Archive for category Libraries

The New York Public Library Influencing Others

Mason Kelliher

There have been many renovation plans for the New York Public Libraries over the years. In my blog post I went over the past and current plans for the Stephen A. Schwarzman building and how they were going to exile millions of books to a storage unit so that they could remove the historical stacks and make the library more modern. Ultimately, they decided to scratch this idea and relocate some of the money to the Mid-Manhattan location and Bryant Park. This way any books added to the Schwarzman library can be easily accessible as Bryant Park is right across the street. In this article I will be furthering the discussion of the NYPL past and future renovations, but more so on the changes in structure and goal for providing people with the opportunity to learning centres for all ages, access to free Wi-Fi, business building centres for entrepreneurs, and many more other resources that go far past the idea of providing books for people.

Figure 1: Retrieved from

There are many small things that the everyday person takes for granted, such as power, clean water, education, a roof over their head, internet and many other things that the average person from Saskatoon assumes is nearly assured all over. I read a couple articles about the NYPL initiative to provide for everyone, especially the ones that may not be able to financially be able to pay for such resources. Tony Marx, the CEO of The New York Public Libraries, when discussing the vision of their libraries told a few stories on what makes the need for them to provide more than just the regular library “One early morning before the library opened, a man was spotted settled in outside over behind the dumpsters—the dumpsters!—working on his laptop. He had found a strong library Wi-Fi signal right there and was getting some work done while the library was still closed” (Fallows, par. 9). Later in this article Deborah Fallows notes that over 3 million people in just New York can’t afford internet (par. 7). This led me to look into the poverty rates of New York which in 2018 was reported that a staggering 14.1% of people were in poverty, which meant that a household was making less than $24,860 annually ( Talk Poverty reported the population in 2018 of New York was 19,337,685 and 14.1% of that is 2,722,257, which means that there were still families that essentially couldn’t afford to live, but still had to allocate money towards internet. The NYPL provides over 10,000 internet modems for free for people to use, which not only helps the people who may be able to afford internet, but for the people who are in poverty that monthly savings help immensely (Fallows, par. 4).

The NYPL allows the homeless to come and stay, use the resources, and even help them with filling out applications for jobs. Fallows goes on to tell a story she heard from Columbus, Ohio, “Education efforts in Columbus libraries are a continuum from the kids on through “life skills” for adults. This means adult literacy programs, career and technology literacy, and financial literacy. Here is a true story that gives a sense of the realities: A young man comes into the library seeking help with a job search and filing his application for work. A librarian helps him load the application onto the screen. They agree he’ll fill it out and she’ll return to look it over. The librarian returns to discover the man has completed the application, not by keying in the responses, but with a marking pen on the screen” (par. 11). Obviously, this is an extreme case of someone who wasn’t able to be educated with computers in his upbringing, but it does show that there is a further need for such resources to be provided. If these resources had been available even 10 years earlier it would have potentially allowed children coming from a family in poverty, homeless, or even elderly people the ability to do applications or learn basic things that could potentially help them get a higher paying job or in some cases a job in general. Speaking of elderly, the number of senior citizens working is increasing every day, and mostly it’s not by choice. Richard Dever, 74, did an interview with The Washington Post, where he said I’m going to work until I die, if I can, because I need the money. I drove 1,400 miles to this Maine campground from home in Indiana to take a temporary job that pays $10 an hour. (Jordan and Sullivan, par. 2). Dever obviously has work experience in his 74 years on earth, but why is he having to work for 10$ an hour and 1400 miles away? In my opinion it’s because it’s a new world out there. Things get thought out more thoroughly and efficiently these days. Such a high number of things these days are done with a computer or because a program on the computer told us it’s the way it should me. How does this relate to the elderly? The fact that computers didn’t become a key part of society until they were nearly set to retire for the first time, or when they anticipated to being able to retire. Jordan and Sullivan write “People are living longer, more expensive lives, often without much of a safety net. As a result, record numbers of Americans older than 65 are working — now nearly 1 in 5. That proportion has risen steadily over the past decade, and at a far faster rate than any other age group. Today, 9 million senior citizens work, compared with 4 million in 2000” (par. 4). Now it’s too late for the NYPL to go back and make the decision to provide people with these resources, but the fact that they have done it now is extremely important. By helping elderly people come to the library and learn how to navigate through a computer free of charge or take classes there will help them get job opportunities that could be easier for an older individual. In relation to kids that are unable to have internet at home or don’t live in the best area, they are able to go to their closest library and get the education they need. This will allow them to not fall behind the people who are much more fortunate.

In my opinion what the New York Public Library is doing on their own is extremely important, but this biggest positive of this is the influence it has had and will have on future libraries and organizations. Coming a little closer to home, the Toronto Public Library had an article by the star Columnist Bob Hepburn, who said “When we think of places where homeless people hang out during the day, our thoughts likely turn to park benches and downtown sidewalks. But the reality is that our public libraries, especially those in hard-pressed neighbourhoods in Toronto, have become the place to go for growing numbers of homeless men and women seeking refugee from the heat, cold, snow and rain — or the hard life on the streets” (par. 1). This is a perfect example of using what you have and getting the most of it. Hepburn notes that they have hired a social worker to help with the homeless or people in need and that they are welcome as long as they wish as long as they’re not disturbing anyone (par. 5). Such moves may upset non-homeless patrons who are disturbed when they see the homeless lingering in their local branch. But the Toronto library is taking the right step in trying to deal with the issues facing the vulnerable people who pass through their doors every day. More library systems should follow in Toronto’s footsteps and look at ways to help their homeless patrons, such as offering special programs and raising employee awareness of how to take an empathetic approach to homeless people in their branches (Hepburn, par. 11). It’s their priority to help everyone that steps in through their doors, but it’s very encouraging that that they do acknowledge that the homeless people in this situation take priority as they truly are in need. The way the article is written it makes it seem like they are almost taking credit for the steps taken and are the main influencer, but the Toronto based article is from 2018, while the NYPL article is from 2015. The first to promote helping people in need and giving resources to help truly doesn’t matter. What matters is that others are taking notice and making a change all across North America.

One of the largest supporters of Toronto’s public libraries and other supports for the homeless is Emilio Estevez. At a shared release of The Public, a film by Emilio Estevez that covers a two-day period when homeless patrons occupy the main Cincinnati library during a severe winter cold snap (Hepburn, par. 9). Having a big public figure openly talking, let alone producing films about the situation, will surely help promote and influence others to join the cause.

Figure 2: Retrieved from

When you look at the changes the NYPL has made over the last couple years, you can’t but think that they have nailed their choices. Whether that be scrapping the renovation plans of the Stephen A. Schwartzman building and making millions of histories important pieces readily available to the public or recognizing the way society is these days with the need to help education and provide for those in need. Emilio Estevez goes to say “We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to try” (Hepburn, par 18), which can’t be more straight forward. If the NYPL, Toronto libraries, you, or me keep trying to make a difference for the better, it will only improve the life of the homeless, poverty, children, elderly and everyone involved.


Works Cited

Back to Poverty – New York.” Talk Poverty, 19 April. 2019,

Fallows, Deborah. “The New New York Public Library.” The Atlantic, Accessed 19 April 2019.

Hepburn, Bob. “How Our Libraries Can Help the Homeless” The Star, / Accessed 19 April 2019.

Jordan, Marry. Sullivan, Kevin. “The New Reality of Old Age in America.” The Washington Post, Accessed 19 April 2019.

Meeting the Undead, Sort of: Adventures in the British Library

Ava M.

The main entrance to the British Library, located on Euston Road, London (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

We all know what it’s like spending time in a library, right?

Or do we?

What about another, perhaps more mysterious creature – the research library?

Research libraries are like their public cousins in that they both house books and other items, and that both types of library require a library card. There, though, the similarities abruptly vanish.

You see, at a research library like the British Library in London, you don’t simply browse the shelves, sign out your tome of choice, and go on your merry way. Really, the experience feels less like being in a library, and more like visiting a highly unusual museum.  The British Library contains everything from rare sound recordings to handwritten drafts from artists like JK Rowling (Google Arts & Culture), John Lennon (“New Beatles acquisition at the British Library”), and Samuel Beckett (“Notebook drafts of Waiting for Godot,”). But while many impressive treasures are there for your perusal, it can be quite the journey to reach them.

I was lucky enough to spend several days last year poring over personal letters by Nobel prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, and I’d like to recount some observations about what navigating this confusing, magical place is like, from getting a library card all the way to interacting with your prized requests. Enjoy this guide to the British Library.

Once you are inside the building, as you gear up to receive your shiny new library card, you’ll encounter your first hurdle. To claim your card, you must first get through an interview of sorts, explaining what you are hoping to research and why.

The interview process at the library became something of a talking point a few years ago. According to The Guardian, the British Library has only allowed adults under 21 to claim cards since 2004, a decision that sparked a heated multi-installment debate in the London Review of Books in 2013, with one disgruntled writer complaining bitterly about the annoying undergraduates in his midst, and the “adolescent antics” they performed. Such antics, it should be pointed out, did not seem to include much more than the simple act of, well, reading (Bury).

Regardless of whether you are one of these exasperating youngsters or not, once you are deemed responsible enough by the interviewers, your picture is taken and your government ID is verified, and you are sent on your way, far down into to the belly of the beast: the lockers.

Here, where you must stow anything not required for your research, the surprisingly energetic atmosphere of the British Library first begins to set in. As people emerge from the locker area, there’s a buzz of excitement in the air. After all, everyone is there to delve more deeply into their interests, to engage with material that they’ve come to this particular place to enjoy. Remember all the excited people down here, as you anxiously double- and triple-check that there are no forbidden pens, highlighters, cough candies, post-it notes or lip balm on your person. You will be one of these enthusiastic people soon.

A view inside of the British Library (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Once the lockers have been conquered, things get more personalized. Depending on what you’d like to view, you’ll make your way to one of the 11 available reading rooms in the library (“Using our Reading Rooms,” ). I spent much of my time in the Manuscripts Reading Room, which includes everything from illuminated manuscripts to unfinished drafts of famed literature (“Using our Reading Rooms”).

The unique atmosphere of the library increases as you get closer and closer to viewing your long-anticipated documents. In the Manuscripts reading room in particular, a distinct hush settles over the entire space. Everything from requesting new items to making notes is done as quietly as possible. Even the security guards, there to check that you have not smuggled out a leaf of literature history in your bag, practically whisper.   The fact that a library has such an experienced thievery-detection team might unnerve you slightly, but you soldier on, clutching the huge see-through bag that holds your few remaining possessions, mere steps away from your goal.

With all this waiting, whispering and outlawing of pens, you might be wondering if this is all worth it. But let me tell you, the moment you finally receive your chosen items, set them in their protective tray, and begin to leaf through them is where the fun really begins.  For all your efforts, you will be rewarded with the chance to peruse priceless physical evidence of literary history right up close, with no traditional podiums or protective glass to stand in your way.  With no one to shape your perceptions beforehand, you can experience the silently thrilling detective work of sifting through the opinions, lives and work of long-dead and still-living literary greats, all in tangible paper form.

And despite the fairly stern, intimidating initial appearance of the library, the content you can find there is anything but stuffy. You never know what colourful item might help you to see an author you love in an entirely different light.  When I perused through Harold Pinter’s many letters to his old friend Henry Woolf, I was delighted to see a passage that challenged the idea of Pinter being a somewhat cool, remote figure, a playwright who says cryptic things like, “I tend to regard the audience as my enemies” (Gussow). In a letter to Woolf from 1957, Pinter bemoans his position as an actor in travelling reparatory theatre, and practically bursts with frustration: “Nine plays out of ten are crap. Managements are crap. And the audiences are the worst crap of all.” Clearly, Pinter’s dislike of audiences wasn’t just a post-fame phenomenon, it seems.

But perhaps the best feeling of all comes when, settled at your table, silent as a mouse, you come upon some scrap of paper, some cluster of sentences, that deepens your understanding of a beloved work. For example, Pinter famously declined to speak in much detail about his plays, but the British Library’s collection of letters from Pinter to his friends and loved ones often offers rare glimpses into his creative process. In a series of letters to his friend Mick Goldstein, the young Pinter mentions his second play, The Birthday Party, a work that would be panned by critics on arrival, only to leap back into the public eye years later. In a letter from April 1957, the sense of Pinter’s excitement about his new work is palpable, as he hints at the plot of the play and joyfully exclaims to Mick, “Playwriting just now has got me by the balls.” In a second letter, dated three months later, Pinter again enthuses about the play to Mick, specifically about the final scene in which protagonist Stanley Webber is hauled helplessly from his home. Here, Pinter’s enthusiasm for his new play is palpable, as when he says, “They come for him, you see, and they take him. In his pyjama jacket.”

One tiny scrap of writing like that, and a long-dead writer is vaulted back to life again. No wonder people seem so eager to cast aside their highlighters and venture inside the British Library.


Works Cited and Consulted

Abrams, Luke. “12 Awesome Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the British Library.” Time Out, 11 October 2016. Accessed November 14 2018.

Bury, Liz. “British Library hush is broken by a row over reading room rules.” The Guardian, 19 July 2013. Accessed November 16 2018.

Gussow, Mel. “A Conversation [Pause] With Harold Pinter.” New York Times, December 5 1971. Accessed November 16 2018.

“Harry Potter: A History of Magic.” Google Arts and Culture, date unknown. Accessed November 16 2018.

“New Beatles acquisition at the British Library.” British Library, 24 May 2013. Accessed November 20 2018.

“Notebook Drafts of Waiting for Godot.” British Library, date unknown. Accessed November 17 2018.

Laing, Olivia. “Quiet, please… In praise of the British Library.” The Guardian, 22 November 2015. Accessed November 14 2018.

“Using our Reading Rooms.” British Library, date unknown. Accessed November 17 2018.

Pinter, Harold. Letter to Henry Woolf. April 1957, Palace Theatre. Harold Pinter Archive, British Library, London, England, Add MS 89094/2. Manuscript.

Pinter, Harold. Letter to Michael Goldstein. April 1957, Playhouse Theatre. Harold Pinter Archive, British Library, London, England, Add MS 89083/1/1/3. Manuscript.

Pinter, Harold. Letter to Michael Goldstein. July 1957, Playhouse Theatre. Harold Pinter Archive, British Library, London, England, Add MS 89083/1/1/3. Manuscript.

Woolf, Henry. “A guest blog by Henry Woolf.” British Library, 3 October 2017. Accessed November 17 2018.


Lost in the Library: Melvil Dewey and His Cataloguing System

 Marie C.

Who Needs Catalogues?

To me, libraries are the stuff of dreams. Room after room filled with shelf upon shelf upon shelf of books, journals, newspapers, and other publications on every topic imaginable. All of them there at my fingertips, completely accessible and just waiting to be read. A library like the British Library has a collection of over 150 million items, which cover over 625 km of shelves (About Us). This is a staggering wealth of information, and I’m almost drooling just thinking about it! But such amazing, massive collections of books and other materials can also become the stuff of nightmares… What if you can’t find a book? Or worse, what if you have so many books that you no longer have any concept of what you have and where you’ve stored it?

This is why library catalogues are crucial. Cataloguing systems in their various iterations have been around for as long as libraries, in forms that were often “strictly inventories of property” (Rouse & Rouse 236) rather than their more modern form, which “had a principal function to enable one to locate a book” (236), and which now also contain other useful bibliographic information which allows readers to identify and locate books and other resources based on the subjects that they contain. For this post, I am going to limit my discussion to what OCLC cites as “the most widely used classification system in the world”: the Dewey Decimal system.

Melvil Dewey

Public domain – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Life and Legacy of Melvil Dewey

Born Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey, the man we now know as Melvil Dewey was a man obsessed with the metric system, captivated by the decimal, and an ardent supporter of a simplified spelling reform, having changed his own name from Melville to Melvil and briefly going by Dui rather than Dewey (How One Library Pioneer). He helped found the first permanent organization of librarians in 1876: the American Library Association (Lerner 173). At this point in time, multiple different classification systems were in use in libraries around the world, but classification and the role of the librarian had not yet developed the scientific approach with which we are now familiar. At the same time as the American Library Association was founded, Melvil also founded two other organizations: the American Metric Bureau and the Spelling Reform Association (Lerner 173). Evidently, his Metric Bureau did not have the desired effect on the American measurement system, however he did manage to impose his spelling simplification system on the Lake Placid Club, a “cooperative resort in the Adirondacks that he established in 1895” (Kendall 52). Dewey’s Wikipedia page provides some amusing results of his “simplr spelin”, citing the menu at the “Adirondak Loj”, which offers entrées featuring “Hadok … Masht potato, Butr, Steamd rys, Letis”, with “Ys cream” for dessert.

Dewey developed his classification system while attending Amherst College, and it was part of the discussion at the first meeting of the Library Association in 1876 (Lerner 174). He subsequently was appointed chief librarian of New York City’s Columbia College and began teaching classes on librarianship in 1887, part of a rising trend in providing specific education for librarians (Lerner 175). He was a prominent member of the library community throughout his career, acting as director of New York State Library from 1889 to 1906, founding a company called Library Bureau which stocked supplies for libraries, and also co-founding and editing Library Journal (How One library Pioneer).

Melvil Dewey is now considered the “Father of Modern Librarianship” (How One Library Pioneer), however, he was also a controversial figure. Assumed to have had Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, he struggled to get  along with others and “was a master at launching and beefing up organizations, but … often had difficulty running them” (Kendall 53). Although Dewey “came up with numerous innovations… he also managed to alienate many colleagues with his unpredictable and demanding behavior” (54). In 1905, he was forced to resign as New York State Librarian after a petition signed by a number of prominent individuals was circulated, a petition criticizing the explicit anti-Semitism evident in circulars issued by Dewey’s Lake Placid Club and its exclusion of Jewish people from its membership (Wiegand 361). He was also known to be a womanizer and worse. Although few women made formal complaints over the years, finally “four prominent librarians” (Kendall 54) made his unwelcome attention known to Association officials. This resulted in his exclusion from the Association and his withdrawal from the library world.

How Does Dewey’s System Work?

The Dewey Decimal Classification system, abbreviated hereafter as the ‘DDC’, uses arabic decimal numerals and organizes materials based on “ten main classes” which represent fields of study and disciplines intended to “cover the entire world of knowledge” (DDC Summaries). Each of these classes is subdivided into ten divisions, each of which contain ten sections. In this classification, each item in a collection is assigned a three-digit number in which the first digit represents the main class, the second represents the subdivision, and the third represents the section within the division. The three-digit number is followed by a decimal point, after which there are continued degrees of classification, still organized in divisions by ten. Specific subjects may fall under more than one division category, depending on contexts and uses. Thus far, the DDC has been edited 23 times as more topics are assigned numbers and added to the system, and it now also exists as an online resource (DDC Summaries).

Courtesy of Maggie Appleton

Currently, Melvil Dewey’s classification system is used primarily for many smaller collections and public libraries throughout the world, while larger and more academic collections often make use of Herbert Putnam’s Library of Congress classification, which was influenced by Dewey’s work. Despite the definite dark side to the man credited with such innovation, there is no doubt that the library we know and love would not be the same without his contributions.


Works Cited

“About Us.” The British Library.  n.d. British Library. Web. 30 Oct. 2018.

“Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) Summaries.” Dewey Services. OCLC. 2018. Web. 2 Nov. 2018.

“History.” American Library Association. ALA. June 9, 2008. Web. 4 Nov. 2018.

“How One Library Pioneer Profoundly Influenced Modern Librarianship.” Dewey Services. OCLC. 2018. Web. 2 Nov. 2018.

Kendall, Joshua. “Melvil Dewey, Compulsive Innovator: The Decimal Obsessions of an   Information Organizer.” American Libraries 45.3-4 (2014): 52-54. JSTOR. Web. 1 Nov.  2018.

Lerner, Frederick Andrew. The Story of Libraries: From the Invention of Writing to the    Computer Age. 2nd ed. New York: Continuum, 2009. Print.

“Melvil Dewey.” Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation. 28 Oct. 2018. Web. 1 Nov. 2018.

Rouse, Mary A. and Richard H. Rouse. “The Development of Research Tools in the Thirteenth   Century.” Authentic Witnesses. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991,          221-255. Print.

Wiegand, Wayne A. “‘Jew Attack’: The Story behind Melvil Dewey’s Resignation as New York State Librarian in 1905.” American Jewish History, vol. 83, no. 3. (1995): 359    379. JSTOR. 1 Nov. 2018.