DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Aug 9 2013

Andrew Carnegie…our hero?

by Dea Anne M

Carnegie_Library_of_Moultrie“The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” This famous statement comes from Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist and steel baron who amassed a huge fortune and then spent the latter part of his life giving the majority of it away. Perhaps the best known of his philanthropies is Carnegie Hall, Manhattan’s famous concert venue which Carnegie paid to have built. Others include the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Mellon University and numerous museums. The most important of his projects, at least to those of us who love libraries, would be the Carnegie libraries. The image at right shows the Old Carnegie Library in Moultrie, GA.  Built in 1906, it is no longer in use as a library but is on the National Register of Historic Places. 1690 of these libraries were built in the United States alone and many more in other parts of the world. A huge proponent of self-improvement, Carnegie didn’t provide endowments for these libraries. Rather, he insisted that any community interested in building a library aided by Carnegie funds be willing to abide by certain requirements:

  • demonstrate the need for a public library;
  • provide the building site;
  • annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation; and,
  • provide free service to all.

This last point created its contradictions. In the strictly segregated American South, for example, Carnegie funded separate libraries for African Americans in many communities. In any case, Carnegie rarely denied a request and many of these buildings, beautifully designed and executed, often became known as the most distinguished structures in their communities (check out some images here). The unique design of these buildings also featured an element brand new to libraries—self service stacks which encouraged patrons to browse and discover books, either on their on or with the guidance of library staff. Prior to this, patrons asked librarians to retrieve specific items from closed stacks.

carnegieAndrew Carnegie was a proponent of political egalitarianism and professed his support for labor unions. At the same time, he held his own workers to long hours at low pay and his reputation would be forever tarred by his actions during the Homestead Steel Strike.  In spite of these contradictions, I believe that Carnegie has to be recognized as a major figure in shaping the mission of the modern public library. NPR recently ran a very interesting piece on Carnegie’s legacy that is well worth checking out. It includes a very lively comments section as well. If you’d like to learn more about Andrew Carnegie’s life, DCPL carries (among other resources) two well-regarded biographies Carnegie by Peter Krass and Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw.

Did you use your hometown’s library (or libraries) when you were growing up? Did your town ever have a Carnegie library? Speaking of hometown libraries don’t miss Joseph’s fun post from earlier this week!

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Aug 6 2013

Crime in the City

by Jesse M

Little Green coverFor this post I’m going to highlight NPR’s annual series Crime in the City, a summertime series about fictional detectives and the cities where they live. Since its inception in August of 2007 the series has examined a total of 49 authors, their fictional characters, and the cities those characters inhabit. So far this summer six authors have been profiled, three of which have titles available in the DCPL catalog: Walter Mosley (Los Angeles), Robert Rotenberg (Toronto), and Chris Grabenstein (the Jersey shore).

Click on the pins in this map to see the cities featured in this series.


Jul 29 2013

Canyon Dreams–and Nightmares!

by Hope L

book coverHaving grown up in Grand Canyon National Park, I often feel nostalgic about the place I remember so fondly;  short of a high school class reunion a few years ago, I haven’t gotten back for a visit.  But I can and do visit often by reading a good book, like Travelers’  Tales Guides’  Grand Canyon: True Stories of Life Below the Rim edited by Sean O’Reilly, James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger,  a compilation of short vignettes about different authors’ experiences while hiking, rafting and camping in the canyon. I almost felt the sunshine on my face, saw the bluest of blue skies with white cottony clouds  and heard the ravens squawk while I read some of these entries.

I also enjoyed Jack Hiller’s expeditions down the Colorado River and through several states and the Grand Canyon from the book “Photographed all the best scenery”: Jack Hillers’s diary of the Powell expeditions, 1871-1875. Talk about roughing it!

But by far my favorite canyon books are those by Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers.

Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon includes incidents from the time of some of the first visitors—Wesley Powell and his crew of 1869—to that of tourists falling off its rims today (the Library does not currently have this book in our collection, however, we do have Canyon by the same author). Living in the park for 10 years of my childhood, I was unaware of most of these happenings.

These accounts of nearly 600 people who have met untimely deaths in the Canyon held me spellbound: accidental falls off the rim or while hiking, drowning in the Colorado River, dehydration,  hypothermia, cardiac arrests,  aircraft fatalities, freak accidents, suicide and even murder and lightning strikes  are included.  Had I known even some of this while hiking rim-to-rim with my class in junior high school,  I would have been scared to….well, death.  Thanks to constant adult supervision and a bit of good luck, however, I survived with only one incident:  tripping on the very narrow trail down from the North Rim and falling facedown, my heavy backpack preventing me from getting up on my own power.  A beloved teacher, Mr. Eager, had to climb over me and push me up from my shoulders. I didn’t know then how close I came to being included in this book!

Another Thomas M. Myers book,  Grand Obsession:  Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon (with co-author Elias Butler), follows the unbelievable adventures of  math professor Harvey Butchart, who spent 42 years exploring the Grand Canyon and hiked 12,000 miles, scaling plateaus, buttes, and blazing trails—making him perhaps the most prolific canyon hiker.  Needless to say, Mrs. Butchart, who did not share her husband’s passion, was probably a pretty lonely gal.


London Public LibraryIn the past, we’ve posted about Google Street View, a subset of the Google Maps service which lets you explore places around the world through 360-degree, panoramic, and street-level imagery. But did you know that now Google Street View is now offering their service indoors as well?

Since late 2011 Google has been offering interior tours of buildings via their Street View technology. Businesses can voluntarily access the program and Google’s photographers will schedule a photo shoot inside the building. Some of the earliest adopters of this new service have been bookstores and libraries.

The website Ebook Friendly has an informative and interactive post where you can learn more about the program and then tour 10 libraries which have already been given the Street View treatment.

In related news: two DeKalb County Public Library branches (Decatur and Salem Panola) are now available through Google’s new indoor Google Maps project–not exactly Street View, but similar. It allows you to see a floor plan of the inside of the library, with different sections of the library labelled clearly. Also, since this feature is still in beta, some of the details may still be buggy, and the labels may look different depending on the mobile device you are using. More branch floor plans will become available soon.


Feb 15 2013

The Sound of Silence

by Veronica W

As I sat at the red light, my car was vibrating and my ears were assaulted. Ilake tried to identify the person with the deafening music but I couldn’t. They could have been five cars behind me but it didn’t matter because their bass was so loud, it shook every car in line. Although it was a balmy spring day, I rolled up my windows in disgust.

I have a sister who lives in and loves New York City…Manhattan to be exact. Although she lives in a high rise, traffic sounds and general city life were heard very clearly through her windows on the fourteenth floor, no matter the time of day.  When she visits me, after awhile she gets antsy at the quiet. Imagine my delight last year, when I visited NYC and rode down Fifth Avenue and saw signs that warned people of a stiff fine for honking.

George Prochnik, in his book In Pursuit of Silence,  “examines why we began to be so loud as a society, what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet and what are the benefits of decluttering our sonic world.”  When I encounter people who must fill up air space with conversation, radio, television or music—especially when I am being quiet myself—it makes me  wonder if silence is uncomfortable for them.

There are many ways and places people can enjoy noiselessness—or at least replace it with more desired noise.  A charming picture book is Sitting in My Box. A little boy has found a big box, and it is his getaway in which he reads or dreams. A host of different animals crowd in, until they are finally “persuaded” to leave.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her poem Exiled, laments, “Searching my heart for its true sorrow/This is the thing I find to be/That I am weary of words and people/Sick of the city, wanting the sea.” Her refuge from the cacophony of the city was the ocean. I can identify and as often as  I can, I visit the Monastery in Conyers, where I sit by the lake and feed the ducks. Where do you go for peace and quiet?


Dec 12 2012

A short personal history of fruitcake

by Dea Anne M

Most of my childhood Christmas holidays were spent with my paternal grandparents and my large, boisterous clan on that side of the family. For us kids, most of the excitement revolved around waking up Christmas morning to see what Santa had left us then (as if we weren’t greedy enough) opening presents later in the morning. Christmas dinner was usually served around 2:00 pm and featured the eagerly anticipated turkey with cornbread dressing as well as my favorite glazed, baked ham. Having been reared mostly in the Northeast and Central Florida, I was unaccustomed to the country style cooking of the South. It was, shall we say, exotic. My mother, an excellent cook with an adventurous palate, usually prepared what she thought everyone would eat and by “everyone” I mean me and my even pickier younger brother. Christmas dinner green beans cooked just about forever with a piece of salt pork were more than acceptable but giblet gravy? Forget about it! Most alien of all perhaps was the once-a-year appearance of the edible substance known as fruitcake. In my grandmother’s house there were two kinds, “light cake” and “dark cake”, and neither one in any way suggested cake to me. First of all, they were loaf-shaped and bare of embellishment.  I knew good and well that a proper cake consisted of two or three round layers heavily frosted. Even worse were the weird red and green pieces studded throughout the cake which I now know were candied cherries. I’m sure I would have liked fruitcake just fine had I deigned to taste it, but there were always cookies and banana pudding both of which settled the dessert question just fine for us persnickety youngsters.

You may already know that Georgia boasts the Fruitcake Capitol of the World, Claxton GA, home of the Claxton Fruitcake Company but did you know that Corsicana TX can make the same claim as it is equally famous for the fruitcakes produced by the Collin Street Bakery? Fruitcake is by no means unique to the U.S. In the Bahamas, dried fruit and nuts are soaked in dark rum for up to 3 months and then more rum is poured on top of the baked cake while it’s still hot. That recipe wouldn’t have passed muster with my grandmother, a strict teetotaler, but everyone might have eaten more fruitcake if it had. Italians eat a highly spiced fruitcake at Christmas time called panforte. In Romania fruitcake goes by the name Cozonac, in Switzerland it’s Birnenbrot, and the people of  Trinidad enjoy a boozy confection called Black Cake which is similar to the  Bahamanian fruitcake.

If you bake fruitcake for the holidays, you likely already follow a trusted family recipe. If not, you could do worse than picking up a copy of  The All-American Christmas Cookbook: family favorites from every state by Georgia Orcutt and John Margolies and baking the “Fabulous Fruitcake.” Inspired by the fruitcake from the Collin Street Bakery (the actual recipe is apparently a closely guarded secret) it contains a wealth of dried fruit, nuts, and Calvados and looks pretty delicious to me. As promised by the title, the book features a holiday recipe from every state in the union (Georgia’s contribution is Cranberry-Pecan Chutney) and features adorable vintage illustrations. If the idea of Caribbean Black Cake appeals, you’ll find recipe in for it in Warm Bread and Honey Cake: home baking from around the world by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. For a proper British fruitcake, check out Nigella Christmas: food, family, friends, festivities by Nigella Lawson. Lawson presents a really delicious looking “Incredibly Easy Chocolate Fruit Cake” as well as “Gorgeously Golden Fruitcake” which she describes as “the fruity blonde sister of the brunette temptress” (meaning the chocolate version). Anyway, both look wonderful and well worth baking plus the golden fruitcake is gluten free.

Finally, I can’t leave the subject of cake without mentioning two of my favorite cake-centric books (although fruitcake doesn’t make an appearance in either). One is Vintage Cakes: timeless recipes for cupcakes, flips, rolls, layer, angel, bundt, chiffon, and icebox cakes for today’s sweet tooth by Julie Richardson. This book features beautiful photographs and boasts a truly impressive array of delicious sounding cake recipes. Just reading about such creations as  Lovelight Chocolate Chiffon Cake, Blackout Cake, and Watergate Cake with Impeachment Frosting make me want to get out my mixing bowls and beaters right now. Also highly recommended is The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn. I’d be the first person to admit that I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to mixes and culinary short cuts but Byrn really understands what she’s doing. I know people who swear by this book and always produce cakes both beautiful and delicious. Allow me to recommend the Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting. This spectacular cake is one that my mother pulls out for special occasions and, for a strawberry lover like me, it comes close to cake heaven. Be sure not miss Chocolate from the the Cake Mix Doctor and The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! also by Byrn.

What’s your opinion on fruitcake? Do you have a beloved recipe?


Nov 9 2012

Windows – More Than Glass

by Veronica W

Looking out a side window at work, I see… a liquor store. I’m in a new location, in a new building, with a new view (seen from soaring windows). If I’m here for any length of time, I will become used to seeing the folks who go in and out to buy “refreshment” and will no longer be surprised at how often and how early they need to be refreshed. When I look straight ahead, I see lovely trees, which would normally soothe my soul—except they’re crisscrossed by power lines. After awhile, I will stop being annoyed by that. Right now, however, my eyes can’t help being drawn to the ever changing, fascinating life and drama going on outside.

How many of us, when we go away, want a room with a view? If we go to the beach, we want an ocean front room. In the mountains, we crave a panoramic vista while standing on our balconies (hotels know this and charge accordingly).  I personally love clear, star studded night skies and can only imagine what the view is from a space shuttle window. I wish someone would tell me where I can go outside the city to see the night sky uncontaminated by electric lights.

There are so many places to which we can escape,  if we have the time and the resources, so many views which would stun us into awed silence. When we have no time and limited funds, we can take second best and see them in books or online. I discovered a site that I keep revisiting, because when I visit it, I can sit and imagine myself there. Here is an all time favorite. I’m sure my acrophobia would not bother me there.

The Tiger’s Nest (or Paro Taktsang Monastery) clings like lichen to rocky cliffs in Bhutan’s Paro Valley and creates an awed silence among visitors, broken only by the sound of rustling prayer flags and chanting monks”

In my travels through the library stacks, I came across a charming book entitled The Best Place. It’s the story of a wolf who has a wonderful view from his screened porch but is convinced to sell his house and go in search of a better view. The surprise ending will delight you.

According to Elizabeth Barrett Browning,  “Earth is full of heaven…but only he who sees takes off his shoes.”  Take a look out of your window…or from your screened porch. What wonder-full view do you see?


Oct 5 2012

Building Common Ground

by Patricia D

I’m really not accustomed to having culturally important landmarks in my backyard.  We did have the home of Louis Bromfield near where I grew up,  as well as the Ohio State Reformatory, site of the films Tango & Cash (ah yes, such a great film) and the Shawshank Redemption.  OSR is no longer a maximum security prison but it is a terrifying Haunted House.  Folks come from all over the Midwest and Middle Atlantic and pay to get into the place Kurt Russell and Tim Robbins worked so hard to escape.  Even though organizers could get by with just handing over a flashlight and sending you into the abandoned cell block (no joke, that place is seriously creepy, and not in a Scooby Doo  way) they go all out with decorating, actors  and animatronics.  That,  on top of actually being in an old prison (lots of bad energy in those walls), makes for a really good show, if you’re into that sort of thing.  So that’s my hometown’s  claim to cultural significance .  I had to move to Georgia just to up the ante.  Now I can claim all sorts of things,  including the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, part of which is in southeastern DeKalb County.  It is one of only 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States.

There are two huge things that make Arabia Mountain so special, neither of which is that it was one of the locations for the movie Pet Sematary II.   One is the ecosystem on Arabia Mountain itself.  Animals such as lichen grasshoppers, marbled and spotted salamanders, coachwhip and hognose snakes, great- horned owls, deer and bobcats make their home on the monadnock.  It is home to the world’s largest population of  Isoetes melanospora (black spotted quillwort), a Federally protected plant.  It’s also home to the rare Small’s Stonecrop, a plant that makes a living out of almost nothing.  There are also the the less rare, but lovely,  Sunnybells, Sparkleberry, Yellow Daisy, Fringetree and Georgia Oak.

The second reason Arabia Mountain is so special is the people.  The area has been inhabited for thousands of years—Native Americans, Scots immigrants, Trappist Monks—but it is the Flat Rock community, established by freed slaves, that will be the focus of Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility and Compassion, a series of programs at the DeKalb County Public Library that will celebrate the history, diversity and preservation of the community.

Flat Rock began as a small area south of what would become I-20.  It was an agricultural community  bordered by three small slave-holding farms and grew after the  Civil War into a bustling community of churches, schools, and civic organizations.  It thrived for decades, done in finally by the Great Migration and the Great Depression.  It is also the site of one of the few intact slave cemeteries left in Georgia. Today it provides a glimpse into the lives of freed slaves and their descendants.

Building Common Ground is funded by a grant from the American Library Association and the Fetzer Institute.  DCPL’s partners include the Arabia Mountain Heritage Alliance, the Flat Rock Archives and Museum and Arabia Mountain High School.  The four programs will be hosted by the amazing staff at the Stonecrest Library. You may also listen to interviews with community members on the Building Common Ground page conducted by StoryCorps.


Aug 10 2012

Sharereads: Fiction and Nonfiction

by Joseph M

ShareReads intro

I’m a voracious reader, and working in the library, I come across interesting books on a regular basis. That being the case, I often find myself reading multiple books at a time. What I’m reading at any given moment depends on the occasion and my mood, and can run the gamut of content and format types. Generally, I find it easier to juggle more than one book at a time when I’m switching primarily between a work of fiction and a work of nonfiction. Earlier this summer, I found myself in just such a situation, dividing my reading time between two great books, which I’m going to talk more about below.

First, the fiction. The novel is called Hunter’s Run, and I found it noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a collaborative effort between three authors: George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham. All are notable writers on their own. George R. R. Martin is, among other things, the author of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series of books, on which the popular HBO series Game of Thrones is based. Gardner Dozois was the longtime editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his work as a writer and editor of short fiction. Daniel Abraham is a prolific voice in American science fiction, and no stranger to successful collaborations, having penned the lauded epic Leviathan Wakes (unfortunately not yet available at DCPL) with author Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey.

There are many different ways for authors to collaborate on books, and in this case the story took shape over the course of several decades, passing back and forth between the authors and appearing in a number of different variations before publication in its present form in 2007. You can click here for a more detailed summary of the process. In addition to Hunter’s Run, Abraham and Dozois have separately collaborated with Martin on other projects.

But the writing process which created it isn’t the only fascinating thing about Hunter’s Run. It’s a science fiction novel, but with elements reminiscent of Western and Adventure/Exploration genres of literature. In many ways, it could be classified as a Space Western. The sense of a wild frontier is established with a description of the setting: a mostly-unexplored alien planet, settled by human colonists within living memory, and much of the action takes place in the wilderness away from the human communities. A majority of the characters and place names have a Latin American or Caribbean flavor, which also adds to the “Western” feel of the book.

Another aspect of the novel worth mentioning is the main character, Diego Rivera. Diego could definitely be classified as an antihero (and we’ve written about antihero protagonists before on ShareReads) at the start of the story, but he undergoes a fascinating internal transformation as the plot unfolds, providing an interesting counterpoint to his travels in the external world and allowing the authors to explore complex themes of memory, identity, communication, and the ways we are shaped by our experiences.

In addition to all of that, Hunter’s Run is also quite an exciting book, and does not lack for action and suspense; I certainly had trouble putting it down once I got started.

Now I’d like to talk a bit about What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, the excellent nonfiction work I enjoyed concurrently with the novel discussed above. Peter and Faith are a husband and wife team who have traveled the world and documented the lives of people they met through photography and essays. In previous works such as Material World and Hungry Planet, they arrange “family portraits” based on the theme of the work; all the household possessions of the family were piled together for the portraits in Material World, while in Hungry Planet the families were pictured with a week’s-worth of food. In What I Eat, the authors alter the concept, focusing on the food intake of individuals over the course of a single average day, and using meticulous research to determine a caloric count. In all, 80 individuals were profiled in the book, and are ranked from first to last in order of calories consumed. The result is fascinating, informative, and poignant. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. For a “taste” of what the book has to offer, you can visit the official website. Or, you can just check it out from your local library!

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Aug 3 2012

ShareReads: A Nonfictional Summer

by ShareReads

Nothing fires my imagination quite as much as a brilliant work of nonfiction. I tend to be drawn to creative, informative and, many times, fairly serious nonfiction, works that offer a glimpse into the lives of others and, in many cases, the opportunity to understand ourselves better. With summertime winding down (I know, I know—it’s going by fast isn’t it?) why not delve into a great book about someone you’ve never met, a country you’ve always wanted to visit or a time in history that you’ve always been fascinated by?

In considering which books to discuss in this post there is one book that tops the list: a fascinating and thoroughly engaging book called India Becoming: A Portrait of Life In Modern India by Akash Kapur. Kapur, an Indian living in America since he was 16, returns to the country of his birth to explore the opportunities and challenges of 21st century India. His journey takes him far and wide—from bustling vibrant cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai to small towns and villages Tindivanam and Molasur—across the nation. Along the way Kapur introduces us to folks of all walks of Indian life including young Hari, a call center worker excited about the prospects of the new global economy,Veena, a 30-something careerwoman trying to strike a balance between her professional ambitions and her desire for family life and Sathy, a rural zamindar whose wealth and status is diminishing in the wake of New India’s shifting economy. Kapur is an incredible writer but also an exceptional listener, allowing the truths of his characters (for lack of a better word) to come forth, offering a compelling glimpse into New Millenium India.

Another intriguing and challenging nonfiction work that I have read a few times is Poor People by William T. Vollmann. The title, and indeed the subject matter, strikes an initially uninviting chord but I highly recommend this book. Poor People shines a light onto the lives of people from around the world subsisting in various states of poverty. The crux of this book lies within the author’s question to all of his interviewees: “Why are you poor?” The answers to this question range from simple (“Because I don’t have a job”) to philosophical (“I think I am rich,” says Wan, a young, emaciated beggar-girl in Bangkok) to fatalistic (“Money just goes where it goes”). Vollmann’s work is insightful in his discussion of the nature of poverty. His writing is vivid, expressive  and journalistic in his presentation of his subjects’  lives. Vollmann makes no pretense of owning the solution to the blight of poverty but perhaps this book and others like it brings its readers a step closer to understanding our fellow man.

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