Library News Blog
The Library’s growing collection of primary sources databases now includes Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790-1920. Focused on trends in crime, as well as on judicial and penal reforms during the long 19th century, this digital archive also features press coverage and popular culture responses to crime and punishment. Although it is multilingual and international in scope, it is nevertheless mostly composed of British and American collections that include Crime and the Criminal Justice System: Records from The U.K. National Archives, 1780-1923; Nineteenth Century Crime: Manuscripts from the American Antiquarian Society, 1750-1923; Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy, 1845-1920; and many others. Over 2.1 million pages of historical documents ranging from trial transcripts, police reports, newspaper articles, prisoner photographs, penal reform treatises, to examples of the emerging genre of crime fiction, capture the period’s pivotal role in defining crime and establishing responses to it.
Given the wealth of primary sources the database contains, researchers have multiple options to explore its depth. For example, keywords can refer to types of crimes (robbery, arson), locations (saloon, alley, gutter), motives (revenge, love), substances (absinthe, opium), weapons used (rifle, revolver), or types of punishment (solitary confinement, capital punishment). As always, using the Advanced Search allows for a more guided and tailored search. It is possible to limit the search to a specific collection or publication. Moreover, types of text documents can be narrowed (case overview, public notice, sermon, and many more) and so can types of illustrated works (cartoons, drawing, photograph, among others).
In addition to these filters, Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790-1920 features term frequency and term cluster tools that are worth exploring. For example, when searching for records on “solitary confinement,” a glance at the term frequency tool reveals that the use of the term increased dramatically in the 1840s, a period when the practice was widely debated:
The practice had been variously described in the preceding decades: “solitary imprisonment,” “solitude,” and “unremitted solitude” are some of the terms previously used. After selecting the year 1846, the researcher can view all 15 documents that mention it. The term frequency tool, then, captures the moment when specific concepts and practices came to the forefront in discussions around crime and punishment.
The term cluster tool can be used to visualize which words and subjects are found most often in the text of search results. Word clusters might bring up expected connections, along with unexpected but commonly related terms, inviting researchers to explore new approaches to their subject. For example, the cluster for “solitary confinement” shows that “petitions,” “prison” and “reports on criminals” are terms that were found most often in the same documents “solitary confinement” appeared:
To illustrate how the cluster tool may inform new research: a closer look at the documents in the “petitions” sub-cluster may lead a researcher to investigate the length of solitary confinement sentences during a given time period, as well as spark an analysis of which kinds of appeals had been the most successful.
Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790-1920 is particularly useful to those already familiar with the period and themes it covers. This digital resource is uniquely designed to spark new lines of scholarly inquiry. Well-suited for classes examining the history of crime and punishment and their philosophies and practices, it is also a great teaching tool for assignments that rely on primary sources.
Posted Monday, April 23, 2018 - 4:53pm
A citation database for the sciences and beyond
Scopus abstracts and indexes peer-reviewed, scientifically significant literature in the social sciences, medicine, and physical and life sciences. With records for publications dating as early as 1788 and cited references dating back to 1970, Scopus’s depth of content is increasing as it continues to compete with the Web of Science, another well-known citation index to which the John Jay Library also subscribes. Content types in Scopus include journals, books, conference materials and trade journals from publishers around the world.
Scopus’s content coverage by subject area (source PDF):
For researchers, Scopus provides several helpful features and filters to increase search precision. Users can, for example, limit their search to funding sources, articles in press, and fully open access journal articles. Search results can also be limited to content uploaded within the last seven days, demonstrating the timeliness of Scopus’s data, which is updated daily.
For authors and those interested in publication analytics, Scopus generates impressive visual displays of these metrics and offers various citation alert options. For example, users can create alerts each time a particular publication is cited, or they can “follow” particular researchers and their publications. Authors can also retrieve Scopus’s metrics for specific journals, helping authors choose between journals to which they might submit manuscripts. In addition, it provides an author search which lists all the publications by an author as indexed in Scopus. Scopus generates a bar and line graph to illustrate documents indexed and the number of citations for a publication by year.
Sample analytics for an author, displaying documents and citations indexed by Scopus:
Graphs plotting the number of publications for a given institution can also be generated by Scopus.
Subjects of John Jay faculty publications from 1969 to the present:
Scopus’s content and features are impressive, but it is important to keep in mind the limitations of any database or bibliometric tool. Scopus provides analytics for the content it indexes, which may not be completely comprehensive. Other citation indexes such as the Web of Science and Google Scholar may provide different results and numbers for the same publication and author. Web of Science, for example, claims to have over 100 million records (source, PDF) while Scopus has over 69 million (source, PDF). Comparing these analytics can be revealing and instructive.
Posted Monday, April 23, 2018 - 4:51pm
Even spy agencies are using shareable, open sources... We can, too!
There has been lots of hype and increased awareness in higher education over the past few years about openness, sharing, and equity in education. Colleges and universities across the US and even the world are trying to make education more affordable and accessible with open educational resources (OER). OERs are any material used for education where the restrictions of traditional copyright have been waived or do not exist; therefore, these materials are free for the students to use.
At over an 800% increase in the past 10 years, college textbook costs have increased faster than medical services, new home prices and three times the rate of inflation (US Public Interest Research Group, 2014). Eighty-five percent of students have delayed or avoided purchasing textbooks, with 91 percent citing cost as the reason. To make matters worse, half of the students reported that their grades have been negatively impacted by their decision (Wakefield Research, 2017). If a course centers around a textbook, inequity exists if some students cannot purchase the textbook.
What is CUNY and specifically, John Jay College, doing about lowering textbook costs, since almost 40% of CUNY students come from households with annual incomes of less than $20,000 per year? New York State awarded CUNY $4,000,000 for OER initiatives to be spent in FY 2018 to help faculty convert courses to using free educational materials, instead of expensive proprietary textbooks. Using a share of the state funding, John Jay is promoting OER with the Course Conversion Project. The grant is administered out of the Teaching and Learning Center and the office of Educational Partnerships and General Education. With 16 participants, the objective is to convert five courses (each with five sections) using textbooks and other materials with a “zero cost to students.” Most of the courses are general education, high enrollment classes.
In addition to a stipend for the participating faculty, the funding provides for eight OER conversion seminars focusing on course design, pedagogy, the selection and evaluation of OER materials, and the technology needed to host the materials. Even though library resources, such as ebooks and journal articles, are copyrighted and not considered OER, these rich resources are zero cost to the students and were also addressed in the seminars. Since it may be difficult to find one perfect OER textbook, the participants were trained in using the Library’s discovery tool OneSearch to locate materials (chapters in various books, journal articles, etc.) that support the various learning outcomes. Unique to John Jay, the grant also supports the publication of the John Jay College OER Justice eReader, which, under the guidance of a faculty Editorial Board, will bring together a collection of key texts that will function as an intellectual hub for conversations focusing on justice.
I was hired for 15 hours per week to support this college-wide OER initiative at John Jay. This is not my first experience of promoting OER adoption; I wrote one of the first successful OER grants in CUNY when I was Chief Librarian and Director of Academic Technology at Guttman Community College. Previously, I had been involved in the “open-source” (not classified) research movement for over 10 years while working for the Department of Defense. Even though that was a different kind of open movement, there are many similarities. I gave research classes on using open source materials (publicly available sources) and taught the military how to search for and find open source materials to use in Open-source Intelligence (OSINT). OSINT includes information available that is not classified, clandestine or covert and is used for intelligence gathering and analysis. Since these resources are open, they are easy to share without needing a security clearance. I introduced my students at the Intel School to various CIA and FBI databases of open source materials and other tools.
As the OER Librarian at John Jay, I am assisting in the planning and leading of the OER seminars, and I work one-on-one with the faculty participants. I help them find OER resources and talk to them about understanding and applying Creative Commons licensing. I’m focused on keeping the participants on track and progressing towards the grant goals. I maintain the Course Conversion participants Blackboard site and assist with the Justice eReader Group site.
Outreach and promotion of OER to the entire John Jay faculty is key to growing this movement. In March, the Library held a Pop-Up Library event during Community Hour. Students were asked to indicate how much they spent on books this semester by placing a sticker on a board (see image at left). We handed out bookmarks with directions on how students can search for “zero cost textbook” classes in CUNYfirst. Other OER events have been organized on campus, including an OER workshop for faculty held during Faculty Development Day in January.
Another important aspect of the OER project focuses on technology. Once the class is designed, the syllabus completed and the OER materials gathered, the participants need a virtual place for hosting the course, so the students have easy access. LibGuides, CUNY Academic Works, Moodle, ePortfolio, WordPress, Blackboard, and Lumen Learning are all possible as platforms for OER classes. Many of the participants in the project chose LibGuides as the hosting platform for their OER converted classes. These course guides are like a mini-website and include all the materials (including the OER textbook or readings) needed for the course, and are viewable by anyone, thus sharable with the world, one of the important premises of the OER movement. Besides being visually appealing and easy to use, LibGuides are already licensed by John Jay. This platform has many robust features, such as reusability and the ability to move and copy content easily.
In summary, John Jay College is working hard to develop and enhance new and ongoing OER initiatives. CUNY’s goal is to establish the University as a national leader in OER (The City University of New York, 2018). The project initiative at John Jay is a big success, with new inquiries weekly from faculty wanting to participate. We hope the grant will be renewed for next year so more classes can be converted. The OER movement will save students money, but also enhance their learning experience. OER is about sharing and promoting educational and social equity.
2017 Wakefield Research. (2017). Retrieved from VitalSource.
The City University of New York. (2018). Open Educational Resources. Retrieved from CUNY Libraries.
U.S. Public Interest Research Group. (2014, January 27). Fixing the Broken Textbook Market. Retrieved from U.S. PIRG.
Posted Monday, April 23, 2018 - 4:39pm
Internet privacy is a moving target. With new technologies emerging at a steady clip, it can be difficult to keep up with how best to keep your data safe while using the web. I’ve highlighted 3 things you can do to stay secure on the web.
Two-factor authorization is offered by many email and banking services as a way to lock out hacking attempts. The two factors required to gain entry to your account are a password (most common way to authorize access) and something else that only you would have access to, most often your mobile phone. So even if a hacker swiped your password—by finding a Post-It note taped to your monitor or, more likely, buying passwords in bulk on the Internet’s black market—they would lack the second required factor. For instance, Bank of America offers SafePass, which you can set up such that when you try to transfer a large amount of money to someone, the bank will text a 6-digit code to your phone. You’ll need to input this code before the transfer can go through. Check twofactorauth.org to see if your bank, email service, health app, or other service offers two-factor authorization.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are one way to stay secure while on a public, open network, such as a café’s wifi. While on that café’s wifi, other people on the same network could potentially spy on you to see the things you view and send online, just as if they were looking over your shoulder. A VPN blocks them from spying on you by encrypting the things you view and send. The world of VPNs can, admittedly, be very confusing—there are a thousand “Best VPN” lists and none of them seem that neutral or reliable. After all, the VPN company does see the things you view and send, so they might be incentivized to go to the dark side and make money off of your data. Luckily, John Jay offers faculty its own VPN, meaning you can access the John Jay network even while off-campus and feel more secure about using public wifi. You’ll need to install a VPN client, which, once installed, will require you to log in with your usual John Jay credentials whenever you want to use it. Just call DoIT (ext. 8200) to request VPN access and client installation.
Check location services settings often on your mobile phone. Make sure that only the apps you trust most have access to your current and past locations. What funny business might an app get up to with your location data? Uber, for instance, tracked users’ locations 5 minutes after their ride ended, ostensibly for passenger safety, though that seemed a weak excuse in light of Uber’s past misuses of user data. (They rolled this back in 2017 after strong pushback.) Strava, a running app, tracked users’ runs and added them to their publicly viewable map of Strava runs all over the globe, not realizing that it pinpointed secret U.S. military bases where staff kept track of their exercise with the app. (Strava has since declared it would clear the public map every month.) The point is, even big-name apps might use your location data in fishy or insecure ways. Recently, privacy advocates have pushed for greater transparency: app store administrators have asked app developers to be more explicit about when and why they need user location data, and smartphones will now typically light up a little location pin icon to let you know that an app is currently tracking your location. It still pays to be extra careful about whom you allow to see your physical location, so check your location services settings on a regular basis.
Posted Monday, April 23, 2018 - 4:32pm
Few things frustrate a librarian at the reference desk more than facing yet another student asking, “Do you have this book?” This is not to say we do not want to help students find volumes required for their classes, but when the eighth student arrives asking for the same book, well, you can imagine.
Sometimes we have the book. Sometimes we do not. Or we may have the 5th edition and the professor is using the 6th edition. We are left to wonder why students are not equipped with this information before they set foot into the Library.
One simple addition to the syllabus will ease everyone’s pain.
Does the Library have the required textbook? If so, add the call number on the syllabus. The syllabus is required to include the isbn, but that is so students can purchase the correct edition (and that does not necessarily help us find what they seek). What they need in the library is the call number.
Is the book on reserve, meaning the students can use it for three hours in the Library? Note that fact on the syllabus. With the call number.
Do we have one copy of the required reading in our circulating collection? Please put it on reserve so it is available to many students throughout the semester, and not just the first student who races to the Library from class to check it out and take it home.
Is the book available as an ebook? If so, let students know that they can access it at any time from any computer.
Textbooks are ever more expensive, and it is frustrating for a student to hear that we have the 5th edition but not the 6th. Does it matter? That is, has the content in a Sociology 101 text changed so much that the earlier edition is obsolete? Of course not. The Library does not purchase textbooks for every course, every year. We may have a half dozen copies of that 5th edition available on reserve, but not the 6th edition required for the class.
What might change in textbooks in each successive edition will be the pagination, charts and illustrations, and the questions at the end of a chapter. Faculty would serve their students well by comparing editions to determine whether a previous edition would serve just as well as the current edition. For example, rather than assign readings by pages (e.g. 144–165), assign by chapter.
Finally, before assigning that hefty and expensive tome, check the availability of our Open Educational Resources (OER) and Alternative Educational Resources (AER). What we have available digitally could fill just about any syllabus.
Posted Monday, April 23, 2018 - 4:24pm
The Lloyd Sealy Library set up shop as a Pop-Up Library in a temporary satellite location: the Kroll Atrium, one of the busiest spots on campus during Community Hour. For one week in March, librarians met with passing students at two tables, drawing them in with the offer of free books and snacks and talking with them about how they view the library.
The “Ask a Librarian!” table
As librarians, we encounter students most frequently at the reference desk and in the classroom—both situations in which students come to the library. But what if the library came to them? At the “Ask a Librarian!” table, we were available to answer students’ questions about anything study-related. To encourage interactions, we set up signs with suggested queries:
- Where’s the quietest space on campus?
- How do you cite an article with 5,154 authors?
- Does a presidential tweet count as a “credible source”?
Over 370 students stopped to chat with librarians, many of them drawn to our free books cart, which was loaded with donated books that the Library cannot accept into its collections. Students were also attracted to the free digital subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, both of which had provided John Jay with “swag” (card holders that stick on smartphones, sticky note packs, and pens). Curious passersby were also treated to a plethora of handouts, from “A Quick Guide to APA Style” to “How to find a case by citation.”
The “Tell a Librarian!” table
Every three years, we run an “In-Library Use Survey,” which has been led for many years by Bonnie Nelson (now happily retired). These surveys tell us a lot about how students use the Library and what they expect of it. (See this newsletter’s Spring 2017 issue for the latest results.) But the population sampled only includes students already inside the physical library. What about those who only use the Library online? What about those who don’t know about the library resources available to them? To attempt (informally) to ask a representative slice of the John Jay student population such questions, we set up a “Tell a Librarian!” table, which was covered in various surveys that librarians collaboratively created, from “How would you describe your ideal library building?” (top terms: calming, comfy couches, fast wifi) to “Have you ever used a library ebook?” (21 of 32 had) to “How much did you spend on textbooks this semester?” (see pp. 8-9 for textbook & OER survey results). Students had a lot to say! All survey completions were rewarded with candy and fruit snacks.
Survey results, in summary
- Students appreciate the library’s quiet atmosphere and wish there were more solo study spots.
- Visually, students prefer a library that is full of books and seating over one that is full of computers or lab tables.
- Students feel more confident about finding articles and using databases than finding textbooks or books on a library shelf.
- Most students surveyed have:
- used an ebook from the library at least once.
- had a library instruction session at least once.
- never watched a streaming video through the library.
- never checked out a library book to take home.
- Students have high expectations for the level of service they receive at the library, whether it’s at the Reference, Circulation or Reserve Desks.
- 44% of 119 students surveyed spent more than $200 on textbooks this semester.
Selected survey results, in detail
How would you describe your ideal John Jay Library building? Words that 8+ people circled out of the 40 words given:
- Fast wifi
- Comfy couches
- Lots of books
- Outlets everywhere
- Absolute quiet room
- Distraction-free room
- Lots of printers
Which of these library workshops would you attend? Top choices out of 19 workshop titles given:
- APA/MLA citation tools (we already offer this!)
- How to save money on textbooks
- Get started with your research (we already offer this!)
- Find sources for your paper
- Research tips & tricks (we already offer this!)
The Pop-Up Library was made possible by Faculty-Student Engagement funding through the Division of Student Affairs.
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 5:09pm
Two new faculty members joined the Lloyd Sealy Library in Spring 2018: Matthew Murphy and Joy Dunkley.
The Library welcomed Matthew Murphy as Cataloging and Metadata Librarian and Assistant Professor. Matt comes to the library after 12 years at the New-York Historical Society, where he was the head of cataloging and metadata since 2011, previously serving as a reference assistant in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, and working on an NEH-funded cataloging project. Over the last several years, he also worked part-time at Berkeley College and Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. He brings valuable experience in the creation of documentation, managing cataloging workflows and large-scale cataloging projects, and training employees in cataloging rare books, manuscripts and other special collections materials. Matt received his B.A. in history and metropolitan studies from NYU, his Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Long Island University’s Palmer School of Library & Information Science (with an Advanced Certificate in Archives and Records Management), and recently received a certificate from the Rare Book School, a program based in Charlottesville, VA, that supports the study of the history of books and printing.
At the Lloyd Sealy Library, Matt has his sights set on working with Special Collections librarian, Ellen Belcher, and other faculty and staff to provide more access to the library’s rich collections. “I’m very excited to be serving the students, staff and faculty at John Jay and doing everything I can to provide the best service,” he says.
As a faculty member, Matt has already indicated a research interest that draws on his history background and potentially the Library’s special collections as well. His extracurricular interests include bookbinding and antiquarian photography. Mixing math and chemistry in with the history, he is in the process of building a calotype (box) camera that uses a 19th-century post-daguerreotype photographic process where a negative is produced, allowing paper copies to be made.
The Library also welcomes Joy Dunkley as a substitute Reference and Instruction Librarian this Spring. She has performed reference, instruction, and collection development duties at several CUNY libraries, including Bronx Community College, York College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Queensborough Community College. With a Master’s in Public Health from Hunter, in addition to her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute, she worked closely with the faculty and students in the nursing and allied health program at Bronx Community College.
Joy has substantial teaching experience in the form of library research instruction sessions. She has also taught semester-long, credit bearing information literacy classes, including a required class in research methods for first-year students at ASA College and an information literacy class for first-year medical students at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. To keep up with trends in the field, she is currently pursuing a professional development certificate course in library instruction at Library Juice Academy. In addition to her interest in public health, Joy is working on a paper with the working title “Assessing credit bearing information literacy sessions at a community college,” as well as a research project involving the map collection at the National Library of Jamaica.
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 4:55pm
The Wall Street Journal — complimentary access!
Thanks to the efforts of the CUNY libraries, complimentary access to the Wall Street Journal digital edition is now available to anyone with a valid cuny.edu email address. This includes access to wsj.com along with WSJ apps for tablets and mobile devices. See lib.jjay.cuny.edu/wsj for details and to sign up for your account. MR
In Fall 2017, the Library accounted for 49.9% of all student printing done on campus. The total number of pages printed through the campus student print system was 1,387,064 pages, of which 693,209 were done through Library printers alone. This was an increase of 5% in comparison to Fall 2016 and an increase of 13% in comparison to Fall 2015. GL
24-hour Library Lounge & Lab
This Spring, from May 7 to 24, the Library will once again be partnering with Student Government and the Department of Public Safety to run the 24-hour Library Lounge & Lab, a period during which the lower level of the Library remains open 24/7. The 24/7 Library Lounge & Lab coincides with the final exams period each term. Very popular with students, the initiative allows for concentrated study time in a quiet environment. The data from the most recent 24hr Library Lounge & Lab in the Fall of 2017 show that on the busiest night, there were as many as 60 students preparing for exams by studying in the Library at midnight. MB
Courtroom art exhibition
“Rogues Gallery: Forty Year Retrospective of Courtroom Art from Son of Sam to El Chapo, 1977-2017” was on display this winter in John Jay’s Shiva Gallery. The exhibition’s opening night drew a crowd of John Jay faculty, staff, and students, along with artists and others in the courtroom art community. RD
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 4:51pm
Larry Sullivan was the lead curator for the exhibition “Rogues Gallery: Forty Year Retrospective of Courtroom Art from Son of Sam to El Chapo, 1977-2017,” in the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery from November 29, 2017 to February 2, 2018. The display featured 78 courtroom sketches by co-curators Aggie Kenny and Elizabeth Williams, as well as many by the late Richard Tomlinson. A significant number of these sketches are in the permanent collections of the Sealy Library. Dr. Sullivan’s articles “Les Nonnes de Ripoli,” “Hildelith Cumming,” and “ Victoria Woodhull” were recently published in the digital edition of Le Dictionnaire universel des créatrices (Paris: Editions des femmes, 2017).
Marta Bladek reviewed Nina Fischer’s Memory Work: The Second Generation for the peer-reviewed journal Life Writing.
Maureen Richards, Marta Bladek, and Karen Okamoto published “Interactive Whiteboards in Library Instruction: Facilitating Student Engagement and Student Learning” in Practical Academic Librarianship 8(1).
Maureen Richards also participated in the NYPL panel: “NYPL Collections in the CUNY Classroom,” at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on March 28, 2018.
Maria Kiriakova published “American Experience of Organized Crime Combating: State, Tendencies and Prospects” with A.N. Sukharenko in Public International and Private International Law: Science-Practice and Information Journal, 100 (1), 36-43.
Robin Davis presented “Build Your Own Twitter Bot: A Gentle and Fun Introduction to Python” with Mark Eaton (KBCC) at the Code4Lib pre-conference in Washington, DC, in February 2018. She also presented “Making ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’–style Tutorials with Twine” and “‘Escape the Library!’ Information Literacy and Collaborative Learning” at the CUNY Games Conference in January 2018.
Jeffrey Kroessler prepared the text for the exhibit and accompanying catalog for “Rogues Gallery,” the display of courtroom art in the Shiva Gallery in November 2017. He was the keynote speaker at the annual preservation conference of the Historic Districts Council in March, and prepared a report for the City Club of New York, “Losing Its Way: The Landmarks Preservation Commission in Eclipse.” He also prepared the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the 1856 Ridgewood Reservoir.
Ellen Belcher was promoted to Associate Professor. With Karina Croucher, she published the chapter “Prehistoric Figurines in Anatolia” in The Oxford Handbook of Prehistoric Figurines (2017), edited by Timothy Insoll.
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 4:48pm
From the Desk of the Chief Librarian, Larry E. Sullivan
On Easter Monday, April 21, 1930, the most famous fire in American prison history occurred. Flames raged through a locked cell block in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus and burned inmates to death in their cells. Did the guards refuse to open the cells when the fire broke out, as reported by many caught in the blaze? We’ll probably never know for sure, but when the prisoners did get free of their deadly cages, order vanished and a riot broke out. The warden called in the National Guard to calm the penitentiary and over 500 guardsmen surrounded the prison. By the time the fire was extinguished, this legendary, calamitous fire killed 322 convicts and put an additional 230 in the hospital.
Doing time at the penitentiary during the fire was the noted African American novelist Chester Himes. Himes, best known as the author of the Harlem detective novels (Cotton Comes to Harlem, A Rage in Harlem, and others, many of which were made into films) with the characters Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, also wrote the prison novel, Cast the First Stone, which describes the fire, as does one of his first short stories, “To What Red Hell,” published in Esquire.
Contemporaneous with Himes in that really “big house” in Columbus was Joseph “Specs” Russell, Cleveland’s “smoked-glassed bandit” in the late 1920s, himself a published author during his prison years. Specs was doing a 55-year sentence for committing at least 52 low-yield stick-ups while wearing sunglasses, hence the sobriquet. The Sealy Library recently acquired a significant gathering of Russell’s correspondence and unpublished manuscripts.
Russell (b. 1908 – d. 19—?) started writing fiction and magazine articles early in his prison career as a plan to get early parole. His idea was to get paid for the articles and establish a fund at the penitentiary to pay back his victims. The Pathfinder (1932) wrote that “On hearing of this, a former store clerk wrote him [Specs] a letter asking that he be given ‘preferred creditor’ status in being reimbursed the $8 that he was relieved of in 1927.” He was a prolific writer and had some publication success, at least enough to catch the attention of a number of well-known journalists and others. He wrote such pieces as “Facing Fifty-Five Years,” which appeared in a 1931 issue of The American Magazine and numerous pieces in the magazine of the Ohio Penitentiary. This contemporary literary fame and his bravery during the 1930 fire were rewarded with a parole in January 1941 after 13 years in stir. A number of distinguished writers, such as H.L. Mencken (the “Bard of Baltimore,” known for publishing ex-convict writing in The American Mercury), and such politicians and statesmen as Newton D. Baker (former mayor of Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of War), wrote in support of Specs. We do not know if Russell and Himes were acquainted, but the Ohio Penitentiary had a reputation for published authors. The most famous graduate of this institution was O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), who wrote 14 of his short stories while serving time there for bank fraud.
This acquisition points once more to the depth and breadth of Sealy Library’s criminal justice resources.
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 4:42pm