Journalistic MeFite Convergence! December 18, 2013 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I wrote an article about Jessamyn. You can read it here. Comments and constructive criticism welcome!
posted by Dr. Wu to MetaFilter-Related at 7:21 AM (72 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

If I ever get rich I'm moving to Vermont immediately. Seems like a great place to stockpile guns and wives while still enjoying a fine wine and some literate conversation. Essentially perfect.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:24 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Great article, Dr. Wu. Thanks for sharing it here. I look forward to reading it in print when Seven Days arrives at my work place this afternoon.
posted by terrapin at 7:35 AM on December 18, 2013


It is perfect! Though some people do not love the weather, for reasons I don't quite understand. I had a great time driving down some of Vermont's state highways in the murky fog with Dr. Wu blabbing on and on about libraries and copyright. He makes me sound a lot less of an ear-bending chatterbox than I actually am. Here are the photos I've already taken of Vermont libraries.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:51 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is super cool!

I dip down into Vermont a lot--mostly the Northeast Kingdom--but given the well-tended libraries and very well-stocked independent bookstores that even the tiniest of towns seem to have, I have begun to regard Vermonters as some really incredibly literate people dedicated to keeping the written word alive. I love it.
posted by Kitteh at 7:55 AM on December 18, 2013


Honestly, the libraries are one of the things I miss most about living in Vermont.

Delighted, West checks the book out and reads from it on the way to her next stop, the Brookfield Free Public Library.

I know the Vermont backroads can be deserted, but I hope someone else was driving.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:07 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great article!
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:08 AM on December 18, 2013


Who?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jessamyn West. She's a well known novelist. Try and keep up, Brandon.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:12 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Huh, I never knew that Jessamyn could destroy things with her mind and has gone back in history three times to kill three different Hitlers. This was a really interesting article. I confess I do not believe that 251 Club business, though, I mean, come on....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:27 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cheerful guy that I am, my first thought when I read that someone is making a project out of visiting and documenting all 183 libraries is to wonder and worry about how secure library funding is and whether any are scheduled to be closed soon due to budget cuts.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are no libraries currently on the chopping block in Vermont but that's mostly because the libraries don't really get any state funding to begin with so it's not a situation like Texas where one jerk governor can threaten a whole stateful of libraries. We do have some libraries in the state that are entirely volunteer-run or that are only open 14 hours a week, but they're at least holding steady at that level.

I maybe came across as a little too harsh on the ALA. They do a lot of wonderful things in a lot of wonderful ways but their grasp on technology (including stuff like how to have a website, engage with members online, deal with technological changes, advocate for sane and smart technology use in libraries) had been sadly lacking, even as it's improved in the recent half decade.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


For what it's worth, I do not think you came across as too harsh on the ALA. "Having a website that works" shouldn't have been a distant dream well into the 2000's. Organizing and disseminating information is the whole point of the freaking profession, but I'm about to go on a rant so I'll just stop and say it was a lovely article, because it was.
posted by donnagirl at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you like libraries with interesting architecture, I invite you visit the Walker Memorial Library next time you are in the Portland Maine area. It's in Westbrook, just about twenty minutes from downtown Portland.
posted by mikepop at 8:46 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


He makes me sound a lot less of an ear-bending chatterbox than I actually am.

Maybe he's not a podcast listener? 'Cause then he might have a different opinion.

(Just kidding: I love the podcast, and yours is the nicest voice on it.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jessamyn, have you seen LibraryThing.com's efforts to digitally catalog historically-interesting "Legacy Libraries" or other libraries via "flash mob" groups of volunteers? It's pretty cool.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:58 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the kind words, folks!
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and you should also check out UVM's Billings Library which was fairly sensitively converted into a Student Center in the 60s and I understand is soon going to return to its bibliographical roots as the Special Collections and other Library departments will move in there. Oh, here's a paper I wrote about it when I was a grad student that I found when I was Googling for pictures.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:09 AM on December 18, 2013




the libraries don't really get any state funding to begin with so it's not a situation like Texas where one jerk governor can threaten a whole stateful of libraries. We do have some libraries in the state that are entirely volunteer-run or that are only open 14 hours a week, but they're at least holding steady at that level.

Huh, so they're generally able to provide adequate service with funding just from the local tax base?

Here in BC, public libraries get an annual operating grant from the provincial government. Some libraries get up to half of their funding that way. It's caused problems over the past few years when that money has been threatened, reduced, or substantially delayed (there was some media coverage of the problem back in 2009, when the funding didn't come through until at least September).
posted by twirlip at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2013


This is a great article that makes many of the important points about contemporary libraries and librarianship that many other articles in the same field miss. I hope it gets the wide readership it deserves.
posted by Wordshore at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2013


There should be more photos of Jessamyn in Action Librarian poses; wrangling with the self-checkout; measuring the afterhours return window with calipers; shaking her finger at young creationist ruffians attempting to refile the works of Darwin in the fiction section, etc.
posted by elizardbits at 9:34 AM on December 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


You didn't ask her anything about the cabal!

There is no cabal
posted by double block and bleed at 9:43 AM on December 18, 2013


Jessamyn, have you ever thought of doing like a nationwide tour of every Carnegie library? Could make for a nice coffee table book of photos and stories from the trip after. I'd kickstarter the heck out of that kind of thing.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [30 favorites]


I'd kickstarter the heck out of that kind of thing.

Seconded.
posted by Wordshore at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


…maybe with a restrained "thanks to our major underwriter, MetaFilter Conglomerated Industries" in a tasteful script across the arms & shoulders of your hand-tooled leather jumpsuit?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great article, but did no-one do a double take on the MetaFilter Director of Operations title? This suggests she's in charge of black ops. We need not ask anymore who stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
posted by arcticseal at 10:18 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


She's a well known novelist.

Oh right, she did that series about narwhals as librarians. Never liked the soap opera aspects of it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:20 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's an adorable picture of her.
posted by ColdChef at 10:34 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well done!
posted by bearwife at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2013


That was terrific! I love Jessamyn and Vermont and libraries!
posted by rtha at 10:56 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I spent some time in the Thomas Fischer Rare Books Library while at the University of Toronto, but I never figured out who takes care of the warp core.
posted by Kabanos at 11:34 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jessamyn, let me know when you come to the Vernon library (or Brattleboro). I'll try to stop in for a micro-meetup.
posted by beagle at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2013


mathowie: "Jessamyn, have you ever thought of doing like a nationwide tour of every Carnegie library?"

Yes please! (Oakland has five.)
posted by Lexica at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Damn girl, you look smart in that picture. If I was in that library of yours, I'd be all, "excuse me, do you have any late 19th century English fantasy tomes and whatnot up in this piece?"
posted by Mister_A at 12:43 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


so they're generally able to provide adequate service with funding just from the local tax base?

Yes and no. Many of these libraries are teeny and many of them have severely underpaid staff. The library in my town is sort of unusual in that it has three full-time employees all of whom have professional degrees (or the state equivalent certification) and are decently paid and have health insurance and that sort of thing. One year at town meeting when the library budget was under discussion someone actually said that they thought the librarians shouldn't get health care, or it shouldn't be paid by the town. Another library I've worked at in Vermont actually had a union. Now that was a great-paying job. At the same time it only had a union because the director had tried to remove health insurance as a cost cutting maneuver and the staff fought back.

I have a friend, Virgil (he's in that article) who is a solo librarian and works maybe 24 hours a week running one of the local small-town libraries. It's a lot of work to get done in that amount of time and he doesn't have health care (though we have state subsidized care, or did pre-Obamacare, so this would be an option for him). He is maybe going to get his board to approve him for a few more hours so that he can finally have just one library job and not have to fill in at other libraries to make ends meet. The buildings are generally paid for, the collections don't grow terribly much. They do some group-buying of stuff like databases (from the state library) and ebooks (from a local home grown consortium which has no paid staff) and there are a few nascent Open Source library catalog projects that are used by almost half the libraries in the state (the ones that are automated, which is most but not all of them).

The biggest problem is brain drain. There are very few good jobs. And even the good jobs are sometimes at libraries that are run like tiny fiefdoms where there is a library board held captive by a librarian or a board that is impossible to please and runs through librarians practically annually. I've applied for a number of library jobs and some of them are sort of unbelievable. They pay $9 an hour (to run the library!) or they expect you to work all holidays and weekends because the library does special programs then. These jobs didn't really used to be professional jobs and so they were positions for people of high status in the community (or often the wife of someone high status in the community) and so they weren't supposed to be good as jobs they were supposed to be good as social positions. And we're still sort of digging out from that now. So for every cute reading chair and adorable puppet show and awesome seed library and great speakers series, there's also libraries with second floors they can't use because of ADA and they can't afford the necessary renovations, the library I went to with Dr Wu that only just got a bathroom, the libraries that flooded during Hurricane Irene that are still getting repaired, etc.

We're really lucky in Vermont that the majority of the population recognizes the value of libraries (and are okay with funding them) but we could still use more smart and tech-savvy people here to help people with digital information and as much as I love living here and being an advocate, I'm also happy that don't have to rely on the library community for my entire livelihood.

beagle: it's a deal.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:02 PM on December 18, 2013 [17 favorites]


love your jacket jessamyn!
posted by Ironmouth at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2013


This is cool, I have dossiers on everybody here too.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2013


You left out the part about the cabal. I hope the bribes you received were worth it.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:23 PM on December 18, 2013


The article has made tonight's Public Libraries News (in the International section).
posted by Wordshore at 3:21 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


i liked this article and i liked the person it was about very much.
posted by jammy at 4:56 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dr. Wu was my first IRC handle, IIRC.

Also, I enjoyed reading the article. You described things I like about Jessamyn really well. Thanks!
posted by not_on_display at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was well done. It's a nice personal interest story. It reads a bit like promotional text, but that's fine. I may be too close to the subject matter to be impartial. Usually these are about people I'll never meet, not someone that I've met and who changed my life forever!

(Only slightly kidding here. I now buy only Grade B maple syrup because of jessamyn. Life's too short for the bad stuff and grade A isn't the good stuff! I've mentioned this before, but I had 20 dark years thinking I was buying the best. Jessamyn cured me of this notion.).
posted by cjorgensen at 6:48 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I am a dummy, because after 3 years on this site, I just now realized that "Jessamyn" is her actual first name, and not a cute nickname based on "Jessica" or something.
posted by jcreigh at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I work at a university and I am also taking classes there. My advisor has a quote in her signature that reads: "I've done more harm by the falseness of trying to please than by the honesty of trying to hurt." -Jessamyn West

I swear to gog and magog that I hit metafilter first to see where jessamyn said this (and what the hell she meant when she did so!). Google told me I was on the wrong quest, but still, when I look around my advisor's office I think, "That's not what she looks like? I met Jessamyn West and that poster is just plain wrong!"

I told my advisor I met a Jessamyn West (in my mind the Jessamyn West). She wasn't impressed.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:53 PM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


...ear-bending chatterbox...

Please. Distinguished Conversationalist. It is to my regret that all our conversations have ended too soon.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:21 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great article. I've always thought Jessamyn seems cool.
posted by jayder at 8:43 PM on December 18, 2013


Thanks for the kind words, folks!

It is a good piece, really enjoyed it. I suggested to my editors that I write an article about you, but they all said they were sick and tired of me pitching Wu.

Wakka wakka
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:39 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like the article; you did well. I have passed it on to librarian friends who also need to be recognized and rewarded for being feisty on occasion in a good cause.
posted by Anitanola at 10:03 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nice job on the article.... well done!
posted by HuronBob at 5:16 AM on December 19, 2013


Jessamyn, please consider crossing the river and traveling another 30 miles or so and visiting our Nelson Town Library. We have a nice coffee hour Saturday mornings at 10. Another tiny meet up!
posted by Hobgoblin at 5:21 AM on December 19, 2013


Jessamyn we all want you to come to our towns and see our libraries please.
posted by marxchivist at 7:24 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am very fortunate to live in a town where I can walk to the library and the train station - they are a block apart! And the library has hours, so I can stop by on the way home from work. Our town invests heavily in education; doesn't hurt that its' filled with academics and scientists, i suppose.


Anyway, yeah, what a difference compared with the magnificent but inconvenient collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
posted by Mister_A at 7:28 AM on December 19, 2013


"Jessamyn we all want you to come to our towns and see our libraries please."

I want to build a library so Jessamyn will come visit.

Okay, so she was out here earlier this year and came to a meet-up. But it was so fun to meet her! She's just as charming as this article makes you think she is. So she should Visit All Mefites More Often (VAMMO).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:12 AM on December 19, 2013


oooh oooh! I have a Carnegie library right around the corner from my house, which turns 100 in February!!
posted by spinturtle at 8:15 AM on December 19, 2013


1. Have a library.
2. Jessamyn appears!
3. Meetup! Everyone wins!

There is no 4.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:35 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


(clarity - the library turns 100 soon, not my house quite yet)
posted by spinturtle at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2013


Aw this made me miss Vermont. I would love to spend some more time there. One weekend of watching hawks migrate - while awesome! - did not last long enough.

I am curious to know, Jessamyn: what is the smallest library you've ever visited, not solely in Vermont?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:08 PM on December 19, 2013


Well if you don't count the Little Free Libraries, which I don't (I like them, they are not libraries), it can be tough because there are some libraries that are little shelves in other larger buildings. Like I just went to a church for a community supper that has a lending library in a corner that is sort of cute. And there was one I remember that was just a storefront library in a mall with a self-checkout machine that operated as a branch of a larger library that delivered people's books on hold to that location. The Brookfield Library that I went to on this trip was one of the smallest I've been to. The Roxbury one is now bigger since they added the bathroom. Basically "one room" is as small as they get though some have basements and attics and extra space for bathrooms and storage and stuff. There's a TARDIS-like quality to libraries because the library that most patrons see is part, but only part, of the whole library organism. Every time I go visit a library somewhere else (usually larger libraries because I'm in cities, giving talks or whatever) I always ask if I can see the attic or the basement. There's often weird stuff in there--old card catalogs, leftover stuff from old ceremonies, crumbling old bound volumes of stuff--that even the staff haven't really spent much time exploring.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:21 PM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh! I should take a couple photos of this neat little project someone set up near the art school: it's an artificial grassy mound with a small, wooden, glass-pane cabinet built into. It has two shelves that hold something like, maybe 20 books. People leave books and/or take them. Not sure that counts as a "library" but I thought it was a nice anarchistic approach to book-lending.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:27 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that my old local library, the South Dennis Library on Cape Cod used to be the smallest library in the country, until they built a small addition and finished the basement to use as the Children's Department.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:29 PM on December 19, 2013


I thought it was a nice anarchistic approach to book-lending.

Yeah that's sort of the Little Free Library model. And those are nifty in a "here is a neat bookshelf of things you might not have discovered on your own" way. At the same time, nearly every library does significantly more than offer access to books (I am aware I do not need to tell you guys this, for the most part) and I think it's worth differentiating community bookshelves from libraries since public libraries are, in the US at least, institutions that belong to absolutely everyone and are beholden to no one except the public (or the taxpaying public if you want to be mercenary about it) because the public thinks that unbiased access to information is good for society.

This place appears to be the library I need to visit next.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:35 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Every time I go visit a library somewhere else ... I always ask if I can see the attic or the basement. There's often weird stuff in there -- ... leftover stuff from old ceremonies, crumbling old bound volumes of stuff

You are creeping me out here.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:54 PM on December 19, 2013


Jessamyn, have you ever thought of doing like a nationwide tour of every Carnegie library? Could make for a nice coffee table book of photos and stories from the trip after. I'd kickstarter the heck out of that kind of thing.
Me too, on the kickstarter.
Andrew Carnegie financed the building of libraries all over the world and while many no longer exist solely as libraries, some have morphed into invaluable community service centres. The Vancouver Carnegie Community Centre is a good example (and they still house a branch of the Vancouver Public Library).
I'm all for a Jessamyn World Tour if a kickstarter can swing it.
posted by islander at 8:27 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


When you do your Carnegie library tour, can you come visit us, too? We *used* to have a Carnegie library until Wells Fargo built over it.

Stupid banks.
posted by jillithd at 1:49 PM on December 20, 2013


someday she’d like to see her project take the form of a passport-and-stamp tour book

Seattle Public Library did a passport* to promote opening/rebuilding a lot of branches. There was party for finishers. I didn't try to compete, but it was fun to have the passport with photos of all the branches, and to visit some of them. (Though logistically, it's easier to do that 27 branches than with 183 libraries.

* One passport holder took pictures of the pages and stamps.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:05 PM on December 20, 2013


Lovely - I hope to see the completed project posted here (and by here I mean on the gray, for those of us who don't consistently check the blue page…)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:34 PM on December 20, 2013


Seattle Public Library did a passport* to promote opening/rebuilding a lot of branches.

They actually had a kid passport for an earlier project they did which was where I got the original idea to do a passportish thing way back int he day. I've always enjoyed these completionist projects and would love to be able to help create on that other people find fun.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:49 PM on December 20, 2013


It makes me happy to know that someone who writes for Seven Days, my favorite hometown alternative weekly, is a Mefite. Not surprised, mind you, but happy.

(which reminds me, I should see about attempting a BTV meetup over the break... if the ice storm lets me drive home in one piece, that is.)

(also, if you're going to visit Special Collections at UVM library, say hi to my cousin Sharon while you're there. Not that I won't be doing that myself soon, barring ice.)
posted by maryr at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2013


Jessamyn, have you ever thought of doing like a nationwide tour of every Carnegie library?

If you did an international version, you could stay at my house. This one is just around the corner from me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:15 AM on December 21, 2013


Oops. Too late.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:30 AM on December 21, 2013


I have told this story before, but a few years ago, I was talking to a nice young woman in a bar in Seattle who was a librarian (and, I assume, still is). Taking great liberties with what amounts to approximately five emails between her and me, I said, "Oh, I know a librarian named Jessamyn," which I think we can all agree was a fantastic and profound contribution to that conversation. Once we worked out that we were both talking about the same Jessamyn, we were both very excited for possibly different reasons.

Being an avid listener of the podcast, it was the last line, and what I consider to be a signature Jessamyn "Oh man!", that capped a wonderfully-conveyed voice. Very nice work, Dr. Wu, and thanks for sharing this.
posted by Errant at 2:33 AM on December 21, 2013


Am loving this video by the Free Library of Philadelphia, which gives a host of reasons for public libraries, shows some of them, interviews librarians and patrons, and gives some statistics at the end.
posted by Wordshore at 8:57 AM on December 22, 2013


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