Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Learn About Genealogy Research This March!

Baseball Field
Have you ever wanted to discover your family history and trace your roots? This month, we have two great classes happening at Birmingham Public Library’s Central branch. You can attend The Bases Are Loaded! Genealogical Research with BPL’s Databases on March 10th at 1 pm. Ever feel as if genealogy research is like learning the rules of baseball---in a foreign language? Don’t be left sitting in the dugout. Make use of all our resources in your game plan for family history research. Learn how to locate BPL’s databases and discover the wealth of genealogical information they have to offer. Let us help you knock one out of the park as you experience hands-on demonstration of BPL’s databases. This class is taught in the RLCC computer lab on the 4th floor of Linn-Henley building. Registration is required. Call 205-226-3680 to reserve your spot today.

Family Tree
The other class is Introduction to Genealogy. This class is designed for people who are novices or beginners in genealogical research. Here are some of the topics that will be covered:

  • Planning a Research Trip 
  • Vital Records 
  • Census Records 
  • Church Records 
  • Courthouse Records 
  • Ancestor/Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets Popular Genealogy Websites 

Introduction to Genealogy will be offered on Sunday, March 15th from 2:30-3:30 pm on the first floor of the Linn-Henley building in the Southern History department. The content is the same with each offering, and this class is offered throughout the year. No registration is required for this class, so come and bring a friend! If you have any questions, please contact us by phone at 205-226-3665.

Thanks, Dad, for Introducing Me to Collectibles

Saundra's father and one of his vintage collectibles

I guess my interest in collectibles started with my dad who's a car enthusiast and collector of vintage cars. I think back on those Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings, as a teenager, when we would hop into one of his many cars to take a joy ride. My absolute two favorites of dad's collection are the '67 Camaro and '34 Ford with coach doors.

The great thing about collectibles is that they can have monetary or sentimental value. In one case the collector wishes for the highest return on his investment, and the other collector sees his collection as priceless.

Over the years I've accumulated a few of my own collectibles. The largest is a collection of dolls that includes a few from the 1950s and 1960s. It started with Barbie and then my collection expanded to Cabbage Patch Kids.

Collecting Cabbage Patch Kids really has sentimental value for me. These dolls were the first contemporary major brand of dolls that my sister and I received as gifts for birthdays and Christmases during the eighties. To see a Cabbage Patch Kids doll or even an image of one instantly takes me back to the 1980s and my youth years.

Saundra's doll collection

In the last two years, I’ve started Monster High and Lalaloopsy doll collections. I have to admit, I’m being very selective as to which dolls I purchase because new ones debut each year. Careful…I might run out of space!

Oh, did I mention a good friend of mine collects replicas of ladybugs? You see, collectibles can be almost anything a person's heart desires. Think about it—collections of coins, stamps, model airplanes, paintings, presidential buttons, and yes, books too!

It doesn't matter whether or not an expert has appraised the collection for a gazillion dollars, it's what the collection's value and meaning brings to the individual collector.

If you're wondering how much your collection is worth, or are curious about the history of an item, let the collection of reference and circulating collectible books in the Jefferson County library system help you with your research.

Saundra Ross
North Avondale Library

Book Review: Shadow Of The Silk Road

Shadow Of The Silk Road
Colin Thubron

Colin Thubron is the Grand Old Man of British travel writing. But he didn’t tackle the Silk Road until after the turn of the twentieth century. I’d already read many of the leading 20th century Brit travelers such as Wilfred Thesiger, Bruce Chatwin, Eric Newby, Redmond O’Hanlon, and Jan Morris, but I’d never read Thubron. Could he live up to the reputation? That he’d traveled from western China on to Central Asia and the Middle East ending up in Syria and that he did it while well into his sixties was impressive. He knew Chinese and Russian, but even this didn't help him with the local variants of those languages, let alone the dozens of completely different tongues. But he did it all, by foot, boat, bus, camel, and more. It helped that he was well-read and that he can fuse scholarship and poetic writing gracefully.

The Silk Road has been called the medieval internet. It’s how East and West communicated with each other (albeit through static and distortions), shaped each other, transformed each other. With the information Thubron relates, your notions of East is East and West is West are dismantled again and again. Because of this and other feats, you lose your parochialism during the course of reading, even that parochialism you didn’t know you had. You see history and the present in a new way. You learn how the harp went east from Central Asia, how the flute went west, how “the horsehead fiddle moved down the Silk Road to become the ancestor of strings everywhere, even the European violin.” How silk itself was smuggled out of China and made its way to Europe. How Christianity spread through the Middle East and on to India and China. How the Greek gods migrated to Central Asia. How papermaking went west. How an Indian god became a Chinese goddess. I’m skimming; there’s much more. One account positively stays in the memory. The Romans lose a battle in the Middle East. The soldiers disappear near Parthia (roughly the eastern part of modern-day Iran). They surrender to an eastern power and are later spotted, in an ancient Chinese history, fighting for the Chinese. The common thread in western and eastern accounts is the characteristic fish scale pattern they make when they place their shields over them to ward off raining weapons. A generation ago, in an area of western China near Gansu, archaeologists discovered Roman-like walls. Locals sometimes have blonde hair and blue eyes. In an odd sense, this may have been as far east as the Romans ever got. Like so many of the places Thubron visits, current events shed light-or a shadow-on the history of the Silk Road, and history returns the favor.

I mentioned earlier Thubron’s poetic gift. Here is a typical passage that especially impressed me. He is in Dunhuang, western China, describing the wall art in the famous caves there: “…Buddhism in China kept open house…In several shrines the ceilings teemed with Hindu angels and lotus flowers, while among them flew nine-headed dragons and all the Taoist pantheon…the borders between faiths [were] swept away.”

Occasionally, throughout the book, Thubron intersperses fictional conversations between himself and an ancient Silk Road trader. The last exchange indicates a bit of Thubron’s own exhaustion and insight at the end of his journey. The trader: “Maybe we’ve been too long on the road. I have forgotten my tribe, even what its totem was. It is time to go back. And we cannot. I died in the desert near Khotan, too soon. We were carrying salt, and the camels were overloaded. My friend, farewell. It is not so bad.”

The Trader lives in these pages, in the real people Thubron encounters, in the history permanently altered by him and his kind. The author has revealed that we are all part of a greater human whole, West and East, subtly fused by the Silk Road, and we’re the more complex and interesting for it. Under our Western self we are Eastern and the reverse is true. This cosmopolitan layer Thubron has uncovered for us. The term Citizens of the World doesn’t sound pretentious anymore, but accurate. At the very end, the author concludes,”…the Silk Road itself has created and left behind these blurs and fusions, like the bed of a spent river, and I picture different, ghostly maps laid over the political ones-maps of fractured races and identities.”

A novel historical and contemporary account that wakes us out of our tired assumptions and conventional wisdom. It’s something of a miracle.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

PaperWorkers Local Comes to Central Library

An exhibition of work by PaperWorkers Local (PWL) members will be on display at the Central Library beginning March 7 through April 30, 2015. PWL is a non-profit artist cooperative with an emphasis on printmaking but including other work created with, or on, paper. The free exhibition, Source/Process: Work by Members of PaperWorkers Local, will hang in the Central Library’s Fourth Floor Gallery. An opening reception is planned for Saturday, March 7, from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m., in the East Building’s Boardroom.

Founded in June 2013, the goals of PWL are to provide workspace with access to presses, offer workshops to artists and the public, and to exhibit work that promotes dialogue and a deeper understanding of prints and other works on paper. Their space in the Forest Park area doubles as a studio and exhibition venue.

“The purpose of this exhibition is not only to show the work our members make, but also to give a glimpse of what goes into a print in order to make the image. To this end we have put together a collection of prints that also includes source and process materials that were used to create the final print,” according to PWL. Members of PWL include: Mimi Boston, John DeMotte, Jill England, Joanne Fogle, Tanisha Hicks, Roger Jones, Sarah Marshall, Linda McDavid Merry, Michael Merry, D’Arcie Schmidt, Lacy Stewart, Richard Stockham, Joi West, and Cathy Wright.

Two workshops will be offered at the PWL studio in conjunction with the library’s exhibition. Registration is required. Register by e-mail at or visit for information and workshop times.

Workshop #1
Intro to Printing Workshop
Led by Mimi Boston
March 14, 2015

Workshop #2
Solar Plate Photo Etching
Led by John DeMotte
April 18, 2015

The PaperWorkers Local studio is located at 3815 Clairmont Avenue, Birmingham, Alabama, 35222. This space is open to the public every third Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and every Wednesday for “Wednesday Night Open Studio” from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

For more information about PWL, e-mail or visit and

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Birmingham Public Library to Participate in 2015 Alabama Money Expo

The second annual Alabama Money Expo will be held on Saturday, March 7, 2015, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at Carver High School, and the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is set to be an active participant.

Consisting of a variety of exhibits, workshops, and presentations, the expo will provide attendees with a wealth of opportunities to learn more about personal finance and money management. Among the topics to be covered on Saturday are housing options and home ownership, budgeting and savings, credit repair, investing, estate planning, retirement, paying for college, and starting a small business. Perhaps most exciting is the chance for participants to take part in one-on-one counseling sessions with experts and knowledgeable specialists who can address specific concerns related to individual financial matters.

BPL will be one of many exhibitors on hand to share information and showcase their educational resources. Staff members from the library’s Business, Science and Technology Department will have plenty of handouts available that highlight the myriad of books, databases, and programs that BPL has to offer the community on the topics addressed at the expo. A demonstration on how to navigate some of the best of these business and financial databases is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. in the Main Exhibit Hall.

The 2015 Alabama Money Expo is free to the public and everyone is encouraged to attend, but pre-registration  is encouraged. Signups for appointment times for the one-on-one counseling sessions are required.

Jim Murray
Business, Science and Technology Department

Sunday, March 01, 2015

National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day

Why did the fisherman take a jar of peanut butter with him to sea?
So he could have it with his jellyfish.

March 1 is a yummy stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth kind of day—it’s National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day! Peanut butter is one of if not the most favorite sandwich spreads in America. In fact, Americans love it so much we consume more than a billion pounds of peanut butter per year. Personally, I celebrate National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day almost every day of the week. On my lunch break I can be found reading our newest arrivals while enjoying a peanut butter and apple jelly sandwich. But if a sandwich isn’t for you, try a spoon full of peanut butter on a cracker, a stalk of celery, or better yet lick it directly off the spoon.

Some of my favorite peanut butter reads are…
Peanut Butter & Cupcake by Terry Border
Peanut Butter Party: Including the History, Uses, and Future of Peanut Butter by Remy Charlip
Peanut Butter and Homework Sandwiches by Lisa Broadie Cook
Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett Krosoczka
The Life and Times of the Peanut by Charles Micucci
Peeny Butter Fudge by Toni Morrison
From Peanut to Peanut Butter by Robin Nelson
PB&J Hooray by Janet Nolan
Fancy Nancy: Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jane O’Connor
Peanut Butter and Jelly by Nadine Bernard Westcott

Carla Perkins
Avondale Library

Friday, February 27, 2015

Senior Computing

While helping one of our senior patrons use a library computer, I was pleased to share the specialized resources that Birmingham Public Library provides about computers, the Internet, and social media sites.

My staff and I are always happy to assist the seniors in our community to use our computers and we encourage them to expand their learning experience by taking advantage of the variety of books and recordings available. These include: Computers for Seniors by Nancy Muir; Computing for Seniors in Easy Steps by Sue Price, and My Facebook for Seniors by Michael Miller. In large print we have: Basic Computers for Beginners and E-Mail for Beginners, both by Web Wise Seniors. Some of these books come with DVDs or CDs with sample forms and software.

I can also recommend DVDs that feature basic introductions to computers for seniors or anyone who is new to computers or the Internet. Some examples are: Help! For the Computer Shy : How to Use Internet Explorer 8 for Seniors by Michael Gorzka, or E-Mail & the Internet : Computers for Seniors by Walter Duke.

Birmingham Public Library also offers a variety of classes on basic computer skills; learning how to use data entry programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint; how to use Facebook and other social media websites; and how to download e-books.

No matter your age, Birmingham Public Library has what you need to help you enhance your computer skills.

William Darby
East Lake Library

The Shooting & Ride in the Whirlwind: Two Underground Westerns from the Sixties

In the mid sixties, a pair of westerns as unorthodox as The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind could only have emerged from the low-budget fringes of Hollywood.

The films were produced by Roger Corman and are a considered a pair since they were shot back-to-back in the deserts of Utah in 1965 by two of Corman's most promising protegees: filmmaker Monte Hellman and actor/writer Jack Nicholson.  Nicholson and Hellman had previously teamed up on a pair of low-budget war films shot in the Philippines for Corman.

Jack Nicholson is the biggest name to "graduate" from Roger Corman's low-budget, b-movie "film school" production company. (Other graduates include James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Fonda, and Ron Howard.)  Nicholson wrote and starred in Ride in the Whirlwind and had a supporting role in The Shooting which were made two years prior to his major breakthrough role in Easy Rider (1967).

Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Ride in the Whirlwind was not Nicholson's first screenplay, he had previously written Flight to Fury and his next screenplay would be for the Monkees' only film Head.  This western was far different than his other credits as a writer.

Ride in the Whirlwind follows a pair of cowboys (played by Jack Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell) who are returning from a cattle drive and are mistaken for outlaws by frontier vigilantes. They effectively must become outlaws in order to keep themselves alive while pursued by a posse of lawmen and citizens.  The film abandons the typical mythic genre posturings to offer a sincere -- and exceptionally harrowing -- portrayal of frontier life in the Old West.

Nicholson researched period novels and diaries in order to convincingly grasp the language of the 19th century Western frontier in his dialogue.  In fact, the dialogue is so convincing that Quentin Tarantino has described the film "one of the most authentic and brilliant westerns ever made."

The Shooting (1966)

On the other side of the coin, The Shooting is less concerned with authenticity than with establishing an unsettling atmosphere and an innovative -- even experimental -- style.

Whereas Ride in the Whirlwind  presents a straightforward story, The Shooting presents a rather elliptical story in which the underlying motives of the principal characters are never truly revealed.  All that the audience knows is that all of the characters in the film all seem to be hurtling towards their doom in pursuit of a wanted man through the high desert of Utah.

The Shooting stars the great character actor Warren Oates as a former bounty hunter that has been hired by a mysterious woman (played by Millie Perkins) to guide her across the Suplico desert. Nicholson appears here as a gunslinger who stalks the group from just over the horizon.  The unsettling atmosphere of the film can be credited to many stylistic techniques lifted wholesale from the horror genre including extreme close-ups, point-of-view shots, and a soundtrack that appears to have been licensed from a monster movie music library.

The Shooting  has proved highly influential over the years.  The most prominent example would include Sam Peckinpah's use of slow motion during the finale of  The Wild Bunch (Several years later, Peckinpah appeared in his only onscreen acting role in China 9, Liberty 7 another Monte Hellman western that starred Warren Oates.)   Many other subversive Westerns such as Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo, Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man appear to been heavily influenced by The Shooting.

The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind were, in essence, lost for several years and only reached movie screens in the United States a decade after their production due to the bankruptcy of their initial theatrical distributor.

However, both films played for over a year in a single theater in Paris and were highly regarded by European critics.  Ride in the Whirlwind was even selected as one of the top ten films of 1966 by the noted French film journal Cahiers du CinĂ©ma.

These films have garnered quite a cult following over the past two decades thanks to a crucial piece of film criticism written by Quentin Tarantino on Ride in the Whirlwind for Sight and Sound magazine in 1993.  They were recently released as a double feature on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection and are now available for checkout through the library system.

They are worth a look to fans of the western genre, Jack Nicholson, or anyone with a strong interest in cinema.

For the record, Corman's only unprofitable film was an adaptation of Charles Willeford's Cockfighter which starred Warren Oates and was directed by Monte Hellman.

From Page to Stage: Robin Hood – A Reader’s Theater Workshop for Children

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL), in partnership with the Birmingham Children’s Theatre (BCT) and Junior League of Birmingham (JLB), would like to invite you to attend From Page to Stage: Robin Hood — A Readers’ Theater Workshop for Children.

In anticipation of the upcoming BCT performance of Robin Hood, BPL will be hosting free workshops at several of its area libraries. Children, aged 7 to 12, will learn how storybook characters come alive through the magic of theater. JLB members will coach the children and introduce them to similar literature located in their local library. Each child will receive two free tickets (one child and one adult ticket) to the BCT Robin Hood production in April 2015.

Things are not so great in Nottingham. The Sherriff, simply put, is nothing but a bully, taking advantage of the townspeople, leaving them with little money to survive. Enter Robin Hood, champion of the less fortunate, to help right the Sherriff’s wrongs. Join familiar characters like Maid Marion and Little John, in this new twist on the classic tale, full of adventure, music, and suspense.

Workshop space is limited, so contact your participating library location to register a child for the workshop. Libraries and dates are as follows:

Avondale: Sunday, March 15 at 2:30 p.m.
Central: Sunday, March 22 at 2:30 p.m.
East Lake: Saturday, March 14 at 2:30 p.m.
Five Points West: Sunday, March 15 at 2:30 p.m.
Pratt City: Saturday, March 14 at 2:30 p.m.
Southside: Saturday, March 21 at 2:30 p.m.
Springville Road: Sun, March 22 at 2:30 p.m.
West End: Saturday March 21 at 2:30 p.m.

How to Patent Your Invention

First patent granted in 1790
First patent granted in 1790

Do you have a great new invention? Are you unsure whether or not you’re the first one to think of it? If so, join us from 6:00-7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in the Regional Library Computer Center. We’ll be talking about patents and how to perform a basic search using databases from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. There are actually three different types of patents: design, plant, and utility. Utility patents are what most people think of when they hear the word “patent” and according to the USPTO, 90% of all patents granted today are utility patents.

The Birmingham Public Library is the only public library in Alabama to be named a Patent and Trademark Resource Center. This means that the staff have been specially trained to help inventors and entrepreneurs begin their patent search. Because patents are only granted to, “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof,” a thorough search of all existing patents (also call a prior art search) is essential. By searching previously issued patents, you may find that you have a totally new and unique invention or that you need to head back to the drawing board.

Since patents are written using highly specialized legal and scientific language, performing a patent search can seem intimidating. Join us on March 3rd as we break down the USPTO’s Seven Step Strategy. This simple strategy is a great way to get started and to become familiar with the patent process. Space is limited, so call us at 205-226-3680 to register today!

M.B. Newbill
Southern History Department

Thursday, February 26, 2015

March 2 Marks Return of Spring/Summer Hours for Seven Birmingham Public Libraries

Seven libraries within the Birmingham Public Library system will return to spring/summer hours beginning Monday, March 2.

The neighborhood libraries are: East Ensley, Ensley, Inglenook, North Avondale, Powderly, Woodlawn, and Wylam. The new hours will be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., and 1:00-6:00 p.m. Wednesday hours will be 1:00-6:00 p.m. They are closed on the weekends.

Hours for all other libraries within the Birmingham system will not change. For a complete list of hours for all locations, please visit

View TEDxBirmingham at the Central Library

Photo: TEDxBirmingham

Mountains. Large, majestic, immovable. Or are they? At TEDxBirmingham 2015, we’ll hear ideas from a dozen speakers who refuse to surrender to the mountain in front of them. The day will challenge your mind and spirit. Afterwards, attendees will be encouraged to take ideas home with them to create transformation in their communities through action.

If you did not make a reservation to attend TEDxBirmingham 2015 at the Alys Stephens Center, there is still hope for you to view the program. On Saturday, February 28, 2015, the Birmingham Public Library will host a live-stream viewing party for TEDxBirmingham 2015. The general public is invited to see the broadcast, free of charge, from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., on the second floor of the East Building at the Central Library. Watching TEDxBirmingham 2015 on a large TV monitor in the Youth Department’s Story Castle gives viewers an opportunity to discretely come and go as they please, in an area arranged to accommodate 50 people. The room is adjacent to the Friends Bookstore and free parking is available on the street or at meters around the library (Saturday on-street parking is free).

Not familiar with TEDxBirmingham 2015? In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Our local event is called TEDxBirmingham, where “x”equals independently organized TED event. At our TEDxBirmingham event, TED Talks videos and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. Information on the organization’s website makes a compelling case for attending or viewing. More information, along with other viewing locations, can be found on the website at

Move Mountains. Overcome the impossible. It starts Saturday, and can be viewed live for free at the Central Library.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Library Board Meeting Delayed Until Thursday Morning at 10:30 a.m.

The Birmingham Public Library Board meeting that was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. tomorrow has been delayed until 10:30 a.m.  Board meetings are held in the Board Room located on the 4th floor of the Central Library.

All locations of BPL are still scheduled to open to the public at 11 a .m. tomorrow morning.

Southern History Department's Book of the Month: Forever Dixie: A Field Guide to Southern Cemeteries & Their Residents

Forever Dixie: A Field Guide to Southern Cemeteries & Their Residents
Douglas Keister

One evening a few years ago, I was on the way to visit some friends. As I drove along the winding county road to their home, I caught sight of something I had never known was there before: a small cemetery. I braked to take a closer look and wondered why I had never noticed it, but I drew the line at getting out and walking over to examine the old grave markers; dusk was gathering and I remember thinking that this is how horror movies begin.

If you’re the sort of person who would have gotten out of the car and gone running to have a look at the tombstones, you’ll want to get your hands on Forever Dixie: A Field Guide to Southern Cemeteries & Their Residents. This is a book to warm the hearts of genealogists, cemetery preservation societies, and anyone else who is just plain fascinated with the history and lore of cemeteries. Keister treats us to an in-depth look at several quintessentially Southern cemeteries, and for his definition of Southern he explains that “for the purpose of this book, we’ve placed the center of Dixie in northwestern Alabama and drawn a very wavy line around it. We’ve only included states where almost all of the state has a Southern feel.”

Not all of the cemeteries under discussion are for human interment. One of Keister’s picks is the famous Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard near Tuscumbia, Alabama, where “to qualify for burial, the dog’s owner must claim their dog is an authentic coon dog, a witness must verify that information, and a member of the Coon Hunters Association must be allowed to view the expired coonhound.” Talk about exclusive.

Keister also provides GPS coordinates for each cemetery so readers can go directly to markers of special interest and includes some fascinating information and photographs of funerary architecture and symbols. Have you ever seen a mort safe? How about a table tomb? Or a treestone? What does it signify if a gravestone is carved with daisies? Wheat? Ivy?

Forever Dixie was an unexpectedly entertaining read for me, and for anyone who already has a fascination with cemeteries, it is a must. I think now I’d have more interest in going back to examine that little cemetery along the lonely county road—but I’ll still confine my investigation to daylight hours.

Can’t get enough of cemetery research? For further information:

Find A Grave 

Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance

Association for Gravestone Studies Facebook Page

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

All BPL Locations Closed Due to Threat of Inclement Weather

Due to the threat of inclement weather, all locations of the Birmingham Public Library will close tonight at 5 p.m. and will be closed Wednesday, February 25. All locations will reopen Thursday, February 26 at 11 a.m. Stay safe, enjoy the snow, and visit us online for ebooks, music, magazines, and more.