Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Midtown Stroll: The NYPL, the Morgan Library, and the Library Hotel

"So Someone Walks Into a Hotel..."

Okay, so I actually did NOT go into any hotel. But I walked by a hotel recently. It's not quite the joke you imagine. Just over a week ago, I attended a meeting-tour of the New York Theological Libraries Association (NYATLA), which met at the Pierpont Morgan Library in midtown Manhattan. On the way to the meeting, I happened to walk by the locally famous "Library Hotel," which I'll surely have to explore more in depth at another time, because it is clearly an interesting and curious operation, which bases its floors, rooms, and suites on the Dewey Decimal System. Of course, to many in academic libraries, Dewey is an outdated system, often supplanted by LC classification. To Dewey's credit, he did do a stint as University Librarian at Columbia back in the 1880s. So we'll keep him for now! The Library Hotel is located off of Madison Avenue and East 41st Street, not far from either the Pierpont Morgan Library or the New York Public Library.

The Pierpont Morgan Library, where we met and had our tour was a magnificent place, and indeed, a magnificent institution with an abundance of cultural treasures. Located around E. 37th and Madison Avenue, the library has recently been expanded and updated with a marvelous new social gathering space designed by famed architect Renzo Piano. The New York Times had a review of it back in 2006. It is really quite a remarkable space, full of light and glass and modern angles that make you feel like you're in a fantastically naturalistic outdoor cathedral. This space connects various parts of the museum and library, including the gift and book shop, the dining room, the cafe, the galleries (both up- and downstairs), as well as what I'd consider the focal attractions of J.P. Morgan's study and library. In these rooms, Morgan's study specifically, one can cast a glance at where the seat of American financial decision making and power took place more than a century ago--including the massive vault adjacent to Mr. Morgan's study. Oddly, the vault on the day of the visit was open, and visitors could see hundreds of rare books on the interior shelves, while a table stood in the middle of the vault with a charming couplet portraiture of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina Luther (nee von Bora)! I was assured that this was not Morgan's idea! In the private library nearby, separated from the study by a rotunda-style middle-room with pillars, there were displays of manuscripts of the great classic composers, including Mozart's manuscript of his Symphony No. 35, some Schumann chamber works, and a Cantata of Bach! It was astounding to see such handwriting of the greats, and hard to fathom that they'd touched the very pages that lay within inches of my nose, as I focused entranced on each object! They also had proofs of famous books and scribbles from their authors (Lewis Carol, for example), as well as an early Caxton edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, dating from the 1400s. They also had a great exhibit on the history of diaries. So if you have time to see it before it ends, I recommend it.

I made my way back afterward, past the New York Public Library and snapped this photo of the famous lions (or at least one of those lions!) Inside, there is a wonderful exhibit of "The Three Faiths," which includes dozens of rare books from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The place was packed with visitors when I went in, so I didn't stay that long. But what I saw was remarkable. I think that another visit and photographic essay should be devoted to this whole library, because it is simply extraordinary. As one of the largest libraries in the world, the NYPL has much to offer. And it's a gorgeous architectural gem, right in the middle of the city. I think if I had more time, I would have stayed longer...and not just because it was warmer inside than the freezing temperatures outside! There is a bigger story to tell here about this library, but we'll wait till it warms up.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Cathedral, the Peacock, and the Books

Some Interesting Bookish Things

A walk through the neighborhood of Morningside Heights can yield a number of interesting sights (and sites). Today's offering was a stroll I took well before the snows of December and January fell upon us, making the city of New York slushy, icy, cold, and at times unbearable and wanting for summer to come quickly! As some of you familiar with this blog know, I have a proclivity for searching out book-objects in every possible form out there in our wide world--whether images of books, furniture designed to look like books, or more common, statues holding books carved from stone or cast in some metallic artisanal sculpture. So it is with this last item that I begin today. I hadn't realized how close the magnificent and splendrous St. John the Divine Cathedral was to my office and library at Columbia. One afternoon I took a walk and ambled up the stairs of the massive structure, which is still in the process of being built, nearly 120 years after it began in 1892! Of course, the old medieval churches took just as long and even longer in many cases to build. And for those interested in this old fashioned building (sort of a "slow build" version of the "slow food" movement), take a look at the hand-built castle they've been working on in France for the last few decades, called Chateau de Guedelon. One of the many interesting things about the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the statuary near the entrance (see above), which depicts a number of saints and other holy figures. My reason for photographing them, besides their sculptured beauty, is that some of them are holding books. Take a look. I did not take photographs inside the Cathedral, as it is dark and I did not want to interrupt those in prayer. But outside there were some other interesting items in the adjacent park.

One of these things was this "random" peacock! At least, I think it was a peacock! It was startling, because it came out of the park and was wandering off of Amsterdam Avenue, seemingly oblivious to the honking cars and taxi cabs. Some folks ushered the bird back into its fenced park area, to shield it from any curbside harm.

It is in this park that one can find some other interesting sites, including the "Peace Fountain."

As the online Atlas Obscura writes: "The Peace Fountain was built in 1985 by Greg Wyatt to depict the struggle of good and evil, shown by the archangel Michael vanquishing Satan."

I did not take a photo of the fountain, but it can be seen on the Atlas Obscura site here.

What I wanted to show was a series of interesting smaller sculptures, which surround the fountain: all of them book sculptures, made out of some sort of metal (bronze?), and which decorate the park. Each book sculpture is different. I've read that there are some sculptures in this park created by children, but I'm not sure if these books were those same sculptures. Nevertheless, if you're ever in the mood to go for a stroll and get a good dose of architectural splendor (or just want to see some bookish sculptures), check out St. John the Divine Cathedral. The peacock will be waiting.

Friday, January 28, 2011

New Columbia University Science Library

New Science and Engineering Library at Columbia University

The other day, on the way back from a meeting, I decided to visit the new Science and Engineering Library of the Columbia University Library System. The building, which had been under construction for some time, just opened. On the first floor (one floor above the entrance level to the street), is a fine and bustling cafe. It seems to fill a niche in this part of the neighborhood, as it's always packed with "sippers, readers, and studiers." Then again, it is the first week of operation, so it's also in its so-called honeymoon period. Up on the 4th floor, I met one of my librarian colleagues, Amanda, who gave me a brief tour of the newly completed library complex. I say complex, because it serves as more than just a library. The photo above is on an upper level of the library. Surprisingly or not, the Science and Engineering Library has comparatively few books. The sciences have far fewer books and physical journals (most are online or in digital format) than say the Humanities, so this makes sense.

Above we see a view of the Burke Library's Brown Tower (on Broadway, looking north). This was taken from one of the computer/reading room areas on level 4 of the new Science Library.

One more floor up (I think it's called "level 5"), we find a lovely reading and study room. Now, the other evening, we had an event at my library, the Burke, just across the street. And as I was waiting with my colleagues, I noticed that the design of the lights in Burke shared an uncanny resemblance to the ones in the new Science Library. OR, more precisely, those in the Science Library resembled those in Burke. When I mentioned it to my Butler Library colleagues, they said something to the effect of: "shhhhh! the architect would never admit it, but we think you might be right!" The image below is from Columbia University's website, and shows the Burke Library Reading Room--a far older architectural gem.

This sort of design "borrowing" is common. On the campus of the University of Chicago, we find the relatively new Booth Business School's design to be a borrowing and conflation of the masterful architectural designs of the buildings on the three other corners from it, including the magnificent Rockefeller and the Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House.

Back in the Science Library building, we find some lengthy escalators (above), and a top view of the busy cafe (below).

Signs for your direction, against a marbly wall. It's a very interesting architecture inside, while outside, you can see it looks like a 12-storey toaster for baguettes! That's no knock, mind you, since it is an interesting looking building. But I must admit, it seems like only half the floors are accounted for here. So it is anyone's guess what the top 6 floors are for. State secrets, anyone? Whatever your pleasure--science or coffee--stop by and check it out. I think you'll like it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Housing Works Book Shop (SoHo--NYC)

A Good Shop for A Good Cause

In the cold of December, one of my colleagues suggested that we take a field trip to a special book shop in the city. Housing Works Bookstore, located at 126 Crosby Street in the northern reaches of SoHo, is surely a unique place. My colleague Zack Lane had many great things to say about this place, and he was absolutely on track. Here is a link to the book shop:


But it is more than just a book shop, it is a book shop on steroids-- providing a healthy and robust program of social activism and assistance to people in need. To quote the website, one of Housing Works' many causes may be summed up in the following statement:

"The largest AIDS activist group in the U.S., Housing Works empowers clients, staff, volunteers and supporters to take action—from phone zaps to Congressional visits to street-side civil disobedience—on local, state, national and international AIDS issues. Read our Housing Works AIDS Issues Update blog, and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed and learn what you can do to help end AIDS."

As for the bookstore itself, it was quite a find in NY city, considering the number of bookshops which charge so much for used volumes--often far more than the books are actually worth.

There were various sections in the shop. One of the interesting things is that the classification is not that rigid, which some might say adds a certain sloppiness to the place. But on the flip side, it provides ample opportunity for biblio-searchers like myself to find some rare or simply magnificent finds. Now, even though I did not find anything on this trip--or rather, I did not "buy" anything on this trip--there were plenty of great books here.

In the front of the store there was a display case of rare and signed books. Above is a volume of "Every Man a King" (1933) by assassinated Louisiana Governor, Huey Long. It's on sale (and I believe up for auction) for ~$8,500.00, because Long signed it! In the back of the book shop there is a little cafe where readers and browsers can get a snack and some warm drinks on a cold winter evening, while reading their books. You can see most of the shop from the second tier balcony (see below), where I took this photo. It was a lovely experience, and if you're in the area, you should check it out. I did see on the bargain rack the complete writings of Aristotle for only $1! I didn't buy it, though. Many people think that other book stores in the city (including in Brooklyn) come to Housing Works and buy cheap books, then resell them elsewhere for greatly exaggerated prices! Either way, whatever it is you do, come on in and check the place out. It's definitely a must-visit.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shakespeare on a Manhattan Street

What You Stumble Across

I'm not sure if it's just my lot in life, but for whatever reason, I very often find myself tripping over books. Literally. A couple years ago, when I was in Chicago, I was walking down the street and found a box full of Beowulf tomes--translations, commentaries, critical editions, and tour books to Denmark that high-lighted the historical relation to the old epic. I thought this was unique (or at least somewhat particular) to my neighborhood of Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago. Of course, this was my own obvious naivete. This past November, I'd been strolling around Morningside Heights, the community around Columbia University, one evening, when I happened upon a pile of books on the curbside. Okay, I didn't "trip" over them. But I was pretty close! The trove of books was mostly Shakespearean classics in one-play editions. As you can see from the photo here, I selected "The Two Noble Kinsmen" and "Much Ado About Nothing." There were others, but I took these. And they were in pristine condition. As if they'd never been used or read! (Yes, people DO still read Shakespeare! Of course, seeing and hearing it is usually much more engaging). Well, I was glad to find that I'd landed in yet another place where books could be found (or had) in such abundance. When I get around to it, I'll share some images of the innumerable and ever-present book sellers on the streets of New York. To my surprise, they
actually sell books in the winter too. Like the week before Christmas, when I went to Zabars to fetch some goodies, a whole row of bundled up book sellers looking like winter-clad Moscovites, were plying their trade. It was a sight then to see that they'd taken equal care of their books: they too were "dressed" for winter--each bound in a protective winter-coating of durable, snow-proof plastic!

Keep on reading!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Scanning Biblical Manuscripts

An Extraordinary Mission

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts ( founded in 2002 by Dr. Dan Wallace, and presently headed by him as Executive Director, is a fascinating and remarkable organization. In the Spring of 2010, a group of researcher scholars, interns, and professionals from the CSNTM visited the JKM Library and the Gruber Collection, to produce digital images of a large number of the New Testament manuscripts in the collection.

The Gruber Rare Books Collections (aka "The Gruber Room") of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), where I was formerly employed as a librarian, has a remarkable selection of items--from New Testament manuscripts and incunabula to Reformation era pamphlets and 1st editions. The following link will connect you to a site developed and maintained by Prof. Emeritus Ralph Klein: ( --scans of some of the documents in this collection are included.

One of the most interesting objects in the collection was a complete New Testament minuscule manuscript from (if I recall correctly) around the 9th-10th century. Its order is not what is often today considered canonical, but has the Pauline texts in a variant sequencing. This text is one of, if not the oldest complete Greek minuscule New Testament in the world.

Most of the field operations have been conducted by Dr. Jeff Hargis, the Field Director, and his team, which on this site visit included the talents of Garrett Mathis, J.D. Lemming, and Seth Stevens; many of those who worked on the project were students at Dallas Theological Seminary. The team was delightful to work with, and a pleasure to have around in our library. They worked assiduously through the days and week(s), when they were on campus, often leaving in the evening greatly tired. But their labors are a most extraordinary devotion and mission, for which the scholarly, liturgical, and theological world should be thankful.

In these photos (above and below), you will see one of the different modes of scanning and imaging. This was the UV imaging--i.e. it was done effectively in the dark, with indirect blue lighting, and prolonged shutter exposure. In these instances, this type of imaging can help illuminate or uncover text, which may have been bleached out, deleted, or simply erased on the palimpsest. In some cases, we were able to see writing that had been erased--either simply taken out and left blank, or written over with other text. The guys had been working on a number of manuscripts using this technique, which required a steadied patience and a strong arm, because the hand-held blue lights had to be passed slowly over the manuscripts in complete darkness, while the camera's shutter held exposures of between 15 to 30 seconds. I helped hold and wave the blue-lights a number of times, and must admit it was rather tiring! The UV shots were set up by the computer, after first being primed with what's called a "white balance," to orient the specific colors of the documents, before the shot.

Toward the end of the lengthy process, I sat down with Jeff and Garrett to get some of the details of this remarkable operation. As mentioned above, Dr. Dan Wallace founded the organization in 2002. It was a one man operation until 2008. Before Jeff and Garrett came on board, Jeff led Bible tours in Greece, which is where he met Garrett. Garrett has traveled quite a bit (and to some extent with this job), and had been in Albania back in June-July of 2007.
Much of their present work centers around material found on the so-called "K-liste," a full Greek manuscript New Testament Catalog, which Dr. Hargis has written a magnificent account of and can be seen on the website (see link below):

Much of the regular scanning (i.e. that which was done under normal light) was done in the Gruber Room itself. The cameras and equipment stands, which help support the manuscripts, were Canon IDS Mark III (2 set up) cameras and the Graz Traveler's Companion Copy Stand.

Many, if not all of the manuscripts in this collection come from what is called the 1424 Family of New Testament manuscripts--a designation which the members of the CSNTM are fully qualified and willing to speak about. Admittedly, this was one of the most exciting biblio-related events I've participated in. It was fun to watch previously unstudied manuscripts. Perhaps the most dazzling material was the commentary (in marginalia) found in the 1000+ year-old New Testament Greek minuscule, which has never been read or translated! Who knows what may be found there. Who knows what theological mind-bending might be yielded for us to consider and ponder! For those interested, you can now go to this remarkable site, and see what great work they've accomplished. And for those who may be interested in this organization, and have a few shekels to spare, think about some way to support their efforts. They surely have a lot to offer, and will continue to afford access to these immeasurable treasures that have been hidden from our world for so long.