BiblioTech: Keeping Hope for Libraries Alive in the Digital Age


John Palfrey’s lucid, passionate account of the state of American libraries reminds us both how important public libraries are to a healthy democracy and how close they are to going the way of the dodo bird.

We are in the midst of a tectonic societal shift from print to digital and without a concerted effort to transform the library into its 21st century equivalent we just might lose these hubs of democracy for good.

The disconnect is huge; survey after survey remind us how important libraries are to their communities while in budget after budget funding for libraries continues to get slashed.

We are off-course.  As the below graphic shows us, and by no means is Sonoma County in the minority, our priorities are out of whack. I don’t want to do one more story related to a public school library that is underfunded, understaffed or closed. We are playing russian roulette with our kids and our future. It is insane.

Sonoma County budget

In BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google Palfrey gives us a handy guide for how to begin to right the ship.

Remember, the library spectrum is wide. From the neighborhood branch of your city library to the special collections of the closest university to your local historical society. From providing unfettered access to information to preserving  both our country’s source material as well as its detritus the library is on the front lines of a healthy democratic society.

Palfrey leans digital but he clearly understands the staying power of the analog in the library universe and that any conception of  a ‘library’ in the near future needs to include printed material. One cannot deny; however, that analog has lost its monopoly as information provider and adjustments need to be made.

Much of the current digital output is falling through the cracks. Without immediate attention to the preservation and archiving of our digital data we risk losing a chunk of the historical record of these amazing times.

There is much to be done.  Librarians need to be retrained, libraries need to learn how to play together better, tons of material needs to be digitized (and an equal amount of material that is holed up in special collections and archives across this land still needs to be processed in the first place!).

Palfrey makes it clear that new models are needed for the library to survive in the near term and blossom in the future. We need to get creative and we need to get political, fast.

The money has to come from somewhere.

Yes, partnerships with appropriate private companies should be encouraged and there are plenty of denizens of the 1% that understand the value and necessity of libraries and can give generously  but a “public option” is mandatory and all of us who believe in the power of the library must dig in our heels and fight not only for their survival but for their transformation. As Palfrey reminds us libraries are “some of the last physical, public spaces that are not devoted to commercial pursuits.”

For libraries, the future is now. We cannot afford to lose them.

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The House of Twenty Thousand Books

House of Twenty Thousand Books

There is no end to the praise of books, to the value of the library. Who shall estimate their influence on our population where all the millions read and write ?

~Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Address at the Opening of Concord Free Public Library”

I was having dinner last week with a neighbor who, with his team, recently had a meeting with Bill Gates to discuss their project within the Gates Foundation. One of the words he used to describe Gates was “polymath.”

He spoke of Gates as having an incredibly deep knowledge in a wide variety of subject matter and how he can comprehend and discuss numerous topics at the highest level.  

Chimen Abramsky also has the polymath gene and in The House of Twenty Thousand Books noted journalist, author and Abramsky’s grandson, Sasha Abramsky, gives us a moving and stimulating look at his grandfather and the books that surrounded and sustained his life.

This is first and foremost a love story of a man and his books. 

From book collector to bookseller to consultant on Hebrew books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, from never attending school to the head of the department of Hebrew and Jewish studies at University of London, Chimen Abramsky’s evolution is a testament to the power of words and of our printed past.  Along the way Chimen had assembled the greatest collection of socialist literature in private hands and then did it again building an unparalleled collection of  Judaica. 

At every step along this incredibly journey it was the home he shared with his wife Miriam that remained the focal point of his incredible life. It provided intellectual and physical sustenance for hundreds of the worlds leading thinkers who walked through the doors at 5 Hillway over the years. The kitchen was “a place of initiation” where Miriam held court making sure everyone was well fed and cared for while Chimen chatted with the guests, all the  while quietly evaluating them to determine their level of access to the collection, which took up most of the rest of the house. 

The House of Twenty Thousand Books  is an entertaining and passionate mix of genealogy, bibliomania and intellectual history and is a must read for the those of us living with books. 

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First published in England by Halban in 2014, the American edition is due out in September from New York Review of Books.

Abramsky’s obituary | Guardian


The Pocket Poets Series turns 60


2015 marks the 60th anniversary of City Lights Publishers and the beginning of the seminal Pocket Poets Series. 

It began with a 500 copy letterpress printed edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Pictures of a Gone World, his first book,  in 1955. In 2011 they published the 60th title in the series, David Meltzer‘s When I Was a Poet. 

But it was the 4th book in series that single-handedly changed the course of American poetry and put City Lights on the map for good.  That was Allen Ginsberg’s masterwork, Howl and Other Poems.

About the series:

Inspired by the French poetry series, Poètes d’aujourd’hui, Lawrence Ferlinghetti launched the Pocket Poets Series in 1955 with his own Pictures of the Gone World. The success and scandal of Number Four, Howl & Other Poems (1956), established City Lights as a major alternative press for the most innovative American and international poetry, a tradition the series continues today, at 60 volumes and counting, remaining true to Ferlinghetti’s founding vision.


“From the beginning,” he writes, “the aim was to publish across the board, avoiding the provincial and the academic. I had in mind rather an international, dissident, insurgent ferment. What has proved most fascinating are the continuing cross-currents and cross-fertilizations between poets widely separated by language or geography, from France to Germany to Italy to America North and South, East and West, coalescing in a truly supra-national poetic voice.”

The celebration includes a new 60th Anniversary anthology edited by Ferlinghetti and a limited edition 60th anniversary re-issue of Pictures of the Gone World. At the City Lights blog they will be featuring each volume in the series over the next two months. 

Pocket Poets Series in Print

Collectible copies of Howl