Monthly Archives: September 2009

What’s a Digital Bookmobile?

DBM rendering 3d small

The Digital Bookmobile is much larger in person.

According to OverDrive (and they should know), it’s a “high-tech update of the traditional bookmobile that has served communities for decades…equipped with broadband Internet-connected PCs, high-definition monitors, premium sound systems, and a variety of portable media players. Interactive computer stations give visitors an opportunity to search the digital media collection, use supported mobile devices, and download and enjoy audiobooks and video from the library.”

Basically, it’s a huge trailer full of really cool toys. I should know, as I visited it in Cleveland last July. Admittedly, at the time I was most struck by the air conditioning, but it was the height of summer.

You can enjoy both downloadable audiobooks and climate control in the Digital Bookmobile.

You can enjoy both downloadable audiobooks and climate control in the Digital Bookmobile.

Inside the digital bookmobile there are all sorts fun things – you can explore our downloadable audio and video collections, play with different MP3 and media players (a great hands-on experience for those who still aren’t sure what to buy), watch downloadable videos in action, and talk to staff from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and OverDrive. And not that librarians aren’t nice, but those OverDrive staffers are some of the nicest people ever – when I went to their conference in Cleveland, they gave me a frisbee. That was awesome.

But I digress. Forget my new frisbee and my obsession with air conditioning, and remember the important part: OverDrive’s Digital Bookmobile will visit CLP – Main from 11:30 – 2:30 on Monday, October 5th. We hope to see you there!

– Amy

Digital Bookmobile - New York City Skyline

New York City loves the Digital Bookmobile and you should, too!

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Virtual Reference: Questions Answered by Chat

Most folks are probably aware that the Librarians at the Main Library in Oakland answer questions at the Reference Desk, via telephone, and even on e-mail. However, over the past three years we have been staffing a cooperative service called Ask Here PA. Along with other librarians from around PA (and throughout the entire country and Europe), we tackle the same sorts of questions via Internet chat that we do through all of our other reference mediums.

You can give this chat reference a try by following this link on our web site. As a staff we’ve already answered nearly 2,500 questions through this service in 2009. We even staff a 24/7 aspect of the service four hours per week where we answer questions from all around the United States and even folks from Europe. If you ever access the service late at night when the library here is closed, you’ll likely get an information professional from another part of the country staffing the service while we sleep.

Ask Here PA is another valuable service brought to you in part from State budget dollars that are currently in jeopardy. It’s become a valuable tool for helping customers answer questions, and that’s what we’re all about here.


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Among the butterflies

I spent an afternoon at Phipps Conservatory recently, and was delighted to discover the butterfly room, something that I would definitely add to the growing list on Renee’s recent post.  Among the plants, butterflies fly around and linger on flowers and on the glass windows.  I could have spent hours in front of the cases that contained the chrysalises of various butterflies, watching as they emerged, dried their wings, and slowly came to life.

A monarch drying its wings

A monarch drying its wings

There is something about butterflies that has always fascinated us.  They appear in the folklore and art of almost every culture, and according to The Watkins Dictionary of Symbols, they have appeared as symbols of light-mindedness, resurrection, souls, longevity, vanity, good fortune, joy, and marital bliss.  Poets as varied as  William WordsworthCzeslaw Milosz, and Emily Dickinson (among many others) have used butterflies to evoke symbolic imagery. And Vladimir Nabokov, besides being a hugely influential novelist, was so passionate about butterflies that he was also a successful lepidopterist


Soon the butterflies will be gone for the season, but you may still be able to catch a glimpse of a few in the next week or so at Phipps.  Or have a look at one of our many books on butterflies, to keep a little bit of spring alive as the weather turns cooler! 



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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

catchingfireWatching over a kettle of simmering chili sauce for three hours last weekend provided plenty of time to ponder the nature of cooking — how far removed modern life usually feels from actual fire, and how dependent we remain on its heat.

These musings were inspired by the recently published Catching Fire, authored by biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham. In 207 pages, Catching Fire tells a story of human history centered on food modified by flame. Wrangham’s idea that cooking made us human departs radically from previous evolutionary theory.

Before Wrangham, the evolutionary change credited with development of the large human brain was the addition of meat to a strictly vegetable diet. Darwin thought fire was irrelevant to how humans evolved. Even a century after Darwin, anthropologists regarded cooking as unnecessary to human development, though they understood that cooking is one defining activity that separates us from other animals.

Wrangham writes that cooking increased our food’s value. It affected the way we walk, the size of our brains, how we spend time, and helped define our social lives.

A toast to Richard Wrangham and his ideas that season my thoughts about the place of cooking in my life. And please, pass the chili sauce.



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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club

On Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 6:00 p.m. in the Music Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Library (Oakland), we begin a program about which we are very excited, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club.

vivvirThe first book to be discussed is Vivaldi’s Virgins: A Novel (paperback/large print) by Barbara Quick. This intriguing historical novel is about an orphan violinist at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was the maestro di violino. This book was selected by James Rodgers, contrabassoonist for the PSO, who will be participating in the discussion. Also appearing at each meeting will be WQED-FM‘s witty and well-spoken Jim Cunningham.

The weekend following each book club event, the orchestra concerts at Heinz Hall will correspond to the book you just read and discussed. After reading Vivaldi’s Virgins, you can hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Let’s review why you should attend!

  • a member of the illustrious Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be participating in the discussion
  • local radio celebrity Jim Cunningham of WQED-FM will also be there
  • since it takes place in the Music Department, other materials relating to the subject will be on hand for you to check out
  • it’s an informal discussion so don’t fret if you don’t finish the book
  • you may attend any or all of the meetings
  • it’s free

Click here to see the other upcoming meetings of the PSO book club.

Please call 412-622-3105 to register so we can save a seat for you!

— Tim


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How to Eat Your Lawn

Dreaming of an edible estate? Closing our Sustainable September series is this Saturday’s collaborative program with Phipps Conservatory. We’ll begin with a screening of Gimme Green, a short but clever documentary that examines the $40 billion industry that harmfully impacts the environment and our wallets — the lawn.

Fall’s arrival doesn’t mean you should stop thinking about your garden. After the film, Scott, a horticulturist at Phipps, will share tips on how to make the most out of your front lawn. Project Green Heart, started in 2008, incorporates the fundamentals of Phipps’ green initiatives to teach you ways to adopt environmentally conscious living in your own backyard. You’ll also leave with information on Phipps’ Top 10 Sustainable Plants.

The program runs from 3:00 to 5:00 pm and takes place in classroom A.

– Lisa

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Nick Cave: Poet, Novelist, Musician, Birthday Boy

Nick_CaveToday is the birthday of one of Australia’s premier exports, Nick Cave. Cave has made his mark in many arenas: music, novels, poetry, and film, and probably a few more. His work with his band, The Bad Seeds, changed the landscape of literate rock. Their appearance in one of my favorite films of all times, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, is the stuff of legend. The use of his song, Red Right Hand, in mainstream television’s The X-Files creeped out an entire generation (and made John Milton roll over in his grave).

Just this month he has released his 2nd novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, garnering some formidable reviews. Find someone, anyone, who read his first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel (check out Cave reading an excerpt), ask them what they thought, and watch them turn into a sunken eyed, twitchy haint right before your eyes. His two poetry/lyric volumes, King Ink and King Ink II, may take you places you never really wanted to go. His 14 minute epic song, “Babe, I’m On Fire,” with its possessed accompanying video, is so mesmerizingly over-the-top it brings you right back to where you started, well beyond spent.

Have the feeling I could go on for days? Right, mate. So rather than experience all this literate goodness vicariously, sit back and enjoy the tender ballad “The Ship Song” and be charmed right out of your chaps/knickers.

Happy B’Day, Mr. C.


PS. Wonder if he’ll be having a Birthday Party?


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Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Picky Eaters*


I had to laugh when I came across Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton, because for no explicable reason, I sometimes say to myself “I’m a hungry monkey.” Usually when I’m hungry. I also connected to the book because I consider myself a recovering picky eater. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties before I willingly began eating beets, greens, squash, peppers, and eggplant, and developed an interest in trying new foods. I spent several years as a vegetarian somehow, surviving mostly on grilled cheese and salad (made up of lettuce and carrots). Truth be told, it was a new boyfriend who essentially shamed me into exploring vegetables, and for that I will be forever grateful. “Why do you say you don’t like mushrooms,” he asked me, “when you eat them all the time?”

I also have to give some credit to my mother, who was of the “I cooked it, you’ll eat it” philosophy of dinner. She had no pity as I held my nose to swallow zucchini, or repeated “tastes like sugar, tastes like sugar, tastes like sugar” while chewing asparagus. In my defense, she did go through a rather extreme tofu-making phase from which it is a miracle that I recovered. “Deep fried” was the magical cure for that one. Truthfully, though, I believe the tough love approach worked on me in the end, and now I am a complete farmers’ market junkie.

Ideas about parenting may have changed since I was a kid, and certainly there is a plethora of information to help if you see your children heading down the picky path. Give one of these a try:


*With apologies to Waylon & Willie.

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The Joy of Happiness

While I was staffing the reference desk, a patron asked for help finding a book she’d just heard about. 
“Do you have The Joy of Happiness?” she said.

The joy of happiness?  That seems easy enough, right?  Kind of obvious, really. 

It turns out, she was really looking for The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Eric Swanson (which we found), but it made me think about happiness.  There are 51 related subject headings for happiness, and plenty of books that claim to show us how to attain it, but do we really need an instruction manual?

Later on that day, I stumbled across a simple, easy exercise about finding happiness in our lives.  It’s called 30 Days of Happiness.  Every day for 30 days, participants highlight something that makes them happy.  It can start any time and include anything.

I came across it first on a blog called Liesl Made, “a simple blog for the sewing projects, photography, inspirations and other ramblings of a 20-something artist.”  Her 30 Days of Happiness posts focus on things like her sewing crafts, pets, and adventures outside, and she illustrates them with lovely, colorful photos, like this one.

30 Days of Happiness: The Feather Adventure by Liesl Made

30 Days of Happiness: The Feather Adventure by Liesl Made

She credits another blog, Bluebirdbaby, for inspiring her with the project.  Bluebirdbaby’s author is “a 20-something mama who loves to sew, read, cook, write, and live simply,” and her 30 Days posts are equally inspiring and lovely.  Her reasons to smile include her family, homemade food, and long lists of daily details.  Here’s an example:

30 Days of Happiness: Fairy Parties by Bluebirdbaby

30 Days of Happiness: Fairy Parties by Bluebirdbaby

It’s interesting that, two people doing the same exercise in such similar formats can come up with such different responses.  Try searching for the phrase “30 days of happiness” on your favorite search engine, and see if you find some others.

And, if you want to undertake the 30 Days of Happiness challenge yourself, feel free to start right here in our comments section.  Here, I’ll even kick it off.

1. Bobcats.

2. Sunflowers.


3.   My littlest sister, who turns 14 today.  Happy Birthday!  (We’re allowed to give shout outs on here ,right?)

See how easy that is?  Don’t you feel more inspired and appreciative already?  Happy 30 Days of Happiness!



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1,001 Dalmatians-err, holds on Dan Brown’s new novel

At the time of this writing, there are 1,001 holds on Dan Brown’s new book, the Lost Symbol.  The second book with the most holds (592) is Swimsuit, by James Patterson.  Patterson’s book Alex Cross’s Trial comes in third, with 581 holds.

Call me wildly judgemental, but could someone please tell me why people love these books?  Many of our fiction bestsellers, “written” by blockbuster authors who are able to churn out five or more books a year get checked out like crazy, while genuinely great literature sits on the shelves for weeks, months and even years at a time.  So I am giving this blog post a new title:

Books that you should be reading but aren’t because you’re too busy reading Danielle Steel

God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre by Richard Grant

God’s Middle Finger is one of the finest travelogues I have come across, and I tell you over and over again to read it.  I’m feeling like a nag.  But don’t take my word for it-here is an excerpt from Publishers Weekly:  “He narrates these adventures with unflappable charm and humor, risking his life to the reader’s benefit, shared fear and delight of discovery. Though eventually worn out by his physically and emotionally challenging journey, Grant still manages to produce a clear-eyed, empathetic account of this complex, fascinating place.”

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

The ever hilarious Christopher Moore, author of Bloodsucking Fiends: a Love Story, and You Suck: A Love Story, has done it again, except this time he deals tenderly with the sensitive topic of death.  The main character, beta male Charlie Asher, discovers that he might be Death, and has to collect the souls of people who are dying around him.  Poignant moments and hilarity ensue.  If you haven’t discovered Christopher Moore yet, hold on to your hat.  He is a cult hero.

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs

Jacobs, who is making a name for himself by subjecting himself to weird life experiments like reading the Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover, decides to try to live a full year in accordance with all of the laws in the Bible.  He grows his beard, wears only white,  and in one memorable scene stones someone.  Jacobs is openly agnostic, but open-mindedly interacts with his spiritual advisors and various people he meets along the way, including snake handlers, atheists, Samaritans, Jerry Falwell, and Amish folks.

Gloria by Keith Maillard

This epic literary novel set in the 1950s follows the life of a smart and glamorous young woman from a West Virginia steel town who struggles with the desire to go to graduate school, when her parents desire for her to marry.  The story explores such issues as class, sexuality, social convention, and acceptance.  Also, Maillard is an incredible writer.

I talked to someone last week who was coming to check out the book that her husband reads.  He only reads one book, because he knows that he likes it and he doesn’t want to waste his time reading things that he might not like.  DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE.  There are people who can help you.  We’re called librarians and we love to help people find books that they would like to read–that suit their specific tastes.  You don’t have to read only Michael Connelly books or only the Da Vinci Code over and over again.  And despite the judgemental nature of this post, we will never judge you.




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