Tag Archives: Dan

A Week of Lunch Breaks at the Main Library

Editor’s note: Today’s post is very Oakland-centric.  Apologies to our readers abroad.

A good lunch break is a work of art.  (Just ask Frank O’Hara.)  That hour or so in the middle of the day offers so much possibility – a chance to recharge your batteries, run errands, get your daily allotment of exercise, catch up with a friend.  You have to treasure this time; it’s too easy to scarf a peanut butter sandwich at your desk while you catch up on email, only to realize that your next meeting starts in 5 minutes.  A lunch break offers precious respite from your busy day.

I worked in Oakland for a long time before coming to work at the Carnegie Library, so I’ve had years to develop a repertoire of lunchtime haunts.  I’m a grazer, so I’ve typically eaten my entire lunch by the time I’m ready to take a break, which leaves me more time for wandering.  And up until I began coming here every day for work, the Main Library was one of my go-to lunchtime getaways, and not just to pick up books.  I still love hanging out at Main, but for the most part I hang out elsewhere during my lunch breaks now.
(This is the curse of working at one of your favorite places.  Yeah, poor me.)

For all of you Oakland workers and students out there, I’d like to share my lunch break expertise and recommend for you a week of lunch breaks at Main.


You need to ease into the week, so nothing too strenuous.  Come on in through the front doors, pass through the New and Featured section, and enter the world of wonders known as the magazine reading room.

I pulled out a chair for you.

From this vantage point, you can indulge your low, middle, and high-brow reading tastes with a current selection of magazines.  I remember reading (probably in a magazine) an interview with Michael Stipe where he let out his secret for being (or appearing to be) intelligent and well-informed — read lots of magazines.  (You can also eat on the First Floor, making this the only of my lunch break suggestions where you can actually eat your lunch.)


Tuesday can  be disheartening.  So much work week left!  So, how about doing something nice for somebody?  Nothing like a kind act to buoy your spirits.

Here’s your task: pick somebody you care about, find out their birth date, then go find the front page of a newspaper from that day in the Microfilm room on the third floor.

Pretend to be an old time detective while you whir through the pages, but don’t whir so fast that you miss out on the old ads and other context.

Watch your fingers!

When you get your printout, feel smug knowing that you just spent a quarter or two and a lunch break doing something that someone else charges 25 bucks for.


By the middle of the week, your brain is humming with precision.  You are ready for a capital-E Experience.  And you are in luck, because the Music Department is hosting an art installation called AUDMCRS.  Listen to artist Corey Arcangel’s collection of trance and underground music.

Never a more inviting sight have I seen.

What an experience!


Thursday is a day for getting your act together, a day to prepare yourself for the end of the work week.  Your mind is cluttered, you’ve still got things in your inbox that need to be taken care of, and you need  a spiritual lift to get you through the week.

In other words, a day for poetry.

Pretend you’re in the Duquesne Club.

The International Poetry Room on the second floor is a treasure.  In addition to being one of the warmest parts of the building, it’s also a comfortable place to kick back, relax, and immerse yourself in a book of poems.


If you’re anything like me, the last lunch break of the week is typically a bit of a rush to prepare for the weekend.  So a stop at the library makes perfect sense.  For starters, if you’re wondering what to do this weekend, look left as you walk in the front door:

All kinds of events throughout the region advertised here.

And then, of course, it’s a mad dash to get whatever you’ll want to have at home for the weekend.  Maybe a big nonfiction undertaking from the New Books shelf in the Reference Department on the second floor, a stop in to Film and Audio to get a movie or something to listen to, or maybe some fiction on the First Floor.  On any given Friday, you will likely find me looking for a cook book, for weekends are when I have time to try new recipes.

So much cookery.

These are, of course, just suggestions.  Anybody out there have lunchtime favorites?  For you non-Oakland workers, where do you go for lunch breaks?

Oh, and don’t worry too much about me losing my lunch getaway spot.  I’ll make do with my new one, which is pretty nice, too.

-From the peanut-butter-covered keyboard of Dan


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Goodbye, Babylon

I don’t know how I forgot about the boxed sets on the second floor. I’ve visited the Film and Audio section of the Main Library  about a million times over the years and scoured those CD cabinets countless times. Despite all that, I probably looked a little like St. Paul when I went to the very end of the CD section and saw all of those big boxes of music. It was a revelation!

Goodbye, Babylon

They were kind enough to include cotton in the box for us Yankees.

The box that caught my eye was Dust to Digital’s  big, beautiful Goodbye, Babylon. I first heard about this 6-disc set on a gospel show called Sinner’s Crossroads that I religiously (sorry–couldn’t resist) stream from New Jersey freeform giant WFMU. The show plays mid-century, mostly Southern, gospel music, the kind that had a big influence on R&B, soul, and rock and roll music, to name a few, a genre I came to after learning that many of the greatest soul singers were first gospel singers.

Goodbye, Babylon was touted as a great primer to more obscure gospel sounds, and it seemed to be universally well-reviewed. Alas, it also cost about sixty bucks, so I relegated it to the part of my brain where I keep ideas of what I’ll buy when I become a wealthy celebrity librarian. But then, all of a sudden, there it was, a big pine box packed with cotton (really!) and a lovely booklet.  Hallelujah!

The lineup consists of artists ranging from the very famous (Mahalia Jackson, Flatt and Scruggs) to the famous-to-those-who-listen-to-this-kind-of-music (Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend Gary Davis) to a long list of performers whose work was previously only available (or not) on 78. A large booklet, designed to look like an old hymnal, includes background essays for each song in the collection.

Anyone with an interest in the origins of secular pop music in the U.S. should have a good time recognizing the close harmony, driving rhythms and impassioned vocals that have characterized commercial pop music in the postwar era, here in raw form. If you haven’t listened to many old recordings, it might take a few listens to get accustomed to the sometimes poor sound quality; I’d advise you to think of it as part of the atmosphere and, soon enough, you won’t notice it anymore.

Although I’m tempted to keep this library find close to my chest, lest it become so popular that it’s checked out when I want to revisit it, I feel inspired (perhaps by the fire and brimstone sermons that make up disc 6 of the set) to spread the good news about this wonderful collection of Americana.



P.S.: If there is a wait for this collection, don’t despair! The Main Library has a great collection of old gospel, including Mahalia Jackson, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Louvin BrothersRev. Gary Davis, and many other luminaries.


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Getting Outside in the ‘Burgh

As the newest member of CLP’s newest location, I’m keenly aware of summer’s approach as I plan our presence at neighborhood festivals, farmers’ markets, and other quintessential summer happenings. And while the writers of this blog have a welldocumented love of the out-of-doors, I haven’t seen anyone mention what I consider to be our region’s best outdoors asset: Pittsburgh offers tons of natural beauty and strenuous outdoor activity right in the city limits. So for the countryside-averse, the car-less, and the time-pressed urban outdoorspeople out there, here are some of my favorite sources for info on how to get your hike/bike/boat on in the city of Pittsburgh.

Bob Regan’s The Steps of Pittsburgh: A Portrait of a City (Local History Company, 2004)

Recent research out of McMaster University in Ontario suggests that brief, extremely strenuous bursts of activity (known as intervals) yield health benefits comparable to longer, lighter workouts. Following that logic you may be able to get a year’s worth of cardio workouts done in an afternoon by traversing Pittsburgh’s quirky city steps. Follow Regan’s exhaustive survey of city streets that no car or bike can use to take your urban hikes to new heights.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Navigation Charts for the Mon, the Al, and the O

So you’ve gone on a moonlight kayak tour, maybe paddled around the Point a little bit, and now you feel ready to explore Pittsburgh’s three beloved rivers on your own. Great! If you don’t want to bump into a bridge pile or run aground at Brunot’s Island, make a note to stop by the Main Library in Oakland and check out the navigational charts for the Allegheny, Mon, and Ohio rivers.

Louis Fineberg’s 3 Rivers on 2 Wheels (Mon Quixote Press, 2002)

The spandex-clad diehards will likely always consider Oscar Swan‘s Bike Rides Out of Pittsburgh to be the ultimate statement on rides in the area. But as the title implies, Swan’s routes all take the most direct path out of town. For those of us who prefer to stay within a quarter mile of a good restaurant, cafe, or library branch, Lou Fineberg (scroll down a bit after the click) keeps you in the neighborhoods with his excellent 3 Rivers on 2 Wheels. Just be sure to cross-reference your ride with a current map at Bike Pittsburgh’s website. The Pittsburgh cycling infrastructure was nowhere near where it is now when Fineberg penned the guide ten years ago.

Toker1Franklin Toker’s Pittsburgh: A New Portrait and Buildings of Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009) and Buildings of Pittsburgh (University of Virginia Press, 2007)

When you’re hiking out in the wilderness you might take along a field guide to help you identify birds, plants, and whatever else you might encounter out there in nature. When you’re hiking in Pittsburgh, give yourself a little cultural context by bringing along these guides to architecture and the history of the built environment of Pittsburgh. Toker, a popular professor at Pitt and architecture historian of national renown, uses buildings as a jumping-off point for an examination of the cultural, economic, and political history of Pittsburgh. And just as you might hope to spot a yellow-bellied sapsucker on a hike in the Allegheny Forest, you can get a similar thrill by spotting a Scheibler, a Burnham, or a Kahn where you’d least expect them to be.

Part of the joy of getting outside in the city is discovering new favorite places right in your neighborhood. You can’t always plan these discoveries–I found one of my favorite secret running route connectors when my street was blocked by a festival and I needed to get my groceries into the fridge before the ice cream melted–so the most important thing is to just get out there.

Do you have a favorite outdoor spot in the city? If you do, please mention it in a comment for others to discover!


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