Archive for the ‘Libraries and Librarianship’ Category

The connection between the three subjects in the title will become apparent. The post was originally meant to be about the last item, but they are all connected in my memory.

I am a librarian, and a member of the American Library Association (ALA). As such, I have attended many of the regular conferences of that organization. ALA has two major conferences each year, the Annual Conference (in the summer), and the Midwinter Conference. The first of these is quite large, drawing about 17,000 people, including academic, public, school, and other librarians as well as vendors of all kinds of products we depend on. This conference can be held in only about a half-dozen cities in the US and Canada because of the need for spaces: not only hotel rooms and large exhibit spaces, but also meeting rooms. It needs to be scheduled about ten years in advance to be sure the accommodations can be met. One of the cities in which we have met often is New Orleans, and we were scheduled to meet there in June of 2006. So you might imagine what happened at the end of August in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Emails were flying around among the leaders and the committees of ALA. How could New Orleans possibly be ready to host a conference of 17,000 people less than a year after being completely swamped by a major hurricane, which killed almost 2,000 people?[1]  But, how could we possibly move such a huge conference to another city with less than a year’s preparation? After much debate, it was decided that we should bank on New Orleans, not only because it would be difficult to relocate, but because New Orleans would need this conference. As planning continued, there was also a decision to mount teams of volunteers to help with cleanup and restoration. Some of these teams would arrive before the conference and some stay after. They would do demolition in damaged homes, and help to rebuild, putting up new walls and floors, etc. I had recently had major surgery, and so volunteered for less physical activities. In the end, I staffed a book sale at a public library branch that had been damaged, to raise money to fix broken windows and other problems.

It was a moving experience to be there. The city still had huge problems – only half of the convention center was open, while the major hotels were in pretty good shape. But the spirit of the city was amazing! Everywhere were flags and pennants sporting the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of New Orleans, and now the symbol of its rebirth. The people were especially warm and welcoming. If I stopped in a store to buy something, they would ask, “Are you with the librarians? Thank you so much for coming!” We were the first major conference hosted there since Katrina, and, if I remember correctly, we had far higher attendance at the conference than usual – about 19,000! I had been to New Orleans twice before, for this same conference, and this was by far the best experience ever.

And now to the down side of the entry. As I sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for my shuttle to the airport, I was reading the Times-Picayune, and came across this story: Christopher, 25. (from Texas), working as a security guard in a hotel here in New Orleans, got into an argument with Erik, 30, a former Marine, who was visiting someone in the hotel. The subject of the argument was whether the Army (Christopher’s group) or the Marines (Erik’s group) was tougher. They ended up fighting and then Christopher shot Erik with a shotgun.

I wrote in my journal at the time: “There are probably numerous people who have been important influences in the lives of these two men who should be taken to task for this – including the leadership of these two service groups.” Why would these two men, both veterans of our armed forces, end up fighting, and finally harming, each other over such a stupid issue!? At the time, I was reminded of a song by Chris Smither, entitled “Every Mother’s Son”, which addresses this very issue – toxic masculinity – and calls out those who instill it or abet it in their children. I decided at that point to learn the song, and perform it from time to time, because I think others should hear it. I also remembered that Chris Smither grew up in New Orleans, though he now lives elsewhere. Years later, I did sound for a concert by him at Stone Soup, a folk music venue in Rhode Island, and took that opportunity to ask him if that song had been inspired by a particular incident or experience. He said that it was not – just something that came to him.

Given the many incidents of gun violence, and especially mass shootings in this country (and elsewhere), I feel inspired to share that song with others, and I intend to sing it at some future performances. I hope that Chris Smither does not mind if I share it here. So I have made a recording of it, and put it on my Bandcamp site, to which I link below. Anyone can listen to it once or twice there, but beyond that, they must pay for a download. In the unlikely event that someone does download it, I will gladly offer the proceeds to Chris or to a charity of his choosing.

Every Mother’s Son (by Chris Smither), played and sung by WS Monroe

And it’s only fair that I direct you to a version done by the writer himself:

Every Mother’s Son (by Chris Smither), played and sung by Chris Smither.

And here is an article from Sing Out! (the folksong magazine) about the song, and the theme.  Ken Bigger, “Every Mother’s Son,” Sing Out! (January 21, 2013).

[1] “Hurricane Katrina,” in Wikipedia, September 9, 2019.


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I just posted this on the Brown University Library site.  I think it is worth posting here, as well.   The original is on the “Brown University Library News“.

A Printed Book Once Owned by Bernardo Bembo

AmB 230--271-inscription

Cecil Clough once noted that we can learn much about the life and travels of Bernardo Bembo from the books he owned, especially “because of his tendency … to make biographical jottings in his manuscripts.”[1] In another remark in the same article, he states that “interestingly enough there is no printed book that certainly can be associated with Bernardo’s library.”[2] Now, thanks to Bernardo’s well-known habit, we can say that the second statement is no longer true.

The Annmary Brown Collection at the Brown University Library holds a copy of Augustine’s De civitate dei printed in Venice by Johannes and Wendelin of Speyer in 1470.[3] The colophon to this edition notes that the printers come from Speyer. In the margin next to that colophon, is an inscription noting that two persons were passing by Speyer on the Rhine and decided to sign this book. The inscription reads: “D. Justus et B. Bemb. dum é regione Urbis Spire essemus internavigantes M.ccc.lxxi. xviiii. augusti . librum Signavimus.”[4]

The date was 19 August 1471, the year after this book was printed in Venice. B. Bemb. is an abbreviation often used by Bernardo Bembo, who left Venice on 16 July to be the city’s ambassador to the Court of Burgundy.[5] But who was “D. Justus”, and could the book have belonged to this person rather than Bembo? The second question is more easily answered. There are many more marginal notations in the book, mostly taking the form of indexing. These marginalia were made by at least two hands, and one is identical to that in other books (manuscripts) known to have belonged to Bernardo, as are many of the other marks, such as manicules.[6] Moreover, on fol. 59v are the words of Bembo’s motto: Virtue & Honor.

AmB 230--059v

As for D. Justus, I would suggest two possibilities. The most likely is Giusto de Baliis da Lendinara, to whom Bembo wrote some letters, and who was mentioned in others.[7] Another possibility, but less likely, is Justus of Ghent, a contemporary painter. Justus of Ghent (or Joos van Wassenhoven) painted for the Duke of Montefeltro, having left Ghent for Italy in 1469 or 1470, and known to have been in Urbino between 1472 and 1474 working on his masterpiece, the Communion of the Apostles.[8]

At any rate, the volume merits more study, and is available in the John Hay Library at Brown University. To make an appointment to view the book, email specialcollections@brown.edu.

[1] Cecil H. Clough, “The Library of Bernardo and of Pietro Bembo,” The Book Collector 33 (1984): 302-331. This remark is on p. 312.

[2] Clough, p. 313. Clough mentions, in a footnote, that he had earlier believed four printed books to be attributed to Bernardo’s library, but now rejects them. It should be noted, however, that a book published just a year later attributes two other printed books to Bernardo’s library. See Nella Giannetto, Bernardo Bembo, umanista e politico veneziano (Florence: Olschki, 1985), p. 356-357.

[3] Augustine, De civitate dei (Venice: Johannes and Vindelinus de Spira, 1470), John Hay Library, Annmary Brown 230. ISTC: ia01233000.

[4] This inscription was pointed out to me by my student assistant, Caroline Hughes, while assisting me in recording interesting features of the collection.

[5] Giannetto, Bernardo Bembo, p. 27.

[6] For manicules, including the characteristic manicules of Bembo, see William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), esp. pages 35-36.

[7] Giannetto, Bernardo Bembo, p. 29, 401-402, 408.

[8] Jacques Lavalleye, Juste de Gand: peintre de Frédéric de Montefeltre (Louvain: Bibliothèque de L’Université, 1936), p 40-50. Would Justus of Ghent have travelled back to the Low Countries in 1471? Little is known for certain of his travels, but he would have been known by humanists such as Bernardo, and they could have travelled together.

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Read this in December of 2013.   A short work, translation of De Commodis litterarum atque incommodis.  More accurate translation would be On the usefulness and uselessness of scholarship.

The short work, written sometime between 1428 and 1430 and dedicated to Alberti’s elder brother, Carlo, is a long diatribe complaining about the poor regard that society has for scholars.  Scholars, he says, should be the most revered people, but instead they are disdained.  Their work is considered useless, it does not pay, and it leads in the long run to penury and illness.  One must wonder what Carlo, who took over the family’s business thought of all this.
Overall, I find his arguments rather tedious, especially with all their classism and sexism, but there are a couple of passages that stand out for their resonance even today:
“Yet, at present the crowd is more pleased with malice than with righteousness, with deception, frivolity, and insolence than with humane and modest conduct, and it is the crowd without whose approval the man of learning can never escape poverty.  The crowd, unable itself to beat the cunning bent on conquest and pillage with which their masters enter into lawsuits, when they see schemer colliding with schemer, glorify the one who wins by more successful scheming.  This, if an unscrupulous learned legalist takes up an unjust case, they will call him a great master, the best of men, and a great friend.  They have come to think deception a virtue, they admire the art of creating a mask and a false image as a remarkable mobilization of knowledge, and they believe that malice and wickedness and deliberate misinformation are derived from recondite knowledge.  When a man is good and just and holy, when he argues cases for the merit they have in terms of justice and equity, when he stands for law and truth, not employing deceit and audacious lies, not shifting his allegiance at will, not hoping to win for the sake of money, but fighting for the sake of honor, they call him useless, ignorant, and a loser of cases.”  (p. 36)
“But let us return to our populace, who have always given the highest honors to gold and wealth.  Indeed, it is no mystery why the crowd is moved, not so much by virtue as by outward splendor.  For the ignorant are attracted by the things they can see with their eyes while those things that can and ought to enlighten them do not move them.  So the ignorant desire the riches they can see and disregard the wisdom they do not have, follow after property and despise virtue.”  (p. 47)
Leon Battista Alberti, The Use and Abuse of Books (De commodis litterarum atque incommodis), translation and introduction by Renee Neu Watkins (Project Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1999).    @RPB: PA8450.A5U84x 1999
Have things changed very much?

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I participate in another blog as part of my work.  The Brown University Library has begun a blog about “Mobile Apps for Scholarship,” to which I have contributed two posts, the latest being “Reflections on Apps for Medieval Studies.”   Here is a link to it, for anyone who might be interested:


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