Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


Empty Shelves, Empty Reference Desks

Jun 11, 2010 2:13 PM | 1 comment


I'm sure, good readers, that you have all been watching the New York State and New York City budgets closely.  Many of us in the Brooklyn Collection, and at Brooklyn Public Library as a whole, have been watching the budget negotiations compulsively. Budget mania is nothing new to the libraries in New York City and I write that with a sigh because libraries are easy targets over and over again.  As archivist of the Brooklyn Collection, my work allows me to sort through photo folders and photocopied newspaper clippings and pieces of ephemera.  I'm glad to say that we kept a lot of wonderful, though terribly familiar, documentation on the last major budget crisis the library faced. 

Front cover of BPL's 1991-1992 Annual Report

 Budget Cuts devastated the library in the early 1990s. In the photo below, Borough President Howard Golden (the namesake of our Reserve Room in the Brooklyn Collection) said of the crisis at a rally "What good are the books, the priceless collections, the films, tapes and records if these doors are padlocked?" 

Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden at 1991 library rally

A New York Daily News columnist Bob Herbert wrote "A whole lot of libraries are targeted for oblivion.  Closed, they will become quaint objects of our past.  Eventually, they will fade from all but a corner of our consciousness, like the trolleys and the Dodgers."

1991 Budget Rally

In article after article, I read that people were outraged over the cuts.  They wondered how such devastating cuts could happen in the face of increased library usage and ever increasing demands for service--when people were using the library for language classes, homework help and job searching.  Sound familiar? 

1991 Budget Rally

 And what was the result of these rallies and marches and campaigns?  Well, the city reallocated funds reducing the budget cuts from 33 to 18 percent--still a giant chunk of money gone.  The library saw a very large number of layoffs that year.  One particularly upsetting article came from New York Newsday from June 30, 1991.  It describes the last day of one worker in a branch library.  202 employees had similar days.  This year, it will be closer to 350.

Perhaps one of the more uplifting photos (abve) is of the group R.A.L.L.Y - Rap Artists For Libraries, Literacy, and Youth. 

Tomorrow, Saturday June 12 through Sunday June 13 a different kind of rally will take place.  The planned Read-In is simply a statement of dedication to libraries by library workers. 

Please come to see the faces of those who work for you as reference, children's, young adult, adult, senior and special collections librarians, those who plan programs, check out your books and make sure you have help using the computers, those of us who show you where to find the books on the shelves and those who make sure those books are on the shelves in the first place, who create the catalogues and the web sites and exhibits.  Click on the silhouette below to find out more about tomorrow's read-in and look for photos next week.  Better yet, be a part of history and come to the rally.  We don't shush you - don't let budget cuts shush us!

Library Layoffs May Hit Brooklynology.

Jun 9, 2010 10:15 AM | 0 comments

Many of you may know that New York City's three library systems are currently under threat of crippling budget cuts--so crippling, in fact, that about a third of the library's workforce received provisional pink slips last week, pending the finalization of budget negotiations.  Three of the Brooklyn Collection's staff are under the gun, and two of them -- Olivia and Ben--are Brooklynology bloggers. So here today are three of the actual faces of the budget cuts.  They represent 50% of the Collection's librarian staff and 33% of our overall staff.

Olivia, who has two masters degrees, is the Brooklyn Collection's archivist. She has total control of every scrap of paper, every piece of realia, every nugget of ephemera in the collection. She organizes and charms our volunteers and interns. She oversees our photograph ordering operation, ensures that our photograph collection makes its way into the library's catalog in an accurate and orderly fashion and has served with distinction on the library's web steering committee. She also initiated the Collection's participation in the Veteran's History Project. Before coming to the Brooklyn Collection Olivia worked for our Department of Services to the Aging.

She was recently married on top of the Empire State Building, and when not causing our manuscripts and archives to be arranged and described, she enjoys cooking and eating fine food, although you would never know it to look at her.  Olivia has worked for Brooklyn Public Library since 2005 and is a highly valued, hardworking and creative member of the Brooklyn Collection's staff.

Ben, our newest librarian, joined the Brooklyn Collection earlier this year.  He quickly learned the collection and has taken over much of the ordering of new materials. When not serving library patrons or causing riotous amusement among his colleagues Ben writes witty blog posts for Brooklynology. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and Queens College, CUNY, he is also an artist whose first solo show is opening this week

Lauren helps to keep us organized and fulfills our departmental obligations at the circulation desk. She has also been working for a couple of years on a mammoth project to refolder and relabel every file of photographs in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle morgue. Lauren is about to complete her Bachelor's degree at City College CUNY, where she also worked as an intern for a project called Midnight Hope which provides food to the homeless.

These are just three out of hundreds of career librarians and clerical staff across the city who may well find themselves without a job after August 31st unless library funding is restored. Without them, the Brooklyn Collection will be unable to maintain our current high level of services--including in-depth reference, programs, collection development, digitization, education and more. If you have enjoyed reading Brooklynology, or if you are a patron of the Brooklyn Collection and of BPL in general, please contact elected officials to protest cuts to library services.  Our excellent staff didn't arrive here by accident. Let's do everything we can to keep them. 

Pink slip pin


Little-Known Brooklyn Residents: Dr. Ida Mellen

Jun 8, 2010 3:02 PM | 0 comments

In the first half of the 20th century, Brooklyn was home to one of the world's most respected authorities on the ailments of fish. Dr. Ida Mellen, lived most of her life in the borough of Brooklyn, working for many years as chief aquarist and ichthyologist at the New York Aquarium.

Dr. Ida Mellen

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that during Dr. Mellen's time at the New York Aquarium, she "nursed penguins with bronchitis, turtles with tumors, and alligators with fungused snouts." Her scientific research caused intense excitement within the marine science world, when she discovered a rare type of parasite that was eating the eyes of tropical fish. This parasite was subsequently named in her honor as epibdella mellini.

The New York Aquarium

After twelve years at the New York Aquarium, Ida Mellen resigned with no explanation, and turned her attention away from marine life, to other interests within the natural sciences -- cats, pigs and rooftop gardening -- spending the rest of her years writing numerous books and articles on these subjects. She was a prolific researcher and writer, and gave herself a personal goal to fill a scrapbook with 300 of her published articles. Her scrapbooks and personal papers can be found over at the New York Public Library.

Later in life, Dr. Mellen became "interested in bipeds too", writing about the needs of senior citizens and promoting the introduction of pensions for aging scholars. She wrote the majority of her books and articles from her residence at 547 East 4th St., surrounded by her rooftop garden paradise.

Ida Mellen tending plants in her private conservatory

Reflections on Times Past: High School Yearbooks

Jun 4, 2010 2:58 PM | 3 comments

June is upon us and it brings with it a most important milestone in teenage life: "HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION"!

Thinking about my own graduation and all of the people I graduated with led me to the Brooklyn collection morgue and our collection of High School yearbooks.  We have yearbooks from a few Brooklyn high schools, for example the Flying Dutchman from Erasmus Hall, The Blue & Gold from Girls High and an almost full run (1901-2006) of the Polyglot from Poly Prep.  The Prospect, the yearbook of  Manual Training High School, is the one that whetted my appetite for exploring the collection.  Manual Training opened its doors in 1894 on the corner of Court and Livingston Streets.  The first class consisted of 125 boys, the principal and 5 teachers.


In 1895 girls made their appearance at Manual Training and became an important part of the student body.  The first athletic championship won by the school was the Girls' Basketball Championship in 1900.  In January of 1905, Manual Training moved to its current location on 7th Avenue in Park Slope.  Manual Training became John Jay High School in 1959. In 2004 John Jay was dismantled and the building now houses three smaller schools: the Secondary School for Law, the Secondary School for Journalism, and the Secondary School for Research.

As each decade passed, The Prospect reflected not only the students' interests but also what was going on in the world.  In 1919, after World War I, the school held a Victory Pageant to Honor and "Welcome Home the MANUAL 'BOYS' (sic) who helped to make the world safe for democracy."


 The Prospect also reflects how fashion and hairstyles have changed over the decades.








If you want to take a walk down memory lane, or if you know the High School that your parents or grandparents attended, give the Brooklyn Collection a call and find out if we have their yearbook.  If you like, you can also donate High School Yearbooks to the collection so that one day your children will be able to visit the Brooklyn Collection and tease you about your hairstyle or the clothes you wore in the "old days."

Little-Known Brooklyn Businesses: The Meyer Saddlery Corporation

Jun 2, 2010 9:02 AM | 3 comments

Thanks to Tara, we've been having fun learning about "Little Known Brooklyn Residents" lately.  So why not a spin-off series about the businesses that kept these residents employed? 

For example, if it weren't for the Meyer Saddlery Corporation, where would Al Sharp (below) have cultivated his years of experience in the bridle making trade? 

Al Sharp Works on a Bridle, Eagle, 1949.

The Meyer Saddlery Corporation, like so many Brooklyn businesses, was a family affair.  It was founded around 1852 by German immigrant George Meyer near Kings Highway.  Mr. Meyer had a unique angle that separated his business from the dozens of other saddleries listed in the 19th century business directories:  he exclusively created materials for horse racing.  Sometime before 1890, George moved both his business and his family residence to a small, two-story frame structure at 1801 Ocean Parkway (near Avenue R), which provided him with easy access to the Brooklyn Jockey Club across the street, as well as to the race tracks at Gravesend, Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Jamaica. 

Brooklyn Atlas, 1890.Brooklyn Atlas, 1890.

According to a history of the company found in a 1937 issue of the New Yorker, George left his business to his three sons, Victor, Charles and Leon.  However, our records indicate that was not the entire story.  By the 1910 census, George had died, leaving behind his widow, Maria, and four adult children:  Naphtalle (age 40), Leon (33), Victor (28) and Carrie (45).  And it is Carrie, or rather Caroline, who is listed as the owner of the saddlery in the 1912 Trow Business Directory (take that, fellas!):

Trow Business Directory, 1912.  

Why Caroline was forgotten in the 1937 profile is unknown, but by then only Leon remained.  Under Leon's leadership, Meyer Saddlery grew to be "the largest such establishment in the country."  It was no longer a business for just the local tracks.  Meyer had sales representatives in California, Florida and other racing locales.  Back on Ocean Parkway, employees handcrafted saddles, bridles, blinders, boots and jockey silks, which were known as "sets of colors."  In addition, Meyer also distributed "bandages, elastic stockings for bad-legged horses, blankets, brushes, tubs, feed pans and buckets and even beds and beddings for grooms." 

William Meyer Dews on Halter.  (Note: Mr. Meyer is unrelated to firm founder.) Eagle, 1949.

In 1949, Meyer Saddlery was profiled in the Eagle, when these photographs were taken.  At that time, Leon's widow, Mary, owned the business and co-managed it with her second husband, Clinton Zimmer.  The Zimmers carried on the Meyer family reputation for quality work.  Jockeys' sets of colors were a particular specialty.  Each year, the company produced nearly 500 jockey silks and 1,500 pairs of jockey boots.  According to the Eagle, 75% of the jockey colors in the industry were created by Meyer Saddlery.  Filing drawers were used to organize the various color and pattern combinations because no two horses were to have the same pattern during a race.  In addition to the professionals, celebrities like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Lana Turner ordered riding wear from Meyer.  Ms. Turner's prefered pattern, white diamonds on yellow silk, was a particularly special request for seamstress Mildred Grieco (below). 

Mildred Grieco Working on Jockey Shirt, Eagle, 1949.

Samuel Pizzuto, Foreman, Stitches Blinker Cups onto Hoods, Eagle, 1949.

The Eagle piece is the last known reference to the Meyer Saddlery Corporation in our collection.  Mr. Zimmer mentions in the article that the building was no longer zoned for industry and that they were lucky to still be in operation.  It is possible that as the family began to age, the business dwindled.  But that part of the story may require research for another day. 

And so it turns out that Brooklynology's first installment of Little Known Brooklyn Businesses is just as much about the people as the business.  But I suspect that is often the case in business history.  In fact, as I was completing this article I discovered that there are still connections between families and the jockey uniform business, as reported in this Monday's New York Times.