Library News

Art and Organized Action in the Context of the AIDS Crisis

A group of protestors hold signs criticizing George HW Bush and demanding AIDS prevention and resources.
“ACT Up members protest George Bush’s response to AIDS,” ca. 1990-1999 ACT Up (Robert Folan Johnson) collection. Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

Nearly 30 years removed from the peak of the AIDS crisis, it is difficult for many young queer individuals to imagine not only the fear, but also the organized action that occurred throughout the LGBTQ+ community to rally support for those affected. The 1980s and ’90s especially were filled with opportunities for many within the community to find solace in one another and find their voices to try to change things and improve the lives of those dying from AIDS as well as those who had survived the infection.

But what happened to generate the steadfast work toward saving the lives of those affected by AIDS, or those who have been historically more susceptible to its spread? What finally pushed not only the government to authorize such work, but also pharmaceutical companies to pursue solutions?

Northeastern’s Archives and Special Collections (NUASC) holds a trove of valuable archival collections documenting the organizing efforts of the queer community in Boston during the ’80s and ’90s. The ACT UP/Boston (David Stitt) and ACT UP/Boston (Raymond Schmidt and Stephen Skuce) collections provide information on demonstrations and organizing by ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power). Administrative records exist alongside protest ephemera that can give present-day researchers an idea of the common talking points and demands that were being made regarding AIDS treatment and medication throughout the country at this time.

A bright orange ticket with VIOLATION on the right side. On the left it reads "TO OFFENDER: Reported violence against queers increased by 75% in Boston last year. What was the role of the Boston police in addressing this crime wave? Five serious anti-gay police incidents have been reported since September, and 11% of lesbians and 20% of gay men report being harrased or physically assaulted by POLICE OFFICERS. This notice serves to remind police serving the people of Boston of your responsibility to all citizens regardless of race, sex, or sexual orientation. We are SICK AND TIRED of being beaten up by the police, and we won't be silent. Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution? Failure to reform the police may subject Boston to queer rage." The address is "The Queer Nation, Every House, Every Street, Every City, Every Country."
“Ticket issued by Queer Nation against Boston Police Department,” ca. 1990-1999. ACT UP Boston (Robert Folan Johnson) collection, Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

The ACT UP collections are also special because they display the intersection of art and organizing in ways that emphasize the importance of artists being involved in social movements. A striking example is this ticket issued to the Boston Police Department by the group Queer Nation, citing statistics of violence committed by individuals and the BPD against the LGBTQ+ community. Utilizing an item that so many recognize instantly, such as a parking citation, and subverting its purpose to convey information about the institution that issues such citations allowed organizers to gain attention and critically engage the public.

A drawing of three outlined people - one covering their eyes, one covering their ears, and one covering their mouth in the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" sign, with a question mark in the center. Around the edge, it reads "Is this the policy of the AIDS Action Committee"
“Is this the policy of the AIDS Action Committee?” Front page, ca. 1990. AIDS Action Committee, Inc., records, Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

Keith Haring, who has become a symbol of not only the AIDS crisis organizing but queer culture in general, is also present in NUASC’s collections, providing art that emphasized the AIDS Action Committee’s inaction from the perspective of the LGBTQ+ community. Haring’s art is often associated with queer joy and the nuance of queer experience. Seeing Haring’s familiar figures put into conversation with a demand for more action from within the queer community is a unique contrast.

June is a month to celebrate LGBTQ+ individuals and reflect on the past. To learn more about the social organizations working for justice for those with AIDS in Boston, NUASC’s Digital Repository Service and digital exhibition Boston’s LGBTQA+ History are great places to start.

Sources
“ACT UP members protest George Bush’s response to AIDS.” ACT UP Boston (Robert Folan Johnson) collection (Z15-005). University Library Archives and Special Collections Department.
“Ticket issued by Queer Nation against Boston Police Department.” ACT UP Boston (Robert Folan Johnson) collection (Z15-005). University Library Archives and Special Collections Department.
“Is this the policy of the AIDS Action Committee?.” AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc., records (M61). University Library Archives and Special Collections Department.

Library and University Resources to Support Student Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At this time of year, it may be helpful to know about library webpages for two major stressors at the end of the academic year.

What will I do this summer—or after graduation?
Northeastern University has many services, resources, and opportunities for work before and after graduation. The Co-op to Career webpage includes a directory of offices to work with you on career and job options, listing them all in one place. Visit the University Services box on the guide.

Writing a resume and cover letter or CV for the first time? Career Design offers a number of support services for that. Plus, the Library provides access to books, ebooks, and media, such as AVON: Academic Video Online. This collection includes full-length films as well as short videos (some only a couple of minutes long) about job hunting, preparing an elevator pitch for an interview, or how to craft a cover letter.

I am stressed out—what can I do?
Visit the Coping webpage for a listing of university support resources. This page includes the many resources available to members of the Northeastern University community—faculty, staff, and students—as well as links to helpful services.

Reassured by reading? The webpage also shows books and ebooks recommended by the University Health and Counseling Service (UHCS) and the Office of Education & Prevention at Northeastern (OPEN) on coping with a variety of stressors.

The Staff Guide: Supporting Student Mental Health is available on the webpage in the Resources box. The guide provides helpful insights into student behavior and referral information.

Snell Library Begins Renovation Process

The Snell Library renovation project has begun!

This top-to-bottom renovation of our building, which opened in 1990, will create welcoming and vibrant new spaces for studying and collaborating, with greatly improved areas for research, services, collections, and other resources.

The first phase of the renovation project began on May 16 with the main stairwell and elevators. Due to the construction, the following changes to building usage have been made:

  • There is no access to the main stairwell and elevators. Visitors to the library can use the stairwell and elevator to the left of the entrance, all the way around the help desk and near the restrooms.
  • Research Data Services, located on the 2nd floor, will have a temporary access door installed.
  • The Office of the Dean’s Suite, located on the 3rd floor, can be accessed through the Office of Communications near Room 301.
  • The Graduate Reading Room will be closed until the renovations on the 4th floor are completed.
  • Archives and Special Collections, located in the basement, are closed as of May 31. Their reading room will be temporarily located in the Alumni Reading Room on the 1st floor.

Stay tuned for construction updates and more information about this exciting renovation project!

Katz Tapes Provide Valuable Resource on History of Music Industry

This blog post was written by Sean Plaistowe and edited by Molly Brown and Giordana Mecagni for clarity.

Larry Katz is a music journalist who spent a long career working at Boston-area newspapers and magazines. While collecting information for upcoming articles, it became his practice to record the interviews with musicians and artists and put them aside in case they proved useful in the future. Over time, he amassed a collection of over 1,000 of these interviews, with artists as diverse as Eartha Kitt, Carly Simon, D.J. Fontana (the drummer for Elvis), Aerosmith, David Bowie, Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, James Brown, Miles Davis, and Elmore Leonard, as well as actors including Ted Danson, Mel Brooks, and Loretta Devine.

In 2020, Larry donated his collection to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).

A collage of various musicians and artists. At the center is a cassette tape that is labeled "The Katz Tapes"

These interviews create a fascinating resource that provides insight into the music and arts industry across a wide variety of genres and eras. In them, you can catch some novel and intimate moments of music history. On one tape, you’ll hear Weird Al Yankovic discussing the difficulties of obtaining permission to parody Eminem’s music. Other tapes with artists like Nina Simone or Aimee Mann discuss musical influences or even the challenges and biases of navigating the recording industry. These interviews contain countless quiet moments as well, such as Prince discussing his preference for his home in Minneapolis over either coast, as well as his favorite movies of the year. The quiet clicking of teacups connecting with saucers while Eartha Kitt discusses her career provides a welcome feeling of connection and belonging that can feel rare and precious in researching these figures or music journalism more generally.

Black and white image of a man with curly dark hair and a collared shirt.
Larry Katz. Photo courtesy of The Katz Tapes website.

After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music in 1975, Larry Katz worked as a bass player before starting his journalism career at Boston’s Real Paper in 1980. In 1981, Larry worked as a freelance music writer at the Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix before being hired at the Boston Herald as a features writer, where he covered a wide variety of arts and lifestyle beats before settling into a role as a music critic and columnist. In 2006, he became the Herald’s Arts Editor and in 2008, he took over the features department, a role he had until 2011.

In 2013, Larry revisited his tape collection. Re-listening to the interviews sparked memories of the circumstances and contexts that these recordings were made in, information he felt compelled to share. He started a blog, The Katz Tapes, where he began to write reflections on artists and their interviews, often taking into account events that had transpired since the original conversations. Along with these reflections, Larry provided a transcription of the recorded interviews which he often interspersed with links to notable performances or songs related to the artists. Larry also donated the contents of this blog to the NUASC.

Making this collection usable and accessible to the public has involved many hands and collaborations, both internal and external. First, the tapes were digitized by George Blood LP, with funding generously provided by the Library of the Commonwealth program run by the Boston Public Library. Once the digitized tapes were safely back in the hands of the NUASC collections staff, the files were then handed to the Digital Production Services department to do the painstaking work of processing and cataloging the collection. They split audio files that contained multiple interviews, combined interviews that were on multiple tapes edited out white space, and created catalog records.

Making the blog content available was another challenge. Despite already being digital, moving content from Larry’s independent site to Northeastern hosting proved difficult. Initially, I was hopeful that we could use a handy WordPress feature that would allow for the whole cloth export of his blog. No such luck. Instead, I found some scripts which allowed me to scrape the many unique images which Larry had included with each post. The blog also linked to a lot of songs and performances hosted on YouTube, but unfortunately, due to the vagaries of time and copyright law, many of these videos were removed. When possible, I attempted to restore links to sanctioned videos. As an added feature, I created a playlist that includes many of the songs referenced in these posts.

Now that the collection has been cataloged and the blog has been ingested, we welcome anyone to search for their favorite artist, listen to their interview, read some of the reminiscences and insights form Larry about the artist and the interview, and listen to a Spotify playlist of some of the artists Larry interviews at thekatztapes.library.northeastern.edu.

In addition to the Larry Katz collection, researchers and enthusiasts of the arts in Boston may be interested in the Real Paper records and the Boston Phoenix records, both available at the NUASC.

Archival Context: Freedom House at the Norman B. Leventhal Center

A faded flyer with red text reading "Clean Up Paint Up Join your neighbors Don your work clothes Get busy Make your town a better place to live in Safer too Start at home Make it bright Clean your streets Clean your yard Paint inside Paint outside Fix-up and repair Plant-up too

On March 18th, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center in the Boston Public Library (BPL) debuted their exhibit “More or Less in Common: Environment and Justice in the Human Landscape.” The exhibit examines how social justice and injustice are confronted in the study of the “human landscape” and how we can use questions of social justice to help us build healthier and better environments for the future.

Northeastern’s contributions to the exhibit come from our Freedom House, Inc., records and in particular, their records on urban renewal and neighborhood-led clean-up campaigns. The exhibit features two fliers calling Roxbury neighbors to action in various clean-up and maintenance projects. Neighborhood improvement programs designed to protect Upper Roxbury from urban blight began in 1949 when Freedom House joined with community members to organize neighborhood clean-up projects and playground construction.

A multi-colored guide with the title "Let's get M.A.D. and clean up Washington Park"

Freedom House worked closely with the city to improve the services provided to Roxbury. At the same time, Boston was beginning a formal urban renewal campaign that did not initially include Roxbury. A telegram from Freedom House founders Muriel and Otto Snowden to Mayor John F. Collins resulted in the inclusion of the Washington Park Urban Renewal Project in Boston’s campaign. By 1963, Freedom House had entered into formal contracts with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Action Boston Community Development to serve as a liaison between the planners and technicians and the residents of Washington Park. This relationship lasted until the BRA withdrew from Roxbury in the late 1960s, leaving much of its work undone.

The Leventhal Center’s exhibit takes our Freedom House records, and many other institutions’ records, and composes them into a complicated vision of how human landscapes were confronted and contended with in the past and how they can be reimagined for the future.

Visit the exhibit in person at the BPL’s historic McKim Building during the BPL’s visiting hours, which can be found here.

Or you can view the digital exhibit, along with lesson plans and resources for further study, here.

Find out more about the Freedom House records, the Snowdens, and Roxbury neighborhood history here.