Friday, December 28, 2007

Matilda in Limbo

It's been at the Circulation Desk since last summer: a copy of Roald Dahl's Matilda-- one that isn't ours.

It isn't unusual for patrons to return a book to us that belongs at the Howe; many patrons have cards at both libraries. We also share patrons with the Marion Cross School library, and we have a place on the shelf for their strays as well. If we have someone headed in those directions, we drop them off ourselves. We otherwise call over and have the librarians check in with the appropriate patrons. Pretty simple.

But this one isn't simple, though I find myself moved to act. This copy of Matilda comes from a very special library,
Grandma's Library. In an elegant hand, a message on the flyleaf says, "This book belongs in Grandma's Library. Please bring it back! Thank you!"

It's easy to see how one of Grandma's copies could end up at NPL. Clearly, Grandma is a pro: the dust cover is protected by a the clear protective stuff that other libraries use. There's even a card in the back with due dates carefully stamped, and a little pocket with author and title. Best of all, she's chosen a child-friendly book filled with humor and delight.

Grandma forgot just one crucial thing: her name!

Her address and phone would be dandy, too. If there's one thing a librarian appreciates, it's another librarian, particularly one who shares her private collection as Grandma has been willing to do. We want this crucial volume returned to our respected colleague.

So I appeal to you, my readers (all 3 of you!): should you encounter this post and know the Grandma-Librarian of whom I write, please contact her or me. We are eager for Matilda and Grandma to experience the joyous reunion that we hope awaits them.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rediscovering Dickens

With the holidays upon us, there's something inevitable about Charles Dickens, particularly if you have television. A Christmas Carol will grace the channels at least a dozen times, I suspect, and the trials of the Cratchetts and the second chance tossed to Ebeneezer Scrooge will remind us not to postpone joy, that our capacity to love and give are our true legacies. The blessed Dickens Dictum, in other words, is a part of our culture's holiday experience.

Dickens is such a giant presence in our entertainment industry that
it's easy to forget what a master writer he was. Every child actor from Freddie Bartholomew on has taken a crack at cuting up Dickens' title characters. Musicals abound, all "based on Dickens' timeless tale" as the display ads always put it. It's easy to lose the core creations in all the spin-offs.

Happily, the books on tape and CD in NPL's collection can serve as a reminder of his fundamental genius, along with the print versions of his many masterpieces. I have been working my way through our Dickens audiobooks, starting with A Tale of Two Cities and proceeding on to David Copperfield. At the moment I am listening to Great Expectations, which I hadn't experienced since the ninth grade. My God! I find myself thinking, These works were wasted on my callow, youthful self! It's wonderful to sit before a roaring fire and listen to the words--the characters, the
dialogues, the descriptions-- that so many have enjoyed before me. I find that I can't quite get enough.

I tend to become a little fanatical in my enthusiasms. Since I have fallen in love with red kuri squash, I find myself buying it wherever I can find it, knowing that its availability will be gone too soon. Similarly, I've been scanning NPL's catalog just to see
how long I can stay on this Dickens-go-round. Happily, I see that we also have recorded versions of Bleak House, the Pickwick Papers, and Oliver Twist, as well as A Christmas Carol.On the print side of things we have two volumes of Dickens' Christmas Stories, as well as all the titles mentioned above, as well as Nicolas Nickleby.

It's that vision of justice thwarted, the boundless sympathy for innocents, the push for reconciliation, the mastery of language,
those unforgettable characters and their well-tailored names that have me as filled with wonder. With our positively Dickensian weather forecasts, perhaps you'll find stories for drawing near the fire as well.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Surprising Delight

I'm not anti-intellectual, but I never was much interested in a magazine in NPL's collection called The American Scholar.

It turns out that it's only because I never took a good look. When Nancy Osgood was in recently and mentioned the magazine, I felt my mind opening. Anything Nancy values is worth at least a try. The American Scholar, a publication of Phi Beta Kappa, turns out to be something akin to the New Yorker, only without as many cartoons.

In its pages lie superb fiction and non-fiction, by the likes of Alice Munro, John Barth, Anne Beatty, Louis Begley, and Ethan Fishman. I read wonderful poems by Louise, Gluck, Robert Pinsky, David Sofield, and John
Hollander. There are lively and fascinating articles on cell biology and religion, whether or not Alger Hiss was the spy the government said he was, the life and legacy of Ralph Ellison, and one I particularly enjoyed, "Church and State: How to Tell the Difference," which examines our forefathers' take on the First Amendment and includes a wonderful section on Roger Williams.

I suppose the title put me off initially. As it turns out, American Scholar simply appeals to the part of me that believes in lifelong learning. I'll be reading this magazine regularly from now on. The

If the authors above click with you, pick up a copy next time you're at NPL.

It's a gem.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sometimes Opportunity Is Delicious

Tuttifoodie wants YOU!

This lively and informative organic food blog is looking for new subscribers, so intensely, it seems, that it's going to pay Norwich Public Library $2 for every subscriber it refers.

This blog is not only generous with public libraries; it's creative, witty, and filled with news of the off-the-beaten path food producers who are transforming the way we eat.

My most recent visit took me to profiles on organic farms,
links on groups who keep track of seafood safety, a good article on cage free eggs, a recipe for basil-cucumber infused tequila, an article on Vermont's Woodstock Water Buffalo Company, and a hot source for Taiwanese tea lollipops! The writing is as witty as it is informative, and the topics are truly a cut above what we usually read about the food scene.

Visit their site. Then if you'd like to subscribe (it's free), you can specify a $2 donation to NPL. To specify the donation, enter NPL in the space for Promo Code.

Easy! What's not to like about that?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Multiple Gifts of Story Time

One of the many good things about working at NPL is the pleasure of seeing parents and children heading in to story time each Wednesday and Friday. It's Tot City, and it's beautiful!

Story time is no mere frill. As I read an surge (you should pardon the expression) of articles on the struggles of schools trying to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind, I find myself thinking about the many institutions within the community that contribute to the education of children. As the African elders said, and Hillary Clinton echoed, it takes a village.

Story times provide toddlers with socialization, the development of an attention span, and exposure to a wide range of books, not to mention familiarity with the friendly face
of the children's librarian. In addition, they give mothers and dads a chance to gather together, a break from the isolation of the home. With more parents working, the demand for story time doesn't go down; it goes up, since work schedules tend to vary, necessitating the involvement of both parents. We have some dedicated dads who bring their children to story time.

I live in a town south of Norwich which, a few years ago, allowed its citizens to be bamboozled by a misinformation campaign that ultimately meant passing on the establishment of a strong central library in favor of the preservation of the small village libraries. When the dust settled, the
library for the largest of these villages had been shut down. So much for the preservation of small village libraries.

In my town are many children who find themselves hard pressed to keep up with their peers in wealthier towns. It's short-sighted to think that the job of developing literacy is that of the schools alone. Parents have a vital stake, as do community institutions, the chief of which is the public library.

The parents who make the most of our library are rich indeed, not necessarily in personal finances, but in opportunities for their children. Some of them come in and check out bags full of books at a time, knowing that their children will love some of them, reject others. They are developing interest in and enthusiasm for reading that will last their kids a lifetime.

It's ironic that struggling schools can seldom afford the services of a good public library. They're the ones who need them most.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Sweet Music of the Spheres

It's that time again--pull out a poem that you've been wanting to share with other people and reserve the evening of Friday, October 26, to join us in the Community Room of NPL for the Poetry and Dessert Potluck. The fun starts at 7:30 p.m.

Poet Peter Money will emcee the event, and area poets are likely to show.

Don't let potential luminaries limit your participation, though. Lots of attendees are people who simply love poetry and are willing to share a longtime favorite. If you simply want to listen rather than read, feel free to come.

The event is open to everyone from grandparents to grandchildren.
Bring a dessert to share, and let's see you there!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Kill-a-Watt?!? You bet!

A patron asked for it before it was even catalogued--NPL's new Library Energy Kit.

Assembled, it looks like one of the Discovery Packs from the Children's Room, but its intended audience is us big kids, so look for it upstairs.

Provided by the Norwich Energy Committee and the Sustainable Energy Resource Group (that's SERG to you), the materials provide information about the effects of global warming and ways to reduce energy use. Between reduced energy use and the switch to renewable resources, SERG estimates that many homeowners can cut energy bills by up to 50 per cent.

In the kit are a mix of tools and information: a watt meter (or Kill-a-Watt Monitor, according to SERG) with instructions on how to test appliance efficiency, two DVDs--An Inconvenient Truth and Kilowatt Ours. There are books: The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis by Greg Pahl, and Your Green Home by Alex Wilson. Consumer's Energy Guide helps with product selection and use for maximum energy savings. Additionally, there are a collection of "energy briefs" from the Rocky Mountain Institute, and a home energy calculator produced by SERG.

The kit will circulate for a week (it'll be 50 cents a day for overdues, so be sure to return it on time).

Lucinda is anxious to use it for an energy analysis here at NPL.

Here's to better conservation, one household --and one library!-- at a time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Art and Libraries--Out on a Limb?

I didn't make the connection at first, but fortunately, Dale Copps certainly did.

Copps, a Friend of the Windsor Public Library in word and deed, was looking for a way to involve Vermont artists in the cause of public libraries across the state. His inspiration: art on a limb.

Libraries too frequently hang precariously from the bough of public good will. Their places in the community aren't always affirmed, come budget time. I live in a nearby town which underwent a lengthy public debate on whether or not we should centralize library services in a nice, big library, only to have the proposal go down in favor of "local control," after which time my village's local library was closed!

Go figure! But I digress.

Art on a Limb involves a series of wooden maple leaves, each decorated by a Vermont artist, with the proceeds from its online auction going to the library of the bidder's choice.

As is the case with most events involving Vermont artists, the responses to the basic problem of design vary wildly. There's something for everyone.

Bidders purchase a "paddle" for the auction for $25, and that's applied to the bid on the chosen art. At this time bidders designate the library to receive their donations.

Online bidding goes until October 14. The winning bids will be announced October 15.

Go to Windsor Library's site and take a look at the wonderful array of available artwork. Treat yourself or someone special to you to a one-of-a-kind gift that supports an important part of your community.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Don't Ask To See a Printed Menu

Scrambled dregs. Fresh mudburgers. Hot frogs.


There's shivery glee in the gross, a vein of gold that writer Roald Dahl mined richly. His
Revolting Rhymes recast fairy tales into hilarity. His Vile Verses collects his frisky couplets from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Rhyme Stew, Fantastic Mr Fox, and many others.

Although she is every inch a lady, Children's Librarian Beth Reynolds is hosting a celebration of the works of the frolicsome author Thursday, September 13, at 3:30 p.m., featuring fare from the Revolting Recipes book. The party is best experienced by kids in
grades 3-6, who have had the opportunity to read the books and learn to stomach Mr. Dahl's truly unique literary voice and... um... subject matter.

It's best if you call ahead to reserve a place at the table. Lady Beth wants to be sure that she's made a sufficient batch of Bogtrotter's Cake for anyone who might want to attend. She's rather punish herself with a month's worth of Stink Bug Eggs than run out of food for her guests.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Azor 'Peach' Goodwin Writes 'If I Lived at Hogwarts'

Here's the winning entry from the recent NPL contest, "If I Lived at Hogwarts."

My name is Azor Peach. I’m a wizard who lives at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m a fourth year student and I love to study Quiddich and flying. I live in the Gryffindor House and my roomates are Harry Potter, Charlie Weasley, Fred and George Weasley (the twins) and Percy “the Prefect” Weasley. My favorite class is Defense Against the Dark Arts. I love to study about counter-hexes and ways to make dark wizards stop being mean. My magical pet is a Saltwater Crocodile named Ironjaw. He’s not like other crocodiles because he can fly. Ironjaw can tell which wizards are bad and he helps me save people who are being cursed. This year I became a seeker on the Gryffindor Quiddich team. I’m a very good flyer and someday I hope to become a professional quiddich player.

There are 27 players on my team. Our captain is a seventh year student named Oliver Wood. I just got a new broom called the Jetbroom 9000. This is the fastest broom in the world! Our team color is green and Ironjaw is our mascot. He comes to all of our games. Last year Gryffindor won the house cup when Harry Potter was seeker. This year, I’m the seeker and I hope to win the cup again.

Our first match of the year is against Slytherin. Draco Malfoy is a Bludger on the Slytherin team. Draco Malfoy is a dark wizard. He cheats and uses the leglocker curse in the middle of games. Draco Malfoy is scared of Ironjaw because Ironjaw knows he’s bad news. Usually Ironjaw can’t catch Draco Malfoy in a match because we keep him on a leash. Today Fred and George, my roomates, took Ironjaw’s leash off to play a joke on Draco Malfoy. Just when I was about to catch the Golden Snitch, Draco Malfoy yelled “locomotor mortis” and sparks flew my way. Before the curse hit me, Ironjaw flew out of the stands and bit Draco Malfoy on the ankle. He crashed to the ground and the sparks went away. Draco Malfoy spent the next couple of days in the Hospital Ward and Gryffindor won the match.

Gryffindor won every game that season. I was the best seeker in Hogwarts history. Scouts from professional teams came to watch me. I was drafted to play on the Saint Louis Stifflebricks as soon as I finished my seventh year of school.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Amazing Grace

My heart is heavy today. It's bad enough to have lost Molly Ivins earlier this year. Now Grace Paley has departed the planet, or rejoined it, depending on your point of view. I can only hope a child is being born today to carry on.

If you have never read a short story (or twenty) by Grace Paley, one of life's great pleasures still awaits you. If you have read them, you'll doubtless want to read them again. Her output was dwarfed by her political activism; she nonetheless is undisputedly one of our greatest short story writers.

I first stumbled upon her writing when she was to be the featured speaker at a writing workshop I attended each summer on the Left Coast. She would be unable to make her original date, since she had to spend it in jail for pouring blood on the White House lawn.

When she did arrive, she charmed us all with a reading of her stories, which were equal parts witty, earthy, funny, and sad. Her voice was and is singular. I gobbled up her short story collections, The Little Disturbances of Man, Later that Same Day, and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. She had always said that poetry and short stories were kindred forms, and so it was that her next books would be collections of her poems, Begin Again and Leaning Forward. Her most recent publication was with her husband Robert Nichols, Two by Two.

Here's one of her poems:


Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

at last a woman in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips

When I left Santa Cruz and moved to Vermont, there was Grace. I would see her in the parking lot at the co-op, out in front of Lou's, on the Thetford green, at the puppet show in the art gallery. She was easy to spot in the community with that wonderful, soft mane of fluffy white hair. "Amazing Grace," I would say, loud enough for her to hear, then I would scurry shyly away. I have never been good at chatting up famous people.

Since the news of her passing reached us at the library today, the staff has been bustling about, pulling together words and pictures as a tribute--not merely for purposes of display, but out of deep love and respect for the writer and the person.

I comfort myself with the thought that her writing is a way for me to channel her wit, her wisdom, her inimitable voice for as long as I can read. But I'll sure miss that dear, fuzzy head.

Friday, August 3, 2007

In Praise of Listening

I was pleased to see another library-friendly item in the Style section of yesterday's New York Times. This one, if you follow the link in today's title, is about the "controversy" regarding listening to, rather than reading, books. Somehow, some members of some book groups insist, to listen to a book, rather than to read it, is to cheat.
After I laughed aloud, I felt a shiver of subversion. By denying the author my bifocal-assisted saccadic movements, I was Doing Something Naughty. At my age, this is a bigger thrill than you might imagine.

Then I felt annoyance. We are not talking about Cliff Notes. We are not even talking about the Reader's Digest Condensed Version. We are talking about a full text version, every nuance and graceful phrase included, only taken in auditorily rather than visually.

I don't like Book Cops. I am glad not to band together with them in judgmental little groups, though I never imagined that book groups would include book cops. Reading groups, I suppose, exist to reinforce reading, and though I think they are a dandy idea, it saddens me to hear that some people use them to feel superior to others.

We aren't a nation of great listeners, and to me, that's a pity. In my impressionable years, I had the good fortune to have an English teacher who taught values along with English. She emphasized listening, that most neglected of the language arts, or so she told us. I was so inspired by her example that I threw myself into paying close attention to what people had to say, developing a skill that has led to great personal and professional growth over the years. Later, as a reading specialist, I learned from students with disabilities, that lacking a sense of voice in print often lay at the foundation of comprehension problems.

Listening is a way in which we can help each other to be heard, quite literally, and perhaps made less lonely, to boot. Listening is giving the voice a rest so that we can hear the voices of others. And with excellent writing, often the most awe-inspiring aspect isn't the story being told as much as it is the authorial voice, that enabler of the magic fusion of art and idea.

NPL's audio collection is a fine one, growing all the time. Lots of busy people find time to experience books through their ears--as they drive, as they complete mostly manual tasks, as they prepare for sleep. Many children are availing themselves of the tome-like collection of Harry Potter CDs, and to me, they are not cheating. They are discovering the voice that sings in print.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Detainees Speak

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world.
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden, before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden, before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the "protectors of peace."
--Jumah Al Dossari

In a genre known for its slim volumes, Poems from Guantanamo (University of Iowa Press), Marc Falkoff, ed., borders on skinny. There are only 31 poems. The Pentagon has confiscated and destroyed many more, 25,000 lines from one poet alone, holding that poetry presents "a special risk" to national security because of its "content and format." The translations that appear have been done by linguists with top secret clearances; Falkoff notes that the grace of phrasing in the originals has been sometimes lost.

Detainees were denied paper and pen for the first year of their incarceration. They wrote on styrofoam cups using pebbles for pens. Most poems ended up in the trash. Once they were granted writing materials, many of their poems met the fate of the cup poems. Many more poems are being stored at the Pentagon, which fears that the poems contain codes to be interpreted on the outside by terrorists.

Cup Poem

Handcuffs befit brave young men,
Bangles are for spinsters or pretty young ladies.

--Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost

It is interesting to note than only eight per cent of the detainees are accused of being al Qaeda fighters, and only five per cent were captured by U.S. forces on Afghanistan battlefields, and fewer than half are accused of committing a hostile act against the U.S. The author of the Cup Poem above was finally released in 2005 after being judged as not a threat to the U.S. When he and his brother began to publish their memoirs of his Guantanamo experience, he was picked up by Pakistani intelligence and hasn't been heard from since.

For one of the very few
possible glimpses of the detainees, do read this book.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nancy Osgood and the Power of Perpetual Motion

To be a stop on Nancy Osgood's route is a wonderful thing.

She's a familiar sight as she zips from one place to another in town, from the Norwich Historical Society, of which she is a volunteer and president, to our library, where she performs the tasks that help our books to survive the many passages from library to patrons. Nancy is a book processor, adding the protective covering and identifying stamps and labels that mark the volumes of our collection and tell shelvers where they ought to be placed.

Nancy has always fascinated me. She is such a dynamo and has so much direction. A Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania native, Nancy taught fourth grade to the lucky children of Concord, Massachusetts, for many years. She still volunteers with children at the White River School, using the Orton-Gillingham method, a multi-sensory and kinetic program for improving decoding skills in young readers.

When Nancy isn't promoting literacy, protecting books, and fostering an interest in Norwich history, her idea of a good time is an archeological dig. She's gone after Jurassic mammal bones at the DInasaur National Montument and dug at the Popham Colony in Maine, a settlement which was a contemporary of Jamestown. She enjoys a good walk and loves spending time with her grown sons, both of whom live in the Boston area.

Simply being in Nancy's presence is energizing. Intelligent, generous, and community-spirited, she's a one-woman gift to the community. To Nancy, it's all no big deal. She says simply, "Life is full. So why sit around?"

Monday, July 9, 2007

Party On, Librarians

If you hear us clearing our throats this week and see us herding patrons in the direction of the Sunday New York Times Style section, it's only that our ship has come in at last. On the front page,a headline reads, "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers," and a deck below it adds,"Today's librarians? Think high-tech party people."

Well! It should take me no time at all to install black lights in the computer area, the better to highlight our da-glo make-up and fingernail polish. If our time has come, we mean to experience it fully. We'll install espresso and bistro bars in the non-fiction and fiction rooms respectively, and we'll have to remind Lucinda to hire us a house band. The new chairs in the fiction room should be perfect for all the soirees that lie ahead of us.

Oh, wait. That's the New York Times. I don't suppose we'll see bars that cater especially to the library crowd with Dewey Decimal-themed drinks any time soon. This is Vermont. Lucinda, cancel the band. Still, motivations for going into librarianship ring true:

Working as a librarian is intellectually stimulating, and the hours are reasonable, for those who have creative pursuits beyond work hours;
Handling information is a call to activism for idealistic folks who see bad things happening when access to information is restricted;
The increase of technology in libraries provides new challenges for a more diverse talent pool.
Librarians as a group are seen today as "smart, well-read, funny people who seem to enjoy their jobs."

Well, shucks. But we do enjoy the job, especially the patrons, who are a delightful part of it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


I wouldn't want to offend the copyright gods that control Tinseltown, but you should know that Children's Librarian Beth Reynolds will be offering a screening of a classic Hollywood comedy Thursday night, July 5, at 7 p.m.

By not naming it here, we can avoid paying a fat fee and can show it to you for free.

I saw this film at Dartmouth a couple of years ago, and it was hilarious. If you have children and want to take them to a great film that will truly delight the entire family, or if it's been years since you've seen the fellow in the picture, please join us!

You certainly won't be sorry.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Garrison Keillor's Library Fix

I've 'borrowed' this from Salon, the online magazine--Garrison Keillor's lovely tribute to America's libraries.

When politics gets mean and dumb, you can cheer yourself up by walking into a public library.
By Garrison Keillor

June 27, 2007 Consumer confidence was down in June, and so was mine, though for other reasons. I see politics stuck in a spiral of dumbness and the Republican candidates -- the Cavalcade of Unhappy White Men -- leading the way. The other day, Mr. Giuliani came out against "putting government in a situation where government is in charge of so many different things," and a short time later he called for the government to build a fence the length of the Mexican border, "a technological fence," which I guess means something fancier than a mud fence, possibly using kryptonite. And shortly thereafter, he and his fellow Republican candidates arm-wrestled to see who could be more in favor of torture, or "enhanced interrogation techniques," as it's called now.

When politics gets mean and dumb, you can cheer yourself up by walking into a public library, one of the nobler expressions of democracy. Candidates don't mention libraries -- they're more likely to talk about putting people behind bars and no coddling or shilly-shallying with appeals and that judicial nonsense, just throw them in the dungeon and stick their heads in the toilet and do what you gotta do -- and yet when I walk into the library near my house and see a couple hundred teenagers studying, most of them Hmong or Vietnamese, I see the old cheerful America that Washington has lost touch with, the land of opportunity.

The library is the temple of freedom. Growing up, we kids were aware of how much of our lives was a performance for adults. In school, at church, in Scouts, adults were watching, cueing you, coaching, encouraging, commenting; but in the library, you didn't have to perform for the librarian. She simply presided over an orderly world in which you had the freedom of your own imagination. The silence was not repressive but liberating: to allow your imagination to play, uninhibited by others.

Of course, a boy's imagination headed in some directions that the public library could not satisfy, or would not satisfy -- I thought that those particular books were kept behind the librarian's counter and that if she liked me, she would let me see them, so I was a very, very good boy, but then it dawned on me that she probably thought a very, very good boy wouldn't be interested in that sort of thing. (This would happen to me often with women.)

Libraries have rushed forward into the new age (whichever one we're in now), and the word "librarian" is out. They're Information Professionals now, and it's a Media Resource Center, and it's wired to the max. Just as we novelists have become experiential document specialists producing sensory-data-based narratives encoded in a symbolic format that informally we refer to as English. But a library is still a library. It's a place where serious people go to have the freedom to think without anybody poking and prodding them, in the company of other serious people who sit silently around us and yet encourage us in our own pursuits and projects.

My old hometown Carnegie library with the columns and high-domed ceiling was irreplaceable, and so of course it was torn down by vandals in suits and ties and replaced with a low warehouse-looking library that says so clearly to its patrons, "Don't get any big ideas. This is as good a library as you clowns deserve." But the spirit lives on, in the ranks of dedicated women and men who run the place.

The ceremonial strut of candidates competing to show cruelty is pornographic politics. The thrill of talking about torture -- "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of," said Mr. Giuliani. "Water-boarding?" asked a reporter. "... Every method they could think of," said Mr. Giuliani -- it was like a bad novel come to life. (The bald man looked out the window toward the trees where the prisoners were sitting chained to each other. He lit a cigarette. "Use every method you can think of," he said quietly. "How about red-hot needles?" asked the lieutenant. "How about dragging them behind trucks and beating them with barbed wire?" The bald guy smiled. "Spare me the details," he said. "And get me the information.")

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
(c) 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Iraqi Libraries Struggle to Keep the Faith

Dedication is always an admirable trait in an employee, but its presence in Iraqi librarians is downright heroic.

Lucinda pointed me to the British Library's site which features the diaries of Iraq's director of the national library. In them he documents the power and water failures, the death threats against library employees and security guards, the lengthy and circuitous routes to work occasioned by the destruction of bridges and roads. Members of his family urge him to leave Baghdad for the security of a city less under siege. Corrupt government officials sit on their hands. The library staff swelters as generators fail. The sun itself (which he capitalizes, significantly) becomes an oppressor to be survived.

The British Library site includes a link to the web site of the Iraqi National Library. I clicked on it, only to have the connection "refused." As I read more of the diaries, I realized that once again, there was probably no power to the library. The diarist has to go to internet cafe to retrieve his emails, so often is there no connection to the library itself. (Update: I did get into the site Wednesday, June 27--it's really interesting and includes articles on restoring the country's national heritage and rebuilding the library. Try the link above; if you aren't successful the first time, keep trying. It's worth the effort.)

As I sat exclaiming over the diaries, children's librarian Beth Reynolds slipped downstairs and returned, bearing The Librarian of Basra, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. (The illustration above is from this book.) It's the true story of a dedicated librarian in that city who, when learning of the likelihood of war, began to take bags of books home, to see that they will be spared in the event that the library is bombed. As war became more and more inevitable, she enlists the neighbors of the library in her campaign, and in the course of a few sleepless nights, these guardians of literacy are able to relocate 70 per cent of the collection. Beautifully written and illustrated, it's a children's book worthy of the attention of adult readers.

Here my authorial voice fails. The danger, the destruction, the staff's persistent yearning for the light is more than I can fathom. Keep these brave people in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

80 People Turn Out for Mark Breen

One lady said she'd always wondered what he looked like, with that resonant voice that turned the weather forecast into sheer poetry. Lots of people wanted to know more about the night sky.

So it turned out that 80 people provided Vermont Public Radio's Meteorologist Mark Breen with a standing room only audience in NPL's Community Room last night. The library staff had to remain outside the room in deference to preserving space for the public, although our Lisa did manage to insert one-half of one shoulder blade into general proximity of the presentation. If the room was hot, the reception was warm!

When it came time for the outdoor portion of the program to what Breen refers to as the visible night sky, the moon and Venus were the only objects bright enough for identification on the evening before the summer solstice. Mark Breen turns out to look as nice as his voice sounds, and the audience really seemed to enjoy what he had to say. There were lots of questions, always a good sign.

For those who didn't quite fit into the Community Room or find the time to attend the presentation, Mark left behind a little of himself: the interactive kiosk from the Fairbanks Museum. When I first saw it, I asked where the joy stick might be found. It looks almost like a video game! Instead, it holds a computerizedl presentation on the planets, and for all those who felt a pang of regret at the declassification of Pluto, a view of it and its sort-of-moon, Charon, is still there for the seeing, along with the rest of those "rocks" who have held onto their jobs.

Come by the library and wander the heavens with the kiosk. It'll be across from the circulation desk till July 18.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Summer Reading for Kids: Definitely Not Clueless

This summer's vacation reading program comes with lots of extra possibilities.

Dubbed Get a Clue @ Your Library, this summer reading program offers more than books.

Along with the rich reading fare that is has become a staple to NPL's young patrons, there is the opportunity provided by excursions designed by the good people at Valley Quest.

I'm always interested in discovering what pockets of illiteracy remain in my considerable self. Clearly, I was clueless about Valley Quest. When I asked Children's Librarian Beth Reynolds about the connection between the Get a Clue theme and Valley Quest, she shot me a look that said, "Oh, you poor dear," (my interpretation, I'm sure) and then told me that Valley Quests were actually treasure hunts. In any of the adventures taken by the Questers lies a box, the quest destination, if you will, at which place successful Questers can leave evidence of their having been there and can, at the same time, discover the names of others who have been similarly successful. Sounds like great fun for families and groups of friends.

Beth tells me that she's hoping that her young readers and their families will avail themselves of the Valley Quest option, in addition to the time for relaxed, recreational reading. To offer support to that end, she's offering a rubber stamp workshop for families on Monday, June 25, at 7 p.m. Participants will be given both the know-how and materials for making rubber stamps for the families--a great way to sign off on having found the magic boxes that are part of the Quests. It's a good idea for families to come to this workshop together, since some of the tools used for making rubber stamps are a bit sharp and best handled by the More Mature generation (or so we like to think of ourselves).

Because space will be limited and Beth hopes to have materials for everyone, interested families should call 649-1184 to save a space.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

June 10 Open House: Everybody's Coming!

It's an Open House to show off our new colors, new layout, better signage--all that sort of library stuff.

But there'll be old friends there, too: people you may not have seen in a while.

Poets. Novelists. Humorists. Biographers. Women and men of letters.

We'll sweeten the deal with refreshments, laughter, community.

Sunday, June 10

We shan't be gone long: 2-4 p.m. You come, too.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Volunteer Spotlight: Merveilleuse Micheline

The National Weather Service has issued a gush alert, effective during the time this blog is being written. High winds of excessive admiration may cause considerable damage to the prose style of this post. Readers are advised to take shelter until the blogger's emotions come under control.

If you're in the mood for a little international experience but your passport has expired, drop by the circulation desk on Thursday afternoons. There you'll swear you've somehow stumbled into the lilt and color of the Champs Elysées, but really, you've just entered the aura of Micheline Lyons.

We at the library are smitten with Micheline. She's smart, chic, and insightful. She's incredibly well read. She leads the Women's International Club in the Community Room, a gathering of bright ladies discussing issues in fine French. When Micheline comes on Thursdays we gather around her like a flock of admiring daughters. We revel in her wit, her warmth, her casual elegance, her joyous energy.

Micheline is passionately involved in the turning fortunes of the world, and the quest for greater international understanding comes naturally to her. A Jewish Parisian whose family fled Hitler's forces during the second World War, Micheline came to the U.S. on the last non-military ship to cross the Atlantic and settled in New York City. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in a year and a half, then returned to France after the end of the war.

Back in Europe, Micheline worked in Geneva for the World Health Organization of the United Nations as a public information officer, covering meetings, writing press releases and feature stories. One night she attended a cabaret and noticed a handsome young actor ("He was in drag, and I noticed that he had the most beautiful legs!") named Gene Lyons. He wrote and performed witty satires on the local scene. Micheline and Gene married and had their three children in Geneva, continuing to work for the UN, until Gene was posted to the New York headquarters.

Eventually Gene decided to finish his doctorate, and the family headed to Hanover. Gene found a career at Dartmouth as professor, chair and dean, and Micheline co-founded the French program at Marion Cross School, and eventually taught at all levels, including French language, literature, and culture at Dartmouth. She was the executive director of the Rassias Foundation for Language and Culture. Through her work and Gene's, Micheline made friends of many of Dartmouth's famous visitors, and in her continuing search for greater understanding, she continues to read widely in world literature.

Micheline is yet another reason to treasure the connection to this community of readers. She's our one-woman City of Light.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How the (Little) Pros Do It

We're hoping you won't recognize this scenario, but we know that some of you will: on a Friday or Saturday, the mail comes, and in it is an overdue notice from us. What gives? You returned those books and DVDs last week, and on time!

We are undergoing an awkward period in NPL history: too many books are being shelved without being checked in. Our collective faces are burning red!

We meet as a staff about the problem. We conference on the run. Lucinda orders triple-checks, one above the usual double check. How do they slip through our systems? The last thing anyone needs is an overdue notice on returned books!

There is one thing we ask of patrons: when you're in the library, please use the book return slot. We have found that books left on the counter have occasionally ended up on shelves. This doesn't account for all our mistakes, but we'll know where the returned books are. Putting them through the slot doesn't injure the books. And don't worry about our back as we stoop to pull them out. We'll survive! Sometimes we find books on the counter, and we don't know why they are there.

So take a lesson from our young patrons, Caleb and Madeleine Zuckerman, and use the slot!

And thanks!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

NPL Volunteer Spotlight: Connie Cadow

If you're new to town and want to meet interesting people, meet (or become!) a library volunteer. I am continually amazed by the talents and experiences of NPL volunteers.

It's a warm day, but cool air greets us as I follow Connie Cadow down into her basement. After months of talking about gardening and plants, I've asked to see Connie's greenhouse set-up, since I can't quite imagine it. A greenhouse in the basement?

There, among boxes marked Family Pictures and other treasures of time, are Connie's secret for getting the jump on spring: rows of grow-lights, trays of young marigolds, snapdragons, ageratum, and petunias are glowing; tiny basil seedlings are just pushing through. On a table next to the lights is a notebook, with meticulous records on planting dates and germination rates. One day the seedlings were under several suspended lights; the next day, when I returned to take pictures, she'd moved them over to where her husband had set up a hydroponic operation. She's since converted it to more growing space. "Hydroponics have never excited me as much," she explains.

We wandered back upstairs to Connie's quilting set-up: a handsome sewing machine and long counters for spreading out her projects. She's been part of a group meeting at Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction for the last four years, her projects growing with her expertise. "I gave my grandson a big box of cloth squares last year," she said as she held up the handsome quilt that they were in the process of becoming.

Connie also enjoys a standing date with son Ken, also a Norwich resident, for Western square dancing. They head up to Bradford every week. "It's becoming a lost art," she lamented. "We have just enough people for three full squares."

Most of all, Connie's greatest interest is her family. Pictures of children and grandchildren are everywhere, and she often scoots home from the library in time to welcome them into her home. Last year she and granddaughter Charlotte Cadow teamed up to staff the circulation desk.

Gardener, craftswoman, library volunteer, family woman: Connie Cadow is a special part of Norwich.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

More Grim News on the Pet Food Front

My closest friend is a California librarian whose motto is "Information is my life." It's always been good for a chuckle between us, though it's certainly true. In libraries, information is the product.

Now it seems that, more than ever, information is crucial to the preservation of lots of lives, especially for those who are in no position to act on it.

The FDA now tells us that the pet food scandal is getting worse instead of better. Here are the latest FDA figures:

* Total reports of illness or death: 17,000

* Total cats reported dead: 1950

* Total dogs reported dead: 2,200

These figures depart wildly from those reported during our last posting. The number of brands has jumped, including some "premium" brands found at our local feed outlets, and certainly the "store" brands at such places as Wal Mart and Price Chopper.

Itchmo has additional, vital information.
Please follow the link in the headline above to the specific information that will help you to keep your pets safe. And share information with your friends and family, here and far away. There's an update of withdrawn brands at the circulation desk, too. Check it out.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hearts and Hands

If you want to fall in love with a whole group of people at one time, get to know some volunteers.

It's often said that busy people get more done, and that has to be the case with our bunch.

They're from everywhere: England, France, Holland, Scotland, and beautiful downtown Vermont. (Someone once said that the whole state's a small town.)

They do and have done everything: parenting, painting, poetry-writing, proof-reading, engineering, musicologizing, theologizing. And I'm not even started!

This afternoon a group of third-graders is outside, taking leaves and picking up fallen branches.

Last night Mike was here paying bills, and Anne and Stefanie were running the circulation desk. They were chatting with Sandi about the Mother's Day plant sale, which they will run under the auspices of the Friends organization. (More about that group soon.)

They're all amazing people with the energy of community. We're incredibly lucky.

Thanks, volunteers.

Friday, April 13, 2007

NPL Volunteer Writes from along the Trail

Some of the most interesting people I've ever met are NPL volunteers. I"ve met grandmothers, techies, lawyers, doctors, theologians, and veterans, just to name a few. They are truly an outstanding group.

We just received a card from Linda Pierce, book wrapper extraordinaire. Linda was writing from Indian Creek Falls (pictured here) in the Great Smoky Mountains. Linda, a nurse at DHMC, has zoomed in regularly to wrap our books in the protective wrappings that help them to survive being loved by many different readers.

I say has zoomed in because we are Linda-less for the next six months, while Linda hikes the 2173-mile Appalachian Trail, all on her own. Linda is a hardy lass, aglow with fitness and good health, and I have no doubt that she will be successful in her quest. I have fretted about the isolation and safety aspects of the journey, but after the video I just borrowed from NPL's collection, I feel a little better.

The DVD is Walking in Freedom, and it's a film made by a hiker who made the journey. I was glad to see that hikers may set out alone, but in the process of taking on this challenge, they quickly bond with others who may be just the helping hand they will need in a tough spot.

There are people in towns along the trail who welcome hikers to rest a bit, to take the half-gallon challenge (eat a half-gallon of ice cream in a sitting), or to consume platter-sized pancakes, since calories are no object. Hiker-friendly boarding houses and camp shelters bring people together, too.

No one can fail to recognize the daunting challenge that hikers face, but it's good to know that there will be some supportive souls along the way. Check out the DVD and take a peek at Linda's journey.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Poets Circle to Meet Again April 15

The Poets' Circle, an ongoing group for writers of poetry, will meet again on April 15, from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Community Room.
Anne Shivas, coordinator of the group, spearheaded its creation in order to create a community of poets in the Upper Valley.
Activities of the group vary from meeting to meeting. They all brought love poems to share during the February meeting.
During the April meeting members will bring a favorite poem by a published poet for discussion.

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Worthy Tradition: Poetry Night is April 20

Here we go again! Join us Friday, April 20, for the merriment that brings together two of life's finest offerings: poetry and dessert, for the Poetry Potluck. We'll start reading and munching at 7:30 p.m. in the Community Room.

This event is open to everyone: grandparents, grandkids, and everyone in between. Bring a dessert to share, and a favorite poem--yours, if you write them; someone else's if you are a reader-enthusiast.

This is our second annual event, one that we hope to turn into a cherished tradition. Last year over 30 poetry lovers of all ages joined us to celebrate the music of the spoken word.

NPL, hoping to provide local poets with a gathering place, also hosts the Poetry Round Table one Sunday a month. In that group, poets bring their work to share in a supportive group environment. More about that group in an upcoming blog.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Life Preserving Information

You have no doubt read about the big recall of pet food manufactured by Menu Foods. It's huge. And the culprit has turned out to be rat poison.
Rat poison!
You won't find a can of Menu Foods Kitty Giblets in your pantry, but you may see Menu-supplied Iams, Eukanuba, Science Diet, Ol' Roy, and others. Menu is quite a supplier to many familiar brands.
By now the recalled foods have been pulled from store shelves. But it's important for us all to check our pantries. Did we buy any of the trainted foods before word got out?
Alert library friend and volunteer Stefanie Bernstein provided us with specific information on the recall. We printed it out and have placed it at the Circulation Desk for your convenience. She also provided us with a link to web sites for manufacturers impacted by the recall.
Click on the linked headline above to go to the web site. You'll find specific information and additional links to Iams, Eukanuba, and Science Diet.
Here's to the health and safety of our pets!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Targeted for Censorship: This Year's 'Champs'

A storybook based on an incident in the Central Park Zoo has attracted the most challenges for 2006, according to the American Library Association's Office on Intellectual Freedom.

And Tango Makes Three
has drawn fire in children's libraries and elementary schools for what critics call its "favorable portrayal of homosexuality." It's about a pair of male penguins who parent an egg from a mixed sex pair of penguins who have one egg too many.

The Top Ten challenged books include, along with their recorded complaints:
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group;

  • Gossip Girls series by Cecily Von Ziegesar for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;

  • Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for sexual content and offensive language;

  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

  • Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity;

  • Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality and offensive language.

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, and unsuited to age group

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group;

  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language, and violence.
The ALA logged 546 challenges last year. The organization defines a challenges as a formal writen complaint, filed with a library or school, requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. Public libraries, schools, and school libraries report the majority of challenges. Not all challenges are reported, however.

Children's librarian Beth Reynolds reports that NPL owns a copy of Tango. "It goes out all the time, because it's a nice story," she says.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Unplugged Fun

As you might imagine, Norwich Public Library is happily involved in Norwich Unplugged, a celebration that's grown from a week to the entire month of March. Join us at the library for these fun family events:

Monday, March 12--Book Character Party. Conspire with your children to create book character costumes, then join us from 3:30-4:30 p.m. to enjoy the results. For elementary aged children.
Monday, March 26--Library Night! Come play board games from 6 to 8 p.m. Parents and kids welcome!
Thursday, March 29--Scrap Booking at NPL. Bring some photos and put them into the fun format of a scrap book. It's from 7 to 8 p.m. For parents and children.

Consider the library as a resource for other Unplugged activities as well. We have lots of jigsaw puzzles (March 20), and our Friends Book Sale is the perfect follow-up to Floribunda on March 17. You can even pick up cards at Floribunda that will entitle you to a 10% discount at the book sale. The No Homework, No Meetings Night of March 21 can be enhanced with some of our magazines. We have them for all ages.

It's your library. Let us work for you!