Tag Archives: Advocacy

Beautiful Scars

We close out the week with a guest appearance from Amy R., writer/editor for the Carnegie Library’s Story Pockets blog.

People with power can afford

To tell their story

or not.

People without power

risk everything to tell their story

and must.

from “Telling,” Laura Hershey

A book of poetry saved my life last summer. It took over a year to write about, because I read it the way I always read poetry: at random, skipping back and forth. More than that, I had to read it gingerly. I know “mirror books” and “window books”–one reflects your life, and the other looks out on a different one. But I can only describe Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability as some kind of malleable verbal sculpture. The poems both gave shapes to disabilities I’d never seen before and felt as familiar as my own skin. The latter was no small thing–when a librarian told me, “By the way, we have this book…,” my body might as well not have been mine.

In “Beauty and Variations,” Kenny Fries wrestles with both his nondisabled lover and a question: “Can only one of us be beautiful?  Is this your / Plan?,” he asks as his lover traces his deformities. Beauty here is synonymous with power. There is power between disabled and nondisabled people, with the latter often bestowing it on the former. People with disabilities are often expected to be passive and grateful recipients, objects that are “done to.” Their bodies become nouns immobilized by other people’s adjectives. Their own words do not figure.

“I am all motion and / this motion is neither weak nor hideous / this motion is simply my own,” states Jennifer Bartlett. But in Sheila Black’s “What You Mourn,” we see that the calm, self-evident truth of living in your body can be shaken. “[T]hat body they tried so hard to fix, straighten was simply mine, / and I loved it as you love your own country.” “Simple” is anything but, charged with fear and frustration as well as affirmation: I live in this body; it’s just me. Why is that so hard for you to understand? From here comes Black’s “native anger” at having her legs straightened so she can “walk straight on [her] wedding day,” her wondering who she’d have been if she were crooked; the nostalgic summer imagery of running in her crooked body proves that disabled people don’t always mourn their bodies or need saving the way nondisabled people sometimes assume they do.

One of the hardest things for many nondisabled people to accept is that disabled people intimately inhabit their own bodies. They–I want very badly to say “we”–learn, sometimes instinctively, how to make the laws of physics work for their bodies as best they can. They interact and react constantly to environments and people that may pose physical or spiritual difficulty. They are immersed.

There’s a reason Beauty is “of” and not “about” disability: disability is also the verb. It’s active rather than passive, influencing how the poets do and think and be. This book is immersion, from the cover photo onward: artist Sue Austin in a bright red wheelchair, hair streaming behind her, breathing underwater.

All rights reserved to Susan Austin.

Retrieved from Susan Austin’s webpage. All rights reserved to the artist.

Poetry is a satisfying form for disability to take sometimes. Narrators in poems are called speakers; here are disabled people speaking for and as themselves, which is still a rare thing among portrayals of disability sanitized to the point of meaninglessness and disabled people who never object or say ouch. It feels like a magical and faintly dangerous act to say the words that transform their experiences into what they actually feel like. I never had either the chance or the sleight-of-tongue, and was full of admiration. I caught myself half afraid, wondering what would happen if the poets were interrupted and spoken over–what they would turn into if the words that went down weren’t theirs.

But that does not happen. When Petra Kuppers describes her wheelchair as an elemental plant with historical and figurative roots and “evergreen forces,” I could smell rain and taste metal; I saw her fingers as vines twining the wheels.

Poetry is also a form of protection, Emily Dickinson‘s “slanted truth” that “must dazzle gradually / or every man be blind.” It protects not only the reader, but the speaker. Nondisabled people are not often equipped to deal with the possibility that, according to the social model, they might contribute to the difficulties disabled people face. If they were to take the role of a blind or otherwise disabled person too suddenly, they would realize their own mistakes and become defensive, attempting to discredit the disabled viewpoint. In the time it takes to process a figure of speech, the impact is, if not softened, slowed.

Metaphors and linguistic devices are not, however, euphemisms or misdirection. They are, sometimes, the most honest way to convey the spirit of disability when the literal experience is disbelieved or dismissed. When Laurie Clements Lambeth recounts the MS-related tremors that woke her and her partner, there’s a rhyme for “shaking” every other line. It resonates; it demands and insists that you acknowledge it.

I don’t seek out disability studies books because I want to. I do it because, after the 10th or 20th time someone tells me what to feel or that attitudinal barriers don’t exist except maybe “out in the wider world” (never quite meeting eyes), my bones ache to throbbing–I swear grief goes straight to my knees–and I have a terrible sense that people like me aren’t worth listening to or empathizing with. Disability studies gives me back some reality, as hard as it might be. Beauty is a Verb is considered disability studies as well as poetry, but it is more than either.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that it gave me back the spirit of my body. My hands jerked when I realized I had said the same thing as Bartlett and Black, only sobbing and feeling as if I’d been punched in the stomach. “But it was mine!” My knowledge of my body, my adulthood and my personal space had been disregarded utterly, so that I couldn’t even move. What fear or hurt I had was inconsequential; I was “asking for it” by having asked for help with something different; I “didn’t understand what I look like.” I became terrified to accept help from almost anyone, wondering what license it granted them over my body. My stick, which I’d come to regard as an instrument and extension of my body, felt ugly and unwieldy. If my feelings meant nothing, then why feel anything? So I didn’t–for some time, I couldn’t. Beauty was a gift of perfect timing, its recommendation a form of advocacy.

This book is nerved; reading it is a sensitive, sensual and sensory act. I’d never seen so many disabled people feeling things at once: even pain, even, deliciously, anger. I felt the words take shape in my own skin like a ghostly set of senses. Only then did I settle back into my body and remember “the melody of crutch” (Petra Kuppers, “Crip Music“).

No one will ever be required to understand disabled people in quite the same way disabled people need to understand or defer to nondisabled viewpoints just to navigate the world. But if you want an education that sings and rages and puzzles and soothes, Beauty is well worth the shock of the plunge. And you might remember something you forgot.

I wish you’d learn better

before we all totter

into our coffins where

there’s no straight way

to lie crooked.

from “Dramatic Monologue in the Speaker’s Own Voice, Vassar Miller

Related reading:

The Disability Studies Reader, Lennard J. Davis, ed.

Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller, Georgiana Kleege

–Amy R.

A day of advocacy, a day of giving. Click here to learn how you can support the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on October 3rd.



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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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Pittsburgh’s Day of Giving

Not a day goes by that I don’t fantasize about creating an endowment for the library.  Dressed to the nines, with winning PowerBall ticket in hand, I will call a press conference in the Reference Department.  There, in a speech designed to make the angels weep,  I will finish the job Andrew Carnegie began by declaring my intention to fund the Carnegie Library in perpetuity.  Banners will wave.  People will cheer.  Brian O’Neill will write a wryly laudatory column about the whole affair, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

It’s a lovely daydream.  Of course, for any of that to happen, I would have to start actually buying tickets.  And I totally would, except that, while the deus ex machina approach satisfies my flair for the dramatic, the odds are against my being able to pull that particular rabbit out of my hat.

Luckily, none of us has to save the library all alone.  Everything goes better when we all work together, and some wonderful folks at The Pittsburgh Foundation have created an opportunity for smaller-scale philanthropists like you and me, so we can do just that. 

Tomorrow, October 28, 2009, is the day you can do your part for library funding.  Click here for details, or click on the stunning black-and-gold “PittsburghGives.org” icon in the right-hand sidebar of our blog, to learn more about this special opportunity to help the library.

Think a smaller donation can’t make a difference?  Courtesy of the fine people in the CLP Development Office, here are some examples of the kind of  impact your donation can have:

$25 buys two children’s picture books, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Goodnight Moon. It’s also enough purchasing power for one graphic novel.

$50 allows the library to purchase one non-fiction audio book.

$75 buys three titles for the Bestsellers collection, which includes popular works by authors such as Dan Brown, Patricia Cornwell, and James Patterson.

If you’re in a position to give a little bit more, your dollars can go even further.  Observe:

$100 supplies a puppeteer or storyteller during summer reading.

$150 covers guest speaking fees for a program on job seeking or tax law.

$250 pays for a one-year subscription to The Wall Street Journal, one of our many periodicals.

Now, let’s say you and your friends threw a house party, or had a bake sale, and you’ve pooled a larger amount of resources for the library.  How far will your contribution go?

$500 provides professional staff and literacy materials for a community outreach visit to a local school or child care center.

$1,000 allows the library to hold four multi-session workshops for parents, so they can assist  their children’s early literacy development.

$2,000 pays for approximately one month of access to one of the library’s research databases.

Even if you’re not quite ready to fund the burning need for full-text journal articles just yet, it’s okay:  every little bit helps.  Please consider taking advantage of this special opportunity to help the library on Pittsburgh’s day of giving.  And after you donate, you can give yourself a pat on the back for being part of the team effort to save Pittsburgh’s libraries.

Everyday philanthropy, woo hoo!  Tune in next time when I’ll tell you all about why I have a Donor Plus Card (no, it’s not a job requirement!).

Leigh Anne
aspiring fairy goth-mother


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get up, stand up

This week I attended the ne plus ultra of librarianship on the local level: the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got to:

a) Meet, hug and fawn over my favorite author Jennifer Weiner (I asked her to inscribe my book, “To Bonnie, my best friend”)
b) Win an iPod, even though I told the vendors repeatedly that I don’t know how to use the one I have (don’t judge me)
c) Be surrounded by the greatest collection of sensible shoes the world has seen since the 1876 American Library Association Conference in Philadelphia
d) Fuss over the Encore vendors and declare my undying affection for Encore
e) Take photos of important colleagues posing à la America’s Next Top Model on the front steps of the Capitol building

At the conference, I attended sessions on effective organizational communication within libraries, marketing library programs, awesome/useful web tools, creating effective partnerships with other organizations, and so on. One experience especially made an impression, and that was visiting the capitol building. We met with Representative Steve Samuelson, who is a great advocate for libraries in our state. He gave us advice for meeting with elected officials that I would like to pass on to you:

• Get lawmakers on your side. Invite them to the library and share with them the important services your library provides to the community.
• Tell your lawmaker what they are doing right–and wrong.
• Probe them—find out where they stand on the issue of libraries—don’t let them off the hook. This can sometimes be surmised with a handshake: “So we have your support for libraries?” Then send a thank you note thanking them for their support.
• It’s not inappropriate to convey our disappointment about how they have voted. They need to know how their constituents feel and how their actions affect libraries and communities.
• The Pennsylvania Senate voted THREE TIMES to pass a budget that cut library funding by 51%. Because of your letters, in the last three weeks before the budget passed, the cut decreased from 51% to 34% to 21%! Because of your letters, the senators compromised. They listened to YOU.
• Pennsylvania makes $79 million annually in taxes from the sale of books and magazines. If that money were earmarked for public library funding, our beloved libraries wouldn’t be on the chopping block year in and year out when the officials convene annually to pass the state’s budget.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is slated to close several communities’ cherished libraries and lay off many treasured librarians and library staff that change lives every day. Don’t let this happen. Put pressure on our mayor, the mayoral and gubernatorial candidates, as well as our city and state’s elected officials. They decide how your tax dollars are spent.

Don’t let them off the hook. Our libraries are in their hands.



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The library is more important than you.

photo by flickr user jennandjon

photo by flickr user jennandjon

The library is more important than you. The library is more important than its librarians. The library is more important than the materials on its shelves, screens, and speakers. The library is more important than the buildings that house those materials. The library is more important than its director. The library is more important than the newspaper, the TV and radio stations, and all of their reporters. The library is more important than the mayor, city council, congresspersons, the governor, and every candidate for those offices. The library is more important than the state budget and the rest of its funding sources. The library is more important than Andrew Carnegie.

The library is more important, because its potential for change and growth extends beyond you, to your family, your neighbors, and your community.  The library is not just a symbol or a luxury. It is a cornerstone for an informed society to build its future. Anyone can use the library’s resources to become the next librarian, director, mayor, reporter, congressperson, governor, anything. The library is open to anyone to educate herself and her children without agenda or bias, to entertain himself with the media of his choice, to find employment, to research and read and listen and write and watch.

In my cover letter to apply for this job, I wrote, “Libraries, as a free source of unrestricted public education, are a vital part of our communities.”  Now that I work here, I know that to be true. It says right above the door: Free to the People. The library is not more important than the people. Who are the People?  That’s you.

A librarian I work with said, “Good questions are more important than answers.” A good question has the ability to stir in us a force as powerful as hunger. So ask, Pittsburgh. Make demands.  Tell the director.  Tell the papers.  Tell the mayor.  Tell the city, county and state representatives how you feel about branches closing in your neighborhood and your neighbors’ neighborhoods, what you think about library funding, how you feel about losing library workers to assist you, access to information, and hours of operation in which to access it.

And then ask yourself.  Beyond just fighting to maintain the status quo, what do you want from the library?  What does the best library you can imagine look like?

Are buildings open 8 am to 10 pm?  Do shelves stock the newest, most popular and obscure titles?  Do computers whirr and flash with the most up-to-date information, just waiting for you to hit enter?

Do Children’s Departments abound with storytimes and creative play?  Do Teen spaces overflow with engaged, excited young people?  Do event calendars list informative, cultural and educational, thought-provoking programs for everyone?

Do reference departments include the most useful resources to help you accomplish your goals?  Do desks staff energetic employees, motivated and enabled to connect you with what you seek?  Do employees have the means to pursue the latest technologies and methods to assist your search?  Do you come here to find employment, relax, and study?  Is this the place you visit to feel safe, informed, and inspired?

Do patrons feel ownership of this organization?  Are they vocal? Do they contribute their ideas and resources to supporting it?  Do they encourage their government to endorse the institution they value so much?

Is your ideal library a humming center in a vibrant community of empowered, engaged, autonomous citizens?  What has to happen for all of this to come true?  What is your part?

The library is more important than this crisis.  The library is as important as you make it.  All of this is possible.  All of this is yours for the asking.



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Why I ♥ My Library

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. However, these pictures are worth 5.5 million books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, government documents, microfilm, music scores (just to name a few), 19 library branches and their knowledgable and extremely dedicated library staff.

At Main, we have two giant white boards where patrons can articulate why they love their library. Here are just a few of the many wonderful quotes written by patrons that express the importance of libraries in their lives.

"I couldn't live without libraries."

"I couldn't live without libraries."

“It brings the world into my world.”
“Don’t take this great library for granted.”
“It’s where my friends are…books are a girl’s best friend.”
“Free education.”
“Because it is free to the people. And it disseminates all information. It is the best service to the country there is.”
“Because it is full of books. Because it is beautiful. Because it is a place of solace, contemplation and rejuvenation. It is the heart of the community.”
"Libraries = Freedom"

"Libraries = Freedom"

“It’s an escape from grad school.”

“This, and all other libraries are a resource with eclectic books, CDs, DVDs and computers to keep all citizens ‘in the know.’ Knowledge is power and extremely vital.”

“Access to books and films I could not otherwise afford. It gives me intellectual wealth.”

“Libraries are a hallmark of every great civilization.”



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What’s Your Library Worth to You?


Big Ben knows how much childrens' story time is worth.

In these pressing economic times, what exactly is your library worth to you? How many DVDs do you check out? How many CDs and books? How many programs do you attend? Do you use a computer at the library and for how long?

How many reference questions do you ask?

Ever wonder how much these types of services are worth in the “free market?” We do, too. And, now, courtesy of our friends at the Allegheny County Library Association (who are under the same economic crunch as the rest of us), you can figure out what your library is worth to you.

Click on the image below to access their Personal Savings Calculator


caculator 2

Click me!


to see exactly how much you save, on average, every time you check out a handful of DVDs and a couple of graphic novels. Or how much when you come to library programs like our Real to Reel Documentary series or the Bound Together Book Club. Just plug in what you did the last time you were at your library and it will give you a very good idea, in real terms, how much your library is worth to you.

During this week of library advocacy at Eleventh Stack, we are asking each of you to please contact your city, county, and state representatives to let them know how much you value the library and how much it impacts your quality of life. With the personal savings calculator, you can actually get an idea, in dollars and “sense,” how valuable your library really is.

– Don

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