May 11, 2012

Reinventing libraries: ideas good and terrible


The Poetry Foundation library, Chicago

How’s this for a howler? Last week Councilman Victor Petersen of Gilbert, Arizona, had the genius idea that libraries could manage their costs by scrapping fiction audiobooks and other services he classified as ‘entertainment’:

I don’t think it’s our job to subsidize entertainment… Those are things like movies and audio books, specifically fiction audio or things like that… If it’s a book they read with their eyes, even if it’s entertainment, I think I’m okay with that because they’re going to learn to read better and enjoy it while they do that… I think that’s noble.

When it was pointed out to Petersen that his sweeping statements totally neglected, for example, blind users of audiobooks, he quickly backtracked, saying ‘It was just a comment to spur some conversation,’ because he’s a guy who ‘just kind of lets it all hang out.’ Also evidently one hell of a reader, if he doesn’t find literature entertaining.

Meanwhile, Alison Cuddy at Chicago’s WBEZ Radio has blogged about new — or revived — twists on the typical library set-up in the Windy City. At the Hull House Art Lending Library you can check out a piece of art work for three months, to enjoy in your own home, totally free. Also available to Chicagoans is the breathtaking Poetry Foundation library, opened last year. It’s more of a traditional set-up, and there’s no loaning, but LOOK HOW PRETTY (picture at top of post). Finally, she recommends the library and coffee bar at PUBLIC hotel, for more sociable reading moments:

Modeled after 19th-century Viennese coffee house (to the extent our 21st-century touch can approximate such a culturally specific time and place), you can order a coffee, nestle up near a fire, read a new book or magazine—I bet even naps are tolerated.

What are your favourite new twists on borrowed reading?



Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.