In honor of National Library Week, today we are celebrating the role of libraries and librarians!
Sponsored by the American Library Association,
National Library Week is an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening our communities.
In the mid-1950s, research showed that Americans were spending less on books and more on radios, televisions and musical instruments. Concerned that Americans were reading less, the ALA and the American Book Publishers formed a nonprofit citizens organization called the National Book Committee in 1954. The committee's goals were ambitious. They ranged from "encouraging people to read in their increasing leisure time" to "improving incomes and health" and "developing strong and happy family life."
In 1957, the committee developed a plan for National Library Week based on the idea that once people were motivated to read, they would support and use libraries. With the cooperation of ALA and with help from the Advertising Council, the first National Library Week was observed in 1958 with the theme "Wake Up and Read!" The 2018 celebration marked the 60th anniversary of the first event.
The theme for National Library Week 2022, “Connect with Your Library,” promotes the idea that libraries are places to get connected to technology by using broadband, computers, and other resources. Libraries also offer opportunities to connect with media, programs, ideas, and classes—in addition to books. Most importantly libraries also connect communities to each other. Overall, the theme is an explicit call to action—an invitation for communities to join, visit, or advocate for their local libraries. Below is a detailed list each day of action this week:
First up, we must celebrate the polymath Maria Mitchell (1818-1889). In addition to her more famous work as an astronomer, including discovering and naming her own comet in 1847, Maria Mitchell was also the first librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum, a position she held for 20 years. For more about Maria Mitchell, check out this blog from the Library of Congress.
Librarians often shy away from the spotlight, and are stereotypically known for their cardigans and shushing skills, but the library as a physical place is universally beloved. When not used for research or studying, they are great places to take photos. Despite books and papers loving daylight as much as your average vampire, libraries often contain more windows than people, and thus offer great natural light for such photo shoots. It doesn’t hurt that a background of bookshelves lends gravitas to any modeling session. Here, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar is seen posing in an unnamed library. What better place to look so serious, scholarly, and sophisticated?
If you didn’t believe me about the windows, here is more proof that architects don’t often talk to librarians about what’s good for books. From the Library of Congress: “Common examples of damage from ambient (that is, normal, everyday) light include: faded ink inscriptions, yellowed newspaper clippings, now-magenta chromogenic (color) photographs, dark and brittle paper edges of books.” Though we do know that people love and need light, it can be tough to balance the needs of the people working and using the library, with the needs of the materials being stored in the library. The books can’t wear sunscreen; please give them more shade.
Again, posing with books just looks cool. Please don’t tell TikTok. Librarians will never know peace again. (Just kidding, we’d welcome them! Libraries are for everyone.)
The award for coziest library goes to…
I’m not sure how much work I could get done in such a comfortable space, but I appreciate the dark curtains to protect the books from the light.
This library looks much more appropriate for studying. Lots of light and seating, but nothing too plush that could cause accidental napping. Everyone looks very studious and there are no sneaky coffee cups hanging out in the background. We prefer closed water bottles because spills are so heartbreaking.
Now here’s where I sneak in a photo of our own reading room. I must admit, sometimes the light is blinding, but it’s a lovely airy space and we keep most of our collections in the windowless stacks above and below the reading room so we can dedicate this space to serving human comfort needs. Here you can see Nancy Grace Roman, a beloved long-term researcher at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives and Mother of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Last but not least, here is a photo of the library at the University of Göttingen on May 4, 1945, which was bombed out in World War II. Libraries are meant to be safe spaces for everyone, but they are also subject to the whims of political upheaval and natural disasters. Whenever possible, libraries and librarians try to dedicate themselves to serving their users, above and beyond the mere duties of supplying a comfy couch or reading material, but sometimes even that ability is challenged. Whether it’s from bombs or book-bans, libraries, like the people they serve, are constantly at risk.
Here are just a few examples of how libraries and librarians respond to their communities: