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

September 2013

captnunderpantsIn honor of banned books week last week, today’s post will discuss the popular children’s book series Captain Underpants by author Dav Pilkey.

The Captain Underpants series revolves around two fourth graders, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, and Captain Underpants himself, the superhero alter-ego of Mr. Krupp, the cruel and antagonistic school principal, who first becomes Captain Underpants after being hypnotized by the two boys. The book series includes 10 books and 3 spin-offs, and won a Disney Adventures Kids’ Choice Award in 2007.

And according to the American Library Association, it also has the distinction of being the most frequently challenged book of 2012. It has appeared on the list in the past but this is the first year it made it to the top spot; reasons cited were “Offensive language” and “unsuited for age group”. And admittedly, the subject matter, primarily toilet humor and gross-out gags, as well as a subversive and somewhat anti-authoritarian message, might raise eyebrows for some parents. But as children’s librarian Laura Giunta explains in this recent essay, banned books week is all about

[celebrating] the freedom to read, even if that includes reading material that others deem to be objectionable or inappropriate. The freedom to read is linked to our first amendment rights, specifically that we are not only entitled to our beliefs, but that we have the freedom to express them without the threat of censorship. Public and school libraries have a duty to uphold these rights and to provide a forum for all ideas to be represented, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them all. As outlined in the Library Bill of Rights, the library is not simply a place to get books, but one that affirms intellectual freedom – that is, an entity that ensures equal and uncensored access to information for all people, including information that represents varying viewpoints, beliefs, or cultural perspectives…As we celebrate “Banned Books Week,” we celebrate the freedom to read, not just for ourselves, but for everyone, including those with different beliefs, views, and values than our own. We celebrate the freedom to be subversive and irreverent, to dissent against the majority perspective, to challenge societal norms, and to disagree with authority.

So consider picking up a copy of Captain Underpants (or any of the many other frequently challenged books) and enjoy not only the “Action”, “Thrills” and “Laffs”, but also the freedom to read whatever you wish.


Sep 25 2013

National Computer Learning Month

by Glenda

computerDid you know that October is National Computer Learning Month? Did you know that there is a place in your community that offers computer classes every month? Did you know that these classes are free? The DeKalb County Public Library has twenty-two library locations and just about all of the locations offer free computer classes, all you have to do is call a location that is having a class and register. The library offers classes such as e-mail basics and classes on how to use Microsoft Office programs. In addition to these classes, some locations even offer Book-A-Librarian opportunities. Book-A-Librarian gives you the opportunity to ask a librarian any computer or research question and receive one-on-one assistance and advice from a librarian. You can’t beat that, and it’s FREE. So the next time you are in a library branch location pick up a monthly calendar (or check out the online calendar) and start taking some of these free computer classes. Come on, you know you want to learn all the cool stuff the kids are doing!


Sep 20 2013

Tech detox. Could you? Would you?

by Dea Anne M

I recently came across an article published this summer in the New York Times that profiles Camp Grounded in Navarro, CA, a three-day summer camp for adults. Campers relinquish their phones, computers, tablets and watches. There is no television. Furthermore, campers are not allowed to discuss their work or ages and each camper has a “camp name.” Camp diet is gluten-free and vegan. Camp Grounded is a creation of Digital Detox an Oakland based group that offers tech-free retreats. Their motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”

There’s something to be said for taking a tech break now and then in order to recharge. I know that part of what I find so profoundly relaxing about a vacation at the beach is that I wind up spending very little time in front of a screen and don’t pay attention to the clock. Instead, I read, walk, cook and just watch the water. Many experts today suggest creating a tech-free zone in one’s home. This may not be desirable to everyone, or even possible for some, but it’s certainly something to think about.

A recent article by Jay Turner of Georgia Public Libraries Continuing Education and Training discusses a keynote address delivered by Stacey Aldrich who is the Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Among the areas of future technology that libraries may be involved with,  Aldrich suggests that libraries may soon provide not only access to all sorts of technology but also to tech-free areas in which users will engage in “self-reflection or face-to-face communication with others.” And a  2011 article from American Libraries magazine discusses the possibility of libraries offering gadget-free zones and whether or not library patrons would use and appreciate these.


Where do you stand on the tech-free question? Do you provide yourself with “digital breaks” or do you like to stay wired?

If you’d like to do some reading on the effects and future of digital culture, try these titles available from DCPL.

{ 1 comment }

Sep 16 2013

Inspirations for a healthier life

by Jesse M

Reading Glenda’s post from last month about losing weight got me thinking about books I’ve read over the years that have inspired me to alter my diet or exercise habits. These are not diet or exercise books though. Rather, these books inspire lifestyle changes by providing information that challenges the reader to think about their everyday behaviors in a different way.

Stuffed and starved coverStuffed and starved: markets, power, and the hidden battle for the world’s food system by Raj Patel

In this eye-opening book, author Raj Patel takes readers on a journey through the global food system, demonstrating how both the problems of malnourishment and obesity are both symptomatic of the worldwide corporate food monopoly. Well sourced and argued, this book may make you think twice about alternatives when considering your next trip to the supermarket.

Born to run coverBorn to run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall

An epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? Part investigation of the biomechanics of running, part examination of ultra-marathons and their enthusiasts, McDougall takes readers into Mexico’s Copper Canyons to meet and learn from the Tarahumara Indians, who have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury utilizing only the simplest footwear. By the end of this book you’ll want to get up and go for a run yourself.

Hungry Planet coverHungry planet: what the world eats by Faith D’Aluisio

This award-winning book profiles 30 families from around the world and offers detailed descriptions of weekly food purchases; photographs of the families at home, at market, and in their communities; and a portrait of each family surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries. The photography is the real star of this book, especially the images of each family with one week of food. The disparity from country to country (and in some cases, across different regions of the same country) is often startling, and may cause readers to take a closer look at how much they themselves are consuming.

Stumbling on happiness coverStumbling on happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Written for a lay audience by Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, the central thesis of this book is that, through perception and cognitive biases, people imagine the future poorly, in particular what will make them happy. Gilbert discusses these issues and suggests ways that we can more accurately predict our future feelings and motivations. A major takeaway for me from this book was that if I wasn’t feeling motivated to do something now, it isn’t likely I’ll be miraculously more motivated later. This applies to all sorts of things in my life I have a tendency to procrastinate on, such as exercising, doing laundry, or starting a diet.


Sep 13 2013

Drawing from Life

by Rebekah B

Drawing of a woman by Pierre BonnardI like to think about drawing as the art of seeing.  Have you ever noticed that very young children can see so much better than adults do?  And I am not talking about acuity of vision as measured by an optometrist!  Very young children (below age 3) actually see more and better than everyone else, because they look with their eyes and not with their minds.  In other words, young, pre-verbal children are not yet limited by the conditioning of images, symbols, and language.  Many years ago, I caught a glimpse of this ability through my friend Elizabeth’s daughter Melina, then a toddler, perhaps 18 months old.  Melina was in her parent’s bedroom, and I was watching her.  A tall armoire with mirrored doors lined one wall of the room, and onto one of those doors was taped a reproduction of a Pierre Bonnard painting (Drawing of a woman, right) representing a woman standing in front of a mirror.  I observed Melina adopt the exact same pose of the woman in the painting as she looked in the mirror.  Amazing!

When my son was small, I quickly noticed that he was very observant of detail.  He would remember our friends’ apartment numbers and knew which button to press on the elevator when we visited their buildings.  Close to the ground, his line of sight was naturally low, and we would enjoy walking together and pointing out patterns, colors, signs, objects that we would find.

drawing from life Left: Some of my own life drawings and sketches

And so, for a person who has already received a lifetime of conditioning, learning to draw is the equivalent of learning to see once again.  No longer will you look at a tree and see a lollipop on a stick, or some variation on that theme.  No longer will you be able to look at a face and not embrace each feature with your eyes.  There are many books and classes whose purpose is to teach you to draw.  There is technique, and there is expression.  Above all, there is seeing.  Even if you never learn to draw properly—and it is a skill that can be learned by anyone who so desires—learning to see will bring you great satisfaction in your life, from moment to moment. Careful observation will also improve your memory.  When you are waiting in line, you can observe everything around you in great detail.  Drawing is a form of meditation, a love poem to the present moment, and the connection of self to the world.

drawingsRight: More of my own drawings & a DCPL book about drawing hands

If you are interested in connecting to the present moment and your experience of the real, then pick up a nice sketchbook, a few graphite pencils, colored pencils, sharpies, watercolors…whatever suits your fancy, and keep them with you in your car, your purse, at home.  Take the time to observe your surroundings and to caress them with your eyes and your  mind.  Although I have been very near-sighted most of my life, I am so very grateful for my ability to see, and when I sit down to draw, I really feel at home in the world and in myself.

DCPL has some nice titles that replicate artist’s sketchbooks as well as instructional books about drawing.  Other books are more philosophical, relating to the theme of seeing and drawing.  Have fun opening your eyes!

Here are a few titles to peruse at your leisure:

Below:  Sketch of reclining figure and face from a session at the Apache Art Café

reclining figure


Sep 9 2013

World Trade Center Remembered

by Hope L


“My God. What these people went through. I just cannot imagine it.” — John Kirby, who  had visited the World Trade Center as a 12-year-old during construction of Building Number 7 and made this comment when he was assisting in the rescue/recovery/cleanup of the demolished WTC site.

On  this 12th anniversary of the fall of the World Trade Center, I remember the people that were lost, but also the buildings, and the icon that was the symbol of New York.

Personally, I found it incredible when a friend told me of her experience that day working in an outer building in the WTC complex.  The thought of her and other workers casually walking from their building and leaving Manhattan, only to find out later exactly what had happened by watching it on television and learning that their building, too, had eventually collapsed, just amazed me.

City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center by James Glanz and Eric Lipton, is the chronicle of the buildings and the people who fought to make them happen, as well as the destruction years later of the famous landmark.

Brace yourself. This book is not for the faint of heart; but it is an important book  because no matter what we already know about that day and how much time  has passed,  it reminds us of the stark terror that was 9/11.  And as steel worker John Kirby said, it is unimaginable.

Part history, architecture, forensics—and just sheer physics—the book ties together all things World Trade Center: from its politically-charged, controversial start (the razing of the mostly retail electronics businesses of Radio City) through its construction, profitability, tenants and finally its untimely collapse.  Just the details regarding the construction of such a tall (at that time a world record) structure fascinated me.

Danny Doyle, who had helped build the WTC some 30 years ago and was part of the site cleanup, cried out upon seeing a “distinct mound of debris set into the pile (of collapsed buildings), about six feet high, with strands of wire and pieces of rebar sticking out. It looked like layers of sediment that had turned into rock and been lifted up on some mountainside. From one to ten he counted the layers, before it began to dawn on him just what he was looking at: …here were ten stories of the south tower, compacted into an area of about six feet.”

Indeed, most of the recovery crew “never saw a desk, chair, telephone or file cabinet.” Or, as first responder and NY Deputy Fire Chief Charles Blaich said upon arriving at the scene of the collapse: “Where did everything go?”.

Unimaginable, too, are the factoids found throughout this book: the first jet which hit the north tower hit at approximately 460 mph, with the second hitting the south tower at 560 mph; when the top of the south tower hit the ground, it was moving at an estimated 120 mph;  and another deduction: at one thousand degrees, steel has softened enough to lose half its original strength.

I could not stop reading this book. It is thorough, if not complete, and has put forth an astonishing array of information into a fairly reader-friendly book. Just prepare to be very sad—if not disturbed—for some of the book is … well, as steel worker Doyle put it regarding the recovery site: “Welcome to hell. This is ugly, ugly.”

On this September 11, may we all remember the gravity of this tragedy and the souls that were lost.


Sep 6 2013

Librarianship by the book

by Dea Anne M

I just finished a book—the type of book for which the coinage “unputdownable”NOS4A2 was invented in the first place—in which a librarian plays a pivotal character. She has purple hair, dresses in a decidedly punk style, and uses scrabble tiles to spell out the answers to the questions that she asks. The character is Maggie Leigh and the book is Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. If you’re a fan of horror fiction (which I am), I cannot recommend the book highly enough. I couldn’t wait to get home everyday to start reading again, and though the book (at nearly 700 pages) is hefty, it is well worth every spine-tingling second you’ll spend reading it.

I started wondering…what other fiction features librarians as characters?historian

There are many fictional portrayals of librarians as it turns out. Not so flattering is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova which features a librarian/ vampire.  And you wouldn’t want to run into Ardelia Lortz from the novella “The Library Policeman” in Stephen King’s collection Four Past Midnight. She is as horrific a creation as you are likely to find anywhere.

un lun dunLibrarians can be adventurers too. Consider Margarita Staples “Extreme Librarian and Bookaneer.” As part of the fantastic world that China Mieville creates in Un Lun Dun, Margarita, and her fellow librarians, use ropes and pick axes to climb mountain size shelves—sometimes battling shelf monkeys—in order to retrieve needed volumes.  Or check out Alexander Short, the beleaguered, and somewhat obsessive, reference librarian who undertakes a commission to search for Marie Antoinette’s missing watch—the title object of The Grand Complication, the very well-received 2001 novel by Alan Kurzweil.

loveIn Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife , Henry DeTamble, the time traveler of the title, works as a librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Or you might try Elizabeth Peter’s popular series featuring irrepressible Nebraska librarian Jacqueline Kirby. Die for Love and The Murders of Richard III are two of these titles at DCPL.

If you’re a fan of smart chick-lit, you might try The Dewey Decimal System of Love by Josephine Carr or Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi.

One of my favorite collections of graphic novels is the Sandman series written by Neil Gaiman. A recurring character in the series is Lucien who watches over the Library of Dreams which contains every book that anyone has ever dreamed of writing.

Finally, who says that librarians can’t be superheroes? Not James Turnerrex whose Rex Libris series of graphic novels feature a titular character who is both Head Librarian at Middleton Public Library and an immortal gifted with special powers. Rex does battle with samurai warriors who attempt to take out books without library cards and tracks down galactic warlords and their overdue items. At all times, he vows to “fight the forces of ignorance and darkness.” Start with Rex Libris: I, Librarian then move on to Rex Libris: Book of Monsters.

Do you have a favorite fictional librarian?