Libraries Through the Ages–Part II

The first post in this series gave some general information about what a library is--we will now explore the early history of libraries. The earliest libraries we know about appeared in Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. According to an article in The Journal of Library History, many scholars consider the library at Ebla in northern Syria to be the world's oldest library. These libraries held thousands of clay tablets inscribed with a stylus in a technique known as cuneiform. The tablets recorded business transactions, scientific knowledge and even myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. They were usually sorted in baskets or shelves according to their content. Scholars today can study these tablets from their desktop via the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

Moving forward many centuries, we find libraries that house scrolls written in ink on papyrus and parchment rather than inscriptions on clay tablets. Papyrus was lightweight, inexpensive, and grew well in the Nile River Delta. Moving from clay to papyrus helped spur a great increase in writing, and thus, the need for libraries to house and arrange them. The most famous library of the classical world was the Library of Alexandria, founded in Egypt by the Ptolemies in the 3rd century BCE. Demetrius of Phaleron supervised the arrangement of the library which attempted to collect all Greek literature and arrange it systematically. While we don't have thousands of papyrus scrolls at the Eisenhower Library, we do have several excellent histories of the Alexandrian Library. The modern version of this library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, opened in 2002 and attempts to recapture the spirit of the original while moving forward into the digital age. In addition to providing access to millions of books, the new library serves as a backup site for the Internet Archive.

Making our way into the middle ages, we see another shift in the format of the written word: scrolls were replaced by the codex. Since the printing press was still a long way off, these books still needed to be copied by hand. European monasteries such as Monte Cassino began creating libraries of scriptures, commentaries, and philosophy, and employing their monks as scribes in their scriptoria. Don't get the idea that a monk could just show his library card and check out a book--they were all chained to the shelf or lectern! While sacred works and classics predominated in medieval Europe, secular works such as the Roman de la Rose were also being copied and distributed widely.

Stay tuned for the final installment in this series when we will cover the great university and national libraries of today and speculate on the future of libraries.

Transforming Summer Reading: Graphic Novel Adaptations of Literary Classics

Drawing by Lael EnsorIt’s summer, and you’re thinking to yourself how you’d really like to catch up on reading some classic works of fiction, but, hey, maybe you’re also thinking how you’d also really like to read something, how shall we say, a little lighter, a little more lounge chair friendly? If this has happened to you, we at the library could certainly suggest any number of graphic novels for your reading pleasure, but you may want to specifically consider the growing field of graphic novel adaptations of literary classics.

What is a graphic novel adaptation? According to the OED, an adaptation can be “an altered or amended version of a text,” or “the action or process of altering, amending, or modifying something, esp. something that has been created for a particular purpose, so that it [is] suitable for a new use.” Then, an adaptation can vary greatly in its relationship to the original text. While it is tempting to think in terms of accuracy or faithfulness, graphic novel adaptations of classic works need not be word for word illustrations. Adaptations might rework, paraphrase, or completely re-imagine the original text.

You may find it difficult to picture classic works in graphic novel form, but according to this article by Armando Celayo and David Shook, this practice has been going on since the 1940’s. Mark Letcher notes in this article that there is a growing market for adaptations from medieval poetry to Shakespeare. In their article, Katherine T. Bucher and M. Lee Manning discuss the benefits of teaching young adult students with graphic novels, including adaptations of authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Marcel Proust, and Franz Kafka.

By performing a Catalyst Article Search, I was able to learn even more about this growing field. For example, not only are classics being adapted, but also contemporary works of fiction such as Stieg Larsson's the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Adapted by Denise Mina, this article describes the approach Mina took in adapting the novel.

Feeling ready to dive in? There are lots of books to choose from at MSEL.

  • The Odyssey moves away from the strictly illustrative. Seymour Chwast’s adaptation recreates Homer’s Odyssey by reinventing the story using a conversational tone within a modern frame story.

Drawing by Lael EnsorWith so much variance, you might want to consider taking the originals and the adaptations to your lounge chair (always keeping your library books well away from sand and water!). You may find that that the graphic novels are just as challenging as the original texts!

Summer “Camp” – Quirky Videos for Summer Evenings!

Is the summer heat wiping you out? Do you just need something fun to watch at the end of the day? Baltimore is well-known for its campy humor, probably best characterized in the films of John Waters. So, when in Baltimore, do as the Baltimoreans and camp it up!

In addition to Waters’ films, the Eisenhower Library has many DVDs of films and television shows with a kooky flair. How about classic early TV, like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, My Three Sons? We’ve got ‘em! A little bit newer TV, like Soap and Buffy the Vampire Slayer? We have that, too. We also have really recent things like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey! Fun stuff, isn’t it?

And, the feature films we have are almost too numerous to mention – but, here are some arbitrary favorites to get you started:

Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety and Blazing Saddles, Woody Allen’s early classics Sleeper and Zelig, Mars Attacks!, Fantastic Voyage, Mommie Dearest, Pillow Talk, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Ed Wood, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Strictly Ballroom, the Addams Family (TV series and the movies), Muriel’s Wedding, La Cage aux Folles, Kiss of the Spider Woman,… shall I go on?

If you need help identifying more film and television classics that you want to watch this summer, be sure to use the resources on the Film & Media Studies Research Guide. And, if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, please remember to ask a librarian!


3245986341_de7c1279a9_zFire. Teeth. Scales. Wings. But also: intelligence, age, wisdom, greed, strategy. Who are some noteworthy dragons?

Everyone knows Smaug, the clever, deadly creature who slept on top of a cavernful of treasure that he'd stolen. We also know the murderous Basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwart's.

Yet, many dragons are good and act heroically: His Majesty's Dragon tells of how Temeraire hatched aboard an English warship, and how he and his aviator helped the British during the Napoleonic Wars. (Temeraire speaks many languages and loves books, but must be read to, because he can't turn the pages.)

Another story tells of an ancient and learned dragon who is told that he must "leave China and go across the ocean." This wise entity moves to California, studies computers, saves some lives, and learns a lot about human beings. (Our book about Chinese dragons has beautiful pictures of some of this dragon's friends.)

And don’t forget Toothless, the deadly Night Fury in the “How To Train Your Dragon” movies. (Oh, you never had time to watch the second one? The library has How To Train Your Dragon 2; come and check it out.)

Those of us who have ever played Dungeons and Dragons also know of the existence of Wyverns, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "a winged dragon with two feet like those of an eagle, and a serpent-like, barbed tail." (It's important to know your cryptozoology; you never know what kind of creatures you'll meet in your life.)

Drogon! Rhaegal! Viserion! DO. NOT. MESS. WITH. THEM, or their "mother," Daenarys Targeryan. The Game of Thrones wiki has plenty of pictures like these, and your library has Seasons 1 through 5 of the series. (We also have books about the story, as well as music from Season 4 and Season 5 that you can stream.)

What can your library tell you about dragons? A lot:

By the way, those 990 items in our catalog with "dragon" in the title are written in 16 languages. One of the two labelled "Swedish" is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Watch it right now if you'd like!)

The 22 in Chinese include books, films, and even two musical recordings, which are both CDs located at the Friedheim Library – one is a collection of classical piano pieces by the talented Lang Lang called Dragon Songs, and the other is the soundtrack to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Everyone should read more about dragons!


Hours of Good Listening with Streaming Media

Today music is everywhere -- cars, elevators, shopping malls and more. With streaming media resources, the library can offer you a personal playlist that may be very different than what you would typically encounter. For example, search the Naxos Music Library's comprehensive collection of classical music before an exam to test the hypothesis that listening to Mozart can make you smarter. Or if you're looking for some local flair, this database includes Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, so you have access to such gems as the live recording of the Bernstein Mass.

Perhaps you are in the mood to sample music from America’s past. Music Online: American Song includes songs by and about American Indians, miners, immigrants, slaves, children, pioneers, and cowboys. Included are the songs of Civil Rights, Prohibition, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, anti-war protests, and more. The variety is endless. For an afternoon pick-me-up, try the Cajun piece The Midnight Special. Or, if you want to hear George Gershwin play his own compositions, try Rhapsody in Blue.

The Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries is an encyclopedia of the world's musical and aural traditions. It includes the published recordings owned by the non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label and the archival audio collections of the legendary Folkways Records.

The Classical Music Library is another multi-label database that contains classical music dating from Gregorian Chants to contemporary composers. For example, there are thirteen compositions of John Adams including a chamber piece titled Gnarly Buttons for Clarinet and Ensemble. So much to explore!

And last but not least is Opera in Video, which contains hundreds of hours of opera performances. You can search by opera, opera singer, and more -- then sit back and enjoy a performance with or without subtitles. Watch and/or listen on your computer or stream to your iPhone or Android. Give it a try and why not begin with The Magic Flute by Mozart?

Declaration of Independence

So how much do you know about the Declaration of Independence? I am sure you could tell me who wrote it. And you know it is associated with July 4th, 1776 and the Revolutionary War. And names like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams come to mind. But what else do you know?

The Declaration of Independence was written after Richard Henry Lee from Virginia proposed a resolution to the Second Continental Congress that the colonies declare independence from Britain. There was actually a five man committee commissioned to write the document. The members were Roger Sherman from Connecticut, John Adams from Massachusetts, Robert Livingston from New York, Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson from Virginia. Jefferson did pen most of the document but the others were involved. And the Congress made some revisions before the document was accepted. The resolution was passed on July 2nd with the Declaration being accepted on July 4th. It took until August to collect all the signatures as they are now.

There is an interesting connection between the Declaration of Independence and Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus. The Homewood Museum was actually built by one of the signers' children. Charles Carroll of Carrollton gave his son and daughter-in-law the money which was used to build the house. Carroll was an interesting individual in his own right. He was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration and he lived the longest; he survived until 1832.

If you are interested in more information on the Declaration of Independence, you can always go see the document at the National Archives or visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia where it was signed. Or if you are looking for something a little more on the theatrical side you could watch the movie, "John Adams" or  "The Patriot." Both are based partially on historical fact. And a little history now and then can be fun. Just be sure to pick them up before July 4th because the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and the Brody Learning Commons are going to be closed that day.

Infrared at Evergreen – No Goggles Needed


“Self-Portrait: Burren Stone,” by Phyllis Arbesman Berger. In situ for exhibition at Evergreen Museum & Library.

Please join us at the Evergreen Museum & Library for an exhibition entitled, An Invisible World Made Visible: The Infrared Landscapes of Phyllis Arbesman Berger. It runs through September 11, 2016 and is included with guided museum tour admission: 11am–4pm Tuesday–Friday, noon–4pm Saturday–Sunday (last tour departs at 3pm).

Visitors can expect to be transported in time, to the early 20th century  when John Work and Alice Warder Garrett made Evergreen their home. Alice Warder Garrett, patroness of visual and performing arts, used Evergreen’s many spaces to showcase her interests; and 21st century visitors continue to benefit from the results of her patronage.

Phyllis Arbesman Berger's exhibition is transportive as well, presenting the world through a very specialized lens.  Although a visit to Evergreen includes encounters with Picasso, Degas, Rodin, Dufy, Modigliani, and Haseltine, just to name of few, this exhibition is not as incongruous to Alice Warder Garrett’s vision as the title might, at first, suggest.

Evergreen Director-Curator, James Archer Abbott, has situated Berger’s photographs in juxtaposition to the permanent collection. The exhibition is partially a treasure hunt, as viewers are invited to seek the current amidst the classic; and Abbott has made sensical and sensitive connections between Berger’s infrared photographs and the paintings and sculpture that Alice so carefully chose for her own.

This is especially true in the Reading Room, the octagonal former dining room re-envisioned in 1932 as a library for John Work Garrett’s ever expanding collection of books. The room currently houses what is loosely considered the “travel” collection: decorated cloth editions detailing the history and features of countries around the world, true travel guides, such as Baedeker’s, and similar texts. The room is decorated with panels created by Miguel Covarrubias to reflect John Work Garrett’s postings in the Diplomatic Service. In this space, Abbott has featured several of Berger’s photographs reflective of specific international locales. The relationship between Covarrubias’ image of the Eiffel Tower with Berger’s is particularly striking.

Berger, who is the Photography Director for the Center of Visual Arts, has written of her own work: “I love the idea of photography as a science and as an art and infrared brings together these two elements in a most elegant way…I am an interpreter of what I see before me, much in the way a painter might analyze and experience a place, whether it is traipsing alone in the wilds of the Burren or surrounded amid crowds in the Tuilleries Gardens of Paris.”

More information can be found at

Count von Count Presents: The Library!

count-200x300A library's primary raison d'etre is to obtain and make available resources that support your research, teaching, and learning. We have spent many years building a great collection that includes books, journals, patents, standards, newspapers, music, films, maps, government documents, manuscripts, and rare books. We have also spent time building relationships with other libraries that allow us to share our materials with each other.

I thought you'd like to see some numbers that show how much our collections are used. These numbers are for FY15, July 2014-June 2015.

  • Checkouts from Sheridan Libraries: 116,668
  • E-Reserves: 38,300 PDFs posted for 1,424 courses
  • Interlibrary Loan borrowed 12,094 items from other libraries for JHU patrons
  • Interlibrary Loan loaned 14,588 items to other libraries
  • BorrowDirect items borrowed: 14,015
  • BorrowDirect items loaned: 13,857

So, be sure to use our resources to your heart's content. Providing you what you need to succeed is what we're all can count on it, AH HA HA HA HA!

Beer: The Blog Post

"They who drink beer will think beer."
- Washington Irving (1783-1859)


The mere mention provokes desire and conjures thirst.

But is it thirst for the triple-hopped, top-fermented, and bottle conditioned adult beverage that you feel -- or thirst for knowledge about it? The library is, naturally, the place to go if you thirst after knowledge, even about beer.

The Sheridan Libraries have among their collections brimming tankards of beer scholarship. You might sip the hoppy Froth!: The Science of Beer, take a deep draught of the malty Every man his own brewer, or quaff the frothy Beer is Proof God Loves Us. The libraries have books and reports on the economics of beer and the beer industry, on the science of fermentation in beer production, on the history of brewing, and on legal issues surrounding the beer industry. Our holdings include beer-related books, serial publications, and at least one film that is utterly besotted with an all beer theme.

But are we awash in all things beer? Not really. We're missing the amber nectar itself.  For that, you'll have to slake your thirst elsewhere.

A Canadian film star once wished on screen to be:

"Someplace warm. A place where the beer flows like wine."


Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

The library has access to a really interesting, unique and incredibly useful online resource. It goes by the curious acronym of PEP, but its actual title is more illuminating - Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing. Well, maybe a bit more illuminating.

This online treasure holds a unique resource, something you might think would be easily found online, but that in fact only is found in PEP: the complete works, in English (The Standard Edition of J. Strachley) AND German (Gesammelte Werke) of Sigmund Freud. Fully searchable, so you can find, for example, exactly where Freud discusses the famous dream of the white wolves.

But there's much more to this online archive. Also included, and also fully searchable, are nearly 50 journals and the full text of 70 classic books on psychoanalysis. So you can also set the white wolves in context, and see how this famous case has been discussed over the years.

But wait, isn't psychoanalysis a somewhat outdated field? Haven't Freud's writings and theories been largely discredited? After all, there was something called the Freud Wars a while back, wasn't there?  It's true that Freud's theories have come under fire, and that many discount his work as pseudo-science. But in the humanities, he is still a seminal figure and psychoanalysis is still actively studied. In particular, Freud's writings on dreams, the unconscious, and the comic are frequently cited and studied.

Want to explore the library's holdings on Freud? Ironically, they will be shelved on C Level, the Science and Engineering level of MSE library. Psychology is considered science here at Hopkins, and this portion of the B call number range has been separated out and put on C level. Freud would have approved.