Friday, February 6, 2015

My Visit to Bitch Community Lending Library

As a longtime reader of Bitch Magazine, I knew the publication had a lending library at its headquarters in Portland, Oregon. This week, I checked it out.
Bitch Community Lending Library.
Photo by the author of this blog

The Portland chapter of Radical Reference helped establish Bitch Community Lending Library, which opened on July 30, 2009. At that time, the lending library had "800+ books on feminist theory, media studies, sociology, gender and queer studies, pop culture, and more," according to an online announcement made by Reading Frenzy, an "Independent Press Emporium" that is also based in Portland. Today, according to the lending library's web page, it "holds over 2,500 books, zines, magazines, and DVDs that explore feminism, media studies, pop culture, queer studies, race studies, sex and sexuality, body image, and much more."
Approaching Bitch Media HQ, where the lending library is located.
Photo by the author of this blog

The lending library is located at 4930 NE 29th Avenue, just off of NE Alberta Street, in a happening section of North Portland. (If you're using public transit to get to the lending library, the number 72 bus will drop you off at NE Alberta Street and NE 27th Avenue, just a couple short blocks away.) Turning the corner onto NE 29th Avenue, I saw the building that houses Bitch Media, which publishes Bitch Magazine and operates the lending library, looks pretty much like any other residence on the block. What distinguishes it, however, is the "Bitch Media" sign posted above the entrance. The front entrance was not locked, and there was no other measure of security, so I was able to easily walk in off the street.
Heading upstairs toward Bitch Community Lending Library on the 2nd Floor.
Photo by the author of this blog

Entering 4930 NE 29th Avenue, I was faced with a somewhat steep, carpeted stairwell that went straight to the second floor of the building. At the top of the stairs, I found myself in the open doorway of the Bitch Community Lending Library. The main, front room of the lending library made me think of a waiting room of a private practice - calm and quiet, with everything tidied and in its proper place, and with soft, slightly used furniture to sit on - but much cozier, brighter, and airier. Dim sunlight filled the room, around which were vintage touches, like antique lamps and retro-patterned pillows, and green, leafy, flourishing plants. All in all, the lending library was very welcoming, despite no one immediately coming out to greet me or otherwise see who was poking around.
A selection of books at Bitch Community Lending Library.
Photo by the author of this blog

I was pleased to see an impressive range of books, meticulously labeled and arranged on the shelves, allowing them to be located easily. The shelves themselves were clearly labeled, making obvious the genre of books that you're browsing. The genres of books available for lending include Feminist Activism, Feminist Theory, Cultural Criticism, Reproductive Rights, and Parenting. At the end of one of the bookshelves is a large plastic bin labeled "FREE." Opening it, I saw back issues of magazines such as Utne Reader, Mother Jones, Curve, and The Advocate; there were also zines, comics, books, DVDs, and CDs, all in good condition. Rooting through this box, I made out like a bandit.
Personal zines ("perzines") among the zines on display at the lending library.
Photo by the author of this blog

Looking at the zines available for lending, I saw a wide variety as well. Displayed on a revolving rack by the entrance of the library, the zines are quite diverse, covering a range of interests. There are zines focusing on health issues, as well as personal zines ("perzines"), which are zines that relate personal stories. Queer zines were on display, as were zines on parenting. Bitch Community Lending Library accepts donations of "zines made by and for feminist thinkers, activists, and fans, though they don't have to be 'grrrl zines' per se. Whether your zines were Xeroxed back in 1992 or just last month, we'd love to have them."
Bitch Community Lending Library is a donation site for Books to Patients PDX.
Photo by the author of this blog

In addition to items that you can take home with you, Bitch Community Lending Library has bins in which you can drop stuff off. Specifically, there is a plastic crate into which you can place books and other reading materials that will be donated to Books to Patients PDX. Books to Patients PDX is "a volunteer-run organization in Portland, Oregon, that provides donations of reading materials to people living with mental health issues in institutionalized settings because a book, at the right moment, can change a life - and everyone deserves access to books," states the organization in a flier posted above the donation crate. For more on Books to Patients PDX, whether you want additional information or would like to host or coordinate a donation side, contact the organization at

Bitch Community Lending Library is open Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm. Visits to the lending library are by appointment only; appointments can be made online, but it is still wise to call ahead (503-282-5699) in order to confirm your appointment before you arrive. If you wish to check out items from the lending library, all you need is a photo ID, which gets you ongoing membership. Members of Bitch Community Lending Library can take out five items at time over the course of a month. If you're curious about what the lending library holds, you can browse the collection's online catalog that is hosted by

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tom Hiddleston Reads Erotic E. E. Cummings Poem

Tom Hiddleston has done it again. The handsome English actor of stage and screen, who is best known for playing "Loki" in the Thor and Avengers films for Marvel Studios, has once more set hearts aflutter and loins aflame.
Tom Hiddleston, working his magic in the recording booth.
GIF via

In a highly sensual recording, Tom Hiddleston reads the erotic e. e. cummings poem "May I Feel Said He." The poem was originally published in cummings' 1935 collection of poetry, titled No Thanks. It is astounding that Hiddleston's recording of the incredibly sexy poem hasn't either broken the Internet or spontaneously, simultaneously gotten millions of women all over the world instantly pregnant.

You may listen to Tom Hiddleston read "May I Feel Said He" at this SoundCloud LINK. If you would like to know the words to this memorable poem, see below.

may i feel said he

by e. e. cummings

may i feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he)
it's fun said she

(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she

(let's go said he
not too far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)

may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she

may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she

but it's life said he
but your wife said she
now said he)
ow said she

(tiptop said he
don't stop said she
oh no said he)
go slow said she

(cccome?said he
ummm said she)
you're divine! said he
(you are Mine said she)

Manhattan's Dwindling Bookstore Landscape

Shortly after moving to New York in the late 1990s, I began to discover the city's bookstores, starting in the borough of Manhattan. I soon found my favorites.

The much-missed Coliseum Books at its original 57th Street location.
Image via

I hung out south of 14th Street quite a bit, which meant I could often be found browsing in Spring Street Books and Rizzoli on West Broadway, both in SoHo. Farther up, in Greenwich Village, I'd poke around Posman Books on University Place, just off of Washington Square Park. North of 14th Street and walking westward, I would cross into the Chelsea neighborhood, which then was largely populated by gay men. I'd pass by The Gauntlet, a body piercing salon that was at the corner of 5th Avenue and 19th Street and was hugely popular with gay men in the S&M community, and turn the corner and go inside Revolution Books, a leftist bookstore on 19th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Leaving Revolution Books and walking farther west on 19th Street, I would come upon A Different Light, a multistory gay bookstore and event space. At A Different Light, a man in female drag would sometimes be working at the cash register, which - in my young eyes - was pretty radical and made the bookstore an even more special place to visit. But by far my most favorite bookstore at that time was Coliseum Books, a huge independent bookstore on the corner of 57th Street and Broadway, just south of Central Park. It took up much of the city block. You could spend hours in there, and each visit, you would come upon something new and interesting to read, and it was often priced affordably. (It was at Coliseum where I first discovered Bust.)
My bookmark from Coliseum Books.
Image via the author of this blog

With the exception of Revolution Books, which in recent years has relocated to a smaller space on West 26th Street, none of these Manhattan bookstores are still in business. And far more have disappeared as well, including prime locations of the corporate behemoth Barnes & Noble, which closed a store on Astor Place in the East Village, two stores on 6th Avenue (in Greenwich Village and in Chelsea), and a store on upper Broadway by Lincoln Center in the years that I was in New York. The disappearance of so many bookstores in Manhattan is incredible to think about when you consider that the borough was once home to nearly 400 bookstores, many of them clustered along "Book Row" on 4th Avenue, just south of 14th Street. Last year, there were only 106 bookstores left in Manhattan, a decline of 21.4 percent over the course of the previous four years, according to Steven Melendez. Melendez mined city data to chronicle the last 60 years of Manhattan's bookstore landscape, and in doing so, he created a map illustrating the disheartening changes from 1950 to 2014. 

You could blame the dwindling number of Manhattan bookstores on skyrocketing rents that have succeeded in pushing out even the big bookstores. You could also chalk it up to a change in people's reading habits and to changes in technology. Still, the steady decimation of the city's bookstore landscape is a shame when you think that, not that long ago, Manhattan was a book lover's mecca.

To read more about Steven Melendez charting the changing Manhattan bookstore landscape, see THIS LINK. For the map chronicling his findings, go to THIS LINK.

Addendum: Searching online for photos of long-disappeared Manhattan bookstores to use in this blog post, I was amazed at the difficulty of finding such photos and, as a result, was saddened by the realization that these bookstores can now only be seen in the mind's eye of people who were there.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Kimya Dawson Sings Praises of the Library

The singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson is best known for being one half of the Moldy Peaches, an anti-folk musical group that recorded a string of quirky, catchy songs.
Kimya Dawson.
Image via

As a solo artist, Kimya Dawson has created equally memorable music. In 2011, she released the album Thunder Thighs. One song on the album, a collaboration with rap talent Aesop Rock, is a tribute to the local library. The song is titled, aptly enough, "The Library," and its chorus goes:

The library, the library
Is the perfect place for me,
The library, the library,
You can hang out all day and it doesn't cost a penny
The library, the library
It's such a big part of our community.

Dawson and Aesop Rock sound as if they had a great time making this song, and it's fun to listen to. To hear the complete song, click on the video below. If you're interested in reading the remainder of the lyrics for "The Library," see THIS LINK.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bearded Librarians Celebrated in New Tumblr

If you take a good look around, you will notice that beards are back in a big way, especially with men under a certain age. On more than one occasion, I came to believe that a handsome young man was older than he actually was, thanks to the beard trend. Despite this bummer, I still love beards, and I gladly discovered that there is a new(ish) Tumblr that simply focuses on librarians who have beards.
Fittingly enough, this Tumblr is called Bearded Librarians, and it was started in 2014 by the mysteriously named "citygirllibrarian." The blog got off to a great start in its first month, with twenty-four posts featuring young and middle-aged, mostly white male librarians - all bearded - posing in a variety of settings. After that, it seems to have sputtered out, but it appears that citygirllibrarian is still accepting photo submissions for the Tumblr.

On the Tumblr's "Submit your beard" page, it makes it clear that the blog is "Pretty much library folks with beards." So submissions aren't limited to photos of bearded male librarians. Looking at the Tumblr's archive, it's apparent that two of the librarians featured are women: one is wearing a fake mustache and beard combo, while the other has fashioned a beard out of her own long hair. 

The Bearded Librarians blog is definitely far from serious; it's a fun place to browse for beard lovers of any persuasion. If you would like to be featured on Bearded Librarians, or if you know someone whose beautifully bearded face would be a great addition to the Tumblr site, see THIS LINK to "Submit your beard."

Above photos via

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Barnard College's New Library Stirs Controversy

On many occasions, I have visited Barnard College Library on the Morningside Heights campus in New York City. The library is located within Lehman Hall, a four-story building with a below-ground level that formally opened in April 1960. Barnard College Library occupies the first three floors of Lehman Hall.
Barnard College Library is housed in Lehman Hall, seen here.
Image via

In 2013, the administration at Barnard College announced plans to demolish Lehman Hall and construct a new, state-of-the-art facility in its place. What would these plans mean for the college library? Faculty and staff at Barnard College Library didn't know for certain until a faculty meeting held just weeks before Christmas, on December 2, 2014.

Prior to the December 2 meeting, faculty and staff at Barnard College Library were informed by email about the resignation of Lisa Norberg, who had been the Dean of Barnard Library and Information Services since 2010. Staff at the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper for Columbia University, obtained a copy of the November 21 email, which stated Norberg "will be leaving the College on December 31st of this year to devote her full attention to the launch of an exciting non-profit venture focused on Open-Access Network." News of Norberg's resignation did not bode well for the future of Barnard College Library in relation to plans for the new facility.

Indeed, at the December 2 meeting, Barnard library's faculty and staff learned that the layout of the new Teaching and Learning Center would require the removal of 40,000 books from Barnard's on-site collections. Also, the amount of space allocated for the library in the Teaching and Learning Center would be minimized. Barnard library's faculty and staff were largely left out of the planning process for the new library. (One anonymous staffer said "they weren't listened to" and, in fact, were "shut down and gagged.") At the December 2 faculty meeting, they were merely informed by Barnard president Deborah Spar about the administration's plans for the new library, according to the Columbia Spectator.

Barnard library's faculty and staff expressed great dissatisfaction over the administration's actions, citing "reducing the library's collection from 200,000 to 160,000 books, minimizing the space of the library in the new building, and a lack of transparency in the planning process" as their three main areas of concern, reported the Columbia Spectator. In regard to the removal of 40,000 books from the library's collection, faculty and staff were told by Spar at the December 2 meeting "that the size of the new library won't allow for new acquisitions to be added in the future." (Another anonymous source refuted this claim, saying, "That's actually not true. There's not much growth space, but we'll still acquire new books.") Speaking to the Columbia Spectator, an anonymous library staff member said, "We are a very small library, but our books circulate a lot. The impact of not having those books accessible is big."

The Columbia Spectator stated, "Of Barnard's 198,000 current volumes, 20,000 that are unique to Barnard's library will be stored at Columbia libraries during the construction of the new library, and the rest will be in storage" at an off-site facility. Many faculty and staff believe that such a move is in direct conflict with Barnard College's mission. "How are we conceptualizing the role of the library as it relates to the mission of the college? Twenty-first-century colleges are made up of all kinds of media - that's a fact and that's, generally speaking, a good thing - but I think the concern really has to do with what the balance is of different kinds of resources for an institution like ours and what are the criteria that are being used to decide how that balance is being established for us?" Elizabeth Castelli, Ann Whitney Olin professor of religion at Barnard, told the Columbia Spectator.

Via the Columbia Spectator

Barnard's new Teaching and Learning Center will be designed by architectural firm Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill LLP. The new facility will contain conference spaces, classrooms, labs, study and dining areas, a cafe, and the library. "When you look at the design of the building and the first thing you see is the Athena Center and the cafe, it in fact has usurped the mission of the college, which is for critical thinking and the production of knowledge," an anonymous faculty member at Barnard told the Columbia Spectator.

Frustrated at not being listened to during the decision-making process for the new library, Barnard College Library's faculty and staff have made their voices heard in other ways. On December 8, 2014, the same day that the Columbia Spectator revealed plans for the new library and its place within the Teaching and Learning Center, concerned parties vented on social media. In response to one library staff member sharing the Columbia Spectator article on Facebook, one obviously exasperated commentor said:

"As a sign o' the times for academic institutions generally, it is wildly depressing that the plan puts the cafe and the bullshit Athena Center front and center. Especially in light of Barnard's ongoing efforts to hide and downsize those unfeminine STEM fields. The library is the lab for humanities scholars, but I guess the humanities aren't a Barnard thing. And math and science are too hard for Barnard women. So that leaves them with what? Lattes and 'leadership studies.' Leadership of what? No actual content required..." 

Echoing this sentiment, another commentor said:

"Part of the whole national trend to turn the library into a student center and downplay the information resources. Everyone is seeing library spaces shifting rapidly into something that doesn't resemble a library." 

Employees of Barnard's library articulated their concerns and advocated for the library and for themselves in an op-ed piece published in the Columbia Spectator on December 29, 2014. The piece, titled "People Over Paper in Barnard's Library," was penned by Jenna Freedman, Michael Diggs, Vani Natarajan, Martha Tenney, Alexis Seeley, and Nick Wolven, all of whom are Barnard Library & Academic Information Services (BLAIS) staff representing the archives, collection services, IMATS (Instructional Media & Technology Services), the Personal Library program, and the zine library at Barnard College Library.

In the op-ed piece, these BLAIS staff members state, among other things, that:

"A library's worth is not based solely on its book collection. Despite its compact size, our collection has the second highest circulation in Columbia. Our little collection is carefully curated by thoughtful and knowledgeable librarians. Areas of specialization include women's studies, dance, lesbian genre fiction, LGBTQ young adult books, and works supporting First Year English.
"Our offerings and accomplishments are not sad, but mad impressive. The spaces and physical resources are important mostly in that they aid us in supporting the liberal arts mission of Barnard College. Our staff is small, but we achieve a lot through collaboration with each other, students, faculty, and campus units. Our vision for the new library is one in which these collaborations can flourish, one that represents all the strengths of BLAIS."

This Columbia Spectator article was also shared through social media, including Twitter. On Twitter, the response to the op-ed piece was ample:

Let's hope the administration at Barnard College reconsiders its plans for the new Barnard College Library. The campus library is an indispensable resource for any college or university. To recognize it as such, and to respect the library faculty and staff who strive every day to make it an indispensable resource, is necessary in order to fully serve scholars on campus and off well into the future.

For additional information on the plans for the Barnard College Library, go HERE, HERE, and HERE. For more on the new Teaching and Learning Center, go HERE. To read the complete Columbia Spectator op-ed article by BLAIS staff, see THIS LINK.