Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ode (and Owed) To Public Libraries

The public library is the crowning glory of American democracy.  The way to build and support communities includes supporting public libraries.

If you are counting in money, libraries can return more than $4 to the community for every $1 invested in the public library.  And libraries raise the value of homes that are located near a public library.

There are many ways besides money to count the value of libraries to individuals and communities. In the words of Bill Moyers:
When a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open, too.

Maria Popova, in her fascinating blog Brain Pickings writes about The Public Library in a post discussing the book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay (public library) by photographer Robert Dawson.  Here are photos of public libraries around the country from Dawson's book.

The Globe Chandelier near Children's Library, Central Library, Los Angeles, California, 2008
The chandelier is a model of the solar system. Signs of the zodiac ring the globe, along with forty-eight lights around the rim, which represent the forty-eight United States in 1926, when the building opened. It was designed by Goodhue Associates and modeled by Lee Lawrie. The mural beneath the chandelier by John Fisher is titled 'Sesquicentennial.'

George Washington Carver Branch Library, Austin, Texas, 2011
This mural by John Fisher covers a wall of the branch library. It depicts the horrors of the slave trade and celebrates African American culture. Black citizens in East Austin had strongly advocated for a library in their community, and this was the first branch library to serve them.

Reading room, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library, 2008
More than twelve hundred languages and dialects, ancient and modern, are represented in the collections, emblematic of the rich diversity of the city that built it.

Rudy's Library, Monowi, Nebraska, 2012
The entire population of this town consists of one woman, Elsie Eller. It is the only incorporated municipality in the United States with such a demographic. She acts as mayor and runs the only business in town, a local roadhouse. Over the years she watched all the other town residents move or pass away. When her husband, Rudy Eller, died in 2004, she became the town's last resident. Because Rudy had collected so many books, she decided to open Rudy's lLIbrary in a small shed next to her home. This memorial to Rudy is free and open to all. Patrons can check out books by signing a notebook. A wooden sign in the corner simply states 'Rudy's Dream.'

Destroyed Mark Twain Branch Library, Detroit, Michigan, 2011

Entrance to the Central Library, Brooklyn, New York, 2009

Popova tells us about Marguerite Hart, a librarian in Troy Michigan.  "To get the children in the community excited about books and reading, Marguerite Hart reached out to some of the era’s most celebrated minds — writers, actors, senators — and asked them to write letters to the children of Troy, extolling the value of libraries and the joy of books."  
She got back 91 letters.  And Popova quotes Ann Patchett:
Know this — if you love your library, use your library. Support libraries in your words and deeds. If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy your books, and you have your own computer with which to conduct research, and you’re not in search of a story hour for your children, then don’t forget about the members of your community who are like you but perhaps lack your resources — the ones who love to read, who long to learn, who need a place to go and sit and think. Make sure that in your good fortune you remember to support their quest for a better life. That’s what a library promises us, after all: a better life. And that’s what libraries have delivered.
Dr. Seuss wrote the children of Troy Michigan:

In addition to the buildings, libraries are where you find librarians.  Librarians can help dig out the secrets and special features stored in libraries.  Knowing how to use the internet is often not the same as knowing how to find what you are looking for.  Be sure to ask the librarians questions when you visit a library.  They can help you find things you had no idea were there.   As one friend said:  "I've never had a boring conversation with a librarian."

For fun with librarians see these super hero librarians from the realms of fiction:

To see some real live librarian tattoos see 

Nell M.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


I was putting cream in my tea, half-and-half from a neat little plastic cup that keeps it fresh for months, maybe years, without refrigeration, when I was struck by the thought: “The eighth wonder of the modern world!” (And I thought about immunizations, and photo-voltaic cells and cellular telephony, more modern wonders).

And Wonder made me wonder – as it does - and my thoughts tumbled around.

The historian Herodotus (484 – ca. 425 BCE), and the scholar Callimachus of Cyrene (ca. 305 – 240 BCE) at the Museum of Alexandria, made early lists of seven wonders. Their writings have not survived, except as references.
The Great Pyramid at Giza

The classic seven wonders were:
  • Great Pyramid of Giza
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • Statue of Zeus at Olympia
  • Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  • Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  • Colossus of Rhodes
  • Lighthouse of Alexandria  
The only ancient world wonder that still exists is the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Have a look at our World Book Online for more information on these and other fascinating wonders.

Wonderful things! The exclamation of Howard Carter as he peered through a small hole into the burial chamber of the pharaoh Tutankhamen. “Can you see anything? He was asked by his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon. “Yes, wonderful things” he replied.

Full of fantastic creatures, teeming with life before Man was conceived.

Natural Wonder on TED:  Living things over 2000 years old! Rachel Sussman: The World's Oldest Living Things.

A photographer travels the globe creating portraits of living creatures more than 2000 years old. One of them has since died.

TED itself is a wonder. I found it while surfing on my ROKU but all of the videos are available for free, on the web. 

So my last thing to wonder about is...what makes YOU wonder?

Jan D.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Birthday of the Bard

Birthday Bard
April 23, 2014 will mark the 450  birthday of William Shakespeare, the playwright and poet who had an immense influence on Western literature and culture.  Shakepeare’s plays have been translated into more than 100 languages.  Performances of his work take place in theatres, high school gyms and outdoor spaces and countless other venues all over the world.

 His plays have also formed the basis of many Hollywood offerings, from West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet) to Forbidden Planet (The Tempest) and Akira Kursosawa’s epic Ran (King Lear).


When I was an eleven year old nerd, I asked my Anglophile grandmother for a copy of the “Collected Plays of William Shakespeare” for Christmas.  Delighted, she gifted me with a massive volume containing all of Mr. Shakespeare's works in tiny print on tissue thin leaves.
  Over the next few years, I read every single play in that volume (yes, even “Pericles”), and enjoyed all of them.  I have been lucky enough to see quite a few productions of the plays, including a Romeo and Juliet performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

This year, to mark the birthday celebration in Stratford, if you are fortunate enough to make the trip, there will be week’s work of festivities including fireworks, a procession, theatre workshops and a Shakespeare marathon.

I thought the Shakespeare marathon referred to some continuous performances of all the plays, but no, it’s an actual running marathon.  Why are so many events marked by lengthy footraces these days?  But I digress….

Closer to home, the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC will be hosting a Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House on Sunday April 6th.

Queen Elizabeth Cuts the Birthday Cake
Birthday cake, one-minute Shakespeare performances, and tours of the Folger are just some of the events on the schedule.

In addition  the Folger has recently released  all of Shakespeare’s plays as fully searchable digital texts, downloadable as pdfs, in a free, scholarly edition that makes all of its source code available as well. Taken from 2010 Folger Shakespeare Library editions edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the digital plays are an invaluable resource for students,  Shakespeare scholars and fans.

If you don't want to travel downtown, Montgomery County Public Libraries will be joining the celebrations with a performance by the Christiana Drapkin Jazz Group entitled “Shakespeare in Jazz”.  
Vocalist Drapkin celebrates the beauty and power of William Shakespeare's poetry and presents it in lively, sometimes haunting jazz arrangements originally crafted in the 1960’s.  These settings of Shakespeare’s timeless verse seem to have been mostly forgotten, and MCPL is happy to be able to bring them to a present day audience.  The performance will take place at the Olney Library 4/26/14 at 2:00 PM.

So, Happy Birthday to you, Mr. S, and thanks for all the great lines you've given us!


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning for Fun Outside The Classroom

As an information/reference librarian, I appreciate any learning opportunity in areas unfamiliar to me.  MCPL's collection includes lecture recordings on numerous academic topics.  They come in different formats including downloadable ebook options.

The lecturers, in most cases, teach at college and graduate school level and were chosen by good reputation.  MCPL's catalog will lead you to many free lectures in the fields of science, history, fine arts, music, religion & theology, literature, business and many other subjects you might enjoy.

Here are the steps I use to find the lecture collection in MCPL's catalog.

1. Go to New Catalog on the website
2. Click on “Advanced Search” next to the “Search” button in the top right corner.
3. Type one of the two major series names, “Great Courses,” or “Modern Scholar.”
4. Choose format type “sound recording,” “video disc,” or "electronic resources."
5. Add a broad subject term of your interest such as “history,” “science,” “music,” etc.

Introducing a couple of my all-time favorites:

Creating Humans: ethical questions where reproduction and science collide by Alexander McCall Smith

Yep, it is the same Alexander McCall Smith.  Great Courses website introduces him: “Edinburgh professor Alexander McCall Smith delivers a course that discusses the various moral aspects of human reproduction from methods of contraception to methods of ending a pregnancy. He will discuss the moral, cultural, legal, and political influences on reproduction as well as the scientific advances in reproductive technology.”

Robert Greenberg lectures on classic music on various topics and lives of composers.  
I call him the “Click & Clack” of music lecturer.  There were many times I burst out laughing listening his lectures while cooking or driving.  This could be hazardous to your health.

Another option is using MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) offered by various academic institutions.  Please see an earlier blog by my colleague on the subject.

Happy Learning!!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nowruz the Persian New Year

It’s difficult to believe as I’m writing this that spring is here. For many it’s just a marking that warmer weather is on the way, but for the Persian culture it means much more than that: it is their new year, called Nowruz (literally translated as The New Day) and they mark it with many traditions that are celebrated by Iranians and ethnic cultures that were under Persian influence.

Originally begun under the Zoroastrianism religion, it has developed into a secular observance and has become a time for family and friends to gather together and celebrate, no matter where or what country they now live in.  This may have been the origin of spring cleaning as houses are stripped clean for the event before the New Year celebration. Several days before the New Year Chahārshanbe Suri is celebrated when everyone goes outside and lights bonfires.  It is good luck to jump over the fire.  It is a triumph of light over darkness, spring over winter, which is also a Zoroastrian tradition. Check out Fireworks Wednesday.

But the main event is the Haft Sin.  Literally it means 7 items placed on a table that begin with the letter “S” in Farsi. Yes there are more than 7 items listed here but the more the better!
Seeb-apple (the earth)
Sabzeh-wheat (growth)
Samanu-a sweet pudding (wealth)
Senjed-a dried fruit (love)
Seer-garlic (health)
Somaq-dried berries (sunrise)
Serkeh-vinegar (age)
Sonbol-hyacinth (growth and what a wonderful aroma!)
Sekkeh-coins (wealth)
Also included are:
A mirror (the sky)
Painted eggs (fertility)
Goldfish (animals)

And what Persian celebration would be complete without delicious, special foods. It is deemed good luck to eat sabzi polo mahi. This is a fish and rice dish cooked with green herbs symbolizing…what else…the growth associated with spring. And for dessert, baklava and samanu.  On the thirteenth day (the unlucky day) after NowRuz, everyone goes outside for picnics and the custom is to bring your sabzeh (the wheat you've grown) with you and throw it into a running stream to get rid of your bad luck.

So when you meet Iranians in the next few days, you may wish them a Happy New Year or in Farsi “Aideh Shomah Mobarak” or literally Happy Party! And may spring be a happy and prosperous time for all of us and above all green!

For more information about the Persian culture, here is some material you might want to check out:
Persian Mirrors by Elaine Sciolino
One Thousand & One Persian-English Proverbs: Learning Language and Culture through Commonly Used Sayings / compiled & illustrated by Simin K. Habibian.
The  Story of the Revolution (Website) BBC World Service Persian Story of the Revolution
Wonders of Persia = Zībāʼīhā-yi Īrān / written by Nazli Irani Monahan
And search under Iran culture in our catalog  for other material including a large selection of Iranian films Iran films.

lisa n