Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chicago Public Library: Harold Washington Library Center

Harold Washington Library Center
400 S. State Street

Okay, so I wrote a bunch of shit about the Chicago Public Library, but I'm going to be more positive for a couple of posts. The Harold Washington branch is the big downtown library in Chicago, and while it has many of the problems I discussed in the other posts, I'm going to talk about some cool things.

Actually, first one more bad thing. There's a separate Young Adult section at this library, which is neat. What isn't neat is that _all_ of the YA books and material are there, and it's hours are considerably shorter than the rest of the library. The Library is open 9-9 on many days, while the YA section is only open from 1-8pm. Great!

Anyway, on to some good things. There's some neat architecture/sculpture outside.


More in the "weird' section, they have a huge card catalogue for music scores that hasn't been updated in almost 20 years. They also have loads of vinyl records that you can borrow!

I honestly barely remember how these are even used.

They also had a huuuggee section of clippings from magazines and stuff. It was really weird, and what was kind of weirder was that it was still being updated. While it was really neat, it was also weirdly useless as there was no note as to where any of the clippings came from originally. Sure that's an awesome picture of a 17th century fashion, but where did it come from? I have no idea. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of the actual clippings.

There was also a music listening room where I think you could listen to records and stuff if you gave them to the staff to put into bizarre machines inaccessible to patrons, multiple (strangely un-sound proofed) piano practice rooms (two of which were in use), and nobody around.

There were even less people on the next floor up, which had offices, and weird empty corridors and rooms. It was almost like exploring some abandoned location in Bioshock or some other video game.

This was in the lobby of the library. America, you are weird. Putting a flag on the ground is bad, but putting it into a box where people can throw old batteries and garbage on top of it is fine? I will never understand.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

#1 Part Deux: Collingwood Branch, and I Make Everything About Ice Cream

The first VPL branch I visited for the purposes of this blog was Collingwood Branch at Kingsway & Rupert. Having a reason to travel to the far reaches of Vancouver to visit these library branches is a bit of a trick, but in this case I had offered to do a favor for a friend that required me to be only a few blocks from this library. Unlike some of the other VPL branches, this building stands out. Trust me if you ever decide to visit, you won’t miss it.

The stars in the window are part of the Summer Reading Club which has the theme this year of Up, Up and Away. Each star had the name of a child who had joined the Summer Reading Club on it. This celebration of the program seems to be unique to this library. I have noticed information on the program at other VPL branches now, but nothing like the stars in the window. In fact as I was there, I listened to a librarian set up a child with his first library card and help him join the Summer Reading Club program. On a side note, I saw three different staff members in action and interacted with two of them myself while I was there and all of them were extremely nice and helpful, which is not always the case.

I ended up with quite a haul from this library and can see that is going to be an ongoing issue in engaging in this project. I am quickly accumulating more books and dvds than I can possibly get through in any reasonable amount of time. I did find the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, and as I had recently borrowed but not yet watched the 1973 adaptation, I decided to go on a Jane Eyre spree. The whole story is rather creepy (coming from the Gothic literary tradition and all, that’s not exactly a groundbreaking statement), but many people prefer their Jane Eyre adaptations to smooth over as much of the creepiness and problematic nature of the story as possible or at least to romanticize it as much as possible. Me, I actually prefer versions that bring out all the weirdness and nastiness and general Gothic craziness of the story. I don’t particularly want to like or enjoy the romance of the main characters. That said …

The 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre is a movie of two hours and thus ends up necessarily paring down the story to its bare bones. It does some interesting things with the timeline which I think mostly works quite well and probably is a great idea for how to arrange and manage the lengthy story in that kind of shortened time frame. The tone and lighting of the movie are well done, enhancing the dark drama of the story, and overall it is beautifully shot. However, while I do not want to be in any way swept off my feet by the romance, I at least want to believe that these two characters feel themselves to be in love and for some kind of believable reason or through some kind of clear set of actions and interactions. I’m afraid I did not feel it at all - which kind of makes the overall movie fall flat for me.

But back at the library branch … the funniest thing I saw there was six copies of Cousin Bette by HonorĂ© de Balzac scattered about in the adult paperback collection, though only five are in the picture because I found the sixth one later. I did artificially collect them altogether in one place - and I left them that way too so maybe a staff member will notice. (And to me as a funny thing this even beat out my discovery of the book “A Shore Thing“ by Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi. Is there really an audience for that thing? I mean are people who watch Jersey Shore also generally novel readers? I’m sure some of the audience is, but I doubt those that are would also be inclined to mix together their two disparate levels of cultural consumption).

 These adult paperback collections are not given titles in the cataloguing system, and I would not be the least bit surprised if they were in no way tied to any particular branch but simply kept at whatever branch they were returned to (I think I’d better ask this question at a future branch and report back to you). They are a browsing collection designed for quickly finding a copy of any old commonly read/popular title and in the less sturdy but more comfortable for recreational reading paperback format as opposed to the traditional library hardback. But how one branch ends up with six copies of Cousin Bette of all things, I have no idea. Of course this necessitated that I check out a copy and read it. I naturally chose the one incorrectly labeled with “D” on the spine instead of “B.” I have not read it yet, but will report back to you once I do.

Finally, I rounded this adventure out with a stop on the way home to purchase one of the most important and vital inventions of the modern world:

You may find that, where Matthew made everything about comics, I make everything about ice cream. Even libraries.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Chicago Public Library: Humboldt Park Branch

1605 N. Troy Street

One of the things that surprised my friend and I when we first went into one of the branches was that there were lots of open computers and there was no line to get internet access.  At first we thought this was awesome, but then we realized that there are two pretty big causes for why this is.

1. The library system in general is underused. The central branch is incredibly empty.

2. The software that runs on the computers is awful. Like, super slow, can't do anything, things crash and then you can't even open a new browser window you have to wait until the computer realizes things crashed and then opens a new one. 

I was told they're running Internet Explorer 5, but that they're updating to IE 7 this year (the newest version of IE is 10). There are multiple campaigns to get people to stop using IE 6 (one of them is even run _by_ Microsoft), but apparently technology isn't a priority for the Chicago Library system. Of course, that is how you make things relevant.

I wasn't even able to use the super slow internet at this library because there was nobody at the reference desk to give me a guest pass. (And getting a guest pass requires having out of state ID, if your ID is from somewhere else in Illinois you have to get a library card from your local branch first.)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chicago Public Library: Bucktown-Wicker Park Branch

Bucktown-Wicker Park Branch
1701 N. Milwaukee Avenue

So I recently went to Chicago for the American Library Association annual conference, and the conference in general was really fun! I helped run the Zine Pavilion, got to interview some comic creators, ran a library themed session of Call of Cthulhu, and did other fun stuff.

While I was in Chicago I also went and checked out some of their public libraries. They made me sad. I've heard from a couple of people that the current mayor of Chicago doesn't care about libraries, and is of the opinion that as long as the lights are on and there's someone to check out books then that's all they need. Geeze.

The fact that the library system is really understaffed was obvious at every branch I went to, and things I heard from people that work there made me even sadder. One thing that really bothered me was how poorly kept the shelves were. They need to hire some shelvers ASAP. Below are some photos from the Bucktown-Wicker Park branch, but it was no better or worse than any other in terms of messiness of the shelves.

Books are just piled on top of other books, while rows fall over.

Those are just pages that have fallen out of a comic and are just lying there.

Books are spine in on shelves, or in the completely wrong section.

Meanwhile (and I didn't get a photo of this) there are masses of carts filled with books waiting to be put back on the shelves. Someone told me that all of the returns and hold requests are done through the central branch, so that books are sent there, and then sent back to other branches. But that they have so few people working that there is a six week backlog. ie. if you request a book today that is on the shelves, it will take them at least six weeks to send it to the branch you want to pick it up from, and then maybe another week or two in travel time. So inefficient I can't even joke about it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

One Broken Promise, One New Promise (That I Promise to Keep)

You might remember, if you've actually been reading along with Matthew on his adventures in visiting all 22 branches of the VancouverPubic Library system, that he at one point borrowed a Magic: The Gathering novel after procuring a promise from a friend to read the whole thing. Well I am that friend, and I am here to announce that I am a promise breaker. Not that I didn't try, repeatedly for over a month (he had to do a loan renewal  trying to give me a more than fair chance to not renege on my promise) to finish that book, but in the end I had to give up in favor of finishing my last term paper in time to leave for ALA in Chicago.

In my defense I will cite this info-graphic from Goodreads which is very non-scientifically (and thus not actually really quality evidence in my defense) examining when and why people give up on reading a book. Notably under the “point of no return” reasons for why people finally dropped a book, my experience with this MTG novel was covered by five of the reasons people selected. This aligns me with 81.6% of respondents for reasons why I was totally justified in deciding, while life may not exactly be too short, I certainly deserve better reading materials for lazy days than that novel. On the other hand, note that the percentage of respondents agreeing with the various reasons listed under the point of no return equals 100.1%.

Which brings me to the second promise. Except it isn't really officially a promise, just an offer Matthew made. While he is off gallivanting about North America and will be bringing us tales from the libraries he finds along the way, I am back in Vancouver spending endless hours researching and reading about archives and libraries. Yup, I too am getting my Master of Library and Information Studies at UBC. I think I've visited around 11 or 12 of the local VPL branches since moving to Vancouver in January to start this program, but I certainly had no reason to visit every last one of them.

That is, until Matthew made me the offer I could not refuse – restarting his project to visit and blog about every branch of VPL. I mean how could I possibly pass up on this golden opportunity to garner fame and fortune in the blogosphere? Beside, you might have noticed that Matthew has a very specific point of view/obsession as he visits libraries (COMICS!), so I felt like there was plenty of space for me to bring my own unique point of view to this endeavor.

You might be curious as to how I will plan out, structure and accomplish this goal. As we have already established, I’m a great fan of well structured, scientific methods and results, so I will bring to bear my considerable interests and skills in carefully managing this project. Which is to say that I have no plan or method or timeline or any possible type of organizational structure whatsoever for this project. On the other hand, I have already visited a new library branch and taken pictures and notes for my next blog post. So I feel like we are off to a good start. Here’s to crossing the finish line.


P.S. I just started a brand spanking new blog of my very own, so feel free to follow my non-VPL related adventures here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I did it! I've visited every branch! Now to go and visit branches in other cities : )

And since I wasn't even in Vancouver when the last blog post went up, that shouldn't be too hard! I was just at the American Library Association conference in Chicago, I'm going to the Zine Librarian (un)Conference in Iowa City, visiting a librarian friend in Kentucky, going to Toronto to see family (none of whom live there), going to the Zine Symposium in Portland, Oregon, and probably going to other places.

Since I'm a super nerd, I'm sure I will go to libraries in some (or all) of these places, and you'll end up seeing posts about that library that was in Scott Pilgrim.