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) 

Authors, Episodes

15. Ten Spooky and Kooky Libraries

 

It’s a listener-inspired episode in which, just like in the movie Ghostbusters, the Book Owl discovers ghosts love spending their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

 

Ten Spooky & Kooky Libraries (Rough Transcript)

Note: I’ve made the transcript a little easier to read by providing section breaks with headers. Let me know if this works better for you who’d rather read than listen.

Introduction:

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.

Well my little ghosts and goblins, this episode is coming out only a couple days before the haunting holiday of Halloween, which means I’m required by podcast law to feature something spooky. As if we Americans aren’t already fearful enough over the upcoming election, right? 

Behind the Scenes:

Anyway….I already had an idea for this episode floating around in my brain, but then Helen Crawford listener and lead monster maker over at Crawcrafts Beasties stepped in and said, “What about an episode on haunted bookstores?” 

I thought it was brilliant. Unfortunately, it turned out that there really aren’t many interesting tales of haunted bookshops. I mean, there were a few haunted bookstores, but it was more just quips about cold spots in the building or the occasional book falling off a shelf. There were no real stories behind the stories. 

But the lack of bookstore ghosts didn’t stop my search. Because it turns out that just like in the movie Ghostbusters, ghosts would rather spend their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries. And let me tell you there turned out to be an overwhelming number of library hauntings, but I’ve picked a few of my favorite, funniest, and creepiest ones to share with you. 

Cheap Ploy to Get You to Join My Newsletter:

And if you’re on The Book Owl Podcast newsletter, as your bonus trick or treat this time around, you’ll get links to all the ones I had to skip over. And that also means this is the perfect time to mention that if you aren’t already signed up to the newsletter, there’s a link in the show notes. You’ll not only get bonus content with each episode, but you’ll also get a little owl-themed gift for joining the flock.

Alright, onto the episode and ten spooky libraries!

So since Helen is from Ireland, I thought it would only be appropriate if we start with a haunted library from the Emerald Isle.

Ghost in the Library #1

And that would be Marsh’s Library which the more I read about it, might just deserve its own full episode. This gorgeous book palace was founded in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh – which makes him sound like a Harry potter character — and this was the first public library in Ireland. 

Well, Marsh had a niece who he had raised and adored and whose relationship with a salty sea captain he vehemently opposed. The niece couldn’t help it, she was in love and eloped with her captain, leaving behind a note for her uncle telling him what she’d done. 

Of course, she didn’t want to be stopped before the two got properly hitched so she hid the note in a book. In a library. Marsh never did find the note. I’m not quite sure how he was seen supposed to know it existed, but after his death in 1713, something was seen wandering through the gallery, rummaging through book after book in search of the letter. And supposedly if you move between one gallery of the library to another, you can feel a spectral chill….

Ghost in the Library #2 

Hopping over to Norfolk, England, well this ghost story really drives home the stereotype of the British stiff upper lip, Keep Calm Carry on mentality. 

So we’re heading to the library of Felbrigg Hall. In the 1970s, the estate was acquired by the National Trust and it was up to David Muffon to put the place in order. So one evening (okay it could have been daytime, but evening makes it spookier), David’s at a desk in the library and happens to notice someone in a chair by the fireplace reading some books….then the someone finished his reading and faded away. 

Okay, at this point, even as a skeptic, I’d be letting out a horror movie scream and dashing the hell out of there. But not David. He just shrugs his shoulders and continues about his work, then later asks the butler if the house has any ghosts. 

To which the butler says, “Oh sure, we’ve got William Windham III who likes to raed by the fireplace.” The butler found this so normal he even set out books for the ghost to read…turns out Ghost William favored works by his old friend Samuel Johnson. Talk about a life long fan. Or is that an afterlife long fan?

Okay so let’s jump the pond because it turns out, American ghosts really love their libraries.

Now as some you know, Mr. Husband works at a library and there’s an ongoing joke that once you get a job at the library, you don’t leave. Turns out, that might be very true because I think at least a third of the stories I read were about the ghosts of former library workers. Most of whom liked to push books to the floor…which I’m sure after a lifetime of having to keep the shelves tidy means they are having a very satisfying afterlife.

Ghost in the Library #3

Mr. Husband also tells stories of a few, rare troublesome patrons, but in most cases, these folks leave the library premises when asked. Not so much in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at Lehigh University’s Linderman Library. See they used to have an old man who came to the library and was a real nuisance. Not one to let a little death stop his crabby ways, he is now haunting the library and continues to pester students and staff.

Ghost in the Library #4

Speaking of naughty ghosts, over in Tarrytown, New York, not long after his death, Washington Irving — who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow — began haunting the library of his home. Trouble is, unlike William Windham, Irving isn’t there for the books…he’s there because it’s a tourist attraction and he likes to pinch the bottoms of female visitors. 

Ghost in the Library #5

So let’s get into the creepy side of the stacks…over at the Sweetwater County Library in Wyoming, ever since the library opened in 1980, lights have been seen flipping on and off, and strange sounds reverberate through the building at night. In rooms with no windows, glowing dots are seen to flicker across the walls. 

See, it turns out the city planners didn’t pay attention to their horror film tropes and built the library over a freakin’ graveyard that had been the burial place mainly for Asian railroad workers. The graves had supposedly all been moved in the 1920s. Supposedly. 

Because in 1985, they found one remaining coffin. Yeah, I’m out of there already, but for those of you sticking around…it gets even more eerie. See, kids, there used to be these things call typewriters and the library had them for typing up forms and documents. But on occasion, the typewriters would type on their own. 

The library staff tried inserting paper to see if the ghosts had a message to convey, but the specters refused to commit anything to paper. Pretty smart that. But wait, there’s more because the creepy crawlies aren’t done yet! 

So once the library got computers, there was one that was a closed system, meaning it had no external inputs, and because of what it was used for it had no wordprocessor on it either. The librarian using it one day turned her back and when she turned back around her name was typed in large letters across the screen. Again, no external input. No word processing program. I’m scaring myself here.

Ghost in the Library #6

Speaking of typewriters over at the Old Palace Theater branch of Arkansas’s Saline County Library, employees have heard phantom footsteps, slamming doors, books falling from shelves, and paperback carousels rotating on their own. And, working late one night, Director Julie Hart heard the distinctive sound of a manual typewriter. Trouble is… the library had gotten rid of all their typewriters years ago. Damn typewriters are scary!

Ghost in the Library #7

This one isn’t super creepy, but it does prove that if you name your kid Millicent, you’re just asking her to eventually become a ghost. So the founder of Fairhaven’s Millicent Library was Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers. His daughter Millicent died of heart failure in 1890 when she was only 17, and he named the library after her. 

And of course she began haunting it. Patrons have seen her glowing blue form walking the halls. And at night, after the library’s closed, people have reported seeing a girl standing in the window of the turret that makes up part of the front of the building. 

But Millicent isn’t lonely in her afterlife. She’s also hanging out with a woman in black who runs her fingers along the shelved books, and a man dressed in a tweed jacket, purple bow tie, and small circular glasses who mops the basement floor. 

Ghost in the Library #8

Okay, want another creepy one? How about another horror movie classic: the evil curse! And you’ll find that over at the Peoria Public Library. 

See, the land the library was built on was once owned by Mary Stevenson Grey. And I don’t know if she hated libraries or just had a bad experience with a librarian, but in 1847 she pronounced a curse on anyone who occupied her land after she died. 

And if you don’t believe curses are real, well, three library directors have already met untimely ends. There’s E. S. Willcox, who in 1915 was run over by a streetcar; there’s Samuel Patterson Prowse, who was doing nothing more exciting than attending a library board meeting in 1921 when he suffered a fatal heart attack. And in 1924, Director Dr. Edwin Wiley committed suicide by taking arsenic. 

Now, I don’t know if the Peoria Library is covering something up, but since those deaths, supposedly no other library directors have died under mysterious circumstances. Still, employees do report seeing the ghost of Prowse hanging around the basement.

Ghost in the Library #9

Enough with creepy, let’s get to my second favorite, which is funny and kind of sad too. So the front portion of the Old Bernardsville Public Library in New Jersey was once the Vealtown Tavern during the Revolutionary War. 

The innkeeper’s daughter was Phyllis Parker who was in love with a British spy. The spy was hanged in 1777, and to make sure Phyllis didn’t forget her transgression, the body was delivered in a coffin to the tavern. 

Phyllis suffered a nervous breakdown and was never the same again. Then, starting in 1974, Ghost Phyllis began showing up in the rooms of the library where the tavern once was. But she was a good ghost who never caused any trouble and seemed to be a welcome addition. So much so that they issued her her own library card.

Despite this, Phyllis slowly stopped making appearances and one of the last times she was seen was in November 1989, when a 3-year-old boy saw a lady in a long, white dress in the reading room. Not put off one bit, he stopped and said hello to her. Maybe Phyllis knew her time was up because only a couple years after this final appearance, the library moved to a new location.

Ghost in the Library #10

And I’ve saved my favorite ghostly tale for last. And this tale really does have a tail because its about a ghost cat. Unless he’s Manx. 

Anyway, this is at the Doris and Harry Vise Library at Tennesee’s Cumberland University. So in March 2001, the director of the library, John Boniol, said a cat came floating across his office floor. He said it wasn’t walking, it was gliding and none of the feet touched the ground. It then vanished into the boxes that were under his desk. Which sounds like your typical cat. 

But that’s not the only ghosts in the Vise Library. John reported eerie sensations in certain rooms and a former librarian used to play peek-a-boo with the ghost of a little girl. I’m not sure if that’s creepy, or just says a lot about what it takes to get through a slow day in library land.

So, what about your area, any haunted libraries you know of? Have you felt any icy fingers tickling your spine while you roamed the stacks? Let me know!

Update Time:

So, now it’s update time – As for writing, as I record this I’m about halfway through the first draft of the third book of my Cassie Black trilogy, and by the time this comes to, I am hoping I’ll be almost done with that draft. I’m pushing to get the book, and the trilogy completely revised and edited by the end of the year, and I think I’m going to be cutting it pretty close, but it will be nice to have them all put together and ready to publish in the first part of 2021.

And as for the podcast, well, not much to report here. Thanks to everyone who’s been commenting on the episodes and as ever, if there’s a strange bookstore, quirky author, or other book related topic you want covered, don’t be shy about letting me know!

Signing Off:

Okay everyone, that is it for this episode. If no ghosts and goblins snatch you up at your local library, I will hoot at you next time.

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

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

News

Don’t Miss the National Book Festival 2020

Hello Book Lovers!!

Just a quick note this week to make sure you don’t miss out on the Library of Congress’s FREE event this weekend…

The National Book Festival of 2020

(finally, something good about this year)

All you have to do is visit the link above, then enter your name and email and you’re registered to virtually attend a gobsmacking amount of lectures about historic books, about book preservation, about books books books.

There’s also discussions on other aspects of the LOC, plus loads of live author chats including John Grisham, Kwame Mbalia, Thomas Frank, Sarah Scoles, and oodles more!

The festival starts Friday (25 September) and runs through Sunday the 27th. Once you sign up, you’re free to pick and choose as many or as few programs that interest you.

Have a great book-filled weekend!!!

And if you missed out on Agatha Christie hanging ten last week, be sure to give Episode 12 a listen.

***

If you’re looking for something unforgettable to read this weekend, try this…..

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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Click the image below to discover dozens of stories that put a new twist on old legends!

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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