Archives for : book lovers

Volunteering for Your Local Library

I recently reposted an article about how libraries have changed in the past decade. Libraries are no longer about books but serve as hubs for the community.

My own local library in North Logan, Utah, a small town of about 8000 people, is a prime example of what’s happening nationwide. We have an excellent director who has a very broad vision. And our new executive board on the Friends of the Library are a new and energetic crop of people, who are willing to put hours and hours into helping existing programs and initiating new ones.

I got involved with my library in a roundabout way. Last year, the library started hosting a farmers and community market. I started out as a vendor, occasionally selling beaded jewelry. It was a lot of fun just being there on Saturday morning, getting to talk to residents of my community—vendors and market visitors alike.

Years ago, I worked as a copyeditor with the president of the Friends of the Library, and because she was also the initiator of said market, we got to talking, and she brought me onboard with the Friends to help out as the PR Director.

It was a rather steep learning curve for me and a rude awakening to the fact that putting on a one-day event consisting of a winter gift market and Christmas activities took an unbelievable amount of volunteer man hours. Never again will I look at any event in the same way. There are so many people involved in various ways behind the scenes to make it happen! But when it’s all over, you can say that you were part of making it happen, and it feels so good to own a little bit of community involvement.

If you love books, or if you’re interested in community programs and educational efforts in your neighborhood, volunteer some time at your local library. Most of them have a Friends of the Library organization. Those are generally non-profits run by volunteers who appreciate anybody willing to help and who will be able to put various talents to work. Go for it! You’ll be glad you did!

Review of Rosina Lippi’s HOMESTEAD

I was skeptical when somebody mentioned this book to me. The stories of the women in this book are all set in an area close to where I grew up. I doubted that an outsider could paint an accurate picture of this remote farming area. But I must admit that my skepticism was ungrounded.

This is an excellent book for anybody who wants to know what it must have been like to make it through World War I and II (and beyond) in a remote valley in Europe.

The only trouble I had was trying to remember from one story to the next how the characters are related to each other. Nonetheless, each story is complete and enjoyable on its own. And if you want to read it a second time to delve into the familial relationships, I’m sure you’d get some of the nuances that you might have missed on the first go-round. This book can definitely be enjoyed more than once!

[Also posted on Goodreads.]

My Favorite Library

I attended a school that had a very rich history—not that it interested me in the least as a schoolgirl. Today, when I go back to visit, I can actually still go into the now former school because it has been remodeled (again) and made into a library.

But let’s start at its beginnings: My home town was on the map during the Roman expansion across Europe. Around 600 AD, two missionaries from Ireland came to the town of Bregenz, Austria. Kolumban and Gallus were very successful in spreading Catholicism in that area, and many churches and place names remind us of their influence. The building in which I spent 8 years of my schooling, was named after St. Gallus eventually. It started out as a castle in the 14th century. The property later changed hands and became a Benedictine monastery, then an agricultural school, a school for girls (Gallusstift), and finally a library and one of the state’s repositories.

I always liked the school as a child. Even though it was a somewhat long walk, which prompted me to ride my bike to school almost daily (except for the few days in winter when it became necessary to take the bus), the distance did not matter. The building was nestled against a hill. Right behind it were woods that stretched for miles (and in which we had to run many times for exercise since our castle/monastery surprisingly did not own a gym).


Older view (also borrowed from the library's website).

Older view (borrowed from the library’s website:

In the picture above, you can see the cupola that sits on top of what used to be a chapel. The chapel was large enough to contain all of the school’s students (about 450) before or on any given Christian holiday. Frankly, I hated being crammed into the tiny church. It was not really made for 400 squirmy teenagers.

Vorarlberger Landes-Bibliothek

Vorarlberger Landes-Bibliothek

But today that same chapel has been transformed into a library, holding 100,000 books. Well, the entire building is now the state library for Vorarlberg. Of course, the monks started their own library there long ago, and some of the archival material is still housed there today. The holdings contain literary jewels from centuries ago up to a state-of-the-art e-library. During my visits back home, I don’t have enough time to explore the various collections of the library, but I often pop in just to marvel at the the chapel-turned-library:

The library in the chapel.

The library in the chapel.

I think it’s just wonderful the way they have incorporated the original design of the chapel walls, the organ, the stain-glass windows. They’ve added spiral staircases, which fit well into the existing architecture. And although my photo at left came out rather yellow because I didn’t dare use a flash in a library, it is a very high, bright, and airy room—so bright it seems to have nothing to do with the dark crowded church I felt prisoner in as a child.

It makes me happy to know that my old school is still used by scholars, historians, book lovers of any kind, people who seek information. There are daily papers and magazines and computers available for the public. For centuries, this has been a place for inquiring minds. And I feel privileged to be a graduate of this special place.

Type Moving at the Speed of Your Fingers

Last summer, I spent a few days in Munich. My husband, a historian, insisted that we visit the Deutsches Museum (German Museum). We both assumed it would contain exhibits explaining the history of Germany. I agreed to the visit only in exchange for another afternoon in a museum of fine arts.

Gutenberg Positive

Johannes Gutenberg. It’s hard to believe his beard wouldn’t get caught in a printing press …

To my surprise, the museum turned out to be the world’s largest museum of science and technology, and I could have spent far more time there than we had allocated. Having worked in publishing for so long, I really enjoyed the exhibit on papermaking and print technology. While the first movable printing press technology was invented in China around the year 1000, we are generally familiar only with the improved technology created by the German printer Johannes Gutenberg. According to the museum literature, Gutenberg’s invention of letterpress printing around 1445 “was the technical prerequisite which made books accessible to a larger audience, accounted for the rise of newspapers and periodicals, and generally brought about a much wider dissemination of the written word than ever before. Hardly any other invention has exercised such a great influence on civilization and society.” Now that’s a great invention!

In other words, we owe the access to information (and learning) that we are used to today to that technology nearly 600 years ago. I feel lucky that books have always been important in my life. As I am writing this, I am sitting in my in-laws’ living room, enjoying in front of me a wall of books with fancy bindings and gold lettering. If I were to pull any of those books off the shelf, I’m sure they would smell old (see “The Smell of Books”). In between those covers we’d find a lot of “classics.”


Let’s not forget that movable type had to be set as a mirror image. And so did all the images.

On one of the shelves, there is a sequence of books that is clearly a set of encyclopedias. It takes up about a yard of shelf space and represents a person’s general knowledge base in 1967 and was, by its own definition, “the starting place for all searches” then. Today, the starting point of all searches is a search engine. In a time where “google” has become a verb and we are connected to the Internet 24/7, it is hard to imaging that all the information we desired has not always been available literally at our finger tips.

With the introduction of the personal computer what used to be a highly specialized skill has become something anybody with a computer can learn to do. Desktop publishing has made printing and designing easier and more affordable. Gutenberg’s “movable type” is moving at the speed of one’s fingers on a keyboard now. I think he’d love it if he could see us today. I wonder what his blog would contain.

The Smell of Books

I just read an article on the smell of old books, and it made me wonder why people like that smell. It can’t be the smell itself? Deteriorating organic compounds really don’t smell that great. It must be the memories evoked by those smells. Maybe your grandma read you a favorite story over and over from an old book when you were a child. Maybe you liked to hang out in a used book store during your college years.

I’m sure studies have been done on this, and because I have not read them, I can only offer my speculations. What I do know is that I am not a fan of musty-smelling books. Give me a digital book anytime! Not only does it NOT smell bad, I can also read it in the dark because it’s backlit and I can adjust the print size! And digital books are perfect for people who move a lot because you don’t need to move heavy boxes full of books around.

And, yes, somebody still copyedited, proofed, and typeset that book. Three cheers to the publishing industry and to people who like to read books, smelly or otherwise. Make some time and read one today!


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