Celebrating 100 Years of Thornton Wilder

Today’s post is co-written and edited by Rosey Strub and Tappan Wilder

This spring, the Library welcomes The Wilder Family as guest curators of our exhibition space.

2017 marks 120 years since Thornton Wilder’s birth, the 75th anniversary of the publication of Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Skin of Our Teeth, the 50th anniversary of Wilder’s National Book Award-winning novel The Eighth Day and a major new Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, based on Wilder’s play, The Matchmaker. Here at the Club, we thought it appropriate to Celebrate 120 Years of Thornton Wilder. The Wilder Family, led by Club member Tappan Wilder and managed by Rosey Strub, has shared with us some treasures from its collection of family photos and Wilder memorabilia.

The works of novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder, Yale Class of 1920, explore the connection between the commonplace and the cosmic dimensions of human experience. Six of his seven novels were best sellers. He is the only American author ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and drama: for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and his plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. He enjoyed enormous success as a teacher, lecturer, translator and adaptor, actor and librettist. His screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, Shadow of a Doubt remains a classic to this day.

The exhibition will be on display through June and, of course, we always have a full collection of Wilder’s books available for checkout.  We look forward to seeing you in the Library.

wilder_almamater

Isabel, Amos Niven, Catharine and Thornton Wilder at Yale, June, 1956, where Amos received an honorary degree from his Alma Mater

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Stories for Snowy Days

I do not tend to prefer click-bait content for this blog, but as the snowy, sleety weather in New York today prevented me from actually making it in to the Club (the hazards of living on an above-ground transit line), I thought a short post about my favorite stories to read on snowy days would be appropriate.

  1. The Once and Future King (T.H. White, 1958). The quartet of novels, The Sword in the Stone (1938), The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939), The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and The Candle in the Wind (1958, as part of the whole book) is a retelling of the Arthurian Legends that explores the ethics of war and power and the meaning of humanity. It’s a book that makes me feel hopeful and sad at the same time – an escape from reality that informed by all the most painful realities. Since the book follows King Arthur from childhood to old age, it’s also a soul-warming book to read over an epic snow-bound day.
  1. Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton, 1911). This novella, about the unhappy marriage between a man and his invalid wife, was a staple of high school American Literature classes in later part of the twentieth century, and is perhaps generally disliked as a result. How many of you reading this can tell me about the symbolic meaning of the pickle dish? Nevertheless, one of Wharton’s great gifts as a writer is her ability to evoke the physical and emotional temperatures of places; the chilliness of Frome’s Starkfield, Massachusetts is difficult to escape.
  1. To Build a Fire” (Jack London, 1908). A man on the Yukon trail attempts to build a fire when he does not make it back to camp as planned. No story will make you feel happier to be safe and warm at home than this visceral piece.
  1. The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats, 1962). The perfect book for a snowy day if you have young ones in the house – or even if you don’t – Keats’ Caldecott Medal winning picture book follows Peter’s adventures in the snow. His red jumpsuit is still, to my mind, the warmest, coziest outfit possible.

If you do have little ones at home from school this wintry March Day, you may be looking forward to the warm spring days of April. Get out of the house this spring and join us in the Library on April 29 for a Crazy Hat Party, where we will be reading Ezra Jack Keat’s Jennie’s Hat. Reservations can be made on the Club’s online calendar.

Stay warm.

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Travel at the Yale Club Library: What’s your destination?

When I explain what kind of library I work at, I usually say: It’s a private library, but it’s a lot like a public library. What I mean by “like a public library” is we are a general collection, comprised largely of leisure reading materials.  Although we do have some special collections, notably our extensive collection of Yale Class Books, they are not specifically part of our primary mission, which is “to provide a quiet refuge for those seeking the intellectual stimulation and spirit that books and the written word can provide.” 

Because we are a small collection, with limited funds, we look to develop a collection that is “timely and timeless,” and so avoid purchasing materials that may get limited use, but which require regular updates and which are frequently vandalized or stolen at public libraries: materials like restaurant guides, test preparation guides, and travel books. 

We receive a certain number of requests for all of these materials, and I regret not being able to serve the patrons.  For test prep books, there is little I can do but offer a support, but for travel, I try to be more active, directing the member at least to the history and geography section for the country or state that is the  destination. Many of these sections, however, are still old and outdated – there are not areas in which I have yet done much active buying.

But I think that might be about to change, and I’m asking my members to help.  I still do not plan to collect travel books and to replace them every couple of years.  For us, that approach is just prohibitively expensive.

What I do hope to do is enlist members who are experts in, natives of, or just plain lovers of different cities, towns, and countries to develop an “Essentials” guide to a place of choice. 

What are the “Travel Essentials”?  In some ways, that would depend on the place – but I would guess that for many places it would include three key recommended books:

 

  1. A general history

  2. A cultural history

  3. A representative piece of literature

    globe_photo

    Where do we go from here?

This idea developed out of a conversation I had with one of our members, Josebe Bilbao-Henry (@mjbilbao).  We only met recently, but in our conversations it became clear that both strongly believe that what makes the Yale Club Library special is its ability to be a real community library – something that Club Members enjoy together, even though they are silent in the space. 

 

This is something that already happens, to some degree, in the purchasing that I do for the Library each week.  As Librarian, I make the final decision on all purchases, but many of my purchases are suggested by members.  Those purchases, however, are anonymous, as far as other members are concerned.  The fun of these “Travel Essentials” lists is that members can claim them for their own and share them with their fellow members openly. 

And the planning can start today.  Are you a YC member with a burning “Travel Essentials” list ready to go? Would you like to discuss an idea with me?  Contact me: library@yaleclubnyc.org.

What’s your destination?

 

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Resolutions

Every month, I give a Librarian’s report at our Library Committee meeting. Our Library Committee meetings typically focus on our plans for the future – on the projects, events, and purchases that will occupy the staff’s and committee’s time in the coming weeks and months.  In my Librarian’s report, I review the activities of the past month, giving updates on past and ongoing projects. I also have the chance to talk about service and reference with the committee.  I am able to tell them how many research questions, computer questions, and catalog assistance Debbie and I give member each month.  It is also my chance to share circulation numbers – so the committee knows how many books have been checked out and returned. In January, I give a cumulative report of our numbers for the year.

Now, in this Library, circulation numbers are not necessarily the best indicators of how much the Library is being used.  Many of our Library patrons use the space every day for study and work; they may only occasionally check out a book. As part of a social club, the Library is still, in that capacity, serving the needs of its members.   Nevertheless, since I spend much of my time working to improve the quality of the collection, it was one of my goals over the past year to increase circulation of the collection. In 2015, the first full year I was at the Yale Club, I just wanted to make sure that we kept and reported statistics on the health and use of the collection and Library Services.  For an area of the Club whose results are largely qualitative, it seems important to me (and my Committee) to provide quantitative information about our work wherever possible. The mere fact that I had numbers to present to the committee and the Council (which oversees all the Committees) felt like a big win for the Library.

In 2016, I was a little bit greedier.  I resolved to improve our numbers.  My goal was to increase our circulation by 25%.  I chose that number, I confess, without much thought. I did not really share the goal with anyone.  It sounded like a good number to me.  It also seemed reasonable.  Until 2015, the Library did not have a fully functional OPAC. For much of 2013-2014 the Library was severely understaffed. After a year of reaching out to members, and encouraging to request the books they wanted, and a year of simply being present and accessible to members, it seemed reasonable that member would check out more books in 2016 than they had in 2015.

circulation_photo

Luckily, I was close.  Book circulation increased by 23% over 2015. With the addition of ebooks and digital magazines in the second half of 2016, the percentage of materials circulated increases even more.  As we head into 2017, I hope to see circulation of both print and eMaterials continue to improve.  This year, I also resolve to increase the number of members using the Library, so that we serve more people as well as circulate more books.

 

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Biography Review

Our intern, John Chagaris, who guest blogged for us in November, finished his semester and his time with us this month (best wishes, John!) and so it seemed time to look back at all his work, and how it has affected the collection. Despite working just a few hours a week, John made quite a dent in our biography section appraisal. Of course, the appraisal is only half the work.  Once John spent hours upon hours reviewing the materials, Debbie started to work through his recommendations – recovering, repairing, rebinding, reclassifying, and discarding items as John’s work suggested.

The difference in the atmosphere created by the restoration of the biography section was immediate.  The biography section is not the first we’ve worked on, but it’s the section with the most visibility.  If you have not been in the Yale Club Library, you might not know that biographies take up much of the long corridor that leads to the Library Office.  It was the first hallway I walked down when I visited the Club in 2014 and I remember my interviewer pointing out the tattered spines that lined shelves. Those tattered spines bad_books reflected years of love and use by Club members.  But, it’s also the first sight that many members and visitors see when they tour the library – the first impression of our collection.  At first sight, the space looks homey and inviting.  The dim lighting and wood paneling, and the colorful cloth bindings make the idea of curling up with a book in the Club chair at the end of the hall very inviting.  But, on closer inspection, the impression has long been a little less welcoming.  The dusty, tattered books look neither like part of a collection one could use, nor would necessarily want to.

As John worked through the As and Bs, it quickly became clear why some spine were so tattered.  Not only were these books popular with members, they were also in some cases the only available biographies of some of history’s most important personages.  How can you discard a biography if it’s the only one available, it is fairly well-regarded, and other copies are hard to come by (If it’s too brittle to circulate, you can. It’s pretty painful.)?  John made some of those tough decisions.  Debbie and I made a few more.  And now, when members walk through the long corridor to our office some of them say: “Have you been working on the collection? It seems good_booksfresher.”

We have. And we will continue to do so.

 

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New on View

Members may remember that, for years, Library display rested in a low glass case in the elevator lobby. The space was dark and the pieces in the case difficult to see without crouching down.   The committee and I wanted pieces that brought the artifacts up to the

old_display_case

The old display case.

members and allowed us more flexibility in our displays.

 

Buying a display case turned out to be more difficult than we’d expected. Most prefabricated products seemed to be too small or too tall or too modern for our needs. I knew that the idea of a new display case had been discussed by the committee on and off for nearly ten years before I arrived, and it quickly became clear why the project had been so long delayed.

Enter Dan Kershaw, exhibition designer. Mr. Kershaw, a friend of Art Sub-Committee Chair and Library Committee Member, Stephen K. Scher, visited the Club late last spring to evaluate the space and help us determine the most suitable cases for our display needs. Dan spent over an hour with us, discussing our needs and concerns for the space. His customized designs turned out to be exactly what we needed.

Dan’s designs all gave us plenty of display space, easy accessibility, and extra light for the formerly dark space.  We finally settled on a design that gave us the flexibility of two

display_design

Third Display option; our final design added 3″ to the overall height.

smaller cases to replace the single case – which allowed us to incorporate the reference desk into our design and will allow us to mount two separate, smaller exhibitions at the same time, if we ever choose to do so.

 

We worked with Gaylord Archival to have Dan’s design fabricated and the cases arrived just after the Thanksgiving Holiday.

So, the Library Elevator Lobby is now spruced up and ready for the Winter Holiday season – and for all the exciting exhibitions to come.

new_display_cases

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The Case for Weeding

The Library Staff and Committee welcome Library Intern, John Chagaris, as guest blogger.

When libraries weed or remove resources from their collection, they can often be met with backlash from the community they serve. In 2015 Jeff Scott, the library director in Berkeley California, was forced to step down after the community challenged his choice to “purge” (as they put it) over 50,000 books. Scott tried to make an appeal to the community, stating that the weeding allowed for the collection to grow by 18,000 books in the end, but his appeals for sanity fell on deaf ears.

Libraries are often seen, especially today, as endless repositories of information. While part of that statement is true, “endless” is the operative word here. Storage space, be it physical or digital is at a premium and can easily go beyond the often a libraries modest budget. How then, is a library’s collection able to grow when storage space is so limited?

In order to prevent building addition after addition onto an existing library to house the ever expanding written word, a library has alternatives. A library could purchase offsite storage to house works that aren’t often requested, but that brings additional managerial responsibilities and the burden of purchasing and maintaining an extra facility. Safeguards against fire, flood and theft need to be put in place, not to mention a climate control mechanism for books at various levels of deterioration. Another alternative is the library staff can weed the existing collection to make room for new material.

That’s where I come in. My name is John Chagaris and I’m a second year Masters student at Pratt’s School of Information. For the past few months, I have been working on weeding the biography section with the help of our Librarian, Christina. Our biography section suffers from physical condition issues, redundancy issues, classification errors, and, of course, space issues. Many of these issues could have been minimized if a regular, recurring weeding plan was in place, but unfortunately there hasn’t been one until recently.

Weeding is a crucial component of any library’s mission to maintain a well-curated and current collection. Weeding is the process of making educated decisions about which books should be kept on the shelf and which should be taken off the shelf and discarded. Weeding can either be aggressive or more conservative based on established criteria of the library staff.

While it may sound like weeding opposes the development of a collection by taking books out of that collection, we have to remember that physical shelf space is at a premium while books continue to publish at a steady rate. Because of this, space needs to be made periodically to allow the collection to develop and grow.

The process also allows our librarians to perform quality control on their collection by making sure books are labeled correctly (with author and barcode number, for example), are classified in the correct section. It also gives librarians the opportunity to weed out duplicate copies of a book. For example, a book of correspondence or book of diary entries could be incorrectly as a biography because it’s usually a book about a specific person or a relationship between two people. But a biography it is not; a biography should be a detailed description of a person’s life. The books of correspondence and diary entries are snapshots of a person’s life and are used to research a biography, but they are not biographical alone. On this note, in our library we had all of James Boswell’s personal diaries (eight volumes) classified as biographies in the biography section. These books don’t need to be discarded, but they certainly make room in the biography section when they are moved to Scottish authors in the 800 section.

Weeding also allows for reevaluation of a book’s currency and accuracy. For example, our biography had a book called the The Spy Went Dancing by Aline Griffith, Dowager Countess of Romanones. The book was part of a series and recounted the authors work in espionage and foreign intelligence, and is presented as fact. After the book’s publication historian Rupert Allason found that although there is no doubt that Griffith worked for the CIA during World War Two many of the fact presented in her book was fabricated. In fact, she was a low level cypher clerk, not a high level clearance holding mole catcher. While books like this could be amusing or considered an artifact of the time it was produced, the library is not a place for outdated or misleading materials.

In order to keep a library’s collection vibrant and current, weeding, just like acquisition, is crucial. Without weeding, new acquisitions wouldn’t be as visible to patrons as the older, outdated books flooding the shelves. Without weeding, a library’s staff is doomed to repeat the same mistakes in acquisitions and even book classification again and again.

As we can see, weeding not only keeps the collection vibrant and current, it also gives great insight to the librarian on the needs of the patron base as a whole.

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