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    Smith's Infirmary Hospital, Staten Island. Image ID: 104755


    Postcards are a fantastic visual resource for a place’s past that are often underutilized by scholars. They offer rich evidence of culture and architecture as a visual record of the past.

    Colonial Hall, Jamaica, Queens. Image ID: 836707

    Postcards offer an alternative to travel, like a National Geographic subscription, via vicarious sightseeing and proxy experience, and a convenient and satisfactory memorandum to friends at home. The popularity of postcards has waxed and waned since their introduction in the late 19th Century. The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair souvenirs really popularized them, leading to the “golden age of postcards” from circa 1900 to 1918, the end of World War I. For this period, there is better pictorial documentation in postcards of American life and culture than most other sources. The cards showcase changes in printing technology, postal regulations, and travel interests. For more about postcard history see The Picture Postcard and Its Origins and Picture Postcards of the Golden Age.

    Botanical Garden Museum
    Botanical Garden Museum, Bronx Park, New York. Image ID: 836805

    Postcards give glimpses of innumerable places and fundamentally represent popular culture. The more common the postcard, the more popular it was as a tourist destination. e.g. Niagara Falls, Washington DC, and Yellowstone Park.  

    There is vast scholarly potential of library postcard collections. For motivation, see the University of Maryland site “Research using Primary Sources.” Postcards provide important visual information about so many elements of society that no other objects do. They can provide the best set of available images for examples of architecture, types of buildings, historic events, and certain places. Postcards are important for researching social history as well, as they often provide authentic insights into daily activities and appearances of neighborhoods, and show material culture “in the vernacular” as few other objects can.

    Wharves from Brooklyn Bridge
    The wharves from Brooklyn Bridge, 1912. Image ID: 836209

    As the world relies more and more on visual materials to convey information, researchers must mine available sources in their studies of history. Images for years were “omitted from academic journals as mere expensive and frivolous adjuncts to text”(1) and are now included as meaningful evidence.

    Postcards celebrate both the ordinary and the spectacular. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, they were one of the earliest commercial uses of photography and often served as advertisements for businesses and products such as restaurants. We will likely mine resources such as Instagram for this in the future.  

    Chinatown, 1910. Image ID: 836337

    Sometimes, a postcard is the only example of a place in a certain era in color. Or they may document the work of early noted photographers—most printed postcards are made from the works of professional, not amateur, photographers, resulting in excellent production values. Some publishers sent photographers out around the country while others employed local residents to create the photographs. Local business owners often commissioned postcards of streets and buildings in their communities.

    Postcards offer interpretations of what features of a city or town are distinctive or valuable by noting benchmarks of civic achievement such as train stations, public buildings, parks, libraries, theaters, and “Main” Streets. Construction of these places in turn reflects local resources and aesthetics. They can also document unique natural phenomena and superlatives such as tallest, deepest, etc. Additionally, they are documents of regional and time specific clothing. Postcards appealed to both visiting tourists and to local residents who frequently sent cards to people who may never visit. Messages on the back may provide additional data to what is pictured on the front: “Slept in this hotel for a night for $4”, etc.

    Postcards contain markers of popular taste and attitudes and can offer a way to compare cities to other cities. They are a broad visual record of a place and are especially useful to researchers when they can compare dozens or hundreds of samples to each other. They augment other visual records available.

    Where to research

    Midland Beach, Staten Island
    Jolly Campers, Beach Park, Midland Beach, Staten Island, N.Y. Image ID: 104492

    To conduct research using postcard collections at the New York Public Library, you can use the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy or Mid-Manhattan Library’s Picture Collection. Other library divisions also maintain postcard collections.

    Rockaway Beach
    Boulevard at Arverne, Rockaway Beach, Queens, 1907. Image ID: 836927

    The Milstein Division’s postcard collection is largely not digitized and emphasizes sites within New York City, though there are postcards from all U.S. states. Since these postcards are not included the library’s online catalog, please email us to see if we have cards for a location you are researching.  The New York City collection is strong with images of hotels, parks, bridges, museums, public squares, street views, theaters, transportation, and specific buildings. One collection that is digitized is the Staten Island Postcard Collection. The U.S. States collections contain images from cities throughout the United States, with strengths in Washington D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

    City Hall, Borough Bronx,
    City Hall, Borough Bronx. Image ID: 836409

    The Picture Collection at the Mid-Manhattan Library has a large collection of approximately 50,000 circulating and reference postcards. Many of the Picture Collection’s postcards are available online in the NYPL Digital Collections. You can also email the Picture Collection with specific requests.

    Another collection: Institute of American Deltiology (IAD) is a non-profit established in Pennsylvania in 1993 by Donald Brown. The Institute was established to act as library, gallery and research center for the study of postcards and North American history and culture. The Institute is currently located in Myerstown, Pennsylvania. Purpose includes role and significance of picture postcards as a document for the study and interpretation of local history.

    18th Regiment Armory, Brooklyn
    18th Regiment Armory, Brooklyn. Image ID: 836053

    Recommended use of postcard collections

    Fraunce's Tavern
    Fraunce's Tavern, Manhattan, 1906. Image ID: 836619
    • Identification of physical features of buildings or geologic formations.
    • Find visual evidence of the built environment.
    • Confirmation of cultural, historical, and literary associations of particular sites via inscriptions or captions.
    • Identify social and cultural expectations of an era or place.
    • Find the ephemeral evidence of a sight: e.g. signage, advertisements, evolution of renovations, reconstruction, Wall hangings, lighting fixtures, furnishings, awnings, window displays, plaques, posted menus, marquees, seasonal displays, letterings, streetscapes, street vendors, traffic signals, streetlights, bike infrastructure, foliage, native plants, sculptural elements such as flagpoles, park design, outbuildings, benches.
    • Reveal details that have been altered or destroyed over time.

    Case Studies of research using postcards

    Staten Island Ferry
    Staten Island Municipal Ferry Boat. Image ID: 104685

    Postcards in the Library: Invaluable Visual Resources is a series of academic essays which discuss the variety of benefits of using these ephemeral artifacts. The editors argue “Postcards, as the essays in this volume demonstrate, constitute an important body of visual information that can support scholarly research.” Examples from these essays:

    • Critical analyses of tourism
    • Anecdotal research from the messages on the postcards
    • Museum experiences
    • Local history analyses
    • Stereotypes in popular culture
    • Propaganda in popular culture
    • Leisure activities
    • Political campaigns


    From journal articles

    “Bill’s Place, Pennsylvania.” The American Philatelist, September 2015.
    In depth study of a roadside business along Lincoln Highway in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a stunning view and a small post office. Postcards, which many were sent from the onsite post office, allowed for a detailed reconstruction of the local history of the area and the operations of the business on site.

    Queens Borough Bridge, 1912. Image ID: 836093

    “On Postcards Used to Track Environmental History.” Environmental History, April 2008.
    Using postcard photos of the same location over time, environmental scientists can study the presence of various types of vegetation and other natural phenomena. Case study includes one of ivy and creeper vegetation growth at Oxford colleges.

    “Wishing They Were There: Old Postcards and Library History.” Libraries & the Cultural Record, v. 43, 2008.
    A comparison of libraries of the early 20th century throughout the United States. Offers points of view on architectural influences and functions of the buildings as libraries changed the ways they are used.

    Pratt Library
    Pratt Institute Free Library, Brooklyn, 1907. Image ID: 836431

    Challenges and problems

    Identification of postcards’ time and place of place of production can be impossible or difficult. They are produced in a decentralized, unregulated manner, unlike postage stamps.

    You must be critical of their authenticity, accuracy, and interpretation, since all of these elements can be altered and interpreted widely. Judge postcards as you would judge other documentary evidence: in context, question if it is altered. Many publishers add and delete features like foliage and flagpoles.

    Tompkinsville, Staten Island
    Public Swimming Pool, Tompkinsville, Staten Island. Image ID: 104902

    Many places are not well represented in postcards if not perceived as a tourist destination. They also capture some eras better than others.

    Searching visually is important for visual collections, and many postcard collections—including the NYPL’s—are not fully digitized.

    Despite challenges, local history researchers should strongly consider using postcard collections in their research because of the rich evidence they contain.

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    The NYPL Community Oral History project has some exciting new tools to help make our growing collection more searchable! We recently received a Knight Foundation Prototype Grant in collaboration with The Moth  to process our audio stories using Pop Up Archive's software and to engage people from around the city and the world to correct these automated transcripts.

    Read a guest blog post below from volunteer Kaitlin McClure about her experience tagging and transcript correcting.

    I began volunteering for the New York Public Library’s Community Oral History Project this past September. I had experience with oral history during my undergraduate studies, but my interest in it was re-sparked when I moved to the city for graduate school. I looked around to see if there were any projects going on that I could get involved with, hoping to learn more about community oral histories. I could hardly have hoped to find a project as perfectly suited to my interests as the library’s!

    I have to say that I love going through and annotating the interviews. I have only lived in New York for a year, so listening to these interviews has taught me so much about the city, its neighborhoods, and the people who live here. Every interview gives me the opportunity to gain a new perspective on the city and understand someone else’s point of view.

    That being said, certain things drive me crazy while I am annotating interviews. I worry if I am being overzealous with my tagging, and then I worry I might have missed something someone might be looking for! What will people be searching for when they browse through these interviews? Will they want to hear about the games other people played when they were children? Their favorite neighborhood spots? The first time they went to Yankee Stadium? What if there is something people are looking for I have not tagged? These are things that can really keep a person up at night.

    NYPL Community Oral History volunteer Kaitlin McClure uses the new transcript correction tool

    I also try to do research to make sure I have the correct spellings for the names of people and places that I tag, but sometimes Google’s infinite wisdom is not enough and I cannot be sure I have found the correct spelling! It is agonizing to admit defeat in those situations, and I am sure my Google Search History would be pretty funny to anyone who happened to look at it.

    I have gotten to try out NYPL’s new transcription tool a few times as well, and I have to say that it is a pretty fantastic bit of technology. Usually if I want a written transcript for an interview I have to spend hours listening to the interview over and over again, working painstakingly to get each word and phrase down just the way it was said, but this tool does it almost all for me! All I have to do is go through and correct the transcript that has already been created using voice recognition software. The program plays the audio back to me line by line. If the software has made a mistake transcribing any of the words (and there have been some funny mistakes) I can just fix it on the spot! Maybe it’s the techie in me, but I thought it was actually pretty fun. The other volunteer and I even started racing to see who could correct their transcript the fastest.

    I love sitting down and listening to these interviews, though. Each one is an opportunity to drop into someone else’s life and understand their story the way they tell it. New Yorkers are often portrayed as a bustling crowd, a mass of people, but nothing shows how wrong that idea is as much as this project. New York is a city of neighborhoods each with its own character, each full of individuals with unique and beautiful stories to tell.

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    Downtown Gallery

    On August 10, 1941, as war raged in Europe, NY Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell quoted art dealer Sam Kootz on the wartime art scene: “Galleries need fresh talent, new ideas. Money can be heard crinkling throughout the land.” If indeed this crinkling was heard in New York during the war years of 1941-1945, was there a documentable trend toward buying American art, since as Mr. Kootz also noted, “the future of painting lies in America”? Was a “buy American” movement a reality in the New York art gallery world?

    The Art & Architecture Collection’sPamphlet Files are an excellent resource for this research. The files reveal an active agenda of shows for those who were still patronizing the art market during wartime and there are many examples of galleries showing American art in New York. The Macbeth Gallery, the Babcock Gallery, the Downtown Gallery, and the A.C.A. Gallery are well represented for the World War II years as is the traditional bastion of European art, Knoedler. The Knoedler files have material dating from 1895 and include much material from the 1940s. Knoedler was especially active in charitable events with shows benefiting Belgian Sailors with Allied Fleets (1942), the Red Cross War Relief Fund—“Allied Art for Allied Aid” (1942) and, in partnership with Durand-Ruel, a show to benefit British War Relief (1940). Other files also document charitable fundraising, such as a show in 1941 at the Macbeth Gallery to benefit the USO and the Durand Ruel Gallery’s 1944 Manet and Picasso show for the benefit of the Children’s Aid Society. Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery held a surrealist exhibition in October 1942 for the benefit of the Coordinating Council of French Relief Societies, and the Downtown Gallery supported United States War Bonds (“You Buy Art, We Buy Bonds”).

    Knoedler Galleries

    During World War II the art world in New York was active and changing—a combination of evolving styles and the influence of European artists escaping the war in Europe and settling in New York. American representational art and American Impressionism—the staple of the Macbeth and Babcock galleries—were rapidly giving way to Surrealism and early Abstract Expressionism. Joseph Cornell was very active during these years and produced a number of important box pieces, among them the “Medici Slot Machine” in 1942, possibly his greatest box. First shown at Julien Levy’s Gallery, it was shown in December of 1942 at Art of This Century—and sold, along with a number of other Cornell boxes. Jackson Pollack was given his first one-man show by Peggy Guggenheim in November of 1943 but sold only one piece—a drawing to a close friend and business associate of Peggy Guggenheim’s, Kenneth Macpherson.

    Many artists who could get out of Europe did and that wave of emigres included Dali, Ernst, Leger, Breton, Mondrian, and Duchamp. Most made their home, at least for a time, in New York City. Among the galleries who represented them were: Art of This Century, the Julien Levy Gallery, and the Bignou Gallery.

    The following is a selection of galleries well represented in the Pamphlet Files for the war years:

    Bignou Gallery

    ACA Gallery

    (the American Contemporary Art Gallery): A gallery with a long history of political and social activism, ACA was founded in 1932 by Russian born Herman Baron and focused on American art. Stuart Davis was a co-founding artist. “Designed to bring the public closer to artists and art events” via its art “Subscription Program” which in 1945-46 offered original lithographs or silkscreen prints from a group by Tromka, Evergood, M. Soyer, R. Soyer, Lozowick, Kopman, Jules, Sternberg, Olds and Gottlieb; a subscription to American Contemporary Art magazine, all ACA publications (catalogues, monographs, etc.), admission to lectures, and events for children - all for $10 a year. Many of the artists represented by ACA were involved in a union organization for themselves and others. Much of their work featured gritty representations of cities and working people as had been represented in the earlier exhibitions of American artists at the Macbeth Gallery—a kind of next generation Ashcan School. Among the artists exhibiting during the war years were Moses Soyer, Philip Evergood, William Gropper, David Burliuk, Ben Shan, and Raphael Soyer. In May 1945, the A.C.A. Gallery published a 78 pg. illustrated pamphlet entitled “Why I Hate the Nazis” by Corporal Milton J. Wynne (available in the Art & Architecture Collection). August 1945 brought the National Maritime Union Exhibition of Merchant Seamen’s Water Colors and Drawings (A project of the NMU Educational Department in Cooperation with the United Seamen’s Service) featuring the art of non-professionals. In spite of this, by 1949 the A.C.A. gallery would be labeled as “a spearhead of radical influence which is debasing art standards through Communist infiltration” by Republican congressman George A. Dondero of Michigan. This is documented by news clippings of the time in the Pamphlet Files. It is notable that A.C.A. artist Reginald Marsh’s “The Bowery” was in the collection of Democratic Senator (and publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica) William A. Benton of Connecticut—an ardent foe of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

    Additional materials are available through the Archives of American Art.

    The Watson Library of the Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a number of A.C.A. Gallery pamphlets, catalogues, and other publications from the war years in their collection.

    Art of This Century

    Art Of This Century

    These files contain a number of exhibition announcements, press releases, and clippings from the 1940s, mainly for group shows. The press release for the opening of the gallery in 1942 is in the file and includes this statement from Peggy Guggenheim: “Opening this Gallery and its collection to the public during a time when people are fighting for their lives and freedom is a responsibility of which I am fully conscious. This undertaking will serve its purpose only if it succeeds in serving the future instead of recording the past”. A typical roster is represented in this April 1944 show: Bracque, Dali, Ernst, Hare, Helion, Hirshfeld, Leger, Kandinsky, Masson, Matta, Miro, Mondrian, Motherwell, Pereira, Picasso, Rothko, Tanguy, Vail, and Waldberg.

    Additional material available at The Peggy Guggenheim Foundation papers.

    Babcock Gallery

    Now known as the Driscoll Babcock Gallery, it was the oldest gallery devoted exclusively to American Art. The Babcock Gallery was founded by John Snedecor in 1852 and originally called the Snedecor Gallery. It was renamed the Babcock Gallery in 1918. Like the Macbeth Gallery, the Babcock under the direction of Carmine Dalesio exhibited many of the best names in American art, such as: Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Arthur B. Davies, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Albert P. Ryder, and George Bellows. The Babcock Gallery was active during the war years and the Pamphlet Files contain numerous announcements for exhibits between 1940—1945. Less familiar names include: Revington Arthur, Robert Blackman, John Costigan, Lee Jackson, Lawrence Lebduska, James Lechay, L. Jean Liberte, Elliot Orr, Joseph de Martini, Robert Philipp, Sol Wilson, and Harry de Maine.

    Babcock Gallery exhibition catalogs, brochures and invitations, 1920-1958 can also be found at The New York Historical Society Archives.

    Bignou Gallery

    Bignou Gallery

    Located on East 57th Street, the Bignou Gallery is well represented for the war years. In January 1941, it held an exhibition of English and French Landscapes to benefit the British War Relief Society—W. Somerset Maugham is listed as one of the patrons. It also exhibited “The Belgian Congo at War as seen by Andre Cauvin” in February 1944; French Landscapes in February 1944; Modern Paintings including Dali, Picasso, Dufy, Soutine, Utrillo, and Vuillard, in January 1945.

    Additional material including photo albums of art work which passed through the Bignou Gallery may also be found at the Frick Art Reference Library.

    Downtown Gallery

    Downtown Gallery

    Downtown Gallery

    The Pamphlet Files collection of Edith Halpert’s gallery at 113 West 13th Street is extensive and documents exhibitions from the 1920s through the 1960s. During the 1940s the gallery offered a mix of American folk art and contemporary American artists such as: Charles Sheeler, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Jacob Lawrence, Julian Levi, and William Steig. In December 1941-January 1942 the gallery exhibited “American Negro Art: 19th and 20th Centuries”. For a June 1942 exhibition, the gallery announced a “War Bond Purchase Pledge” by “the participating artists and the gallery” to purchase United States War Bonds. Post war, the Downtown Gallery held an exhibition in 1946 - “6 Artists Out of Uniform” by 6 veteran U.S. Army and Coast Guard service members. The announcement listed the artists’ service dates as well as their art works.

    The Downtown Gallery records, many of which are digitized materials from the Pamphlet Files, are held by the Archives of American Art.

    Julien Levy Gallery


    Julien Levy Gallery

    Julien Levy opened his first New York gallery in 1931 with an exhibition of Alfred Stieglitz photographs. He soon focused on Surrealism, representing Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Frida Kahlo, and Joseph Cornell. (Though Cornell stayed with Julien Levy for 13 years, he did not sell much work through the gallery and eventually left in 1946.) The Pamphlet Files include an announcement for a December 1943 show entitled “Through the Big End of the Opera Glass” with work by Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy, and Joseph Cornell including his “Medici Slot Machine”; Max Ernst’s “Exhibition “Surrealiste”; and a December 1944 group exhibition—“The Imagery of Chess” with “Newly Designed Chessmen, Music and Miscellany” that featured George Koltanowski as the “World Champion of Blindfold Chess”. The match was refereed by Marcel Duchamp and by invitation only.

    The Julien Levy Gallery Papers are held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives.

    Knoedler Gallery and Durand-Ruel  Gallery

    Knoedler Galleries

    Though most often remembered for European and Old Master works, the Knoedler files from the 1940s document many exhibitions and, as previously mentioned, fund-raising events. Knoedler held major shows of American Art during the war years including “American Watercolors and Pastels” (1942); “American Landscape Painting” (1943); “American Portraits by American Painters” during April/May 1944; and “American Painting: Landscape, Genre, and Still Life of the 19th and 20th Century” in November/December 1944. The “American Portraits” show was especially well reviewed in the NY Sun and the Herald Tribune as news clippings in the files document. The Pamphlet Files collection of Knoedler material is extensive and contains material from 1895 until its closing in 2011.

    Additional material can be found in The Knoedler Gallery Archive which is held by the Getty Research Institute.

    The Macbeth Gallery

    By the time of World War II, the Macbeth Gallery’s “Angry Young Men” may still have been angry, but were not quite so young. The Macbeth Gallery was as busy as ever and materials documenting numerous exhibitions during the war years are part of the Pamphlet Files. A small selection includes: “Paintings and Drawings by Augustus Vincent Tack” (1941); “Drawings and Watercolors by Carl Newland Werntz” with a percentage of the proceeds donated to the U.S.O (1941); “Paintings by Deceased American Masters” (1942); a Marsden Hartley solo show (1942); The Fiftieth Anniversary exhibit (1942) was a major event and featured 35 works including paintings by Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler and Macbeth regulars, such as: Hassam, Prendergast, and Davies.; “Temperas and Water Colors” by Andrew Wyeth (1943); “American Paintings of the Early 19th Century” (1944); and “Early American Artists” (1945). During the 1940s, the gallery was run by founder William Macbeth’s nephew, Robert McIntyre, until its closing in 1953.

    More Macbeth Gallery materials also available at:

    The Digital Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Thomas J. Watson Library.

    The archives for the History of Collecting in America at the Frick.

    Blog post: The Macbeth Gallery and Angry Young Men in the Pamphlet Files.

    In addition to the Pamphlet Files, the Art & Architecture Collection located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building has many other materials on all of the artists and art movements mentioned, including: monographs, biographies, catalogues raisonnés, bound pamphlets, and other materials from this era. For any questions or queries please email us at


    Dearborn, M.V. (2004). Mistress of modernism: the life of Peggy Guggenheim. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

    Guggenheim, P. (1979). Out of this century: confessions of an art addict. New York: Universe Books.

    Jewell, E.A. (1941). The problem of ‘seeing’; vitally important matter of approach- American artist and his public. The New York Times, August 10, 1941.

    Levy, J. (1977). Memoir of an art gallery. New York: Putnam.

    Saarinen, A.B. (1958). The proud possessors: the lives, times and tastes of some adventurous American art collectors. New York: Random House.

    Schaffner, I. and Jacobs, L. (1998). Julien Levy: portrait of an art gallery. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

    Solomon, D. (1997). Utopia Parkway: the life and work of Joseph Cornell. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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    We share one thing in common with some of our favorite characters from literature: a love of reading. We also happen to think reading can be a heroic act, whether that means imagining a different world or standing up for novels. Here are a few of our favorite readers in literature. Who are yours?

    Anne of Green Gables

    Emma Bovary from Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    “She was the amoureuse of all the novels, the heroine of all the plays, the vague 'she' of all the poetry books.”

    madame bovary

    Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery

    "People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven't you?”

    Anne of Green Gables

    Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

    “The world was hers for the reading.”

    a tree grows in brooklyn

    Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

    “It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

    northanger abbey

    Jo March in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

    "I like good strong words that mean something."

    little women

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  • 12/07/15--11:50: Head Shots: Dulcie Cooper
  • Guest post by Emma Winter Zieg, volunteer and former intern at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

    Dulcie Cooper
    Dulcie Cooper. Image ID: TH-04678

    If you’ve never heard of Dulcie Cooper, don’t worry, there’s still time to get familiar:  two portraits of her are on display in Head Shots, on display at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts through December 30.  They are featured in a frame of 1920 actresses who epitomized the flapper look.  To learn more about her and the role of head shots in casting in the 1920s, I tracked her career using the electronic resources at

    Her father, Ashley Cooper, brought his family from Australia to British Columbia when Cooper was only two years old, in 1905.  Both her parents were actors (years later her father would originate the role of Mr. Witherspoon, one of the men “helped” by the murderous sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace), so she spent her childhood traveling through Canadian theaters.  She made her own theatrical debut at age three, going on to play a variety of “little boy” roles, later saying “Cowboys and Indians were the things I used to love best.”  The family moved to San Francisco where a thirteen-year-old Cooper played in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where she was chased by real bloodhounds.

    Cooper’s career continued through a variety of stage and screen roles on the west coast, as she became a lead player first in several stock companies and movies.  The reviews she received ranged from the grudgingly complimentary assessment of the supporting cast of Desert Blossoms who were “well enough selected for the style of work demanded of them,” to outright praise, such as her review for Valley of Content, where she was “sweet, charming, and emotionally a revelation.”  She was also getting quite a bit of press attention, particularly from Grace Kingsley of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote several features on her, each time rapturously praising Cooper, once remarking that during a performance “the audience was gasping at this adorable child’s beauty.”  With a reporter in her corner, one who predicted that once Cooper went to New York, the city would “gather the rightfully named Dulcie…right to its heart and never let go again,” it is no surprise that Cooper decided to go east.

    The head shots in the exhibit at the Library for the Performing Arts, also available to view on NYPL Digital Collections, are probably evidence of her efforts get cast on Broadway.  They were eventually successful,  however, Cooper came away from her New York experience somewhat disillusioned.  “’But what have you done on Broadway?’ I was asked, and when I had to admit I’d never played there at all, there wasn’t a bit of interest in what I might have done anywhere else,” she remembered.  Her frustration with the casting process may have had to do with a part she almost didn’t play on Broadway, in a play called The Little SpitfireThe Little Spitfire had a tortured casting history, but Cooper was cast fairly early into the process, after only one other actress, Winifred St. Clair, had played in an out of town try out.  Cooper was replaced after a few more try out performances because “some one persuaded the producer that he should have a well-known New York actress take the role.”  Cooper was replaced by Sylvia Field, who already had eight Broadway credits to Cooper’s zero.  The more seasoned Broadway actress was only with Spitfire for a few weeks, then the producers hired another California actress, but one with previous Broadway credits.  That actress, Sara Sothern, then left the show to get married (and later have a child, Elizabeth Taylor, who went on to be quite successful in the motion picture industry), and then the producers rehired St. Clair.  Only after they deemed St. Clair wanting a second time did they return to Cooper, which meant that she got the part, but only after knowing that she was absolutely the last option.  As if to add insult to injury, this entire process was written up in a newspaper article.  It ran without a byline or author listed, which can mean that it was planted by the production itself. 

    Cooper may have had experiences like this with other New York productions, but whatever the circumstances, by the time she returned to California, Cooper had a definite view on the casting process, saying “They have a New York brand…It means everything.”  She also was frustrated with type casting, which stars know as a trap keeping them in, but Cooper felt as a wall keeping her out, compounding the problems already felt with New York experience.  She spoke about this conflict, saying “New York producers very often pick youngsters fresh from dramatic school to play a particular type role… Players who have done stock…are most apt to succeed.  If they fill a certain part it is because of acting ability, not because he or she is the type.”  Cooper may have encountered the type problem before: at least one reporter had heard a story about her first audition for a movie studio where she was rejected at the ripe old age of 19 as looking too old, until she took down her curly hair and was able to fill a younger type.

    Whatever animosity she felt towards the theater industry, Dulcie Cooper never left it behind, even though it never made her a star the way Grace Kinglsey had promised her it would.  She went on to have a long career as a character actress, including appearing as Ima Kronkite in the original Broadway run of Picnic, a long run in Fanny, and tours of  Annie Get Your Gun and Auntie Mame.  Her marriage to stage manager Elmer Brown lasted until his death, and she was the mother of two sons.  It’s hard to think that she lost hope after her setbacks in New York; the reporter who wrote down some of her comments about casting in the industry noted that even as she spoke about her frustration with the system, she seemed to “radiate enthusiasm” for theater itself.  At any rate, Dulcie Cooper was not the type of woman who wanted things in life, or death, to come easy. “I always thought it would be hard to get to heaven. “ She said, not quite speaking about a play  “I have a sort of idea our souls scatter, after death—become part of the universe.”

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  • 12/07/15--12:53: Oh Books, Take Me Away
  • Is the holiday season getting to you? The hustle, the bustle, the crowds, the shopping... maybe sometimes even your own family members...

    Look no further than your local library to find a quick escape. We asked our expert NYPL staff to name some books that make them want to sneak off to the bathroom, lock the door, and disappear into another world during the holidays.


    A linguistically rich, sprawling historical saga is my idea of a great escapist read. I recently read Sea of Poppies, the first novel in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, set in north India in the 1830s at the beginning of the Opium Wars. I can’t wait to escape into more picaresque adventure and fascinating historical detail with Ghosh’s colorful characters in River of Smoke and Flood of Fire. —Elizabeth Waters, Mid-Manhattan Library






    I love stories that are retelling of fairy tales. The way an author keeps the essence of the original story, but twists it in a way that you never thought possible. My current obsession is the series The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. The first book, Cinder, is a retelling of Cinderella, and it grabbed me from the first page. The second, Scarlet is based on Little Red Riding Hood; the third, Cress, is Rapunzel retold; and the final two stories, Fairest and Winter, are loosely based on Snow White. Each story is intricate and ties well with the novel before. You would not think that these characters could flow seamlessly into other stories, but Meyers has created magic. The comfort of the original fairy tales we know and love, with a fantastic twist. —Sandra Farag, Selection Team



    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. In an effort to free her family from poverty, brave and impulsive Minli seeks the legendary Old Man of the Moon. This book, reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz, is full of gorgeous artwork and traditional Chinese folktales. —Althea Georges, Moshulu




    “Escapist bathroom reading” encompasses just about everything. Gabriel Garcia Marquez had trouble reading Don Quixote until a friend suggested that he keep it next to the toilet and read it while he took care of his “daily needs” (his words). This worked for him. I like to escape with short humorous pieces, which is why I found Craig Boreth’s How to Iron Your Own Damn Shirt to be a perfect choice. Ostensibly a guide for men on how to do household chores, it really is a how-to book that includes many funny “how-not-to-do” scenarios. —Wayne Roylance, Selection Team





    In The Humans by Matt Haig, a mathematician makes a huge discovery, and it causes concern among distant aliens who fear humans will rise above their station in the universe. So, of course, they send one of their own to inhabit his body, destroy the proof and anyone who knew about it, and dispose of his wife and teenage son. The alien’s disgust at the human race and the crazy situations that arise while he’s inhabiting the object of his revulsion are pretty hysterical, and you won’t be surprised to learn that the cold and heartless alien gets more heart the more time he spends on Earth. —Emily Pullen, Library Shop





    A heavy dose of magical realism is the perfect antidote to stuffy holiday parties, in my opinion. One of my all-time favorites of the genre is Salman Rushdie’s infamous novel, The Satanic Verses. Set primarily in London, this book follows the lives of two very different, yet kind of similar men: one an angel, one a demon, and both actors and Indian expatriates. Though the novel is famous because it got Rushdie into a lot of trouble, it’s truly a wonderful read. The language is breathtaking, the characters are sympathetic, and the story is one that makes this book really difficult to put down. —Nancy Aravecz, Mid-Manhattan





    I’m not sure that the term “escapist” automatically comes to mind for The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth (published in January 2016 and added to our catalog soon; stay tuned!) but I have been enjoying it in between running holiday errands. Fans of Lisa Genova’s writing will enjoy this novel, by the author of The Secrets of Midwives. It’s an unconventional romance wherein a woman in her late 30’s facing early onset Alzheimer’s disease meets (and continues to meet, for the first time, to her) another young resident in his early 40’s whose form of dementia affects his speech and word production. A chef whose world has fallen apart after her husband’s involvement in a Ponzi scheme helps them to navigate the concerns of their families and of the residence where they stay. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market


    promiseI’m a sucker for a Christmas romance, especially a historical one. Go ahead roll your eyes at me, everyone does, but there’s just something magical about people falling in love at Christmastime as the snow gently falls on a British manor house. A favorite has to be A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh, about a young couple from different classes struggling with their arranged marriage at Christmastime. What I love are all the details of an early Victorian Christmas filled with food, games and the gathering of mistletoe. Guaranteed to put you in a holiday mood. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street


    baenGood military science fiction does the trick for me. I just finished On Basilisk Station by David Weber and boy, is it a ripping good read like the old Hornblower books the author seeks to emulate. Having incurred the wrath of the admiralty, Honor Harrington and her cruiser HMS Fearless are sent to the fleet’s backwater but a sinister plot by enemies of Manticore may be in the offing. Get the ebook for free directly from Baen in any e-reader format. —Joshua Soule, Spuyten Duyvil


    Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

    Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

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    What would Hanukkah be without potato pancakes? 

    Like candles to a menorah or gelt to a dreidel, potatoes are every bit a part of the holiday. So for all of you out there celebrating, or just appreciating, here are eight "potatoes" from our Digital Collection

    Enough to last all eight nights:


    1) The Baked Potato

    What a great name for a band! These three lovely ladies went by that moniker. Seen with Christopher Lee, they played alongside Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in a made-for-Hollywood fundraiser Star-Spangled Night of Rights in 1977. And that’s when this photo was snapped.

    Billy Rose Theatre Division, Library of Performing Arts

    2) One Happy Pig

    This 1917 illustration is classic Beatrix Potter. Here, an adorable l little pig is seen peeling potatoes for her unlikely supper. Maybe potato pancakes!

    Art and Picture Collection, Mid-Manhattan Library

    3) The Irish Stew

    You thought we forgot the Irish? In this comic song, not only do Irish people love potatoes, they look like them too! Here’s a line from the chorus written in 1891: Murphy look like a potato, McFarland like a carrot.” Proving we have more than corned  beef in common.

    Music Division, Library of Performing Arts

    4) In the Potato Laboratory, No Really

    Ever heard of the Potato Act of 1935? Didn’t think so. During the Great Depression, farmers could only sell potatoes in sealed containers monitored by the government. Above, a government worker tests some spuds in Prince Georges County, Beltsville, Maryland. Pass the olive oil!

    The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division, of Art, Prints and Photographs

    5) Don’t Put This in Your Pipe!

    And you thought cigarette cards were sexy. This gem offers smokers a helpful tips to growing their own potatoes: Put them in a shallow box and in the dark until the eyes sprout. Helpful!

    George Arents Collection, Schwarzman Building

    6) Behold, the Potato King

    No one knows potatoes like Junius G. Groves knew potatoes. Groves, born a slave, owned an extremely profitable farm in Edwardsville, Kansas. Seen in 1907, he earned his title by growing the most bushels of potatoes per acre ever just five years earlier. That’s a whole lot of latkes!

    Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center

    7) Hello Mother, Hello Father

    In this 1717 letter, William Byrd writes to John Custis about his life in Virginia. In many ways, it’s a typical letter home in which he writes about his wife, his tobacco crop, and asks that his friend please send potatoes.

    Manuscripts and Archives Division, Schwarzman Building

    8) Sisters at Farms

    This undated etching by Jules Breton and Felix Bracquemond shows women working together to harvest potatoes. Likely created in the late 1800s, this work is snapshot of everyday life and offers perhaps the best insight into why we eat potatoes for Hanukkah: When we were peasants, that’s all we could afford. Now they it can serve as a reminder of our past.

    Happy Hanukkah everyone!

    The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division, of Art, Prints and Photographs

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    Conan the Cimmerian

    “Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” That's a guy who needs no further introduction. Conan the Barbarian has been part of the popular imagination for nearly a century, with a legacy stretching into everything from literature to cinema.

    The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian's publication marked the first modern effort to publish Robert E. Howard's classic sword and sorcery stories in their original, unedited glory. Writers like Howard were writing gritty and gruesome fantasy before George R.R. Martin made it cool.  Credited by some as the inventor of sword and sorcery, Howard published most of his Conan shorts in the famed Weird Tales magazine before his suicide in 1936.

    This collection comes with an essay by editor Patrice Louniet, discussing the racism present in nearly all of Howard's works. Some of it was subtle, some not so subtle. Howard's stories frequently featured villains with dark, dusky or black skin.

    Conan the Barbarian
    Not pictured: Wenching and Pillaging

    The stories themselves, particularly the Conan works, are fierce and enjoyable reads but that racist spectre is something all the fans must grapple with as they read. Louinet ties in Howard's correspondence and friendship with virulent racist H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed, the two men often shared ideas, stories and even some friendly competition in their writing. You will find echoes of Lovecraft in some of the Conan stories here.

    As you begin reading, consider not only the energetic narrative and fantastic imagination; think also of the milieu that produced Howard, along with his racist attitudes. It might cast a shadow over the writing, but what's a good, grim fantasy without some darkness both real and imagined? Join us next week when we discuss Howard's influence on modern fantasy. Until then, enjoy the sullen Cimmerian's exploits as he fights, wenches and pillages his way through the Hyborian Age.


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    Subscribe on iTunes.

    Edmund de Waal is an artist and writer, perhaps best known for his ceramics. His books include the family memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession, The Pot Book, Rethinking Bernard Leach: Studio Pottery and Contemporary Ceramics, 20th Century Ceramics, Design Sourcebook: Ceramics, and Bernard Leach. This week for the New York Public Library Podcast, we're proud to present Edmund de Wall discussing porcelain, time travel, and sound.

    Edmund de Waal LIVE from the NYPL
    Edmund de Waal LIVE from the NYPL

    Celebrated for his porcelain installations, de Waal notes that porcelain had often been regarded as a "footnote" in the decorative arts that he wishes to bring to "the main text":

    "Porcelain is a footnote. Porcelain, it isn’t, of course it is the most extraordinary thing in the world, but porcelain seems to be a total footnote in decorative arts, it seems to be a sedated part of cultural history. It’s completely forgotten. It’s the province of connoisseurs and collectors and damned art historians and all those people who just don’t care enough about it, or care about it in the wrong kinds of ways, so actually to be able to bring it from the world of footnotes, from the world of the deadly kind of anatomized kind of way, to bring it actually, the fact that actually, the discovery of it brings it out of that sea of footnotes at the bottom of the page right up into the main text, the main body of the story, and then you’re starting to tell stories, which is what it’s all about."

    To de Waal, working in the medium of porcelain provides a way of inhabiting multiple timeframes at once like a time traveler, even as the act of creation is imbued with immediacy:

    "But the immediacy of actually making something beautiful in porcelain, that extraordinary moment when something is—it feels totally, totally, totally alive, totally present in this moment of creation, and also, simultaneously, a thousand years ago you’re deep within, you’re deep in China, you’re deep within—in Edemissen, you’re in the Cornish hills, you’re wherever you are, so all the tenses get completely muddled under, under the lens of immediacy, which can only happen if you’ve done it forever, if you’ve done all that walking, all that research, all that making. You know, the first day of my apprenticeship, my teacher said to me, my elderly, you know, this is seventeen, he said, 'Edmund, the first thirty thousand pots you make are the worst,' and that’s kind of cool because it says you need a certain amount of reflection before you get to the immediacy."

    As a creator also of texts, de Waal is particularly interested in playing with sonic negative spaces. He says that he hopes one day to attain the austerity of Lydia Davis's prose:

    "The spaces in the book are aural, they’re my way of listening to different gaps and pacing things in different ways, and they’re visual, because actually I find that as I get older I need more space around words, you know. I’m going to end up like Lydia Davis, God help me, if I’m lucky, in my very, very old age with very, very short, very, very short things on very big pieces of paper. You know, that’s my aspiration, almost nothing there, lots and lots and lots of white space, but fragmentation also gives you rhythms and energies across a whole book in a way that great chunky Midwestern prose just can’t do."

    You can subscribe to the New York Public Library Podcast to hear more conversations with wonderful artists, writers, and intellectuals. Join the conversation today!

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    National Brownie Day

    If you were looking for an excuse to eat copious amounts of chocolate today, I’m happy to say you’ve found it: it’s National Brownie Day! Do you go for the gooey, fudgy kind of brownie, or do your brownies veer more toward a lighter, almost cake-like texture? Do you add chocolate chunks or M&Ms? Do you forego chocolate altogether and go for blondies?

    Fat Witch Bakery has been specializing in brownies for years, so they know what they’re talking about.  Lucky for you, you don’t have to trek to their bakery in order to enjoy one of their delicious takes on the brownie for yourself. You can check out their cookbook, Fat Witch Brownies, and whip up a batch for yourself! Recipes include banana bread brownie, the breakfast brownie, and their famous traditional brownie, along with a few takes on delicious bar cookies. Every recipe in the book takes under an hour and uses easy-to-find ingredients, so you can get your brownie craving covered quickly.

    Here’s a healthy recipe from their website to get you started:

    Sweet Potato Brownies


    1 cup mashed sweet potato
    2 large eggs
    ½ cup pure maple syrup
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    ⅓ cup refined coconut oil, melted
    ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    ½ teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon salt
    ½ cup coconut flour
    ⅓ cup chopped pecans (optional)


    1. Preheat the oven to 350 ℉.
    2. To make the mashed sweet potatoes, prick 1 large or 2 small potatoes a few places with a fork. Wrap them in foil and roast in a 400 degree oven until soft (usually 45 – 75 minutes). Cool the potatoes. Split open and scoop out the flesh and mash with a fork.
    3. Grease a 9" x 9" baking pan with coconut oil.
    4. Dust the pan with coconut flour and shake out the excess.
    5. In a large mixing bowl, beat the mashed sweet potato and eggs until fairly smooth. Don’t worry about tiny clumps of sweet potato.
    6. Add the maple syrup, vanilla, coconut oil and mix until well combined.
    7. Sift the cocoa, baking powder, salt and coconut flour directly into the sweet potato mixture. Mix until well combined. If desired, stir in the pecans by hand.
    8. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan with a silicone spatula.
    9. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or only with crumbs.
    10. Cool in the pan for at least 1 hour before serving. Makes about 12 to 16 squares, and pairs well with a fruit sorbet!

    Looking for more brownie baking inspiration? Try checking out one of these cookbooks from the Library:

    Fat Witch Bake Sale
    Food52 Baking
    Gluten-Free Sweet Treats
    The Dessert Bible

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    The Division of Continuing Education and Workforce Developement of Hostos Community College, City University of New York, provides you the opportunity to develop the skills to do the job.

    Free Information Technology Training Program15197jpg

    • No cost CompTIA A+ and Cisco Training
    • Earn Industry Recognized Certification

    IT Training Program Benefits

    • Tuition NO COST
    • Exam voucher NO COST
    • Recognized career advancement training opportunity - supported by IT professionals
    • Evening-Weekend Hours
    • Enhanced curriculum based on current IT industry needs
    • Competitive placement opportunities

    Minimum Qualifications

    • Interest in IT
    • High School Diploma/HSE
    • Possess an 8th grade math level
    • Ability to read at a 10th grade level
    • 18 years of age or older
    • Eligibility to work in the U.S.
    • Maintain a class schedule of evenings and weekends for 3-4 months.

    For more information and to register for Information Sessions in December 2015 and January 2016, please contact Javier Saldana, Program Coordinator 718-664-2541,

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    Legos at George Bruce Library
    Building with Legos at George Bruce Library

    On November 11, the George Bruce branch was thrilled to have special guest Lyn Miller-Lachmann to discuss her book Surviving Santiago. This novel is the companion to her previous book Gringolandia, which was selected for the Best Books for Young Adults list in 2010 by the American Library Association. In Surviving Santiago, we learn the story of Tina Aguilar's first visit home to her former political prisoner father in post-revolution Chile.

    This was the first TeenLIVE event to be co-hosted with NYPL's Innovation Labs, which is an after-school program for Middle School students. Innovation Labs aims to teach technology skills through project-based learning, so this was also the first time connecting a work of literature to one of those projects.

    During the program, Ms. Miller-Lachmann used historical images from the time and place of the events in the novel. She guided students through interpreting the photos and asked them to make connections to the world of the past. After the historical scene was set, she shared passages from Surviving Santiago. As our library serves the diverse community of West Harlem, students connected with Tina's conflict with having family members immersed in two different locations and cultures.

    Surviving Santiago

    Following the reading, Ms. Miller-Lachmann revealed a common interest with the students; building with Legos. She presented photos of Lego vignettes of scenes from her works. Students were amazed at the technical intricacies of her scenes and had questions about the process. For example, one student wanted to know how she got such a tiny book copy of Surviving Santiago to use as a prop in her scene.

    The event culminated with time for students to explore and build their own Lego scenes with guidance and feedback from Ms. Miller-Lachmann. The students' interest was enthusiastic enough to inspire adding Legos as a regular material in the Makerspace of Innovation Labs.

    Ms. Miller-Lachmann also authored Gringolandia and Rogue, edited several anthologies, and translated The World in a Second from Portuguese. She is the assistant host of "Los Vientos del Pueblo," the bilingual radio show about Latin American and Spanish culture. She documents her love of Lego building on her instagram, including Little Brick Township. For more information about her life and works, check out her website

    Innovation Labs is a free after-school program through NYPL.


    One of the middle school boys who came to my presentation at the George Bruce Branch of #nypl made this horse and rider.

    A photo posted by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (@lynmillerlachmann) on

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  • 12/08/15--08:44: 15 Smoothie Recipe Books
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    The following titles on our Recent Acquisitions Display are just a few of our new books, which are available at the reference desk in the Dorot Jewish Division. Catalog entries for the books can be found by clicking on their covers.

    Several books are also available through our e-book catalog, Project Muse, Oxford Scholarship Online and University Press Scholarship Online.

    Chosen Calling
    Dislocated Memories
    The Divine Courtroom
    Ethics in Ancient Israel
     BOOK/TEXT 	  Excavations in the Western Negev Highlands
    Framing Jewish Culture
    Gustav Landauer
    Hanukkah in Alaska
    Imagined and Real Jerusalem
    Jewish Women Writers in Britain
    Meals in Early Judaism
    Purity, Body, and Self
    Temple in Text and Tradition
    Three Thousand Years of Hebrew Versification
    Vision from the Prophet
    Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls

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    The Librarian Is In

    We’re doing a bit of match-making this season at The New York Public Library!

    It can be daunting trying to figure out what to read next or which book your favorite people want for the holidays—and that’s where we come in.

    Our Readers Services librarians will staff our shiny new “The Librarian Is In” booth during select hours every week until December 23 in the Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (the one on 42nd Street, with the lions out front!). Visitors can step right up to the booth and ask for book recommendations.

    Want to visit us? We’ll be there until December 23, from 10–11 AM and 2–3 PM on Mondays and Wednesdays, plus 2–3 PM on Fridays.

    But if you can’t make it in person, don’t worry! You can get our recommendations a bunch of other ways online:

    • Twitter office hours: Every Friday from 10–11 AM, we give book recommendations live on Twitter via the @NYPLRecommends handle and the hashtag #TheLibrarianIsIn.

    • The “What Should I Read Next” form: Readers can fill out our online form at any time, and we’ll email you a few personalized recommendations in about three business days.

    • Staff Picks browse tool: Every few months, our team and other NYPL staff members pick out 100 of our favorite books for children, young adults, and adults. We feature them in an interactive web tool that allows readers to sort them and pick books they’re in the mood for.

    • Book lists: Every week, a team of NYPL’s book experts creates lists based on timely questions.

    You can also check out our 2015 recommendations in not-so-traditional categories:

    Adult Fiction & Nonfiction

    Young Adult


    We hope to see you soon at the “The Librarian Is In” booth—and online!

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  • 12/09/15--09:44: Santa's New York Roots

    Santas catch the trolley to Bloomingdales'
    "Santas catch the trolley to Bloomingdale's" Image ID: 1587014

    Today there’s no question about the identity of the jolly red-suited, white-bearded, toy-carrying plump old man: It’s Santa Claus, of course. Throughout the mid-19th century, however, the identity of this famous gift giver was only just developing.

    "A Merry Christmas" postcard
    "A Merry Christmas"Image ID: 1587056

    Saint Nicholas, Belsnickel, Father Christmas, the Wild Man. While all of these cultural figures are symbolic of the holiday season, none are quite the jovial character we know and love today.

    So how was the iconic image of Santa born?

    Several New Yorkers inspired the personality, appearance, and traditions of this holiday favorite. Through cultural influences, writings, and illustrations, John Pintard, Washington Irving, Clement C. Moore, and Thomas Nast all helped to establish a modern representation of Santa Claus.

    Jolly Old St. Nick

    A number of legends associate Saint Nicholas with gift giving, aiding young people, imposing honesty, and rescuing those in need. As the patron saint of children and one of the most revered saints during the Middle Ages, folklore depicts Saint Nicholas as a giver of small gifts to well-behaved children on the eve of his feast day, December 6.

    Portrayed as an elderly white-bearded man dressed in red bishop’s regalia, complete with staff and miter, Saint Nicholas delivered presents to children throughout Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and parts of Germany as early as the tenth century. This saint, despite his judgmental demeanor, was highly regarded by many 19th century New Yorkers and helped spark the evolution of an American Christmas gift giver.

    St. Nicholas Broadside, distributed to the New-York Historical Society for its first celebration of the Festival of St. Nicholas on December 6th, 1810, New-York Historical Society Library
    Broadside of St. Nicholas, distributed to New-York Historical Society members, 1810 (New-York Historical Society Library)

    Saint Nicholas in New York

    Following the American Revolution, interest in the Dutch colonial history of New York surged, and Saint Nicholas became a favorite anti-British symbol of New York Historical Society founder, John Pintard.

    Pintard held a strong interest in Saint Nicholas, promoting him as the patron saint of both the Society and the city as a whole throughout the early 1800s. Annual Society meetings were held on Saint Nicholas’ feast day, members were issued Saint Nicholas promotional materials, and Pintard even staged (unintentionally terrifying) visits between Saint Nicholas and his family.

    “To the memory of St. Nicholas. May the virtuous habits and simple manners of our Dutch ancestors be not lost in the luxuries and refinements of the present time” —Dr. David Hosack, New York Historical Society Banquet, 1809

    Knickerbocker's History

    This local promotion of Saint Nicholas attracted the attention of New York writer, Washington Irving.

    Irving joined the New York Historical Society while writing the 1809 Knickerbocker’s History of New York. Likely inspired by Pintard, Irving featured Saint Nicholas prominently in this satirical history of the New Amsterdam Dutch, depicting him as a symbol of Dutch-American ethnic identity.

    Knickerbocker's History of New York, p. 136
    Knickerbocker's History of New York, p. 136

    Altering the saint’s appearance from the tall, somber, commanding European image, Irving reinvented Saint Nicholas as a short, stout, merry, pipe-smoking Dutchman, dressed in traditional colonial attire. Though Irving sparked an initial transformation of Saint Nicholas, this Christmas figure was still far from the image of Santa Claus we know today.

    Harper's Weekly, December 20, 1884, "Hello Little One," by Thomas Nast
    "Hello Little One!" Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly

    ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

    "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," by Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly
    "For he's a jolly good fellow!" Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly

    It was not until the 1822 poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” when the familiar spirit of Santa Claus truly began to unfold. Written by Clement C. Moore, a professor at New York’s General Theological Seminary, this poem created an unprecedented characterization of Saint Nicholas.

    Recognizable by its opening line, “‘Twas the night before Christmas,” Moore tells a story of a plump “jolly old elf” who traveled by reindeer-pulled sleigh and descended down chimneys to deliver presents to children’s stockings. A friend of Washington Irving, it is speculated that Moore’s version of Saint Nicholas was inspired by descriptions in Knickerbocker’s History of New York, and by real-life characteristics of the first governor of New Netherland and a portly Dutch neighbor of Moore’s.

    Many details now synonymous with the legend of Santa Claus were first introduced in this poem, including changing Saint Nicholas’ visit to Christmas Eve instead of the Saint’s feast day or New Year’s Eve. While there lies some controversy about whether Moore was the true author of this poem, this depiction left a lasting imprint on American culture, forever changing Christmas lore.

    New York American, January 3, 1824
    New York American, January 3, 1824
    An Ode to Saint Claas, January 4, 1828
    New York American, January 4, 1828


    As the Americanized version of Saint Nicholas gained distinction from his European predecessor, so did his name.

    Though Sinterklaas is the Dutch phrase for Saint Nicholas, this word posed some difficulty for American English speakers and prompted an evolution of the gift giver’s title. Before Americans collectively settled on “Santa Claus,” some early naming attempts include St. Aclaus, St. Iclaus, Sancte Klaas, St. Claas, St. a claus, and Santeclaw.

    A Signature Look

    Interpretations of Santa’s appearance were very imaginative throughout the 19th century. Depictions ranged from thin to fat, elf-like to human man, and costumes were not standardized; No one was quite sure what this gift-giver should look like.

    Depiction of Santa Claus, Dollar Newspaper, Philadelphia, PA, December 25, 1844
    Early depiction of Santa Claus
    Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
    December 25, 1844

    It wasn’t until the illustrations of Thomas Nast, a German-born New Yorker and Harper’s Weekly cartoonist, that an enduring image of Santa Claus was established.

    Creating an entire world for Santa built upon the traditions described by Clement Moore and the influences of German Christmas folklore, Nast captured trademark elements of Santa’s image as his drawings evolved. A long white beard, black boots, and red suit trimmed with fur are just a few of these identifying features. Portrayed as a round, cheerful, elderly man, Nast's drawings also added some key details to Santa’s backstory: a home at the North Pole and toy-building elf assistants.

    Santa's celebrity status and iconic appearance was further cemeted in roles such as Coca Cola’s longstanding advertising campaign and growing holiday commercialism. 


    Cover of Harper's Weekly, December 30, 1871, "Letters from Naughty Children's Parents"
    "Letters from Naughty Children's Parents," Harper's Weekly, December 30, 1871


    A figure rooted in centuries-old legends and decades-long American transformation, Santa Claus as a pop culture icon is here to stay.

    Further Reading

    Santa is an All-American, Chicago Daily Tribune 12-18-1950
    Chicago Daily Tribune, December 18, 1950

    Learn more about the history of Santa Claus through the following materials:

    Find Thomas Nast’s Harper’s Weekly illustrations of Santa Claus in the HarpWeek database. Also search for articles describing early St. Nicholas and Santa Claus traditions in the America’s Historical Newspapers and Proquest Historical Newspapers databases.

    First mention of "St. a Claus," Rivington's New-New Gazetteer, December 23, 1773
    The first mention of a Santa Claus figure:"St. a Claus," Rivington's New-York Gazetteer, December 23, 1773

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    The Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development of the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), City University of New York, with the support of Small Business Services (SBS) provides a free Medical Assistant Specialist training for low-income individuals who qualify for Individual Training Grants.15369.jpg

    This Medical Assistant program will prepare students to handle a wide-range of health care services/tasks ranging from  administrative practices and clinical patient procedures for the private and public sectors as well as hospitals.

    Courses in this program include Fundamentals of Medical Assisting , Medical Terminology/Anatomy and Physiology, Medical Office Business Practice (including billing/coding and Electronic Health Records), Clinical Practice, Medical Assistant internship and Certification exam review.

    Upon completion of this program, students will take a review class to prepare to take the National Certification exam and be ready to join the medical assisting workforce.

    Medical Assistant Specialist Training Program TAACCCT II - Information Session and Assessment Schedule

    For more information on this and other certification programs at BMCC, call 212-346-8410.

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    Last week we introduced you, our gentle readers, to the sullen, rough barbarian Conan. It is a name that conjures a multitude of images. There is the campy cult classic film starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in the titular role. You have Conan as imagined by various comic illustrators. Even the acclaimed modern fantasy author Robert Jordan put his own spin on the legendary barbarian. 

    Conan: Bloody fantasy before George Martin made it cool.

    This brings up the point of today's Reader's Den. How has Robert E. Howard's creation influenced modern fantasy writing? Most here will know Robert Jordan as the creator of the epic fantasy cycle, The Wheel of Time. Then you get into fantasy author Brandon Sanderson who finished Jordan's work after that author's premature passing. Having read much of Sanderson's epic fantasy to date, I do detect some hints of Howard's influence, especially in his Mistborn novels.

    This does not even account for the many, many tales of sword and sorcery that have been written by the likes of Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock in the decades since Howard's passing. Even today's moderngrimdarkfantasists, whether they realize it or not, can trace roots to Howard's savage hillman.

    Why has Conan's influence been so enduring? What is it that speaks to readers and writers even decades later? Is it the Cimmerian's no-nonsense approach to seizing power? His willingness to cut down anything in his path while still displaying a certain cunning that sees him through harrowing adventure after adventure? Only you can decide, dear readers. Next week, we will recommend some titles for folks jonesing for more bloody, gutsy swords and sorcery.

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    University of Texas Press is a vital institutional press for fiction and non-fiction books. With a variety of books that cater to the public, as well as to the researcher, they have remained important for wonderful translations of literature, as well as political manifestations, studies on food culture, Texas life, Latino/a life and more. Included in this list as some of my favorite authors: Juan Rulfo, Mario Vargas, Llosa, Elena Garro and more. They are a stalwart in politics and philosophy, both of yesterday and today. Here are important titles to highlight from them:

    Courage, Resistance and Women in Ciudad Juarez

    Courage, Resistance and Women in Ciudad Juarez by Kathleen Staudt and Zulma Y Mendez

    This book is not just an overview or ethnography of the situation and responses to the horrifying issues in Ciudad Juarez, but is an engagement with how to draw light to this still occurring issue, also written about inThe Femicide Machineby Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez. A problem that has drawn contention from many actors, from the government denying responsibility and blaming drug cartels to corporations who turned this area into a no-person's land full of lawlessness and factories for underpaying and overworking both women and men, Ciudad Juarez has continued from the '90s to draw harsh criticism for the inability of any official to deal with the deaths, rapes and abuse there. Staudt and Mendez take a more modern approach to their research, by using language that is relatable to a not-just academic reader, as well as focusing on the modern day, providing context for the activism, but not focusing on the history as their main topic.

    What starts as a brief overview of the issues and the background of the area, leads us into a place that is filled with corruption, death and denial. This goes even as far as denying an astronomical number of deaths as anything but isolated incidents. In a similar manner, though there are many men that have died in Ciudad Juarez, official media and officials refuse to use the term femicide in application to the problems there, even though a large number of these deaths happen to women and most women have been found to be abused, physically and sexually, before death.

    What I find particularly fascinating is the chapter and references to social media playing a role in this struggle, and as a reaction and potential solution to the problems of Ciudad Juarez. While Staudt and Mendez have an instance of media backfire, they display the effects of social media on campaigning for justice to be a beneficial role. People can create meetings and spread meeting minutes, even streams of speakers and meetings, so that people stay up-to-date whether they are activists in Texas or anywhere else in the world. In this way, there is connections and there is more pressure put on accountability. It might not be perfect, but in many smaller ways, social networks has helped to spread ideas and create victories, both personal and strategic.

    After that, Staudt and Mendez have two chapters that cover transnational activism and solidarity. In Chapter 5 they go over the congressional race and influence by activists in Ciudad Juarez, they consider the Peoples' Tribunals that mirrored the Russell Tribunals to create an "opinion" to push forth, and they go over the politics and potentials that come from faith-based activism. Continuing on in Chapter 6 they cross borders, with activist and poet Jose Sicilia who has helped to lead one group across countries to bring awareness and change to Ciudad Juarez.

    In closing out the book, the authors look towards how their research can be integrated into the movements and how these movements can continue to build upon what they are already doing to seek justice in Ciudad Juarez. They also look towards how these specific moments can be integrated into movements at large, for a potential for justice in all areas of the world, for demilitarization and gender equality abroad.

    It is books like this which help to forge the gap by bridging research and activism, being able to trace and look at what works and where problems may lie. Staudt and Mendez clearly are in a position of being both activists and academics, and it is clear that this project means more to them than just a book, they are seeking to bring justice and an end to the slaughter in Ciudad Juarez, but also apply this to problems across the world.

    Surrealist Women

    Surrealist Women: An International Anthology edited by Penelope Rosemont

    Whichever word can define "overwhelmed, yet in a positive way" should help to give the briefest overview of this amazing anthology put out by University of Texas Press, which deals with the many female leaders and participants of the surrealist movement which in this book starts to identify these artists in the 1920s and onward to the present. This book encapsulates those who produced lots of works, and those who had minor works.

    With in-depth notes at the end of every chapter, which allows us to dig further into the discussion and research of women involved in surrealism, the book is a presentation of all the women who played or continue to play a defining role in the ever continuing art movement of surrealism. The women are all categorized by their era, and the main theme of the era, such as Chapter 6: Surrealism: A Challenge to the Twenty-First Century. Each chapter starts out with an introduction and overview of that time, to give a further analysis and backdrop of what the women presented in that chapter were working for, or against, if one can paint a picture in only black and white. Following up the introduction we are then given the women who were a part of that era with a short biography and their importance and relation to surrealism and art, and then followed by an example of their work, whether it is visual art or written art.

    While potentially more of an asset for researchers, this book on Surrealism than a book for those with a casual interest, Surreal Women is written in a way that can be read by all, and being the first book, that I know of, to dedicate the entirety to females in, is a necessary book and a must read for those even with a slight interest in the surrealist movement.

    Black, Brown, & Beige

    Similar in scope, necessity and with a similar purpose as Surrealist Women, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D.G. Kelley

    Starting with the First Black Surrealists we get taken from Martinique through the Caribbean down to South America, on over to Africa and through to the United States. After this journey is traced, the editors look through the lens of surrealistic black power and black arts, and then into the present and future of Surrealism, through the guidance of such artists as Jayne Cortez, Tyree Guyton, Patrick Turner and many more.

    The editors start with The Legitimate Defense, a limited journal, that covers poetry and politics from a Martinique student in Paris, plus his friends/artists/comrades. In doing so, this sets the tone for the whole book, the different reactions, obviously from minority Surrealists, in the context of what they were fighting for, be it freedom of the political, literary—multi-faceted.

    Throughout this book you are engaging with the surrealist project in all of its forms and actions, while finding the roles of individuals and groups within their countries/worldly context. In this sense, you are a part of the Sao Paulo Surrealist Group with Joao da Cruz e Souza or an outside to the Brazilian mainstream, generally dominated by the spirit of modernism, with Sosigenes Costa, you are part of the Degenerate Art movement in Egypt in 1938, which had Egyptian Surrealists standing in solidarity, and creativity, with artists and citizens being confiscated and banned by fascist regimes, obviously, though not limited to Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy.

    The authors have a clear style and approach in this book, and an extensive and thorough knowledge that is contained herein. It is hard to think of what more this book could hold, though I am sure there are countless more names and examples of each artist. In this sense, I await the next book series that is anthologies from each country, or each scene. Even better, anthologies of current artists. This book is an important resource to have, period.

    In the Eyes of God

    In the Eyes of God: A Study on the Culture of Suffering by Fernando Escalante Gonzalbo

    This book is prefaced as more than a study of suffering and the different ways in which a culture, or society deals with the meaning, this book attempts to place suffering within a political context as well. Gonzalbo, a Mexican sociologist and intellectual, traces, through different manifestations and writings of others, the meaning of suffering and how that plays a role in our lives. Gonzalbo starts with Rousseau and ends with the Shoa in Western conscious.

    Covering Rousseau, Freud, Voltaire, William James, varying religions, poetry, literature, and all of the popular discourse we can rely on to build a culture of suffering.

    By showcasing these varied instances, reactions and decrees within religion, literature and so on, Gonzalbo is able to show the shift in ideas, such as Williams James's reaction towards the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 is much different than Voltaire's reactions almost 150 years previous in 1755. In doing so, emphasis on the national and human level go from suffering as god's will, to suffering as an injustice, to suffering as a circumstance of how we create hierarchies and justify them. Not to mention the scientific understanding of suffering that are created in an attempt to minimize what suffering is, or how people suffer.

    Suffering is obviously a relevant topic towards any society, as it creates bonds, identities, justifications and even as Gonzalbo shows, a certain nationalism and pride for countries as a whole. In this way Gonzalbo does a great deed in researching the culture of suffering and providing a dialogue that looks into how we frame suffering and how governments and religion structure it so that it is a part of life. While obviously there is no ability to fully rid ourselves of suffering, do we accept it and the ascetic premise it brings, when we ourselves take on injustices, how can we frame suffering in our lives when conditioned in a world that constantly brings multi-varied responses. In this way, this book is both interesting and important, and in many ways something that should be continually discussed.

    Verso once again releases a beautiful book this time focusing on the architectural answers to Latin America's different housing crisis. Verso is always exploring the different politics that make up the far left and in this way are no different, everything they release is well researched and, though sometimes heady, is filled with volumes of research and facts.

    Radical Cities

    Radical Cities by Justin McGuirk

    File under Architecture. File under Travel.

    Justin McGuirk goes on a journey throughout Latin America to take a look at the different reactions, formally and informally, to the housing crisis and the people that suffer from government corruption, inaction, or plain inability to deal with massive housing inequality. Through the story we can see how McGuirk is trying to hone in on his own radical ideas, and formulate them in his own journey.

    For most of his explorations, McGuirk is well aware of himself as an outsider, which plays off well in for him. He comes off as naive at some points, but overall puts himself where he needs to be in order to get a more detailed view of these structures, or an interview with the creators.

    Experimental structures and trying to bypass government red tape is a big problem we run into in seeing the different structures that exist. In some cases, the formal, architect driven projects try to remain non-partisan in an effort to see their structures continue through the many different leaderships, whereas informal squats are tied to a party line. In some cases, autonomy from the system on the whole is what drives the project.

    What we run into over and over is cities that go through constant changes, no matter the leadership, we get hollow proclamations, and empty structures that end up ratifying the original plan and details.

    A lack of funding generally drives the architect's vision, and we are faced with different choices along the way. Cable Cars as helping to not trap settlements or favelas, half built houses that can be expanded upon, fully built exteriors with no interior, squats, open lots bought and a stunning exposure to the ramifications of gentrification and ownership along the way.

    All in all, this book is a road story that is meant to shine the spotlight on innovative answers to the housing crisis, both by architects and non-architects alike. It is to show the various responses we give to government ineptitude. I would have enjoyed a longer book that could give more examples and more ability to gain a knowledge on the different architectural answers to the problems of Latin America.

    We end in the neighboring cities separated by a wall, Tijuana and San Diego, which really shines through as a must read during this contentious period of border politics.

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    Four thrillers, plus one romance to round out the list.

    Cross Justice

    #1 Recommendations for readers who enjoyed Cross Justice by James Patterson, mystery/thrillers with family ties:

    Descent by Tim Johnston

    Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller

    City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg





    #2 Recommendations for readers who enjoyed Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich, more campus mysteries set at colleges and universities:

    The Secret History by Donna Tartt

    The Charles Dickens Murders by Edith Skom

    Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie





    #3 Recommendations for readers who enjoyed The Guilty by David Baldacci, more Southern thrillers:

    Killing Floor by Lee Child

    Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter

    One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash




    See Me Cover

    #4 Recommendations for readers who enjoyed See Me by Nicholas Sparks, more characters with secrets in their pasts:

    The Matchmakerby Elin Hilderbrand

    The Undomestic Goddessby Sophia Kinsella

    Me Before You by Joju Moyes




    Rouge Lawyer

    #5 Recommendations for readers who enjoyed Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham, some enduring legal thrillers:

    Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

    Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

    Defending Jacob by William Landay




    Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your​picks! Tell us what you'd recommend: Leave a comment or email us.

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