Boston By Foot Tour of the Month: Harvard Yard

On Sunday July 29, I coordinated another Tour of the Month with Boston By Foot at the very familiar location of Harvard Yard. While it may look like a patch of shady grass surrounded by many, many brick buildings and a few stone buildings, there are some secrets and stories that made the tour a lot of fun. I took photos of the tour, trying to be artsy this time to avoid reproducing the same images one always sees of Harvard. Look for some images below and check out the complete photo album at


Photo Album


Memorial Church


Sever Hall


Tanner Fountain

Movie Review: Punk’s Not Dead

Last night at the Brattle Theatre I saw Punk’s Not Dead (2007) a fun documentary about the music, the lifestyle and the culture that is punk. Starting with a history lesson, the movie takes us back to the birth of punk – the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and many, many others. Punk democratized music because just about anyone could form a band. This do-it-yourself mentality carried over into producing punk records, creating punk record labels, publishing punk magazines, forming networks of performance spaces for punk bands (usually someone’s basement), and finding places for all the bands to stay while on the road (usually someone’s floor). There’s no division between the bands and the fans.

Fast forward fifteen years. To the outside world, punk is long gone but then returns with a vengeance. Foreshadowed by Bad Religion and Operation Ivy, Nirvana stormed the charts and set the stage for more commercially successful punk acts like Green Day. Of course, punk never went away and many of the bands from the 70’s continue to perform and record right up to this day including the Sub-Humans (one of whom is this movie’s most interesting commentator), the appropriately named UK Subs (two band members discuss the band’s many lineup changes) and the Adicts who still have the same lineup they started with in 1975. These bands talk about growing old and raising families while still living the punk lifestyle (with cute images of their children rocking out).

And then there’s punk’s third generation, one that is labeled “pop punk” at best and includes bands like Good Charlotte and Sum 41. Older punks criticize these bands for going for image over substance, saying that punk is more than colored spiky hair and jumping up & down in rhythm. Always contrary, other older punks are just fine with these younger bands doing there own thing. Didn’t the Buzzcocks sing of love (the documentary then shows evidence that love songs are more common than many punks would like to admit)? Still, the spirit of punk is alive in kids 13-15 years old, forming bands and playing a house party in Echo Park, CA or in numerous places around the world where punk thrives.

Love songs or not, the heart of punk it politics. One interviewee said that “punkers are just hippies with teeth” as they take on the government, big business, and the norms of society. Yet there’s still a lot of controversy. Is a punk song in a car commercial a sign of punk success in working its way into greater society or is it selling out? If corporate sponsors help bring your tour to a greater listening audience is that a betrayal of punk ethics or is it just taking money from the man?

There are no easy answers to these or any other questions. The movie is overly ambitious in trying to cover punk from every angle and will probably disapoint some diehards while confusing some of the uninitiated. Despite all that there are a lot of clever, funny, and insightful bits and best yet some rocking good music. So I liked it, and if you disagree, feck ya!

Beer Review: Blanche de Bruxelles

A unique Belgian-style Witbier courtesy of Charlie’s Kitchen.

Beer: Blanche de Bruxelles
Brewer: Brasserie Lefebvre
Source: Draught
Rating: * (5.9 of 10)

This beer is unfiltered so it is very cloudy in the glass.  The beer takes on a bright, almost florescent yellow color that make one really want to not think about the Manikin Pis boy on the tap handle.  There’s only a faint aroma of a musty wheat scent.  The taste is good, light and refreshing and very fruity.  This would be a good beer to mix with lemonade for a shandy/radler.  Not a great a beer, but a good beer for a hot summer day.

If I ruled the world (part 1)

I love this post on Universal Hub called Shut Storrow Drive! I’ve long thought that the Esplanade and the Paul Dudley White Bikepath are shining stars in the galaxy of beautiful sites in Boston. And yet they are pressed into a small piece of riverfront by the glaring eyesore of Storrow Drive. I’m all for getting rid of Storrow and reclaiming the riverfront. After all, that was James J. Storrow’s vision and civic authorities added the highway after his death despite his widow’s protests.

Better yet, it would provide an opportunity to improve public transit by restoring the A Branch of the MBTA Green Line. This line to Watertown was disbanded in 1969 although tracks were still on the streets until a few years ago. My new A Branch would start at North Station, follow the riverfront where Storrow Drive is now and after passing the BU Bridge would use air-rights on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The trolley would either be elevated over the highway, run down the median, and/or run alongside the highway as far as Newton Corner. Then the last leg of the A Branch would go down Galen Street to Watertown Square. There could also be a spur go through the Harvard’s new Allston development and connect to the Red Line and buses at Harvard Square.

And while I’m at it, I’d think an F Branch running from North Station to South Station along the Greenway would be a great idea. This would be similar to what they did in San Francisco to replace an elevated highway with trolley lines. Instead of having these new parks surrounded by 2-3 lanes of cars on each side how about dedicating one side to trolley tracks (and a bike path)? This trolley would be useful for tourists wanting to visit the North End, Fanueil Hall, Aquarium, Rowe’s Wharf, and the Children’s Museum. Business people taking commuter trains into North and South Stations can be whisked to their offices. And while not replacing a much needed North/South rail link, it would provide a useful shuttle between the two stations.

That’s my dream anyway.

Low-flying Planes Over Somerville

Somerville News: Planes flying over Somerville believed to have tripled: Residents on hills feel it most by George P. Hassett.

I’m well acquainted with planes taking off from Logan and buzzing the rooftops of Somerville.  Oddly, had I been asked I would have said it doesn’t happen quite as often as it used to, maybe 4-7 years ago.   Have I just grown accustomed to air traffic or am I living on the wrong hill?

Book Review: The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Believe it or not, I’ve never read The Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London, which one would think is a requirement of being a kid in America.  And I still haven’t read it, although on a whim I listened to my library’s audiobook copy, albeit not very carefully.  Narrated in an appropriately macho fashion by Frank Muller, The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck a farm dog who is kidnapped from Northern California and forced to pull sleds for for miners in the Yukon gold rush.  A cushy pet learns to fight for food and compete for leadership of the pack through fighting and violence, and eventually becomes alpha dog in a wild wolf pack after his owner dies.

Yes friends, before I read this book I knew it had something to do with Alaska and dogs, but I had no idea that the entire book is about a dog from a dog’s point of view.  Granted, the book is very symbolic in that we humans sit very tenuously on the edge of civilization and brutality and savageness (and London wrote this before the World Wars, the Holocaust, and all the horrors of the 20th century that tested humanity).  Still, as a book about dogs it’s a very good and accurate look at what may be going on in a dog’s mind.

Attack of the Hipster Librarians

Recently articles in two New York City newspapers have set the library world abuzz with their coverage of hipsters who happen to be librarians. Or librarians who happen to be hipsters. Either way it seems that everyone has an opinion ranging from “it’s cool to be getting positive media attention” to”this is condescending trash!”

I’m a bit behind the times on this but as a responsible librarian-blogger I should 1) read the articles, 2) review the response, and 3) offer my own take. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll probably just cut and paste what other people write again.

1. The Articles:

Jesella, Kara, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” New York Times, July 8, 2007.

The myth prevails that librarians are becoming obsolete. “There’s Google, no one needs us,” Ms. Gentile said, mockingly, over a drink at Daddy’s.

Still, these are high-tech times. Why are people getting into this profession when libraries seem as retro as the granny glasses so many of the members of the Desk Set wear?

“Because it’s cool,” said Ms. Gentile, who works at the Brooklyn Museum.

Ms. Murphy, 29, thinks so, too. An actress who had long considered library school, Ms. Murphy finally decided to sign up after meeting several librarians – in bars.

“People I, going in, would never have expected were from the library field,” she said. “Smart, well-read, interesting, funny people, who seemed to be happy with their jobs.”

Shapiro, Gary, “For New-Look Librarians, Head to Brooklyn,” New York Sun, July 5, 2007.

How badly does the image of librarians need updating? A private school librarian, Natasha Cane, recounted how she knew someone whose mother cried when her daughter told her that she wanted to become a librarian. Ms. Cane, who was wearing a pin that read “Can I help you find what you need?” said the Desk Set could help provide an “alternative vision” for being a librarian today. Ms. Cane, who grew up in New Jersey, recalled having had “too much fun” at her local library growing up, but now her job includes shushing kids behaving as she had.Asked how she can tell the archivists from the librarians, Ms. Cane said, “Different gang colors.”

Desk Set MySpace Page

2. The Response:

Positive (July 7)

The fashion section of the New York Times has an article titled A Hipper Crowd of Shushers which, despite the title is less annoying than the usual “librarians, they’re not as lame as you think!” articles that we see about the profession. (July 9)

So, I don’t care much what you think about hipsters. I’m personally proud of the braininess of the profession and if it comes with dowdiness I’m all for it. However, a few things should be clear. The author of the article is trying to say something nice about hipsters by associating them with librarians and librarians by associating them with hipsters. Maybe you don’t share her cultural associations, but it’s not a negative piece. Everyone in the article is portrayed in a positive light. How often does that happen in anything but “puppet show a complete success!” articles about the library? The popularity of this article is likely not because people are sharing it saying “Heh, librarians are such total dorks and losers they think they’re cool and they’re not!” it’s because the framing of this story seems to resonate with people in some way.


A nice article about today’s hipster librarians in the New York Times…

Lower East Side Librarian

It’s not a bad article about how librarians are hipper than our stereotype.

Random Musings from the Desert (July 9 #1)

Random Musings from the Desert (July 9 #2)

Randoms Musings from the Desert (July 9 #3)

As the self-styled Maven of All Things Librarian Image (*laugh*snort*), I just want to add two more cents to my earlier postings. (1) Both articles were in the, shall we say, “fluffier” sections of the respective papers, and I didn’t expect anything serious at that point; (2) Sometimes just getting us out there in front of the public in a way that isn’t behind the desk is good; (3) epithets are bad; and (4) I don’t expect these articles will do much to affect the overarching image we have to Joe Q. Public. On the other hand… small steps, people, small steps, and the more of them the better – maybe J.Q.P will surprise us!

Librarian in Black

It’s great that some good PR is coming out about libraries and librarians, showing how we’re a profession of technology-gurus and research experts more than anything else…not book-stamping shush monsters.

Candy @ GSLIS


…although I take exception to the implication that we weren’t hip in the 70s.

Mixed Bag

Huffington Post (Nicole Scherer)

As a profession, I don’t think librarians care if the public thinks we’re cool: We just want the people we work for to know what exactly it is that we do. For all its emphasis on hipster librarians as another example of nerdy chic, the article’s title perpetuates that most outdated image of librarians — the Shusher — implying that while these new young professionals might be trendy and — dare I say it — sexy, they are still fussy librarians who want to keep it quiet.

The truth is that I myself am not a hipster (although I am always ready for a Dewey cocktail) and I don’t see librarianship as an interesting-enough day job to support my ‘real’ life as a filmmaker or musician or actor. As it is for many librarians, this is my chosen career. Librarians are cool, not because of how we dress, what we drink, or who we associate with. Librarians are cool because our job is cool: We protect people’s freedom to seek out and find the information they need: All service and no shushing.


Circ and Serve

Maybe 5 years is a long time, but when I graduated from library school, none of my classmates became librarians because it seemed cool. They were interested in teaching, collection development, preservation, outreach, literacy, web development, etc. Trendiness had nothing to do with it.

Why are we allowing ourselves and our profession to have one stale stereotype swapped out for a younger, “hipper” one that may be even less accurate than Marian the Librarian ever was?

Information Wants to be Free

The basic gist of the article, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” (if the title wasn’t bad enough) is that these days, librarians are more than bun-wearing spinster book-lovers who hate to have their quiet and orderly library disturbed by human beings. Librarians can be hip, though still in a geeky tattoo of the federal depository library logo, trendy granny glasses and mixed drinks classified by Dewey numbers kind of way. And shockingly, librarians aren’t just women… there are “guybrarians” out there too. And we’re not just about books anymore, we’re also “about organizing and connecting people with information” (I guess I have to wonder when the profession wasn’t about these things). It felt to me like the author hadn’t been to a library in a long time, had never known a librarian personally prior to researching the article, and thought she was making an important discovery in finding that librarians are not how they’ve been portrayed in movies since the 1930s.

A Librarian’s Guide to Ettiquette

And as for trying to remake the image of the typical librarian, how about not going out of your way to tell the entire journalistic world ‘See, we’re normal. We leave our houses just like you do. Really, we do.’

The Days and Nights of Lipstick Librarian

I too feel condescended to, but not so much over the age thing as the now-codifed subtext that unless something (e.g., hobbies, fashion, professions) is adopted by blithe, dripping-with-irony and mostly white twenty-to-thirty-something hipsters, it’s not legitimate, or worse, uncool. (Actually, we’ve come to that point in our culture where once the masses deem something is uncool it immediately becomes cool. The cycling begins.)

The Ubiquitous Librarian

Oh, and Kara Jesella set librarians back about 10 years… she’s living back in the roaring 90’s when the web was new and cool. Her article about hip librarians will do more damage than good. For me, changing the stereotype is done through actions, not through fashion. At the next ALA they’ll probably have hip librarian body wash, hip librarian hair spray, hip librarian lip gloss, hip librarian temporary tattoos, a mixed cd for Next Gen Librarians, the official “hip librarian” t-shirt, and so on. No thanks. The “hip librarian” is such a ready-made cliché — it’s fitting for New York City where style is more important than substance.

Free Range Librarian

I am an aging, wrinkly thing whose idea of a wild evening is playing “Spin the Netflix” to pick a movie to watch while we fold laundry and pay bills. I dress like a square, will never get drunk enough to get a tattoo (especially one with the FDLP logo – do let me rant someday about gov docs), and avoid sleeveless dresses, as there are just not enough arm-curls in the world to defeat gravity times age.But I am cool in my subversive old-lady tech-loving the-user-is-not-broken way, and getting cooler all the time, and I count among my friends and colleagues librarians of all ages, dress codes, and evening habits. What we share is not a love of expensive mixed drinks or the ability to hang out in cliques, but a passion for the profession.

And some people responded the old fashioned way by writing to the editor:

Letters to the New York Times (July15)

3. My Take

I saw a lot of the outrage before I read the articles and now I’m kind of wondering why all the tempest in a teapot over a newspaper fluff piece. The rage against the hipster librarians is especially puzzling. I could see myself enjoying hanging out with the Desk Set as I too enjoy drinking and dancing. On the other hand if they kept insisting on calling me a “guybrarian” I may end up clenching my fists and rubbing my nose vigorously. Regardless, the amount of attention that these two articles on one group received seems to say a whole lot about the obsession with image in the librarian profession.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) by J.K. Rowling ends the series on a satisfactory note. I won’t say much in way of spoilers — although probably everyone has read the book by now — but it was as good as I could expect it to be and maybe a little better. I like that Harry, Hermione, and Ron have a challenging quest but not one so impossible that their success eludes belief. I like how characters, places and things from previous books keep popping up unexpectedly but in ways true to the story. I didn’t like the chapters with Snape’s memories nor the Kings Cross chapter with Dumbledore and Harry. They were too pat, explained to much, and deviated too much from the narrative.

So that’s that. I enjoyed the series and I enjoyed the finale, and now it is complete in a satisfying way.

The book I’ve been waiting several years for is here!

With great anticipation I’ve awaited the next book in a series of imaginative fantasy-science fiction books set in England. You’re probably thinking I’m talking about Harry Potter, but you’re wrong. Today I’m celebrating the US release date of Jasper Fforde’s First Among Sequels. This book is the fifth installment in the Thursday Next series.

If you haven’t heard of Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next, check out the previous four books (from your local public library or purchase at an independent book store of course): The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten. The books defy categorization into any one genre although science fiction works since all the books are set in an alternate universe and mystery works as well since Thursday Next is a detective in SpecOps 27 who investigate literary crimes. In the Nextian universe, the populace is obsessed with literature and the greatest delight of these books is that they’re full of literary references and puns.

Jasper Fforde reads from First Among Sequels at Brookline Booksmith on Thursday July 26th. I plan to be there and that’s when I’ll pick up my copy of the book. Once I’ve finished I’ll post a review here (if I ever catch up with my book and movie review backlog).

And yes, I am reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows right now.