Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic

The library at the Strahov monastery in Prague. Credit Pavel Horejsi for The New York Times

PRAGUE — In the age of Amazon and the internet, the idea of going to a public library to borrow a book may seem ever more quaint and old-fashioned in many parts of the world, but one country, at least, is clinging to it tenaciously: the Czech Republic.
There are libraries everywhere you look in the country — it has the densest library network in the world, according to a survey conducted for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are more libraries than grammar schools. In fact, there is one library for every 1,971 Czech citizens, the survey found — four times as many, relative to population, as the average European country, and 10 times as many as the United States, which has one for every 19,583 people.
Why so many Czech libraries? Well, for decades they were mandatory — every community, from a big city down to a tiny village, was required by law to have one.
The law was enacted in 1919, soon after Czechoslovakia emerged as an independent country. The idea was to promote universal literacy and education after the country was free of the German-speaking Austro-Hungarian Empire. And it worked.
The library law survived the German occupation, the communist era and even the breakup with Slovakia in the early 1990s. What it couldn’t survive, in the end, was budgetary pressure. To save money, the requirement was dropped in 2001, when there were about 6,019 libraries in the country; since then, about 11 percent have merged or closed.
Rather than just linger on as an eccentricity from a bygone age, though, the surviving Czech libraries are doing what they can to stay vibrant and relevant. They serve as polling places for elections and as local meeting venues. They organize reading clubs and art exhibits and offer computer literacy courses, and they welcome droves of schoolchildren and retirees during the day.
But mostly, they do what 92 percent of Czechs still want them to go on doing, according to the Gates Foundation survey: They lend books

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Why movies endure 30 years later

July 19, 2016               
When "Top Gun" cruised into theatres in 1986, film critics were impressed with the high-octane jet action scenes, but panned the Tony Scott-directed film starring 24-year-old Tom Cruise.
"Top Gun" rates a lowly 55 per cent positive critical rating on the movie aggregation site RottenTomatoes.com. Yet, 30 years later, 1986's top-grossing film is still soaring in the hearts of movie viewers. And it's not alone. Four other films from 1986 — "Aliens," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Pretty in Pink' and 'Stand By Me" — remain fan favourites.
None of these films dominated at the Oscars, with Sigourney Weaver of Aliens earning the only acting nomination of the group. Critical-reception ran the gamut, but each film has a special place in the pop culture vernacular. In fact, 30 years later, they're flourishing.
"I marvel that these 30-year-old films have never gone away," says film historian Leonard Maltin. "They all touched hearts when they were new, even if they didn't get awards or, with some, great reviews. But they have never gone away. I've taken note of the movies being revived this summer, and it's interesting that these films have traction."
So much traction that celebrations, re-releases and tributes are planned:
• Director James Cameron will host an Aliens reunion panel at Comic-Con with Weaver and Bill Paxton on July 23, and a 30th anniversary Blu-ray is set for release in September.
• Brownsville, Ore., the setting for Rob Reiner's coming-of-age drama Stand By Me, will celebrate the film's 30th anniversary July 23 with activities including a pie-eating contest like the one memorably depicted on screen.
• Chicago celebrated Ferris Fest in May with a restaging of the Twist & Shout parade sequence from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The John Hughes-directed film also saw a theatrical re-release in May and a digital HD release.
• Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is working to secure a sequel for Top Gun, even talking it up with Cruise in the extras of the 30th anniversary digital HD release.
• Molly Ringwald's starring role in Pretty in Pink saw a February theatre re-release.
So why do these films endure and continue to resonate with generation after generation?
Keith Simanton, senior film editor for the movie website IMDb.com, says that many of the people whose hearts were touched at a young age are now passing this movie love onto their children — or in the case of filmmakers, onto a whole new audience.
"I refer to these movies as heirloom movies, movies people saw as teenagers then and now want to show their kids," says Simanton. "Films like" Children of A Lesser God" and "Out of Africa," darn good movies which won Oscars, were not seen by a certain impressionable age group. So they are not along on this emotional wagon train."
Helping this train roll along are iconic, often rebellious, lead characters, ranging from Matthew Broderick's school-skipping Ferris Bueller to Weaver's groundbreaking alien warrior Ripley to Cruise's hotshot pilot Maverick.
Bruckheimer points to this factor for long-term endurance. Fans watched "Top Gun" and wanted to be like Maverick, he says.
"Top Gun is a character-based piece, a character who overcomes his demons to triumph in the end. Everyone would love to do that," says Bruckheimer. "If we had a movie about speed and great dialogue, but you didn't care about the characters, we wouldn't be talking about this movie right now."
Great dialogue certainly helps, and this crop of films has plenty of it. Ferris Bueller's carpe diem manifesto remains resonant: "Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it." Maverick's line, "I feel the need, the need for speed" captured the adrenaline-fuelled love of "Top Gun."
"These are the lines that people were repeating to each other back then, when they were hanging out at night," says Erik Davis, managing editor of the ticket website Fandango.com. "Movies were all we had back then, no YouTube or Vine. Movies were like religious experiences for people. That stays."
So does the music, which helps to further cement memories in moviegoers' minds. Top Gun's soundtrack ensured the film spoke to an MTV generation and won an Oscar for the song "Take My Breath Away." Davis says the music is a powerful force.
"Who doesn't think of the movie "Stand By Me" when they hear Ben E. King singing Stand By Me?" says Davis. "People think of Ducky dancing in a record store when they hear Otis Redding's 'Try A Little Tenderness' or Ferris Bueller's parade when they hear 'Twist & Shout.'"
"These movies have endured not only because these characters are memorable, but because they are forever linked to these songs," Davis add
USA Today

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Adding Classes and Content, Resurgent Libraries Turn a Whisper Into a Roar

New York Times

The Inwood Library in northern Manhattan is quiet, air-conditioned and open every day. Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

Matthew Carter’s summer hideaway is not in the Hamptons, the Catskills or on the Jersey Shore. It does not require a car ride or a small fortune to keep up.
Mr. Carter, 32, an adjunct professor of music at the City College of New York, simply holes up at the Inwood Library in northern Manhattan with his research books. It is quiet, air-conditioned and open every day.
“I’m a total leech of public libraries,” he said. “It’s my summer hangout. It’s where I spend the majority of my time, and where I’m most productive.”

Joan Burress, center, and Benjamin Bythe, right, give instruction during a Sahaja Meditation session at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times

It is also a place where he has a lot of company.
Far from becoming irrelevant in the digital age, libraries in New York City and around the nation are thriving: adding weekend and evening hours; hiring more librarians and staff; and expanding their catalog of classes and services to include things like job counseling, coding classes and knitting groups.
No longer just repositories for books, public libraries have reinvented themselves as one-stop community centers that aim to offer something for everyone. In so doing, they are reaffirming their role as an essential part of civic life in America by making themselves indispensable to new generations of patrons.
Story time at libraries in Manhattan and the Bronx is now so popular that ticket lines must be formed, while coding classes have waiting lists in the thousands. A library in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, runs a fully equipped recording studio that can be reserved at no cost; many libraries in the borough lend laptops and portable wireless devices to those without internet access at home.
In Queens, which has a large South Asian population, a library in Jamaica offers sewing classes in Bengali for Bangladeshi women, some of whom now earn a living as seamstresses. Libraries in Flushing and South Jamaica teach social media skills to small-business owners. Nationally, public libraries are redefining their mission at a time when access to technology, and the ability to use it, is said to deepen class stratification, leaving many poor and disadvantaged communities behind. Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association, said library workers had shown people how to file online for welfare benefits and taught classes in science, technology, engineering and math to children who could not afford to go to summer camps. 

“All libraries are having a renaissance,” Ms. Feldman said. “We’re seeing that libraries have really stepped up to take on roles that are needed in a community.”
New York City’s 217 public libraries have rebounded in the past two years amid an infusion of city dollars, after years of budget and service cuts. An outpouring of support from library lovers has served as a reminder that the institutions are a crucial part of many lives.
A recent contest to recognize neighborhood libraries underscored their vitality: 18,766 online and paper nominations were submitted in one month, up from about 4,300 when the yearly competition was started in 2013. Nearly every library was nominated at least once. Some received hundreds of nods.

One young man wrote that he was homeless when he started going to the Arverne branch of the Queens Library, where the staff not only helped him study to become a security guard but also hired him to work as a mentor to teenagers. Today, that man, Richard Johnson, has two jobs and his own apartment.
“Ever since becoming a member of the Queens Library, I have been bettering my life,” he wrote in his statement.
The city’s three library systems — the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library — have intensified their efforts to mobilize the public. An exhibit at the New York Public Library’s landmark building on Fifth Avenue last year highlighted Andrew Carnegie’s 1901 gift of $5.2 million to build a network of city libraries, in a pointed reminder that the city had promised, in return, to pay for their operation and upkeep.
In the past two years, more than 250,000 people, including the author Judy Blume and the musician Patti Smith, have signed on to a letter campaign in support of the libraries. Library workers have held story time on the steps of City Hall, and showed up at budget hearings in bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with the words: “Keep Investing in Libraries, Keep Investing in New Yorkers.”

With its satellite libraries, inmates at the Rikers Island jail complex can now read books to their children at outside neighborhood branches, like this one at the Macon Library in Brooklyn.
The message was heard. In the 2016 fiscal year the libraries received $360 million for operating costs, $33 million more than the year before — the largest increase in recent times. For the 2017 fiscal year, which began on Friday, city financing for the libraries increased slightly to $365 million. But in a more significant victory, city leaders agreed to preserve past increases in future budgets, the difference, say, between getting a one-year bonus or a permanent raise.
City Councilman Andy King, who represents northeast Bronx and is chairman of the Libraries Subcommittee, said previous years of budget cuts had left the libraries on life support. “I’m glad we’re in a financial position to let the blood flow again,” Mr. King, a Democrat, said. “Libraries are a lifeline, which we can’t afford to ever let fall again.”
Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, which has 92 branches in the Bronx, in Manhattan and on Staten Island, said library officials no longer had to worry about plugging budget holes and could instead focus on building services and programs. They have hired 120 more staff members, including 67 librarians for children and young adult literature alone. They have spent $1.1 million on books and materials and expanded seats in early literacy programs for toddlers.
“We’re a mere year into this reinvestment, and the results are immediate: longer hours, more librarians and thousands more seats for education programming,” Mr. Marx said.