Friday, December 30, 2016

Chapter Chatters Book Club Celebrates Joy of Reading Monthly at North Avondale Branch Library

Chapter Chatters Book Club after December meeting at the North Avondale Library

Gwendolyn Welch has read over 100 books in 2016 alone. Thanks to monthly meetings of the Chapter Chatters Book Club at the North Avondale Branch Library, Welch has been able to build friendships with over a dozen other women who share her love of reading.

Among them is Lucretia Quinn, a loyal patron of the North Avondale Library since as a teenager she attended the former Hayes High School, now Hayes K-8 School, adjacent to the library. During the group’s December 28 meeting, Quinn and Welch, a Birmingham Public Library board member, got into a fascinating debate about Chapter Chatters December book of the month Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson.

For Quinn, who lives in Roebuck, attending Chapter Chatters meetings over the past year has been a joy that extends beyond their book discussions because it allows her to reconnect with her favorite city library that was a positive gathering place during her teen years.

The club chats over lunch about African American-themed books recommended by its members or chosen from best-seller lists and talk shows. Many of the books they read deal with real life situations club members can relate to.

“I really enjoy coming here the last Wednesday each month, discussing books, sitting and chattering with the other ladies in the group,” Quinn said. “The North Avondale Library has a lot of great activities for the community and the school children, and that is what a library should do.”

Chapter Chatters was founded in February 2011 by North Avondale Library Branch Manager Saundra Ross. Though originally intended for adults in the North Avondale area, Ross said the club has attracted members from all over Jefferson County.

“I started Chapter Chatters as a way to give adults in the surrounding community something to do during the day and make a connection with the library staff,” Ross said. “We have members here in the community as well as all over Jefferson County,” Ross said. “That is a positive thing, allowing people to share their love of reading and make new friends.”

The club meets the last Wednesday of every month. The next meeting is January 25 at 10:30 a.m. when the group will discuss the book Bed of Lies by Shelly Ellis.

“If you want to join the club, call the North Avondale Library at 205-592-2082 or check us out on Facebook,” Ross said.

The clubs membership ranges from the early 40s to 79. The members who gather monthly at North Avondale Library come from cities across metro Birmingham—McCalla, Bessemer, Center Point, Forestdale, and Hueytown. Several Birmingham communities are represented, including Airport Hills, Bush Hills, downtown Birmingham, Kingston, Powderly, and North Avondale.

Members of  the North Avondale Library Chapter Chatters are: Omelia Bailey, Georgia M. Blair, Lillie Cole, Gwendolyn B. Welch, Claudia Marks, Julia Horne, LaTonya Reynolds Cox, Ellarine Stroud, Linda D. Cox, Dora U. Sims, Bettie Griggs, Veronica S. Gossom, Lucretia Quinn, Cealie Davis, and Saundra Ross. They include retirees and working members.

Best-selling Birmingham author Vanessa Davis Griggs has visited the club, and author Sherelle Green has participated via conference call and sent a gift bag of new book titles to be used as prizes. Author Cyndey Rax participated in a conference call and highlighted the book club on her Facebook page. Tayari Jones, Hurston-Wright Legacy Award winner, was so impressed that she mailed autographed book plates and book marks for each club member.

Ross said she is excited about how even young people have begun to embrace book clubs at the North Avondale Branch. In November 2015, the library began hosting the Children's Picture Book Club, a group of neighborhood students who meet every second Wednesday after school to discuss picture books. Their first book was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

Chapter Chatters is among at least nine book clubs that meet monthly in seven of BPL’s 19 library branches, including two each at both the North Avondale Branch and the Springville Road Regional Branch Library.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Copies of Industrial Pollution Documentary Toxic City Donated to All Birmingham Public Library Locations

Kirsten Bryant, outreach director of Gasp, BPL Interim Director Sandi Lee,
and Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp

Gasp, a Birmingham-based health advocacy nonprofit, has given the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) 19 DVD copies of Toxic City: Birmingham’s Dirty Secret, an award-winning documentary about the impact industrial pollution has on area citizens.

Gasp produced Toxic City in 2014 to shine a light on how individuals in Collegeville, North Birmingham, other communities in the northern part of the city, and Tarrant are impacted by hazardous industrial pollution. The 26-minute documentary explores how the issue arose as well as possible solutions to the problem. See a preview of the DVD at the organization’s website,

Founded in 2009 as Alabama First, the organization changed its name to Gasp in 2010 to honor the Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, a group formed in 1970 by young activists, students, public health professionals, elected officials, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to bring attention to Birmingham’s air pollution problems that created a public health crisis.

Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, hopes the donation will help educate more citizens of Birmingham about the dangers of industrial pollution. The 19 DVDs will be distributed to all 19 locations across the city in the BPL system. A screening of Toxic City was first held at the North Birmingham Regional Branch Library when it was released in 2014.

Sandi Lee, interim director of BPL, said the 19 libraries in the system are appreciative of the DVD donations. Toxic City is a teaching tool and Gasp wanted to make sure that it was available to as many people as possible, Hansen said.

“Educators have been using these DVDs since 2014 to teach students about health, environmental justice, the legacy of toxic pollution, and the lingering effects of segregation,” Hansen said. “Now the film will be accessible to everyone through the 19 branches of the Birmingham Public Library.”

Hansen said air pollution is the world’s single greatest environmental health risk factor for premature death, killing more than 5.5 million people a year. A recent study named Alabama’s air quality as fifth worst in the nation. According to Gasp, communities of color and lower incomes are disproportionately affected by pollution.

The Toxic City donation is the third major DVD gift to BPL in 2016. In early December, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Black Warrior Riverkeeper donated to BPL 19 copies of the 2016 version of Southern Exposure, a documentary educating the public about Alabama’s natural resources. In July, Jenna Roberts of Decatur gave BPL five books and 19 DVD copies of Cowspiracy, an acclaimed documentary promoting a vegan lifestyle.

See links to both donations below:
Southern Environmental Law Center and Black Warrior Riverkeeper donate 19 Southern Exposure DVDs to Birmingham Public Library

Birmingham Public Library Receives Donation of 19 DVDs, Five Books of Cowspiracy, Acclaimed Documentary Promoting Vegan LifestyleCowspiracy

Money Matters – Dealing With Debt Workshop Scheduled for January 4, 2017

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 help you achieve your economic goals.

When: First Wednesday of the month
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Place: Central Library/Linn-Henley Research Library/Regional Library Computer Center/4th floor

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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: Flaubert’s Parrot

by David Blake, Central Library, Fiction Department

Flaubert’s Parrot
Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes is a Flaubert fan-boy. Were he a Tolkien fan, he’d be the King of the Ringers, but nineteenth century French literature needs its knights, and few knights are as ready for battle as Barnes on behalf of Flaubert. Critics and academicians are the villains to be vanquished.

Flaubert’s Parrot is organized around the mystery of a stuffed parrot that resided on Flaubert’s desk, and became divine in his story "A Simple Heart." As he has researched Flaubert’s life, Barnes encounters two stuffed parrots, both credentialed as authentically Flaubert’s. Before we learn the truth of the parrots, though, Barnes takes us on discursive journeys back to the nineteenth century in long essays about the man himself: his mistresses, his train journeys, his friends, and his petty flaws.

The star of the show, however, is Barnes himself. One imagines an epic battle of epigrams between Barnes and Oscar Wilde, both doubling over with laughter. Opening Flaubert’s Parrot at random will yield plenty to dine out upon on any page. For example, at random, in the middle of a Barnes rant on literary coincidence we read, “One legitimizes coincidences by calling them ironies.”

Among the discursive essays we find a list of Flaubert’s personal nicknames and speculation upon the reason for each. We learn, at length, and with vehemence, the various ways Madame Bovary’s eyes are described by Flaubert, this in response to an academician who criticized the ways Flaubert, the famous realist, had been careless in his description of those eyes. Barnes is on it, and the academic critic is vanquished. We get an A to Z rundown of the great man’s friendships, and ferocious rebuttals of any and all criticisms that may have been directed towards Barnes’ hero. And, we get a telling of the story of Flaubert’s romantic relationship with the writer Louise Colet from his point of view, and from hers, in separate essays.

Julian Barnes received the prestigious Man Booker prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker on three other occasions: this book, Flaubert’s Parrot, England England, and for Arthur & George. His Something to Declare will serve as a welcome, entertaining sequel to Flaubert’s Parrot.

By the way, we do find out about the parrots, but not as we expect.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Out of This World @ Birmingham Public Library Reading Challenge Continues Through January 22, 2017

With Christmas over, all 19 Birmingham Public Library (BPL) locations are now open. There is still time for students on their New Year’s holiday break to read some cool library books and earn a circus ticket at the same time.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and BPL are partnering to host the Out of This World @ Birmingham Public Library! Through the program, which began December 12, kids can earn virtual badges and prizes including a Ringling Bros. circus ticket by simply reading. Children of all ages through 12th grade can register online or at one of BPL's 19 locations. The BPL Reading Challenge ends on Jan. 22, 2017.

See details on how to sign up online below:

Library Champion: Silvertron Café Owner Honored for Supporting Avondale Library

Marco Morosini of Silvertron Café 

Since Marco Morosini bought Silvertron Café nine years ago, he has seen first-hand the many contributions the Avondale Regional Branch Library has made in the community.

Morosini said he has been impressed with the phenomenal job the Avondale Library has done in providing family-friendly programs and educational services for the surrounding neighborhoods. That has encouraged him to be involved in their programs. From giving free meals to volunteering at some of its programs, Morosini has been available anytime he is needed, said Carla Perkins, manager of the Children’s Department at the Avondale Library.

In a show of appreciation, Perkins said, Avondale Library named Morosini its 2016 Library Champion at the Jefferson County Public Library Association's (JCPLA) annual holiday luncheon, recently held at the Florentine Building in downtown Birmingham. The awards are presented annually by the JCPLA to recognize individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to libraries and/or librarianship in Jefferson County.

Morosini said the communities of Forest Park and Avondale wouldn’t be the same without the Avondale Library. “I think it would be a disconnected community. That is why I support them.”

“One of the jobs of the libraries, not just Avondale but throughout the city, is to help give kids a safe place to play while learning, have fun, and, more importantly, stay off the streets,” Morosini added. “On Tuesdays when they have family nights at Avondale Library, it is packed, and makes me more wanting to support the community by supporting the library at the same time.”

To read more about Morosini and the other 10 recipients of 2016 Library Champion Awards, go to

See a BPL YouTube video on why Morosini of Silvertron Café supports Avondale Library below:

For more information about Silvertron Café, go to or call 205-591-3707. The restaurant, open daily, is located at 3813 Clairmont Ave. in Birmingham.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Registration Open For January 2017 Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the January 2017 Class Schedule. During this month, we include classes on a variety of topics including computer skills, career guidance, and genealogy. All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central (downtown) Library. PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.

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

To register for any class, please email us at or call 205-226-3681. You may also download and print a January 2017 Class Schedule to bring to a Computer Commons staff member on your next library visit. Please note that the January 2017 Class Schedule can be sent to us as an email attachment.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Best of a Librarian's Guide to the Holidays

Happy Holidays!  My favorite blog posts to write are my librarian's guides.  I especially enjoyed writing the guides to the holidays (gift-giving, decorating, travel).  I like to make people laugh through my blog posts whenever possible.  The holidays can be stressful, so taking time to relax and have a good laugh puts you ahead of the game.  I decided this month to provide a "greatest hits" from my previous blog posts.  I still laugh when I read through the old ones, so I hope this highlight reel brings a smile to your face.

Holiday Travel  (Nov. 2014)

Tip 2:  Put some gas in the car – If you only have a quarter tank of gas in the car and no money, please stay at home.  You may make it to the corner store and back, but that’s about it.  Your V8 does not get 100 miles per gallon.  

Tip 4:  Pack for the time you will be away – Don't give your relatives a heart attack by showing up with a U-Haul truck full of luggage.  They are happy to see you, but they DO want you to leave.   

Gift-Giving  (Dec. 2014)

Tip 2:  Don’t buy gifts for people you don’t like This is your hard-earned money we’re talking about.  You don’t like [fill in the blank] 364 days of the year, so why are you buying him/her a Christmas present?  Merry Christmas will suffice.

Tip 5.  Don’t believe the media hype
 If your Christmas resembles anything like the elaborate celebrations in commercials, PLEASE invite me over.  Television tries to make us believe that the more we spend, the happier we’ll be.  Those folks are paid to look happy and that stuff is not real.  

Christmas Presents

Holiday Decorating  (Dec. 2015)

Tip 3.  Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses – Sure, your neighbor may have a light display that is synchronized to the 12 Days of Christmas.  That doesn’t mean you have to match or best that.  For all you know, your neighbor may have to pawn his five golden rings to pay the light bill.  Enjoy your neighbor’s time and effort while you laugh all the way to the bank.

Decorated House

Tip 4. Waste not, want not – Some people have a unifying theme to their decorations while others don’t.  Changing themes can mean replacing a lot of stuff (yard ornaments, outdoor lights, indoor lights, etc.).  Many of you may enjoy adding something new to your yard decorations every year.  Inflatable Santa may be right next to a nativity scene.  Good for you.   If Santa will still inflate, put him out there with the rest of your stuff.  He’s been in storage all year, so there's no reason to leave him in there.  If people don’t like your multifaceted display, tell them to close their eyes.

Decorated House

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Birmingham Public Library Board Names Innovative and Cool Award, I Am BPL Award Winners for December

A new book club at the Smithfield Branch Library has tripled in size since starting in June. The library is hosting a special holiday party to help spread the word to potential new members thanks to a $100 gift from the Birmingham Public Library Board of Trustees.

The Central Library is hosting a Trivia Night @ BPL event to help the staff engage and connect with their patrons in a night of fun. At the Avondale Regional Branch Library, a monthly jewelry-making adventure for adults is adding new activities thanks to an influx of cash from the BPL Board as well.

Those three library programs are the latest recipients of the Birmingham Public Library (BPL)’s Innovative and Cool Award, presented during the December 13, 2016, board meeting. The award was established in April to encourage library staff to come up with unique ideas to serve the Birmingham community.

Joan Black (right) is a retired registered nurse who gives
back to the community by volunteering her time teaching
crochet classes at the West End Branch Library.
Also, the BPL Board named four winners of the I Am BPL Award, which honors staff who come up with unique ideas that help the 19-library system better serve the public. The December recipients are: Nancy Cleckler of the Central Library/Acquisitions Department; Ellen Griffin Shade of the Avondale Library, Augustus Jones of the Central Library/Fiction Department; and Maya Jones, branch manager of the West End Library

The BPL Innovative and Cool Award program has received national recognition, having been featured twice (August and October) in Library Journal. See links to both articles below:

Oct 31 2016 – "Staff as Innovation Leaders: From Great Ideas to Great Implementation"

August 2016 – "Birmingham Public Library Board Funds Innovative Cool Awards"

Since inception of the Innovative and Cool Award grants, the BPL Board of Trustees has provided $1,350 for 22 new programs at 14 libraries. The programs funded by the grants are as follows:

April 2016
  • Love to Color @ My Library, North Avondale Branch Library
  • Career Survival Kit for Boys; Career Survival Kit for Girls, Pratt City Branch Library
  • Crochet Class, West End Branch Library

May 2016
  • Cowboy Boots and Books, North Avondale Branch Library
  • Science Club; Reading Gems, Ensley Branch Library

August 2016
  • Make Your Own Halloween Mask; Recovering the Classics, Central Library

September 2016
  • KEVA Planks, East Ensley Branch Library
  • Art Attack, Avondale Regional Branch Library
  • Bubble Machine Storytime, Five Points West Regional Branch Library

October 2016
  • After School Writing Lab, Powderly Branch Library
  • Parenting Program; Vintage Memory Making Program, Springville Road Regional Branch Library

November 2016
  • Active Living for Adults, Five Points West Regional Branch Library
  • 2nd Wednesday afterschool program, Wylam Branch Library
  • Nintendo NES Console purchase, Inglenook Branch Library

December 2016
  • Book Club Holiday Party, Smithfield Branch Library
  • Books and Beads adult program, Avondale Regional Branch Library
  • Trivia Night, Central Library

Southern History Book of the Month: Kodachromes

by Mary Anne Ellis, Southern History Department, Central Library

William Christenberry
Introductory essay by Richard B. Woodward

Alabama has lost one of its treasures. William Christenberry, celebrated for his body of photographic work featuring rural scenes and structures in Alabama and other Southern states, died November 28 at age 80.

Kodachromes is a departure from form for Christenberry—or at least the format for which he is best known. Unlike many of his photographs taken with old-school Kodak cameras like the Brownie, this work concentrates on his use of 35mm Kodachrome slide film and features many images that had never before been published; the book begins with shots from the 1960s and continues until 2007, and the compilation is a treasury of subjects ranging from storefronts to cemeteries to kudzu. As Woodward points out in his introduction:
The seeming naiveté of Christenberry’s approach to his subjects . . . can disguise the originality of his endeavor. Along with William Eggleston an Stephen Shore—both converts to color after apprenticeships in black and white—he was one of the first to photograph what everyone had observed for decades: the spectrum of the natural worlds (sky, grass, trees, dirt) competing with, and being increasingly overwhelmed by, products flying off assembly lines in a man-made spectrum of hues.
Many of the photographs are not conventionally beautiful, as when they focus on tumble-down structures of decayed wood or corrugated metal, rusted-out cars, or bullet-riddled road signs. Nor do they fall into a trap of excess nostalgia about the rural South—one of the first shots in the book is of a KKK meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. in 1966. But many of the images will strike a chord with readers who have done a lot of driving on isolated county roads, or explored an old family cemetery, or caught sight of the faded paint of an old store sign. If this all sounds interesting, let Kodachromes inspire you to explore a few back roads and see what catches your eye.

For further information:
William Christenberry obituary

Kodachromes at Aperture publications

William Christenberry at Encyclopedia of Alabama

William Christenberry at artnet

William Christenberry kept time with Hale County images” at slideshow of William Christenberry's work 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Out of This World @ Birmingham Public Library Reading Challenge

Kids, are you interested in reading some cool library books? Are you interested in earning a circus ticket at the same time? Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) will be hosting some serious fun with Out of This World @ Birmingham Public Library! The reading challenge is easy and fun for kids and teens to participate in. The best part is that you can earn a Ringling Bros. circus ticket by simply reading. Children from ages two to 12 can register online or at one of BPL's 19 locations to earn virtual badges and awards.

The winter holidays are here and it's a wonderful time of year to visit with friends and family and few good books! So, during this holiday season don’t leave out one of the most important and fun activities—READING.

Join the Out of This World @ Birmingham Public Library Challenge. It's as easy as 1-2-3.
  1. Register and read to earn virtual badges and awards.
  2. Visit any BPL location to check out books and receive an achievement code for a special badge.
  3. All participants are automatically entered into a drawing for a prize gift pack. Prizes will be awarded at each of the 19 BPL locations.
Teachers and parents: This is a great way for students to earn extra credit during the holiday season and a wonderful way for parents to spend time with their children and enjoy reading together.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Review: Half Broke Horses

by Richard Grooms, Fiction Department, Central Library

Half Broke Horses
Jeannette Walls

A few years back I blogged on this site about Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, one of the most enjoyable reads of my life. I put off reading Half Broke Horses because I noticed it was officially fiction and I wanted another nonfiction experience like The Glass Castle. But the more I looked into Half, the more I realized that it’s largely nonfiction and that many of the book’s reviewers consider it so. It’s a bit complicated but Walls’ Author’s Note at the end of the book explains it well. More important than any of this is the fact that Half is a prequel to Glass, so if you found the first book absorbing, you’ll want to read the second. But the order of the books doesn’t matter: you can read them in any order you wish. At the very least, Half is another outstanding Walls book, not as outlandishly impressive as Glass, but marvelous anyway.

About that prequel bit. If you were fascinated by the eccentricities of Walls’ parents in Glass, you can find out where they came from in Half, because Half is about Walls’ grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, an entirely remarkable woman who is vividly evoked here. Smith, born in 1901, broke horses, flew airplanes, ran a bootleg liquor business, and played poker in an era when women overwhelmingly just didn’t do those things. Even the traditional things Lily did she did in an untraditional way. When she set out for her first teaching job, she traveled the only way you could: on horseback, solo, for hundreds of miles. Lily lived in the West in the early-to-mid-20th century, a time of enormous social change. The West she knew when she was young had many of the hallmarks of the classic West. As in Glass, Walls’ specificity and poetic use of language are an especial pleasure to read. Here she describes tornadoes in Salt Draw, Texas: “…sometimes when it had been especially dry, they were almost clear, and you could see tree limbs and brush and rocks swirling at the bottom. From a distance they seemed to be moving slowly, as if underwater, spinning and swaying almost elegantly.” Whether this (or any passage) is primarily Lily’s or Jeannette’s language we don’t know, and it doesn’t matter to me, but at the very least, the younger Walls has signed off on the text, and we can only thank her. Another of nature’s anomalies surfaces later, this time in New Mexico:
Dad hollered for us to come outside. I’d never heard him so excited. We ran out the door, and Dad was standing in the yard, pointing up at the sky. There, floating in the air above the horizon, was an upside-down town. You could see the low, flat stores, the adobe church, the horses tied to the hitching posts, and the people walking in the streets.... It was a mirage, a mirage of Tinnie, the town about six miles away….It was huge, taking up a big hunk of the sky, and I was mesmerized watching those upside-down people silently walking through those upside-down streets.
Evocative town names populate the book. Like Salt Draw, the ones where Lily taught during WW1 are some good ones: Cow Springs, Leupp, Happy Jack, Greasewood, Wide Ruin. Lily rode horses to get almost everywhere in those days. You can see why she was mad that President Taft got rid of the stables at the White House so he could have a garage installed. You can see why she taught Indians and why this made her always stand up for minorities. Lily wanted to preserve the Old West, but she was modern, too, and she wanted to reform the West as well. She was a pioneer and an instinctive feminist, but she probably didn’t know quite what a feminist was. These contradictions make for a wholly remarkable woman, to say the very least. She really didn’t care what anyone thought of her, and taught her kids the same. She married a Jack Mormon, protected her unmarried pregnant sister from the bluenoses, defied convention again and again. For a while I tried to fix her in history with my grandfather, born one year earlier, but gave up. Comparisons don’t work at all when it comes to Lily. A couple of her observations sound odd to me. She says ranchers “tended to treat Christmas like Prohibition, another Eastern aberration that wasn’t much concern to them.” I think here she’s generalizing from a particular, and romanticizing to boot.

You pick up interesting bits of Americana as you read, find out what a buckboard is, when to serve prairie oysters, what is meant by roof water and draws. (I never did find out what “stick a horse” means). You find out, too, that Lily and her husband Jim “weren’t much more than half broke horses themselves,” even though that phrase is used to describe the cowboys who live on the ranch Lily and Jim run, a gigantic concern of 180,000 acres. Drought hits the ranch hard, but history-making floods turn the land around: “… a few hours after the rain stopped, the plateau turned bright green, and the next day the ranch was covered with the most spectacular display of flowers I had ever seen…All that water must have churned up seeds that had been buried for decades.” Fiction or not, this is why I read.

Lily Smith resumes her teaching career again (easy to always start anew when you’ve been fired from more places than you can count). She educates Mormon polygamists in a place so remote “no teacher with a college degree wanted the job.” For Lily, not being degreed, like not being conventionally socialized, always meant opportunity. But Lily’s too modern for the polygamists, so she’s fired again and uses this to go teach the Havasu Indians who live in the bottom of the Grand Canyon and near the rim of it, depending on the season. As with the polygamists, no outsiders are around, except Lily. Though she soon finds out how the modern world has wrecked the Havasu, even she couldn’t truly comprehend the devastation they’ve suffered. When she consoles an Indian friend, telling him that negative thinking eats away at you, he tells her that “what turns to stone is inside you.” She doesn’t have an answer for that.

Later, back at the ranch, Lily sleeps next to her daughter so the cowboys won’t molest her. But she generally lets her children run about as free as the wind, letting them “fire at each other with slingshots and BB guns.” Not much helicoptering here. Lily had always believed that when you own land, they can’t take it away from you. But they took it from the Havasu and they will in time take it from her and Jim. They have no choice but to sell the ranch to Hollywood types who want to film westerns there. Just what the Hollywood types thought a ranch and cowboys should look like is hilarious, but Jim is too heartbroken to laugh much. He, Lily, the hired hands, the whole lot were just too scraggly, dirty and non-photogenic for the experts who know what kind of West Americans wanted to see up on the screen. The whole place needed a total overhaul, and Lily and family move to Phoenix. Did I mention the level of irony in this book?

Phoenix brings new things like doctors, false teeth, worry, air-raid sirens, traffic, noise, and feeling boxed in. It’s inevitable that Lily and Jim will move again, but daughter Rosemary won’t join them as she’s marrying Rex. These two will be Jeannette Walls’ parents, the parents in The Glass Castle, grade A eccentrics who, like their parents, won’t care what anyone thinks of them. They’ll be de facto Beat Generation members without probably even knowing what the Beats were all about. The stage is set for Glass.

The book, though not strictly factual as Walls admits, still has the ring of truth that the best oral family histories have. This is family history, and American history gets outlined by relief around the edges of the narrative. I wouldn’t have had much interest in a family story set in the West, but then Walls makes everything she writes interesting and even compelling. I now know the West of this era was even grittier than I thought, but also more lovely. This is a story that has nothing you'd expect. It’s far too quirky to qualify. It’s hard to imagine it being more of a success.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Money Matters – Protecting Yourself Against Targeted Fraud Workshop Scheduled for December 14

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 help you achieve your economic goals.

When: First Wednesday of the month
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Place: Central Library/Linn-Henley Research Library/Regional Library Computer Center/4th floor

12/14/2016 – Protecting Yourself Against Targeted Fraud (this workshop will be held in the Youth Department/Story Castle/2nd floor)
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.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Southern Environmental Law Center and Black Warrior Riverkeeper Donate 19 Southern Exposure DVDs to Birmingham Public Library

For the second consecutive year, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Black Warrior Riverkeeper have partnered to donate to the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) 19 Southern Exposure DVDs educating the public about Alabama’s natural resources.

Southern Environmental Law Center has donated each of BPL’s 19 locations one DVD copy of the 2016 edition of Southern Exposure, a series of documentary shorts on various Alabama environmental topics by independent filmmakers. Read more about the films at A year ago, SELC and Black Warrior Riverkeeper donated 57 DVDs, copies of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 editions of Southern Exposure.

Charles Scribner, executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, said his organization and SELC’s Birmingham office are honored to donate the 2016 DVDs to BPL as an avenue for educating the public. Scribner said partnering with BPL makes Southern Exposure available to many more people.

“Clean water and air are necessities for all, but not everyone has an Internet connection for watching Southern Exposure online,” Scribner said. “Now, everyone can borrow the DVDs for personal viewing or an event with their friends, family, church, school, or civic organization.”

“Throughout the past five years of the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship, these compelling films have been incredibly effective in raising appreciation for Alabama's natural resources and in bringing some of the most urgent environmental issues facing our state into focus," said Keith Johnston, managing attorney of SELC's Birmingham office. "By making the 2016 Southern Exposure films available to the public throughout the Birmingham metro area, we are thrilled that the Birmingham Public Library will continue to educate, entertain and energize our citizens to take action on behalf of Alabama's environment."

Sandi Lee, interim director of BPL, said the 19 libraries in the system are appreciative of the donation, and honored to be a resource to help educate the public about Alabama’s natural resources.

Southern Exposure is a film fellowship program that is actively raising awareness about Alabama's incredible natural resources and important environmental issues that impact all Alabamians, Scribner said. Now in its fifth year, the innovative summer fellowship brings emerging filmmakers from across the country to tell authentic, engaging stories through short documentary films about Alabama's environment and the people who cherish it, from the mountains to the coast.

Sponsored by the Southern Environmental Law Center and made possible through the support and partnership with environmental and conservation groups across the state, Southern Exposure fellows have the opportunity to create inspiring, captivating films that give viewers a sense of how much Alabama has to offer and the importance of protecting its resources.

As a result of these poignant stories depicting the triumphs and challenges facing the state, numerous films from past fellowship years have been selected for screening in juried film festivals around the country. Live screenings and online distribution of the films continue to reach a variety of audiences, in Alabama and across the nation, helping Southern Exposure fulfill the mission to spread awareness, appreciation and inspire action on behalf of Alabama's environment.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a Birmingham-based nonprofit whose mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. The organization promotes clean water for improved public health, recreation, and wildlife habitat throughout the Black Warrior River watershed. Black Warrior Riverkeeper collaborates frequently with SELC on environmental advocacy as well as the Southern Exposure films. Learn more at

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. Get more details at

Jefferson County Public Library Association Announces Its 2016 Library Champion Award Recipients

BPL honorees (l-r): Marco Morosini, owner of Silvertron Cafe';
Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson;
Sam Rumore, former BPL Board of Trustee member;
Pat Rumore, former president of the Friends of the Birmingham Public Library;
and Payton Dobbs, Pet Supplies Plus Store.

The Jefferson County Public Library Association (JCPLA) awarded 11 recipients with its 2016 Library Champion Award during its annual holiday luncheon at the Florentine Building in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, December 6, 2016.

The purpose of the luncheon is to recognize the outstanding achievements of volunteers and community partners. The Library Champion Award is presented annually by JCPLA. The award recognizes an individual or organization that has made a significant contribution(s) to libraries and/or librarianship in Jefferson County, Alabama.

The honorees are as follows:

Birmingham Public Library
  • Eastern Region: Sam Rumore, former BPL Board of Trustee member
  • Avondale Regional Branch Library: Marco Morosini, owner of Silvertron Cafe
  • West End Regional Branch Library: Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson
  • North Birmingham and Springville Road Regional Branch Libraries: Pet Supplies Plus Store # 8009 in Roebuck.
  • Central Library: Pat Rumore

Municipal Libraries
  • Homewood Public Library: Fran Jones
  • Hoover Public Library: Former Hoover Council President Jack Wright
  • Leeds Public Library: Martha Hurst
  • Emmet O'Neal Public Library: Lynda Weaver
  • Pinson Public Library: Stanley Moss
  • Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest: Virginia A. Procter

George Stewart and Mary Anne Ellis, librarian in the Southern
History Department at the Central Library
The JCPLA also presented a special award to George R. Stewart, who in October received one of the highest honors in the library profession in Alabama when he was inducted into the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame. Stewart was featured in an article on the University of Alabama website. See link below:

Stewart's career spanned 33 years with the Birmingham Public Library System and an additional four years as director of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. He was a mentor to many at BPL and remains active at BPL as a map consultant in the Southern History Department in the Linn-Henley Research Library.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Bloom County Returns after 25-Year Hiatus

by Lorraine Walker, Five Points West Regional Branch Library

Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope
Berkley Breathed

Berkley Breathed is back! If you do not know Breathed, it is possible that you are not a fan of his most famous creation. Over 25 years ago, he made the comic strip Bloom County one of America’s most famous destinations. Featuring all your favorite characters—Opus, Milo, Bill the Cat, Steve Dallas, Cutter John, and many more—Bloom County has finally come home.

When he left us, the characters were knee deep in the controversial topics of the day. Topics such as Reaganomics, women’s lib, the Moral Majority, and Phil Donohue were fair game. This newest book brings the subjects forward. They now deal with the presidential election, Star Wars, Starbucks, Facebook, and many other issues of today. His take on them is hilarious as well as thought-provoking. You’ll want to get your hands on a copy ASAP.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Southern History Department Closes out 2016 with Introduction to Genealogy Workshop, Announces Beyond the Basics of Genealogy Workshop Schedule for 2017

The Birmingham Public Library’s Southern History Department gets calls and visitors daily from patrons trying to unravel the mysteries of their family tree. Southern History Department staffers are presenting several genealogy and local history workshops to close out 2016. Also, the department has now set dates for its popular Basics of Genealogy workshop schedule for the first half of 2017. You can go ahead and register to secure your spot and get an e-mail reminder a few days before the workshop.

"Genealogy is a hobby for many people,” said Southern History’s librarian, Laura Gentry. “The Southern History Department specializes in local history and genealogy, and we are here to help you research your ancestors."

Tuesday, December 20, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Introduction to Genealogy – Want to learn how to do genealogical research? Come to this introductory class that will help get you started on your genealogical journey. This class meets on the first floor of the Linn-Henley building in the Southern History Department.

Mark your calendars for the 2017 Beyond the Basics of Genealogy workshop schedule.

Saturday, January 28, 10:00 a.m.
DNA Genealogy Testing Services
– Explore the offerings of the three major DNA genealogy testing services, and learn how to make full use of their websites.

Saturday, March 4, 10:00 a.m.
Digital Dixie 2 – Do you have ancestors from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, or Texas? In this class, you will discover digital genealogy resources that you never knew existed from these Southern states and learn search strategies to find untapped information and locate your ancestor.

Saturday, April 8, 10:00 a.m. 
Making Your Sweet Home among Maps: How to Read and Interpret Maps of the Southeastern United States – Do old maps enchant or intimidate you? Do the symbols intrigue or confuse you? This hands-on workshop explores the symbols and mapping conventions used on 19th and early 20th century maps to tell the story of the development of the Southeast. Students will learn how to interpret and analyze information contained on old maps as well as look for hidden meaning behind what was mapped and what was left off the map.

Saturday, June 24, 10:00 a.m.
One for the Record Books: The English Census – Searching for English ancestors? Genealogists know that census records are crucial to family history research, but there are some important differences between the U.S. Federal Census and its English cousin. This workshop will show you how to navigate this important information source.

Workshops are free of charge, but registration in advance is requested. To register, contact the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665 or Like us on Facebook at

Friday, December 02, 2016

Celebrate the Holidays at the Birmingham Public Library

That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular
December morning, I  keep searching the sky. As if I expected to
see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of  kites hurrying toward heaven.
From A Christmas Memory, illustrated by Beth Peck

People will have plenty of opportunities to get in the holiday mood during the month of December at many of the 19 locations of the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) system.

Activities kick off Saturday, December 3, at the Southside and West End Branch Libraries with the first of several library performances of From Page to Stage: A Christmas Carol: The Musical – A Reader’s Theater Workshop for Children. On Sunday, December 4 at 3:00 p.m., BPL continues a holiday tradition with Irondale storyteller Dolores Hydock’s popular one-woman performance of “A Christmas Memory,” the Truman Capote holiday classic. This time, Hydock’s event will have a special treat: slices of fruitcake for the public from Birmingham Breadworks.

Springville Road Regional Branch Library will host its Holiday Open House on Sunday, December 4, with refreshments from 3:00-5:00 p.m. and the Seasoned Readers performing at 4:00 p.m. Also, patrons who find the elves on the shelves and solve the mystery of the missing Santa at East Lake Branch Library will get a chance to enter to win a Christmas gift. Enter now at East Lake Library; winners will be selected on Wednesday, December 21.

All BPL locations will be closed for the Christmas holiday Friday, December 23, through Monday, December 26.

To see a list of December programs at all BPL locations, visit the event calendar at and click on "Seasonal" in the Event Category.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Dolores Hydock to Peform Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" at Central Library, December 4

What: "A Christmas Memory" performed by Dolores Hydock
When: Sunday, December 4, 3:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium, 4th floor
Details: Free and open to the public

The Christmas season doesn’t really begin until you have experienced Birmingham storyteller Dolores Hydock’s incredible one-woman performance of "A Christmas Memory," Truman Capote's poignant reminiscence of his boyhood in rural Alabama.

As an added treat Birmingham Breadworks will join us to share their own fruitcake creations. In "A Christmas Memory" Capote lovingly describes making fruitcake with a favorite relative. Birmingham Breadworks will offer a new twist on an old holiday favorite.

For more information on the program contact Jim Baggett at or 205-226-3631.

And catch up with Dolores Hydock at

There is always a full house for this performance, so come early and enjoy refreshments.

Learn more about Birmingham Breadworks at

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