Friday, February 27, 2015

Senior Computing

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

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

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

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

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

William Darby
East Lake Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shooting (1966)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Patent Your Invention

First patent granted in 1790
First patent granted in 1790

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

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

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

M.B. Newbill
Southern History Department

Thursday, February 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

View TEDxBirmingham at the Central Library

Photo: TEDxBirmingham

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find A Grave 

Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance

Association for Gravestone Studies Facebook Page

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Friday, February 20, 2015

Role Reversal - Caregiving for Aging Parents

More Americans are living well beyond their 70s, and adult children are left in a position where they have to be caregivers for their aging parents. Experts agree that the dynamic of age in America has shifted dramatically over the last 60 to 80 years and its impact on the family can often create an uncommon situation. Dealing with this situation can be a challenge. An enormous amount of strength and energy is needed to adequately support aging parents because caregiving can be challenging.

It's easy to get burned out with the responsibility, especially when only one sibling steps up to the plate to help care for parents: doctor’s appointments, taking care of finances, healthcare,
not to mention the trips to the grocery store take a toll both mentally and physically. Becoming a caregiver can easily become a full-time job and is often overwhelming, stressful, and frustrating. Trying to reduce your stress level will make you a better caregiver.

Here are some tips to help you remain productive, organized, and loving: (1) take time for YOU, even if it's just a few minutes, (2) know your limits—learn how to say no, (3) stick to a routine—a daily routine can be a life saver, (4) ask for help—even a few hours "off-duty" can help you recharge, (5) get enough sleep, and by all means, join a support group so that you won’t feel alone.

Helpful resources:

The Caregiving Wife's Handbook: Caring for Your Seriously Ill Husband, Caring for Yourself by Diana Denholm
The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiving Journey by Nancy L. Kriseman
Should Mom Be Left Alone? Should Dad Be Driving?: Your Q&A Companion for Caregiving by Linda Rhodes
The Caregiver's Companion: Caring for Your Loved One Medically, Financially, and Emotionally While Caring for Yourself  by Carolyn A. Brent

Caring for Your Parents
When Your Parent Needs You: A Guide to Positive Growth When Caring for Aging Parents

Caregiving Resource Center
National Alliance for Caregiving
Today's Caregiver

Yolanda Hardy
Smithfield Library

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Free Online Learning

Computer Clip Art There's no better time than now to learn a new skill or take an educational course of personal interest to you.  Well, I would like to introduce several free online learning websites.  Yes, that's right.  You can choose courses and learn skills all for free.  Also, learn at your own pace and connect with fellow learners and instructors.  What an opportunity!

Coursera: Free Online Courses
This educational website offers courses online to anyone for free.  You may choose from hundreds (currently 955) of courses created by the top educational institutions.  The courses cover a broad range of subjects including biology, computer sciences, physics, health, math, education, social sciences and teacher professional development. You may learn for fun or earn a verified certificate.

This educational site teaches you to code interactively for free.  You may choose to learn HTML & CSS, Python, Ruby or Javascript, as well as other programming languages.  You can learn to create a website, as well as style the site using CSS.  This is an interactive website which makes learning fun.  I recommend this resource for adults and teens who are interested in learning to code.

Khan Academy
"You can learning anything."  This is a learning resource for all ages.  This site offers free outstanding educational resources for everyone.  Courses include math, science, art, music, computer programming, economics and more.  There are even free tools for parents and teachers.

So, what are you waiting for?  Get started on those goals today.  Lifelong learning is important.  You will definitely improve your skills and expand your horizons.

Computer Commons
Central Library

Registration Open For March RLCC Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the March 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. You will receive an email confirming your registration for classes.  You may also call to confirm your registration)
  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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Got Sugar? Help Control Your Diabetes With Free Classes

Medicare recipients with diabetes or pre-diabetes, family members, and caregivers are invited to attend free diabetes education classes at the East Ensley Library.

The classes will discuss diabetes and its risks, healthy eating and exercise, talking with your health care team, and managing medications. The classes run are on Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m. from March 3 to April 7.

Pre-registration is required. To register for the classes or for more information call toll free 800-760-4550 ext. 3508 or email

Refreshments will be provided. We hope to see you there.

Interested in the Communities’ Thoughts on Improving Health in Jefferson County?

The Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) coordinated a community health assessment and strategic planning process for Jefferson County in an initiative called Community Matters 20/20: Assessment, Visioning and Planning for a Healthy Jefferson County, Alabama. The work of Community Matters has culminated in the Community Health Assessment and the Community Health Improvement Plan with its associated Jefferson County, Alabama Work Plan. The Community Health Assessment for Jefferson County, Alabama provides a robust overview of the challenges and needs facing Jefferson County residents while also outlining the strengths and resources available to aid us in facing those challenges. The Community Health Improvement Plan and Jefferson County, Alabama Work Plan will serve as the county’s guide to health improvement for the next five years (November 2014 through November 2019).

JCDH would like to express its sincere appreciation to the more than 1,000 people who contributed to the creation of these documents. These contributions include, but are not limited to, serving on planning committees, completing surveys, participating in focus groups, etc.

To move the health of Jefferson County, Alabama forward, community members and the local public health system must work collectively and collaboratively to accomplish the goals outlined in the Community Health Improvement Plan. If you, or your organization would like to an active role in the Community Health Improvement Plan for Jefferson County, Alabama, please contact the Jefferson County Department of Health for more information at

Expo Was A Great Place to Find Literary Gifts with Local Flavor

Local authors Vanessa Davis Griggs (left) and Chandra Sparks Splond
welcome guests to the Local Authors Expo

Birmingham Public Library’s (BPL) Tenth Annual Local Authors Expo was an event showcasing Alabama authors and their books. This year’s gathering took place at the Central Library on Saturday, February 7, 2015, and also provided a program for children. Nearly 100 authors from across the state, many who are self-published, as well as authors from throughout the Southern Region with ties to Alabama, were on hand for the day-long literary marketplace. The goal of the Expo is to increase awareness of authors in the state and provide a forum for them to connect with community members and library patrons.

Author Marie Sutton (left) and BPL Trustee Georgia Morgan Blair
As visitors made their way through the Expo, sessions took place in other areas of the library with useful information for new and seasoned authors. Birmingham attorney, author, and blogger Keith Lee of the Hamer Law Group offered easy-to-understand advice on topics ranging from copyright and trademark law to the pitfalls self-publishing or working with a book publisher. Lee writes a weekly column for "Above the Law,'' the most popular legal blog in America.

Author Marie A. Sutton discussed what it takes to write about history and how to make it interesting. Her recent book about the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in downtown Birmingham has been met with high praise and comes at a time when plans are on the table to renovate the civil rights landmark.

In a program for children and families, Alabama’s own mad scientist Doctor Osborn wowed Expo attendees with an amazing magic show that also taught the value of reading and the library. Throughout the day, Doctor Osborn’s crazy balloon creations were to be seen all over the library.

Speaker Keith Lee (left) and Jared Millet
The Local Authors Expo was started by the library's Collection Management division to spotlight the wide range of authors in the Birmingham area and to provide a venue for small local publishers and authors who self-publish. Coordinator for Collection Management Jared Millet, also an author and Birmingham's liaison for National Novel Writing Month, says, "Birmingham is overflowing with literary talent and creativity, so the expo is an event that really resonates with our community.”

The Local Authors Expo is presented by the Friends Council of the Birmingham Public Library. The Council is a nonprofit association that supports Birmingham Public Library special needs by providing volunteer and financial resources. For more information, visit

Author Grady Saxon shares a wealth of print items with visitors

Monday, February 16, 2015

Spotlight on West End Library's “Website of the Week”

West End Branch has a Facebook page and every week we spotlight a “website of the week.” These are sites that I’ve found that are interesting, informational, or just fun. Here’s a list of websites spotlighted in the past and some interesting new ones.

Alabama DMV Driving Tests
Practice tests and FAQ for the Alabama Driving Test.

Alabama Public Radio
I love listening to a Prairie Home Companion and Fresh Air. This is also a great source for local and national news.

Alabama Public Television
Season 5 of Downton Abbey isn’t finished, yet. Catch up on this seasons episodes.
This website will help you find out if you are registered to vote, where you vote and the dates for upcoming elections.

Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies
Website for a breast cancer support organization for women of color.

Buy your favorite sports team’s jerseys, tees, and accessories.

Free OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
This worked well for me and my needs. If you have a document in .pdf format it will convert the text so you can edit it.

This website offers free “learn at your own pace” tutorials and classes. A variety of topics are covered: basic computer, money and grammar.

IRS (Internal Revenue Service)
This is the time of year where access to this website is needed. You really might need it since income tax forms are in short supply this year.

Want to volunteer with a local organization? Check out this site.

Snap Bubbles
Do you love to break the bubbles in bubble wrap? This website is for you, now you can pop bubble wrap all day long.

I really like this website. It tells you how to do some of everything.

What Should I Read Next?
When you are finished reading a book and want to read another book that is similar, try this website.

Maya Jones
West End Library

Didn’t We Almost Have It All? : Remembering the Late Whitney Houston as Daughter Bobbi on Life Support

photo of Whitney and Bobbi Kristina

“Didn't we almost have it all / The night we held on till the morning / You know you'll never love that way again / Didn't we almost have it all”

The wistful lyrics of Whitney Houston’s 1987 billboard song strike a new chord in view of current events. Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, is indeed trying to hold on until the morning.

Authorities found Brown face-down in a bathtub on January 31. Since then, Brown has remained on life support, unconscious through the third anniversary of her mother’s death on February 11 in sadly similar circumstances. As Houston famously once sang, things have gotten “so emotional,” and rightly so.

With so much uncertainty, one may find comfort in the beauty of the past. Celebrate Houston’s life—and Brown’s fight—and read about what friends, family, and key writers in the pop-culture industry have to say about Houston’s legacy:

Whitney Houston! : The Spectacular Rise and Tragic Fall of the Woman Whose Voice Inspired a Generation by Mark Bego

Whitney Houston : The Voice, the Music, the Inspiration by Narada Michael Walden

Remembering Whitney : My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped by Cissy Houston

The Whitney I Knew by BeBe Winans

The Wendy Williams Experience by Wendy Williams
While primarily covering other pop culture topics, this book includes an interview session with Houston.

Houston glammed the big screen as well, not limiting her talents to the music industry. Here are some films to remind you why you will always love her:

Waiting to Exhale (1995)
Houston plays the lead character Savannah Jackson, a TV producer in love with a married man, in this film about four African American women struggling with relationships.

The Preacher's Wife (1996)
Houston stars as a gospel-singing wife of a pastor in this holiday comedy.

Sparkle (2012)
The executive producer, Houston also stands as the resistant mother in this film about a 1960s female singing group.

Miss seeing Houston onstage? Check out these DVDs that feature Houston’s key performances and insightful interviews:

We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston

Whitney: The Greatest Hits

Of course, the Central Library has many of Houston’s albums for check out. Freegal Music, BPL’s downloadable music service, offers the soundtrack Just Whitney. This track is of special note because it includes “My Love,” a song featuring daughter Brown.

Perhaps more precious is “The Little Drummer Boy” on One Wish: The Holiday Album. This single track acts as a time capsule, capturing the musical interplay between loving mother and baby girl. A much younger Brown opens the track with the light, airy voice of youth. Then Houston’s voice swings in with gentle encouragement with “Sing baby,” and later “That’s my baby.” They sing together in harmony, and it is this intimate moment we may hold close, hoping.

Bethany Mitchell

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Discovering New African-American Fiction

In order not to mislead anyone, let me first state that by “new,” I mean a title you haven’t read before. The sources I mention will include newly-released titles, but you will also find older titles that may interest you.  Most people have favorite authors and types of fiction they like to read (e.g. suspense, romance), but it’s nice to have a resource to discover additional authors and titles that may fit your interests.  Here are a few places to look.

Goodreads – I describe Goodreads as Facebook for people who love to read.  You can connect with friends, find out what they’re reading, list what you are currently reading, review and rate titles, etc.  There are also some great ways to use Goodreads without being a member.  You can use it to find authors similar to those you like as well as browse their many lists of books to find something to read.

Find Similar Authors
  • Type the author’s name.
  • In the list of the author's books, click the author's name under a book title to bring up the author's profile.
  • Click on Similar authors on the right-hand side at the top of the list of books (e.g. Carl Weber's Books).

Find Similar Authors

Browse Lists to Find Titles 
  • Click on More book lists... near the bottom of the right column.
  • Enter African American in the search box, then choose a list to browse.
  • Once you select a title, you can also see which lists contain your selected title.  Just click on Lists with This Book.

      More Book Lists

      Lists with This Book

      In addition to bookstore websites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, another way to discover new African-American fiction is to check out publisher websites.  If you like urban fiction, this is a great way to identify new titles and authors.  There are many publishers that specialize in urban fiction such as Triple Crown Publications, Urban Books, and Melodrama Publishing.  These websites feature books by a number of African-American authors that may be of interest to you.  In addition, the website provides an extensive list of urban fiction authors and publishers.  It also features author interviews and book reviews so you can keep up with the latest in the genre.  Happy reading!

      Friday, February 13, 2015

      Blame Someone Else Day

      Blame Someone Else Day falls on the first Friday the 13th of every year. In 2015 it will be celebrated on February 13. Blame Someone Else Day is the day when you’re not to blame for anything; 24-hours of pointing your finger at someone else. History dates this momentous day to Anne Moeller of Clio, Michigan. According to legend, she started the trend in 1982 as an excuse for not keeping her appointments. According to the story, Anne’s alarm clock did not go off and she overslept. Her afternoon tardiness was quickly blamed on something else. If you find yourself celebrating this day and pointing your finger at someone else, we have some suggested reading just for you. However, if you find this day to be unappealing and not worth your time don’t blame me, someone else told me to write this.

      It’s Not My Fault by Nancy Carlson
      The Berenstain Bears and the Blame Game by Stan & Jan Berenstain
      It Was Jake! by Anita Jeram
      It Wasn’t My Fault by Helen Lester
      Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It by Michael Kaplan
      Scapegoat : the Story of a Goat Named Oat and a Chewed-up Coat by Dean Hale

      Carla Perkins
      Avondale Library

      Thursday, February 12, 2015

      Book Review: On Such a Full Sea

      On Such a Full Sea
      Chang-Rae Lee

      If we can be forgiven a small spoiler, neither the ocean nor the sea is anywhere to be found in this book, On Such a Full Sea, by Chang-Rae Lee, acclaimed for his earlier novels Native Speaker and The Surrendered. We are in the world of metaphor, and although On Such a Full Sea is certainly science fiction, it will appeal mostly to readers of literary fiction. The characters are not readily identified as good or bad. They move through this future world making choices, timidly or with daring, and we see ourselves in their uncertainty.

      Most uncertain is the voice of the narrator, who is wrong or simpleminded about as often as a Greek chorus. Like a Greek chorus, he or she, we don’t know, we do trust as giving voice to the consensus view of the community. That community in the not-too-distant-but-believable future feels stiflingly conformist, but maybe a bit too familiar. The novel is about that conformist society’s reaction to a very young woman, Fan, whom they credit with acting from free will. She frightens them in the way a messiah might.

      Fan is a normal girl who does normal things. She has a boyfriend, Reg, and they are goofily in love, but one day Reg disappears, and Fan, goes looking for him, instead of trusting his fate, and her love, to the authorities. Fan goes looking for her lover Reg and that simple free choice on her part is like a stone cast into the uneasily calm pool of their world.

      Often the narration shifts to Fan’s point of view and we wonder how the narrator knows her reactions and her thoughts and can only suppose that we are reading Fan’s reactions as imagined by the narrator.

      It is that kind of book, with layers of meaning. We wonder whether Fan will find Reg , and we wonder if the rigid class system described in the novel is so very different from our own today.

      If you are looking for an interesting read, check out Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea.

      David Blake
      Fiction Department
      Central Library

      Wednesday, February 11, 2015

      How to Patent Your Invention

      First patent granted in 1790
      First patent granted in 1790
      Do you have a great new invention? Are you unsure whether or not you’re the first one to think of it? If so, join us at 2:30 p.m. on February 16, 2015, in the Regional Library Computer Center. We’ll be talking about patents and how to perform a basic search using databases from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. There are actually three different types of patents: design, plant, and utility. Utility patents are what most people think of when they hear the word “patent” and according to the USPTO, 90% of all patents granted today are utility patents.

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

      Since patents are written using highly specialized legal and scientific language, performing a patent search can seem intimidating. Join us on February 16 as we break down the USPTO’s Seven Step Strategy. This simple strategy is a great way to get started and to become familiar with the patent process. Space is limited, so call us at 205-226-3680 to register today!

      M.B. Newbill
      Southern History Department

      Children's Book Review: The Emerald Atlas

      The Emerald Atlas
      John Stephens

      I love to read fantasy books when I can snuggle under a warm blanket and drink hot chocolate. February’s cold and gloomy days can always be brightened with a bit of whimsy. This month, I chose to read The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. It satisfied my craving for magic and inspired me to keep reading through to the sequel, The Fire Chronicle. I must admit, this book begins like many other novels in the genre, with orphans.…Or at least with kids who are believed to be orphans. Emma, Kate, and Michael have spent most of their lives bring bounced around from orphanage to orphanage, but they thwart every attempt families make to adopt them. That’s because they know that their parents are not dead.

      The beginning of this novel shows them being ejected from one of the most derelict orphanages they’ve ever visited, The Edgar Allen Poe Home for Incorrigible and Hopeless Orphans. After getting kicked out of a joint like that, the only institution that will take them in is located in the remote and mysterious mansion in a town called Cambridge Falls. They find that they are the only orphans living in this so-called orphanage and are confounded by the eccentric owner of the property, Dr. Stanislaus Pym.

      As soon as the kids are left to their own devices, they explore the mansion. It doesn’t take long before they come across something fantastic. They stumble across a room full of old photographs where they unearth an ancient green tome filled with blank pages. The kids waste no time in figuring out the book’s magical powers. When they touch an old photograph to the pages of the book, they are transported back to the time and place where the picture was taken. They find this out accidentally, of course, and teleport themselves fifty years into the past. There, they witness a witch (called The Countess) who threatens to murder every child in the town within a week’s time if the children’s parents fail to find an artifact. In a panic, the children launch themselves back to the present time but they are in such a rush that they leave Michael in the past with The Countess. When the sisters go back to save him, they lose the book and strand themselves. The three so-called orphans embark on a quest to stay together, retrieve the book, and ultimately save the children from a tragic fate.

      This book is full of fantastical elements that can be found in the most popular novels in the genre. This series contains a kindly giant, noble dwarves, an evil witch, magic, and kids destined for greatness (among other things, of course). Despite the familiar fantasy tropes, the book is full of surprises. For readers that have exhausted the Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket series, this is an excellent way to keep the magic alive. This would also make a great introduction to kids who love magic and adventure, but have never read fantasy. It’s a great novel that will keep you turning the pages to see what happens next. It’s would be appropriate for upper elementary to middle school students.

      Mollie McFarland
      Springville Road Library

      Black History Month Highlight: Early Black Inventors

      Garrett Morgan, inventor of a breathing device or “safety hood,” had to hire a white man to introduce it at public demonstrations while he wore the hood, but the early black inventors largely ignored any discrimination and continued to invent “useful devices.”

      The first black to be granted a patent was Thomas Jennings, a free black in New York, in approximately 1832. The patent was for a dry cleaning process.

      Permanent Wave Machine
      A very prolific black inventor was George Washington Carver. He discovered 300 uses for peanut butter, but he applied for only three patents: one for cosmetics and plant products and two for paints and stains.

      Madam C.J. Walker/Sarah Breedlove is perhaps the most famous and successful black female inventor. Sales of her hair care products made her the first American black female millionaire. Also, Marjorie Stewart Joyner invented the “permanent wave machine” and a “scalp protector.” She sold the rights of both patents to Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company.

      Among his many other inventions dealing with steam engines, Elijah McCoy invented the “Improvement for Lubricators in Steam Engines.” The phrase “the real McCoy” supposedly originated from the reputation of the quality of McCoy’s products.

      You can find other information on black inventors in the library and learn more about their contributions to American innovation.

      Carver: Paint and Stain and Process of Producing the Same, Patent #1,541,478

      Joyner: Permanent Wave Machine, Patent #1,693,515

      McCoy: Improvement for Lubricators in Steam Engines, Patent #129,843

      Michelle Andrews
      Government Documents Department
      Central Library

      Tuesday, February 10, 2015

      Book Review: Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into The Disappearing Religions Of The Middle East

      Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into The Disappearing Religions Of The Middle East
      Gerard Russell

      Gerard Russell, who is British, spent many years working in his country’s diplomatic corps. While there, he got some good advice at the embassy from a supervisor: Make yourself scarce, get out, and mix with the people. That plus his inherent interest in religions, Classics, and history stood Russell in good stead. He met members of many little-known faiths most Westerners never have, or will ever have the chance to, and has written about them marvelously in his new book. The religions covered are: Mandaeans, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Druze, Samaritans, Copts, and Kalasha (my spell-checker didn’t recognize several of these faiths). I like nothing more than to read about obscure religions, and I drew a blank with the Kalasha. Turns out I’d read a few pages about them in a book about far-flung Pakistan twenty years ago. These really are little-known religions. There haven’t been books on them for a general audience in decades.

      One of the most interesting things about these faiths is that they don’t necessarily adhere to the Abrahamic faith (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) norm. They aren’t necessarily monotheistic. Their inheritance may come from a time when what is now the Mideast was greatly influenced by Classical European thought. All sorts of odd things are always popping up in the book, and you start to realize that your view of this part of the world has been limited. That’s understandable, as most of these faiths have been secretive, something they had to be to survive. In fact, in some cases many of their own adherents don’t even know the tenets of their faiths. Some of the religions end up being more like ethnic groups. There are reasons for this, too, and they are fascinating ones. It’s amazing that these groups have survived at all, but there’s a reason for that, too. For well over a thousand years Islam was more tolerant toward the minority faiths in its midst than Christianity was toward its. Imagine, says, Russell, if adherents of Thor or Aphrodite still practiced in remote parts of Europe. You have the equivalent surviving in the Middle East today. But there is a danger in the last few decades with the rise of radical Islam, which is now the biggest threat to the faiths presented here. It’s one of the many ironies in a book that’s full of them.

      The Mandaeans may be unique in preserving religious traditions from ancient Babylon. Perhaps no religion on earth has maintained such an unbroken and ancient legacy. You may recall front page news a few months ago of ISIS bombing Yazidi communities. This was probably the first time most Americans had ever heard of Yazidis. They revere a Peacock Angel with an interesting backstory. The angel, once God’s favorite, was cast down into hell by him for prideful behavior. Punished there, he repented and God forgave him. Sound familiar? Well, not quite. God welcomed the angel back to heaven and he’s back where he was and now in charge of the spiritual well-being of earth. Because of these beliefs, the Yazidis have been called “devil-worshippers” and have encountered persecution over the centuries. From their perspective, they have no devil and can’t imagine a God who wouldn’t forgive anyone who’s repentant. Many of the groups in Heirs have beliefs that sound familiar at first but turn out to be quite different. Russell is always careful to let them speak for themselves. The Zoroastrians, who go back to at least 1000 BC, believe they are the ones who sent wise men from the East to visit the infant Christ (turns out many early Christians believed this also). Labeled “fire-worshippers” by outsiders, once again Russell lets them define themselves. The Druze, more than any group here, have preserved religious teachings from Classical Greece, especially the teachings of Pythagoras. The Samaritans maintain that not all the Lost Tribes of Israel were lost. Moreover, it is they who’ve maintained the ancient traditions of Israel. Somewhat similarly, the Copts of Egypt maintain they are the oldest extant Christian community in the world. The Kalasha are the only indigenous religious group from the remote Hindu Kush who haven’t converted to Islam. They trace their heritage to Alexander the Great’s army, and there is some evidence for this. The locals look on the Kalasha as pagans, but to the Kalasha, they are as they have always been, and that’s as it should be.

      If you can picture religions as bodies of water, then these faiths are lesser-known streams, obscure backwaters, crosscurrents that astonish, branches that can be traced back to ancient oceans long since forgotten.

      There is a problem in the book that needs addressing. Russell’s scene-setting and background sometimes take too long, and there isn't enough focus on the main course. Since one reason for the book is the fact that there’s so little out there on these faiths for non-scholars, this is a weakness. However, all of the background and context-making is entirely absorbing and often revelatory. Most of the italicized words that come in for repeat usage aren't listed in the index. A glossary would've been helpful. And Russell mistakenly claims that the Western Wall isn’t a remnant of the Temple. But he is otherwise well-anchored, at least on everything I’m familiar with.

      That said, I recommend this book highly. A tour like this is rare and exciting. Russell makes a fine plea for religious tolerance and freedom of conscience. A final chapter on how some of these communities have found refuge in the U.S. is hopeful but raises vexing questions. They’re here, they’re glad to be free from persecution, but they’re haunted by the specters of assimilation, secularism, and indifference. At this point in the book you’re rooting for them. But then, you probably have been for quite a while. That’s a testament to Gerard Russell.

      Richard Grooms
      Fiction Department
      Central Library

      Searching for Psychiatric Services? Helpful Resource Available for All Alabamians

      The recent announcement about Alabama Psychiatric Services closing its doors this week has left many in the state anxious about finding help with mental illness for themselves or loved ones. As happens too often in healthcare access, those in need of help in the cities will likely find replacement providers while rural residents may have a harder time finding a new psychiatrist without travelling some distance. The fact that Alabama already has a shortage of psychiatrists doesn't help matters. However, the Alabama Psychiatric Physicians Association and its members are working to address the needs of the 28,000 Alabama Psychiatric Services patients before the service closes on February 13.

      In addition, Health InfoNet of Alabama can help residents locate counseling and psychiatric services by using the Alabama health services directory on the site. Here's how (you may click on any of the links to get to the information directly):

      1. Go to the site located at
      2. Search for counselors/therapists, psychiatrists, or psychologists in the Find by Health Service directory.
      3. Limit by geographical area (cities or zip codes).

      Looking for providers who offer services on a scale according to income? Here's how (you may click on any of the links to get to the information directly):

      1. Go to the site located at
      2. Search for community clinics.
      3. Limit by the "Service Type" in the right hand sidebar for counselors/therapists or psychiatrists.

      Finally, support groups can be very valuable for mental self-help. Besides the support groups included in the database of health services on the InfoNet site, we also provide a "Guide to Finding Support Groups" tip sheet.

      Kay Hogan Smith
      Librarian and Project Director, Health InfoNet of Alabama

      Cherry Blossom Festival

      2015 Cherry Blossom Festival
      The Birmingham Public Library is partnering with the Japan American Society of Alabama to offer programs for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

      If a trip to our nation’s capital for the March Cherry Blossom Festival is not on your calendar, make plans to join the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) for an early start on the celebration. Once again partnering with the Japan American Society of Alabama (JASA) and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, BPL is planning several programs—including a Haiku contest, a special edition of the signature Bards & Brews event, a film screening, and a main event at the Gardens—in support of the annual observance. All programs are free and open to the public.

      A very popular feature of the programming is an online haiku contest for teens and adults residing in Alabama which begins on February 22 and runs through March 14. With separate competitions for teens and adults, winners will be picked at the end of each week and will be eligible for cash prizes. Poems may be on any topic and may be submitted on Twitter with #bplhaiku or by emailing Entries will be judged by the Southeast Chapter of the Haiku Society of America. The weekly winners will be ranked first, second and their and prizes awarded at the main event of the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens on Saturday, March 21. In case you are wondering, the cherry blossom is a flower which blooms on trees of the Prunus genus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, which is called sakura.

      Additional Cherry Festival program partners for this year include The Alabama State Council on the Arts; The Haiku Society of America; and Hop City Beer and Wine.


      February 22 to March 14 Haiku Contest Open to teens and adults residing in Alabama. For more information and to register: visit Either tweet #bplhaiku or email

      Tuesday, February 24, 3:30-5:00 p.m. Teen Haiku Workshop Central Library, Story Castle, 2nd floor. Librarian Lance Simpson will lead this workshop for teens. Interested participants are welcome to sign up at

      Friday, March 6, 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Bards, Brews, & Haiku Central Library, First Floor. Special edition of B&B featuring haiku and sake tasting, as well as the usual performance poetry and beer. Special guest, Terri French, Southeast Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America.

      Sunday, March 15, 3:00 p.m. Screening of a "ramen Western" Central Library, Arrington Auditorium. A comedy about the quixotic quest for the perfect ramen recipe. Matt Levey, Professor of Asian History at Birmingham-Southern College, will serve as facilitator.

      Saturday, March 21, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Japanese Garden. This will be the main event of the Cherry Blossom Festival and will feature a variety of activities. Winners of the Haiku Contest will be announced midday at the Pavilion stage.

      Monday, February 09, 2015

      Update on Tax Forms and Booklets Available at BPL

      For many years the Birmingham Public Library has participated in the IRS' Tax Forms Outlet Program (TFOP). Thanks to TFOP, taxpayers could pick up many of the forms and instruction booklets they needed to file their taxes at their local branch library. Recently the library received a message from the Program. In essence, it says that due to budget restrictions, only the 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ forms will be available in paper format at the library. State 40 and 40NR forms and instruction booklets are available at most library locations. All other forms and instruction booklets can be found online at

      Here is a link to the full message.

      Taxpayers would be wise to see this as another sign of how much of the business of our lives now must be conducted online. Fortunately, the library offers classes for anyone who wants to improve his or her computer skills.  Class listings can be found at  Use the keyword "computer" to search for the classes.

      “The Most Famous Person Nobody Knows”: Celebrating the Life of an African American Novelist and Poet

      Margaret Walker
      Margaret Walker has been described as the “most famous person nobody knows,” and if people recognize the name, they probably do not know much about this African American novelist and poet. Margaret Walker was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1915. Both of her parents were teachers and valued education more than anything else. Margaret earned her doctorate from the University of Iowa and spent her career teaching at Jackson State University.

      In term of her literary career, she was part of the South Side Writer’s Group whose members include Richard Wright, Arna Bontemps, Fenton Johnson, Theodore Ward, and Frank Marshall Davis. Margaret wrote Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius in which she details their friendship and literary collaborations. Her most famous novel, Jubilee (1966), tells the story of Vyry, the daughter of a white plantation owner and his slave mistress during the antebellum era, the Civil War, and Reconstruction and is based on the life of her great grandmother. Although an accomplished writer, Margaret Walker is best known for her poetry, with her most famous poem being For My People  from the volume of the same name. You can find out more about Margaret Walker by reading the first biography of this remarkable woman entitled Song of My Life published in 2014.

      Laura M. Gentry
      Southern History Department
      Central Library

      Monday, February 02, 2015

      Celebrate Black History Month with the Inglenook Library

      Help the Inglenook Library celebrate Black History Month through a series of informative and enjoyable programs. Attendees will create vision boards to outline their dreams as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did, play trivia games, give back to the community by Reading Forward The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 book, and then watch the movie based on the book. See below for detailed descriptions.

      I Have a Dream Vision Board Project
      Monday, February 9, 3:15 - 4:15 p.m.
      Participants will create vision boards that outline their dreams. Ideal for families.

      Black Inventors Trivia
      Monday, February 16, 3:30 p.m.
      Participants will be tested on their knowledge of black inventors. The winner will receive a prize.

      Read it Forward with The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963
      Monday, February 23, 3:30 p.m.
      Stop by the Inglenook Library to get your free copy of The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, an award-winning book by Christopher Paul Curtis. Once you finish reading the book, look for the Read it Forward tracking number at the back of the book. Enter the book's tracking ID number. Then, give the book to someone else. Remember your tracking number so you may follow the book's travels. Books shared through this program have gone around the globe. Get in on the fun and share the joy of reading. This program is for third graders and up.

      Black History Month Movie
      Friday, February 27, 3:00 p.m.
      See what happens when the Watsons of Flint, Michigan, visit Birmingham, Alabama, in the summer of 1963. This made-for-TV movie is based on a popular book by Christopher Paul Curtis.

      Karnecia Williams
      Inglenook Library

      Renasant Bank Workshop on Contract vs. Full Time Employees Scheduled for February 12

      Renasant Bank is reaching out to help small businesses succeed with a free six-part entrepreneurial success series. Series topics include Financial Management, Networking and Relationship Building, Social Media, Tax Information, Business Plan Components, Human Resources and Access to Capital.

      Renasant staff and local experts are leading these valuable learning sessions throughout the Birmingham and Shelby County communities. The event is co-sponsored by the Birmingham Public Library System and Trudy Phillips Consulting. Complementary refreshments will be served.

      Tracey Morant Adams, Senior Vice President Small Business and Community Development Director said of the series, ‘This free series is part of Renasant Bank’s continuing commitment to further the success of small business owners and entrepreneurs in our area. We are pleased to provide valuable tools and insight to help our local community businesses thrive and flourish.”

      To register for any of the sessions, please visit:

      Final session in series:

      Contract Employees vs. Full Time Employees
      Avondale Public Library
      February 12, 2015
      9:30-11:00 a.m.

      Popular Posts