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Libraries Change Lives

April 16, 2014

Book cover for This Book Is Overdue by Marilyn JohnsonThis week we’re commemorating National Library Week.  Many of us have a story about the role of libraries in our lives. Here is mine.

“Two books per visit per week,” said the unsmiling librarian as she handed me a library card. Neither the limits nor her demeanor surprised me, a 9-year-old Jewish girl growing up in Moscow in the 1950s — a city where everything was strictly regulated and rationed. I read the two books in two days and impatiently waited for the next visit.

I needed those visits. The books were filled with stories in which, no matter how grim things seemed, everything came out well in the end, rewarding honesty, bravery and wisdom — a striking contrast to my everyday experiences. I needed the security of the bookish world, with no worries about the future and no anti-Semitism, which followed me even to my library where, recorded below my age and address, appeared the label: Jewish.”

Thirty years later, a recent immigrant to the U.S. with a 13-year-old daughter, I stood in front of another librarian. This librarian was smiling.

“What did she say?” I asked my daughter, who already knew a little English and often served as my interpreter.

“She said, ‘Can I help you?’ “

Photograph of the Columbia Public Library“Ask if they have any books in Russian,” I requested.

“No, they don’t,” translated my daughter.

“Let’s go, then,” I said, disappointed.

The Midwestern town that became our home had greeted us with lush greenery enveloped in heat and humidity. Its look was startling to me — a small downtown, broad residential areas and numerous cars. Yet with few Russian speakers in town, it was a place where loneliness surrounded me with thick walls. Outside those walls, people were conversing, laughing and smiling. Inside, everything was quiet.

Meanwhile, life went on, demanding food and clothes, and, therefore, a job. “The library needs people to shelve books,” someone told me. The interview was short — the job didn’t require much English, just a knowledge of the alphabet. I started the next day.

Most of my new colleagues were young and carefree. They chatted with patrons and with one another, not paying much attention to me. Several older employees tried to break through the language barrier, but had little success.

Every day I handled hundreds of books whose meanings were hidden from me, mentally dividing them by size and color, as a child would. One day, while shelving, I found “English for Beginners” and began studying it on my own. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and gradually English letters started forming words I could recognize, words assembled into phrases, and — oh, miracle! — I was reading. It was a slow process, supported by dictionaries and accompanied by tears, but it was progress.

As my English improved, the library began to open up for me. The staff was friendly. There was no limit on how many books could be checked out. And nobody called me Jewish. Here I was just Russian.

After a while, I got promoted to the front desk — checking books in and out and answering simple questions.

“Today, I’ll get fired,” I thought to myself every morning. My vocabulary was still small, my comprehension limited, and my strong Russian accent amused the Midwestern patrons. Yet, many of them smiled at me, and I smiled back — first laboriously, and then, affected by the contagious amicability of the place, openly and sincerely.

I liked working in the library now. I liked its welcoming atmosphere and its air of learning.

Book cover for The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne“You should get a library degree,” my supervisor suggested.

A degree? In Moscow, people my age didn’t go back to school. Still, later that year, I filled out an application for the library science program at the local university. I had to look up the spelling of “science,” but I applied anyway. The next four years of my life were spent in two libraries — the public library where I worked and the university’s library, where I studied after work.

It’s now been 23 years since I arrived in America. My English has improved, and I no longer confuse “whales” with “Wales” and “tongue” with “tong.” I’ve learned that a stagecoach is not someone who coaches actors on a stage and that keeping people “posted” does not mean gluing stamps on their clothes. If someone “drops the ball,” I don’t look down to see where it hit the ground.

I am still with the same library. Every day I meet dozens of people, looking for a book to read, using computers or doing their homework. Sometimes, I spot new immigrants. They come from all over the world, so their looks vary, but the hesitant expression on their faces and their shy manners are similar. My heart goes out to them, for they are people like me, and I recognize the difficult road upon which they’ve embarked.

“They’ve come to the right place,” I think to myself. Then I smile and say, just as a librarian said to me a long time ago, “Can I help you?”

Tell us your own story!

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Vote for the 2014 One Read Book!

April 14, 2014

logo-web1April elections aren’t just about school boards and city councils. Each year the Daniel Boone Regional Library asks area readers to help choose that year’s One Read book. One Read is a community-wide reading program that invites adults in Mid-Missouri to read the same book over the summer and then attend programs based on that book during the month of September.

Between now and May 2, cast your vote for either “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain or “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel Brown.

Learn more about these titles and cast your vote at oneread.org!

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Resources for Green Thumbs at Your Library

April 11, 2014

Book cover for Plantiful by Kristin GreenIt happens every year. The daytime temperatures start to creep above 50 or 60 degrees, and I’m suddenly overspending at the local garden center, filling my cart with a ridiculous number of pansies, their cheerful, bright faces turned towards the sun. I don’t have a green thumb. Half of what I plant each year dies from neglect, mismanagement or simple bad luck, but I still can’t keep myself from digging hopefully in the dirt each spring.

For gardeners and gardener wannabes, the library has plenty of books, programs and online resources for inspiration and education.

For ideas in your inbox, sign up for our monthly home and garden newsletter. Each month you’ll receive a list of 10 recently published titles, and the list always includes some new gardening books like “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden” by Roy Diblik and “Plantiful” by Kristin Green.

Search our online program guide with the keyword “garden” and you’ll typically find one or two events scheduled for the coming months. At the Callaway County Public Library on April 17 at 6:30 p.m., you can learn about transplanting trees and seedlings (particularly helpful if your child brought home some sort of mystery tree for Arbor Day). And at 7:00 p.m. on May 28 at the Columbia Public Library, you can attend a garden and plant nutrition program to learn more about soil, compost and organic fertilizers.

If you want to investigate some local gardening resources, including educational opportunities and community organizations, check out our Sustainable Gardening and Farming subject guide, a collection of recommended links and online resources from our staff.

Happy planting!

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Bookmarks: What’s Saving Your Page?

April 9, 2014

Bookmarks are thought to have been used since at least the end of the medieval period, but one of the first references to their use involves the presentation of a silk bookmark to Queen Elizabeth I of England (circa 1584). People use all sorts of different things as bookmarks, everything from old receipts to love letters. Lauren, one of our librarians at the Columbia Public Library, said she attended a conference where four or five librarians admitted to having found bacon in a book! How do you save your place in a book? Let us know in the comments! (And please don’t put bacon in our books.)

I have been using leftover paint chips from a project as bookmarks. This color is “Radiant Orchid.” Currently reading: “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp.

1 Katie

Rob is using his car title at the moment. Currently reading: “The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.” (Editor’s note: This was a patron’s personal book. Using important documents as bookmarks in library books is not a good idea.)

Photo of a book and bookmark

This adorable handmade creature marks Angela’s page. Currently reading: “Every Day” by David Levithan.

Photo of a book and bookmark

Barb had lots of bookmarking to do. Luckily she had plenty of these tiny post-its! Currently reading: “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.

Photo of a book and bookmark

Althea’s beautiful bookmark. Currently reading: “Adé” by Rebecca Walker.

Photo of a book and bookmark

Brandy loves sloths so much that one of her coworkers made her this bookmark.

Photo of a book and bookmark

Rosie the Riveter never stops working, even as a bookmark! Brian is using a gallery guide from a recent trip to Crystal Bridges American Art Museum as his bookmark. Currently reading: “The Upcycle” By William McDonough.

Photo of a book and bookmark

Hilary uses her pets as bookmarks! (Or maybe they use her?) Currently reading: “Adventures in Yarn Farming” by Barbara Parry.

Photo of a cat as bookmark

Eric was using his Ha Ha Tonka concert ticket, until he found a postcard from Romania in this used textbook. Currently reading: “Interpersonal Process in Therapy” by Edward Teyber and Faith Holmes McClure.

Photo of a book and bookmark

The Warrior card from a Xultun tarot deck guards Kelsey’s spot in her book. Currently reading: “Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville.

10 Kelsey

Ida’s daughter made her this cross-stitched Hunger Games bookmark.

Hunger Games bookmark

And here’s a box of long lost bookmarks in the Columbia Public Library’s Circulation Department.
box of lost bookmarks

So, what’s in your book?

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Classics for Everyone: Emily Dickinson

April 7, 2014

Book cover for Collected Poems of Emily DickinsonIf Emily Dickinson never came out of her room, how does everyone know about her? The answer lies in the 1,775 poems the recluse in white left behind when she died in 1886. Only a few were published during her lifetime. But thanks to the efforts of her sister, Lavinia, the world came to know Emily and her verse posthumously.

From around the age of 30 on, Dickinson limited the physical range of her world to the confines of her Amherst, Massachusetts home and a wardrobe of white dresses. But she kept a connection to society through prolific correspondence with a number of people. Many of her letters included poems; more than 100 went to the editor of the Atlantic Monthly. But editors of the day were not ready for the ways in which her poems broke with convention.

Though she lived a largely intellectual life, her poetry shows richness, depth and a grounding in concrete realities. She wrote of death heralded not with trumpets but the buzzing of a fly. She describes a snake as “the narrow fellow in the grass” and the feeling you get when you see him as “zero at the bone.” Even hope took on a physical manifestation for her: “Hope is the thing with feathers…”

Dickinson packed acres of meaning into a few square inches of paper. Most of her poems are concise, yet speak profoundly about themes such as death, time, nature, love and immortality. Her work can be found in “Collected Poems” and in the library’s LitFINDER database.

To learn more about the poet’s life, try Gordon Lyndall’s book, “Lives Like Loaded Guns.” Lyndall explores the relationships and feuds among members of the Dickinson family. The conflicts carried on long after Dickinson’s death, with struggles for control over her work and even how the story of her life would be told. Lyndall takes his title from a Dickinson poem, one which allows Emily herself to have the last word:

“My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —
In Corners — till a Day
The Owner passed — identified —
And carried Me away.”

 

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Exploring the Missouri Immigrant Experience Through Photography and Film

April 4, 2014

photo of Latino immigrants, from the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public LibraryMissouri’s history is rich with the contributions of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and elsewhere. Today, as a destination for refugees and new groups of immigrants, Missouri has become home to people from Bosnia, Bhutan, Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Mexico and other countries, contributing to and shaping Missouri’s economy, neighborhoods and families.

Explore the Missouri immigrant experience with these programs at the Columbia Public Library.

Faces and Places Photo Exhibit
April 5 – 25
Columbia Public Library

View an exhibit of photos about the Missouri immigrant experience on the first and second floor clay brick walls. The exhibit features historical images from archival collections and a selection of photos by contemporary photographers of immigrant communities in Missouri. The exhibit is sponsored by Missouri Immigrant & Refugee Advocates with support from the Missouri Arts Council, the Missouri History Museum, the Missouri Humanities Council, the Puffin Foundation, the State Historical Society, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, the City of Columbia Human Rights Commission and Welcoming Missouri.

The exhibit features contemporary works by:
Juan Montaña
Amela Sinanagic
Oscar Pedroza
Rita Chu

Photo of immigrants by a train from the YMCA Photo Collection

The Missouri Immigrant Experience Gallery Walk
Saturday, April 5 › 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room

Hear the story behind the photo exhibit with a gallery walk led by curator Danny Gonzalez of the Missouri Historical Society and some of the photographers who have told the stories of their immigrant communities through the images on display. After the walk, enjoy refreshments in the Friends Room and meet with some immigrants established and new.

“Welcome to Shelbyville” Film & Discussion
Wednesday, April 9 › 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room

This documentary by Kim Snyder explores one community’s struggle to integrate newcomers from other countries into its rural culture, asking the question, who is American and exploring the idea of American identity. A panel discussion afterwards will include speakers from groups that help refugees and immigrants adjust to new lives here in Columbia. (Film is 50 min., rated PG.) See more at our films blog, Center Aisle Cinema.

 

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Autism Is Near You

April 2, 2014

Autism Awareness Month, graphic by Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office, via Flickr and used under a Creative Commons licenseChances are you know someone with autism.  That’s because it is very prevalent – one in 88 births in the United States with a higher rate for boys (one in 54).  Autism is a developmental disability with a neurological basis and is considered a spectrum disorder, affecting individuals to varying degrees, from mild to severe.  Autism limits a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.  Certain behaviors are characteristic of and define this disorder.

This  heart wrenching article that appeared in the New York Times gives you an inkling of the herculean efforts family members make in order to understand and support their children with autism.

April is National Autism Awareness Month! Considering the relatively great number of individuals and families impacted by this disorder and the fact that lifetime supports are needed to help them, it makes sense to educate the public about issues those with autism face and encourage fundraising to further research on this disability. Increased awareness brings acceptance, which is vital to the integration of the differently-abled into our communities.

Here in Columbia, Missouri we have a phenomenal resource – The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri. This nationally renowned facility seeks to improve the lives of those affected by autism and other neurological disorders via programs that integrate research, clinical service delivery, education and public policy. Life Skills/TouchPoint is another local organization that provides training and support services to those with autism and their family members.

Your library has extensive collections on both autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (a milder form of autism), that include books on parenting those with autism, alternative treatments, guides for teachers in the classroom, memoirs written by those on the spectrum and so on.  If you would like to join a local event supporting research and families dealing with this disorder, William Woods University is sponsoring a 5K run on Friday, April 18 in Columbia, and the funds raised will benefit the Thompson Center.

Photo credit: Graphic from the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office and used under a Creative Commons License.

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Wild and Woody: Two Incredible Tree Stories for Arbor Day

March 31, 2014

Book cover for The Wild Trees by Richard PrestonEven with my deep love for all things tall, green and leafy, I won’t generally pull out a book about trees to read for entertainment.  (Give me a good murder mystery for that.) So I’m pleased to report that I have just read two nonfiction books that were thoroughly entertaining, sometimes even hair-raising – and definitely about trees.

In “The Wild Trees” (Richard Preston, 2007), the author takes us deep into the lives and minds of the original redwood canopy researchers – young men (and a few women) who, starting in the early 1990s, were the first to climb into the tops of the largest trees on earth. There they discovered a fairyland of plant and animal species, many previously unknown to science, and galvanized efforts to protect our remaining redwood forests.

This all sounds like good clean science fun, but in fact it requires both Olympic-level agility and astonishing bravery. The early canopy-climbers faced a gruesome death pretty much every day, and shocking close calls abound in this book. Publication of “The Wild Trees rightfully made Steve Sillett, the graduate student (now professor) who is at the center of the story, an international folk hero in the ecological community.

Book cover for The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim RobbinsThe hero of “The Man Who Planted Trees (Jim Robbins, 2012) is just as brave and adventurous – but in his own weird way. In 1991, David Milarch - a fiftyish, bar-fighting Michigan tree farmer – had a near-death experience after quitting alcohol cold-turkey. As he relates it, while in heaven he was given an assignment (by an archangel, no less).  He was to save the planet from global warming by cloning the world’s oldest trees, which may provide the best genetic stock for reforestation as the climate changes.

Go ahead, scoff – but the man is doing it. Starting with no money, no college degree and no backers,  Milarch has built an internationally respected organization that is advancing the art and science of global reforestation. The name of his organization? Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. (Read a 2013 interview with David Milarch here.)

Finally, if you’re not into adrenaline or angels, here are several more good tree reads for Arbor Day, available at DBRL:

Seeds of Hope” (Jane Goodall, 2013)
Between Earth and Sky” (Nalini Nadcarni, 2008)
Wildwood” (Roger Deakin, 2009)
Teaching the Trees” (Joan Maloof, 2005)

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Reader Review: The Storyteller

March 28, 2014

Editor’s note: This review was submitted by a library patron during the 2013 Adult Summer Reading program. We will continue to periodically share the best of these reviews throughout the year. 

Book cover for The Storyteller by Jodi PicoultI was quite simply blown away by Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, “The Storyteller.” I’ve only read two or three of her books, so I don’t know how this one compares to others, but I was absolutely entranced by this story. It wasn’t instantaneous, but once it grabbed me, I felt as if I was in the world of “The Storyteller.”

As with most Picoult books, if not all, the story is told from a variety of different perspectives. So, a variety of sources tells the main story of Sage and her new 90+ year-old friend, Josef. Sage, with Jewish ancestry, meets Josef in a grief counseling group, and they strike up a friendship. Both seem damaged with pain from their past still affecting them, so they take comfort in one another. During the course of their friendship, Josef does something quite shocking. He informs Sage of his past as a Nazi officer in Auschwitz and then asks her if she will kill him.

What follows is a heartbreaking tale of the Holocaust and its costs to the world at large. A large portion of the novel follows Sage’s grandmother, who lived in Germany and was Jewish during World War II. She tells of her time in Auschwitz and how easily good people turned bad. Sage argues with Josef, herself and her own sense of right and wrong in deciding what she should do.

I think what sticks out in this story the most is the emotion behind the words and how much it touched me. As I was reading Sage’s grandmother’s words, I sat in my bed and literally cried at how her family was just violently torn apart and what she had to do to survive. I can’t wait to offer this to my book group as a possible read, because I know they will be just as moved as I was. In the end it asks the question, “What would you do in the face of such monstrosity?” A heartbreaking tale of family, life, love and the will to live, “The Storyteller” is going to stick with me for a long, long time.

Three words or phrases that describe this book: Holocaust, emotional, hidden identities

You might want to pick this book up if: You enjoy historical fiction, especially World War II drama.

-Rachael

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Celebrate National Craft Month With Help From Your Library

March 26, 2014

March is National Craft Month! Work on your favorite craft, learn a new craft or make something with your kids. The library has lots of good books to help.

Book cover for T-shirt Quilts Made EasyDo you have an overabundance of t-shirts? Give an old t-shirt a new look. “T-shirt Style: Creating Fabulous Must-have Looks” by Gabrielle Sterbenz can help.  Or turn a t-shirt into something completely different. Try “Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt” by Megan Nicolay or “T-shirt Quilts Made Easy” by Martha DeLeonardis. The Internet has some great ideas also.  Michaels.com has instructions for an easy necklace, and Nancy’s Couture has instructions for a fun fringed scarf.

Book cover for Cupcakes, Cookies, & Pie, Oh My!Do you like to reuse and recycle? Read  “Alternacrafts” by Jessica Vitkus or “Upcycling: Create Beautiful Things with the Stuff You Already Have” by Danny Seo. Just need inspiration? “1000 ideas for Creative Reuse” by Garth Johnson has lots of fun photos but no instructions.

Be creative in the kitchen. “Cupcakes, Cookies & Pie, Oh, My!” by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson has instructions for a variety of edible creatures, some easy, some challenging. Or attend a library program, and join us for Cupcake Decorating Basics at the Southern Boone County Public Library in Ashland on April 1.

Do you love to take photos? Why not create a scrapbook using ideas from “Scrapbook Tips & Techniques” from the editors of Creating Keepsakes magazine? Would you like to learn how to edit and enhance your digital photos? You could register for and attend the library program “Working with Digital Photos” on April 30 in Columbia.

Craft with paper and make your own greeting cards. “Ultimate Handbook for Paper Crafters” has tips and ideas for over 1,000 projects. Or attend the library program “Spring Card-Making” at the Southern Boone County Public Library in Ashland on April 25.

 20 Projects for the Whole FamilyI love crafts year round and always have a project going.  I just finished a “Landscape Quilt” from “Sew Fun: 20 Projects for the Whole Family” by Deborah Fisher. Now I’m working on a rag doll version of Peter Pan for my grandson. “Rag Dolls and How to Make Them” has instructions. I also have plenty of future plans. I found some fun fabrics with a grapevine and wine theme that I want to turn into a table runner. “Tabletop Quilts: 34 Projects” has clear instructions and wonderful photographs. Someday I would like to learn to knit and crochet, so “Knitting for Dummies” by Pam Allen and “Crocheting for Dummies” by Karen Manthey are on my “For Later” list in BiblioCommons, the library’s online catalog.

No matter your skill level, have some fun making something this month. It doesn’t matter how the finished product looks; just enjoy the process. You might find a new hobby that makes you happy.

For families with children under the age of 12, visit DBRL Kids for my recommendations for activities appropriate for little ones.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The April List

March 24, 2014

LibraryReads logoApril showers bring May flowers, and also a great crop of new books from LibraryReads! Here is the monthly list of forthcoming books librarians across the country recommend.

Book cover for The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
“A middle-aged bookseller mourning his lost wife, a feisty publisher’s rep and a charmingly precocious abandoned child come together on a small island off the New England coast in this utterly delightful novel of love and second chances.”
-Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Book cover for Frog Music by Emma DonoghueFrog Music
by Emma Donoghue
“Donoghue returns to historical fiction in this latest offering, based on the unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet, a cross-dressing frog catcher with a mysterious past. Set in 1870s San Francisco, this brilliant book includes impeccable historical details, from a smallpox epidemic to period songs.”
-Diane Scholl, Batavia Public Library, IL

Book cover for And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia GlassAnd the Dark Sacred Night
by Julia Glass
“Four stars to Julia Glass for this, her best work since ‘Three Junes.’ We become reacquainted with old characters Malachy, Fenno and Walter and learn more about their life stories. The individuals are imperfectly human and perfectly drawn. A wonderful, highly recommended novel.”
-Kelly Currie, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN

Here is the rest of the list for your browsing and hold-placing pleasure!

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One Woman’s Thoughts About Chick Lit

March 21, 2014

Book cover for Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonWhy does the term Chick Lit rub me the wrong way?  Maybe it is because as a friend of mine recently said, “We don’t have Dude Lit.” I found myself asking this question because March is Women’s History Month. Female writers today, and historically, add much to our culture. One of my colleagues pointed out that four of the New York Times top 10 books of 2013 were written by women. These books are: Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life,” Rachel Kushner’s “The Flamethrowers” and Sheri Fink’s “Five Days at Memorial.”

Book cover for Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen FieldingChick Lit is a term that caught on in the 1990s and was attributed to books such as Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” However, Chick Lit is a label that can change meanings depending on who is applying the label. For some, it is simply fun, light, fiction by and about females. Others see it more as the single working woman’s fiction. Whatever you want to call them, here are some books written by female authors. These are books any woman can appreciate.

Lives of Girls and Women” by Alice Munro
Time Flies” By Claire Cook
Get Lucky”by Katherine Center
Ladies’ Night” By Mary Kay Andrews

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We’re Listening. Update on our Digital Branch Redesign

March 19, 2014

DBRL logoDid you fill out an online survey about the library’s digital branch (www.dbrl.org) or participate in a focus group? If so, we thank you for providing us with some really valuable feedback we will use as we continue into the next phase of our website redesign. Many of you voiced similar concerns or questions, so we wanted to take the time to share some of what we learned and respond to some of your comments. (Note that the redesign process is still in the early stages – look for a new and improved dbrl.org in 2015.)

Less is more.
Many of you shared a real fondness for the resources available at dbrl.org, but you let us know that its text-heavy nature and busyness make it look cluttered and difficult to navigate.

No love for multiple log-ins.
I wish that we could tell you that we are developing a magic box where you can enter a single user name and password and have access to all of the third-party services we make available to you through our website, from the online catalog and interlibrary loan service to Zinio (downloadable magazines) and OverDrive (downloadable eBooks and audiobooks). The issue is that these tools and resources all come from different vendors, and they all work in different ways. Some of them require our users to create separate accounts to download their flashy magazines, and others need us to make sure that your library card number is in our database of active cardholders. For the most part, our vendors’ services don’t play nicely or neatly with each other. We hear (and share) your frustration, and we’ll continue to advocate on your behalf for better solutions. For now, if we want to be able to offer you eBooks and digital magazines (and we really want you to have access to downloadable materials), we have to settle for less than perfect in terms of their set-up and function. We do know that we can do a better job of creating clear FAQ pages for these services, and we will be working on that. Thanks for your support and patience.

Lose the library-ese.
There are some words we library folk love – reference, database, subject guide – but that mean little to those outside of the profession. One of our goals for the redesign will be to use everyday language to help you find the information you want and tools you need.

It’s not too late to share your feedback. Feel free to send your thoughts to pr@dbrl.org or post a comment here. Thank you! We look forward to making the digital branch an even more fun, interesting and useful place to visit.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Donald Antrim

March 17, 2014

Book cover for Mr. Robinson for a Better WorldDonald Antrim has been called a genius, and in 2013 (along with one of my most favorite writers), he was given the 625,000-dollar grant the MacArthur Foundation bequeaths to all geniuses. As far as I know (Antrim has yet to respond to my passionate, nearly polite pleas that he take one of those twenty question online IQ tests and forward me the results WITHOUT DOCTORING THEM), he deserves the unfathomable wealth, prestige and groupies such an award bestows. But I hear his fanciful imagination is one of his genius-y strengths, and I wonder, for certainly that isn’t the strength on display in “Elect Mr. Robinson For a Better World.” Said slice of propaganda is little more than an exquisitely written, chilling and accurate glimpse into the muggy, gator-blood pumping heart of present day Florida.

The titular narrator’s community is populated by residents that have taken to digging moats around their houses and filling them with broken glass, sharpened bamboo or water moccasins. Their park is packed with landmines, and taxpayers have voted to close the local school and occupy the building with a factory that turns coral into jewelry. Despite these everyday challenges, Mr. Robinson doesn’t craft the typical political tract. He never beats you over the head with policies or empty rhetoric, instead counting on the reader’s wisdom to deem him fit for office by the time they’ve completed his grim and propulsive tale.

Mr. Robinson is a former teacher who lost his job when the school was closed. He shares the dream of most displaced teachers: to start a school in his basement next to his scale-model medieval torture chamber and have students assist him in crafting political advertisements for his eventual mayoral run. This is a man overflowing with political talents. When the previous mayor made the perhaps hasty decision to launch Stinger missiles into the botanical garden, Mr. Robinson, drawing from his considerable knowledge of the history of torture, suggests he be drawn and quartered, and he has the know-how and follow-through to lead his fellow citizens in dismembering the man with fishing line and automobiles. While this knowledge is obviously a necessary component for holding political office, perhaps some might worry as to the lack of a softer side. Robinson nails that too: he feels the pieces of the former mayor deserve a distinguished burial and so keeps them in his freezer until he can devise the perfect send-off. (Which, of course, involves Egyptian rituals.) But maybe the voter is sympathetic to the arts. When the citizenry decides to use library books to detonate the hidden bombs in their park, Robinson takes the initiative to go in after the intact tomes. Plus, a new-age guru reveals that his inner animal is a buffalo, and although that means he nearly drowns during a spirit commune with his wife’s inner animal, a coelacanth (ancient weird fish), one cannot argue against the buffalo being well-suited to the rigors of modern politics.

As they say in Florida, two gators with one python, Antrim has convinced me Mr. Robinson would be, for a Florida town, an appropriate mayor; and also Florida is a scary place crammed with shuttered schools, swamps, suburban moats and psychotically over-zealous security guards.

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Visit the Digital Public Library of America

March 14, 2014

DPLA logoI love big ideas, particularly the ones that seem kind of impossible and insane, but noble and worthwhile. When I first heard about the group of folks trying to create The Digital Public Library of America, I was completely intrigued. Here is the concept statement that caught my attention:

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) will make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.

Achieving such a radically awesome goal requires cooperation from archives, educational institutions, museums and libraries and the work of hundreds and hundreds of passionate volunteers, as well as generous funding from donors. The DPLA launched in April 2013, bringing together digital assets from many separate entities and providing a portal for searching across what had been isolated islands of information. The DPLA’s collections are growing all of the time, moving the organization closer to making their big idea a reality.

To put it simply, the DPLA is incredibly cool. The portal provides access to more than 5,500,000 photographs, manuscripts, books, sounds and moving images, as well as some interesting ways to search them. You can look for items by place, viewing collections related to Missouri, for example. Or you can look at items related to a certain point in history, like the Great Depression or the year you were born.

The openness of the project is also pretty amazing. The DPLA challenges developers to “make something awesome.” DPLA can be used by software developers, researchers and others to create learning environments, discovery tools and engaging apps. Not all of these apps are purely educational (See the Twitter bot built to post randomly selected historical images of cats from DPLA’s collection), but they help show the range of what can be done when collections and data are made open.

Whether you are a student, a history buff, a tech geek or just a person with a strong sense of curiosity, you must check out the DPLA. One warning: be prepared to fall down the rabbit hole. It is easy to lose yourself among the images and illuminated manuscripts. Or historical cat photos, if that’s your thing.

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Our History in Food

March 12, 2014

Book cover for The Complete Jello Recipe BookI am slightly obsessed with vintage cookbooks. I frequent the Friends of the Library book sales to see what old cookbooks they’ve acquired, so I was pretty excited when I stumbled across St. Louis Public Library’s online exhibit featuring culinary history in the area. To celebrate this theme, they’ve created a beautiful website showcasing several vintage cookbook covers and even scanned a few recipes from these books. You can also find vintage menus from historic St. Louis restaurants like Bevo Mill and the River Queen floating restaurant. If you’re inspired to learn more about the history of food, check out some of these books in DBRL’s collection.

Book cover for A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William SitwellA History of Food in 100 Recipes” by Willam Sitwell.
This historical book is formatted like a cookbook with each chapter beginning with a recipe, most of which you can attempt to cook at home. Each recipe moves the reader forward in time to tell the history of cooking (from a Western perspective). Starting with an Ancient Egyptian bread recipe from around 1950 BC, this book takes us through royalty, colonialism, the world wars, Rice Krispie Treats and up to more recent food history, including Julia Child, Jamie Oliver and contemporary modernist cuisine. “A History of Food in 100 Recipes” will give you a primer on historical recipes, as well as the history of important chefs in the US and England.

 A HistoryBreakfast: A History” by Heather Arndt Anderson.
Eggs, bacon and coffee may be the first things that come to mind when you hear breakfast, but the first meal of the day actually has a much more complex history. This book focuses on how breakfast in America (and England) has evolved and briefly mentions how breakfast is viewed in other cultures. Learn how Kellogg’s changed the way we think about this meal, why an “astronaut breakfast” consists of steak and eggs and how Poptarts came into existence.

Book cover for In Meat we Trust by Maureen OgleIn Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America” by Maureen Ogle.
Chances are that fast food hamburger on your table didn’t come from a nice loving family farm on the outskirts of town – the story of how it got to your table is much longer. “In Meat We Trust” is a straightforward look at cultural dynamics of meat in the US from the time of European settlement. In Europe in the 1700s, meat was a luxury which people ate about once a week on average. At the same time, the poorest US citizens were eating about 200 pounds a year! From ranches to feedlots to the current standoff between organic farming and factory farms, this book will get you up to speed on how meat has shaped American culture and how we’ve shaped the meat industry.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” by Michael Pollan.
This book is not directly about the history of food, but rather breaks our culinary habits down to the basic elements we use to transform food: fire, water, air and earth. That being said, it does take us back to earlier ways (various groups of) humans prepared food. Instead of buying cheese or beer or bread, Pollan makes these items from scratch in an attempt to discover what these acts mean to society. “Cooked” is an interesting search through food history to reclaim our eating habits from corporations and to rediscover the sociological implications of preparing food.

Bon appétit!

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What’s New and Local at Your Library: Biographies

March 10, 2014

 Dale Carnegie and success in modern America a nineteenth-century lifeIn the past year, two University of Missouri professors have published biographies of influential men. Steven Watts explores how a Missouri farm boy came to launch the modern self-help movement in “Self-Help Messiah, Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America.” And Jonathan Sperber takes a fresh look at a man who has inspired revolutions around the globe, in his book “Karl Marx, a Nineteenth Century Life.”

By Watts’ account, nothing in Dale Carnegie’s childhood indicated the path he’d take as an adult. Born to an impoverished farm couple in Maryville, Missouri in 1888, his childhood was filled with religious instruction and manual labor. Not until he went to college and became involved in theater did his charisma manifest. The speaking skills he developed  helped him in a series of sales jobs, which in turn provided him with insights into human motivation. Eventually he would lead a self-help empire. The franchise of leadership courses he began is still in business today, while his 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” remains a popular-selling title. Opinion over Carnegie’s methods has been divided. Where some see self-improvement and empowerment, others see manipulation and a promotion of personality over character. But nobody can deny he had a large hand in shaping the culture Americans know today.

To a more extreme degree, Karl Marx has also been both revered and reviled throughout the years, a fact that speaks to the level of his influence in the world. With Friedrich Engels, Marx co-authored “The Communist Manifesto.” Sperber places Marx in a historical context, examining what effect the French Revolution, for example, had on his work. But Sperber expands beyond the political lens and provides a view of many other aspects of Marx’s life, which began in 1818 in Trier, Germany. So we see not only a political firebrand, but also a son, husband and father, as well as a man with chronic money troubles.

Each biography shows a man who was a product of his time. As much as both men shaped the culture, the ability to do so came by virtue of having been born in the right epochs. Dale Carnegie, the man, could have lived any time, any place. Dale Carnegie, the phenomenon, could not have existed without the advent of mass communication. And had Karl Marx been born into a society of widespread peace and prosperity, the world would not have had Marxism, the political movement.

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Books To Celebrate Women’s History Month

March 7, 2014

Book cover for Women in Missouri HistoryHave you ever heard of the Owens sisters? How about Lucile Bluford, a civil rights activist and well-respected editor and publisher of an important African-American newspaper? What about Phoebe Couzins, the first female US marshal, and one of the first female lawyers? It’s not surprising that you may not have heard of these women in history class, but they’re fascinating! In addition to being important female figures, these women all have something else in common: they’re all from Missouri!

As you (hopefully) know, March is Women’s History Month. This year’s theme celebrates women of character, courage and commitment, and list of 2014 honorees can be found here. Women across the world have had a powerful, but often over-looked, impact on human history, and that influence extends to women’s contributions in our own state.

Back to the Owens sisters, three trailblazers from St. Joseph, Missouri. These sisters all had highly successful careers, which was very uncommon for women in the US in the late 1800s. The work of Mary Alicia Owen, the oldest sister who had the most prominent career, is documented in the book “The Life of Folklorist, Mary Alicia Owens” by local author Greg Olson. Mary was the most famous female folklorist of her time, and her ethnographic writings documented Ozark Gypsies, Voodoo Priests and other local legends.

Book cover for Daring to Be DifferentLuella, the middle sister, was a geologist who wrote a book about Missouri caves, which was the only resource on the subject to exist for 50 years. The youngest, Juliette, was an artist who documented Missouri wildlife through painting and drawing. She also was a conservationist and animal rights activist in the early phases of this movement. Learn more about these sisters in the book “Daring to Be Different: Missouri’s Remarkable Owen Sisters.”

DBRL has more resources on the subject of  women’s history in Missouri, including online databases and books like “In Her Place: A Guide to St. Louis Women’s History” and “Women in Missouri History,” among others. The DBRL website will also direct you to more resources on  women’s history, including book lists of influential women, a list of upcoming local events that celebrate women’s history and other databases and resources on this subject. Happy Women’s History Month!

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Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates

March 5, 2014

Photo of Eagle Bluffs by Svetlana GrobmanIt was a typical Missouri winter day – gray, cool and windy, with no recreational potential of any kind. It was also Sunday, but nothing special was going on in town, either.

“Let’s drive to Eagle Bluffs,” I said to my husband while we were eating our breakfast – I my usual cereal and he the leftovers from a dinner party we held the night before.

“Sure,” he said and immediately reached for his binoculars.

The thing is that my husband is a wildlife lover, and since Eagle Bluffs is a state conservation area about 10 miles away from us, it is one of the places he’s always ready to go. Over the years, I have come to like that area, too, although the first time my husband took me there, I was disappointed.

Photo of eagle's next at Eagle Bluffs Conservation AreaNot that I expected to see parrots or flamingos flittering around the Missouri wetlands, but with a name like “Eagle Bluffs” I surely counted on seeing eagles there! In reality, though, Eagle Bluffs is a series of ponds dug into a large open field, confined between impressive sandstone bluffs and the Missouri River, and it is visited mostly by Canada geese and a variety of ducks. Also, early in the spring, white pelicans make their festive appearance. As for eagles, after numerous visits to the area, we finally (!) stumbled on an eagle’s nest, hidden high in the tree that grows on a strip of land that is surrounded by ponds on all sides. Since then, we periodically check up on it, although it’s rare that we see its occupants.

I must admit, I love  seeing eagles. To me, a person who lived without any citizenship for five years (the Russians stripped me of theirs when I applied for an exit visa, and the Americans took their time to make sure that I’d be a solid citizen (just kidding!)), the bald eagle represents a new beginning. And, since I rarely see them, every time I do, it seems special. (In fact, my husband and I saw one calmly gliding over our neighborhood on the day of Obama’s first victory!)

Halfway to Eagle Bluffs, I began regretting my idea. First of all, we had recently had a snow storm, and the wetlands might still be frozen, in which case we wouldn’t see anything there. And even if we did get lucky, so what? While it’s true that my husband has nice binoculars (my present to him for his birthday) and I have a Canon SLR camera with me, I don’t have the right lenses for wildlife photography, so I cannot take good pictures of birds anyway.

“I really need better lenses,” I said to my husband, driving carefully along the curvy road. “My lenses are not sharp enough. You yourself say that my photos don’t look professional.”

“There could be other reasons for that beside lenses,” my husband mumbled, not taking his eyes off the road.

“Like what?” I said. “I’m doing as well as my lenses allow! And the camera, too. If I am to improve, I need a full-frame camera and L-series lenses!”

Of course, the truth is that I don’t have to “improve.” I’m not a professional photographer who must spend thousands of dollars on expensive equipment. Still, as obsessive as I am, I may one day do just that, so it’s important to prepare my husband for that possibility.

“I need telephoto lenses, too,” I started again when we turned off the local highway, but my husband interrupted me.

“The water is still frozen,” he said. “We won’t see much today.”

“Let’s see the eagle’s nest, then.” I said.

We parked the car and hung our equipment around our necks – he his binoculars and I my camera with its woefully insufficient lens – and walked toward the nest. It was still cool, and the sun seemed to be making up its mind about whether it should break through the clouds and light up the world underneath, or pull the clouds up, like a blanket, and take another nap.

The nest was in its usual place, hidden safely up in the big old tree. Yet it was empty.

“It must be too early in the season,” my husband said.

“It cannot be too early,” I said firmly. “This is their time for nesting.”

“I don’t see any signs of that,” he sighed. “Should we go back?”

“No, let’s walk around,” I said. For exercise. And we put up our jacket hoods, and pulled on our gloves.

We walked for about a mile, between the bluffs and a creek on one side and the ponds on the other. Yet we saw no birds. Not even obnoxiously honking Canada geese or scurrying around coots. Disappointed, we turned back. When we were passing the area with the nest, my husband said, “Too bad. No eagles this time.”

But, I seemed to notice some movement there.

“Are you sure the nest is empty?” I said. “Look through your binoculars.”

“It is,” he said, and at that moment, a white-headed bird landed on a branch by the nest – a bald eagle.

“Look!” I shouted, grabbing my camera and feverishly adjusting its settings. “An eagle!”

Eagle in flightWhether it was my excitement that spooked the bird or something else, the eagle took off. He made several circles high above our heads and vanished behind a strip of tall trees on the other side. Had we been there a minute later, we’d never have known that he was there at all.

“Oh, no!” I cried, pulling my husband by the sleeve – he was still pointing his binoculars in the direction of the bird. He put the binoculars down and said, “Should we drive home now?”

“Don’t you think he’ll come back?”

We walked around for another 30 minutes, but the eagle never returned. Feeling tired, we headed back to our car. Before I opened the passenger’s door, I glanced toward the bluffs on the other side, which, suddenly, erupted with a fuzzy, slowly moving cloud.

“What’s that?” I said, puzzled. And then it struck me. It wasn’t a cloud. It was … a huge flock of white-and-black birds!

“Pelicans!” I screamed. “Look, pelicans!”

Snow geese in flightThe birds flew higher and higher and soon they, too, disappeared behind the trees on the other side of the wetlands. We followed them – first driving as far as we could and then walking quietly to the pond where they landed. I was walking first, my camera at ready, and my husband followed me with his binoculars. We were still far away when the birds noticed us. First, they began stirring, then several of them took off, and later yet, others began following their example. Soon, the whole pond exploded with white and black colors, while the sky filled with flapping wings and the cry of birds.

Excited, I kept pressing the shutter.

“They are not pelicans,” I heard my husband say behind me.

“No? What are they?” I turned to him, immediately disappointed.

“They are snow geese.”

“Just geese?”

“Well, that’s not so bad,” my husband said. “We’ve never seen snow geese before.”

He was correct. It was the first time I saw snow geese, and although they were nothing like pelicans, they were beautiful in their own “geesey” way.

“You’re right,” I said, and we started walking.

The sun hid behind the cloud, seemingly for good, and the wind picked up, but, I no longer felt disappointed. True, we saw the eagle only briefly, and we didn’t see any pelicans. But, we saw something new, and, as Forest Gump put it, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Eagle's nestP.S. While I was looking at my pictures at home, I suddenly noticed a white head peeking from the eagle’s nest. It wasn’t empty after all! I looked again. The head appeared small and fuzzy, but it was definitely an eagle. Can you spot it? It’s not very clear, is it? You see, I really need a better lens. :)

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Murder, With a Side of Pasta ‘ncasciata

March 3, 2014

(Review of the Inspector Montalbano mystery series, by Andrea Camilleri)

Book cover for The Shape of Water by Andrea CamilleriSalvo Montalbano is the world-weary but always upstanding Chief Inspector for the police force of Vigata, a smallish (and imaginary) town in Sicily. He’s a sensitive, ethical guy who struggles with the endemic Sicilian political corruption, superiors who can’t be bothered and subordinates who are eager but sometimes inept. Also problematic are the many attractive women who find him molto interessante – causing no end of conflict with Livia, his volatile out-of-town girlfriend.

This sounds like a standard backdrop for a police procedural mystery, international or otherwise. But this series, and Montalbano, rise above the standard. For starters, this is one well-read cop, given to Italian literary and historical references. He’s also a passionate gourmet: a steaming plate of pasta ‘ncasciata will always take precedence over police business.

Montalbano introspects fiercely, and the reader gets to spend quality time inside his head, getting to know this often melancholy and obsessive, but ultimately likable, character. In fact, all of Camilleri’s characters are worth knowing, from Ingrid Sjostrom, the beautiful six-foot-tall Swedish race-car driver (and Montalbano’s greatest temptation) to the creepy, sex-obsessed Judge Tommaseo. Add some dark Sicilian atmosphere and consistently elegant plotting, and you have a series that is just plain delizioso.

(Important disclaimer: The first book, “The Shape of Water,” begins with a single, nearly incomprehensible paragraph that goes on for a full five pages. It was so obtuse that I almost gave up. Fortunately I didn’t, because after page five things got much clearer and a whole lot more interesting – and stayed that way for 15 more books.)

For an appetizer, here are the first four books of the Inspector Montalbano series at DBRL:

  1. The Shape of Water“  (2002)
  2. The Terra-cotta Dog“  (2002)
  3. The Snack Thief“  (2003)
  4. Voice of the Violin“  (2004)

For the complete list of 16 titles, see our book list in the library’s online catalog.

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