Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A tip of the yarmulke to Bill Goldberg and I'm Next

I'm Next: The Strange Journey Of America's Most Unlikely SuperheroI'm Next: The Strange Journey Of America's Most Unlikely Superhero by Bill Goldberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Browsing in the library for something on running, I started looking at the books about "professional wrestling" aka "sports entertainment." I decided to read Goldberg's autobiography, written with his brother. Much of the prose sounds like direct transcriptions of his reminiscences. What appealed to me was that, the blurb above about what kind of "machine" he is notwithstanding, Bill Goldberg is a thoughtful and hard-working man, and a compassionate human being who cares about people. What in other books might come across as name-dropping, in this case becomes a grateful tribute to many who have helped him have a wonderful life in a couple of painful and soul-threatening businesses. A tip of the yarmulke to Bill Goldberg and I'm Next.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

New Functions for a Classic Beauty

The picture's caption caught my eye, "Norwell Public Library has an old card catalog cabinet that is used to hold seed packets for a seed-lending program." I wondered if I would read about one of my favorite former (i.e. before I retired) colleagues, Rebecca Freer, the Library Director in Norwell. In addition to "Becky" I also read quotes from others I had worked with on library network and committee meetings, including Carol Jankowski,Charlotte Canelli, Elizabeth Marcus, who I knew as Betsy Wolfe when she was Director at the Thayer Public Library in Braintree, before she replaced me as Director of the Brockton Public Library when I moved on to the Thomas Crane Library in Quincy. It's fun to see how creative librarians can be in repurposing all that beautiful wood, and amazing to see the prices these "library discards" now command.

The Boston Globe
Other uses found for library card catalogs
By Jean Lang | Globe Correspondent | March 23, 2014

They are nearly extinct in their natural habitat.
In the James Library & Center for the Arts in Norwell, one maintains its position at the end of a large bookcase near the center of the room, its counterpart sentry for an antique grandfather clock.
In the Dyer Memorial Library in Abington, it has been relegated to the corner, left mostly untouched for the past decade.
They are the wooden card catalog cabinets, once an essential component of town and school libraries. Now they are mostly relics of the past, repurposed in some cases to hold recipes, display Christmas cards, or stash canned goods.
Caroline Chapin, director of the James Library, said she was shocked to see one when she arrived some years ago. She at first wanted to get rid of it, she said, but she then got the sense of the 1874 Victorian building in historic Norwell Center and, “lo and behold, 10 years later, it’s part of its charm.”
She said the independent library does not loan out its books as part of a larger network and its collection of roughly 8,000 books is small enough that the card catalog is still functional. The labels on the drawer fronts begin with A-AQ, and the cards within describe the content and locations of the books, both old and new.
Likewise, in nearby Pembroke, the all-volunteer Lydia Drake Library, once a former schoolteacher’s home, uses three similar catalog cabinets, said Joanne Tavares.
“A lot of us volunteers are retired people and we tend to be senior-type people, so I don’t think it’s out of the way for us to be doing this at all,’’ she said of using the printed cards to find books.
In Abington, the longtime card catalog at the Dyer Library is technically functional, but library director Joice Himawan said, “I’ve been here 10 years and I haven’t actually seen anyone use it.’’
She said it is a backup to the computerized records at the library, which focuses on the local histories of Abington, Rockland, and Whitman.
Duxbury Free Library director Carol Jankowski said she cannot recall seeing any catalog cabinets when she arrived there in 1997.
“It’s ancient history,” she said, jokingly.
But, she said, she does have a small four-drawer card catalog cabinet in her home that she bought for $5 at a yard sale. She said that is where she has put her Christmas cards.
Marie Anderson, owner of Stone House Antiques Inc. on Washington Street in Norwell, said she did not have any library catalog cabinets in her store and if she did, “It wouldn’t be here long.”
“They are very popular,” she said. “Everybody likes the drawers.”
She said she has two such cabinets in her home, which she uses to hold canned goods. She said she guesses she has had them for 30 to 40 years. She said she thinks her mother might have bought them at an auction in the 1970s.
Catalog cabinets could be found recently selling on eBay for $159.19 for a vintage four-drawer office desk-top model in the United Kingdom to $850 for a 72-drawer index card file cabinet in Cleveland, local pickup only.
Gaylord Brothers, which made half of the James Library cabinet (which is actually two smaller cabinets stacked), still makes card catalog cabinets. A new compact four-tray cabinet sells for $785 and can be ordered in cherry, oak, or mahogany. A 10-tray sells for more than $1,800.
Coleen Gagliardo, vice president of sales and marketing for Gaylord Brothers, said sales have been dwindling, but added there are still some government institutions, museums, and others that rely on them. And there are those who purchase them for other uses.
“It’s become a piece of nostalgia, and they found their way out of libraries and into breweries, restaurants, and even in individuals’ homes,” she said.
Alternate uses for card catalogs can be found on various online sites. points out that a “geek chic catalog” can be found on “The Big Bang Theory” television series and suggests 10 fun uses for the cabinets, including storing sewing supplies, warehousing wines, and serving as a coffee table.
Elizabeth Marcus, president of the Massachusetts Library Association and director at the Brockton Public Library, recently asked other library directors via e-mail about the whereabouts of their catalog cabinets.
She said at least one responded that she regretted their library had not kept at least one.
“Everyone covets these things — they are good furniture,’’ Marcus said.
One middle school librarian in Dedham recalled with fondness the scene in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in which Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard stand in front of a card catalog cabinet in a branch of the New York Public Library.
Charlotte Canelli, director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, said some libraries keep what they can of the older furniture, but the card catalog cabinets are bulky and often there just is not room.
Rebecca Freer, director of the Norwell Public Library, said the card catalog there was seen as a big piece of furniture taking up space, so it was removed a couple years ago. That decision was regretted soon after, however, when library staff were looking for a place to store flower, herb, and vegetable seeds for a seed-lending program. So she said a trustee found an old card catalog and bought it for the library.
She said the drawers are just the right size to store the seed packets.
“The card catalog is back,” she said. “It’s a beautiful piece of furniture, and it’s a part of history.”
E-mail Jean Lang at

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Magnificent, my petty personal gripe notwithstanding

The Library: A World HistoryThe Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is impossible to open this book without drooling at the imagination, beauty and splendid architectural diversity of the libraries portrayed. Pages 236-238 include three sumptuous pictures of the Thomas Crane Library and a description of it as “the most successful” of Henry Hobson Richardson’s “designs for small public libraries in the United States.” The author and photographer visited 82 libraries in 21 countries. In their acknowledgments they thank 74 “directors and staff…for giving us their permission, help and advice.” My personal, petty, pouting gripe is that my name is not among those 74. I expressed delight that Thomas Crane would be one of a very few American libraries in the book, and personally gave them a tour and permission to “shoot away.” Did I insult them by saying (as I did to everyone who ever requested permission to photograph the library) “You must not disturb library patrons or photograph them without their permission?” Bruised ego aside, I loved this book and recommend it to anyone who loves the physical buildings that house our species’ aspirations. (At $75.00 you may want to borrow it from, well, you know…)

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pity this author's stressful lifestyle (just kidding)

Pity this author's stressful lifestyle (just kidding) "I’m kind of like a cat — I follow the sun around the house and read books and take naps... I’ve had the unimaginable luxury of being able to do nothing but write whenever I want." This is from today's Boston Globe:
new england writers at work [sic]
Paul Harding’s habits all over the map
By Eugenia Williamson | Globe Staff | March 08, 2014
Paul Harding’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize for his novel, “Tinkers,” was a story you don’t hear every day — an unknown writer receiving the nation’s most visible literary prize for a debut book from a tiny independent press. Despite the singularity of his career trajectory, and the resulting media attention, Harding has since managed to settle into a more traditional writer’s life. This fall, he published his second novel, “Enon.” He lives in Topsfield.
REPAIR TO THE STUDY: I moved into a new house about a year and a half ago. Part of the attraction of the house was that it has an honest-to-goodness study. It’s really cool — it has bookcases that go up and over windows that look out over the meadow. It’s wallpapered in this straight-from-central-casting Victorian French-peasant pastoral wallpaper. I never would have deliberately chosen it myself, but since it was there, I rolled with it. It’s the quintessential gentlemen’s study. I feel like I should have cognac and cigars. But since I inhabit it, there’s stuff that doesn’t belong here — piles of books and extension cords. I put a couch in it so I can do my creative napping. I wrote a lot of “Enon” in this room.
GRANDFATHER’S CLOCKS: The desk that I sit at when I write is the desk at which my grandfather repaired antique clocks — like the character in “Tinkers.” He fiddled around with clocks, and I fiddle around with words.
ON THE PROWL: The way the house is set up, I have comfortable couches and piles of books all around. I’m kind of like a cat — I follow the sun around the house and read books and take naps. I ride the updrafts and let things intermingle, and whenever I get the fit to write, I can get the laptop and write wherever the spirit possesses me. Sometimes I think writing is kind of like walking around with a dousing rod, trying to find water.
THE WRITING LIFE: [My writing regimen] is all over the map, but for the past four or five years, I’ve had the unimaginable luxury of being able to do nothing but write whenever I want. I’m sort of on a 24-hour writing cycle. My wife is a teacher, so I get up in the morning with the kids. I give them their breakfasts and make them their lunches and get them off to school, and then I have the day to myself until they get back home at 2:30. Usually, the best time to write is in the morning when my kids leave — that’s when I do my deliberate writing for the day, but [inspiration] can strike at any time . . . I can only write for three hours a day before my brain gets stupid, and then I have to eat a sandwich and look at a newspaper and wait for my kids to get home. Nighttime is a good time for editing.

[Caption to clock picture] Paul Harding moved into a new house less than two years ago and does his writing in the “honest-to-goodness” study.

LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE: Once I open a document and start looking at the language, I [experience] this weird phenomenon where my entire brain ends up being absorbed into the language of the book, and I’m preoccupied. Part of that is just water seeking its own level; I do it because I can do it and because nothing is more engrossing to me than being inside the language [or] a character — keeping my mouth shut and my eyes shut and listening and looking for what’s going on in this wholly invented aesthetic realm. I find it literally engrossing, to the extent that when I’m doing it, I’m not thinking about anything in the outside world.
WORLD OF TROUBLE: I’m always looking for the most paradoxical or impossible yet instantly recognizable human predicaments to write about. When I know I have a good book on my hands . . . [I have a] paradoxical feeling of “I’m not good enough to make this work of art that I want to make, and the only way to be good enough is to actually try to do it.’’
Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached