Monday, July 13, 2009

Bus Rides and Archives

Bus Books or Books on Buses

It's not that often that I get to ride the bus these days, since I live and work in Hyde Park. And since I own a car, if I need to go some utlra-pedestrian lengths, I'll either use my bike or the auto. But I did use the bus lately, within the last couple weeks. And it brought back fine memories of working downtown. But only briefly, because there was also the memory of getting on the bus and realizing there are no empty seats. Which means, "I've got to stand for the next 20 minutes on a CTA bus going 50 miles an hour!" I'm not complaining. I won't be some pusillanimous critic or whiner. No one needs to hear that. But the truth is, such standing position gave me a fine view for assessing what others on the bus were reading. And of course, that is just what I wanted!

What I saw on the bus: it was not the most interesting batch of readers on the bus, nor the most fertile batch of books to observe. I saw two--yes, only two!-- electronic devices. No Kindles. The electronic devices seemed to have headphones attached. One man, in a suit, was reading the Financial Times (of course he was!). A woman next to him was reading what appeared to be a monthly or quarterly "bulletin," which looked like it was published by a church organization. There were three young women, probably teen-age, who were Spanish (at least that is what I could tell from their moderately Castilian accents) and reading/holding books entitled "Advanced English," thus presumably they were part of the minions of English language learners, who come to the most bread-white centers of linguistic Americana to soften their "a"s and "o"s into an Abe Lincoln-Carl Sandburg-Studs Turkel eloquence. Now usually, there are at least three or four Bible readers on a bus. But this day, there were none. I suppose it depends on the route you take. I've been told the atheists live in Bucktown and Wicker Park, but I'm not convinced of that.

By the way, I wasn't able to find a proper image on the internet for this entry, so I took a piece of paper and my kids' crayons and drew this extemporaneous sketch for your visual delight. What can I say, I need practice.

Chicago Public Library Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Archives

When I wrote this line above, the expression "Adventures in Good Archives" came to mind. But I was thinking it in the most baritonic great-avuncular voice of the indomitable Karl Haas (1913-2005). Who out there remembers good old uncle Karl? Well, he and I go back just about twenty years. You see, in my senior year of High School (or as Karl might say: "Hochschule"), I decided to go to the local community college and challenge myself, rather than staying around for the middle-high-pubescent era of 12th grade antics and time wasting. Whether this was accomplished is another tale to be told, but the point where Karl Haas and his classical reverberations come into the story are here: during lunch. I always brought some deli meat and sliced cheese sandwich for lunch. And between some English class and Economics lecture, I slipped into my 1989 classic Ford LTD, and turned on the dial to 89FM and let Karl Haas electrify my Crown Victoria with his prosaic interludes about obscure composers. "Hellooooo Everyone..." he began everyday, just after the slow movement of Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in C-minor (the "Pathetique") ended--himself playing. It certainly was an adventure, each noon hour!

At left is "Karl Haas Yellow," a Monday morning creation for you readers. Well, whether an adventure in good music or some other cultural milieu, the point is that we partake in some occasional adventures, quotidian or otherwise. I always enjoy visiting libraries, for instance, and especially the fine libraries of the Chicago Public Library (CPL) System. And these are adventures in their own right. So on this same day, I ventured to the Harold Washington CPL Branch--actually, it's more like the trunk of the system, since it's the main library of CPL. Specifically, I enjoy the Special Collections of CPL. On what appeared to be the penultimate floor of the CPL main library, I revisited this division, which includes rare books, manuscripts, and archives. A friendly staff assisted me with my queries and I discovered a number of fine items in the collection, though I didn't stay for long.

One of the things I noticed was the general imprint and legacy of William Frederick Poole (1821-1894)--his image seems to be everywhere in the Special Collections imagination! A contemporary of Melville Dewey, and perhaps unfortunately less known than Dewey, Poole had an illustrious career as a librarian, and in some ways had more insightful ideas about library classification than Dewey (specifically when it came to understanding collections individually and on their own merits--but this is a discussion for another time). At left, I've presented you with an altered image of Poole, noting the tendrils of facial hair hanging down like mid-summer wisteria. Oh, for the days when beards could attract more than dust mites.

But to the collections themselves: CPL's special collections contain some fine items. The areas of specialty include Civil War history, Chicago history, and World's Fair history, among others. The history of the collections themselves are interesting and date back to the great fire. I had actually first come to this study room in CPL's special collections to do a paper for library school on the history of foreign language collection development in CPL. And I discovered that a gift was made by the British goverment in the mid-1870s of about 10,000 books to re-start the collection of the CPL.

But my interest in books and book-objects and just all-things-books was piqued by the collection of periodicals and journals that the library subscribes to and which the reading room had on display. Now for those who may be interested, here is a list of the most amorous reads:

1-Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives
2-Rare Book Review
3-RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, & Cultural Heritage
4-Manuscripts: ( in Westport, CT
5-The Manuscript Society News (Pheonix, AZ)
6-Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Newsletter
7-AASLH: History News (American Association for State & Local History)
8-Libraries & the Cultural Record: Exploring the History of Collections of Recorded
Knowledge (University of Texas Press)
9-Collections: A Journal for Museum & Archives Professionals (Alta Mira Press)
10-The Book Collector ( Journal
11-The Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America (
12-APHA Newsletter (American Printing History Association) (
13-Archival Outlook: Newsletter of Society of American Archivists (
14-Sotheby's: Books etc. for sale
15-Swann: Books etc. for sale

Sheet Music and Manuscripts Store

Upon leaving the CPL Special Collections, one of the stops I made on the way home was a hole-in-the-wall music shop. It specialized in both sheet music and manuscript paper for compositions and arrangements. As an obscure and unworthy composer myself, I needed to purchase a wad of fresh paper for some of the tunes swirling about my cranial attic. I needed to do a little mental housecleaning and get it down on paper. So I indulged. I bought some orchestral manuscript score paper. I had an interesting conversation with one of the proprietors, who was a man in advanced years with a cloud-white coif. He told me about working as a music librarian at the University of Chicago back in the 1950s and 1960s. And recounted some long-forgotten encounter with now-Bard President Leon Botstein and the late composer Ralph Shapey (1921-2002), whom I'd met a couple times when I first came to the University of Chicago a decade ago. Indeed, quite a duo--in fact, my friends who knew Shapey more intimately speak of him fondly, but we all remember his deportment and way of speaking: with a twisted smile and the sound of grinding a pepper corn, he'd comment on a piece of music as if it were overrated sex or a bad chili-dog. And boy, did he like to cus! But what lovable characters we have in our world!

I got my manuscript papers. I finished my conversations for the day. One more book, one more object of adoration. Now back to some work.


  1. As always, your blog is refreshing and entertaining. Loved your drawing, your memories of Karl Haas and the tidbits of information.

  2. Thanks for this last chapter! I hope your line of inquiry will wend its way to some more Pooliana in the next few postings. My heart skips a beat whenever discussion turns to old Poole of the walrus aspect, the much under-appreciated forefather of a kind of librarianship that could have been...

  3. Thank you "Anonymous #2"! I too am a Poolian at heart. And how right your comment is on the ol' chap! Much more to come, indeed!

  4. OK, remember some of that manuscript paper is for a piano duet for me and you! Oh, no, you said it is orchestral--won't do.
    I'm a little off on looking at books today (except my own)--I went to the Exhibit Hall at ALA and it was too much. Also, I find that most of the reps are not very fun to talk to, except the really great young woman at NYRB (generally I love their list, though I'd usually prefer to own the older editions of them); they have a Children's list now--wow, I was astonished--Rumer Godden, John Masefield, Eilis Dillon (got to check my collection to make sure I have those). Anyway, otherwise, except for our friend, Marie, at Oxford and NYRB, reps seemed to be what you think of vendor reps. This is all a bit off topic, but you Were talking about looking at books.

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