Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Accelerated Searching for Accelerated Readers: Read the Books Database

Librarians know kids are back in school when we begin hearing these questions:

“I've got to read a book from this list…”

“My child needs a level 3.5 book from the Accelerated Reader list…”

“I need a book worth at least 4 points…”

Yes, the Accelerated Reader (AR) programs have begun in Birmingham City Schools. So, how can parents (and students and teachers) figure out which AR books are available at their neighborhood library?

It’s easier than you think. The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) subscribes to Read the Books. This online database includes the Birmingham City Schools’ Accelerated Reader (AR) lists. You can access each school’s AR book list from the BPL website. Then you can sort books by title, author, points, and grade level. Best of all, the books are linked to BPL's online catalog. Simply click on the title you want, and it takes you to the BPL catalog where you can locate and reserve the book you want. What a timesaver!

Fontaine Alison
Five Points West Regional Branch Library

Money Matters – Risk and Protection Workshop Scheduled for September 7, 2016

It’s never too late to start building a better understanding of your personal finances and begin developing a plan for the future. To assist you in this endeavor, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is partnering with the staff of the Regions Institute for Financial Education at UAB to offer a series of Money Matters workshops at the Central Library on the first Wednesday of each month from July 2016 to May 2017. Please join us on the dates below to take part in discussions about a variety of money management issues and learn ways to achieve your economic goals.

When: First Wednesday of the month
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Place: Central Library/Linn-Henley Research Building/Richard Arrington Auditorium

9/7/2016 – Risk and Protection
10/5/2016 – Family Money Skills
11/2/2016 – What Every Woman Should Know About Money
12/7/2016 – Protecting Yourself Against Targeted Fraud
1/4/2017 – Dealing With Debt
2/1/2017 – Where to Invest Your College Money
3/1/2017 – Your Credit Report
4/5/2017 – Saving Through Tax Refunds
5/3/2017 – Five Keys to Investing Success

For more information about the workshop series and other financial literacy resources available at BPL, please contact Jim Murray of the Central Library’s Business, Science and Technology Department by e-mail at or by calling 205-226-3691.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Registration Open For September 2016 Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the September 2016 class schedule. During this month, we include a variety of topics including computer skills, career search, genealogy, and finance. All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central Library. PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.

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

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

  September 2016 Class Schedule

Southern History Book of the Month: Forgotten Tales of Alabama

Forgotten Tales of Alabama 
Kelly Kazek
Illustrations by Kyle McQueen

It’s back to school season, and that made me think of how I used to feel when it was time to go back after a summer neatly bookended by Vacation Bible School in early June and a two-week trip to Magnolia Springs every August. I remember that Alabama history was part of the curriculum in fourth and ninth grades, and I can also remember not especially liking it. But if I’d had Kelly Kazek’s Forgotten Tales of Alabama to read, I might have felt differently. This little book is a wonderful compendium of the humorous, the memorable, and the just plain weird sites, people, and incidents in the history of Alabama. It lends itself very well to browsing and here are some samples of the Alabama lore you’ll find in it:

The Wolf Woman of Mobile
When Fish Fell on Chilatchee
World’s Largest Cake Baked in Fort Payne
Nation’s Last River Postal Route
The Mystery Graves of North Alabama

Here’s an excerpt about one colorful character I remember from my childhood—Birmingham’s “Batman,” Willie J. Perry:
Why is a 1971 Thunderbird important to Birmingham’s history? The car was once driven by Willie J. Perry, the man known as the Birmingham Batman. Perry became a local icon when he drove the car around the city displaying a sign that read: “Will help anyone in distress.” When he came across stranded motorists, he would supply gas or offer use of his jumper cables or a ride home . . . His mission, based on the Golden Rule, became so well known that he was featured on the television show That’s Incredible! in 1982.
Not all of the incidents are lighthearted. There is an especially sad segment about an infant death that was most likely caused by a patent medicine called Godfrey’s Cordial. The account of the Birmingham Axe Murders isn’t exactly cheerful, either. But if you’re drawn to unusual folklore, this may be exactly the book for you. And pass it on to your children. It could show them a whole new way of looking at history.

Kelly Kazek at
That’s Incredible! – “Batman of Birmingham”
Map of the Birmingham Axe Murders
Patent Medicines
The River Postal Route

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Birmingham Public Library

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 Olympic Games

Rio 2016

I was surprised to learn that my sports-loving coworker has not been watching the Olympics.  I have been bingeing on Olympic events since the opening ceremony.  I love having the freedom to watch on the different NBC networks, the NBC Sports app, as well as  I know NBC has received some criticism for including athlete profiles and commentary with their network coverage, but with all the viewing options, it is possible to watch just about every event you want to see.  Not to mention the great scheduling information, highlights, and full event replays available on the website and app. Considering the amount of coverage the Olympics is receiving, you are probably up-to-date on the results. For those of you who didn't follow the games or actively avoided the coverage, here are a few highlights: 

Michael Phelps won his 23rd gold medal (five in Rio) and tied for a silver medal in the 100m Butterfly, bringing his Olympic medal total to 28.  He is unquestionably the most decorated Olympic athlete in history.  History was also made in the pool when Simone Manuel became the first African-American female to win an Olympic medal in an individual swimming event.  Simone tied for gold in the 100m Freestyle, won silver in the 50m Freestyle, and picked up another gold medal anchoring the women's 4x100m Medley Relay.  

Usain Bolt completed his track and field three-peat in Rio by winning the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay.  He won gold medals in these three events in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) bringing his gold medal count to 9.  He has tied the record for most gold medals by a track and field athlete.  Jamaica also dominated the women’s sprints with Elaine Thompson winning gold in both the 100m and 200m races.  Not to be outdone, the U.S. women’s team easily won gold in the 4x100m relay. 

One of the top names in tennis emerged without a medal at the 2016 Olympics.  Serena Williams did not medal in either singles or doubles, but Venus Williams and her partner Rajeev Ram won the silver medal in mixed doubles.  Rafa Nadal competed in the bronze medal match and despite a comeback to force a third set, he was unable to win the bronze medal.  However, he and his partner Marc Lopez claimed the gold medal in men’s doubles.  Finally, Andy Murray secured back-to-back Olympic gold medals by defeating Juan Martin del Potro in a four-set match.

The “Final Five” exerted their dominance in women’s gymnastics.  The U.S. won the women’s team competition, gold and silver in the individual all-around, gold in the women’s vault, silver in the women’s uneven bars, silver and bronze in balance beam, and gold and silver in floor exercise.  Simone Biles will leave Rio with four gold medals (team, all-around, vault, floor exercise) and one bronze due to a slip on the balance beam.  Teammate Aly Raisman earned two individual silver medals (all-around, floor exercise), Madison Kocian won silver for uneven bars, and Laurie Hernandez won silver for balance beam.  That is a total of eight individual medals to go along with their win in the team competition.

I couldn't possibly cover all the events I've watched, but I hope this gives you a feel for the great competition that took place in Rio. Even though the 2016 Olympics is drawing to a close, remember that you can watch replays of events on the website and app mentioned above. Enjoy the closing ceremonies and GO TEAM USA!!!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

DNA and Genealogy

Kyle Merker's commerical

“So I traded in my lederhosen for a kilt” is the classic line uttered by Kyle Merker while wearing a kilt in the commercial advertising their DNA family history service. Almost every night, there is a TV commercial for DNA and genetic genealogy, and everyone wants their DNA tested to help unravel the mysteries of their family tree. Many people have questions about the terminology, the types of tests, and what you can learn about your ancestors from DNA testing.

The Southern History Department has the answer with our two Beyond the Basics of Genealogy workshops this fall. This month, we will be offering Jump Into the Gene Pool: Genetics and Your Family History on Saturday, August 27, at 10:00 a.m., at the North Birmingham Regional Branch Library. In this workshop, discover how genetic research can help you explore your family history. Find out what a gene sample can tell you about what parts of the world your ancestors came from and more. You can call us at 205-226-3665 or e-mail us at Workshops are free of charge, but registration is requested.

Southern History’s librarian, Mary Anne Ellis, said, "DNA research is one of the hottest trends in genealogy as science has made it possible to learn what parts of the world your people come from. You might learn that you could be part Native American or your ancestors hailed from Asia."

We will be going even deeper with our next Beyond the Basics of Genealogy workshop, Genetic Genealogy Strategies for African American and Native American Research, on Saturday, October 1 at 10:00 a.m. at the Central Library. We highly encourage you to attend Jump Into the Gene Pool: Genetics and Your Family History if you do not have immediate knowledge of genetic genealogy in order to get the most out of the workshop on African American and Native American DNA. For more information, contact the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665 or e-mail us at

Southern History Department
Central Library
Birmingham Public Library

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Contrast in Philosophy

You may have read or seen Steve Harvey’s Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man book and movie. But did you know that there is a book about the subject from a woman’s perspective? Why Do I Have to Think Like A Man? by Shanae Hall takes on the same issues as Harvey’s book but with completely opposite thoughts and advice. Hall, a former NFL wife even throws in a bonus chapter to counter Harvey’s new book, Straight Talk, No Chaser.

Both books allow for some out-of-the-box thinking and ideas and both give a lot of insight as to how to handle the “war of the sexes” on an intellectual level.

Hugh Hardy
Powderly Branch Library

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
Henry Adams

Henry Adams was the grandson of President John Quincy Adams. He became the preeminent American historian of his day and was friends with some of America’s most distinguished men: Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt’s great Secretary of State John Hay. Adams and Hay shared a home across the park from the White House, designed by the great Henry Richardson. Adams had been personal secretary to his father, the US Ambassador to Great Britain, at the same time that Hay had been Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary during the Civil War. On retirement Adams wrote his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, which posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize in 1919. Many have named it the best American book of the twentieth century. During the later years of his retirement, Adams also wrote and self-published one hundred copies of Mont-Saint- Michel and Chartres, intended as a gift to his friends. The American Institute of Architecture prevailed upon him to be allowed to publish it for the public. In print ever since, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres has become an American classic.

In Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres Henry Adams is visiting the sites of High Medieval France with an imaginary niece, giving her the benefit of his learning and his love for that culture and its remaining artifacts: cathedrals, statues, stained glass, and poetry. Fair warning: He leaves much French poetry for his niece (readers) to translate as they will, but Adams himself translates more than enough so that his readers do not become discouraged. We start at the island fastness of the abbey of Saint Michel, built during the eleventh century by Normans on the command of the Archangel Michael himself, just before the bloody Norman Conquest of England. The Normans were among the most ruthless, masculine, and militaristic societies known to us and Mont-St-Michel was their shrine. By Adams’ art we attend a dinner at Mont-St-Michel in the year 1058, attended by Duke William the Bastard and his retinue, which included the hostage Harold, future king of England, who was to be slaughtered along with his army at Hasting only eight years later. At the dinner "The Song of Roland" is sung by a famous minstrel, bringing the hard men to tears as he sings of Roland’s righteous death in battle, a fate that came to nearly all in attendance.

All of this is in preparation for the true purpose of the Mont-St-Michel. Adams takes us to Notre Dame de Chartres, Our Lady of Chartres, built by the Lady’s command and to her tastes. In less than one hundred years France, Norman France, and Norman England have been transformed by their devotion to Mary, resulting in one of the most splendid outpouring of art, architecture, and literature in human history, known then as the “new” but to us by its later name, “gothic.” Adams wants his reader to see Chartres with our hearts as its builders felt about the great shrine. We become peasants and nobles, singing together their love of Mary as they drag huge stones weary miles from the quarries to the cathedral. We experience the victorious struggles of the great queens who dominated the French High Middle Ages: Eleanor of Aquitaine, her daughter Mary of Champaign, and Eleanor’s granddaughter, Blanche of Castile. We feel the courtly love of the era and wonder at the bitter scholastic conflicts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Abelard about the nature of the Holy Trinity. Most importantly, through stories from the French Marian literature of the era, we come to understand Mary, their Mary, the Queen Mother who ruled and who appeared to them and loved the sinner, but jealously, brooking no worldly rivals.

Mont-St-Michel and Chartres is a gift to the serious reader and a travelogue of sorts for the serious tourist. But, with the Internet, we do not need to have visited the primary tourist destinations of Gothic France to enjoy Adams’ writing. Images of the many sites he mentioned are readily available online, as are the biographies of historical personages he occasionally neglects to introduce. Adams is good company, who engages the reader with a wry wit and a ready hope that we readers will come to love his subject, the French High Middle Ages.

Reading Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres we can’t help but love them as we have visited them in our imaginations with one of the grand old men of American letters.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Birmingham Public Library and Local Daughters of the American Revolution to Offer Family Bible Records Preservation Workshop on August 21

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL)’s Southern History Department has partnered with Lily of the Cahaba Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to offer a Family Bible Records Preservation workshop on Sunday, August 21, 2:30-4:30 p.m. The event will be held on the first floor of the Linn-Henley Research Library/Southern History Department/Central Library.

The goal of the event is to preserve the genealogical or family history records that are recorded in family Bibles. Digital images of the appropriate pages will be made without damage or pressure applied to the Bibles using new digital technology to protect the books. The images will be submitted to the genealogical library of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and BPL so that these records are not lost.

The Bible remains with the owner and digital images will be provided at no charge to those who bring Bible records for preservation. The goal is to preserve these valuable records for future generations in the event that the Bible deteriorates or is lost in the future.

The workshop and the digital images are free. Registration is encouraged but not required via e-mail to

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded in 1890 to promote patriotism, preserve American history, and support better education for our nation's children. With more than 177,000 members in approximately 3,000 chapters worldwide, DAR is one of the world's largest and most active service organizations. To learn more about the work of today's DAR, visit For information about the Lily of the Cahaba Chapter, visit

Friday, August 12, 2016

North Avondale Library Hosts Workshops in Partnership with Hands on Youth Activities, Inc.

Juliette Watts and students 

Smiles filled the room at the North Avondale Branch Library as participants showed off the wreaths they made during a workshop taught by Birmingham’s Juliette Watts.

When the class had begun an hour earlier, not everyone was on the same page, including two sisters who struggled to work together in building their wreath. But Watts encouraged the girls, and soon they too created a beautiful wreath to take home and proudly show their mother.

“I get so much joy out of using my love of the arts to develop discipline and teach these kids to work together,” said Watts, who founded Hands On Youth Activities Inc. in 1999.

During June and July, Watts hosted three free workshops at the North Avondale Library, teaching kids to make wreaths and decorative flip-flops. Kids and adults also learned to sew squares for a community quilt project.

Two sisters worked in harmony to make their wreath

Watts is among community organizations, nonprofits, schools, and businesses across the Birmingham metro area that partner with the Birmingham Public Library (BPL)’s 19 branches located across the city. North Avondale Library Branch Manager Saundra Ross said Watts has been a tremendous asset to her library, giving participants of all ages in the community something positive to do.

Watts said she has spent the past 17 years devoting countless hours sharing her artistic talents with young people and adults across Birmingham, partnering with BPL, schools, and community groups. Among her past projects: Special Olympics World Winter Games Scarf Making Workshop, Parents Crochet With Your Children Workshop, Cherokee Leaf Pounding Workshop, Let’s Plant Something, Fishing Expedition, Kids Cake Baking, and others.

“I want to do my part to make a difference in the lives of young people,” said Watts, who also shares her talents with adults.

For more information on Hands On Youth Activities Program, contact Watts by phone at 205-244-1465, e-mail at, or via mail at P.O. Box 611072, Birmingham, AL, 35261.

Avondale Regional Branch Library Hosting Free Ukulele Workshop on August 20

Learning the ukulele at Avondale Library's popular workshop

Want to learn how to strum a ukulele? Then mark your calendars for Saturday, August 20, 9:30 a.m., at the Avondale Regional Branch Library. The library is hosting Ukulele 101, a free workshop.

Designed for the absolute beginner, this 45-minute introduction will be enough to get even the most novice guitarist strumming on the ukulele, said Eve Parker, a storyteller in the Avondale Library Youth Department.

Participants can check out one of Avondale Library’s 13 ukuleles available for the public, or bring their own. Class size is limited, so register in advance by calling 205-226-4003. Parker said the class is in response to public demand after an April Ukulele 101 workshop drew 13 patrons. She hopes to schedule more ukulele workshops this fall.

Parker, who plays the banjo, guitar, and ukulele, came up with the ukulele lending program idea in August 2015 after reading about a library in Portland, Maine, that had made the popular little guitar available for checkout to its patrons. Avondale Library’s 13 ukuleles were donated by Herb Trotman and Kathy Hinkle of Fretted Instruments in Homewood.

See link to article about the Avondale Library ukulele program that was featured in Weld for Birmingham last September:

For more details about the Avondale Library ukulele workshop, check out its Facebook page link below:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Fold3: Our Newest Genealogy Database


Did you serve in the military, or maybe one of your relatives? Military records are a great place to learn about an individual’s military service and can provide genealogical information. Many genealogical lineage societies, such as the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, are tied to an ancestor’s military service. Fold3 Library Edition is our newest genealogy database that provides convenient access to U.S. military records, including the stories, photos, and personal documents of the men and women who served.

Civil War Widow's Pension
Alabama Widow's Pension for Civil War Service
Coverage includes Revolutionary War, Civil War, War of 1812, Mexican American and early Indian Wars, World Wars I and II, Korean and Vietnam Wars, recent wars, and international records. Fold3 combines official military records with deep first-person content, including bios, photos, letters, and more. Besides military records, Fold3 contains African American, Native American, naturalization/immigration, and Holocaust records. Users can search by name, location, military branch, war, and other filters. Content is easy to access, enlarge, print, save, or share on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Remote access to the Fold3 database is available to JCLC library card holders who are also residents of the City of Birmingham. Every branch of the Birmingham Public Library will have in-library use of Fold3 on its networked computers.

Come discover 470 million searchable records spanning hundreds of years with Fold3! The Southern History Department will start offering classes and workshops on Fold3 this fall. For more information, call the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665 or e-mail us at

Laura M. Gentry
Central Library
Southern History Department

James Spann of ABC 33/40 Shares Tips on Weather, Tornado Safety at Springville Road Library

When it comes to general knowledge about weather and how to protect yourself from tornadoes and lightning, James Spann is a walking encyclopedia.

On August 10, the popular meteorologist for ABC 33/40 in Birmingham delivered an hour-long Weather 101 conversation before nearly 50 people at the Springville Road Regional Branch Library. Using a combination of informational slides and jokes, Spann explained how clouds are formed, what causes tornadoes, and shared wisdom and safety tips. He also urged parents to purchase a $30 weather radio to help protect their family when dangerous weather approaches.

Spann has been a television weather anchor for 38 years. He has received numerous national awards, including National Broadcaster of the Year from the National Weather Association in September 2012 for "his passionate dedication to serving the Central Alabama community with critical weather information for over 30 years, especially during the deadly April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak” in Alabama. Spann was also one of the first weather anchors in the nation to earn Certified Broadcasting Meteorologist status from the American Meteorological Society.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Central Library to Host Two Google Workshop Sessions for Small Business Owners on August 24

Did you know that 97% of consumers look for local goods and services online?

And only 37% of businesses have claimed a local business listing on a search engine.

If you are a current business owner and you want to gain control of the information Google displays about your business in Google Search and Google Maps, then this workshop is for you. A Google Trusted Photographer and Trusted Verifier will be present to help your business get online and allow you to choose what people see when they “google” you.

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) and the City’s Office of Economic Development are partnering with Google and Zeekee, a local Internet marketing firm, to offer a workshop aimed at helping put every business in Birmingham on the map—including yours—for FREE. For your convenience, two sessions of the workshop will held on August 24. The same information will be covered in each session, so you only need to attend one.

Date: Wednesday August 24, 2016
Times: 9:30-11:00 a.m. and 12:00-1:30 p.m.
Location: Central Library/Linn-Henley Research Building, 4th Floor/Richard Arrington Auditorium

Space for each workshop is limited, so please register with Valencia S. Fisher in the City of Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development at as early as possible to reserve a spot. Please indicate which session you would like to attend.

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

Let’s Put Birmingham on the Map!

Meteorologist James Spann to Talk Weather at Springville Road Library on August 10

James Spann, a popular meteorologist for ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, will be sharing weather wisdom and safety tips for young patrons at the Springville Road Regional Branch Library at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 10.

All public citizens are invited to attend, but the program is geared towards kids who are interested in meteorology, weather watching, and weather safety. For more details, call Mollie McFarland of the Springville Road Library at 205-226-4081.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Book Review: The Sex Lives Of Cannibals

The Sex Lives Of Cannibals
J. Maarten Troost

The title’s about the only thing about this book that doesn’t work. Sex Lives isn’t a shocking expose of native practices, nor is it an ironic takeoff on those glory years of travel exploitation, the twenties through the sixties. So a cynical marketing ploy on the part of the publisher seems to be what we have left.

Sex Lives succeeds despite its title. Maarten Troost graduated in the nineties without any marketable skills, so he jumped at the chance to follow his girlfriend Sylvia, who’d gotten a job with a humanitarian concern on Tarawa, an island in the South Pacific country Kiribati. For a couple of days I was wondering why on earth I was reading about one of the hottest places in the world in the middle of an unrelenting heat wave in Birmingham until I realized that Tarawa makes Birmingham look like Minneapolis. In the nineties Tarawa was a forlorn, overpopulated, poverty-paralyzed, trash-strewn dump. Most Westerners who came to live there fled after a few months. For diplomats, Tarawa signaled “the end of one’s career,” according to the author.

At first, Maarten and Sylvia were about to throw up their hands too. But they soon realized that accompanying the hardships was incessant drama, unpredictability, excitement, and a refreshing lack of formality. Some particulars: pigs and children always on the airport runway, the Pacific Ocean in your backyard, airplanes riddled with holes (good air conditioning), Russian roulette meals, sharks all over the place, dogs eating dogs. Tarawa might be a dump, but it could be a very interesting one. The odd never seemed to stop happening on Tarawa. When he watched counterfeit VHSs (the only kind available) he couldn’t help but notice the sub-bootleg nature of them: “These movies were typically recorded by a video camera in a movie theatre. Audience members could be seen stretching and heard coughing.” The videocassettes are one of many Tarawa features that make no sense to Troost at first but gradually make at least some sense. Case in point—the bubuti system, whereby one Tarawan can come up to another and ask him to give him anything he owns. Person number two can ask the same. This makes sense on an island where privation has always been the norm. But it does extinguish most ambition. And yet it does make theft very rare because it’s moot. The longer Maarten stays, the more he can understand Tarawan customs (or at least put up with them).

Almost all Tarawans were church-going Christians in the nineties, but the author eventually realized that this is the top layer crowning a complex, ancient animist belief system. This religious mix features, in addition to hymn singing, frequent dancing, honoring the dead, ecstatic trances, and other items that gave the early missionaries the heebie-jeebies and were largely stamped out, only to return when the missionaries left. The locals don’t see this religious mix as the least bit contradictory.

The Brits left Kiribati in 1979, most of their missionaries long before. It’s not an accident they split when the phosphate ran out. Still, the Tarawans look fondly back on the decades of British rule. The lawyers still wear powdered wigs and black robes that billow over their shorts and flip-flops. Kiribati seems to be one of the very few places the British ran well and left little resentment. The British strain is simply one more component of a crazy quilt. Wisely, Troost doesn’t try to solve all the mysteries he encounters here, such as how Tarawan men can drift for thousands of miles with meager provisions, docking on islands in good health. The only clue he is provided with: it’s good to take pig’s blood along in case you get lost at sea. The fact that he doesn’t go to the Kiribati’s Isle of the Dead lets you wonder about it rather than have it explained. Smart, but it’s not as if anyone would take him there and he’d have been violating a major taboo anyway. I don’t see, however, why he couldn’t have walked to Na’a, the haunted and thus peopleless north end of Tarawa. How hard could that have been? The island is only 12 square miles.

Everybody knows everybody’s business on Tarawa, but Maarten draws the line after coming home at night on several occasions and finding couples having sex in his backyard. Like so many things on Tarawa, this isn’t what it seemed. It was these couples’ way of having a little privacy away from home where family and neighbors were always sticking their neck in. It was, paradoxically, a modest solution to a lack of privacy. Unable to do the local thing and turn a blind eye, Troost soon finds, with the help of some locals, a Tarawan way of making the lovers unwelcome so that everybody could save face. But it would take more—much more—to get his neighbors to stop blasting “La Macarena” at unholy volume night and day. There are many things that Troost, after first ascribing them to native stupidity, later chalks up to “an unnerving combination of self-reliance and fatalism.”

Maarten avoids imploding again and again and finally learns to like, if not love, Tarawa. He comes to accept that the locals all along have seen what he calls weird as normal. If you get pushed out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, it’s like push-ups. You just get stronger and you’re dealing with nicer endorphins. For Maarten and Sylvia, it’s finally worth it. I immersed myself in this fascinating train wreck of a country that features water that has the deepest, most arresting colors on the planet, shockingly beautiful beaches, mostly friendly natives, abundant seafood, and a regular de-Romanticizing atmosphere. As you may have guessed, I have no desire to travel to Tarawa. Glad Troost did, though.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

Monday, August 08, 2016

Birmingham Public Library Board Awards Two New Innovative Cool Award Recipients

Two efforts spearheaded by staff at the Eastwood Branch Library and the Southern History Department in the Linn-Henley Research Library are the latest recipients of grants from the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) Board of Trustees.

The BPL Board’s Innovative Cool Award program was established in April to encourage staffers to develop engaging new programs to generate enthusiasm and value for their library patrons. The $50 awards funding the programs are designed to encourage staff and librarians “to promote the library’s mission of lifelong learning and cultural enrichment,” said Dora Sims, chair of the BPL Board Advocacy Committee.

The two winners were recognized during the BPL board meeting on Tuesday, August 9, at 4:30 p.m. Here is background on the two new award recipients:

Claire Stanton

Make Your Own Halloween Mask Party, submitted by Claire Stanton, a library assistant III at the Eastwood Branch Library. “We are excited and are confident the children will have a lot of fun making their own Halloween masks,” said Sims, BPL Advocacy Committee chair. “It is through projects such as these children learn to be creative and develop a love and appreciation for the library.”

Laura Gentry

Recovering the Classics, submitted by Laura Gentry, a librarian in the Southern History Department at the Central Library. The project, beginning in September, promotes advocacy of classic books through a contest to encourage young adults and adults to create/design book covers for classic books. Winning book cover designs will be placed in a display exhibit on the first floor of the Central Library.

The idea for the award was brought to the advocacy committee by committee member Gwendolyn Amamoo. The board anticipates awarding up to $1,900 in new programs by the end of 2016. Guidelines for the board awards for these programs are posted on the library’s Intranet where all library staff has full access.

In order to qualify, staff must submit a brief paragraph or two explaining to the board how they will use the funds. The funds should assist staff in bringing new ideas to the library or provide extra support to existing programs. Submissions are due by the 15th of each month.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Leaving Gee's Bend Author Meets a Fan at the Five Points West Library

Sydni and author Irene Latham

Whew! I survived my first summer reading season. If you don’t work in a library youth department, you have no idea how busy these last two months have been. (Imagine performing in all three rings of a three-ring circus!) But for all the frenzy and long hours, the effort was definitely worth it. It’s the little moments that best prove the point.

To capture those moments, I began posting photos of “Today’s Featured Reader” on our Five Points West Regional Branch Library (FPW) Facebook page. There was young Elliott, a snaggletoothed 5-year-old thrilled with his first library card. And Joi, who read every book in the Dork Diaries series and offered her recommendations to fellow readers. One dedicated mother read over 150 books with her toddler between June and July. What a lucky little girl.

They read 150 books this summer!

I was even amused by kids who tried to bluff their way to a prize. Daniel, a regular at FPW, would claim to have read a book after 15 minutes paging through it. Our compromise: he would read aloud to me while I worked at my desk. Hey, if I can coax a kid to read with the promise of a Tootsie Pop, I’m down with that!

But the high point of the summer came when Sydni introduced me to her favorite book, Leaving Gee’s Bend, by Irene Latham. As a Selma native and proud owner of a Gee’s Bend quilt, I naturally wanted to know more. Sydni happily complied, effusive with details from the story as well as the author’s visit to her school. In return, I told her about buying my quilt and taking a ride on the Gee’s Bend Ferry, which she is dying to try.

Alison and family on the Gee's Bend Ferry
Curious about this author who had captured a young girl’s imagination, I looked up Irene Latham ( On a whim, I sent her an e-mail with a link to Sydni’s photo on our Facebook page. Thus began the conversation which led to a delightful meeting between author and reader. Latham brought Sydni a signed copy of the book, and Sydni brought handmade gifts for Latham. "The best part of my job is meeting readers like Sydni," Latham said. She asked Sydni to add a bit of wisdom she learned from her mother to a quilt block. (Latham collects these motherly sayings from fans of her book because The Wisdom of Mothers is a major theme in the story.) And meanwhile, this English teacher turned library storyteller got to watch. Goosebumps.

After Ms. Latham had left, Sydni hugged her new book and confided, “My friends will be so jealous!” So will mine, Sydni. So will mine.

Sydni adding her personal touch to Latham's
quilt block.
Learn more about Gee’s Bend Quilts

Leaving Gee’s Bend Set in 1932 and inspired by the rich quilting history of Gee's Bend, Alabama, Leaving Gee’s Bend is a heart-touching tale of a young girl's unexpected adventure. (From author’s website)

Stichin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt by Pat McKissack

The Quilts of Gees Bend by John Beardsly, et al.

The Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend [videorecording] Alabama Public Television

If you would like to learn how to quilt, the Springville Road Regional Branch Library offers quilting classes for beginners every month. The next class is scheduled for September 2, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Fontaine Alison
Five Points West Regional Branch Library

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Voting: Our Constitutional Right

Since we’ve just finished watching the Democratic and Republican conventions, I thought that voting resources would be a timely topic. Don’t forget that this is a presidential election year and here are a few web resources to make things easier for you as you exercise your constitutional right as a citizen.

AlabamaVotes is a wonderful website set up by the office of the Alabama Secretary of State. You can find out immediately if you are registered to vote, your polling place, print out a voter registration form, find out about absentee voting, military and overseas voting, upcoming elections, candidates, sample ballots, etc.

Federal Voting Assistance Program provides voting information and assistance to overseas military personnel, their families, and overseas United States citizens.

Kids Voting USA is a voter education website targeting children. They have curriculum for grades K-12 which encourages mock election participation and family voter participation activities. Because Alabama doesn’t have an affiliate, curriculum has to be obtained from the national organization.

League of Women Voters is dedicated to protecting the voting rights of underrepresented communities. This organization was started in 1920 and was first dedicated to women’s suffrage but is now dedicated to preserving the voting rights of all voters.

Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan website dedicated to encouraging teens to participate in the voting process. You can find out how to register to vote, where to vote, election dates, and information about candidates and voter registration deadlines. They also sell Rock the Vote merchandise. says its mission is “to create and organize timely, needed government information and services and make them accessible anytime, anywhere, via your channel of choice.” They have a page for Voting and Elections that gives you information on candidates, state and local elections offices, voter registration requirements and deadlines, the Presidential election process, and voting and elections laws and history. This website provides good information for anyone interested in participating in the election process.

Vote Smart is a nonpartisan website dedicated to giving free factual information about political candidates. I was really impressed when I took a look at their founding board members.

I hope these websites will help you register to vote, answer voter ID questions, and give you information on the candidates.

Maya Jones
West End Branch Library

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Book Review: The Oracle of Oil

The Oracle of Oil
Mason Inman

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home."
Mark 6:4

In 1956 geophysicist M. King Hubbert delivered a paper to the American Petroleum Institute (API) in San Antonio, Texas. His presentation was titled “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.” Many of the professional geophysicists, engineers, and energy specialists gathered were expecting a mundane paper comparing the exploration and production costs of nuclear energy to more traditional fuels such as oil. Those members of the audience who had been following the controversial and groundbreaking career of Hubbert were expecting anything but the mundane.

In fact, Hubbert’s paper did shock the industry, as well as his bosses at Shell. Using bell curves and mountains of data gathered from foreign governments and competing companies, Hubbert predicted that global oil would reach “peak production” between 1965 and 1970. In other words, the end of cheap oil was on the horizon. This was akin to walking into the temple and overturning the money changing tables. This was heresy of the highest order. And like all heresies, some facets of Hubbert’s findings remain controversial decades later.

Hubbert arrived at his Peak Production theory by studying the history of American oil wells from their discoveries to their inevitable dry finishes. He then created intricate statistical models that reduced the production history to a bell curve. Over his career he acquired more and more data from American and foreign oil companies enabling him to publish even more detailed studies. Even his opponents respected his methods and credentials. Hubbert taught at Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University and earned a doctorate from Columbia University. He was notorious for double- and triple-checking all his data, and like all competent scientists submitted his finding to other scientists for peer review.

For decades Hubbert was a gadfly buzzing around the doublethink of the oil industry. No other geophysicist wanted to agree with his findings, but they could find no errors in his logic or his math. On the one hand, no scientist would argue that oil was a renewable resource. Yet on a regular basis his critics used the most curious logic to fight him. Richard Gonzalez wrote in the 1956 article "We are Not Running out of Oil":  “There is no way of proving today whether the peak of domestic ability to find and produce oil will be passed in the next ten to twenty years. Domestic petroleum appears to have a reasonably bright future ahead.” In other words, I can’t disprove your formula, charts and graphs, and data points, but you must be wrong.

Publicly, oil magnates, scientists from a variety of disciplines, and the government laughed at Hubbert, but privately they were willing to spend enormous amounts of money and take outrageous risks to guarantee the availability of cheap oil. I was surprised to learn that fracking, or hydrofracking as it was originally called, began in 1948. I was more than surprised to discover that in 1958 Richfield Oil proposed using nuclear bombs to free Canada’s tar sands. It was believed that these tar sands “held as much as 600 billion barrels of oil.” Freeing the tar, or oil, from the sands required huge amounts of heat. Conventional heating methods would cost more than they would produce in oil revenues. I suppose nuclear bombs were, comparatively speaking, cheaper. “In talking with Canadian ambassador, President Eisenhower enthused about the project.” (The government dubbed this plan Project Plowshare; Hubbert called it project Screw-Ball.)

But a good biography of a scientist tells you more than controversy. Inman does an excellent job of showing Hubbert the individual outside the confines of his lab. For instance, Hubbert was interested in applying science not only to the problem of oil supplies, but also to the problem of governance. Technocracy, Inc. was the result of this interest. Late in 1931 Hubbert joined a group of like-minded scientists who believed that engineers and scientists should have a much greater role in the running of the United States economy, and by extension, the United States government. (Yes, they coined the term "technocrat.") Understandably, these views brought him to the attention of the government. In 1943 he was summoned to a hearing of the Board of Economic Warfare. The bureaucrats couldn’t tell if Technocracy was similar to Communism, Fascism, or something entirely different. Under questioning Hubbert quickly revealed that Technocracy would prefer another type of government in America. One BEW member asked if he would like to see “a government with more power than the present one.”

“Decidedly so,” Hubbert replied. It would “combine in the United States Government powers held by the big corporations. I sometimes wonder who is more important, Standard Oil or the United States Government…” In other words, I would like to see a government that truly represents the public on one side and on the other side had the power to really get things done. He was equally unconventional in his private life. He was an atheist and once married a stateless scientist in order to help her gain American citizenship and not be deported.

So have we reached "peak production," or is it somewhere in our future? As Inman says, “Hubbert’s oil forecasts weren’t correct in every detail…but they were strikingly prescient.” Hubbert could not foresee technical advances, e.g., drilling down and sideways to empty previously unreachable wells, or the drilling of shale for gas. And engineers found a method of extracting oil from tar sand that doesn’t involve nuclear radiation. But what most scientists now agree has become painfully clear is that cheap—or conventional—oil has peaked. We are now spending more to reach more inaccessible resources.

David Ryan
Social Sciences/Business, Science and Technology Department
Central Library

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Exhibit Featuring Ten Alabama Artists Ends August 26

What:  Ten Alabama Artists: All Media Exhibition
Stories Told by Tora Johnson
When: Now until Friday, August 26, 2016
Where: Central Library, Fourth Floor Gallery, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, Alabama 35203
Admission: Free. For more information call (205) 226-3670

Don’t miss the exhibit Ten Alabama Artists: All Media Exhibit currently on display at the downtown Birmingham Public Library in the Fourth Floor Gallery. The exhibit ends Friday, August 26. The featured artists are all members of the Watercolor Society of Alabama (WSA). However, watercolors are not the only media to be featured in the show. The artists show their prowess in a variety of media including oils, acrylic, collage, watercolor, ceramics, mixed media, hand-painted lithography, and calligraphy.

The exhibit is curated by Jaceena Shepard of Town Creek, Alabama, a well-known practicing artist, exhibition curator, and art teacher. "These ten artists are enthusiastically creative. Their work is inspiring because it tells a story, makes us smile, asks ‘how did she do that’, and causes us to realize that creativity comes from discovering the most potent muse of all is our own inner child," says Shepard.

In addition to Shepard, the following artists are featured in this exhibit:

Peggy Milburn Brown, Montgomery
Winnie Cooper, Birmingham
Toska Courbron, Wetumpka
Heike Covell, Huntsville
Lyn Gill, Brewton
Lectora Johnson, Birmingham
Melinda Matthews, Birmingham
Charlotte McDavid, Birmingham
K.M. McWhorter, Mobile
Shirley Tucker, Hartselle

Kicked Back by Jaceena Shepard

Monday, August 01, 2016

Central Library Hosting 7 Ways to Secure Your Business Data Seminar on August 8

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

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

7 Ways to Secure Your Business Data is presented by Sawyer Solutions, a Pelham-based information technology company. The seminar is scheduled on Monday, August 8, from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., in the Arrington Auditorium of the Central Library.

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

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

2016 Summer Reading Season Nearing Conclusion

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is entering the closing days of its 2016 summer reading schedule. Since late May, over 500 programs and workshops for teens, children, and adults have given thousands of metro Birmingham library patrons opportunities to exercise their mind and enjoy their passion for reading.

Programs have included non-book activities such as Belly Dancing for Beginners—a class on the ancient dance at the Springville Road Regional Branch Library, free exercise classes at libraries across Birmingham led by certified fitness instructor Russell Lee, and workshops by Haruyo Miyagawa on both knitting and the Japanese art of paper folding.

Teens and adults have learned dance moves led by Winston Strickland of M.A.D. SKILLZ DANCE CO., and youngsters with curiosity for chemical reactions learned what happens when you mix Diet Coke with Mentos candies. UAB’s ET (Enabling Technologies Laboratory) provided insight on what goes into designing video games by leading a program called Get in the Game with Virtual Reality.

Sports enthusiasts gained knowledge as several BPL locations hosted Hit a Home Run with the Negro Southern League Museum, with curator Toby Richards sharing artifacts from the rare baseball collection housed in the venue next to Regions Field near Railroad Park.

Although Summer Reading is ending, our 19 libraries host free programs and activities throughout the year. Check out the calendar listings on our web page at

A Matter of State Pride – Springville Road Library Welcomes Coach Bobby Johns

Bobby Johns was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2010

If you live in this state, you can expect to talk football at some point in the year, and at certain times of the year, you can’t reasonably expect to talk anything else. Understatement of the century: Alabama is known for having great football teams. Sooner or later, you’re going to run up against someone from outside this state who is going to want to discuss the (unofficial) state religion. Now, if you’re a super fan of longstanding, you can carry this off without a hitch, rattling off the pros and cons of split wings, pistol versus shotgun formations, forward versus lateral passes, and why the Wildcat is either God’s gift to the game or a sneaky, dirty trick play. However, if you simply love football season and enjoy watching your chosen warriors destroy somebody else’s, you may not know a tailback from a defensive end. In other words, you are likely to get caught in the embarrassing position of being shown up as deficient in the lingo. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. You owe it to your team and your state to do better than that!

Or maybe you’re just curious and want to know, for the sake of personal education, what some of these colorful terms actually mean. You’ve watched and listened to games for years, but have to admit you really have no idea what the commentators are talking about most of the time. Touchdowns, you get. Field goal, you’ve nailed. You might be able to spot a blatant hold or a missed tackle, but when the action gets hot and the narration gets fast, you feel you’re missing something.

Don’t worry; your library has you covered. On Tuesday, August 9, 6:30 p.m., Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Coach Bobby Johns will be at the Springville Road Regional Branch Library to demystify some of the most common football jargon. Coach Johns, a former University of Alabama defensive back and two-time All-American, retired as the head coach at the University of West Alabama, and knows the game as player, coach, and spectator. He’ll discuss positions, plays, equipment, and penalties, then field questions from the audience. Light refreshments will be served and the program is open to all adults.

So, while your team is out there playing a good game, you’ll be able to always talk a good game. GO TEAM!

Kelly Laney
Adult Department
Springville Road Regional Branch Library

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