24 August 2009

BPL Publishes, Then Retracts, Tintin Response

Brooklyn Public Library sequestered Tintin and the world continues to be scandalized. From the Bay Ridge blogosphere to the French literary press, everyone's picking up the story. Amidst the hubbub, BPL's No Shush Zone responded to the growing criticism, but their August 22nd post has since been taken down (shushed!). Here it is, saved from the brink of virtual obsolescence by my handy feed reader:

Hi All-

We know there's been a lot of chatter on the web about the NY Times piece about Tintin Au Congo, and we love the good-natured discussion, and the heated debates. But we've also seen some facts we'd like to correct, so please read on.

Our special collections -- such as the Hunt Collection and the Brooklyn Collection -- are areas at Central Library in which we offer and store rare, irreplaceable and delicate materials.

Tintin au Congo was relocated to the Hunt Collection at Central Library about three years ago after it was determined by a committee that reviews book challenges to have content that is questionable for children. Yes, the Hunt Collection is a vaulted room, but not for "offensive" or "banned" books, but a special collection that consists of approximately 7,000 juvenile books, pamphlets, and periodicals dating back to the 1740s and concluding with materials published in the 1950s, including some first editions. Included are classic children’s literary texts, special limited and illustrated editions and books written and/or illustrated by people affiliated with Brooklyn. So the titles kept here are often out of print, rare and of historical significance; this special collection was appraised at over $400,000. Tintin Au Congo fits into the collection perfectly as a rare title of historical significance that needs safekeeping.

So now Tintin au Congo lives in a room in Central Library with other priceless works so we can keep it safe… as well as keep it close at hand in case an interested customer wants to view it. This title -- as well as others in the Hunt Collection -- is listed in our catalog as a title available to the public, and is viewable by appointment.

BPL will also offer tours of the Hunt Collection as part of Open House NYC. More information on those tours will be available in mid-September.

I agree that a "rare title of historical significance" ought to be housed in a special collection. And I'm quite fond of the Hunt Collection -- I cataloged a portion of it during my library school internship at BPL back in 2003. However, Tintin au Congo wasn't removed from circulation due to preservation concerns, but for it's "questionable" content.

As Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition writes in a recent NY Daily News op-ed, "Banishing of books is bad form and bad library science, and if it catches on all that will pass for acceptable and available reading for children and adults alike will amount to pabulum and the homogenized opinions approved by the self-righteous among us who always think - and are so sure they know - what's good and what's bad for the rest of us."

22 August 2009

The Brooklyn Public Library Layoff Debacle

Yesterday, the Daily News reported that Brooklyn Public Library laid off 13 non-union employees to alleviate a portion of its $5.5 million budget shortfall. This news comes rather late; the terminations took place back on July 6. There has, however, been some not-so-local media coverage of this story that's been brewing for nearly two weeks.

On August 9, the Washington Post profiled the career-coaching and outplacement firm Five O'Clock Club in a lengthy article entitled "The Art of Letting Employees Go." Turns out, Brooklyn Public Library hired these downsizing specialists to assist with their layoff process and Post reporter Eli Saslow went along for the ride. His article includes some rather specific descriptions of the effected employees, even noting their client numbers with Five O'Clock Club. Big mistake.

Presumably, complaints by the 13 staffers and/or their still-employed colleagues were severe enough to warrant a flurry of apologies, accusations, and denials by BPL execs, Five O'Clock Club, and the Post. Library Journal deftly outlines the situation in this article which, in turn, elicited this response by the Post's ombudsman. Not only did Saslow all but identify the laid off employees by name, he may have added too much "color" to his story:
Contrary to Saslow’s description of Hall gulping two Tylenol, [Club president Kate] Wendleton said: “Kim does not pop Tylenol – ever.” She denied Saslow’s claim that Club employees get bonuses “almost every month.” She even denied his description of their offices being located “across from a laundry room where tenants come and go in their pajamas.”
He said, she said! All finger-pointing aside, I think journalists ought to remember that librarians take privacy issues quite seriously.

19 August 2009

Challenging Tintin

With Brooklyn Public Library's decision to move Tintin au Congo into the Hunt Collection as its point of departure, City Room considers how local libraries respond to challenged books. The reading public has been quick to jump into the censorship in libraries debate, with 237 comments and counting. Have you weighed in?

18 August 2009

Midtown Lunch: Bites of NYPL's Future and Past

Seems there's no news but NYPL news these doggone summer days. I've no doubt other libraries will pick up the slack come September, but for now:

Ann Thornton has been named
interim Director of the New York Public Libraries, after previous Director David Ferriero was chosen, hand-of-Obama-style, as the latest Archivist of the United States.

Following last month's revelation that work on a new Donnell Library won't begin until 2011 (if ever), the NY Times Real Estate section recently featured an architectural examination of the shuttered, beloved NYPL branch. It seems a small group of preservationists have been lobbying the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Donnell's behalf. Not everyone is convinced.

The new Donnell had a facade of Spartan simplicity, about as warm as a jail cell. ... Writing in his column in The New Yorker in 1956, Lewis Mumford likened it to the careful, ordered facade of a high Renaissance palazzo, but one “cleansed of ornament.” For Mumford that was not necessarily a negative, but he found the “cheerless” Donnell a design of “assiduous anonymity.” The library, he wrote, “has very little to say, and is content with not saying it.”

Later, the reporter likens Donnell to boiled spinach, then quips, "however, that has never been a disqualifier for landmark status."

07 August 2009

Donnell Deal Details & Conserving Local Archival Collections

Library Journal's recent update on the Donnell Library boondoggle reveals new details about New York Public Library's deal with Orient-Express Hotels. In short, the hotel chain has paid NYPL an additional $9 million in recompense for a two-year project delay. Commenting on the article, RitaSue Siegel writes: "At a meeting at the City Council office LeClerc and the COO of the NYPL told a small group of us from the West 54-55 Street Block Association, representatives of CB5 and the liaison people from all the electeds that there will be a $30 million penalty paid to the NYPL by OE if OE does not break ground for the hotel with a library in it in 2011."

Yesterday's NY Times featured an informative article about paper conservation projects at the American Jewish Historical Society, the New York Academy of Medicine, and the New York Historical Society, all funded by Save America's Treasures.