David Bjoerling Jensen

Tag: Libraries

Subway Libraries

Here again, another post regarding literary enrichment while riding the rails of the New York City subway.  As the rise of electronic reading devices has begun to change the way we consume literature, three students from the Miami Ad School have come up with an ingenious idea to encourage readers to visit NYPL branch libraries to check out books.  That is, utilizing near field communication (NFC) technology, information portals are placed on certain metro cars that allow commuters to freely download the first ten pages of selected titles to their smartphone or tablet.  If further interested, the device will provide information on which nearest branch currently holds the title upon surfacing above ground.

This is a concept in the making, yet to be endorsed by the NYPL…

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It’s Like Magic!

ABRACADABRA!  As the mission statement reflects, the Conjuring Arts Research Center is a “not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of magic and its allied arts, which include psychic phenomenon, hypnosis, deceptive gambling, mentalism, ventriloquism, juggling, and sleight of hand techniques.”

Based in the heart of New York City, the center appeals to practitioners and performers of the conjuring arts, academic historians, collectors, writers, and general enthusiasts; which serves to fill the gap between private collections of magic related history and information, and the public.

Accordingly, the crown jewel of this cultural institution is its magical library, housing over 12,000 volumes on the subject–over 500 of which are early printed works predating the year 1700.  In addition to monographs, a variety of magic-related periodicals are also a part of the collection, some published as early as the 18th century.  Included among the holdings, as well, is an extensive collection of unpublished manuscripts on magic methods, some dating back to the 15th century.

Additionally, the Conjuring Arts Research Center fosters and facilitates an outreach program directed toward disadvantaged youth and adults called Hocus Pocus.  The focus of Hocus Pocus is not magic entertainment, but rather, magic education…the intended audience: patients at children’s hospitals, veteran’s hospitals, and at-risk youth.  The goal of the program is to empower participants by introducing them to fun and accessible magic effects that, with some effort, they will master and be able to share in other settings.  Among the desired outcomes aimed at by this program are relief from boredom and monotony, distraction from physical pain, emotional support, inspired curiosity, increased self-esteem, and FUN!

After all, who doesn’t like magic?!?

“Anatomy of an Epidemic”

Whitaker, Robert.  Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. New York: Crown Publishing Group.  2010.

In this book–an exposé of sorts–the author has done an outstanding job of illustrating what can legitimately be described as a farcical paradigm of treatment surrounding those diagnosed with mental illnesses and the prescribing of psychiatric drugs.  Ranging from schizophrenia, to depression, to ADHD, to anxiety and bipolar disorders, Whitaker has conducted in-depth research among the outcomes literature in medical journals (a lot of which took place at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine), which over and over again point toward one general conclusion: the long-term efficacy of the current range of commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs is negative.  Anti-depressants like Prozac, anti-anxiety meds like Xanax, ADHD meds such as Ritalin; all of these may serve some purpose in the short-term, but the medical literature does not and cannot show positive outcomes over the long-term, plain and simple.  In fact, the opposite is true, as his research documents “the astonishing bottom-line result produced by a medical specialty that has dramatically expanded diagnostic boundaries in the past fifty years and treated patients with drugs that perturb normal brain function,” (210).

Replete with facts and figures, the book contains many easily-digestible charts and graphs to quantify the data.  Also included are numerous testimonials espoused through case studies of patients themselves, almost all of whom attest to the fact that the drugs that are supposed to correct their said “chemical imbalance” not only don’t work, but often worsen target symptoms over the long run.  Many times, this results in higher dosages and/or a counterpart prescription to offset negative side-effects (which may have side-effects of their own, requiring yet a different prescription).  Patients often end up being put on “drug cocktails” and become dependent upon them for life.

How then, one might ask, is it that well-respected national organizations such as the American Psychological Association and the National Institute of Mental Health embrace this treatment scheme?  How come key opinion leaders in academia, such as Ivy League psychiatrists, continually tout the benefits of drugs that are shown to exacerbate long-term outcomes?  Well, not surprisingly, it has something to do with the astronomical sums of profit generated by the pharmaceutical industry and allied psychiatric practitioners who receive corporate kickbacks.

As the New England Journal of Medicine observed in 2000, thought leaders [in psychiatry] ‘serve as consultants to companies whose products they are studying, join advisory boards and speakers’ bureaus, enter into patent and royalty arrangements, agree to be the listed authors of articles ghostwritten by interested companies, promote drugs and devices at company-sponsored symposiums, and allow themselves to be plied with expensive gifts and trips to luxurious settings,’ (278).

The evidence pinpointed in this book only corroborates a long-held presumption of my own.  There may be more than one way to describe this perplexing situation, but on certain levels there is undoubtedly subversion of moral integrity at play.  Yes, the drugs have a place in psychiatry’s toolkit.  And yes, some people may respond well at first and may stabilize over the long run.  But legions of psychiatrists would be looking for new jobs if it were widely acknowledged that the biological causes of mental disorders remain largely unknown…that the overly prescribed drugs muck up the feedback loops of normally functioning neurotransmitter pathways rather than fix chemical imbalances…that longitudinal studies regularly reveal that the medications are worsening long-term outcomes and creating chronically ill patients with a lifetime dependency.

The most heartbreaking part of it all, though, is that this diagnostic/treatment paradigm extends in equally valid measure to our nation’s children.  Two year old kids being diagnosed with bipolar disorder?  Oh, please.

The implications of this epidemic are far deeper and more wide reaching than what I’ve described here, which the book covers in detail.

Robert Whitaker has also authored numerous articles on the mentally ill and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a previous book on this topic entitled Mad in America:  Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill.

Also, FYI, there is a credible advocacy group out there calling the bluff.  They’re called MindFreedom, and they present a lot of worthy critique regarding the psychiatric establishment’s current state of affairs.

Payphone Booths, Re-purposed

A payphone booth?  What’s that?  Who uses those anymore?

So there’s this guy, a Columbia architecture grad, going around town with some crazy idea, i.e., fostering community involvement through the love of books…and the love of sharing them.  He’s setting up renegade mini-libraries in phone booths around Manhattan.  It’s kind of like the “take a penny, leave a penny” thingies you see on convenience store counters.  The patrons:  NYC passers by.  The only problem so far is the ambiguity regarding proper usage conduct.  The founder, however, has plans to place subtle instructions for procedure, which are pretty straight forward–borrow or share.

View this article for an interview with the creator of this novel (no pun intended), urban betterment concept.

YES, he has plans for future proliferation.  And NO, the city has not officially approved of this project.

Traditional Liyuan Library 传统梨园图书馆

Tucked away in the quaint mountainous village of Huairou, China, just outside of Beijing, is a new library that utilizes both the placement of the building and choice of natural materials to harmoniously blend this structure into its pastoral natural surroundings. Its outward expression is reminiscent of the nearby villagers’ households, who routinely stack wooden sticks outside their homes to be used for fueling their cooking stoves.

The reading room.

The interior is spatially organized so as to create distinct steps, which imbue the space with a unique sense of “place” on each level. While views of the surrounding landscape are visible through certain windows, the wooden sticks that clad most of the exterior facade soften the natural lighting, which allows for a peaceful, “Zen-like” ambiance in the reading room for users to quietly take up study.

The Liyuan Library was designed by Li Xiaodong Atelier.  More information, including many more pictures, can be found here.

“Withus oragainstus”

Renowned renegade artist, Banksy, known for his bold street art and radical stance on the “War on Terror,” sure pulled a fast one when he surreptitiously hung this mockery of a specimen of the harlequin beetle, Acrocinus longimanus, in the American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Biodiversity.

“Withus oragainstus”

With glued on plastic sidewinder missiles under jet fighter wings and a satellite dish protruding near the antennae, the artist’s commentary on this piece suggests it is “an outsider’s view of the modern American bug, bristling with listening devices and military hardware.”  Allegedly, the prank was executed as the artist and his accomplices staged an ostentatious gay lover’s quarrel to distract security guards while the piece was mounted to a column in the Hall of Biodiversity with Velcro.  It inconspicuously hung there for 5 days before anyone noticed or took action to remove it.  As an indisputable unique artwork, the glass-encased specimen, “Withus oragainstus,” is now housed in the AMNH Research Library’s Rare Book Collection.

Click here for the cataloged AMNH OPAC record of this work…and here for a related article.  Also, visit  Banksy’s website.

The Morgan Library and Museum

The East Room, the original library.

The West Room, Pierpont Morgan's study

In two words, quintessential elegance!  The Morgan Library and Museum, which houses one of the world’s greatest collections of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, and art artifacts from antiquity in virtually every medium, has undergone a fairly recent restoration to bring back it’s original grandeur.  In addition to retrofitting the lighting system, which now employs LED lighting for purposes of optimum preservation, the renovation has also included cleaning marble surfaces and ornamentation, refurbishing original fixtures, reupholstering period furniture, and installing new, beautifully crafted display cases.  All rooms of the original 1906 library are now available for public viewing.

Among  a few seasonally appropriate items currently on display is a first-edition copy of A Christmas Carol, in the “Charles Dickens at 200” exhibition.

  Charles Dickens-A Christmas Carol-Title page-First edition 1843.jpg

This classic novel, completed by Dickens in just six weeks, was originally printed in London by Chapman and Hall.  The first print run of 6,000 copies was released on December 17, 1843.  By Christmas Eve that year, all copies had sold out!  Click here to view a page-by-page digital facsimile of a signed, hand-written manuscript held at the Morgan.

Also on display in the Rotunda is an original sheet music printing of “The One Horse Open Sleigh.”  Commonly known as “Jingle Bells,” the song was originally composed by Pierpont Morgan’s uncle, James Lord Pierpont, in the 1850s.  This has become one of the most recognized holiday songs ever written!

Page 1 of 4, The one horse open sleigh /

 ‘Tis the season!…

**Crystal Bridges**

The museum's unassuming drive-up entrance.

Reflecting pool between gallery wings.

Nestled in an idyllic valley in the Ozark Mountains of Bentonville, Arkansas sits a brand new cultural treasure, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  Founded by Alice Walton (Wal-Mart heiress), this museum, which opened on 11-11-11, has an endowment in the ballpark of $800 million–nearly four times that of the Whitney Museum.  Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the building is an architectural showpiece in and of itself.  And as for the art, the “heartland of America” setting is perfectly appropriate for its purely American focus.  The collections span a range from the Colonial period, though the 19th and 20th centuries, and up to contemporary American art.  The works displayed in many of the gallery spaces are easily comparable to what one might find in the MoMA or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including works by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Eakins, Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and many, many others.  Paintings are the focus, but sculptures and installation art abound.  In addition to artwork, the museum houses a library with open stacks for art reference resources, and several computer terminals with internet access, subscription databases, and art-specific research guides.  The library also contains a rare books section, all of which were printed in America.

Say what you will about Wal-Mart, but this cultural institution is well worth a visit!  Best of all, thanks to a $20 million gift from the Walton Family Foundation, the museum is FREE for everyone…forever!

For more information on the background and development of this fine museum, visit the following links to publications in:

The New Yorker

The Huffington Post

Patience and Fortitude

Flanking either side of the grandiose entrance to the New York Public Library, the stately library lions are two of New York’s most recognizable icons.  They were officially named Patience and Fortitude–character attributes he felt New Yorkers would need to sustain the Great Depression–by Mayor LaGuardia in the 1930s.

Patience, south of the main steps on 5th Avenue

Perhaps the symbolism behind the namesake of these statues serves as a timely reminder today…

20 of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries!

This link features 20 pictures some truly amazing libraries!  Of those featured, my favorite is the Library of the Benedictine Monastery of Admont in Austria.

Founded in the year 1074, this library–the largest monastery library in the world–contains among its treasured holdings some 1,400 manuscripts (some dating back as far as the 8th century), as well as 530  incunabula, which detail the history of the development of the Benedictine Order.