Not the Monthly Post

A Place For Books

As one of my readers pointed out last week—tip of the hat to Patricia Mathews—we’ve now embarked on the most sacred season of the American year, the season of Salesmas, when the conspicuous consumption fairy sprinkles cheap plastic glitter over all those who max out their credit cards to place the latest fashionable offerings on the household altars of planned obsolescence and bad taste. That’s not my religion—to me, the day after Thanksgiving is Buy Nothing Day and I keep it strictly—but you know, this year I’m going to draw up a very short list of things I’d like Krampus to drop off at the usual time a few days after the solstice.

Here he is. Have you been good?

Krampus?  He’s the other side of an old-fashioned Yule celebration. Back before good St. Nicholas was knocked over the head by corporate marketers and replaced by the leering figure of Santa, he used to go around each winter with a horned, hairy, long-tongued creature who carried birch switches in his hand and wore a big basket on his back. Krampus was the name for this latter in some parts of central Europe. The saint left gifts for good little boys and girls. Krampus was there for the others, who got whacked with the switches if they were just being ordinarily bad. The basket was for those spoiled, shrieking little horrors we all know and loathe:  in they went, away they went, and nobody ever saw them again. Were children better behaved when they knew Krampus was coming to town? You’d better believe it.

I know Krampus wasn’t traditionally in the habit of bringing presents, unless the blessed silence that follows the disappearance of one of the spoiled, shrieking little horrors just mentioned counts as a gift. Still, I’m hoping I can prevail on him to consider my list. It’s a very short list—in fact, there’s only one thing on it, and it’s not even for me. I want Krampus to bring real libraries to all the people who don’t have them any more.

It’s not a present I need for myself, because I happen to live in a place that still has real libraries. The East Providence public library system, all two libraries and a half dozen bookmobiles of it, is a pretty fair copy of what public libraries all over the United States used to be. The Weaver Library, the branch a few blocks from my apartment, is a pleasant, quiet, well-lit space with shelf upon shelf upon shelf of books; while there are new books to be had there, you can also find plenty of older books, nonfiction as well as fiction, eccentric as well as predictable, from small presses as well as big ones. It’s open every day of the week, and it’s always busy; have a seat at one of the tables and you’ll watch people of every age and all the local ethnicities coming in, browsing the stacks, checking out books and heading for the door.

The Weaver Library: quiet, pleasant, and full of books.

That sounds normal to those of us who grew up with such libraries, or have access to one now. For a growing number of Americans, though, that might as well be news from another planet.

I have a fair number of readers who are librarians, as it happens, and many more who are library patrons, and so I get to hear plenty of horror stories. In a great many libraries in the United States these days, books are treated as inconveniences at best and barbarous relics at worst. These libraries are shrinking their collections, discarding any book more than a few years old, replacing classics and oddities alike with the latest bland and heavily marketed corporate product, even closing the stacks so that patrons only get to browse among a carefully culled selection of approved titles. Many of them are run by administrators who insist smugly or angrily, as the case may be, that books are anachronisms and the libraries of the future will be “media centers” full of the latest, flashiest, trendiest effluent oozing from the orifices of huge media conglomerates. Many of them are putting up posters saying “What if everyone in our city read the same book?”—as though the mental monoculture of our society wasn’t yet suffocating enough.

I have yet to meet a librarian who’s in favor of this sort of thing. It’s wholly a fetish among the upper end of the administrative caste, who can exploit the cult of bureaucracy in contemporary America to impose these changes on librarians and patrons alike. How much of it is the result of clever marketing campaigns on the part of big media and publishing combines, aimed at turning the nation’s public libraries into yet another outlet for their products, is an interesting question, but one that will have to wait for another time.  What I’d like to discuss here and now is what to do about it, while we wait for Krampus to load up his bag.

I don’t see a lot of hope in political action—or at least not yet. The ideology of managerial elitism central to today’s cult of bureaucracy is rather the worse for wear just now, and I suspect that over the decades to come it’s going to start falling apart in a big way, but we’re not there yet. In the meantime, as with so many other aspects of our society, the iron triangle that links corrupt politicians, elitist bureaucrats, and corporate flacks in an alliance of mutual backscratching makes systemic change within existing libraries an option only in rare cases.

Fortunately, there’s another option. Like most of the really promising options we have at the moment, it requires going back to an older way of doing things. When it comes to libraries, that means the subscription library.

“Pride and Prejudice? Yes, it’s over here on the new books shelf.”

Those were one of the great cultural inventions of 18th century Europe.  A subscription library was a privately owned membership organization that bought books and circulated them among its members. The cost of membership varied, but most were relatively inexpensive and catered to a very large readership—readers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will recall that the Bennet girls, daughters of a gentleman of very modest means, got books from the local subscription library (one of which caused the pompous Mr. Collins to recoil in horror).  To join, you paid an annual fee and sometimes a deposit, and then you could check out a certain number of books at a time; the fees paid by the members covered the costs of the building, the librarians’ salaries, the price of new books and necessary repairs on the existing collection.

That was the standard form of library in the Western world until the late 19th century in some areas and the early 20th in others. It was supplemented by a galaxy of other libraries that were organized along similar but not identical lines. Back when fraternal orders and friendly societies provided a social safety net to working families, for example, it was all but universal for local lodges of these organizations to have their own libraries, open to their members and oriented toward education as well as entertainment.  Back before universities took on their current role as gatekeepers of the professions, it was standard for ambitious young men and women to rise up out of the working class into jobs as lawyers, teachers, bookkeepers, and the like by individual study followed by apprenticeship, and lodge libraries helped a lot of them get there.

Echoes of the past — and the future.

On a smaller scale still was the specialized reading room. As far as I know the Christian Scientists are the only small religious group that still does this, but back in the day it was a common strategy of new religious movements to rent a storefront somewhere, put in a room with tables, chairs, and bookshelves up front and a m eeting space in back, and use that as a small library/classroom/lecture space to give interested people a convenient place to go to find out about the movement and take in lectures and workshops. The same thing was also standard practice for small political groups at that time, and worked just as well.

So that’s what the world of libraries looked like before the public library, funded by local tax dollars, became the standard option in most of the Western world. Was the move to public libraries an improvement?  Of course it was; it made it much easier for the very poor to get access to library services, and allowed for a really significant expansion of library systems in most areas. If public libraries were still doing the job for which they were founded—that is, providing ready access to the widest possible range of books in a quiet, clean, convenient, and comfortable setting—there would be no reason to go back to the subscription library model.

The fact remains that in a great many American communities these days, public libraries are no longer doing that job adequately or, in some cases, at all. This has happened, in turn, because too many library administrators have fallen victim to the usual bad habits of people who run monopolies, and become arrogant and complacent. What they need, in turn, is what the arrogant and complacent people who run monopolies generally need: a good brisk dose of competition.

That, in turn, is something that the old-fashioned subscription library is well able to provide.

As simple as this.

What I’m suggesting is that groups of people who are unhappy about what’s happened to their local public libraries in recent years have a choice. It’s not too hard to exercise such a choice, either:  all you need are a couple of spare rooms with bookshelves, a collection of books, and a few people who can do the relatively simple work needed to run a small library. Those who belong to an existing organization such as a church will have the easiest time of all.  It’s a rare church these days that can’t set aside two adjoining rooms—one for adult books, one for children’s books, so that kids have a space where they can be a little rambunctious—and come up with a rotating staff of retirees who are looking for something quiet and constructive to do with their spare time.  Everyone who’s interested pitches in the annual fee; donations of new books are encouraged; a couple of work parties get the rooms painted, the shelves in place, the books entered into some kind of catalog, and the rest of the necessary preparations taken care of; you hold a party for the grand opening, make sure the library is open and staffed before and after church services and Wednesday night Bible study, and away you go.

A group that doesn’t have an existing building to house a library in will have to work a little harder and start a little smaller. Here again, volunteer staff are essential in the early days, to keep costs down, and if you can find a converted garage or some other free or very inexpensive space, that will help a great deal. The goal, of course, is to get enough people excited by the subscription library that you have the funds to rent a space of comfortable size and hire a full-time librarian—but that’s a goal to aim for eventually, not a hurdle that has to be jumped before the project can begin. A pleasant room, a collection of books, a table and a few chairs, and a desk where the librarian can work:  that’s enough to begin with. If you can have two rooms, one for the children and one for the adults, that’s better still, but again, don’t worry about it if you can’t start with that. Ernest Thompson Seton’s rule for outdoor learning—“Where you are, with what you have, right now”—is always a good rule of thumb to follow.

A word about which books to stock is probably in order. Obviously what books your library can have will depend on three factors—how much space you’ve got, how much money you have, and what your patrons are interested in reading. If you accept donations, you can count on getting vast numbers of volumes that nobody actually wants any more—Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, the Left Behind series, and so on—and some way to get rid of them will be necessary. Whether or not you accept donations, figuring out what will keep patrons coming to your library to check out books will be one of your main jobs. You can make that easier for yourself by keeping track of what gets checked out frequently, on the one hand, and asking patrons to suggest titles they want to see on the other. Stay away from the periodicals aimed at book buyers, institutional or otherwise: they’ve been coopted by huge corporate publishers who are trying to clear their warehouses, and their advice will benefit their corporate sponsors, not you.

A subscription library run by the Theosophical Society.

I also see a significant role for the old-fashioned reading room, with its small specialized library and its meeting space in back. It’s a very effective way for small movements to get the word out and make contact with interested people. While the internet replaced that function to some extent, moves by social media and search engine companies to impose ideological censorship online shows which way the wind is blowing—and of course groups that use the internet also have a notorious problem with getting online enthusiasm to find its way out into the real world. The first political movement to do an end run around the censors by organizing a network of reading rooms, where people can learn about the movement, meet people involved in it, and go from there to active participation, will very likely leap ahead of the pack in a big way. The same’s true in the realm of alternative spirituality, now that the New Age and Neopagan movements are imploding—but we’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.

To some extent this is simply meant to provide a way that people who want to visit a library—not a “media center” but a quiet, comfortable space with a large and diverse collection of books that can be checked out by patrons—can still do so, if they happen to live in an area where the local library system has stopped providing that service. To do that, though, is to challenge some of the most deeply rooted presuppositions of today’s social mainstream.  It’s going to be necessary to talk about that, if only because I expect this modest proposal to harvest a rich crop of anguished shrieks and no small amount of frantic pushback.

Central to the contemporary cult of bureaucracy is the notion that the decisions that matter ought to be left in the hands of qualified experts, who have gotten university degrees in some subject or other and so know much more about how to make those decisions than the rest of us. That’s why, in the case presently under discussion, we’ve got a managerial elite of library administrators pushing changes in public libraries that aren’t wanted by the librarians, nor by the patrons, nor by the communities that the libraries are supposed to serve.  The library administrators know better, right?  That’s what gives them the justification to ignore what everyone else wants and pursue whatever fashionable wave of the future they claim is what people ought to want.

The public library of the future?

The difficulty here, of course, is that after decades of rule by qualified experts, most people in this country have realized that the experts can’t be trusted. From the economists in the 1970s who insisted that offshoring millions of American jobs to other countries wasn’t a problem because other jobs would take their place, straight through to Barack Obama, expert-in-chief, insisting that if Obamacare was passed health care prices would go down and you’d get to keep your current doctors and plans, the qualified experts have been selling a pack of lies, and people who believed them found that out the hard way. The sheer volume and reach of dishonest expertise in our society is almost impossible to exaggerate. Did you know, for example, that all those news stories that insisted that fat is bad for your heart were based on studies bought and paid for by the sugar industry, which was trying to deflect attention from their own product? Here’s an article in JAMA documenting that.

The decisions of qualified experts are routinely guided not by expertise, but by dubious financial incentives, fashionable bad ideas, and vicious and pervasive bigotries against the working class: that’s the takeaway from the last six or seven decades of American public life.  That’s why the blowback against the cult of bureaucracy has become so potent in recent years, and why it’s just going to keep on gaining force so long as the comfortable classes keep on trying to cover their naked biases and economic interests in an increasingly threadbare cloak of professional expertise. That’s why so few Americans these days bother to listen to the claims being marketed by the officially approved experts. “Fool me once, shame on you,” as the old saying goes: “fool me twice, shame on me.” The American people have been lied to over and over again, you know, and a lot of them are sick and tired of it.

It’s entirely possible that the blowback against the cult of bureaucracy could bring about the collapse of a good many institutions currently dominated by that cult. Not much of today’s US higher education industry will likely survive, for example, once the inevitable happens, Federal guarantees on student loans are abolished, and people who want to borrow money to go to college have to convince a skeptical banker that they’ll be able to pay it back with interest. There are already counties in at least one Western state that have shut down their public library systems completely, because the voters weren’t willing to shoulder an ever-increasing tax burden for institutions that were completely unresponsive to their concerns. That could become far more common as the populist insurgency gains strength and the antics of library administrators become a convenient target.

Not a “media center,” but this.

This is one of the reasons that I think founding independent subscription libraries now could be a game-changer. If worst comes to worst, it means that there will still be libraries when local public library systems get defunded by irate populists, but it might also prevent that from happening. Again, it’s those who think they have a monopoly on something—be it library services, expert opinion, or anything else—who become arrogant and complacent, and engage in the kind of stupid stunts that bring down the wrath of ordinary people on dysfunctional institutions. If library administrators have to explain to the city council why they’ve had a 20% decrease in library patronage over the last year, while three private subscription libraries are thriving and one of them is starting to remodel a disused grocery store into its new, bigger facility, it’s just possible that some of them will begin to remember that they’re supposed to be public servants, not public masters.

In the meantime, if you happen to live somewhere that has real public libraries, then for the love of Hannah support them, and pester the relevant officials with letters praising the library and its staff in detail, specifying what you like about the services they provide. If you happen to live in one of the few places that still has an old-fashioned subscription library, and it’s worth your support—I’m sorry to say not all of them are—then consider joining and helping to keep it going. And if you’re one of the unfortunate many who have to put up with a glossy “media center” that doesn’t provide you with the basic services a library is meant to provide—convenient and comfortable access to a large and diverse collection of books, old and new, classic and eccentric, from small publishers as well as big ones—why, then, you might consider some of the possibilities I’ve sketched out in this post.


  1. During the last round of budget cuts during the Great Recession, our local branch library in Boston was put on a short list of libraries to be closed. The community rallied, and it got out that the branch library was the second-busiest after the main central branch.

    The community rallied so much that our long-neglected library was actually remodelled and is looking better than ever. I thought that would warm people’s hearts. Oh, and yes they still actually have books and quiet reading areas!

  2. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been to my local public library in some time; I’ll have to correct that and see if they’ve caved to the modern fads or are still the awesome place I remember.

    In part this was because I got used to the library at my university, which is the largest library for quite some ways: a twelve-story building filled with old and obscure volumes, including microfiche. I still go there to play Dungeons & Dragons with my group, but not being a student or teacher there anymore, I don’t think I can check out the books. It seems to be resisting the “media center” fad for now.

  3. Where I live there are several cities close together. I have library cards from 4 of them. Since im not able to get out, I have no idea what state they are in. They used to be full of books, though they had music and movies. The last 15 or so books I’ve bought have all been ink on paper. And hard cover when available. One of them is a hardcover, just released 2416 page Revised Jerusalem Bible, Study Edition. And I borrowed your “Merry Krampus” to post on FB 🙂 I look forward to these posts. thanks so much

  4. Alas, I think what today’s people will do when they can’t find what public libraries are meant to provide, will be to hit the Amazon website, and use their own room for a reading room.* Meanwhile, advice on downsizing, retiring, and decluttering always includes getting rid of those bulky and obsolete old books…

    *Future tense? Actually, no, not really. Present-as-part-of-ongoing tense.

  5. Thank you, Mr. Greer, for this phrase: “the iron triangle that links corrupt politicians, elitist bureaucrats, and corporate flacks in an alliance of mutual backscratching”. That is a keeper, especially ‘iron triangle’.

    I have some experience with and some knowledge of non-profit organizations, and it is wise to tread carefully. Setting up a subscription library might be the sort of endeavor in which one wants to fly under the radar, so to speak.

  6. Only slightly off your topic, I recently visited the library at a place called Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. I expected to see mostly, or only, the kind of books that would have been vetted according to the Catholic viewpoint. To my surprise they had a large collection of well stocked books on a wide diversity of topics. For example, I found a large collection of classic books on occultism, mysticism, Eastern Religions, etc., including more than a few that were not at all friendly to Catholicism. The Public were welcome to check out books there. The place felt like a throwback to the classic libraries of yesteryear. There were a few personal computers for research, but not much other new technology. My experience there brought to mind the classic book HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION, the untold story of Ireland’s role in maintaining Western Culture while the dark ages settled over Europe. I guess my point is that maybe some modern equivalent of Abbeys may spring up here and there during the long decline, adding to the subscription library model.

  7. I’m sure your East Providence libraries are excellent, but when in the area I always try to spend some time at the Providence Athenaeum. It’s a delightful building and a great place to spend an afternoon. Free to everybody, though you must join (pay) to check books out. Fair enough. While you’re there, read “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean, if you haven’t already.

    I have heard some of the library horror stories you mention, but have experienced none of them. I’m happy to say that pretty much all the libraries I have been to (in rural Connecticut, and anywhere else I go) remain accessible and well utilized. I hope it stays that way.

  8. The best book I’ve read about do it yourself education, and also one of the best books I’ve read ever, is The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose. He’s American but captured something about Britain few people can. The Welsh miners’ libraries had to have a rule of no taking books down the pit. 🙂

  9. I live in a small regional area which does still have a reasonable library system. About 40 minutes away there is a much larger city which has a very good library system. And a little further on there is an even better one. Interestingly some people have started small personal street libraries near their mail boxes. We also have a few charities in town with outlets that sell second hand books. Riches indeed.
    I remember as a child we had no such services and the local Methodist Church used to open its hall space once a week to a cornucopia of knowledge. Many different Adult Education classes and a small library of general books. They were old but that has never mattered to me. They were books. We also had an adequate school library.
    I have been well served by local libraries of various kinds and want this for the future too.

  10. Thank you Mr. Greer,

    I still remember the first book of yours I read (Dark Age America) and its closing discussion of the value of bringing back old school printing presses for similar reasons to what you outline in this article. That material and your article makes me wonder whether you think similar retreats will happen to large scale book publishers and universities and what to do about it. Several years ago I became very interested in starting a publishing company and did some research into self publishing and e-books. What I found was New York book publishing deals were becoming less prestigious as authors, starting in the romance genre and increasingly across multiple areas of fiction, were going independent. But as far as I understand the industry the university system still has all academic publishing on total lock down. For all intents and purposes an independent scholarly publication is largely considered worthless no matter how many relevant professors praise the work. In fact, publishing books that at least educated laymen can understand is generally inferior to writing incomprehensible peer reviewed journal articles that maybe a dozen scholars will read. But considering how stifling the echo chamber at most places of higher learning has become, do you think these subscription libraries could be the think tanks/universities of the future? It seems that the academy is bloated and hurdling towards a day when tenured professors find themselves unemployed as their universities go under, as you point out in this article. Does that make the subscription library the proper piece of social infrastructure to inherit the intellectual throne? Or is their another avenue that strikes you as more promising? I ask as a person who would love to pursue intellectual passions but increasingly sees no future in the standard avenues present today.

  11. my local library system has a policy of throwing old books that don’t get checked out within a year, including rare books and first editions, I think. they don’t withdraw and sell them. why, I don’t know. apart from that, they allow so much noise that I hate it for that reason. I figure that they figured that they can’t do anything, given a collective shrug and let it happen.

    a branch library has turned into a de facto day shelter. the regulars, in some cases, have homes, but they go on hanging out with their friends form the street. on any given day you’ll have more homeless and homeless-adjacent (not homeless but still in the scene) people hanging out there than you do regular patrons. sleeping, socializing, eating, using their cellphones if they have them.

  12. Hi JMG. Krampus sounds like my kind of guy. Just the other day, I was debating with some 40 somethings who insisted books were obsolete. I suggested that might seem to be the case until the internet was gone. They argued that the internet was going no where. I left it at that and added their names to my Krampus list. I imagine that sort of thinking does not help the plight of public libraries.

    May your Alban Arthan be peaceful and prosperous.


  13. Emptying the stacks? Those barbarians! Half the fun of going to the library is wandering the stacks and seeing what catches your eye.

    In other abomination news, we have the trailer for “The Color out of Space.”

    I see grrrrl power coming. How original!

    I also found a review, but it starts out by explaining how the grrrl is a Wiccan healing her mother, Mrs. Gardner, from cancer, and couldn’t bear to go any further.

  14. Right now I’m posting this from a library terminal with a group of very loudly chattering teenagers at the station directly beside me. I’m sure that a complaint to the staff would be met with bemusement at best, and at worst would mark me as problem “customer” in their eyes. Much of the time it’s the librarians themselves making the most noise.

    This seems of a piece with the move to “open plan” corporate offices and a broad push against solitude of any sort. I’ve heard it called “the war on quiet” but it’s clearly a push against solitude, and not against silence per se–no-talking rules that no-one was calling for or wanted AFAICT have recently been instituted on local commuter trains.

    The present era’s in-your-face culture tears down the sort of ritual observance of personal space (“hey there” vs. “pardon me”) that allows one to experience a degree of solitude even in public places.

    The frame of mind that allows for deep thinking and reflection can only be entered into and left at length and with some difficulty. Human beings are highly social creatures, and the mind likely prioritizes social interaction, which itself also demands a great deal of brainpower, over other normally less immediate needs. It seems to me that keeping people constantly primed for social interaction in this fashion has the effect of perpetually locking them out of the capacity for engaging in reflective thinking, constantly putting it off for a more opportune time that never comes. The long term effect of this on people seems unlikely to be good.

  15. I can’t thank you enough for this week’s post. I’m 75 and have lived my whole adult life in the Bay Area but I just can’t take any more of the political correctness insanity and the wreckage it’s adding the the already existing corruption both political and social. I’m moving to a small town in Wyoming after the holidays and such a project is right up my alley. A project for the children. Again, thank you and God bless.
    Jill W.

  16. The libraries round here are mostly doing ok. One was a bit heavier on computers and kid’s programs than you might like, and one just looked poverty stricken, but the books, are definitely the heart of all the libraries I’ve seen, and the libraries usually seem to be doing well.

    Maybe things are different in the USA? The two small-town libraries I’ve visited in the USA seemed normal enough to me, but that was about 13 and 15 years ago.

    In defense of online library services: eye problems have meant I can’t do any extended reading for the past year and more, so I’ve given up on visiting the library. What I do use is the online access that lets me get at audiobooks online. The selection is fairly small and somewhat erratic, but there’s some real gold in there. I ‘read’ Les Miserables for the first time last summer, and had a crack at Don Quihote and St. Augustine’s The City of God.

    Further in the past, being able to use library computers to email faimly and friendswas a really useful thing for me when I was working far from home for months on end without my own phone or computer. Maybe that doesn’t belong in a library, but somewhere really does need to offer computer services for free, especially now that so many things are online. it’s hard to apply for social services or seek out information on them online if you don’t have internet access.

  17. My local library has become a de facto homeless shelter. Especially during the summer (we routinely get 100 degree Farenheit / 37.7 Celsius days in summer where I live). The local news channel even ran a small segment about how the local library was welcoming to every kind of homeless no questions asked.

    While I would like to see people whom need help get help I find it frustrating our city government tossed that ‘task’ to our local library for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. Many of these homeless need soap and showers far more than they need to read books.

  18. If you can stand a couple more library horror stories, my roommate and I each have one. Hers is that the municipal library where she used to work was taken over by the county, and the administrator decided to savagely weed the excellent children’s collection down to almost nothing, using the excuse that reading “old, dirty books’ makes children feel badly about themselves (the books ended up in the dumpster; she and other staffers rescued what they could, but it was a drop in the bucket to what was being destroyed, including many OOP treasures). Naturally, it wasn’t too long after that the staff was savagely weeded as well, and I believe the library was closed in the end; a job well done.

    As for me, I used to be a substitute librarian in the county system. The first hint that things were starting to run off the rails was when the new administration announced in an all-staff workshop that we could not use the term “patrons” anymore, but had to call them “customers.” Why? Because Spanish-speaking people might find the term offensive (this was the early 2000s, well before the current PC language craze). My thought was that our Spanish-speaking populace probably had far more important issues on their minds than nitpicking our terminology, but even I knew better than to say that out loud in the meeting. This was just their opening gambit; after a few more moves I could see their endgame, which was to deprofessionalize and replace librarians as far as possible with paraprofessionals, outsourcing (cataloging and the like) and online resources. Fortunately my Matron (Patroness? lol) pushed me to get out, just months before the substitute budget was eliminated.

    I remember in an earlier post you bemoaning the hideous new Seattle library building. Here, the city library system ended up with a Central Library which is not only an acrophobe’s nightmare of glass walls, glass elevators and glass stairwells hanging over empty space, but positively dangerous five months of the year, when the ridiculous cantilevered THING on the roof drops icicles on anyone trying to enter one side of the building…

  19. I bet you could take the old Netflix model, the one where you got shipped a dvd and then mailed it back to get another dvd, I bet that old model could still work out just replace it with books. Books ship reasonably well via post. Nobody would fund it though, too dowdy for silicon valley. Although I do wonder how much capital it would take to start it up and where the breakeven point would be on subscription price.

  20. Dax, delighted to hear it. If you’ve got a good public library, do everything possible to keep it that way.

    James, oh, granted, university libraries can also be worthwhile. Do visit your public library, though.

    Marlena13, glad to hear it.

    Patricia, well, we’ll see. I figured it was worth a try.

    Nastarana, by all means make use of it. As for flying under the radar, yes, that’s probably best at first.

    Jim, I’m very glad to hear that.

    Stephen, that’s a question that deserves a post all to itself. The academic industry here in the US, certainly, is heading for a massive crash, and I expect to see that happen within a decade or so, with the end of federal student loan insurance the likely trigger. What might replace it, though, is complicated and, so some extent, not yet determined. More on this later on.

    Ria23, I’ve seen both of those things happen to libraries, making them unusable for most patrons. Since the administrators don’t have to care, they don’t.

    Mac, oh, granted. Next time laugh in their faces and tell them that they’re way behind the times. Ebook sales peaked almost a decade ago and have been declining since then, and printed book sales are still going strong.

    Your Kittenship, I gaze into my crystal ball and see another box office bomb…

    Array, that’s an excellent point. Amtrak trains have the sensible habit of making one car the quiet car, and letting people socialize in the others; it seems to work very well. I wonder how much of the war on solitude is a frantic attempt to avoid sustained thought, in order to avoid noticing the gap between our beliefs and our realities.

    Jill, delighted to hear it! May your move go well and your library thrive.

    Pygmycory, I have nothing against libraries providing free internet access — I’ve used that service myself! — or having videos for checkout. I just want to see that happen alongside of books, not instead of books.

  21. Great post.

    Do you– and putting this out there to the Commentariat as well– think it’s possible to organize an online subscription library, or online reading room? I ask because in the city I live in space is at a premium– and I’m trying to get out of here anyway– but I have many hundreds of volumes that I’ve collected over the years and would love to be able to share. I snap up old books whenever I come across them, and so I have most of the Harvard Classics and Britannica Great Books, dozens of works of Church Fathers that I got from the library of a decomissioned Catholic seminary, old Latin textbooks from the same source, and much more. I can’t read them all at once, as much as I try!

  22. Happypandatao, agreed. There unquestionably needs to be a good drop-in shelter for homeless people in any community with a homelessness problem, but that drop-in shelter should not be the public library, which is there for a different reason.

    Sister Crow, those are both classics. As for architecture, oog — that’s a can of industrial-sized worms all its own, and one we’ll need to discuss at some point.

    Owen, nah, one benefit of an actual library is that you can browse the stacks and choose books based on something other than the title and a paragraph summary. You can’t do that by mail.

    Steve, good question. I don’t know — but the only way to find out is to try.

  23. While I broadly agree about libraries, there’s the elephant in the room this week: Libraries implicitly assume the presence of enough people who both want to, and are capable of, reading books. Physical or otherwise, it’s becoming a lost skill.

    It’s irritatingly hard to sell the latest glossy idea to people who would rather sit down and read 400 pages (ideally, closer to a few thousand pages, from different points of view and different points in history) on a topic instead of seeing an overproduced video of some concept, crammed into a few minutes. So, can’t have that.

    Talking with people who have far more interaction with the modern educational system than I do, the state of literacy is frequently abysmal. Someone recently offered that the goal for a younger High School English class was to be able to write a proper sentence, without spelling or grammatical errors. This wasn’t the remedial group, either! It’s going to be an uphill battle to sell the benefits of libraries to a population that is functionally illiterate. And, yes, I know, I sound like an old man waving his cane and all that, but it doesn’t change the reality that reading books is a learned art, and it’s not being taught by those who should understand the value. Personally, my English program in high school mostly taught me to hate books with a passion – this from someone who was never without a book prior to 4 years of learning that you can’t properly read a book unless you’re an English teacher and diagram every single cursed literary device in the book. It took me a decade to recover.

    But, hey, “edutech” is cheaper than books, as long as you assume that everything works perfectly (it doesn’t), will never need repair (it’s being used by children, so of course it will), and squint awfully hard at the other glossy promises that never quite seem to be as shiny in reality when that keyboard isn’t working right, the wifi is slow, and your whole class scored poorly on the standardized testing because the network server was overloaded and took 30 seconds to load the next question, every time. And, apparently, buy new books every single year and assume that the technology will last a decade. As you point out, the experience of a life says none of these things are true, but the administrators have decided that it’s the future, so everyone else has to suffer through it.

    For those who don’t have the location or resources for a proper reading room, some variety of neighborhood library can be a good option as well. My wife and I installed and maintain one up in town that gets quite good traffic, including from a bunch of students who like to check it out after the bus drops them off. We add/rotate books as needed (from people’s basements, or from thrift stores), and we try to maintain some halfway calorie dense foods (beans, noodles, rice, canned soups, etc) in the bottom, along with hats and gloves as we can find them inexpensively. It all disappears gradually, so clearly someone is finding it useful. The books are circulating and rotating on their own quite nicely as well, and I’ve watched people interacting outside it, describing why someone would really like this or that book that’s currently on the shelf.

    Finally, and still faintly on topic, I’ve been encouraged by conversations I’ve had with some high school/college age people recently about social media and technology. Some of them have simply abandoned social media entirely, recognizing how awful it actually is, and quite a few others express the opinion that “it’s horrible, but… still, keeping in touch with people is nice…” I’ve enjoyed getting these two groups together to have a conversation at times. Hopefully we’re past peak social media and can go back to better and more meaningful ways of interaction in the future. Before it’s forced by lack of connectivity.

  24. I agree that the primary focus of libraries needs to be on books. Otherwise, they aren’t libraries, they’re something else.

  25. I’ve moved around a lot in the last 5-6 years and one of the criteria I set for deciding to land on a place and stay a while is the presence of a good library. This is half for the library that I can use and half because it shows that a community actually cares about the place where it lives and is willing to invest in it.

    I’m in Wisconsin now probably going to stay somewhere in the state for the long term and we have wonderful libraries here.

  26. The Providence Public Library is an excellent example of the battle between, on one side: the librarians and the library users; and on the other: the managerial class.
    The Providence Public Library is a non profit, not a publicly owned institution. Up until about a dozen years ago, the PPL ran a system of 9 libraries in Providence. Most of its funding came from the city and state, and they were paid partly per branch library. They overspent on adding to one of the branch libraries in the wealthiest neighborhood, and neglected maintenance on the libraries in the poorer neighborhoods. In order to justify more payments from the city, they added a “branch” library in the central library, splitting the stacks into the popular and the enduring.
    It all came to a head when the PPL announced it would be closing 4 branch libraries. The patrons revolted, and eventually the branch libraries became the Providence Community Library, and the PPL retained the central library, which is also the state’s library of record. The branches are in the business of supplying books, internet access, and other needs to the community, while the central library hosts weddings and is undergoing a $25 million renovation to become a “light-filled, welcoming, easily navigable, state-of-the-art learning place.” Meanwhile, they de-accessioned the DC Somervell abridgement of A Study of History halfway through my reading the first volume.

  27. I will echo the observations of ria23 and happypandatao regarding our relatively new Central library about 40 miles away. I decided to visit as an excercise in LRM calls for visiting a new place. The result was astonishing in the extreme. The vast majority of the “customers” were homeless and mentally ill seeking refuge from winter outside. A few were young highschool students surfing the web, a few others were job seekers looking online for work. The book shelves were nearly as bare as your photo “library of the future” and the oldest collection of books I could find anywhere was the Indiana Tax Code 1937. It really was unlike any library I’d ever seen and it clearly has a different mission for the community. A bonus was the facial recognition scan that was required to exit the parking garage. Your suggestions for remedy remind me of past discussions about a new monasticism that may well develop.

  28. We have a very nice library here in Hershey and since we’re in Dauphin county, we have full access to the Dauphin county system. I visit them both on a weekly basis.

    That said, having two pretty good libraries hasn’t stopped Bill and I from building a huge home library. We’re over 5,000 volumes by now. It could be more.

    If you’re looking to build up a good home library that could become a subscription library do what we do. Haunt library sales (there are online listings so you can find them three counties away), visit used bookstores, visit thrift shops (Goodwill always has books), stop at yard sales and flea markets. Preview titles via the interlibrary loan before purchasing online (since you can’t leaf through the book like you can at Jubilee thrift shop).

    We look specifically for history seeing as how we’re interested for our own writing AND we see how much history is being thrown down the memory hole.

    I always check the books, wherever I am. I never know what I’m going to find.

    Fiction is a harder call since it’s hard to guess what people will be interested in. Things go in and out of fashion all the time. Everyone used to read Pearl H. Buck. She won major book prizes! Then she became old, then deeply unfashionable, and now she’s probably being deep-sixed down the memory hole because, horrors, she was a white woman writing about China. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder is now.

    As far as Left Behind and the Twilight series: books of that nature can be recycled as compost when shredded, cat litter when shredded, fire-starters, insulation, radiation barriers, and toilet paper. There’s always a use. They can even be read, when there’s nothing else to do.

    Teresa from Hershey

  29. I love this idea. My local libraries are OK… just OK. I’m often appalled at their lack of classics and forget anything exotic or “occult”. Consequently, here’s an odd proposal: I rent a commercial space for my music studio and have done so for the last decade or so since moving out of subletting other people’s spaces. I pay… well, let’s just say it is a lot of money. I’m plagued with commercial spaces being too large for my needs, but since there is little under 1200 square feet available, I am currently in a space that is too large except for the occasional in-house recital. My lease will be up in about three years and I am already considering moving out of my current space for a laundry list of reasons. I would be happy to partner with someone (or several people) running a reading room to acquire a space where I could have a teaching area of two or three rooms and the library could occupy the rest of the space.

    The catch is it has to be in my geographical area because that’s where I have clients.

    Just putting it out there. I’m in Naperville, Illinois at the moment and I’m considering moving my business to nearby Aurora. If anyone has any interest, mention it here and/or please email me at my first name dot my last name at comcast dot net.

  30. A tale of three libraries, here in Brisbane, Australia:

    The Brisbane City Council library service, which is fairly good as things go, books still the primary focus but understaffed and technology creeping in. Books over ten years old regularly culled for that reason. Selection wide, but shallow.

    The Mt Cootha Botanical Gardens sub-branch of the same library, focused specifically on plants. Due to that focus, regular misunderstandings arise with staff brought in from the other Council libraries, e.g. “Why are we holding onto this? It’s more than ten years old.” “Because it’s the only book on that plant group in the country. PUT IT BACK.”

    The specialist library held by the Queensland Spinners, Weavers and Fibre Artists Group. Annual membership to the group required, housed in one room of a converted church hall, books up to 70 years old on many obscure textile arts. At the moment, easily replaced by a Google search. Without the internet, the best source of information on textile arts in this city. Protected by the baleful glare of many women over 60, including a few hoarders.

  31. My local library is considering a $19,800,000 renovation, or approximately $176 per book stored there. For this we get a cafe, a terrace, and some more bathrooms. Its going to be the nicest homeless shelter around.

  32. Others posted that some libraries have become de facto daytime homeless shelters. I know of several where the librarians feel overwhelmed by this new addition to their duties – and it interferes with quiet reading spaces.

    I heard a different librarian recently who is trying to archive interviews of local history makers (or herstory, given the topic) on acid free paper that supposedly will last for centuries. I doubt the HVAC systems will have that lifespan but at least they are contemplating post-electricity society, sort of.

  33. Working in my library system is, at the very least, some form of purgatory. There must be negative karma getting burnt up, or so help me.

    On that note, I tried to get my system to get copies of the Weird of Hali, but short of buying sets of them and donating them, they won’t budge because our selection criteria only allow for items that receive reviews in publishing magazines and the like. Even then, they may not add them in on the recommendation of a staff member, but don’t get me started on the political nature of county library systems.


    If there were subscription libraries willing to hire people in a paraprofessional capacity, as opposed to having to shell out for the graduate degree, I would be all for it.

  34. Wow. It’s hard to imagine you’ll get shrieks and frantic pushback to this idea. It sounds like fun to me! I almost see it as a much more realistic proposal to get all that community stuff the Transition Towns promised us back in the day. But if you say so, I’ve got some popcorn here, so I’ll sit back and watch the sparks fly.

    From my vantage point, I have yet to personally observe any blowback against the cult of bureaucracy. I’m actually surprised at how slow it seems in coming. I guess I should admit that I live in a major metro area and I work in that iron triangle you mentioned, so maybe my livelihood depends on not noticing it.

    The people I interact with assume college degrees are a necessity for knowledge as a matter of course. Although when I probe the boundaries and point out, for example, that knowledge can be gained outside a university, there does seem to be a brittleness to the way they hold onto their viewpoint.

  35. See if this works after several years of not posting. The county was threatening to close the branch library in the village near where I live that is open three afternoons a week, and people kicked up so much fuss that they extended the hours instead.

  36. Thank you for another thought provoking essay!

    In an unplanned but welcome alternative to Buy-Nothing-Day, I purchased some lovely items (esthetically pleasing and useful) this past Friday at a neighborhood small pop-up arts and crafts sale – everything handmade by locals & very reasonably priced. Some good homemade food and baked goods were also sold. A good time was had by all.

    On a smaller scale, I’ve regularly loaned & borrowed many books with a few friends who have good personal libraries, since none of us have the budget or space to buy all the books we would like to read; in some cases because some of the older books are very hard to find this ‘system’ becomes even more useful. We all have overlapping yet divergent interests with the positive outcome of having the opportunity to read books that would not have been previously considered. Perhaps something like this very small scale experience could blossom into a subscription library, given the right circumstances. We’ll see.

    Re: the tragedy of books ending up in dumpsters – not only do public libraries lose out on some income by not selling discarded books, but many people of all ages who live in rural or underserved urban areas are starved for good reading material. One would think, at the very least, the paper could be recycled, even used in art projects.

  37. Windsor County Vermont has a town named Reading, though it’s pronounced Red-ing. The library is a beautiful yellow brick building, and in plan is quite like the one room school my mother went to in the 1920’s, in Nine Mile Indiana. May be built about the same time. I have a couple of bricks, which are red, from the school which was abandoned before my time, mementos of the stories my mother told, as the 4th graders would help teach the 3rd, since there was only one adult. It was heated with a coal stove, and kids brought their own water, and there was an outhouse. Surrounded by farm fields, 2 miles from Baer Field which became after my time, Ft. Wayne International Airport. The motorpool parks about where the school once was. Great and wonderful people in that farm community! But my parents generation moved away, then their parents left too, I guess everybody just keeps moving on. I guess it’s a free country anyway. But the Transfer Station (or dump if you prefer) is where I get most of my books; books thrown away by various local libraries ;D

  38. Terrific post, as always. But John, Mr. Bennet is most decidedly not a clergyman. He is a gentleman with a lifetime interest in an estate that provides a modest income. It is the obsequious Mr. Collins who is a clergyman.

  39. The Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library in Berkeley, California is a surviving example of the political organization reading room.

    The Mechanics Institute in San Francisco, founded 1854, contains a membership library.

    Both of these, I suppose, are products of the long and deep history of working class organizing in the SF Bay Area.

    Friends of mine have been putting together the Adocentyn Research Library, located in Albany, California (just north of Berkeley) for several years. It will have a soft opening soon, but owing to the rarity of some volumes in the collection, it will be strictly a reading room; no checking out the books. This project was started by some Pagans whose personal libraries were outstripping the space they had in their homes, and needed somewhere else to put their books.

  40. Or to put it in The Common Tongue: ” One of the problems such as the librarians are recounting is this: (1) they won’t hire anybody as a librarian without an M.A. in Library Science. (2) If what they teach in Library Science is all this media center-come into the 21st century – just get stuff off these highly touted review zines etc, that’s what the graduates will do. And (3) who runs said review zines?

    Why, Big Publishing – a minor department (BuyOurBooks Inc) of LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) Inc, a partially owned subsidiary of SoullessMindlessGrabby (SMG) Megacorps with a 15% interest owned by VC (VultureCapitalist) Hedge Funds Inc. And while readers do appreciate the internet access, if this sort of things go too far, readers DO shrug and say “ain’t funding this garbage, I’ll go on Amazon and find my books.”

    Told Jean Lamb in Klamath Falls what you said and of course that you said it, I copied the central chunk, in fact, cut&paste, with proper attribution. She replied “No, our library patrons are very organized and highly militant—the first suggestion that any part of the budget be cut yielded a couple of hundred people to speak against it. Plus, it would take an actual election to make it work, and the county commissioners aren’t quite that insane. They know they would likely be voted out for putting it on the ballot in the first place.”

    It was then that the translation into the Vulgate above popped into my head to share with her and with you. So add Klamath Falls, OR to the list that includes East Providence, RI.

  41. The county library system I grew up with in Douglas County, Oregon shut down for a few years. The city of Roseburg eventually took possession of the main branch and opened it up for city residents, but to the best of my knowledge the other branches spread around the county are closed.

    My local library now is ok, but my wife and I frequently ask ourselves what they spend their money on because we can never seem to find specific titles we desire. Thank Krampus for interlibrary loan.

  42. I love the library near my hometown which is stuffed full of books. Sadly here in Saskatoon they’ve gone media heavy. The shelves they do have are cut down to a very small size, leaving the bottom and tops of the shelves empty in the name of ‘accessibility’. It’s pretty hard to access a book that isn’t there!

    How common are security guards at libraries? Growing up I wouldn’t have ever considered it, but most libraries in the city have them now.

  43. JMG, thank you for this post! You mentioned you would be exploring this topic quite some time ago, and I have been waiting patiently since then.

    I live just outside Seattle, and the public library systems here are still decent. Seattle tech culture pervades the libraries, starting with the fact that the main purpose of most local libraries seems to be hosting public internet access. Once one gets past the row upon row of computers, you can find the books, and in most branches there are still plenty of them and with a decent variety, so all doesn’t seem to be lost yet. Our local libraries are devoting a lot of resources to projects I think are likely to be dead ends (much like the “media center” idea you have lambasted, and also things like expanding their selections of downloadable e-books). I fear what will happen when the current tech boom ends and local governments face funding crunches, but in the meantime, I am skeptical that the notion of a subscription library would get very much traction around here given present conditions.

    The Theosophical Society in Seattle still has a library and reading room (in addition to their excellent bookshop). I haven’t really perused the library, but I imagine the selection is fascinating. I ordered one of your books from the bookstore a few months back, and you may be interested to know that some of the staff in the bookstore still remember you fondly from very early on in your writing career.

  44. I work in a University Archive located in a large library. Without going into too many details that would disclose the exact institution, I must say that the issue is worse than you can imagine. The library was already aggressively weeding books and jumping on trendiness, but now things have gotten insane, because 1/5 of our space is to be cleared for a new use. (I can’t say what this use is without revealing the institution.) This decree came from outside the library, and the head librarian has no choice but to comply. Over two hundred thousand volumes have to be cleared out…. So far, 5 thirty-foot dumpsters have been filled. We try to set aside stuff relevant to our already cramped archives, and personally save a lot as well, but it is overwhelming. The “library of the future” is here….

    Also, I teach at another local university that is vigorously weeding the stacks, for no discernible reason. Meanwhile my freshman writing students there don’t know how to use a catalogue and find a book. They think a ten-page article is “long,” and many resist buying required books that they lack the intention or capability of reading-a separate, yet related, issue…

    One bright moment: I walked a Chinese ESL student through the process of how to use the library catalogue, that is, not the catch-all library search engine. You can’t navigate to the catalogue from the library homepage anymore-Yes WTH??? There is however a digital kiosk-a tablet locked on the catalog page, if you know what it is and where it is in the library, because it’s not by the circulation desk or the research librarian desk. In other words, I showed my student how to find physical books within 150 ft. of us. Finding himself holding the scrap paper where he had jotted down numbers with the pencil (yes, there may be a digital catalog accessible on a kiosk, but the paper and pencils remain) he had an epiphany, and said “I’ve seen people do this in films!!!”…. Finally, it is clear that many of my students are already underserved by the libraries in their home communities.

  45. Fantastic post, John! It got my wheels turning again. I am facing a move from one rural place to another, a moveI have been quietly urging for a long time, to where my husband has family. Sadly, it will be further from Mt. Fuji and other good mountains for hiking, but most importantly, it has a network of old friends and a culture that accepts my husband, most importantly, but also outsiders to a much greater extent than our current village, where even wives marrying in are treated coldly (you can imagine the genetic consequences). But now we have to cut down on our things, one of which is about 500 books, which I need to cut down to 200 maximum. In Japan I’m told the libraries are really not happy about receiving books these days. They very much subscribe to the civil religion of Progress, I think even more so than America in many ways. Nonetheless I’ll try giving them some of the higher quality books in my collection and see. I have a foreign friend close to where we are relocating, and he is similarly trying to cut down on possessions and tells me the libraries there will not accept books, particularly if they are not in Japanese. (I have given away basic English readers to the library upstairs from where I teach English, and they were very grateful.)
    To make a very long story a bit shorter, I’m probably going to have to set up an office away from my brother-in-law’s home, where my husband intends to live, and these depopulating rural towns in Japan have lots of closed businesses, where I could probably make a deal on rent. It is bound to have a nasty old smart meter or two, but lots of foil on the walls and then shelf after shelf after shelf of books would help absorb most of the radiation. (See? You really got me thinking!)
    Another factor putting a fire under us (off topic so I’ll be brief) is that since the village lost nearly all of its cats and most of its avian predators, the rats have gotten completely out of hand. Their invasion of our house has been more vigorous and aggressive than ever, our efforts to control them have all been in vain, and we are up night after night dealing with them.

  46. @Steve T

    You may want to check the Open Library.

    If I understand correctly, you may digitalize your books (a slow manual process) and “donate” them to the library. They will then make sure to lend them over the Internet in an ethical way: you cannot just download copies, you have to agree to view those online, and their software limite how many people get to “borrow” each book at the same time. Of course they cannot fend off the most resourceful and persistent scrappers, but most users just find it much more convenient to follow the rules, supposedly.

    Though maybe this is what you want? If you really want to lend the physical book,…

    What I have done with some fellow coworkers is to set up a spreadsheet into some company server and write there what you have available for others and what you are interested in. People would peruse the list, pick up the phone, talk with whoever was the owner of the work they wanted, and meet in person to exchange books. This would be impractical in a public space with strangers, but this is where you could play middleman and use $$$ deposits as collateral. You’d probably need a FarseBuckz page for publicity and send catalogs by email if you really wanted to.

  47. In small town Michigan 20 years ago they were “deaccessioning” (getting rid of) books at a furious rate. here in Santa Fe it’s a mixed bag (some homeless shelter services crowding out patrons) but I stopped using them when late book warnings threatened very costly fines many times the cost of the books by any rational measure. Mass market SF. I’ve been told that my experience was unusual, but it seems I’m a magnet for that sort of thing. We’ll have to improvise something like what you’ve described, that’s for sure.

  48. I greatly appreciate your post on this topic.  I work in a branch library in a large urban system.  I have shared my criticisms of it before here. My branch at least still has more books than most other branches (probably because it is the only library left not yet completely renovated).  It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but still far from what I’d want it to be.

    I see so much waste (financial and resources and energy) in our library system.  I would imagine that a subscription library like you propose would not waste so much if it were to survive.

    A few examples of wasteful insanity pushed by bureaucratic elites in our system:

    1. We used to have four nice maroon armchairs in our reading corner.  They were not worn, even by other people’s standards.  They looked more old-fashioned, the kind that would fit the character within a nice room of books. One day, my manager was notified by administration that there were being removed that very day and new chairs put in.  None of us in our branch, including our manager, had requested the change nor had been informed prior to that day.  Four chic-looking grey chairs with no arm rests were put in their place.  Most of us find them cold and ugly. Patrons tell us that they miss the old chairs. Yet, this was approved by the downtown administrator in charge of library appearance. My manager decided to look online to see how much these chairs cost — they were very expensive… in the thousands.  What a waste!  Still, this is a small example in the larger scheme of our library system, but it is symbolic of many larger examples of insanity.

    2. Today, someone from IT came and replaced all of 10-15 staff computers with the newest models.  The one I had been using before worked fine for me before, but I’m not doing anything all that fancy on it so maybe it was inadequate for some sort of tasks. The old computers are not (at least not immediately) discarded; they go to some government warehouse and sit for a while.  I bet all these new computers cost a lot (and of course in energy and resource terms too). In a small, community-run library, this frequent replacement of computers would be harder to justify.

    3. With all the books I’ve seen discarded, I often have imagined that one could just start a library collection solely from discarded books without having to buy any.

    4. The majority of our library budget does not go to collections but to staff salaries. That includes people like me (I am grateful to get paid, I don’t deny) but I’m a part-time public services employee, so a drop in the overall staff cost. Public services employees, those who actually work in the libraries and interact with the public are still less than half of all employees.  Sure, some administrators, facilities, and IT people are needed, but not to the bloated extent now. In recent years, new administrative positions have been created, without any input from lower level public services employees.  Positions such as “Library Appearance Coordinator” “Customer Service Specialist”  etc. and these are ones with six-digit salaries making 4-5 times what I make in a year.  Not only is this a waste, but it makes it harder on us, because there are more hurdles to go through to get anything approved and more confusion of who to contact for whatever issue. And more rules about everything, mostly not decided by us.

    I often feel torn, because I do support the idea of public libraries and I’m not anti-government spending when used wisely.  But when I see such waste it makes ideas like yours appealing.  I’m not ready to bail on my job yet; it still provides some meaning for me.  But if current trends continue, I could see myself continuing to work part-time in the public library system while also volunteering at building other alternatives.

  49. I should have added the data point that our local public library (300 feet from my house!!!) is doing fine, with a long-serving staff. They collect used books and have massive book sales. A number of of the aforementioned “rescued” university books are headed that direction-after I read them first of course…

  50. I spent a couple years working in a public library. I started as a volunteer, then applied for a job when one opened up. But before I could be hired, I had to pass… The Test. [insert dramatic music here] I showed up on test day and found that I was one of a dozen or so applicants. Chatting them up, I learned that they all had 4-year degrees in Library Science and one had a masters. Having no college degree of any kind, I figured I had no chance.

    But I was already there, so why not take… The Test. After all the build-up, it turned out to be nothing but lists of authors, book titles, Dewey Decimal numbers that you had to put in shelving order. I figured we’d all get perfect or near-perfect scores and the job would go to the most impressive degree.

    Then I get word that I got the job. I asked how that was possible. Well, I was the only one with a perfect score. I was dumbfounded. How can you have a college degree of any kind and not know how to shelve books by author/title let alone Dewey Decimal in your sleep? What in the name of the gods did these people do for four years? It may sound like an unimportant skill, but if four years of Library Science has failed to teach you how to shelve (and by extension find) books in a library, what else have you not learned?

    Someone please tell me I’m over-reacting….

  51. All these library ideas are great! I encourage people to pursue them. I myself live around the corner from a thrift store. My problem is we live in a small post-war cottage and have no place to store real books, which is why I own a Kindle. I’d much prefer real books.

  52. Bridge, yes, as I noted in my post, there are still some subscription libraries out there — and those that are still doing what they were founded to do deserve support.

    Russell, there are still plenty of people who read, and plenty of people who read books of respectable length. You can’t sell a fantasy novel to a publisher these days unless it’s 85,000 words or more — the old 35,000-word paperbacks are a thing of the past. As a professional writer, I make a decent living off people buying my books. That being the case, I think it’s fair to talk about libraries!

    Pygmycory, exactly.

    Ibiceek, no argument there. Visiting the public library is one of the things I always do before deciding on a move.

    Peter, so that’s where the Providence Community Libraries came from! I’ve been to two of them and found them very pleasant — unlike the PPL, which looks like an event center with some books stuck in there because they haven’t yet figured out how to get rid of them. Maybe the Providence Community Libraries can build a big downtown branch someday… 😉

    Gawain, that sounds like a lot of the libraries I’ve seen, and heard of. Ugh. Yes, a new monasticism and a new subscription library movement could work very well together.

    Teresa, glad to hear it.

    Kimberly, I hope you get a taker.

    Kfish, thanks for this.

    Alex, I think that’s called “corporate welfare for the building industry.”

    Mark, it’s at least a step in the right direction.

    Jean-Pierre, that’s the iron triangle I mentioned — a very effective way to make sure that a supposedly public institution serves the interests of the privileged few. Since you know how libraries are run, why not talk to the people you know and see if the idea of a small subscription library finds any takers?

    Blue Sun, it’s that brittleness that leads me to expect pushback. The universities these days act as gatekeepers, excluding those who won’t conform to the system from access to positions of influence, and the people who’ve passed through that gate are very defensive about maintaining their privileged status against the deplorable masses. If people start setting up their own libraries, and choose people to run them on the basis of whether they can do the work rather than on whether they have the university seal of conformity on them, how are the comfortable classes going to maintain their stranglehold on the world of publicly discussed ideas?

    Stephen, delighted to hear it. Okay, maybe political pressure has more potential than I thought.

    PatriciaT, the whole business of throwing books into dumpsters instead of selling them smacks to me of deliberate suppression. It makes no sense otherwise.

    Mark, well, good for you for salvaging them — and may the library administrators who ordered them to be thrown away rot in Hell. (Yes, I’m passionate about books; how did you guess?)

    Alison, of course you’re quite correct — my mistake; it was Jane Austen’s father, not Elizabeth Bennet’s, who was the clergyman of modest means.

    Deborah, thanks for these.

    Patricia, yeah, that sounds about right. As for Klamath Falls, delighted to hear it. Three other Oregon counties have no county library system at all, because the voters refused to keep paying for libraries when the library administrators blithely ignored everything but those glossy mags.

    Gary, the same thing happened in Ashland OR when I lived there. Try asking the librarians if they take requests from patrons for book purchases — some libraries do, and it leaves a paper trail.

    Jo, the Weaver Library doesn’t have security guards, and neither do the other neighborhood libraries I visit here from time to time. I wonder why they’re common in your part of Canada.

    Roy, I was a patron of the Theosophical Library in Seattle and a regular shopper at the bookstore, and remember the staff there very fondly as well. I’m glad to hear that the Seattle-area library system is still in decent shape; the Burien and Federal Way public libraries were havens in my not very pleasant childhood.

    Berserker, yep. That’s why I put a scene in The Shoggoth Concerto that centers on the university library purging thousands of books from its collection: this kind of thing is happening all over the place.

    Patricia O, glad to hear that you’ll be moving to a better location — I recall your earlier comments about the local culture. I didn’t know that books help absorb EMR — good to know.

    Gwydion, well, just remember that your subscription library will also need some way to motivate people to bring books back on time…

    Lisa, all the more reason to get alternative libraries up and running, so the libraries that are getting rid of their books can be left to die.

    Beneaththesurface, that’s the cult of bureaucracy in action. I hope you do find the time and inspiration to help get an alternative started; people who know how to run a library but haven’t bought into the prevailing delusions are in a very good position to help things along.

  53. Berserker, well, that’s some relief! I have to walk three whole blocks to get to the Weaver Library, so I’m jealous. 😉

    Ric, you’re not overreacting. These days I think it’s a fair (and far from rhetorical) question to ask whether universities still actually teach anything at all.

    Your Kittenship, I get that. We had to get rid of several thousand books when we downscaled from a house to an apartment: we’re not to the Kindle stage yet, but the collection’s had to be seriously pruned (which is one of the reasons I love being close to a decent library).

  54. Hi John
    I’m sure you’ve seen this.

    Slightly off topic but our local hardware/department store, Canadian Tire, is advertising suitcase turntables from Victrola in their Christmas flyer. Apparently vinyl records are outselling cd’s these days.

    Minor edit: Austen’s Mr Bennet wasn’t a clergyman, just a country gentleman. The pompous cousin was the clergyman.

  55. As I work at the library, I often think of what my ideal library would be like.  Here are some things that come to mind:

    1. Peace and quiet and noise rules enforced.
    2. No talking on cell phones; one should have to leave the library.
    3. No food and non-water drink allowed in most places. Having one small place to eat would be fine (This was what it used to be, then library rules changed to allow food and drink everywhere. ) Libraries are not cafeterias!
    4. Wood and comfortable furniture that has character.
    5. Artwork and homemade crafts and plants.  Make the place cozy, not cold and sterile and corporate looking. 
    6. Minimize self-check out machines and maximize face-to-face interactions with library staff.
    7. Children’s computers would be separate from book area, so families could come and browse books without being distracted by screens. Video gaming with machine gun shooting would not invade the children’s area.
    8. Eliminate AWE Early Literacy Computers, or at very least keep them out of the book area. Don’t buy into the marketing about their educational value from the companies that sell them.
    9. Lots of books, of course.  Be able to get lost in the stacks.  The library should not be mostly empty space.
    10. Collections that include both popular material but also a lot of lesser known material that adds value and contributes to the diversity of ideas. Get rid of algorithms that encourage discarding books that haven’t been checked out in ~3 years. Other considerations should have more weight than they currently do. Sure, there  may be reasons to discard books from collections at time, but they should be decided by thinking individuals who have knowledge about the area, not prompted by computer algorithms.
    11. A lot more magazines, including lesser known high quality ones.  Sure, continue to have well-known ones like The Economist and Time Magazine, but also have Into the Ruins.
    12. Encourage book repair, especially for last copy, out-of-print books. And books that are a little worn should not be a problem; they have soul and enhance the library!!
    13. Allow used books in good condition to be added to the collection. (officially our library system does not allow that, though I’ve found a way to discretely do this on occasion; shh… don’t tell anyone…)  This would allow for out-of-print books to be added.
    14. Sure, offer Internet and computer access, but don’t make digital resources the central focus. In a society where most people are addicted to digital devices, a library should not be ashamed at being one of the places that still offers a respite to enjoy the analog world, a rare haven mostly away from the world of screens.  Own it and market that as a positive. In my experience, even people addicted to their smartphones still love the aisles of physical books that they see.
    15. Full transparency with the public of all that is in the collection, the numbers and titles of all books discarded and why. If we are truly for anti-censorship, this information should not be censored.
    16. Get rid of the elitist idea that administrators and those with Masters in Library and Information Science know better what a good library is than the public who uses it.

    etc. etc.  While I try to bring some of the ideas in small ways to my work, a lot of it is out of my control.  I can see how starting a community-run library could make it easier to implement some of these ideals.

  56. I agree that a lack of competition and heavy manger-itis are a pretty bad combination. I work in a museum in Ontario, and I am happy to say that we’ve yet to really see this sort of mismanagement by ‘administrators’. I think it is partially thanks to the fact that museums do have plenty of competition for the public’s free time- we are certainly always trying to think of ways to improve current services, since we know we are but one choice among many.

    It more thanks to the fact that there is no money in museums. Sometimes I wish I had gone into Library Science- that’s where the big money is. If you work in a museum, it’s because you were fool enough to follow an interest. There’s no money here for corner office lunch eaters to siphon off. Luckily, no one has yet cooked up a “Museum Administrator’ degree- my supervisor, her boss, her bosses’ boss all worked in what you might call front line positions before moving up the chain. They know what its like, and they haven’t lost sight of the goal -to serve the public by safeguarding the history we hold in public trust, and to make sure that everyone has access to that same history. Again, this is probably due to the lack of money. As I believe you have mentioned before, John, this bureaucratic creep happens where there are resources to suck up -just like how fungus grows where there is plenty of s***.

    I should say that I do have a degree in Museum Management, which was perhaps rather unique in that, in contrast to the job unready degrees you have talked about before, this, though a University program, was run, designed and taught by current museum workers, and so taught the skills that people working in museums wanted their new hires to have (Practical job training through Academia??). To be sure, I was sneered at by some History professors as a ‘colouring book historian’ for daring to write and create for a broad public audience, but now I get to talk to people from all walks of life-many of whom walk away with the discovery that history can be interesting and relevant to their lives, and not just something you need a deal of education to understand.

  57. JMG, excellent post, I cannot agree more on the value of good libraries. My wife and I regularly use our local library and we’re fortunate to have a very good one. As for eccentric books, the collection includes “The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic.” I need to write a letter of support to our city council members as you suggest. Our library is one of the government services I was referring to as quite good in our corner of California a few weeks ago.

  58. Thank you for this post!

    I was just thinking today about starting a ‘books’ project of some kind (I’m a part time self employed gardener, but I want something else to do with the other half of my time).

    Where I live here in NZ, the public library system is decent enough in terms of the the range of books offered (and the interloan service is reliable enough). My main issue is the libraries themselves are, in my opinion rather souless drab places with hideous architecture and interior design, plus the librarians often look feel very downcast like their not really in control of the place (I remember hearing a story about the librarians complaining to the management about difficult people hanging around the library, whose reposnse to the problem was for the librarians to ‘become more accepting of diversity’)

    I would really like a public/ semi public reading room/ meeting place somewhere in my home town, somewhere thats actually pleasant to go to…

  59. I would have been stuffed – totally stuffed – without my local library when my girls were little. On cold, rainy days when the walls were closing in and we were getting thoroughly sick of one another we could walk up the laneway to the library on our suburb’s main street. We’d curl up in the corner with a pile of picture books and I’d read to them until we’d got far enough out of our own heads.
    They’re big kids now, reading their own library books at home as I tap on this keyboard.
    It’s easy to sneer at libraries when you’re big and cashed up and distracted by noisy toys, but when you’re kid-sized (or new parent sized) or broke they’re your community’s sitting room. Nobody’s selling you anything, and provided you shush, nobody moves you on.

  60. Unfortunately, this is happening all over the Anglosphere. I live in Auckland, and I will tell you about an incident I encountered two years ago.

    There was a bookseller on my street (now defunct) who actually had a complete set of the 1979 Encyclopedia Britannica, leather-bound, with gold-leaf-lined pages. A truly beautiful set. I was busy saving up my money to buy the set, when, lo and behold!, the book seller simply dumped the whole set on the side-walk in front of the shop, next to the bus stop.

    I couldn’t believe it! I was shocked and appalled.

    I immediately sprinted home to my flat (about a block and a half away), grabbed a hand truck, and scooped up the whole set that evening.

    That set now graces the bookshelves of my church library. It is still in excellent condition.

    I think we all can, and should be, on the lookout for serendipitous events such as this.

  61. Here on Denman Island on the Salish Sea we have a small library staffed by volunteers, one at a time. Always a great place to have a chat and find a particular book you want to read or just find one that draws your attention. The books are all donated either from islanders collections or purchased as donations. There are only around eleven hundred of us, but a surprising number are avid readers with a wide range of interests as reflected on the shelves. It’s located in a front room of our Community Hall in what’s euphemistically called “downtown”. It isn’t actually a town, rather the general store, Art Gallery, hardware, bookstore, craft shop, Activity Centre, and Elementary School, grades 1-7. Nothing is directed by “experts”. It’s mostly volunteers so decisions are made democratically, and while some islanders are more knowledgeable or experienced they still have to convince the rest of us and that isn’t always a sure thing.

  62. Back in the early 60s, when I was in high school in Chicago, I was fortunate to obtain a summer job working as a page at the Newberry Library, a private institution for scholars. A page was the person who collected call slips from patrons and retrieved the requested tomes from the stacks. This required learning the Library of Congress decimal system, which was not difficult.

    The Newberry Library had a very large, eclectic collection, but concentrated on American history and Americana. Once a week elderly ladies from the Daughters of the American Revolution interested in tracing their personal genealogy would descend upon the place with numerous and exacting requests, creating a mild disturbance. Otherwise the atmosphere was somewhat somnambulant, as professors, scholarly writers and degree candidates went about their research. To gain access, a letter of introduction from the department head of an accredited institution was required. Whoever granted access to the DAR probably came to regret it.

    Many libraries at the time had a collection of books known as “ L’Enfer (French for Hell). This was a collection of books deemed too obscene to be put on the shelves or in the card catalog, but too valuable as rare volumes to be discarded. They were usually found in private collections donated by estates. There I was able to read Mark Twain’s 1601, which I’d heard about, a silly little booklet, privately printed and circulated and definitely obscene. Now, or course, it’s available to read on line, but then it was generally unavailable to the reading public. A year or so earlier, Grove Press published the first American edition of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, leading to a court case that at least partially reestablished obscenity laws. However, in 1966, Lenore Kandel, Jack Kerouac’s former girlfriend brought out a cheaply printed chapbook of erotic poetry called The Love Book, which was sold at The Psychedelic Shop in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, prompting a police raid, but that was more an anti-hippie thing than a matter of public morals. Of course, the case was thrown out of court, but Lenore benefitted hugely from the publicity, and the book is still in print. Without the much publicized bust it would probably have sold few copies, and soon disappeared.

    For years James Joyce’s Ulysses was banned as obscene in this country, and only available in Paris. In 1932 famed Random House publisher Bennet Cerf brought in a copy which he deliberately brought to the attention of the custom’s inspector, who would have let it through, but Cerf encouraged him to seize it, to set up a court case that got it unbanned and paved the way for Miller, Kandel and the rest of us.

  63. Darkest Yorkshire

    “The Welsh miners’ libraries had to have a rule of no taking books down the pit.”

    I guess they didn’t want any dirty books in the library.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

  64. As a country dweller, far from any library, I am feeling thoughtful about my own collection of books on healing, and ways to keep them in circulation as the pharmaceutical industry steps up its campaign to censor speech relating to non-pharma-centred medicine. I’m getting pensive about the reading room concept.

    (Incidentally, the crackdown on medical “misinformation” frequently includes the sharing of scientific research, which puts me in mind of episodes when the Catholic church was censoring the Bible. Both moves reflect fear of unofficial and unsanctioned readings by plebs of the holy and inspired works on which their various claims to authority rests).


    On an adjacent book-related theme, I’ve just started reading E P Thompson’s “The Making of the English Working Class”. In the very early pages I was struck by what sounds awfully like a description of a discursive meditation – conducted in a group.

    Thompson describes how, while relating his memories of the founding, in 1792, of the London Corresponding Society, Thomas Hardy says that over the course of “five nights in succession the question – ‘Have we, who are Tradesmen, Shopkeepers, and Mechanics, any right to obtain a Parliamentary Reform?’ – turning it over ‘in every point of view in which we were capable of presenting the subject to our minds’. They decided they had.”

  65. A few data points from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    Libraries: The Halifax Central Library relocated a few years ago into a brand new building that is modern in architecture: bright with lots of windows, staircases through open space, etc. It has a small concert hall, lots of meeting rooms available, there are a couple of rooms with musical instruments and recording equipment, a rooftop as well as a ground floor cafe, and so on. It is always busy, there are some homeless people who use it, but the majority of users seem to be university students who use the many tables to study. In that library, there are not that many books.

    However, the Halifax library system consists of a number of other libraries around the city which are more ‘old-fashioned’, if you will, with many books along with places to sit and read. The whole system has a good website to search the catalogue, and as a sense check of the quality of the catalogue, I just looked for Homer’s Odyssey, Moby Dick, Gulliver’s Travels, and books by you, JMG. They have Green Wizards and Retrotopia in their system.

    So I am ambivalent about the modern central library, it does have a number of the traits you criticized in this post, and if the library system had got rid of its other branches, I would be more critical of it. But the system does seem to satisfy a number of needs and seems to work for people.

    Universities: In Nova Scotia, and also in Canada in general, universities have had their funding cut ever since I believe the Mulroney government (contemporary of Thatcher and Reagan), and have since had to make up the shortfalls by basically becoming more like businesses. I know people who work in a major university in Halifax, and some of the administrators use the language of marketing and business administration rather than academia, for better or worse.

    They do apparently have good research departments, but one major way that universities here fund themselves is by tripling tuition for foreign students and actively marketing to them. Administrators travel to China, India, South America, and elsewhere to advertise their programs, and so hosts of foreign students, often with almost no English language skills, arrive in Nova Scotia every year to study. They have to take English courses, but often these students have major problems with culture shock and aren’t really supported or integrated into the universities.

    In Sydney, Cape Breton, one of the poorer parts of Nova Scotia, the local university has transformed itself into a university for foreign students, and business is so lucrative that the city has just announced they are putting in new bus lines. So universities are essentially mining the pool of foreign students to support themselves – who knows how long that will last!

    Anyway, thought you and your readers might be interested in what’s happening up North.

  66. Well, private security companies do brisk business here. If the RCMP and FBI definitions of violent crime are similar; Saskatchewan has twice the violent crimes per capita as Alaska. Still, it was a bit of a shock seeing guards for the first time in such a sacred and magical place as a library.

  67. OK, JMG, you’ve convinced me. I live a two-minute walk from a cute little library that I rarely enter because the atmosphere is uncomfortable. It appears to be a social club for middle-aged ladies that only longtime residents (of which they know very well I am not one) need apply. Crafting circles and that sort of thing. I already support the library’s annual book sale, and have made some terrific vintage finds among their discards, but I solemnly promise to utilize it more often.

  68. My own experiences while studying library science in the Nineties was that the belief in progress was quite prominent. It was assumed as a matter of course by some of the professors that books would be obsolete in due time and libraries should change into media centers. Others were less enthusiastic about that. But these things mostly didn’t happen and the trend to turn libraries into computer centers has, as far as I know, mostly bypassed Germany.

    On the whole, the university system was not much of a help in learning about libraries, except for the books in the university library. But, in Germany, too, it has become difficult to find a job in a library, becuase money is tight.

    As for weeding books, there is the difficult question of triage; the dark age after the fall of industrial civilization will have place for far fewer books than today, so the question arises of what to keep and what to throw away.

  69. @Bridge

    About fifteen years ago I lived walking distance away from the England Theosophical Society HQ in Marylebone (your first link). I used to visit it frequently and found it to have a fantastic library. I met many interesting and knowledgable people there too. I discovered William Walker Atkinson’s writings in their library too which was a boon. Recommended!


  70. High school librarian here. Thank you for this! Been fighting back the trends of “makerspaces” where the library is turned into a toy box where administrators think kids will just learn (and want to!) create things on their own free time. Also the problem of publishers, in my opinion, “dumbing down” what they print. Books are kept small, loaded with pictures a la Instagram or Buzzfeed because “the kids don’t want to read”. Myself and colleagues try to focus on the sad observations that kids don’t know how to do research, seldom read, and have lost the persistence of scholarship,

  71. Hmm… The thing is, libraries have to compete with used book sellers on Amazon and elsewhere. Popular books can normally be had for just a couple of dollars (shipping included) if you’re willing to buy them used, and books that are in the public domain can be downloaded from the Internet for free. That leaves special interest (and therefore less popular) books. Personally, I wouldn’t bother joining a library that didn’t happen to cater to my special interests, and it’s far from clear that catering to those interests would be good for business. For instance, I can read in 4.5 languages (i.e. I can comfortably read in four languages, and I’m well on my way there in a fifth language). And I really do read in all those languages (sometimes more in one, sometimes more in another). I don’t think either public or subscription libraries could successfully cater to such interests. There simply isn’t enough demand. (Though I’ve had good experience with one exceptionally rich academic library. But I’ve graduated and moved to another continent, so that’s in the past for me. So nowadays, I just buy the books I want to read. Or download them from the Internet, if they’re in public domain.) Other people will have special interests of their own, of course.

    What I would appreciate, though, is a quiet, comfortable reading room. I’d be willing to pay a small subscription fee to use it, as long as it was cheaper (significantly cheaper) than buying a cup of tea in Starbucks or an equivalent thereof for every hour I spend there.

  72. Patricia O, you said “since the village lost nearly all of its cats and most of its avian predators, the rats have gotten completely out of hand.”

    Is that because of the smart meters, 5G or both? It’s a sad state of affairs…

  73. What a wonderful blog posting from you, JMG! Thanks.

    Trying to help a little here, I offer three remarks, drawing in part on my own experiences, both as a private amasser of books and as a (modest-scale) library donor:

    (1) “Library science” as a profession seems over-hyped, like “journalism”. As everyone can learn to write for a newspaper without embarking on courses, simply by doing the writing and banking the occasional small cheque, so everyone can learn some foundations of library administration without embarking on courses. And some knowledge of foundations does seem useful, at least to the point of, e.g., distinguishing catalogue (which the public uses) from shelf list (which the public does not use, but which ensures close monitoring of losses, in a spirit of stock control). There are many textbooks on this topic, one of which I own, though to my chagrin cannot at this instant find. (“Oh,” said the Australian comedian, in thick Strine, “Oh the igominy, oh the humiligation.”) One can get started on choice of textbook by Googling on the string

    “caloguing and classification” book

    (four words, the first three enclosed in quotation marks).

    (2) Foundational in the creating of a library, for instance a small subscription library, is choice of call-number system. Here in Estonia, UDC seems favoured, and USA municipal libraries favour Dewey Decimal. India has possibly had some success with deep, subtle, “colon classification” labelling. But there is a powerful argument for instead using Library of Congress (LC): the dear old LC in Washington is the world’s leading reearch repository, and its catalogue is online. If one is considering what call number to assign to even a very obscure new acquisition, one can therefore likely get an answer through robotic, purely mechanical, purely copy-and-paste, imitation of LC-in-Washington. Other libraries are liable to be less well stocked than dear old LC, making their online catalogues less useful for the acquisitions administrator. – I do have to concede here that the call numbers assigned by LC staff in their Washington offices are not in all cases perfect. A professional Toronto astrophysics librarian once told me that she sometimes, upon consulting the online LC catalogue, found herself having to give a fresh Toronto acquisition some call number different from what LC had for its part assigned to the same book, when processing it as a Washington acquisition.

    (3) A small subscription library might imitate my own practice in my private collection (3000 vols??), using “stackerboxes” as modular shelving. Thanks in part to stackerboxes, I managed to pack up my collection in Toronto and get its core duly sorted and arranged in Estonia, upon my big move from Canada to Estonia last year. Details of construction, with photos, are at . (Folks the igominy-and-humiligation problem, over which you will be chortling, resides not in the CORE of the library, which comprises maths, physics, and astronomy, but in stuff OUTSIDE the core.)

    (signed) Toomas Karmo, Tartu observatory dark-sky compound
    (Tõravere hamlet,
    Nõo Rural Municipality,
    approx 200 km south of Tallinn, approx 250 km south of Helsinki)

  74. I think its a great idea, but whilst the internet survives I think it will struggle. Second hand books from Abe, can be cheap, a few pounds sterling and straight to your door. Amazon also allows second hand sellers to sell through their web site, if your happy for a second hand book and don’t want to pay new price, or its not available new. Same can be said for fleabay. Having said that, a library with a focus, attached to a spiritual /religious organisation perhaps, with a focus on relevant topics, could have a role to play in the meantime. Having said that, when the price of the internet becomes too expensive for people to afford, the social media craze fades, and people start looking for an affordable alternative source for reading material then I think the age of the library will return in its glory. I do hope that literacy manages to continue in the post internet world though. Literacy levels were not great in the 19th century, and many people did not read because they couldn’t. And if your job was manual labour, reading was not necessarily a necessity.

  75. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a local library looking for a certain book, often from a fairly well known author, and been unable to find it. We should start calling these places Public Lie-braries, since they no longer provide what they implicitly promise: good books from classic authors. If I wanted the latest mass media trash, I could just go to my local Walmart (or wait a few months and go to my local thrift shop where the new stuff is dirt cheap). Libraries are supposed to be better than that. I don’t want to see glossy new copies of teen vampire romance novellas, I want to see towering stacks of rotting volumes and worm-riddled tomes!

  76. @Owen and JMG

    When I was a girl in rural New York we had a mail-order library service available. It was invaluable in the summer when I had no access to the school or local libraries. They would send out a catalog of titles, I would check off the ones I wanted and send back the form, and a few days later the books arrived in my mailbox. Bonus: if I didn’t have a stamp I would tape a dime to the envelope and the mail carrier took care of the postage. It was glorious.

    I don’t now recall what entity sponsored this service, nor do I know how it was funded, but it’s evidence that such a thing is very doable. And in the internet era, book lists could be sent via email, or mimeographed pages by mail.

    It was pretty freewheeling, too. I read books that were waaay out of my age range, including a very racy reincarnation novel by Donald Harington (shoutout to Lady Cutekitten!).

    This might be a useful first step toward a subscription library for someone with a bit of discretionary cash and a sizable home library, especially with the ubiquitous availability of database/spreadsheet programs and cheap printers.

    (Well, if that’s not an enormous note to self, I’ve never seen one!)

  77. Having just commented, I would like to comment again in a more casual vein, with remarks on further fun things to be found online:

    (1) British 1920s-thru-1950s author, and horticulturist, Virginia Sackville-West created a fine private library space at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. An ASMR vid depicting her space, with just light doctoring on the part of a YouTube auteur, can be viewed at . This vid must rank as one of the very best currently available library ASMR creations. There are, to be sure, others. How nice it would be if some day someone could do an ASMR of some fireplace-equipped academic library, such as Trinity College in Toronto!

    (2) Inspiration for the small community-service library can be had from the Firenze hermit Sister Julia Bolton Holloway. It is helpful to run Google Images on the string mediatheca fioretta mazzei (three words). Sister Julia uses her library space in part as an education centre for the local Romani (in somewhat vulgar English, the “Gypsies”), who suffer a degree of social discrimination. Romani outreach aside, Sister Julia has additional special interests in Dame Julian of Norwich and in mediaevalia more widely (notably in Dante). I THINK she has basically one room, with around 2000 or 5000 vols, but I might be wrong. She made some or all of the shelving herself.

    (3) Here in south-central Estonia, we have, apart from the the Tartu University central library and its branches, the Tartu municipal library system. A few details re the latter, in English, can be gleaned from I tend to hang out in the municipal space on Monday late mornings and Monday early afternoons. There is no fireplace alas. But one does welcome the well-finished wooden flooring, the quiet 1940s look-and-feel, and the attention given to several special collections (one of them from some baronial manor, donated in perhaps the 1920s, and conveying a good impression of what the local Teuronic squires had been collecting and reading before Estonia’s 1918-1920 War of Independence).

    (signed) Tom = Toomas

  78. Access to public libraries has always been an equalizing force for working people, and I suspect that for this reason alone, libraries and librarians have always been viewed dimly by certain elites and their slobbering hounds.

    You should all know that in many middle and high schools across the country there are no longer any paper books at all – just banks of tablets. This generation is not being taught the intellectual discipline of sustained reading. For the most part, they are no longer taught to take pride in reading important classics. In fact, they aren’t being taught much at all – we’ve reached bullet point education. The consequences have already arrived.

  79. Our local library, like many others, purges books that don’t get checked out enough. But they get rid of them via a little shop, where the discards are sold off for pocket change: I spend more time in that shop than in the stacks, these days. It breaks my heart to see some of the stuff that gets purged, but… I’ve also scored some amazing things for my home library. I now have a volume documenting every kind of bird sighted by the local birdwatching society from the 1930s to the 1980s, with numbers, seasons, everything. I use this book all the time! — when trying to ID a bird, I can usually get it down to a common type, but this guide is like being able to ask all the birdwatchers who ever lived in my area “Hey, I think that was some kind of tern! What kind was it?” Also found a publication by our state board of forestry, beautifully illustrated, from 1956, about the more common varieties of trees hereabouts. I had never realized a government publication could *be* aesthetically lovely. It almost brings tears to my eyes to look at it: for being beautiful, for having been chucked out on the “free” pile, and for my being lucky enough to have it.

  80. I have a few comments: first, this is not just an American problem, we have it here in Ottawa, Canada too. I’m lucky I have access to two university libraries here, which I use extensively, but recently I found out the public library isn’t as good as it had been. I decided to get rid of some old books I had, which I found were no longer worth having given my changes in interests and hobbies over the past few years, and I figured I’d donate them to the public library. I still use it a fair amount, and it makes sense to support the institutions I use, so it was a logical choice. After the second trip with books, one of the librarians asked me to stop: he couldn’t stand the thought of seeing so many fascinating books destroyed: my old books were mostly on controversial and unusual topics, and many of them were old, so the system had apparently flagged many of them for destruction.

    Which made perfect sense, after the fact: I usually only buy books if one of three things is true: either I borrowed it from the library and found I actually really like it and it’s worth having for consultation going forwards; as gifts; or if the library doesn’t have it. So, of course a huge amount of what I had would be unsuited for the library!

    Then there’s Calgary, with this brand new library, built as a modern architecture building. I spent some time there, because as ugly and unpleasant as it was, at least it had books, right? No, it had one shelf near the front, and then one more near the back: the rest of it was devoted to other things. Coffee shop, loads of public computers, career services, etc. It may have filled a service for the community (if it did, I didn’t see much of it; most of the people I saw were looking for books and sadly disappointed or checking out the architecture), but it’s not a library anymore.

    Also, building off of Russel’s comment about the state of the education system, Ontario, where I live, has a “literacy test” in Grade 10 to make sure people can read, because it turns out there are a large number of high school graduates who can’t. The existence of the test is evidence something is very broken, but people keep talking about “functional illiteracy”, where people can fake being able to read. No one can explain to me how someone is supposed to be able to fake being able to write essays though…..

  81. Well, JMG: The first thing I noticed and was a bit alarmed at was the angry tone of this essay, I thought, Wow, it is because winter is coming on? Is he OK?, He’s getting very curmudgeonly in his old age.” LOL 😉 Then in one reply, you explained that you are very passionate about books, and of course, you are a writer, so that explains it.

    I’ve noticed the biggest shift in public libraries in my travels as becoming more like Amazon Warehouses for counties. In Lyon county NV, (Reno-Tahoe area), Fremont county WY, (Jackson Hole area) and now Hillsborough county FL (Tampa), even in Hong Kong; there are branches with few actual books which disappoints those of us who like to browse, but computer terminals where you look up the book you’d like to check out; put a request for it in and in a few days they contact you to come back and pick it up. All do occasional purging, and yes, I’ve found a number of good ones for .50 cents each.

    I have made folded paper art out of old books, but just like refurbishing vs. redesigning/painting vintage or antique furniture – I don’t fix what’s not broken. Perfect old antiques will not be painted or ‘repurposed’. Useful or interesting old books will not be torn up to make origami, (luckily, there are many volumes of the ‘Twilight’ and ’50 Shades of Grey’ series in the thrift stores these days that make beautiful little Christmas trees and with a special kick, if the buyer decides to read some of it). 😉

    There are also book cafes, which encourage lingerers. If I were to start a subscription library – I’d definitely add a café/coffee bar and some comfy arm chairs.

    I suppose I’ve had an unusual experience, because I’ve been utterly BLESSED with the university libraries I’ve had access to. Sad to think some of them have probably “updated” to the current ‘Amazon Warehouse’ model or worse, discarded many of those old books altogether. I went to ASU undergrad and Yale grad school: Honestly, apart from Yale’s rare-books library, ASU’s collection, back in the day, was pretty darned comparable; impressively so. Where my kids go to school, (The Madrassa of Florida State University), the big main library does have a media center, but they also have floors and floors of stacks. Each department also has their own smaller collection of interest-specific books and videos, The film dept. for obvious reasons, has more videos; the other dept.s, we’ve seen have more books, the anthropology/archeology library also has a room with flat flies holding trays and trays of bones. I was under the impression this is pretty standard for college library systems, no?

    As for online groups – is a good start, but it’s just a discussion group. If you stumble across something you’re interested in, you have to then go to Amazon to order it. A subscription online library, wherein members could find and download books would be great. Further, hosting book club discussions or encouraging members to form and host them, adding access to the downloaded book being discussed, would also be fun. (I think I should suggest this to goodreads). Even better, if the book clubs can be localized so members might even get to (gasp!) meet in person. Or maybe in my copious free time, I just need to find a local book club again. LOL

  82. And yes, re: your reply to Stephen: I would love a discussion on the system of post secondary education and where it is going. Having two young adults in that system now, and so, having been steeped in the process for the past 3 years; I have my own theories, of course, but would be interested in what you and the commentariat here have to contribute.

  83. @Jill Waters:

    What small town in WY are you moving to? There are loads of them, but just curious. We had a home in Dubois, about 1.5 hours from Jackson Hole; a stunningly beautiful part of the country if you can stand 10 months of winter. 🙂

  84. Hi JMG,

    Very good points about the library systems. I’d asked you about permaculture in the recent open post. Below is an interview that was just post about our permaculture group for the Natures Voices radio show that is put out by a local conservation center. I think you’ll find it interesting.

    December’s Nature’s Voices radio show, White Memorial Conservation Center’s show about everything Nature, focuses on the power of permaculture.

    Just what is permaculture? How is permaculture making a real difference in the health of the planet as well as the people consuming foods grown in the permaculture tradition? Permaculture is not just about farming and gardens…it is about sustainable living.

    Is it possible to grow food year-round in New England? With winter’s temperatures plunging below zero at times, how could permaculture support a winter garden? Discover how a diverse, beautiful, and productive 1/10th of an acre garden situated within the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts thrives all year-round.

    We’ll hear from Bob Brown, a member of the North West Connecticut Permaculture Community, a group formed by Cynthia Rabinowitz, Executive Director of the Northwest Conservation District in Connecticut.

    Link to listen here:

  85. @Patricia Matthews, re: “Alas, I think what today’s people will do when they can’t find what public libraries are meant to provide, will be to hit the Amazon website, and use their own room for a reading room.”

    That’s me! I would classify our local library as “not bad”, but, you know, good luck finding one of JMG’s books there. The library does take suggestions for new titles, but the process seems to take a long time to work through, so I usually just end up at Barnes & Noble or at Amazon. When I finish a book, I keep it if it contains reference material, Otherwise, I donate it to the library. It seems books get there quicker that way (although at that point, I no longer want to check them out!).

    Maybe that’s my indirect “subscription” to my local public library.

  86. We are fortunate to still have excellent public libraries (Vermont). Imagine in the current corporate and political environment, if the idea of a lending library were a new proposal (public or otherwise), the howls that would ensue from publishing interests. In the event they become widespread and popular, I can easily imagine a lawsuit and/or legislation instigated by the publishing industry making subscription libraries illegal. Cuts into sales, you know. 🙂

  87. Here in the Isle of Man, and elsewhere in the UK, some local councils have begun to repurpose telephone boxes as community libraries. (Remember telephone boxes? They were a person-sized box with a landline telephone in them, which people used before the days of mobile phones). With the telephone taken out, and shelves put in, people are invited to contribute and borrow books. The advantages are it’s cheap and easy to run (no need to pay for a building or librarian) but the disadvantage is that because there’s no active supervision, they tend to accumulate books that nobody wants to read. Still, it’s a start…

  88. @Ric Frost

    Ha! I’ve taken that I still remember how nervous I was (I wanted that job sooo badly!). I probably learned to alphabetize while cutting my eye-teeth, but there was an exercise that required alphabetizing about six books, and one of the authors’ names was MISSPELLED. In a way that changed the book’s relative location in the sequence. I panicked, and finally answered the question as it was written, but included a long note explaining the spelling problem, and where the book *should* fit in the sequence. Then, in the interview, I had an uncharacteristic episode of nervous logorrhea wherein I waxed poetic about public libraries being the most truly and essentially democratic institutions. Information is power! Power to the people! I got the job. I was but a lowly library page, but o, how I loved that job! To this day, I wonder if they misspelled that name on purpose, to see who would catch it…

  89. OK, everyone in America, you can now stop chortling and sniggering. I have FOUND the library-organization book I was hunting in vain for an hour ago. It was lying on the floor. (“Oh Salvadora,” sang the tenor divo, “Oh Salvadora, don’t spit on the floor-a/ Use the cuspidor-a; that’s what it’s for-a.”) This particular item is Lois Mai Chan, _Cataloguing and Classification: An Introduction_ (New York etc: McGraw-Hill, 2nd edn 1994). No doubt many other librarianship textbooks will serve the same purpose, as people strive to set up small subscription libraries or other small multi-user libraries. A quick search in finds no second-hand copies for sale, but does turn up several copies of something similar to Chan, at an approx price of 60 USD.


  90. Going a little off topic here, but I hope you’ll permit the digression:

    As for the question of whether universities still teach much of anything at all, I’d like to throw my two cents in, as someone who is already quite well “educated” and is about to dive in deeper: sometimes yes, usually not. I have a degree in linguistics and am heading to a master’s of religious studies, so feel free to take what I say with a certain amount of skepticism. It seems like the religious studies department here is interesting and competent: there are a variety of reasons which I can get into on the open post for it, but overall, I’m quite fond of this department. Even lots of topics which are politically dangerous tend to get favourable reviews here, if the scholarship is good.

    One of the professors even has the audacity to cite Buddhist teachings on meditation to try to explain why mindfulness meditation is dangerous to do without being very careful. Simply put, his logic is that with neuroscience showing meditation causes changes to the brain, it makes sense to look at the teachings on the topic, and those tend to say what we do with it is dangerous.

    Within the religious studies courses I’ve had to write numerous essays, and even for people who will never work with religious studies again, the process of knowing how to read long articles; how to tell what can safely be taken as true and what needs to be taken with a grain, or shaker, of salt, and thus how to mine very biased sources for useful information; knowing how to read and write essays; knowing the basics of rhetoric; knowing how to relate to people with wildly different views; all of those are useful to know.

    On the other hand…

    My linguistics degree was for the sole purpose of getting into a field which turns out to be quite toxic (speech pathology, also a topic for the next open post). When I started I was quite naive about the field, but as I got my degree I increasingly came to the realization nearly all of modern linguistics is composed of lies. Simply put, linguistic theories are often unfalsifiable, and when they are falsifiable, often the data is available easily enough that it’s astonishing. I still remember one of the last classes I took, on syntax, where we were told “No language in the world is ever pro-drop without subject person markings on the verbs”. In plain English, grammatical sentences in every language require a subject, or marking the person (I, you, or he/she/it) with verb endings.

    What makes this fascinating is the fact that Japanese, not exactly an obscure little known language, does just what the professor said could never happened. I expressed my skepticism and explicitly brought up Japanese, as I know it well enough to know such basic points, and was told, in no uncertain terms, I was wrong, and in fact was accused of lying, since a few slides later, the professor brought up an example from Japanese, marking a perfectly grammatical Japanese sentence as ungrammatical, and was able to provide citations for it.

    I picked a few of them, and found that the material on Japanese ultimately was either mangled over time, or, more often, someone fabricated it. The fact that this happens on such a large scale makes me question much of what modern linguistics has to say, and the fact it happens in one department is evidence to me that it’s a widespread issue.

    The other interesting thing about it is that much of what is taught, in nearly every program, has little to no direct relevance for the vast majority of people in their day to day lives: it is only intellectuals (such as myself) who really benefit from knowing things like this.

  91. This is an interesting and unexpected post. Most of the time you write things that make me more depressed about things than I already am, this post has succeeded in making me a little more grateful for a change. My little unincorporated community of the East Bay has a lot of problems, it’s poor/working class in a wealthy region, homelessness and despair is increasing where there used to be little, and the community is changing ethnically extremely rapidly, which in some ways has been good, but other ways has caused a lot of tension. There has even been a number a shootings in the past few years (one just last week, several murders) and the first nearly 20 years I lived here there were none I can remember. That said, we have a really nice little community library with a lot of community support. It’s on a small creek that’s being restored, native plant gardens have been installed, and when a fire happened a couple years ago, the community rallied to rebuild and reopen.

    I actually want to thank you for this post, because it has made me realize I am lucky to have several wonderful community groups in our little area, and like our library, I don’t support them. I want to leave the Bay Area so badly that I have neglected to make the best of things while I am here. Also over Thanksgiving weekend I realized that I have slowly fallen into a deep depression that has kind of sneaked up on me, perhaps you have inadvertently shown me a way to address it. My goal is still to move, I don’t want to live in such a large urban/suburban area any longer, but while I am here, I guess I should make the best of things.

    In some more good news, I looked up the very small town in Eastern Washington we are targeting for our move, and they indeed have a small, locally supported library/reading room/community space/food pantry in the town of one block. It’s right next to the small, locally supported, printing museum!

  92. @Rick Frost – OK, I’ll say it: “You’re overreacting.” My experience is that the kind of incompetence you witnessed there is totally endemic to American society.

    As a personal example, I recently had gutters put on my house. The guy showed up with all the fancy continuous-gutter forming equipment, etc., but didn’t feel the need to bring a level. He figured he’d just measure down the fascia board from the top. But this is a 35 year old house and there’s no telling what’s happened to the level of the eaves during that time. Next, he installed downspouts that ended too close to the ground to admit a splash block underneath and still slope away from the house. When I pointed this out to him, he just commented, “well, most people just use flexible hose to carry the water away from the house.” The fact that there would be no way to daylight such a hose (level yard) didn’t occur to him. And the fact that this is the sort of thing that should be discussed when planning the work didn’t seem to concern him either.

    Plumbers, electricians, door and window installers… the list is endless. A few years ago, I had my front door and patio door replaced, and an interior door installed between my living room and our activity room (can get noisy, and cold during the winter). Not a single door was installed correctly. And, yep, it seems that using a level has gone out of fashion with these guys too. Now I’m no expert, but I know from hanging farm gates that “level and plumb” is the order of the day. But these guys, once again, figured they could just measure from the nearest stud or from the existing doorway frame. The result: the interior door swings closed unless stopped, the front door lock is temperamental, and the latch on the side vent on the patio door does not engage properly. I called them back to fix things, with the result that the interior door now not only swings closed, but sticks when it gets there. I finally gave up and got out the belt sander.

    Dis I mention that I had my brake pads replaced a while back, only to have one of the brakes come loose while I was driving 70 mph on an interstate? I had it towed it to a repair shop, where they told me the bolts that held the brake unit to the wheel assembly were missing and had probably loosened and fallen out while driving.

    So, yes, you’re overreacting. Expecting competent work here just sets you up for continuous frustration and aggravation. It’s really best to just go with it and enjoy whatever parts of you life that you still find satisfying.

  93. I work in a public library but do not have a Masters degree (but the public often assumes I do).  People often ask me if I’m going to get one.  If I really wanted to, I could probably afford it. But something within me resists the idea.  Maybe it’s partly because I see how some of recent library science graduates seem well-intentioned but brainwashed in certain ways.  Maybe it’s also because if I were going to spend the time to get a graduate degree, I’d much rather study an actual subject area than this relatively newly created field of library (or now “information”) science.

    I often contemplate alternative models of cultivating the library profession.  While I would not want libraries to be staffed with employees without much knowledge of libraries, books, subject areas, customer service skills, or passion for libraries, I also reject the idea that the only way to meet this standard is to require an MLS or MLIS degree. I think other ways of having standards could be developed without focusing mostly on academic credentials.

    I’ve come across this book that proposes an alternative method: The Politics of Professionalism: A Retro-Progressive Proposal for Librarianship
    “This book presents a retro-progressive proposal for the education of librarians: the removal of library education from the jurisdiction of universities, which in recent decades have become increasingly corporatized, internalizing market-based concepts such as performance metrics and “audit culture” to the extent that, ideologically speaking, they are indistinguishable from corporations…With its emphasis on subject-specific knowledge, this proposal would reintellectualize librarianship, allowing librarians to deliver meaningful educational opportunities to users in venues that function as bulwarks against what Susan Jacoby labels as the “culture of distraction.” Libraries would become, in the words of David Levy, oases and sanctuaries conducive to “sustained reflection and contemplation.” Because aspiring librarians would not be required to earn university-level professional degrees, they would no longer be obsessed with being thought of as professionals, nor with enhancing their professional standing. This would be a positive development because the notion of professionalism has devolved to a point where it is more about credentialism, careerism, and the accumulation of power and prestige than about the possession of meaningful knowledge that can be turned toward social good.”

    I haven’t read the book (it’s on my long to-read list) and the author’s proposal may have its flaws.  But I’m excited that alternative models of the library profession are being explored.

    One of the reasons I like working in a library as opposed to pursuing an academic career is that I have fifty-plus interests and am a generalist at heart.  In academia, I would have to decide some narrow subject area to devote all my time to, and my mind doesn’t work that way. In the library, any of my eclectic interests I have can potentially be can be applied to my work.  However, I often wish there was more of an intellectual, reading culture within public libraries than currently (I don’t mean a phony elite sort of intellectualism, but the kind that can be cultivated across economic classes, outside industries of credentialism).  I would love to have library profession cultivate the idea of librarians as generalist-scholars (who are knowledgeable in multiple areas of their choosing), to contrast with academia that is more focused on specialist-scholars.

    I find that many of our library employees without a MLS have other backgrounds and skill sets. They bring unique sets of skills, knowledge, and life experiences to the library. I would love to encourage and emphasize more hiring employees who demonstrate knowledge in various subject areas, whether or not they have a MLS.  Whether that subject area is African American literary history, weaving, green wizardry skills, myth & folklore, mechanical engineering, or natural history, I think the public would appreciate that when they come to the reference desk.

  94. That is a wonderful holiday wish. Digging into the future of libraries requires digging into a messy world of selection and ownership and pricing of high quality written work. The internet has disrupted some old systems that selected high quality content and the abject failure of digital replacements for selecting and communicating high quality written ideas and stories is one of the less well recognized roots of the breakdown of our society. Going back to something that used to work sounds like a good first step.

    You astutely point out the problems with the cult of “qualified experts”. I am not sure it is bureaucracy that is the real core problem. The core problem is that some of the deep problems we face like how to organize and pay for health care or how to improve nutrition or how to adapt power hungry technology to a resource limited future are too complex and too controversial for standard solutions to be quantified and experts to be certified. Said another way, the problem is that the cult of the expert has failed to draw useful boundaries where their expertise ends. The solution of selecting unqualified neophytes leads on average to substantially worse outcomes than selecting qualified experts, unless you are selecting an expert who thinks they know what they do not know…which is typically much worse than selecting someone who knows what they do not know.

    My wish from Krampus is that he would bring an extra basket to take away marketers and other charlatans whose creative adjustments of the truth create enough confusion that they can achieve their selfish ends. And my second wish is that Saint Nicholas will bring cheer to many who are trying to pursue truth with humility when that is a lonely road.

  95. I’ve been lucky to have access to and be part of a great public library system here in Cincinnati. Our previous director did push a couple of things that were definitely managerial caste style “initiatives” but nothing that has messed with our core of books. There is also a great collection of upwards of 10,000 classical music titles and almost as much jazz and various folk musics from around the world (along with the usual popular genres). In addition to all the reading, I’ve been able to get a musical education via all the listening opportunities. And they started buying new vinyl again. Tip of the hat to the hipsters for that one! (Something the hipsters and I are in agreement on is vinyl.) If not for the music collection at the public library I would never have been able to do all the community radio I’ve done. While I have my own collection of stuff the library will never buy most likely, I’ve relied on the libraries collection for programming many-many hours of radio shows. I’m very grateful. The Cincinnati area has 42 branches in this system. They do have some trendy stuff like maker spaces, but that is cool, because they provide sewing machines & stuff and encourage people to produce things rather than just consume things.

    I’ve been playing librarian in my free time too as the librarian for the Oh-Ky-In Amateur Radio Society. Since we don’t have our own clubhouse and meet in a city hall I have to schlep the books back and forth to the meetings, but it’s great practice in creating a small catalog and circulating these technical books once a month. Anyone who is in a club, such as the Weavers mentioned by @KFish above or the ham club here, can start a library too to get more specialized texts. While my public has some ham books, new and old, there isn’t enough demand for super-specialized texts. They might get 1 copy or 2 of things that are more niche interests. For the club I keep a PDF of all our current titles to give to members or that they can access from our website. While we have close to 200 or so books, I can only physically bring one large plastic tub of them. Members are always free to email or call me and come pick up a volume they might need in-between meetings, or I can bring them a specific book to the next meeting. If you are in a club and don’t have a library consider building one up. See if the board or what-have-you would allocate a certain amount to buying new books each year (The Radio Society of Great Britain seems to have better titles, IMO, than the America Radio Relay League in this instance). And as JMG has said the donations do flow in.

    I have been a member of Cincinnati’s subscription library in the past, The Mercantile Library, but found its collection not very useful to me. I did enjoy their programs. However, while it was started as a way for working men in the 1800s as a way to educate and better themselves (women were allowed admittance at a later date) at some time, I’m guessing when the Public Library gained ascendancy in the 50’s or so, it became more of a place not for the working class but for the moneyed and cultural elite. I enjoyed a poetry club I was part of there for about three years, but there was a lot of pretension (yes, no shale you might be thinking, it’s poetry so of course its fracking pretentious). No, the poetry club was very welcoming, even to an autodidact like myself. Especially from the other, shall I say, working/middle class poets who were there. I met some fine people, but there other events, while they did bring in good authors and speakers, were very elitist. To attend their big annual event where people like Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood, and Seamus Heaney and many other literati had spoken in the past was a high price for many… so it had really lost touch with its working class roots. I got busy with a new position at work and didn’t have time for the poetry club anymore and subsequently let my membership lapse. I’m not opposed to joining again… but to go into this place as a working or middle class reader, you immediately get that sense of judgment from the soi distant. At least that’s how I felt. Even some of the librarians who worked there felt that way, at least the ones I knew a bit.

    In a small town outside of Cincinnati, Milford to give its name, there is also a library above a shop dedicated just to mystery novels and thrillers. Perhaps SF/Fantasy? Deindustrial fiction libraries for small groups could emerge out of the D&D resurgence?

    One last thing: my Public buys quite a few indie and small press publications. If you have a way to suggest purchases for things you would like, do so. If you have local friends who share your reading tastes or books, get them to suggest the same titles. That’s been a good way to get my institution to buy certain books. Also in this regard, you could hit them up at the end of the year when they are usually more willing to buy stuff not on their lists as they may need to spend whats left of their annual purchase budget.

    Thanks for the essay JMG and the many wonderful comments from all.

  96. By the way, the first chapter of the book I mentioned can be viewed online, in case anyone is interested.

    Some of it relates to a lot of themes discussed on this blog:

    “I like to think of this recalibrated model as retro-progressive, a term referring to “any behaviour that draws from past ‘best practices’ to create a better life in the world we inhabit now” (Tennier, 2007).”

    “Librarianship would therefore become reintellectualized, in the process divesting itself of what I believe to be harmful characteristics associated with scientific and technological determinism and adherence to market-based criteria—characteristics that are defining features of the twenty-first-century university because of its embrace of “academic capitalism” (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997). When librarians have more time to think, to ponder, and to comprehend the materials that they have read—when they make concerted efforts to transform libraries into oases or sanctuaries (Levy, 2007a; 2007b) that are conducive to sustained reflection and contemplation instead of venues that enable what Susan Jacoby (2008a: 246-247) describes as the “culture of distraction”—library users are the ultimate beneficiaries. When librarians commit to gaining the kind of “deep comprehension” that is the result of what John Miedema (2009: 8-17, 41-46, 63-65) calls “slow reading” instead of undertaking a “personal learning management strategy” based on playing with items contained in Web 2.0 “technology petting zoos” (Abram, 2007; see also Blowers & Reed, 2007), library users are, again, the ultimate beneficiaries.”

    “Rather than striving to achieve the type of in-depth, subject-specific knowledge that can change the lives of library users, librarians who chase professional status become participants in the “theology of achievement,” an approach to life in which “the advancing self” is convinced that “individual betterment is the center around which the entire universe revolves” (Brooks, 2004: 142, 148, 276-278). Put another way, they become individuals whose motto is “I’m connected. I’m busy. I’m important.” They are so time-stressed and distracted by their pursuit of professional goals that they are unable to provide library users with insightful service based on “deep comprehension” of a given subject or topic. The opportunity for transfer of meaningful knowledge is thus lost.”

    “Too often books adopt conventional and safe positions, declining to challenge deeply held assumptions. Even books that purport to present provocative ideas more often than not fall somewhere within the safe middle ground of an acceptable range of discourse that has been determined by elites to be rational, fruitful, and useful: discourse that works to advance the field in ways that they think that it should be advanced. To take a political analogy, Democrats and Republicans may differ on many issues, but they still operate within a relatively narrow spectrum of mainstream views. Some analysts have described this as the Coke-or-Pepsi syndrome: in the long run, it really doesn’t matter which beverage is chosen, or which policy is adopted, because the end result will more or less be the same. There really is no true choice, because the supposed choices uncannily resemble each other, with the only difference being the branding that accompanies each product or policy proposal.
    One can only go so far to the left or to the right in one’s political or social opinions. If someone expresses an opinion that does not fall within approved parameters, that person is relegated to the inglorious exile of marginal status.”

    “By removing education for librarianship from the purview of universities and by reintellectualizing librarianship through an educational approach centered on extensive subject-specific knowledge, my proposal hopes to create “a community of those who desire to know,” a community committed to “deep comprehension.” Crawford suggests that it is far better to be a thinking manual tradesperson than a depersonalized knowledge worker. I suggest that it is far better to be a thinking non-university-educated librarian committed to “deep comprehension” than a university-educated library professional who operates by remote control, mechanically following the precepts of the science- and technology-based information model of librarianship and internalizing the market-based criteria that inform it.”

  97. Reread the post this morning, along with new comments. I decided to check which of the 6 local library systems had any JMG books. Mine has one. 4 have none. The “rich resort city” has lots. ALL in electronic format. I remembered that last time I was in my local branch, in 2011, they already were “hosting” a number of homeless. No idea what it’s like now. A few years ago, my city built a new central library. Not been there, either. Checked their “golly,geewizz! Look at us!” web site. The word that came immediately to mind was “ABOMINATION!!!” See for yourselves
    Then checked for “reading rooms” There is a Christian Science one downtown. There is the A.R.E. (Edgar Cayce) which has a huge public library and reading room. None of these places is set up to care for the homeless. Who have to have an email address to access so many of the things that are supposed to “help” them. A number use the library computers for that. More signs of the ongoing slow and fitful collapse.

  98. Sister Crow – do I know you? Are you my upstairs neighbor? I was going to complain about that tall glass monstrosity that replaced our perfectly decent mid-century modern central library, but you beat me to it! I will add that when Our Fair City spent its many millions on this replacement (which I think was more about showiness and empire building than about improvement) they reduced the days of our little neighborhood branches. My local branch is open only 3 days a week. The branch near my workplace was also reduced, and it doubled as the school library for the elementary school across the street. That’s another issue for another time.

    I have a large personal library of books, most of which are over 100 years old. I hoard them like a dragon and breathe fire on anyone who even starts to ask to borrow one. But our living space is relatively small, and we ran out of shelf space years ago. Stacks are growing on all available horizontal surfaces. Alas, what will I do when my parents pass on and leave their not-insignificant book collection to me and the sibs? There are so many rare and fine treasures therein and I simply won’t have room for them.

    I often feel like that Sean Connery character in Name of The Rose when he’s forced to flee the burning library and CAN’T SAVE THEM ALL.

  99. This week’s post hit particularly close to home.

    A few years back, the head administrator one of our local public libraries more or less single-handedly decided to purge the shelves of books in just such a move to libraries-as-multiple-use-spaces (i.e., a self-immolating Library of Alexandria). She was finally stopped, and then fired, by the community, but only after the first few sections of the Dewey Decimal System (dozens of shelves) had been triply-decimated or worse. Similarly the Dean of the local university library is presently seeking to remove most if not all of its 16 million books from the library and move to a digital (aka ephemeral) model.

    This is sadly right in line with the once and future collapse of higher education you’ve noted here and elsewhere, driven by multiple and diverse forces, one of which (an elephant in the room that a handful of us who work in higher ed are only begin to pay attention to) is the coming demographic collapse resulting from the “Great Recession” and its resulting birth dearth. Nathan Grawe, in his *Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education,* shows how this will be particularly devastating in places where the higher education industry is now so prevalent. And this is only *one* type of contraction that is coming down the pipeline. Liberal arts colleges in the area saw their enrollments plummet last year, and based on my conversations with friends and colleagues, the near term future doesn’t look any better. (And this is during a period in which Grawe still sees growth in the higher ed industry!) When the birth rate declines hit, centuries old liberal arts colleges, as well as community colleges – ironically – will go bye-bye, and with them the economies of entire towns. Fun times.

  100. Here’s a suggestion for running these subscription libraries: There will invariably be an influx of low-to-medium quality pulp-fiction paperback books, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and nondescript genre-fiction novels. Perhaps these books could be classed as “giveaway” books that would be kept in a big box or bin, and people could just take them and keep them, give them to somebody else, or return them to the box/ bin as they please. That way those who are simply seeking some diversionary reading material wouldn’t have to pay upwards of four dollars a book for the privilege of doing so. Though one could conceivably require a fifty-cent deposit for books with a “giveaway” stamp on the title-page, and whoever brings back a book so stamped would get the fifty cents back. Just a thought.

    A post on the implosion of the New Age movement would certainly be interesting. This movement added more to my post-Christian spiritual thinking than any other. But I don’t think I could ever go back to being full-fledged orthodox New-Ager because the movement just trafficked in way too much of what I eventually realized was just flapdoodle. Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations With God” series of books is replete with such flapdoodle. (Perhaps those volumes would end up in the “giveaway” bin at our theoretical subscription-libary!)

    Straying off topic a little bit, it would appear that your concerns about Dmitry Orlov’s mental health are not entirely off-base. His most recent blog-post on ice-ages was…let’s just say, special (not to mention barely coherent).

  101. @Will J

    Re: linguistics.

    Say it ain’t so! 🙁

    I have no formal training in linguistics whatsoever. But I do enjoy linguistics lectures and such aimed at the general public. Still, I have noticed that, tolerably often, linguists will give incorrect information about languages that I speak (they’ll say that a word means something that it doesn’t, or they’ll present a blatantly ungrammatical sentence as grammatical, etc.). So, I obviously have to wonder about the accuracy of information when they discuss languages that I know precisely nothing whatsoever about. Still, they often tell such compelling stories that I find myself forgiving them for their mistakes again and again.

    Ah, well. Maybe it’s for the best that I never formally studied linguistics after all.

  102. And then there is this brand new development, where some big publishers are starting to limit the sale of ebooks to libraries, because their on-line availability to the general public seems to them to be hurting their sales figures. It’s only a matter of time, I fear, until they also begin to limit the sale of their hard-copy books to libraries as well.

  103. Speaking of library abominations, I have to mention the new library at our local university, which I attended as an undergrad some decades ago. (Apologies if someone has already pointed this out; I haven’t read all the comments yet). At this “architectural showpiece” library, you cannot actually get to the books; they are in a vault, accessible only by a robot. I kid you not. The best thing about the old library was of course the stacks. On my way to retrieve any particular book, I would inevitably find several other books of interest. That the new library has killed that kind of serendipty stone-cold dead is bad enough, but consider the opportunities for malicious control of information. They don’t have to actually remove or burn “dangerous” books anymore, but merely to hide their catalog entries in the database; no one can request something for which there is no entry, and no one has physical access.

  104. Hi JMG,

    Excellent post. I have been following the comments about libraries in previous posts here because like many of the readers, I love books, bookstores, and libraries that still care about books.

    My wife belongs to a Facebook group for our alma mater that includes a lot of fellow alumni who have become librarians or library administrators. Apparently librarians fall into two camps, those with library science degrees, and those with classics degrees. The library science crowd are the ones perpetrating the tech-fueled pogroms against the barbarous relics, and the classicists have a more balanced view of technology to support old-fashioned research and reading physical books.

    It makes sense that classicists can appreciate the value of preserving knowledge in a durable, physical form so that it can be available over the long term to those interested. Maybe they need a bigger or more explicit role in libraries of the future.

  105. I really like the idea of DIY subscription libraries. Back when I was a squatter punk, I would judge various houses based on the quality of the little library. If it was only zines, the place was going to be bad, but if there were interesting novels along the racks…there would be interesting people! This sort of appraisal never failed me. If you know a community’s books you know the contents of those folk’s psyches, what can be discussed and what cannot be discussed.

    While I was a squatterpunk in New Orleans there was a huge piece of graffiti I would pass every day on my bicycle that read “Read Muthaf***ing Books All D*** Day!” and I think that was my first encounter with the power of meme magic, certainly I found that graffiti inspired me to read more, I’d chuckle thinking about it and then see I had a book in my hand…

    Probably two thirds of the books on my bookshelves are dumpstered or otherwise salvaged. Huge amounts of books get thrown out at my public library, though, to be fair, they are mostly unusable donations. Also at the local town transfer station there are lots of books ranging from old classics to new pulp. You bet that I read them!

    Given my disposition I’d love tending a subscription library, rather than having a large personal library. I don’t really like being surrounded by a lot of relics, but I adore sharing and gifting. Indeed, at one community I built a bunch of shelves and then mailed them several boxes full of good books that I knew I’d likely not read again with the shelves already constructed.

    That said, I’ll confess that I’m somewhat skeptical of having a subscription library in a garage, at least in a humid climate. Mold is a huge problem, and books mold very easily. For this reason, I think that in New England some care would need to be taken to make sure the books could be stored in an especially dry place, probably up a few flights of stairs. This then, prevents folks with mobility issues from accessing the space

    The other thing one could do is run a dehumidifier all the time, and depending on how that might effect the electricity bill that could either work or not. The moisture issue is important enough that I feel it warrants some technical discussion, especially thinking of the Long Descent. In humid areas mild neglect can totally ruin books in a few months, and then, suddenly, the cost for an individual to preserve books goes up accordingly. I’ve seen private libraries of thousands of volumes rendered utterly moot by the stench of black mold, the pages of the book pink with myceliation. Both of these were on the first floor of a building, and I wonder if they had been in the attic if their fates may have been better.

  106. Yes!! Although we still have a decent public library, the higher-ups have too many of the same issues you’ve covered here, so my librarian wife and I have been considering exactly this here in Ellijay, GA. I think we’re tending toward a specialized reading room of some sort though, so I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on that one. We’re thinking about alternative religion and philosophy, lots of dead authors: Plato, Iamblichus, Levi, Fortune, Jung, Schopenhauer, etc; cyclical historians like Vico, Spengler, Toynbee; you know, all the usual suspects. Maybe some maker type stuff too – craft beer/wine/cider, cheese, charcuterie, candles, shoes/moccasins, that sort of thing. Subjects we already have a good head-start on!

    We’re even piling up a series of catchy quips to put on bookmarks as calling cards. My favorite is “Ellijay Athæneum – I like it, it’s nerdy”.


  107. Here is what I would like to see in a subscription library, if anyone is close to starting one: My opinion only, of course.

    1. Everyone pays the same. Sorry, this really is a sore point for me.

    2. As was mentioned above, complete transparency as to what is in the collection and what titles are added, ideally including cost and source of each title.

    3. No WiFi or at least, separate room for puters, and keyboard tappers NOT allowed to monopolize the tables and chairs.

    4. Quiet encouraged. If means allow, maybe a separate social room for conversation. Rent it out for “events” for some extra income.

    Remember that you don’t get something for nothing. Volunteers might not be paid in cash, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want something, such as summer jobs for their kids, staff meetings at upscale eating places, special movie nights, fancy parties, and veto power on new acquisitions. The Zionists won’t let you stock Edward Said, and the Arabists won’t allow any history of the crusades.

    5. If the library can’t use my donations, I want them back. So, either make a decision on the spot or keep accurate records. This a yuuge problem with consignment stores; if your item doesn’t sell in the designated time, you never see it again.

    6. Democratic management. Everyone has a say, no one gets a veto. This method has it’s problems, but I don’t know of a better one. If there is a board of directors, no pre-chosen slates of candidates should be allowed.

    7. No book, once admitted to the collection, can be discarded within a designated time, 10 years I think. Titles of to be discarded must be published a month in advance of the deed, and members given an opportunity to purchase the title for a reasonable cost.

    If you must do a fundraiser, let it be an affordable party in the park with a rock or CW band, not a black tie event.

  108. @Beneaththesurface. Thanks for the link to the book on the Politics of Professionalism. It wasn’t until the 70s from what I’ve heard in this line of work, that librarians were required to have an MLS to be an actual “Librarian”. That would seem to fall in line with this article:

    Which says at first there was a B.S. in Library Science (nothing to do with Bull Shale I don’t think) but that in the 1960s it moved to a 2-year masters program. Anything I’ve ever done here I have learned on the job. Library work could benefit from some schooling, even in-house. But this is the kind of work where you could progress from shelver to librarian by serving an apprenticeship, journeyman, master, in other words a guild.

    The only degree I have is a highschool diploma. I’ve been lucky to work my way up to the catalog department where I’m a “copy cataloger”. It’s taken 19 years, but I wouldn’t have wanted to work anywhere else anyway. The next position up requires the MLS.

    One of the political/economic philosophies I’m interested in is distributism. It seems like many professions could benefit by going back to being organized along guild or trade school lines instead of the university snafu. Maybe the reorganization will occur as the unhallowed halls of higher ed unravel.

    Certainly it could be set up in a new subscription library. Being a private business the people organizing could set it up how they like -no MLS required.

    P.S. to all Ecosophians… If I could post my article “The Library Angel & Her Oracle” online I would, but it is currently still in print with Fulgur in issue four of Abraxas. Issue four happens to be on sale at a greatly reduced price though. It might be of interest to the more occult minded of you. It’s available here:

  109. John, off “library” topic, but apropos just about all of 2016 ADR (which I’m finishing), and anecdotally of interest to you.

    (1) In the attached editorial Frank Kilgore talks about the integrated aspects of life (little league teams, etc) in the Appalachian coalfields in the 1950’s while the more “enlightened” areas such as Charlottesville, VA were still embracing a separation. Your writing regarding the fact that many folks in flyover land had/have real reasons and interests in mind for supporting ANYONE but status quo has been a real eye-opener for me. The attached piece is more anecdotal support for your view on this subject.

    I am going to share with him some of your writings.

    (2) On the “religion of progress” line of thought, I had a “run in” with an autonomous vehicle (TORC Robotics) on Monday which led to conversations with the executives that evening. The “robot” wasn’t programmed with the nuances to get over and “get in line” for an exit, even though it was raining & sleeting. The car was programmed to “go for the open” (in this case, the left lane), and then try to merge late. Fascinating that autonomous vehicles have been joined at the hip with “progress”.

    Thank you. jim

  110. Linguists talking occasional nonsense abut languages is paralleled in art historians when they discuss the techniques and practicalities of painting and drawing (at best about 80% correct ). Amusing…

  111. Thanks to my previous job, I attended the first-ever Institute of Museum and Library Services conference several years ago. IMLS is a federal agency tasked with awarding grants to museums and libraries ( and is the epitome of the managerial/bureaucratic approach described in the post and in many of the comments. The panels overwhelmingly focused on how libraries should be all things to all people – lunch distribution for kids in the summer, maker spaces with 3D printers, the list goes on and on. Not much discussion of books though. Take a look at the grants awarded on their website and you’ll get an idea of what is trendy in libraries these days!

    Happily, I think my local library system (the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore) remains quite good.

  112. Dear JMG,

    Ironically, it appears that those great proponents of education, free and universal education, the managerial class, are strikingly and aggressively anti-intellectual. Hence the aggressive purges of libraries, old books, unfashionably thinkers, etc. While the dumpster may be more prosaic than the bonfire, both equally destroy the legacy of the past.

    As you mentioned in the comments this is clearly a game of suppression. It’s very easy to make a living selling old books. I’ve known one person who did this full time, and there are all sorts of online venues in which commerce in old and obscure books booms. This is no mere cash grab then, the purges of books is a revolutionary tactic. Even the euphemism of “weeding” sounds, to my ears, of the politburo.

    Indeed, this may even reveal some of the psychology at play. The ideas in the bad books are aggressive weeds, perhaps even _invasive species_ that if left unchecked may take root in the minds of those who have not been beaten into submission by mandatory schooling.

    This means, of course, that we are in deep in the Barbarism of Reflection, where anonymous middle managers can blandly and very likely without much thought on the matter, enact revolutionary tactics and quietly destroy, almost unquestioned, millions of irreplaceable books. It’s as if the Library of Alexandria is repeating itself, but rather the heat of war and incendiaries there is instead a few bland emails sent, a few contractors hired and dumpsters rented and it appears on average, the most protest is some folks quietly filling their backpacks up with as many books as they can carry. Truly, this is an astounding turn of affairs, if one considers the various implications.

  113. One more comment – not a reading room/subscription library, but The Book Thing in Baltimore is a great example of how to save books that are otherwise being discarded. All books free for the taking. It could be a model for communities where libraries regularly discard “old” volumes.

  114. Elaine, no, I hadn’t heard of that! Delightful, and very skillfully done. As for the new Victrolas, they’re becoming quite widely available, and my wife and I are considering getting one. (And I’ve corrected the reference to Jane Austen; it was her father who was the clergyman, not Elizabeth Bennet’s.)

    Beneaththesurface, I wonder. Would you be willing to write this up as an essay, contrasting it with the beliefs of the administrative caste, and submit it to a news-and-opinion site like Quillette — under a pseudonym if you like? Since you’re a librarian and know the whole business inside and out, such an essay — including anecdotes as well as numbers — could have quite a bit of impact.

    Thepublicpast, that’s good to hear. The historians who sneered at you are jealous, you know; they realize perfectly well that their lives will be wasted producing articles that maybe five hundred people will ever read and fewer than fifty will remember a year later, all to cling to adjunct positions at starvation wages, while you’re doing what historians used to do — that is, helping people understand and reimagine the past.

    Ryan, if you’ve got a good library, treasure it, and belabor the local authorities to keep it funded and open as many hours as possible!

    BB, that makes perfect sense to me. See what you and others with the same interests can come up with!

    Jack, I get that. I have always adored libraries — real libraries, quiet, clean, and full of books — and a very large fraction of the pleasant memories from my childhood relate to libraries in one way or another.

    Michael, no argument there.

    Robert, excellent! That’s a good model for others to use. Do you have a link to a more detailed online description of it, preferably with a photo or two?

    Kevin, that was definitely a more innocent time.

    Scotlyn, the medical industry’s getting desperate. Here in the US more and more people every year are turning their back on mainstream medicine, for very good reasons, and the social consensus that keeps the medical industry so absurdly overfunded and privileged is cracking. In the usual fashion, the most extreme attempts to enforce conformity happen right before the whole thing falls to bits.

    As for the discursive meditation, yes — a discursive meditation involving two or more people, done out loud, is technically known as a dialectic. It was the standard method the old Greek philosophers used to teach students.

    Jbucks, many thanks for the data points.

    Jo Robear, good heavens. I had no idea the crime rate was that high. Many thanks for the data point.

    Maria, give it a try!

    Booklover, glad to hear that Germany has escaped the plague. As for contraction and triage — yes, those are also issues.

    Mg, you’re most welcome. I find myself wondering if it’s worth looking at the experiences of other countries that have sharply improved their literacy rates, and seeing if there are lessons we can borrow to encourage people in America to get comfortable reading again.

    Irena, fair enough. How many times a week would you use such a reading room?

    Toomas, thanks for this! I’m familiar with the Library of Congress system, but frankly prefer Dewey decimal for public libraries — it’s better suited to the mix of books you normally find in a US public library, and very intuitive once you have a little exposure to it. Fans of lodge trivia may be interested to know that there’s a Masonic offshoot of the Dewey decimal system, the Boyden system, which uses a 2-digit rather than a 3-digit number and is always preceded by a letter (usually M) — you can find a guide here. Other specialized libraries could do something not dissimilar.

    Averagejoe, maybe so, but getting something started now while the resources are readily available strikes me as a good idea.

    Sam, well, see if you can find other people who have the same interests, and make it happen!

    MizBean, fascinating. Yes, it would probably be well worth looking into how those were run, and then doing it again.

    Toomas, many thanks for the data points.

    HedgeApple, yep. The question is simply what to do about it; sitting around bemoaning things without taking action has never appealed to me.

    Methylethyl, I get that.

    Will, thanks for this. As for “functional illiteracy,” that’s a nice dodge around the fact that our current public school system no longer educates its inmates; by and large, those who come out of public schools knowing how to read, write, and think have taught themselves, as often as not against the organized opposition of the institution. It wouldn’t be at all hard to change that — all you’d have to do is identify the changes in educational policy and practice that have taken place since the time that schools still could count on teaching literacy and numeracy to students, and reverse them all — but that’s not going to get past the iron triangle of corrupt politicians, elitist bureaucrats, and corporate flacks any time soon. That’s why, for the time being, I support charter schools and homeschooling.

    Caryn, I find it interesting that you thought this essay was angrier than usual. I’ve noticed that very often among people in the left, when they say “You sound angry” what that actually means is “You’re making me uncomfortable.” Do you think that might be going on in this case?

    (More generally, I don’t encourage tone policing on my blog, you know.)

    Investingwithnature, er, I’ll pass. I’m not particularly interested in permaculture, you know, not after hearing so much about it from so many people interested in ramming it down my throat. If you keep trying to drag the conversation back to it, please be aware that I’ll start deleting your comments.

    Alan, no doubt! They’d be idiots, though. I consider library sales to be among the best investments in marketing for my books — lots of people read something of mine in a library, and then go buy a copy because they want one of their own.

    Medicine, that’s happening over here as well, though we don’t have a lot of spare phone booths (our equivalent of phone boxes). It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.

    Toomas, I misplace books too, so not a chortle escaped my lips…

    Will, fascinating. I didn’t know that linguistics as a discipline had become that corrupt.

    Tude, let me guess — Palouse, WA? I’ve been there, and enjoyed the visit.

    Beneaththesurface, hmm! That sounds worth a very close read.

    Ganv, I’d certainly be happy if Krampus were to start adding corporate marketing flacks to the contents of his basket!

  115. Dear Will J. Are you calling Saint Noam a (gasp, choke, grab for pearls) liar? Away with you!! 10,000 years in purgatory shall be your sentence! Repent today!

  116. My local branch of the Cape Town public library is situated in a working-class area. It has a reasonable selection of fiction, romance, and young adult books, together with a bank of computers, magazines, DVDs and a kiddies’ room. Popular stuff, no classics. One worry is the non-fiction section, which has shrunk considerably. I haven’t asked the librarians why, but since many in the catalogue are missing, I suspect theft.

    It’s neat and clean. The security guard only admits the better class of homeless.

    My biggest library surprise was way back in 1965 when I did my army training at the Military Gymnasium. There was a small one-room library. Five copies of Mein Kampf, as I recall. A copy of Doctor Zhivago which I read under the security lights doing guard duty in a freezing highveld winter. And amazing to relate, a copy of Alicia in Terra Mirabili, the Latin translation of Alice in Wonderland, with illustrations by Tenniel. Having done Latin in high school, and knowing the story, I managed to sorta read it, but to find such a thing in an army camp is still a wonder to me.

  117. Our extended neighborhood has several Little Free Libraries for folks to enjoy. You never know what will make its way to the ever-shifting collections of adult, teen and children’s books.

    I’d love to start a small press for poetry and memoirs. What a fun endeavor each author’s project would be, and how meaningful to create a tangible original book.

    Someone referenced Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. I highly recommend it. Best wishes.

  118. Scotlyn and JMG,

    I can tell you that sales from our little herbal products business declined this year for the first time in 9 years. And not because people are losing interest in herbal alternatives; quite the contrary, it was because way more people are doing it for themselves. We need to start selling raw materials to all the new makers…and that’s exactly where we’re headed next season.

  119. Thinking about the local situation in Victoria, BC Canada. again. The central library is wonderful. The esquimalt one is ok, and the emily carr one recently moved into a new building that I dislike. The library is on the second floor, in a single large room that sort of has two wings. It’s the one I mentioned that earlier tht had too much non-book stuff. The view out the huge window is nice, but I hate that it doesn’t really have the quiet and bookish feel a library should have. There’s too much technology – you return books via a mechanized thing on the first floor, and take them out using an automated thing. The latter is common enough, but this library has too little lin the way of live librarians and too much mechanization. I liked the old location better. It still has stacks and stacks fo books and is definately a library and I’ve found interesting items there plenty of times, but the move was not an improvement.

    My biggest complaint with libraries is that I am half an hour’s walk form one, and 40 minutes from another. Fortunately, I can bus to the 40min away central library easily, but it would be nice to be closer.

    There are little tiny book boxes sprouting up all over here, but they typically don’t have anything interesting to me.

    I really wish my eye would let me read. I’m stuck listening to the computer read stuff to me f and that is finicky and annoying. And paper books are closed to me. I can look up references or read little to learn a new weaving technique, but I don’t dare get lost in it. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I was about 8, so this has been a real nightmare. It is better than it was, at least. I used to be stuck listening to podcasts in a darkened room for basically the entire day. Sorry, just figured people here would understand why this is so maddening. On the plus side, I have learned a lot of history that I’d never got around to before. And I spent a good portion of this morning painting. Hopefully I should be back to normal at some point. I loathe recurrent corneal erosions.

    I write these comments with the screen down so I’m not looking at it, then flip it up and edit. Because of this, I tend to miss stuff, and I all off often miss mistakes I’d normally remove and fix before posting. Please have patience with my errors. They don’t mean I can’t write or didn’t think through the comment carefullly.

  120. Complaining about the lights and waste and general excess of the Christmas season has inspired some in my family to start calling me Ebenezer — but I gotta say, I think I might ask them to call me Krampus instead. The imagery of a giant goat whacking kids with birch sticks is hilarious. On a related note, I’ve noticed that pointing out the absurdities of the season often prompts a response along the lines “But it’s just part of our tradition and culture and it’s cozy and why can’t you have any fun?” My opinion is that a culture that values many of these things ought to be left behind and bid good riddance, but recently it has me thinking about culture as a whole, and how people tend to get nostalgic about stupidity simply because they grew up with it. It reminded me of your section in The Ecotechnic Future that labeled American culture a “faux culture designed by marketing experts.” Basically this is a longwinded way of asking if you have any recommended reading to learn more about that subject — I’m curious to dig a bit deeper.

  121. Books were created for a reason; that reason still exists. What do books do for us? What problem do they solve? Books are the optimum means for communication across the barrier of time. That which is written in a book (and worse yet, published in multiple copies) carries a message forward into the future, as far into the future as the document can survive. And it does so in a manner that makes any attempt to alter the message apparent to its recipient that some attempt has been made to alter it – and thus it is a reliable form of communication.

    The internet, however, looks a lot like books but is in character very different in that it is a volatile environment. That which is posted online today may not be there tomorrow; or – worse yet – it may be profoundly altered in a manner undetectable to the reader. True, it has the ability to keep current with all the very latest information available instantly to whoever inquires, but it has the disadvantage that the said information could be unreliable.

    The element of society pushing hardest for the elimination of written documents in favor of electronic information is comprised of those who feel most frustrated by what books give us that electronic information cannot: permanence of knowledge. It’s all about control. Electronic information can be created, altered, or eliminated on a whim; books, however, are unchangeable once published. Books are a formidable enemy to those who want to assert themselves as dominators of our society because they, like the people who read them, are just too difficult to manipulate.

    The day we abandon the permanence of our printed books to replace it with the volatility of electronic-only documents is the day we surrender our minds to those who would be our masters.

  122. JMG et al,

    I am planning on opening a subscription-based occult library and reading room, at least partially non-circulating. I’m finding myself a bit at a loss of how to get started, though. As I see it, the two most necesary things I need are:

    – a colletion of books
    – a place to store them

    On the surface this seems very simple, but I’ve never opened (or run) a business before. Assuming I can find a free or very cheap venue, I’d still need the money to aquire the collection (I’m more than willing to include my own books, but they would likely not make a large enough collection on their own).

    So I’m trying to figure out where to start. Do I start with pinching pennies and slowly accruing the books? How much do I have to worry about zoning if I use something like a converted garage (since money will be changing hands)? I’m very motivated, but a bit lost.

    I’ve been looking into the Small Business Development Center where I live, and have been bending the ears of some of my brother masons who have relevant experience, but am still unsure.

    Any advice from JMG or the commentariat would be very welcome.


  123. Well, an online reading-room with physical books might actually be a pipe-dream for now.

    On the other hand, for a long time I’ve had the idea that I’d like to start blogging my way through the old and intimidating volumes sitting here on my shelves. The idea is to take a few books at a time, read them in small pieces, and post my reflections, with an open invitation to others to contribute their thoughts as well.

    This morning I felt the pull of this idea particularly strongly, so I started a Dreamwidth site dedicated to the idea, entitled Read Old Things. Today I’ve posted a bit on Plotinus and another on Dion Fortune.

    Anyone who is interested can find it here:

    (Yes, I stole the Hexafoil icon from Violet. I’ve been using it as my icon on social media for a few months now; it really works quite well as a protective amulet.)

  124. Re: my above comment:

    I do have about 30,000 dollars saved up from an inheritance, and am willing to invest it in the reading room/library, but want to invest it as wisely as I can – which will require more research.

  125. Will J,

    That’s unfortunate to hear. I have been listening to a series of lectures on language by John McWhorter and am considering looking more deeply into the subject. I’ll have to bear the pitfalls you mentioned in mind.

    What confuses me most about your professor’s insistence that his rule was correct because the example of Japanese you cited was “ungrammatical” is that whether it technically was or not seems immaterial as long as the sentence you cited is understandable.

    I’m a computer scientist, so I think of this from an information-based perspective: if you can “fill in” (i.e. predict) the missing subject from context, it’s not contributing to the entropy of the sentence and so isn’t really missing. That the grammar of the language says it should be there is a matter of preference for a certain kind of redundancy, not a matter of necessity.

  126. I came across one of these on a walk about town last week. Was thinking of doing something similar, although I wasn’t impressed by their book list. But the concept seems like a quick way to get a little place for books operating if you don’t yet have the funds or time to launch a full-fledged library:

  127. Must be some sort of book lover’s synchronicity John in the air. This week’s blog post over on Green Wizards is a review of our own Teresa of Hershey’s book “Suburban Stockade – Strengthening Your Life Against An Uncertain Future”. Its not a long review but her book is really good in highlighting the skills you will need in a Collapsing World. And is full of anecdotes and stories about her and her husband Bill, and their children’s journey into sustainability.

    I recommend anyone who has a friend or family member that’s beginning to realize that its all collapsing around us, to pick up a copy or two for them as a Yuletime present. Better than some of the cheap imported stuff available online of in the Mall.

  128. This discussion reminds me of two unusual libraries I frequented earlier in my life. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has (or used to have, I’m trying to determine which) a science library. I was a museum member in the 1970s, and access to the library was one of the benefits of membership, making it the closest thing to a subscription library I’ve ever used. Though if I recall correctly their books didn’t circulate. There’s no mention of the library anywhere on their web site now (for instance, it’s not listed among the membership benefits) but it was a bit hidden away even back then so it might still exist after all. I’ll have to make some calls during business hours to find out.

    More recently, and more locally, one of the highlights of living in Fairhaven MA a few years ago was the Millicent Library. Especially because I was broke, unable to buy any new books at all, during the time I lived there. Some mention of bad library architecture has come up in this comment thread. The Millicent, beloved by the town, is a notable counterexample: exterior and interior.

    Their book collection (that I now once again have access to, from three towns away via the regional interlibrary system) is still robust, though largely tailored for local tastes. History (it’s Massachusetts) and mystery novels (it’s a shore town and the summer people need their beach reading) predominate. They also have a historic (not quite as much so as if it hadn’t been stolen and replaced by a substitute a few decades ago) Samurai sword, for interesting reasons that would be off-topic to go into. And some ghosts.

    Time for a visit my own town library (not as spectacular, armed, or haunted, but still invaluable).

  129. Yes, it would be a good to write up some of these thoughts in essay format and submit them places. I have had various essay ideas curdling for a while and some rough drafts of thoughts–time to get serious about it. I might have to submit under an alias though. As a library employee I’m prohibited from talking to news media or sharing library information on media platforms without administrative approval. Thanks for the suggestion of Quillette — I actually wasn’t familiar with the site before.

    I’ll share one other example of administrative insanity for your amusement. Our central library closed for renovation a few years ago and will reopen next year.  Guess what is being put in the children’s room? A slide!  One that goes down a whole floor level too. This idea did not come from anyone in the Children’s Department or any public services staff. Middle management was against it too.  Just a few top administrators pushed the plan (the rationale is that there is no playground in the downtown area so we’re helping satisfy some of that need).  I have nothing against slides; I think they are great for children in places like playgrounds, but do they belong in a library?! I don’t think so.

    So when the new library re-opens Children’s staff will not only have to deal with the usual work responsibilities, but have the additional stress of managing the chaos (and likely noise) of the slide.  The slide costs something like $40,000 dollars if I remember correctly. (What else could one do with this money? How many books could you buy for the library?)

    Pretty much all public services staff I’ve talked with think this slide is a stupid idea. We make a lot of jokes about it.  I think a title of an essay, that could discuss this slide as a symbol of delusional behavior of library administrators, could be:  “The Library’s Slide into Senility”

  130. @ Eleine and JMG

    The word victrola is transformed in “vitrola” in Argentina and Spain, and this term remid me the famous Carlos Gardel’s tango “A media luz”, that my father played many many times with his bandurria some decades ago (he died in 1993) in my youth:

    “…..Una vitrola que llora

    Viejos tangos de mi flor
    Y un gato de porcelana
    Pa’ que no maúlle el amor

    Y todo a media luz
    Que es un brujo el amor
    A media luz los besos
    A media luz los dos
    Y todo a media luz
    Crepúsculo interior
    Que suave terciopelo
    La media luz de amor”

    The lyrics of the song says: “one victrola that cries”, it seems that the tango in the victrola “cry”, that I think it is his true spirit

    The song also says: “…and a porcelaine cat so he doesn´t meow for love…” (or something similar funny)

    So many memories for me


  131. Justin, I’m delighted to hear that. A big library system that still has real libraries is even better than a small library system that does so.

    Beneaththesurface, thanks for this!

    Marlena13, yeah, “abomination” is quite a decent description. Like too much modern architecture, there’s nothing wrong with it that an air strike wouldn’t fix… 😉

    Monster, yep — and the other elephant in the room is that universities no longer provide a service worth the absurd fees they charge. A growing number of kids are getting smart and refusing to go to college; they’ve done the math and know that if they do, they will never recover financially from the burden of the student loans they’ll have to take out. As that spreads, it’ll combine with the demographic contraction to drive a spectacular collapse in the bloated higher education industry.

    Mister N, hmm! That’s a very good idea. As for Walsch, when I lived in Ashland (2004-2009) the locals all said his books should have been titled S*** I Made Up. They didn’t think very highly of him…

    Robert, true enough. That might be a good reason for subscription libraries to “accept donations of used books” rather than buying books outright; that way the publishers couldn’t fuss as much, or as effectively.

    SteveinNC, yeah, that does have a 1984-ish vibe, doesn’t it?

    Samurai_47, that’s worth knowing. If someone ever hands me a few million dollars to open a library with, I’ll be sure to hire classicists!

    Violet, that’s a valid point. It might be worth looking into how libraries in Britain and France kept their collections dry and fungus-free before dehumidifiers came in.

    Tripp, if you pitch it as Nerd Central you’ll have people lining up to get in. I hope you go ahead with it!

    Nastarana, so noted. I’m far from sure I agree about veto power — a library like that will be facing attempts at entryism anyway, and that rule just invites political gameplaying.

    Jim, thanks for this. At this point the terms “racist” and “sexist” are very often dishonest euphemisms for “working class,” used by people who aren’t willing to admit to their own intense class bigotry; it’s good to see some pushback.

    Xabier, or literary critics talking about writing. Oh, man…

    Jeff, now factor in the incredible explosion in indie printed books via print-on-demand services — they’ve blossomed even more dramatically than indie e-books, to judge by the articles I’ve seen. The book is here to stay!

    Ip, thanks for this. I used to get interlibrary loan books from the Enoch Pratt system, for what it’s worth!

    Violet, astounding indeed. Now to figure out the best ripostes!

    Ip, an excellent point. Thanks for this!

  132. Martin, that’s a great story! Many thanks. I wonder if some other army base had Winnie Ille Pu or Magus Mirabilis in Oz — two other children’s books that have been put into Latin…

    DD, please do it! The more people who come to see books and magazines as things they make rather than things they consume, the better.

    Tripp, fascinating. That’s really good news — well, for everybody but the pharmaceutical industry…

    Pygmycory, don’t worry about it — your comments generally have fewer typos than mine!

    AndyJ, it’s been a long time since I read up on the manufacture of American pop culture and I’ll have to go digging for sources. If anyone else has anything to suggest, that would be great.

    Steve, thank you. Yes, exactly.

    Alexander, those are valid concerns. To some extent it depends on your local laws and regulations — the Small Business Center can help with that — but I’m emphatically not a businessman and know it. Anyone else have advice?

    Steve T, glad to hear it! I’ll check things out as time permits.

    Mark D, interesting. I’d expect to see everything interesting vanish and be replaced by the books nobody wants — a kind of Gresham’s Law of literature. But I could be wrong.

    David, it’s definitely in the air — and I’m glad to see Teresa’s book getting some notice.

    Walt, fascinating. Thank you for this!

    Beneaththesurface, definitely do it under a pseudonym, and be evasive enough that nobody can be sure which library system in the region you work for. That will add to the fun, and if you get outed, you can probably get a book contract out of it!

    DFC, thanks for this! The Victrola was the original portable record player, as common in its day as the transistor radio in the 1960s or the boom box in the 1990s, so I’m not surprised to find it in tango lyrics.

  133. Mr. Greer, the two deal breakers for me would be everyone pays the same. Period. No special access for sweeping the floor, I can sweep floors. Either hire a janitor or everyone able take turns. And If the library can’t use my donation I want it back. I am not sure I know what ‘entryism’ is, though I think I do remember you mentioning the word.

  134. JMG,

    It boggles my mind to think about just how much corruption there is elsewhere. If linguistics is this corrupt, how much worse is it in fields where money is at stake? I’ll have a few other examples as well for a future open post, but for now, dear gods is the field of linguistics corrupt.

    As for “functional illiteracy”, it’s being used as a thought stopper. I’d need to look into how one room schoolhouses worked to say exactly what the problems are, but I have some ideas.


    It’s a huge problem. I only know two languages well enough to catch these things, and given that one of them disproves a huge amount of linguistic theory, I’m quite skeptical. Then, I also find a lot of the professors only speak English, and so when they talk about any other language, they don’t know anything. Even if you don’t speak the language under discussion, knowing another helps, as it reveals the ways languages can differ, which is not immediately apparent if you don’t know that.


    I think he’s either a liar or incompetent. One or the other, and I alternate between the two fairly often. As I don’t know him personally, I don’t want to try to speculate about it too much.

    James Jensen,

    I don’t know much about John McWhorter. I’ll have to fix that, but for now I can’t say anything about him.

    I don’t remember the sentence I used, but let’s say the sentence I said was “hon o yomimas”, which means, roughly speaking, “read a book”. The “grammatical” sentence would be “watashi wa hon o yomimas”. It would also be grammatical, but hold very different connotations. Watashi means “I”, wa marks the subject, so the full sentence reads “I read a book”. The issue is when I started learning Japanese, I was told never to use “watashi” unless I was changing topics: if I was already on the topic of myself, “watashi” would be unnecessary. Nor, we were taught, should we use other pronouns, because it’s almost always weird in Japanese. It places far too much emphasis on the person reading the book.

    Simply put, within the Japanese language, if the subject can be inferred from context, you leave it out. What’s interesting is that once you get used to it, it becomes easier and easier to leave out subjects, and so in lots of cases where in English I’d put in the subject because other English speakers wouldn’t be able to follow it otherwise, in Japanese I’ll leave it out and no one blinks an eye.

    So your metaphor is very accurate to the way Japanese works. It’s not for the way other languages work, (grammaticality judgments are not based on if it’s understandable, but if it’s “grammatical”, which is a complex issue), and it’s possible to have grammatical nonsense (Colourless green ideas sleep furiously), or ungrammatical sentences which make perfect sense (These sentence is grammatical flaws).

  135. Hi DD,

    Speaking as an indie writer and self-publisher, it’s not that hard to get books in print. It is well-worth having trade paperbacks (via the miracle of print on demand) as well as ebooks.
    The advantage of trade paperbacks is that an author can be discovered sitting on the shelf at the Goodwill or the local used bookshop. Ebooks don’t have that kind of discoverability.

    You can do all the formatting for both styles in-house. That’s what we do. Audiobooks are much harder.

    The difficulty comes in working with other authors. Do you do straight work for hire, setting up the books in both formats and then setting up the accounting at the evil empire so they get any $$ and you only get what you got paid upfront? This is the easier method. If they write a monster bestseller, you get nothing more than your original fee. If they never sell a single copy, you got your original fee. Also consider the editing, covers, ISBN’s (needed for Ingram Spark), front, spine, and back covers, and copyrighting with the Library of Congress. Since this is work for hire and you don’t own any part of the book, you also won’t do any advertising unless it’s negotiated as a separate fee.

    A traditional publisher does all the above things. A traditional publisher also has to pay out royalties based on sales. What percentage are you going to pay? Do you pay every quarter (we do this with our daughter)? Every six months? Every year? Why the time lag? To allow for returns. To allow for the lag in the evil empire, Ingram Spark, and all the other sales outlets to pay YOU. To job together a sale here and a sale there so you only write one check per time period and thus don’t drive yourself crazy. Remember that if you pay out an advance, the writer gets NOTHING until the advance is paid in full via sales of the book.

    If you want to see what we do, visit our website for Peschel Press:

    We do NOT currently publish anyone besides ourselves because we haven’t yet worked out all the bugs generated when publishing someone outside the family. The big name authors you see (Agatha Christie and the like) are out of copyright so we can publish those books while adding another 50,000 words of our own of footnotes, timelines, and background essays. They don’t get royalties.

    Another small press, done well, is a wonderful thing so look into it! You’ll get writers lining up to have you publish them.

    Teresa from Hershey

  136. @ Alexander Marcus

    Many libraries provide free access to Gale Courses (ed2go) online learning. Mine does and I’ve taken full advantage of this luxury.

    Gale provides a huge variety of classes on small businesses, home-based businesses, write your own business plans, etc, etc, etc. They provide plenty of other topics as well so spend some time perusing the catalog.

    Ask the reference librarian how to sign up. These classes normally run about $200 if you pay for them yourself. If your library provides free access, your tax dollars paid for this service so you might as well take advantage of it.

    I’ve taken the class on home-based businesses and write your own business plan. They were detailed, very complete, and if you wanted to ask questions, the instructors were happy to answer them.

    These are a great starting point for learning more about running a small business without risking anything but your time.

    One last point about a small business: nothing matters more than cash flow. If you can’t meet your bills, it doesn’t matter how wonderful your idea is. Poor handling of cash flow is why so many businesses fail, even huge ones like Toys-R-Us.

    Teresa from Hershey

  137. On a slight tangent, I believe the term Iron Triangle traditionally refers to the Japanese political system, with the incestuous relationship between the Liberal Democratic Party, the bureaucracy, and the corporations.

    My local library is excellent, but there are dark clouds on the horizon. They now have a standard list of authors that they buy, and the budget for buying others is shrinking…

  138. @ Alexander Marcus and learning about small business management

    I forgot to add that taking the online class with Gale/ed2go will help you ask better questions of any small business owners you can get to talk to you. The classes are spaced out over six weeks and they are largely at your own pace. I find them much more understandable than reading a book on running a business.

    Teresa from Hershey

  139. Where I live in Canada (Vancouver Island) we have a fantastic library system. You can request a book from any library anywhere on Vancouver Island and it will be sent to your local library branch for you to pick up. We also have Interlibrary Loan which lets us borrow books from a multitude of libraries that are not within our system. There are three communites in the area I live in whichn all got brand new libraries in the past few years. In addition, we have lots of Little Free Libraries, which I didn’t see mentioned here. For more information about them see

  140. @Steve – thank you so much for that insight! Fairly recently I have stopped using wikipedia, I just kept seeing things appear and disappear, and so much obvious propaganda. I never thought of that pretty much being a problem for the entire internet, but I have to say there’s been plenty of times things I read and remember just disappear, and I assume little changes can be made without any of us ever noticing. A perfect platform for the Department of Truth. Also over the last couple years I’ve completely stopped reading books on electronic devices, something just bothered me. Now I read an old fashioned paper book every night, and I am reading 10 times as much.

    @JMG – yes, Palouse. I used to live in the Clearwater Valley and spend lots of time in Lewiston and Moscow. I took my husband up there for a couple vacations and we have just fallen in love with that little town. I love the whole area. Now to figure out how to survive there.

  141. Nastarana, duly noted! Those are certainly worth considering.

    Will, well, did you check out the JAMA article referenced in the post? That corrupt.

    Strda221, good. Now you know why I borrowed it.

    Ellen, glad to hear it. The states of Rhode Island and Maryland both have statewide free interlibrary loan; in Oregon, when I lived there, you had to pay $5 per request, with no guarantee that they’d get the book, and they really went out of their way to discourage attempts. I’m glad to be on this side of the continent!

    Tude, that’s really sweet country, I hope the move and everything goes well!

  142. I have forgotten most of the Japanese I learned, but I remember quite clearly that at the time I found it much easier than Spanish. Spanish has boatloads of irregular verbs, including many common ones like “make” and “do.” Japanese grammar seemed much simpler and more logical.

  143. To Alexander, I’m a small business owner. I’m extremely successful and I have more business than I can handle without any advertising budget. FYI I run a music lesson studio and have four direct competitors within four miles. I started extremely small about 23 years ago. Here’s my advice. Start tiny, with only a few books from your place of residence. As for zoning, you are handling books, not uranium. What the authorities don’t know won’t hurt them, so don’t ask and don’t tell.

    Small business help centers seem overrun with failed corporate executives who sought a soft landing in peddling expensive, pointless networking seminars where one meets legions of desperate know-nothings while trying not to yawn. I am not a fan of them, however, your results may vary.

    When the time comes, and only then, you’ll know it’s right to rent commercial space and/or storage for your collection. Don’t build it thinking they will come; they won’t. Create demand before you expand. As I said up-post, I rent a commercial space and have done so for the last decade. If I had not the students to fill the space ten years ago, renting it would have doomed me to failure. Luckily for me I lacked the “bite off more than you can chew” instinct back then, at least where my business was concerned.

  144. At the beginning of this year, I did some legwork for a local nonprofit, trying to set up some lending libraries using books from the John Clute Science Fiction Library.

    The initial plan was to use available shelf space in existing libraries around the area. Well, I immediately ran into two (probably predictable) problems: 1) Available shelf space is nonexistent. 2) Librarians are extremely territorial about the collections in their care. Without exception, their ears snapped back and their hackles rose up at the suggestion of bringing in a pile of dinky old paperbacks from some guy they never heard of.

    This is no slight against librarians. Rather, it means that the initial plan was not workable, and at this point it’s dead in the water.

    I’ve been pondering a few questions about the whole matter since then: How do you get people interested in reading, and in reading science fiction? And what can be done, if anything, with a collection of 7,000 science fiction books?

  145. JGM,
    Thanks you for the very timely post.
    Here in Nelson, New Zealand, we’ve had an annual “Nelson Book Fair” for over 30 years. Admission is $2 per day or a week pass for $5, kids free. Its all volunteer and goes for 7 days in a big council owned hall with good parking around. Books are donated all year (there’s a drop off place in the building), then for a month prior to the Fair a team of 15 people go through all the paperback and hardback books (and records, CD’s and sheet music) roughly cataloguing them: fiction, nonfiction, art, biography, self-help, children’s, etc. and put them in hundreds of sturdy cardboard boxes. In the hall are lots of labelled long tables and the books are constantly replenished throughout the day by the volunteers. Other volunteers man/woman/people (?) the “checkout” tables where the books are sold at very low prices: $0.50 to $4, most in the $1-3 range. My GF and I get 95% of our whole year‘s reading from the Fair. After reading a book we very often donate it back to the Fair. All the proceeds, often more than $15,000 goes to selected LOCAL charities. Some people travel to Nelson just to attend this event.

    More locally, I built a “Free Little Library” stand for our street. It is a weatherproof box with see through door on a post just across the street from our driveway. Room for maybe 20 books. The box says “take a book, leave a book” and is nicely decorated by some of our local kids. My wife and I act as librarians and cull the really crap books or ones that don’t move in a couple of weeks time. Culled books are donated to the Book Fair.
    We trash anonymous Bible tracts that born-again fundamentalist Jesus-sneakers surreptitiously slip into the box. (I’ve been threatening to put a note on the box which says “Satan Lives Here”, but my wife won’t let me. If you’re going to try to sell Jesus to me, I’d rather you do it in person like the Jehovas).

    The “Free Little Library” is a world-wide idea, here’s some info:


  146. Ever-erudite Archdruid Emeritus, thank you for your Christmas wish. Libraries are indeed one of the best inventions ever created by humans, and it’s sad to see any of them being dismantled, diluted, or otherwise disrespected.

    When I was in elementary school, desperately bored and lonely, our school had a small school library which was available to 4th through 6th graders. Even by third grade I was familiar with, and had a card at, our city library (one funded, as were so many, by Andrew Carnegie) and someone at school must have noticed, so it came as a great delight to be given access to the school library towards the end of my third year. The library was modest, but had a very complete collection of the Oz books which I devoured one by one. A particular jewel I discovered there was “The Exploration Of The Colorado River And Its Canyons” by John Wesley Powell (still have a copy on my bookshelves), which set me on a course of ongoing interest in geology, science, exploration, and the outdoors. Amazing how a single book can have such a profound effect at such a relatively young age.

    Whether one is a fan or not, the Sci-fi-ish novel “Rainbow’s End” by Vernor Vinge has some of the more memorable dystopic visions of future libraries (just checked, and the novel is set in 2025!) where your Iron Triangle manages to implement a project called the Librareome to digitize all the books in the Geisel Library at UCSD. The digitizing involves tossing the books into a tree-shredder, with numerous cameras photographing the shreds and then (mostly) reintegrating the shreds into digital format! Aaauugh! When I first read that part, I was absolutely horrified, but reflecting now it’s just as bad if not nearly so dramatic to be tossing books into anonymous dumpsters.

    A character in that novel on p. 131. tells another character: “…you don’t understand the purpose of the stacks. You don’t go into the stacks expecting the precise answer to your burning question of the moment. It doesn’t work that way. In all the thousands of times that I’ve gone hunting in the stacks, I’ve seldom found exactly what I was looking for. You know what I did find? I found the books on close-by topics. I found answers to questions that I had never thought to ask. Those answers took me in new directions and were almost always more valuable than whatever I originally had in mind.”

    Later in the book there is a riot and the rioters surrounding the library chant:
    “We want our floor space!”
    “We want our library!”
    “And most of all, we want our REAL books!”

    Let’s hope that things don’t get quite as dystopic as Vinge foresaw.

    JMG, thanks to you for giving us this forum to share our thoughts and reflections. Hooray for books and libraries; may they ever continue!

  147. @ beneaththesurface

    haha! our local library here in sydney australia has a slide between floors too! and immediately after the slide installation was opened to the public, the local council received complaints about all the noise from the slide, so they had to restrict the hours the slide is open. who would have guessed that library patrons trying to read would complain about screaming kids in the main space of a library??? i tried to find an article online about it to include here but the only ones i could find are behind paywalls. this is the headline though: ‘Double Bay library’s slippery slide causing drama between parents and fun police.’ Here’s an excerpt:

    “Double Bay’s $11 million library installed a slide for kids as the centrepiece to attract families but it’s open for as little as 80 minutes a day because council has been receiving noise complaints.”


  148. re: “Iron Triangle”

    I first heard this term during the Ronald Raygun administration in reference to the interconnections between the Pentagon, Congress and military contractors.

    I didn’t know about the $5 per request here in Ore-is-gone. I live in the County, not the nearby City, so I don’t have access to the City library (without paying $80 / year for a card). I can go in there and read in situ, but it’s a de facto homeless camp so I usually don’t. Plus my taste in reading material is rather eclectic, as I assume most readers here can relate to, and much of what I like to read is not available there. I spend the $80 / year at book stores, both local and Not amazon.

    Oregon also has more physical distance between places than many other states, perhaps that is part of the cost for requests?

  149. Tude-good luck with the move! We used to live in Troy and Moscow.

    My local blue lodges maintain a tiny library and reading room, so small there is no check in and out system, and of course interesting to just a few, running on the honor of the members. I keep meaning to look at the offerings there, other than, of course, the Grand Lodge’s yearbooks! Those take up about a third of the shelves all by themselves, so really, tiny.

    The Lutheran Church in Troy, ID has an even smaller library, which did have a sign-in-and-out sheet when last I was there. It was part religious and part fiction. I believe that was where I first encountered Jan Karon’s Father Timothy books.

    The Methodist Church I attend now’s library is a disaster of disarray and stored non-library stuff: the community it serves is affluent enough to buy rather than borrow.

    All that to say that if you have a few dozen books of interest and a shelf to put them on in a location that’s accessible at least once a week, you have a potential library. Matching books to patrons, well, you know the group that has access to your shelves, what do they want?

  150. We have a really good used book exchange shop in my town, however there is a huge section of paperback romance novels aof the Harlequin variety. I think they, except for a sample to remember what they’re like, should be consumed as pulp, literally.

  151. I see that it has been mentioned before but Street Libraries are a great half step between what we have today and where it is heading.

    Here in Australia, these things are everywhere and are usually packed tights. Also local shopping centers are also using their empty spaces as local libraries in the same vien. Take a book, leave a book. For as gaudy and unpleasant these shopping centers can be, this is actually a decent use of the space.

    For those who don’t know what I am talking about here is a good example –

  152. Dear Archdruid,

    This week’s post makes me think of some lines from Barddas…

    32. The three protections of the Bards of the Isle of Britain: to protect learning, that is, the art of knowledge; to protect peace and tranquillity; and to protect truth and justice. That is to say, they ought to be protected even unto death, when there is occasion, for it is on their account that a Bard exists, and he is no Bard who does nothing in their behalf, and there is nothing which is not a duty, arising from these things.

    33. The three cares of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, namely: to support science; to elucidate truth; and to cherish peace and tranquillity.

    Now obviously I’m a card-carrying member of our local library – I moved to a slighly larger town to live with my wife, and this town has a great library. The one in my old town, where I spent many many afternoons as a child, is now only opened two days a week, and staffed by unpaid volunteers. Such a shame.

    Thank heavens for silence coupés in trains though! What a blessing. Peace and tranquility indeed…. and of course, much worth struggling for to keep.

    – Brigyn

  153. Hi John Michael,

    Ah yes, a fine and worthy thing. Books are precious to me too. Although, my thing is plants, and a similar need has to take place with locally selected open pollinated plants and I’m collecting quite a few. I used to be a member of a local community group that did just that with plants, but the group imploded over an unresolved issue that appeared to be about aprons. It was the darnedest thing to see happen…

    Quiet cars on the country trains are also a thing down here, and I make a bee-line for them and settle my nose into a book for the journey. Books can also be enjoyed in the standing position on a train

    Hey, with the University issue I am hammering on the ‘return on investment’ side of the story to any and all who will listen. It hits home, and I can make such a claim with solid educational runs on the board so I’m no hypocrite – and just talk from experience. Over supply is good for institutions providing loans at interest, and also good for the businesses who benefit from the story, but it just makes no sense for the people involved on the receiving end of the story. Just my twenty cents (inflation is also a real problem).



  154. Dear John Michael Greer,

    Delighted to see this post.

    I would also suggest that an excellent way to support book culture is to give children books as gifts– I recall that on your blog you have talked about the good books awarded the Newbery Medal and encouraged people to look for those.

    For adults, I would also suggest that, for some, a thoughtfully selected rare book (for example a first edition / autographed edition) of a favorite classic or perhaps by some favorite author can make a beautiful and very welcome gift, even for those who are challenged for space in their households. One book, after all, occupies little space vis-a-vis, oh I dunno, a widescreen TV…

    By the way, the rare book market is not ever & always out of bounds for people with limited budgets; it depends on the book and its characteristics.

    Buying rare books on amazon and ebay can be a bit iffy– is better but also, alas, can be iffy if less so. The most reliable sellers of quality rare books are usually going to be members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America or similar associations in their country.

    My great uncle, who served in Paris in WWII, picked up a cheap but fine copy of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake autographed in his famous green-ink pen. Many decades later when my great uncle passed away, my great aunt donated it to the Newberry Library–in appreciation for all the Newberry Library had meant to him in his career as a scholar. By then that book was worth quite the chunk of change!

    Surprising as this may sound, libraries do not necessarily welcome book donations because they may not have the space or the staff to process them. So it is good to ask first. (My local library has a Friends of the Library donation stand– they sell them to the public.)

    PS It is disheartening indeed to see what is going on with libraries… for an enthusiasm booster I can recommend Susan Orleans’ The Library Book.

    Kind regards,


  155. @JMG:

    In the 1996 film Michael Collins, Eamon De Valera (played by Alan Rickman) writes to the eponymous character (played by Liam Neeson) on the topic of the Irish Republic they are fighting for:

    We must act as if the Republic is a reality. We defeat the British Empire by ignoring it.

    I’ve been contemplating this quote recently, and this week’s post immediately made me think of it. I have a vision of an Archdruid Emeritus hiding out in a safe house, banging on a typewriter:

    We must act as if Retrotopia is a reality. We defeat the Religion of Progress by ignoring it.

    and I realise that this might be the ulterior motive of your writing that you’ve hinted at on occasion.

    Certainly, the approach to libraries that you’ve proposed here fits into a larger campaign of action: not just libraries, but clothing, food, fuel, printing, security… All the things that were, and should have been, part of the Transition Towns movement but quietly, organised by word of mouth under the radar, so that, piece joining up with piece, a Collapse society emerges before the rush…

  156. * Re: Welsh miners: yes, the miners of old had a powerful appreciation for learning. They also had the capacity to organise in order to realize their vision of society on a local scale – an example being the medical services they created, which Aneurin Bevan used as the model for the NHS. These virtues are lacking in far too many their descendants. As someone asked above, how can the love of reading, and of learning, and the will to self-organise, be (re)kindled in society?

    * Linguistics: close to the bone, this one, as I’m currently studying for a Master’s degree in the subject. I’m not very far into it, but I’ve been somewhat startled at how debates about language acquisition, for example, seem to resemble religious debates, both in the passion they inspire and the unprovability of the theories. Also at how subjective the literature is, compared to other fields I’ve studied.

  157. JMG: A reading room / library shouldn’t just connect people with books, but people with people (who share interest in the books).

    BeneathTheSurface: The idea of a librarian with non-library skills brought to mind this idea: suppose the “librarian” was actually a nexus of knowledge about who in the community has various non-library skills and interests. I imagined conversations like this: “You’re looking for a good book on ham radio? Well, we have this, and I know a guy who’s been doing it for a long time, and would be happy to talk with you about it.” Come to think of it, my interest in electronics (which pays the bills around here) was kick-started by a old ham radio handbook found in our local public library.

    “Orchid cultivation? We have that book, and the guy who donated it has a greenhouse. Here’s his business card.”

    “History of Riverdale? That would be over here. Did you know that the original plantation mansion is open for guided tours? Here’s their schedule.”

    As Jeff Bezos imagined it, an interest in books can reveal a lot about what people are interested in (and there’s money to be made (Amazon) with that knowledge). Maybe there’s also social capital to build with that knowledge.

    One last random thought: if a library’s going to throw out the books as they show signs of wear, they prevent us from recognizing popular books by the amount of wear visible on the spine! When I see a book in really good condition on the shelf, I think “Well, here’s one that no one bothered to read.”

  158. @JMG, Oh! OK sorry, I’m kind of an old school Liberal Leftie, so I’m a little tone deaf on tone policing. I just try to employ good manners. It was meant 1/2 in jest as a light ribbing, but sometimes that doesn’t come across on the internet. Apologies. If it made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have felt, well, comfortable in speaking up and saying anything. 😉

  159. Some dismal news from the Uk on Libraries’. Heard on the early morning BBC Radio 4 news that 20% of UK public libraries have closed since 2010, the start of the Austerity period, that is 800 out of 4000. Also that foot fall is significantly down, though I did not catch the actual figures. My local public Library is still OK, I received a piece of cake at their 25th opening anniversary this year, much to my surprise (I just happened to be in the right place at the right time!). However they have developed a habit of clearing the stacks, so I take out books occasionally that I would like to see remain just so that they get logged as being borrowed and given a stay of execution.

    Best regards JMG

    Philip Hardy

  160. (Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions on last week’s post, hope we can continue the discussion next month.)


    I need glasses and have a medical condition that meant for a long time I couldn’t tolerate wearing them, rendering me visually impaired–so I understand. I’m really lucky that we eventually figured out the cause and there was a solution. I hope you improve again!

  161. @WillJ, I just read your comment on your linguistics background and current pursuit of a degree in religious studies.I wanted to respond before I got sidetracked by something else, so apologies if you’ve already answered this, but: could you say where you are studying?

    I ask because I tried to pursue the same track, I have a bachelor’s in Linguistics, and was accepted into a Religious Studies program at a major University. I interviewed with the professor who would be my advisor, and was told in no uncertain terms not to bother, due to the fact that the authors who had shaped my view of the topic (Eliade, Dumézil) were politically unpopular. I’d be thrilled just to know that there is a program in Religious Studies that is not stifled by political self-censorship.


    Nick Ritter

  162. In the spirit of the season I offer this composition inspired by a nauseating song:

    It’s beginning to smell a lot like Krampus
    Everywhere you go
    Just look in the abandoned mall, aging boomers are starting to squall
    Armed with credit cards and silver smiles all aglow
    It’s beginning to smell a lot like Krampus
    Spoiled boomers raiding every store
    But the prettiest sight to see, is the birch switches that will be
    Making your behind sore!
    What’s that beneath the trees?
    I thought hoarding was a disease
    Outlined in the DSM-IV!
    Screens that will talk and robots that will walk
    Is the hope of Janice and Jen.
    With all the screaming from videos gleaming
    Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again
    It’s beginning to smell a lot like Krampus
    Everywhere you go
    There’s a drunk in the Grand Hotel, and one in the park as well
    The sturdy kind of wino that sleeps in his own yellow snow
    It’s beginning to look a lot like Krampus
    Soon the hell will start
    And the thing that will make it rise, comes from all the stuff you buy
    To fill up your empty heart
    It’s beginning to smell a lot like Krampus
    Soon the rot will start
    And the thing that will make it mold, is the greed that you all hold
    Right within your rotten heart
    It’s beginning to look a lot like Krampus, Krampus, Krampus, Krampus, Krampus

    On a more fun subject one more Cincy library note for now:

    JMG mentioned lodge libraries. One of the projects the catalog department has been involved in is a partnership with the main Masonic Lodge here in Cincinnati and we are gradually cataloging their collection. If you look up a book and it shows as being at the Cincinnati Masonic Library you could then make arrangements/appointments with them to go down and read it there, though I don’t think there material circulates. Besides all the volumes upon volumes of lodge histories and minutes from around the area and states near and far there are quite a number of esoteric titles, as well as older novels, and general educational works.

  163. @Will J,

    I only studied Japanese for two semesters, but I agree with what you’re saying, for what that’s worth.

    Japanese was an interesting lesson in how much a language encodes (as in represents, but also as in conceals) a view of the world. In English and other languages I’m passing familiar with, the verb is usually the “star” of the sentence. What matters is the action, what’s being done, with a supporting cast of who or what is doing it, and to what or whom, and in what manner, and so forth.

    Of course Japanese has verbs, but uses them as one of many ways to describe, primarily, conditions of being. In a Japanese sentence, it seems to me, the condition of being is usually the “star.” In your example: “(There is) reading.” “…Of a book,” is supporting cast. “By me,” is off in the wings, implicit if we’re already talking about me and, as you say, usually therefore omitted. You don’t need pronouns as much to talk about conditions of being.

    Translation and “conversational” language learning paves over those differences. Translating “sumimasen” as “excuse me” is roughly accurate if a standard social context is assumed, but the literal meaning “[there is something] unfinished [and, therefore, obligation]” is more revealing about the actual differences between those social contexts. (It’s so telling that explicitly stating the “there is” part—”desita”—makes the request or apology more formal.)

    I wanted to discuss this with my instructors, but they were native Japanese speakers, and I couldn’t convey the distinctions I was talking about to them in English. They were completely competent instructors, though. The field of academic linguistics should be different, and should be all about exploring and understanding such features of language. It’s sad to hear the people in it aren’t actually up to that task. I wonder if there’s some dogma (“all languages must ultimately be equivalent in every way,” perhaps) getting in the way.

  164. John, I won’t argue when you say “universities no longer provide a service worth the absurd fees they charge.” Frank Zappa sussed out the questionable correlation of education and “higher education” (while also speaking to the topic of this week’s post) when he said, “If you want to get drunk and laid, go to college. If you want to get an education, go the library.” That was four decades ago. One decade ago a friend opined that the internet, particularly in the age of handheld computers, had *substantially* reduced the relative value of academic expertise (a trend now reflected by understandably increasing suspicion of the gatekeepers and access media), and I see the dense, verbose, cluelessness which passes for education on a daily basis.

    For now I support all my local libraries, continually add books from the Goodwill and garage sales (pretty decent in a big university town) to my home library, and plan to stick one of those cute little lending library posts in my front yard to share the wealth.

    Keep up the good work! – Monster

  165. I haven’t had the time yet to read through every comment – I’m late to the party this week – so I hope I’m not repeating something another poster has written. There is a fine book about Krampus, “The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil” by Al Ridenour. More information about Krampus and his alter egos (Belsnikel for the PA Germans, for example) than you imagined possible, and the stunning photos alone are worth the cost of the book. Maybe your local library has a copy?

  166. My local library system, which I frequent once or twice a week, is the Sheridan County Public Library System in Wyoming. I believe it meets most and possibly all of the requirements listed by Beneaththesurface above. Part of the reason is that a large portion of the funding comes from a separate library mil levy on property taxes in the county. I’m not sure how much longer it will last, however, since more and more of the county population seems to consist of extreme conservatives who believe that no one should have to pay taxes for any reason at any time.

  167. @Violet,

    Mold on books is truly tragic, so I hope we can figure this out. I agree with JMG that we should look at the historical models.

    You probably know that historical buildings are very drafty by modern standards– that’s a plus in a cold climate, because cold air can’t hold much moisture. Add in wood heat, which draws immense amounts of air through a structure (especially with a fireplace. Doesn’t the archetypal library have a fireplace?) and the warm moist air coming out of human beings doesn’t stick around very long, so isn’t absorbed into the books. Then there’s that lovely wood paneling (Doesn’t the archetypal library have dark wood paneling wherever there aren’t books?) — it’s hydroscopic, which also helps, to a small degree, regulate humidity. Perhaps that’s all there was to it. I suspect there were many other subtle tricks to the architecture of actual libraries that help further, but I’m afraid I’ve no idea what they are.

    Oddly enough, I can’t find any reference to humidity control in ancient buildings other than articles about moderns trying to graft on HVAC systems with various degrees of success. Were we disgustingly wealthy I’d propose a fact-finding field trip to Old Europe. Perhaps one of JMG’s French or British readers could chime in with observations.

    I suspect but know not for certain that traditional rag paper is a bit less susceptible to molding than wood-pulp; I’m certain that that is true of parchment.

    Oh, and while I have your attention, dear Violet (apologies, JMG, for the off topic digression) — Steve T’s post reminded me of your comments some while back on the effectiveness of the Hexafoil vs. screen addiction. I find myself increasingly bewitched, locked onto the internet, reading, unable to disengage. Do you recommend scratching a hexafoil into the material of the offending laptop, or would it be sufficient to draw it? Or am I better off putting it on the screen as my wallpaper? (I have already tried JMG’s suggestion of placing a needle on the bottom of the machine to no avail.)

  168. What you’re really getting at here is carrying out an innocuous act of resistance, of cocking a snook at the central bureaucracies who deign to think they know what is best for everyone, without ever suggesting that people indulge in something that anybody could object to. I applaud that – every little helps – and have to say that I am surprised by the amount of feedback you’ve received – you’ve clearly touched on something that many people feel strongly about.

    On a slightly tangential note, I was listening to Dominic Frisby talking to Greg Moffett on ( about the role of taxation through the ages and he made a throwaway comment about the Romans being very accepting of all religions with the exception of druidism. Now I know about the Roman persecution of druids throughout Britain until their final extermination on Ynys Mon (modern day Anglesey), although I don’t really know why the Romans hated them so much or felt so threatened by them. Nevertheless, it made me wonder whether, even today, following a druidic path could be considered an act of resistance, simply because it’s not mainstream and promotes (however subtly) adherents to think for themselves and accept personal responsibility. Does that make any sense?

  169. Dear Nick Ritter, Mercea Eliade is unpopular? One of the best of 20thC intellectuals? How and when did that happen? As you can tell, I have been decades away from academic fashions. I was appalled when a relative graduated with honors in political science without ever taking a history course. That college program was little more than very expensive credentialing.

    When I was seven, my grandmother took me to the Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR, beautiful old 19thC marble building. I checked out and read Adam of the Road, my very first novel, or chapter book as they are now called. That began my lifetime fascination with history. Now, decades later, I find copies of old Newberry award winners on library discard piles. I do also like Christopher Robin and Toad, but the privileging of British childrens’ literature over the excellent American books of the mid 20thC is inexplicable; what are children’s librarians thinking?

  170. I almost forgot about -momentary lapse of reason- of the other libraries in Cincinnati. One that has quite a few alchemical texts, collections on homeopathy, and ample plant and herb lore. The Lloyd library established by John Uri Lloyd and his brothers. A home for the archives of Eclectic Medicine as well. I’ve been to a few events there, most notably the launch of a new edition of the New Art Tarot by Augustus J. Knapp and Manly P. Hall.

    “The Lloyd Library and Museum is a world renowned independent research library and exhibit space devoted to bringing science, art and history to life.

    Considered one of Cincinnati’s hidden treasures, the Lloyd Library and Museum was established by three brothers, John Uri, Nelson Ashley, and Curtis Gates Lloyd, pharmacists who manufactured botanical drugs in Cincinnati beginning in the late 19th century. The Library holds, acquires, preserves, and provides access to both historic and current books and journals, as well as archival materials, on a wide variety of disciplines, including:

    natural history
    scientific history
    visual arts

    The Lloyd Library and Museum is a privately funded not-for-profit institution, open to the public and free of charge.”

    It really is a treasure, and if I ever get more into the study of herbs and homeopathy I’ll know where to go for deeper research. Matthew Wood mentions the Lloyd in on of his books.

  171. @beneathTheSurface

    “Our central library closed for renovation a few years ago and will reopen next year. Guess what is being put in the children’s room? A slide! One that goes down a whole floor level too.”

    A slide? Are you kidding? Did anyone look into the potential liability for that? Because as sure as God made little green apples some little darling is going to hurt him/herself on that thing and your library is going to be looking at a lawsuit filed by irate parents.

    On a calmer note, our local library (courtesy of Andrew Carnegie also) still has a good supply of books both old and new though computers have made an inroad in one room. I donate unwanted and (sigh) duplicate books to the annual book sale and have noticed a few wind up on the library shelves which I don’t mind a bit. As long as someone gets use from them.

    The local recycling station is a dump off for more books. The majority are junk (I’ve seen at least three copies of the Twilight series – apparently they’re not keepers) but more than a few gems have shown up from time to time getting added to my own stacks. Muddling Towards Frugality was one. I’ve rescued more than a few vintage books. One is volume 2 of Healthy Living by Charles-Edward Winslow circ 1924 in excellent condition. While some of the info is dated, the majority of the material still stands up well almost a century later. And while I’m not a math whiz by any means, I find myself in the possession of old math books (library discards) dating from the 1930s and 40s, Calculus for the practical man etc. They would only get recycled so I yank them from recycling oblivion. Something to hone my aging brain on now that I’m retired perhaps but I suspect a lending library would be a better use for them than hoarding them like an old dragon. I shall mull it over…..

  172. Dear Duskshine,

    you raise good points! I’ve seed good private libraries maintained in spaces that were elevated above the first floor and had a good airflow. An issue though, is that these places also attract animals. I’ve seen a delightful little library of several thousand volumes kept in a barn in Massachusetts. The books were mold free, which I attribute to the elevation and airflow, but they were covered in mouse feces.

    It is my experience that books are rather fragile things that have a lot of moving parts — that is, pages!

    As for online use, that’s getting somewhat off topic I think, but yes, hexafoils might benefit in the ways you’ve mentioned. I’ve posted a much fuller response to my blog here with what steps I’ve found to be effective:

  173. Maybe not completely relevant but perhaps not completely out of place, either: 160,000 medieval manuscript pages from the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSL) have been digitized and put online, “a wealth of documents from Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Villanova, Swarthmore, and many more college and university libraries, as well as the American Philosophical Society, National Archives at Philadelphia, and other august institutions of higher learning and conservation.” The works include one called “Recipes and extracts on alchemy, medicine, metal-working, cosmetics, veterinary science, agriculture, wine-making, and other subjects”, in addition to many others.

  174. @ Teresa,

    Thank you for your advice. I’m at the library right now, and will ask before I head home.

  175. @ Kimberly,

    Thank you! I needed to here your “start small” advice. I’ve been worried about not being able to make “the jump” to being a small business owner, and you’ve helped me realize that I should be taking smaller steps, not jumping.

  176. JMG,

    On my way to the library (where I am typing this), I thought of a question you can probably help me with:

    As I build the collection for my occult reading room/library, how do I choose which books to include?

    I can easily enough find “the classics,” and could build a decent collection in the very few specialized occult fields of which I have a working knowledge, but beyond that I’m unsure. There are many occult subjects I’d like to include in the collection, but wouldn’t know which books in those subjects are worth including.

    Do you (or the commentariat) have any advice in this regard?


  177. Cliff, my suggestion? You get people interested in reading science fiction by encouraging gatherings, online and off, in which the vicious political struggles that have all but wrecked science fiction fandom are strictly excluded. (That means both sides: no Puppies, no SJWs.) You make use of a fine collection like that by making it available in a subscription library of the kind I’ve outlined, or in a membership library for a SF club in which political debate is not permitted. I think you’ll find that so many people are sick of the politics that a club that rules it out, and enforces that rule, will get plenty of interest.

    Sandy, thanks for this. The fair is a model that other community groups could certainly follow.

    Martin, yep. The design of the new downtown Seattle Public Library is similar enough that I’m pretty sure one of them was plagiarized from the other.

    Bryan, the school where I spent most of my elementary days, an “open concept” experimental school, had a big library into which students were not permitted except as part of a class. It had lots of books, all of which sat uselessly on the shelves. When we moved and I got to go to an ordinary elementary school for most of my 6th grade year, I was astonished to find that the library was open for an hour after school and I could go in and check out books. I thought I was in heaven. Thanks for the Vinge reference — I’d forgotten about that scene!

    Mark, that was the Jackson County library system in Ashland and Medford, back when there was a Jackson County library system — it closed when I was still living there, and if it’s reopened I haven’t heard of it. My guess is that they just weren’t too focused on providing services to the community…which is of course one of the reasons why it closed.

    Goedeck, I’m no fan of Harlequin romances either, but plenty of people do enjoy them, and they have as much right to their literary taste as you and I have to ours…

    MichaelV, interesting. Thanks for this.

    Brigyn, excellent! You get today’s Druidical seal of approval. 😉

    Chris, have you by any chance seen the manual released by the OSS, the US spy service from the Second World War, on how to sabotage organizations from within? It was declassified a while ago; you can download it from a link on this page. I’ve seen the behavior patterns outlined in it blow up so many organizations that I’ve wondered on occasion just how deliberate that might be…

    Millicently, good heavens, yes. Give the kids on your solstice list Newbery Award winners — I challenge any child who likes fantasy to read Kate Seredy’s The White Stag, just to name one of my faves, and not fall crazy in love with it. Rare books for adults are an option, but not the only one — rare books and fine editions don’t really interest me, for example, but there are many other choices for book giving.

    Bogatyr, yes. That’s called prefigurative politics: building an alternative to the existing order of things within the shell of the status quo, to show that it can be done, and to starve the status quo of public support and the consensus of opinion that makes it seem inevitable. As for whether that’s something I’ve been doing and/or trying to encourage others to do, sshhh! 😉

    Lathechuck, of course. That’s one of the principal goals of a reading room, and it can also become a goal for certain kinds of subscription libraries.

    Caryn, fair enough. The thing is, this is a subject about which a lot of liberals do get intensely uncomfortable. Liberalism has been adopted as the default political setting of the managerial class, you know, which is why nearly every liberal crusade over the last half century has worked out in practice to demanding the creation of a new bureaucracy with plenty of well-paid jobs for university graduates. Self-help used to be a central liberal value, but it’s gone missing in action in recent decades because it doesn’t support the narratives central to managerial class hegemony. That’s why pointing out the corruption and incompetence of experts, and proposing a grassroots alternative that people can organize themselves without managers to tell them what to do, is an explosive political act — far too explosive for a great many liberals today to contemplate without panic.

    Philip H, yeah, that’s pretty dismal. Ouch.

    Justin, thank you! That earns you today’s gold star.

    Monster, Zappa as usual knew what he was talking about!

    Beekeeper, thanks for this — I’ll check the library catalog promptly!

    Honyocker, might be worth seeing if the anti-tax brigade are open to reason on the subject of libraries — is there some other way of supporting libraries that they’d approve of?

    Hereward, oh, it’s far from innocuous. Control over information is essential to any authoritarian system, and as corporate liberalism goes more and more authoritarian — any insistence that only one point of view can be permitted in public discourse is authoritarian by definition — shutting off access to competing ideas will become more and more of a priority. What I’ve proposed is an end run around that.

    As for Druidry, yes, indeed it does. The Romans hated Druids because Druids were at the forefront of Celtic resistance to their conquests; now, it’s subtler, but the conflict is still there.

    Justin, I’m thrilled to hear that that’s still around! If I ever get to Cincy I’ll want to make a beeline for it.

  178. I recently moved back to the area of Cardiff where I grew up, and revisiting the local library (which I had fond memories of) found that it had been converted into some ghastly community-centre/media centre Frankenstein’s monster, and that only two rooms actually have books in them anymore, and not very many at that. An atmosphere of despair descends as soon as you enter. There’s a great big gymnasium space they can rent out for children’s birthday parties though. What joy.

    Cardiff apparently has a history with this. It managed to avoid the backwater status ascribed to the rest of Wales by rebranding itself in the 90s as a media hub, and built a whole bunch of houses that no one lives in. It must have all been built on massive debt, so the bill has to come due sometime.

    What’s known as The Old Library closed down in 1988, and has been doing almost nothing ever since. It’s now the home of the Cardiff Story Museum, which is mostly a waste of space but has a few video documentaries about working class struggles, so as if to discourage anyone from actually entering they built this giant glass box monstrosity on top of the entrance. Having watched Kunstler’s talk about how bad architecture ruined cities, I’m sure he would have many frothy words to say about it!,_Cardiff#/media/File:Cardiff_Story_entrance_(2).JPG

    This is one of the busiest streets in Cardiff, and I have never seen anyone actually go into this building.

    To pick up the slack, a new central library was built in 2007, a steel and glass modernist catastrophe where you have to go up two storeys just to get to the bleeding books. All of this directed by the local council, which begins to look very much like deliberate sabotage.

  179. Bogatyr,

    “We defeat the British Empire by ignoring it.”

    Cut to: they’re all in an English jail. 🙂

    The main thing that stuck with me from Michael Collins is that one of the fastest ways to lose is to act like you’ve aready won.

  180. As long as we’re sharing music for the holidays, let’s not forget Mother Perchta (aka Mother Berta and other names). She makes Krampus look like a piker. She steals a child from each village every day for the 12 Days of Christmas, carrying them off in a sack made out of skin. What happens to the children, nobody knows…

    So here’s a light-hearted jingle to remember her, sung to the tune of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.

    Mother Berta’s Coming to Town

    You better watch out when winter comes nigh
    you better not doubt, I’m telling you why,
    Mother Berta’s coming to town.
    She carries a sack made out of skin
    She dumps the toys out and stuffs the kids in!
    Mother Berta’s coming to town.

    She rides on a Master Skeggi
    A goat whose back is strong
    Her beard is gray and scraggly
    and her tail is ten feet long!

    With six or eight horns, a mustache or two,
    Make a mistake, she’s coming for you!
    Mother Berta’s coming to town.

    She knows with whom you’re sleeping,
    she knows with whom you wake
    She knows just what you’re thinking,
    So don’t think for Goddess’ sake!

    So when the winds howl way up in the sky,
    Listen as she and Skeggi pass by,
    Mother Berta’s coming,
    Mother Berta’s coming,
    Mother Berta’s coming to town!

  181. (I hope you will allow this, Mr. Greer.) A heads up for gardeners buying seed for 2020: Renowned seed merchant, Baker Creek Seeds, and Uprising Seeds, company of herbalist Richo Cech, are both maintaining “suspicious websites”. Now, I do still use Explorer and Windows 7, so maybe that explains it. Maybe. I think I might be ordering seeds by check through the mail this season.

  182. Wow. We lived 40 miles from Cincinnati and never knew the Lloyd library existed! If I get back there I’ll make sure to visit it.

  183. Before I moved here, faced with the need to unload more books than my four waist-high and about as long bookcases could hold, I hauled them down to the monthly meeting of the Albumen Science Fiction Society and left them on the giveaway table. They did tend to disappear quite rapidly.

  184. Another take on Mother Perchta:

    In the folklore of Bavaria and Austria, Perchta was said to roam the countryside at midwinter, and to enter homes during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (especially on the Twelfth Night). She would know whether the children and young servants of the household had behaved well and worked hard all year. If they had, they might find a small silver coin next day, in a shoe or pail. If they had not, she would slit their bellies open, remove stomach and guts, and stuff the hole with straw and pebbles.

    Then, she and Krampus would go out for a well-earned beer. OK, I made that last bit up. 🙂

  185. @Millicently Lurking:
    My most precious book most me EUR10 some years ago in a used bookstore in Germany. It is a tiny edition of Horace’s odes with commentaries in Latin on the borders, dedicated to the then heir to the throne Prince Henry, son of James I of England. I wonder how different the history of the British Isles would have been with a monarch slightly less boneheaded than Prince Henry’s brother on the throne…

  186. Job or cult?

    Note how passive these poor young employees are. Nobody quits, not even when Queen Bee fires the good manager who cares about them. Nobody complains to Wage and Hour. Nobody tips off a reporter. Nobody ambushes Queen Bee in the alley and beats the living [unDruidly word] out of her. Nobody contacts a labor lawyer. It’s as if they’re under a spell. Are they? What do our mages think?

  187. JMG and All,

    (1) Back in 2016 the voters in the City of Santa Cruz, Calif. approved a measure to renovate the main branch of the library. Months later, articles in the paper (yes, a paper newspaper) explained that city planners had decided that a combined parking garage and library would be a good thing! Needless to say, there was quite a bit of feedback given to the city council and planners by many concerned citizens, many of whom refer to the proposed monstrosity as the Taj Garage.

    Now, in the very last part of 2019, nothing has been built or renovated, but the planners are still trying to get the Garage/Library project approved. If they do indeed manage this,
    Jim Kuntsler may have to fly across the country to photograph it.

    The unrenovated main branch is still open, but is having problems with becoming an unsanctioned daytime shelter for the ever-increasing homeless population.

    (2) Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I lived in rural SW Missouri, where we were trying to grow as much food as we could. None of us had prior farming experience, so we relied on books, the County Extension Office, and our neighbors for the needed information.

    Not long after we got started, we somehow came to the attention of a small mail-order book lending/sales operation called Earthbooks Lending Library. They offered us a chance to become a regional branch, and we became the Ozarks Branch. We luckily had enough money to get some inventory of books to start with. As I remember, there was a fairly small fee to join the library. Apon recipt of the money, we mailed the list of all the books we carried. People could rent (25 cents/month/book) and send them back to us, or they could buy them.

    The system worked very well. Hardly anybody kept the books without paying for them. In addition to helping other people, it gave us a very small income and a great variety of books on gardening, animal care, hay-making, composting systems, building solar greenhouses and water heaters, insulating houses, and much more.

  188. Regarding old library designs, particularly to Dusk Shine and Violet but perhaps of general interest:
    I recall that Vitruvius had some comments on library design in The Ten Books on Architecture (which, incidentally, might be found useful for a variety of projects using ancient technology). Taking a quick look in my copy (a translation by Morris Hicky Morgan, PH.D., LL.D.), the only thing I’m finding is this:
    “Bedrooms and libraries ought to have an eastern exposure, because their purposes require the morning light, and also because books in such libraries will not decay. In libraries with southern exposures the books are ruined by worms and dampness, because damp winds come up, which breed and nourish the worms, and destroy the books with mould, by spreading their damp breath over them.”
    There may be more elsewhere in it, though. And of course there may well be adaptions needed for local climates, and Vitruvius isn’t necessarily _right_ about everything even in areas familiar to him. But a potentially useful resource, I think.

  189. On the original post: Krampus is called “Knecht Ruprecht” in the part of Germany I know, and still present in songs, though I have never seen him represented live. The German Christmas Market here in Quebec, though, has a lifesize silhouette of Knecht Ruprecht, scary enough for the children.

  190. Someone, oh my. What fun! Thank you.

    Alexander, hmm! That’s a worthwhile theme for an upcoming post. I do have some suggestions, but a little time and thought will be wanted.

    Llewellyn, that’s really sad. Still, I happen to know — via some research I’ve been doing for a novel — that Wales used to have a lot of subscription libraries of the sort I’ve sketched out in this post. Since I suspect you’re far from the only person disappointed by the destruction of the Cardiff library system, why not see if you can get together enough people and enthusiasm to found a subscription library, with plenty of books in Welsh and English alike?

    Sgage, thank you. That’s a good one. Cue my favorite Solstice carol:

    Said the night-gaunt to the little dhole
    “Do you fear what I fear?
    Lurking in the night, little dhole,
    Do you fear what I fear?
    A voice, a voice, rising from the sea
    And it sounds like ‘Tekeli-li!’
    It sounds like ‘Tekeli-li!'”

    Said the little dhole to Nyarlathotep,
    “Do you flee what I flee?
    Herald of the dark Great Old Ones,
    Do you flee what I flee?
    A form, a form, hideous and dread,
    With an octopus for a head,
    With an octopus for a head.”

    Said Nyarlathotep to the Great Old One,
    “Do you know what I know?
    In your palace damp, Great Old One,
    Do you know what I know?
    A cult, a cult, chanting to the deep,
    They will wake the Old Ones from sleep,
    They will wake the Old Ones from sleep.”

    Said the Great Old One to the human race,
    “I am Great Cthulhu!
    Quake with fear, puny human race,
    I am Great Cthulhu!
    A time, a time, when the stars are right
    I will plunge this world into night,
    I will plunge this world into night!”

    Nastarana, I suspect that sites that don’t belong to big corporations will be being slapped with that label increasingly often as things proceed. I wonder if you’d get better results with a less corporate browser, though.

    Your Kittenship, that’s par for the course at these modern, hip, cutting-edge firms. They dispense with all that old-fashioned claptrap about fairness and decent treatment.

    Judy, thanks for both of these. The Santa Cruz debacle is par for the course; the lending library by mail is fascinating — that might still be a workable model.

    Matthias, I get the impression that Krampus has quite a range of names. Does anyone know why “Ruprecht”? Correct me if I’m wrong, but iirc that’s an ordinary personal name, the equivalent of the English name Rupert.

  191. I live a short drive from two small libraries, the Wilder Memorial Library in Weston, Vermont, and the Whiting Library in Chester. Both are dignified 19th century buildings, the Wilder Library was the home of Judge Wilder in the early 1800’s and the Whiting Library was built in the 1890’s; both feature the kind of architectural beauty that nobody builds anymore, lots of fine wood, gorgeous mouldings. There are computers, but because both buildings are smallish, there isn’t a lot of room for the technical stuff. Interlibrary loans are available and the Whiting Library has a sale room dedicated to donated books, the proceeds of which help support the library. Lots of interesting stuff there.

    Since the mid-1980’s my husband and I have sponsored children through a well-known organization, always a little girl (our choice; we have three sons of our own so it’s a nice change) and always from Appalachia. We are matched up with a child when that child is in kindergarden or first grade and continue to support her until she graduates high school, then we get a new child. We give every little girl we have sponsored her own copy of “Anne of Green Gables”, the entire “Little House” series, “The Cabin Faced West” and an assortment of the Betsy/Tacy stories by Maude Hart Lovelace for birthdays and Christmases. None of these books is recently written or trendy and so far each of our girls has been pleased to read them.

    Also: I have only ordered from Richo Cech’s website called Strictly Medicinal for herb seeds and plants, I didn’t know he had another site. Haven’t noticed a problem with it, at least not yet.

  192. Our local library is okay but small, which means I need to rely on interlibrary loans fairly heavily (which I have tended to do in other places as well anyway.) In my experience it has always been a free service by which it was possible to obtain just about any book I could conceive of wanting to read. I agree that it is a different experience from browsing through a section of a well-stocked library’s shelves, but it is better than having to buy every book I want to read. I used the service massively when I homeschooled my kids last year. My son taught himself how to fish with books he got at the library, and the other day I noticed ‘Hunting Whitetail’ in his backpack from the school library, so perhaps that’s next for him! Recently our provincial government cut the funding for interlibrary loans, but after many local people including me raised a fuss, our library and many others in the region decided to bring it back by funding it out-of-pocket. Books are now sent via Canada Post for a nominal fee as opposed to by library truck. I try to make a donation to our library every time I go there in the hopes that this will be a sustainable alternative.

    I’m in a bit of an odd situation at the moment. The two librarians at our local library, who are both awesome people and good friends of mine, also happen to be fellow church members. There are certain titles of occult literature that I would love to read but don’t dare to request, as doing so would certainly raise a few eyebrows and then some. I question whether I’m being authentic in this situation, although for the most part I have accepted that the part of me that is interested in the occult has to stay, well, hidden from just about everyone I know. To me, the Bible is a story of inner development packed full of occult insights, but obviously the church doesn’t share that point of view. At any rate, I’ve had to resort to buying some occult titles that I haven’t been able to get through the library. I would love to discover an occult reading room, perhaps hidden away in a used bookshop, accessed by code word and secret doorway in a dimly-lit back corner, although that might be getting a bit romantic of me. A mail-based occult subscription service would also do the trick. For me it would have to be based in Canada, so if anyone else is thinking along those lines…

    As one last aside, for Christmas I bought for my kids the White Stag, the Secret Garden and the Once and Future King. If you or anyone else has any other suggestions of favorite stories for the 8-11 year old crowd, it would be greatly appreciated.

  193. I’ve been contemplating this post a lot these last two days. Despite all my criticisms of the public library system where I work, my feelings towards it are complicated.  One aspect I do value about the public library is that it’s a rare place where people of all economic classes gather and use resources.  For those with limited finances, it can be a real lifeline to access so many books and resources (even if I wish there could be more).

    But as institutional bureaucracy becomes more insane and stymies quality services in a lot of places, grassroots alternatives become more appealing, and unlike certain liberals, I’m more open-minded about alternatives outside of government bureaucracy.  If down the line I were to become involved with starting a community reading center, I would be interested in one that did not just cater to middle and upper class populations. I imagine that one of the knee-jerk criticisms of some that have devoted their careers to these institutions is that you’re excluding the poor.  But if one developed a model that low-income folks were actively using too, I think that could be very powerful story and counter the assumption that  the only way to provide accessible services to people of differing financial means is through absurdly bureaucratic institutions.

    (I think about a lot of these questions in regards to schooling too.  By and large, I am critical of the public school system in many ways, even though I know a few teachers here and there that do good work and  some initiatives within them that are promising.  I also identify with various alternatives to mainstream schooling, such as Waldorf schools and homeschooling.  Most people I know who can afford to send their children to Waldorf schools come from middle to upper class families, however. What alternatives to mainstream schooling are being or can be developed within low-income communities?)

    In regards to libraries, one big advantage that a grassroots-run library has is that it could provide a lot of the same services for a fraction of the finances (and energy and resources) that a governmental bureaucracy does.  It could allow for collection development from mostly used and donated books (contrast our library, where only new books can be added to the collection). The furniture and computers could be used or donated or salvaged (only new furniture and computers are added at our public library). It would focus primarily on physical resources, and not worry about paying for digital resources (such as e-books that publishers only allow a certain number of checkouts before requiring to pay for them again, or various library apps and other digital content). It could be mostly or all volunteer-run, eliminating the expense of salaries (no six-digit salaries of lots of careerist-minded administrators, no six digit salaries of the “Strategic Planner” or “Customer Service Specialist” or “Library Appearance Coordinator” or the many “human resources” staff), the biggest part of the public library budget.  And of course, we also wouldn’t be wasting millions of dollars tearing down functioning buildings to build entirely new (and much uglier) libraries.

    So while it wouldn’t benefit from taxpayer money, it could run much, much more frugally, and therefore could be much more sustainable over the long run, and more resilient during recessions when government budgets are often forced to tighten.

    Imagine this future scenario: In a city all that the government is able to support is a media center where there is intermittent Internet connection, a paltry collection of books, five broken 3-D printers, and several disgruntled staff, plus it is only open for three days a week, and only half the day. But, there’s a grassroots-run community library down the street that is open most days of the week, which has a large and diverse collection of books, is an inviting and cozy pace, has friendly & knowledgeable & well-read librarians and volunteers assisting you, and doesn’t have to worry about advocating for an adequate share of government funding during a a serious economic crisis. Which is more promising?  Where will people, both poor and better off, who want to read books flock to? Probably the second option.

  194. @Me: I *typed* Albuquerque. How it came out “Albumen* makes me wonder if there’s a gremlin in my hard drive. Sorry, folks!

  195. It’s awfully strange to me (I’m actually mildly horrified) when I hear about head librarians putting tons of books in rubbish bins. It doesn’t sound right – like doctors killing people. In their own way, they are the guardians or druids of our culture. Something deeper is happening here I really think, even if there seems on the surface a prosaic reason for their actions. Books are so fundamental as to how we regard ourselves as a society.

  196. @Violet,

    Thank you for the link! I’ll say no more off topic.

    On topic, you know, now that I think of it — how often does the archetypal Victorian library have a cat snoozing on a plush chair by the fireplace? When I close my eyes and picture “Library”, puss is there. Unfortunate for any of your subscribers who happen to be allergic.

    Now, I’ve had mice, and no problem with the books. I’ve heard time and again that they love to gnaw on paper… but not one little nibble here. Not sure why, but I’m grateful! I’d be a lot more energetic about getting rid of my extra roommates if they did.

  197. All these eldritch non-Xmas carols are making me laugh. Keep them coming!

    JMG, if those young people at that luggage place thought this was just the way a job is, that explains why they did nothing. A pity they’ll never know how hard their great- and great-great grandparents fought evil bosses like Queen Bee.

  198. Dear JMG,

    In regards to the mail order lending library, I forgot to mention how we became known by other homesteaders, as we called ourselves back in the day. We ran a few small, plain ads in “Mother Earth News,” which was a much better magazine then than now, IMHO; we also had ads in “Countryside and Small Stock Journal” which ran really informative and helpful articles and had a wonderful editorial called “Beyond the Sidewalks” in each issue. I haven’t seen an issue of “Countryside” for some decades, but it is still around.

    Some of our customers came to visit our place, which facilitated the sharing of knowledge and led to many interesting discussions. A few of them didn’t stay long when they learned that we expected them to help us with the work…


  199. JMG,

    I like the ideas for preserving libraries that you’ve given. As with other things you’ve discussed, a variety of approaches is good. My wife and I have an extensive home library with books of many genres. We are consciously expanding it. This has been a deeply thought-provoking post.

    The library system in the City of Spokane is also crumbling. My local branch, within walking distance and one of the reasons we bought this home 24 years ago, has been gutted. The nonfiction area is about 30% full. Books get sold or otherwise purged. All sales are at the Main Downtown branch, which has been nearly impossible to visit due to various road and Riverfront Park construction projects nearby for 2 years. I’ve chatted with one of the young librarians at the local branch, a young lady who started as a shy teenager and has grown into a competent and friendly librarian and mother of 2. She has told me that if a book hasn’t been checked out for a year, it’s purged. The librarians hate it, but it’s the managers, just as you discussed.

    There was a recent bond issue to “improve” the City libraries. It passed with 65% yes vote. The “improvements” will include more meeting rooms, enlarged children areas and children activities, and a coffee purveyor with food and seating. More computers, too, of course. I’ve had a library card in Spokane for 51 years, ever since I turned 8. This was the first library issue I voted against. My branch’s renovation will start later this month.

    This evening I rode the bus home with a young man who works in the Main Downtown branch, which will be closed for 2 years as of January 1 for its rebuild. He said that these changes also were demanded by the public. The librarians want books, but have been told to cater to what the public demands. The demand has been for the changes they’re making.

    The County library system will allow City residents to use it for free. I’ll be looking into that next week.

    Interestingly, the library and book debacle was foreseen many years ago by Isaac Asimov. When I was 9, my parents gave me a THICK Readers Digest book full of children’s stories. I still have it. One of the stories is Asimov’s “The Fun They Had”, in which some future children find a real book. It appears to be public domain and can be found here:


  200. Mr Greer,

    As to the Jackson County Library system it remains a viable institution. The outcry when it was closed brought all of us book lovers out of our musty studies and to the meeting rooms where a great noise was raised. Now operated by a private corp but still county funded it provides a fairly good collection to the locals. There are 14 branch libraries and the mother ship. Yes the usual ‘modernization’ is sneaking in (particularly at the main branch in Medford) but there are enough readers still alive to demonstrate a need for books. (By the way, I had a library card long before I had an Oregon driver’s license. After all, what’s important is what’s important.)

    I do not know if donated books ever make it into the stacks but there is a well organized bookstore. I have also observed some folks looking through the donated books with the intention of liberating those worth saving (or reselling). At first I was angered by such outright theft but after some thought I have come to the conclusion that anyway a valued book is saved is OK by me.

    Regards, Aged Spirit

  201. Regarding low-tech solutions for dehumidifying libraries in the long descent when we can’t be running mechanical HVAC systems:

    One thing I have noticed is that many Victorian era libraries had books stored in cabinets with glass doors. I suppose this was to keep out dust, but wouldn’t that restrict air flow around the books encouraging mildew?

    Another puzzle for me is whether slip cases would extend or shorten the life span of books in humid conditions. I only see them for fine edition-type books, and they certainly provide an additional layer of protection, but what concerns me is mold taking root inside if there is a bit of humidity.

  202. Dear Nastarana,

    I was appalled as well to learn of how Professor Eliade was being treated in academia. What made it worse was that the professor who was interviewing me had been one of Eliade’s students.

    The issue seemed to be Prof. Eliade’s (potential) connections to the Romanian Iron Guard when he was a student. This apparently negated the worth of everything that he had done since. I found this often in academia, and I do hope that our host will discuss it in a future post: a reason is always fabricated to turn the ideological weapon of “cancel culture” against anyone whose ideas are radically at odds with current political orthodoxy. I suspect it serves to get the great thinkers out of the way, lowering the bar so that the mediocre academics don’t need to try so hard to make tenure.


  203. Stefania – I am also intrigued by the idea of a Canadian-based occult library. I live in the very conservative rural prairies and am very, very quiet about certain personal interests. Count me in if you know of a group trying to set up such a thing. Also, may I suggest the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix for your young readers. New-ish but has never been fashionable as far as I know, and one of my childhood fantasy favourites. Also Madeleine L’Engle (esp. Swiftly Tilting Planet) and Diane Duane (So you want to be a wizard)

  204. Speaking of good libraries, I requested your Weird of Hali series by interlibrary loan. To my surprise, when they finally came I found out they had bought all books in the series I requested. So far they have the first five. I see no reason why they won’t buy the last two! I’m pretty sure its the only library in New Jersey with that many.

  205. Hi Patricia,

    You probably had spellcheck on; even if you turn it off, it will sneakily turn itself on again at random intervals.

    So. Do they still have the big belly dance festival, Shake and Bake, down there in Albumen, New Mexico? 😄

  206. JMG: “Irena, fair enough. How many times a week would you use such a reading room?”

    Good question! Probably once a week for a few hours. That’s my tentative answer. I live alone, so I can read at home with no disruptions. But I like a change of scenery every once in a while. Some coffee shops are nice for that sort of thing, but you need to buy something once an hour at the very least, and given my current budget, I cannot justify the expense! So, a quiet reading room with comfortable chairs that I could use for a fraction of the cost would be very nice.

    @Will J (Re: linguistics)

    I think what you describe may (at least in part) be a consequence of American domination in modern scholarship. In some fields, such domination is not a problem, but when it comes to languages, well, let’s just say Americans aren’t exactly famous for multilingualism… (Yes, I know, there are exceptions. I even know a few myself, and some of those exceptions are highly impressive. Generally speaking, though…) So, monolingual people publish books about language, and then those books get read by other monolingual people, and some mistakes become entrenched.

    I’ve noticed the same sort of phenomenon in the language learning sphere (not to be confused with theoretical linguistics). Everything from EdD’s writing about foreign language acquisition to polyglot blogs and YouTube channels. Well, these platforms are dominated by native English speakers, and when native English speakers think about foreign languages, the first thing they think of are foreign vacations, which don’t exactly call for a high level of proficiency. (Yes, yes, yes, I know, there are exceptions. And that’s precisely what they are: exceptions.) So, these people push methods that may be suitable for meeting their rather low expectations, but are, shall we say, less than entirely adequate if you want to use a foreign language in any sort of professional setting. Oh, well.

  207. JMG
    Your own story is a good example. Despite the adverts, personal life is often painful in our societies and having such ‘havens’ or ‘glades’ in the public realm is a great blessing. I have come across these places in Britain, happily including some special spaces for children. Welcome indeed!
    But … just yesterday’s headline: ‘Britain has closed almost 800 libraries since 2010’ Annual survey shows sharp [govt.] cuts to local authority funding have led to the loss of 17% of branches, alongside sharp staff and funding shortfalls …
    May your thoughtful suggestions, as it were, flow from the ground in many places! There is a very deep well if we did but know it.
    Phil H

  208. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks for the read. Incidentally it read like a nightmare to me. Pages 32 to 36 were a real eye-opener. Anyway, you may wonder why I work with small business these days – they are the exact opposite of such instructions.

    Just for your info, I met someone at a small group a few years back, and they displayed many of those qualities. At the time, my brain suggested to me that they were of a law enforcement background, but I had no real idea why i though that.

    Fascinating, and also very disturbing that such documents are freely available.



  209. OMG, a fascinating discussion of Japanese linguistics among Will J and others! I just have to dive in. Japanese doesn’t have pronouns in the sense that western languages do. It didn’t really need them until they started translating literature from abroad, and there were all these pronouns hanging around mysteriously. For “it” the closest they have translates back as “that.” My students have a hard time picking up on the concept of pronouns as a grammatical tool. Japanese makes the grammatical function of any part of a sentence explicit (and Slavic languages do this too), whereas English relies on word order, so everything has to be in place for it to make any sense, and that gets unwieldy if you don’t use pronouns.
    Where we would say “I,” a lot of people here in Japan will use their own name under certain circumstances, and where they choose a pronoun, they have a dozen or so to choose from, each a statement of how the person perceives him/herself. The most neutral of the bunch, “watashi,” translates basically as “I, middle of the road, not very feminine, not trying to encroach, can be formal if needed.” A doctor I knew used the boyish “boku” to put his patients at ease. Second and third person pronouns are likewise loaded with nuances and have to be used with caution. Skillful verb choice (degree of politeness) often clarifies the elided subject of a sentence.
    I haven’t gotten very far into Thai yet, but I’ve noticed very similar phenomena with their personal pronouns. Girls, for example, might choose [rising tone] “nu” (mouse) to refer to themselves.
    In reading one of the Harry Potter books in Japanese, the most fascinating thing for me was the translator’s choice of first person pronoun for each of the wildly divergent characters.

  210. @beneath the surface:

    In our small town in WY, most families homeschooled. They often banded together, (a few families, up to say, 5 families at a time) to have collective lessons or study groups, and often met at the town library. This may be exactly what you were getting at? That the two ideas, homeschooling and subscription libraries, could support each other in a symbiotic relationship?

    Also, book-clubs. I don’t think I’ve lived anywhere wherein book-clubs weren’t a popular way for friends/acquaintances to get together for an evening discussing a book, drinking a little wine, chatting the night away.

  211. @JMG, regarding books as shielding against radiowaves, I haven’t really gotten out and measured the degree of shielding they provide. One friend has bookshelves crammed with books from floor to ceiling on the wall outside which there is a smart meter and speculates it has prevented that from being a problem for him. But I set a Gaussmeter to record outside near that meter for an hour or so and did not get any high readings, so it was not a very active meter anyway. I found some degree of attenuation in a bamboo forest that was heavily irradiated from the outside. Forests in general are good, but in desiccated form I’m not so sure. A good layer of books would probably block the higher frequencies, which are the most worrisome.
    If the foil and the books are not enough, I can add a sheer curtain over them and fashion a cover to partially block the radiation from the smart meter.
    Another use of books that has been noted in earthquake-prone Japan, is to put them in boxes a foot and a half or so high, lined up by where you sleep (on the floor here) so that in the event of an earthquake, they are not crushed by falling beams and other structural members, and create a safe space where you sleep. Also they burn poorly. With a little creative stitchery, the boxes can provide a handy seat or backrest.

  212. @Lady Cute Kitten:

    I read your ‘Away’ article, it was very familiar to me! LOL. This is precisely how working in film has ALWAYS been: round the clock work, for low or at the very least very incommensurate pay and getting yelled at by some megalomaniac director or producer until you break. Come to think of it, a lot of fashion houses work like this also. Yes, it’s kind of cult-like. It’s always a job for a starry-eyed young person, because older workers know better and won’t put up with it. Younger professionals feel like 1) they have to pay their dues and 2) they have loads of energy and focus, 3) they’re just so excited to be ‘allowed’ to work on such a glamorous brand or project, (massive street cred at cocktail parties – if they can ever get to those parties); so the company exploits that to the max. They know they’ll lose good employees often.

    Some of these companies – they don’t care because new fresh young eager fodder graduate from college with the same starry-eyed naivete every year. They know because of this, their customers will always be underserved and they cannot fulfil the company’s promises to them – they don’t care, because when the business inevitably falls apart, they’ll declare Chapter 11 and just go start up some other crash-tastic product line. They also know their luggage is not a “lifestyle”, it’s still just hawking luggage – nothing very out of the ordinary. It’s all hype. It’s all very PT Barnum.

    & Young Millennials who see through this and won’t take the abuse are called slackers without any work ethic.

    SOME companies/start-up CEO’s, OTOH do this but not intentionally – they’ve bought into the hype themselves but they want their business to succeed. That’s what my husband does, Business Process Outsourcing/Consult. He goes in to distressed companies, analyzes their process and culture and fixes their problems. the kicker is: It’s almost always employee morale, (& pay). How shocking, right? If you pay people decently and treat them like valuable members of the team, they do more work readily than if you treat them horribly and underpay. The company ACTUALLY makes more money. When will people learn?

  213. @JMG: “… Liberalism has been adopted as the default political setting of the managerial class, you know…”

    I call this managerial class the kudzu-class because like kudzu, they smother and strangle everything they latch onto and feed off of; & They don’t seem very picky about which ideology or trend they’re latching onto. It’s probably an elderly eccentricity of mine and risks getting into a purity contest, but I can’t see them as actual Liberals.

    But yes, I think post social revolutions of the 1960’s, “we won”. Social liberalism, (at least in name and mouthpiece) has become the default, the accepted establishment ideology and a lot of us old Boomers have trouble accepting that we are not the gritty young rebels anymore. We are “The Man”. I still believe in liberal ideologies, & I blame the kudzu-class for glomming onto our ideals to feed.

    I see the same in merchanting, (if that is a word?) – as I described in my response to Lady Cute Kitten about the ‘Away’ business trend. – Hey! Maybe that is what “Neo-Liberal” economics actually is all about?

  214. @Will J,
    You can tell I read through the comments backwards, coming in every couple of days and working back up to where I left off.
    What an utterly shocking experience you describe in that linguistics class…good grief! I haven’t been back to academia since 1984–35 years ago–good heavens where did the time go? I studied linguistics at the masters level before coming to Japan, at the University of Michigan, which was one of the top schools in that subject then. The curriculum and teachers gave me deep insights into languages as a human phenomenon, that enhanced my ability to learn them and teach them. It was valuable and worth the time and money.
    Recently what I’ve heard out of American academia has been less than inspiring. I work with professors in Japan and have a positive impression of them, so maybe it is just America going bat-substance crazy. I am amazed once again at just how shockingly lucky I have been to adapt to and be accepted in a society that still possesses maturity and decency.

  215. I am writing this from Brazil. Together with all problems, libraries — specially in schools — have an extra incentive to discard old books: spelling reforms. The last standard entered in mandatory use for new books in 2016. There is a tendency retire from school libraries all non-compliant books.

    Books are also very expensive. Federal minimum salary is R$ 998 (US$ 239), and as far as I know there is no minimum hourly wage. Books tend to follow their international prices. And the Brazilian currency, called real, has been falling, making books ever more expensive (the used market usually lags to change prices, making it a more attractive option).

    Postal service is very unreliable for international shipments without tracking. I have lost several books without tracking, that never were delivered. Tracked shipments from the US cost $26, and on top of it, a R$ 15 totally-not-tax (created to discourage purchases from China) is charged for international shipments.

    Then, there is the price of bus fares to access libraries. I believe in more or less the whole country, one travel by bus costs about R$ 5 — R$ 10 to also come back home. This is the price for internal tracked shipments for average books.

    My personal interest in occultism, that colors my personal library, is not exactly viewed with good eyes here. As far as I know, there is a lot less tolerance for this in Brazil, compared to the US, from the Christians. There is a strong African religious presence in the country. Crossroads workings are very common, and people are not very fond of these. “Bring back your love” ads are often found glued in bus stops.

    With ever higher prices for imported books, which most of the local population would not be able to read — not to speak of the Portuguese books that many locals also can’t read, because functional illiteracy reaches 39% of the Brazilian population — the incentive to open a private library is quite low. The corporate and austerity friendly government, is also not helping to improve education, with several cuts in the area happening.

    And I mentioned aversion to occultism before. I am not very fond of the idea of having my books, myself, my house, and my cats burned by an angry mob. So… yeah, things look a bit bleak from here.

    But that is normal, I guess. Collapse means shedding what can’t be sustained; as in “not my job first”, “books I do not like” are natural targets. Given enough effort, the entire process of writing can be lost. If it was not for the very unlikely Rosetta stone finding, all Egyptian text would have been lost, even being physically available.

    My advice for people wanting to have books, library or not, is to buy them yesterday. Purges, prices and library collapse will make books very rare in the future. Do you know that paper can be used to start and maybe maintain fires? I weep for what will happen with the Internet Archive book collection when Internet, or only the site, goes under.

    I had to wait until today to finally calm down and be able to write this, because the seething anger of contemplating the situation was consuming me. Books are the center of my life; work is something I do to pay the bills and books.

    Apologies for this incoherent rant, I’m mad as hell and I only know things will get worse.

  216. I just gave my grandson The Once & Future King, having scored it off the “not-supposed-to-be-but-is” freebie table in the mailroom. (I also scored an all-cotton hand-quilted quilt some old resident was unloading – in excellent shape and now adorning my bed.

    It’s an indictment of this place that the housekeepers are under *orders* to put anything they see on those tables in the trash, no matter how useful of valuable, because the tables are supposed to be kept clear at all times. I do hope the housekeeping staff rescues whatever they can use and stashes it in their car ASAP. I know one of them does; I saw her doing it and gave her a big smile and a thumbs-up. So these things were rescues as well!

    P.S. the book, a mass market paperback, had a cover that made it seem like an erotic romance, and a big blaring “CAMELOT” across the front cover. I told Caden to ignore the cover.

  217. @ Stefania

    Book recommendations:
    “The Phantom Tollbooth”
    The Melendy Family books
    The Rescuers books
    “Watership Down”
    Freddy the Pig stories by Walter R Brooks
    “The Cricket in Times Square” (G. Selden)
    Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books and his other young adult stories
    “Five Children and It” (E. Nesbitt)
    “Half Magic” (E. Eager)

    All these hold special places in my heart (and most of them on my shelves still!).

  218. Dear Beekeeper, Mr. Cech, only has one website; I was looking at vegetable seeds. I ordered the free catalogue and will probably order from Uprising by mail. Uprising is not the cheapest company around, but it offers things no one else has and you are supporting good people doing good work.

    Dear Stephania, books for the 8-11 group: The Trumpeter of Crakow, Adam of the Road, King of the Wind, The Wheel on the Schoolhouse, the works of Jack Kjelguard for outdoorsy boys in particular. Johnny Tremaine if you don’t object to a theme from American history; Johnny is the apprentice of Paul Revere. Also The Chronicles of Prydain or anything else by Lloyd Alexander. Avi is another contemporary writer who is producing good children’s books.

  219. JMG, slightly off topic, but are there good references for the Druid resistance to Rome? I know that Diviacus was a “friend of Caesar”, but that may have been under the “keep your friends close, your enemies closer” rubric. I’ll do some research, but if you have a particular favorite recommendation, I’m interested. I’ve always thought the Anglesey slaughter had more to it.

    On topic, I have at least a thousand volumes, and no way to expand. I’m looking at ways to set up a community library, and get ready. I’ve heard dozens of examples of books being trashed or thrown away, from over the country. Scriptoriums that have a small press, can do hand made stuff too (sacred?), preserve and repair books, and also teach, might be the way to go.

  220. A few thoughts on a most delectable subject – JMG, it makes great sense that you’ve pulled in around you so many others who love books and libraries 🙂

    On the problem of humidity, a fireplace or wood stove works in cold and damp climates. Now to come up with a low-tech solution that works in warm and damp ones! Perhaps Southeast Asia has something to teach us if we don’t already find the answer in the southeast part of the US.

    I have the benefit of one of California’s 37 remaining Carnegie libraries (out of an original 142). It’s a beautiful building that’s been added on to (not too awkwardly). I’ve not bothered to check on its financials, but it seems to remain committed to keeping books, though it does have a “makerspace” in the addition part (previously unused, awkward basement area) and I was able to use their woodshop to make my chicken run fenceposts. I get interlibrary loans now and then (and we’re linked to the greater metropolitan library system, so those books are available as well. Anyway, just chiming in with a status update so we know not all is sliding downward (at the same rate).

    One thing that might be of interest to those looking to set up a reading room, the “anticafe,” where patrons pay for time increments in the space – but beverages and snacks are provided free of charge. Make a space beautiful and comfortable and worth hanging out in and that might help bolster the membership library (where one feeds the soul, not the body).

    Since we’ve got great library options here (including a university library), and since I’m not sure this is where my family and I will (or want to) stay much longer, I’ll just daydream about the library/reading-room/gathering-space/used-book haven for now.

  221. JMG, I think you are attracting the right sort of commentators to your blog!

    On a tangent (as usual), old books and new books aren’t the same.

    Books from the previous century (1900- maybe 1980) tend to be entirely black and white, and be quite comprehensive. Recent books frequently have lavish full-color pictures taking up entire pages, and lots of white space around some small blocks of text.

    This is quite dramatic in craft and cooking books. An “Encyclopedia of Needlework” from the 1940s is possibly an inch thick. It contains instructions for knitting, crochet, various sorts of sewing and embroidery… a practical book. (my standard pattern for men’s knit socks comes from this source.) In contrast, Sally Melville’s “The Knit Stitch” (2002) is a very oversized paperback with lots of pictures, and an extensive variety of garments that you can knit without ever learning to purl. It is technically very interesting, but if I only had money or shelf space for one, I’d go with the “Encyclopedia.”

    There are similar trends in cookbooks, with the heavily-illustrated and specialized volumes replacing the practical generalist books like “Fanny Farmer” or “The Joy of Cooking.”

    I don’t know how this plays out in the selection of books for a library. It seems a lot more books would be needed to capture the same amount of information.

  222. Lady Cutekitten – I don’t know about Shake’n’Bake, but they do still have a lively belly-dancing scene there. Been out of it for some time, between lack of car and lack of energy, but there are some at Albuqerque’s Pagan Pride Festival as a matter of course.

  223. @Stefania

    At that age, I devoured the Andrew Lang color fairy books, and had an inordinate fondness for the children’s stories of George MacDonald: At the Back of the North Wind, The Golden Key, The Light Princess, The Day Boy and the Night Girl, The Princess and the Goblin…

  224. Sgage, thank you!

    Beekeeper, those sound very pleasant.

    Stefania, that’s one of the reasons why I think the occult reading room is an idea whose time is about to return. It’s still necessary for many of us to remain quiet about our interest in esoteric spirituality, and a quiet reading room in some easily accessible part of town would do that for many people.

    Beneaththesurface, those are all important issues. A community subscription library could seek donors for a youth scholarship program — basically, “if we raise X amount of money anybody under 18 can become a member for a sharply reduced fee — or partner with a community group such as a church to make its services more accessible to the poor. I’m sure there are other options as well, but that’s one that comes immediately to mind.

    Naomi, I won’t argue at all. When library administrators are ordering the destruction of dumpster-loads of books, something very significant is happening, and that needs to be brought out into the open, discussed…and stopped in its tracks.

    Your Kittenship, the only reason they’ll never know is that those who remember aren’t telling them. Help get the word out!

    Judy, thanks for this!

    DJSpo, I’m really sorry to hear that. My wife grew up in Spokane and has a lot of fond memories of the libraries there.

    Aged Spirit, I’m glad to hear that! When I left the region, the Ashland library was still open, due to the city passing a special bond issue, but the rest were still shuttered.

    Thomas, thank you! That’s really good to hear.

    Irena, the problem of course is that the reading room would have its own bills to pay, and I’m not sure if they could stay open on less than the cost of a few coffees a week.

    Phil H, I always feel torn when I criticize what too many public libraries have turned into, because what they once were was so important to me when I was young…

    Chris, I know. It’s useful to me just now — I’m exploring a future novel, or possibly series of novels, blending high fantasy with the spy thriller genre, and it’s good to know something about how espionage actually works to give the story the verisimilitude it needs — but yeah, it’s interesting to see how much is available — and how well it explains the behavior of types of people we’ve all met.

    Patricia O, thanks for this. I may do some research.

    Kwo, thanks for this! I’ve downloaded it and will use it as an antidote to the kind of holiday schmaltz that makes one want to run down the singers with a heavily loaded sleigh.

    Caryn, it’s unfortunate, because unless serious liberals start distancing themselves from the managerial class in fairly public ways, liberalism risks being discredited, and a generation or two may pass before anyone bothers to consider it again. That sort of thing happens tolerably often in the history of political thought.

    Packshaud, no apologies needed. Your situation is a very common one; here in the US, being an occultist was much the same until the 1970s — and yes, it sucks.

    Arkansas, Tacitus talks about the role of Druids in the British resistance to the Romans. I’m not as well read on the Gaulish sources, I’m sorry to say.

    Temporaryreality, hmm! The “anticafe” might indeed be a workable model.

    Sylvia, I have the best readers, no question. As for old books, yes — and that’s why, now that print-on-demand publishing has become so cheap, a lot of old books are being reprinted and put back into circulation. This strikes me as a very good thing, and I hope it inspires today’s authors and publishers to revisit what they’re producing. I offer my blogs as evidence that it works — long, erudite, rather stuffy essays on abstruse subjects are supposed to be the kiss of death online, and yet I do that and get an enthusiastic following. I think there’s something very wrong about the belief that people won’t read such things!

    Tude, congratulations — I’m delighted to hear it. I hope you can use that position to make a difference. As for the SPL announcement, no surprises there. The cultural mainstream in this country is becoming increasingly authoritarian, and this is an example — when only one viewpoint is allowed public airing, for whatever reason, that’s authoritarianism, and supporters of social justice ideology are working overtime to earn that label.

  225. Mr Greer,

    For close to three decades I made my home in the mountains of Idaho near a ski resort where rubbing shoulders with the wealthy was a daily hazard. As a result there was and still is a fine public library funded entirely without any government money. The key method of funding is covered by a thrift store that attracts donations from those well to do residents and home owners (there is a difference, you know). Where else could I find fine custom made clothing and expensive items of all description at a pennies on the dollar price? I have not seen this solution mentioned in the comments yet but it truly seems to work quite well. It would take a well to do population close by and a need for a viable library to create the conditions for such a system. Here’s a link to the web site for the curious:

    Regards, Aged Spirit

  226. JMG: “Irena, the problem of course is that the reading room would have its own bills to pay, and I’m not sure if they could stay open on less than the cost of a few coffees a week.”

    Right. It’s far from obvious it would make business sense. But that was my original point about subscription libraries as well. Down the road, as books become more expensive to buy, maybe. For the time being, I doubt it. But I’ve been wrong before, so anyone who wishes to (try to) prove me wrong is more than welcome to try.

  227. I don’t think I’m ready to immediately start a grassroots-run reading room, but my imagination is start to run wild!

    I imagine if I started one as I still continued to work for our public library system, I may be asked if I’m trying to undermine our system.  In all honesty I would say no, I would just be seeking to satisfy a need that our system is accomplishing less and less. I do acknowledge there are certain services of our system, such as substantial resources for the blind and certain special collections that would be hard to replicate in a smaller-run alternative.  And as someone who up until a few years ago did not own my own computer, I used to regularly depend on library computers for email and Internet, so I understand the value of public library or other places providing that service, even as books are what I love most.

    So I would see it, at least if I were to be officially asked about it, more as a way to complement the public library system but not totally replace it.  Public libraries don’t see bookstores as our enemy and we partner with some for programming. Therefore, an initiative such as this need not be seen as its enemy. Maybe it could be a little nudge for their reform?

    It could be a fun, gentle, subtle, yes,… innocuous way to poke fun of certain absurdities of our system without getting in trouble if I were to go public and explicitly say everything wrong with our system. I find it emotionally exhausting trying to work within the system to demand change that rarely happens; it feels disempowering at times. Perhaps it is easier to be rebellious  by starting something outside the system.  I’m starting to imagine what characteristics of a reading room could have, in contrast to the public library:

    1. It would focus almost solely on physical books and magazines. No e-books, no apps, no digital resources. Nor having to learn or teach how to use and access digital media.
    2. Perhaps it would have no wifi, and I would market this as a positive as I’ve seen a few places do. I’d put a sign out in front about no wifi and all the benefits of that.
    3. Cell phone use would be prohibited and also laptop and other device use too (so it wouldn’t become like a cafe or library where people just bring their laptops in to work.) The place should be used primarily for quiet reading and contemplation, and as a respite from the digitally addicted world outside.
    4. This might shock the library administration if they were to hear about this, but I think it would be really fun to utilize card catalogs (I could always have a computer catalog in addition if I wanted).  If the power went out, it could remain open, unlike the public library.  Retrotopia, here we come!
    5. To start with, it might not have anywhere near the numbers in our public library collection, but I think it could easily rival some of the paltry collections at certain branches.  I could make sure to offer a lot of high quality, lesser known interesting books and magazines that are not in our collection, so that people would have another reason to come there instead of the public library.  (While I’ve been able to get a number of lesser known book titles added to our system, it’s much harder to get them to carry certain magazines. What one sees in our magazine section is the usual People, Time, Economist, National Geographic, etc., and not the many quality alternative publications out there.) I could have an expansive selection of magazines and journals (including Into the Ruins) that would far rival the library system’s.
    6. I might de-emphasize certain kinds of literature in a way that would be impossible in a public library that has to respond to popular demand. For example, easy readers with Disney movie tie-ins, about Barbies, that kind of stuff that increasingly dominates Children’s circulation.  Is that censorship? Maybe in a public library. But in a reading room like this with limited space, we can choose to prioritize a certain caliber of literature that is still diverse and appeals to a variety of people.
    7. The children’s nook could be a cozy place with various nooks and handmade decorations, and not one screen device in sight. Knowing how many parents hate the screen distractions in public library children’s rooms, I actually worry that this space could not accommodate the crowds that would come.  Here’s a place you can take your child to read books, and you don’t have to worry about them being distracted by computers or machine gun shooting imagery on video games invading your family experience at the library!
    8. Oh, and I think this would be fun: In contrast to the public library constant emphasis on “New Technology” we could do a fun program series on “trailing edge technology” (a term created by a certain commenter here).  How about a workshops on bookbinding & repair,  slide rules, ham radio, or assistance in digitally disconnecting more or becoming less cell phone dependent, how to delete social media and Amazon accounts, etc. etc.  Perhaps there could be a typewriter there for children to try out too.
    6. Operations would be run with a decidedly frugal, anti-consumerist, low-waste, post-carbon ethic as much as possible, which would also help lower costs to make membership affordable to people. Salvaged furniture, book donations, book repairs, etc.  No air conditioning, just fans in the summer. Keep the place cool in the winter (tell people to wear sweaters!) which would be probably be below a temperature that the public library is legally allowed to operate. (Sometimes I laugh when, under various temperature guidelines, a library has to close in the winter when it’s still warmer than my home temperature, or close in the summer when it’s still cooler than the temperature at my home.)

    I know of a number of people who have their feet in opposite worlds; they work simultaneously within institutions and but also in alternatives outside them. For example, a father who teaches in a public high school, yet homeschools most of his children.  I could see myself living that kind of dual life for a time period in the future — working part-time for the public library, while volunteering my free time starting this kind of reading room outside any institution.

  228. Stefania,

    Looking for great books for children is made much easier by the Newbery Award, which has manged to somehow remain a useful compass in a world of laughably corrupt medals and prizes. For pre-Newbery books, the vetting by generations of children and parents mostly hands down only the best books to the next generation, so look for cherished classics. Some of my favorites are:

    The Little Prince
    The Phantom Tollbooth
    The Alice in Wonderland series
    The Wizard of Oz series
    The Last Unicorn
    The Princess Bride
    A Wrinkle in Time
    The Narnia series
    The Paddington Bear series
    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    Bridge to Terabithia
    Watership Down (for 11 year old)
    The Cricket in Times Square
    Charlotte’s Web

    Then there are the many collections of short stories and fables that encapsulate so much wisdom so concisely that they preexisted and will likely outlive the novel format. Any collection of any culture’s mythology, fables, or fairy tales are worth reading. Some of my favorites are:

    Hans Christian Andersen’s tales
    1001 Arabian Nights
    Aesop’s Fables
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales
    Bulfinch’s various mythologies

  229. “I’m exploring a future novel, or possibly series of novels, blending high fantasy with the spy thriller genre, and it’s good to know something about how espionage actually works to give the story the verisimilitude it needs”

    Interesting, I am working in some corporate security department of a Parliament in one of the future countries North of your border. I would be happy to exchange juicy anecdotes and counter intelligence ideas if you’d like me too.

  230. I look forward to that novel! I wonder if you’d be happy to point me towards some of your research, I’ve done some cursory searches that haven’t turned up anything related to Wales. I did find an association of a few dozen independent libraries in England, all very old. On a smaller scale, nothing I could find.

    Thank you for the suggestion – dare I say thrown gauntlet? Not sure I’m up to the task; I’m not great with people – but I’ll float the idea with a couple of friends, and think about where I can go from there. I have often been attracted to the idea of being a librarian, and after I lost my job a few months ago considered giving it a go at the local library. A visit to the library and the prospect of working for the council again put me off. I’ll give it some thought.

    If you’re interested in seeing the new library I was talking about, there’s a picture here:

    One thing that struck me looking at it was how small the stacks are, barely waist height! So much space, just wasted. I’ll leave with a positive anecdote though – I remember going in a few years ago looking for books on Carl Jung, and after looking and finding nothing I asked at one of the desks. A very nice young lady found that they were all sitting in a warehouse somewhere (no wonder, with that shelf space), and since I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted she ordered six of them. I ended up reading two of them cover to cover, understanding maybe a quarter of what I read!

  231. JMG, you do indeed have the best readers. Also the bravest, most courteous, thriftiest, cleanest, and most reverent readers.

    Plus, we’re modest.

    Somebody mentioned narrowly focused cookbooks instead of the big general ones that were once common. I agree. The Better Homes and Gardens cookbook is still adequate—barely—but if I were a young person standing in my first kitchen, I’d head to the nearest thrift shop or used book store and look for pre-1980 editions of the big, comprehensive cookbooks: Fanny Farmer, Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens. You want something old enough that the editors did not feel it necessary to include apologies for the idea that a woman might be interested in knowing how to cook food. Also look for fundraiser cookbooks put out by churches, charities, any kind of group. We have a really good one put out by a real-estate agency in the ‘80’s. (I always wondered why a real-estate agency would want to raise funds—maybe the housing market was really slow that year.). The real-estate one has the wonderful Barbecued Tuna recipe that I lost for several years. (It sounds gross but it’s good; if anybody wants it, I’ll post it.)

    This brings us to the only drawback of old cookbooks—they were published at a time when a can of, say, tuna contained more tuna than water, so you’ll have to do a little figuring.

    On shrinkage: Mom was a stocker-upper. We just used her last 10-oz. can of Barbisol shaving cream. The new ones are 7 oz. [undruidly words]!

  232. JMG, the youngsters to whom I have told stories of the labor movement say they can’t fight back like the old-timers did, because they’re professionals. Most of them aren’t, they’re ordinary pink-collar workers who’ve been brainwashed to think that working in an office means you’re a professional. Any suggestions?

  233. Patricia, the latest reference to Shake and Bake I could find was early 2000’s, but I noticed Pagan Pride is still current, so Albuquerque’s shaking-and-baking needs are probably in good hands.

  234. I think I was too rash in equating Krampus with Knecht Ruprecht, though both accompany St. Nicolaus and both act as a kind of foil to him in punishing naughty children. Knecht Ruprecht is a normal human being, while Krampus is not.

    In fact, there were many figures designed to frighten children into good behavior. My father still cherishes a children’s book called “Struwwelpeter”, which I don’t much care for and haven’t read to my daughter. Judge for yourself – the English version is for free on Project Gutenberg , though the images mostly speak for themselves. As bonus you will find the mage Agrippa in its pages…

  235. @ Stefania: Cattermole specializes in 20th Century Children’s Books, and they have a list of their favorite 100 books. I read many as a boy, and read others with my children, and enjoyed every one. Bill McCullum and his late wife Jane (the proprietors) have been friends for decades.

  236. Fascinating discussion, everyone!
    Our local library has a chalkboard that lists the favorite books of its librarians as recommended reads. What a great idea! You could put up a board like that. In a month or so, you can list the “Wierd of Hali” series as a favorite set of titles.

    @Patricia T, @Deborah B–
    I like the idea of forming a local book club to pool resources for buying books, especially among folks that have extensive personal libraries. If you think about it, such a small group of book enthusiasts is a sort of proto-subscription-library. It would be a small step to go from a private book-buying club to a subscription library, if each of several founding members has 5,000 to 10,000 books in their own collection.

    Re: Book destruction–
    In my area of BC Canada, the Okanagan Valley, we have a large selection of books that includes free interlibrary loans between branches. Thanks to them, I was able to borrow and read JMG’s Blood of the Earth.

    Sadly, and very oddly, the University System in our Province is destroying books. I nearly tore my hair and shirt when I found out that a book I have been mercilessly flogging here (Chemistry by Number Theory) was removed from the shelves and destroyed. However, a confession– Before it was removed, I brazenly scanned the entire thing to a flash drive. So I have the content, though in a precarious format. If it is no longer available from Elsevier, I may have to print the scan–Which leads to another topic–

    I have noticed that my HP Laser Printer, using generic toner, prints documents that lose their letters in a year or less if used continuously; ie., the letters wear off the page! This is a giant problem. I am also in the process of trying to reprint a rare book that I believe will be very important within one- or two- hundred years. If I print it myself on a laser printer, even on archival paper, I have to figure out what sort of ink is going to stick to the paper for long-term frequent use, so that the scriveners in the monasteries of the 2250’s will still be able to read it when they copy it out long-hand. Does anyone know if the Mammon-zone print-on-demand book division uses good ink and paper, or if it is possible to make them print using archive-appropriate materials? Is it even possible to get books printed by means other than laser printer?

    @Violet, @Duskshine, @Samurai_47; re: Preventing Mildew
    All good points for book preservation! The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has actually studied this topic, and may be willing to communicate with interested parties on the preservation of materials against mildew and humidity.
    About 35 or 40 years ago, I remember it coming up in a tour of one of their accurately-restored buildings on Duke of Gloucester Street. They initially air-conditioned and heated the building with modern techniques, but found that it was slowly destroying the period furniture pieces inside the buildings, and also the antique books. So the buildings were left largely unheated in Winter and un-airconditioned in Summer. They found that wooden bookcases with glass fronts kept out dust and moderated extremes of humidity, but that it was necessary to be sure that the books were a bit loose on the shelf (not jammed tightly together), and also not slid all the way to the back of the bookcase. Probably a bit more difficult for a mouse to get in there as well!
    A tightly enclosed space makes it possible to change the quality of the air inside, if it isn’t opened too much. It is possible, for example, to add packets that contain iron filings to pill bottles. After sealing, the iron rusts inside the packet, pulling oxygen out of the air in the bottle. There are likewise substances that can pull moisture from the air, and can be re-used. Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Sulfate, and of course Silica gel can be used for this, and regenerated for re-use by baking in an oven. You have to be sure they don’t touch the paper.
    There is probably a lot more to it than that.

    @helix re: home repair–
    No guarantees, but try to find a female contractor to do your repairs. There is a National Association of Women In Construction (NAWIC) that can likely find you a lady contractor in your area. I know it is sexist to say so, but if you can find a Woman-owned contracting firm, the quality of the work and attention to detail (especially in clean-up) tends to be much better than with Man-owned firms, in my experience.

    Childrens’ Book Recommendation–
    The White Deer, by James Thurber. Absolutely delightful book. I was reading it aloud to my son in a restaurant 20 years ago, and almost got us all thrown out because we were laughing so much!

    Eldritch Christmas Carols–
    For those who can tolerate YouTube, “Death to the World”

    This one is interesting, not only for its lyrics, but also for the sinister, strident tone of ‘Joy to the World’ when played in a minor key!

    Death to the world! Cthulhu’s come:
    Let Earth abhor this thing.
    Let every mind prepare for doom,
    As anguish and woe he’ll bring.

    Up from the sea, R’lyeh did rise:
    The cultists awestruck dumb.
    With ancient rites so wretched and perverse,
    Cthulhu’s time has come.

    Death to the world! Cthulhu reigns.
    The Great Old Ones Destroy
    With wrath and doom, so cruel and foul,
    Replete with obscene joy.

    He rules the Earth with dreadful might,
    And through our ghastly dreams
    His twisting turning tentacles
    Elicit from us maddened screams.

    Cthulhu’s time has come….

  237. Mice, old books, and cats.

    Our very favorite bookstore has 150,000 volumes and CATS. Michelle (owner and RWA bookseller of the year for 2019) keeps both store cats and hosts Castaway Critters for kitties to find their forever homes.

    She does this to bring people into the store but more importantly, to keep the mice down. She can use cats to kill the mice or she can spray pesticides lavishly. Cats are cheaper, more fun, and less damaging all around, other than to those unfortunate people with cat allergies.

    I’m sure most traditional libraries kept cats for the same reason. Mice don’t read, but they do damage the books. The cats don’t read either, but they don’t damage the books while eviscerating the mice.

    If you’re in central Pennsylvania, Cupboard Maker Books in Enola is well-worth a visit. Whatever you read, Michelle can recommend something by someone you’ve never heard of that you will like.

    Teresa from Hershey

  238. Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library in Oakland–reading room and rental space–does not circulate materials but has IWW archives and other specialized material. A friend of mine was a red diaper baby and sometimes rents the space for meetings of other organizations she belongs to. That’s how I learned it existed.

  239. ” The books were mold free, which I attribute to the elevation and airflow, but they were covered in mouse feces.”

    Where there is mouse feces there is mouse urine, which is much worse, and corrosive.

  240. MizBean, methylethyl, Nastarana and Korellyn, thank you all very much for the book recommendations! I have added them to my ever-growing list.

    And Korellyn, in regards to the occult mail order library, I’m positive we’re not the only people in this position, although I have a feeling in reality the shipping costs would make it prohibitively expensive. A quick look on Canada Post’s website and it looks like it would probably cost as much to ship a book two ways as it would to just buy it outright. I’ll check in at my library next time I’m there as to how much they are paying to ship interlibrary loans around. It’s possible the province is subsidizing the cost of mailing, as from what I understand they did partially reinstate the service. In the meantime, there is Project Gutenberg, as well as the Open Library, both sources for e-books with copyrights expired I believe. And slowly building up a private collection of course, expensive but nice to have the actual books (and support the authors, some of whom are likely still alive!)

  241. JMG – Since you brought up “Christmas” music, I’ll feel entitled to share this. The first time I listened to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” through to the end (in which the word gets up to the king, and he’s just FINE with it), I realized that the secular Christmas was not the Christian Christmas.

    In the “Biblically-inspired” song, the king responds with this:

    Said the king to the people everywhere
    Listen to what I say
    Pray for peace people everywhere
    Listen to what I say
    The child, the child
    Sleeping in the night
    He will bring us goodness and light

    However, as it is written in the Bible (Matthew),

    Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

    This is as clear as any example I can think of for why we must preserve the written word, and not rely on popular cultural forms of history. Tyranny must be resisted when it is small, for it is exceeding dangerous to resist when it matures.

  242. In my area at least (California) libraries used to have a special section for the current best sellers, mostly fiction, but they may have included non-fiction. These books were leased from a specialist distributor and patrons had to pay a small amount to check them out. $.25, I think, may have been lower when I was a kid. So for those who just had to read _Fifty Shades of Grey_ right away, there were several copies available for this small fee. .At the same time one or more copies might be purchased for the main collection and one could get on the waiting list to check one out for free. When the popularity of the leased books dropped they went back to the company and were sold on the used book market–usually distinguishable by the plastic covers on the book jackets. Not sure when this system ceased, but it seems like a practical solution to the fact that the book that everyone clamors for one year is often completely out of fashion within a short period. As a kid with no spending money I was occasionally frustrated at seeing something I wanted on the pay shelf, but I knew I could access it eventually.

    When my family moved to Los Angeles in 1960 I discovered that a children’s’ library card (I was 12) would not allow me to check out adult books without the approval of the children’s librarian. This was pretty silly given the level of censorship in the press at the time–but rules is rules. My workaround was the discovery that once the children’s room closed in the evening the staff at the check out desk didn’t care. As it was, I never had a book turned down by the central library staff–even though I was checking out sort of adult titles like “The Saint” thrillers, etc. I think they were mainly watching for biology books where one might be exposed to anatomical drawings, or maybe art books full of nudes might have been refused. Really silly.

    Anyone visiting LA should visit the Central Library at 6th and Grand–the architecture is an amazing combination of Egyptian and Babylonian motifs, like a Cecil B. de Mllle epic set. The Goddess of Civilization above the main stairs is wonderful and flanked by black sphinxes. Even the modern addition is well designed and beautiful. This is literally the library of my dreams–I used to have a recurring dream which featured the elevator in this building.

  243. As it turns out, it IS possible to get young folk to rise up and defend righteousness. An article I read on Quora says that, following in the steps of George Lucas, J. K. Rowling is retconning Harry Potter like mad, and her fans are waxing exceedingly wroth. So I guess to revive the labor movement, we just have to find something they feel as strongly about as they feel about Harry.

    I’m of 1 1/2 minds about the Potter brouhaha. Maybe for 20 years she’s been haunted by the thought that Hermione’s really black and just had to come clean. (That seemed to be the main issue, that she had spent 20 years saying Hermione was white and then, when she suddenly turned black, telling readers, “Of course she’s black—what are you, racists?). And Hermione is her baby, Rowling can do as she likes with her. But I think she could have been a little more considerate of the people who made her filthy rich.

  244. Someone mentioned Dmitry Orlov has lost his mind. So I read his recent post on the ice age, which is not behind the paywall. I don’t agree he is crazy but I’d say he has opened up his explorations of things, taken them wider. I thought he was backing away from climate change but I see that he still believes CO2 is a significant green house gas. He thinks the next glaciation is overdue and wonders what the process to tip it off is.

  245. Aged Spirit, interesting. Do you happen to know if the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library in Ashland is still in existence? It got some of its funding by a variant of that — it had a media exchange, where people donated books; the ones that weren’t worth much were free for the taking, the ones that were worth something were sold online.

    Irena, understood. My point is simply that you’re probably not going to find something for that price.

    Beneaththesurface, if your reading room was in the Providence area, I’d sign up at once.

    Druidovik, I’ll be in touch!

    Llewellyn, what I found was mostly by way of photo archives and sidelong references here and there; I’ll see what I can scare up. It’s astonishing to me just how little information on Welsh 19th century history is available online — well, at least in English! The novel, btw, riffs off Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, and is set at an unfashionable resort hotel in Monmouthshire, and the fictional nearby town of Caermaen, in 1888.

    Your Kittenship, hah! As for the kids who don’t think they can get involved in labor activism because they’re office workers, what that means is that they’re not hungry or miserable enough. All in due time…

    Matthias, St. Nicholas seems to have had quite the crew to accompany him — Black Peter, his Dutch sidekick, has been causing fits among the politically correct recently. Thanks for the link to Struwwelpeter!

    Emmanuel, laser printers are like that. If you want to print a book in some more permanent format, inkjet might actually be better, or you may have to look into other options.

    Lathechuck, when I was a kid, I wondered about that. It was very clear to me that somebody had tampered with the story!

    Matthew, got it and thank you! You have my email, right? Please drop me yours so I can get in touch.

    Your Kittenship, well, we’ll see what comes of it. Other than “get woke, go broke”…

  246. I forgot to mention a few old cookbooks:

    The I Hate To Cook Book, by Peg Bracken. Is or was available on Kindle.

    Any of the old Farm Journal cookbooks edited by Nell Nichols. The newer ones are trendy, pretty, and pretty useless. These you have to search for in dimly lit, dusty, mysterious bookshops run by people with the Innsmouth look. They’re usually right near the ghastly grimoires bound in human skin. (Evil cultists could work up quite an appetite binding a ghastly grimoire in human skin, especially if the human was still using the skin himself.)

  247. @Dusk Shine,
    We have black rats (Rattus rattus) that grow to the size of a small cat, but I think the following applies to mice as well. They really don’t seem to like biting things that are fibrous. It may be the risk of breaking a tooth. I’ve kept things they would otherwise risk their lives for in closed and sealed cardboard boxes or backpacks with the zipper shut and left them for a month while we were away and they never broke into them. If there is a crack they can pry open, they do so.
    The same rats noisily gnaw night after night on anything wooden they encounter, and they love love LOVE plastic! The biggest problem with that is they chew through electric cords. One caused a power outage that way in Fukushima shortly after the nuclear accident. They are a fire hazard. Now that’ll do your books a bit of damage.

  248. Kids’s books:

    Misty of Chincoteague

    The lengthy Black Stallion series. They’re all pretty much the same, so if your horse-crazy daughter likes one she’ll probably like the other 15 or 20 as well.

    101 Dalmatians, the original novel by Dodie Smith, not the picture books put out with the movies

    Lassie Come-home, by Eric Knight

    Watership Down, for older kids

    Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, likewise

    Thomasina: The Cat Who Thought She Was A God, by Paul Gallico. On Kindle, not sure about paper

    Rafael Sabatini! For boys and some girls. We’re talking pirates, swords, duels, and history lessons worked in throughout. And there are a worse things a kid, or adult, could pick up by reading than “…a gift for laughter and a sense that the world [is] mad.”

    Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, for older kids.

    American Ghoul, by Walt Morton, for older kids

    The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

    For teenagers hardened to horror, and ONLY them, I recommend “The Monstrumologist,” “Curse of The Wendigo,” and “The Isle of Blood,” all by Rick Yancey. FOR MATURE TEENAGE HORROR FANS ONLY. For some insane reason these books were marketed as Young Adult, which is, as I understand it, 12+. These books are in no way suitable for “tweens.” These are harsh, bloody, brutal balls-to-the-wall horror, considerably more frightening than anything Stephen King has done in the last 20 years. (And horror-fan parents will love these.)

  249. ‘Tis the season! Drop whatever you’re doing, unless you are holding a very old artifact or very new baby, and read Krampus, the Yule Lord, by Brom. You’ll love it.

  250. Re: Dmitri Orlov, I agree with Onething. Dmitri has never been part of an echo chamber. He tends to take radically different views on almost everything, shaking his readers out of their comfortable grooves. His work is valuable for bringing up different angles from which to view things. He’s a narrative breaker.

  251. A non-Xmas carol:

    God rest ye lovers of all books,
    Let nothing you dismay,
    For EMP and Carrington
    Will blow the bits away.

    Then will people know that ink
    And paper, still okay,
    Can preserve all our wisdom
    And fun, mystery and art,
    And even stuff like Fifty Shades of Grey.

  252. @JMG Thanks for the pointer to “prefigurative politics”; I’m astonished that I hadn’t heard the term before. I will be doing a lot of reading to catch up…

    @Llewelyn: I hear you. I also have fond memories of Cardiff Central Library, which I used heavily at one point in my life. haven’t been there since the mid-90s, though, so I’m sorry to hear about its decline. As for the Old Library, yes, I’ve often walked past and never been tempted to walk in; I’ve always wondered who the target audience was supposed to be. As for libraries: on a recent visit back to Wales (September this year), I found that the Oxfam shop on St. Mary Street was selling many interesting books on Wales, in both Welsh and English, for a pound apiece – all discarded from the BBC Wales Library 🙁 I bought a lot, but there were far more than I could take, especially not living in Wales now. Its a shame that so many irreplacable pieces of our history are being lost piecemeal like this.

    @JMG again: Apparently the Welsh village of Penrhiwceiber declined a substantial donation from Andrew Carnegie, intended to fund a library; they felt they were already sufficiently well-served by their Miners’ Institute library! (They also wanted their library to be under their own control, which the Institute Library was, rather than under the control of a third party such as local government). Regarding Welsh history online, as mentioned above, I’m currently pursuing a distance-learning degree. As such, I have access via my university’s library to the online databases of academic journals, which I’ve obviously used to search for articles on other areas of interest – including Wales, Druidry, Iolo Morganwg, etc etc as well as linguistics. I’ve noticed that journal articles are actually quite rare; Welsh academics (or perhaps I should say, academics writing about Wales) have a very noticeable preference for publishing books rather than articles (or things on the web). I can speculate about the reasons, but that’s the fact. Unfortunately.

    @Darkest Yorkshire: yes, but that’s a different point. Acting like you’ve already won is one thing (and is what brings disaster towards the end, when de Valera insists on set-piece battles like a ‘proper’ country). The setting up of a parallel society in the shadows seems to be a workable strategy when faced with a status quo that remains overwhelmingly strong but isn’t actually paying attention (perhaps because elites are too busy having shouting matches over abstractions).

    @Brigyn: thanks for the quote from Barddas; i wish I’d thought of that!

    Re: cats. People may be interested in reading about the cats of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. For example:

  253. JMG and others – this is kind of loosely connected to education so I guess quasi on-topic here.

    My 8 year old son came back from school on Friday completely freaked out by global warming/climate change. Some kid at school basically told him that the world is going to end in 8 years as Antarctic ice melts and the world is going to be flooded (I am guessing her parents are Extinction Rebellion type people and she’s misunderstood the Greta Thunberg predictions re disaster by 2030).

    He was sobbing to my wife and she reassured him that the world won’t end and we just need to do our best to prevent global warming and recycle and conserve energy. He’s still pretty upset and has brought it up several times now. He keeps asking if he will be killed by global warming or if it will happen after he’s dead.

    I have told him it’s very difficult to stop it but it’s a long slow process and he’s not going to die because of it. I told him his friend was completely wrong and no one is going to die in 8 years because the Antarctic is flooding, but over decades some cities and regions may become uninhabitable.

    I’m not sure what more I can tell him – I am trying to find a balance between freaking him out and simply saying business as usual will continue if we’re a bit more careful about recycling..

    Any ideas?

  254. @JMG Regrading your research for your novel, it may interest you to know that the Welsh Government funds an online “Ask a Librarian” service:

    Obviously there are limits to what they can or will do, but the scope of the service is set out in a couple of pages linked to from the one I’ve given above, and seems like it might be useful to you.

  255. JMG
    You wrote: ‘Phil H, I always feel torn when I criticize what too many public libraries have turned into, because what they once were was so important to me when I was young…’

    I too am sad that here in Britain on ‘cost & efficiency’ grounds public libraries where they are being refurbished or re positioned are mostly either in retail outlets or ‘Leisure Centres’ or combined with admin centres controlling doles and other minimum statutory services. Volunteers have been used to replace paid staff.

    I have been thinking for a number of years (thank you) that what is good for those on the autism spectrum looks to be a pretty good yardstick for what might bring out the best in the rest of us.
    [From a review of books by and about autism; ]
    “The library can be a safe haven, but both public and school libraries need to take a few steps to ensure it is a place someone with autism wants to visit.”
    “… a space that becomes too busy and loud will be the opposite of what someone with autism will want to engage with.”
    NB Financial Times: “Populists are starving public libraries of funds, while India’s right-wing BJP is building ‘party libraries’ for its members” … “Libraries are secular gathering places, and it’s remarkable how much of the scholarship on libraries supports the argument that they act as a vaccination against urban loneliness, a refuge for the poorest and the most vulnerable, especially in cities that have very little else to offer them … In the UK and much of the world, libraries already face threats — funding cuts, branch closures, a lack of staff and resources. If we were serious about protecting democracy, we would start with saving the libraries we already have, and then build far, far more across the globe. “
    Footnote: I suppose it is a matter of trust: “The Labour leader, asked if he could promise his pledge to protect libraries would be honoured should Labour win the general election, told Penguin: “I can absolutely give you this guarantee.” He said that libraries gave him “a fantastic start in life and I want that for everybody”.
    Phil H

  256. Hi John Michael

    Thank you for another engrossing and stimulating essay. If I had the time this week, I would have liked to have written a detailed comment about how years ago you inspired me to create my own library. A beautiful and also highly practical collection has grown since then. Thanks again.

    This is an interesting article from 2014 and very on topic:

    An excerpt:

    “The Library tries to persuade employees that their plans are good and it’ll be a cinch to implement them. They say the “improvements” will provide “clients” with a more “centralised service”; cuts are called “clarifications”; opponents of the scheme are sidelined as “traditionalists”, and in any case, we’re told the changes are all in response to “public demand”. Really? Who among the public has demanded this?”


  257. According to an book review I’ve just read, the kind of corruption and incompetence that Will J described in a university linguistics class pervades the US intelligence agencies and perhaps the military as well, with “reality” being whatever is politically expedient. Think tanks put out lies because that’s what they get paid for. Andrei Matryanov says officers in the US armed forces used to pay lip service to propaganda, but made sensible reality-based decisions. Now he fears anyone doing that is being replaced by ones who will carry out the neocons’ bidding.

  258. I don’t know enough to know what to make of this; but, if correct and continuing, might be something to consider regarding libraries and such?

    “The map shows that people in 2,278 counties have gotten poorer over the past 10 years. As best as we can tell, that means 73% of U.S. counties are in a depression.
    Seventy-three percent!
    Let’s look at each of our metrics. Over the past 10 years:
    • Unemployment has increased in 56% of U.S. counties.
    • Labor force participation has decreased in 60% of U.S. counties.
    • The poverty rate has increased in 87% of U.S. counties.
    • Inflation-adjusted wage growth has decreased in 98% of U.S. counties”

  259. Re: chemical control of humidity in bookcases.. calcium sulfate, also known as gypsum and plaster of paris, is a desiccant which can be regenerated. The manufacturer of “Drierite” (calcium sulfate with a moisture-indicating dye) says that it needs to be held at 450F (230C) for two hours, after being spread no more than 1″ thick in a shallow pan. If you’d like to experiment with calcium sulfate, just salvage some old “sheetrock” gypsum wall board; there’s no need to pay for high purity or try to deal with a chemical supply house.

    Today’s price for Drierite is about $70/lb at Silica gel is $50 for 50, 5 g packets.

    “Orange indicating silica gel” turns green when it’s saturated with moisture, and can be dehydrated at just 240 F for three hours. $5 for 4 oz., $29/32 oz. at Without the indicator, it’s $16/ 32 oz. (The store helpfully suggests mixing the two to save money.)

    If your book cases are sealed, this can probably keep them dry between uses, but don’t think that you’re going to keep your library dry with this stuff, though. The mechanical dehumidifier in my home basement “library” can take a gallon of water out of the room every day, even with the door closed. (Yes, I measured it.)

  260. Regarding coffee shops and reading rooms, the local shops tend to play pop music at a fairly high volume, which makes them unpIeasant for reading. My favorite “reading room” was the old Benzinger Library at the University of Michigan. You could reach it through the basement of East Quad back in the 60s. The shelves were stocked with a fair assortment of casual reading material, but this was mostly a study space. The librarian had a turntable and played either jazz or clasical; a perfect place, back then, for learning to smoke a pipe!

  261. BXN, I have no idea what you should tell your son, but your story illustrates beautifully why the Krampus kidnapping narrative and other catastrophe threats may just not be the best thing to throw at your kid, misbehaving or otherwise. Assuming it doesn’t just fall on deaf ears (in which case, what was the point?), you run the risk of provoking debilitating anxiety. Modeling proper behavior (that’s the tough part, hehe) and meting out not-particularly-severe punishments when warranted would have been far more effective.

    For what it’s worth, I suspect that Krampus and his equivalents had very little to do with whiny children. The story appeared at a time when children got far less adult supervision, which meant that they got a chance to become more independent and resilient early on (that’s the good part), but also to, you know, form kiddy gangs, rob old ladies, assault younger kids, torture and kill cats and dogs (that would be the bad part). Parents had far too many other things to do to properly ensure their kids didn’t turn into little monsters, and so they invented Krampus instead. I suppose it worked passably well some of the time, perhaps even most (two thirds?) of the time. I’ll guess it had a pretty high failure rate, though, in both directions (deaf ears and crippling anxiety).

  262. Hmmm, now I’m wondering if it’d be worthwhile to start a “status of the books” page where we can pillory uh, keep track of locations where over-management has ruined things and where a good reading room/membership library might succeed.

    I know folks are often looking for resettlement and livelihood advice, so that might help on those counts too.

    Picturing it as goodreads-like grubby little sister who tells it like it is ‘ (but for the book scene itself, not for individual books).

  263. @ Matthew Griffiths

    I enjoyed reading your novel (or part of it I guess), and inevitably it remind me the current dynamic between the western rich countries (Skatch in your novel) and the emerging countries (Tohbah in your novel), and the most likely failure of the rich countries to avoid poor countries to use as much as fossil fuel energy as they can and develop (progress) to imitate the western way of life and and also have an industrial base to avoid be bombed, or threatened to be bombed, at will, to the stone age by the Skatch army (of course Skatch always bombs in defense of “freedom”, “human rights”, “democracy”, “peace”, etc…)

    Skatch seems to have plenty of kohl, kannons and teknology that give them a complete military superiority in a conventional war against Tohbah, but the Tohbah’s army learned hard lessons in the past and does not fight a conventional war against Skatch troops, but a guerrilla style war, so the war always end badly for both sides.

    The conflict never ends because Tohbah wants access to the kohl and Skatch (“advanced”) teknology to end grinding toil in the fields by the Tohbah peasants and stop the destruction of their forest to have enough energy to improve the life of their people and to have kannons to protect their land & rights from plunder.
    But the Kologits’s law of Skatch prohibits the spread of teknology and restrict a lot the use of kohl to avoid the fate of The Spoliers (the old people that trashed Gaia once), but it seems history will repeat again in an small scale, Tohbah will fight to the end to have the same access to kohl and teknology than Skatch with the expected results; for the Tohbahns the Skatch’s people are only a bunch of hypocrites that only want to maintain their privileges on the shoulders of Tohbah’s people, they will never give up in the pursuit of their “rights” (“rights” in the Hegelian sense).
    Enlightenment reasoning seems to be (still) very strong in the characters of your novel

    Many thanks for your work


  264. Hi John, excellent post as always.

    Our local library is still very good with an impressive range of books. Long may it continue.

    My own private study has an eclectic range of books which, when I die, I will probably donate to the library.

    On a separate point, the UK ge is due this Thursday. The polls indicates a Tory majority and we will see if that occurs.

    I’m sticking with my forecast of a Tory majority of circa 347 seats.

    A few data points for you:

    Excellent article on Boris – here’s an extract:

    Johnson intuited what the polling now shows: The “left-right” axis has morphed into an “open-closed” divide. On the one hand, there are those who have been winners in the 21st century and who favor the E.U. and international institutions, globalization, free trade, and mass immigration.

    On the other, there’s a rising non-elite group that defends the nation-state, opposes global capitalism, and wants to reduce immigration and put native-born workers first. Boris has definitely shifted the Tories into the latter camp, specifically through Brexit, a stance that appeals to more working-class voters — in exactly the same way that the GOP’s base has shifted to the less educated.

    Ian Smart, who successfully forecast the shock Scottish Tory surge in 2017, is predicting the Tories winning 18 seats in Scotland.


  265. Dear jmg

    You will be happy to know that whatever corruptions are common in American libraries are not much of a problem in Australia, at least in my towns little public library and the other library in the nearby city.

  266. The only thing we’re willing to buy on Black Friday is GROCERIES. And anyone who feels a compulsion to flee our Thanksgiving table to hit the mall, we respectfully suggest, DON’T SHOW UP. Over the decades of my life, all the more visible to a non-christian, is the almost complete suppression of the Mass of Christ, for the supremacy of Santa Claus as the Patron of the now almost wholly secular holiday dedicated to the worship of consumption.

    It is any surprise that the Xmas (no Christ!) music wide played on commercial radio, and especially in the malls is almost entirely sappy Christmas and Holiday pop music – lots of Rudolf, Frosty, Santa, and giving of hearts, and reindeer hit-and-runs… but almost devoid of traditional hymns and carols and any mention of spiritual content whatsoever? The Corporatocracy is not served by people going to church – they need to be SHOPPING.

    So Joyous Yule and Blessed Solstice, Festivus for the rest of us. And oh yes, “War is over, if you want it.” – John Lennon.

  267. BXN – You and your anxious child need to look at more facts, and less alarmism. First of all, look at a topographical map and determine your elevation above sea level. Then, look at the predicted sea level rise for various scenarios: you’ll get a range of values, perhaps up to 2.4 meters (according to Wikipedia, “sea level rise”). If your home is projected to stay high and dry with even the most dire hypothetical scenario, 100 years from now, that should be calming. If your home is NOT safe, under these projections, your task is somewhat more challenging! But at least you can show what a large part of our land area will stay dry, even if most of our people currently live close to the current coasts.

    You can still express concern for those people living within projected flood zones, but emphasize that it’s going to be a slow process (as shown on the charts cited above), so it’s not like “Noah’s flood”, where the water was said to cover everything and rise more quickly than anyone could flee. You can still strive to minimize your impact, out of love for those less fortunate.

  268. Before you all go hog-wild over the sinister motives behind book-dumping, an article* on what happens to your thrift store donations reminded me that some of it may be just catabolic collapse as predicted, according to the book. The short version: Things big, heavy, old-fashioned, and not in demand, get dumped. So do things cheap, modern, ephemeral, and badly made. Now, exactly which books get dumped, yes, that’s the modern mentality in full Fahrenheit 452 cry.

    The article ended with a plea for buying less in the first place.

    *Courtesy of Nice Polite Radio.

  269. All right, children, gather ’round, and hook up your heating system to your ears….to make use of the steam, of course …

    TTO: SIlver Bells

    Fannish humor, at the Yuletide,
    Making mock of the songs
    That you hear from the Muzak while shopping

    Geekish laughter, loud and mocking,
    as the carols they filk
    Come out sinister, nasty, and rocking

    Not Weird Al, (not Weird Al)
    Lehrer, Tom (Lehrer, Tom)
    s/f fans go them one better
    Spaceships, cats, (spaceships, cats)
    Or Cthulhu (Or Cthulhu)
    Krampus will take you away!

    Fannish humor, geekish laughter
    Eldritch things from the sea,
    Things from outer space, stores,
    Or your cat box

    All will have a song about them
    “I saw Dracula kiss
    Santa’s mommy,”
    or Rudolph the reindeer,
    Santa’s sleigh, intercepted,
    as a terrorist threat,
    And the street cats are mobbing
    the shoppers.

    Not Weird Al, (not Weird Al)
    Lehrer, Tom (Lehrer, Tom)
    s/f fans go them one better
    Spaceships, cats, (spaceships, cats)
    Or Cthulhu (Or Cthulhu)
    Krampus will take you away!

  270. @ JMG & Bogatyr, yes, I feel that loss of history. The language died out of the family with my great-grandfather – my grandfather never learned to speak it. It’s not too surprising that not much exists documenting the 19th century, since that was the high point of the British government’s quest to eradicate the Welsh language, and by extension Welsh culture. Purely for philanthropic reasons of course. That was deliberate suppression; what we have now is something different that I don’t quite understand. Apathy perhaps, and contempt for the old. Or I suppose it’s a byproduct of the same ideology you spend so much time describing: progress is good for you, no matter what it entails. Even the Welsh revitalisation mainstream seems to be in this odd, contextless unhistorical limbo. At least it’s kept Welsh from dying.

    London still has good libraries. I had a small argument with my partner when I complained about what had happened to the local library. “Well,” he said “these places have to move with the times.” I sputtered: “No they don’t!” He recanted when he saw it for himself (“where are the books?”). He grew up in central London and was basing his opinion on that.

    I’m too young to really remember the good old days (I’m 29). Just grumpy I suppose.

    @ Bogatyr, with regards to the Old Library, I’m far from sure that it’s meant to have a target audience. It seems like in the zeal to make everything new in the eighties and nineties they wanted to demolish it but couldn’t (it’s listed after all), so they made it as unappealing as possible out of spite. Purely conjecture on my part 😉

  271. Speaking of Saint Nick’s sidekicks, here is a tale of Dutch Christmas as written and read aloud by humorist David Sedaris, “Six to Eight Black Men” (the reference is to Dutch Saint Nicholas’ dark-skinned assistant/s). If you need a laugh today, here it is:
    This is one time that reading the transcript yourself is definitely not as good as hearing the author read it.

  272. My apologies if I missed someone: I think I’ve gotten everyone, but I might not have done so.


    Your assessment of Japanese seems accurate, although it’s different in plenty of other ways as well. Ideally, I’d like to get someone with native-like proficiency in both languages to discuss the matter: I’m nowhere near that point yet, so I’ll hold off on further discussion of the matter.

    Interestingly, the sole professor I was able to convey some of my thoughts to was not a native Japanese speaker. I had one say she thought she knew what I was talking about, but wanted it in Japanese as her English was not the greatest (She was learning it. She said this helped her patience for us a lot, as she knew the struggles we faced learning a language ourselves.) I’m not up for technical linguistic discussions in Japanese yet, but hopefully I will be someday.

    I suspect, for the dogma, that there’s one field which has been severely hindered: animal communication. Lots of studies have been done on animal communication, but when linguists get involved the results tend to show animals being dumb. That or the definition of language gets quietly changed so that animals no longer have language.

    I suspect it’s not so much dogma as no one being willing to admit that certain prominent people are frauds and or incompetent. The worship of Chomsky, for example, seems downright creepy.


    I think foreign vacations can be a start! Simply being able to ask directions, read a menu, etc require a certain degree of competence in a foreign language which, sadly, many people lack entirely. I know certain people who plan foreign vacations and learn “enough” of the local language to get by. This mostly consists of asking if they speak English, so I know it’s not the best….

    On the other hand, learning to read a menu in Japanese means learning some kanji, hiragana, and katakana, as well as quite bit of vocabulary. If that’s a goal, then wonderful! It’s not something which can be done quickly, and I think a large part of the problem is people don’t want to devote too much effort to it. No, using a language in a professional setting…. That’s something I can’t say I can do, yet. I plan to keep working on Japanese, and maybe spoken French as well if I can find opportunities to work on it productively (the way it’s taught here is frankly atrocious).

    It’s truly fascinating watching Americans and English Canadians refusing to learn other languages, and then get frustrated when foreigners can’t speak English well enough for them. This habit tends to get an eye-roll from other cultures; it varies in how overt it is, but it’s there. I suspect this is one of the big things which drive the obnoxious American stereotype, which I think is entirely fair.


    I must confess that even after several years of learning Japanese, my head still hurts around the category of personal pronouns. I still find it hard to grasp the subtlety and nuance contained in them, and at one point I was trying to explain pronouns to one of my friends, who’s native tongue is Japanese, so I know how alien the concept is to them.

    As for word order being free, I still find it a little hard to follow a sentence that’s been completely rearranged, and almost never will produce one myself. I’m sure it’s one of many things which marks me as a definite foreigner, but I’m not aiming for native-like speech: at the moment I’m just happy whenever I’m able to express myself and don’t come across as too rude. The politeness system of the language is a nightmare to try to master as a foreign learner, but I’ll get there someday.

    As for your experience in academia, I have some thoughts on the topic, but the gist of it is that one of the core things which linguistics ought to encourage, learning foreign languages, doesn’t happen. I’ve come across dissertations which discuss a language’s features and rely on translations, the reason being that the author hadn’t learned the language!

    I suspect, for having spoken with a couple of unusually forthright professors, for what it’s worth, things have been getting worse, and so it doesn’t surprise me that you got a good deal out of it earlier. I also find certain fields and certain schools are worse than others, but I’m far from sure I can say for sure what the best, or worst, are.

  273. Hi David/DFC
    Thanks for your comments on my story, ‘By the Seven’.
    Yes, it’s metaphorical in multiple ways, ‘developed’ vs ‘developing’ countries being one of those.
    The story reflects my view that even after the ‘Reset’ not everything will be sweetness and light.
    Walking (or sailing) away from an arrangement that benefits you is hard.

  274. Your Kittenship, I enjoyed the bejesus out of that book. I haven’t read anything else by Brom yet, but I understand he’s done a harrowing retelling of the Peter Pan stories in which said character is in the business of recruiting child soldiers for the guerrilla wars of Neverland…

    Bogatyr, fascinating. Clearly I need to learn more about the Miners Institutes!

    BXN, ouch. I wish I had an easy response, or a good site to send him to; there’s very little in print or online that isn’t either full of apocalyptic delusions on the one hand, or full of denialist delusions on the other. The one thing I can think of that might help is to get him reading about all the other end-of-the-world predictions that fell flat on their noses. I don’t know of a good book on the subject for older children, but that would be worth finding if there is one — get your ordinarily intelligent kid up to speed on the Doom of the Month Club and I suspect they’ll be less vulnerable to imaginary horrors of that sort.

    Bogatyr, thanks for this. I’ll see what they can do.

    Phil H, thanks for this.

    Jez, delighted to hear it. As for the library article, exactly — the administrators talk about “what the public demands” when the public isn’t demanding anything of the kind. It might be an effective strategy to organize the library-using public to say, “No, this is what we demand.”

    Patricia O, that’s a serious issue, and it extends to nearly every branch of scholarship in modern public life.

    Karl, and that’s also a huge issue. The thing I’d point out is that most of today’s library systems were built when the country was much poorer than it is today!

    Phutatorius, also a good point.

    Temporaryreality, that strikes me as an absolutely splendid idea. Include reviews of library systems from those who use them — I’d be happy to review the ones I use — and do your best to screen out library-administrator shills, and it could accomplish a lot.

    Forecastingintelligence, your forecast is very much in line with the latest polls — well, except we’ll see about Scotland. One way or another, it’s going to be a bleak Christmas for Labour and the Remainers, and a happy new year for BoJo and the Brexiteers. (Hmm — “BoJo and the Brexiteers” would be a really good name for a really bad Mersey Beat-style tribute band.) The morphing from Left/Right to Globalist/Nationalist polarlties in politics is crucial, and worth very close study.

    J.L.Mc12, that’s good to hear.

    Samurai, no argument there. I’m not even remotely Christian, and yet I’d much rather hear songs about the birth of Jesus than the ghastly Santafied crap that makes up the current unholyday music — oleaginous crooning about sleighs and presents and snow, gah! Give me O Come All Ye Faithful and O Holy Night and The First Noel and the rest of it, and may Krampus haul the Santa sludge away in his basket.

    Patricia M, so noted, but all the local thrift stores here have large book sections and they’re always crowded with shoppers. Thank you for the carol!

    Llewellyn, so noted. The Welsh language revitalization movement may have its limits but it’s doing something worth doing; give it a few generations and some work focused on raising kids with Welsh as their first language, and it may go very far indeed. I have a paperback, Welsh Is Fun! by Heini Gruffudd and Elwyn Ioan, which dates from 1971 and shows just how far things have gone since then. Step by step…

  275. @patriciaormsby

    The shorter the wavelength and the higher the frequency the more like light the EMFs become. If FM radio (higher frequency) can get through the shielding might not be so good. AM radio (lower frequencies) is more penetrating. Old analog TVs had problems with “multi path distortion” which would show as overlapping ghost images as the microwave signal reflected off surfaces at different distances from the television set. Does the shielding block cell phones or broadcast TV?

    Microwave (like a satellite dish) often uses what amounts to a lens. As the frequency gets higher (latest cell phone madness) it is easily blocked so many transceivers are needed.

    Discovery Park in Seattle has an FAA radar on a high point that I believe covers a few airports. Walking around the large hilly forested park an AM radio will only buzz when near line of sight. In the trees it is gone.

    Conversely very long waves / low frequency penetrate but are inefficient by comparison. I was driving east of Arlington cruising around with some hippies and at the end of the road was a long wire strung between two hills. I guessed military and later found it was for communication with submarines underwater.

    There is more to this but I haven’t been around enough X-ray or ionizing radiation to know if I could react. I’m fine with infrared and visible light unless it is strobing (many LED lamps because of the regulator electronics or complete absence of same like xmas lights that strobe at line frequency – those are awful). Move the light source quickly in the dark and the strobing is often visible. Or scan a lamp with a camera in motion at 1/10 second to count the frequency (multiply by 6).

    In my experiments I found shielding worked best when it was closest to me and farthest from the source. Radiation reduces in strength as the square of the distance. Draw two lines that intersect and measure the distance between the lines and the distance from the intersection.

    Microwave is just after this:

    There is also the random signals from digital electronics that seem to be a consistent or repeating signal that doesn’t really have a fixed frequency. I can be bothered by those too. But computers are more of a problem with sampling rate for me, that would be monitors and keyboards. That can be checked with an AM radio tuned off station. The keyboard is at arms length, monitors over a meter, computer case is steel.


  276. @Llewellyn I actually think we’re in a very dangerous situation. I remember reading an article about the struggle for legal status for the language in the 60s; it had a quote that’s stuck with me, along the lines of “when we began, the bills were in English but the villages spoke Welsh; by the time we’d won, the bills were in Welsh but the villages were speaking English”.

    My family background is similar to yours, although I learned the language in my 20s. What concerns me is twofold.

    First, I think that the Welsh-speaking community is to-focussed on ‘rights’, and on getting companies and government organisations to have Welsh-language policies in place; they’re not doing enough to create their own Welsh-medium spaces, or to attract new learners. (Also, I think Welsh Wales, like all of Wales, is too parochial, and not engaged with developments in the wider world which will affect Wales like everywhere else).

    Secondly, I think there’s a growing crisis for the Anglo-Welsh. Thanks to the government’s education policies, they’re almost entirely ignorant of Welsh history (no change there). However, they’ve always had a sense of identity via the Union; they could be English-speaking but Welsh within the context of the Empire, and then the UK. Now, with Brexit, the rise of English nationalism, the cross-generational lack of work in the Valleys, etc, there’s a rising feeling that “we don’t know who we are, but we’re not them” emerging, with a growing antagonism towards Welsh language and culture. I hope I’m wrong about that, it’s hard to tell from where I live, but I get that sense. I was recently in a hotel bar in Carmarthen, where the TV was showing some rather good dance on S4C; a man walked in, spent a moment watching it, and as soon as he realised it was in Welsh, said “no no no”, turned on his heel, and walked out.

    I could go on, but that’s probably plenty. I think that the Cymry badly need to get a program of prefigurative politics underway!

  277. JMG: FYI, the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library still exists and is larger and better located than ever after several moves and an almost expiration. Includes a small in-house coffee shop as well. Funding and operations are pretty much as before.

  278. JMG, Brom says he got the idea for the Peter Pan rehash from Barrie’s line about how when there are too many Lost Boys Peter thins them out. “!!!!” thinks Brom, and starts typing. Book has a sad ending, though, so be warned.

  279. Thank you to JMG and Irena and Lathechuck for the comments.

    I see there is no easy answer to give him which is kind of what I was thinking.

    We are in a low-risk area and I have told him that. Hopefully that will be enough for now although I can slowly start educating him on the subject (not that I am an expert – i read the usual mainstream media stuff as well as the viewpoints here etc so better than average I hope).

    Very interesting the Krampus angle – that it was about teaching kids to self-regulate in an age where they are less supervised than they are today…

    I tell him a lot of stories and bedtime stories so it should be relatively easy to start talking about End of the World predictions that proved to be wrong. I’ll try that.

  280. Post Peak Medicine, and others who have mentioned telephone booths: In Germany, too, telephone booths and other places have been repurposed for book collections where one can take or give books. One relatively big library of this kind is in our botanical garden. On the campus of the local university, a telephone booth has been repurposed as book stall. Mostly the books are junk, but sometimes, there are good books in it. You wouldn’t guess what kind of things the local students add to it – among other things, at one time there was a functioning woman’s razor in it, and at another time, a whole package of sanitary napkins which I took for a friend of mine.

  281. @Will J

    Ah, but you see, your friends are right: for the purposes of a foreign vacation, knowing how to say “Do you speak English?” in the local language is more than enough. An overkill, really. Especially if you stick to tourist areas, where you can’t get hired as a waiter, cashier, etc. unless you speak acceptable English. The way I see it, to learn a language as an adult, you have to either really, really love the language, or really, really need it. Few native English speakers really, really need a foreign langue, and few humans (whatever their native language may be) really, really love one. (However, it seems to me that in order to get a degree in linguistics, you should really, really need to learn at least one foreign language! And why would you want a degree in linguistics anyway, unless you really, really love foreign languages? Oh, well.) Hence, few native English speakers speak any foreign language at an advanced level. The exceptions tend to be quite passionate about their target language. 🙂 On the other hand, there are quite a few non-native English speakers out there who, despite having a decent-to-excellent level in English, feel indifferent or even hostile to the language. They forced themselves to learn it because the price of not learning it was so high.

    But my original point was mainly that native English speakers in the foreign language learning crowd disproportionately often (compared to native speakers of other languages, that is) seem very nonchalant about accuracy and have an “as long as you manage to get your point across” attitude. Around the globe, most people learn foreign languages in order to improve their employment prospects (or for immigration); for them/us, such an attitude (and language learning methods that support it) simply won’t cut it.

  282. About linguistics: I have myself read more than a few things about linguistic theories and descriptions of exotic languages. I haven’t dealt so much with the theoretical end of linguistics, but what came to my mind about them was that they try to straitjacket a language into a preconceived theoretical system, instead of letting the language and its structures speaking for themselves, when describing a language. As for Noam Chomsky, I mostly remember that he complained about the nefarious actions of the elite and the American Empire, but doing nothing more substantial. There were several people studying the communication abilities of apes, and one of these apes, a chimpanzee, who didn’t learn symbols as well as the other apes, got the name Nim Chimpsky from his mentors.

    As an aside, I increasingly feel that science has in its goals and worldviews on the one hand become so technocratic and technology-centered and on the other hand so wedded to the woke worldview, that I don’t bother much anymore with it, apart from a few exceptions.

  283. Thank you. Yes, step by step. Speaking of which, I should look into taking some Welsh lessons now that I have some time on my hands!

  284. Re: Bad Christmas music
    My theory, if I can go so far as to call it one, is that as Christmas has become less and less a religious holiday and more a holiday that non-Christians participate in, the quantity of ridiculous music assiduously avoiding any mention of Jesus’ birth has proliferated; it seems that this process has been going on since early in the 20th century because, as far as I’ve been able to tell, even in the late 19th century most of the holiday songs made at least some reference to religion. Years ago in another neighborhood I knew some Jewish families who put up Christmas trees. Weren’t Christian, didn’t believe in Jesus as Christ, but wanted to take part in the outward trimmings of the season and probably didn’t want too many songs about Jesus.

    As for me, I don’t mind the mid-century Bing Crosby kind of Christmas songs even when they’re more secular, but I draw the line at Mariah Carey and that awful thing by the Alvin and the Chipmunks, who can all go away and take the grandma who got run over by a reindeer with them. Rather than listen to the radio, we’ve amassed a small collection of Medieval and Renaissance Christmas CD’s that we play at home; there is a surprisingly good selection available by outstanding musicians who clearly love early music. Nothing quite says ‘sacred’ like a good Gregorian chant.

  285. Re. “the kids who don’t think they can get involved in labor activism because they’re office workers” I’ll just point out that Boeing has an engineers’ union…

  286. Dear Patricia Matthews, I think you should consider the distinction between motives, sinister or not, and attitudes. The managerial classes, by and large, have convinced themselves that wage earning people are willfully and deliberately ignorant consumers of exclusively visual and audio media who either can’t or won’t read a whole book. Never mind that many of the managerial sorts these days can’t tell Shakespeare from Shelley. A look at the drek which passes for “culture” on PBS these days should tell you all you need to know about managerial intellectual sophistication. Add to that the fact that internet access is pretty much necessary to participate in society today and that many of the very poor can’t afford it. And then, a media center is far more sexy and exciting than stacks of dusty tomes and the bookworms are usually not the important movers and shakers a modern library director wants to meet. Meanwhile, conservatives, as usual, oppose anything which might prevent a “business” person from making a sale. If you want books you should buy them! The Holy Marketplace will provide!

    I have worked for thrift stores. They tend to be infested by neat freak social climbers who want every thing nice and spiffy in case the mayor might stop in. “Makes us look bad” is the mantra one constantly hears.

  287. Will J – AMEN! I once ignorantly defined “minimal linguistic competency” as “being able to read the street signs and ask for the restroom.” A few months later, my daughters took me to a quiet resort in the Yucatan for my (January) birthday, and, wow, did I learn better in a hurry! And being from New Mexico, where a lot of the signs in the grocery stores and public announcements are in both Spanish and English. I had a long way to go, baby.

  288. @ Emmanuel Goldstein

    The Evil Empire (aka Amazon) provides the print-on-demand services for our books. They are fast and print exactly what we send them, errors and all. It’s not difficult to upload a file and have them print the book. It’s up to you whether or not you actually put up the book for sale.

    I assume the title is out of copyright? The Evil Empire does check. We’ve had more than our fair share of run-ins with them because of our annotations and period Sherlock Holmes parodies.

    Formatting is where you’ll run into trouble. A good layout will make your reprint more readable.

    That said, opt for the cream colored paper. It’s a hair thicker, giving less bleed-through and is easier on the eyes. A matte finish on the cover seems to hold up better.

    We’ve used the Evil Empire since 2013 or so for our print-on-demand. The books seem fine. I haven’t noticed the ink fading. The covers do curl, more so with the shiny finish than the matte finish. This shows up most often when we store the books on their sides in a stack, rather than as they should be, upright with their fellows.

    If you choose to use a local printer, you will pay $$$$$$ for real off-set printing. If you want to pay less than $$$$$$, then you have to buy more copies of your book. Genuine hardbacks will cost way more than trade paperbacks. This leads to the classic old-style example of having to purchase 1,000 copies to get the cost per book down enough to make money reselling them to the public. Thus, you end up with a garage full of books that you spend the next ten years selling.

    Teresa from Hershey

  289. Peter, Emmanuel, Christophe and Lady Cutekitten, thank you all for the book recommendations!


    I’m very sorry to hear about your son’s sorrow and fear about climate change. I can empathize a little as a parent of a very sensitive child. In a way, though, you might be able to use this challenge which has come up as an opportunity. Your son’s feelings show that he is a thoughtful, sensitive and caring person, which is a really good thing. I think you could first validate his feelings by acknowledging that his concerns are legitimate (at least that climate change is an actual issue – not the end-of-the-world aspect of it). Then use his difficult feelings as a motivating force, a thrust-block if you will, to do something better. I don’t think you want to make him feel like he’s got to single-handedly fix the world or anything, but for example you could show him that there are other people who are also concerned about climate change and working to make a difference. At least to show him that he’s not alone in his fears, and that he doesn’t have to sit back feeling powerless.

    I came across this article the other day which discussed regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration, for example:

    “A new, agave-based agroforestry and livestock feeding model developed in Guanajuato, Mexico, promises to revitalize small farmer livestock production while storing massive amounts of atmospheric carbon above and below ground”

    In general, Dr. Mercola (whose website that article is from) has become something of a champion of regenerative agriculture over the past few years, and if you search his site for articles relating to that, there are quite a few interesting ones that come up. The fashion industry is another huge contributor to climate change and just the simple step of buying second-hand clothing can make a difference. Any many more examples of which I’m sure you’re aware. Maybe there is some way for your family to get involved in supporting a strategy that counters climate change – by making changes to your own lifestyle or getting involved with an organization that is working on it? I do believe that one way that big changes come about is through the actions of many people in their own lives.

    I hope you are able to find a way to bring your son back to balance.

  290. Will J,

    “It’s truly fascinating watching Americans and English Canadians refusing to learn other languages, and then get frustrated when foreigners can’t speak English well enough”

    Living in the US is very different from living in Europe or perhaps the far east. Unless you will have fairly extensive chances to use the language, what is the point of learning it? How will you keep it up? Not everyone goes on foreign vacations. A considerable number of Americans have never flown in an airplane.

  291. Temporaryreality wrote, “On the problem of humidity, a fireplace or wood stove works in cold and damp climates. Now to come up with a low-tech solution that works in warm and damp ones! Perhaps Southeast Asia has something to teach us if we don’t already find the answer in the southeast part of the US.”

    In Indonesia various low-tech solutions get applied, but none of them attempt to alter the current humidity on a scale as large as a building — that’s for costly high-tech solutions like air conditioning.

    Plenty of humidity prone items were traditionally stored in small metal, glass, ceramic, wood or bone containers. The traditional Keris blades were kept oiled in wooden scabbards. Powdered medicinals were kept in glass and ceramic jars like European apothecaries used. Lime for betel nut chewing was kept in hollowed out bone tubes.

    On a slightly larger scale, crispy foods like krupuk, the ubiquitous starch crackers similar to both pork cracklings and Cheetos, are stored in sealed, breadbox-sized tins that keep the interior humidity low enough to preserve the crunch that gave the crackers their name. No Indonesian wants to eat krupuk that doesn’t make the sound “Krupuk!” when you bite it. There is usually a glass face on the tins so no one has to open all the containers to find the cracker they are looking for, since in the tropics the more times the tin is opened the soggier the crackers become. For some reason, many restaurant owners seem to think that over-soggy krupuk that no one would ever take of their own volition are still appropriate to serve with gado-gado — just one of the mysteries of culture.

    Some items were just not worth trying to make work in a humid place. That’s one of the explanations for gamelan being made mostly of bronze instruments. Trying to get thin, intricate, or fragile wooden instruments like violins and pianos to thrive in high humidity is a mighty challenge, while bronze is indifferent to humidity. Most of the resonators for gamelan are made from bamboo, which needs high humidity to keep from splitting. Bamboo was also used extensively in traditional building techniques.

    Traditional building design involved a lot of open pavillions (pendopo) that allowed for ample air flow. Humidity may spike during a rainstorm, but it will drop again if you don’t trap it inside a closed space. Most of the museums and galleries that I went to in Jakarta, Yogya, Solo, Bandung, Ubud, Denpasar, and Makassar had the same open construction that allowed the humidity to escape, rather than trying to keep the humidity controlled at the exact same level year round. Some museums had one or two rooms that were climate controlled but left the rest of the space more permeable and natural. The university museums were the most likely to have a completely air conditioned exhibit space, probably because they could send the bill to the taxpayers.

    As for books, I did not have any problem with mine while living without air-conditioning, though I did replace some of the clay roof tiles with glass tiles to make skylights. The extra light took the edge off of any clamminess that you naturally get inside a cement building. More important for preserving books, clothes, leather and other non-durable items was storing them on bookshelves or cupboards to keep the tokay (gecko) and cecak lizards from pooping all over them. So many exciting challenges to consider in our low-tech future!

    Until then, everything perishable will continue getting sold wrapped up in plastic in over-air-conditioned shops. The riverbanks and mountains of plastic packaging accumulating around Southeast Asia are more worrisome right now than the high humidity. Almost every time I bought a new book in Indonesia… it came wrapped in plastic.

  292. Tangentially, there seems to have always been a weird taboo against teaching the stem (-i ending) form of Japanese verbs. It’s a real form that appears on its own eg. eiga wo mi ni itta and it’s the basis of the common formal verb form, but students usually aren’t taught it in its own right, and are only given it subsumed into the said unwieldy formal form that tacks -masu/-masen/-mashita/-masen deshita(whew!) onto the end, as though it were somehow necessary for students to remember that colossal wad of verbiage separately for each and every verb even though the formal form is formed from the stem in exactly the same way for all of them. (With the sole exception of desu, which is only a half exception, really, since desu is basically just a contraction of de arimasu.)

  293. Matthias Gralle,

    There was a wonderful theatrical rendition of Strewwelpeter called Shockheaded Peter by the Tiger Lillies that I saw on Broadway back in 1999. It was a musical puppet show set on a many balconied backdrop like the old Roman theaters had. The puppets offered so many delightfully ghastly ways to depict the more memorable scenes from Strewwelpeter, and the music reveling in the mayhem was positively macabre. Puppets can have their little fingers lopped off to the cascading of red ribbons of blood night after night without anyone calling in Actors’ Equity.

    You can get a taste of it here:

    Krampus could be dreadfully musicalized in a similar fashion, but I am not sure if it would ever be allowed to reach the same level of artistry by the overlords of our current judged-by-committee, politically-correct-nightmare culture. If we are stuck living through a Weimar-level decline, couldn’t we at least have some Weimar-style decadence and degeneracy on the way down? Our social justice warriors are so dully prudish — can we cut off their thumbs?

  294. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad — there is a duo out of, of all places, San Rafael, CA, devoted to “Maintaining the American Roots Tradition.” The songs on their CDs back up the claim, as do the many instruments they play. Psaltery, autoharp, guitar, banjo, pennywhistle, recorder, flute…. and more.

    They just gave a concert here in The Village, billed as “Victorian Christmas Carols.” An understatement – they went clear back to the 12th century, and added historical commentary. Beautiful music!

    For those who loathe Jingle Bells, their finale, they said it was never written as a Christmas carol at all, but a humorous account of a New England Thanksgiving visit, written at a time when Yankees really underplayed Christmas. “According to the Medford Historical Society, the song was inspired by the town’s popular sleigh races during the 19th century. “Jingle Bells” was originally copyrighted with the name “One Horse Open Sleigh” on September 16, 1857.
    Composer: James Pierpont
    Form: Song, Drinking song”

    So! Merry Christmas to you who celebrate it as Christ’s Mass; Blessed Yule to all heathens and pagans, and a happy Winter Solstice to the rest of you.

  295. After I make headway on some previously-committed-to projects and get a more favorable divination result than I got today, I’ll revisit the state-of-the-libraries survey idea, but yes, it seems like a good useful thing.

  296. Stefania

    thank you for the thoughtful reply.

    It’s strange you say he’s a thoughtful, sensitive boy etc, because actually he’s not that sensitive. He’s really a pretty typical “boy’s boy” who loves sports, and teasing his younger sister and running around. He’s a good kid, but honestly “thoughtful” and “sensitive” are not words that I would normally use to describe him.

    As a result it’s all the more strange that he reacted in this way to climate change – it must have made a really big impact on him.

    I will try to introduce the idea of making changes in our own lives to make a difference. I told him on the first night that perhaps one thing that might help with climate change is to reduce or turn off our heating in winter like now and just bundle up more and he was very keen on doing it (more than me!) saying it won’t be such a big deal and it would help the planet!

    So I can continue on that theme.

  297. Nastaran

    “I checked out and read Adam of the Road”

    I remember Adam. I loved that book. It’s probably considered politically incorrect now, for one reason or another, along with most of my other boyhood favorites.

  298. The local library where I am has a reasonable collection, though the depth is quite inconsistent, I have been surprised to find some things which I didn’t expect them to have, although other times not found much.
    Fortunately they don’t seem to have obviously succumbed to the enthusiasm for destroying books, with older books kept at HQ store if not at branches. Ordering books within the system is free, though inter-library loans outside this are £10 for an adult borrower so in many cases could be cheaper to try and obtain a second-hand copy somewhere.
    The service has had big funding cuts, and the council said they could save money by transferring the libraries to the town and parish councils, without having to close branches. This was not entirely true, since a number of branches did close, and many have reduced opening hours.
    The other thing is, in the branches the staff are low-paid and titled “Library and Information Assistant” rather than librarians which allows them to be paid at just above minimum wage, though I think this has been the case for quite some time not just the most recent round of cuts.
    I’m lucky that my local branch has good opening hours, but reduced in space. There were at one point some books in an upstairs room, but this is now rented out for office space.
    Despite the libraries being transferred to local councils, there is still a single catalogue, and I assume the responsibility for the collection is still centralised. This could be a danger, if the top management and the front-line staff no longer work for the same organisation, if management with enthusiasm for destroying books take control.

  299. John Michael wrote, “I’m not even remotely Christian, and yet I’d much rather hear songs about the birth of Jesus than the ghastly Santafied crap that makes up the current unholyday music — oleaginous crooning about sleighs and presents and snow, gah! Give me O Come All Ye Faithful and O Holy Night and The First Noel and the rest of it, and may Krampus haul the Santa sludge away in his basket.”

    Yes, the saccharine sludge is toxic, but there is a whole world of songs that turn the perfect Victorian Christmas fantasy on its head, like “All I Want for Christmas is Cthulhu.” Given how many songs turn their backs on the well-marketed illusion, I think there may already be a majority of the public craving an antidote to the diabetes-inducing treacly sweetness of our deadly White Christmas.

    Blues singers were great at subverting the wholesomeness of the chaste, family gathering by turning every line into a sexual inuendo. “Christmas in Jail,” “Christmas Man Blues,” “It’s Christmas Baby,” “Santa Claus Wants some Lovin,” “Santa’s Got the Christmas Blues,” and “Back Door Santa” are a nice antidote to the usual canon.

    Then there are the songs that celebrate the inane mundanity of what we really experience every year like “The Season’s Upon Us,” “Merry Christmas from the Family,” “Old Hippie Christmas,” “Fairytale of New York,” and “Merry Christmas, I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight.”

    As an antidote to the drivel, no list would be complete without songs subverting the whole mercantile, moralistic miasma. “Santa Lost a Ho,” “Soca Santa,” “Joel, the Lump of Coal,” “A 5-pound Box of Money,” and “Santa Claus” by the Sonics always bring a smile to my face at Solstice time.

  300. More about books for children: When I was selecting library books or buying (used) books for my girls, I looked at both content and illustrations because I wanted my girls growing up with examples of good taste. Older children might be able to read some of the classics of adventurous fiction, such as Kidnapped by R L Stevenson and Treasure Island. I am still seeing books of Rosemary Sutcliffe on discard piles. It wasn’t until about 1950 or thereabouts that publishers began expecting sexually explicit content in historical novels. Nonfiction books for young readers about subjects like the natural sciences from the pre lavish illustration period are not so out of date as one might think. Books about, for example, rocks and minerals, from before the late 20thC discoveries in geology can still be of use. I think you also need a good atlas if one such can be found.

  301. Not a Krampus carol, but rather, a pop Krampus ditty suitable for radio playlists and shopping malls. To the tune of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and short and to the point, like the original.

    I saw Krampus taking Sis away
    Last night, in his great big wicker sack
    I could see her kicking legs
    Barely heard her muffled begs
    When Krampus shook his head, I knew
    She’s never coming back

    This year Sister set the shed on fire
    Killed the cat, and fouled the well for spite
    Oh how sad our ma must be
    That she didn’t get to see
    Krampus taking Sis away last night!

  302. Patricia Matthews, what would be the name of this duo from San Rafael? Your description of their music sounds intriguing!

    As it so happens, I have quite a collection of early Christmas music: I’ve always loved it, and have found quite a bit that also works for the celebration of Yule: interestingly, a lot of the old songs (Deck the Halls, most of the wassailing songs, The Hunt’s Up, etc.) are not overtly Christian.

    To anyone, I would recommend: Anonymous 4, Baltimore Consort, Ethan James (if you like hurdy-gurdy), Barry & Beth Hall (specifically the instrumentals), Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton, Ensemble Galilei, The Watersons, The York Waits, and Quadriga Consort.

  303. BXN, an eight-year-old you say? Is this not the perfect age to check out library books on the geological ages and the vast sweep of the rising and falling so gloriously revealed by vast seas of trilobites, lethal snap-jawed fish, the reptiles like array of dinosaurs, and then the birds, and the small and large mammals, the proto-horses and the megaloceros.

    Its all so fantastic! I loved that phase in my youth, when all of nature’s unbelievable variety-through-time could be peeked at through illustrated books!

    I just found this, which might point you in non-kids’-books directions for ways to conceive of earth changes that you can then contemplate/research with your son:

    Christophe, yes, exactly those adaptations! I wonder if bamboo paper is resistant to mildew…

  304. I did my undergraduate and graduate student work in Slavic linguistics and general linguistics (1960-1967), back in the days when Chomsky was just publishing his first works and beginning to have a lot of influence on the field. Linguistics, as it existed back then, was the child of a marriage between anthropology and philology, and a senior linguist typically had studied in considerable depth more than a half-dozen languages, each one in all its messy detail and in the context of its own culture. Chomsky, in contrast, was said to discourage his students from spending much time on languages other than their own native ones. A story, perhaps apocryphal, has him telling his students, “It would be far easier for you to teach linguistic theory to a speaker of some language so that he could analyze it as a linguist, than for you to learn that language so you could analyze it.”

    Chomsky’s strongest suits as an academic and a linguist were (1) that he had an excellent grasp of symbolic (mathematical) logic and the formalization of scientific theories, and (2) that he was one of the canniest and most accomplished academic politicians that had ever yet flourished in departments of linguistics in North America.

    From his tenured position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky won grant after substantial grant–quite often from the US Department of Defense[!]–to support work in his own sort of linguistics by himself and his students. This gave him considerable clout within his own university and within the profession. Some of his favored students, helped along by his recommendations and general support, also developed into major grant-getters themselves. Students who fell out of his favor, on the other hand, could be shut out from the informal network through which Chomsky’s own most recent papers were circulated well in advance of their eventual publication. (Nor could they expect to get recommendations for academic positions from Chomsky’s favored students, much less from the master himself.) This worked rather like the old distinction between exoteric and esoteric philosophical teaching in Antiquity: exoteric stuff was publicly available; esoteric (i.e. advanced) stuff was circulated only among the favored few.

    As for Chomsky’s own theories of language, they were hard to understand for linguists trained in older schools. His complex, quasi-mathematical presentation of his theory shut out most older linguists, who by and large had not studied either mathematics or symbolic logic in any depth. (Only Zellig Harris, among linguists before Chomsky, had done anything similar in the 20th century; and Harris was always something of a marginal figure in pre-Chomskyan linguistics.)

    As for the theories of language themselves, both Chomskyan and pre-Chomskyan, IMHO not one of them is completely adequate to the entire class of human languages. My own suspicion is that human languages do not actually form a sharply delineated class of natural objects which can be studied in terms of any internally self-consistent theory whatever.

  305. @ Booklover – Chicken Little (“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!) is a good story, even if your child is a bit too ‘old’ for it. More than one version, I’m sure.

  306. Sorry – I meant to address the comment re the Chicken Little (‘the sky is falling!} story to BXN. Long day.

  307. coming in late here–but i purchased a used book on the internet that arrived smelling strongly of cigarette smoke. Uggh. I put it in a ziplock bag with an fish tank filter (activated charcoal). Had to change the filter once but that did the trick. Tiny trace odor remains, but probably only noticeable to keen nostrils.

  308. BXN and responders:
    Don’t feel sorry for your kid. This is a great first encounter with rational fear and hopefully he will learn to deal with it.
    Just to clarify, the trigger doesn’t matter. I vividly remember the panic and sleepless nights when I read that Earth will be burnt by the expanding sun in 5 billion years. Same when neighbor kids told me about ancient aliens or Bigfoot.

    Going back to the subject, see if your son can do something – gardening or anything that is even remotely related to the climate change impacts.

  309. I have an unfortunate and embarrassing obsession for re-making Christmas songs with alternative lyrics. My apologies for what follows.

    Silent fart, deadly fart
    Hiding it is an art
    When you’re in the elevator
    Blame it on the guy by the door
    Something smells of stale cheese
    Something smells of stale cheese

    Silent fart, deadly fart
    Garlic binge was not smart
    Pressure pushes your cheeks askance
    Now you’re thinking of changing your pants
    Should have brought a spare pair
    Should have brought a spare pair

    Silent fart, deadly fart
    In the aisle of Walmart
    It’s your fault for shopping here
    At the worst possible time of year
    Got to get some Febreze
    Got to get some Febreze

    Silent fart, deadly fart
    People faint, mall crowds part
    Playing dumb, you act surprised
    Who knew gas could be weaponized
    Farting’s fun after all
    Farting’s fun after all

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