Monthly Archives: February 2010

March Movie Madness

Which of the last four decades produced the best films?  Help us choose by voting in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s March Movie Madness!  We’re using the NCAA basketball tournament as a model, but our four divisions are 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s – 32 films total, with 8 in each division. 


We used a variety of resources to choose our contenders, such as the New York Times Guide to the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made, the Times Online: The 100 Best Films of the Decade, and a list of Academy Award Best Picture nominees.  Our staff voted to determine the final list of films, which were seeded based on domestic gross box office figures.  And yes, we know we left out a lot of really great films and included some that would never have made your list.


Vote with a paper ballot in the Film & Audio Department or online starting on March 3rd (look for the link on our department’s home page). Every week we’ll update the March Movie Madness website with trivia and commentary about our competitors, and we’ll announce our winner on April 6th!

– Amy and Sarah

Update: Yesterday afternoon, the last of our four missing Simpsons DVDs made its way back to my desk – all of the discs were found scattered throughout the library. Two of the discs need repair, but that’s better than losing the entire set!

– Amy


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Supporting Education in a Digital Nation: Live Homework Help

LAV’s database series continues with an overview of one of the Carnegie Library’s most versatile digital tools.

Libraries have a long tradition of supporting schools, students and adult learners.   As today’s knowledge-seekers become more digitally savvy, library workers have bent over backwards to keep up with them.  At the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, this includes adding digital materials and services to complement our print collection.

One of the most amazing services we offer is free cardholder access to’s Live Homework Help, which you can access via our Kids, Teens, and Adult Services webpages.  The name Live Homework Help doesn’t really do justice, though, to the staggering amount of information and assistance you can get from it.  In fact, it would be more accurate to call this resource the Super-Awesome All-Ages Education Value Pack (sorry Julie), but I suspect the folks at might balk at that:  as a title, it’s much more enthusiastic than it is concise.

Be that as it may, there are plenty of good reasons for you to check out Live Homework Help, no matter what your needs are.  To get started, log in to with your Carnegie Library card (scroll down just a little bit after the click).   Once you’re logged in, you can choose the right learning center for you.

Student Center

Live Homework Help’s student center is designed to help students in 4th through 12th grade with their questions about English, writing, science, math and social studies.  Services include:

  • Live chat tutoring sessions with subject specialists every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Live revision of a research or writing assignment with a qualified writing tutor every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets, tutorials and study guides in the Skills Center.
  • 24/7 access to practice tests and other study guides to the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and other college entrance exams.

College Center

The college center is designed for first-year college, community college and university students of all ages.  When you enter this section of Live Homework Help, you can choose from:

  • Live tutoring sessions and paper review sessions every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Interactive GED preparation sessions every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Interactive resume reviews, job searching assistance, and career assistance every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets, tutorials and other study guides to the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, TOEFL and other graduate/professional exams.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets and information about military, civil service, and other technical careers.

Adult Education and Career Center

Going back to school?  Changing careers?  Have other concerns?  When you select Live Homework Help’s adult center, you get access to:

  • Real-time back-to-school preparation sessions with a qualified tutor every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Live chat assistance with questions about citizenship or career exploration every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • The chance to have your resume, cover letter, or writing samples reviewed live every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets and tutorials about helping your kids with their homework, improving your financial literacy, reviewing subject material you might need practice with, earning college credit for life experience, and more.

Thousands of Pittsburgh residents benefited from in 2009.  Why not try it in 2010?  After all, in a competitive economy, you’ll want every possible success tool you can get in your arsenal.

The Carnegie Library, for its part, will continue to provide access to this resource for as long as we’re able, because libraries aren’t just about information and recreation:  they’re all about education, too.

–Leigh Anne

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FREE Computer Training at Your Public Library

Nearly every day I come across a story in the news about lingering unemployment and the havoc it’s wreaking on our country. Across these stories there runs a theme: many of the newly unemployed lack computer skills, a major detriment to finding employment in an economy where industry is out and service work is in.

Fortunately, many public libraries, including this one, offer free computer training to anyone who wants it. At our PC Center, our friendly staff teach classes on everything from Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, to learning about email and navigating the World Wide Web. All you have to do is register and get yourself to the class!

Isn’t it odd that a free public service that provides help in the midst of one of our country’s greatest crises is still facing budget cuts? Don’t forget to spread the word to your local and state leaders that public libraries need their support!


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On John Lewis Ellis, Herman Nesbitt, et al

This post is a specific nod to the late John Lewis Ellis and the late Herman Nesbitt, both proud Pullman porters and members of my extended family.  It is also a respectful and appreciative nod to all porters as well as to the leaders, rank-and-file members, and supporters of their  union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP).  

At one time, The Pullman Palace Railway Company (AKA The Pullman Company) employed more Blacks than any other business in the United States. It  employed porters to shine shoes, carry bags, wait tables, make beds, clean, and in various and sundry other ways, attend to the desires of its passengers. The Company initially sought out former slaves for employment because of their supposed inclination to servility, and later to some extent sought out Southern blacks for similar reasons.   

Porters, the “aristocrats of black workers,” came from varying backgrounds. While some lacked education, others had received college diplomas. They were highly regarded in their communities and were then as now invariably described as “dignified.” Nonetheless, working conditions for the porters were frequently wretched; workers relied excessively on tips for a livable wage, often went without sleep, and were required to work erratic schedules. With support from the porters, as well as women and youth, agitation for unionization culminated in the establishment of BSCP.

The impact of the porters  and their union on African American society is inestimable. Porters were channels for information between urban and rural communities they traversed, as well as ladders to middle-class and elite status for their children and grandchildren. Leaders of the unionization included women such as Rosina Tucker, as well as  more celebrated figures (e.g. E. D. Nixon and A. Philip Randolph) who later became seminal figures in the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century, and who lay the groundwork for the 1963 March on Washington, D. C. 

I and younger generations of my clan are indebted to all Pullman porters, particularly Herman Nesbitt, whose work led him from live-in servant to homeowner and haven for my grandmother, aunts, and cousins, and to John Lewis Ellis, porter and college graduate who stressed upon me the importance of learning and education. 



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I Sense a Theme Here…

“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” –Alfred, Lord Tennyson 

Well, that may very well be, but it isn’t spring yet.  We are still in the throes of winter around here and in the winter, my thoughts turn to food.  So lately, I’ve been spending time eating at some fabulous restaurants, making hearty meals when snowed in at home,  and perusing the cookbook collection here at the Library.  As I was scanning the shelves, I began to detect a not-so-subtle theme emerging from the titles of some of the cookbooks.  Let’s see if you can figure out what I noticed . . . 

Whisking Up Egg Whites

Image courtesy of

A Culinary Love Story 

Anne and Beau met in culinary school.   “Have you ever been Seduced by Bacon?” Beau asked her one day, as they worked side by side in a dessert lesson.  “No, but I have been Tempted. You don’t think I’m Cheap & Easy, do you?” Anne replied.  Beau had been Ready and Waiting for Anne since they first met in a basic sauce cookery class, but she had seemed out of his reach.  Anne was used to the big city, Small Bites, Big Nights, and bright lights.
“Do you always do it like that – Slow & Easy?” Anne asked with a quick bat of her lashes while observing the way he handled his whisk.  “You know that Nobody Does it Better than the French,” she said.  Beau was left with his Mouth Wide Open at Anne’s suggestive tone and, more importantly, the way she was able to create such stiff peaks on her meringue. 
“I’m thinking of inventing a new dessert creation,” Anne announced. “It will be called the Dessert Fourplay, featuring a quartet of Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey.”  “That sounds delicious.  What a pleasure it would be to get a taste of that,” Beau said.  “Oh trust me, The Pleasure is All Mine,” stated Anne.  “Faster! I’m Starving!” was all that he could muster in reply, as the Sparks in the Kitchen flew. 
And with that exchange of flirtations, Anne and Beau knew that cooking up something Hot & Spicy wouldn’t be limited to the kitchen! 

Now you tell me, are all of those books really about food?

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Books I Missed As a Kid: Call It Courage

As a kid I read a good bit of young adult material. Amidst all of the Jules Verne and Walter Dean Myers (and many others) I missed Armstrong  Sperry’s Call It Courage.

This Newberry Medal winner came back on my radar via some exciting Library of Congress radio spots I heard while driving in the car. The idea behind them is to promote literacy among young adults, but the dramatic reading of a couple of lines from Call It Courage got me fired up enough to seek the little book out. It’s a wonderful read, and actually makes a nice book end of sorts to Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

This neat little experience has prompted me to start examining some other titles I “missed” reading while growing up. I’ll report on those in subsequent posts.



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Snowmaggeddon or Global Warming?

I can’t tell you the number of global warming jokes I’ve heard since Pittsburgh (and much of the East Coast) was blanketed in record-breaking snows over a week ago.  While Donald Trump argues that Al Gore’s Nobel Prize should be taken away, Gore counters that global warming can actually be responsible for extreme weather conditions like we’ve seen this winter.  Personally, I’m just glad that the wolves didn’t escape from the zoo and we had to hole up in the public library (although there are worse places I can think of to get stuck!). 

Whether you’re a global warming skeptic or a firm believer, we’ve got lots of materials on the topic.  A great place to look for information on global warming and many other issues is the Opposing Viewpoints series.  These books highlight often controversial topics, and provide essays that argue both for and against different viewpoints.  The database Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center provides even more information, and if you’re snowbound you can access it from home with your library card.  Both sources are great for getting some basic background on a topic, whether you want to satisfy your curiosity on a particular issue or are writing a paper on a topic.


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Bringing a Little Green into Your Life

Money? Nope. This green will introduce a color other than white into your life. With seemingly no end in sight to the winter wonderland outside your window, March 20, the official start of spring, feels much too far away. Terrariums! They’re an easy and fun way to get your spring fix in the dead of winter, not to mention an ideal situation for the forgetful gardener who can’t seem to remember to water.

photo credit, ex.libris. from

With no more than a glass jar, gravel, soil, plants, and some cute vintage woodland inspired trinkets, you can create your very own indoor ecosystem from the comforts of home. Between thrift stores and nurseries, all the low-cost supplies you’ll need can easily be acquired. Tons of online tutorials are available. Some places to get started can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. And as always, the Library has a collection of resources to help you fashion your own personal forest.

Happy planting!

– Lisa

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Researching Race Relations in Pittsburgh Music

For his quartet of the 1930s, clarinetist Benny Goodman hired Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, “the first black musicians to perform regularly in public with a white band.”¹

What was the situation in the Pittsburgh jazz scene?

If you explore the Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh (OHMP) collection housed in the Music Department, you’ll find race relations touched upon by a number of interviewees such as journalist Frank Bolden, drummer H. B. Bennett, union member Philip Slaugh, and organist Charles H. Heaton.

Another great resource would be the almost 100 interviews conducted by the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh (AAJPSP) that are housed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center.   The AAJPSP has also done tremendous research and archiving of the African American branch of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 471, which remained separate from the rest of the union until the mid 1960s.

Carlos Peña’s research into Pittsburgh jazz recordings interestingly revealed that “aside from African-Americans, Italian-Americans seem to be the most highly-represented ethnic group.”   In an interview by Peña, keyboardist Frank Cunimondo “indicates that ethnic backgrounds never figured into the dynamics of the scene on a conscious level, and that the musicians, Black, Italian, or otherwise, generally had good relations.”

One might expect or, at least, hope for a fair amount of integration and respect when white musicians were playing and enjoying a musical genre created by African Americans (that itself was an adaptation of European musical forms).  And this was the case, albeit temporarily, in the Hill District in the 1950s, the black cultural center where whites partook of the nightlife.  Or in East Liberty, Italian American jazz musicians lived in close proximity to African Americans before the 1960s.  Then such things as urban renewal projects and an economic shift away from manufacturing drastically changed these neighborhoods’ demographics and certainly affected Pittsburgh’s music history.

It’s a complicated story and worthy of further research, not just during Black History Month, but year round.  The above-mentioned resources and many others are available at your library.

— Tim

¹ Teachout, Terry. “Swinging with Benny Goodman.” Commentary 105.5 (1998).

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Serendipity and a Park Bench

Last week’s snowstorms affected the Carnegie Library’s users and staff alike.  In today’s guest post, Richard reflects upon his brush with what many are calling The Blizzard of 2010.

Given the week we’ve just had, after spending several hours out in the snow you could be excused if you thought I was going to bring up Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”.  I’m not; I’m more in mind of Neil Diamond.

"What a beautiful noise comin' up from the street."

I happen to be fortunate in that I live across from one of Pittsburgh’s gems: Highland Park.  The park, which opened in 1893, is a natural wonder overlooking the Allegheny River (as well as my house), and certainly makes it hard to believe that my corner of the Highland Park neighborhood is really within city limits.  On Tuesday I was able to get out and try some less-than-serious cross-country skiing on both the unplowed streets and in the park itself.  By not plowing down to the asphalt, Pittsburgh Public Works provided me with the perfect skiing surface– not roadway, and not two feet of powder more appropriate for snowshoes.

I spent about two hours early Tuesday evening in and around the park, almost alone, but not quite.  It wasn’t bucolic; I wasn’t making the first tracks on virgin snow, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t need to:  I’ve done that before.

This was an urban experience — hence the reference to Neil Diamond.  I was thinking of his 1976 song Beautiful Noise.  I was skiing above Bunker Hill Road, which is not normally a quiet country lane.  For three days, though, there had been no buses and few plows, and only the foolish or eternally optimistic had taken their chances going up or down.

"What a beautiful noise comin' up from the park."

During my sojourn there were just enough buses and cars off to the side to remind me where I was without disturbing me…and in a way, the interruptions were reassuring.  In the park itself there were two or three other people and the falling snow.  As I was trying to stay on relatively packed areas — trails imply a deliberate “from here to there,” and that wasn’t the case — I came across two snow-covered park benches placed under a copse of two or three pine trees.  They were arranged in such a way that the trees afforded some protection from the falling snow, and the panorama of the restored fountain was open before them.

They were perfectly alluring, and we owe a modest amount of gratitude to

"It's a beautiful noise made of joy and of strife."

whoever placed them there, whether deliberately or just because it seemed like a good place.  I’ll make sure to go back and check them out in the spring and summer, when the sounds of the street are a little clearer.


"Like a symphony played by the passing parade, it's the music of life."

All photos copyright 2010, RK.  Used with permission.

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