at least twice that of older news listeners.

To be sure, younger adults consistently demonstrate less interest in the news overall. But our research also reveals that, in the digital realm, they often get news at equal or higher rates than older Americans, whether intentionally or not.

Source: Pew Research Center