Amateur Hour : HOAX!

Last Tuesday was the library’s second Amateur Hour, which featured media prankster, Alan Abel. While Will helped Abel and Joshua Foer (co-curator of the series) set-up for the event, I was charged with taking tickets. At the height of ticketed patrons checking in, an elderly man dropped a flier next to me, mumbling, “I don’t care about the birds.” I was a bit confused, but went back to collecting tickets and chatting with library members. Shortly before the event began, I had a chance to read the flier:

Bird Watchers are Voyeurs!

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, 48 million people watch birds. A private research group, the Good Conduct Society, has discovered Bird Watchers are more sexually active than others.
The elderly find that Bird Watching is not strenuous. And this erotic experience can be enjoyed privately through binoculars.
‘Most disturbing,’ said the Society’s director Anaida Krok, ‘are the groups of Bird Watchers seeking vicarious sexual gratification in the woods. Shamelessly, they blatantly observe God’s defenseless creatures mating.’

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Abel explained that he and his wife pass out these fliers in Washington, D.C. from time to time. It’s an extension of his social commentary from the 1960s when he started the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals – an organization to clothe animals.


Old New Haven

The Institute Library has many out-of-print books on the history of New Haven and other Connecticut towns, as well as the new books that I featured in Monday’s post. One of these books is especially important, not only to New Haven, but to everywhere that has local history and folklore. The man in the print about the fireplace at the Institute Library is John W. Barber – who is credited as the first person to collect, record, and publish local histories. He learned the craft of print making and opened a store in New Haven in 1823, and traveled around Connecticut, making etches and engravings of the sites and collecting stories from the people. He published History and Antiquities of New Haven, Conn., in 1856

This isn’t the only out of print New Haven book either – we have an entire alcove of local history books! The back wall is mostly Connecticut towns, with a few books on Massachusetts. The outer walls of the alcove have books on other states and some books on the Central & North American countries. 

(From right to left) History of the Colony of New Haven, published 1881, Hartford Conn., published 1889, Catalogue of the Trustees, Rectors, Instructors and Alumni of the Hopkins Grammar School of New Haven, Connecticut: 1660 – 1902, published 1902, The English Memorial: New Haven Colony Historical Society, published 1893, History of Wallingford, Meriden, and Cheshire, published in 1870, North Haven Annuals, published 1892, History of the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut, published 1887, and An Old New England Town, published 1895.

The covers of a lot of these older books are cloth – without much on the cover. I photographed a few of the title pages:

There are many, MANY more books on New Haven and other Connecticut towns — please visit and learn some New Haven secrets.


My love for rare books and archives bloomed while I was an undergraduate student when I worked at a student archivist for DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives Library.

The status of the Institute Library’s archives is, umm, sad.  Other than some year-less posters, newspaper clippings (again, without the date attached) ticket stubs, we don’t really any of the library’s records from the 19th century.  The Beinecke does have many of our missing records.

Tomorrow I am taking a field trip to the Beinecke and will be lost to the world in the archives, uncovering more of the mysteries of the Institute Library.  I have eight pages of Institute Library documents that are housed at Yale.

A few titles on my list of documents to seek out tomorrow:

  • “A contract by and between the city of New Haven and the New Haven Young Men’s Institute”  1886
  • “An Appeal for the Young Men’s Institute” 1854
  • “Catalogue of books in the library of the Young Men’s Institute” 1840
  • “Constitution of the Young Mechanic’s Institute” 1831

I am so incredibly excited!!!  I will share my discoveries as soon as possible!

The First Homes of the Library

On August 1st, 1826, Charles Kelsey, Albert Wilcox, Joel Ives, Alfred E. Ives, George S. Gunn, Eastman S. Minor, James F. Babcock, & Edward W. Andrews began the Apprentices’ Literary Association (A.L.A.) in the home of Albert Wilcox on August 1st, 1826 – the genesis of the Institute Library.

The group met about twice a week – gathering at the homes of the different members – sharing books and reading original compositions.  By mid-October, the group secured a room the Glebe Building on the corner of Chapel and Church Streets.

The library moved homes a several times within the first few years. On May 1st, 1834 the library (known as the Young Mechanics Institute as of 1827) signed a two year lease in “Mr. Marble’s Building” (Centennial Report, 5) on Church Street, which cost $50 a year payable quarterly.  After those two years, the library moved to a few more different buildings in the Church / Chapel Streets area.  The Institute’s 9th move since its birth was to a building all its own that it had built in 1856 – the Palladium Building on Orange Street.  For one reason or another – war or recklessness – the Institute was forced to sell the building in 1864 and it moved back to the Phoenix Building on Chapel Street.

The Institute’s current home at 847 Chapel Street is the library’s 13th home.  The land was purchased in 1878 and construction was completed that same year.

The City Directory from 1848 is the oldest directory the library has although the first New Haven directory was put out in 1839.  Mr. Albert Wilcox’s home address & occupation are listed in this directory – assuming he didn’t move in the 22 years between the Institute’s first meeting in his home and the publication of this directory – the Institute’s very first home was at 59 Chapel Street.



A library’s collection is a narrative.   Each book was acquired because someone, either a librarian or patron, believed it to be important and valuable in some way.  For example: the library has  about 30 books on Woodrow Wilson, only 12 books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 8 books about William Taft.  William Taft served only one presidential term whereas Wilson served two, but FDR served four presidential terms and spearheaded the New Deal.

Did the librarians feel that Wilson was much more important than FDR or Taft?  Did the librarians of the time dislike FDR?  WHO made these decisions and WHY?

Staying in the biography room at the Institute Library, but moving away from the U.S. presidents – I continued perusing the shelves to discover more of the library’s mysteries (I might have shown up an hour early to work so I could meander through the stacks…..)  I found two titles that I felt I NEEDED to figure out some sort of narrative as to why they are on the shelves.

1. Desperate women by James D. Horan, published 1952
2. The nympho and other maniacs : The lives, the loves and the sexual adventures of some scandalous and liberated ladies by Irving Wallace, published 1971

Why did someone feel that these two books were important enough to purchase for the Institute Library and WHO was this person?  I must also note, that the nympho book is on the shelf right next to The world’s wickedest women by Andrew Ewart, published in 1965 – which means (according to the William Borden Classification system – these two books were purchased about the same time).  There is SOME sort of narrative here – how to interpret it, I’m not entirely certain.

This is the cover of Desperate women – which raised my intrigue even more.

3rd paragraph of the forward:

“They all possessed a cold courage whether they were using their sex to steal military secrets or holding up a stage coach. Their appetite for life, action, and excitement was insatiable. They committed espionage as coolly as they sipped their tea, seduced men in high places for their country and their causes; held their liquor, rode like Comanches, dealt stud poker, packed guns, rustled cattle, and played road agent with great efficiency and picturesqueness.” (Horan vii)

The title The nympho and other maniacs at least provides the feel of a history of empowered women, unlike Desperate women. The titles of the sections are amazing: “Book I : The mistress as a scandal,” “Book II : The heroine as a scandal,” and “Book III : The rebel as a scandal.”

The actual content of these books (unlike the titles) gives me a better understand as to possible reasons why they were acquired – it was during a time when women were fighting for equal rights in the workforce.

Another one of the investigated yet unanswered mysteries of the Institute Library.

Amateur Hour

Amateur Hour is the Institute Library’s lecture/discussion series that will be monthly starting this autumn.  Curators Jack Hitt & Joshua Foer kicked off the series with a  summer preview on June 13th.

Josh and Jack discussed Jack’s new book, Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character, which chronicles his travels among the garages, dorm rooms, and kitchens of this generation’s self-motivated thinkers, and a peek inside the current doings of the American amateur.

The sold-out event was a HUGE success with many thanks to all involved, especially Jack Hitt & Josh Foer.

Local Histories

I moved to Connecticut from the Midwest about five years ago.  One of the first things that struck me as odd was that the town line signs here say the year the town was settled.  In the Midwest, the town line signs give the population.  For example, when driving into Milford, the green sign says, “Milford Settled in 1639” whereas the sign to my hometown says, “Byron Population 3,850

I feel like there is a much stronger dedication of the local history in New England, which I love, but perhaps this perceived dedication is due to simply being much older.  My home state, Illinois, hadn’t even been an official state for 10 years when the Young Men’s Institute Library was founded in 1826!  Not only are the towns of New England much older than where I grew up, I think the history is much richer.  I thank Connecticut born John W. Barber known as the first person to start collecting and recording these interesting local histories.

John Warner Barber, 1798 – 1885, is considered the first person to record local history.  In the 1820s Barber began traveling Connecticut to collect local histories and create ink sketches of town greens, hotels, schools, churches, and harbors, which he later turned into engravings.

This etching, which sits above the library’s fireplace, depicts Barber sketching the Connecticut countryside.  His book, Connecticut Historical Collections, published in 1856, sold over 7,000 copies within a year.

The library has this book – it sits on the table next to the card catalog.  The engravings are breathtakingly beautiful – my camera does not do them justice.

This engraving by John W. Barber is framed on the wall next to my desk at the library.  It is of the New Haven Post Office 1825 – 1835.

Barber holds more significance to the Institute Library besides being a great local historian.  He was head librarian of the library from 1864 – 1869.  This treasure’s report is from Barber’s second year as head librarian at the Institute Library.  His salary of $400 is equivalent of about $10,000 with inflation in 2010 – this does not count cost of living.