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8 Librarians Who Lend Out More Than Books

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Libraries would be nothing without the librarians who run them. Most of us know them as the people who check out our books or help us navigate the Dewey Decimal System, but not all librarians are limited to working with the printed word. Whether they’re lending out ties or larger-than-life puppets, these are the heroic men and women behind some of the world’s most unique library collections.

1. LAUREN COMITO // THE TIE-BRARY

Libraries offer tremendous resources to people searching for employment, but that could all be for nothing without a proper interview outfit to wear. In Queens, New York, library members can check out a tie with interview tips and tie-tying instructions printed inside the box it comes in. Queens librarian Lauren Comito launched the “tie-brary” as one of her many initiatives dedicated to providing services to the borough’s homeless population. After founding WhereinQueens.org, a website that directs users to career services and other resources in the area, she realized that some of her patrons didn’t own a tie or even know they should be wearing one to interviews. She met this need by building the racks to hold a library of ties herself.

2. DAYNA BOYER // THE KITCHEN LIBRARY

After borrowing a cookbook from a public library in Toronto, citizens can stop by the city’s Kitchen Library and check out the equipment they need to make the recipes. Dayna Boyer (second from left above) was volunteering at the Toronto Tool Library when she was inspired to start a similar service that specialized in lending out cooking supplies rather than power tools. As an avid cook and baker herself, she knew how difficult it was to maintain a fully-equipped kitchen in a cramped, city apartment. Today the library’s inventory includes 75 less-than-essential kitchen tools, including a crepe maker, a chocolate fountain, a meat slicer, and a pierogi press. Members can check out items for one week at a time for a fee of $9 a month—just don’t forget to wash everything before bringing it back.

3. BARBARY SANDERSON // GUITAR LENDING COLLECTION

In addition to books, members of the Licking County Library in Ohio have the option to take a musical instrument home with them. The Guitar Lending Collection was the brainchild of Barbary Sanderson, a teen services assistant at the library. A guitarist herself, she received inspiration for the concept while browsing through a guitar shop in town. The library’s director was on board with the idea, and Sanderson immediately started reaching out to local businesses and building the collection. In addition to acoustic and electric guitars, Licking County Library members can check out banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles for four weeks at a time.

4. JILL YOUNGS // LIBRARYFARM

Looking for a way to use the land in front of their building, the Northern Onondaga Public Library Cicero, New York eventually decided to share it with the community. LibraryFarm aims to promote organic farming practices by lending out plots of land to garden members. Jill Youngs, the library branch manager, is also in charge of managing the property’s 58 4-by-8 foot land plots and 900 square feet of pantry gardens. She told Central New York Community Foundation News, "It’s very organic, in both senses of the word." Since it launched over five years ago, LibraryFarm has been the site of everything from a community herb garden to an "insect hotel" constructed by a junior gardeners club.

5. THERESA LINNIHAN // PUPPET COLLECTION

Interested in borrowing a 20-foot-tall puppet to spice up your next event? Puppet librarian Theresa Linnihan maintains a collection of over 100 semi-retired giant puppets that can be lent out for plays, parties, parades, and films. For years, the Puppet Free Lending Library could be found beneath the arch in Grand Army Plaza outside of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A water leak forced Linnihan to relocate her operation to Brooklyn College in 2008, and today both aspiring and seasoned puppeteers are free to check out materials from the library by appointment.

6. CATALINA ACHIM // LENDING LIBRARY OF SCIENCE KITS

For kids, science equipment can mean the difference between a successful learning experience and a forgettable one. Science kit lending libraries offer a way for educators to get exciting materials into the hands of their students regardless of the limitations of their budgets. Catalina Achim, a chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon, helped found the Lending Library of Science Classroom Kits for teachers throughout the Pittsburgh public school system to borrow from for free. Pre-assembled kits available for checkout include "Chemistry of Color: Pigments in Art," "Kitchen Chemistry: Edible Emulsions," and "Origami Geometry." Local classes can request a science kit online.

7. CHRIS HEUBERGER // BROOKLYN ART LIBRARY

Franklin Heijnen via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0 

The Brooklyn Art Library doesn’t lend out typical books. Instead of stories, these books contain sketches by artists from around the world. In 2012, head librarian Chris Heuberger told the Library as Incubator Project the art library was home to "22,000 sketchbooks from 130 countries and all 50 states." For a small fee, anyone can sign up to fill a blank notebook of their own and submit it to be part of the library’s vast collection. Sketchbooks are cataloged under categories like format, mood, and material as well as random themes like "Dirigibles and Submersibles" and "Things Found on Restaurant Napkins." And just like at a regular library, all the books are available to borrow for free after signing up for a library card. The Brooklyn Art Library is closed for the time being but will reopen later this spring in a new location in the borough's Williamsburg neighborhood.

8. DAVID HORNE // RCA TELESCOPE LIBRARY

It’s not too unusual for traditional libraries to have a few telescopes available to check out, but Rose City Astronomers is the place to go if you're serious about your stargazing. According to official telescope librarian David Horne, members are allowed to borrow telescopes, eyepieces, and astronomical binoculars from the library free of charge. Some of the notable items in their collection include solar telescopes designed for viewing activity on the sun and Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes capable of tracking objects as they move across the sky. Much of the equipment requires some basic astronomy knowledge to operate, but luckily the RCA also hosts telescope workshops and star parties on a regular basis.

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George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
This Crafty Bicycle Can Knit a Scarf in 5 Minutes
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo

Knitting can be a time-consuming, meticulous task, but it doesn’t need to be. At least not if you’re George Barratt-Jones. As The Morning News spotted, the Dutch designer recently created a human-powered automated knitting machine that can make a scarf while you wait for your train to arrive.

The Cyclo-Knitter is essentially a bicycle-powered loom. As you pedal a stationary bike, the spinning front wheel powers a knitting machine placed on top of a wooden tower. The freshly knitted fabric descends from the top of the tower as the machine works, lowering your brand-new scarf.

Cyclo Knitter by George Barratt-Jones from George Barratt-Jones on Vimeo.

“Imagine it’s the midst of winter,” Barratt-Jones, who founded an online skill-sharing platform called Kraftz, writes of the product on Imgur. “You are cold and bored waiting for your train at the station. This pedal powered machine gets you warm by moving, you are making something while you wait, and in the end, you are left with a free scarf!”

Seems like a pretty good use of your commute down-time, right?

If you're a fan of more traditional knitting methods, check out these knitting projects that can put your needles to work, no bicycle required.

[h/t The Morning News]

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THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
6 Works of Art That Were Hiding in Plain Sight
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, an 1820 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence turned up in Texas. Despite once being owned by James Madison, it had been shuffled among the papers of a family who eventually forgot about its provenance and came to consider it "worthless," at least until its recent authentication. As one of only 200 facsimiles created by printer William Stone, it was a rare document, but what made headlines was a curious footnote in the document’s journey: It had been hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War as protection.

There’s something tantalizing about a precious object concealed by wallpaper or painted over; it suggests treasures might be hiding anywhere—maybe in our own homes. Here are a few stories of art that's been lost, and found, on the same wall, hidden beneath wallpaper, paint, and plaster.

1. ANGEL MOSAIC // PALESTINE

Conservators who began restoring the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2013 after centuries of neglect were prepared to clean its mosaics from years of soot and grime. They weren’t expecting to find new ones.

Using a thermographic camera, one restoration worker noticed a shape in the plaster walls. When the team started chipping off the material, they found the brilliant glow of mother-of-pearl tiles. Soon an 8-foot-tall angel was revealed, dressed in a flowing white robe, its golden wings and halo as luminescent as when they were installed in the Crusades era. It’s believed that the angel was covered up following an 1830s earthquake, perhaps to hide damage. Now the lost seraph (above) has rejoined the procession of radiant mosaic angels who are walking to the nativity along the church’s historic walls.

2. MEDIEVAL MURALS // WALES

Mediaeval wall paintings, Llancarfan church, Wales
Chris Samuel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During the Reformation, the murals in Catholic churches of the British Isles were often covered with plaster, turning them into more austere Protestant spaces. In covering them so entirely, this art was sometimes inadvertently protected from centuries of decay. In 2010, conservators announced an incredible find in the 800-year-old Church of St Cadoc at Llancarfan in Wales.

Church staff had long been intrigued by a thin red line of paint on the wall. After conservators began the painstaking work of removing 21 layers of limewash, a dramatic painting of St. George slaying a dragon appeared. The discoveries continued with scenes of other popular medieval motifs, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, a royal family, and "Death and the Gallant," in which a rotting corpse with a worm creeping in its rib cage leads an elegantly dressed man to his mortal end. The murals are now on view for all to enjoy.

3. BRETON GIRL SPINNING // FRANCE

Paul Gauguin, "Breton Girl Spinning"
Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, French artist Paul Gauguin's 1889 Breton Girl Spinning is an enigmatic fresco of a young girl dancing at a small tree. In one hand, she is spinning wool; in the distance, above the water and shapes of ships, a huge angel with a sword is flying. In part because of this angelic figure, the painting is sometimes called Joan of Arc.

The work was painted right on the plaster dining room wall of La Buvette de la Plage, an inn in Brittany, France. After being forgotten under layers of wallpaper, it and two other murals (one by Gauguin and one by his student Meijer de Haan) were rediscovered in 1924 during some redecorating.

4. MAYA MURALS // GUATEMALA

While updating their kitchen around 2007, Lucas Asicona Ramirez and his family in the Guatemalan village of Chajul discovered some old interior design—Maya murals, hidden for centuries beneath the plaster.

The roughly 300-year-old artworks in the colonial-era home featured figures in both Maya and Spanish attire, representing a moment of European arrival. One may be holding a human heart, or possibly a mask used in a dance. Ramirez hopes to turn the room into a museum, but needs more funding. Other households in Chajul also have historic murals in their homes, and some are striving to conserve these memories of their ancestors even while local preservation resources are limited.

5. WILLIAM MORRIS RED HOUSE MURALS // ENGLAND

The 19th century British artist and writer William Morris is celebrated for his textiles, writing, wallpaper, and other work in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house in Bexleyheath, Kent, that architect Philip Webb designed for him and his wife Jane in 1859 was intended not just as a home, but an incubator for art. The "Red House" became a hub for like-minded artists, and Morris founded “The Firm”—which produced decorative objects such as stained glass and furniture—there in 1861 alongside several other artists. However, the Red House community was short-lived, and financial difficulties forced the family to move out in 1865, never to return.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 2003, they found that the group had left behind some of their artistic experiments. Behind a wardrobe, under layers of paint and wallpaper, the trust made a most extraordinary find: a full wall of almost life-size biblical figures. Researchers believe they were collaboratively painted by Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown, all of whom were major artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

6. AMÉRICA TROPICAL // UNITED STATES

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had just been expelled from Mexico for his leftist activities when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1932. Local boosters commissioned him to create a mural on the theme of "Tropical America" on the touristy Olvera Street, which was an idealized vision of a Mexican market, but he had no interest in portraying some folkloric fantasy. “For me, 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments,” he said in a 1971 documentary.

His América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism, was a moody landscape with gnarled trees clawing at a Maya temple. At the center, an indigenous man is crucified, with an American eagle ominously descending over his head. Innovative techniques such as airbrushing gave the tableau a visceral edge.

The 18-by-82-foot act of subversion was soon whitewashed. Still, many people did not forget it, especially as Siqueiros became recognized as one of the most influential of the early 1900s Mexican muralists. Eight decades after it was painted, the city of Los Angeles, along with the Getty Conservation Institute, began a restoration. The whitewash had protected its details from sun and rain and finally, in 2012, its defiant scene was again revealed to the public. It is now the oldest mural in L.A., and the only one by Siqueiros in its original location.

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