Librarian in the Spotlight: Hudson Valley Seed Library

No Comments

By Julia Weist

When Ken Greene was a public librarian in Gardiner, New York, he had the radical, sustainable notion to add seeds to the library catalog. The idea was simple: community members could check out seeds, grow them into plants, harvest seeds from what they grew, return the new seeds to the library for the next patron to use. Four years after putting this plan into action, he went independent, starting a business called the Hudson Valley Seed Library with co-founder Doug Muller. Ken agreed to answer some of my questions in the few spare moments between taking care of the farm, processing seeds, and packing and filling orders.

Can you described how you transitioned from being a public librarian to a seed librarian?

Ken Greene (right) and Doug Muller (left)

My background and masters is in Special Education. I started working at the Gardiner Library, which is a town library, part time while finishing my masters. It’s a very small and very active library. I ran kids and adult programs, did grant writing, developed the children’s and teen collections, and did all the other regular library tasks like shelving, weeding, checking in/out etc. When I was ready to start looking for a teaching position, they offered me a full time job. I loved it there and decided to stay. I was feeling very inspired by the possibilities of what a library can mean to a community and realizing for the first time that public libraries are radical and truly democratic institutions. At the same time my garden was growing bigger each year. I was doing a lot of reading (abusing the inter-library loan system to no end) on gardening, agriculture, and food politics and learning about the loss of genetic diversity and due to consolidation of seed resources by multinational biotech corporations. That inspired me to learn how to save seeds and share them with others. I added seeds to the library catalog. People could check out seeds, grow them in their garden, save seeds from the plants they grew, and return them to the library. In addition to creating a source of locally adapted seeds, I felt that, in the spirit of a library, the program was also preserving the stories of the seeds- both genetic and cultural.

Why are you drawn to heirloom plants, biodiversity and sustainable farming?
Neither Doug nor I have agricultural backgrounds although we both had dreams of farming. We both believe that farming is cultural (it’s called agriculture after all) and that caring for the earth, sharing resources, and access to food and seeds for all is an integral part of what it means to be practicing sustainable agriculture.

An image of the Hudson Valley Seed Library farm

How many members does the library have and what classification system, if any, do you use to organize your collection?

We’re up to 700 members and many more buy seeds from the catalog without a membership. We’re still working out how to help more members return seeds. We do not have a very high return rate as of yet. (There’s no penalty for not saving seeds, but there are incentives.) Right now everything is organized in long cardboard trays in a walk in cooler. We keep track of returned seeds with name of member, date returned, and also collect information about the plant, how it was grown, conditions etc.

What are your goals for the future?

Our main goal is to offer 100% locally grown seed from small farms and gardeners–this will take building a network of seed growers in NY. We also hope to create a mobile seed processing system. This is in the design phase right now. It’s called Seeds on Wheels (S.O.W.) and part of the design is currently on display at the Samuel Dorsky Museum.

We have two upcoming events. Our gallery show (Pack Art 2011) which is an exhibit of the original artwork for this year’s Art Packs will be at the Kingston Museum of Contemporary Art in November and at the Horticultural Society of New York in December (more info here). We’ll also be at the New Amsterdam Market every week and the Brooklyn Flea every week, on Sundays.

Art Packs: seeds in packaging designed by artists in the greater New York region

Do you know a unique librarian or archivist?  Nominations are welcome for future Librarian in the Spotlight features!  Email

Librarian in the Spotlight: Betsy Bird

No Comments

By Julia Weist

This week we hear from Betsy Bird, Librarian at the New York Public Library Children’s Center at 42nd Street, School Library Journal blogger and children’s book author!

So, in my experience working in libraries with children I’ve seen a lot–all the bodily fluids (even the some bodily solids), fear, joy, anger, silly bandz, you name it. Got any good crazy stories?

Well, my favorite story is not my own. I’ve seen some of the more basic gross stuff, but for good old-fashioned WEIRD, I’ve a friend who is a former Queens librarian with a story that takes the cake. Get a load of this one. So my friend did an enormous amount of storytimes in her branch and the kids absolutely adored her. Just loved her to death. One little boy by the name of Rocky couldn’t have been more than a toddler and he just thought she was the bee’s knees. So during a particular storytime Rocky decided to show his love the way little non-verbal human beings often do. He walked right up to her and proceeded to bite a chunk out of her neck. His parents, needless to say, were mortified, but Rocky wasn’t quite sure what he’d done wrong. As for my friend, she was fine but she did have to call her husband that day and explain, “Okay, honey? If I come home with a bite mark on my neck, I SWEAR it was from a toddler.” Hazards of the job, eh?

On the fear side of the equation, I’ve personally witnesses New York parents doing just the stupidest stuff in the world. I work in the center of Manhattan. Most people would agree that this is not a place to abandon your children, no matter how street smart and savvy they might be. But the amount of abandoned kids in the library is amazing. I try to explain to folks that we are like a park. You wouldn’t leave your child alone in a park, would you? Maybe they would. Certainly there was a time I heard an odd wailing in my room. This is not particularly strange, as on bad days I like to describe my job as a place where human beings wail with misery on a regular basis. This wailing didn’t sound like it was going away, though, so I decided to investigate. What I found was a five-year-old boy on a computer with his three-year-old little sister sitting at his feet sobbing. I asked where their mother was and the boy matter-of-factly took the little sister’s hand to find her. But he was heading towards the elevators, so I got the guards. Turns out, his mom had decided (and this is true) to go shopping on 5th Avenue for a while and told the boy to watch his sister. We kept a guard on them until she returned and then BOY! What a talking to she received. I tell ya. It’s nice how much folks feel at home here, but it can certainly lead to some problems.

I was asked recently what I think the role of the 21st century children’s librarian is. I replied: instilling a life-long love of learning and poising children for constant change in the way they seek, receive, and interpret information (a brilliant answer which I basically stole from school librarian extraordinaire Briar Sauro). Thoughts?

That’s it in a nutshell. In the past a librarian had to recommend books, do storytimes, and sign-up kids for library cards. These days we also have to know how to teach kids how to use databases and what websites are the best for their needs. Eventually we’ll have to add new skills to our repertoire as well. Like knowing which devices read picture books the best and how to download eBooks on a regular basis. Fortunately, librarians change magnificently with the times. I don’t think we’ve much to worry about.

The NYPL Children's Center at 42nd street

Have you had any material challenges lately? Anyone try to get something out of your collection?

Well now, that’s the interesting thing about New York City. When I first started working here I was hepped up on the notion of challenges. So when I got my first job I asked right off the bat, “What kind of challenges have we received?” The answer? “None.” That’s not strictly true. Once in a while someone in Staten Island (and it’s usually Staten Island) will raise a stink about a title being in the collection, but in the last six years I’ve only heard about two challenges. One was for Rita Williams-Garcia’s No Laughter Here (someone thought it belonged in the teen section), and the other for the weeeeeeeeeeeeird graphic novel A.L.I.E.E.N. by Lewis Trondheim. That’s about it! New Yorkers are inclined to argue against things they don’t like, but they’re reticent, apparently, to force their own standards on other people. It is to their credit.

Thanks, Betsy!

Librarian in the Spotlight: Nicholas Higgins


By Julia Weist,

Growing up, my father was the production designer for a violent television show that took place in a prison. When Nick Higgins, Correctional Services Librarian at New York Public Library, invited me to do a day of library service at Rikers, I thought: I spent my childhood in a fake jail–it’ll be like second nature, right? But then, on the Q100 out to the island, Luis Torres, Information Assistant, told me that there was the possibility that an alarm could sound during our service. “If that happens,” he explained calmly, “we’ll stop and enter a safe space. The alarm signifies a riot or the injury of a correctional officer by an inmate.” Honestly reader, I got scared, and I got scared again when I saw the riot gear, and again when I checked out the first book to the first prisoner in cell block 6.

And then it got easier.  After a dozen check-outs an inmate told me he was going to re-draw every page of comic he was taking, explaining he does so every week, and I told him I was an artist too. I wrote down requests for 1984, Walden, UFO, and business management books. By noon I felt that there needed to be 10 more of Nick Higgins and Luis Torres. The books were looking to me like the difference between correctional services and purgatory.

I urge every New Yorker to advocate for library services in correctional facilities; the work described below is not mandated by the Department of Corrections: it’s a NYPL program.  Because of limited resources and staff, the service doesn’t extend to every inmate at Rikers. If you have the time and inclination, reach out to Nick, spend a day working with him as a volunteer.  I highly recommend the experience for every librarian who feels a responsibility to every reader, “no matter where they happen to be.”

A sign at the foot of the bridge to Rikers Island

What’s your background? Have you always worked in Correctional Services Librarianship?

I graduated from Pratt in May of 2009. I was part of the now dissolved IMLS funded PULSE librarian trainee program through Brooklyn Public Library and Pratt. PULSE was set up to provide library school students real work experience rotating through several branches and departments at BPL as a full time trainee. I was fortunate to have had many great mentors at BPL who encouraged me to do work that I thought would be useful to people in Brooklyn. This led to a whole range of interesting jobs. For the first year I was at BPL I rotated around to different branches in the system working at whatever staff would let me do. I manned the reference desk, processed library cards, ran children’s programs, book talks, writing workshops, and went on a lot of school visits. I also picked up a mop every once in a while when one of the kids at a branch would throw up. These were all daily events at a public library and I found it all pretty fascinating.

Later on a colleague in the Brooklyn Collection archive and I decided to put together a Veterans Oral History Project. We got a small digital recorder and started inviting ourselves to VFV and DAV meetings around Brooklyn. Soon we found ourselves sitting sipping coffee in church basements from Bay Ridge to Brighton Beach listening to stories about combat duty from Brooklyn Veterans in wars going back to WWII. The stories we recorded are now at the Brooklyn Collection and the Library of Congress. After that I worked with the Child’s Place for Children with Special Needs where, among other things, I helped coordinate a program working with kids with low vision and blindness learn table manners and dining etiquette. The Child’s Place also let me drive the Kidsmobile (BPL’s library on wheels) when Clyde, the regular driver, wasn’t available. We’d drive to parks, schools and street fairs and read books and sing songs to whatever kids we found there. We signed people up for library cards and let them check out books from the truck. This was easily my favorite job at the library. Later I was able to work as a one-on-one job search librarian. People would make an appointment with me and I’d help them research ways to prepare for the world of work including reviewing resumes, conducting mock interviews and identifying potential employment opportunities. I also got a chance to work with formerly incarcerated fathers in several programs. By the end of my stay at BPL I was the acting manager of Volunteer Services. A couple months into that job James Huffman, my predecessor in Correctional Services, called me to say he was retiring and suggested I apply for the job. Despite all the wonderful opportunities BPL had offered me during my three years there, I knew that Correctional Services was the job that I was preparing for. It was hard to leave Brooklyn but it was the right decision.

How many librarians are involved in the Correctional Services program at New York Public? How big is your department and how is it organized? Are there different librarians for different facilities (you mentioned Sing Sing and Rikers)?

There are two staff members in Correctional Services at NYPL. I am the sole librarian on staff. Luis Torres, my colleague, is an Information Assistant. Luis and I run four mobile libraries and one standing library at Rikers Island. We also coordinate a Baby Lapsit program in the nursery out there. Babies who are born to incarcerated women on the Island are allowed to stay with their moms for up to a year. Luis and I bring in Children’s Librarians from NYPL and BPL to read to the babies, sing songs, do finger plays, etc. If we can’t find a children’s librarian for the visit, I do it.

In October I was asked by the Assistant Principal at the girls’ High School at Rikers to help them build up their library. The library looked to me to be a repository for books donated by no doubt well-intentioned people who nonetheless decided, consciously or otherwise, that incarcerated teen girls would be happy reading whatever they were sent, despite the subject matter or condition. I found many books on menopause, GED books dating back to 1987, way too many copies of a Barbra Streisand biography, and a lot of Norman Mailler for some reason – among several other books that were wholly inappropriate for teen girls in 2010. I brought in a few great library school students from Pratt to help with the project. Each week we spent a few hours in the library weeding the several hundred seriously crappy books from the collection and replacing them with books we dragged out there in duffel bags. After a couple months the students from Pratt took over the project and basically revamped the library by themselves. The library looks great now and we hope to start programming with the incarcerated teens when the school year starts again.
We also employ several volunteers to help us answer the 50 or so letters we receive each week from inmates around the country. Volunteers help us write blogs, update our annual re-entry guide Connections, organize and weed our ever expanding collection of donated books, they write thank you letters to people who send us books, and they sometimes help us push around our book carts at jails on Rikers. Luis and I also give monthly presentations at 6 State Facilities, like Sing Sing, and a Federal Prison. Because of strict clearance issues we don’t have volunteers help with this.

What is a typical day is like for you? When you visit the facility, do you bring only material that has been requested by inmates or do you do collection development for a onsite collection?

You should come with us sometime to see what a day is like at Rikers if you want. There is really nothing typical about any day we work, which is pretty nice. In a typical week Luis and I are out at Rikers a total of three days. Tuesdays and Thursdays we run our mobile libraries and on Fridays I go in to lead the standing library.

When we do the mobile libraries we meet in the morning at a deli in Long Island City Queens. The New Dream Deli on Jackson. We usually have a couple volunteers meet us.

The meeting spot.

The Q 100 bus to Rikers Island stops out front and we hop on and ride the bus to the jail. Luis and I are usually weighed down by several bags filled with inmate book requests, magazines, newspapers, circulation sheets, and copies of Connections books. The bus is usually filled with other service providers, attorneys, Rikers staff and inmate families. Once we get to the jail we check to see if the front gate has copies of clearance papers for our volunteers. If we are cleared to go we pass to the back of the building to a bay of Rikers buses that take people to the ten different jails on the Island. Once we get to the facility where we are doing the service, we pass through more security, including an x-ray machine, and head to a small office where we store our book cart and a small collection of books we use or inmates at that facility. We replenish the book cart with new books, check to see if we can fill any requests from inmates with the collection of books, then we head out to do the service.

At each facility it’s a little different, but basically we roll the cart into a housing area. Each housing area has two sides, an A Side and a B Side, with at least one Officer sitting in an elevated room, or “Bubble,” that overlooks both sides. There is also at least one Officer sitting inside the dorm areas. The dorm areas look different at each jail. Some are open with several rows of beds on the floor, and others have a large common area surrounded by perimeter of individual cells. When we enter an area we announce that the library is there and the inmates will form a line and those who have books to return from the previous week will get first choice at the book cart. One of us, usually Luis, will check in the books and our volunteer(s) and I will help the inmate choose another book for the week. These men and women will often ask for suggestions and sometimes we have time to talk about what they like to read and what they found interesting about the books they have read. This is regular library work at its best in my opinion. It also may be the first time all week that someone has looked them in the eye and asked them their opinion about anything. “What did you think of the book?” A question like that goes a long way with some of the people we see at Rikers. When an inmate finds a book (they are also able to take a magazine and a daily newspaper) they give us their inmate ID and we write down their name, inmate Book and Case number, the title of the book and magazine, and whatever titles they’d like us to look for next time around. We are not allowed any electronic equipment in the jail, so all of this is done by hand.

Every other week we also visit the solitary confinement area, or ‘Bing’ in a male facility. We work with staff there to deliver books requested by inmates from an inventory list of books in a collection reserved just for them.

The standing library is a relatively new project for us. We run it at the EMTC jail on Rikers. A while back I drove out about 2,000 books to the jail and stored them in a closet in the back of an old gymnasium. An Officer in the Programs office helped us get a bunch of shallow crates (used primarily to store bread) and we lined the crates with these books. Now on Friday mornings we pull these crates from storage and place them on long tables the length of the gym. The Officer then calls down housing areas to the gym and guys can browse the books we have and we sign them out just like in our mobile libraries. In many ways this is a better way to do the service. This feels more like a library. There’s a better opportunity to browse and talk about books. We have more conversations with the inmates about what they like to read and it really feels oddly normal, which is the point. If they can look at libraries as something positive, not intimidating, non-judgmental, and just a regular part of a normal life, then there’s a good shot at these guys using the library when they get out.

Luis Torres with some fresh material for the book cart

Are you working with only books and periodicals or also moving image and sound material?

We’re not allowed to bring out audio books or DVDs or anything like that. Books, newspapers, mags. That’s it. Although we just got approved to bring in a digital recorder to record incarcerated fathers reading a book to their kids. What I’ll do is transfer the recording to a CD and send it to the inmate’s family along with a copy of the book. I’ve read about similar projects over the years and I had it in my back pocket for a while. There happens to be a new Deputy at the jail who was looking for a program idea and I pitched it, and alas, he loved it. So, we’re set to start recording in September. I’m pretty excited about it.

Outside of Rikers we visit different state prisons, about 4 or 5 times a month to talk to inmates about to be released about library services available to them when they get back to the city. We sign them up for library cards, give them an orientation to NYPL, and I’ll occasionally do a book talk.

Other days, we spend at the office (this is rare) where Luis will transfer all of our handwritten circulation sheets to the computer and I catch up on answering inmate letters and emails. Normal office stuff. I am also in the process of editing the Connections guide. Every now and again I will go out to someone’s house or an organization to pick up book donations.

Is there anything you wished the public, or the government, was more aware of about your readers in correctional facilities?

I guess I’d just like other librarians, members of the public, or whoever to know that it’s a responsibility of the public library to provide access to information to everyone, no matter where they happen to be. A book isn’t going to be the sole thing that turns a person’s life around, but it’s an opportunity to hook someone into a positive habit. The best part of my job comes when a guy I gave a book to pulls me aside and can’t stop talking about the it. It may have been the first book he’s read in years. He may identify certain traits in a character that he sees in himself, some things that are good or bad, but most importantly, just a self-consciousness that was triggered by reading the book. I think that’s a step in the right direction.

Librarian in the Spotlight: Emily Drabinski

1 Comment

By Julia Weist,

Happy belated Fourth of July!  Here’s a Librarian in the Spotlight to remind us that we are doing the good work as we head back to work.  This week: Emily Drabinski!

You’re working on so many interesting projects in the field (more on that soon), what’s your background?

I went through Syracuse’s distance education program, 2001-2003. I’m finishing an MA in English at LIU-Brooklyn right now, with a concentration in composition and rhetoric. I’m writing my thesis about kairos, this idea from the ancient Greeks about qualitative time (long story) and its potential application in research and writing instruction. I can tell you more about any of that if you want.

I worked in magazines for years before starting library school, I wanted to be a writer. I was a fact-checker at Out, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, and then Lucky. That was my last magazine. I worked on the launch, and never thought it would survive. Who would buy a magazine about shopping? Instead, it totally transformed consumer magazines. Before Lucky, buying information was always in the back matter, not printed in the photo spread. (I know, huge deal, right?) I used to count the number of bargains for the coverline, like “648 Awesome Bargains!” I’d count to 648, and then double and triple check it. I once published the phone number for Saks in a story about Barneys or something like that, and it was a huge problem. I hate shopping, and have a rigorous critique of consumer capitalism. What was I doing there? So i quit, got a job as a trainee at NYPL’s Jefferson Market branch, and went to library school.
What’s your position at Long Island University?

I’m an Electronic Resources and Instruction Librarian at LIU Brooklyn (go Blackbirds!). I teach library instruction sessions, work the reference desk, do collection development, work on committees, etc. We’re trying like everyone else to adapt to the rapid changes wrought by digital technologies–the electronic resources part of my job involves adapting and using new technologies in the library classroom and at the desk.
You’re working on a book series with Library Juice Press about Gender and Sexuality in Librarianship.  Is this a theoretical read or more practical?  In other words, am I going to learn about the gender roles implicit in the reference interview? Or why male administrators are a majority in a female-dominated field?
I come from queer activist worlds (though I wouldn’t really identify as an activist). My thinking about gender and sexuality is deeply informed by that, so my vision of the series is probably narrower than it will turn out to be. My central preoccupation in this field is the fundamental paradox of classification: in order to make materials accessible, we have to fix them in categories, and at the same time, the edges of those categories cannot hold. If you’re queer like me (in the way I’m queer), I think you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. A lot of us experience that lack of fixity combined with the demand to stay still in a really embodied way. Like, the minute I tell you, “I’m a lesbian,” or “I’m a femme,” which I am bound to do so that you’ll know who I am, the edges of that identity start to fray and give way to other identities and I want to keep explaining. There’s something about gender and sexuality that exceeds classification, exceeds language, even. Nothing’s ever fixed, its all contingent, and yet it must be fixed if its going to make any sense at all. This paradox is endlessly puzzling to me, how it works, what it makes possible, what it blocks, and on and on.

So, when I say ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality,’ I mean gender, not women or men, and sexuality, not ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual,’ but instead this entire odd discursively-produced demand that we all have genders and sexualities, be gendered, live gendered lives in a gendered world, and our books have to do that too, inside our libraries and our library classification structures. I could imagine an entire book series that just talked about this aspect of gender and sexuality in librarianship from theoretical and pragmatic perspectives. That said, this is a book series that is bigger than me, so I’m hoping to bring out work from a range of perspectives, even those I don’t agree with. Like, I don’t think of ‘women’ as a stable or real category, really, but I’d definitely make room on the series for a book that looked at the representation of women in the library workforce, and our relative absence from higher level positions. That’s not something I’m interested in doing myself, but I’d still welcome a book like that. I’m more interested in the prospect of making room for a multiplicity of voices than I am in making my one single voice sound really loud. The length of this email notwithstanding, I don’t really love listening to myself talk that much.

Emily in the exhibition hall at ALA

Right now, I have three books on the docket: Tracy Nectoux is editing a volume about the challenges and opportunities of being and coming out in the library workplace, and that’s coming out in the winter, we think. Lyz Bly and Kelly Wooten are editing a collection due fall 2011 about documenting feminist activism when contemporary activism is so ephemeral, digital, and de-centered. And Rebecca Dean and Patrick Kielty are working on a collection about gender and sexuality and information-seeking behavior that I think will take some interesting post-positivist positions. They’re both graduate students at UCLA, a program that’s putting out some really interesting work combining theory from the humanities with our odd little social science discipline. I’m excited to see what they put together.
I also want to work against the idea that theory happens in one place and practice happens in another place. We’re all doing both together most of the time, so hopefully the series will encompass both kinds of research and writing.
And I wouldn’t be doing any of this work without Rory Litwin, whose Library Juice Press is really making space for alternative voices and perspectives in our field.
Through Radical Reference you’re involved in social justice-oriented librarianship as well.
Jenna Freedman and Melissa Morrone are really your local Radical Reference contacts, if you want to include somebody from that group. I’ve been an occasional member since the Republican convention in NYC, but go very much in and out. I’m actually more embedded in a journal called Radical Teacher, which takes up most of my off-the-clock group and meeting energy. But I definitely have radical politics, and definitely bring that to my work as a librarian. I don’t know how I could find meaning in my world without doing work that has at its root some motivation in working towards liberation, equality, justice. I believe that being able to ask questions, navigate systems and structures to find answers, and being able to engage critically and dialogically with all the voices we encounter can transform the self and transform the world. I wouldn’t spend my life in the library if I didn’t think that at least in some small way I make life and freedom a little more possible for some of the students that I meet in my classrooms and at the reference desk. That sounds extravagant–mostly I show students how to print multiple powerpoint slides to a page. But sometimes a structure is demystified or something that seemed impossible becomes quite easy, and those are the good days I hang onto.
If you are interested in Emily’s forthcoming series, visit Library Juice Press or email her at
Do you know a unique librarian or archivist?  Nominations are welcome for future Librarian in the Spotlight features!

Librarian in the Spotlight: Andrew Beccone

1 Comment

By Julia Weist,

For this week’s Librarian in the Spotlight I interviewed Andrew Beccone, founder and librarian of the Reanimation Library.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Andrew and I have co-presented on several panels, and although I couldn’t necessarily answer these questions for him, I am shining a light on a friend.  A cool friend:

Andrew received his MILS from Pratt Institute in 2005.  He is the son of a librarian, has played drums in rock bands, and is interested in art and the cultural history of appropriation.  The Reanimation Library is an initiative that seeks to facilitate the production of creative works by offering a collection that “promote[s] reflection and research into the historical, legal, and methodological questions surrounding the adaptive reuse of found materials.”  It can be visited during select hours at 543 Union Street.

So the Reanimation Library idea was born out of this one amazing book you found while working at the Minnesota State Legislative Reference Library, right? What was the book again?

I worked at the LRL for just under 8 years.  During that time I made a tremendous number of images by locating visual material in the library and then manipulating that material with a photocopier.  While the LRL has quite an interesting collection, it’s not a particularly rich visual resource.  Sometime in 2001, during the last year that I worked at the library, I was at a Goodwill in St. Paul when I came across a book published in 1958 called The Behavior of Man: An Introduction to Psychology.  Essentially it’s an undergraduate college text, but it is superbly and bizarrely illustrated with all kinds of diagrams and scenarios that attempt to convey various psychological principles.  I was immediately captivated.  I carried it around with me for weeks and showed it to anyone that was interested.  While the collection has grown to over 900 volumes, The Behavior of Man remains a highlight.

And did you start collecting material right after that–when did the physical library come into being?

Buying that book was completely transformative for me.  I became obsessed with locating and acquiring strange, image-heavy, utilitarian books, science texts, how-to books, technical manuals.  I was – and remain – primarily interested in images and other visual material, so I started hunting for books of this nature at thrift stores, garage sales, and library sales.  I’m not particularly interested in collecting art books, but rather in books that can be used to make art.  This grew out of my own art-making endeavors and I initially intended the collection to be a personal resource.  It took me a little while to realize that I could build a collection that was more suited to my own aesthetic interests rather than relying on the text-heavy collection of the LRL.

After about a year of collecting I realized that the project would become far more interesting if it was opened up to other people – if it became a public library.  This idea came to me sometime in 2002 when I had probably only 40-50 books, so I’m sure that it seemed rather absurd to people when I started telling them that I was going to start a library.  I mean, these were cool books, but people have certain expectations of scale when they hear the word “library.”  Regardless, I think I saw a tremendous amount of potential for creative and adaptive reuse of the material that I was collecting and my instinct was that there would be other people who would be attracted to working with the library’s collection. It’s hard to say when it became a library.  For a few years it lived with me in both Minneapolis and then, briefly, Albuquerque.  I moved to Brooklyn in 2003 to go to Pratt SILS and that’s when I really started developing the project (despite, not because of my experience in library school). In 2006 I had moved it into Proteus Gowanus to be a part of the library exhibition and then in 2007, I rented a space within Proteus Gowanus to house the collection. It has been there ever since.  So it has taken awhile to become the publicly accessible resource that it is today.

How many visitors do you get a week (or month)? How do people primarily use/interact with the collection when they visit 543 Union?

It completely depends. We’re open Thursdays and Fridays from 3-6 and Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6.  Weekends tend to be much busier in general.  Lately Proteus Gowanus and the many projects that are housed there (which, in addition to the Reanimation Library, include Morbid Anatomy Library, Observatory, Fixer’s Collective and Proteotypes) have been getting a lot of press. Some of this has to do with the Gowanus Canal becoming a Superfund site.  But each time there is a mention in the Times or Time Out, there is an influx of people  Time Out wrote about Observatory two weeks ago and the following weekend was a madhouse.  Some Saturdays are a steady flow, maybe 15-20 will come through. Sometimes no one visits. When they do, though, often they come to learn more about it, although there are definitely people who visit because they have projects in mind.  My favorite visitor, however, is the one who has no idea what the place is and then, right after their mind is blown, they sit down and get to work.  Occasionally people will walk in and stay for hours, scanning images for projects that they are working on.  My favorite question is “Can I actually use these books?”  Yes, you certainly can. That’s what they’re there for.

Some changes have taken effect since this library’s first incarnation, for example, you’ve started to do events, expanded your space and the collection itself.  What are your goals moving forward?

While there have been identifiable stages of development that the library has gone through, I would hesitate to call them incarnations.  I have always been interested in using the library as a platform to create events and as a catalyst for the production of art or writing, or other creative projects.  From the start, I anticipated that the library would unfold into many different forms and exist in many different worlds.  I think what has been happening more recently is that some of these ideas have finally begun to emerge.  This is very exciting for me because in a sense it is a confirmation that the work that has gone into assembling the library has been worthwhile and that it has begun to produce really interesting possibilities and scenarios.

Looking forward, I am going to continue to create “branch” libraries, which are temporary, site-specific manifestations of the library in other locations.  The first branch, Center City, took place last August at Vox Populi in Philadelphia.  Two more branches are planned this fall – one at Space in London and one at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. With these, I’m interested in creating a kind of hybrid space that combines elements of art gallery, library and work/studio space.  The idea is to create an environment where work that has been created from the library is displayed alongside a collection of books (usually gathered from local sources) and where work can continue to be produced with the aid of imaging equipment like photocopiers and scanners.

But this is just one way to pursue further work with the library.  The exciting thing about the Reanimation Library is that it will inevitably continue to take on new forms and facilitate new projects, most of which I haven’t even conceived of yet.  The collaborative approach almost ensures that someone will come to me with an idea that I would have never thought of on my own.  The fact that the library continues to grow and change over time is really what keeps my interest in it alive.

Do you know a unique librarian or archivist?  Nominations are welcome for future Librarian in the Spotlight features!

Librarian in the Spotlight: Allison R. Schulte

1 Comment

By Julia Weist,

For the Memorial Day edition of Librarian in the Spotlight, I spoke with Allison R. Schulte, International Liaison for the Tom of Finland Foundation. Allison is completing her MILS online at SJSU and is balancing work at the Foundation with language lessons and field work in Finland.  This fall she will complete an ARLIS-sponsored internship at the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago.

Tom of Finland is known for his exquisite and titillating drawings.  Do you have a background in fine art?

I completed all of my prerequisites in junior college for nursing school after which I panicked and switched my major to art. I received my BA at California State University Northridge and was accepted directly into the MFA program in the Art School at California Institute of the Arts. During college I supported myself by working as a bondage and fetish model, which I did internationally during the summers. I still model for fun now and then. I recently did a pinup photo shoot with Taschen’s Tom of Finland XXL book.

Drawing by Tom of Finland, courtesy of the Tom of Finland Foundation

When did you first get involved with the Tom of Finland Foundation and in what capacity?

My dear friend and favorite photographer to work with, Steve Diet Goedde has seen me go through my fetish modeling career (see image below), art school and finally embark on library school. I had no idea that the Tom of Finland Foundation existed and that it was only a mile from where I was living. He told me that I should check out their library because it encompassed all of my passions.

I arranged a tour with the president, Durk Dehner, and was blown away. Being a nonprofit they didn’t have a budget for a librarian. Regardless, I fell so in love with the library that I began volunteering and sort of claimed it as my own. At this point I was just starting library school and recognized the Foundation as a wonderful opportunity to gain hands on experience and network. I reached out to professionals for mentorship and guidance, mainly through ARLIS NA and SLA SC. My level of involvement is pretty deep. The Foundation is a located in an old craftsman style house in Echo Park where Tom used to live when he wasn’t in Finland. It’s also where the Foundation President and Vice President live, so when I’m in Los Angeles I live there too.

Sometimes I even sleep in Tom’s room which was his art studio and is full of his ephemera and research binders. I’m probably the only woman to have ever slept in Tom’s bed. It’s not always easy living in a museum. One time we had some early bird drop-ins from New York and I found myself giving them a tour of the collection while wearing a rather revealing nightgown but they were gay dudes so nobody really cared on either end. It’s a museum and archive but we’re also a family, Tom’s Men if you will. We sit down to lunch and dinner together daily and we have two adorable kittens that everyone fusses over. It works out well because we have lots of interesting people over for tours and often follow it up with a homemade meal.

Allison R. Schulte by Steve Diet Goedde. Allison worked as a bondage and fetish model before getting involved at the Foundation.

What are you working on in Helsinki?

Through outreach to students and professionals we now have several volunteers and really it’s no longer “my library.”  I’ve become more focused on fundraising, archiving and oral history. I also started the Tom of Finland Reading Group, which has been a great success. We read texts that often parallel art and films. The themes always relate to gender or human sexuality. My favorite Reading Group was when we had a guest speaker named Goddess Heather. She’s a dominatrix that I used to work with and was also a professional body builder. The theme was “Do Muscles Have Gender?”

I also met my Finnish fiance through the Foundation, which is partly why I ended up moving to Helsinki. He was Tom’s caretaker here in Finland during Tom’s last two years of life (Tom had emphysema) and Tom left him everything that didn’t end up at the Foundation. That includes original artwork, photo negatives, fan letters, parts of his leather collection, books and even his washing machine. I’m still digging through our flat and finding more every day. I’m working with all of that and also on collecting oral histories about both Tom and the history of the leather and gay culture in Finland. Turko is the European Cultural Capital for 2011 so I will be assisting the Foundation in a Tom of Finland exhibition to be held during that time. So, I’ve gone from “Library Director” to “International Liaison.”

Desk Set is throwing Que(e)ry during Pride week, a dance party for queer librarians and their lovers. The party is benefiting Tom of Finland Foundation as well as the Herstory Archives.  Are you psyched?

I was really excited about Desk Sets offer to fundraise for the Foundation library through the Que(e)ry party. I think some of us west coast library students are a bit jealous of all that Desk Set has going on so I’m very excited and honored they reached out to us. It’s always exciting to be embraced by any library/art organization or community when you’re working with erotic and especially homoerotic collections.  The Tom of Finland Foundation Library has done so much fundraising in LA lately that it will be nice to have something going on in NYC. We definitely have a stellar pool of volunteers out there that I have yet to meet. I hope you guys take lots of pictures!

Allison at a previous fundraiser for ToFF, with Peter the "Hunk of Finland".

Allison at a previous ToFF fundraiser with Peter, "Hunk of Finland"

Librarian in the spolight: Molly Tighe

No Comments

By Julia Weist,

Welcome to the first of a new recurring column, Librarian in the Spotlight, where twice a month we’ll feature an interview with a librarian or archivist doing interesting or inspiring work!

We begin with Molly Tighe, an Andy Warhol Time Capsules Project Cataloguer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Molly received her MILS, with an Archives and Records Management specialization, from the University of Pittsburgh. Before working as an archivist at Carnegie Mellon University Archives and the Heinz History Center, Molly studied English and History and worked in the floral and construction industries.

How long have you been at the Warhol Museum?

I’ve been here since February 2008, so two years and three months.

What’s a day on the job typically like for you?

A typical day on the job at the Time Capsules Cataloguing Project can involve handling, cataloguing, and describing almost any type of material imaginable. TCs regularly contain paper-based items, like letters, clippings, or books, as well as photographs, audio recordings, and film. TCs also reveal unusual materials and oddities like silverware and napkins stolen from hotels and airlines, foodstuffs like cookies or chocolates, and objects sent by fans in the hope of gaining Andy’s attention (one fan sent a plaster cast of her teeth with an actual tooth embedded). We really never know what we’ll find!

Each box is processed by one of the TC Project Cataloguers; there are two other cataloguers that work on the project with me and we each work on boxes individually. Processing basically consists of opening a TC, sorting the material into series, applying accession numbers, describing each individual object, re-housing materials, and producing a finding aid for each TC. Each TC can contain anywhere from 3 or 4 to over 1200 individual items and student assistants from the University of Pittsburgh’s MLIS program assist in the application of accession numbers and item level description. Eventually, each item will be digitized and item-level access will be available through these surrogates.

Since Warhol planned on selling these TCs as artworks, working with these materials is much like working with an art collection. All items are handled while wearing white cotton cloves and all cataloguers and interns complete training (and an annual refresher) in art handling. Since the TC items are used in exhibitions which sometimes travel, museum registrars must be able to track each individual item by its accession number. In practice, this means that each individual sheet of an 400 sheet, unbound manuscript, for example, must be given a unique number that identifies it both within a TC and in relation to the other manuscript sheets. Finally, since the TCs are artwork, everything is retained indiscriminately; whether gum wrapper or junk mail, Warhol drawing or Ray Johnson mailart, used tissues or decaying chocolate, all TC items receive delicate treatment, quality storage, and thorough description.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever found in a time capsule?

There are so many unusual things in the TCs. I’ve catalogued not only tons of porn, but also a vibrating cock ring! I got a real kick out of a 70s kitchen gadget that can press hard boiled eggs into a cube shape.

But besides the weird stuff, I really like finding items that contribute research into the provenance of Warhol’s work. I’ve found photographs of paintings that weren’t known to exist, receipts that change the creation date of some of his most famous paintings, and thank you notes from patrons whose portraits have never been seen.

One of my absolute favorite findings is a transcript of a conversation between Truman Capote and Robert Livingston that eventually became the first installment of Capote’s column in Interview magazine, “Conversations with Capote. The transcript bore Capote’s handwritten editorial changes and, of course, his edits greatly improved the dialogue. It was a real treat to have evidence of the creative process this literary genius.

Molly with Time Capsules at the Warhol Museum

You work in an info science niche that seems somewhat more impervious to rapid technological change than many other areas of librarianship, such as public or school media.  Still, where do you see our (or your) profession in 10 years or 25 years?

I think museums and archives professionals are just as challenged by the increased user expectation for digitized, full-text, and remote access to collections as are those in other areas of librarianship.  Like our counterparts in public and academic libraries, we are striving to overcome the technological, budgetary, and logistical hurdles to providing access in this manner.  An interesting recent development has been that both museums and archives are increasing releasing summary, or incomplete, collection records into the public forum, instead of publishing only the most thoroughly vetted collection record versions.  Initiatives like those at The Brooklyn Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum also open the door to the collection of user generated content to fill gaps in collection records.

Ultimately, information science professionals, whether they work in a museum, archives, or a library, recognize that the digital files that our users expect require thoughtful planning and constant management to ensure longevity and future renderablity.

Do you have any librarian or archivist heroes?

I really admire Deborah Wyeth, not only for her work on the SAA’s Museum Archives, but also for her discussions of copyright and digitization on the Brooklyn Museum’s blog. Her work is inspiring and her blog discussions are a helpful guide for the museum archive community.

I also highly respect Helen Tibbo at the University of North Carolina for all her work promoting awareness of digital preservation and the continuing management needs of electronic information. With the increasing drive towards making records available electronically, her work emphasizes that stewardship of electronic resources requires planning and management from the point of capture and continuing throughout the digital lifecycle.

Thanks, Molly!

Do you know a unique librarian or archivist?  Nominations are welcome for future Librarian in the Spotlight features!