Prelinger Library Blog

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

An appropriation-friendly, image-rich, experimental research library. Independent and open to the public.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Recent terrific donations

We've been recently pleased by the unexpected arrival of some terrific donations. We appreciate that people have been responding to the recent magazine article about us by noticing items around them that are appropriate for our library, and sending them to us. From Alisa Austin we received a half-dozen loose issues of the beautiful Arizona Highways from the early 1950s, which are good reading about an interesting turning point in the post-War mythology of the West.

From Gretchen Garner we received a copy of her 1980s book "An Art History of Ephemera." This artist's book is a catalog of her landscape photography. Its focus on the ephemeral landscape and the incidental forms of everyday life are in close keeping with our sensitivity for the un-seen environment, and her pictures of rhyming dis-used public spaces and incidental places fit in well with our collection of landscape-based ephemera:

Thanks also to old acquaintance Martha Bridegam, a local independent scholar and historian who has been using the library, and who recently dropped off some issues of the Klamath Tribes newspaper, adding to our collection important contextual documentation of the history of the contemporary Klamath water wars. Thank you, everyone! -- MSP

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Has the Earth a Ring Around It?

It's an open Wednesday in the library and there are seven women working on projects here. Two on a movie, two on a local history project, one on a book, one on an art project, and one just browsing. We're especially glad to have received a visit today from Sarah Lewison, who made some terrific donations. She gifted us with a copy of the small book, "Has the Earth a Ring Around It?" written by the amateur astronomer Frank Back in 1955 documenting his work to photograph spectrographs of the sky during a complete eclipse, to understand eclipse coronas. --MSP

Punk Zine Archive

Both of us have been influenced at a core level by punk culture and politics. We like to think of the library as a DIY (that's do-it-yourself) project, an attribute that's also closely entwined with punk cultural practice. The library also collects zines and independently-published material from the 1960s on, and there are even a few older publications in similar veins.

So we were thrilled to read this morning on BoingBoing about the Punk Zine Archive, a project of Operation Phoenix Records. This isn't a token effort — this is a deep-archives-in-the-works with beautiful, high-quality scans from key zines of the oldskool punk era. There's Maximumrocknroll, Suburban Voice, HeartattaCk, Flipside, and many more on the way. Download and dig deep into these documents of idealism and political culture, and send these folks a donation!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Video, Education and Open Content

Here at the Video, Education and Open Content conference at Columbia, sponsored by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning and Intelligent Television.

Peter Brantley just gave the "what does a library do now" talk.

Beginning with Eric Faden's fast-spreading viral video A Fair(y) Use Tale, he said that libraries have pursued an offline, passive model: "we have lots of interesting content — please come and use it!" But these days, people make their own media, and librarians are trying to respond, but turning libraries into cafes doesn't cut it. Peter suggested that the new library is about partnering with scholars and IT people, people who are engaging in the creation of media and making it available for the community and for reuse. It's networked, not offline. The good news, a point of departure, is that libraries have already preserved a great deal of video. Peter thinks that partnerships are the route by which it will become available.

Peter's critique seems apt, and I think he's also describing the situation in which moving image archives now find themselves. As an archivist, though, I've always felt that libraries had a lot to teach archives about public access. Libraries (especially public and some research institutions) have done much to keep the traditions of access alive, and I hope archivists will look closely at what libraries do as they try to move towards openness. --RP

More: Isabel Walcott Hilborn is blogging the conference.

...And so is Peter.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More from Moscow

A book fund established in 2006 through the generosity of Kenneth N. Swezey provides us with a stake to purchase English-language books published in the former Soviet Union. I just picked up two in New Haven, From Moscow to Yalta and Leningrad, undated guidebooks that I'm going to guess were printed for visitors to the 1980 Moscow Olympics. In word and picture, these books evoke the last years of Soviet communism and show how the USSR strained to show itself off to the world. Worth a very close reading. -- RP

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Our LibraryThing Hobby

We've said publicly that we don't plan to catalog our collection, and yet recently the temptations of LibraryThing have made this project a simpler and more enticing prospect than ever before. Starting with the contents of our bookshelves at home, we're now in the early stages of building a catalog using this interesting tool. Given the number of books in our collection the process could take years, so it's no immediate threat to our heartfelt belief in providing a counterpoint to the query-based model of access, at least regarding the analog library. But we're looking ahead to the possibility that LibraryThing will develop the capacity to link to digital books. If that happens it could function as a portal to the digital version of our library. -- MSP

Eclipse: a free online archive of smallpress writing

I'm thrilled to discover (thru Silliman's blog) Eclipse, which describes itself as a "free on-line archive focusing on digital facsimiles of the most radical small-press writing from the last quarter century."

Perhaps you haven't read much of what's been called "language poetry." I haven't either, but what little I've read has been a major influence on my own work and ideas, including Panorama Ephemera.

Some faves: Rae Armantrout's Extremities, Clark Coolidge's Polaroid, L=A=N-G=U-A=G=E Magazine. -- RP

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Prelinger Library in Harper's (more)

You can read the Harper's piece on our library here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

9th Circuit denies our petition for a rehearing

The 9th Circuit has denied our petition for a rehearing in Kahle et al. v. Gonzales. The announcement and link to opinion is here; some background is here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Itinerant Poetry Librarian to Visit May 16th

We are delighted to announce that the Itinerant Poetry Librarian, who's in San Francisco for a spell, will be installing her Library and Librarian at the Prelinger Library next Wednesday, May 16, from 2:00 to 8:00 pm.

The Library travels on the Librarian's back and has accompanied her all the way from the UK, and we look forward to hosting a Librarian of a Library within the Library. Come and visit!

Monday, May 07, 2007

WPA guides and Federal Writers' Project publications

As Gray Brechin made clear in his California Studies Association lecture weekend before last, the legacy of the New Deal still surrounds us, if we take the time to look. There are dams, post offices, schools, bridges and murals worthy of exploration throughout the entire U.S. and territories, and (though many people don't know it) a large body of books and publications that are still fascinating to read today. In an enlightened experiment, the Works Progress Administration (later Work Projects Administration), known to most as WPA, hired unemployed writers to produce a series of Guides to American states, territories, cities and regions. The Guides are remarkable descriptions of American history and landscape written with thought and care, and despite their age (almost 70 years old) still the best books to take on a road trip and read aloud during the empty stretches. Besides the Guides, WPA authors produced a curious array of works, including Almanacs for Bostonians, New Yorkers, Oregonians and San Franciscans.

Encouraged by Writers' Project scholar and authority Marc Selvaggio, we started collecting FWP and WPA publications sometime in the mid-1980s. Most of these are in the public domain, and we've scanned about 60 so far. Here's a partial list, and here are a few we especially like.

New York City Guide, 1939 and the companion volume New York Panorama

San Francisco, The Bay and Its Cities, 1940

Oregon, End of the Trail, 1940

New Orleans City Guide, 1938

Download them all if you can, and take them with you when you travel. Better yet, grab the texts, segment and geocode them, and turn them into a remarkably literate audio tour that chimes in when you approach a place described in one of the books.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Survey and Survey Graphic

In collaboration with the Internet Archive and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we're starting to digitize Survey and its sister publication Survey Graphic, together with its predecessors Charities and Charities and the Commons. These magazines trace the history of social work, social issues and social movements throughout the first half of the 20th century, and are filled with fascinating text, photographs and works of art from people like Jane Addams, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange and Hendrik Willem van Loon. There's excellent coverage of war, peace, labor, immigration, issues relating to African Americans, children and youth, urban studies and much more. Though this periodical is far from rare and sits on the shelves of most research and many public libraries, it's underutilized, and we hope that easy digital access and downloadable volumes will pull it back from antiquarian territory into the present.

Here are a few volumes of Survey Graphic, just digitized.

Access to our digitized books

It shouldn't be so difficult to get to our scanned books, but right now it is. There's full-text search of most of our online titles (and almost two hundred thousand Open Content Alliance titles as well) thru MSN Live Search, but there need to be easier ways to find books.

In the next month or so, we're going to try one way of exposing our books a little more widely, which is to generate annotated bibliographies by subject. We'll do this by bringing the Internet Archive database of our books into FileMaker Pro and then generating HTML with basic metadata about the books sorted by subject. The result will be a page with listings (hopefully annotated) of books in areas like urban planning, history of television, Federal Writers' Project publications, birds, and so on. The page will link to the detail pages at the IA and also offer a direct link to a downloadable PDF.

When our books are publicized, people read them; this BoingBoing post led to almost 5,000 downloads of two books on the 1939 Westinghouse time capsule. On one title, the Book of Record of the Westinghouse Time Capsule, the number of downloads is close to exceeding the number of copies printed, which tends to suggest that scanning obscure texts is a good thing.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Digital collections growing

As of this morning we are up to 2098 items. Here's a link to new additions as they appear.

Rankings are overrated, but collecting habits can be interesting. If you agree, here are our digital books ranked by downloads.