Friday, August 12, 2016

Central's Temporary Hours

Due to air conditioning issues the Central Library will have temporary new hours until the air conditioning is repaired.

Saturday, July 23, the second and third floors will close at 1:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 24, the Central Library will be closed.

Beginning Monday, July 25, the hours of operation will be 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The second and third floors will close at 1:00 p.m.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Southern History Book of the Month: Alabama Biography: An Index to Biographical Sketches of Individual Alabamians, a W.P.A. Project

Alabama Biography: An Index to Biographical Sketches of Individual Alabamians in State, Local, and to Some Extent National Collections, a W.P.A. Project
Sponsored by the Birmingham Public Library

On the Ready Reference shelf in the Southern History Department, there is a thick book bound in black, with a spine title reading W.P.A. Index to Alabama Biography—which is why most people wouldn’t recognize the long jawbreaker of a title listed above. Generally known in the department as simply “the W.P.A. Index,” this is one of our most frequently used sources for Alabama research:
This index to biographical material about Alabamians was begun as a library sponsored W.P.A. Project during the 1930’s. The W.P.A. folded up before the work was completed. The manuscript or typescript was turned over to Southern Collection in this state. Southern staff has found it useful and a great time saver in thumbing through many individual books—books often without indexes or poor ones. (From the preface)
Though a valuable source of information, the Index can still be a bit cumbersome to use. Suppose you wanted to know about William Wyatt Bibb, the first governor of Alabama. You could turn to his name in the Index and see an entry like this: "Bibb, William W, Beverly, I: 39; N.C.B. , X: 425; Riley, I: 1; . . ."

And the entry continues for several more lines. To decipher it, you would have to turn to the front list of sources, in which you discover that “Beverly” means History of Alabama: For Use in Schools and for General Reading by John William Beverly and that the entry for Bibb is on page 39. You would have to follow the same procedure for the rest of the titles in the list. It’s slow going at first, but easier once you’ve learned the drill.

The Index has gone through several evolutions in its history with BPL. When the original and very well-thumbed copy was showing signs of heavy use, a bound photocopy was placed on the shelf, but the photocopy also reflected the evidence of wear and tear as well as the extensive annotations, such as the change from Dewey call numbers to Library of Congress. However, this source became much easier to search when it was converted into one of the library’s databases. Using this format, all a researcher has to do is search a name to generate a list of sources, complete with catalog links to help locate items on the shelf.

Even though the W.P.A. Index was never completed according to the original vision of the Works Progress Administration, it remains one of the most informative guides to biographical material about Alabamians. Take a look at one of our bound copies in the collection or try out the database, which is accessible from your home or office. With the approach of our Bicentennial, it’s a good time to learn more about the people who shaped the history of our state.

Who are your famous Alabamians?

The WPA Index Database
Alabama Bicentennial
Birmingham Public Library Databases

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Registration Open For August 2016 Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the August 2016 Computer Class Schedule. During this month, we include a Basic PC class, Excel 2010, Hiring Process for Jefferson County, as well as our popular downloadables class. All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central (downtown) Library. PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.

Please note that registration does not necessarily guarantee you a spot in the class. You will receive an email confirming your registration for classes. You may also call to confirm your registration.

To register for any class, please email us at or call 205-226-3681. You may also download and print a pdf copy of the August 2016 Computer Class Schedule to bring to a Computer Commons staff member on your next library visit. Please note that the August 2016 Computer Class Schedule pdf can be sent to us as an email attachment.

Copies for the 21st Century

bad copyEver made a bad copy on a copy machine? We have all been there as the copy may have smeared text, words cut off, thick black lines, and poor image quality. Because none of the books in the Southern History Department can be checked out, our patrons make a lot of copies as they conduct local history and genealogy research.

The Southern History Department applied for a major grant from the Alabama Public Library Service, which administers Alabama’s allocation of federal money received through the Library and Science and Technology Act. With the grant money, we purchased a KIC Click Mini overhead book scanner for the Southern History Department. Because of the overhead design, you can capture an image deeper within the folds of the book and the curvature of the spine of a tightly bound book. It also saves wear and tear on the binding of the books as you no longer have to flip the book over and flatten it to make a copy.

croppingYou will be able to scan in both color and black and white, print, save to a flash drive, or upload to cloud storage (Google Drive, Box, OneDrive, and Dropbox). It can save in the following file formats: PDF, JPEG, PNG, and Rich Text. Another great feature is that is has OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, which can made a PDF keyword searchable; you can also crop your images. Since saving to a flash drive is the most popular option, please bring a flash drive, or you can purchase one from the Friends Bookstore. Saving a digital copy of your scan is free, and prints are $.15 per page.

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Several of our loyal patrons have already tried it out and love it! Wanda Looney, a member of Birmingham African American Genealogy Group, has been scanning pages out of several local cemetery books to help her identify abandoned and overgrown cemeteries. She exclaimed, “I can be in the middle of a deserted cemetery overgrown by weeds, and can pull up the information I need from a cemetery book on my phone. It’s amazing!” We are excited about the overhead book scanner, and cannot wait for you to try it out!

Laura M. Gentry
Southern History Department
Central Library

Central Library Hosting How to Use Legal Strategies to Protect Your Business Seminar on July 28

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) will host several small business seminars in 2016 beginning in April and ending in November that will take place at the Central Library. The small business seminars are being offered by BPL in partnership with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the City of Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development.

Seminar presenters will be veteran mentors from the Birmingham chapter of SCORE, a national nonprofit comprised of volunteers willing to share their business knowledge and experience with prospective entrepreneurs and small business owners. For over 50 years, SCORE mentors have helped millions of business owners start or grow their business.

How to Use Legal Strategies to Protect Your Business is presented by Josh Andrews, a Birmingham lawyer specializing in legal issues of concern to small business owners. It is scheduled for Thursday, July 28, from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., in the Central Library’s Arrington Auditorium, located on the fourth floor of the Linn-Henley Research Building. This same seminar will also be offered on Thursday, October 27.

The seminar is free but advance registration is required. To register, go to the Birmingham SCORE website at and click on the seminar title in the Upcoming Events section.

For more information about seminars and other resources about small business development available at BPL, contact Jim Murray of Central Library’s Business, Science and Technology Department by email at or by calling 205-226-3691.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
Robert A. Heinlein
Illuminated by D. F. Vassallo

The character Lazarus Long is the star of two Heinlein novels, Methuselah’s Children and Time Enough for Love. He also appears in The Cat That Walks Through Walls, The Number of the Beastand To Sail Beyond the Sunset, the story of Lazarus’ mother. Lazarus is rich, wise, and extremely long-lived. He attributes his wealth to the fact he knew to never draw to a pair of deuces, and his long life to never giving anyone the chance to shoot him in the back. The Notebooks of Lazarus Long are a collection of Long’s aphorisms for wealth, happiness, long life, and love. They are also funny.

“Rub her feet” is among the best of Heinlein’s aphorisms. It appears many times in Long’s Notebooks and in the novels. “Don’t try to have the last word. You might get it” is clearly key to a long life. Wealth and love are well-served by “Money is a powerful aphrodisiac, but flowers work almost as well,” as is human happiness by “Always yield to temptation. It may never pass your way again.”

Reading Heinlein one comes to believe that his protagonists are different versions of Heinlein himself. Jubal Harshaw from Stranger in a Strange Land, and Johan Sebastian Bach Smith of I Will Fear No Evil are essentially the same character, cranky, very rich and very old men with hearts of gold down deep. One reads these books for the pleasure of their company, their quips, and useful wit. The Notebooks of Lazarus Long is a collection of Heinlein’s wit distilled, and as his character, Lazarus Long, once said, “A motion to adjourn is always in order.”

Before I adjourn this blog entry, let me assert that this brief title should not be missed for its entertainment sake, if not for any other reason. While the illuminations may not compete with those of The Book of Kells and other ancient illuminated manuscripts, they are compelling as well.

Check it out and enjoy.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

Central Library Hosts Computer Coding Camp for Middle and High School Students

More than a dozen Birmingham area teens now have insight on how computer coding is used to create movies and video games, thanks to the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) and community partners.

On July 11-15, the Central Library hosted the Steel City Hackers Coding Camp for middle and high school students. Generously funded by a UAB Benevolent Fund Local Agency Grant, the coding camp offered local teens a week-long opportunity to learn how to code and create their own movies and video games.

Teens used ALICE, a computer programming environment designed to teach code and offered free to the public by Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to gaining a better understanding of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, teens learned the importance of algorithms and the building blocks for learning and applying other computer programming languages.

“This program fit well with our mission to provide 21st century informal education programs at the library,” said Lance Simpson, teen librarian for the Central Library. “Our teens had a blast learning to code in ALICE. They had wonderful instructors in Ms. Keiah Shauku and Ms. Kelly Creel.” Simpson said many of the teens started out with no knowledge of computer programming, and by the end of the week had all created a complex video game or interactive video that demonstrated their newly advanced programming skills.

“We are so grateful to the UAB Benevolent Fund for the support of such an innovative program, and look forward to offering more programs like this in the future,” Simpson said.

In early June, the Central Library partnered with the UAB School of Engineering to host another free week-long computer camp as part of BPL Teens Engineer Birmingham, an afterschool program funded by a $50,000 grant from the UAB Benevolent Fund Grant Program. Simpson and Carrie Campbell, grants and special projects librarian, submitted the grant application on behalf of BPL. The money will be used to expand BPL’s teen engineering afterschool program from Central Library to other Birmingham public libraries beginning this fall.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Central Library Hosting Pokémon Go Workshop Saturday, July 23

The Central Library is hosting a free Intro to Pokémon Go workshop Saturday, July 23. The workshop, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. in the Story Castle on the 2nd floor, is an effort by the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) to educate people about the popular mobile game sweeping the country—and to promote safety at the same time.

The workshop is being organized by Jennifer Hancock, a library assistant in the Central Library Youth Department who is an avid player of the game. Since its introduction less than two weeks ago, Pokémon Go has become the most popular app of all time, surpassing the Candy Crush Saga that hit its height of popularity in 2013.

“Starting off with a basic overview of the app itself, we are then going to take a Poke-walk in Linn Park, pick up some Poke-stops, check out a Poke-gym, and hopefully catch some Pokémon in their natural environments,” Hancock said. “We will learn tips and tricks to catching, transferring, training, and evolving our Pokémon in a hands-on approach while also learning how to be a safe trainer.”

Hancock hopes the workshop helps Pokémon Go players in metro Birmingham avoid accidents that have occurred across the country.

“As our world gets caught up in the Poke-craze, we are noticing more and more people walking out into traffic, invading private property, and even driving while hunting Pokémon,” she said. “The worst of it is that none of those things are even effective means to playing the game. As a service to our community, we hope to teach the way the game was meant to be played and support the positive aspects of the game.”

Hancock said the media reports about Pokémon Go players getting hurt or stepping into dangerous situations are detracting from the fun of the game.

“We are out, getting exercise, socializing together, laughing and sharing,” Hancock said. “In the toxic environment our society is becoming, it is refreshing and encouraging to see the community developing around a simple game. We hope to see everybody there at our workshop this Saturday.”

See link below to an article on how libraries are capitalizing on the Pokémon Go craze to introduce themselves to a new generation of patrons, especially young adults and teens, and introducing visitors to Pokémon books, videos, and other items available for the public:

Birmingham Barons to Hold Birmingham Public Library Night on Wednesday, July 20

The Birmingham Barons baseball team will be holding Birmingham Public Library (BPL) Night on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Library staff will have a table promoting programs and services available at 19 city libraries, said Sandi Lee, interim director of the Birmingham Public Library.

The Barons will be hosting the Montgomery Biscuits at Regions Field, 1401 1st Avenue South in Birmingham. The game is slated to begin at 7:05 p.m. You can purchase tickets online at or at the gate. For more information, call the Barons office between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. at 205-988-3200.

Libraries in Birmingham, Nationwide, Opening Their Venues to Pokemon Go Players

While some venues across the country are shooing away participants of Pokémon Go, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) system is welcoming patron players of the popular virtual game that is sweeping the country.

Several of Birmingham’s 19 libraries have seen patrons come in trying to catch Pokémon while playing the game on their smart phones. Among them is the Eastwood Branch Library, which has found itself to be a PokeStop (location where Pokémon Go players can pick up much needed supplies and collect Pokémon), according to branch manager Brandon Crawford Smith.

Smith said the Eastwood Library, located in a shopping center just off Montevallo Road, has seen both new and regular patrons coming in to play Pokémon Go.

“We had a table full of Pokémon Go players at Eastwood (earlier this week) and an excited gym goer from Planet Fitness popped her head into the branch to ask us whether we knew we were a PokeStop,” Smith said. “I expect a lot of people who frequent our neighboring businesses to pop into the library in order to utilize our location in the virtual world of Pokémon Go and to utilize our power outlets and WiFi in order to keep their phones charged and minimize their data usage.”

Articles in library publications have said that public libraries across the country are taking advantage of the Pokémon Go craze to introduce themselves to a new generation of library patrons, especially young adults and teens. See the following link on how libraries are partnering with Pokémon Go:

For those unfamiliar, Pokémon (short for “pocket monsters”) was originally a video game released in 1995 from Shatoshi Tajiri. Players are “human trainers” who travel a virtual world capturing adorable “Pokémons” using capsules called Pokeballs.

In the Pokémon video games, players catch and train Pokémon and compete in Pokémon gyms, places where they compete for prestige, earn badges, and make their Pokémon bigger, badder, and better.

In Pokémon Go, gyms are attached to free, safe, public places where all players can get access to. But across the country, some venues—such as some national museums and the Arlington National Cemetery, are banning Pokémon Go players.

Libraries, in contrast, are welcoming Pokémon Go players and using the game’s popularity to introduce patrons to their Pokémon books, videos, and other items available to the public. Some libraries have set up Pokémon displays.

The following article shares details on everything you need to know about Pokémon Go:

Friday, July 15, 2016

End-of-Summer-Reading Celebration at Inglenook Library

Mad Skillz Dance Co. at BPL

On Friday, July 22, 3:30 p.m., the Inglenook Branch Library will bring its summer reading program to a close. Mad Skillz Dance Company will lead the program with dance moves that everybody will be able to move to. A ceremony honoring and rewarding the summer reading participants who completed the program will follow. Door prizes and light refreshments will be provided as well. So stop by the Inglenook Library and get your dance on!

Karnecia Williams
Inglenook Branch Library

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Debut of Documentary A Cut Above: A Story About a Father and Son at the Central Library, July 17

The Central Library will host the debut film screening of A Cut Above: A Story About a Father and Son on Sunday, July 17, 3:30 p.m.

The 13-minute documentary deals with a Birmingham barber reconnecting with his biological father after years of no communication. This is the debut film for Kalisha DigiMedia. The founder of the production company, Kalisha Whitman, is a 31-year-old former reporter for NBC 13. Whitman is an Emmy-winning journalist who has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Alabama Broadcasters Association for her work.

A Cut Above was born out of Whitman’s natural curiosity. Whitman said she came up with the idea while sitting in the chair of her longtime barber, Taqee Salaam. An interesting man walked in and had a brief conversation with her barber.

“I asked Taqee about the man and he told me the man was his biological father,” Whitman said in an interview. “It was a fascinating story and the journalist in me kicked in. I asked if he would allow me to document his story, and he said yes.”

After 10 years working as an anchor and reporter, Whitman decided to go with her desire to start the production company sharing positive stories you don’t see on traditional news platforms.

A self-described woman on the roam with her iPhone, Whitman filmed A Cut Above using her mobile device. “The landscape of journalism is changing. Capturing stories is a way of life. We are never not connected to our phones. So that’s why I did it,” she said.

Whitman started the documentary on May 27, and finished within a month. The screening this Sunday at the Central Library will be its debut. You can check out more details about the film at

If you are interested in submitting a story idea, e-mail Whitman at

Southern History Department Hosting Several Genealogy Workshops Beginning July 16

July marks the return of Southern History Department's popular Beyond the Basics of Genealogy workshop series,Let's Talk About: Oral History.

Relatives and family friends are important sources of information. In this introduction to the oral history series, you will learn how to gather information from those who have difficulty remembering or are troubled by the past and reluctant to share it.

The workshop will be on Saturday, July 16, 10:00 a.m., in the Central Library’s Arrington Auditorium. Register by e-mailing or calling 205-226-3665. Workshops are free of charge, but registration in advance is requested.

Southern History staffers will be traveling to several locations to present its Birmingham in 1916 program, and will be hosting its popular Introduction to Genealogy class at the Springville Road Regional Branch Library as part of BPL's summer reading program. "The Southern History Department is thrilled to be teaching genealogy and introducing patrons all around the county to our resources," said Mary Beth Newbill, head of BPL’s Southern History Department.

The Southern History Department’s upcoming workshop schedule is as follows:
  • Saturday, July 16, 10:00-11:30 a.m., Central Library, Arrington Auditorium
    Let's Talk About: Oral History – Relatives and family friends are important sources of information. Whom do you want to talk with (everyone) and what do you want to ask (everything). Join us in this introduction to oral history. Learn how to gather information from those who have difficulty remembering or are troubled by the past and reluctant to share it. 
  • Saturday, July 16, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., AlaBenton Genealogical Society, Anniston-Calhoun County Public Library
    Using the Census in your Research – BPL's Mary Beth Newbill will be the speaker.
  • Monday, July 18, 2:00 p.m., North Avondale Branch Library
    Birmingham in 1916 – Get a glimpse into the past as the Southern History Department takes you on a journey through the news, stories, and advertisements gleaned from Birmingham newspapers for the year 1916.
  • Tuesday, July 19, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library
    Introduction to Genealogy
    – Want to learn how to do genealogical research? Come to this introductory class that will help get you started on your genealogical journey. No registration is required, and it will be held in the Southern History Department.
  • Wednesday, July 20, 2:00 p.m., Central Library, Regional Library Computer Center
    How to Patent an Invention
    – Did you have an ancestor who was an inventor? In this class, participants will learn more patents, basic search methods, and will conduct searches in the U.S. Patent and Trademark databases. To register, call the Computer Commons at 205-226-3680.
  • Saturday, July 30, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., Birmingham Family History Center (Altadena Rd.)
    RootsTech Family Discovery Day
    – This free all-day workshop features the best local genealogy speakers. Please visit for more information and to register.
  • Saturday, August 27, 10:00 a.m., Central Library, Arrington Auditorium
    Jump Into the Gene Pool: Genetics and Your Family History
    – Discover how genetic research can help you explore your family history. Find out what a gene sample can tell you about what parts of the world your ancestors came from and more. Jump in!
  • Saturday, October 1, 10:00 a.m., Central Library, Arrington Auditorium
    Genetic Genealogy Strategies for African American and Native American Research
    – There is no magic in genetic genealogy and no special tests for African American and Native American research, but there are choices you can make that may enable you to confirm and to go beyond the evidence of the paper trail.

For more information about the BPL Southern History Department, call 205-226-3665 or e-mail You can also find more information online at and follow us on Facebook at

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs

Author Ransom Riggs has collected odd old photos for much of his life. He and his editor thought it would be interesting to base a novel around the pictures. That novel became Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. I don’t know of anyone who’s ever done a novel like this before, but the Surrealists and Dadaists illustrated some of their fictions with pre-existing engravings taken from old magazines and catalogs. The text/photo pairings in Miss Peregrine’s reminded me of Max Ernst’s illustrated novels and E.V. Lucas’ What A Life! That girl standing and floating on the cover of Riggs’ book grabbed me, and my liking for the book’s ancestors made me want to read about this peculiar home.

The novel usually follows this format: First, we’re introduced to significant points in the narrative. Then you turn the page and there are illustrations (sorry, vintage photos) showing you what the narrator just described. Each time a significant character, for instance, is introduced, you get to where you want to skip ahead and see the photo, asking yourself, “How will Riggs depict this with his stock of snaps?” It’s a pleasurable experience, this anticipating and gratifying, vaguely like the old interplay with conventional illustrations, but odder because you know the narrative has had to fit the picture rather than the other way round. But since Riggs chose the pics out of his collection of thousands, his freedom may not have been totally straightened. In any event, it all works, and it somehow makes the novel more real, in a surreal way.

But all that novelty wouldn’t matter much if the story wasn’t good. Fortunately, it is. It’s a tale that could have held its own even without the photos. It’s a story that starts with a teenage boy, Jacob, who is recounting how his mentally ill grandpa used to show him old photos of odd children when Jacob was a child. Grandpa always said these were proof that his tales of growing up in Wales were true, and Jacob believed him. Until he grew up. He’s so embarrassed now that he ever believed the stories about a fantastical island home for peculiar children off the coast of Wales. Then his grandpa is murdered and Jacob is set on a course that makes him wonder if the peculiar stories might be true in part, then might actually be basically, then… Then he has a breakdown. His psychiatrist thinks it’d be good if Jacob goes to Wales so he can see for himself that such things never happened. That trip doesn’t confirm the doctor’s reasoning. As events unfold, the reader is captivated by an unfolding Peculiar universe that dovetails with mythology, religion and all sorts of historical events. You won’t look at the Great Siberian Explosion in Tunguska the same way again. And if you never heard of that explosion, it won’t matter, because the narrative still works its spell. When it works its magic, it’s as if Peculiars have always existed and we never knew it. History, like vintage photos, confirms Peculiardom. Somewhat similarly, the narrative makes side glances to well-known fictions such as Lost Horizon, the Harry Potter series, superhero comics (especially X-Men; I had to have this one explained to me), The War Of The Worlds, and so on. None of this is showy. It’s all seamless and doesn’t slow down the pace, which is important since the book is, above all, a thriller. There are also romantic/sexual elements (PG; Jacob is inexperienced) and time travel factors (not in any way you might expect). Something for most, if not all, readers, but enough that it kept the book on bestseller lists for months. And that confirms that, despite my English major entreaties, this isn’t a heavily freighted book. It’s just the right weight for a teen novel that has adult appeal. Riggs’ editor told the author the book could go either way—teen or adult. The two agreed to go the teen route, but the adult pull shows that it really did end up having both kinds of readership. I’ve found out that two of my coworkers have read it, so there’s two adults for you there, and, since this is a library I’m talking about, there are doubtless more that I haven’t found out about. I never felt out of place reading it, although it had been a while since I’d read so much about retards, butts, being horny, and embarrassment. But then embarrassment is the great teen theme.

As I read the novel, I got interested in all the attendant matter, and soon discovered that Miss Peregrine’s is now Book 1 of a trilogy and that the movie of 1 is coming out in the fall, directed by Tim Burton. I don’t know if I’ll read the sequels or not, but I’m eagerly looking forward to the movie. Burton seems like a natural for it. Looking at stills on the movie website, the characters, with some inevitable Hollywood compromises (Miss Peregrine isn’t supposed to be a looker—she’s supposed to be dowdy) look mostly faithful to their book counterparts, the photos. It all started with the photos.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library