Reader’s Corner: Free Books from the Vatican

The opening of the gospel of Matthew, in Persian. Possibly acquired by the Vatican in the 16th century (Library of Congress)

The opening of the gospel of Matthew, in Persian. Possibly acquired by the Vatican in the 16th century (Library of Congress)

The Vatican Library, with its gaudy halls and astounding troves of rare manuscripts—not to mention that ever-exciting aura of deep dark mystery—is about to get a whole lot less secret. Last week, the Vatican began a multi-year project to digitize 1.5 million pages from their 82,000 manuscripts. Then they’re going to post it all online.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

“The manuscripts that will be digitized extend from pre-Columbian America to China and Japan in the Far East, passing through all the languages and cultures that have marked the culture of Europe,” said Monsignor Jean-Louis Brugues, archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church.

In short, very cool.

Reader’s Corner: The Monastery Library in Admont

The Admont Benedictine Monastery was established in Austria in the year 1074 and is still a going concern. Impressive enough. But add on to that the existence of its stunning Baroque library, finished in 1776. Inside its glorious assemblage of bright walls and frescoed ceilings, the library contains tens of thousands of volumes, including 530 incunabula (books printed before 1500).

The Admont’s builder, Joseph Hueber, was a man of the Enlightenment, who believed in beauty of all kinds:

As with the mind, light should also fill the room.

(h/t: Fodor’s)

Readers’ Corner: New York’s Hidden Library

The New York Public Library's Main Reading Room.

The New York Public Library’s Main Reading Room.

When you think “New York” and “library” there’s really only one that comes to mind: the grand main branch on Fifth Avenue facing Bryant Park. It’s gorgeous, it’s iconic, they have just about every book you can imagine (even if they’ve started trying to move a bunch of titles off-site); in other words perfect. The main Brooklyn branch on Grand Army Plaza is no slouch, either, either in architectural grandness or selection.

But there’s another library worth mentioning, and that’s the one underneath the Surrogate’s Court building in downtown Manhattan that nobody knows about: the City Hall Library. From last Tuesday’s New York Times:

Below the library are the cavernous storerooms and vaults that contain some of the maps, books, photographs and other items that are part of the Municipal Archives. They document the city’s government and leadership dating back to the unification of the boroughs into New York City in 1898, and back to the first mayor of the city, Thomas Willett, in 1665.

The history of the city is celebrated in old sepia photographs, wall-size topographical maps and reproduction manuscripts on display within the library and in a visitor center next to the library.

Yet there is not a hint of any of this on the granite exterior of the imposing Beaux-Arts building at 31 Chambers Street, behind City Hall….The librarians say the courthouse’s status as a designated landmark means that they are not allowed to hang a sign on the building’s exterior.

Grand Central Station, circa 1937 - one of the images available from New York city's Municipal Archives.

Grand Central Station, circa 1937 – one of the images available from New York city’s Municipal Archives.

If you can’t get there, though, no worry: Much of the Municipal Archives’ photographic holdings were digitized and put online last year—the interest was so immediate that it crashed the server. It’s an astonishing collection of historical imagery, which you can see here. Many of the old glass-plate negatives that the NYPD shot of crime scenes back in the early 20th century were used by Luc Sante in his ghostly book, Evidence.

 

Trailer Park: ‘Library Wars’

23100-librarywar

library-wars1

There’s a series of Japanese novels by Hiro Arikawa (already turned into manga and animated series and film) about a dystopian future where the Japanese military has been instructed to remove all “objectionable” printed material from libraries. In response, a group called the Library Force is formed to battle said censorship with full Wolverines-style mayhem, if necessary. The live-action film version is called, you got it, Library Wars! Much bookish awesomeness is guaranteed.

Library Wars is being released in Japan later this spring. Who knows if this will ever make it to the States … but one can hope.

Trailer is here:

Reader’s Corner: The Bookless Library

booklesslibrary1

It’s an idea that sounds ridiculous on its face but might turn out to have some merit. Texas’s Bexar County, which includes the city of San Antonio, is planning to open up a new library that will hold no printed books. Not one. Instead, patrons will be able to borrow digital reading devices and ebooks. There will also be dozens of computer terminals for public use. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The trial location, opening in a satellite government office on San Antonio’s south side in the fall, will have a selection of about 10,000 titles, and 150 e-readers for patrons to check out, including 50 designed for children. The library will allow users to access books remotely, and will feature 25 laptops and 25 tablets for use on site, as well as 50 desktop computers. It will also have its own coffee house.

Staffers will help patrons with technical questions, but there will be no designated research assistants. County officials, who estimate startup costs at $1.5 million, believe overall costs will be lower than running traditional libraries, and are considering additional locations.

library2There are some problems with this plan, most particularly the still-high cost of entry  (not everybody has an e-reader, and not everybody will be able to borrow one of the library’s) and the also much-higher costs for libraries to buy rental digital copies of some popular books.

That being said, it’s refreshing to see a local government still striving to create open spaces for its citizens to gather, receive services, and access free literature and information. Plus: coffee.

Now, if somebody could just revitalize the bookmobile as a traveling free Wi-Fi spot with great books (maybe coffee too), they’d really be on to something.

Side note: very cool slideshow of bookmobiles here.

 

Reading Spaces: The Wal-Mart Library

It’s a common problem: Wal-Mart comes to town, builds a ginormous hypermart just outside of town, local businesses shut down, and then eventually Wal-Mart closes as well, leaving a giant crumbling edifice surrounded by a weedy parking lot. Charles Fishman wrote a great and judicious book about it a few years ago called The Wal-Mart Effect (my Chicago Reader piece on that here).

When the Wal-Mart in McAllen, Texas closed down, though, the town came up with an ingenious solution. Take the empty space — the size of almost 2 1/2 football fields — and turn it into the nation’s largest one-story library. It’s been open since December 2011 and as you can see in this Los Angeles Times story, is a wondrous reading space and one of those increasingly rare things in America: a true community center.