Monthly Archives: August 2009

My Favorite Dance Movies

Two upcoming movie releases, the DVD release of Dance Flick (Oct. 6) and the theatrical release of an updated Fame (Sept. 25), got me thinking about my favorite dance movies. 

In the category of “good” dance films (those that actually have good storylines and good acting) I’ll start with All That Jazz (1979). This movie, based on the life of legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, is filled with plenty of his signature-style choreography.   Then there is the original Fame (1980).  Not strictly a dance film, Fame follows the drama and trauma of students at a performing arts high school in New York. I recently re-watched this film and had forgotten just how unresolved, and in some ways unsatisfying, the various storylines are, but I still think it’s great. The film inspired a TV series in the early 80s and the upcoming remake with a stellar cast.


It seems that most of the other dance films I’d label as “good” revolve around ballet.  They include Billy Elliot (2000), whose title character is the son of a miner who stumbles on a ballet class on his way to boxing practice.  This movie argues it’s okay for boys to dance!  Then there is The Company (2003), a very realistic portrayal of the world inside a professional dance company, directed by Robert Altman and starring Neve Campbell, who, unlike many actor leads in dance films, has some actual talent (she trained as a ballet dancer before injuries pushed her towards acting).  The film features the actual dancers of the Joffrey Ballet in beautiful pieces that you’ll want to see live.  And, of course, there’s The Turning Point (1977), starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft as old ballet friends who have taken different paths, each one jealous of the other.  One became a famous ballerina, the other a mother and dance teacher whose daughter is now pursuing her own career in dance.  Mikhail Baryshnikov stars as one of the male leads, and some of the best dancers of the time serve as guest artists, so the dancing is fantastic.  It was also nominated for 11 Oscars, including pretty much all the major categories.                                     

 In the category of “bad” dance movies (those that have ridiculous storylines and/or laughable acting), I have to start with Flashdance (1983).  Not only is it set in Pittsburgh, it’s got a sexy female welder, romance, an underdog takes on the establishment story line, and it made the off-the-shoulder sweatshirt hot fashion.  Follow that up with Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1984), a quintessential 80’s movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt. SJP plays a Catholic school girl who loves to dance. Her rebellious friend (Hunt) connives a way to get her out of her military dad’s house and to the audition for the hottest dance show on TV.  Can they pull it off?  Plenty of big hair, bad clothes, and very jazzy dance routines.  I can’t quite decide whether Saturday Night Fever belongs in the “good” or “bad” category, because it’s surprisingly good for a disco movie, but mostly I love it because it is so iconic.  Plus, I’d really love to learn some of the complete routines to try out the next time I go dancing.

Here’s a list of a few other dance movies, all of which I have enjoyed at least once. You can decide which ones are “good” versus “bad”:


Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo
A Chorus Line
Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Happy Feet
Save the Last Dance
Shall We Dance
Staying Alive
Step Up
Step Up 2: The Streets
Stomp the Yard
Strictly Ballroom
Take the Lead
That’s the Way I Like It
White Nights


– Sarah


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To Be of Use: Stories of Labor and Identity in Southwestern PA

This coming Sunday, August 30th, is a special Labor Day installment of the Sunday Poetry & Reading Series.  Influenced by the work of Studs Terkel, local researcher and writer Chuck Lanigan created the Working Pittsburgh Project, which he has presented recently in several locations around the city, and will bring to CLP this Sunday.  The presentation’s title, To Be of Use, comes from a Marge Piercy poem of the same name.  What better time than just before Labor Day to meditate on our city’s legacy of work and workers?

The description of the event really says it all:

Southwestern Pennsylvania has a rich history of labor. From the beginning, the region and its individuals have identified themselves through the work they do. From mining coal to manufacturing steel, the stories workers told about themselves and which were told about them reinforced (or undermined) a sense of community and pride in their skills and value.

Now Southwestern Pennsylvania is reinventing itself for the global economy. Individuals and communities must adapt to new technologies, acquire new skills and pursue new opportunities. As their predecessors faced challenges pursuing a livelihood, workers now confront new financial uncertainty and shifting economic terrain laden with peril and possibility.

Join local writer and presenter Chuck Lanigan as he reflects on the changing nature of work and what it means to our sense of self as individuals and communities in the region. Weaving material drawn from first-hand interviews with contemporary workers in the ‘burgh together with fictional and non-fiction accounts from Southwestern Pennsylvania’s labor history, he shares stories we think we know, but seldom hear.

To Be of Use: Stories of Labor and Identity in Southwestern PA will take place Sunday from 2 to 3 pm at CLP Main. We hope you make it! If you have any questions, please contact us at 412-622-3151.


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Join the club

Book clubs have been quite the rage for a number of years—I’m sure that Oprah’s Book Club made no small contribution to this craze.  People of all ages and backgrounds are recognizing the social and intellectual benefits of discussing fine literature and popular nonfiction books.  I recently became a part of a book club collaboration between a local retirement home and CLP.  Here’s how it works: We request a book club kit from the Catalog, and a couple of days later a kit containing 15 copies of a book and some discussion materials arrive.  We then distribute them to the participants.  A CLP volunteer and recent University of Pittsburgh School of Library and Information Science graduate named Kate begins the book club by introducing the book with author interviews, biography information and professional book reviews.   The first book the group is reading  is the über-memorable memoir The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

Books in the Afternoon, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s oldest book club, focuses on contemporary fiction.  We are currently reading The Monsters of Templeton, a story of what might happen if James Fenimore Cooper’s modern-day descendant were a 28-year old young woman who grew up in a fictionalized Cooperstown, left, and then returned in disgrace after having a disastrous affair with her married archaeology professor.  In this case, the town is Templeton, and the main character, Willie, is told by her mother upon her return that her father was not a nameless hippie but one of the men of Templeton.  Willie then uses her research skills to learn about the sensational history of her family and of the town in her quest to learn the identity of her father.  We are discussing The Monsters of Templeton on September 17 at 1 pm and 6 pm.

Oh, did I mention a 50-foot dead monster?  And ghosts?

You’ll have to read the book. 



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Unlikely Rare Books: Sailor Moon

Back when I started college and got my first credit card, I built a pretty impressive manga collection. But when I finished college and had to pay that credit card bill, I sold most of my books and only kept the sets that I thought were particularly nifty.

One of the things that I kept was Naoko Takeuchi’s 18 volume Sailor Moon, which (in the English version at least) contains three titles: Sailor Moon (vols. 1 – 11), Sailor Moon Super S (or Supers, or SuperS, vols. 1 – 4), and Sailor Moon Stars (vols. 1 – 3).


And boy, am I glad I kept these. And that I kept them in super pristine “I’m a librarian” condition. Why? Because they’re out of print, and have been for a few years now. Suddenly I’ve become a rare book collector.

I know. Sailor Moon. Really. Who’d have thought it?

Of course, a rare book is only as valuable as what someone is willing to pay for it. So if you think you have a rare book and you want to see what it’s worth, where do you go?

The easy way is to start on the internet with sites like these:

  • – One of my Sailor Moons goes for $145 here, but that’s pretty unusual.
  • – Prices here vary from $38 to…$1,499. Wow.
  • – About $25 here, which is the most reasonable.

Prices vary based on the condition of the books as well. For example, if you just want to read the darn things and not preserve them for the ages, you can easily get a copy for $10 or less.

If the internet is not for you, use the library’s trusty price guides (though I doubt you’ll find Sailor Moon in here):

And you can look under these subject headings:

Now that I know what Sailor Moon is really worth, you can bet your Silver Imperium Crystals that my books are insured and properly stored. And no, you can’t borrow them.

If you would like to read Sailor Moon, there are a few stray volumes floating around our wonderful county libraries – but don’t get any ideas about them. By the time a library gets through with a book (laminating, recovering, stamping, stickering, and barcoding) it loses its resale value.

The moral of this post? Be nice to your books; you never know what will turn out to be valuable!

– Amy


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Notes From an Intern

Today’s guest post is from Tanya, one of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Minority Interns for 2009. The CLP Minority Summer Intern program is a grant-funded internship program–courtesy of the Heinz Endowments designed to encourage minority participation in the field of library/information science. The internship offers students of varying backgrounds the opportunity to learn about and experience the internal workings of a dynamic library. The internship was directed toward students who are enrolled either in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program.

So what’s a job at the library like?  Maybe you know the library from the few simple clicks it takes you to request the books and DVDs online that neatly end up on a shelf with your name on them that day.  Or perhaps you know the library from the attractive and abundant displays of bestsellers and online booklists created by a team of professional librarians.  Behind the scenes, myriad decisions are made daily just to keep the library humming at a pace that includes hundreds of new library card sign-ups and thousands of items moved around the system every month. 

I have never been witness to more individuals caring about the progress and development of the whole “library family” than during my internship.  Puzzled over a question about electronic resources?  A colleague will be by your side in no time.  Unsure about where to find railroad statistics from 1876?  A reference librarian who has worked with older periodicals will know.  This patient and caring attitude extends beyond customer service into the dealings between colleagues behind the scenes.

While at the Carrick branch, I faced questions like “How do I set up my DTV converter?” and “Can you help me find tax forms?”  I managed to answer both of these to the patrons’ liking.  While in Oakland I made my first booklist and book displays, and selected new titles for the upcoming year from small press catalogs.  My greatest joy, however, was teaching a patron how to request his own materials online.  This made my job worthwhile—the act of teaching people to help themselves is incredibly rewarding.

I met many people during my stay at the library and had many bits of essential information passed on to me.  The statement that stuck with me the most was that of a long-time manager telling me, “The library is the last great social contract.  You come in, you give us your address and phone number, and we let you leave with hundreds of dollars of materials, no questions asked.”  But the truth of the matter is that a lot of time and diligence goes into replacing, repairing and paying for lost, stolen, or damaged items.  What does it say about us—the citizenry—when we accept educational budget cuts in the name of something more important?  Or about the individual who returns an item tattered and dog-eared? 

If you are curious as to where the future of our country lies, morally and as a republic, I suggest taking a look at your local library and its future.  How important is your library to you, and what will you gain or lose should it no longer be “free to the people”?

I can’t be grateful enough to everyone and everything that made my internship possible, from the Heinz grant to my bosses, who trusted me enough to give me  real responsibilities.  In the future, the library will be in the forefront of my mind.  I hope that the library will continue to function in the capacity it does today, including the support of internships like mine.


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Fictional Reference Books for Most Library Collections

Ever wish you could add fictional reference books to your library’s reference collection? If I could, this is what I would add:

The Encyclopedia Galactica — What self-respecting librarian wouldn’t want access to Isaac Asimov’s immense encyclopedia containing all the knowledge of futuristic civilizations?

Handbook for the Recently Deceased — Libraries shouldn’t discriminate against the deceased, so every reference collection should carry a copy of this guide from Beetlejuice.

The Book of the Brothers — In George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, this massive tome collects the history of every knight who’s ever served in the much vaunted Kingsguard, the bodyguards of the king of Westeros. This one comes complete with a bleached white leather cover and gold hinges — think your library’s budget could handle it?

Tobin’s Spirit Guide — A ghost identification tool used by the Ghostbusters that could be useful to local ghosthunting organizations.

The Slayer’s Handbook — This is the guide to vampire slaying in one of the finest television shows ever produced, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Maybe it would come with a complimentary subscription to Demons, Demons, Demons, a database featured in Buffy’s spinoff show, Angel.

What fictional reference books would you add to a library collection?



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Gamer Fiction Update

Regular readers of Eleventh Stack know I am a fan of gamer fiction. In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Inquisition stands between mankind and those forces that would destroy it. In a galaxy where humanity’s continued existence rests on a knife edge, they are an organization that is both terrible and necessary.

Fans of Dan Abnett’s Inquisitor fiction for the Black Library can exalt in the arrival of Ravenor: The Omnibus. This thick trade paperback collects all three of Abnett’s previously published Ravenor novels. Ravenor is the physically crippled but psychically powerful Inquisitor whose adventures follow those of his mentor, Gregor Eisenhorn.

Told in the eponymous Eisenhorn Omnibus, the tale of Ravenor’s one-time master is one of tragedy and difficult choices. It is during one of those moments of tragedy that Ravenor himself is forever changed, horribly burned and crippled during the massacre of the Spatian Gate. These physical injuries unlock Ravenor’s true psychic potential, and he survives to continue the work of the Inquisition through his capable field operatives.

Both of these books offer the kind of Warhammer 40,000 fiction I am most fond of: small unit actions mostly not involving Space Marines. I just don’t find the trials and travails of a group of 7′ super-men all that compelling, but give me an Inquisitor and his eclectic band of loyal servants, some Chaos cultists as the opposition, and I am happy as a clam!

You don’t have to read them in order, but if you’re a stickler for such things, read Eisenhorn first, and Ravenor second. Both books also offer previously unreleased short stories by Abnett that fill in some of the gaps in continuity between the individual books. In the annals of gamer fiction, I hold these two groups of stories among the finest.

You can find a list of all of Dan Abnett’s stuff available at the Carnegie Library here.


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Pop star or author?

“Dan Brown didn’t get his start as a writer. Oh, no. Before he penned thrillers like The Da Vinci Code, Brown worked as a pop singer and songwriter. His second solo album, Angels & Demons, even shared its title with one of his literary juggernauts.”  – From Mental_Floss, Surprising Facts About 15 Bestselling Authors by Ethan Trex – June 23, 2009

Were you as surprised as I was to read this fact about Dan Brown? Not only that writing wasn’t his first career path, but that he was a pop singer. And he used the same title for one of his novels and one of his albums. That stopped me in my tracks.
So this got me to thinking. What if other popular authors had their beginnings in the music industry? How well would their book titles translate to album titles?
Would Danielle Steel be singing Country & Western with Palomino and A Good Woman or Soft Rock with Matters of the Heart and One Day at a Time?  Of course, Janet Evanovich would be performing for the kiddie set with her titles that sound like a counting game: One for the Money and Two for the Dough.  The same would hold true for James Patterson with his works including Along Came a Spider and Jack & Jill.
What kind of band do you think Stephen King would be in with such titles as Misery, Cujo, and Pet Sematary?  Actually, Stephen King is already in a band made up of famous authors.  And how do they sound?  Well, Dave Barry, one of the other authors in the band, states that “This band plays music as well as Metallica writes novels.”  Now, that’s a glowing review if I’ve ever heard one.

So how many of the classic, bestselling books of all time would have made good album titles too?  Would you buy a CD with Catcher in the Rye as its title?  Guns N’ Roses recorded a song with that title.   How about 1984? There are actually 6 albums with this title listed on Wikipedia. Or Lord of the Flies?  Or The Thorn Birds? What about The Godfather? Would that album make you an offer you couldn’t refuse?



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Ink, Inc.

Because the budget crisis doesn’t take holidays, library workers from all departments and locations have been brainstorming fundraising ideas on our staff wiki.  Depending on your point of view, you will either be relieved or disappointed that we will NOT be producing a calendar like The Tattooed Ladies of the TLA. Although library world is normally far from scandalous, this calendar has even the mainstream media’s attention, and librarians nationwide have expressed strong opinions both pro and con.

Whether you sport tattoos proudly, have some apprehension about the subject, or just want to know more, we librarians (inked and otherwise) can hook you up.  Here are some of the materials you can borrow:

The Tattoo Sourcebook: Over 500 Images for Body Decoration, Andy Sloss and Zaynab Mirza. Want a tattoo, but not sure which design to pick? Here’s a guide to inspire you.

Modify, Jason Gary and Greg Jacobson. This documentary includes tattooing as part of its kaleidoscopic look at body art/modification. Not for the squeamish, this film has nevertheless earned a number of honors, including Best Documentary at the Boston Underground Film Festival.

Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding and Implants, John A. Rush. Far from being a passing fad, body modification is, instead, a time-honored spiritual practice in many cultures. Learn more about the history of tattooing in various religions and cultures with Rush’s anthropological study.

Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo, Terisa Green. Why rush into something you might regret in the morning? Stay health-conscious, consider the long-term effects, and choose both the design and the tattoo artist that are best for you with Green’s informative handbook.

In the Paint: Tattoos of the NBA and the Stories Behind Them, Andrew Gottlieb. Chock full of both color and black-and-white photos, Gottlieb’s interviews with inked hoopsters, including Shaq, Stephon Marbury and Cherokee Parks, reveal why basketball’s “bad boys” chose their designs.

If you’d like us to reconsider that calendar idea, or have any other thoughts about fundraising, let us know–we are not joking about the budget crisis!  Of course, if you’d rather support your library directly, we certainly wouldn’t say no!  We’d say thank you.  Sincerely.  With great fervor.

–Leigh Anne


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Dumb Luck

Like most Pittsburghers, I’ve been following the news about the recent opening of the Rivers Casino on the North Side.  If the first day profits are any indication, many of you went on opening day too– $14 million was wagered on the first day, with a gross profit of $1.29 million!  For a lot of people, gambling can be a fun night out, while others see it as a societal problem.  Likewise, there are those that believe winning is purely a matter of luck, while others rely on more strategic thinking to try and beat the house.  Whichever side of the fence you fall on, there’s probably a book (or a movie) out there for you, whether it helps you learn some winning strategies or helps you learn more about the effects of gambling on society.  Here are a few:


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