Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SASsy Regulars at the Pratt Library

(This is the original post I wrote about some of the more interesting people that frequent the library where I work. A much shorter, edited version will appear later on Pratt's blog site. - TW)

Here at Pratt, we interact with a lot of interesting - even (dare we say) “unusual” – people that frequent the library on a regular basis. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Sights & Sounds (SAS) Department on the main floor of the Central Library.

Not only is this department a busy passageway between the Central Hall lobby and the Annex’s Public Computer Center, but it’s also home to a large collection of both educational and popular entertainment audiovisual materials –everything from fiction audiobooks and music CDs to DVDs of popular television series, Hollywood movies, critically-acclaimed foreign films and award-winning documentaries addressing every conceivable topic.

Naturally, we get lots of people just looking for the latest popular entertainment titles – be it this year’s Oscar-winning movie Argo, the new album by Justin Timberlake, an audiobook version of Fifty Shades of Grey, or the latest season of  Downtown Abbey. But we also tend to attract a number of regulars that might best be described as “creative” or “artsy” types - film, music, and literature fanatics that veer off the well-beaten track to traverse the roads less travelled.

Their ranks include local musicians Caleb Stine, Eddie Chabon of The Swingin’ Swamis, and Jason Sage of Telesma; independent filmmaker and Maryland Institute College of Art instructor Allen Moore (a frequent cinematographer for documentarian Ken Burns); Sondheim Award-winning artist and 14-Karat Cabaret performance space founder-curator Laure Drogoul; former John Waters "Dreamlander" cast regular and Orpheum Cinema curator George Figgs; and experimental filmmaker-instructor Karen Yasinsky, to name but a few. We consider them to be not just Pratt patrons, but our friends as well. But not everyone is a celebrity. Some of our most frequent visitors are just regular citizens. People like:

Peter Geier

Blogger Peter Geier
When he’s not talking Orioles baseball, former Pratt volunteer and life-long “cinemaniac” Peter Geier is foraging through our Foreign Film and Documentary racks to find more material for his impressive film review blog, Moom Pitchers Not To Miss (which is old Baltimorese for “moving pitchers”).

Though this well-traveled writer has lived all over the world in the past, he currently lives within walking distance of Pratt, so he visits our department almost daily. After stocking up on our DVDs, Peter usually heads to the Annex to power up his laptop, jump on our Wi-Fi, and post his latest review

Peter most enjoys discovering lesser-known movies in our collection, be they early “pre-code” Hollywood films, 1950s British Free Cinema documentaries, post-war productions from communist East Germany’s DEFA Studios, or Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin’s rarely seen American independent features Little Fugitive and Lovers and Lollipops/Weddings and Babies.

In addition to knowing a lot about film, Peter’s a polyglot who speaks four languages, including Russian, German and Turkish. In fact, when we received some Russian language-only movies, it was Peter who checked them out and told us what they were about!

He’s probably seen more of our collection than our staff, so in future we might have to use him as a Viewers’ Advisory resource!


Dan the Music Man
Dan is an articulate, classically trained musician who likes movies almost as much as classical music. Dan actually treats our “Staff Picks” as if they were Gospel: put it on display, and Dan will press play. He has viewed virtually every video in the department. Yes, we said “video” – that neglected analog format seemingly destined to appear on a future episode of Antiques Roadshow

Dan is a fan of the format because, as he says, “It seems like nobody watches videos anymore except for me, which leaves me a lot of titles to pick from.”

Not only does this mean there’s always something on the shelf for Dan to grab, but it’s also allowed him to discover many hidden gems “Lost in the Stacks” of SAS (some of which have never come out on DVD) like Greta Garbo in the original The Painted Veil (1934) or obscure documentaries about chewing gum, cane toads and cockroaches.

I've actually given Dan some videos from my massive home collection to watch and told him he could keep them. But, unlike me, he's not a pack-rat clutterer - once done, he promptly returned them, adding, "I wouldn't want to deprive someone else from getting enjoyment from them." Dan's a model citizen (and must have a very tidy apartment)!


Retiree Paula
Paula lives around the corner from the Central Library and uses much of her free time since retiring from the Social Security Administration roaming our aisle for foreign films, topical documentaries, and music of all genres (though she’s most partial to jazz from the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s and vintage ‘50s and ‘60s R & B singers like Big Joe Turner).

When asked what attracts her to our Foreign Film collection, Paula replies, “Hollywood movies are just too predictable. I like to watch foreign films to get a better perspective on how other  people live and what’s going on in the world.” Her favorite movies are the colorful song-and-dance spectaculars from Bollywood and gritty Brazilian films like City of God (“I own a copy now”) and Black Orpheus (“Which I never get tired of re-watching”).

Part-Cherokee herself, Paula also likes to watch Native American movies like Smoke Signals and The Business of Fancy Dancing, as well as documentary series like We Shall Remain: America Through Native Eyes .

The ever-curious Paula always looks forward to checking out our “new releases” display, and has seen so many movies that we sometimes joke, “We’re running out of materials for you – you’ve seen everything!”

But that’s about as likely to happen as Sights & Sounds running out of interesting patrons to assist and befriend.

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