Saturday, December 25, 2010

Books and Christmas at an Old Hudson Estate

Enjoying some Cider, Books, and an Old House on the Hudson

In the week before Christmas this past year, many businesses, organizations, and museums have celebrated the holiday season with open houses, complete with decorations of pine boughs, bright lights, and sugar cookies with warm mulled cider. And it was at one such event that I found some old books to share with my readers. And a little bit of history. In the cold of this December, the Clermont Estate, once owned by the illustrious Livingston family, was open to the public. Driving along the old paved roads leading up to homestead, one could see the cold woods, with traces of left-over snow and the community of grey trees holding themselves tight against the cold of winter.

Inside the visitors center, there were several exhibits relating not just to the Livingston family, who owned and lived on the property for generations, but also some luminaries of American history, including steam boat pioneer Robert Fulton.

Outside the shop and down the hill, visitors would soon see this lovely view of the manor house, which stood stately and proud in its age on this cold winter day.

Inside, the halls and rooms were decked in the most splendid holiday charm. Above, the Christmas tree; below, one of the library-study rooms.

The delightful tour of the home was capped by a visit to the kitchen. And look!--even there we found books! Books, books, everywhere! So, if you're ever in the area north of Poughkeepsie, NY, near the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, or Bard College, stop by the old estate and pay them a visit. It's a worthy cause to help support such vital historical institutions of our regional and national heritage. And you might spy some interesting books in the mean time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Books, Bakeries, and the Tea Party

The Constitution as Book

Not so long ago, I'd gone up to the foothills of the Catskills on a trek to find one of my all-time favorite bakeries, Hartmann's Kaffee Haus--and old-style German bakery and eatery, tucked away in the dark woods of Round Top, not far from Catskill, NY. One feels almost as if they're about to trip over Hansel and Gretal when they find this place in the woods! Usually, when I've gone to eat there, there are many old retirees, sitting quietly or murmuring to one another about local politics or who they'd seen at the recent penny social down at the Methodist church. They'll be nibbling on rye toast slathered in heavy dollops of unsalted butter, and sipping old-style water'd church coffee and smiling to their table mates.

I've found the food to be a good dose of old world flavor and old hill country charm. My favorite being the hefty bratwursts with sauerkraut. It will be an adequate meal for anyone who visits. Of course, I must add a little dessert to it, because the bakery is the main attraction, and its Linzer and Alexander tortes are simply to die for. Their Schwarzwald kuchen too, is a definite must for those who enjoy the cake-ish side of things. Now many of you might be asking: "what does cake and a bakery have to do with anything, least of all...books?" Well, let me tell you, good folks! This last time I visited, I remember pulling into the parking lot of Hartmann's and being greeted with not just the usual American and German flags--after all, Hartmann's is a "traditional" style German bakery. But also the "Don't Tread on Me" Flag, which has become a trademark banner of the new Tea Party. Usually, businesses don't wear their politics on their sleeves, but the mark of Tea Partying participants has been to demonstrate their beliefs of libertarian self-reliance and autonomous anti-big government through outward signs of vexillological grandeur ("flag showing"). The Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" flag is perhaps now the most famous symbol of this movement. But another symbol is the U.S. Constitution.

As you can see above in the first photo, the bakery was not only selling pastries, tortes, and cakes, but also pocket size booklets of the U.S. Constitution! They sold for around $2. I must admit: I already own one of these, because during the last election, I was at a train stop in Westchester, when a Tea Party candidate was handing out U.S. Constitutions for free! Anyhow, it was interesting to see this. And interesting to see that they had taped a copy of the U.S. Constitution to their cash register. Now more than a month later, I thought about the old bakery once again, as I walked into a pizza place just yesterday. Below the counter there wasn't a U.S. Constitution, but a floor mat nailed upright, which read "No Spin Zone,"--the trademark of the famed Bill O'Reilly show. But what was more entertaining was the utilization of books, YES!--books! to promote a very similar message. Right there on the tables of the pizza shop, not far from (and surely catering to) one of America's great liberal arts colleges, the owners were clearly targeting their clientele with both good pizza...and tables piled high with books by Glenn Beck and the new rebuttal to Howard Zinn's influential opus (A People's History of the United States) entitled "A Patriot's History of the United States." And people say books are dead?!

At least we continue to be entertained.

A Book Bench in an Antique Shop

The Quirky, The Weird, and The Bench?

Every so often, I admit it: I am drawn to share with you some of the lighter aspects of bookishness. I could not help pass this opportunity by, then, when I was in an antique shop last month, and I saw an old coffee table/ottoman, which was designed to look like three books piled on one another. It opens (as you can see) to reveal a secret hiding place for...well, books (of course!) and other items. Now, some of you might think that you'd like this in your home, but this is the sort of furniture that I'd call a "one spouse preference" item. You know, those things that only one in a household likes, while the other things just simply tasteless, hideous, disgraceful. No? I did not buy this one in the end. Not for that reason, but because I actually don't have anywhere to put it. But more practically, it's because the darn thing was missing one of its legs, and leaned like a wounded runner after a long race. Poor little bench.

Hudson Valley Special Libraries Association

When Librarians Have Fun

Being relatively new to the area of New York city and Westchester County, I figured that it would be a good idea to start to meet some more people in the library world, to extend that network of colleagues in information science. So when I received an email from a colleague about an upcoming meeting and dinner of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), I jumped on the opportunity and signed up. The event was held at the Casaletto Ristorante in Elmsford, NY, not far from Tarrytown, on November 29th. It was a cold evening and I drove down from the north into the seemingly crowded township, replete with strip malls and multiple classy-named diners. I was somewhat early, so there weren't too many attendees there yet. But it was a good opportunity to begin to meet some of the folks already there.

The theme of the event was that well-weathered and oft surprisingly consistent theme: "the future of the library." Of course, it is necessary for our or any other profession to embrace these dynamic questions, because otherwise we might be out of business--or without jobs! But a delightful, anecdotal, episodic speech was given after the sumptuous meal by Dr. Norman Jacknis (here at left), who spoke of the tasks at hand for both him and those sitting around the table. It was pleasant to get fresh insight from non-theological librarians, as well as those who are in the corporate sector, rather than strict academicians.

The evening was punctuated by various productive and entertaining interactions with other librarians. Since the SLA had an entire room of the restaurant to itself, everyone mingled and talked with one another from the we entered, as we were waiting for dinner, as we had dinner, and after the speech, during dessert. I made a lot of new acquaintances and partners in the info biz that evening. And just as I was heading out the door, thinking it was all over, they had a raffle, where my name was called out: I'd won a bottle of champaign! Now this is what librarianship is really about! As I'd offered in my introduction to the others as we went around the table: "I came tonight, because I wanted to be with other 'special people.'" Indeed, I think I'd found something I liked.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Books and Gargoyles!

Who Knew They Could Read!?

Not too long ago, I was walking down 110th Street here in Manhattan, just east of Broadway, and I looked up to discover that there was a sequence of gargoyles carved into the stone edifice of an apartment building. Of course, what really caught my attention was that one of them was reading. Or more accurately, one of them was holding a book and contemplating over its contents. According to one website, these sculptures are "the hungry gargoyles of 110th Street." More photographs can be found on the site: The building was completed in 1909, and has a number of these grotesque characters, including the one above, which is actually a man pondering his ledger book! I wonder what stone carvers will be doing in the future...a ponderous and creepy old man with his Kindle? Hmmmmmm, now that would be something.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Welcome to the Burke Library!

A Pretty Big Theological Library

So if there is anyone wondering why I've been such a slacker with this blog, I'll give you one word: Burke. This September I began a new job at a library in New York City: Public Services Librarian at the Burke Theological Library of Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. A wonderful job at a wonderful library. So you ask then, "why blame the Burke!?" Ah, I'm not blaming! It all comes to the daily economy of time. In my last job in Chicago, I lived only a few blocks from work. I could get up early or not and work on the blog before work, which was my custom, but now, I live more than 30 miles away from work and commute more than 65 miles round trip each day. So I end up spending a good portion of my prior blogging time on a train! Plus, I have to get up much earlier than before, not by choice, but necessity--so I'm not late for work! So the decreased frequency is the result. I apologize. I need to get the show back on the road! Nonetheless, it has been an interesting transition. Some might say "trial by fire," though I must admit that that is a rather silly expression, even if apropos. Getting acquainted with the entire Columbia University Library system of 20+ institutional libraries, and its more than 100 librarians, support staff, and library student workers was overwhelming at first, but now has become a pleasant part of the job. Columbia University is the 5th largest academic library in North America, according to ARL statistics for 2007-2008, with combined volumes counting 10,296,816 (10.2 million). The Burke Library, one of the ~23 libraries in the Columbia system, has more than 700,000 volumes, including circulating books, rare books (~150,000-200,000), magazines and journals, and more. It also has a magnificent archival collection (or more specifically, collections--plural). Interestingly, if one does an online search for "largest theological libraries," there seems to be some rivalry'd statement about schools like Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS), for example, who claim the title of "largest." But statistically, this is not accurate. But if we want to be diplomatic, PTS can have the largest theological library "in the US," just as long as we still hold the title of largest theological library "in the western hemisphere." It's only fair.

Of course, there's so much more to tell: about our wonderful staff, our magnificent Friends of the Library group, our lectures, a more. So come on by, if you're in the neighborhood, and we'll give you a tour!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Free Books Sign in NYC

In Case You Were Wondering...

When I first moved to NYC, I discovered this lovely sign across the street from my library at Columbia University. Who couldn't resist this!? Well, unfortunately, I had arrived too late to get a piece of the action. But it was at least good to know that such things were available in the city. Just this past week--October 22 or so--I took my first trip to the famous "Strand" bookshop in the city, down by Union Square. Supposedly 18 miles of books! What a shop! At some point soon, I'll have to do a bibliotour down there for you and show you what they've got! For now, enjoy this little remnant of NYC history. The sign is now tattered, faded, and pretty much gone to the wind. Onward history!

Bibliobargains, Biblio-Outhouse!

Books in Outhouses?

This, I must admit, is a long-lost photo of me at the Bibliobarn out in the Hobart-Kortright cosmos of rural upstate/mid-state New York. I'd visited back in the spring briefly, and wrote about the adventure in a blog posting here on Books and Biblios. I thought I'd add it, because I found it so out-of-the-ordinary. In this photo you can see the old outhouse was converted into a sales book locale, which the proprietors called "Bibliobargains." At this precise moment, I was enthralled with a violin score by a now forgotten (by me!) obscure 19th century Bohemian composer. It was something rather remarkable. Of course, my faulty memory now doesn't remember much else! But I do think that the Bibliobarn and its contents are still for sale; somewhere under $475,000 for the whole thing. Any takers?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Books, Shops, and Libraries of Milwaukee

Milwaukee's Got Books Too!!

Sometimes I am amazed when people say that they prefer the "big cities" like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, because they have better access to "books and culture." Okay, this is a complicated statement, because "culture" (whatever that is or we make it out to be) is a hard word to define. Sure, in New York City for example, one could see maybe 4 times as many operas and probably 30 times as many classical concerts as in Chicago, and probably ten or a hundred fold that in much smaller American cities. But books? Aren't books pretty much everywhere? I have really heard people make such comments. So when it comes to books, I'm slightly puzzled, because many of America's smaller cities don't simply have "lots of books," but many of the best book stores--most of them used book shops, which believe it or not, I prefer to the larger monstrosities of the famed American metropolis--we won't mention names here!

The beauty of small (or smaller) American cities, especially those which have colleges or universities, is that they most often have great used book shops. And plenty of them for you to browse and buy or simply sit back in and enjoy a cup of tea, while you read. I remember fondly the bookshops in Champaign-Urbana, when I was in library school. Just delightful places, and all out in the rural flatness of middle Illinois.

So when I went to Milwaukee last spring for our semi-annual Chicago Area Theological Library Association (CATLA) meeting, I was more than pleased with the various and bountiful resources available to see...and surely more important: available to Milwaukeeans (or is it Milwauker?)

I drove up from Chicago with the director of the CTU library, Melody McMahon, and we all gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus at around 9AM. The library above is the Golda Meir Library, named after its perhaps most famous resident, who lived here nearly a century ago, before heading off to the middle east and becoming the first woman head of the state of Israel. In the lobby of this library were many items, including art made out of old books: these were made into an alligator and a machine gun!

We held our sessions next to the Special Collections of the library. Below, in the hallway leading up to the Special Collections was a display of historical comics on display. This library apparently has a magnificent collection of comics.

We took a tour of the library facilities, and many of us who came from smaller libraries (or at least economically challenged ones!) were marveling at the technologies of the university campus: below is a digital sign, which displayed how many computer stations were being used, where, and how long! So if you needed a computer, you could look at this screen and find where there was an available seat in the library!

Golda, above. Below: Deirdre A. Dempsey, Ph.D. gave an outstanding performace at her lecture on the history and background of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Professor Dempsey is Associate Professor in the Theology Department at Marquette University, and her webpage can be seen here:

She gave a marvelous presentation as a preface to the tour we would be taking later this afternoon at the Milwaukee Public Museum, downtown.

At the museum above and below. An interesting place, which I didn't have enough time to visit all of. But it was interesting, nonetheless. You'll see that we weren't allowed--of course--to photograph the original scrolls, so I took pictures of the signs and books about them!

It was a funny and odd experience. Above is just at the top of the escalator, near the entrance of the exhibit. Once you entered the area where the scroll fragments were on exhibit, it got dark, with blue lights...and the hallways were decorated with middle eastern motifs and palm trees! There was a soundtrack of eerie middle eastern music playing, some sort of Bedouin instrument, a horn, calling into the night. Then sounds of wind and the dessert. There were maps of the ancient world and light-generated images being projected here and there. The rooms where the scrolls were held were quite cool. It was though, I must admit, a rather surreal experience. Like they were forcing you to have a particular--almost religious or spiritual--experience.

Emerging in the later afternoon, we came into the light and into the book store. You could buy books about the scrolls, if you so desired.

On the way home, I took a few snapshots of old book shops and other curiosities in Milwaukee.
They do have books, you know!

With an astounding array of culture--from local used book shops, a university library system at UW-Milwaukee boasting more than 3.2 million volumes, public libraries, a museum showing an exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and more--I think that many people could say that Milwaukee might be able to hold its own culturally. And you know, I didn't even mention the great restaurants downtown, the Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum (one of my favorite all time buildings in the world!!), the gorgeous lake-front, or could we forget: the Burning Snow Center (below) for the Experimental Arts. Hey!--I think everyone needs a little bit of Burning Snow now and then. Our whole enterprise in life and books is experimental arts. So keep on reading; and keep on experimenting!

OP-SHOP II (Hyde Park)

The (OP)portunity Shop: The Coolest Place in Town

There is no getting around it: the Opportunity (or "OP") Shop in Hyde Park is clearly the coolest place in town. I say this really without reservation, because it has become one of the true gathering places for the Hyde Park (Chicago) community, which fosters partnerships, discussions, and general community-building through a variety of artistic, musical, and health related expressions (e.g. art shows, concerts, workshops on yoga and the art of motion). The op shop has an interesting history and other information can be found online at its website ( and ( According to the site, its founder--a neighbor of mine about a block away--is Laura Schaeffer, who is a local curator and artist. For some time she has hosted art openings and events in her own home, which have been highly successful.

Schaeffer has done tremendous work in this neighborhood to build community arts projects, especially through this new venue. The first OP shop opened last year, I believe in December of 2009 and ran for about a month in an empty space on 55th Street, just west of Cornell, on the south side of the street between an eyeglass shop and some restaurants. It was a magnificent space, which she transformed beautifully. This was "OP shop 1." The second iteration, "OP shop 2" was opened in the old Hollywood Video store, located on the corner of 53rd Street and just 100 feet west of Lake Park, next to a parking lot. This was a magnificent incarnation of the space and the OP shop venue, and this is what I am displaying for you all today. These photos were taken during its also short OP shop life--I believe OP shop 2 ran for about two months from March or April to May 2010. It included booths for antiques, a herbarium/plant shop, a number of artist spaces, community dinner space, art project work spaces, a pile of compost which was sold by the bag, and of course many books! But there was much more...including a children's fort made out of cardboard boxes!

As you can see from some of these photos, there are books and so many other things of note, including an old leather harness for a horse! The OP shop runs primarily on donations and the largesse of the greater community, so it is important that those who appreciate such endeavors promote it and support it. We found the OP shop space simply wonderful, and often a good alternative space for enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon where we could bring the kids and have them play, be entertained, and just do something different. Especially when it was cold!

Above, the famous (or infamous?) compost heap. See the shovel at left! And below, one of the exhibits of artists at the OP shop.

Cute kid enjoying art above. And old VHS boxes below, containing not VHS tapes, but books! I thought this a novel approach to displaying books.

Above, some more artists painting. Adjacent to this, there was an "Oral History" desk, which was attempting to document the history of this building, before it would ultimately be torn down.
Below, the fort in the background, as well as the work tables, and some books on a table up front.

Fort. Great Fort! Below, an old newspaper, Harpers Weekly, from 1859.

Signs above, made of cardboard. And below, a decorative entrance made of magnetic tape!

The "OP entrance" above, inside. And some more books...

I must say that places like the OP shop are great additions to communities around the country. Open indoor spaces, which afford community building are increasingly rare, especially when you have budget cuts or it costs too much to rent spaces for the general populace. On the other hand, there must be some interest generated in the community for such places to work. I do hope that the OP shop venues continue...not just to exist, but to flourish. And if there are books there, that will be fine too.

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