December 2008

Dear friends and family,

It's been a year with change as a theme, and next year promises more than many. Barack Obama's election as president promises to bring a federal government that is more friendly to the environment and social justice. Expectations are high but my general impression of appointments and announcements is positive. There are huge challenges with the financial turmoil brought on by financial shenanigans. Did anybody really think that the house of cards would stand for very long? If all those financiers were making so many gazillions of dollars, some of it must have been plastic.

This coming year is a big change one for me too. My last day of active employment at Bobst Library of New York University was a few days ago. I am retiring after 35 or so years of being an office worker. I don't plan on giving up my professional stuff right away; it is so rewarding but I'll try to remember to take on tasks that I really think will fit my talents and desires, as much as I can. And I hope to do a variety of piecework cataloging jobs from Alfred. If I'm really lucky, I might find some itinerant cataloging jobs too: short-term in places it would be fun to explore. Time is the ultimate luxury so I'll try not to take on so many that I can't enjoy just being.

Yup, I'm moving from New York City to the family house in Alfred, way out in western New York. For those of you not familiar with upstate New York, Alfred is along the Pennsylvania border, South of Rochester. It's a small college town and I am looking forward to partaking of the stuff that the colleges have to offer. My brother Doug and his family live outside the village on 40 acres (no mule) up against state forest land. We are looking forward to sharing our village and rural settings. I know a few people around town so I have a start on local connections. The public library is quite good, active, and part of a regional lending system. It's not far from Ithaca with the panoply of Cornell and other friends, not too far either from my youngest sister who lives in Branchport at the northern end of one of the Finger Lakes with her partner.

Our lives at NYU Libraries have been heavily saturated with system migration for a number of years but the new system (Aleph from Ex Libris) actually came up in July. It is generally working pretty well. Technical Services is moving from the main library building in February 2009 and that is part of the reason I chose December 2008 as my departure moment. The 2009 move is only good for a couple years and the department will have to move again to the permanent space (not yet announced). The thought of moving twice and then retiring closer to age 65 was more than I thought I could handle, or rather wanted to handle. I'm an old man; I can't stand THAT much change.

There were also a lot of things that were pretty much the same: conferences full of interesting programs and friendly visiting; other professional activities; gallery and museum hopping; lectures on art, architecture, and lots of other topics; reading; dance and theater; music concerts; travel though no trips outside the U.S. this year; movies; Sunday mornings at Silver Spurs with The New York Times and a short stack of pancakes (as I call it "The church of cakes and paper"; it IS a religious experience for me, and emotional and political); a few visits to the American Friends Service Committee offices to hear about their programs; walking around the city, sitting on the Hudson River waterfront watching the sun set.

January brought ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, a city I have always enjoyed visiting. While I was there, I was able to see the new Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and lucky enough to run into Mary Wassermann the librarian who gave me a tour of their new space. Late in the month, ARLIS/NY visited the new classical galleries at Fordham University in the Bronx; afterwards, several of us meandered over to Daniel and Gary's for a drink. From their bedroom, you can see a bit of the Hudson River and the bridges that connect Manhattan and the Bronx.

Judith Holliday died in early February. She was the fine arts librarian at Cornell for many years and one of my early career inspirations. I loved discussing architecture, Italy, and life with her. Several of us from NYC, Ithaca, and elsewhere gathered in March at Judith Newman's Spaced gallery on 26th Street to speak of Judith Holliday and other things.

College Art Association met in Dallas in February. I really enjoyed being there, with memories of the early 1990s when I lived in Fort Worth. There's now a train that runs between Dallas and Fort Worth, past D/FW airport. I took the train over to Fort Worth one evening to meet my friend Sheri Tufts. I was lucky since it happened to be late night at the Amon Carter. As we meandered in the museum (and I loved seeing all of those old friends in the galleries), we ran into Sam, John and several others that I knew from my days at the museum or through CAA. Then off for some barbecue!! Yum. I love attending College Art now that I've figured out that you mostly should just pick one session and stick with it. Like so much in life, it's the surprises (whether papers or destinations) that are often the ones that stick with you. Maybe it's the expectation factor so I'll try to keep my Obaman expectations under control. A bunch of thoughts on copying, appropriation, and rephotography led to a blog entry and I was delighted to get the first of my comments from the then unidentified Nigel Fowler.

As I returned from Dallas, I was reading The Middle Sea by John Julius Norwich (a history of the Mediterranean and the surrounding cultures). I was working on the crossword puzzle as I waited for my connection in the St Louis airport. One of the clues made me think of Catherine of Aragon but the answer was TV-related. Ooops, better stick to my medieval readings.

My Macintosh Performa 6400 has been a faithful friend since 1996 or so when I bought it but you may have heard that computing changed over the years since then. I'd been debating whether to go for a laptop or desktop for the next machine. To help me decide, I borrowed a MacBook laptop a couple times in the spring. On the way to VRA in San Diego, I was sitting in the Phoenix airport waiting for my connecting flight and typing about the humpy little mountains that stick out of the desert of metropolitan Phoenix, thinking it a little curious that I had my nose in a computer when there was a strange world to look at.

VRA and San Diego were a lot of fun: good meetings; lots of interacting; rooming, again, with Hugh Wilburn as the only guests at a guesthouse not too far from the conference hotel; supper with Murtha, Elisa, and Kathe in Old Town; an evening of eating and dancing with Elaine, Lia, Sinead, Vicky, Pep, Rico, and hundreds of others; riding the city buses at the senior rate (starts at age 60 there); listening to Bill and Alix talk about their desert drive; Charles Phoenix and his postcard lecture (I know, he said particularly and repeatedly as one odd thing followed the last), sitting between Bill and Johanna; breakfasts at the Grand Central.

April brought the ARLIS/NA conference, rooming again with Daniel Starr and Michiel Nijhoff. The new building of the Museum of Contemporary Art by David Adjaye is really wonderful. Someone said they didn't think the interior worked very well but I really enjoyed the building and the exhibitions, one of which was a show of Adjaye's buildings which I had seen earlier at the Studio Museum in Harlem. There's a nice open space at the top of the building called the Idea Box. At the GLIRT supper, I was talking to a young woman from California; as we walked home, Daniel was talking to her and she said she'd been talking to a guy from NYU. Daniel was amused that I was just "a guy from NYU." I was amused too. I'm glad we baby boomers are beginning to get out of the way for the next generation. Sure, it's not going to be a disappearance/replacement but there are a good, strong bunch of incoming art librarians who can face the new challenges like RDA and social computing. The Society Circle reception was held in a private home -- The Red House -- and it was magnificent, both for the architecture and the art collection. The new building of the Denver Art Museum by Daniel Libeskind seemed rather like way too much Libeskind on the outside, rather gimmicky, but I really liked the gallery spaces. We also went to the Molly Brown House and I meandered around the city some. I didn't get to Boulder as I had hoped; my family lived there in the late 1950s and I had hoped to go explore. ALA Midwinter is in Denver in January and now I have the time so I'll go stay with Elaine Paul for a few days and explore Boulder.

Not long after ARLIS/NA, I started talking to the director of human resources at the library and an advisor at TIAA/CREF about retiring at the end of 2008, as well as sharing dreams of being closer with my brother and his family. I've now found it possible to say "when I'm in Alfred" rather than "if and when." I am really looking forward to the opportunities.

I also finally settled on a MacBook laptop and got one in the late spring at the campus computer store. I really love it. It has also meant way fewer hours in the office on the weekend and into the evenings. Well, that may be more the restored connectivity at home (my home modem on the old machine had failed some time ago).

As the reality of moving set in, I realized that I needed some more space in order to sort and pack. I had more than 100 books checked out from the library. Ah, the ease of renewing them all online. I decided to put those books in LibraryThing, a web-based cataloging site, and return the books to the library. While mostly personal libraries, there are quite a few organizations that use LibraryThing too. Tony White uses it for his new books at the fine arts library at Indiana University. Quite a few LGBT collections use it. It became an obsession and I have now cataloged all of the books in my apartment as well as the checked-out items (with a tag of "checkedout" as an indicator of my interest in that book). I really love looking at the books in my collection, using the "covers" view. I guess you can tell you're obsessed with possession of books when just looking at the covers causes you to swoon. LT also tells you which books you share with only one other library; so far, predictable sharing, such as two books on modern architecture or Baroque painting.

Summer ALA was in June in Anaheim and I wasn't especially keen on being in Disney Land for the conference. It proved way easier to get around than I anticipated. The hotel that Scott Wicks and I stayed at was a few blocks North of the Convention Center. Most of the conference hotels were up and down the same avenue, about a mile and a half stretch. And it really is rather fun to walk along Disney Main Street with MARBI documentation. On the last day, John Maier and I walked over to the Crystal Cathedral by Philip Johnson. I was delighted to find that their earlier building was by Richard Neutra and the Welcoming Center was by Richard Meier. Wow, an essay in modern postwar American architecture. It served as a good example for the session I did at the Summer Educational Institute a couple weeks later in Harrisonburg, Virginia. And at ALA, I talked to several colleagues who are working toward retirement.

I really enjoyed putting together the examples for the SEI session, art which addressed issues of whole/part and work/image. As usual, it's the ART that makes the cataloging so enjoyable for me.

During the later summer doldrums, Christie Stephenson and I got in a wonderful visit to the Weeksville historic houses and I spend a weekend in Cherry Grove out on Fire Island though Hurricane Hannah caused the Art Walk to be cancelled. After Hannah blew through, the dark early morning skies were brilliant with stars.

Oy, I'm sorry this is drifting on so long. I have also had fun this year investigating and using Facebook and Blogger. Facebook has been a fine way to keep up with friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues (or perhaps be a voyeur into people's lives). It has sometimes led to connections at work that I don't think would have happened otherwise. It also has an application where you can list your books read, want to reads, and see others reading.

My 2009 conferences are in places I want to go so I'll keep up the conference attending for the near term. And between the conferences, I'll sort and pack the accumulation of thirteen years in this apartment. By April or May, I'll be at the family house in Alfred, more or less all of the time. I look forward to visits to New York City pretty frequently and more travel elsewhere.

Below are some of the things that especially thrilled or inspired or tickled me through 2008. Some of them are also described at so you can read more if you want. And you can always read less.

Art: "Archive fever" at the International Center of Photography, especially "The Fae Richards photo archive" by Zoe Leonard; the "artists on artists" lecture series at Dia; "49 state capitols" by Ramak Fazel at Storefront (wonderful installation); Tom Burr at the Sculpture Center, the New Museum, and Dia lecture; show at the Met in honor of Philippe de Montebello's years as director; Matthew Buckingham's "Muhheakantuck" on the boat around the southern tip of Manhattan, and his show at Murray Guy and artist lecture at Dia; Martha Wilson works from the 1970s at Mitchell Algus; "The agency of the orphan" by Anna Craycroft at Tracy Williams Ltd; Nayland Blake at Location One; "Immanuel Kant but you can ..." as the text in a David Mamet drawing at Apexart, part of "Lots of things like this"; "Color space" at MoMA; Anh-My Lê at Murray Guy, especially the green one of soldiers in a woods which was back on the office wall a few months later, still looking like a row of saints in a Flemish painting; Bruce High Quality Foundation retrospective at Susan Inglett ("this is public art, this is collaboration"); Tomma Abts at the New Museum; Spencer Finch lecture at Cedar Lake, with a bunch of Pratt librarians and others; Philip Guston drawings at the Morgan Library; land art by women artists at the Sculpture Center; Wiener Werkstätte jewelry at the Neue Galerie; talking with Rit Premnath about his Shifter projects including one on classification and filling in the holes in Dewey.

Music: composer portrait series at Miller Theater; hearing flautist Tara Helen O'Connor several times (Miller twice or thrice, Zankel once); St Luke's Chamber Orchestra, especially the concert conducted by Bobby McFerrin (when he led the audience in the Alleluia chorus, it was a magical filling of the space with voices); Metropolitan Opera in Prospect Park, with Roberto Alagna and Angela Georghieu (and Heidi, Dan, Bill, Tony, and John); Ann Crumb singing her father's song at Zankel.

Theater: "The Cenci" presented by Hotel Savant Theater Company at the Ohio Theater; "In the Heights" on Broadway; "Wig Out" at Vineyard.

Reading: Growth of the soil by Knut Hamsun; Dr Kimball & Mr Jefferson by Hugh Howard; Boudica by Vanessa Collingridge; Truck by Michael Perry; He knew he was right and The way we live now by Anthony Trollope; Storming the gates of paradise by Rebecca Solnit; Everything is miscellaneous by David Weinberger (this has greatly influenced my recent thinking about cataloging and catalogs though I've absorbed it now and it is now indirect influence); Spiral Jetta by Erin Hogan; Payback by Margaret Atwood.

May the new year bring us all a greater measure of peace and health, happiness and fulfillment.

Sherman Clarke
14 Washington Place #6J
New York, NY 10003
(until April 1st or so)

33 South Main Street
Alfred, NY 14802
(after April 1st or so)

... go to Sherman's miscellany page ...