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community

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.

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Feb 5 2010

A new breed of community libraries

by Jesse M

With the global economy still reeling from the sub-prime housing crisis and its various aftershocks, governments everywhere are feeling the pinch, particularly at the local levels.  Budgets have been slashed and when the hard decisions must be made as to how to balance them, departments considered to be “non-essential” are usually first on the chopping block.  Sadly, this category often includes the local library.  The Dekalb County Public Library system has been very fortunate and hasn’t been forced to make any service reductions or branch closures, however others have not been so lucky. In this environment of reduced and discontinued services, a few communities have decided to take matters into their own hands.

In Hannover, Germany, some neighborhoods are served by a community bookshelf. The shelves are placed in various areas around the city and completely free and accessible to all. Borrowers don’t need library cards, nor must they worry about overdue fines. In return, all that is asked of borrowers is that they donate a couple of books of their own in order to ensure that a healthy supply is available.

In Westbury-sub-Mendip, a small village in southwest England, residents raised an outcry when they learned they were to lose their “beloved” red phone booth, fresh on the heels of the discontinuation of their mobile library service. So when one creative resident suggested transforming the phone booth into a miniature library, the idea was accepted immediately. The parish council purchased the red phone booth, outfitted it with four wooden shelves, residents donated books (and a notice reading “Silence please”), and the mini-library began operation. It quickly became a hit. The library is open 24/7 (it is lit at night), and the inventory is checked regularly in order to identify titles which are not circulating (which are then donated to charity), in order to keep the selection fresh. And the residents of Westbury-sub-Mendip are not the only ones who have had the bright idea to re-purpose a phone booth. British Telecom has received 770 applications from communities to “adopt a kiosk”, and thus far 350 booths have been distributed to parish councils throughout England.

I’d love to have something like this in my neighborhood, how about you?

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