Monday, January 16, 2017

Birmingham Public Library Closed January 16 for Martin Luther King Day

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial
Washington, D.C.
Credit: Phillip Scott Andrews/New York Times

All locations of the Birmingham Public Library will be closed Monday, January 16, for Martin Luther King Day.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Boom! Train Explosion in Woodlawn area of Birmingham

Explosion on Birmingham Train

Have you ever heard a loud noise and wondered what is the world could have made that sound? Today, we head online to social media and media outlets as the news is almost instant. One hundred years ago in 1917, that was not the case, and the citizens of Birmingham had to wait until the next morning to read in the newspaper what really happened.

On January 7, 1917, readers of The Birmingham Age-Herald and The Birmingham News discovered that there had been an explosion on Birmingham special train of the Southern Railway near Woodlawn. Ambulances rushed to Terminal Station, and carried the wounded to local hospitals. The explosion killed 3 people and injured 15 people. The explosion was not an accident, but a deliberate act perpetrated by Louis Walton.

Train Wreckage
How did this happen? Passenger Louis Walton carried a small bag into the train’s lavatory, and the lavatory was the site of the explosion. Several witnesses on the train saw Walton with a glass bottle possibly containing nitroglycerin. Shattered windows and a bulge in the rear end of the train car were the only outwardly visible evidence of the explosion. Because the train car had been made of steel, it helped minimize the damage and loss of life. Twisted walls, overturned seats, and blown fragments lined the inside of the train car. One of the saddest stories was of J.D. Russum of West End. Previous injuries had left him crippled and without the use of his legs. As a result of the train accident, he had his right ear blown off, his head gnashed, and a large splinter in his side, and his right leg fractured, but he miraculously survived the accident.

What was Walton’s motive for blowing up the train? In 1915, Walton’s business partner, Mr. O. Barton, was found shot to death, and Walton was put on trial for his murder. The motive was to collect insurance money resulting from the death of his business partner. The courts indicted Walton for murder twice, but the two trials ended up as mistrials. However, public opinion was against Walton as many people believed that he has shot his business partner for the insurance money.

The explosion was planned as Walton had taken out multiple insurance policies the week before his train trip. Walton left behind a wife, and the insurance settlement would have left her a very wealthy woman. Insurance policies pay out double the amount for an accidental death on a train, and Walton’s wife might have received over $60,000 with this double indemnity clause. However, insurance policies do not pay out if a death is ruled a suicide. Walton’s plan unraveled, as later that week, the coroner ruled Walton’s death a suicide.

Enjoyed this story of Birmingham’s history? The Southern History Department will share a story, picture, or advertisement each Thursday from 1917 for Throwback Thursday on its Facebook page. Like the Southern History Department on Facebook, so you will not miss any of the stories of what life was like in Birmingham 100 years ago.

Book Review: The Education of Henry Adams

by David Blake, Fiction Department, Central Library

The Education of Henry Adams
Henry Adams

You may have heard of the film trivia game, “seven degrees of separation which references Kevin Bacon.” Henry Adams is the "Kevin Bacon” of the history of the United States. He led a remarkable life and was connected through friendship and family relation to our most important historical figures from the Revolutionary era (through his grandfather John Quincy Adams) to the Kennedy administration (through his friendship with a young Eleanor Roosevelt). But The Education of Henry Adams is not a tell-all series of anecdotes about the scores of interesting people he met and knew. Rather, it is an introspective look at the useful and difficult self-education that emerged from his dealings with the important figures of his era, roughly the last half of the nineteenth century.

The heart of this autobiography is the decade of young Henry Adams’ unpaid service as personal secretary to his father, Charles Francis Adams, Lincoln’s Ambassador to Great Britain, on one of the most important diplomatic missions in US history. Their task was to maintain the neutrality of the British in the Civil War despite the British desire to recognize the Confederacy, buy cotton from them and sell them weapons, which would have reversed the outcome of the Civil War had Adams failed. But this book is not a blow-by-blow recounting of the success of their mission. Rather, Adams, with the hindsight of fifty years of access to historical records, discusses the many ways the American legation—and the British leadership, Palmerston, Gladstone, and Foreign Secretary Lord Russell—all of these brilliant accomplished leaders were almost always entirely wrong about each other’s positions and intentions. Adams describes a real-world education gained from a high stakes endeavor.

During his work in London, young Adams was approached by Charles Darwin and asked to write a paper introducing Darwin’s evolutionary theories to American readers. Later, although he did not have a degree in history, Harvard asked him to become a professor of Medieval history, about which he was ignorant. But he created the seminar method of conducting classes (still widely used) so that he and his students could study together. He was friends with Clarence King, father of the US Geological Survey, and travelled with him into a West still wild with buffalo herds and hostile natives. His closest friendship was with John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of State. Together, they commissioned the great architect H. H. Richardson to build a pair of adjoining houses on Lafayette Park, across from the White House, where they wrote volumes of US history. Some of the best writing is about Adams' youth where he lived on his grandfather’s farm in Quincy, Massachusetts, sill an outpost of 18th century New England puritanism.

The Education of Henry Adams was originally self-published and only distributed to close friends and only reached the public after his death. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, and is widely regarded as the finest American autobiography. Adams was close friends with Henry James, and as with James, his elegant sentences require close attention from the reader, who will often encounter untranslated French or Latin passages, as well. It is a companion piece to his Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, also an American classic. Adams' intent is to compare the religious and intellectual unity of the Medieval era with his time’s expanding multiplicity, driven by the historical forces of science and technology, discussed at length. He is concerned about the education of young leaders for the coming century which he believes will be defined by complexity and change.

The Education of Henry Adams demands much from its readers. He assumes a familiarity with the ideas and personages of his time. Many passages are intellectually challenging and require reflection. But the reader is rewarded with a deeper understanding of an important part of the history we all share. And Adams is very good company.

Play the Martin Luther King, Jr. Trivia Game at Five Points West Library

Do you know what Martin Luther King Jr.'s original first name is?

Test your knowledge on the foremost modern American  civil rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by participating in our trivia contest.

There are two ways to play:

Visit the Five Points West Regional Branch Library branch to experience a trivia tour! Answer the trivia questions correctly and enter to win a prize.

Or you can visit the Five Points West Library Facebook page and enter daily for a chance to win a prize online.

There will be two prizes awarded, one for online patrons and one for the trivia tour in the library. The drawing will be held Friday, January 20, 2017.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Birmingham Public Library, Birmingham Bar Foundation to Host Student Mock Trial Program

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) and the Birmingham Bar Foundation, in conjunction with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Alabama, are joining forces to host the Spring 2017 Student Mock Trial Program.

The program is designed to introduce 30 students from grades six through 12 to the critical thinking, technology, and advocacy skills utilized in trial practice, said Lance Simpson, teen librarian for BPL. After learning and developing these skills, the program will culminate in a mock trial conducted in a courtroom. During the trial, program participants will assume the roles of lawyers, witnesses, and judge.

“We are excited to announce a new mock trial program for middle and high school students that will take place at our Central Library,” Simpson said. “We will have an informal meeting to provide an introduction to the program for interested students and parents on Thursday, January 19, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.”

All of the Student Mock Trial Program classes will be held in the Teen Zone Learning Lab on the second floor of the Central Library. Classes will be taught by distinguished Birmingham area attorneys, Simpson said. Classes will run weekly from Thursday, January 19 through Thursday, March 16.

“We will meet after school at 3:30 p.m. each week, and will generally finish up around 5 p.m.,” Simpson said. “Teens will have the opportunity to study the justice system in depth, not only learning laws and legal procedures, but practicing their own skills in a mock trial in an actual courtroom.”

Due to limited space, advanced registration for the program is required. For more information, call Simpson at 205-226-3655 or e-mail him at You may register online through the BPL event calendar.

Schedule for Spring 2017 Student Mock Trial Program 
The eight-week program begins Thursday, January 19, 2017, ends Thursday, March 16, 2017, and will be held every Thursday from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Each session will be taught by distinguished and experienced trial attorneys. The sessions will include:

Week 1. Introduction to the Program & QA (less than one hour)
Week 2. Overview of the Criminal Justice System
Week 3. Case Analysis and Brainstorming
Week 4. Opening Statements & Evidence
Week 5. Witness Examinations
Week 6. Closing Arguments
Week 7. Courtroom Technology & Preparation for the Mock Trial
Week 8. Preparation for Mock Trial
Week 9. Mock Trial

During the first week, all participants and community members are welcome to attend a brief overview of the program and its goals. The second week’s program will provide an overview of the criminal justice system. During weeks three through seven, the participants will be given an introductory presentation by distinguished local attorneys on necessary trial skills. At the conclusion of the presentation, the participants will be placed into small learning groups and each participant will be given individual instruction on the trial skill and an opportunity to practice the skill.

During the final week of the program, the participants will utilize the skills they have been taught in the preceding weeks by assuming the roles of participants in a trial and arguing a case before a jury.

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Birmingham City Councilor Lashunda Scales donates $25,000 to Springville Road Library

Sandi Lee (left) and the BPL Board of Trustees

Birmingham City Councilor Lashunda Scales has donated $25,000 to the Springville Road Regional Branch Library as part of her District 1 Holiday Gala held recently at Huffman High School.

The check from Scales was among several she presented to neighborhood groups, schools, police, and others located in the eastern Birmingham District 1 community Scales represents on the City Council. Birmingham Public Library Interim Director Sandi Lee and BPL Board of Trustees members Willie Davis and Georgia Blair were present to accept the check.

Lee said she is appreciative of Scales’ longtime support of the Springville Road Library. Scales District 1 Holiday Gala is among several community events she hosts in District 1 throughout the year to serve the citizens of her district.

"On behalf of Birmingham City Council District One, it is my honor to invest $25,000 to the Springville Road Library to provide additional resources and tools to better enhance the educational prosperity of all of our citizens," said Councilor Scales in a statement.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

MLK Lecture “A Conversation on Islam in America” to Be Held January 15 at Central Library

What: Begin the Day: The 14th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture – "The First Step: A Conversation on Islam in America"
When: Sunday, January 15, 2017, 3:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium, 4th floor
Details: Free and open to the public

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is partnering with the Birmingham Islamic Society to host an in-depth discussion on what it is like to be a follower of Islam in the United States. “The First Step: A Conversation on Islam in America” is the topic of BPL’s 14th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture on January 15 at the Central Library.

The MLK Memorial Lecture will feature four young people from Birmingham’s Islamic community sharing their experiences and answering questions about their lives and their faith, said Jim Baggett, head of BPL’s Archives & Manuscripts Department. The Birmingham Public Library has been hosting the MLK Lecture every weekend of the MLK holiday since 2002. Past speakers have included scholars discussing the civil rights movement, community leaders, and activists talking about issues such as human trafficking.

“With this program we have looked at civil rights as well as human rights,” Baggett said. “That led us this year to look at an issue important in this area and around the world—Islamophobia.”

Baggett said BPL decided to explore being Islam in America early last year, before it became an issue in the presidential election. Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, said the topic is timely since many followers of the Islamic faith are worried about the negative rhetoric about Muslims common in the U.S. right now.

Taufique and Baggett both said they hope the MLK Lecture sparks a positive conversation on Islam here in Alabama among attendees. Baggett said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, though known mostly for his fight for civil rights in Birmingham and elsewhere, was also active in the fight for human rights. He referred to King’s famous quote, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

“The first step for people who want to understand each other is to talk and ask questions,” Baggett said. “We hope people will attend the MLK Lecture with an open mind about Islam in America and join the conversation.”

Taufique said the Birmingham Islamic Society is proud to partner with BPL on the MLK Lecture. The organization provides resources for Muslims and educates the community about the Islamic faith in metro Birmingham and across central Alabama.

“We do a lot of outreach to the community so that we become the voice who speaks for Islam rather than politics and television,” Taufique said. “We’ve got great interfaith partners who support us. When the Birmingham Public Library approached us about this, we were so fortunate to have been invited and to have someone help us make our voices heard. One of the things that is lacking is conversation and dialogue. This provides an opportunity to talk to each other.”

Baggett said BPL has been planning this program for a year. Their original concept was to invite a scholar to discuss Islam in America. But in recent months we evolved and wanted it to be more of a conversation. We wanted it to involve young people in many communities in the Birmingham area. We hope it will encourage a dialogue and hopefully some understanding.”

Taufique said it is important to address the issue of Islam in America head-on by having an open dialogue. He hopes “this conversation is not going to only bring people who are like-minded, but people who are diverse in their thinking together.”

“People who really think Islam is part of the problem can get to know their neighbors, know the girls and boys who go to school with their children, who play basketball with their children,” Taufique said. “Once we personalize ourselves in the position of others, we can truly develop a better understanding of each other.”

For more information about the MLK Lecture, call Jim Baggett at 205-226-3631 or e-mail him at

Birmingham Mayor to Give State of the City 2017 Address at Pratt City Library on January 10

Birmingham Mayor William Bell will give his annual State of the City address on Tuesday, January 10, first before a downtown business group luncheon and again during an evening address at the Pratt City Branch Library.

Bell will speak at the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham’s weekly luncheon taking place on Tuesday, January 10, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at the Harbert Center. That luncheon is for members only and their guests.

The public, however, is welcome to attend Bell’s State of the City address between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 10, at the Pratt City Branch Library.

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Future of Bards & Brews

It is a new year and time for another Bards & Brews.

Except, the library is facing new challenges this year and we are unable to have a Bards & Brews this month.

Here are the three main challenges the Bards & Brews program is facing in 2017:

1) Last year the state legislature passed a bill (aka the growler bill) that included language that put a big limitation on beer donations by Alabama's breweries. In order to continue serving beer at these events, we are going to have to actually purchase the beer—and it is not possible for us to use library (aka taxpayer) money to purchase beer.

2) The grant cycle for this program has run its course. 2017 is the sixth year of Bards & Brews and our grant funding has essentially disappeared since the program is no longer a novel idea.

3) The Birmingham Public Library has had to re-prioritize budgeting for programs and there is no money for us to pay our servers, provide refreshments, cash prizes for slam winners, and so forth.

Now having said all of that, we want you to know that there is a dedicated group of BPL staff and community supporters who are working to keep Bards & Brews alive and vital.

The program will have some changes ahead and we are going to be asking for your help.

We will have a Bards & Brews in February.

It will be an All Star Bards & Brews with previous slam winners and crowd favorites performing. There will be beer (donated by Grayton Beer Company out of Florida) and light refreshments and there will be a great band performing.

And we will be asking for your support. More details and some big announcements are coming.

So stay tuned!

From Page to Stage: Einstein is a Dummy – 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: Einstein is a Dummy – A Reader's Theater Workshop for Children.

In anticipation of the upcoming BCT performance of Einstein is a Dummy, BPL will be hosting free workshops at several of its area libraries. Children, aged 5 to 12, will learn how stories 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 Einstein is a Dummy production in January and February 2017.

As an adult, Albert Einstein changed our view of the universe. But as a boy, he struggled with the same issues any 12-year-old might—keeping up with violin lessons, impressing the girl next door, and, oh yeah, comprehending the fundamental relationship of space and time to the speed of light, of course.

This uplifting play about a fictional day in young Einstein's life confirms that each of us is both ordinary and special. With an engaging, original score, a healthy dose of imagination and the help of a mysterious cat, Einstein Is a Dummy reveals life's atomic possibilities.

Workshop space is limited, so register a child for the workshop online through the BPL calendar or call your participating library. Libraries and dates are as follows:

Avondale: Sunday, January 22, 2:30 p.m. (includes special visit by the JLB Yummy Truck)
East Lake: Saturday, January 21, 2:30 p.m.
Five Points West: Sunday, January 22, 2:30 p.m.
Pratt City: Saturday, January 21, 2:30 p.m.
Southside: Saturday, January 28, 2:30 p.m.
Springville Road: Sunday, January 29, 2:30 p.m. (includes special visit by the JLB Yummy Truck)
West End: Saturday, January 28, 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Hoopla Digital Library Available at BPL

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Birmingham Public Library Receives Donation of 106 Books in Honor of Homicide Victims

BPL Interim Director Sandi Lee (2nd from left), Jefferson County DA Charles
Henderson (3rd from right), and Jefferson County Millennial Democrats

The Jefferson County Millennial Democrats has donated 106 children’s books to the Birmingham Public Library in honor of homicide victims killed in the city in 2016.

Each of the 106 books has a victim’s name inscribed inside the front cover in memory of 104 people and two unborn babies who were victims of a homicide last year. The donations were made during a dedication ceremony held Sunday, January 1, 2017, at the West End Branch Library.

At the ceremony, Le'Darius Hilliard, president of the Jefferson County Millennial Democrats, said he "hopes to bring light" to senseless violence in Birmingham through the book donation. Birmingham Public Library representatives and Jefferson County District Attorney Charles Henderson attended the dedication, in which Hilliard said he hopes the books encourage children to pursue education vs. violent behavior.