In anticipation of the potentially all-time record low temperatures coming mid-week the library will be closing early at 5:00pm on Tuesday, January 29 and will be closed entirely on Wednesday, January 30.

We will (probably) return to normal business hours on Thursday, January 31 (although it might be a good idea to call and confirm we’re here if you are unsure before you make the trip).

We apologize for any inconvenience this causes.



Lounge on the Book Heaven floor in Oodi, Helsinki’s stunning new library

Like a wave sweeping between the buildings of what is known as Citizens’ Square, Oodi (pronounced ‘awdi) is a veritable ode to Helsinki. The new central library breaks the boundaries of silence and invites children, tourists, contemplatives, rock bands, the whole world, in fact, to partake in its multi-faceted facilities and what’s more, it’s all for free!

Oodi Helsinki Central Library. Image by: ALA Architects

In a country with the highest literacy rate in the world according to the UN in 2016, libraries are used by the 5.5 million locals at a rate of 68 million books per year. It is hardly surprising that the people of Finlandand residents of Helsinki, in particular, are delighted at the prospect of this communal space created by ALA Architects. Believe it or not, there will be 100,000 books for borrowing on the Book Heaven floor where you can lounge around on a sofa musing about your next read.

Hobby enthusiasts can practice their party numbers in the soundproof studios and even record them, sew a dress, recycle would-be throwaways, try out 3D printing or have a meeting. The cinema occupies space on the first floor where the large lobby area will be used for exhibitions and pop-up events. As is the case in so many public places, the Finns are never far from their coffee with this national need being catered for by the restaurant and café. The Citizen’s Balcony will be a hang-out for city view photographers and meet-ups in the summer months.

Oodi – Finland’s 100th birthday gift to its citizens. Image by: ALA Architects

While the emphasis will always be on books, the diversity of this space will lend itself to social encounters, sharing of resources and ultimately the galvanising of community spirit. Oodi swings wide its doors at 8am on 5 December, the day before Independence Day, with a knock-out programme incorporating a 207-participant dance, a composition by Kimmo Pohjonen spanning more than one building, and plenty more.

By Violetta Teetor, NOVEMBER 21, 2018, first appearing on Lonely Planet

Other Duties as Assigned

Front-line librarians on the constant pressure to do more

Librarians interviews for this story, clockwise from bottom left: Graham Tedesco-Blair, adult services librarian, Newark (N.Y.) Public Library; Fobazi Ettarh, undergraduate success librarian, Rutgers University–Newark in New Jersey; Chera Kowalski, assistant to the chief of staff, Free Library of Philadelphia; Nicole A. Cooke, associate professor and MS/LIS program director, School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Tom Rink, instructor, library services, Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; Homa Naficy, chief adult learning officer, Hartford (Conn.) Public Library; Amanda Oliver, MFA student, University of California–Riverside.

Librarians interviewed for this story, clockwise from bottom left: Graham Tedesco-Blair, adult services librarian, Newark (N.Y.) Public Library; Fobazi Ettarh, undergraduate success librarian, Rutgers University–Newark in New Jersey; Chera Kowalski, assistant to the chief of staff, Free Library of Philadelphia; Nicole A. Cooke, associate professor and MS/LIS program director, School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Tom Rink, instructor, library services, Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; Homa Naficy, chief adult learning officer, Hartford (Conn.) Public Library; Amanda Oliver, MFA student, University of California–Riverside.

Maybe it existed only in our collective imagination—the era when librarians focused solely on providing access to written information, and when their greatest on-the-job challenge consisted of keeping the stacks in order. Whether that halcyon time ever actually took place, it’s definitely not here now. Social worker, EMT, therapist, legal consultant, even bodily defender: These are the roles that many (perhaps most?) librarians feel they’re being asked to assume.

American Libraries asked seven librarians—public, academic, and school; urban and rural—their thoughts about the many directions in which their profession finds itself pulled.

Chera Kowalski

Chera Kowalski

“At the end of the day, somebody is dying.”

Chera Kowalski
Assistant to the Chief of Staff
Free Library of Philadelphia

Chera Kowalski has received national media attention for her administration of the overdose reversal drug Narcan to six patrons of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s McPherson Square branch. Kowalski has since moved out of her role as the branch’s teen/adult librarian and into a position as assistant to the library’s chief of staff.

In the community I was in, administering Narcan was something that needed to happen. My profession went out the door when an overdose was going on. At the end of the day, somebody is dying, and it doesn’t matter what your title is.

I’ve been criticized for this. People ask, “Why do you feel we need to do this? This isn’t in our job description.” I understand those criticisms, and I’m willing to listen to them. It’s something I’ve been very clear about: Learning to administer Narcan was voluntary; I made this choice, and it shouldn’t be forced on anybody.

But as a professional, if you see certain needs, it’s your responsibility to at least connect with people who can meet those needs. You can’t just say, “Sorry, no.” This may not mean having Narcan at your desk. But I think if people are overdosing in your space, you at least need to have a plan in place beyond “call 911.”

It’s interesting to see where the arguments against administering Narcan come from. Some of them are clearly coming from a personal stigma against substance use disorder. An overdose is a medical emergency, just like a heart attack would be, just like an epileptic seizure would be. We can’t deny services based on things that make us personally uncomfortable.

What if you’re concerned you don’t know how to administer Narcan properly? I have said this to a room full of librarians: You’ve been trained to find accurate information on just about anything. That is your role. If you cannot do that, you really need to reevaluate the field you’re in. Now, you might not want to do it, even once you have the correct information about it, and that’s fine. It’s a personal choice at the end of the day. But you can’t hide behind an argument of misinformation.

I think the libraries that are adopting Narcan are being conscientious about the effects on their staff, and that’s why they’re making this training voluntary, because overdoses are upsetting to witness. I’ll admit it: I got burned out. I was working in direct public service, and that can be difficult regardless of the community you’re in.

When people are deciding to go into public librarianship, they really need to think about what that can mean. You have to go into the field knowing what you’re signing up for. I hate to sound condescending. But that’s what being an adult and a professional is.

Tom Rink

Tom Rink

“There are other options to protect your patrons.”

Tom Rink
Instructor, Library Services
Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Former police officer Tom Rink speaks to the question: Should librarians be expected to carry firearms on the job?

I was a police officer for 25 years. I got tired of the grind, of always seeing the bad side of things, so I took a career exploration class and decided to get my library degree, which was a truly unexpected result.

Carrying a firearm, for me, is no big deal; I’m retired law enforcement. But we have a “no guns on campus” policy at Northeastern State University, and you have to honor the wishes of your organization.

My main concern is that response times from police departments aren’t always timely. Also, all the bad guys know these are gun-free zones, so it’s a target-rich environment. My opinion is that if there’s someone on campus who has a concealed-carry permit and has the proper training to use that firearm, then they could mitigate an attack by stepping in and halting it with fewer injuries.

However, I understand that this creates an inherent danger for the campus police, because they don’t necessarily know who the bad guys are or who the good guys are. If you know that employees aren’t allowed to carry guns on campus, then you know that anyone with a gun is considered a bad guy.

I do support the Second Amendment. I do believe people have the right to arm themselves. But at the same time, people who get a concealed-carry permit do not receive the extensive amount of training that law enforcement officers receive.

The patrons who come inside your library doors—you’re responsible to a point for their safety. But how far do you take that responsibility? There are other ways that the general public can be protected. Have you heard of ALICE active-shooter response training? ALICE stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. It’s training on how to mitigate the fallout from an active-shooter scenario. We’ve had ALICE training in the library, so we’re aware of the best way for civilians to respond when this type of situation happens. There are other options to protect your patrons besides having a gun and going blasting.

Homa Naficy

Homa Naficy

“It’s all just different pathways to attaining information.”

Homa Naficy
Chief Adult Learning Officer
Hartford (Conn.) Public Library

At the Hartford Public Library, Naficy directs The American Place, a program for immigrants and refugees who seek immigration information, resources for learning English, and help preparing for US citizenship. In 2013, the Obama White House declared her a Champion of Change.

We offer a slew of programs, and they have expanded over the years. We are located next to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Connecticut field office, and we’d have people constantly coming into the library searching for information. We started with English classes and citizenship classes. Then we started expanding into formal citizenship classes, which resulted in demands for support with citizenship applications. That prompted us to go after accreditation, so we could provide legal services.

Our next enhancement came from funding from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. It wanted to fund a program to create a pathway to a career. So we targeted the immigrant population, and we are now offering training in food handling and food safety in institutional kitchens, because those are benefited positions. The trainings are contextualized ESL. We also tell them about their rights in the workforce. We’re providing them with critical information, which is our role as a library.

It’s all just different pathways to attaining information, and that’s our industry. It’s not even a question. That’s what we do; we help people. It’s not about the issue [of immigration]; it’s about our mission, and our mission is to help people meet their informational needs.

Graham Tedesco-Blair

Graham Tedesco-Blair

“You can’t save everybody.”

Graham Tedesco-Blair
Adult Services Librarian
Newark (N.Y.) Public Library

Graham Tedesco-Blair has spoken at the annual Association for Rural and Small Libraries conference on the topic of libraries and rural poverty.

In a lot of rural areas, the work left and never came back. We get a number of library patrons who are homeless or semi-homeless. We have people sleeping under bridges or by the side of the Erie Canal. Thankfully, we don’t have anyone coming to the library to shoot up—there are enough abandoned buildings in town that they don’t need to come to the library to do that—but we have had Narcan training. We figured better safe than sorry.

Yeah, this is what libraries have turned into. You could describe it as mission creep, but I guess I would put it this way: I would love to be one of those 1920s librarians who got to look up poetry or read philosophy all day, but that’s not the world we live in. My father was a social worker and my mom was a special-ed teacher, so I’m very used to working with those who need help. You see a problem, you work to fix it. You don’t ask, “Why is it my job?”

You have to do the job that’s actually there, not the one that exists in your head. I absolutely adore when a kid needs a book because they’re doing a report on dinosaurs, or someone wants to learn about the Civil War because they finally retired, and this is their hobby now. But those aren’t the only patrons who deserve my attention. We’re here to serve the community. And what they need, that’s what we’re going to do.

Burnout and empathy fatigue are definitely a huge problem. You have to not be so hard on yourself. Just admit that you’re not going to solve all the problems. You can’t save everybody, nor is it your responsibility to. If you’re doing your best, if you’re trying hard, it’s okay to leave work at work. At the end of the day, go home, put on your favorite TV show, eat a little bit of chocolate, hug your partner if you have one. If you need to take a vacation, that’s why you have paid time off.

Amanda Oliver. <span class=

Amanda Oliver. Photo: Emma McAlary

“I called 911 once a week.”

Amanda Oliver
MFA Student
University of California–Riverside

Amanda Oliver worked as a school librarian, then a public librarian, but burnout—and an erroneous but terrifying shooting threat—led her to leave the profession.

What happened was, the Washington, D.C., public school for which I worked was very close to Howard University. Howard thought it had a shooter who had run into the immediate vicinity, and we were the immediate vicinity. Our security guards must have seen something on the news, and in a panic went to the pre-K and kindergarten classrooms and told them there’s a shooter. Our PA system did not work.

I got a text from a colleague, and all it said, in all caps, was ACTIVE SHOOTER. I was standing in the library, and the moment I read the text, the door opened, and there were 22 2nd-graders. We got all the kids into the library, we locked the doors, and we covered the windows with paper. I’m looking at the windows thinking, “If the shooter knocks the glass out, what are my options? How many kids can my body protect?” I don’t even remember how we put together that everything was okay. It turned out that someone had seen someone with a bag holding golf clubs and had mistaken it for a gun.

We just sort of glossed over it. It was an epic failing of the school administration. I had been wanting to leave for a while, but that sealed the deal. I didn’t want to be in a system where there was no process for anything like that. When you have too many roles and too many things to do, things fall by the wayside, and this horrible incident was never properly handled.

By the way, I never in one million years would have shot a gun in front of my students at someone. Never. I would never add to their trauma. I can’t imagine the school librarian whipping out a gun in front of 6- and 7-year-olds. Even if I had had a gun, I don’t trust that I would have known how to properly use it or that I would have sprung into action in time.

Aside from that incident, as a school librarian, I was pulled in a million directions. On top of a grueling teaching schedule, I was also responsible for maintaining a 15,000-piece library collection. If I was going to get it all done, I had to come early and stay late. By my fourth or fifth year, I started saying, “You have to give me a schedule that makes it possible to manage this collection.” That never happened.

I switched to a public library in D.C. Ninety percent of the patrons we saw on a daily basis were experiencing homelessness, addiction, and severe mental health issues. There was not a day that I did not witness a psychotic episode. I called 911 once a week. People say, “Other branches aren’t that bad,” and I’m not interested, because if one branch is like that, your system is failing, as far as I’m concerned. Every day I’d go: “I think I’ll have PTSD from this job.”

About a month before I left, I got my third manager in the eight months I was there. She told the library, “I’m not taking this job unless there’s a full-time police officer.” Once we got that officer, I realized one day, “I haven’t been screamed at in a week.” But I have a lot of issues with police in general, so I don’t believe that should be a solution. Is that what we have to resort to in order to keep order? I want to believe “no,” but it’s hard, because I did see a huge difference.

The funny thing is, I loved being a librarian. I loved providing a service to under-served people who deserve a leg up in the world. But there’s no possible way to do it long-term the way that I was. When I thought about what being a librarian would look like for me five or 10 years down the road, I was sick.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know how to fix these things. I truly don’t know, other than that society needs an overhaul for how we treat people.

Nicole A. Cooke

Nicole A. Cooke

“There’s only so much we can do in 16 weeks.”

Nicole A. Cooke
Associate Professor and MS/LIS Program Director
School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Nicole A. Cooke has directed the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s MS/LIS program since 2017. She responds to the often-heard statement: “I didn’t learn this in library school.”

I hear, “We didn’t learn this in our program,” and that’s true. There are lots of things I didn’t learn in my masters’ program. But now that I’m faculty, I realize I don’t know we could actually ever teach everyone everything they might need to know. To a certain extent our job is to teach the basics, the foundation. It becomes impractical to think we can teach students all the dimensions of their jobs.

I teach a class entitled “Information Services to Diverse Populations,” and in that class, we talk about homelessness, we talk about LGBTQ issues, we talk about some of the more recognized marginalized groups. In that class we have guest speakers who talk about their work with different populations. This is how we try to interject some reality into the courses. But there’s only so much we can do in 16 weeks.

I hear people asking, “Can we have a joint program with social work?” I’m happy to investigate that, but we have to get social workers on board as well in terms of what that might look like. It is difficult to get dual-degree programs up and running. We have to go through enormous amounts of paperwork even to get a new course. And then how do you assign the classes, how are they cross-listed, what’s going to be required from each end? The framework of higher ed does not make any of this easy. Then you have to weigh, particularly in this higher-education landscape, whether that degree would be worthwhile.

Sometimes folks think that LIS programs are being willful about not including things, and I think that’s not the case. We talk about these things all the time, and we try to incorporate them in our classes, but curriculum- and program-level changes are difficult. We are already covering so much, and we have accreditation standards we need to adhere to. Also, we may not have the necessary personnel, because you can’t just stick some random instructor into a class about diverse populations. I would like people to be aware of all the different moving parts that go into a graduate program.

Fobazi Ettarh

Fobazi Ettarh

“I want more people to be able to be librarians.”

Fobazi Ettarh
Undergraduate Success Librarian
Rutgers University–Newark (N.J.)

Fobazi Ettarh is author of “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” a paper that appeared in January 2018 in the open access, open peer-reviewed journal In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Mission creep is definitely a major problem in librarianship. You start off with a certain set of duties, and then “other duties as assigned” become a bigger and bigger part of your job. Since your colleagues are doing this extra work, if you do only what’s in your job description, you’re seen as doing “less than,” even though that’s what you were technically hired for.

The most pressing example is Narcan. It is true that certain communities are having trouble with library patrons overdosing. You think, “Well, we as librarians try to mitigate community problems. Just like we have storytime, why shouldn’t we have this service, when it’s clearly needed?”

People also say, “I can’t stand by and do nothing.” But if you do something [administer Narcan] and the person still, God forbid, dies, then what? Or what if you help them and they sue you for emotional damages? We’re not trained to dispense medical anything. We’re also not social workers. When we take on this work, there’s no institutional support for the trauma counseling we might need afterward, or for knowing when to call or not call the police.

A two-day training is not the same thing as getting your master’s in social work. Just like we wouldn’t want some social worker with three days of library training to take over the library, we shouldn’t rely on these two- or three-day trainings. It’s not our job to become the catch-all for all social-service failings. If overdosing is a big problem in your community, instead of having librarians do a training, hire an actual social worker or medical professional, just like you would hire a children’s librarian if your neighborhood has a lot of large families.

Being stretched thin doesn’t allow any of us to do our jobs well. If we’re trying to be librarians and also social workers and also mental health professionals and also community centers, there’s no way that any one space can do all of that well, and so we’re doing all of that badly. I think it would make more sense for us to do the job we’re trained for: information specialists.

I really do love both my job and librarianship. I want more people to be able to be librarians, to be able to provide the representation and access and values that we espouse and are not currently living up to. It’s a lot easier to make the emotional argument: “Someone’s in front of me; how can I do nothing?” It’s a lot harder to take a step back and ask, “If we set this precedent, what will happen in the future?”


As told to Anne Ford, January 2, 2019, first appearing on American Libraries Magazine

Did you know there’s an Annual Competitive Book Sorting Contest?

The Competitive Book Sorters Who Spread Knowledge Around New York

Inside an annual contest of brains, brawn, and library logistics.

Teamwork and speed.


The Lyngsoe Systems Compact Cross Belt Sorter hogs most of a drab, boxy basement under an unremarkable office building in Queens—238 feet of fast-flying conveyor belt, like a cross between a baggage carousel and a racetrack. The machine scans the barcodes on thousands of library books an hour, and shoves them quickly, efficiently into bins so they can make their way between branches of the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries. Requested books are dropped off here every day by the truckload and, once processed, are promptly shuffled off to eager readers all over the city. A day’s work is typically about 40,000 requests, and each one of those books needs to be placed—by hand—onto an empty space on the relentless sorter, with the barcode facing the right way. But November 9, 2018, is no ordinary day. For the sixth time, an elite squad of 12 professional New York sorters—the fleet-fingered men and women who feed books into the machine—will compete with their counterparts from Washington State’s King County Library System to see who can process the most books in an hour. Losing to King County, which serves the Seattle suburbs and was the first library in the United States to get a Lyngsoe sorter, is not an option.

Enter Sal Magaddino, Deputy Director of Logistics for BookOps, the collaboration between the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries that operates this facility. Formerly the NYPD captain in charge of Brooklyn’s major crimes investigations, Magaddino glides around the machine, with one hand gesturing to its component parts and the other clutching a styrofoam cup of coffee. Wearing a checked suit, he gloats in consummate Brooklynese about the remarkable operation this beast enables. Sorting items that move every day from the tip of the Bronx to the lip of Staten Island, his team tallied nearly 7.5 million successful deliveries last year. It seems like an odd gig for a former major crimes investigator, but to him it brings to mind the challenges of the 2000 World Series, when the Yankees played the Mets and Magaddino helped secure the airspace for the NYPD. “You have to have a logistic component” when dealing with homicides and robberies, he says. You have to know “how to use resources.” It is the same here, and the whirring giant in the room is only one of his resources; another is the team being put to the test today. A perfect score for them—not a book slot missed—would be an astonishing 12,800, the most the machine can handle in an hour. And that’s his goal. A perfect game in the World Series.

BookOps Sorter Michael Genao (left) and Deputy Director of Logistics Sal Magaddino (right).

BookOps Sorter Michael Genao (left) and Deputy Director of Logistics Sal Magaddino (right). COURTESY JONATHAN BLANC/THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

That number may be virtually unachievable, but there was a time not so long ago when it was beyond imagination. Before the Lyngsoe was introduced in 2010, library logistics were “a dismal failure,” says Magaddino. The sorters couldn’t crack 12,000 on their best full day, though it was no fault of their own. The process for sorting book requests consisted of dumping crates of books out onto a giant table, rummaging through them, and dealing with each book individually. First, they had to examine the slip rubber banded to each book, and then walk it over to the assigned point of departure for its destination.

“We weren’t able to keep up,” says George Rodriguez, who has been sorting for the New York Public Library (NYPL) for 17 years. Getting books out to patrons used to take up to six weeks, “if they ever got it at all,” says Magaddino. Tens of thousands of books in the red, he insisted on making a major change as the new BookOps building was being designed. Washington’s busy King County Library System (not to be confused with Brooklyn’s Kings County) was a guiding light, having had great success with a Lyngsoe sorting machine, so Magaddino fought for the $2 million needed to bring one to New York. Once it was finally installed, the backlog disappeared. But there was still unfinished business: Could BookOps now best its northwestern nemesis, King County, which had heralded the dawn of this book-delivery golden age? So the battle of high-speed logistics and library pride was set. Each library would get an hour to sort as many books as they could with the Lyngsoe—King County on their machine in Preston, Washington, and BookOps on this one. Five annual competitions have come and gone, and so far, the Pacific Northwest is up 3–2. Last year, technical difficulties led to a cancellation of the contest. So this is the long-awaited Game 6, and BookOps wants to make a statement.

With minutes to go until game time, the 12 elite sorters have emerged, wearing matching BookOps T-shirts. They march toward the machine as if boarding Apollo 11. The offices upstairs have emptied into the basement, and a wide variety of library personnel fill every available space in the room to cheer the sorters on. “We’re gonna take ‘em down, it’s not gonna be an issue,” says Michael Genao, a 22-year-old sophomore sorter with a linebacker’s build. “I guarantee it,” he adds, as he paces between his teammates, the last few bites of a chocolate donut in his hand.

“You guys are the best in the world,” Magaddino assures his team. “I know you’re gonna prove it today. So the only thing I ask is that you give it 100 percent, and when your hands start cramping, just move on, get through it. It’s only an hour.”

Every day, 40,000 books pass under this barcode scanner on their way to New York readers.

Every day, 40,000 books pass under this barcode scanner on their way to New York readers. COURTESY JONATHAN BLANC/THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

The sorters take their places, two to a station. Miguel Roman, Manager of Automatic Distribution, reminds them, “We have no malice, they just have what we deserve.” As observers are escorted to a safe viewing distance, away from where new batches of books arrive by motorized cart, Kanye starts booming, red lights start spinning, gears start churning, and books start flying.

The belt on the machine goes by at 1.5 meters per second, which looks faster than it sounds. It’s covered with square pads, and the idea is to get one book, properly oriented, onto each, which carries it under a bright red barcode scanner. Then, after a quick hairpin turn, they head down a long straightaway lined with bins, each marked for a different branch. The system is smart enough to know just where to deposit each item without slowing.

In each sorting team, one member stacks arriving books, while the other deftly shuttles them onto the pads. It’s a simple proposition but a complicated task, requiring the nimble dexterity and improvisational flair of a jazz drummer. The sorting teams are in sequence along the belt, so not every pad is unoccupied as it passes by—the pattern is always changing. Sometimes, five open pads roll by in a row, allowing Angel Cortez to lay books down at evenly timed intervals, gently flicking them so that each one lands with an audible “thwack.” But just as his wrist locks into rhythm, it’s now every other pad that’s open, so he adjusts. Then it devolves into a random free-for-all, and it becomes far easier to miss one—or several. Missed pads are inevitable, sure, but each one chips away at that goal of 12,800.

Sorter George Rodriguez in action.

The pads’ unpredictable patterns, however, are just the beginning of the sorters’ problems. Then there’s the books themselves, encompassing a remarkable range of sizes, weights, shapes, and textures. There goes a thick, weathered copy of The Odyssey, curling at the edges. Here comes a flimsy Japanese manga comic, and then a hardcover, slick under library laminate. Each of these requires a different scoop, a different toss. And then there are the devious DVDs. At one point one of these thin, bouncy interlopers trips Cortez up, and a copy of Black Panther hits the floor. The book sorter is not an assembly line worker. He is more like a juggler who cannot choose his pins. Cortez’s face trembles with sweat and concentration.

Roman, the distribution manager, assures the spectators that none of this is for show—every book here, and that Black Panther DVD, will be dropped off in Brooklyn later this afternoon. On the other side of the barcode scanner, books are automatically directed neatly off the conveyor belt and into bins labeled for Windsor Terrace, Sheepshead Bay, Ulmer Park. Full bins are carried outside to a truck, the next axon in New York City’s knowledge distribution system. And for all of the knowledge about to be acquired, most readers will never have any idea how it works. Akkim Thomas, a 24-year-old sorter, says he discovered a new favorite book on the belt: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

The NYPL sorting team with their leadership awards.

The NYPL sorting team with their leadership awards. COURTESY JONATHAN BLANC/THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

As they stream by, the books are a reflection of the city itself. There’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, for a child just learning to read. Then there’s a slew of how-to and self-help, from SAT prep to Economics for Dummies to a five-copy stack of Easy Vegan BakingTo Kill a MockingbirdCat on a Hot Tin Roof, and As I Lay Dying are there for the literary types, alongside biographies of Richard Nixon, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Frida Kahlo. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Barack Obama’s Change We Can Believe In, and a book of essays on race called We Can’t Breathe join the “Twilight” series, a chunky Ayn Rand opus, and lots and lots of Lee Child thrillers. It’s like a look into New York City’s mind, through the 8.6 million minds that compose it.

Then, as sudden as the “thwack” of a perfectly placed book, the machine halts. The sorters can’t even raise their exhausted arms to celebrate. Their total is 12,330 books in one hour—that’s, astonishingly, over 96 percent of the machine’s capability. As someone calls for tequila, Cortez just tries to catch his breath. “I wish I could clap,” he says, hunched and panting, “but my arms are gone.” King County isn’t due to compete for a few hours, and the specter of their last-ups looms over every recited statistic and sweaty bro-hug. As if preparing for the worst, Magaddino surprises the team by announcing that the NYPL has selected them for a leadership award. It’s nice, but not what they came for. They want to be champions. No one knows it yet, but the outcome will be decisive, a blowout, even—12,330 to King County’s 10,007. The series is locked up at three apiece. That makes next year Game 7.

NOVEMBER 14, 2018, first appearing on Atlas Obscura


With gift-giving season approaching, booksellers are gearing up for seeing more traffic through their doors and at the registers. But this year, more than any year in recent memory, booksellers are increasingly worried about whether there will be enough copies of the biggest titles. Some of the hottest picture books of the season, including We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins, were missing from shelves in the otherwise rigorously stocked indie Mclean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan. Inquiries were made about special ordering the title and the expected fulfillment date was a ways off—January. But the delay isn’t solely due to immense popularity, bookseller Sara Grochowski explained.

One of the aspects of the book world we don’t think enough about is the very thing that serves as the backbone to publishing: paper. Ebooks have certainly caused a shift in reading habits, but they haven’t eliminated the need for print books to be printed on paper. Increasingly, though, sourcing paper for the production of books has proven challenging.

“There’s basically four different types of paper that are out in the world right now, and it’s freesheet, coated groundwood, uncoated freesheet, and uncoated groundwood. Most trade fiction and nonfiction, books you’d find on the New York Times list or in a store, straightforward text are printed on, those are all on an uncoated groundwood. Almost all of that paper, right now, is coming from the U.S. and Canada, mainly Canada. Most printers are always stocking up on that,” says Doug Wolff, Director of Production at Workman.

The uncoated groundwood sourced in Canada raised fears in the publishing world earlier this year. New tariffs on imports made many nervous costs would rise, both on the production end and on the consumer end. This was resolved, however, later in the summer in a policy turnaround from the U.S. International Trade Commission in which paper was disincluded from the sweeping tariffs.

Not all books are published in the U.S. Whether a book is published domestically or abroad is determined by things like the type of paper or printing process the book might demand, lead time in its publication, and costs. Traditional fiction and nonfiction—the kind you’d find in bookstores or on bestseller lists—which are primary text-based are frequently published domestically. Books which require more of a special type of paper or printing process, or require more than two color production are most frequently sent abroad, where the printing presses operate a bit differently and the quality of the product is better. While costs for overseas printing might be lower, the time it takes for the book to make it to U.S. warehouses is another consideration for publishers: ship time can be an added 4–5 weeks on top of printing time. Paper costs comprise the largest expense in the making of the physical book, and that, combined with shipping time and specificities of design, add up to some tricky math for publishers.

Further complicating the matter is the shrinking of the domestic printing landscape.

“Right now, paper is a major problem domestically, for no other reason other than paper mills have been shutting down, paper mills have been consolidating, there’s not as much book paper being made, so for me today to say I want to do a book and I want to print it in two weeks, that could be impossible, just because I might not be able to get paper that quickly. We’re getting things where they’re saying it’s five to six to seven weeks to get paper, which has never been the case in all the years I’ve done production. We might have to choose a different type of paper,” says Wolff. “We’re seeing this a lot with our reprints, where a book was printed on one stock and the reprint, the only way we can get it somewhat quickly, we have to move it to a different stock and then the next printing, we might have to go to a totally different stock again because of paper availability. That’s happening more domestically.”

Stacy Whitman, founder and publisher of Tu Books, notes that printers have also deprioritized paper for book printing. “[T]here’s been a perfect storm of global events/trends to change how the paper manufacturers prioritize what papers they make/what orders they’ll fill. We and pretty much every publisher printing domestically ran into it this year.”

Via Twitter, Whitman highlighted the fact that the paper side of the book world is one we don’t talk about enough, and she linked to three articles that break the information down (you can read those pieces here, here, and here).

“I hadn’t realized it, but the backlash against plastic noted in the article is an interesting domino to have fallen in this situation: the backlash against plastic in packaging materials, fast food packaging, other shipping/packaging—means that paper manufacturers found they could suddenly make more money on cheaper paper products than fine book paper. They deprioritized the publishing industry. Add to that other global factors affecting the production of paper, and the dominoes fall to eventually mean that publishers trying to print books and magazines are running into supply delays and printing delays as a result, and higher paper prices on top of everything,” she said.

That anxiety over paper availability is trickling down to indie booksellers. Grochowksi reports that sales reps from smaller publishing houses advised her to stock up early on titles she was excited about, as they’d be unable to reprint anything before the end of the holiday season. This news isn’t entirely surprising—booksellers have been noticing delays as far back as March, when the reprint of Pat Zietlow Miller’s Be Kind was delayed without an in-stock date for weeks. “It’s all been very word of mouth and said kind of hushed during sales calls,” Grochowksi reports, but shared that Simon & Schuster struggled to print enough copies of Fear by Bob Woodward.

It’s not likely that books will become more challenging to find at the bookstore this season, but it’s also not entirely out of the question that books going for reprint or that become popular unexpectedly could be on backorder for a period of time. This may cause consumers to turn to other sources, such as Amazon (if the book is still in stock), instead of shopping locally. Tariffs aren’t the reason though; it’s paper.

Wolff notes, “The problem right now is lead times to get the paper and the allocation of the paper because of the mills. So right now, if anything is going to hold up a book [a traditional nonfiction or fiction title] going back to print, it’s that the paper is a little harder to get. On top of that, over the last five years, the printers in America have been slowly consolidating. So not only is paper hard to get, but because there are so few printers now more than there have been before, the capacity is completely full and has been full since August. We’re being told if you place an order today, the earliest we can get you books is a month and a half from now. And part of it is because of capacity, because it’s a big season, because of crashed political books going back to reprinting, everything is basically full. There is some truth to a book not being able to get enough books out there but it’s not really tariffs.”

Title reprints complicate matters as well. Publishers often go beyond the standard cost analysis to look too at things like speed, printer availability, and whether or not shipping time will impact potential sales. Wolff calls it the tricky math of what the back end of the book production process does. Questions considered include how quick the reprint can be done domestically, if it can be done domestically in a time frame that would put it on shelves quicker than printing overseas, and, ultimately, what’s the cost to do it one way or the other in relation to the profit on the title.

“Something like Atlas Obscura, the majority of those are printed overseas. By the time I order a reprint, it can take three months to get to warehouse. So for holiday sales, in most cases, we’re ordering for the holidays in July knowing it’s going to get us books in October to get full distribution by the holidays, so if we get that number wrong and don’t discover that till October, we’re in trouble. It’s almost impossible to get books. Which is why we did a printing of Atlas Obscura domestically one year, because we couldn’t get books fast enough,” he says. He also notes that on the domestic side of printing, the challenge of paper stock and printer availability has been growing over the last few years, with 2018 being the most challenging to date.

Reprint decisions often happen early enough in a book’s life that publishers aren’t caught by surprise. But sometimes, they are.

Demand for the 2009 picture book The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith surged when a video of Scottish grandmother reading aloud to her grandson went viral in September. Grochowski noted that the book’s publisher, Scholastic, seemed to be able to keep up with demands fairly well…but also noticed that some graphic novels from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint experienced delays. Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk, a July 2018 release, was delayed until early December as of this writing, and Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hey Kiddo, a National Book Award finalist, experienced intermittent delays this fall, although Grochowski was quick to point out that Hey Kiddo’s delay probably wasn’t wholly due to the popularity of The Wonky Donkey. “The NBA longlisting and then the shortlisting made the sell-through happen more quickly than expected,” she acknowledged. “And now it’s harder to get printer access to get ahead of the demand.”

Wolff notes that if something goes viral or there’s a surprise uptick in sales, books may end up backordered while publishers seek out a printer and navigate the decisions of whether it can be printed domestically (taking into consideration cost, paper sourcing, and printer availability) or whether it is better served overseas (considering cost and shipping time).

Tariffs aren’t out of the question in the new year, though. With the threats of a potential trade war with China from the Trump administration, it’s possible that books could fall under the category of products from China seeing higher prices. “Books aren’t currently on the list of tariffed items, but if the tariffs include books, every book being produced in China—which are a lot and generally the more expensive ones—could all have a tariff imposed, and those tariffs are pretty high. There’s a threat they could go up to 25%. While books aren’t currently included in China tariffs, things like planners, diaries, engagement diaries are. They are on the list that should be getting tariffs at 10%. Calendars are not on there…yet! But there have been threats. This, more than anything, could cause a giant scramble come the new year if that changes at all. Publishers would struggle about where to print, whether domestically or into other Asian markets outside China,” says Wolff.

Preordering books can make an impact, though. Preorders do indicate to publishers there may be a strong interest in a title that they didn’t anticipate, encouraging a reprint of the title from the get-go or vice versa—a title they anticipated being a big title might need more publicity behind it in order to meet their projections. If you’re eager for a book, preordering encourages a publisher to act on that interest.

So what about your bottom line?

“You might notice that the prices of your books might be going up in the next year, and it all comes down to one thing: paper for books is getting harder to come by,” says Whitman.

“Might” is the key word here, as so many variables are unknown. Chances are you may not notice a significant difference in the cost of your books this season or next year, even if the cost of paper and production of a title nudges the list price up a dollar or two. But that might not remain the case if paper supply continues to be a challenge.

Wolff says, “We are looking at retail prices much harder than we ever have before because as paper costs rise, suddenly something that’s always been $14.95—we’re looking and realizing we’re not making the profit we should be and considering whether we should make it $15.95. As we’re going back and reprinting, we’re looking at retail costs because paper and material increases are really impacting the cost we’re paying out and at some point, you need to increase retail prices.”

As it stands now, finding the big, buzzy books at your local bookstore shouldn’t be challenging and the titles you wish to gift should be readily available. In the instances this isn’t the case, it’s likely due to paper and not tariffs. The average reader, in other words, shouldn’t expect to notice anything different.

By , November 

314 Rare Books Valued at Over $5 Million Stolen from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Suspects but No Answers in Rare Book Theft at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library

by Bob WarburtonApril 3, 2018, first appearing in Library Journal

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Via Wikimedia Commons

Investigators from the Allegheny County, PA, District Attorney’s Office continue to remain silent on the theft of 314 rare books, folios, maps, and other items from the rare materials room at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh(CLP), although one official there confirmed that “suspect(s) have been identified.”

The thefts, discovered during an insurance appraisal last spring, were first made public in March. CLP released a full list of the missing items. No arrests have been reported, although law enforcement officials have said very little so far about the case. There is no word as to whether any of the materials have been recovered.

Detectives asked the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) to circulate the list of missing treasures among its members so they could alert authorities in Pittsburgh if any items are spotted in shops, Susan Benne, the organization’s executive director, said. The rare books in particular, she told LJ, would carry CLP markings on the spine or other labels, making them fairly easy to spot if a seller tried to interest a rare bookstore or dealer in buying these items.

On the list of stolen items are ten volumes published before the year 1500 and many more from the 17th century. There is a first edition of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton, published in 1687, as well as a 1776 first edition of Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

Other notable items include a volume of Homer from 1561, an 1898 memoir from suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton called Eighty Years or More (1815–1897), a 1908 letter signed by William Jennings Bryan, and a lesson book from 1864 Richmond, VA, called The Confederate Reader: Containing Selections in Prose and Poetry as Reading Exercises for Children in the Schools and Families of the Confederate States.

“This is a great loss to the Pittsburgh community,” Suzanne Thinnes, CLP’s manager for communications, said in a widely released statement that has been the library’s lone public comment on the matter. “Trust is a very important component of what we do on a daily basis and we take very seriously the security of all collections.”

Thinnes added, “As of now, suspect(s) have been identified and additional details will be shared by the District Attorney’s office at a later date.”

Asked about the police investigation, Mike Manko, the chief spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, said only, “I wouldn’t have any comment on that.”

There remained no word as to when law enforcement officials would go public with more information on the CLP theft. Thinnes’s statement said, “We look forward to sharing our story once legal proceedings are complete.”

Read on…