Tag Archives: citizenship

Citizen Rankine

As much as I love losing myself in a good story, I have to admit that my favorite books are the ones that send me out of the text and back into the world for further exploration. I read a lot of non-fiction, so I’ve developed the habit of keeping a notebook handy for scribbling down names to Google, URLs to explore, topics to research, and–perhaps inevitably–titles of additional books for the TBR list.

This hardly ever happens with a volume of poetry. Not because poetry doesn’t teach me things, but because the things poetry has to teach are usually personal and private. As I’ve recently learned, however, poetry can also be an interdisciplinary textbook; the class I’m currently taking could be called Civics 101, and the teacher is Claudia Rankine.

Image taken from The Hairsplitter - click through to read Jeremy Allen Hawkins's review of Citizen.

Image taken from The Hairsplitter – click through to read Jeremy Allen Hawkins’s review of Citizen.

Rankine is a poet, playwright, and scholar whose body of work demands not only private introspection, but also your full attention to and engagement with the world around you. Her epic prose poem Citizen, a 2014 National Book Award finalist,  is rooted firmly in current events, comparing them to and contrasting them with her own lived experience to create a ruthlessly honest exploration of black American citizenship in the 21st century. And if that were all it did, it would still be an amazing piece of work.

However, the reader is challenged, at just about every turn, to go the extra mile, to look up that unfamiliar YouTube series, to track down the Situation videos (created by Rankine and her husband, photographer John Lucas) mentioned throughout the text. Whose quotation is that? What is this un-captioned photo all about? Who created the artwork featured here? You cannot, in good conscience, not look these things up as you read, and the resource list Rankine provides is only the beginning of inquiry. At least, for me: my own citizenship seemed to be at risk, considering how ignorant I was of some of Rankine’s references.

Image created by Letra Chueca Press for Reed College - click through for source page.

Image created by Letra Chueca Press for Reed College – click through for source page.

Educational as they are, however, the seven sections that make up Citizen are hardly didactic in the traditional sense. Straightforward narrations of events are broken up with passages of pure longing, in which the speaker reveals portions of her inner landscape, the one the external world hasn’t been able to touch:

Words work as release–well-oiled doors opening and closing between intention, gesture. A pulse in the neck, the shiftiness of the hands, an unconscious blink, the conversations you have with your eyes translate everything and nothing. What will be needed, what goes unfelt, unsaid–what has been duplicated, redacted here, redacted there, altered to hide or disguise–words encoding the bodies they cover. And despite everything, the body remains (69).

The language of poetry, Rankine seems to say here, is what makes it possible to be human, to achieve, despite obstacles, full citizenship.

If you’re the kind of reader who would like to try poetry, but is often put off by obtuse language and a lack of connection to reality, Citizen will serve as a breath of exhilarating air. If current events have made you twitchy lately, and you need a literary remedy that is both consolation and call to action, this, too, is your book. And if you’re honor-bound to read all award-nominated books, you should definitely move this poem up on your TBR list. There’s a waiting list at the moment, but if you hurry, you won’t have to wait too long for your choice of print or ebook.

Leigh Anne

anxiously awaiting the arrival of Rankine’s next book, Racial Imaginary (with Beth Loffreda).


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Somewhat Obsessed With Canada

I think about Canada a lot. Not constantly, mind you, but more often than on those occasions when somebody gets upset about something that’s happened in U.S. politics/culture and threatens to move there.  It stymies me that Canada simply isn’t on most Americans’ radar. I mean, it’s right there, but it hardly ever crosses our minds. Nor do we learn about it in school. At least, I didn’t. Kudos to you and your teachers if you spent longer than one day in social studies pondering a Canadian curriculum. All I know about Canada is that it has trees, maple syrup, and hockey and that Margaret Atwood‘s visions of the future are Somewhat Bleak. I can also name a handful of random celebrities who hail from there, but this doesn’t exactly make me Jeopardy champion material.

Clearly, this ignorance will not do, especially since Alice Munro recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature, thus forcing me, you, and every red-blooded American citizen with even a drop of conscience to learn a thing or two about our neighbors to the immediate north. Let’s get cracking!

Quick Facts

Make the Government of Canada portal your first stop, to get information directly from the folks who live and govern there. Contains sections on culture and the arts, individual provinces and territories, history/genealogy and much more.

The CIA World Factbook is a nifty website to know about if you need fast, credible data on a specific country. Did you know that Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867, has an area of 9,984,670 square kilometers (making it the world’s largest country that only borders one country) and maintains 3.2 hospital beds and 2.069 physicians for every 1,000 people (last measured in 2010)? Très intéressant!*

Canadian Geographic, a publication of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, is a great all-purpose journal for initial leisure reading/research about Canada. For other national publications, as well as province-specific journals, click here.


For a quick peek at the Carnegie Library’s research holdings, grab your library card and search for Canada in our digital general reference resources. The Gale Virtual Reference Library, in particular, is a smashing way to learn more about a given topic without leaving the comfort of your home (which is key for getting smart in spite of snowfall). If you can make it in for a visit, search Reference Universe, too, which will allow you to search inside all those books on the shelves and only open the ones that will be truly useful to you. Kids (and parents!) should test-drive the Grolier encyclopedias, as well as the World Book Almanac for Kids.

If you’d rather take something home, you’ll be happy to know that Main library alone holds over 2,600 books on Canada. Here are a few collection highlights:

folkloreFolklore of Canada, Edith Fowke. You can tell a lot about a nation from its mythologies, fairy tales, customs, and other folkways. Fowke’s collection includes tales from tribal/aboriginal cultures, as well as those of French and British origin.

A History of Canadian Culture, Jonathan Franklin William Vance. Vance’s work, which won the Lela Common Award culturefor Canadian History, covers quite a bit of ground, from Inuit clothing design to the Barenaked Ladies. That’s a lot to swallow, but Vance also explores themes and concerns common across eras: what does it mean to be Canadian, how should the arts be funded, what role does/should copyright and other forms of artist recognition/compensation play? A roller-coaster romp of a history book.

illustratedThe Illustrated History of Canada, Craig Brown, ed. A popular book that has been released in several editions, Brown’s work includes engravings, lithographs, cartoons, maps and posters, as well as photographs, taking this text to the full extent of what “illustrated” can mean. Though it only contains six chapters, each one is written by a prominent historian or geographer, which efficiently augments your knowledge of, say, native cultures or the history of U.S./Canadian relations.

Canada’s Fifty Years in Space, G.G. Shepherd. Wait, what? If, like me, you did not know Canada had a space program, pick spaceup this volume and prepare to be amazed. Just one of the many niche history books you’ll find in our collection, Shepherd’s chronicle tells the story of the Canadian Space Agency, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), Canada’s involvement with the NASA Phoenix mission, the ISIS-II satellite and much more. What does that mean? It means science, my friends. Loads of space-tastic science. A keen read for space geeks.


Want to read books by Canadian authors? Here are some writers and titles you should try on for size, recommended by actual Canadians!**

Robertson Davies. One of Canada’s best known and most popular authors, and a distinguished man of letters known for his work as a playwright, journalist and critic, to boot. Start with The Depford Trilogy, then take a side trip into criticism to ponder The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books.

Will Ferguson. Best known for his witty observations on Canadian history and culture, Ferguson frequently takes on an outsider’s point of view to paint a more robust picture of his subjects. Try Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw.

Margaret Lawrence. Not only one of Canada’s most prominent novelists/short story creators, but also a founder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Make sure to seek out The Stone Angel and The Diviners.

Stuart McLean. This host of CBC Radio‘s “Vinyl Cafe” has been described as “the Canadian Garrison Keilor.”  Although he has written serious pieces as well, he’s best known for his humor. Take a gander at Secrets From the Vinyl Cafe.

Louise Penny. If you’ve met Armand Gamache, well, then, you already know. If you haven’t completely fallen in love with the man–or with the bucolic town of Three Pines–start with Still Life.

Gordon Korman. This Canadian-American author writes for children and young adults. The first book in his well-liked “Bruno and Boots” series, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, grew out of an assignment written for English class when he was just twelve (!) and was published in 1978, when Korman was only fourteen (!!). Since then he has written over 75 books, so you’d best get started with “Bruno and Boots” right now!

Tanya Huff. A sci-fi / fantasy author with seven series under her belt,  a handful of stand-alone novels and a solid handful of short story collections as well. Because it was adapted for television, some people may be familiar with the Blood Books series, which pairs private detective Vicki Nelson with vampire/author Henry Fitzroy for crime-solving shenanigans. Start with Blood Price.

There: I feel somewhat smarter already. Obviously there’s more to learn, and I’m sure plenty of you could take me to school on the subject. So, spill: what should I know about Canada? What do you know about Canada?

–Leigh Anne

currently jamming to Moxy Früvous

* Very interesting. French is one of Canada’s official languages, and is spoken primarily in Quebec, with a smattering of usage in New Brunswick, Ontario, and in smaller indigenous communities throughout the country. Click here for details.

**Many thanks to my Canadian Facebook contingent, who graciously contributed authors and titles to this blog post!


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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 Tutor.com’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 Tutor.com 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 Tutor.com 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 Tutor.com 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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A Wildly Informal Donor Plus Pledge Drive

When I’m not helping my co-workers save the world with mad research and technology skills, I’m probably at the customer service desk, picking up books I’ve requested.  Much like the star of that classic, oft-ridiculed Hair Club for Men commercial, “I’m also a client.” 

A library client, that is. My hair is doing just fine, thank you. But, I digress!

Sometimes, when I’m waiting in line, people will ask me why my library card has a different design on it.  Eagerly I leap on the opportunity to talk about the Donor Plus card, only to be met with puzzled stares.  Why on earth would anybody pay for a library card?  After all, the library is “free to the people” – it even says so above the front door.  What gives?

For me personally, it was a no-brainer.  According to the Library Use Calculator, I have $750.00 worth of books checked out on my library card right now.  That’s more than twice as much as my monthly student loan payment!  Given that I’m always at the maximum book checkout limit, that means that, at any given time, I’m walking around with $750.00 worth of public property, with almost no strings attached (except for those pesky fines that I inevitably rack up)!  Considering everything I get out of the library, I feel it’s only good civic sense to give a little back.

Granted, I’m pretty fortunate in that the small fee for a Donor Plus card isn’t an unreasonable expense for me.  This is not true of everyone, and it certainly wasn’t true for me when I moved to Pittsburgh twelve years ago.  So I totally understand if the classic free card is more in line with your budget.  If you are in a good financial place right now, though, upping your membership is analogous to buying bonds, or collecting scrap metal:  a small, yet potent, blow in the ongoing War Against Ignorance.

If the “warm and fuzzy” approach doesn’t motivate you, let’s get concrete: check out the Donor Plus page, which lists some pretty spiffy benefits–if you’re a coffee drinker, the card pays for itself in practically no time.  And if that’s still not enough incentive for you, here’s a list of library services you might not be aware of, just to help seal the deal. 

  1. Book recommendations from professional librarians.   Why trust your reading preferences to an impersonal algorithm when you can peruse thoughtful, literate book reviews?  Want something more specific?  Fill out the handy dandy recommendation form to get reading suggestions tailored to your specific tastes!
  2. Playaways.  Quite possibly the coolest invention ever, Playaways are pre-loaded mp3 players you can borrow.  Just add a AAA battery and a pair of headphones, and you’re all set to listen to classic fiction, language lessons, or just about anything else that might tickle your fancy.
  3. A never-ending stream of electronic innovation.  If you haven’t seen the What’s New page yet, click on over and see some of the exciting services the library has rolled out over the past few months.  Subscribe to the RSS feed and get updates as they’re posted!
  4. Access to government information.   As Gwen explained the other day, the Carnegie Library is a Federal Depository Library.  Although the GPO is issuing more and more publications online, there’s a lot of data still in print and on microfilm, and we’ve got it.  Exercise your citizenship to the hilt with some gov docs!

In addition to all of the great materials and services the library offiers you for your Donor Plus buck, you have access to approximately 140 human resources at CLP Main, many of whom work quietly behind the scenes, and are far too modest to tell you about it.   Scott, for example, will never tell you that he’s currently ranked #2 in the state for answering questions on AskHere PA, or that he spends a lot of time repairing and processing damaged books.  Marianne, Bill, Gen, and Mykal are just four of the people who make sure your books and materials are pulled from the shelves, and reshelved properly–and no, they don’t use elfin magic to “get ‘er done.”  And Cathy, bless her, is part of the team that works hard to keep our webpage current and organized.  Add on the many, many people who serve in the branch libraries, and…well…it takes a lot of people to run your library, and your support helps all of those people serve you more efficiently and effectively. 

Okay, Ira Glass I’m not. I hope, however, I’ve at least given you a little something to think about. Maybe we could discuss it next time you’re in the library–after all, intelligent, informed debate is the cornerstone of a democratic society!  Just look for the tall, bleary-eyed woman in black, cradling an armful of books, the one who was clearly up too late last night reading.

Leigh Anne
who would give all the current Donor Plus cardholders a thank-you hug, except that this would be neither prudent nor practical.


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