Tag Archives: Library

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.


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!


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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Roundup: Books less borrowed

Secret Libraries in New York City

People often talk about the newest places in New York, the trendiest restaurants and blockbuster art exhibits, but I find my favorite things about the city, and often the most surprising, are the things right under our noses, the ones that have been around the longest. A recent feature about the little-known City Hall library in the New York Times Metropolitan section got me thinking about other libraries camouflaged into the streetscape. Here are three gems quietly leading their existences.


1. City Hall Library
What makes this library so secretive is a lack of signage outside its home in a landmark downtown court building. This advertising restriction hides the over 100 years old library from street traffic. The library is rich in city history, with documents dating back to the first mayor of New York City.

2. American Kennel Club Library
One of the world’s largest libraries devoted to canines, the American Kennel Club, opened in New York in 1934 is a unique resource for tracking the history of breeds. No materials are allowed out, but cat people will be happy to hear they’ve expanded the collection to have some books about our other favorite pets. The fact that the library no longer has a librarian may make the institution even more secret, but the 2,000 years of pooch history is still open by appointment.

3. Theosophical Society Library
Located discretely on the second floor of the Theosophical Society’s 53rd St building, the Theosophical Society Library collection includes books on a mix of topics in divinity, esoteric philosophy and the occult. The society was founded in 1897 by the fiery and controversial Helena Blavatsky, whose magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, delved into some big ideas about the the universe. Members of the society can borrow books for free, but anyone can join the library for a $20 annual fee.

Images: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times.

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New Vinyl Library Lends Sound Waves

Vinyl Library

Though the shop sign above the library says “Luxury Interior Design & Joinery Specialist” don’t be fooled. The Vinyl library in London’s East End is the area’s first vinyl library and cooperative for music sharing. The library wouldn’t be possible without their enthusiastic members, who get to borrow for free, after making a donation. I have always found that music aficionados are eager to share their favorite albums, so it comes as no surprise that the library is already being embraced by music lovers. I’m not based in London, but I’ll be browsing their Facebook page for word about their DJ events and talks.

The Vinyl Library opens today (July 1, 2013). So Londoners, enjoy listening to Pink Floyd backwards and finding rare Beach Boys cuts, just don’t leave your borrowed items in the backseat on a hot day. Here are images from some of my favorite recently found album art.

Beach BoysBillie Holiday

On a related note, The Wire recently published a list of fascinating sound archives selected by ethnomusicologist, author, and lecturer David Novak. The list includes the underground Noise Cassette Archive, Cornell Labs, and The Museum of Endangered Sound. (If that name doesn’t grab your attention, check your pulse!)

Rolling Stones

Images borrowed from discogs and birkajazz.

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