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National Library Week Surprising finds in the library

Asilomar Shoreline
Asilomar Shoreline
Catherine Al-Meten

National Library Week Surprising finds in the library. This week, National Library Week, we are featuring stories on different aspects of the library experience. The National Library Week organization invites you to share your own story about your experiences at the Library. Visit their website and tell your library story.

What is the most surprising thing you have ever found in a library? The Library of Congress is the oldest cultural institution in the U.S.. Founded in 1800, the federal library was burned to the ground when British troops burned the Capitol building down on August 24, 1814. Congress approved the rebuilding of the library just 6 months later, on January 15, 1815, also voting to replace the library’s collection of books (3000 destroyed in the fire) by purchasing the private library collection of 6, 487 books from Thomas Jefferson for $23,950.

Over half the Library of Congress’ collection is in languages other than English-450 other languages to be precise. The largest book in the Library of Congress is 5’ x 7’ book featuring photographs and other images of Bhutan. The smallest book in the collection is Old King Cole measuring just 1/25” x1/25”-approximately “the size of a period at the end of a sentence” (Interesting facts about the library).

The Library of Congress is also the repository for the papers of 23 U.S. Presidents, one of the three perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum in the world. The Library of Congress also holds the one of the oldest examples of printing-passages from the Yoga sutras printed dated 770 CE. The oldest written material is a cuneiform tablet dated 2040 BCE.

The Audio-Visual Section of the Library of Congress contains more than 14.4 million visual images (and this number is likely growing due to contemporary technology and the digitalization of photography). To view some of the one million images available online to view and purchase, visit the Library of Congress website. The Library also includes six million items including: 3.5 million sound recordings and 1.7 million film, television, and video recordings.

The Library’s Project of the American Folklife Center is hosting a Veteran’s History Project. To participate in the project, get your Veteran’s History Project Field Kit. The Library also houses the largest collection of telephone books and criss cross directories. It also houses the world’s largest collection of comic books, with more than 5,000 titles and 100,000 issues. The oldest comic book dates from 1936, Popular Comics, and the oldest original newspaper, Mercurias Publicas, dating December 29, 1659.

Surprising things you can check out of a library.

Therapy Dogs. Yale law students can check out Monty, the therapy dog, for 30-minute play sessions. This is a good stress reliever for both students and Monty. Emory University also has two therapy dogs, Stanley and Hooch and Harvard University has Cooper the therapy dog.

Artwork. Numerous libraries allow patrons the privilege of borrowing artwork. Portland, Oregon’s public library system features Art and Culture. Portland’s Art and Culture program features Random Acts of Culture (unannounced mini-concerts and performances including such surprises in the library as Acorn Productions staging of Juliet’s Balcony scene and the Press Gang, a Celtic music trio’s St. Patrick’s Day performance. Imagine your surprise when a Barbershop Quartet shows up and begins performing while you’re doing your homework, or quietly reading a magazine? Portland’s Art and Culture also includes a Brown Bag Lecture Series, and some branches have artwork that can be borrowed. Seattle also has an arts lending library.

Tools, Toys, and Cooking Equipment. Some people spend great lengths of time in libraries, and libraries have become the ‘office’ and ‘other home’ for students, researchers, writers, and others who use the library a lot. Library patrons also have needs that the library has taken to providing--many fairly non-traditional. Library workers have probably heard it all when it comes to patrons asking, “Do you happen to have a _______ I can borrow?” Libraries have become very accommodating, not only for patrons who spend time in the library, but also for members of the community who need help. The Oakland Public Library, for example, has over 3000 tools and a number of DIY videos available for patrons to check out.

To accommodate those who like to do their own canning, Portland, Oregon has a lending library for residents to check out equipment like bread makers, food dehydraters, and canning supplies. A number of libraries offer cooking classes, and most libraries host guest speakers who show patrons how to do everything from do Zen meditation ( Astoria Public Library in Oregon), to learning a language.

A number of libraries lend out toys. Pittsburg’s Toy Lending Library is a cooperative run by volunteers. The PTL hosts painting nights, New Mom and Dads Hour, and children’s art groups. The Cuyahoga Public Library in Ohio has a toy lending program. as does Decorah, Iowa. In Decorah, the Toys Go Round Toy Lending Library has over 1400 toys, puzzles, games, videos, and other items to lend out.

Libraries loan out everything from telecopes to garden plots of land. Hookset Library in New Hampshire / and the Lititz Public Library in Pennsylvania, are just two of the libraries across the country that have telescope lending libraries.

Check Out a Person. Started in Denmark in 2000, the Living Library has grown to include 22 other countries. In the US, Santa Monica Public Library and Bainbridge Island Library participate in the Living Library. The idea is to allow a patron to learn about someone with from a different background from that person’s own perspective.

Monterey Public Library. Recently, when I asked Monterey librarian, Jeanne McCombs, what she thought patrons might find surprising at the Monterey Library, this is what she had to say. “Many people are very surprised to learn of some of the unusual holdings in the in the Monterey Public Library's California History Room & Archives. Ed ("Doc") Ricketts' business papers from the Pacific Biological Lab, including his actual frog catching permit that factored into the hilarious chapter fictionalized in Steinbeck's Cannery Row. While we're on the topic, we also have business papers from the Wing Chong Market also fictionalized in Steinbeck's novel ("a miracle of supply").

“I am also perpetually surprised and delighted to see people of all generations coming in to borrow books - actual books - and knowing that so many people continue to know the pleasure of reading.”

The Monterey Public Library is living history itself. The oldest library in California, its walls are filled with some great photography depicting life in Monterey throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, as some artwork of local artists. The video, Shades and Stories of Monterey is a wonderful video showing and narrating the life and times of Monterey throughout its history. The video is available in the Library’s gift shop for just $10.

The first public library in California was established in Monterey in 1849. According to the Monterey Library Association's records dated June 1, 1853, [the library] would "...afford amusement, entertainment, and profit to a large class of people who, without its aid, would waste their time in the frivolities and questionable pastimes so prevalent in our State." (Monterey library history) Well, no doubt, some of the founding fathers and mothers might think there some of the frivolities and questionable pastimes going on inside the library would be surprising. The Monterey Public Library, along with many libraries throughout the country, have become the living room, the den, the recreation room, and the ‘desk at the kitchen table’ for many of us. Spend some time in your local library this week, and make the library one of your special sanctuaries and havens. The Library--it’s the place to be.

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