Episodes, libraries

20. That Time a Fire Built a Library

 

We here at The Book Owl Podcast do NOT approve of book burning. However, there was a time in recent history when a fire was actually good for books, libraries, and for the book lovers of Chicago.

Links Mentioned in This Episode

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Transcript (or Roughly So)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Introduction, Part One

It’s a Sunday night in early October. The skies are dark, but also dry. In the past four months it’s only rained half the normal amount, and this drought has been going on for the past year.

A fireman rests, barely able to move from exhaustion. There’d been a raging fire the night before that took eighteen hours to put out. In the past week alone, twenty-four other fires have been dealt with. The fireman, his crew, and the horses who pull the steam-powered water engines are out of energy.

And then an alarm sounds. Another fire has ignited. But there’s no information coming of which direction to head. The delay would seal the fate of Chicago.

Introduction, Part Two

Well, that’s quit an ominous start to the podcast, isn’t it. And you’re probably wondering what in the world does the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 have to do with books. Especially since it happened in October. Where’s the books, where’s some sort of January event?

Don’t worry, if I weave this tale just right, it’ll all come around to books and to January. Or at least I hope so.

Before we jump into the episode, another big dose of gratitude goes to Jonny Pongratz for sharing several episodes of the podcast over on the Jaunts & Haunts blog. He’s also been plowing through my historical fantasy series Domna and posting some very favorable reviews for it on his blog. If you want to check out the blog and learn about Jonny’s fiction writing, I’ve dropped the link to his site in the show notes.

And just one quick reminder that this show is supported by you. So, please do check out the very inexpensive ways you can keep the episodes coming by heading to that Support the Owl link in the show notes.

Okay, cue the Billy Joel music, because it’s time to start a fire. No wait, Billy Joel said we didn’t start the fire. Well, that’s why this isn’t The Music Owl Podcast.

Come on, Baby, Light My Fire

So the fire that would become known as the Great Chicago Fire started on the 8th of October, 1871. It was a Sunday night about 8:00, and like I said, fires had been popping up all over the place for the past week in Chicago. But this particular fire got the upper hand.

Part of that was because the fire crews were completely done in. And this is saying a lot because at the time, with over 180 firemen, Chicago had one of the best fire departments in the US. But the firemen weren’t entirely to blame, it was mainly how the fire alarm system worked.

See, there were these fire call boxes scattered around the city. But your average Chicago Joe wasn’t allowed to access them. Instead only “upstanding” men of business or politics or society were given keys to the boxes. And the upstanding citizen in charge of the box nearest ground zero for the fire didn’t think he needed to send up the alarm.

Rather than pull the alarm, he got into a big old Karen-esque bickering session with the people telling him to sound the alarm. See, people don’t change.

Another part of the city’s fire defense system were watchtowers. I don’t know if the watchman was reading a book, dreaming about a special someone, or just taking a nap, but by the time the fires were spotted they had already gotten out of control, which was why they didn’t know what direction to tell the fires crews to head.

And, just as legend tells us, the fire did start at or near the O’Leary barn. The cow was blamed, but really sentiment toward the Irish was so disparaging in Chicago at the time that it became too easy to blame Irish immigrants for the destruction and so Kate O’Leary pretty much ended up living her life in disgrace after the fire.

And as a little side note, no one is really sure how the fire started in that barn, but in 1997, the Chicago City Council officially pardoned Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Better late than never, I guess.

A Rough Couple Days

Anyway, Chicago isn’t known as the Windy City for nothing. And the wind was blowing that night. Combine that with a city made mostly of wood plus a year-long drought and anything a wind-whipped ember touched was bound to go up in flames.

People began trying to flee the city and many took refuge by bodies of water, but even there, the ground became too hot to bear, so rather than by the water, people headed into the water. The fire was so bad, it was described as moving in sheets of flame that reached 1000 feet wide and 100 feet tall. I mean, you couldn’t even roast marshmallows with fire that bad.

Then, as if things aren’t bad enough, the fire reaches the gasworks building. Boom! More fire and the power went out. Then at three in the morning, the damn fire is so bad it ignites the waterworks station. The waterworks building, people. That’s some serious fire. This wiped out the pumps and cut off the water supply.

Rainy Relief Arrives

Things are not looking good for Chicago. Just like in forest wildfires, attempts were made to create firebreaks, but not by cutting down trees. They did it by blowing up buildings.

Nice try, but it didn’t work. The fire just kept on coming.

Finally, in the very early hours of Tuesday, rain started pouring. It finally put out the fires but by then an area 4 miles by 1 mile had been burned. 300 people died, over 17000 buildings were destroyed, and 70 miles of streets were left in ruins.

Worse yet for book lovers the Cobb’s Library lost 5000 books in the fire, and the Chicago Library Association lost a whopping 2 to 3 million books. Tragedy. Pure tragedy. I’ll give you a moment to grieve over that.

Okay, moving on…and no, that wasn’t the only book part of the episode.

What This Has to Do with Books

So obviously we know that Chicago rebuilt, and they rebuilt the city, not on rock and roll, but by using innovative designs and building materials — namely fireproof materials. But you don’t care about that. You’re probably still wondering what in the fiery bowels of Hades this has to do with books.

Well, we need to head over to London for a minute. See, across the pond word came in about the destruction, and a man named A.H. Burgess wanted to help out because he not only was a nice guy, but he also happened to like the city of Chicago. With the support of a member of Parliament and author by the name of Thomas Hughes, Burgess began a project called the English Book Donation. Yes, this is the book part!

They ended up gathering over 8000 books from people including some pretty high-ranking folks such as Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Queen Victoria herself. When Burgess sent the books over he included a statement that went,

“I propose that England should present a Free Library to Chicago, to remain there as a mark of sympathy now, and a keepsake and a token of true brotherly kindness forever…”

Books with No Home

The problem with this brotherly kindness was Chicago had no actual library system.
Now I hear you saying, “But wait a minute, you just mentioned two libraries that lost millions of books.” You’re right, I did.

But those libraries were not free and open to the public. They were subscription, or members-only libraries and that really was the only type of library available in Chicago at the time.

But Burgess’s donation sparked a fire under the people of Chicago. Wait, there’s probably a better way to phrase that. It gave them the gumption to petition for a free library system that would be open to the public.

This petitioning eventually worked its way up the system to become the Illinois Library Act of 1872 that authorized tax-supported libraries throughout the state.

Unfortunately, this is government and it would take until 1873 for the first public library to actually open in Chicago.

A Library Opens!

And that library opened on the 1st of January 1873. I told you this episode had a January element to it. But the best part of this library was that it was started with about half the books donated because of the fire and was housed in an old water tank. And if you’re on the Book Owl Podcast mailing list, you’ll get a photo of that water tank library in the email that will go out with this episode. It really is a remarkable looking place.

But although clever and good looking, the tank wasn’t all that big and it wasn’t convenient for everyone in the growing city to get to. The trouble was, the city wasn’t building new libraries hadn’t over fist.

Instead, book depositories were created in existing businesses such as candy stores and drug stores, which I think is absolutely appropriate because books are definitely as addictive as candy and drugs. Anyway, how this worked was you’d put in a request to the main library and your stuff would be delivered by horse-drawn cart to the outpost nearest your home and then you’d go pick up your book. And people must have loved this system because over two-thirds of the Chicago Library’s circulation chem through these little outposts.

And just to wrap up, the city did eventually get a purpose-built library and let me just say, this was when they knew how to build a library. This thing had a domed ceiling, a grand staircase, and glass lamps designed by Tiffany’s. Swanky!

Books, Not Bells

So all this got me thinking about donations and what other libraries might have been started with donations. Of course, my own local library was started with the donations of both books and an entire house from Florence Ledding, but then I discovered the first public library in the US was started with book donations. And the story is kind of funny because that’s not what was asked for.

So this town in Pennsylvania named itself Franklin in a sort of, shall we say, butt kissing attempt to attract Ben Franklin’s attention. It did and he asked what he could do for the city. The city says, “Well we would just love a church bell to ding dong people into Sunday service.”

Ben Franklin, a possible atheist or at least agnostic, said, “Great, here’s a pile of books instead.” The town council decided not to complain and voted to lend the books to its citizens free of charge. And so, in 1790, what would become known as the Franklin Public Library opened.

And then, stupid me, I complete forgot about all the Carnegie libraries. Say what you will about him, but Andrew Carnegie loved books and he had a ton of money. The money he donated founded over 2500 libraries that were built between 1883 and 1929. And these things are everywhere. Most are in the US, but you’ll also find them in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, and more.

Got Extra Books??

And if your New Year’s Resolution is to clean up some of your bookshelves, there’s plenty of places you can donate them beside Goodwill. You may not have enough to found your own library, but if you want to check out a few places that would love your books and will put them to good use, you can find a link to a post on the blog about that very thing.

Okay that is it for fires, for Ben Franklin, and for book donations. And that means it’s update time

Update – It’s Release Day!!!

The big update is that this past Tuesday, 12 January, was release day for the second box set of my historical fantasy series The Osteria Chronicles. This set includes books four through six plus a ton of bonus material to really bring you into this world where the myths of Ancient Greece come to life as you’ve never seen them before.

The series has just gotten all new covers that I think really show off the stories and the tone perfectly. And as a little promo push to lure you guys into the books, I’ve priced the first box set, that’s books one through three, to 99c for the month of January. The normal price is $5.99, so this is a pretty stellar deal if you want to give the series a try.

Plus, if you purchase that box set from my Payhip Bookstore, you’ll get a 15% discount on the second boxset. So go pop over to that link in the show notes and venture into a world where myths come to life as you’ve never seen them before. No, really, go to the link now. Show’s over. What are you waiting for?

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that really is it for this episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

Book Bargains, libraries

Book Clean Up on Aisle Four

Hey Book Nerds!

This is just a quick between-episodes post because I couldn’t resist sharing a book-related tidbit with you.

It’s a library. In a grocery store.

Wait, no, that’s not quite right. It’s a grocery store that is now a library.

I haven’t succumbed to any panic buying during the pandemic, but I could see myself raiding the shelves at this grocery store!

So this particular library is the Carmel Clay Public Library in Carmel, Indiana, and they’ve turned a former grocery store into a library. Instead of canned food, they have Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, instead of dried beans they have Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Tree. Looking for the candy aisle, you’ll find Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate.

And while I think stocking the shelves of a store with books instead of junk food, is a brilliant idea, unfortunately, this is only temporary while the Carmel Clay Library waits for a the construction of brand new building.

Seriously, though, you can’t beat finding books like Winter’s Bone, The Winter’s Tale, The Snowman, and The Ice House in the freezer department.

Image from the ALA

If you want to see the full article about the library from the American Library Association, you can find it at Books Fill the Aisles at This Supermarket.

But before you go…I also want to share a couple new book promotions you might be interested in. The first features books with a historical setting where the ladies take the lead. And the other is full of free tomes ranging from horror to sci-fi to fantasy. Just scroll down tad bit to see the deals.

Have fun browsing, and as a bit of fun, let me know a title of a book and where you’d shelve it in your grocery library!

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The Latest Book Deals – Historical Ladies & Free Fantasy

(Be sure to also check out more November book bargains and freebies in the sidebar of this blog) 

libraries, podcast

The Story of the Bookmobile: From Perambulators to Pack Animals

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s Episode 9 and while sweet tooths may think the ice cream truck is the best vehicle ever invented, we book nerds know they’re wrong because the Bookmobile can’t be beat.

In this episode we journey from the first traveling libraries all the way to clever ways people today are ensuring everyone gets a chance to fall in love with books.

Behind the Scenes

As mentioned in the episode, I’ve been a book nerd ever since I was a little kid and I LOVED it when the Bookmobile would pull up to my school.

But since Bookmobiles rarely trundle their way through the city these days, I hadn’t given them much thought until I started flipping through Jane Mount’s book for book nerds, Bibliophile.

In one section she shows off a few ways people around the world are getting their books beyond libraries and bookstores. That got the wheels turning in my brain and made me curious to learn how the Bookmobile started.

I discovered several things I never knew about my beloved Bookmobile and, if you’re a book nerd at heart, you’re going to love this episode.

Enjoy!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

Images…

I usually save images as bonuses for my newsletter subscribers, but since they’re getting something extra special this time around, I couldn’t resist sharing a few photos related to the episode.

Of course, if you’d like to join the flock and get regular bonus tidbits, be sure to sign up today to get the Book Owl in your inbox every other week.

bookmobile, portland oregon, multnomah county
This model was a little before my day, but here’s one of the old Multnomah County Bookmobiles. Image from the Multnomah County Library.

 

It’s the Biblioburro! And there’s Luis in the yellow shirt. Image from Wikipedia.

The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

It’s episode 9 and while people with a sweet tooth may think the ice cream truck is the best vehicle ever invented, us book nerds know they’re wrong. 

Before we start, a couple quick business matters. So first, right now, or as soon as you safely can, be sure to click that subscribe button in whatever podcast app you’re listening in, or if you’re watching this on YouTube, well there’s a subscribe button right under the video eagerly waiting for your click. It’s super simple and ensures you won’t miss a single episode. Plus, it makes me happy.

The second business-y matter would not only make me happy, but it could make you Book Owl famous (which is nothing like being truly famous, sorry). If you have a topic you’d like covered in the show, all you have to do is send me a message using the contact link you’ll find in the episode notes. So if there’s a bookstore, author, or book you’re curious about but you’re too lazy to do the research yourself, toss those quandaries my way and I’ll do the research for you. And I’ll mention you in the episode as a way to say thanks.

Okay, that’s enough business, because what do I see coming up the road? Yes! It’s the BookMobile. 

So at its heart, the Bookmobile is a way to bring library books to people who live where it’s hard to get to a library, such as rural areas, or to bring books to people who might have a tough time getting out, such as residents of senior homes. But as a kid I have fond memories of the Bookmobile trundling up to the school. 

Now, keep in mind, I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and no matter where you lived, you had easy access to one of the branches of the Multnomah County library system. But I guess the library wanted to spark kids’ interest in reading and so every now and then (never often enough in my opinion), the this big sort of acid green BookMobile truck would appear. And sometimes I was the only kid in there…and sometimes they’d have to ask me to leave so they could go on to their next stop. Seriously, I’ve always been a book nerd.

Anyway, the bookmobile goes by a gob of different names such as the traveling library, the book wagon, the book truck, the book auto service (which has to be the worst), and the library on wheels (which is now my favorite). And as we’ll see later, the bookmobile isn’t just limited to four-wheeled things with engines. Book nerds are out spreading their book nerd ways via donkey, camel, hand-wheeled cart, and more.

But how did this start? The short answer…I don’t know. Books and scrolls have been transported between libraries pretty much since libraries began, but these transfers were mainly to bring the items for scholarly study, not for sharing with the masses. However, I can imagine that as books became less expensive and easier to make, and as literacy rates increased, that there were probably people carrying around books to loan out to others.

Of course, that’s just my guess. The first system that was a sort of prototype bookmobile came about in 1839, when the American Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (which totally sounds like a creepy organization from a George Orwell story) created the American Library School which wasn’t actually a school, it was a set of fifty books that cost $20, which is about $580 in 2020 dollars. 

The set included books on history, biographies, a novel (yes, one novel), health, science, Christianity, travel memoirs, and more. These sets came in a wooden case and were intended for schools to have a set course curriculum that could be followed country wide, but they were also carted around the frontier lands as a traveling library. And if you ever make it to the Smithsonian Museums, you can see the only complete set in its original box.

But we have to wait until 1857 and we have to jump the pond over to England to find the next evidence of an early Bookmobile. This one had the perfectly British name of a Perambulating Library and it could be found perambulating a circuit through eight villages in Cumbria in northwestern England. The idea was sponsored by a philanthropist by the name of George Moore who, as would later be the mission of the modern Bookmobile, wanted to spread the written word to rural populations. And, based on other perambulating libraries around this time, I’m going to guess that George’s books were pulled by horse or some other cooperative four-legged animal, although he could have had people walking with them.

Okay, now we’re zipping back across the pond because in the early 1900s, we start to see the first true traveling libraries popping up in the U.S. 

One of the first was started by a librarian from Maryland named Mary Titcomb (insert childish joke of your choice). So her library wasn’t exactly a library. It was basically a box of books that were left at 23 public locations such as the post office or grocery stores for people to borrow from. Well, Mary realized this didn’t do much good for the people who didn’t come into to town regularly, so she arranged for a book wagon to take reading material directly to people’s homes. And I like to think that any fines were probably paid in apples for the horses who drew the wagon.

Of course, in the US most of our Bookmobiles now come around on four wheels instead of four legs. The first motor-powered bookmobile came about in 1920. Yet again, we have a librarian to thank for her ingenuity because Sarah Askew redesigned her Model T and started driving books around rural areas of New Jersey.

But our four-legged friends weren’t out of work yet. After the Depression, Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the WPA, began the Pack Horse Project. This ran from 1935 to 1943 and used pack animals to bring books and a few other necessities into the deepest parts of the mountains of Kentucky and the Appalachia area. Known as packhorse librarians, these folks were sometimes the only outside contact for the insular mountain residents.

But as we saw at the beginning, bookmobiles weren’t limited to bringing books to rural areas. In the 1960s, in the Bronx, an interracial team of librarians started the Library in Action program to bring books to kids of color who may not have had access to books or libraries otherwise.

Have I mentioned how cool the bookmobile program is??

Anyway, the Bookmobile programs reached their height in the US in the 1950s to 1970s, when there were well over 1000 vehicles bringing books to kids and adults. These days there’s only about 600 of them left. It’s not that people don’t still love the idea, but budget cuts, easy access to online resources, and environmental concerns are eating away at the bookmobile. However, there may be hope for our beloved BookTruck. New ones are being outfitted with solar powered batteries and hybrid engines. 

And hey, we still have a National Bookmobile Day every April, so maybe there’s still hope for the Bookmobile.

Or perhaps we need to think outside the four-wheeled box on this one because as I mentioned earlier, there are many ways people around the world are getting books to people. And for this next bit, I have to give thanks to Jane Mount’s book Bilibophile.

If you don’t want four wheels, maybe you prefer three. The Il Bibliomotocarro is a three-wheeled book truck driven by former schoolteacher Antonio La Cava. He fills it with books and drives 300 miles each week to bring reading material to kids in southern Italy. Or maybe you prefer to go back to our four-legged friends. Well, in Colombia there’s the Biblioburro that was started by another schoolteacher. Luis Soriano was feeling a bit down that his students didn’t have books at home, so now he and his two donkeys Alfa and Beta bring books to them. In Kenya and Mongolia, you can find camels doing the same thing…although they’re probably a bit grumpier about it. Or perhaps you just want to keep your feet on the ground and get your 10,000 steps in. Well, you can make like Martin Murillo, again of Colombia, who loves reading so much, he brings books to one and all with his La Carreta Literaria. And if you’re feet get tired, do as Martin does and stop to read the kids a story.

Okay, that’s it for the Bookmobile. 

And now I’m tossing it over to you. Do you have memories of the Bookmobile? Does your area still have bookmobiles? I want to hear from you, so be sure to use that contact info in the show notes to drop me a line. And who knows, if I need to fill up some audio space, I might just read your comment in a future episode. Oh, and those of you who are signed up for The Book Owl newsletter are going to get a link to some great images of historic bookmobiles from around the world, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Again, that’s it for the show, which means it’s time for updates. If you’re done, thanks so much for listening. If not, here we go.

I don’t really have any podcast news other than the next episode is number 10 and I’ve got something fun lined up for that one. As I mentioned in the newsletter and the blog last time, I’ve updated all the old episodes as best I could to improve the sound quality. They’re still not perfect, but they are better. 

As for writing. There’s a lot of news coming up in this realm of my creative life. From release dates, to audiobooks, to learning some new tricks, I could fill up a whole hour just covering it all. But instead of doing that, if you’re interested, I’m just going to encourage you to either follow my writing blog or to sign up for my writing newsletter (you’ll get a free story if you do), and surprise surprise those links are in the show notes.

Okay everyone, that is it for this episode. Keep on truckin’ with the Bookmobile and I will hoot at you next time.

The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

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libraries, podcast

The British Library Birthday Bash

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s Episode 7 and this time I’m taking you on a wander through the stacks of the world’s largest library…and quite possibly the deepest one. So grab your library cards and your book bag and your passports if you’re outside the UK because it’s time to head to the British Library.

Behind the Scenes

There’s not much behind the scenes information for this episode. I selected the topic because, as you might have guessed from the post title, July is the month when the British Library was officially founded in 1973.

I visited the library during my second trip to London and did my fair share of drooling over the book nerd treasure trove in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, which you’ll learn about in this episode. After recording this episode, I’m eager to visit again because I had no idea of the treasure trove hidden behind the smoky glass tower!

Alright, that’s it, let’s get on with the birthday celebrations!

Clicking the image will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. If you’d like to read along, a rough transcript is a bit lower down.

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

Images…

I usually save images as bonuses for my newsletter subscribers, but since they’re getting something extra special this time around, I thought I’d include photos with this post to help give you a better idea of a few things mentioned in Episode 7.

Of course, if you’d like to join the flock and get regular bonus tidbits, be sure to sign up today to get the Book Owl in your inbox every other week.

The round structure at left is the Reading Room of the British Museum and was the former home of the British Library. Photo by me.
St.Pancras Station (the brick facade influenced the design of the library). Photo by me.
Exterior of the British Library with Isaac Newton at left. Photo by Jack1956, public domain.
British Library interior. The smoky glass protects George III’s King’s Library. Photo credit to Andrew Dunn, Creative commons license http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/

The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

It’s episode 7 and this time I’m taking you on a wander through the stacks of the world’s largest library and quite possibly the deepest one.

This is a slightly longer episode so rather than go on about supporting the Book Owl with your hard earned cash, I’m just going to ask you to show your support by making sure you hit that subscribe button on your favorite listening app, by giving the podcast a review, or by sharing the podcast with one other person. And once again, Tierney of TierneyCreates and Helen of Crawcrafts Beasties have been superstars by mentioning the podcast on their blogs over the past few weeks.

Alright grab your library cards and your book bag and your passports if you’re outside the UK because it’s time to head to the British Library.

So remember at the start how I said this was the largest library. I lied. Square footage wise it may bot be, but it is the largest by collection. I don’t want to overwhelm you with numbers but this is going to be a very “Wow that’s a lot!” episode and that’s going to involve spouting some digits.

The collection, well it’s hard to pinpoint but estimates put it at 170 to 200 million items and that includes some 13 million books. I’ll let you book nerds drool over that for a sec, historical artifacts, and other media. To put the collection into perspective, Time Out magazine has calculated that if you looked at five items a day every day, it would take you 8000 years to see everything.

Now I don’t know about you but I tend to view way more than five items whenever I go to the library so I bet I could knock that down to 2000 years no problem.

But as we’ll find out, it’s not going to be easy to see the entire collection because it’s growing by leaps and bounds every single day.

I’ll get into some more numbers in a bit, but right now let’s wander back few years and explore the history of the library and a little bit about what makes the library special today.

So as I’m recording this, I’ve just turned the calendar page to July. And that’s the reason I chose this topic. Because the British Library was founded in July 1973. Now, the concept of libraries in England dates back centuries, but these were mostly private libraries whose owners allowed people to make use of their collections and could be pretty restrictive as you can imagine in such stratified society. It wouldn’t be until the 1850s when a truly public library would open.

But that’s a whole different topic and I’m going to steer you back to the founding of the British Library. So 1973, as far as British institutions go that doesn’t seem terribly old, but prior to this, the library had simply part of the British Museum since the mid 1700s. It was housed in what’s called the Reading Room which if you’ve been to or have seen pictures of the main lobby of the British Museum the Reading Room is that big round room above the gift shops and I’ll add a picture of that to the episode webpage so you can see what I’m talking about if you’re not quite sure. And, as with any link mentioned, the link to that page will be in the show notes.

And it kind of made sense that the library would be part of the museum because some of the items the library held, which were mostly acquired by donation, were hundreds even thousands of years old. These donated items included the entirety of George II’s Old Royal Library and George III’s King’s Library. George III, by the way is the one who happened to lose those pesky American colonies. So lots of old stuff sort of like what you find a museum, right?

But the collection wasn’t just in the British Museum. It was spread out in a mish mash of items to various buildings across London. Then along came the UK’s Library Act of 1972 which made the collection its own entity and that became the British Library. Trouble was, there was no actual library building for the collection to go to, so the British Library remained in the British Museum for nearly 25 more years.

Talk about the slow pace of government.

So after a lot of head scratching and probably a bunch of committees, the first idea to get the library collection its own home was to level the blocks facing the British Museum which is in the Bloomsbury area of London. And the Bloomsbury area isn’t some derelict neighborhood with rundown structures that are half-toppling over and in need of demolition anyway. These buildings, some of them historic, are still used by scientific and literary societies, businesses, and residents. So as you can guess, this is not go over well and after much protesting led most strongly by George Wagner the planning committee went back to the think tank.

Eventually, they settled on a disused area near St. Pancras station, and in the late 1980s, designing and building began. The architect who won the job was prepare for very long British name Sir Colin Alexander Saint John Wilson, who was nicknamed Sandy because wow that’s a long name. Sandy designed a place with a brick facade that fit in perfectly with the red brick of St. Pancras Station. 

And, number time, about 10 million bricks went into creating what would be the largest public building built in the UK in the 20th century. Of course some of those bricks were used to build the library’s entry piazza where a very large statue of Isaac Newton hangs out with a few other sculptures.

So, with a building and a piazza in place, in 1997, it was finally time to start bringing the collection to its new home. Trucks began trundling between the British Museum and the British Library in October 1997. And trundling. And trundling. In June 1998 Queen Elizabeth got out her big old pair of scissors and cut the ribbon to officially open the doors, but it would take four years to move the entire collection.

And just as a side note, the Reading Room of the British Museum is still open but it’s used primarily as a research library. 

Okay so QEII has cut the ribbon and you’ve wandered in. The first thing that will draw your eyes, besides the wide open interior, would likely be a central, six-story tower of smoky glass behind which are thousands of items. 

What’s in there? Remember Georgi III’s donations? That’s what’s inside. The contents of the Kings Library includes 65,000 books and 19,000 other items like maps and pamphlets. The smoky glass helps protect these antique items from UV light while still allowing you to gape at a tower of book spines.

Within the library itself, if you could to wander every area of the stacks, you would walk past find over 246 km of shelving, which is about 150 miles, but you’d have trouble ever reaching the end because another with around 8 to 9 km, or 5 miles, of new shelf space is added every year.

So why do they need to keep adding all this shelf space?

Because the British Library is what’s called a legal deposit and, no that doesn’t mean that’s where legal documents are dropped off. It’s actually a concept that dates to 1610. And what it basically means is that the library gets a copy of every single book published in the UK and Ireland and was made official in the Copyright Act of 1911. And while researching his episode I found the library’s annual statement for 2018. In that year, through the legal deposit, they added about 300,000 new physical items, and 250,000 digital ones. That works out to about 1500 items being added each day. Which will tack on several more years if you’re only looking at five items a day as I mentioned earlier. As a perspective my local library adds about 30 to 40 items.

So even though what you see of the British Library is pretty big, it’s kind of like an iceberg where you only see a small bit. I told you it might be the deepest library, right? Well, that time I wasn’t because this place goes down eight stories below ground. 

This underground area is environmentally controlled with moveable, color-coded stacks of shelves. And what happens is if you want an item from there, you put in a request, a print out goes to an assistant who goes and hunts down your item, puts it in a little red box and then it travels along a portion of the 1.6 km of conveyor belts to get to the pick-up desk. And for my newsletter subscribers, among a couple other bonuses, I’m going to have a video that allows you to ride along the rails with one of those items. 

When you’re done with your book, it goes back along the conveyor belt and an assistant resolves it. On average these poor assistant’s pull 3000 items a day which makes my legs tired just thinking of the miles they must walk.

So the library has miles and miles of shelves, millions of books, it’s just a big library right? Wrong. Because the library’s collection houses some astounding treasures that you can see for free.

As I said the library has been collecting donations of materials for a couple hundred years, long before they were ever actually a library, so they’ve gotten some amazing manuscripts, documents, and other historically important printed items, which are put on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery which is honestly a book nerd and history nerd paradise.

Now what’s on display does rotate to help preserve the items, but what you might see are things like, and keep in mind these are all originals, Captain Cook’s journals, song lyrics and letters from The Beatles (and no those aren’t from the two hundred year old donations), decrees signed by Elizabeth I – and if you’ve ever seen her signature on like book cover it really does have all those flourishes and everything and it’s really quite a signature. They also have copies of the Gutenberg Bible printed on Johannes Gutenberg’s press, they have two of the remaining copies of the Magna Cata from the year 1215, and they have the sole surviving copy of Beowulf. 

So all in all even if you you have no intention of doing anything at the library just going to that gallery is well worth making your way over to the building if you’re ever n London. 

But of course right now most of us can’t travel or aren’t willing to travel, but you can still visit the British Library. And I’ll have some links to these all on the show notes, but if you explore the library’s website, you’ll discover they have some unbeatable online resources. One of these is a sound library where you can listen to British accents from across the island. You can also click your way through several online exhibits including the history of writing the history of magic, and the history of mapmaking. 

But probably, the resource I could see losing the most time playing with is being able to head to their digitized manuscripts and flip through the pages of a few famous manuscripts. One of these is the St Cuthbert Gospels which if you’ve heard of the Book of Kells, which will be a topic on the podcast one day, you’ll be familiar with what an illuminated manuscripts is, and if you’re not, it’s a book, usually a bible on which the pages are decorated with brightly colored animals and intricate patterns. And even though the Book of Kells is probably the most famous of these, the St. Cuthbert Gospels, which were made in the early 700s, are actually about 80 years older. And thanks to the British Library and you can virtually turn page by page looking at it. If colorful bibles aren’t your thing, you can also browse the pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks from the early 1500s and try to read his backwards writing, look at his prototype helicopter, and ponder his many sketches. I believe the library’s website said they have they said they had 30,000 images of their various manuscripts, so that should keep you busy for a while. Maybe by then the travel ban will be over and you can go visit the books in person. 

So that’s it for the British Library or at least that’s all I’m going to cover it really does have some incredible displays so, when they re-open, if you can go I highly encourage you to do so. In the meantime enjoy those online resources,

As for my updates. First a bit of podcast news. I have been working on updating my old episodes and I know this is only episode seven, but I want to get this taken care of before things get out of hand. There’s a few of the earlier episodes that had some horrible horrible sound quality issues and, now that I’ve got a better handle on my editing software, I’m trying to fix them. I’ve just taken care of episode 3, so if you’ve listened to that and couldn’t get through it because of sound issues, try it again because it should be a little better. I’ll keep you updated with other improvements and I am constantly working at improving the sound quality of my recordings, but if you’ve noticed a sound issue, don’t be afraid to let me know using the contact info in the show notes, or by simply going to the book owl podcast dot com slash contact. 

As for my writing updates, well it’s July and I have jumped back into my Cassie Black trilogy with both feet. I’m working on Book One which was a bit of a decision process because I’d been originally thinking about getting Books 2 and 3 mostly done, then going back to Book One, but since Book One is so close to being done I think I just want to get through that and really hone that puppy to perfection, so I can put it out of my head. In June I also wrote a short story and I’ll be polishing that up this month as well. 

And speaking of stories if you want a free story from the Book Owl, there’s a link in the show notes to grab one. All you had to do is just click on that and enter your email address and you’ll get a free story sent right to your inbox. It’s a little gruesome, a little macabre, but it’s also a little bit funny so you might enjoy it and hey who doesn’t like free books.

Okay everyone, that is it for the show, and I will hoot at you next time.

The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

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Don’t be afraid of the dark…humor, that is.

Click on the image to check out a small collection of FREE tales for those of you with wicked senses of humor!

libraries, Literacy, podcast

What’s That Dog Doing in the Library?

Hello Book Nerds,

I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and the show has already gone to the dogs.

This time on The Book Owl Podcast we delve into that age-old question, the quandary that has stumped philosophers and scientists for centuries, the issue I’m sure has been keeping you up at night….

Do dogs know how to read?

Spoiler alert…no, they don’t, but they can listen which is why our canine buddies are regularly invited into libraries to help build better readers. How does this work? Who came up with the idea? How can you get involved? Find out in this latest episode.

To round out this library-centric episode, I share an unbelievable, absolutely-head-shaking tale from a library in Newcastle, UK.

Enjoy the episode!!

Note: Clicking on the image below takes you to the Book Owl’s Podfollow page where you can listen to the episode. If you’d like to download the episode or subscribe to the show, simply search for The Book Owl Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the links just under the image. 

Listening links…

Links mentioned in this episode…

This episode is sponsored by my own books and stories. If you enjoy imaginative short fiction or historical fantasy novels, you’re bound to find something you’ll enjoy on the shelves of my Payhip Bookstore.

Listeners can take 10% off their entire purchase by using coupon code BOOKOWL10 at checkout.

https://payhip.com/TammiePainter

Episode Transcript (or roughly so)….

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore. 

It’s only episode three and the show has already gone to the dogs.

Before we begin chatting about literary pups, if you’ve been enjoying the show, and I know we’re only a couple episodes in, but if you have been enjoying it, one of the best ways to support the show is to just tell someone else about it. Whether that’s leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, sharing on social media, or just turning to the person next to you…sorry, six feet from you…turning to that person and saying, “Hey, you might like this too.”

And since I’m mentioning reviews, I just want to give a big thanks to Tierney of TierneyCreates.com for recommending The Book Owl Podcast on her blog recently. Yay. I encourage you to check out her blog because she really is creating some amazing stuff over there. I also have to thank user PatLav over on Podchaser for reviewing each episode so far. How cool is that?

As ever, any links mentioned in this show will be in the show notes so you don’t have to worry about scrambling to jot them down.

Alright onto the age old question, the quandary that has stumped philosophers and scientists for centuries, the issue I’m sure has been keeping you up at night…do dogs read?

Now while I can’t find any research papers on this I’m going to guess that the answer is, No dogs cannot read. So stop making them fetch the paper.

However, dogs can listen…except when you’re telling them not to chase the cat. In fact, they love a good yarn. Which is why libraries across the U.S. have programs where our canine buddies come in to listen to kids read. And really, besides the fact that it is the cutest thing ever, it really is beneficial for building confident and high engaged readers.

So why would you want to stick your child in a room with a dog and a book? Well first off, most kids love dogs and spending time with one, especially if they can’t have one of their own, is a big old lure to get them into the library. 

If you tell a kid who isn’t that into books that you’re going to the library, he or she isn’t going to be that thrilled about the excursion. But you tell that same kid there’s going to be a dog there, and I bet you most of those kids are racing toward the car and strapping themselves in eager to go. That kid who hates to read at home and sees it as a chore now sees it as fun because he’s reading to a dog.

Hey, whatever it takes right?

The second reason is that dogs don’t care what you say to them. Now I really like dogs, but I have to tell you cats are probably a little bit smarter than dogs. If you read to a cat, there’s a high likelihood that it’s going to give you that judgmental stare and if you mess up a word, the cat is going to walk out of the room. 

Not a dog. Dogs love attention and they will listen to these kids read no matter how much they stumble over the big words. And that builds a huge amount of confidence. The kid continues to read to the dog, the dog continues to listen, and the more the kid reads the stronger his reading abilities become. And the stronger, more comfortable a kid is with reading, the more he or she will do it. Basically the dogs are a way to bribe the kids into being life long readers.

Thanks doggies! Good boy!!

So, while this all sounds utterly adorable, does this program actually make a difference or is it just good PR for libraries? Well, it is good PR, but reading to dogs or other animals also has been proven to improving reading. In one study by UC Davis, they took two groups of readers, one who read to a dog and another who didn’t. How Long? The readers with a canine audience saw anywhere from a 12 to 30 percent improvement in their reading fluency.

In another study, this time by Tufts University, they found that kids who read to dogs showed an improved attitude toward reading which correlates to a better attitude about schoolwork and learning in general.

How does this spill over into the kid’s future?

As sad and unbelievable as it sounds, the American Library Association estimates that there are 27 million functionally illiterate people in the U.S. Illiteracy starts young. In general, and of course there are exceptions, people who don’t get a handle on their reading skills by third grade will never really show much improvement. That leads to disinterest in learning, which then leads to lower paying jobs, which then leads to lower income, which then leads to poor health. And above all, Learning and reading lead to critical thinking which is so so SO important in these days of political interference and outright lies to gain votes and manipulate facts. Seriously people, the pen, and being able to read what that pen wrote, is mightier than the sword.

But let me get off my literacy soap box and back to the dogs.

What clever person came up with this idea? I know I read to my pets as a kid, and I’m sure kids have been doing that for ages, but it was a woman named Sandi Martin from Utah’s Intermountain Therapy Animals who observed how well people responded to therapy dogs and thought, “Hey, how would this work for kids who are a bit wonky in their reading skills.” That’s not a direct quote, by the way. 

Anyway, she started a new branch of the therapy group called Reading Education Assistance Dogs – or READ. In the late 90s, the group ran a pilot program in the Salt Lake City library and it was an immediate hit. Since then, the idea of reading to dogs in libraries and schools has jumped like fleas across the country.

So who are these dogs? There’s no one central Read to the Dog agency, it’s a program that’s run by whatever organization wants to undertake the work of managing the program and it’s almost always run by volunteers. In the Portland area that organization is Dove Lewis who is mainly known as an emergency vet service.

Now, don’t worry, the dogs aren’t being pulled out of their hospital beds and hauled in to hang out at libraries. Instead, people sign up with their dogs who have received therapy dog credentials. These people then make the effort to drive out to libraries across the area to help build a new generation of book nerds. So let’s pause a moment and give a little Hoot to those volunteers, right! 

Anyway, it might be a little bit of canine profiling, but these programs do want dogs who will appear friendly and approachable to kids to encourage the little ones to get in there and start reading. The dogs obviously have to pass a temperament test…no word on whether the kids do as well…and while mellow labs and goofy golden retrievers might be the first dogs that come to mind, but from pictures I’ve seen in programs across the country there’s also greyhounds, terriers, pugs, mutts, and really any well-mannered dog who has proven themselves calm, good with kids, and loves a good story. 

If you have a dog that might fit the bill and if you have time to help build a better reader, just search for Read to the Dog along with your city, county or state’s name and you should find an organization in your area that’s running something similar. If you don’t have a dog, consider making a donation to your local group. There’s also a link in the show notes to donate to READ.

That’s I’ll I’ve got about dogs, but before we wrap up I have to share one quick news item that caught my eye and gave me a good laugh and I thought it would fit in perfectly there since we’re talking about libraries. So apparently a library in Newcastle (that’s in the UK) had a service come in to do a deep clean, probably for coronavirus, but I’m not sure. Anyway, to do this cleaning job, the cleaner was required removed all the books and then put them back when the job was done. Well, the cleaners put the book back alright, not in the order they were, but in order by size. Yes, by size. The library director supposedly took a good attitude and said, “well at least we’re closed right now and will have plenty of time to set things right.”

Thanks for listening everyone, I’ve got a personal update coming up, but if you enjoyed this episode be sure to let me know, You can leave a review or contact me at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact. If you want to get even more out of each episode, be sure to subscribe to the book owl podcast newsletter on that same page.

Cheers everyone, I’ll hoot at you next time!

So just a couple personal updates. I’ve just finished the third draft of the first two books in a trilogy I’m working on. It’s sort of an urban paranormal story with plenty of magic, but also a couple of zombies and a little bit of mystery. There’s no official title yet, so for now I[‘m just calling it the Cassie Black trilogy. The second bit of news is simply that I’m gearing up for the launch of the final book in the Osteria Chronicles, a historical fantasy series in which the Greek gods come to life as you’ve never seen them before. The book comes out on 19 May, so I’ll be telling you a bit more about it next time.

That’s it for me. Have a great couple weeks!

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The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License