Yours for the asking

January 17, 2008

The August 1950 issue of Mechanix Illustrated weighs in on “the world’s largest strongbox,” or what we might call the National Archives. Don’t forget to click on page two of the article to watch documents go through an ordinary mangle.

[From Modern Mechanix, found via BoingBoing Gadgets]

readers advisory

January 2, 2008


This blog isn’t dead, it’s sleeping. Or it has Seasonal Affective Disorder, or is consumed by learning French, or is training for a marathon. In the case of our Leets, she’s a mother to a brand new baby boy, and we’re so proud.

Anyway, in this slow season, I am inclined to draw on time-tested pastimes, namely, leisure reading. Kristy prolifically book-blogs all year-round, but for me the fire comes and goes. I never understand the things about beach reading, because for me in the summer, it’s getting tan, drinking beer and chasing boys, but in the winter, its books, books, books. One of the gestures I wish I had made more as a librarian is trying to engage my colleagues with questions about what they were reading. I mean, I don’t really understand the modern sci-fi/fantasy genre, aside from Octavia Butler, but a lot of librarians love it, and I wish I had gotten someone to passionately explain it to me. Unbashful book-talking is one of the things they teach you in YA and kid lit classes, but it seems like such an innate skill to me, and one that’s so socially conditional. Why do you think Nancy Pearl is so beloved? Like, you can talk to your friends for hours about sneakers, Stevie Nicks, Willa Cather, Herzog movies, and what you want to eat for brunch,  but can you talk to a stranger, on demand about those things?

So, fellow librarians, how do you book-talk sucessfully? And more importantly, what are you reading now? I’m rereading Seduction and Betrayal in memoriam of Elizabeth Hardwick, and am slowly working through Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show. I’ve run through John Cheever’s stories and am halfway through a copy of Falconer  I found on the street in Park Slope a month ago. And last, but not least, have spent the past few nights buried in Ceruzzi’s A History of Modern Computing.

Just Deserts?

November 3, 2007

Dario Argento makes the most lovely horror movies. They rarely make sense, but if you really care about that, you probably shouldn’t be watching them. In his 1980 film Inferno, Argento stages a key scene in a creepy library in Rome. The library stuff comes about 6 minutes into this clip. Jump ahead to the next scene if you want to see what price you pay for stealing creepy books about the occult from creepy libraries in the middle of the night.

And if you like Argento and horror movies with library twists, make sure to watch Deep Red, which ends with a gory twist in the city archives.

Life Squared

October 22, 2007

Dante Hotel

After reading this interview between archaeologist Michael Shanks and visual artist Lynn Hershman Leeson in Seed Magazine (read it!), I got all excited and worked up about their Life to the Second Power (or Life Squared) project. This project brings Hershman Leeson’s archive at Stanford into the virtual community of Second Life, where the pieces can be viewed, experienced, and recombined by visitors.

A keystone piece of the project is a re-envisioning of Hershman Leeson’s Dante Hotel work from the 1970s (pictured above), where she created a “life” with what she placed in a room in a run-down hotel in North Beach. Patrons could get a key from the front desk, go up to the room, look around, and stay as long as they wanted. This work in particular seems to translate well to the Second Life arena.

Check out the Seed interview for an illuminating look at how an archaeologist and an artist look at archives. I can’t say I agree with everything the two of them say, but it certainly gets my archival blood flowing.

[Photo from a Flickr set on the Dante Hotel project, here.]

Dewey Crash

October 17, 2007


“So it was difficult to play because you were constantly aware that you were in the immediacy of the moment but yet referencing primary, tertiary and secondary sources –the whole Dewey system was crashing in on me.”


Way to drop Dewey, Cate. I just finished reading this NYT Mag’s piece about Todd Haynes’s film I’m Not There. In the article, Cate Blanchett compares playing Haynes’s Bob Dylan to being confused by DDC. Or I think that’s what she means. I guess she’s referring to some sort of  encyclopedic/LCSH Authorities see and see also thing. I get Dewey Crash all the time when I’m trying to find auction catalogues on microform.




The greatest in Italian design since Brunelleschi’s dome.

October 10, 2007

Only your cutest volumes are allowed on nobody&co’s Bibliochaise!



September 26, 2007

Although my physical body has returned from France, I’m pretty sure my brain cells are still floating somewhere in the the Mediterranean. While I think of something brilliant and prescient to post, take a gander at this cute thing.


Say your walking to the gare in St Raphael and left your book on the beach and need something to read on the train to Nice. Cruise by this big unattended table of used books, 1 euro each. And because it works on the honor system, there’s no one around to judge you when you pick up some trashy romance novel or Ramona la peste.

And I love the signage: BookS 1 euro Don’t forget the rules!……Thanks


We know!

September 8, 2007

SNMNMNMThese attractive gents not only form the rocking Chapel Hill band SNMNMNM, but they also have a deep love for librarians. And can you blame them? Check out their page for their very catchy song “Addy Will Know” — and if you are feeling participatory, you can try to guess the books described in the verses (or look up the call numbers that are helpfully sung in the song), and even enter a video contest. I think you will know the right thing to do.

[I know Addy, and I do not doubt that she will know too.]

Back to School Shopping

August 21, 2007

In the words of my former retail manager, “I think JCrew does fall best.” Meaning that their clothes in the fall season are better than their clothes in spring or summer.
Evidence– the August 2007 catalog. As is appropriate for Back to School, there’s a whole library/book/reading theme happening–cashmere tees folded in the stacks alongside old bound issues of Pennsylvania Magazine, boots displayed on the h-k drawer of the card catalog, etc.


So committed to the reading theme, JCrew folks did a photo shoot in an actual library. On page 028 we have two young ladies perched precariously in the alcoves wearing a not-very-flattering combo of the cropped pants and deep v neck sweaters. The butch one is wearing the “men’s tartan patchwork driving cap” and the femme one has her hair in an oh-so authentic co-ed messy bun. She passes a book down from the balcony to her eagerly awaiting tartan clad friend. And there’s a little bit of trivia in the right hand corner, and suddenly its like reading Martha Stewat Living, “WHO KNEW? The library pictured here is one of the world’s oldest, most distinguished independent libraries…Can you guess the name of this beautiful Boston landmark?”

Well I was hoping to flip the catalog upside down, Highlights style, to find the answer, but instead I had to look it up. Why of course! Its the Boston Athenaeum. Any self respecting back to schooler would know.

read the rich

August 14, 2007


Reading Brooke Astor’s lengthy Times obit yesterday, I was struck by the attention paid to her patronage of the NYPL. Having far more knowledge of greatest generation socialites as a young someone from Texas really should, I was vaguely aware of her persona  (she drank Campari and soda) and her legacy in New York. And I did recall that she celebrated her 100th birthday by having a party with 100 librarians.  Her support of New York’s libraries (she was also a major patron of the Morgan Library) over the latter half of the 20th century had a major impact on those libraries’ life as city institutions, and more specifically, as vehicles for philanthropy. Ahead of her time, Astor was not only generous, but also personally involved with the institutions she supported.

Library development has in the ensuing decades become a beast all its own, but in a lot of ways I think we’re still talking this talk of the old guard rich as essential financial supporters and indicators of our real societal worth. How uncomfortable this makes me! But this outdated narrative is probably a sweetly arcane alternative to the post-globalization reality. The university library where I worked last had as major contributors to its capital campaign one of the most notorious white collar criminals in recent history, some major war profiteer corporations and the Saudi consulate- and this was met with chuckles.

I think archives and special collections are especially attune to the pressure to fundraise- they are often the flashiest parts of their parent institutions and a must-stop for donors. And it’s my impression that doing targeted stuff to appease and attract donors is necessary and expected. Some of it is survival, I understand, but it’s kind of a bummer. And it’s also no secret that any decent fundraiser or development director can command way more in salary than a librarian. So what does that say, when fiscal perpetuation takes equal or greater priority than library services? And recognizing the importance of private support for libraries, how can we do this better?