NY Public Library Opens Up Its Special Collections

On Wednesday, January 6, the New York Public Library released more than 180,000 photographs, postcards, maps and other public-domain items from the library’s special collections in downloadable high-resolution files — along with an invitation to users to grab them and do with them whatever they please.

Most items in the public-domain release have already been visible at the library’s digital collections portal. The difference is that the highest-quality files will now be available for free and immediate download.

Street View, Then & Now, for example, allows users to wander up and down Fifth Avenue, comparing a current image of any location from Google Streetview with wide-angle shots taken by the photographer Burton Welles in 1911.

Story Time is a Hot Ticket!

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the soaring popularity of story times in public libraries. At some libraries, parents start lining up an hour before the doors open and staff members have to deal with double and triple-parked strollers. “Story time is drawing capacity crowds at public libraries across New York and across the country at a time when, more than ever, educators are emphasizing the importance of early literacy in preparing children for school and for developing critical thinking skills,” reads the article. “The demand crosses economic lines, with parents at all income levels vying to get in. And many parents have made story time a fixture in their family routines alongside school pickups and playground outings.”

E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Recovers

According to an article in the New York Times this week, the prediction that e-books would overtake print within a few years shows no sign of coming true. “There are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper. E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.”

This is good news for booksellers. “Independent bookstores, which were battered by the recession and competition from Amazon, are showing strong signs of resurgence. The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.”

Report on Children and Reading

Scholastic has published the fifth edition of its popular Kids & Family Reading Report that gauges how children and their parents view reading in their daily lives. Of the children surveyed, 51% were currently reading a book for fun, and an additional 20% had recently completed one. 31% of the children polled identify as frequent readers, down from 37% in 2010. The report suggests that the reason for this decline is, “the increasing prevalence of other activities…, most notably, spending time using devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers.” One positive finding was that children are far more likely to enjoy reading when they are given the freedom to choose their own books.

“Scout” to Read from Harper Lee’s New Book

The New York Times reports that Mary Badham, the actress who played the young Scout in the 1962 movie adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” will give voice to that character again to celebrate the publication of Ms. Lee’s second novel, “Go Set a Watchman.”

Ms. Badham will appear at the 92nd Street Y’s Poetry Center in Manhattan on July 14, when the new book goes on sale. She will read from both “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is narrated by Scout and set in Depression-era Alabama, and “Go Set a Watchman,” which features Scout 20 years later, returning home from New York. The event, which will be streamed at 92Y.org/harperlee, is one of dozens of “Watchman” celebrations taking place in bookstores, theaters and libraries across the country on July 14.

Baltimore Library Stays Open Amid Unrest

Eyes around the world were recently focused on the city of Baltimore, where the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody sparked protests. Across the street from the CVS drugstore that was burned down is the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch Library. Apart from a few hours at the height of the riots, the library stayed open, a decision that has received a lot of attention and praise. When the rioting first started, branch manager Melanie Townsend Diggs locked the doors and kept the patrons inside. Later, everyone was able to leave through the back door.  That night, she told library administrators, “I really feel at a time like this, the community needs us, and I want to try to open.” The library opened next morning and remained open. Later, Ms. Townsend Diggs reflected on the experience. “I’m proud that we were able to carry on,” she said. “The gratitude of the public has sustained the staff. It’s like they knew they can count on us. I’ve never been prouder to be a librarian.”

NY City Library Attendance Exceeds all Major Venues Combined

According to a recent article in the New York Times , the city’s libraries have more users than all of the major professional sports, performing arts, museums, gardens and zoos — combined! The city’s libraries had 37 million visitors in the last fiscal year, said Angela Montefinise, a spokeswoman for the New York Public Library, which runs branches and research centers in Manhattan and the Bronx and on Staten Island.

The article’s author, Jim Dwyer, also commented on the quality of the libraries’ offerings, noting that, “No one who has set foot in the libraries — crowded at all hours with adults learning languages, using computers, borrowing books, hunting for jobs, and schoolchildren researching projects or discovering stories — can mistake them for anything other than power plants of intellect and opportunity. They are distributed without regard to wealth.”

150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Funeral Train Passing through Poughkeepsie

On April 25, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train passed through Poughkeepsie, pulled by the same locomotive which had led President-elect Lincoln’s train through the city in February 1861. According to Lincoln chronicler Victor Searcher, “The sun was sinking as the train pulled into Poughkeepsie, casting a mellow glow over the historic event. The steep hillsides were carpeted with twenty thousand persons, perhaps more. Guns roared, bands sounded, the throng stood still for fifteen minutes as the travelers detrained and partook of a hasty buffet supper. Ten minutes after eight, when movement was resumed, stars twinkled and night lights dappled the smooth-running river.” At Albany, the casket was carried to the Assembly Chamber, where mourners paid their respects throughout the night until the train continued westward the following morning.

The Changing Perception of Libraries

As the nation observes National Library Week (April 12 – 18), the American Library Association (ALA) has just released a report that documents the shift in how libraries are perceived by their communities and society. In a press release, ALA noted that, “No longer just places for books, libraries of all types are viewed as anchors, centers for academic life and research, and cherished spaces. From offering free technology workshops, small business centers and 24/7 virtual access to e-Books and digital materials, libraries are transforming communities, schools and campuses.”

The State of America’s Libraries Report concludes that, “As society continues to change the way it consumes information, public libraries and librarians are viewed as change agents by addressing unique needs and identifying trends that impact the community.”

Good News for Libraries in NY State Budget

The New York State Legislature has passed a budget that recognizes the valuable contributions made by public libraries to their communities:

Library Aid will be increased by more than $5 million – the largest increase to library aid in seven years.

$1.3 million was appropriated to rebate those libraries that paid the MTA Tax last year and libraries and library systems now have permanent MTA tax exemption.

The budget includes $14 million in library construction aid so there will be another round of State Aid for Public Library Construction Grants for 2015-2016.

Oscar-Winning Actress Promotes Libraries

Academy Award winning actress and bestselling author Julianne Moore recently recorded a public service announcement as part of the 30th anniversary of School Library Month. In the PSA, Moore speaks to how librarians empower students to succeed in school and beyond. The PSA can be viewed at www.ala.org/aasl/slm/2015/psa.

“School libraries make a difference,” said Moore. “I moved around a lot as a young child, and the first place I would visit in a new place was the school library. The librarians guided me, encouraged me, and set the stage for my lifelong love of reading. As educators, school librarians have a tremendous impact on our students’ personal and intellectual growth. School libraries foster creativity, innovation, play, and experimentation and offer a nurturing, and safe place for children to learn. I have a lot of love for librarians.”

Library Usage Increases in New York

A Siena College Research Institute poll conducted in January found that public library usage is up 10% statewide over the last three years, with usage up nearly 20% among those households making less than $50,000 annually. 94% of respondents said that public libraries are “very” or “somewhat” important to our state’s educational infrastructure, while more than 80% of women, African-Americans, Latinos, and households making less than $50,000 say public libraries are “very important” to our educational system.

Meanwhile, in a press release announcing the results of the poll, Jeremy Johannesen, Executive Director of the New York Library Association, pointed out that library funding is nearly 20% less than what is mandated in state Education Law, and is currently at 1997 levels. He called on Governor Cuomo and library supporters in the State Senate and the Assembly to recognize that public libraries are at the core of the state’s educational infrastructure and must be equitably funded.