An unquiet cataloger

photo(5)“What is the greatest joy of Arabic cataloging?” asks Jessamy, “I will tell you: serious works with rhyming titles.”

The creator of Ghilafaat, a curious sounding Instragram feed and Tumblr site, Jessamy Klapper gives followers a glimpse of newly published Arabic and Persian book covers with a candid piece of commentary. Jessamy has access to a conveyor belt of interesting new acquisitions, from poetry to short stories to textbooks, as a cataloger at Columbia University.

Ghilafaat is a made-up plural of ghilaaf, the Arabic word used to refer to a book cover. Jessamy’s posts are a compelling look into the world of Arab and Persian literature. Ghilafaat is the only place I see these covers and imagery.

“Ghilafaat are the fleeting impressions and ideas you get from glancing at the cover of a book,” said Jessamy. “The things that make you want to turn back and look again…or hurry away!” Some covers stand on their own as works of art. The designs incorporate colorful typography, photography, playful illustrations, and collage. Others are more subdued. For a simple cover with a black and white portrait, Jessamy writes, “Here’s Ahmad Reza Ahmadi looking pensive again, this time on the cover of Naser Saffarian’s study of the poet’s work: A Poet Unlike His Poems.”

Jessamy shares these books because she loves the material. “Sometimes I am already familiar with the book or author before it arrives – I tend to highlight those books as well, just because I’m excited to see them! It’s like spotting a familiar face in a crowd of strangers.”

Here are three of Jessamy’s favorite posts from Ghilafaat:

1. I loved the Nowherelanders, for exactly the same reason I wrote in the original posts. I’d love to do translations of the Nowherelanders’ individual bios.

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Meet the fascinating faces of Nowhereland! This is catalogued as a collection of short stories, but it’s almost like an art catalog. Each story is presented as the bio of a particular character, photographed and presented in detail. I love these ugly-cute-strange doll-sculpture-people. My Persian professor was so enamored of them, he got his own copy. Author/artist: Alireza Mir’asadullah. #persian #art #fiction #books #bookcovers #dollmaking #sculpture #mixedmedia

2. This book is one of my favorites because it has gorgeous illustrations, and it’s a bilingual edition. The book I photographed here is actually the second copy I’ve cataloged – the first one passed through before I created Ghilafaat & I thought I had missed my chance!

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Gorgeous watercolor illustrations on (and inside!) this bilingual volume on the Emir Abdelkader. #art #arabic #french #history #books #bookcovers #coverart

3. This book isn’t really one of my favorite covers, but I wanted to share something that illustrates another side of this project – sometimes the books make me laugh. This one is a sort of tabloid-style ‘expose’ on the life of a star from Egyptian cinema’s Golden Age – Su’ad Husni. It has all the markings of something you would see on your way out the grocery aisle; insensitive, sensational questions in bold type, references to heretofore unseen documents, a glamorous photo of the starlet made ominous by a black background…On top of everything else, the author Samir Farraj has added a sort of pen name: ‘Ibn al-Shati” This title translates to Son of the Beach, and I’m really not mature enough to let something like that slide. ghila_3

WAIT, wait, wait—am I cataloging acquisitions at a respected research institution, or am I in line at the grocery store (of golden age Egyptian cinema, that is)? “Suad Hosny: did she kill herself, or was she murdered?” This macabre piece promises to include heretofore unseen documents and also declares that this “book is considered a historic document.” By whom, we don’t know. Side note: Author Samir Farraj seems to have a nickname of sorts “Ibn al-Shati’” which literally translates to ‘Son of the Beach.’ Hmm. #arabic #egypt #suadhosny #egyptiancinema #scandals #books #bookcovers

Top Image: Jessamy at the library, taken by Natalie.

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September Wrap Up

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Archives week will soon be upon us! Check out my suggestions on which programs to see in the new Library Manifesto calendar. Suggest additions to the calendar by tweeting @mspantojatoyou or by e-mail!

A library in Westport, Connecticut introduced “Vincent” and “Nancy” two humanoid robots, programmed to walk without bumping into walls and make eye contact. The robots will be the stars of programming classes at the library.

For the first time, archives from an abandoned Moroccan Jewish synagogue on a tiny island in the Azores are being examined.

Culture in Transit will send librarians out to NYC’s archival depositories with scanners and cameras in hand. The program aims to centralize and preserve the city’s historical records.

100 years from now will books still be printed and bound? The Future Library in Oslo is ensuring at least 1 anthology will be! Margaret Atwood, the prize-winning Canadian author known for her dystopian novels, is the first author to contribute a story to the project.

For New Yorkers and architecture aficionados, how a stereoview (you know, the 3D experience of 1880) led to a rare New York find.

Finally, some haunting GIF’s to toll the knell for the spookiest month of the year. Thanks for sharing, Jessamy!

Happy Archives Month everyone!!

 

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Summer Wrap Up

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This summer I took an unexpected hiatus from Library Manifesto. In June I decided to make a big change and left an academic library for a job in tech. A week later, I lost my best friend Chloe. These past few months have been filled with jitters, puffy eyes, and have left me with a few new gray hairs. After a tumultuous start to summer I was holding my breath, hoping there wouldn’t be any more surprises. August passed without incident and I’m excited to write again this fall. I have a few great posts in the pipeline, including another tribute to the incredible Chloe Weil, who is in my thoughts every day. In the meantime, here are some stories that caught my eye this summer.

Fifty years have passed since the wide spread protests of the civil rights era. These archival photos show some striking similarities between efforts to constrain demonstrations in the 1960s and recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Ferguson public library has offered some new services as a result of the protests. Libraries provided classroom settings for teachers and students when school start dates were postponed and gave out bottled water to the community.

Some New Jersey residents will be able to earn an accredited high school diploma at their local library with the new Online High School Completion Program.

After 30,000 antique New Orleans newspapers ended up on Craigslist, a local printmaker saved the archives and created The Eliza Jane Nicholson Digital Newspaper Archive.

Many of the articles that publish the findings of publicly funded research are paradoxically very expensive for the public to access. The New York Review of Books looks inside the baffling world of academic journals.

Polarizing views on the Israel-Hamas conflict are all over social media. Interestingly, a study of twitter users showed that Ha’aretz is the only paper that attracts readers from both sides of the issue.

Adult females have taken over as the largest video game-playing demographic in the United States. Beating out boys under the age of eighteen.

The New Inquiry took a look at yelp reviews of museums. “Start your visit at the top and then walk down.”

Photo of yours truly by Chris Antkowiak

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Sound of Summer

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The best archivist I ever knew was also a coder and my best friend. Her name was Chloe Weil.

Recently, Chloe committed suicide. It is a tragedy for many reasons. She was stunning. She wowed people with her creativity. In everything Chloe did, she left a piece of herself in it. This made her work feel authentic, thoughtful and personal. Her work let others into her world. On her blog Chloe wrote 101-word journal entries, guided us through her artistic process and shared some really cool web projects. Chloe has left behind an online archive that is almost as rich and profound as the girl we loved being around. This post and my next will show off two of Chloe’s web based projects that expanded my ideas about sharing personal archives online.

I have been meaning to write about Chloe’s work on Library Manifesto for a while. I haven’t until now because she was too great a writer. No one could explain her work better than she did. Her posts were always humorous, conversational and succinct. She explained highly technical web projects in accessible ways and used her personal life to make web jargon more relatable.

"Above, I explain computers to a room full of guys." - Chloe Weil

“Above, I explain computers to a room full of guys.” – Chloe Weil

Chloe loved music. She was sometimes a human version of Shazam – she could tell you the name of a band or artist playing overhead at a bar. Chloe knew more obscure bands than anyone else I knew in High School and anytime after. Her love of music and web development came to a head in 2012 with Sound of Summer. Sound of Summer came from Chloe’s urge to catalog the emotions of her life through sound. Put simply, Sound of Summer is a personal music archive that lists Chloe’s most played songs in her iTunes library, every summer, starting from 2001.

Chloe tracked all of her music intake. In High School she began using iTunes data fields in ways they weren’t intended; tagging and organizing songs by when she listened to them most. Chloe wrote, “To organize music based on artist or album or even year released is extrinsic; the music has always been about me.” While others would balk at sharing such personal details of their life, Chloe embraced it.

I encourage you to look at the site. You’ll be immediately drawn to a stack of coral colored columns, each representing a year between 2001 and 2013. Select a column for a year, say 2012, and you are taken to that year’s songs, 74 for 2012. You might look for songs you listened to that year too. If you click on a song a music player pops up displaying an animated beating heart while playing back a snippet of the song. The beating heart reminds me of Chloe’s playful details. The project introduced me to some amazing music I had never heard before from bands like The Stranglers and The Go-Betweens. I learn about a new band every time I go back to her site.

“Do you remember in High Fidelity when Rob is organizing his record collection autobiographically? That’s the closest analog to this model. Each of my season-year playlists has the emotions and experiences of that three-month moment encoded into every song it contains. I’ve inadvertently managed to create a detailed narrative of my life just from the way I ended up organizing my mp3s. If want to feel how I felt my freshman year of college, I just filter my library for 2003FALL and I get all the tracks I listened to then, all the emotions I’d experienced, and the general mood of that period in my life. Say I want to re-experience my first year in Portland, although I don’t know why I would want to live through that again. I filter my library to 2009 and get 2009SPR, 2009SUM, 2009FALL, and 2009WIN. Say I only want to experience every summer of the past ten years. I filter my library by SUM and I’m having those rich emotional experiences again.”

I’ve listened to Chloe’s most played songs over the last 13 summers. I will never know what it felt like to be her but when I listen I get through to another layer of her identity. It helps me understand her a little bit better each time. Chloe made something emotional, scientific and vice versa.

Here’s Chloe’s conclusion from her technical write up. I’ve included it because I find it inspirational.

“There were entire weekends spent typing the same commands in the terminal, entire evenings spent refreshing the browser without accomplishing anything. But all it takes is one right thing to move forward, whether it’s modifying one line of code, or approaching your problem from a different point of view.”

Photo: Chloe and me at a summer music concert. Taken by Ruchi.
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Note to Self: Preserve Personal Triumphs

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Seeing a friend read an essay this spring made me think about personal archives in a new way. I had traveled to a gallery in an old industrial zone of Brooklyn to support my friend Megan, who writes about contemporary art and her life. When Megan got up, she said she wrote the essay she would be reading two years ago. Revisiting the piece the night before, it didn’t seem quite right. She decided to rewrite all the questions as declarative statements. I imagined her questions had been answered over time. Or, made way for different, newer questions. The edits seemed like signs of growth. Being in the audience that night as the writers and artists shared their completed works, I felt I was witnessing a small milestone.

The reading reminded me of one of my own milestones, a night the summer after my college graduation. I studied photography for two years as an undergrad, first black and white and then color. I had the idea to organize my first photography exhibition of my own work. My friend Dave kindly let me decorate his apartment on St. Mark’s Place with my work, and hold the exhibit there.

Matt and I lined Dave’s apartment with my photographs and some yellow tube lights. We blew up pink balloons and bought a box of cheap Trader Joe’s wine. My friends started to arrive, one by one, despite the sweltering heat. The photographs I selected were taken on day trips, date nights, or were just observations from my early twenties. The show was a milestone in itself of my growth as an artist and marked the end of my college life. It was also an excuse to celebrate the friends and supporters I had collected along the way.

When I decided to share the photographs on Library Manifesto, I found that I had done a disservice to my own archives. Many of the photographs taken the night of the show are missing! I’ve moved and purged multiple times since college and I’m afraid they might be gone forever. This is a public note to myself, and anyone reading, to remember to document personal milestones and triumphs with the same attention and thought we often give our failures. Jot them down, share with friends. Have pride in your successes (big and small) and preserve your personal history.

Here are a few photos of that night and some that were hanging on the walls:

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Summer Reading Remix

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In anticipation of abundant outdoor leisure time, we tend to be overly ambitious in our summer reading goals. Realistically, most of us will be lucky to finish one book, let alone two or three. How do you go about choosing the perfect beach companion? To help, I’ve made the ultimate summer reading list, culled from magazines and websites.

Personally, I hope to finish “Can’t and Won’t,” the latest short story collection by Lydia Davis, before Independence Day. Davis manages to be profound and succinct; some of her short stories are just a few sentences. You can devour them between sips of iced green tea. What I’ll pick up next is anyone’s guess, but I’m taking inspiration from these awesome lists. Here’s to a summer of blissful reading!

The L.A. Times’ summer books preview is descriptive and comprehensive, I may just pick up the new Ja Rule autobiography.

Books to Read Before They’re Movies, because the book is usually better.

For the young or young at heart: NPR’s A Diverse #SummerReading List For Kids.

If all you really want is for your book to match your summer uniform, these iconic covers make the perfect accessory. Or, reference Vogue’s list of the trendiest soon-to-be bestsellers.

The Best New Books For Your Career. These career-oriented books are the perfect way to plan your next big move while relaxing on the beach.

You can get cracking on what might be the best books of the year, following The Millions: Most Anticipated Books of 2014.

Finally, summer reading for the cool girls. Hint: Includes the new 33 1/3rd, Liz Phair edition.

Artwork by Natalie. Thanks Jessamy and Linda for your additions.

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May Wrap Up

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I can’t believe June is half over, where did the time go? Even so, here’s a short list of articles that caught my attention in May.

Riding the subway I always stop and marvel at tile mosaics along my journey. A guy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn brilliantly decided to archive them.

A Yeast Archive for endangered beer gives brewers an opportunity to recreate their favorite pour.

The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center memorialized Maya Angelou with a small exhibit of some of her archives.

Add The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the list of major institutions putting vast amounts of images online!

How a physicist resurrected the earliest recordings.” A New Yorker piece about the technology used to digitize brittle recordings.

By blaming smart phones, are we overlooking the real reasons that keep kids from reading?

Artifacts With a Life All Their Own. A loving look at museum artifacts and the unlikely objects that lived history.

Photo taken inside Westsider Books on 80th and Broadway from my Instagram.

John Cage’s life in the woods

Display Case Cage

Bulbous and ridged, minuscule or robust, mushrooms come in different shapes and sizes. Some have medicinal value or are enjoyed in risotto and on pizza, or taken as hallucinogens. They have a certain mystery and peculiarity that has enchanted artists and scientists alike. John Cage, a seminal experimental composer and artist, was one of them.

Cage’s fascination with mushrooms began in Stony Point, New York, where he lived in small quarters as part of a cooperative. For privacy, Cage took long walks in the woods and found a lot of different types of mushrooms. Cage referred to himself as an amateur mushroom hunter. Nevertheless, Cage co-founded the New York Mycological Society. With co-founder and friend Lois Long he published “The Mushroom Book” in 1972. Lois Long provided lovely illustrations with classification from mycologist Alexander H. Smith. “The Mushroom Book” was on display recently at The Horticultural Society of New York in an exhibit titled “By leaves or play of sunlight.”

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Installation view of display case with Mushroom Book (1972) by John Cage with Lois Long and Alexander H. Smith, © John Cage Trust at Bard College. Photo: The Horticultural Society of New York.

Display Case Cage

Chris Murtha, the director of membership and programs at The Horticultural Society of New York, curated the show. When Murtha went to the exhibition “Dancing Around the Bride” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he was struck by Cage’s edible drawings. The edible drawings are compositions made of organic ingredients that could be found at a health food store. When Murtha saw these sheets of pepper, beans, and bitter melon, he made a note to do something at the society relating to Cage’s use of organic matter.

A little over a year later two edible drawings are on display at the society alongside “The Mushroom Book.” More a portfolio than a book, “The Mushroom Book” consists of images of mushrooms and text inspired by nature on large unbound lithographs. “The set that is on view in our show was framed for a performance and one-day exhibition organized by the New York Mycological Society at Cooper Union,” said Murtha. “When I heard that it was only on view for one day, I figured we should display it for a longer period, so more people could see it.” The John Cage Trust, which preserves and archives Cage’s legacy, lent The Horticultural Society framed work from “The Mushroom Book.”

John Cage, Edible Drawing #4, 1990, Bitter melon, pepper, and greens dried into a sheet, Edition of 6, 9 x 11 ½ inches. Courtesy Margarete Roeder Gallery; © John Cage Trust at Bard College.

Mushroom Detail

Cage’s intention with the written pages was to have viewers hunt for the text, in the way you would hunt mushrooms in nature. Cage used ancient Chinese techniques for composing his handwritten prints. His pages included stories about mushrooms, quotes from Henry David Thoreau, Buckminster Fuller, and incorporate mesostic poems, which are built around a “spine” word or phrase. The text brought to mind field notes, overlapping  and randomly composed on the page. Without realizing, I walked a full circle around a display table reading one print.

Is there a relationship between Cage’s interest in chance and his attraction to the random ways that fungi appear in nature? Murtha suggested that’s not likely. “Because Cage applied chance operations to many of his projects we tend to associate that with chaos and messiness,” said Murtha. “As much as he liked the idea of chaos, I can’t help but feel that he also liked to create a structure in which he could experiment.” Even so, I think the exhibition is an example of how archives can still surprise people who think they’ve seen all sides of a well known figure.

Detail of Mushroom Book

Detail

There’s a pleasure in eating don’t you agree?
But you couldn’t live on mushrooms?
No, they’re not nourishing.
Do you have favorites?
I like the ones I have. If you like the ones you don’t have, then you’re not happy.

- Lisa Low (1985)

Excerpt from “Conversing with Cage” by Richard Kostelanetz.

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April Wrap up

Robert Dawson

Here’s some of what I was reading last month. Happy (very) belated May!

NPR previewed a book of library photography by Robert Dawson. There is a lot more to America’s public libraries than the iconic Beaux-Arts buildings and marble lions in New York. The photos look like location shots for the next Wes Anderson film.

“Life is a walk in the dark.” I’ve listened to this amazing James Baldwin interview with Studs Turkel three times and counting. Baldwin would have turned ninety this April. To mark the event Brooklyn Rail discussed his legacy.

A team of experts finds that a papyrus know as the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is likely not a forgery. The scrap is given thumbs up but remains controversial.

The NYC Municipal Archive added 30,000 images to their online collection. Last year I made a short tutorial for finding images of what your apartment looked like in the 70s.

Rare snapshots from Kansas City’s 1960s Drag Scene are where grunge meets glam way before either broke out.

In case you need one more reason to bring classes to the archives: this student found a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Museum of Natural History announced a major digitization project. The museum’s collections have been strikingly unavailable to the public until now. The museum plans to put one million images online.

 

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Tiny Books, Big Hearts

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In 2013, Sotheby’s sold a manuscript no larger than a sugar packet to La Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris for over a million dollars. The author? British novelist Charlotte Brontë. This tiny volume by Brontë is one of a set of six handwritten “Young Men’s Magazines,” considered to be a rare insight into the author’s early development. To collectors, miniature books are simply irresistible. Fitting in the palm of your hand, the pages and binding intricately designed with details not easily seen without a magnifying glass, miniature books are magnets for media attention, frequently appearing on blogs and on Pinterest. Some were commissioned for dollhouses, others made to be easily transported or concealed. Some volumes have come from great icons of literature. Here are a few special publications, none of which measure over 3 inches in height.

1. The 1.5 by 2.5 inch manuscript handwritten by a young Charlotte Brontë that sold for over a million dollars at auction last year and is less than 20 pages long.

2. Todd Pattinson created this small collection as an art project in 2009. Making the library, Pattinson was able to bind the same number of books in one night that would otherwise take a year or more.

3. A passion for meticulously detailed dollhouses led Neale Albert to assemble a collection of 4,000 miniature books.

4. Tiny books are for the sportsman too. “A Book of Small Flies” preserves fishing flies under glass. It’s featured in this slideshow of the most beautiful miniature books.

5. Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Wharton and other celebrated authors of the time were commissioned in 1922 to create tiny books for a dollhouse belonging to Queen Mary, wife of King George V.

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