More Than Just Books
August 12, 2013 4:27 AM   Subscribe

MetaFilter's own Jessamyn West (jessamyn) interviewed in today's NPR feature, For Disaster Preparedness: Pack A Library Card?
posted by jim in austin (60 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The Federal Emergency Management Agency classified libraries as an essential service — like one of the things that would get early funding so that communities could recover," says Jessamyn West a librarian in Vermont and a moderator of the popular blog, Metafilter.

I wasn't aware of this, that's actually great.
posted by Renoroc at 4:32 AM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Apparently this is part of an ongoing series by NPR called, Keys To The Whole World: American Public Libraries...
posted by jim in austin at 4:45 AM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


"The Federal Emergency Management Agency classified libraries as an essential service — like one of the things that would get early funding so that communities could recover," says Jessamyn West a librarian in Vermont and a moderator of the popular blog, Metafilter.
It's a safe bet that this designation isn't so much about the books themselves, but the sheer number of additional services libraries routinely supply. We all think about something like the ability to get basic free internet, but it's not uncommon for librarians to assist with helping people understand voting requirements, filling out their taxes, or preparing a resume.

I've personally seen a librarian act as a combination of after-school tutor and day care for the kids of a single working mother, all gratis (and those kids finished High School with honors, no less), as well as helping a paycheck-to-paycheck worker move out from under predatory payday lenders through basic financial advice. Next to teaching, it's one of the few truly undervalued, under-appreciated jobs where the day-to-day impact is so clearly and compellingly positive for everyone (outside of looking through episodes of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs").
posted by mystyk at 4:55 AM on August 12, 2013 [22 favorites]


I don't even have a library card anymore, and I haven't used one in 15 years. (apparently they have DVDs now).

How strange am I?

Also, I need all the time in the world to read the books I have purchased but not read.

Metafilter, I have an addiction.
posted by Mezentian at 5:06 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not only awesome, but keys right into my thesis. I may have to interview you too, Jessamyn!
posted by Miko at 5:37 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


As an unrelated side note: The library in the town that I grew up in also served as the nuclear fallout shelter/bunker. There were a handful of floor panels that had that classic nuclear symbol marked on them. I always wanted to sneak into one when I was younger... but I swear there was that one librarian who watched me like a hawk.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:40 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


he he just seconds ago I heard that interview tres awesome
posted by angrycat at 5:46 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mezentian: I don't even have a library card anymore, and I haven't used one in 15 years.

Flagged for offensive and/or obscene content. I mean, you request books online, they collect them from whichever lorary owns them, and then they call you when you can come collect them at the front desk. Books, CDs, DVDs, maybe even video games. IT'S AMAZING. For goodness's sake, in .au they will even bring materials to your house!

Tell you what: I will personally pay for your library card out of my own pocket. You go fill out this online form, and send me the bill. How's that, eh?
posted by wenestvedt at 5:57 AM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


For goodness's sake, in .au they will even bring materials to your house!

That's the ACT. It's not even a state! It may as well be Hutt River Province!
posted by Mezentian at 6:01 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, NPR. Nice.

SUCK IT, CORTEX!!!!1!!


I keed, I keed....
posted by eriko at 6:35 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't even have a library card anymore, and I haven't used one in 15 years. (apparently they have DVDs now).

I had completely forgotten about libraries for about 20 years. Then my wife got an iPad and the Chicago Public Library has ebooks. So I remembered them. Now I run librarians ragged transferring cookbooks and any other reference book I can think of to my local library branch because while the Internet is wonderful it really lacks depth and hurts my focus. I am continually amazed at what I can get for FREE!

Today I am going to pick up a copy of You Are Your Own Gym. So I can carry more books back and forth of course.
posted by srboisvert at 6:43 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


SUCK IT, CORTEX!!!!1!!

Nice knowing about you, dude.
posted by Mezentian at 6:51 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was so excited to hear Jessamyn on the radio, I completely missed what she said.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:02 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


This morning on the way in to work, I felt like the streams have been crossed.
posted by DigDoug at 7:15 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


mystyk: It's a safe bet that this designation isn't so much about the books themselves, but the sheer number of additional services libraries routinely supply. We all think about something like the ability to get basic free internet, but it's not uncommon for librarians to assist with helping people understand voting requirements, filling out their taxes, or preparing a resume.

That's what this NPR piece was about.
The New Dorp Branch of the New York Public Library in Staten Island wasn't damaged during Sandy. But just a few blocks away, houses were inundated with as much as 16 feet of water. And days after the storm, many of the library's patrons still lacked the most basic services.

"We even had people asking if they could use the restrooms to clean up a little bit," says Barbara Byrne-Goldie, a librarian at New Dorp. "They still didn't have running water, or hot water. So we came in very handy as community centers, that's for sure."
People also got help filling out FEMA request forms online from library staff, and Red Cross workers met at the library to plan out next phases of outreach.

In short, the library was a diverse community center for a community in need. I hope people remember that when they're back to their normal routines, and politicians talk about cutting funding for public libraries.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's a funny feeling when you're listening to the radio at oh dark thirty and all of a sudden the person talking is somebody you know (well, not know know but you know, internet know).

One of the things I really appreciate about my town is that they keep building more libraries. Most of the community has probably moved on to doing all their reading electronically and haven't set foot in a library in years. I've always found it curious how some people view going to the library like visiting a thrift shop--they just don't want to take a chance on being seen there. I'll give up my library cards when Amazon pries them from my cold, dead hands.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:19 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you're in it strictly for a jessamyn fix, you want to listen to 2:42-3:21.
posted by pracowity at 7:23 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


fuse theorem: Most of the community has probably moved on to doing all their reading electronically

Good news! Most libraries have some sort of "electronic lending" program, so you can legally not (directly) pay for ebooks!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:26 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I recently got into a bit of a debate with a friend who claimed that if some National or Global Apocalypse happened, we were screwed, "because all of our knowledge is on the Internet now and when that goes down we won't know how to do anything."

I just raised my eyebrow and asked, "uh, dude, what about books?" He simply waved at his overstuffed shelves and said they take up too much space and no one's going to have a book on everything they need to know. "Look, all my books are on jazz music and religion, I don't have anything about how to do things like grow vegetables or hotwire a car, I don't have space for that."

I raised my eyebrow even further. "Uh, they have these places called libraries where they have books like those there for everyone to use. And they'll most likely still be standing." But then he just insisted that people would most likely be burning books for fuel.

I gave up, because I wasn't quite sure how to articulate my point - that I'm pretty sure that because of services like this, libraries would end up having some kind of special protected status in the apocalyptic aftermath, because they are community-building centers and they're also repositories of knowledge.

Besides, all the copies of books in the Twilight series would probably keep us in fuel for a good long time before we have to dip into anything else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not only awesome, but keys right into my thesis. I may have to interview you too, Jessamyn!
posted by Miko at 8:37 AM on August 12 [1 favorite +] [!]


I want to read the unabridged transcript of the Miko-Jessamyn interview.
posted by headnsouth at 7:51 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The Federal Emergency Management Agency classified libraries as an essential service — like one of the things that would get early funding so that communities could recover," says Jessamyn West a librarian in Vermont and a moderator of the popular blog, Metafilter.
I wasn't aware of this, that's actually great.


You weren't aware that Jessamyn is a moderator at MetaFilter?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


"New Dorp"
posted by Going To Maine at 8:09 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, have you ever read Earth Abides? After a worldwide epidemic has wiped out most of Earth's population, the survivors are so focused on their day-to-day struggle for survival that too few parents are forward-thinking enough to teach reading to next generation, and literacy becomes a lost skill (my personal worst nightmare). Unfortunately, this seems like a more likely scenario than libraries having a special protected status. I think that at best, it would be sheer luck if enough survivors made the effort to preserve all that knowledge and ensure that it was put to use.
posted by ogooglebar at 8:10 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was nice to put a voice with the name.
posted by Doohickie at 8:13 AM on August 12, 2013


I don't even have a library card anymore, and I haven't used one in 15 years. (apparently they have DVDs now).

I just assume this is a class marker--why go to the library if you can just buy the books you want and have internet (and heat and a/c) at home? I suppose that it puts a lower bound on income (because of computer access) and then how much you read might become a driving factor. (And where the library is. I definitely go to the library less in summer (and download ebooks from the library instead) when I'm biking to campus than when I'm changing buses in front of the library all the time.)
posted by hoyland at 8:15 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


> But then he just insisted that people would most likely be burning books for fuel.

This is, of course, common when the winter hits and the normal fuel supplies run out. I was just reading Viktor Shklovsky's reminiscence of the terrible winter of 1919 in Petrograd; he's talking about his friend and fellow literary theorist Boris Eikhenbaum:
Boris had two rooms. He lived in the small one, which was warmer; he would sit in front of the iron stove on the floor on top of a pile of books and read them, tearing pages out of them and pushing the rest into the stove. He was a very educated man with a superb knowledge of Russian poetry and periodicals. In those years he passed his library through fire.

[У Бориса две комнаты. Жил он в маленькой, чтобы было теплее; сидел перед железной печкой на полу на груде книг, читал их, вырывал из них страницы и засовывал остальное в печку. Он был очень образованным, превосходно знавшим русскую поэзию и русскую журналистику человеком. В те годы провел он свою библиотеку сквозь огонь.]
posted by languagehat at 8:22 AM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know about elsewhere, but many public libraries in the US are default shelters. Either for hurricanes or, routinely, for the homeless and unemployed. And librarians there by default are essentially social workers. Not what they signed up for so can't blame them for being ornery.
posted by Halogenhat at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2013


Jessamyn West a librarian in Vermont and a moderator of the popular blog, Metafilter.
I wasn't aware of this, that's actually great.
You weren't aware that Jessamyn is a moderator at MetaFilter?


I wasn't aware that MetaFilter was a blog.
posted by headnsouth at 8:33 AM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


No, no, no... Burn first the shelves then the Dick Francis then the witch.
posted by clavdivs at 8:37 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


library should have food bank.
posted by clavdivs at 8:43 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"That woman you like from that thing you like was on NPR this morning!" is what I am sure I will hear when I get home today.

Actually, my partner will probably use proper nouns because I am not in a romantic relationship with Your Stereoypical Grandparents or the comic strip Herb and Jamaal.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:08 AM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Doohickie: It was nice to put a voice with the name.

podcast.metafilter.com
posted by Rock Steady at 9:12 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's been about 15 years since I equated libraries = books. They are not only storehouses of information but centers of expertise on how to find information and get access to information. Almost any kind of information. We all need libraries, and a society without one has problems. A friend of mine, who is a K-8 reading specialist, just posted on my Facebook that when she meets with families of kids who are new immigrants to the US she gives them a handout on local libraries and tells them about the internet access, the storytime and adult how-to programs, the free museum passes you can borrow, etc. She says their faces often light up, because where many of them come from, the idea of a free public library is not imaginable.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


headnsouth: I wasn't aware that MetaFilter was a blog.

RTFHL (read the fraking header logo)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:23 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was one of those Mid Manhattan Library Sandy refugees who spent hours there charging my devices and reading Metafilter.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:34 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, no, no... Burn first the shelves then the Dick Francis then the witch.

NO! I need to find out who drugged that race horse.
posted by Area Man at 9:47 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I heard this! It was great to hear Jessamyn's voice on the radio, and in a strong story advocating for libraries.
posted by feste at 10:00 AM on August 12, 2013


I read something like fifteen books a month, so the library is my best friend ever. And the Austin system is not only generally great, it has a fantastic collection of the sort of stuff I read.

One of my novels actually involves my local branch becoming a sort of neutral DMZ staffed by a fourth-generation-hippie ninja. So... just like it is now, really.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:08 AM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was just reading the article on NPR (while working at my librarian gig at my local public library, no less!) and was happily surprised by the quote from Jessamyn!

Also, all you folks who don't think of the library for books are making me a little sad. I mean, yeah, we have a ton of other great stuff (Museum passes! Author events! Artwork you can borrow! Computers and music and e-books galore!) but books are important too!
posted by sarcasticah at 10:36 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


>> I wasn't aware that MetaFilter was a blog.

> RTFHL (read the fraking header logo)


The header clearly states that this is not a blog, but a "we-blog."
posted by bicyclefish at 11:19 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently this is part of an ongoing series by NPR called, Keys To The Whole World: American Public Libraries...

Fun fact: they called me in the springtime and I helped them flesh out the list of topics they were going to put into that. I got a phone call from someone at the obscene hour of 8:30 this morning telling me that I was on the radio. I was interviewed a few times and I think they have a few sound bytes of me saying different stuff that may make it into a few other episodes. I'm so stoked that I got the point across that I was trying to make!
posted by jessamyn at 11:42 AM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Good news! Most libraries have some sort of "electronic lending" program, so you can legally not (directly) pay for ebooks!

Yeah the metro area has a separate entity they call a digital library which all the patrons of the various municipal libraries can access. However, I've been told by some Kindle users that the digital library's Kindle format either doesn't work or isn't particularly straightforward to download to the device. I think whatever the problem is might be discouraging those potential users.

I have a Nexus and so far I've been sticking to either audiobooks or the ePub format when I go digital. The library's selection is reasonably good but I'd say at least half the digital versions I look for either aren't available or have long waiting lists. Do the digital formats cost libraries more than the paper versions?
posted by fuse theorem at 12:16 PM on August 12, 2013


it's not uncommon for librarians to assist with helping people understand voting requirements...

...which will soon get them shut down in several states.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:25 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do the digital formats cost libraries more than the paper versions?

There are lots of frustrating issues for libraries regarding e-content, and the short answer here is yes, they cost more in the long run. For a better answer, see the previous installment of the NPR library series, featuring the always-awesome State Librarian of Kansas, Jo Budler.
posted by donnagirl at 12:29 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is really cool. Congrats, Jessamyn!
posted by effugas at 1:53 PM on August 12, 2013


I think whatever the problem is might be discouraging those potential users.

Amazon requires all Kindle lending to go through Amazon as well as the library and that whole system is a "we hate the users" clusterfuck. And many librarians, who are otherwise wonderful people, haven't spent enough time around better-functioning websites and software and haven't for some reason, been able to say "No this sucks and it a total joke. Make it better" Really I think Amazon would prefer to not lend Kindle titles so this off-puttingness thing is basically built in. Digital formats generally don't cost more ... exactly, but there is no clear pricing model and there are weird DRM (digital rights management) issues like some titles that expire after the library has circulated them a certain number of times etc. It's not like a book where there is a book price, and a discount price and then a wholesale price and those are the prices. And if you own a paper book, you have the right to sell it. If you "own" an ebook, this is not legally the case. Ebook prices are basically made-up and have very little actual relationship to the costs of raw materials or anything else. It's this decade's land grab, in my opinion.
posted by jessamyn at 2:58 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is America back up yet?
posted by jquinby at 4:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been consistent card holder since my first one as a kid. My adult children are also; I suspect any future grandchildren will follow suite. Our local libraries have books, dvds, cds, and a lot other media/entertainment. There are usually rows of computers, with and without internet access. Art museums lend roving exhibits that compete with local quilter displays. Our libraries are also functioning as community centers where I can find information and assistance for resumes, tax forms, English language (for immigrants), voter information, local classes, group meetings, children's programs and so one. I know some states are fairly strict with homeless members of the populations spending a lot of time in the library but, in this hot desert state, often library staff are going out of their way to help the most vulnerable of us (providing water bottles, inviting people in who could really benefit from the air conditioning).

The most soul-crushing Twilight Zone episode was Time Enough at Last; I actually cried the first time I saw it. Library is the first thing I think of when contemplating epic disaster; that's were all the info is!


Someone earlier offered the idea that libraries should also act as food banks. I don't know if the libraries per se would have the space for that kind of use but, locally, it would certainly be great if food banks were near the libraries. I think it would better serve our poorer populations - I can easily get to the nearest library in under 20 minutes. It's three buses and two hours to the nearest food bank.
posted by _paegan_ at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jessamyn's kind of cool.


There. I said it.
posted by mazola at 7:51 PM on August 12, 2013


Does this mean that libraries can get funding for armed rapid response book delivery vehicles?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:30 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


mazola: "Jessamyn's all kinds of cool.
There. I said it.
"

FTFY ;-)
posted by dg at 9:35 PM on August 12, 2013


Whoah. Let's not go crazy.
posted by mazola at 9:39 PM on August 12, 2013


Jessamyn is kind AND cool!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia: Does this mean that libraries can get funding for armed rapid response book delivery vehicles?

* bang, bang *

Open up, this is the Book Police!

Can you hear me in there? We know you are home, just open the door.

We know you haven't read anything since The DaVinci Code, so just open the door and take this copy of Gone Girl, it's a quick read, a real page-turner, we don't want any problems.

Look if you don't come out here willingly, we are going to make you read 1Q84. It's Murakami, and it's quite cerebral. Last chance!

OK, guys, bust the door down. This one's going to make us do it the hard way.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:36 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yay, Jessamyn! And three cheers for libraries!
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:30 AM on August 13, 2013


Jessamyn also officiates weddings, and makes awesome lamb pizza from what I've heard. She is a true folk hero.
posted by not_on_display at 3:45 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I texted you about that pizza three minutes ago....

But seriously folks, there are a lot of great disaster preparedness things that people can do. The FEMA thing was a huge top-down level thing but there are other boots-on-the-ground things like (for librarians and other govt/municipal folks) getting disaster training, things like the Medical Library Association's Disaster Information Specialization Program. Keep your CPR/First aid certifications current. Other people can look into whether they are eligible for first responder training or even do things like making sure your "Go Bag" has things like a surge protector and a few extra pairs of headphones. Making sure people understand the value of their local public libraries can have salutary effects come funding time. I'm not sure how it works in other countries so much but in the US there is really a dwindling supply of truly public spaces so it's a good idea to try to protect the ones we have.
posted by jessamyn at 3:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's the most recent installment. Me and librarians from Kansas and Texas and Vermont.
posted by jessamyn at 6:39 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mezentian: " Also, I need all the time in the world to read the books I have purchased but not read."

Like you, I buy books (although mostly just the electronic kind, now,) and my friends and I swap the paper ones around.

If you don't also swap books with friends or family when you're done with them, may I suggest donating them to your local library system? I do this with at least a couple of dozen books every year. The donations are tax deductible and it's nice to know they're going to a good home where people will appreciate them.
posted by zarq at 9:59 AM on August 19, 2013


Jessamyn also officiates weddings, and makes awesome lamb pizza from what I've heard. She is a true folk hero.

Although, apparently, the lambs are pretty worked up over that second accomplishment.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


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