Thursday, March 30, 2017

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? Make plans to attend Making Your Sweet Home among Maps: How to Read and Interpret Maps of the Southeastern United States on Saturday, April 8th at 10 am in the Arrington Auditorium.  This workshop is perfect for any map lover or if you are researching your ancestors who lived in the Southeast.

Melinda Kashuba
Dr. Melinda Kashuba will be your guide to the symbols and mapping conventions used on 19th and early 20th century maps and will use original maps from Birmingham Public Library’s cartography collection. You 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. Dr. Kashuba holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a popular lecturer and author of Walking with Your Ancestors: a Genealogist’s Guide to Using Maps and Geography plus numerous articles in genealogical magazines and other publications. She is an adjunct instructor in Geography at Shasta College and is the 2016 recipient of the Gerald C. Hayward Award for Excellence in Community College Teaching given by the California Community College Foundation.

Beyond the Basics of Genealogy This hands-on workshop is part of our Beyond the Basics of Genealogy workshop series and will use maps featured in our Sweet Home: Alabama’s History in Maps exhibit, which is partially funded by the Alabama Humanities Foundation.  To register, please call the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665, e-mail us at, or online through the library’s calendar.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Readers Are Leaders Book Club—What’s in a Name?

by Karnecia Williams, Inglenook Branch Library

The significance of names is beyond mere names. Names connect us to our families, give us identity and meaning, and though they are chosen before our characters are determined, names verify our existence in the world. With that in mind, the name of the Readers Are Leaders Book Club was chosen to provide an umbrella of purpose for children to constantly connect to and empower themselves with. Through books containing stories and characters that mirror aspects of their lives, the name of the book club also encourages children to positively take responsibility and become leaders in their own lives. What’s in name? Everything.

The Readers Are Leaders Book Club meets the third Wednesday of every month at 3:30 p.m. at the Inglenook Library. Contact us at 205-849-8739 for details. Visit the BPL event calendar for upcoming Inglenook programs and check out the Inglenook Library on Flickr.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Southern History Book of the Month: Shot in Alabama: A History of Photography 1839-1941 and a List of Photographers

by Mary Anne Ellis, Southern History Department, Central Library

Shot in Alabama: A History of Photography 1839-1941 and a List of Photographers
Frances Osborn Robb

From the moment I first saw this book in the University of Alabama Press catalog—months in advance of its publication—I practically itched to hold it in my hands. The dancers on the cover look more like a still from a glamorous silent film starring Rudolph Valentino and not what I would expect from a book about photography in Alabama. Starting with the era of the daguerreotype in the late 1830s, Frances Robb chronicles the history of photographs and photography in Alabama, illustrated with images ranging from nineteenth century ambrotypes to newspaper shots to family portrait photography—remember the Olan Mills studios? How many of us had our pictures taken there when we were children?

We take for granted how easy it is for us to get our hands on a camera now; if you want to take pictures, you can spend as much or as little as you want for a throwaway drugstore camera or professional models costing hundreds of dollars. In an era where we take photographs with our smartphones, it’s surprising to read about the difficulties of taking pictures during a time like World War II:
Kathryn Windham, who became a Birmingham News reporter after “the men left for the war,” seldom took a camera on assignment, because of newsprint and other shortages. In 1944, when a monument to Sacred Harp luminaries Seaborn McDaniel Denson and Thomas Jackson Denson was unveiled on the lawn of the Winston County Courthouse seventy-five miles from Birmingham, Windham was allotted a car and gasoline, but she was not allowed to take the newspaper’s camera with her.
It was also interesting to see the numerous examples of Alabama photography featuring African Americans. In the preface there is an ambrotype titled Boy Holding a Straw Hat, Probably a Slave of the Bunker Family of Mobile, circa 1860. The child is holding the stiff pose typical of someone in that era who has been told to hold still for the many seconds it took to expose the picture, but it’s tempting to interpret his wary expression as that of someone gazing into an uncertain future. Certainly he was on the brink of a massive historical shift. As contrast, we see on the next page a picture called Elderly Man, taken in the early twentieth century and listed as being Alabama’s first known photograph taken by an African American photographer. Comparing the solemn dignity of this figure to the tension of the child’s portrait gave me a real sense of just how tumultuous history had been in the era between these pictures.

I have barely scratched the surface of Robb’s excellent chronicle and if you are a photographer, or interested in Alabama history, or both, then do not walk—run to get your hands on a copy of this book. So many of these photographs give me the sense of a captured moment that is the next best thing to time travel, and it’s riveting to know that our state has such an abundance of resources in this field. So take a look through Shot in Alabama—you might even see someone you know.

Frances Osborn Robb at Alabama Writers’ Forum
Shot in Alabama at Project Muse
Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
Alabama Mosaic
Alabama Department of Archives and History Photographs

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: The Murderous History of Bible Translations

by David Ryan, Business, Science and Technology Department, Central Library

The Murderous History of Bible Translations
by Harry Freedman

Dr. Freedman has a Ph.D. in Aramaic, but that doesn’t mean that his work is a dry, pedantic tome. In The Murderous History of Bible Translations, Freedman illustrates the history of Bible translations with lively tales of translators, martyrs, wars, and mystics. His loose chronology begins in the second or third century BCE with a mythical description of the Torah being translated from Hebrew to Greek, and ends in 2012 with the publication of a "gender neutral" Bible in English. This is not, by any means, a comprehensive history of Bible translations, but rather an eccentric and sometimes bloody collection of vignettes.

The task of translating the Bible is naturally plagued by a host of difficulties, and tracing precisely the history of the Bible’s first translation is practically impossible. We have no idea who those first translators were, but it is possible that their translation was written in Alexandria “by Greek-speaking Egyptians, not by Hebrew speaking foreigners from Jerusalem.”

The translation of any work is never an easy task, but a host of problems stand between the translator and a perfect "version" of the Bible. Before the printing press every letter of every word was hand written by a scribe. As humans scribes are, of course, prone to mistakes during the completion of a manuscript. “Since every translation requires a judgment on the part on the translator as to the best word to use, when the chosen word is itself then translated it becomes easy for a text to drift further and further from the original.”

Once a manuscript was completed, it might be delivered to a rabbi, prince, or scholar. There was a tendency among the learned to second guess the scribe and erase a word here, a word there, and replace it with a phrase the new owner considered more felicitous. Or the scholar might decide to write notes onto the margin. At some point, this amended text would find its way into the hands of another scribe.

This new copyist might be unable to differentiate between the original work and the first owner’s marginalia. He would, more than likely, mistakenly add the new word or words. In a relatively short time chaos would spread across the page.

Time is a two-edged blade that cruelly cuts any translator who attacks the Bible. New words were born and passed into use via trade from other lands and new cultures. In addition to dealing with new words and new concepts, translators were fencing with the Old Testament; a largely ceremonial language marked with archaic terms. “…when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem and preached to the villagers in Galilee, Aramaic had already become the vernacular in Israel. Hebrew had been elevated to the status of a literary language.”

The New Testament also presented the translator with razor-edged problems. Consider a single phrase from the Lord’s Prayer.
In the Book of Common Prayer…[we have] the words "forgive us our sins" or "forgive us our trespasses." The Greek text of Matthew reads "forgive us our debts" and in Luke it says "forgive us our failings." Presumably the apostles were remembering the Aramaic in which Jesus preached. There is an Aramaic word, with a root sense of "obligation" which can also mean debt, legal liability or even guilt.
So, which word is a translator moving from Aramaic to Latin to choose?

Languages living and dead, owners who write in their books, and time all conspire against the Word of God. But the translator’s personality can also sabotage the Good Book. Today we view St. Jerome’s Vulgate, the translation of the Bible into Latin, as a major stepping stone toward availability of the Bible in any language. Jerome was undoubtedly a scholar nonpareil, but he was also a man who easily made enemies. By the time Jerome had finished translating the Bible into Latin, his caustic personality had rendered him persona non grata in Rome. Consequently, his work remained unpopular and buried for 400 years.

The dream of a Bible translation in every European language continued to move forward only in fits and starts. Freedman doesn’t let us forget that the Catholic Church itself was an impediment. At times the church hierarchy was in favor of the faithful reading the Bible, but in a era of spotty literacy church leaders also wondered if the average worshiper had the requisite knowledge to not only read the Bible, but understand its multilayered meanings. Indeed, after the Cathar disaster of the 13th century, the Church temporarily decreed it illegal to translate and read the Bible. (The lone exception being the Book of Psalms).

A variety of scholars, secular leaders and priests vehemently disagreed with such policies. Bibles in spoken languages were not just a cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation; they were also a point of national and cultural pride. Then came the horror of Münster, and priest and pastor alike saw the downside of an easily accessible Bible.

From 1534 to 1535 the town of Münster became home to a series of self-proclaimed prophets who, at first, simply preached a peaceful, albeit, radically different version of Christianity. However, in a short time Bockelson, Hoffman, and John of Leiden used a German Bible to create a doomsday cult that devoured nearly every member of the community. Freedman goes so far as to claim “the Münster revolutionaries and the Third Reich shared many characteristics.” An easy comparison to make; at one point Bockelson promised his followers “the world destroyed by Easter.”

I could go on and on. This is a fascinating book. Although it has only 213 pages, Freedman crams in a surprising number of scenes from the long, complicated history of Bible translations. Some, like Jan Hus and William Tyndale are bloody and tragic. Others are intricate and linguistically fascinating. (If you’ve ever wondered why Michelangelo’s statue of Moses has horns, turn to page 73-74.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Steps to Starting Your Business Seminar Scheduled for April 3 at Central Library

What: Steps to Starting Your Business
When: Monday, April 3, 2017
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium, 4th floor

Upcoming Dates:
Monday May 1, 2017
Monday June 5, 2017

The Birmingham Public Library, in conjunction with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the City of Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development, will once again be hosting the popular seminar Steps to Starting Your Business in 2017. The seminar is scheduled to be held on the first Monday of each month from February to June, 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., in the Arrington Auditorium, which is located on the 4th floor of the Linn-Henley Research Library.

Each seminar will cover the same topics, but those who are interested are welcome to attend more than one day. Topics covered will include crafting a vision statement, identifying sources of funding, determining the legal structure of your business, devising a business plan, and investigating sources of business and economic information. Please register for the seminars by contacting Andy Mayo in the Economic Development Office at or 205-⁠⁠254-⁠⁠2774.

Seminar presenters will be veteran mentors from the local chapter of SCORE. SCORE is a national nonprofit association consisting of volunteers with business skills and experience who want to share their knowledge with prospective entrepreneurs and small business owners. For over 50 years, SCORE mentors have helped millions of Americans start and grow their own businesses.

For further information about the seminars or about resources available at the Birmingham Public Library relating to small business development, please contact Jim Murray in the Central Library’s Business, Science and Technology Department at or by phoning 205-226-3691.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Registration Open For April 2017 Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the April 2017 classes. 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 April 2017 class flyer to bring to a Computer Commons staff member on your next library visit. Please note that the  April 2017 class schedule can be sent to us as an email attachment.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Great Tournament So Far

March Madness

Do you know what time it is?  No, I’m not talking about this ridiculous Daylight Saving Time (where’s my hour?).  It’s tourney time.  Yay!  The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is officially underway and millions of people are watching basketball during the day while they are supposed to be working.  Shhhhhh.

No big surprises when it comes to the four #1 seeds: Villanova, North Carolina, Kansas, and Gonzaga.  What is surprising is that Villanova did not reach the Sweet 16 this year.  Last year, they played North Carolina in the championship game, which was epic.  Villanova won with a 3-point shot that went in at the buzzer.  #8 Wisconsin defeated Villanova today in the second round, 65-62.  Kansas hasn’t made it to a Final Four since 2012.  Gonzaga has never made it to the Final Four, so they are especially motivated to have a good tournament.

The whole point of watching the NCAA Tournament is to see the upsets.  There were no shortage of those in the first round.  As predicted before the tournament started, #12 Middle Tennessee State upset #5 Minnesota by winning 81-72.  Another Big 10 team made an early exit when #6 Maryland lost to #11 Xavier, 76-65.  #11 USC, who overcame a 17-point deficit against Providence to get into the tournament, defeated #6 SMU, 66-65.  #11 Rhode Island opened the tournament with an 84-72 win over #6 Creighton.  Another heavily-anticipated first-round matchup was an all-Florida affair.  #3 Florida State took on #14 Florida Gulf Coast in a game that took place in Orlando.  Although Florida State secured the victory, 86-80, Florida Gulf Coast gave them all they could handle.  

There is plenty of basketball left in this year’s NCAA Tournament.  We already know that the championship game will not be a repeat from last year.  If your bracket isn’t busted yet, you should transfer these amazing skills to the stock market.  Strap in, hold on, and enjoy the rest of the tournament.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring Reading Challenge

The Spring Reading Challenge for children/teens in grades K-12 begins March 15 and runs through April 5, 2017. Register online to get reading suggestions, log your books, and win virtual badges and awards. Visit any Birmingham Public Library location to check out books, or download them from Overdrive and Hoopla. All participants who read at least one book are entered into a drawing for a prize gift pack, but read more books for a better chance of winning. Prizes will be awarded at each of Birmingham Public Library's 19 locations.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Review: In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way

by David Blake, Fiction Department, Central Library

In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way
Marcel Proust
Translated by Lydia Davis

When first considering Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, the reader must choose from among several well-regarded translations. The English translation by C. K. Scott Moncrieff in the 1920s, with its famous title Remembrance of Things Past, is still widely admired, and has been updated by several respectful translators since. But this reader chose the recent, wholly new translation called In Search of Lost Time, with different translators for each of the seven volumes of this monumental novel. The translation of Swann’s Way, the first volume, by Lydia Davis, simple and clean, is in no way disappointing.

In Search of Lost Time is a mythical Mount Everest for the serious reader, a daunting challenge that promises pride of accomplishment and wide new aesthetic vistas. Nonetheless, it is seven books, each with a finite number of pages. The challenge for the reader is how to move forward when one is so dazzled by the prose of a single paragraph. We rely on narrative and plot devices to move us forward as we read most books, but Swann’s Way has fewer of these incentives than the usual short story. A sickly boy suffers debilitating separation anxiety every night waiting for his mother’s goodnight kiss, a cultured man’s mistress treats him cruelly, the sickly boy suffers unrequited infatuation for a girl with whom he plays in the parks of the Champs-Elysees. The places these characters inhabit and the agony of their inner lives are rendered with the precision and pity we might attribute to an omniscient loving deity.

The narrator tells the boy’s story, in the first person, with the elegiac tone of a mature man looking back on times and places that exist only in memory. The iconic scene wherein the narrator dips a madeleine (cookie) into his tea triggering vivid unbidden memories occurs early on in Swann’s Way. The smell and the taste of the tea-soaked madeleine unlock recollections of flowers and of divergent country paths traveled in the narrator’s youth. One path, called Swann’s Way, leads past the estate of a family friend, Charles Swann, who is caught up in the decadent demimonde of Belle Epoque Paris. The other path skirts the gardens of the Guermantes, an ancient noble family at the pinnacle of elegant aristocratic society. Symbolically, these paths will define the narrator’s stories throughout In Search of Lost Time.

One reads In Search of Lost Time for the beauty of the language. Wondrous metaphors pile up upon each other in sentence after sentence, as do Proust’s incisive observations on human longing, jealousy, and loss. After hours of reading Swann’s Way, decoding the language, readers might feel as if they had spent an afternoon performing differential equations. But, the residue, at the bottom of the tea cup, as it were, is art.

Oh, and by the way, Marcel Proust is really funny.

Trivia Night @ BPL Scheduled for March 20 at Central Library

What: Trivia Night @ BPL 
When: Monday, March 20, 2017, 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. 
Where: Central Library, Fiction Department, 1st Floor 
Details: $2/person upon entry. Attendees must be 16 years of age and up. For more information, contact Shea Robinson at (205) 226-3689 or 

Birmingham Public Library Student Mock Trial to Take Place March 16 at Jefferson County Courthouse

BPL Teen Librarian Lance Simpson

For eight weeks, about two dozen teenagers have been learning the criminal justice system, playing the roles of lawyers, judges, and witnesses as part of the Birmingham Public Library (BPL)’s inaugural Spring 2017 Student Mock Trial Program. On Thursday, March 16, the students will put their knowledge to work, presenting their mock trial inside the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Birmingham.

BPL has been partnering with the Birmingham Bar Foundation and the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Alabama to put on the program, with lawyers volunteering their time to meet with the students on Thursdays from 3:30-5:00 p.m. in the Central Library. The students have taken their roles seriously and are excited about the mock trial, said Lance Simpson, BPL system teen librarian.

The program introduced students from grades six through twelve to the critical thinking, technology, and advocacy skills utilized in trial practice, Simpson said. During the mock trial on March 16 inside a Jefferson County Courtroom, program participants will assume the roles of defense lawyer, prosecutor, witnesses, and judge.

Read more about the program at the links below:

Thursday, March 09, 2017

North Avondale Library’s A.W.E.S.O.M.E. on Purpose Program Boosts Girls' Self-Esteem

Library Assistant Marie Nash (standing 3rd from left) and Branch Manager
Saundra Ross (standing far right) and their team of A.W.E.S.O.M.E. ladies

For over an hour every Tuesday morning, mentors from the A.W.E.S.O.M.E. on Purpose program meet at the North Avondale Branch Library with teens girls from adjacent Hayes K-8 School, discussing topics designed to boost their self-esteem and self-image. A.W.E.S.O.M.E stands for Advocate Worship Educate Service Outreach Mentor Experience, and is a nonprofit made up of adult women of various ages who give of their time to help nurture young girls.

During the February 28 meeting, A.W.E.S.O.M.E mentors and the 7th and 8th grade girls talked about goal setting. One seventh-grader said she wants to be a fashion designer, another desires to be a lawyer. Both girls talked of the importance of discipline, focusing on education, and preparing to be successful in their future careers. The mentors gave them positive feedback and shared some of their own personal experiences.

A.W.E.SO.M.E. On Purpose Founder Sequoia Benjamin said they are excited about the partnership with North Avondale Library and Hayes K-8 School that allows them to make a positive difference in the lives of teenage girls. The group has been serving young girls from Hayes K-8 since March 2016, and began meeting at the North Avondale Library in September 2016.

“We are so appreciative of Marie Nash and Saundra Ross for partnering with us and allowing us to use the space at North Avondale Library every Tuesday to mentor the girls,” Benjamin said. “The staff is phenomenal. Each of them are so welcoming and supportive of our endeavors.”

A.W.E.SO.M.E. On Purpose was founded in late 2013 and began actively mentoring boys and girls at Erwin Middle School in March 2015. Currently the program is only offered to girls at Hayes K-8, but Benjamin says the group plans to accept more student applications during the 2017-2018 school year.

“We look forward to partnering with more Birmingham City Schools in the future. We are seeking to grow the boys division as well. We look forward to hearing from anyone interested in volunteering with us to help our young boys grow as well.”

To partner or serve as a volunteer mentor with A.W.E.S.O.M.E. on Purpose, contact Sequoia Benjamin via e-mail at

The A.W.E.S.O.M.E. on Purpose girls mentoring program is among several groups that partner with North Avondale Library to help it fill needs in the community. In February the library hosted a Cowboy, Boots and Books program that introduced kids from Hayes K-8 School to real life black cowboys. North Avondale Library in 2016 won two Innovative and Cool Awards from the Birmingham Public Library Board of Trustees for both the Cowboy, Boots and Books program and an adult coloring program called Love to Color @ My Library.

The North Avondale Library also hosts two book clubs, one for adults called Chapter Chatters and one for youth called The Children’s Picture Book Club. Last year, North Avondale Library patrons also built a community quilt won by a 10-year-old girl who lives in the community. It was a partnership with Juliette Watts, founder of Hands On Youth Activities Programs Inc., a nonprofit that has hosted quilting, flip-flops, and other hands-on craft workshops at the North Avondale Library since 2015.

For more information about North Avondale Library programs, call Branch Manager Saundra Ross at 205-592-2082 or e-mail her at Search Location: North Avondale Library on the BPL event calendar. Check out the photos of North Avondale Library's past events on BPL Flickr.

Inglenook Library's PRIME TIME Family Reading Time Program Kicked Off March 9

Karnecia Williams (3rd from left) with a family who attended one of the
Inglenook Library's PRIME TIME Family Reading Times in 2016

As a parent, Inglenook Library Branch Manager Karnecia Williams knows how reading to your kids while they’re young improves their ability to do well in school. On March 9 the Inglenook Library kicked off a program designed to assist parents in emphasizing the importance of reading.

PRIME TIME Family Reading Time is a special six-week program consisting of storytelling, reading, and discussion for parents and children ages 6-10. PRIME TIME not only helps improve reading skills, but also helps families learn how to talk about books in ways that will help children in school and even life, Williams said.

“As a parent, I know how important reading to your kids at a young age is when it comes to their educational development,” Williams said. “Our hope is that parents who attend this program will take advantage of the free resources and books available not only at Inglenook Library but throughout the Birmingham Public Library system.”

The program is free but registration is required. Registration is open through the Thursday March 16 session on the BPL event calendar or by calling Inglenook at 205-849-8739. For more information, e-mail Williams at

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Springville Road Library Craft Fair Proceeds to Benefit Adult Programming

by Kelly Laney, Springville Road Regional Branch Library

Kelly Laney

What: Craft Fair
When: Sunday, April 2, 2:00-5:30 p.m.
Where: Springville Road Regional Branch Library

Just about every year, participants in the Coffee, Conversation and Crafts (CCC) program and other adult programs at the Springville Road Library work together to raise money to offset programming costs. This year they are repeating the popular Craft Fair. On April 2 local crafters will offer handmade crafts, homemade treats, and items donated for the library sale table. Donations will be accepted for a chance to win a beautiful framed Native American cross-stitched picture.

Members of Coffee, Conversation and Crafts working on projects
CCC program attendees will have first opportunity to have a space, but if extra space is available, other crafters are welcome to apply. The cost of each space is $25 or 10% of what is sold, whichever is less. Kelly Laney, adult librarian at the Springville Road Library, says the fair serves several purposes: “It gives the crafters a chance to show off what they’ve learned, as well as to make a little money for themselves. Crafters who wish to contribute but not to have a booth, also donate both homemade crafts and 'white elephant' items for sale at the library table. All proceeds from those sales go to purchase crafting materials. The fair gives program attendees an opportunity to visit with shoppers and talk about the many programs offered at the library. The ‘CCCers’ are great library advocates. Several of them volunteer to help or to lead programs. Anything that informs the community about library resources is a win in our books!”

Homemade candles for sale at a previous craft fair 
Items offered for sale at the individual tables should be handmade or assembled (such as Easter baskets sold as a unit, but which may contain store-purchased items). Commercial products may be sold upon approval. Homemade food can be sold as long as the cooks abide by the Alabama Cottage Industry Law regarding safe food handling and labeling of ingredients. Soft drinks and packaged snacks will be sold at the library table.

At last year's fair there were handmade quilts, crocheted and knitted blankets, hats, scarves, socks, afghans, baby items, toys, towels, embroidered items, painted and filled ornaments, pralines, cake, candy, and lemon squares, soaps, candles, and bath salts. This year a local weaver plans to be with us, and most of the crafters will be working on items as they man their tables. We hope to have lots of items suitable for Easter and Mother’s Day, as well as baby and wedding gifts.

The East Jefferson Quilters Guild
 “It’s been my experience that someone in the CCC group knows how to do just about any domestic art you can name, and they love to share their knowledge with new people,” Laney said. “It’s a great opportunity to see some of the older techniques in practice. I had always wanted to learn to tat, which is a technique for making lace using a shuttle and very delicate thread. Sure enough, one of the ladies not only knew how to do it, she was delighted to show me. After that, another lady in the group discovered a way of using a long needle to tat, so she shared that with the group. Soon we were tatting up a storm, making lace trim, bookmarks, ornaments, and other items. Creative, fun, and educational—all great library experiences.”

To view upcoming Coffee, Conversation and Crafts programs, search the BPL event calendar.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

From Page to Stage: James and the Giant Peach – A Reader’s Theater Workshop for Children

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

In anticipation of the upcoming BCT performance of James and the Giant Peach, BPL will be hosting free workshops at several of its area libraries. Children, ages 5 to 12, will learn how stories come alive through the magic of theater. JLB members will coach the children and introduce them to similar literature located in their local library. Each child will receive two free tickets (one child and one adult ticket) to the BCT James and the Giant Peach production in April 2017.

A magical peach! An imprisoned boy! Insect friends! An incredible journey! This amazing adventure of James Henry Trotter will fulfill the fantasy of anyone who has ever dreamed of escape. Roald Dahl's story comes hilariously to life in this delightful dramatization that reveals the wickedness of some, the goodness of others, and the indecision encountered by many when they are faced with crises. Workshop space is limited, so contact your participating library location to register a child for the workshop. Libraries and dates are as follows:

Avondale: Sunday, March 26, 2:30 p.m.
East Lake: Saturday, March 25, 2:30 p.m.
Five Points West: Sunday, March 26, 2:30 p.m. (includes special visit by the JLB Yummy Truck)
Pratt City: Saturday, March 25, 2:30 p.m. (includes special visit by the JLB Yummy Truck)
Southside: Saturday, April 1, at 2:30 p.m.
Springville Road: Sunday, April 2, at 2:30 p.m. (includes special visit by the JLB Yummy Truck)
West End: Saturday, April 1, 2:30 p.m.

Book Review: The River’s Tale: A Year On The Mekong

by Richard Grooms, Fiction Department, Central Library

The River’s Tale: A Year On The Mekong
Edward Gargan

Almost twenty years ago Edward Gargan, a New York Times Asia correspondent, decided to leave his job and see Asia in a way he never could when he had to churn out piece after piece. You’ve heard of slow food? This is slow travel. Gargan journeyed down the Mekong River from its source in Tibet to its end in southern Vietnam. It took him a year to follow the river that is officially 1,824 miles long but is really 3,050 miles. It was a major challenge. “There are no boat schedules, no bus routes; indeed, sometimes no roads,” states Gargan in the intro.

The Mekong goes by many names. It flows through many countries, cultures, language areas. The book gets going in Tibet. Here it’s called the Dzachu. Gargan meets locals who employ much more silence in a conversation than talk. It reflects the way of life here high on the Tibetan plateau, far from towns or cities. In here and elsewhere in the book, Gargan looks for places “for whom modernity did not entail the obliteration of traditional cultures.” The people near the source of the river are like this, one of the few places in Tibet where the traditional culture hasn’t been obliterated by China.

In Yunnan the Mekong is called the Lancang Jiang. Here the author cannot find much left of the local ethnic minority traditions as they’ve been usurped by Han Chinese-led communism. Ironically, this dominant culture is itself being usurped by globalism in the form of a state blend of Marxism and capitalism. Everything is topsy-turvy, but locals are determined to try to preserve something of the refined, age-old west China culture.

From here Gargan travels to the Golden Triangle, the area where Laos, Burma, and Thailand meet. As always, he avails himself of whatever transport and food come to hand. Though he prefers boat, he employs bus, car, bicycle, motorcycle, and walking. Though he prefers food that’s familiar, he often can’t get it and eats everything from bush meat to insects. You can’t be choosy in these places. There are virtually no tourists. Even those familiar with the Golden Triangle may be surprised to learn that Gargan finds people who frequent opium dens. Opium has corrupted generations of governments here, but it hangs on because it makes enormous profits. The British legalized it, the Communists secretly (and not-so-secretly) enriched themselves with it, and post-Communists governments lap it up as well. Fortunately, there are other crops here, and Gargan charts the tea trade as well. Tea in South East Asia is ingested and prepared in many ways—eaten, drunk, fermented, mixed with milk, mixed with other foodstuffs—the list is quite long. As with anything else, tea encountered in ways foreign to your culture is looked down on.

Two benefits of areas less touched by industrialization are quiet and the absence of pollution. Poverty without pollution seems, to Gargan, to be better than poverty with it, which is what you have most everywhere you do have poverty. This book came out in 2002. You wonder if pollution and noise have infected these areas in the years since the author’s trip. I hope not. I don’t want to romanticize this geography, but poverty, bad as it can be, seems better without this modernization double whammy. Gargan makes a persuasive case.

Just how different the Mekong is is apparent in this passage: “Asia, however, particularly in its most remote corners, does not abide by the time pieces and schedules of the urbanized world, far less those of the Western urban world…” These norms force Gargan to confront just how Western, and modern, he is. It’s not always an easy task. To his credit, Gargan is free with presenting his indignities, embarrassment, inconveniences, and humiliations.

Most of the trip goes through rural areas and here people rise with the sun and retire with sundown. Light is for working, dark is for sleeping. It’s very much like the pre-industrial West. “No telephones, no electricity, no railroad, terrible roads.”

In a restaurant in Cambodia, Gargan observes that most “diners simply spat out the fish bones on the table or on the floor; in the relentless grip of Western etiquette I deposited them in a spare plastic bowl.” He does his best on the trip to not be a tourist, but he owns up to his clunkyness and contradictions. He can’t avoid talking about the legacy of the Khmer Rouge here or the Pathet Lao in Laos, nor should he. On the other hand, this is not an extended adventure in hair-shirting. Suffice it to say that the two communist regimes thoroughly transformed their countries, and not for the good. In Cambodia, as in Laos, the people’s resilience is heartening.

Though I’ve grouped my comments so far by countries, it’s necessary to say that Gargan encounters many in-between, blended and uncategorizable places. The borderless Mekong is the shaper of this ambiguity. It’s a stirrer of things, a melting pot, at times a culture to itself.

Vietnam’s bui doi, the offspring of American military men and Vietnamese women, warrant a section in the book. Looked down on by the Vietnamese, they are taken as too Western for Vietnam and too Asian by Americans. Gargan’s sympathy for out groups (and the Mekong is host to many) serves him well here. In Vietnam, as in most places in Southeast Asia the author visits, the locals didn’t support the American-backed governments, loathed the communists, and distrust whoever’s in charge now. Paradoxically, they look to moving to the U.S. as a solution. They are supporters of America’s domestic policies, not its foreign ones. America looms large here, mistrusted and longed-for.

Gargan often digs up oddities in his less-traveled roads and waterways. An offshoot of the Kuomintang, pursued by the Red Chinese, fled to the Golden Triangle. They didn’t expect to stay but eventually they got trapped by the opium tar baby and later gave up all pretense of retaking China or even moving to Taiwan. In South Vietnam, Gargan uncovers a creation myth that’s especially interesting. Two heavenly beings descend to Earth. They eat from a tree in the middle of the Earth but find they can’t fly back up to heaven. They have a family. The denizens of the celestial realms send down a peach tree to feed the new family. The parents go on a trip and instruct their children not to eat from the tree while they’re gone. The children disobey, stripping the fruit from the tree. The parents return, see that their children have disobeyed, become enraged and banish them from their home, sending them in all directions over the Earth, where they became the ancestors of people today. Gargan observes: “It is not entirely clear from where this folktale emanates, although it is widely known here…”

This is the value of a good travel book, introducing you to something you couldn’t have imagined, taking you out of your fixed cultural place, challenging your assumptions. The River’s Tale is a journey into Asia’s recent past, ancient past and mythic past. It’s an exploration of the timeless Mekong itself, a river so long and various that it wasn’t understood to be a single river until modern times. A river entirely various and complex, containing multitudes. It was a lot to take on, but Gargan goes a very long way to making it understandable.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Steps to Starting Your Business Seminar Scheduled for March 6 at Central Library

What: Steps to Starting Your Business
When: Monday, March 6, 2017
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium, 4th floor

Upcoming Dates:
Monday April 3, 2017
Monday May 1, 2017
Monday June 5, 2017

The Birmingham Public Library, in conjunction with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the City of Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development, will once again be hosting the popular seminar Steps to Starting Your Business in 2017. The seminar is scheduled to be held on the first Monday of each month from February to June, 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., in the Arrington Auditorium, which is located on the 4th floor of the Linn-Henley Research Library.

Each seminar will cover the same topics, but those who are interested are welcome to attend more than one day. Topics covered will include crafting a vision statement, identifying sources of funding, determining the legal structure of your business, devising a business plan, and investigating sources of business and economic information. Please register for the seminars by contacting Valencia S. Fisher in the Economic Development Office at or by phoning 205-254-2799.

Seminar presenters will be veteran mentors from the local chapter of SCORE. SCORE is a national nonprofit association consisting of volunteers with business skills and experience who want to share their knowledge with prospective entrepreneurs and small business owners. For over 50 years, SCORE mentors have helped millions of Americans start and grow their own businesses.

For further information about the seminars or about resources available at the Birmingham Public Library relating to small business development, please contact Jim Murray in the Central Library’s Business, Science and Technology Department at or by phoning 205-226-3691.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Birmingham Public Library Board of Trustees Names Three Finalists for Director Position

The Birmingham Public Library Board of Trustees has selected three finalists in its national search for a new city library director. The candidates are Aaron Bluitt, managing librarian of the Austin (Texas) Public Library; Sandra (Sandi) Vick Lee, interim director of the Birmingham Public Library; and Lambert C. Shell, director of Roosevelt Public Library in Roosevelt, N.Y.

The board will interview the three finalists at the Central Library on Tuesday, March 14. A meet-and-greet reception introducing the public and city officials to the three finalists will take place on Monday, March 13, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. in the Atrium of the Central Library.

Aaron Bluitt has a wealth of experience providing excellent leadership and customer service in the management and administration of library services, programs, personnel, and facilities. He has held positions at Duke University, the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, San Antonio Community College, Dallas Public Library, Austin Public Library, Oklahoma Metropolitan Library, and the Hawaii State Public Libraries.

Before going into the library field, Bluitt spent several years in the business arena, holding positions in management, customer service, and marketing for several Fortune 100 corporations. He holds a B.A. from the University of Houston. He also earned a Master of Library Science from the University of North Texas and a Juris Doctorate degree from St. Mary's University. A native of Dallas, Bluitt lives in Austin with his family.

Sandi Lee has spent 23 years with the BPL system, including nearly a year as interim director. She manages daily operations of the 19-library system. Lee began her career as a storyteller in the Children’s Department at the Springville Road Regional Branch Library. After obtaining her Master’s Degree in Library and Information Studies, Lee advanced to the Central Library as the Children’s Department Head and the Public Services Coordinator. She has also served as the Eastern Region and Adult Services Coordinator before being named Deputy Director in the fall of 2015.

Lee received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Master of Library and Information Studies from the University of Alabama. She serves on the Executive Council for The Public Libraries in Jefferson County and on the Board of the Birmingham Public Library Friends Foundation. A native of Birmingham, Lee and her family reside in Jasper, Alabama.

Lambert Shell is the director of the Roosevelt Public Library. He is responsible for library operations, development, and implementation of its service program. Shell’s library career began as the Youth Counselor for the Queens Borough Public Library, where he also served as Coordinator of Youth Enrichment Service, Director of Programs and Services.

At Queens Borough Public Library, Shell oversaw afterschool homework help and enrichment programs for 2,000 youth a day across Queens County. He also led a Youth Empowerment program which provided at-risk youth in 10 libraries with youth counselors, social workers, specialized programs, homework help, and more.

Shell holds a B.A. and Master of Science in Education from the University of Bridgeport, and obtained a Master Science in Library and Information Science from Long Island University at Post in Brookville, NY. Shell holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Conn. Shell and his family reside in Jamaica, N.Y.

Birmingham Bound: Author Talk and Book Signing with Sydney Nathans

What: Author talk and book signing for A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland
by Sydney Nathans
When: March 13, 2017, 6:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Arrington Auditorium
Details: Free and open to the public. Book will be available for purchase. This program is cosponsored by the Birmingham Public Library Archives and the Birmingham African American Genealogy Study Group.

In A Mind to Stay historian Sydney Nathans tells the rare story of African Americans who moved from being enslaved to becoming owners of the very land they had worked in bondage, and who have held on to that land from emancipation through the civil rights era.

The story began in 1844, when North Carolina planter Paul Cameron bought 1,600 acres near Greensboro, Alabama, and sent out 114 enslaved people to cultivate cotton and enlarge his fortune. In the 1870s, he sold the plantation to emancipated black families who worked there. Drawing on thousands of letters from the planter and on interviews with descendants of those who bought the land, Nathans unravels how and why the planter’s former laborers purchased the site of their enslavement, kept its name as Cameron Place, and defended their homeland against challengers from the Jim Crow era to the present day.

Through the prism of a single plantation and the destiny of black families that dwelt on it for over a century and a half, A Mind to Stay brings to life a vivid cast of characters and illuminates the changing meaning of land and landowning to successive generations of rural African Americans. Those who remained fought to make their lives fully free―for themselves, for their neighbors, and for those who might someday return.

The Birmingham Bound author series recognizes authors who researched their books in the Birmingham Public Library Archives. Historians, journalists, and other writers from around the world have produced hundreds of books using the Archives’ collections and these books include five recipients of the Pulitzer Prize.

All programs are free and open to the public. For more information contact Jim Baggett at 205-226-3631 or

Birmingham Bound: Author Talk and Book Signing with Michael W. Fitzgerald

What: Author talk and book signing for Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South by Michael W. Fitzgerald
When: March 20, 2017, 6:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Arrington Auditorium
Details: Free and open to the public. Books will be available for purchase.

Join us to hear historian Michael W. Fitzgerald discuss his new book, Reconstruction in Alabama. The first new study of this critical period in our state’s history to be published in decades, Reconstruction in Alabama explores the impact of Reconstruction and its aftermath from the Civil War to the civil rights movement.

Fitzgerald, author of three books including The Union League Movement in the Deep South: Politics and Agricultural Change during Reconstruction and Urban Emancipation: Popular Politics in Reconstruction Mobile, 1860-1890, earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a professor of history at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

The Birmingham Bound author series recognizes authors who researched their books in the Birmingham Public Library Archives. Historians, journalists, and other writers from around the world have produced hundreds of books using the Archives’ collections and these books include five recipients of the Pulitzer Prize.

All programs are free and open to the public. For more information contact Jim Baggett at 205-226-3631 or

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Birmingham Public Library Celebrating Read Across America Day on March 2

If you drop by one of the Birmingham Public Library (BPL)’s 19 locations on Thursday, March 2, there is a good chance you will encounter a staff member dressed in Dr. Seuss gear. BPL is joining thousands of libraries, schools, and community centers across the country participating in Read Across America Day, a nationwide celebration that takes place annually on March 2—the birthday of the beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss.

Read more about Read Across America Day at the following link:

BPL staffers such as storytellers Candice Hardy of the Five Points West Regional Branch Library and Myra Gentry of the North Birmingham Regional Branch Library have already gotten into the spirit, dressing up as famous Dr. Seuss’ characters while entertaining young library patrons by reading such classics as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

Below is a listing some of BPL’s Read Across America and Dr. Seuss events taking place on Thursday through Friday, March 2-3. You can find more events on the BPL calendar at

Smithfield Branch Library
Thursday, March 2
10:00 a.m. – Jefferson County ARC visiting for a Dr. Seuss Party
4:00 p.m. – Dr. Seuss Party for youth

Friday, March 3
10:00 a.m. – Jefferson County ARC visiting for a Dr Seuss Party

North Birmingham Regional Branch Library
Thursday, March 2
10:30 a.m. – Storytime Stew featuring Myra Gentry reading Dr. Seuss classics

Friday, March 3
10:00 a.m. – North Birmingham Library Storyteller Myra Gentry will read Dr. Seuss books to kids at Ensley Head Start

Wylam Library
Friday, March 3
10:00 a.m. – Storyteller Fontaine Alison entertains Wylam youngsters with lively storytelling of Dr. Seuss’ classics

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