Special Collections After Dark Presents: Dirty Books & Longing Looks!

vdayGrab some smelling salts, reupholster those fainting couches, and get ready for a major attack of the vapors because it's once again time for Dirty Books and Longing Looks! Yes, the library's premiere venue for lessons in love, courtesy of our rare books collections, is once again here to make hearts flutter and monocles pop.

In addition to exploring the mysteries of the heart and learning about the murderous ways of baby-faced cupids, you can also make your very own vintage Valentine featuring images both saucy and sweet from Special Collections resources. It's also a great excuse for the prudish. "Did I see you at Dirty Books and Longing Looks last night," inquires a stern RA. "Why, yes. But I was only there to make my mother a Valentine. Isn't pretty," responds the clever freshman.

Want to attend? Of course you do! Then following all the blushing faces to the Special Collections Reading Room on Wednesday, February 12th from 6:30pm-8:30pm.

Ira Remsen, Professor of Chemistry

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Have you ever felt pressure to follow a career path favored by your parents, rather than studying what you really enjoy? Ira Remsen did both – but not at the same time. Born February 10, 1846, in New York City, of Dutch and Huguenot ancestry, Remsen was educated in public schools. He then attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he received the Doctor of Medicine in 1867.

Although briefly a practicing physician, he studied medicine only to please his parents. After satisfying this “obligation,” Remsen left for Munich to pursue his real interest: chemistry. He spent a year in Munich and then transferred to Göttingen, where he studied under the prominent chemist Rudolph Fittig and earned his doctorate in 1870. He then followed Fittig to Tübingen, where he was an assistant for two years.


Returning to the United States, he became professor of chemistry and physics at Williams College. He found Williams unsympathetic to scientific research, so he concentrated on teaching. He wrote Theoretical Chemistry, in which he reduced fundamental principles to a form simple enough for beginning students to understand. The book received immediate recognition, but, perhaps more important, it brought its author to the attention of Daniel Coit Gilman in 1876, who was searching for a candidate to occupy the chemistry chair.

Although just 30 years old, Remsen had made a reputation for himself, both as a researcher and as a teacher, despite the environment at Williams College. He jumped at the chance to equip and direct his own laboratory, and soon his lab became a center for chemical research, attracting graduate students who went on to become outstanding figures. His talent for teaching was such that it was said of him, “nobody ever understood the beginner better than Remsen.” In 1879 he founded the American Chemical Journal, which he edited for 35 years, and he contributed a number of textbooks that remained standards for years.


While working with postdoctoral colleague Constantine Fahlberg in 1878, they discovered a substance that became the artificial sweetener saccharin. Remsen had little interest in practical applications, preferring research for the sake of learning, but Fahlberg saw commercial potential and wasted no time in obtaining a patent on saccharin. Remsen did not object, but he became angry years later when Fahlberg tried to alter the account of the discovery. Fahlberg first omitted mention of Remsen as a participant in the research, then tried to make it appear that he, not Remsen, had been the senior investigator.

When Gilman retired from the presidency in 1901, after 25 years, the trustees turned to Ira Remsen to lead the university. He proved an adroit administrator, continuing Gilman's policy of judicious expansion. The undergraduate course was lengthened from three to four years in 1906, and a fund-raising drive allowed building to begin on the new Homewood campus. Remsen also chaired a national referee board on the safety and control of food products.

Ill health forced Remsen to resign from the presidency in 1912, but he recovered sufficiently to rejoin the professional world, serving as a consultant to industry. He died on March 4, 1927. Upon his death, the trustees named the recently completed chemistry building at Homewood in his honor and interred his ashes behind a plaque in the west stairwell.

The Game is Afoot!

Unless you've been living under a rock that's beneath a few more rocks, you've doubtless come across the revamped BBC/PBS production of Sherlock. Countless fans have had to wait countless months between seasons that count a mere three episodes each. The popularity of Sherlock the TV series and the numerous adaptations, homages, and spoofs speak to the genius behind the daring duo of Holmes and Watson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Thankfully, for anyone who has caught Sherlock fever, Hopkins is your Dr. Watson!

The library is your one-stop shop for all things Sherlock. Here you can find the texts themselves, scans of the first appearances of novels and stories, Arthur Conan Doyle's collected letters, and even access to serious Sherlock scholarship! If you care to, check out this recorded interview with Doyle, wherein he discusses Sherlock and spiritualism, or read (in Vol. 3, No. 2) a Believer interview from 2005 with the deceased Doyle (fascinating).

Thanks to a recent court decision, we may end up seeing even more Sherlock spin offs and fan fiction. Either way, fans of Sherlock the television series need not fear. Though this season has passed, there is more to come!


Journal Article Impact I: Rules of Thumb

Whether you've published 1 or 101 journal articles, you must be curious about how frequently those articles are read, shared, and cited. Later posts in this series will examine the many programs and applications that can help you track that information. This post gives you two important Rules of Thumb.

No one tool (or ring) can give you an absolute answer about how often an article has been cited, read, or shared. Each tool can only report on what it knows. Web of Science doesn't index every journal published; Mendeley isn't the only way people share articles; even Google Scholar can't scoop up everything. So you can use a few tools to get an impression or 'average' of how often an article is cited or downloaded. Or you could choose the tool that provides the best coverage of your discipline, and use only that tool.

The numbers reported by these tools may not mean what we think they mean. (Inconceivable!) Say you've found out that one of your articles has been cited by 60 other articles. Wonderful! We generally take that to mean that 60 other authors have read the article, found it to be useful in their work, and have cited it. Many others may have read the article, but not cited it. Some people may not have read the article, but cited it anyway, because the article they read cited it. And what if someone cited your article because they disagreed with you? I think most citations are made for the first reason - the article was read and found to be useful. But those other scenarios are both plausible and possible.

Two more posts in this series will provide tips on tracking citations and utilizing altmetrics.

A Camera Snapping on D-Level: Photographing the Sheridan Libraries

The Sheridan Libraries hired two undergraduate photography interns to document a year in the life of the libraries. The undergraduates are John Belanger, JHU '14 and Eric Chen, JHU '16. Below are Eric's thoughts regarding his work on the documentary project so far. You can follow the project here.

Hi, my name is Eric and I’m currently a sophomore studying International Studies. I really enjoy traveling the world, and wherever I go, you won’t ever find me without my camera. Photography has been a huge hobby of mine ever since middle school, and I’ve been working on improving my photography and keeping a personal photography blog for a couple of years already. John Belanger and I are the two intern photographers at the Sheridan Libraries. I get paid to do what I love, and it’s an amazing feeling!

My aim as a photographer is to document student life in the library and create a collection of photos that will become part of the University's Archives. This turned out to be a much more complicated task than just snapping pictures around the library.

On the outside (or technically inside of the library), everyone is just studying, but what’s more difficult to notice is the diversity of thoughts and the spectrum of emotions people have in the library. Before I prepare to take a photograph, I’ll introduce myself to the person or group of people I’m taking a picture of, and ask what they are studying or how they are feeling. Then, I try to compose a shot that shows the reality of that moment.

Of course, that's easier said than done. What I would like to do is take a series of candid photographs that look more natural and less staged. It has definitely been a challenge, but this internship has been a wonderful opportunity for me to improve my photography and fully appreciate the diversity of people we have in our university.

Photography aside, this internship has allowed me to meet many different people and learn about many different subjects. It’s been a wonderful experience.  If you ever hear a camera snapping in D level past midnight, it’s probably me.

Photographing the Sheridan Libraries: An Exploration of Space and Composition

The Sheridan Libraries hired two undergraduate photography interns to document a year in the life of the libraries. The undergraduates are John Belanger, JHU '14 and Eric Chen, JHU '16. Below are John's thoughts regarding his work on the documentary project so far. You can follow the project here.

What does a library represent?

It is a guardian of words, thoughts, and ideas. It is a haven of knowledge for the intellectually curious and fundamentally ambitious. A preserver of the old and promoter for the new, it is a catalyst for the progression of humanity. What a wonderful place!

I am very proud to have been selected as one of the two photography interns for the Sheridan Libraries during the 2013-2014 academic period. My task as an intern is to document student life within the library. However, students and other people are often absent from my photos because I am more interested in the physical space that people use than the actual people themselves. What excites me is trying to understand and document what a place such as a library might mean to other people and how it truly relates to me.

I take my pictures early in the morning when the library is nearly deserted except for the inevitable few poor souls cramming for tests or finishing papers. At dawn, I have the opportunity to explore freely and find compositions that might be overlooked by a stressed undergraduate or a hardworking library employee. I am drawn to frames that might point out a hidden detail, create a sense of infinity, or reveal a sensation of beauty in something ordinary. Or at least this is my intention.

I also want to pose questions with my compositions. How does the space influence the people who study in it? Are they aware of the power that a library holds? Do they appreciate it? I have always been interested in the idea of libraries and the importance they serve for society. To me, I guess they are a symbol of life, like a growing record of human existence.

It is an honor to work at the Sheridan Libraries. I am thrilled to have my work preserved in the University Archives and by the end of my internship, I hope to leave behind a large print or two on the very walls that I have learned to cherish during my time as a student at Johns Hopkins.

Anatomy of a Book? Like, Eeeeeeew???

Don't worry, all ye holders of weak stomachs! The anatomy of a book is not gross at all, unless you want it to be. Seriously, let me know and I will happily discuss bookish anatomy dealing with diseased polka dot guts from the 17th century.

Our specimen for today's highly scientific anatomical study is Henry Ridgley Evan's Magic and its Professors. Evans, you may recall, was an eminent Baltimorean known for his studies on magic. He was also known for having a rather dashing way with a popped collar.

Now onto the anatomical study! Let's first check out the binding. Pretty flashy, right? It promises the lure of ancient Egypt in garish colors! Who wouldn't want to read this? The binding technically isn't a binding at all, but something called a casing or a publisher's binding. Real old-school book binding meant that the textblock was sewn to the binding, but due to changes in book-making brought about by the Industrial Revolution, it became cheaper and easier to simply glue the text block directly to a case. As with so many things, cheaper and easier techniques led to books breaking apart. And at times this breakage is totally awesome because it reveals paper waste that was used to put the book together! The waste used to compile this book includes an old publisher's book list hawking such enticing titles as "What to Wear: Chit Chat on Dress" and the sure-to-be salacious "Gossip from Bookland." Plus, the lining of the casing itself reveals a rather fascinating prophecy: "European travelers take their own soap." But where they take it to shall forever be a mystery.

Now let's see what's inside! Dig this -- one of the endpapers contains a note from he-who-duels-with ghosts, Henry Ridgely Evans! This is called provenance, folks. Evans donated this copy of the book to the one and only George Peabody Library! Why not visit the Peabody or Special Collections in the Brody Learning Commons and conduct your very own study into the fine and serious art of book anatomy!

When Librarians Gather

ALA Annual Conference 2014 Several years ago, there was an amusing video making the rounds (well, it was amusing to librarians anyway), that was a parody of the then popular film March of the Penguins. It was a light-hearted look at a twice-yearly librarian ritual - the American Library Association (or ALA) conferences. Yes, twice a year, librarians from all over the US and Canada (and elsewhere) gather in some city or another to network and learn what's new in the profession.

You thought librarians never left the library, didn't you? Well, we've been gathering twice a year for many years now. And these outings give us a chance, not only to sample great local cuisine, collect swag, and do some awesome shopping, but also to keep up to date with what has become a rapidly changing and evolving profession. What do we do in 4 days in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco or New Orleans?

  • Meet with library vendors to see and try out new technology.
  • Peruse publishers' new books. Meet authors and hear their readings.
  • Attend discussions and demos of technology and trends in the profession.
  • Meet with our colleagues from around the country.
  • Interview for jobs. Yes, there are jobs for librarians! Good to keep in mind during these times of job shortages for new graduates, when alt-ac has become more than a buzzword.

The upcoming midwinter conference (January 24-28) is in Philadelphia, and several members of the library staff will be in attendance. We'll look forward to the new ideas they'll bring back with them!

James Joseph Sylvester

James Joseph Sylvester

When James Joseph Sylvester came to The Johns Hopkins University in 1876, he was the most senior of the original faculty, in terms of age and prior accomplishments. The university's first professor of mathematics, Sylvester had already had a full career in both academia and business. Alternately brilliant and erratic, warm and irascible, benevolent and egocentric, Sylvester helped propel the infant university to the forefront of scholarly attention soon after his arrival in Baltimore.

Born in 1814 to the family of a Jewish merchant in London, Sylvester showed mathematical talent at an early age. Barred from most universities because of his religion, he entered the University of London at the age of 14. Because he could not subscribe to the beliefs of the Church of England, Sylvester was denied his degree, though he later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1841, Sylvester assumed the chair of mathematics at the University of Virginia. If he expected Virginia to resemble the dignified atmosphere of British universities, he soon realized how wrong he was. Although warmly received in Charlottesville, he discovered that students did not regard their instructors with quite the same reverence as did their European counterparts. Known for their “drunkenness and lawlessness,” the student body included one who had murdered a faculty member just prior to Sylvester's arrival. After less than a year, Sylvester resigned, protesting the mild punishment given to a student who had been threatening and insubordinate to him.

Despairing of prospects in the United States, Sylvester returned to England in 1843. He found an actuarial position with a London life insurance company and eventually took a position at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, where he spent the next 15 years studying the theory of invariants, partition theory, and polynomial equations. Forced into retirement in 1870, Sylvester seemed at the end of a creditable career.

In 1875, as Daniel Coit Gilman traveled Europe searching for faculty, colleagues recommended Sylvester for the chair in mathematics. Determined to find the right people even if it meant postponing instruction in a particular field, Gilman took his time evaluating the older man. He wondered whether Sylvester, already 61, would have the energy to build a department and train people to follow in his steps. Colleagues assured Gilman that the mathematician desired a fresh start, and was up to the task, and Sylvester quickly warmed to the prospect as well.

In May 1876, Sylvester arrived in Baltimore and began setting up his curriculum. With keen insight, he chose for junior faculty positions (and graduate students) individuals who went on to distinguished careers. Although Sylvester spent only seven years at Hopkins before returning to England and semi-retirement, his effect on the university was dramatic. He founded the American Journal of Mathematics in 1877, conducted and directed extensive research in higher mathematics, and championed the admission of a brilliant female graduate student, Christine Ladd. Thanks to his efforts, mathematics was set on a firm foundation from our earliest years.

Sylvester was absent-minded and could focus on a problem so completely as to be oblivious to all surroundings. He was also known for stopping in mid-lecture when a new (and irrelevant) idea struck him, and pursuing that tangent to the bewilderment of his students.

In declining health in his later years, but still working on a paper in February 1897, Sylvester suffered a stroke, which led to his death on March 15. “No ‘mere calculating-machine,’ Sylvester had many interests besides mathematics – poetry, literature, music, chemistry, elocution, travel … he was eccentric, passionate, unafraid to stand up for the principles he believed in. He could also be humorous, annoying [and] testy.” (Karen Parshall, James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. xii.)

High-Energy Physics Articles for Everyone!

While many physics articles are freely available at arXiv, many are not; they're tucked away in subscription journals. If you work at a government or university lab, you probably have access to most of the physics articles you need.

High-energy physicsCMS of LHC is a global effort, with many international collaborations. There are about a dozen journals dedicated to high-energy physics. When the Open Access movement started, the researchers at CERN decided to try shifting those journals to Open Access. This would let anyone in the world read the articles they produced. Students and scholars at small colleges, even high schools, would be able to access their research papers.

The CERN researchers spent several years talking with libraries and the publishers. In the end they negotiated an agreement that let the libraries of the world move the money that would have been spent on subscriptions to SCOAP3 (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics). SCOAP3 then pays the publishers and the publishers make the articles freely available to the world.

JHU signed on to the SCOAP3 initiative in 2008. You can see JHU listed with the other US partners. There have been bumps in the road, but this month the journals make their content freely available. It's a great milestone!

Now go read an article about high-energy physics. Just for giggles.