Read, Listen, Watch

Staff Picks and Suggestions

Hub Display Celebrates Arab American Heritage Month

Ramadan Mubarak, and happy Arab American Heritage Month! This month, stop by the Hub on the first floor of Snell Library to explore a curated collection of books focused on Arab and Arab American history, culture, food, and stories. From classical works of poetry and literature to rich fantasy worlds to cookbooks full of mouth-watering recipes, there are plenty of incredible books waiting to be checked out. Here are a few recommendations:

This is How You Lose the Time War
Written jointly by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, this Hugo Award-winning novella is written in letters between two enemies as they battle through space and time. Part romance, part spy novel, part sci-fi mini-epic, This is How You Lose the Time War is unlike anything you’ve read before.

The Other Americans
Laila Lalami’s newest novel tells the story of the accidental death—or possible murder—of a Moroccan immigrant. “At once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story.” —Goodreads

19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
This collection of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry offers an intimate glimpse into life in the West Bank.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal
Kamala Khan is just living her life in Jersey City when she’s suddenly granted amazing powers. Can Kamala embrace her new identity and live up to the name of Ms. Marvel? Meet the first Muslim American superhero before she makes her screen debut!

Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Café
If you haven’t been to Sofra Bakery and Café in Cambridge, you’re missing out. Soframiz, the owners’ cookbook, lets you in on some of the secrets behind their incredible food—but you might decide to save some time and take a trip to Cambridge instead!

The Thirty Names of Night
A closeted trans Syrian immigrant stumbles across the journal of a Syrian American artist and discovers mysterious connections to his own past.

You can check out all of these books, and many more, from the Hub on the first floor of Snell Library. And if you’re not on the Boston campus, you can still explore our collections! Check out our extensive list of Arab American Heritage Month e-books and audiobooks. Happy reading!

Staff Picks: Selections from the Larry Katz Interviews

By Emily Allen and Anna Ryerson

Cassette tapes lined up

There is nothing more fascinating than listening to musicians describe the process, passion, and dedication that goes into making music. This is something we learned first-hand while working with the Katz Tapes collection. The Katz Tapes were compiled by Larry Katz, a former music critic and columnist at the Boston Herald and a personable and thoughtful interviewer. Katz recorded hundreds of interviews he conducted with musicians, both internationally famous and local Boston-based artists. The majority of the collection focuses on music and musicians, but there are also interviews with authors, writers, comedians, and actors. Overall, the scope and variety within the collection is impressive. From Liza Minelli to Willie Nelson to Miles Davis: classical, jazz, rock, R&B, and pop artists are all represented.

When the Northeastern University Library received the Katz Tapes’ digitized files, we identified a subset with known description and file questions. Incomplete description made it hard to determine who was being interviewed. File issues to solve involved trimming content like white noise, silence, or music. Our job was to listen to the tapes in this subset to resolve these issues, and to confirm who was being interviewed so that researchers and members of the Northeastern community can better access these rich sources of music history.

We would love to share some of our favorite interviews with you:

Emily Allen’s Picks:

  • Hal Blaine—If you only listen to one Katz interview in the whole collection, this is the one I would recommend! Hal Blaine was a drummer and a session musician in the 1960s and ’70s. Sessions musicians are artists who are hired to play for specific recording sessions or live performances, and often end up playing with a lot of different artists and bands. Blaine was a prolific session musician in his own right and a member of The Wrecking Crew, a famous session musician group. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, Blaine played drums for 40 songs that reached number one. Blaine discussed several performers he worked with, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Monkees, The Beach Boys, and The Carpenters. His personal anecdotes and the way he speaks about these legendary artists is what makes this interview stand out from the rest. Talk about name dropping!
A black and white photo of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg looking at a book
American beat writers Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) (left) and Allen Ginsberg (1926 – 1997) read a book together, 1959. Kerouac holds a cigarette in one hand. (Photo by John Cohen/Getty Images)
  • Allen Ginsberg—Allen Ginsberg, an American poet and writer who was famous for being a part of the Beat Generation, is someone I knew very little about. I never studied this period in American history, and while I have heard of Ginsberg, I did not know anything about him or his work. The way Ginsberg answers questions is insightful and his longtime partner Peter Orlovsky was present and interjects at various points during the interview. If you’re a fan of Ginsberg or interested in learning more about the Beat Generation or Jack Kerouac, give this interview a listen!
  • Henry Kaiser—I had never heard of Henry Kaiser prior to this project, but he is an American guitarist and composer. During this interview, Kaiser discusses the album The Sweet Sunny North, which he made in collaboration with David Lindley and a host of Norwegian musicians and instrumentalists. This album is meant to highlight various Norwegian musical traditions and styles. Previously, Kaiser and Lindley recorded a similar album, but with musicians from Madagascar. I think it is such an ingenious idea and album concept to immerse yourself in the music of a completely foreign country, promote new styles of music to American audiences, and introduce lesser-known and unknown musicians to a wider audience.
  • Yoko Ono—Everyone knows Yoko Ono as the woman who broke up The Beatles, but besides that dubious claim, I don’t think I’ve ever learned about or heard Ono speak. This was a group interview with several Boston-area reporters, including Katz, asking Ono questions. The interview was conducted because a touring exhibition of artwork created by John Lennon and Ono was making a stop in Boston. Highlights of the interview include her in-depth discussion of Lennon and the surprising admission that Boston has a special place in her heart.
  • George Winston—George Winston is also a musician I had never heard of, but he is an American pianist with a massive discography. The interview was unexpected because Winston discusses his dislike of the piano, a surprising admission for a professional pianist! When Katz asks if he ever practices or plays piano just to play, Winston states that he only practices or plays (outside of scheduled performances) when he’s touring! He never listens to piano music at home and easily tires of listening to classical piano music. Instead, Winston prefers the guitar and enjoys listening to guitar and harp music in his spare time.

Anna Ryerson’s Picks:

Lindsey Buckingham plays guitar on a stage
Lindsey Buckingham
  • Lindsey Buckingham—Lindsey Buckingham talks to Katz shortly after the release of Fleetwood Mac’s album Tango in the Night, which Buckingham compares favorably to their previous album Mirage, calling it a more experimental album. He shares how he came to work more on the production side of the group’s records. Interestingly, Buckingham took a decade-long hiatus from Fleetwood Mac within a year of this interview. Although he shares his desire to work on more solo material, he does not hint that he might be leaving the group any time soon.
  • Jerry Butler—Jerry Butler was originally a musician and singer-songwriter, but Katz interviews him later in his career when serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, so this interview gives more insight into the practical side of the music industry. Butler talks about his organization’s decision to move their annual event from Los Angeles (where it took place at the same time as the Grammys) to New York, in order to make more money to help pay the medical bills and other necessities of older musicians without a safety net. Butler also talks about the importance of proper recognition in situations where newer musicians are borrowing from and taking inspiration from older ones, and how excited he is to be able to honor songwriter Clyde Otis, who contributed to the songs of so many other artists.
  • Jim Carroll—An author and poet as well as a musician, Jim Carroll was best known for writing the memoir Basketball Diaries, which became a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. When Katz interviews him, he does talk about the music industry and his career as a punk musician but focuses more on his experiences in the poetry scene and on his own writing. Carroll, who played basketball at a high level in high school, mentions his love of the sport in both Basketball Diaries and his second memoir Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973. However, he tells Katz that he does not regret focusing more on poetry than on basketball as a young adult, particularly considering the longevity of his work in poetry and in writing in general. Thirty-seven years old at the time of this interview, he considers himself “still a young writer” but feels he would “be a very old basketball player.”
  • James Carter—Katz interviewed James Carter shortly after the filming of the 1996 movie Kansas City, where he worked with actor and musician Harry Belafonte to pay tribute to great Kansas City jazz musicians of the 1930s. Carter played the famous saxophonist Ben Webster. Carter also talks about his desire to pay tribute to other jazz artists, including some who had never been recorded before, and talks about his recent album, Conversin’ with the Elders, which showcases a long continuum of great jazz musicians.
  • Ornette Coleman—A saxophonist, violinist, and trumpeter, Ornette Coleman was best known for his jazz compositions and performances, but when interviewed by Katz, alongside his friend Randy Harrison, he shares a fascinating story about an experience with classical music. When Coleman hoped to perform in England, he was told by the British government that he first needed to write a piece of classical music and qualify as a concert artist. He ended up writing a piece of music called “Forms and Sounds” for himself and a woodwind quintet. He also talks to Katz about how he taught himself how to play the violin!

We hope that these remarkable examples give you some idea of the value of recorded interviews in the music world. It’s particularly interesting to hear the voices and intonations of these musicians, people whose lives were built on sound, and sometimes the interface between sound and the spoken (or sung) word. In addition, through these interviews, you can learn a great deal about the history and the making of music—because they are contemporaneous recordings, they capture the creative process as it occurs.

The best part of working with any kind of archival material is that opportunity for discovery, and the surprises that you will encounter!

Library team works to digitize Boston Gay Men’s Chorus performances

The Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections is fortunate to have the records of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC), founded in 1982. BGMC is a 200-voice community ensemble that sings popular and classical music and works to “inspire change, build community, and celebrate difference.”

A black and white photo of a Boston Gay Men's Chorus live performance, with a view of center stage and a pianist, from 1987.
Boston Gay Men’s Chorus live performance, view of center stage and pianist, 1987 https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:m041vr30r

Some chorus recordings are already available in Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service (DRS) but there are many more in the Archives that haven’t been digitized yet. Recently, members of BGMC working on a documentary requested the digitization of recordings on 1/4″ reel-to-reel tape and Digital Audio Tape (DAT) from the 1980s and 1990s. These recordings included holiday performances, Pride concerts, and a collaboration with the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus.

A black and white photo of a group of men walking down a street. Two men in the front hold a large banner that reads "Boston Gay Men's Chorus" while someone in the back holds a flag that says "BGMC Pride"
Boston Gay Men’s Chorus march in Boston’s Pride parade
https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:m041vr24m

We’re always happy to help make the collections accessible, but the digitization of older audiovisual formats presents challenges. DAT cassettes were released in 1987 and used throughout the 1990s. They encode digital information onto magnetic media and allow for high quality recordings. However, Sony stopped producing DAT cassette decks in 2005 and few people know how to maintain the equipment needed to digitize them. In addition, use of an out-of-repair machine might damage the tape. You can read more about the preservation issues with DAT in archival collections here and here. Luckily, we were able to work with National Boston to digitize these DATs with no issues.

The reel-to-reel or open reel format using magnetic tapes was popular from the 1940s through the 1980s. We also sent our reel-to-reel tapes to National Boston but due to the age and condition of the materials, an extra step was required. Many of the tapes had sticky shed syndrome. This preservation issue is common and affects magnetic media. The tape has three layers: the magnetic portion which contains the information; the base layer; and the binding agent. Sticky shed syndrome causes the binder to degrade, leading the tape to shed bits of itself while being played. Since this causes irreversible loss of information, tapes with sticky shed should be baked before playback. This involves putting them in an oven at a low heat to rebind the layers. You can read more about baking tapes at the Library of Congress here.

Luckily, these gorgeous vocal performances are now preserved in our repository and available here. Thanks to my colleagues in the Archives, especially Molly Brown, and to my colleagues in Digital Metadata, especially Anna Ryerson, for their work coordinating the request and cataloging the recordings.

A group of men in tuxedos and dress clothes stand informally smiling and chatting. Two men in the center pose for the camera hugging and making kiss faces.
Boston Gay Men’s Chorus members talking pre-performance
https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:m041vq97x

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive: An Essential Resource for African-American History

Looking for a primary source for an essay or digital project? Do you want to know more about, say, the Montgomery Bus Boycott from someone who lived through it? Or are you just bored and looking for something educational to watch? Well, dear reader, have I got the archive for you.

I’d like to present to you the HistoryMakers Digital Archive, a video collection of oral history interviews that is available to all Northeastern students, faculty, and staff. With a focus on African-American history, the Digital Archive is a resource that can be both useful and fascinating to everyone in academia, even if they’re not studying history.

A collage of notable African Americans surrounding the HistoryMakers logo

So, what is oral history? It’s certainly not the history of public speaking or how humans dealt with cavities, nor is it simply anecdotes passed by word of mouth. The Oral History Association defines it as “a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events.” Besides being the oldest form of history-gathering, oral history holds special significance to African Americans and other groups of the African diaspora: Not only do many African peoples have long, storied traditions—perhaps most famously, that of the West African griot—that venerate the keepers of oral history as professionals who are just as vital to the community as the soldier or the healer. Further, due to historical laws that either made it illegal or difficult for African Americans to be taught how to read and write, oral history has been one of the crucial ways that we can learn about certain events and periods. For example, during the Great Depression, the U.S. government commissioned a collection of oral history interviews from formerly enslaved people across 17 states. The collection of transcribed interviews, which is available online, is an incredibly valuable resource in broadening your understanding of the experiences of Black people during slavery.

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive follows in this honorable tradition. It compiles oral history interviews with nearly 2,700 historically significant Americans of African descent, designated as “HistoryMakers.” They’re significant for a variety of reasons, but all have made some notable contribution to the fields of medicine, art, music, politics, technology, science, literature, journalism, and more.

The archive includes interviews that provide insight into the lives and deeds of some of the most well-known people in the world—John Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Davis, Harry Belafonte, Barack Obama—as well as many other fascinating folks worth learning about who you might not have known about. For instance, there’s Elma Lewis, a Roxbury native who founded her own art school here in Boston. There’s Ed Bullins, a noted playwright and former professor at Northeastern. And then there’s Sylvester Monroe, a journalist who recounts the perils he faced while covering the desegregation of schools in Boston. Heck, I even found an interview from William Ward, the former mayor of my hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia. And that’s just scratching the surface. You can watch interviews from literally thousands of HistoryMakers, each of which offer their own take on their fields, their lives, and the historical events that shaped them.

Part of the beauty of the Digital Archive is how simple it is to use: after spending just a handful of minutes on the website, you’ll more than likely get the hang of it. But if you’d like a step-by-step guide on how to access, navigate, and utilize it, I’ve created a LibGuide that will hopefully be helpful.

In addition, HistoryMakers is hosting a contest in honor of Black History Month. Learn more and sign up here.

Have any further questions about the Digital Archive? You can contact me directly at moyler.h@northeastern.edu or send a note attached to a carrier pigeon to [redacted] Street in Mission Hill.

Library Adds OverDrive to Digital Collections

The library is thrilled to announce that we are now providing access to OverDrive e-books and audiobooks courtesy of the Massachusetts SAILS network of libraries. OverDrive offers thousands of popular fiction and nonfiction titles that can be accessed on a variety of devices via web browser or app.

OverDrive offers many features that make it a welcome addition to our collection. With this service, we’re now able to offer a much wider range of popular and leisure titles, including magazines and children’s materials. Not sure what you’re in the mood for? OverDrive offers curated reading lists and intuitive searching by keyword, subject, or availability. And if we don’t have what you’re looking for, you can recommend a purchase within the OverDrive app.

Perhaps the best feature of OverDrive is that you can read books or listen to audiobooks on a variety of devices, including Nooks and iPads/iPhones. OverDrive also integrates seamlessly with Amazon for Kindle users. While you can access OverDrive via web browser, your experience is optimized when using either of the OverDrive apps. The Libby app makes it easy to switch between multiple library collections if you are also using e-books and audiobooks at your local public library, while the classic OverDrive app includes some features that are not yet available in the Libby app, such as streaming video and recommendations, as well as compatibility with Kindle Fire, mp3 players, and screen readers. Either app will allow you to read or listen to your loans, as well as manage your account.

OverDrive homepage

It’s important to note that we lease a limited number of copies of each digital title, which means that there may be a wait list for popular titles, just like with print books. Fortunately, OverDrive makes it easy to place holds and build wish lists with just a click of a button, and if a hold becomes available before you’re ready to read it, you can postpone your hold until a later time.

Because titles and availability are subject to change without notice and copies of individual titles are limited, OverDrive is not considered an appropriate resource for course materials. Materials available via OverDrive are also not listed in Scholar OneSearch, as titles are not permanent additions to our collection. Please contact your department’s subject librarian with questions about access to assigned course materials.

When you’re ready to explore our new OverDrive offerings, go to sails.overdrive.com, where you’ll be asked to select Northeastern University as your home library and then provide your MyNEU credentials. For more help, see our e-book reference guide or ask a librarian.

Happy reading!