Monday, April 28, 2008

Dressed for the Photographer

Dressed for the Photographer
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashions, 1840s-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1995.

In March, I attended a Society of American Archivists workshop on the preservation of 20th visual materials. One of the instructors suggested Joan Severa's Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashions, 1840s-1900 as a guide for dating costumes and photographs, which explores 19th century social history and material culture.

Severa, Curator Emeritus of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Museum, begins her study as the daguerreotype becomes inexpensive and available to everyday Americans, including the poor. Each decade covered has an extensive gallery where Severa uses the minutiae of the photographs to convey a sense of the time and customs of the sitters, through a variety of clothing styles like best, work, and play. Browsing through the photographs was an engaging way to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon.

From the Introduction:

In Dressed for the Photographer I have addressed the problem of how ordinary Americans of this period handled the often conflicting dictates of fashion, hard work, and economy in their clothing choices. In so doing, I have used a modified material culture approach; this method of study seeks to define a culture through its artifacts, and not the reverse. The precept is that, given a thorough background in the type of artifact, information about both the creators and the users of selected artifacts can be brought out through a series of investigative steps. This is what [Kenneth] Ames calls "informed intuition." This, I am able to judge the caliber of a woman's dress by the skillfulness of her alterations or the fit or the taste (not to mention the relative expense) involved in selecting her dress material, style, and trimmings by comparison with the going standards. Then, based on these observations, I can make certain judgments about her position in life....

I will be the first to say, as well, that women's fashion information forms the basis for this study and that men's and children's styles, for which there is much less information, are for the most part peripherally identified. I justify this by repeating two well-known facts: women's fashions are more easily tracked and identified, and many group photographs showing women in datable costumes contain men and children. The same is true with older men and women in group photographs; the "fashion lag" so often discussed is highly visible in the outdated garments worn by older people, when seen in conjunction with fashionable women....

There is one aspect of these photographs that I was not able to discuss to my satisfaction, as it had not actual bearing on the clothing analysis: the emotional impact of these faces from the past. I wanted to say that a certain sitter was extremely proud of her appearance in this costume or that another face bore the ravages of grief or that a handsome old man showed great dignity. It was my very strong attachment to the people shown in this book that has been my chief joy. And, of course, the images do speak for themselves. What they show is that is was important to these people to have their pictures taken; it was an opportunity to leave for prosperity an image of themselves at their very best. A camera portrait had somewhat the same momentous significance in the early years as a painted portrait and was undertaken with the same sense of destiny. A few lines I discovered beside an early-twentieth-century woman's photograph are poignant evidence of this:

Look upon this face, and know
that I was a person, here, in this time and place,
and I was happy.


Read more about Dressed for the Photographer

Further reading:

Photographs from the 19th Century: A Process Identification Guide
19th Century Photography
Dating Photos

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gorilla in the Roses: Orton and Halliwell's Vandalized Books

Alec Clunes The Three Faces of Eve

Joe Orton was an English author, screenwriter, and playwright in the mid-60s who enjoyed much popularity until he was bludgeoned to death in a murder-suicide by his long-time partner, Kenneth Halliwell.

Americans are most familiar with his story through the biography Prick Up Your Ears, which was turned into a 1987 film, with Gary Oldman as Orton.

Before they were famous, Orton and Halliwell conducted a book vandalizism spree.

From Joe Orton Online:

Infuriated at the poor choice of books at their local library, Orton and Halliwell conspired a curious revenge - they began stealing and altering books. Plates were removed from art books and used to create collages on the walls of the bed-sit. More inventively, they began altering books, creating new covers and writing new blurbs on the dust jackets. Orton recalled,

‘I used to stand in the corners after I’d smuggled the doctored books back into the library and then watch people read them. It was very fun, very interesting.’

Islington Library did not share the joke and set about tracking the culprits down. On April 28th 1962 police raided the flat and Orton and Halliwell were arrested. They were charged with stealing 72 books and removal of 1,653 plates from art books, used to decorate the flat. Pleading guilty to 5 charges of malicious damage at Islington Magistrates they were sentenced to 6 months in prison. This seemed a harsh sentence and later Orton commented that the court had realised they were gay and that the severity of the sentence was ‘because we were queers.’


After their deaths, of course, the vandalized books have become the most important special collection at the Islington Local History Centre.

Is it just me, or is Eve's cat face hilarious?

To view more vandalized books, visit the Gallery at Joe Orton Online.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding

Book shelf of old books

In honor of National Library Week, I spent a few afternoons weeding the library at work. As both an archivist and a librarian, I balance the duties of each role. Part of me wants to preserve any and all things, while the other part sees the practicality of creating a user-centered collection of relevant, up-to-date titles. My continuous development as a well-rounded and highly-skilled information professional is to be flexible and apply the right expertise to a specific project.

Weeding a library is a sensitive subject because it is often misunderstood by patrons. The thought of donating or throwing away books brings Fahrenheit 451 to mind. However, libraries should regularly be weeded for a variety of reasons:

1. Books that contain inaccurate or dated information or are old, moldy, or damaged do a disservice to patrons.
2. Libraries are physical places with limited room which should be devoted to the best, most useful items.
3. Patrons will be able to find materials easier. No one wants to dig through crowded shelves.
4. Libraries are more appealing when they contain smaller, neater collections in good condition. Multiple studies have shown how circulation increases when the shelves look nicer with less books on them.
5. Smaller, but higher quality, collections save money. Funding is not wasted on maintaining unusable books.
6. The library's reputation as a reliable and up-to-date resource will continue, building trust in its usefulness.

The CREW (Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding) method is a library standard for de-accessioning. It provides guidelines on weeding, based on three figures. The first figure refers to the years since the book's latest copyright date; the second figure refers to the years since its last recorded circulation. The third refers to negative factors called MUSTIE:

Misleading, inaccurate
Ugly, beyond mending/rebinding
Superseded by a new edition or a better book
Trivial
Irrelevant to the needs and interests of patrons
May be obtained Elsewhere

Local history items, for example, are never weeded, while almanacs have a 2/X/MUSTIE guideline because they are not useful after two years, no matter their circulation (hence, the "X").

My organization preserves architecture globally, and our collection is divided into relevant themes and geographic areas. A majority of the items I weeded were yellowed, tattered paperbacks from the 1960s and 70s. I found some real head-scratchers, though. No wonder my colleagues were having problems browsing, when they had to dig through these "gems":

Wild Pigs of the United States: Their History, Morphology, and Current Status, published in 1991

A geography textbook from the 1950s

Children's books about indigenous Mexicans, published in the 1970s

A Freemasons book that was both water-damaged and filled with black mold

A Prince Charles biography from the early 1980s

National monument guidebooks from the late 70s to the mid-80s

Legal guides from the early 1980s

I only point out these examples to illustrate that even the best library needs to be reviewed, evaluated, and weeded on a regular schedule to remain relevant.

Read more about Weeding at these sites:

The CREW Method: Expanded Guidelines for Collection Evaluation and Weeding for Small and Medium-Sized Public Libraries from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

SUNLINK Weed of the Month, created for Florida’s K-12 School Library Media specialists with guidelines and suggestions for weeding their collections and adding quality materials.

Weeding the Collection, an online tutorial developed by the Idaho State Library

Monday, April 14, 2008

Book Ephemera

BauerLehr Book Label
Lehrmittel Bauer
educational publisher
M√ľnster, Germany
54mm x 30mm, ca.1920
Courtesy of Michael Kunze


To a bibliophile, sometimes the ephemera of books are just as interesting as their contents.

Seven Roads has a beautiful Gallery of Book Trade Labels to enjoy.

Another wonderful site is BibliOdyssey. According to the book based on the blog:

Across the world, libraries and institutions are only recently starting to make their collections available online, and the bulk of this amazing material goes unnoted by the casual surfer. BibliOdyssey's mission over the past two years has been to diligently trawl the dustier corners of the Internet and retrieve these materials for our attention. Thanks to the daily efforts of this singular blog, a myriad of long-forgotten imagery has now re-surfaced, from eighteenth-century anatomical and architectural drawing to occult and alchemical engravings and proto-Surrealist depictions of the horrors of industrialization (for example, the half-plant, half-people illustrations of J.J. Grandville).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Black Flag Hair: A Timeline

Black Flag Hair: A Timeline

Black Flag is a band that has figured prominantly in my life since I was a teenager. Unfortunately, I was unable to track down who originally created this timeline, but I appreciate the smart reuse of the logo and the van graphic in the background.

What is it about envisioning information that is so appealing visually and intellectually?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Libraries and the Occult

Aleister Crowley's Moonchild book cover

BoingBoing reported that Cecile Dubuis wrote "Libraries and The Occult," a master's dissertation for University College London. In it, she discusses how occult materials are often hard to find in libraries because they are "poorly treated in most classification schemes, partly because it is not taken seriously in the academic world, but also because occult phenomena and occult studies have been confused." Occult items are located in multiple places in Dewey, Library of Congress and other traditional classification systems, making browsing and searching difficult for interested patrons.

For instance, in Dewey, occult subjects are mostly classified under 130 and 133. However, they can also be cataloged under the following numbers.

In the 000’s (Computer Science, Information, General works…) under:
001 Knowledge

In the 100’s (Philosophy & Psychology) under:
110 Metaphysics
130 Parapsychology & occultism
140 Specific philosophical schools
150 Psychology
170 Ethics
180 Ancient, medieval & eastern philosophy
190 Modern western philosophy

In the 200’s (Religion) under:

200 Religion
210 Philosophy & theory of religion
280 Christian denominations & sects
290 Other religions

In the 300’s under:

360 Social problems & services (with 366 for various secret societies)
390 Customs, etiquette & folklore


From her abstract:

The principal aims of this study are to look at how libraries currently deal with occult collections and as to why such materials are still not widely available to the public through the library system.

Its intent is to cover both historical and current collections, how libraries have dealt with them and on the classification difficulties that arise from such a broad yet relatively untouched subject.

A further section of the dissertation will consider some of the history of occult collections, on where they have gone to, on the changes or lack thereof between then and the present day, and on how some libraries advertise such collections whilst others still hide them away.

Another aspect of the project will discuss some of the issues of censorship and how the occult field is under constant pressure to either remain hidden or to prove its validity and useful. Here, I will also consider some of the current controversies and the librarian’s dilemma.

The majority of the collections that I have been able to access and explore are based in London, or in other parts of the United Kingdom. However, I have also incorporated studies on important collections that are housed overseas.

In addition to both historical and present day collections, a further section looks at the future of the occult collection with regard to online resources and current library-building projects.

The occult, whilst continuing to enjoy a significant growth in interest with the public at large, remains predominantly unchartered territory for the librarian. This study will try to consider and discuss some of the issues that surround this most mysterious of subjects.


Read the rest of her dissertation here.

Friday, April 4, 2008

New York State Pavilion Texaco Map

New York State Pavilion Texaco Map
Courtesy Bill Cotter, personal collection

I recently visited the Queens Museum of Art to view Back on the Map: Revisiting the New York State Pavilion at the 1964/65 World's Fair, on exhibit until May 4.

From their site:

The Texaco Road Map is the large-scale terrazzo art pavement commissioned for the New York State Pavilion. Designed by renowned American architect Philip Johnson for the 1964/65 World’s Fair, the Pavilion is located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, next door to the Queens Museum of Art (former home of the New York City Pavilion). Commissioned by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the New York State Pavilion featured a complex of structures: a Theaterama building, three observation towers, and the “Tent of Tomorrow,” a 12-story, open-air elliptical pavilion capped by the World’s largest suspended cable system roof fitted with colored acrylic panels. For the floor of the “Tent of Tomorrow,” Johnson commissioned the largest-known representation of any area of the earth’s surface: a 130-foot-by-166-foot terrazzo replica of a Texaco New York State road map. A fusion of Pop Art imagery and traditional craft techniques, the Texaco Road Map was a crucial component of Johnson’s Pavilion and is considered – alongside graphic paintings by Roy Lichtenstein on the Theaterama's exterior–one of the first public Pop Art monuments. Like many of the World's Fair structures, the New York State Pavilion was built as a temporary structure, and it is only in recent years that it has been recognized as an important historical icon. However, after years of exposure to weather conditions and vandalism, the Texaco Road Map now lies in a state of advanced disrepair. This threatens the continued existence of the Texaco Road Map as a cultural icon of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and American art and history.

While I was there, Frank Matero, from University of Pennsylvania's historic preservation graduate program, and two assistants, Amel Chabbi and Annie Thorkelson, were working on repairing four 4-by-4 foot panels from the map. They were applying gauze and adhesive to the back of a panel to strengthen it. The panels were crumbling, due to vegetation and the many spaces between the metal borders, plastic letters, and terrazzo.

The British artist and architectural theorist Anthony Auerbach created the exhibit:

[He] surveyed the map using an aerial reconnaissance technique in which the camera was suspended 7 feet up on a moving scaffold to capture a field of 6 feet by 4 feet. The resulting film is presented in the installation in two ways: A digital slide projection presents the state, county by county, on a floor-bound horizontal pedestal. And selected transparencies can be studied on low, small tables through stereoscopic lenses...to give a three-dimensional sense of the surface and life just above it.

It's amazing that this was the world's largest map, created before global positioning systems or digital enlargement technologies were available!

For more information, visit Back on the Map.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Blooming Cherry Tree Information Map

Cherry Blossoms

Speaking of information maps, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden created a CherryWatch Blossom Status Map, which tracks the blooming of more than 200 cherry trees, from pre-, first, peak, and post-bloom. It's updated on weekdays during Hanami, the Japanese spring-time tradition of celebrating the cherry blossom season.

It is a simple, beautiful way of displaying information, promoting the Garden, and eliciting visitors.

Visit the Flowering Cherries at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens here.