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Flip through familiar magazines with RBdigital

What is an eMagazine? It’s exactly like the print magazines you’re familiar with, only delivered to your web browser or mobile device. Flip through pages of articles, pictures, and advertisements just as you would with a physical magazine. If you’re new to eMagazines, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how familiar it feels to read them.


Our collection includes popular titles like Economist, New Yorker, and Mother Jones, as well as member favorite, Country Life. We even have eMagazines not typically available from other libraries such as Vogue Paris, and Art & Décoration


To get started with eMagaines on your web browser, click here, then click the sign in button, and choose “register” from the menu to create your account using your credentials from Mechanics’ Institute.


To read eMagazines on your mobile device, download the RBdigital app. Create an account using your credentials from the Mechanics’ Institute.


Need help getting started with RBdigital? Email our librarians at [email protected]


Posted on Mar. 26, 2020 by Myles Cooper

Listen to eAudiobooks at home with RBdigital

What is an eAudiobook?


An eAudiobook is an audiobook that you stream online, or download to your mobile device. A benefit of your membership at Mechanics’ Institute, provides you with access to a growing collection of eAudiobooks.


To get started with eAudiobooks on your web browser, click here, click the sign in button, choose “register” to create your account with RBdigital. Be sure to input your Mechanics’ Institute Library card number.


To listen from a mobile device, download the RBdigital app. Create an account using your credentials from the Mechanics’ Institute.


Need help getting started with RBdigital? Have ideas of eAudiobooks you’d like to see in our collection? Email our librarians at [email protected]


Posted on Mar. 20, 2020 by Myles Cooper

Use Axis 360 to check out our eBooks

What is Axis 360? It’s an easy way to read eBooks using your web browser, your tablet, or smartphone.

To use Axis 360 on a computer, click here, and login with your fourteen digit Library barcode printed on the back of your Mechanics’ Institute Library card.

To use Axis 360 on a mobile device, download the app and create an account using your credentials from Mechanics’ Institute.

Once you’ve logged in to Axis 360, you can browse our collection. During our Library closure, our librarians are adding more titles daily. If you have any questions installing or accessing Axis 360, email our librarians at [email protected]

Posted on Mar. 18, 2020 by Myles Cooper

Research before Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Retail holidays are designed to tempt you to purchase. You'll hear words like "doorbuster" to describe sales available at the most prominent retailers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Before you add an item to your cart, make sure your purchase is well researched. Take a few minutes to utilize the consumer resources included as part of your membership to Mechanics' Institute.


Your Mechanics' membership provides access to Consumer Reports comprehensive online archive of unbiased, lab-tested, expert reviews of a variety of merchandise from dishwashers to headphones. In addition to reviews, you'll find buying guides and articles specifically about ways to find the best deals on Black Friday. To access Consumer Reports online, click here to see a list of all of our databases, then click Consumer Reports. If you're home, have your library card ready, you'll need to enter your library card number. Happy shopping!

Posted on Nov. 22, 2019 by Myles Cooper

Drive-In Movies

Imagine rolling the windows down on a Summer night. You're surrounded by parked cars all pointing to a silver screen under starlight. Let Mechanics' usher you into a Summer mood with these drive-in movie recommendations.

Steven recommends:

The Val Lewton horror collection - Val Lewton created low-budget "B-movies" right when the popularity of the drive-in movie theaters exploded after WWII. This compilation includes his best known "classsics."

The Bad Seed - Instead of an ugly monster, we see a pretty little girl with no limits on what she will do to get her way. The original ending (in the novel and the play) had her get away with murder, but the movie industry's "Hayes code" would not allow that. Nonetheless, this proved one of the most popular movies of 1956 and has had a cult following ever since.

Wolfen - Cheesy plot, clueless behavior by the victims, inexplicably never before seen super-wolf. Yes, nothing even remotely believable whatsoever and it doesn’t make sense either. Perfect. 

Carnival of Souls - A singular, unique, low-budget horror movie. Herk Harvey's one-hit wonder made with almost no money, no famous actors (mostly the producer/director's friends) relies on narrative, lighting, make-up and mood instead of special effects to create a very effective scary movie. Everything a drive-in movie should be.

Deb remembers "in high school, I worked in the snack bar at Alameda Island Auto Movie when it was the Penny Market,"

Taryn shares "my first drive-in movie was Excalibur – I watched bits and pieces from the rear of my parents VW Bug and wad totally scandalized by the love scene between Gwenivere and Lancelot on a grassy hill. This was at the Bayfair Mall drive-in in San Leandro. Later in my teens I would drive my VW Wagon full of kids to Union City to see greats such as Show Girls and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. A good drive-in movie is interruptible with a light plot."

Lisa recalls "Two movies I saw at the drive-in on Cape Cod on vacation (were) Batman, and The Terminator."

Myles says "I can't remember what movies I watched at the Sunset Drive-In in San Luis Obispo, but they had an incredible swap meet every Sunday. In college, I stayed out of trouble on Saturday nights because I couldn’t stand to miss the 6 a.m. deals. The drive-in style movie I recommend is the 90s suspense film Twister."

Marisela recommends: Grease, American Graffiti, The Majestic, and Ed Wood.

Veronica also recommends Grease, along with North by Northwest, The Outsiders, My Fair Lady, The Exorcist and The Shining.

Posted on Jul. 9, 2019 by Myles Cooper

Feminist Films: DVD/Blu-ray Display

The month of March, or Women's History Month, may be in the rearview mirror but there’s always a time and reason to celebrate the contributions of women. In the last few years, there has been an explosion of women biopics, movies with a top-shelf, mostly-female cast, and films directed by women. Some of these like Lady Bird, Hidden Figures, and The Favourite have earned Oscar recognition.

Come check out our extensive display of feminist films on the 2nd floor and read out about our staff’s favorites. But first, a fun exercise:

Are you wondering how to measure the representation of women in film? Try the Bechdel test! If at least two named women have a conversation with one another about something other than a man, the film has passed the Bechdel test. To see what movies pass or fail this simple test, visit

Taryn recommends:

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott was an incredible feminist -- supporting her family while writing stories that blazed new frontiers for women. This adaptation of the novel is classic itself. Check out the new book about Alcott, Louisa  on the Front Lines.

Queen of Katwe - Follow this Uganda girl’s path to chess glory and then sign up your daughter for a chess class! Based on the true story by Tim Crothers.

True Grit - 14 year old Mattie Ross wants vengeance for her father's murder and she gets what she wants using craft and courage. This version sticks more closely to the novel's plot than the version from 1969 starring John Wayne. The novel itself is a page turner with Mattie Ross fascinating as a girl who can tackle any problem she faces.

The Stepford Wives - Horror, comedy, and satire -- few works of fiction fall into all three.This is a story that "satirizes its oppressors and their desires, not their victims, within a context that satirizes its very status as a thriller." from Peter Straub's introduction to Ira Levin's novel by the same name (The Stepford Wives).

Steven says:

"Strange as this sounds, I suggest The Terminator and also the TV series. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor goes from a typical valley girl waitress to a survivalist. She does not, in the end, depend on a man to rescue her. She rescues herself."

"Another one from out in left field that I like to suggest is Ever After with Drew Barrymore. This reverse engineering of the Cinderella fairy tale gives us a more-or-less ‘realistic’ version of what led to the myth. Her version of Cinderella proves far more self-reliant than you would expect, especially in a scene near the end when Prince Charming comes to her rescue after she has everything sorted out already. I love the look on Barrymore’s face when he finally shows up."

Steven also recommends Thelma & Louise, the Devil Wears Prada, the Golden Compass, and the Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Deb says:

"One of my favorite more current films is Wonder Woman. She demonstrates amazing courage, thinks of others before her self, and knows when/how to use her super powers for the greater good. She has some good conversations with her mother Queen Hippolyta."

Myles recommends:

First Wives Club - A refreshing 90s comedy about what to do after love and marriage. The members of the First Wives Club - played by Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton-  discuss their memories together, equity, alcoholism, mothering, and how to assert independence. One of my favorite moments is a campy cameo by Ivana Trump where she says "don't get mad, get everything!"

Wendy & Lucy - Wendy is a drifter without a safety net traveling with her dog Lucy to pursue work in the Pacific Northwest. This heartbreaking work shows how easy it is for ordinary people -- when faced with a series of unfortunate events -- to slip into homelessness. Wendy & Lucy is a courageous work from writer/director Kelly Reichardt.

Posted on Apr. 29, 2019 by Myles Cooper

Western Films -- DVD/Blu-ray display

The history of American cinema up to today has included the "Western" as a central genre. While inspired by popular literature, Westerns continue to tell stories about the perils settlers experienced during Western expansion. Mechanics' is home to an extensive collection of Western Americana, including many titles from the Western silver screen and television. 'Giddy-up' to the Western film display on the 2nd floor and take home DVD and Blu-ray from our diverse collection ranging back to the 1930s.

Craig recommends Johnny Guitar starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. "In this drama film, released in 1954, Joan Crawford as Vienna plays a strong-willed saloon owner. She battles the local townspeople headed by Emma, the local sexually repressed, lynch-happy female rancher. She is out to frame Vienna for a string of robberies. Johnny Logan is a guitar-strumming drifter who was once in love with Vienna, and is offered a job in her saloon. This film is often considered one of the most original westerns of all time... and the women in the film are far tougher than the men."

Taryn recommends:

  • Red River -- "Based on the almost brilliant but still pulpy Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail"
  • Dances with Wolves -- "Fascinating native scenery and much of the dialogue is spoken in Lakota with English subtitles."
  • Taryn also recommends the True Grit the novel by Charles Portis, along with both film adaptations starring John Wayne and Josh Brolin.

Veronica recommends High Noon calling it "one of my all-time favorite Westerns".

Lisa recommends True Grit and McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Myles recommends Django Unchained -- "Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western, loosely based on the 1966 Italian film Django, is set in the South and follows freed slave Django, played by Jamie Foxx, as he carries out revenge on plantation owners that have kept his wife captive. Embedded in this violent revisionist Western are the familiar themes of frontier justice, but it’s the frank take on race relations that makes this film stand out."

Steven recommends:

  • The Searchers -- "John Ford directed the best known classics of the Western genre. Many consider this his greatest achievement; it features John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter searching for a girl kidnapped by Comanches. The ending will surprise you."
  • High Noon -- "Gary Cooper won the Oscar, some say for looking at a clock with a worried expression on his face. This 50s classic has the quintessential shootout scene in which we see the gunfight as a spectator sport. Contrast this with Costner’s Open Range (below)."
  • The Frisco Kid -- "A hidden gem from the 70s. Gene Wilder plays a rabbi sent fresh from the yeshiva school in Poland to a congregation in San Francisco. He has to team up with an outlaw (Harrison Ford before the Star Wars movies) in order to make his way across the country."
  • True Grit -- "The Mechanics Institute library has both the original with John Wayne and Kim Darby as well as the 2010 remake with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. Wayne and Bridges both won the Oscar for Best Actor. The remake had additional Oscar-winning performances as well.  A teenage girl seeks justice for her murdered family. Justice proves a bit elusive."
  • Once Upon a Time in the West -- "Of all the spaghetti westerns this is my favorite. The casting of Sergio Leone’s classic stands as one of the most subversive contributions to the genre: he cast actors quite diametrically against type with Henry Fonda as the sociopathic villain and Jason Robards as morally ambiguous outlaw.  Mythic themes such as the hero’s journey and redemption make this more than just another Western."
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales -- "The 1970s saw a revision of the Western genre to include more historically accurate elements. Screen writer Philip Kaufman integrated these into a script that shows, long before his Indiana Jones movies, that he could craft a perfect story arc. The title character’s outlaw career as a consequence of the Civil War and its aftermath along with a sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans frames the Western in a very different manner than the earlier classics."
  • Dead Man -- "Auteur Jim Jarmusch directed Johnny Depp in this strange and dream-like re-imagining of the Western. Picture the classic Shootout at the OK Corral on acid. In black & white with an interesting collection of actors including Iggy Pop, John Hurt, Gabriel Byrne, Crispin Glover and Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris)."
  • Unforgiven -- "Eastwood further deconstructs the Western in this 1992 movie that goes to great lengths to ‘de-romanticize’ and ‘de-mythologize’ the Western. In a key scene Gene Hackman blows apart the mythos of the western gunslinger with an uncomfortable truth. Some younger viewers may like to see a performance by Richard Harris before he was Dumbledore."
  • Open Range -- "Kevin Costner studied of primary sources and photographs from the period in aid of creating this neo-realistic Western. Unlike the stereotypical depiction of the gunfight in a Western (High Noon, for example), the townspeople flee before the final showdown, not wanting to be anywhere near when the bullets start to fly. Set during one of the many ‘range wars’ that displaced the small-scale ranchers on the frontier in the late 19th century, the film dramatizes a little known chapter of the history of the western United States."

Posted on Feb. 19, 2019 by Myles Cooper

Cult classics – DVD/Blu-ray display

What is a cult film? A cult film maintains a cult-like following long after its release. Its fans don't mind watching the film multiple times. In fact, they often build a community around their favorite films by transforming screenings into special events. In San Francisco, some cult films like The Sound of Music are featured as sing-alongs at the Castro Theatre, while others like The Room are shown as midnight movies at theatres like the Landmark Clay. Please visit our Cult Classics display on the 2nd floor and check out films that are certified fun to watch more than once. Below are staff recommendations from the display.

Craig says “I would highly recommend the movie Valley of the Dolls, the critically eviscerated, anything-but-mellow 1967 drama that has achieved so-bad-it’s-good cult status. The novel tells the story of three young women who become fast friends in the turbulent worlds of Broadway and Hollywood: Anne Welles, a reserved New England beauty who sees New York as the romantic city of her dreams; Neely O'Hara, an ebullient vaudevillian with a talent she doesn't fully understand; and Jennifer North, a sweet-natured showgirl who wants only to be loved. As life becomes difficult, each woman grows increasingly dependent on ‘dolls’, the amphetamines and barbiturates which, for a time, seem to help. Each of the women strives to ascend the Mount Everest of her dreams, only to find herself back in the Valley of the Dolls.”

Diane recommends Night of the Living Dead and Zombieland.

Deb recommends Harold and Maude “While most people avoid talking or thinking about death, young Harold is obsessed with it -- faking suicide, attending funerals and exasperating his mother, who just wants a normal son. Her attempts to ‘cure’ his obsession with therapy and introducing him to young women backfires when he hooks up with Maude, who like Harold, attends strangers’ funerals. Maude is almost 80 and obsessed with life. Together they explore the joy of living in the moment. (The ending is a surprise so I won’t reveal it.)”

Steven says “I consider almost all of Nicolas Cage’s movies in the categories you gave. Mostly ‘so bad, it’s good.’ His performances always go over-the-top over-acting. In particular, the two National Treasure movies we have in the collection, plus the Coen Brothers Raising Arizona and the lesser known (but very wild) Red Rock West (that might have won an Oscar had it not been released on cable before the theaters). The there’s a ‘San Francisco’ movie: The Rock that has the best bad science ever. The very scary deadly nerve gas is stored in very fragile glass balls strung together (why?!?!).”

Steven also recommends “Mister Roberts- one of the early overtly anti-authority movies. This one stars James Cagney in a comic performance, Jack Lemmon’s first appearance on film and it’s the last movie in which William Powell (of The Thin Man movies). Then there’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai… that a friend once described as ‘the most sublimely ridiculous movie ever made.’  It stars Peter Weller, John Lithgow, an early performance by Jeff Goldblum and lots of comedic character actors you’ve seen all the time all in one movie.”

Veronica recommends “I don't re-watch it all the time, but I like the cult classic Office Space. My cousin and I refer to it a lot when he's talking about his office life and my old one. I even got him the red stapler.”

Myles recommends “π- Max Cohen believes he’s stumbled across a mathematical pattern so powerful that it can predict the stock market. This gritty late 90s black and white film, shot in a Chinatown apartment in New York City, leads the audience into believing Cohen’s theory, which may just be a paranoid delusion. The excellent soundtrack was my introduction to experimental electronic music of the period from UK artists like Aphex Twin and Autechtre. Π was Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut, he went on the direct such films as Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan.“

Myles also says “This list wouldn’t be complete without someone recommending The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a strangely contagious musical comedy that mixed the style of glam rock with the themes of horror B movies. Midnight showings of the film became wildly popular in North America after its release, and a cult of fandom followed allowing generations of young people in conservative areas an excuse to dress androgynously and interact as their favorite characters. This funny and liberating film is still screened today- an absolute cult classic.”

Posted on Jan. 7, 2019 by Myles Cooper

Cool Jazz: CD Display

Want to learn about jazz when it was “cool”? Cool is a term coined by music journalists to describe a jazz genre after bebop with slower tempos, softer phrasing, contrapuntal improvisation from melody instruments, and an incorporation of classical instruments like French horn and vibraphone. Cool has a California connection. Some well-publicized musicians of the period resided in California, and the term “West Coast jazz” now refers to a subgenre of cool that includes work from Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, and Shorty Rogers. Mechanics’ is home to seminal works from the cool school including Miles Davis’ "Kind of Blue" and "Birth of the Cool," June Christy’s “Something Cool,” Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out,” and certain cuts in Chet Baker’s “Deep in a Dream.” Check out these titles from our Cool Jazz music display on the 3rd Floor Balcony A. Included on our display are resources on Bay Area jazz like the two-volume guide to San Francisco Bay Area Jazz & Bluesicians.

Posted on Nov. 8, 2018 by Myles Cooper

Human vs. Nature

Brave the elements from the comfort of the couch with selections from our latest DVD and Blu-ray display “Human vs. Nature.” Below are staff recommendations from the 2nd Floor display.

Myles recommends:


Based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild chronicles Strayed’s ambitious hike after a bout with substance abuse and divorce. Nick Hornby's screen adaptation directed by Jean-Marc Vallee was produced by Reese Witherspoon who also stars in the film. Witherspoon's acting earned a nomination for Best Actress Academy Award alongside Laura Dern, also was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in her portrayal of Strayed’s mother, Bobbi Grey.

Burden of Dreams

This documentary by Les Blank about the making of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo details the struggle to clear the Amazon and move a large steamship over a mountain. The project, under Herzog’s direction, included manual labor from native people, who simultaneously served as actors. If you’re a fan of Fitzcarraldo or Werner Herzog, this is a must-watch as the nearly impossible task may be better expressed in this documentary than through Herzog’s work of fiction.


This 90s box office smash follows storm chasers as they gather data on tornados. When the deployment of new sensor technology coincides with an F5 tornado, the team ends up in harm’s way all in the name of science. Both Ann-Marie Martin and her husband, Michael Crichton, authored the nail-biting screenplay.

Steven recommends:

Jeremiah Johnson

An early Robert Redford movie about a man who, in the 1850s, decides to leave civilization and live as a "mountain man" in the Rockies. Will Geer (of "The Waltons" fame) plays the mentor who teaches the new guy how to survive. (The scene in which Geer teaches Redford how to hunt makes the movie worth watching in itself). Reflecting the social changes of the 60s, as did many other Westerns of the 1970s, this film revised the genre by means of striving for historical realism and showing a sympathetic portrayal of native Americans.


Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw, two of the giants of action movies of the 50s and 60s, star in this Steven Spielberg classic. A great white shark strays far from its usual habitat to menace an East-coast island community heavily dependent on tourism. A sheriff has to recruit a grouchy old coot and a young scientist to take on the beast. Jaws contains one of the most classic movie lines of all time "you're gonna need a bigger boat." You also get to see an early performance by Richard Dreyfuss as the scientist.

Jurassic Park

"Jaws" meets "Boys from Brazil" in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel that features human-made "sharks" in the form of cloned dinosaurs. Although laden with his trademark action movie clichés and an ethnic stereotype about Australians (hint: they're all named "Muldoon") the movie nonetheless entertains with fast-paced, suspenseful scenes and comic relief provided by Jeff Goldblum's priceless performance.

The Gold Rush

Classic Charlie Chaplin comedy about the little tramp going to the Klondike to prospect for Gold. Features the classic scene in which he eats his boot.

King Kong

Both 2005 and original 1933 versions use a giant ape as an allegory for humans vs. nature. Does Kong's death symbolize a victory of humans over nature or does the film's message tell us that nature, ultimately, can never be tamed?


Posted on Nov. 6, 2018 by Myles Cooper