Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cool Bookish Places: BOOK and BED TOKYO

By Tasha Brandstatter
Nov. 23, 2015 

Photo: Kastuhiro AOKI ©R­STORE 2015
Have you ever wanted to spend the night in a bookstore or your favorite library? Well have we got the perfect hotel for you.
The newly opened Book and Bed Tokyo is a twist on the typical Japanese capsule hotel, where guests sleep in small, bunk-like spaces surrounded by books.
Photo : Kastuhiro AOKI ©R­STORE 2015
According to the hotel’s website:
The perfect setting for a good nights sleep is something you will not find here. There are no comfortable mattresses, fluffy pillows nor lightweight and warm down duvets.
What we do offer is an experience while reading a book (or comic book)… the blissful “instant of falling asleep”.
It is already 2 am but you think just a little more… with heavy drooping eye lids you continue reading only to realize you have fallen asleep.
Dozing off obliviously during your treasured pasttime is the finest “moment of sleep”, don’t you agree?
As with most capsule hotels or hostels, a night at Book and Bed Tokyo is fairly affordable: around 28 to 36 USD per night. Amenities include a vending machine, shared bathrooms, free wifi, and most importantly, books! The lobby’s bookshelf space contains about 1700 titles in both Japanese and English, provided by Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers. And judging by the posts already populating Instagram, people love it.
Instagram photo by @alfaromeo_julia
Instagram photo by @usi_uni_u
Instagram photo by @kuwaharai
Instagram photo by @herocy01
Instagram photo by @yuma_matsumoto

Photo courtesy of BOOK and BED TOKYO ©R­STORE 2015
The PR photo of what the beds at Book and Bed Tokyo look like…
Instagram photo by @yascoffeee

…contrasted with a slightly more realistic pic from Instagram user @yascaffeee.
If you’d rather not forgo a comfy bed, but still want to experience the hotel, you can spend a few hours there during the day for only about 12 USD.
Book and Bed Tokyo’s design by Suppose Design Office is warm and cozy. The open bookshelf lets you peek into the bunk beds behind, and the lobby’s communal seating area is furnished by deep sofas that are perfect for sprawling out and nodding off. Books hang artistically from the ceiling and the space blends natural wood with industrial details.
Instagram photo by @key5dk
Book and Bed’s minimal but stylish door sign.
Photo courtesy of BOOK and BED TOKYO ©R­STORE 2015
Instagram photo by @yuma_matsumoto
Instagram photo by @keiichiisoiso
The hotel itself is on the seventh floor of the Lumiere office building. The elevator opens onto this tight check-in space. The beds and lobby are behind a key code entry door.
Nearly bed time!
The concept of Book and Bed, as explained by So Rikimaru of the hotel’s managing company, R-Store, started with his own experience:
When I go to five-star hotels, the bed is lovely but I find myself wanting to sleep in the bar. Even if there is a comfortable bed, sometimes you still want to be in a more interesting place.
As someone who would gladly spend most of the night hanging around in a bookstore rather than a hotel room while I’m traveling, I’d have to agree with Rikimaru on this one, and go a step further to say this idea is GENIUS.
Book and Bed is located in Ikebukuro, a neighborhood in the northwest section of Tokyo.Trip Advisor users have described the location as “perfect”: quiet, close to trains, etc. According to reports, Book and Bed is already booking up months in advance, so reserve your bed early!


Tasha Brandstatter is a freelance writer, art historian, and bibliophile who blogs about books at Truth Beauty Freedom and Books. She will work for champagne and then tweet about it: @heidenkind.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Toronto's Giant "Story Pod" Unfolds into an Open-Air Library for Public Reading

November 20, 2015

By Anna Gragert 

Architecture studio AKB is bewitching Toronto's book lovers with an inviting design known as the Story Pod. As its name suggests, it's a pod for stories. Located near Main Street in the town of Newmarket, the compact construction serves its purpose as a book exchange where visitors can take a book, leave a book, or lounge on the built-in seating for a relaxing reading session. Regardless of the reasoning behind a person's visit to the pod, each person is met with an artistically designed structure with a series of vertical slats. When the slats are closer together, they look like an opaque wall, but they reveal book stacks when the openings are widened. There are also gaps backed by transparent plastic, which allows light to filter through and add to the piece's dynamic nature. 
To invite readers into the space, Story Pod's doors pivot open in the morning to mimic the covers of a book. Once nighttime falls and the doors are locked to protect the books, energy efficient LED lights (which are powered by the roof's solar panels) make the structure look like a lantern. For those who are walking around at night, the Story Poddoubles as a beacon of illumination.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Washington Post: The 10 Best Books of 2015

The Washington Post: The 10 Best Books of 2015

By Book World Authors | Illustrations by Julia Rothman | Noember 18, 2015

In our annual roundup of best books, you’ll find 10 that we think are exceptionally rewarding and 100 more you shouldn’t miss. In addition to our usual recommendations for lovers of mysteries, graphic novels and audiobooks, we’ve added lists drawn from our new monthly columns in romance, poetry and science fiction and fantasy.

Between the World and Me


Between the World and Me” is a riveting meditation on the state of race in America that has arrived at a tumultuous moment in America’s history of racial strife. What it does better than any other recent book is relentlessly drive home the point that “racism is a visceral experience. . . . It dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.” To be black in the ghetto of Coates’s youth “was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease.” Throughout the book, Coates describes being in numb-inducing fear for the safety of his own body. This work, which won the National Book Award in nonfiction, is something to behold: a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers when national events most conform to his vision.

SPIEGEL & GRAU. 152 PP. $24.

Review: A black man’s stark, visceral experience of racism

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS


The Islamic State, whose radical Islamic warriors have inflicted their brutality across the globe from the Middle East to Paris, was founded as al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 by a Jordanian thug known by his nom de guerre, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In “Black Flags,” Joby Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The Washington Post, explains the importance of this gangster and analyzes his continuing influence on the Islamic State long after his death in 2006. There have been a number of previous biographies of Zarqawi, but Warrick takes the story much deeper. Most important, he shows in painful but compulsively readable detail how a series of mishaps and mistakes by the U.S. and Jordanian governments gave this unschooled hoodlum his start as a terrorist superstar and set the Middle East on a path of sectarian violence that has proved hard to contain.

DOUBLEDAY. 344 PP. $28.95.

Review: The gangster-terrorist who gave us ISIS

The Book of Aron


In the summer of 1942, German soldiers expelled almost 200 starving children from an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto and packed them into rail cars bound for Treblinka. Drawing on his imagination and dozens of historical sources, Shepard brings the Warsaw orphanage to life in this remarkable novel about a poor Polish boy and his friendship with the caretaker of the orphans, the pediatrician Janusz Korczak. The novel hangs on the delicate tension in the adolescent narrator’s deadpan voice — never cute, never cloying. Aron relays his world just as he experiences it: “The next morning my father told me to get up,” he says, “because it was war and the Germans had invaded.” And with that news, his town slides into hell. Although relentless in its portrayal of systematic evil, “The Book of Aron” is nonetheless a story of such candor about the complexity of heroism that it challenges us to greater courage.

KNOPF. 260 PP. $23.95.

Review: ‘The Book of Aron,’ by Jim Shepard, is a masterpiece

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush


Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H.W. Bush accomplishes a neat trick. It completes the historical and popular rehabilitation of its subject, though it does by affirming, not upending, common perceptions of America’s 41st president. In Meacham’s telling, Bush indeed lacked an ideological vision, was as overmatched in domestic policy as he was masterful on the global stage, benefited from his family’s influence, and remains overshadowed “by the myth of his predecessor and the drama of his sons’ political lives.” What Meacham so skillfully adds to this understanding — through extraordinary detail, deft writing and, thanks to his access to Bush’s diaries, an inner monologue of key moments in Bush’s presidency — is the simple insight that none of these supposed flaws hindered the man from meeting the needs of the nation and that, if anything, they helped him. Bush sought power less to pursue a particular agenda, the author writes, than to fulfill “an ideal of service and an ambition — a consuming one — to win.” The story of how he did it is worth every page of this hefty volume.

RANDOM HOUSE. 836 PP. $35.

Review: The opportunities and opportunism of George H.W. Bush

Fates and Furies


Spanning decades, oceans and the whole economic scale from indigence to opulence, “Fates and Furies,” which is a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, holds within its grasp the story of one extraordinary marriage. The book’s first half concocts the blessed life of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite, the adored son of a wealthy Florida family who has great ambitions to be an actor. His wife, Mathilde, so long impoverished and alone, willingly takes on the chore of encouraging this self-absorbed, quick-to-despair young man. Groff’s flexible style can be impressionistic enough to convey the high points of passing years or lush enough to embody Lotto’s melodramatic sense of himself. And halfway through, Groff turns from “Fates” to “Furies,” and we see Mathilde’s life unmediated by Lotto’s idealized vision of her. Here’s a woman as determined as Antigone, as ferocious as Medea.

RIVERHEAD. 390 PP. $27.95.

Review: ‘Fates and Furies’ review: A masterful tale of marriage and secrets

Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It


Welcome to the brave new world of criminal technology, where robbers have been replaced by hackers and victims include all of us on the Web. Goodman, a former beat cop who founded the Future Crimes Institute, wrote his book to shed light on the latest in criminal and terrorist tradecraft and to kick off a discussion. He presents myriad cybercrime examples: There’s the Ukraine-incorporated start-up that sold what it called an “entirely new class” of antivirus software, which turned out to be crimeware — software that is written to commit crimes. Even the human body is hackable. Researchers successfully broke into a pacemaker and were able to read confidential patient information and could have delivered jolts of electricity to the patient’s heart. In the last two chapters, Goodman suggests how to limit the impact of this new brand of crime and calls for us to tackle cybersecurity in much the same way we treat epidemics and public health.

DOUBLEDAY. 392 PP. $27.95.

Review: Exploring the real-world effects — and the political ones — of our technological insecurity.

A Little Life


Hanya Yanagihara’s novel, which is a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, illuminates human suffering pushed to its limits, drawn in extraordinary, eloquent detail. At the opening, four young men move to New York City. They are devoted to one another, each with bright paths glimmering before them. Despite the brothers-in-arms setup, however, the narrative quickly concentrates on one of the men, Jude, an orphan with a mysterious past who becomes an assistant prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. Jude’s desire to maintain a veneer of control, despite being haunted by sexual and psychological abuse, creates the book’s major drama. As “A Little Life” paints it, his friends’ love is the thing that could save Jude, if only he would let it. Through her decade-by-decade examination of these people’s lives, Yanagihara draws a deeply realized character study that inspires as much as devastates.

DOUBLEDAY. 720 PP. $30.

Review: ‘A Little Life,’ by Hanya Yanagihara, inspires and devastates

Negroland: A Memoir


Margo Jefferson was an African American girl from a good family that had money, connections and expectations of excellence. She attended Chicago’s private, progressive Lab School, graduated from Brandeis and Columbia universities, and eventually worked at the New York Times, where she won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. She was (mostly) protected from the sting of racism and its pernicious hacking away at self-esteem, opportunity and hope. Her father was a pediatrician, and she describes her mother as a socialite. But her armor was thin, and over the years she has nursed her discomfort with being a child of privilege. “Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered,” she writes. In Negroland, residents were mindful that being perceived as too successful by whites risked provoking their wrath. So they walked through life proudly but with care, treading cautiously so as never to offend. “Negroland” is not about raw racism or caricatured villains. It is about subtleties and nuances, presumptions and slights that chip away at one’s humanity and take a mental toll.

PANTHEON. 248 PP. $25.

Review: Life in a world of black accomplishment, money and position



As he did in “The Corrections” (2001) and “Freedom” (2010), Franzen once again begins with a family, and his ravenous intellect strides the globe, drawing us through a collection of cleverly connected plots infused with major issues of our era. That Dickensian ambition is cheekily explicit in “Purity,” which traces the unlikely rise of a poor, fatherless child named Pip. At least partially to escape her mother’s neediness, Pip accepts an internship with a rogue Web site in the jungles of Bolivia that exposes the nasty secrets of corporations and nations. Its leader is an Internet activist whose back story in East Germany reads like a cerebral thriller. Sustaining this for almost 600 pages requires an extraordinarily engaging style, and in “Purity,” Franzen writes with perfectly balanced fluency. From its tossed-off observations to its thoughtful reflections on nuclear weapons and the moral compromises of journalism, this novel offers a constantly provocative series of insights.


Review: With ‘Purity,’ Jonathan Franzen tackles the Web, mothers, the truth

Welcome to Braggsville


This shockingly funny story pricks every nerve of the American body politic. D’aron Little May Davenport, a polite white teen from Braggsville, Ga., arrives at the hypersensitive University of California at Berkeley as if he’s a Southern-fried Candide. The whole novel turns on a moment in one of his history classes when D’aron mentions that his home town stages a Civil War reenactment every year during its Pride Week Patriot Days Festival. A too clever, incredibly offensive, potentially disastrous plan is born: D’aron and three friends travel back to Braggsville and stage a mock lynching, “a performative intervention.” Johnson is a master at stripping away our persistent myths and exposing the subterfuge and displacement necessary to keep pretending that a culture built on kidnapping, rape and torture was the apotheosis of gentility and honor. But “Welcome to Braggsville” is not just a broadside against the South; it’s equally irritated with liberalism’s self-righteousness.

MORROW. 354 PP. $25.99.

Review: The most unsettling, must-read novel this year: ‘Welcome to Braggsville’

From: The Washington Post

The New York Times: Beneath New York Public Library, Shelving Its Past for High-Tech Research Stacks

The New York Times: Beneath New York Public Library, Shelving Its Past for High-Tech Research Stacks

By Tom Mashberg | Nov 15, 2015

The New York Public Library is creating a vast underground space for its
research collection, after abandoning plans to move much of it to New Jersey.
Credit James Estrin/The New York Times
As they skate or snack in Bryant Park, visitors might dismiss the stately New York Public Library next door as a dog-eared relic in an age of digital information.

But unbeknown to most of them, 17 feet below ground, in a concrete bunker worthy of the White House, the library is expanding and updating one of the most sophisticated book storage systems in the world.

Since March, after abandoning a much-criticized plan to move the bulk of its research collection to New Jersey, the library has been working instead to create a high-tech space underground for the 2.5 million research works long held in its original stacks.

The books will begin arriving in April, and by the end of spring library officials expect to be using a new retrieval system to ferry the volumes and other materials from their 84 miles of subterranean shelving, loaded into little motorized carts — a bit like miniaturized minecars carrying nuggets of research gold.

To fit all the books in the allotted space, the library will have to abandon its version of the Dewey Decimal System, in which shelving is organized by subject, in favor of a new “high-density” protocol in which all that matters is size.

Behind the library, under Bryant Park and the skating rink, a complex
storage space is taking shape. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times
Books will be stacked by height and tracked by bar code rather than by a subject-based system, making for some odd bookfellows. “Best Food Writing 2013,” edited by Holly Hughes, for example, will be stored next to “War Dog: The No-Man’s Land Puppy Who Took to the Skies,” by Damien Lewis; and “Old Romanian Fairy Tales,” translated by Mirela Roznoveanu, will sit beside “The Hot Dog Companion: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Food We Love,” by David Graulich.

Librarians nationwide are embracing size-based systems as they retool their research collections, which unlike books that circulate, cannot leave the premises or be browsed by hand.

“It’s a lot better,” said Carolyn Broomhead, the library’s research community manager. “Things don’t get squished together and are much easier to find and track.”

The Bryant storage space consists of two floors, the first of which was put into use in the late 1980s, while the second floor, dug out but not finished back then, has lain fallow. Now, to accommodate the books long housed in the original 105-year-old stacks, a part of the library whose future is still under discussion, the second floor is being turned into a state-of-the-art storage hub.

This was not, of course, Plan A. That plan entailed a makeover of the flagship Fifth Avenue library that would have sent the research books to Princeton, N.J. But it set off a virtual Fahrenheit 451 of outrage among scholars and others for whom the library’s role as a research mecca seemed endangered. Critics, who hoped the old steel stacks could stay in use, remain apprehensive about the new stocking and retrieval system, which they say is impressive but has not been tested.

“I applaud their efforts, and I want to be optimistic about the future,” said David Nasaw, an author, historian and professor at the City University of New York, and one of a number of critics who have recently met with library officials to discuss the site. “I still want to know how many books were taken out of the stacks and how many are coming back.”

Library officials say they hope to show they have moved past the quarrel over where to house the materials and are getting on with the business of making them safe and accessible.

“We heard the concerns about our prior renovation plan,” said Anthony W. Marx, the library’s president. “Now, actions speak loudly, as we are here literally putting a stake in the ground, or more accurately stacks, to store and preserve the amazing collection on site for the research community.”

The nuts and bolts of the expansion are in many ways as riveting as the rare volumes and archival treasures that will line it, among them a handwritten 1630 land deed signed by the Dutch colonial governor Peter Minuit, and George Washington’s 1757 military recipe for “small beer,” the craft brew of his day.

The climate-controlled repository encompasses more than 110,000 square feet divided between the two stories. It stretches from beneath the back wall of the main building, which fronts Fifth Avenue, a full block west to Sixth Avenue, and from 42nd Street to 40th Street.

To complete the second floor, engineers used a hatch that opens onto Bryant Park to funnel in the tons of concrete needed to finish the floor. Because moisture is a dire threat to the books, builders surrounded the space with an extensive drainage network.

Soon, just below where skaters sip cocoa, a nerve center of librarians, curators and clerks, working at computer terminals in a constant 65-degree environment (with 40 percent humidity), will receive electronic requests for the research books and other items.

The retrieval system aims to get the materials from shelf to scholar in less than 40 minutes.

Library officials say they determined that retrofitting the original stacks — a skeletal maze of steel shelving that extends seven stories beneath the library’s majestic Rose Reading Room — would have cost $47 million, while simply expanding the space below Bryant Park will cost $23 million.

The library trustee Abby S. Milstein and her husband, Howard P. Milstein, donated $8 million toward the cost, and the storage space will be named the Milstein Research Stacks.

An illustration shows the addition of library stacks beneath
the surface of the Bryant Park lawn. Credit NYPL
When the expanded space opens, its upper and lower floors will be configured differently. While roughly half the upper floor has space for books, a large portion is used to store special collections, microfilm and archives. The bottom floor will house only books.

Both floors, though, will use the new retrieval system, which is replacing a rickety conveyor belt installed in the 1980s. The new two-track delivery system will allow the motor-driven carts to run up or down to their destinations, loaded with books and programmed to stop as designated.

“What’s nice now is that if a cart were to die, you simply remove the cart, rather than shutting down the whole system,” said Gerry Oliva, director of facilities management.

But new technology is not always the answer. Mr. Oliva said the Bryant Park storage space has long had mobile stacks that can be pushed tightly together to maximize space.

But on the top floor, the mobile units are opened and closed with a card-swipe and laser system. It is intended, in part, to keep them from closing accidentally, in horror-movie style, as clerks seek books.

That never happened, but on the new bottom floor, officials are reverting to good, old-fashioned hand cranks to maneuver the shelves.

Why? Excessive maintenance.

“The other ones just don’t work as well,” Mr. Oliva said.

Correction: November 16, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the circumstances under which the scholar David Nasaw met with library officials. He met with them at the library to discuss the subterranean storage area but did not tour the site.

Jennifer Schuessler contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on November 16, 2015, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: What Lies Beneath. 

From: The New York Times

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Publishers Weekly: Declining E-book Sales Hit Home

Publishers Weekly: Declining E-book Sales Hit Home

Sales of the format dropped at HC, S&S in most-recent quarter

By Jim Milliot  | November 6, 2015

Lower e-book sales were a big factor in the weak financial performance at HarperCollins and limiting gains at Simon & Schuster in the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2015. At HC, EBITDA fell 23.6% relative to the similar period in 2014, dropping to $42 million from $55 million. Total revenue rose by less than 1%, but without the benefit of the August 2014 purchase of Harlequin, revenue would have been down about 2% and EBITDA off 33%.

Parent company News Corp blamed the weak sales performance on lower Divergent sales and lower e-book sales. Digital sales, which include both e-book and digital audio sales, accounted for 20% of revenue in the most recent quarter (about $82 million), down from 23% of sales ($93 million) in the comparable period a year ago. With digital audio sales generally performing well across the industry, the 11.8% decline in digital sales is most likely due to a drop in e-book sales. A bright spot at HC was the U.S. general-books segment, which benefitted from more than three million units sold of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

In a conference call discussing the quarterly results, News chief executive Robert Thomson said the company is “watching closely” the softening e-book sales trend in the U.S.

S&S was able to offset a drop in e-book sales in the same quarter with a strong performance in digital audio and higher sales in its children’s division. Overall, sales at S&S rose 2%, and operating income increased 2.4%.

While digital audio sales had a solid third-quarter performance, total digital sales fell from 28.3% of total S&S revenue (about $56 million) in last year’s third quarter to 24.8% of sales in the most recent period ($50 million). E-book sales are estimated to have declined about 17% in the quarter. Sales of digital audio, meanwhile, are up about 40% in the first nine months of 2015 compared to last year.

S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy said she is not too worried about the decline—yet. She said there are lots of factors behind the e-book sales decline, including a change in product between last year’s third quarter and the most recent period. Reidy said S&S has seen little evidence to suggest that higher e-book prices are behind the e-book sales slump and noted she wouldn’t be surprised if e-book sales started to rise again.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did not break out digital results in its trade group in the third quarter. During the period, revenue in the trade division fell 6.5% compared to last year’s the third quarter, and net income dropped to $164,000, from $3.5 million last year. Sales declined to $43.3 million, from $46.3 million. Adjusted EBITDA fell to $3.8 million, from $7.2 million a year ago. HMH attributed the decline to strong prior year sales of titles such as The Giver and What If? partially offset by strong sales of frontlist cookbooks such as The Whole 30, The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, and Cake My Day.

Slowing e-book sales also came up in the conference call with Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music, in her discussion of the chain’s second-quarter performance. The retailer posted solid results in the period ended Sept. 26, 2015, with revenue up 8.8%, to C$205.7 million, relative to the same period last year. The Canadian chain also cut its net loss to C$1.8 million from C$8.5 million.

Comparable sales increases at stores led the gain at Indigo, as the retailer operated two fewer superstores in the quarter and four fewer small format stores. Comps at the superstores were up 13.6%, and sales through the small format stores rose 12.9%. Online sales increased 14.2%.

Reisman said she was particularly pleased that “at the heart of the growth, which is really satisfying, is our core book business. We believe people are recognizing that books are a part of our lives that we will keep a part of our lives.” She also noted that e-book sales have leveled off. “I think what people are saying is e-reading is not going away—we continue to participate in that market—but increasingly, people are using it for certain things, like when they’re flying, or when they can’t carry books around. Other than that, people seem to be happy reading their print books.”

Third-quarter Results, 2014-2015($ in millions)
Simon & Schuster
Operating income$42.0$43.02.4%
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade
Net income$3.5$0.2-94.3%

Estimated Third-quarter Digital Sales, 2014-2015($ in millions)
Digital sales$93.0$82.0-11.8%
Simon & Schuster
Digital sales$56.0$50.0-10.7%

From: Publishers Weekly

The New York Review of Books: What Libraries Can (Still) Do

The New York Review of Books: What Libraries Can (Still) Do

By James Gleick | October 26, 2015
Deutsches Historiches Museum/Arne Psille/Art Resource
Heinrich Lukas Arnold: The Reading Room, circa 1840.

Of the many institutions suffering through the world’s metamorphosis from analog to digital (real to virtual, offline to online), few are as beleaguered as that bedrock of our culture, the public library. Budgets are being slashed by state and local governments. Even the best libraries are cutting staff and hours. Their information desks are seemingly superseded by Google, their encyclopedias are gathering dust. And their defining product, the one that lines their shelves, now arrives in the form of a weightless doppelgänger that doesn’t require shelves.

In the technocracy, all the world’s information comes to us on screens—desk, pocket, wrist, goggles—and no one trudges through wind and rain with library card in hand to find a single worn object. After all, when you want the text of Magna Carta, you don’t track down the original. Same with books? “Libraries are screwed,” said Eli Neiburger, a Michigan library director, in a much-quoted presentation at a Library Journal conference in 2010. “Libraries are screwed because we are invested in the codex, and the codex has become outmoded.”

So is the library, storehouse and lender of books, as anachronistic as the record store, the telephone booth, and the Playboy centerfold? Perversely, the most popular service at some libraries has become free Internet access. People wait in line for terminals that will let them play solitaire and Minecraft, and librarians provide coffee. Other patrons stay in their cars outside just to use the Wi-Fi. No one can be happy with a situation that reduces the library to a Starbucks wannabe.

Perhaps worst of all: the “bookless library” is now a thing. You can look it up in Wikipedia.

I’m an optimist. I think the pessimists and the worriers—and this includes some librarians—are taking their eyes off the ball. The library has no future as yet another Internet node, but neither will it relax into retirement as an antiquarian warehouse. Until our digital souls depart our bodies for good and float away into the cloud, we retain part citizenship in the physical world, where we still need books, microfilm, diaries and letters, maps and manuscripts, and the experts who know how to find, organize, and share them.

In the midst of an information explosion, librarians are still the most versatile information specialists we have. And the purest. In his new book, BiblioTech, a wise and passionate manifesto, John Palfrey reminds us that the library is the last free space for the gathering and sharing of knowledge: “Our attention cannot be bought and sold in a library.” As a tradition barely a century and a half old in the United States, it gives physical form to the principle that public access to knowledge is the foundation of democracy.

The problem of libraries now—and it is a problem—involves some paradoxes, which need to be sorted out. For one thing, as Palfrey says, librarians will need to cherish their special talent as “stewards” while letting go of the instinct to be “collectors.” Knowledge in physical form needs to be handled carefully, preserved, and curated. But with digital information pouring into iPhones and Kindles in petabytes—via Twitter and Instagram and YouTube, not to mention Amazon’s self-publishing factories—libraries need to rethink old habits. They cannot collect everything, or even a small fraction of everything. “That model is already too hard to keep up,” Palfrey says. “A network of stewards can accomplish vastly more than a disconnected (even sometimes competitive) group of collectors ever can.”

The packrat instinct is hard to shed. Five years ago the Library of Congress began a project that collects every utterance on Twitter, in the name of preserving the nation’s digital heritage. That is billions weekly, sucked up for storage in secure tape archives, and the Library has yet to figure out how to make any of it available to researchers. Divorced from a human curator, the unfiltered mass of Twitter may as well be a garbage heap. Meanwhile, onward streams the continually vanishing conversation in Facebook and Snapchat and whatever next year’s channels will be, along with the email of the great and small, preserved haphazardly or not at all, to the presumed dismay of future historians. What’s an archivist to do?

There is no escaping the tension between real and virtual space, between the shelf and the cloud. “Librarians well know that the discovery of information is moving out of physical locations and into distributed spaces”—i.e. screens everywhere—says Palfrey, and this is an understatement. He recalls an afternoon in his town library in Andover, Massachusetts, when he heard a thirteen-year-old shouting into his iPhone, “Siri, what does ‘terminal velocity’ mean?” Evidently the feckless genius of the cloud had nothing to offer. Palfrey took comfort from that, knowing that any reference librarian could do better: “I realized that all will be well in the world of libraries, at least for a while.”

Alas—all too predictably—in the time it took for Palfrey’s book to reach physical form, Siri has mastered terminal velocity. Wikipedia continues to evolve, the one great holdout from the commercial Internet, refusing to charge money or sell its users’ information, crowd-sourcing the expertise of a thousand reference librarians. It is an effective online realization of the vision of a network of stewards. Still, it is not and does not aspire to be a library.

People continue to gather in libraries, with or without their laptops and pocket devices. They sit at the old wooden tables and consult real documents and cherish the quiet aura of the books that surround them. Is this merely a nostalgic dream? Palfrey is technologically savvy and looking toward the future, and the fundamental point applies: “In a digital era, spaces where people can come to study, read, and think are essential for communities and individuals to thrive. We already have too few such open, public spaces.” The library remains a sacred place for secular folk.

The toughest question for libraries may be what to do about e-books. Libraries want them, naturally—to have them and to lend them. If e-books are off limits, Palfrey says, “the essential role for libraries of providing free access to culture to those who cannot otherwise afford it is in peril.” Then again, a library that streams e-books risks rendering its brick-and-mortar space superfluous. And a library that could lend any e-book, without restriction, en masse, would be the perfect fatal competitor to bookstores and authors hoping to sell e-books for money. Something will have to give. Palfrey suggests that Congress could create “a compulsory license system to cover digital lending through libraries,” allowing for payment of fair royalties to the authors. Many countries, including most of Europe, have public lending right programs for this purpose.

Palfrey, now head of school at Phillips Academy, is a former Harvard law professor and executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He is also founding chairman of the Digital Public Library of America, and BiblioTech serves in part as a brief for that project. The DPLA has been described in The New York Review by Robert Darnton; it began in reaction to Google’s project to digitize all the world’s books on its own terms, for its own use. The DPLA is meant to be a free and public online library, combining the resources of the largest university archives with collections from regional libraries and museums—as Palfrey says, “a national library platform for the United States—and in some respects the whole world—in the digital age.”

The tensions bedeviling every public library apply to the DPLA as well. It is “free to all” and open source and therefore unable so far to include copyrighted material; and it has to be careful of competing with the myriad small institutions that are aggregating its resources. On the one hand the DPLA is a website, On the other hand, as Palfrey explains, it must serve broadly as a platform, encouraging librarians to use their expertise to link regional and national collections and create timely exhibitions. The balance will not be easy to find. Websites like to attract visitors, the more the better, and so digital services lean toward centralization.

Librarians will have to embrace these contradictions, and so will all of us who cherish libraries. A transition to the digital can’t mean shrugging off the worldly embodiments of knowledge, delicate manuscripts and fading photographs and old-fashioned books of paper and glue. To treat those as quaint objects of nostalgia is the technocrats’ folly. The masters of Internet commerce—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple—sometimes talk as though they’re building a new society, where knowledge is light-speed and fungible, but a marketplace is not a society.

From: The New York Review of Books

Saturday, November 21, 2015 Rinse, Spin, Read To Kids: It's A Mashup Of Laundromat and Library Rinse, Spin, Read To Kids: It's A Mashup Of Laundromat and Library

By Andrew Boryga | October 27, 2015

The Libromat, which combines laundry and literature, results in
brighter brights and brighter kids. Justin Woods / Libromat
Poor mothers often spend way too much time hunched over a washboard. What if they could use those hours to curl up with their kids and read a book instead? A group of friends at Oxford University plans to find out by developing a combination childhood education and laundry services center, a concept they've dubbed a "Libromat."

The five team members have extensive backgrounds in childhood education, and they pooled their talents to apply for the 2015 Hult Prize, a $1 million award for young social entrepreneurs tackling some of the world's biggest problems.

This year's challenge: provide self-sustainable education to impoverished urban areas.

Put in a load, read a book: It's a relief for parents who were washing clothes by hand and a joy for kids to have Mom or Dad read a story to them.i

Put in a load, read a book: It's a relief for parents who were 
washing clothes by hand and a joy for kids to have Mom 
or Dad read a story to them. Justin Woods / Libromat.
Team member Nicholas Dowdall, 25, zeroed in on picture book reading after stumbling on a study in Khayelitsha, a township of more than 300,000 in Cape Town, South Africa. Mothers of infants were recruited and given eight weeks of training to read to their children. The women reported a significant increase in the number of words that their kids understood and vocalized.

"I thought, 'This is fantastic research, but how do we take this to scale so that it doesn't just sit in a journal article?' " Dowdall says.

The group's members figured out their answer when they learned that residents are desperate for laundry facilities. According to the team's research, mothers and caregivers in South Africa can spend a whopping nine hours per week hand-washing dirty clothes. "That's one wh
Parents get advice on how to do a great job reading books 
to their kids.  Justin Woods / Libromat
ole working day," team member David Jeffery, 23, says. So they aimed to solve two problems at once and teach mothers effective ways to read books to their infants in the amount of time it takes to complete a wash and spin cycle. And with the money collected from the laundry, they could keep this up for load after load.

As finalists for the Hult Prize, the team was given the opportunity to pilot a Libromat in July and August at an early childhood development center in Khayelitsha, where Jeffery had previously volunteered. Washers and dryers were installed and the fee for a wash and spin cycle was roughly $1.50 in South African currency — on par with the limited laundromat options available in the area.

For four weeks, they offered courses on book sharing between parents and children. Lessons started with videos clips that taught parents techniques like pointing at and naming key objects, connecting pictures in the books to familiar things, and taking opportunities to talk about feelings and emotions with their child. Then parents practiced these techniques and received immediate feedback from two women in the community trained at a nearby university.

In interviews conducted after the pilot, Dowdall was thrilled to learn that many of the mothers believed their relationships with their children had improved. Some even said their children were asking for story time every evening before bed.

One participant, Ntomboxolo, 34, a mother who attended the sessions with her infant daughter, says, "I am a working mother, so more often than not I am tired. But now, I make time to share something in a book with my daughter every night." Ntomboxolo also says she saw changes in her daughter's behavior: "There was not much communication before. I see her drawing closer to me."

And the added laundry services helped mothers save some of their energy for those bedtime stories. "The machine does not complain when it is cold," says a mother of two named Paulina. "The machine never complains; it just does its job."

Team Libromat estimates the total cost to build and retrofit centers to be approximately $10,000 (including the machines, books and furniture). They hope to attract 200 regular customers every month.

As part of their research, the Libromat team members conducted surveys with over 300 parents in South Africa, Guatemala, Cameroon and Uganda. They found that roughly 80 percent were willing to pay for the service. Meanwhile, 94 percent of those surveyed in South Africa even said they would walk as far as 30 minutes to go to a center.

Dowdall suspects the enthusiastic response is due to the lack of laundry services in urban areas. Once people experience a Libromat, however, he believes they will recognize that they can get more out of it than just clean clothes. He also added that each course will offer free slots for members of the community who cannot afford laundry services.

Although the Libromat missed out on the Hult Prize — which went to an idea that will improve informal day care centers in urban slums — the team members are going forward with the project. They have received initial funds of $200,000 from an investor to start three new centers in South Africa. They will extend their program to eight weeks and, when classes are not in session, operate the center as a walk-in laundry and library service with children's books. Centers will be managed directly by the team and will employ one educator, laundry manager and general assistant from the community.

"Everyone can go to the local Libromat center and get a class," Dowdall says.

Andrew Boryga is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications.