Friday, March 30, 2012

Annual Easter Egg Hunt at Powderly Library

Easter baskets
It’s that time again for our annual Easter Egg Hunt at the Powderly Branch Library and Wiggins Recreation Center. The hunt will be held on Saturday, April 7, 2012, from noon– 2:00 p.m. The park will be divided into three areas to accommodate different age groups: wee ones, children, and tweens. The park will be filled with music, fun, and games. Oh, and don’t forget the Easter baskets filled with eggs and goodies for all of the little ones.

Submitted by Loretta Bitten
Powderly Branch Library

Thursday, March 29, 2012

At Long Last

Photo of downtown Birmingham, 19403rd Avenue North, Birmingham, Alabama, c1940
Courtesy of the Archives Department, Central Library

Genealogists the world over have been waiting patiently for April 2, 2012. On this date, the 1940 Federal Census will be released to the public. But wait, didn’t we just take a census and aren’t we seeing articles and news reports about those statistics? Don’t we already have access to the 1940 Census? The answer is yes and no. Yes, we do have access to all of the statistical data and have had for decades. No, we do not have access to the personal information that is so prized by family historians. That type of information (name, age, income, occupation, etc.) is kept confidential for 72 years by federal law. Well, at long last the 72 year waiting period is over and genealogists will have another census to study and mine for information about their ancestors.

The 1940 census is unique is several respects. It is the first census to be released electronically. The census will be available free, to one and all, on the website of the National Archives and Records Administration beginning at 9:00 a.m. EDT on April 2. Another aspect of the 1940 census is that it has no index. Once the images are available, sites such as and will immediately begin loading the pages and amassing a small army of volunteers to create an index. anticipates having every name (there are approximately 132 million of them) indexed by the end of the year. Statistical sampling was employed on a census for the first time in 1940. This means that approximately 5% of the population was asked an additional 15 questions. If your ancestors are among that 5% then this census will be especially rewarding.

The standard questions about age, race, and marital status were asked in 1940. However, questions about income and employment dominate the census. For a nation still reeling from the Great Depression, the census was an important tool for gathering information about if and where people worked, how much money they made, and if they were doing the type of work for which they had been trained. There are a few questions we’ll never know the answer to, however. Questions about a person’s hair color, height, and dog ownership, were considered but, ultimately, rejected.

If you’re interested in learning more about the 1940 Census, check out our subject guide with lots of fun and helpful links. For even more information, call the Southern History Department of the Central Library at 205-226-3665 to register for our upcoming class, 40 Is the New 30: Using the 1940 Census. We still have a few spots left in this one hour class scheduled for April 21, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. in the Southern History Department. The cost for the class is $5.00.

Submitted by M.B. Newbill
Southern History Department
Central Library

BPL Family Joins Celebration for Women of Influence

Women of Influence luncheon group photoSaundra Ross (center) is surrounded by BPL supporters. Photo courtesy of Bill Henry.

Saundra Ross-Forrest, Branch Manager of the Birmingham Public Library’s North Avondale Branch Library, was recognized by the SouthEast Small Business Magazine as one of Birmingham’s 40 Top Women of Influence during its Inaugural Women of Influence Breakfast. The breakfast was held Thursday, March 22, at Birmingham’s Doubletree Hotel and was attended by representatives from BPL’s staff, board, and patrons. “Birmingham’s Top 40 Women of Influence have demonstrated their commitment to the citizens of the Birmingham community by their significant involvement and participation in community and civic activities,” stated magazine publisher Jennifer R. Anthony.

Ross-Forrest is known for working tirelessly to make the North Avondale Branch Library an integral component of the community by going beyond the call of duty to develop outreach programs and to foster a friendly and nurturing atmosphere as she responds to the needs of library patrons. With the commitment and enthusiasm she shows each day as she creates innovative programs to engage the community with the library and its numerous activities, Ross-Forrest is a natural choice for recognition as a “Woman of Influence.” In addition to this recognition, Ross-Forrest has been recognized by neighborhood groups in her area and is one of ten recipients of the 2012 Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times, I Love My Librarian Award for community service.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Today's Brown Bag Lunch Program: In the Garden of Beasts

Dr. Natalie Davis, Professor of Political Science and Pre-Law Advisor at Birmingham- Southern College, will discuss Erik Larson’s acclaimed best-selling book In the Garden of Beasts. Larson explores the early years of the Nazi regime through the experiences of United States Ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd and his family. Wednesday, March 28, noon.

Remembering the Holocaust
is produced in cooperation with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

Feed your body and mind at BPL's Brown Bag Lunch programs. You bring the lunch and we'll bring the drinks. Wednesdays at noon in Central Library’s Arrington Auditorium.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

West End Library Welcomes New Intern

The West End Branch Library welcomes its first AIDB (Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind) intern, Derek Smith. Derek, who is deaf, is a longtime patron of the West End Library. When Derek got laid off from his job, he needed a way to acquire new work skills and experience, so he applied to be a part of a federally funded program called “Exciting Business Two,” which is a collaboration between AIDB and Alabama Vocational Rehabilitation Service. The AIDB internship will pay Derek’s salary for ninety days for forty hours bi-weekly. Derek will concentrate on shelving books and other Library Assistant I duties. Please feel free to come by West End Branch Library and say “hello” to Derek.

Submitted by Maya Jones
West End Branch Library

National Inventors Hall of Fame Names Class of 2012

National Inventors Hall of Fame awardThe National Inventors Hall of Fame announced its list of new inductees on March 1, 2012. The most recognizable name in this year’s group is Steve Jobs, the late co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc. Although he is known mainly for his enormously successful business acumen, Job’s credentials as an inventor are equally impressive. A search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s database reveals that Jobs was named on 263 patents issued since 1976.

In addition to Jobs, nine other inventors were included in the list of new inductees. Perhaps not surprisingly, four of these inductees made their mark, like Jobs, in the fertile field of computer and information technology. Barbara Liskov, currently a professor at MIT, was recognized for her innovative research in the design of computer programming languages. Lubomyr Romankiw and David Thompson, both of IBM, invented the first practical magnetic thin-film storage heads, which has had a profound effect on magnetic disk storage capacity. Gary Starkweather, a researcher at Xerox, was selected for induction because of his work in developing the laser printer.

This year’s induction class is not, however, all about computers. Other fields represented include medicine and biotechnology, optics, laser systems, and solar energy. Akira Endo, director of Biopharm Research Labratories in Japan, developed the first statin drug that has proven to be effective in lowering human cholesterol levels. Alejandro Zaffaroni has done pioneering research and development in the field of controlled drug delivery systems which have been used to treat glaucoma, diabetes, chronic pain, nicotine addiction, and motion sickness. The late Hungarian engineer, Dennis Gabor, was honored for crucial innovations he developed in the field of holography. C. Kumar N. Patel, a professor of physics at UCLA, continues to develop applications related to laser technology. Finally, Maria Telkes, who died in 1995, was considered during her lifetime to be the foremost authority on solar energy.

Induction ceremonies for the 2012 honorees will be May 2nd in Washington, DC at the old Patent Office Building, which now houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The National Inventors Hall of Fame has been annually recognizing distinguished individuals since its founding in 1973. This year’s ceremony will bring the total number of inductees to 470.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame is part of Invent Now, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging innovation through a variety of educational and programming activities that include—in addition to the Hall of Fame—Camp Invention and Club Invention for elementary school students, the Collegiate Inventors Competition, and the annual Independent Inventors Conference. The National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Alexandria, VA, on the campus of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

As a designated Patent and Trademark Resource Center, the Government Documents Department of the Birmingham Public Library provides access to resources related to inventions patented in the United States since 1790.

Submitted by Jim Murray
Government Documents Department
Central Library

Movie Review: A Face in the Crowd

I recently sat down and watched a film with a particular relevance to the current news cycle. The film is A Face in the Crowd (1957) and its examination of the intersection where Celebrity, Madison Avenue, Big Business, and Politicians come to together in order to shape and hone the opinions of the American public is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago

In fact, A Face in the Crowd depicts this world better than any other picture that I have ever seen—no other films readily come to mind that deliver the brutally honest portrayal of the subject matter on display here. Pictures such as Sweet Smell of Success, Ace in the Hole, and Network are fine films that cover similar territory, but they pale in comparison to the gleeful cynicism brought to the screen by Andy Griffith, Budd Schulberg, and Elia Kazan.

A Face in the Crowd follows the meteoric rise of a bucolic troubadour named Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes (Griffith in his film debut) from Arkansas jailbird to a national television phenomenon. Lonesome Rhodes is discovered in a jail cell by a Pigget, Arkansas radio producer (played by Patricia Neal) and he soon has his own national television show with a very ambitious staff writer (as played by Walter Matthau).

A Face in the Crowd is an outstanding film—perhaps the best film that famed director Elia Kazan made in a career that also includes On the Waterfront (also written by Schulberg), East of Eden, and Splendor in the Grass. I am going to briefly describe two sequences in the film that illustrate the bravura filmmaking techniques employed by Kazan—they are so twisted and so well done that it is hard to believe that I was watching a film from 1957.

The first sequence is the phenomenal "Vitajex" montage featuring a series of shots from the commercials for Lonesome’s main sponsor—an energy supplement company that bases their advertisements on pointing out the Viagra-esque properties of the product. Kazan goes wild here with extreme close-ups of Rhodes’ mouth unleashing his obnoxious laugh; frantic cuts to sex kittens cooing around the "pill popping" Rhodes (who springs to life after swallowing this energy supplement); a blonde bombshell in bed with the industrial-sized bottle (a 10-year supply for her man!) on her nightstand; and a cartoon of a little pig that transforms into a big bad wolf after swallowing a Vitajex pill. I find it simply amazing that a mainstream American film from 1957 could have a sequence with enough energy and innuendo to rival anything cinema has thrown at audiences in the fifty years since its release.

Another powerful sequence occurs when Lonesome flies back to Arkansas from New York City to judge the Ms. Arkansas Drum Majorette competition. When all of the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old girls started squealing and screaming at Lonesome's arrival, it quickly becomes evident that something really twisted is going to happen. The look on Andy Griffith's face as he stares down a very young Lee Remick doing her baton twirling routine and gyrating to accompaniment of Rhodes' hit song "Mama Guitar"... Well, if Sheriff Andy Taylor had ever spotted "Lonesome" staring down a 17-year-old girl like that in Mayberry, I believe he would have started to carry a gun.

Although A Face in the Crowd was written by Budd Schulberg (the author of the unfilmmable What Makes Sammy Run?) and directed by the famed Elia Kazan, it is Andy Griffith's uncharacteristically vicious performance as Lonesome Rhodes that is the crucial element that makes the picture a truly great film.

I grew up watching Andy Griffith as Sheriff Taylor and I always thought Griffith was only capable of hitting a couple of notes as a performer. For example, his turn as a down-home simpleton in No Time for Sergeants (released a year after this film) is only slightly different than his work on The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith embodies a truly narcissistic brute in this film, the kind of mean bastard who also knows how to turn on the charm.

From what I understand, Griffith’s performance as Lonesome Rhodes carried over into his personal life and he vowed to never play such a vicious character again. It's a shame that he did not flex that sick and twisted acting muscle again, I think American cinema would have been all the better for it.

Submitted by Brandon Smith
Springville Road Regional Library

Monday, March 26, 2012

Next Bards & Brews Scheduled for Friday, April 13

B&B logo
The Birmingham Public Library’s (BPL) popular Bards & Brews poetry performance and beer tasting series is scheduled for Friday, April 13. Usually held the first Friday of each month, the April edition of Bards & Brews will be held on the second Friday since BPL will be closed for Good Friday on April 6. The April 13 event will return to the slam format and will be held at the Central Library located at 2100 Park Place.

The slams are emceed by poetry slam events director Brian “Voice Porter” Hawkins. Hawkins has hosted On Stage at the Carver at the Carver Theater, the longest running poetry open mic in Birmingham (7 years running). He has hosted numerous additional events of this nature and has also performed his own works many times across the country.

Each contestant contributes $5 to the pot, and winner takes all. Southern Fried Slam rules will be observed. Craft beer will be available for sampling, along with light refreshments. You must be 18 years or older to be admitted, and 21 years or older to be served. IDs will be checked. Live music at 6:30 p.m. Call time is 7:00 p.m. Check out the Bards & Brews page on Facebook for more information. This program is made possible by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

WORD UP! 2012: A Poetry Slam for Jefferson County High School Students

Erika WadeErika Wade won first prize in the Birmingham Public Library’s WORD UP! poetry slam for two consecutive years. In celebration of the event’s fifth year, she returns to WORD UP! 2012 as a judge for the competition.

WORD UP!, a poetry slam for high school students who are enrolled in schools—or homeschooled—throughout Jefferson County, celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. The event will be held on Sunday, April 1, at 3:00 p.m. in the Richard Arrington, Jr. Auditorium at the Central Library located at 2100 Park Place. The slam is sponsored by the Birmingham Public Library (BPL). Students in grades 9 through 12 write and perform an original work of poetry inspired by a theme selected by the WORD UP! planning committee. In keeping with the spirit of this year’s anniversary, the theme for WORD UP! 2012 is “milestones.” Each participating high school holds a preliminary contest, and the winners from each school compete in the WORD UP! competition. The contestants are judged on content and performance by a panel of three judges in the competition for cash prizes.

The students participating represent the following high schools: Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA); Birmingham City Schools—Jackson-Olin, Parker, Wenonah, and Woodlawn; Jefferson County Schools—Clay-Chalkville and Shades Valley; and independent systems—Hewitt-Trussville, Leeds, Spain Park, and Tarrant. Each of the students will perform their original poetry, competing to earn one of three spots. The first place winner receives $300, second place $200, and third place $150.

Past winners of WORD UP! are outstanding scholars and leaders. During the four years the BPL has hosted the competition, more than 300 students have participated in the preliminary contests held at their schools and 60 students have competed in WORD UP!, including Derrick Spencer, the 2011 winner, and Erika Wade, who won first place in 2008 and 2009.

Spencer’s original work “Alabama” was inspired by the poem “Daybreak in Alabama” by Langston Hughes. Currently a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., majoring in English, Spencer praised WORD UP! for its positive influence on young people in the Birmingham area. “The Birmingham Public Library's 2011 WORD UP! contest was a milestone for me, because it inspired creativity among the metropolitan area's youth while endorsing literacy and the importance of public libraries. As a young advocate for education, I admired the program for its efforts,” he stated.

During the competition, Spencer represented Ramsay High School, one of the Birmingham City Schools. A native of Birmingham, Spencer immersed himself in the city’s arts scene. He also participated in the Alys Stephens Center's (ASC) Make It Happen as part of the Performing Ensemble and as a vocal soloist. The Make It Happen Ensemble was created by ASC in 2008 “to offer dedicated students an opportunity to receive high-quality acting instruction and allow them to create their own performance piece.”

Erika Wade, who won first place in the WORD UP! Student Poetry Slam the first two years of the competition, will return to WORD UP! 2012 as a judge. Wade won while she was a student at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. At ASFA, she was a poetry editor of the ASFA student publication, Cadences.

Wade stated that “Winning the WORD UP! competition introduced me to a community of young writers and a greater surrounding of people who encouraged and uplifted us. Young writers rarely get affirmation in their efforts; oftentimes, this lack of support makes them abandon the art all together. The WORD UP! competition provided healthy rivalry, and more importantly a safe space for young writers to be respected as professionals. This contest was a great propeller for my future success, and will always be dear to my heart.”

After graduating from ASFA, Wade enrolled in the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (UA) with a double major in African American Studies and English with a minor in Creative Writing and specialization in the University Honors Program. In 2010 she published her first book of poetry, eyestodewhurld (Blue Rooster Press) which was incorporated into the Huffman High School Advanced Placement (AP) English curriculum. Wade is the current editor of the UA's literary journal, Marr's Field Journal, and is a Teach for America Rising Leaders Fellow. She is a Blackburn Institute Fellow for 2011-2012; the Institute’s mission is to develop “a network of leaders… who have a clear understanding of the challenges that face the state of Alabama.”

WORD UP! 2012 is made possible by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Brown Bag Lunch Program: In the Garden of Beasts

Dr. Natalie Davis, Professor of Political Science and Pre-Law Advisor at Birmingham- Southern College, will discuss Erik Larson’s acclaimed best-selling book In the Garden of Beasts. Larson explores the early years of the Nazi regime through the experiences of United States Ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd and his family. Wednesday, March 28, noon.

Remembering the Holocaust
is produced in cooperation with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

Feed your body and mind at BPL's Brown Bag Lunch programs. You bring the lunch and we'll bring the drinks. Wednesdays at noon in Central Library’s Arrington Auditorium.

Who Do You Think You Are, BPL?

Ancestry Library Edition Home Page
Hollywood has tapped into the popular trend of genealogy, banking on people’s desire to explore their past to enlighten their present.

NBC's hit show "Who Do You Think You Are?" allows us to journey with celebrities on their climb up their family trees, often stopping at branches of self-discovery. A labor of love from executive producer Lisa Kudrow, best known as Phoebe from “Friends,” the show is an adaptation of a British documentary series. Each episode takes us along as one of the celebrities navigates through records, personal accounts, historical events, and familial traditions to uncover ancestral pasts and identities. Most episodes are emotional, but all are revelatory.

Birmingham Public Library patrons can also jump on board to uncover their family history with the Ancestry Library Edition (ALE), a free in-library service. Through ALE, people can search through various resources: census and voter lists; birth, marriage, and death records; military records; immigration and travel documents; and newspapers and periodicals. There are also charts and forms available for download and print, such as an ancestral chart.

However, the institutional site of ALE differs from in that some features are not available, such as: family trees; historical newspaper collections; family and local history collections; obituary collections; the Periodical Source Index (PERSI); the Filby’s Passenger and Immigration Lists Index (PLI); the Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI); and Freedman’s Bank Records. Those personalized functions must be acquired through an membership.

The ALE resource is a free service in any Catalog and Database station in the Birmingham Public Library branches. It is for in-library use only, and you must have a library account and card to use the database. If you do not have a library card, you may apply in-person at one of the branches. For more information on how to obtain a library card, click here.

Book Review: She: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life

This charming book by beloved author Kathryn Tucker Windham is her last. Published after her death at the age of 93, She: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life is her account of reaching old age. She attributes the changes in her lifestyle to She, the “old woman who took over my life. “

Windham’s physical limitations affected and disturbed her most, and the blame is placed squarely on She. Windham had to stop driving (when she was 91), stop going to church, begin using a cane, and begin using magnifying eyeglasses. She also began taking more medicine, and she used the green prescription bottles to make a Christmas garland. When she discovered her height had been reduced by two inches, Windham stored non-perishable food in her oven so she could reach it better.

She and Windham’s reminiscences are wonderful memories of Windham’s childhood in the town of Thomasville, Alabama, and her later years in Selma. The two argue about unfinished projects, memory, and cooking. They do agree on some things, such as the value of long naps.

Windham addresses her aging with the humor and grace that characterize all of her work. She is a fitting final visit with Alabama’s master storyteller.

Submitted by Michelle Andrews
Government Documents Department
Central Library

Book Review: Power Down

Have you ever finished a novel and thought, “That would make a great movie”? I’m sure all of us have read a book like that at one time or another. When I finished Power Down by Ben Coes, the first thing I did was let my heart rate return to normal. This novel about terrorism is so plausible that it terrified me. It is the first novel by Coes who spent part of his career as a speechwriter in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Even at 449 pages, the novel moves quickly and I couldn’t wait to discover what happened next.

The novel is so disturbing because the terrorist is a hedge fund manager living in the United States. Although not born in the States, he grew up, received his education, and made his fortune here. He lives in New York City, is very popular with his friends and acquaintances, and has a very comfortable life. Despite all this, he sees the United States as his enemy and develops a VERY elaborate plot to bring the country down.

Part of his plot involves using sleeper cells that are located across the country. The terrorist plot takes so long to get underway that some cell members think it has been aborted. Some are even relieved because they enjoy living in the United States. Although many people die in the terrorist attacks, killing Americans is not the goal. I could tell you what the goal is, but you have to read the book to find out.

If you like the television show 24, you will love this book. The terrorist plots in Power Down make a season of 24 look like Get Smart. Jack Bauer may have gotten to the bottom of this, but it would take more than Chloe sitting in front of a computer screen. If you want a great thrill ride, check out Power Down by Ben Coes. By the way, it will make a great movie.

Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the Civil War: Part Two: Choosing Sides

Let's Talk About It logo
The Birmingham Public Library will host a free five-part reading and discussion series called Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War. In commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial, the series encourages participants to consider the legacy of the Civil War and emancipation. The series is open to all adults in the community (registration is required) and is led by Dr. Victoria E. Ott, Associate Professor of History at Birmingham-Southern College and author of Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age during the Civil War.

Part Two: Choosing Sides
Thursday, March 29, 2012
5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
Central Library, Arrington Auditorium
Program consists of readings from America's War (2012):
  • Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" [1852] *online*
  • Henry David Thoreau, "A Plea for Captain John Brown" [1859] *online*
  • Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address [March 4, 1861] *online*
  • Alexander H. Stephens, "Cornerstone" speech [March 21, 1861] *online*
  • Robert Montague, Secessionist speech at Virginia secession convention [April 1-2, 1861] *online*
  • Chapman Stuart, Unionist speech at Virginia secession convention [April 5, 1861] *online*
  • Elizabeth Brown Pryor, excerpt from Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through his Private Letters [2007]
  • Mark Twain, "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" [1885] *online*
  • Sarah Morgan, excerpt from The Diary of a Southern Woman [May 9, May 17, 1862] *online*
List of Discussion Dates and Registration Information

Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War series is developed by the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Local support for the series is provided by the Alabama Humanities Foundation and the Birmingham Public Library.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Children's Book Review with a Shout Out to Women's History Month: Queen of the Falls

Women’s History Month is usually filled with famous women political leaders, artists, social movers, and other women who dared to make a difference. Queen of the Falls, written and illustrated by famed children’s author Chris Van Allsburg of Jumanji fame, is about Annie Edson Taylor, who dared to do something no one had ever done before (and lived): go over Niagara Falls, at the age of 62!

Annie, a retired school teacher, was searching for a way to make money to support herself. She came up with the idea of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel and living off the publicity, if she survived the plunge. The main part of Niagara Falls is almost seventeen stories high and was already a tourist destination in the nineteenth century, and no one had ever gone over the falls in a barrel.

During the summer of 1901, Annie Edson Taylor worked with a barrel maker to design and a create a barrel for her stunt. At first he refused to go along with the stunt but he eventually relented. Besides being sturdy, Annie’s barrel was big enough to include her and several pillows, and was equipped with metal handles to grab onto and a leather belt to strap herself securely. She also hired a publicity manager to stir up newspaper interest.Annie Edson Taylor standing next to her barrel

On October 24 of that year, Annie “took the plunge” in front of huge crowds who were watching this elderly woman brave the falls. She got into the barrel and strapped herself in, and workmen screwed the lid down and soon she was floating towards the falls. Breathlessly the crowds watched her barrel go over the falls and waited anxiously when her barrel bobbed up to the surface. Rescuers immediately got to the barrel and opened it, finding a slightly bruised and dazed Annie Taylor alive! She was the first person to ever go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive.

Did she find fame and fortune afterwards? Well you are going to have to read this excellent book to find out.

Oh, and in case you are thinking of following Ms. Taylor, it is now a Federal offense to go over Niagara Falls.

Submitted by Vincent Solfronk
Youth Department
Central Library

Friends Donation to Center Point Elementary School

Pictured L-R are Pastor Allen Davis and Katie WilliamsPictured L-R are Vincent Solfronk and Pastor Allen Davis
(Top photo from left:Pastor Allen Davis & Katie Williams)
(Bottom photo from left:Vincent Solfronk & Pastor Allen Davis)

The Friends of BPL is a nonprofit organization which provides for various special needs of the library through community-based efforts. Sometimes, we are also able to help the greater Birmingham community.

Recently, the Friends of the Birmingham Public Library became involved in an important effort to help children in areas impacted by the recent tornadoes. Tragically, Center Point Elementary School was destroyed during one of the tornadoes. Pastor Allen Davis of East Gardendale Baptist Church contacted Central Library’s Youth Department and asked if the library would be able to donate books to Center Point Elementary. Katie Williams, Central Library’s Teen Librarian, spoke with the Friends to organize such an effort and began going through donations and choosing appropriate books. The Friends approved and arranged the donation. The Friends and Youth Department facilitated the pickup of the books and gathered 10 boxes of children’s books. Pastor Davis himself came and picked up the books to take to the school.

We received a thank you letter from Pastor Davis on behalf of the members of East Gardendale Baptist Church. He stated that “Because of your
generosity, the lives of these children are greatly enriched.” We were very happy to be part of such an effort with the knowledge that the children of Center Point will benefit from this donation.

Today's Brown Bag Lunch Program: Riva Hirsch: A Holocaust Survivor Speaks

Brown Bag logoRiva Hirsch was seven years old in 1941 when the Germans occupied her village in Bessarbia. She was arrested and sent to several work camps, including Luchinetz and Tolchin in the Ukraine. From Tolchin she was rescued by partisan troops and cared for by nuns in a convent, hidden in bunkers from 1943-1945 and finally liberated by Russian troops. Join us to hear her amazing story. Wednesday, March 21, noon.

Remembering the Holocaust is produced in cooperation with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

Feed your body and mind at BPL's Brown Bag Lunch programs. You bring the lunch and we'll bring the drinks. Wednesdays at noon in Central Library’s Arrington Auditorium.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Final Program in Art of the Word Series Features Author Elizabeth Hughey

Elizabeth Hughey
Elizabeth Hughey

The final program in the Art of the Word series takes place on Tuesday, March 27, and features Birmingham resident Elizabeth Hughey. Elizabeth Hughey is the winner of the prestigious Iowa Poetry Prize for her poetry collection Sunday Houses: the Sunday House. Her “poems are made of the daily objects of our lives, but thrown into a kaleidoscope so what we are left with is a vital vision of the world.” (James Tate). She is a lecturer in the University Honors Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The program is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Arrington Auditorium at the Central Library.

The Art of the Word is part of the fifth anniversary celebration for the WORD UP! Student Poetry Slam. For more information on Art of the Word, call 226-3670 or email

Sharing Resources

Sharing ideas graphic
I recently helped a woman who teaches elementary education at UAB. She also works with seven different schools in the area as some sort of advisor. I was sharing the Homework Alabama site to her (of which she was unaware!) and she shared one with me:
This takes you to Glen Iris School website, but she said most of the schools have similar sites; she just knew Glen Iris had a whole bunch of books listed. You click on ebooks and it takes you to a menu of actual children's ebooks that kids can click on to read online, or to have read to them. The ones I looked at were available for both reading and listening to in English and Spanish. There's another link that gives more information on the title, including reading level, word count, Lexile score, Accelerated Reader, and reading counts. There's another link that takes you to Quizzes.

We've agreed to keep in touch and trade information on databases and other resources, and she intends to share everything with her students and colleagues. Whether you're assisting patrons or have children or grandchildren, this is a great site for reading resources. I hope someone else finds it helpful.

Submitted by Kelly Laney
Springville Road Regional Library

Monday, March 19, 2012

Woodlawn Library To Re-Open March 20

New AC units have been installed at the Woodlawn Branch Library and will re-open Tuesday, March 20, at 9:00 a.m.

Book Review: We the Animals

book coverFew gifts are more welcome to the avid fiction reader than the discovery of a fresh, brilliantly written debut novel. Such is the case with We the Animals by Justin Torres, a coming-of-age story that unfolds in a series of linked short stories with settings in Brooklyn and upstate New York.

From the very first page the reader is captivated by poetic prose and engaging characters. The narrator is a nameless 7-year-old boy who opens up the world of his dynamic family: two older brothers (8 and 9) and two very young parents, a white and frail mother and a restless and sometimes violent Puerto Rican father. Money and regularly available food are scarce, yet there is no shortage of energy, angst and joy. Often using the first person plural, the young narrator explains that he and his siblings “. . . wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry.” “We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.”

The boys are left alone to themselves much of the time. The mother works the grave-yard shift at a brewery and sleeps (sometimes inebriated) during the day. The father is in and out of work and is occasionally away enjoying liaisons with various women. Given these austere and unbecoming circumstances, there are many tender and heartfelt moments wherein the family members manage to connect.

The powerful use of language is almost overwhelming and more than succeeds in bringing out the emotions, sounds, sights and smells of the story. The young narrator at times seems wiser than his years as he pivots the reader from heart ache to redemptive joy, from despondency to epiphany. Given how compelling both the story and the story telling are, many readers may find themselves re-reading portions before continuing forward. It is certain that many of the indelible images and details will resonate with most readers for some time after completing the novel, and many will choose to read it again. While it is not far-fetched, the ending is sure to leave even the most jaded reader breathless.

In his acknowledgements Justin Torres thanks many other well-known writers for their help and inspiration including Dorothy Allison, Allan Gurganus, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Cunningham, and Tobias Wolff. If you enjoy the works of any of these writers, you will not want to miss this debut effort from Justin Torres.

Submitted by David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

Woodlawn Library Closed

FYI graphicThe Woodlawn Branch Library is still closed for AC installation. Updates will be posted as information becomes available.

Let ReferenceUSA Simplify Your Business Inquiries

ReferenceUSA logo
ReferenceUSA is a powerful business tool which contains information for about 20 million businesses in the United States. What makes this database unique is its versatility—you can enter criteria of your choice to create customized lists of businesses. This database is helpful for those interested in marketing to certain types of businesses, locating business competitors, finding out-of-town businesses, or for many other uses. ReferenceUSA is free and available to registered Jefferson County Library users. You can use this database at your local public library or access remotely from any computer.

Birmingham Public Library provides step-by-step tutorials that highlight resources and services at the library. To view the ReferenceUSA tutorial, please click here . This tutorial demonstrates how to access and use ReferenceUSA; it will take 7 minutes to review. The tutorial is narrated so you will need headphones or speakers. However, if you don’t have access to those items you can follow along without sound. If you need help with ReferenceUSA or any of our other databases, please contact us—we're happy to help!'

Submitted by Business, Science, and Technology Department
Central Library

Friday, March 16, 2012

Art of the Word Poetry Series Features My Favorite Poem with Irene Latham

Irene Latham
Irene Latham

On Tuesday, March 20, members of the community are invited to share famous favorite poems during My Favorite Poem. Modeled after former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project, the program will be moderated by Irene Latham, poetry editor for the Birmingham Arts Journal and author of the award-winning poetry collections The Color of Lost Rooms (Blue Rooster Press, 2011) and What Came Before (Negative Capability Press 2007), and the novel Leaving Gee's Bend. The program is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Arrington Auditorium at the Central Library. Email to reserve your spot to read, or sign up at the door. First come, first served.

And join us for the other programs in the March poetry series, The Art of the Word, part of the fifth anniversary celebration for the WORD UP! Student Poetry Slam. For more information on Art of the Word, call 226-3670 or email

Brown Bag Lunch Program: Riva Hirsch: A Holocaust Survivor Speaks

Brown Bag logoRiva Hirsch was seven years old in 1941 when the Germans occupied her village in Bessarbia. She was arrested and sent to several work camps, including Luchinetz and Tolchin in the Ukraine. From Tolchin she was rescued by partisan troops and cared for by nuns in a convent, hidden in bunkers from 1943-1945 and finally liberated by Russian troops. Join us to hear her amazing story. Wednesday, March 21, noon.

Remembering the Holocaust is produced in cooperation with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

Feed your body and mind at BPL's Brown Bag Lunch programs. You bring the lunch and we'll bring the drinks. Wednesdays at noon in Central Library’s Arrington Auditorium.

Wylam Library’s Monthly Spelling Bee

Spelling Bee flyer
For the past two months, the Wylam Branch Library has hosted a monthly spelling bee that caters to children in grades 3-7. There are cash prizes awarded to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. Cash prizes are in the amount of $20, $15, and $10, respectively. Every child who participates in the spelling bee receives a certificate of participation and some type of prize. Each month the spelling bee word list and flyer are posted to the Birmingham Public Library's Facebook page along with the date, time, and contact information.

Although the Wylam staff could agree that each spelling bee has been a success thus far, during the month of February the participation numbers tripled from the January spelling bee, and the kids had fun. After being exposed to the bee only in the last two months, I can say that the kids are studying more and are very motivated. It is our goal to teach our kids discipline, and encourage them to be better spellers and great readers. We are gearing up for the March spelling bee and we are on a roll!

Submitted by Alisha Johnson
Wylam Branch Library

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Library Team Takes Top Prize for Trivia Knowledge

photo of BPL Trivia Contest winnersFrom left: Jim Pate, Danny Dorroh, Mary Beth Newbill, Jaclyn Hogan, Jared Millet, Tobin Cataldo

In the battle of wit and wisdom during Birmingham’s Brightest Company Charitable Trivia Competition, hosted by Impact Alabama, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) team won the top prize of $10,000. The BPL team was competing for Friends of the Birmingham Public Library, the nonprofit association whose efforts make it possible for the Birmingham Public Library to strengthen the quality and scope of its services. As winner of the Birmingham City contest, the team will go on to compete against the winners from Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery. The BPL team competed with 67 Birmingham-area businesses and organizations to raise money for Impact Alabama and each team’s designated charity.

The Friends of the Birmingham Public Library are tremendously excited about the award. “We are delighted to support the library in this competition. It was a win-win all around—helping to support the great work of Impact Alabama, as well as an opportunity to highlight the resources and knowledge of the BPL staff,” stated Friends’ President Pat Rumore. The funds will enable the Friends to continue providing resources for some of the library’s special needs with programs such as ‘Beyond the Budget,’ which funds proposals from the library staff for resources that are outside of the operating budget,” continued Rumore. Most recently this program has provided funding for eBook staff training and equipment in the Circulation Department, and the restoration of maps in the Southern History Department.

To earn a spot on the six-person team, the library held tryouts. Team members included Tobin Cataldo, Danny Dorroh, Jaclyn Hogan, Jared Millet, Mary Beth Newbill, and retiree Jim Pate. The alternates were Lynn Carpenter, Barry Crane, Katie Elkins, and Jennifer Neely. “I am so proud of our team effort. We worked together very well, collaborating on all of the answers. In addition to the six of us who responded to the questions, there was tremendous support from our BPL colleagues behind the scenes,” shared Mary Beth Newbill, who was the scribe during the competition.

The Birmingham Public Library is a community partner hosting the Impact Alabama Save First program at the Smithfield, West End, and Woodlawn branch libraries. The BPL system has provided space for the program for more than five years. Save First, a service learning project, provides individuals with income tax help free of charge using college student volunteers. Visit BPL's Tax Forms and Assistance page for more information.

Meet the Women Movers and Shakers of Birmingham’s History

Birmingham Suffrage HeadquartersBirmingham suffrage headquarters in 1913. From BPL Digital Collections.

Virginia Woolf famously said, "For most of history, Anonymous was a woman." The Birmingham Public Library has put a face and name to some of the women behind the rise of Birmingham, Alabama's largest city. The Archives Department’s Women’s History resource pages contain information on Birmingham’s suffrage movement; women’s business, political, artistic, and social clubs; and in-depth background on some of the prominent individuals and families of early Birmingham. BPL Digital Collections contain photographs and newspaper clippings about the women artists, inventors, homemakers, business leaders, and humanitarians who made the news.

Women's History Month is celebrated each year in March. Visit BPL's women's history collections to learn about the contributions these women made to Birmingham's history.

Archives Department Collections

Digital Collections

Newspaper Articles and Books

Book Review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

book coverIt’s a commonplace that our view of history is shaped by where and when we’re born. If you’ve been born since, say, the Renaissance and in the West (and that’ll be true of almost anyone who reads this blog) you’ll probably have a negative view of the Mongols. Anthropologist Jack Weatherford knows this and asks us to reconsider, even radically revise, our view of Genghis Khan and his Mongol descendants. It didn’t seem likely that such a book would become a bestseller a few years back, but it did.

Tartars, Tatars, Mughals, Moghuls, Moal, The Golden Horde: the names are diverse because their influence was so widespread. A mere listing of the names starts a mild reevaluation in the mind. Starting with these names, and a small array of facts, Weatherford builds an elaborate structure whereby we can begin to see the Mongols as not categorically something unpleasant. Gradually, we realize that they influenced the West mostly for the good (although, admittedly, that’s partly because they could never conquer Europe). Weatherford doesn’t say that everything we know about the Mongols is wrong, only that most of it is. He doesn’t stint at criticizing the reasons they invaded most of the known world, or the methods they used in doing so. But he does reveal the enormous benefits they brought to that world, and it’s an impressive list indeed: religious freedom, the rule of law, an international postal system, a regular census, the abolition of torture, diplomatic immunity for ambassadors, enormously high literacy rates, and an improvement of the status of women. These things held during the era of Mongol greatness, if not always in the long era of decline. And that decline was long indeed: Alim Khan, the last Mongol ruler, was deposed in Bukhara in 1920.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World focuses almost entirely on the classic Mongol era, the period of Genghis, Ogodei, Guyuk, Mongke and Khubilai Khan. An ongoing stream of insights and details keeps the reader fascinated. In addition to the benefits mentioned previously are other compelling topics such as ingenious military tactics (I’ve always been bored stiff by this topic but Weatherford changed me); the fact that many prominent Mongols were Christians and one Great Khan probably was; the Mongols ever-increasing desire for more things which led to conquering ever more lands (some things are sadly eternal); the staggering achievements of Khubilai Khan (I’ve read Marco Polo’s wonder-filled book, but the account here is still pretty amazing because it’s more sober); the Mongol transfer of Arab-preserved European classical culture back into Europe. This last is probably the greatest gift to the West from the Mongols.

The Mongols weren’t exactly Gandhians when it came to waging warfare. But that’s only a small slice of the total pie. You will come away with a new admiration of what the servants of the Blue Sky gave to the world. This is history that needed to be redressed. At the very least, you’ll never look at pants, painting, or carrots the same way.

Submitted by Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Learning About Our Civil War

Photo of Civil War soldierJohn L. Burns, the "old hero of Gettysburg," with gun and crutches. Gettysburg, PA, 1863. Timothy H. O'Sullivan, photographer. Library of Congress

Isn’t it fascinating how the presentation of the Civil War has changed so radically in our lifetime? I imagine that after the war veterans, and later matriarchs, handed down family tales at the kitchen table. But in my youth magazines and books were the only options. Now, we have award winning documentaries on DVD and the internet.

My first exposure to the American Civil War was through conversations with my grandmother, and the books of Bruce Catton. My grandmother was a voracious reader and raconteur of family history. I sat down with her at the kitchen table clutching a notebook expecting to discover exciting, or at least scandalous, stories of our family’s part in the Civil War. At first she only responded with a terse explanation: “all those people are dead and buried. Just leave ‘em in the ground.” When I pushed, she explained that “we had people who fought on both sides.”

Bruce Catton, on the other hand, filled my teenage mind with visions of heroic men dressed in blue or butternut charging across open fields against impossible odds. Battlefield names like Antietam, the Wilderness, and Vicksburg sounded as glorious as any battle fought by Alexander or Caesar. The writing was mesmerizing to a teenager, and though it sounds clich├ęd, Catton truly brought the war to life for me. I remember reading about the siege of Vicksburg and experiencing an odd, dueling sensation of pity and confusion. How could anyone feel anything but pity for the citizens of Vicksburg? Men, women, and children were reduced to eating first their horses and mules, then vermin, to survive. But I was confused by the path the Confederate commander of the doomed city, John Clifford Pemberton, had chosen for himself. He was born and reared in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and had graduated from West Point. Yet he chose to fight for the South.

Several decades later I watched Shelby Foote in the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War. The epic nine-episode masterpiece left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness. The bittersweet tune "Ashokan Farewell" playing over images of senseless deaths at the hands of hapless generals at places like Burnside’s bridge, the Crater, and Fredericksburg reminded me that there is little glory in war. I will never forget the grainy image of the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The old, maimed soldiers who were brought to the battlefield refused to take part in a mock recreation of the carnage. Instead, they embraced each other like survivors of some terrible storm.

And of course the Civil War has found a home on the Internet. (In fact, all of the above links, with the exception of "Ashokan Farewell," are from the library’s various subject guides.) While reading about a battle I can view maps, photographs and video. There is no doubt that learning about the Civil War online can be an immersive, sensory experience. But the Internet can’t duplicate sitting at your grandmother’s table. The library can’t recreate that kitchen table experience either, but we can come close. Beginning March 15th, the Birmingham Public Library will host a free five-part reading and discussion series called Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War. The series encourages participants to consider the legacy of the Civil War and emancipation. Come, join us. You may not learn what your ancestors did in the war, but you will learn about their legacy.

Submitted by D.N. Ryan
Social Sciences Department
Central Library

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