Let's take a moment for ourselves, shall we, Brooklyn Public Library? Rather than blowing the dust off yet another Eagle story or manuscript collection -- holdings which, don't get me wrong, we are proud to preserve and promote here at the Brooklyn Collection -- let's navel gaze a bit to see what archival lint we've been storing up ourselves. So... to the morgue we go where, a few months ago, we found this.
This thing here (never mind that this is a scan of the thing) is a 3/4" Umatic S video cassette, one of the earliest video cassette formats. Unfortunately for us, when we found it in the morgue along with 81 other similar cassettes, we couldn't, as is the case with a closed book, simply open it to find out what it contained; and doubly unfortunate for us, we had long since done away with any equipment that would allow us to view the tape. But the labels, both on the cassette itself and on the case for the cassette (pictured below) had us intrigued.
What was LIBRARY RAP, CROWN HEIGHTS, MASTER, 5/6/85? Our bookish brains went wild imagining the lyrical wizardry and 80s fashions that must surely be contained on this tape. We had to find a way to watch it! And as if we needed further convincing, a little more digging around in the 82 Umatics led us to additional attractively labeled treasures, such as:
P.L.A.Y. Animation workshop films -- March 1978 featuring, presumably, animated films like: Space 1999 1/2; Flatbush Avenue Cave-In; and Revenge of the Hypnotizer.
CORTELYOU BOOK COMMERCIAL CONTEST, NOVEMBER 30, 1983, MASTER. Who participated in this contest? What were the books being hawked? Just what, in general, was this anyway? In order to satisfy our curiosity, we sent these three tapes off, as a sort of test run, to a Brooklyn-based video transfer company. The transfering process took a few weeks. In the meantime, we speculated, we waited, and we speculated some more. And then, when they were returned to us on DVD and as digitial files, we gathered around a computer and watched and were not disappointed.
In addition to the above clip, there are 3 other library raps you can watch. Clicking here will take you to the playlist on our Brooklynology YouTube page. Likewise, if you want to watch some of the P.L.A.Y. animation workshop films, films made by young library patrons in collaboration with librarians and local animators, begin with this breakdancing video called Do It To It on Bergen. The audio tracks on these animations didn't transfer well, so we opted to post the videos without sound. The quality of the films themselves leaves a little to be desired, but they are all charmingly rough and bleary, and who wouldn't be, having first come to life on film only to be reincarnated twice, on video and now digitially.
Our third tape, the Cortelyou Book Commercial Contest, can still be used today by library staff as a wonderful facet of Readers' Advisory services. Thinking of reading Treasure Island but aren't sure if it's the right book for you? Well, listen to what this young literary critic and future advertising executive has to say...
And again, to watch all of these darling book talks, just click here to visit the playlist on our YouTube page. Both the Library Raps from Crown Heights, and the Cortelyou Book Commericals were produced by Brooklyn Public Library's very own A/V Department. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s this department, now a thing of the past, did valuable work capturing life in Brooklyn and at the library. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the library is not just a place for preserving culture, but also for contributing to and fostering it. Free, open, and dynamic... the library, as one of our young rappers puts it, is "where all the young ladies scream and shout/ and everybody knows what the library is about." We hope to have all 82 Umatic cassettes transferred shortly and available for viewing on our YouTube page. Check back soon!
Still from Crown Heights library rap