Monthly Archives: March 2013

Radio, Radio!

Back in the day, before Philo T. Farnsworth turned the world upside down with tiny television tubes, the radio was the family’s home entertainment center. Although I’d always been aware of classic radio content, it wasn’t until my husband starting bringing home records–yes, actual LPs–featuring the Marx Brothers, Nick Carter, and Captain Midnight that I could fully appreciate what the radio experience must have been like for my parents and grandparents. Snuggling up on the couch, paying rapt attention to the adventures of the Green Hornet, is very different from watching a television show or film; while I’m certainly not giving up my favorite visual programs anytime soon, there’s definitely a thrill in using my imagination to fill in the blanks TV usually provides.

Enjoying the classic records led us to Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time, a blisteringly funny serial tribute to the days of yore, written and performed by local talent. Dodge Intrepid features a time-traveling librarian trying to prevent a very special book from falling into the hands of an evil industrialist out to bend history to his will. With the help of his hyperactive sidekick, Pluck Gumption, Intrepid (a moniker second only to Ford Prefect for sheer amusement value) manages to save the day again and again. If you missed their live performance last weekend at Arcade Comedy Theater, fret not: you can check out the Dodge Intrepid podcasts and catch up with every last wonderful faux advertisement and Pittsburgh reference (trust me–these guys did their homework).

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m now officially hooked on the radio experience. Luckily, there are plenty of fun shows for me to explore, and possibly plan parties around. Observe.

maskedmarvelsMasked Marvels, a compilation of programs featuring identity-hiding heroes like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow, sounds like a great introduction to the superhero genre. Obviously you’d ask your guests to show up wearing creative facial disguises. Just to up the ante, though, don’t tell anyone what kind of snacks you’re serving, and make sure you hide all the food under opaque platters. While you’re at it, peel all the labels off of whatever beverages you’re serving, and keep the lights very, very low.

The Saint Solves the Case is a 10-disc collection of digitally remastered episodes in which the notorious crime-solver Simon Templar saint“keeps company with corpses, amnesiacs, publishers, gamblers, and a monkey.” Crime-fighting and a monkey? The party decorations practically plan themselves. You should also definitely serve either angel food cake or devil’s food cupcakes (for the irony!) and listen to one disc at a time, so you have an excuse to have ten parties with monkeys and cakeTemplar costumes optional, but encouraged.

darkfantasyDark Fantasy: Adventures in the Supernatural is the perfect pick for a Halloween gathering. Instead of braving the cold, hoping your neighbors bought the good candy this year, why not stay toasty warm in your own haunted mansion and let these classic horror broadcasts scare you silly? In keeping with the “dark” theme, make sure you serve chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, with perhaps a bit of chocolate for variety. Dress as your favorite mad scientist.

In the same vein, Christmas Radio Classics would be a fun way to put a new spin on the midwinter celebration, don’t you think? christmas_radioHoliday episodes of Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and their ilk are the perfect soundtrack to a vintage Christmas party. Shake up some classic cocktails, bake a lot of treats, and turn the speakers up high. You can make your own Christmas ornaments while you listen, or try your hand at crafting some homemade gifts. Speaking in period slang is optional, but make sure to wear your ugliest sweater!

Too silly? Probably, but a lot of the classic material can strike contemporary ears as pretty funny, whether or not that was the intention. If you’re not ready for this particular jump in the WABAC machine, you can test-drive more contemporary radio fare, like Car TalkA Prairie Home Companion, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, or Bob and Ray, to name just a few. A catalog search for radio programs will give you more than enough options to get started.

Were you raised on radio, or did video kill the radio star? We’d love to know!

Leigh Anne

who wonders if  Sgt. Preston of the Yukon would freak out the cats…


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Veterans of the Format Wars

All that remains.

All that remains.

Once upon a time the Main library had over 3,000 movies* on VHS tape, but now we’re down to the last few stalwart survivors – less than fifty in all. Our remaining feature films on VHS (with one notable exception**) are movies that are no longer available on DVD, were never released on DVD, or are hard to find in any format. Here are a few highlights from this tiny collection, for your amusement.

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* For comparison, we now have over 9,000 movies on DVD – roughly 7,000 in English and 2,000 foreign films. That is amazing.

** The notable exception is a VHS copy of “Dial M for Murder.” Of course we have it on DVD, but this one brave tape has been checked out five hundred and eighty-nine times since 1993. It deserves a permanent home.

– Amy


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Return of the Thin White Duke

Perhaps you’ve seen this:

He’s back! Earlier this month, David Bowie released a new album, The Next Day, along with two singles whose videos have gotten a lot of attention. It’s quickly become a good seller and has gotten lots of critical praise.

And, unless you’ve been living in a cave a hundred miles away from any teenagers or teenagers-at-heart, you may have also encountered a film featuring a climactic scene of a truck full of high school wallflowers dangerously driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnel with Bowie’s Cold War classic Heroes blasting on the radio. (A directorial cheap trick in my opinion; they could have been riding the T to the South Hills Village Mall with that song playing and I still would get chills.)

One of my favorite radio DJs, Pseu Braun, once said of the Who that they’re a classic rock enigma, a band equally beloved by geeky music nerd types and by the jocks who stuff them into their lockers. I think the same holds for Bowie. You’re as likely to hear his songs on WDVE‘s morning classic rock rotation as you are on the store stereo at a hip record store. I’m sure that this is partially because, like the Who, Bowie has had a long career. There’s likely to be something in there for everyone.

But what makes Bowie special — and probably the reason why, unlike some of his contemporaries, he hasn’t gone into semi-retirement by putting out covers records — is that he has continuously managed to put out records that make fans scratch their heads. It certainly doesn’t always work, at least from the standpoint of sales or critical praise. But it’s always interesting!

So, while you’re waiting for your turn to borrow The Next Day, why not take the opportunity to take a look at some previous milestones in the career of one of (or a few of?) the great rock personas.

Bowie’s earliest stuff is mainly folk psychedelia (like Syd Barrett but not quite as strange), followed by some great glam rock that has continued to enjoy lots of airplay on commercial rock radio. Listening to a decent compilation, like the 2000 Bowie at the Beeb collection of his performances at the BBC between 1968-1972, you’ll begin to appreciate the skill with which Davey Jones became David Bowie, who rapidly morphed into Ziggy Stardust. The 1998 movie Velvet Goldmine  is a fun, fictionalized account of these years in which characters representing Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Mark Bolan influence each other.

Bowie released some of his most popular albums in the early 70s. I think Aladdin Sane is the best example from this era — Bowie’s songwriting and voice are at their best, and Mick Ronson’s huge guitar sound is the perfect foil for Bowie’s restrained vocals.

“Berlin Trilogy”

And then, the second half of the 70s brought an astounding series of groundbreaking, intriguing, and hugely influential records. If the previous albums each represented a big step in his development of a musical style, Station to Station was like a big step onto a space ship. He then followed that up with a staggering statement, three Brian Eno-produced albums known collectively as the Berlin Trilogy. Low, Heroes, and The Lodger were recorded in Berlin in a fit of productivity that, in addition to yielding those masterpieces, also found Bowie helping to revive Iggy Pop’s career.

Bowie was a fixture on early MTV, with big hits from Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance. It was also during the 80s that Bowie gave us what is possibly his crowning achievement, the Magic Dance scene from Labyrinth.

The next 30 years, however, were sporadic. He put out some interesting records – Earthlings and Heathen had their moments, and his VH1 Storytellers is pretty incredible. But he certainly slowed down, which is what makes the new album such a treat.

Which David Bowie do you like best?



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Editor’s note: our colleague at CLPTeensburgh, Joseph, has given us permission to reblog his essay on reading fiction in the wake of Steubenville. We hope you find it as meaningful as we did, and that you will add CLPTeensburgh to your list of must-read book/library blogs.

CLPTeensburgh: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Teen Services

It’s hard to read the continuing coverage of the Steubenville sexual assaults without seeing a gross empathy problem plaguing our culture. How else could these sorts of things happen? How could two teens feel that what they did was okay? How could their peers sit idly by as it happened or casually retweet the videos in its wake? Why would adults choose to enable such behavior through attempts to cover-up the attack?

It’s left me thinking hard about my role as a librarian–what I can do ensure that the young people who I am committed to serve can live in a world that allows them to build friendships and relationships with each other and their community at large based on love, trust, and mutual respect.

In turn, I’ve become even more concerned about the many dehumanizing words and messages that powerful people send through the media. These people hope to…

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Well Isn’t That Special

Music Special Collections at the Main Library

special collection

noun Library Science.

a collection of materials segregated from a general library collection according to form, subject, age, condition, rarity, source, or value. Unabridged

Music and culture existed in Pittsburgh before the arrival of the Internet.  Music Librarians collected and preserved the music history of the region found on newspaper and magazine clippings, concert programs, and the like.  In those days, musicians and music lovers attended music events and played music using sheet music, much like they do today.  The big difference is the way things were published, the way information was transmitted, the type of music that was popular, and the formats available for recorded music. Here in the Music Department, we’ve worked to preserve that history for years to come.

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Music Special Collections are not as extensive as the special collections of the music division in the Library of Congress, but we have our share of great resources.  Most of our collections have a Pittsburgh connection, each collection has its own (sometimes quirky) history, and each deserves a blog post of its own.

Here is an overview of our major collections:

Click for a full list of CLP’s Music Special Collections and sheet music collections.

Librarians in the Music Department are happy to discuss questions concerning personal collections of music-related materials.


P.S. Special…

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An Old Dog Who Doesn’t Enjoy Poetry Learns a New Trick (Enjoying Poetry)

I’ve never been a fan of poetry. I read it in high school and was an English major in college so I read it there, too. Feeling like poetry was something I should know more about and enjoy, years ago, I bought Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. I never opened it and ended up donating it. I was exposed to poetry on a regular basis by life and by myself, but had never really found a poem that excited or spoke to me until a few weeks ago when I was looking at a blog and stumbled onto this Margaret Atwood poem from Selected Poems, 1965-1975.

We are hard


We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.

The things we say are
true; it is our crooked
aims, our choices
turn them criminal.


Of course your lies
are more amusing:
you make them new each time.

Your truths, painful and boring
repeat themselves over & over
perhaps because you own
so few of them


A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you

is that a fact or a weapon?


Does the body lie
moving like this, are these
touches, hairs, wet
soft marble my tongue runs over
lies you are telling me?

Your body is not a word,
it does not lie or
speak truth either.

It is only
here or not here.

If I had been reading this blog a couple of years ago, I would have already known that Margaret Atwood wrote poetry (I just knew her from her fiction). I may have also heeded Leigh Anne’s words of “…If you do not like poetry, I strongly suspect is simply means that you have not yet found your poet. Or maybe it’s just one poem, your poem, buried somewhere in the stacks or lost in the tangled web of the internet…” This is my one poem. (I had been listening to a lot of Sharon Van Etten at the time I first saw this poem so I was in a dark, romantic, miserable place. Had I been listening to happier music, it’s possible I wouldn’t have enjoyed the Atwood poem as much.)

Now that I’ve tentatively stepped on to the path to poetry, I checked out three other poets I’d been interested in, but resisting. Billy Collins, who I am constantly confusing with Billy Connolly and therefore constantly being amazed that a Scottish actor became Poet Laureate of the United States, is the first. Picnic, Lightning is the collection I chose from Collins. Like many other people, I read Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild and was blown away. She took Adrienne Rich‘s The Dream of a Common Language on her hike through the Pacific Crest Trail so I thought I’d read her and chose, Later Poems: Selected and New, 1971-2012. The last poet is Pablo Neruda. I chose 100 Love Sonnets because a few days after discovering the Atwood poem, I read his Sonnet 27 and found another one of my poems.

MargaretAtwood PicnicLightning  AdrienneRich  100LoveSonnets

I’ve been attempting to read one poem a day from each poet. I can’t say that since reading Atwood’s poem that the flood gates have opened and I’m now a devoted poetry reader, but I’m learning. I do have favorites by each of the poets I’ve read and I’m less weary of opening a book of poetry.

What’s your one (or one of many) poem? Do you remember the poem that made you think, “YES! I understand now!” or have you always been a poetry fan?



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Something Sinister

Like approximately 85% of the world, I’m right handed.  My maternal grandmother, mother, and two of my sisters are left-handed, so I’ve heard how difficult things can be for those who favor their left hand, but I honestly never gave it much thought.  However, now that my almost three-year old son has turned out to be a definite lefty, I find that I’m much more attuned to the little issues that pop up daily in the life of a left hander.

A meeting of left-handed Presidents.  [Image in the public domain; click photograph for further info]

Three of the last four presidents have been southpaws! [Image in the public domain; click photograph for further info.]

For instance, there is nothing my son loves more than helping to clean up (and I hope this never changes!).  His first “chore,” and one that he loves, is using the dustpan and brush to sweep up the floor.  This simple task caused us no end of frustration when I would try to hold the dustpan for him so he could sweep things in.  Eventually, the light bulb clicked on in my head and I realized that I was holding the pan in the same position I’d use when sweeping with my right hand.  For him, this was backwards and difficult!  Once I showed him how to hold the dustpan in his right hand so he could use his left hand to sweep into it, he got it down in no time. While things are a bit different now than they were for his great-grandmother, who used to get punished for writing with her left hand, we are undoubtedly living in a right-hander’s world.  Things as simple as clicking a computer mouse, using a sewing machine, playing guitar, or using a can opener are all a bit trickier when you’re trying to do them in reverse.  Some studies have shown a tendency toward developmental delays in left-handed children, which doesn’t surprise me a great deal.  Imagine learning something brand new, only to encounter the challenge of having to do it backwards and upside down! I hear that spiral notebooks are a pain, too.

Of course, for all the challenges that lefties face, most right-brained folks will also tell you that there are definite advantages.  Artists and musicians are more likely to be left handed than the rest of us, which leads to some theorizing that left-handers are more naturally creative.  There’s also a possibility that southpaws are more mathematically gifted than the general population.  And I for one am pinning my hopes on my son’s career as a left-handed pitcher for the Pirates (leading them to greatness, winning the World Series, etc.). Keep your eye on the 2030 draft picks.



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 Homesickness: Sadness caused by longing for one’s home or family during a period of absence. Also: an instance of this. In early use sometimes regarded as a medical condition. Oxford English Dictionary

As a newcomer to Pittsburgh, I am homesick. Despite moving here almost three years ago for my husband’s job, everything still feels new. We have never lived anywhere but southeast Michigan all our lives so it’s a shock that I have yet to get over. It lingers in the back corners of my mind but then I might be plunged into it whenever I hear certain music or read a news article or book–and there have been several books about Detroit lately due to its notorious example of urban failure.

As a good librarian, I’ve been researching homesickness for information that might help with what I’m feeling (loss, loneliness, unfamiliarity) and practical tips on how to cope (difficult for an introvert like myself who dislikes change). Surprisingly, this has proven to be difficult.

Most magazine articles I find about homesickness are all geared toward the college student or young child at camp or away from home for the first time. It’s much easier to adjust when you’re younger–it’s also a lot easier to make friends. But what do you do when you’re a homesick adult?

And there are often chapters in books about moving that talk about making your children feel more comfortable during a move but again, nothing for or about adults. Perhaps our culture assumes that adults don’t struggle with feelings of homesickness?

But this isn’t true. I can only find one entire book devoted to this topic: Homesickness: An American History by Susan J. Matt. It traces the history of migrations and, using diaries and letters, explains that throughout history humans have always felt homesick. Well, duh! But, back then, when you left home, it most likely was forever. I’m lucky Michigan is only five hours away.


Sometimes I feel guilty feeling like this, especially when I remember that my own father left Cuba during the revolution in 1957 when he was eighteen years old and has never returned. Imagine moving from tropical Cuba to bitterly cold Detroit  in January, not knowing English and enrolled at a large university long before they even had resources or services for foreign students.

How about you? Are you from somewhere else and struggling with homesickness? 



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Watchers’ Advisory

Back in November, our kindly First Floor librarians started this very cool readers’ advisory project. A short refresher in case you missed Melissa’s post:

“Each of us on the First Floor has been given a color. We have strips of paper in our color that say, “Name’s Pick” at the top. If you find that you like a book recommended by a certain person, all you have to do is look around for more of those slips of paper sticking out of other books in that person’s assigned hue.”

The project has since expanded to include staff throughout the building, and, we now have a special staff picks area in our Music, Film & Audio department where you can enjoy our eclectic staff’s DVD suggestions. Behold a few of our current picks:

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Of course, if you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, we’re still happy to recommend films at our reference desk—just ask!

Happy viewing,

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The Great Art Heist

The Concert, about 1665, Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632-1675. Photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum,

The Concert, about 1665, Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632-1675. Photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum,

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of what is known as the largest art theft in U.S. history. In Boston, while revelers were still celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, during the wee hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed as policemen entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum  and stole 13 works of art, estimated to be valued at a total of $500 million. Items taken included a Manet, 5 drawings by Degas, 3 Rembrandts (including his only known seascape, Storm on the Sea of Galilee) and Vermeer’s The Concert. This makes the robbery the largest theft of personal property ever. The story of the burglary and subsequent investigations are the subject of the 2004 documentary by Rebecca Dreyfus, Stolen (conveniently also available as an eVideo through our online collection), as well as a book, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser.

The film concentrates on the revitalized investigation in the early 2000s led by renowned art detective Harold Smith. He worked diligently on this investigation until his death from skin cancer in 2005. Mr. Smith was able to interview on-screen known art thieves, such as Myles Connor, whom the Boston Police considered a viable suspect for the Gardner theft, even though he was in prison at the time. Whitey Bulger, notorious Boston mobster, has always been thought to know something about the heist. But even though he was finally apprehended in 2011, he has not provided any major breaks for the investigators. Theories about where the paintings are today range from a warehouse in the Boston area, to the homes of mobsters in Russia.

The Concert by Vermeer is considered to be the most valuable work of art stolen from the Gardner museum that day. Because so few Vermeer paintings exist, taking even one out of the public eye is a great loss to the art community.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888. Photo courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum,

Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888. Photo courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum,

The museum itself is a work of art, the model of a 15th century Venetian palace surrounding a courtyard garden. It should really be on any must-see list for Boston vacations. Admission is free on your birthday and always free for anyone named Isabella. (True!) The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the only art museum in the world designed by a woman, built by a woman, paid for by a woman, and filled with art collected solely by a woman – a wonderful example for Women’s History Month.

Isabella Stewart Gardener was a captivating and complex woman.  She spent two years depressed and ill after the death of her 2 year old son. Her doctor suggested that her husband take her on a tour of Europe. During this and subsequent travels, Mrs. Gardner cultivated her love of fine art. At home in Boston, she supported the arts and local sports teams. Mrs. Gardner did not conform to the Victorian ideals of what a woman should be like. This led to many rumors and speculation about her activities. In response to these stories about her, often printed in the Boston newspapers, Mrs. Gardener would reply, “Don’t spoil a good story by telling the truth.”

Fascination, obsession even, with the Gardner Museum art theft continues today. Just last year investigators may have uncovered pertinent information to the case. With a $5 million reward on the line, you can understand why many armchair sleuths are trying to solve this mystery.

-Melissa M.
“Win as though you were used to it, and lose as if you like it.” – Isabella Stewart Gardner


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