Monthly Archives: May 2011

Take Good Care of Your Teeth

I am able to think of little else this morning other than the dental appointment I have later today. I haven’t been to the dentist in years, and I must admit I’m a little nervous. I used to actually enjoy my yearly visits to the dentist as a kid—the new shiny toothbrush and travel sized toothpaste they would give you after your teeth were cleaned, along with a sticker, or a plastic toy, or (once, oddly) a ceramic turtle figurine.

There is no doubt in my mind that my teeth are likely a mess, and that I will not be receiving either a sticker or a turtle today and will probably instead be reminded of the importance of flossing and sent home with my tail between my legs.

To assuage my dental fears, I decided to see what kinds of books the library has on dentistry. Behold! We carry books on all manner of dentistry subjects—from the history of dentistry to dentistry dictionaries to dentistry songs and music. And of course, we also carry quite a few books about the importance of basic dental care.

Think it may be time to take your own trip to the dentist, but don’t have dental insurance? There is a handy list of dental services for the uninsured on the Be Well! Pittsburgh website.

Happy brushing (and flossing),


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Resume and Cover Letter Assistance

We’re proud to announce the return of Resume and Cover Letter Assistance in the Job & Career Education Center.  A qualified volunteer will be available on Wednesday nights from 6 – 8 pm.  Please call the JCEC at 412-622-3133 to schedule an appointment.

Obviously, nothing compares to one-on-one time with another human being.  But if you need help immediately, or you just can’t get to Oakland, we have other options.  I’ve already blogged about the library’s online resume software  – Resume Maker (when the next page pops up, just enter your library card number to gain access).  The JCEC also collects the most current resume and cover letter guides we can find, and you can request them to be sent to any library in Allegheny County.

And of course, if you have questions about any of these resources, or about your job search in general, don’t hesitate to give us a call, send an email, or stop by.



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Last Wednesday evening I stepped off Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian onto the platform of Pittsburgh’s spartan Amtrak station. On the next track twin burgundy locomotives idled, coupled to three Pennsylvania Railroad cars. It was not hard to imagine myself tracking along on this gleaming private train.

The lead engine’s number was easy to remember. Did the 5711 belong to Heinz corporation??

When I was a kid family vacations included train museums, train excursions, counting train cars, and model railroad exhibits. Standing next to a working private train last week gave me a thrill, and may have pushed me from casual railfan to ferroequinologist, a term for “one who studies iron horses,” or—a train geek.

Photograph by Dan Davidson from the Akron Railroad Club Blog. "The Pennsy E units pass by MP 211 in Amherst, Ohio, on May 8, 2011, at 3:48 p.m."

I tugged on my railroad research cap. The 5711 locomotive, its twin, number 5809, and the three cars it pulls, are owned by a Philadelphia-area businessman. After overnighting in Pittsburgh, 5711 and company would continued choo-chooing to Chicago to celebrate National Train Day, Saturday, May 7. Officially, numbers 5711 and 5809 are Pennsylvania Railroad E8s traveling on this trip as an “Amtrak Special.” They would be featured in Chicago’s Union Station Train Day rail equipment display.

Manufactured for PRR in 1951 by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division, the locomotives were restored at the Juniata Locomotive Shops in Altoona, PA. One blogger wrote that they were “beautifully restored to full PRR livery, right down to their trainphone antennae.”

The PRR E8 5711 on this book cover!

A catalog search and a walk up the Library stairs to the Pennsylvania Department’s railroad section revealed a long train’s worth of history. Books that caught my eye include The Pennsylvania Railroad: A Pictorial History by Edwin P. Alexander, Pennsylvania Railroad by Mike Schafer and Brian Solomon, and Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broadway Limited by Joe Welsh.

A quick dip into the world of trainspotting (ferroequinology!) offers ample documentation of the PRR E8 5711/5809 recent Chicago journey. According to one spotter, this train last made a journey west in 2004. Last week it traveled in bright spring sunshine. Still photos and videos posted on various train-related web sites are glorious. They can’t compare, though, with standing next to it. Riding would be even better.



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Templar Allure Casts Long Shadow

On this day in 1310 A.D., France burned 54 members of the Knights Templar at the stake.  Seeking to punish these holy warriors for sins both real and imagined, and to seize the considerable wealth the Templars had accumulated as de facto bankers in the Holy Land, Pope Clement V and his lieutenants in France forever cemented the order’s place in the lore of the Western world.

A lot of interesting books about the Templars and the history of that period exist; here’s a short list of some of them:

Dungeon, Fire And Sword : The Knights Templar In The Crusades / John J. Robinson

God’s Warriors : Crusaders, Saracens And The Battle For Jerusalem / Helen Nicholson and David Nicolle

The Knights Templar In The New World : How Henry Sinclair Brought The Grail To Acadia / William F. Mann

The Secret Scroll / Andrew Sinclair

The Templar Code For Dummies / by Christopher Hodapp and Alice von Kannon

Although not specifically about the Templars, Osprey publishes a wonderful treatise on the Third Crusade which sets up the conditions upon which the Order gained their temporal power in the Holy Land. The book is:

The Third Crusade 1191 : Richard The Lionheart, Saladin And The Struggle For Jerusalem / David Nicolle

Keep in mind that the Templars and the cottage industry that has grown up around their study constitute a scholarly “mine-field” of sensationalism and pseudo history.  Even so, the Templars and the books born from their study make for dynamite reading.


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Living on the prairie

I’ve been reading a lot of books about Little House on the Prairie lately. I loved the books as a child (and adult), and even though the show had little to do with the actual stories, I remember watching that often as well.

Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale: A Memoir kicked off my Little House reading.  For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Gilbert was the star– the cute and scrappy pioneer kid, Laura Ingalls.  In real life, she hung out with the Brat Pack actors and actresses and dated a young Rob Lowe. Gilbert, like many child stars, grew up to battle drug addiction and she writes frankly about her struggles.  But it’s her descriptions of the behind-the-scenes Little House on the Prairie that were the real draw of this book for me.

Not long after Gilbert’s book came out, it was followed by  Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Olson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim, the actress who played Nellie Olson on the show.  If you’ve read the books or seen the show, I’m sure you remember Nellie.  For those of you who haven’t, Nellie was a spoiled little girl who was a thorn in Laura’s side for years.  Laura and Nellie competed in the books, but the TV show took their enmity to new levels.  Arngrim’s book is another great read for Little House fans.

My current read is called The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, by Wendy McClure.  Unlike the previous two books, this one focuses less on the TV show and more on the books.  It follows the author as she delves into the world of the Little House books, going to see the places where the Ingalls family lived, learning how to churn butter, and learning more about what Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life was really like.  (As it turns out, there was more than a little embellishment in those books!)

The real Ingalls family. From left: Caroline, Carrie, Laura, Charles, Grace, and Mary. Photo is in the public domain, located on Wikimedia Commons.

McClure’s description of the TV show got me so curious that I had to check it out from the library and watch a couple of episodes myself.  Maybe I’ve become a bit too jaded, but I found all those “heartwarming” story lines a little hard to stomach.  I had stopped watching the show after a few episodes, but I’ll probably continue my Little House reading with the series itself. Or, despite never having been a huge Mary fan, I may decide to round out my reading with The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House, by Melissa Anderson, the actress who played Mary on the show.

Any other Little House fans out there?  I’d love to hear your take on the show and the books!



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On May 2, 2011, the Polyphonic Polymaths, a trivia team composed mostly of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh staff, won second prize in the World Tavern Trivia National Championships, held in Atlantic City, NJ. The team’s reward for having brains stuffed to the gills with random facts?  $2,000 in cash, and a really spiffy plaque:

2nd place plaque

Library workers know things...

 Don’t hate us because we know things.  If you, too, have aspirations of winning fame and fortune in trivia competitions — perhaps next year’s Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council Trivia Bowl? — then stop by the library and stock up on selections from our vast storehouse of facts and miscellanea.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Just can’t get enough random, obscure information?  Try searching the catalog for Questions and Answers, Curiosities and Wonders, or the sinister-sounding, yet perfectly inoccuous, heading of Handbooks Vade Mecums Etc..  Drop that one casually in front of your opponents before the trivia contest begins, and you’ll win on the sheer intimidation factor alone.  Just remember to be gracious in victory, and never forget that no matter how much you know, there will always be something more to learn.

Leigh Anne
already studying for next year


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Check Out Claude Thornhill

You might be somewhat familiar with the biggest names from the big band era of the 1930s and 40s: Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and perhaps even the uncompromising Stan Kenton.  They’re all good.

But I feel like one of my jobs as a librarian is to preserve and promote the work of the deserving yet overlooked.

So I’m simply recommending that you check out Claude Thornhill and his orchestra.  They did more ballads than jumpin’ numbers so it’s not the bombastic blaring of powerhouse big bands.  It’s a more subtle sound that’s often dreamy without being too syrupy.  If you need any more convincing, consider that the cool sound that Miles Davis and Gil Evans “birthed” in 1949-50 was largely indebted to Claude Thornhill.  Evans was a former arranger for Thornhill.

A few more tidbits:

  • To see the connection between Claude Thornhill and one of my favorite Pittsburgh jazz vocalists, Maxine Sullivan, check out this post.

Enjoy the music of Claude and his contemporaries!

– Tim


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Are You the Library’s Friend?

Did you know that the library has Friends? No, I’m not talking about the kind you find on Facebook. (But yes, we have those too!) I’m talking about a group of library users who support the library, its collections and services through fundraising and advocacy activities.

Each branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (and most likely your local library too, wherever you might be) has a Friends group. Depending on which neighborhood library you visit, this group might be very active or it may have only a few loyal members.  It might be in the process of revitalization, or, as in the case of the Main Library in Oakland, trying to get started almost from scratch.

The Friends of the Main Library in Oakland is seeking input from those who live and work in the Oakland area, those who use the Main Library as their branch, and anyone interested in supporting this grand old building and the services it provides to library customers.  If that describes you and you have a minute to spare, please click on this link and fill out the Friends of the Main Library Interest Survey.   I promise you that it’s quick and painless.  We really need your input and guidance to make this burgeoning group a success.  We, quite literally, can’t do it without you.

Do you value your library, want to make a difference that impacts your whole community, and have even a few hours to spare? I implore you to seek out your local library’s Friends group and join. I think you’ll be surprised at what you can contribute, what you’ll learn, and how enjoyable it will be.

-Melissa M.

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Square Azaleas

As I was walking to work today, I happened past a building with square azaleas in front of it.  You know you’ve seen them: a wildly-blooming bush full of bright pink or yellow flowers that has been trimmed into a formal shape, as if to keep it in check.  As if we wouldn’t want those gorgeous flowers to get out of control and take over the landscape.  Seeing people taming nature that way reminds me of all the ways that our various human tendencies limit beauty, often from our trying to do what we think is right.

While that phenomenon brings me a certain amount of melancholy, I am fortunate to have books and movies that counter that feeling.  For example, I just recently read Claire Dederer’s Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, a memoir of a young woman and her struggle with perfectionism.  She sends her back into agonizing spasms trying to be the perfect mom and decides to try yoga, which gives her a choice of continuing that painful path or trying another.  Another author who writes about the process of coming into a more authentic sense of self (which I seem to be interpreting as beauty) is Sue Monk Kidd.  Both the main character in her novel The Mermaid Chair, and she herself in her memoir The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, experience a profound blossoming that, while perhaps rather messy-looking, brings them closer to who they truly are.

One movie, originally a play, that portrays the beauty of one woman letting herself go a little wild is Shirley Valentine.  In it, a bored and lonely housewife in Liverpool gets an opportunity to go to Greece for a vacation and risks her marriage to do so.

Lest you think that this theme applies only to women, let me tell you about Donald Miller and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  While writing the screenplay based on his book Blue Like Jazz, Miller realizes that due to a certain amount of risk aversion and laziness, his life lacks the elements that make both stories and life interesting.  Inspired to make some small changes, he finds himself in a completely new and beautiful way of living.

Of course it’s your turn now.  Tell me how much you love perfectly trimmed bushes, or send me suggestions for books or movies about the beauty of going wild.


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“We are at our best when our poems are as vast and varied as the American people are,” poet Jericho Brown said during the Academy of American Poets Forum in October of last year. His remarks,  among the highlights of the three day forum, were part of the Emerging Poets Panel discussion at The Philoctetes Center in New York City, which posted the discussion in its entirety on YouTube.

cover of PleaseSoon after I attended, I checked out Jericho Brown’s poetry collection Please. Please is organized into four sections: Repeat, Pause, Power and Stop. Throughout, Brown emphasizes the double meaning of these words; “power” is the button that turns on the turntable or the mp3 player, but it also signifies the dynamic between people. The musical theme continues in a cycle of poems whose titles are all numbered tracks and whose content references song lyrics. Other poems reference The Wizard of Oz or Biblical passages.

These devices serve as entry points for Brown’s intimate explorations of love and violence and their intersections. Sometimes those lines fall between lovers, sometimes between father and son, sometimes within crime-ridden neighborhoods. He addresses issues of desire, identity, abuse, racism and homophobia.

Brown sidesteps fluidly from vernacular to elevated language, from “Turn the volume down./ Let me tell you something” in “Idea for an Album: Vandross, the Duets” to “No ash behind, I burn to bloom./ I am not consumed. I am not consumed” in “The Burning Bush.”

I can tell you that the poems are well crafted and ring with authenticity, and that they are as powerful as the poet’s statement quoted above, but the best endorsement of  Brown’s book is his poetry itself. Below is the poem “Like Father,” which you can hear the poet read at From the Fishouse:

Like Father

My father’s embrace is tighter
Now that he knows
He is not the only man in my life.
He whispers, Remember when, and, I love you,
As he holds my hand hungry
For a discussion of Bible scriptures
Over breakfast. He pours cups of coffee
I can’t stop

My father’s embrace is firm and warm
Now that he knows. He begs forgiveness
For anything he may have done to make me
Turn to abomination
As he watches my eggs, scrambled
Soft. Yolk runs all over the plate.
A rubber band binds the morning paper.

My father’s embrace tightens. Grits
Stiffen. I hug back
Like a little boy, gripping
To prove his handshake.
Daddy squeezes me close,
But I cannot feel his heartbeat
And he cannot hear mine—
There is too much flesh between us,
Two men in love.


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