Renovation Update and a Giant Bat

“Hey, Special Collections Librarians,” we can hear you thinking, “where have you been?”

Renovation has been kicking into high gear over here at the Providence Public Library.

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Workers create an open stairwell through the building’s many floors.

We’ve been cleaning and packing materials in preparation for our move into newly-renovated, climate-controlled stacks. We’ve vacuumed many of our books with a special HEPA vacuum to clean them before they’re loaded onto carts, and we’ve been setting shelves to hold our materials in their new space. Delicate items are getting wrapped, and Jordan has been making a Herculean effort to track every book’s current and future location through color-coded spreadsheets and maps. Everything is topsy-turvy (but in a collections-preserving manner, don’t worry).

Renovation

Part of this space will eventually be our new exhibition gallery.

We’re not taking research requests or appointments at the moment, as most of our collections are inaccessible. We’re hoping to have completed the move by late July or August; we’ll post an update on this blog and on our social media once we’re taking new reference questions and research appointments. In the meantime, you can always check the PPL website for updates about the building transformation, or visit our colleagues at the Rhode Island State Archives, Providence City Archives, Rhode Island Historical Society, and other awesome local institutions for all of your research needs.

To tide you over for the next month or two, here’s an exciting illustration of a giant bat soaring above a cathedral (taken from a children’s book about animals called On Four Feet):

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Exhibition Curator’s Talk May 22nd at Bell Street Chapel

Have you taken a look at our current digital exhibition about Providence’s vacant spaces, or visited any of the locations on the tour to see the signs?

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Exhibition curator Angela DiVeglia will be giving a talk on Wednesday, May 22nd in the lower level of the Bell Street Chapel from 6:00 – 7:30 pm. (Did you know that the park next to Bell Street Chapel used to be a convent?)

The evening will begin with a short presentation where Angela will show highlights from the exhibition, discuss her research and curatorial process, and answer questions from the audience. The second half of the event will consist of an optional interactive workshop with drawing and writing prompts to encourage audience members to engage with vacant and open spaces from their day-to-day lives or from their memories.

Learn more and register for the event here!

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Historic Children’s Books at the Library of Congress

Today’s New York Times has a lovely article about the rare children’s books housed at the Library of Congress, 100 of which are now digitized and available online. (Intriguingly, the children’s book called The Cats’ Party that the article features is entirely different from the identically-titled book that we hold at PPL. We’re pleased to know that two different 19th century authors decided to pen books about feline festivities.)

Check out the Library of Congress’s digitized children’s books here.

Chatty Whales

 

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All of us in Special Collections have been deeply charmed by the chatty whales and blackfish in this surprisingly entertaining whaling logbook from our Nicholson Whaling Collection.

The logbook is the Journal of the Smyrna (Bark) out of New Bedford, MA, mastered by George Bliss and kept by George Bliss, on a whaling voyage between 1853 and 1857

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You can view the full logbook online. “What’s that about a digitized logbook,” you ask? 751 of our logbooks were recently digitized and are available now on the Internet Archive; soon they’ll be added to PPL’s digital collections, along with even more digitized logbooks!

As always, contact us if you’d like to set up an appointment to see any logbooks in person.

Update from our 2019 Creative Fellow

Today’s blog post comes from PPL’s 2019 Creative Fellow Laura Brown-Lavoie, who offers us an update on her research and an opportunity to see her perform this weekend:

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“Fun fact from the special collections today: 2 out of 3 special collections librarians hate desiccated rubber bands. (‘They are like dried out noodles.’ ‘Ugh.’ ‘Me? I don’t mind them.’) Anyway this is what a rubber band looks like when you leave it in a box of papers for a long time. In other news from special collections: I’ve been studying obscenity, coal of Rhode Island, and pilgrims, and I’m performing some of the poems this Saturday with my synth at the AS220 Mainstage in downtown Providence. Details about the show below, hope you can make it!”

You are invited to attend this special music performance at AS220

on Saturday January 19

with

BUCO NERO

RACHEL BLUMBERG

J R URETSKY

LEFT HAND MAN (Laura Brown Lavoie)

9pm $6-10

Bad Children of History #37: Bathing Baddies

Today’s Bad Child of History is taken from The Farmer’s Boy, illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

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Look at these scamps! Are they bathing beneath hams? Is that a cider press behind them? Why don’t I have a braid of garlic near my bath?

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Magician of the Week #50: Eusapia Palladino

Today’s magician is not technically a magician, but rather an Italian spiritualist and medium named Eusapia Palladino.

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Palladino’s “phenomena” referenced in Carrington’s book, above, included levitating tables and stools, bells ringing in the air, mysterious hands touching observers, sounds of ghostly tapping on furniture, and the like.

An orphan and former wife of a traveling conjurer, she was brought to public attention in 1888 by a Professor Chiaia of Naples who wrote a letter to a Professor Lombroso claiming that he had investigated Palladino’s phenomena extensively, was convinced of their legitimacy, and requested Lombroso to investigate them in turn. This led to more than a decade of investigatory seances in which various researchers (including a number from the Society for Psychical Research, and even, at one point, Pierre and Marie Curie) tried to prove or disprove Palladino’s methods. She attracted huge numbers of both skeptics and supporters.

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Wikipedia has an extensive entry on Eusapia Palladino, which I won’t summarize here, although I do highly recommend it. Instead, I offer this tidbit from Eusapia Palladino and her Phenomena, in which the author describes an incident Palladino’s early life, based on her own recollection:

The villagers took little care of the orphan. Once when she was only a year old, she was allowed to fall, so that a hole was made in her head. That is the famous cranial opening from which, in moments of trance, a cold breeze is felt to issue. On this scar has grown a tress of hair that has always been white since infancy, and which is easily distinguishable in her photographs.

I will also leave you with a quote from psychical researcher Eric Dingwall (nicknamed “Dirty Ding”, according to Wikipedia), who was not convinced of Palladino’s powers, nor awed by her apparent cranial wind tunnel, but rather thought that she was “vital, vulgar, amorous and a cheat.”