Library event takes flight

On April 22, Tulane University Special Collections (TUSC) resumed its practice of “Flipping the Bird” — a weekly practice of turning a page in its John James Audubon Birds of America series.

The staff will turn a page in one of the volumes every Wednesday to reveal one of Audubon’s drawings (at one page per week, it will take five years to complete Tulane’s three volumes).

The practice also happens at other libraries — and it started at Tulane a few years ago. But it took a two-year hiatus during the pandemic to preserve the delicate books, said Agnieszka Czeblakow, head of research services at TUSC.

The April 22 event sprang from an ornithology class taught by Donata Henry, senior professor of practice in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. The class came to TUSC to view its rare book holdings, Czeblakow said. While students were examining some of the ornithology books, student Maya Jammulapati asked when the still-shrouded Audubon volumes on the sixth floor would be available for viewing again. Their subsequent collaboration led to the Flipping the Bird event: TUSC would open the case and turn the pages, and Jammulapati and Mary Elizabeth Barrow, another of Henry’s ornithology students, would present a short lecture about Audubon and a bird of local significance that is on display in Volume II, in this case the hooded warbler.

About 30 people attended the inaugural event; Czeblakow said the collaboration between TUSC and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will lead to a monthly lecture in the fall semester.

Bird fanciers need not wait till fall to get their avian fix; they can go to the sixth floor of Howie T every week to see a new bird on display in the Audubon volume and also look around campus for glimpses of the hooded warbler as it passes through New Orleans.

Flipping the Bird at Tulane library
Czeblakow turns the pages in the rare volume. During the pandemic, the book had been closed and covered to preserve it. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)
Flipping the Bird at Tulane library
Ornithology students Maya Jammulapati and Mary Elizabeth Barrow present a lecture on the hooded warbler, which can be seen in southeast Louisiana in the spring and fall. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)
Flipping the Bird at Tulane library
Bird enthusiasts gather around the book, which had not been on display in months. Tulane Special Collections staff will continue to turn a page in the volume on display every Wednesday. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)