Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What I Learned from Nancy Drew, Part 2

Buzz Kill
Beth Fantaskey
Read by Erin Moon

I just listened to a new audiobook by an author who must have read as many Nancy Drew books as I have: Beth Fantaskey. In her new book, Buzz Kill, Millie Ostermeyer is a non-conformist, full of spunk and determination. A reporter for the high school paper, whose editor is obnoxiously superior, Millie is investigating a story when she discovers a body. Like a modern day Nancy Drew, she is on the case. But this is much more than a well done mystery whose Nancy Drew tie-ins really work. When Millie and Chase, an aloof new boy, team up to solve the mystery, they slowly begin to deal with difficult life problems of their own.

Millie’s mother had read her Nancy Drew books as she was dying from cancer and that makes Nancy special to Millie. When Millie asks herself, “WWNDD?” (What would Nancy Drew Do?), mud- covered Millie realizes Nancy would never be anything but perfect, which Millie would never be. Millie compares her life with her widowed father to Nancy’s relationship with her widowed father, but her public librarian mentions Nancy’s reaction to her father’s dating in the Mystery of the Glowing Eye, where Nancy’s reactions are not so perfect.

As a public librarian, I especially enjoyed her devotion to her public library, and "her librarian." She's right—everyone needs their own librarian.

Lynn Piper
Five Points West Library

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Local Authors Expo and Book Fair Scheduled for Saturday, February 7, at Central Library

Discover a new writer or learn what it takes to write a good book at the Local Authors Expo and Book Fair, Saturday, February 7, from 9:00 3:00 p.m., at the Central Library. The event is free.

Authors will be selling books on a variety of topics: from mystery, romance, and Birmingham history to food, children's stories, and biographies. A 2015 calendar featuring notable Birmingham residents will be available.

There will also be two workshops on how to write books and get them published.

At 10:00 a.m., Birmingham attorney, author, and blogger Keith Lee of the Hamer Law Group will discuss everything from copyright and trademark to what pitfalls to avoid in publishing or self-publishing a book. He has written one book and is in the process of writing a second book. He writes a weekly column for Above the Law, the most popular legal blog in America.

At 1:00 p.m., Marie A. Sutton will discuss what it takes to write about history and how to make it interesting. Marie recently wrote a book about the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in downtown Birmingham titled The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham: A Civil Rights Landmark. Martin Luther King Jr. and other supporters of the civil rights movement stayed there.

There will be something for the kids, too. At 11:30, Alabama's #1 magical mad scientist, the amazing Doctor Osborn will present "Reading Is Magic!" in the Youth Department's Story Castle. As part of the good Doctor's 2015 "Unlock the Madness Tour," children will learn the value of books and the library through Doctor Osborn's unique brand of magic, comedy, and crazy balloon creations.

Books-A-Million and other publishers will be on hand to discuss their publishing process.

For more information, visit

2013 Local Authors Expo

National Chocolate Cake Day

January 27 has to be one of the best days of the year. Why? you ask. Well it’s not because it’s pay-day or even my birthday; January 27 is Chocolate Cake Day! Chocolate Cake Day is a day meant for chocolate lovers all over the world. Your three main objectives for this day are to bake a chocolate cake, decorate a chocolate cake, and eat a chocolate cake. If you don’t have time to make a cake from scratch, a boxed cake mix will do. But if you find yourself not having time to make a chocolate cake from scratch or a boxed cake mix, don’t hesitate to run to your local bakery. It doesn't matter where you get your chocolate cake, just make sure you do!

Young Chocolate Cake lovers, after celebrating the day with a slice of cake and a glass of milk, have fun reading some of our favorite books about…CHOCOLATE CAKE!

The Cake by Dorothee De Monfreid
The Just Desserts Club by by Johanna Hurwitz
Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan
Scaredy Mouse by Alan MacDonald
Cool Cakes & Cupcakes: Easy Recipes for Kids to Bake by Pamela Price
Little Mouse and the Big Cupcake by Thomas Taylor
Grandma’s Whopper Birthday Cake by Karma Wilson

More mature Chocolate Cake lovers we haven’t forgotten about you…
Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn
Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion by Elinor Klivans
Small-batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers by Debby Maugans Nakos
Chocolate Cake: from the Simple to the Sublime by Michele Urvater

Carla Perkins
Avondale Library

Monday, January 26, 2015

Focus on Databases

As noted before on this blog, there are no laws, rules, or regulations stating that anything put on the Internet has to be correct, valid, current, or scholarly. ANYBODY can put ANYTHING on the Internet! This is why some teachers tell their classes that they cannot use the Internet for resources—it prevents them from going to Google or Wikipedia and coming up with questionable research. Now here’s the good news: The Internet, used wisely, can be an awesome source for research. The key is to know where to look.

That’s where library databases come into play. The database links from the Birmingham Public Library homepage connect you to sources that have been checked for accuracy, validity, and currency. Some of these databases are links to external websites, like CIA World Factbook or Medlineplus, but most of them are subscriptions your library pays for that would cost you money if you accessed them outside of the library portal. In other words, your library card gives you access to tons of valuable information, and does the research for you to make sure it’s “good stuff.” Best of all, it’s all FREE to library members!

February is Black History Month, so I’m highlighting three incredibly fabulous sources for information to complete homework assignments next month. Heads up!

The Oxford African American Studies Center provides students, teachers, and scholars with an authoritative and comprehensive source on the African American experience. The site is comprised of five major encyclopedias and content from eighteen additional reference sources from Oxford University Press, including more than 8,000 articles by top scholars in the field. The Oxford African American Studies Center combines the authority of carefully edited reference works with sophisticated technology to create the most comprehensive collection of scholarship available online to focus on the lives and events which have shaped African American and African history and culture.

African-American History Online covers topics such as affirmative action, Africa, black nationalism, civil rights, emancipation, free blacks, the Harlem Renaissance, migrations, racial violence and hate crimes, religion, slave living conditions, slave liberation strategies, social work and philanthropy, sports, and visual arts.

Biography In Context contains biographical information on more than a million notable historical and contemporary individuals. Facts, summaries, articles, and pictures.

To access these databases:

  • Go to the Birmingham Public Library homepage:  
  • Click on Databases
  • Use the Database Quick Links scroll down menu to highlight the database you’d like to examine, and click on Go
  • If you are not in a library, you will get a screen which requires you to enter your name and your library card number. Click on submit after typing them in and the database will open. 
  • Follow the instructions to search the database for your subject or topic 

Note the citation information which shows you exactly how to correctly cite the work for your paper. If you’re working in a group you can even e-mail or share the information directly through the database.

Should you have any questions or need help, contact your local library and information professionals will gladly assist you. That’s actually a good tip—anytime you need to find any kind of information, contact your local library!

Kelly Laney
Adult and Teen Services
Springville Road Library

Southern History Department's Book of the Month: The Lady of Godey’s: Sarah Josepha Hale

The Lady of Godey’s: Sarah Josepha Hale
Ruth E. Finley

What do all of the following have in common?

Thanksgiving as a national holiday
Vassar College
Public playgrounds
The historical preservation of Mount Vernon
“Mary Had A Little Lamb”
Women’s magazines

The answer: Sarah Josepha Hale.

She is perhaps best known for her tenure as editor of the 19th century magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book—an accomplishment in itself—but she also championed the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, helped found Vassar College, lobbied for public playgrounds for children, assisted with the movement to preserve Mount Vernon as a historic residence, and wrote “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in addition to many other works. And even this list falls far short of summarizing the numerous claims to fame in her remarkable life.

Widowed in 1822, Hale turned first to writing in an attempt to earn her living, and after the success of her novel Northwood she was offered a position as editor of what would at first be called the American Ladies’ Magazine and later became Godey’s Lady’s Book, named after the publisher Louis Godey. It was a bold step for him to offer an editor’s position to a woman, but one that paid off handsomely; Hale served as “The Lady Editor” of Godey’s for 40 years and under her direction it became one of the most popular magazines of the century. Expensive to produce and beautiful to look at, the Ladies’ Book featured household management advice, social commentary, poetry and fiction, sheet music, clothing patterns, and fashion drawings so rich in color and detail that they remain highly collectible today. As Margaret Mitchell notes in Gone With the Wind:
“The ladies always felt a little odd when they besieged him [Rhett Butler] with questions about styles, but they did it nevertheless. They were as isolated from the world of fashion as shipwrecked mariners, for few books of fashion came through the blockade. For all they knew the ladies of France might be shaving their heads and wearing coonskin caps, so Rhett's memory for furbelows was an excellent substitute for Godey's Lady's Book.”
An illustration from Godey's Lady's Book
However, Hale did not confine herself to editorials on acceptably genteel topics considered fit for women of the period. For instance, when Elizabeth Blackwell sought admission to medical school and became the center of a storm of controversy, Hale, “who had long been hammering away on questions of health and hygiene, appreciated to the full the neglect of woman’s physical welfare that was behind Miss Blackwell’s ambition . . . When it was all over, the fostering of medical progress was a permanent item of Godey’s policy.” Hale was also an advocate of dress reform who considered tight corsets unhealthy and agitated against them during her entire term as editor—with little success, as one glance at the fashion plates in the magazine can confirm. But this was all of a piece with her constant efforts in favor of social and medical reforms, particularly as they affected the lives of women and children.

Finley’s biography gives us a portrait of Sarah Hale that is as vivid as one of the color illustrations from the Lady’s Book. As I read, I couldn’t help wishing that I could have met her and that she must have been a woman of rare courage, intelligence, charm, and determination. Even though Lady of Godey’s ran to over 300 pages, I almost felt that it was too short for her eventful life. Come take a look at our copy in the Southern History Department and see if you agree.

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Registration Open for February RLCC Classes

 Registration is now open for staff and the public for the February 2015 Regional Library Computer Center classes. All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central (downtown) LibraryPRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.

To register for a class: (Please note that registration does not necessarily guarantee you a spot in the class. Please call to confirm.)
  1. Complete name, address and phone information. PLEASE PRINT.
  2. Place a check mark in the check box next to the class(es) you would like to attend.
  3. Return the entire form to a staff person in the Public Computer Services department.
  4. You may also send an email to or use the online form to register.

Book Review: Unruly Places

Unruly Places
Alastair Bonnett

The subtitle gives you an idea of the intriguing contents ahead: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies. Not only intriguing, but marvelous, pointed, surprising. I’ve read more in the nonfiction travel genre than in any other, so much so that I long ago found it hard to discover truly new areas of the globe. This book, which is more or less in the travel category, walloped me good. The most jaded geography-lover can find an abundance of very interesting material here. I don’t know how many of these 40-odd places Bonnett (an academic geographer) actually went to, but his library work has paid off in spades. If you think you know the world, this book is proof you don’t.

The section titles go further than the subtitle in organizing the stray threads, lone wolves and anomalies: “No Man’s Lands,” “Dead Cities,” “Enclosures and Breakaway Nations,” “Floating Islands,” and so on. It only took reading a few of these chapters, though, to realize that many subsections could easily be assigned to one or more alternate sections. These places are so unruly they can’t even abide Bonnett’s holding pens.

As for “Dead Cities,” who says you have to have an apocalypse to have a post-apocalyptic place? Wittenoom, an Australian desert ex-town, used to have one industry-asbestos mining. When they found out the real cost of the mineral, they cleared the town of people and made it forbidden property. Pripyat had the unfortunate distinction of sitting next to Chernobyl. It’s estimated it’ll be ready for humans again in about 900 years. The trees there are so badly mutated they don’t know how to grow toward the sun.

Familiar with the underground cities of Cappadocia, Turkey? The ones where the persecuted Christians lived centuries ago? People still live there now (and they did long before the Christians, too). They’ve always been good for those seeking safety. Now they’re just good, cheap housing. Over in Saudi Arabia, Old Mecca is about 95% gone. A tragedy, too, since that means that almost all of the Ottoman and Abbasid architecture is gone with it. The buildings raised too many questions about historical complexity that the current rulers of Mecca wanted to deal with. Manila treats its past differently. Overcrowding there has led to poor people living in a cemetery. This has been going on for years, in Manila and other crowded Third World cities. Some Filipinos object, some call it a sacrilege, but the families whose deceased relatives lie there generally like the arrangement, because the squatters take good care of the gravesites. It’s their way of “paying rent.” Not everybody rents, though. Foxes have moved into British cities in the last few decades. They’re so embedded now the Brits have given up trying to get rid of them. The humans have come around to the notion that it’s not that bad having foxes about. They’re in other cities around the world, too. Could they already be in Birmingham? It’s hard to know, as city foxes are nocturnal and spend almost all their time underground. If they are, can we learn from the Brits? Speaking of territory, according to international law, if your plane is registered in Norway (to take one country for example), even when you are in the air over the mid-Pacific, you’re still in Norway and you are bound by Norwegian law.

Through it all, Alastair Bonnett is almost always fair and dispassionate. I do, however, disagree with him when he objects to Mount Athos, the Greek peninsula made up of monasteries that are off limits to women, even to most female animals. He chastises it for its exclusionary policies, but fails to mention convented women who do the same and for that matter the whole point of religious seclusion, which is primarily about avoiding worldly distractions.

But I can complain little about a book with so many wonders, so many fun obscurities. There’s humor, too, such as an account of British doggers, who do more than just walk in secluded woods and “professional pirates” in Somalia who’ve gotten tired of the hassles of traditional piracy.

In a world that threatens to become homogenized, bland and orderly, it’s good to know that millions of people have decided to remain, or become, defiantly different, often in ways that do no harm to anyone. They might show us new ways of living, or even prospering. And the author’s provided Google Earth coordinates, where possible, so you can see a digital picture of the more fascinating reality it represents. That reality is engagingly described here, and I’m very grateful for it.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It’s the Year of the Sheep—Get Knitting!

Andrea Knitting from her Sheep by Barbara O'Brien
This year is the Year of the Sheep, according to the Chinese Zodiac. So what better time to take up knitting or to upgrade your knitting skills? Practicing crafts such as knitting, crocheting, and quilting not only produces unique items that can’t be found in  stores; it also enhances mental, emotional, and physical health. And these claims aren't just anecdotal—scientific research shows that crafting can lead to a sound body and mind.

Knitting has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist with the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and herself a knitter, believes the popularity of knitting may be a response to the rise of technology, much like the arts and craft movement followed the industrial revolution. And she thinks that knitting may well be the antidote to many of the stresses brought on by modern life.

So here are some good reasons to pick up the needles:

1) Elevates mood and alleviates depression. In a 2013 survey of 3,500 knitters published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, the participants were asked to describe their mood before knitting; 34 percent reported feeling “happy” and 23 percent reported being “a little sad” to “very sad.” When asked to report their mood after knitting, less than 1 percent remained sad and 81 percent described themselves as “a little happy” to “very happy.”

2) Relieves stress. The rhythmic nature of knitting keeps the mind absorbed in a healthy way, thus providing an escape from stressful thoughts but allowing for internal reflection. The therapeutic effects of knitting may be related to similar effects achieved through meditation.

3) Enhances dexterity. Knitting is a great workout for the fingers, hands and forearms. Moving the joints of the fingers forces fluid to move in and out of the surrounding cartilage thus keeping the joints well-hydrated and reducing the risk of arthritis.

4) Improves self-esteem. Crafting gives us a creative and productive outlet. The process of visioning, making, and completing a project boosts our sense of self-worth and encourages us to connect with others.

5) Boosts mental power. One study shows that practicing crafts reduces your chance of developing mild cognitive impairment by as much as 50 percent. Similarly, a French study found that elderly people involved in crafts, specifically knitting, are less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The Birmingham Public Library has loads of resources to help you knit your way to better health. Here are some good ones to get you inspired:

Knitting Without Tears / by Elizabeth Zimmermann.
The feisty Zimmermann is the Julia Child of knitting. Starting in the late 1950’s, she revolutionized and modernized knitting through her books and instructional series on American public television. Several generations of knitters have honed their skills with the help of this classic handbook.

Knitting Yarns : Writers on Knitting / edited with an introduction by Ann Hood.
In this collection of essays, 27 contemporary authors talk about the transformative power of knitting. Barbara Kingsolver describes shearing a sheep for yarn on her farm in Virginia. Ann Patchett writes about the scarf that knits together the women she’s loved and lost. Sue Grafton shares her passion for knitting. By turns poignant and laugh out loud funny, this book will appeal to knitting enthusiasts and lovers of literature alike.

Mason-Dixon Knitting : The Curious Knitters' Guide Stories, Patterns, Advice, Opinions, Questions, Answers, Jokes, and Pictures / by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne.
Hands down, the most entertaining knitting book I've come across. The irreverant humor will have you in stitches (pun intended), but it's also filled with practical advice and intriguing patterns. Kay Gardiner lives in Manhattan and Ann Shayne in Nashville. They connected in the online knitting community Ravelry as they shared knitting news and the ups and downs of their lives. Together they launched the blog, Mason-Dixon Knitting.

Stitch n’ Bitch : The Knitter’s Handbook / by Debbie Stoller.
Stoller is credited with helping fuel the recent revival of knitting. She holds a PhD from Yale in the psychology of women and is the co-founder of the magazine BUST, which promoted "girlie feminism," a third wave feminist strategy in which traditional feminine activities and traits are re-evaluated and often embraced. Her witty, informative introduction to knitting will have beginners happily clicking away in record time.

Stitch 'n Bitch Superstar Knitting : Go Beyond the Basics / by Debbie Stoller.
The fun, fashionable projects in this book will teach you new skills to take your knitting to the next level. The clear (and witty) instructions will have you tackling challenges such as cables, Fair-Isle, steeks--what're steeks, you ask? Check out the book and find out!

Health benefits for those who stick with their knitting
A Knit A Day Keeps the Doctor Away : 5 Health Benefits of Crafting
The Truth About Knitting and Crochet...They are Good for You!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

NFL Championship Weekend

Colts vs. Patriots

Here we go again.  The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots are a game away from going back to the Super Bowl.  Seattle players, coaches, and the media have talked all season about how difficult it is to make it back to the Super Bowl the following year.  Earlier in the season, when Seattle was 3-3, I asked my coworker what was wrong with them.  I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t have a better start to the season with their key players returning.  My coworker said that Seattle is overrated and really not that great.  Now that they are in the NFC Championship game with a 12-4 regular-season record and home-field advantage, I say Ha!  Overrated!  Tell that to the Carolina Panthers who lost their divisional playoff game by 2 touchdowns.

Ah, the Patriots.  You can’t beat them with a stick.  Let’s recap their divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.  Ravens 14, Patriots 0.  Ravens 14, Patriots 14.  Ravens 28, Patriots 14.  Ravens 28, Patriots 28.  Ravens 31, Patriots 28.  Ravens 31, Patriots 35.  Oops, did Joe Flacco just throw an interception?  Well, there’s not enough time left for them to get the ball back.  Patriots win.  Again!  The Patriots started the season 2-2 before going on a long winning streak resulting in their 12-4 regular-season record.  They also have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  It has been three years since the New England Patriots played in a Super Bowl, but they go so often, that’s why I said “…going back to the Super Bowl.”  New England is also the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls, so they know what it takes to get there.

Seattle vs. Green Bay

Personally, I hope the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts win this weekend.  I really like Green Bay and since Indianapolis got past the Denver Broncos, I’d love to see them have an opportunity to play for the championship.  I think the home teams really do have an advantage, but this is the NFL.  No one expected Indianapolis to go into Denver and win that game.  No matter what happens, it will be exciting to watch.  The battle to get to Super Bowl XLIX begins tomorrow.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Arts and Crafts for Senior Adults at the Library

Do you ever wonder how effective your senior adult arts and crafts programs are? Do you ever wonder if you are fulfilling the library’s mission or is this just another program that’s filling a gap for this age group?

Well, there is more to arts and crafts for seniors than just the arts and crafts that are being made. According to recent findings, exercising the brain is as important to keeping the brain alert and strong as physical exercise is important to keeping the body strong and able.

Here are ten benefits of arts and crafts programming for senior adults:

  • Provides a form of nonverbal communication and expression
  • Helps to reduce stress, fear, and anxiety
  • Enriches relationships and encourages socialization
  • Encourages playfulness and a sense of humor
  • Reduces boredom
  • Improves emotional and physical health
  • Nurtures a sense of self and renewed self-esteem
  • Restores and motivates muscle memory
  • Evokes new opportunities for connecting with others
  • Improves cognition and focuses attention

Ideal arts and crafts for senior adults:

  • Needlework (sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, and quilting)
  • Braided crafts (using plastic bags, small strips of material, etc.)
  • Jewelry making
  • Stained glass
  • Painting
  • Wreaths and floral arrangements
  • Ceramics
  • Scrapbooking

Yes, you are fulfilling the library’s mission through arts and crafts. Studies show that arts and crafts participation makes contributions to the well-being of communities, social inclusion, lifelong learning, active citizenship, and volunteering. Arts and crafts activities unlock potential, eradicate apathy and build strong, happy, independent, and fulfilled communities.

Loretta Bitten
Powderly Library

The Battle of New Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans, fought on January 8, 1815, was the last significant battle of the War of 1812. Other events during the war include the Battle of Horseshoe Bend; the burning of Washington, D.C.; and the Battle of Fort McHenry (the inspiration for "The Star Spangled Banner"). Besides the smashing of the British army in only one-half hour, the Battle of New Orleans is probably most notable because the commanders did not know that the war was already over.

The British and their Native American allies had been moving south toward the Gulf of Mexico. The expectation was that they would head for New Orleans to capture it. General Andrew Jackson, assisted by the pirate Jean Lafitte, moved to the city and waited for the British army, led by General Edward Pakenham. The British suffered more than 2,000 casualties; the Americans had 71.

Unknown to Jackson due to slow communications, a peace treaty between Britain and the United States had been signed on December 24, 1814, in Belgium. This was the Treaty of Ghent, which finally ended the fighting between the British and the Americans.

Thus, the Battle of New Orleans became known as “the needless battle.”

The following resources are located in the Government Documents/Microforms Department:

  • Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files
  • War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants, 1815-1858, and Index
  • Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers who Served during the War of 1812
  • Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers who Served during the War of 1812

Michelle Andrews
Government Documents
Central Branch