Tag Archives: Maria J.

I (and my family) Read Banned Books!

Clip art courtesy of the American Library Association

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

This is the time of year that your librarians are getting ready to school you on the fact that there are many books challenged or banned by the public every year, and some of these attempts are even successful at getting books pulled off the shelves of your favorite library. Public, school and higher ed. libraries will be putting up displays on tables, in cases and on websites alerting users to the annual event,  Banned Books Week (September 21-September 27). You may even come across the Library Bill of Rights, which many of you outside the world of librarianship may not even know exists, but which many libraries and librarians ascribe to, which helps in the purchasing of materials, the planning of programs, and is the foundation for this very important week.

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The wonderful thing about the annual Banned Books Week, is that it is an event promoted by librarians around the country who share together in the philosophy of the Library Bill of Rights. This upcoming week provides an opportunity to inform library users that some of their fellow community members find certain reading material objectionable, and that those same community members have taken steps to try and prevent others from reading those materials. The sad fact is that there has been a Banned Books Week year after year for more than three decades, and that there continue to be new books added to the banned and challenged list within our county where “freedom rings.” While this yearly challenging and banning can seem to be a sad statement on how some may try and squash others’ freedoms, I would suggest that we take the opportunity of this upcoming week which celebrates the freedom of information and look at it as a positive thing, a way to discover some new reads and to begin some lively conversations over books and their possible controversial subject matter.

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For professional and personal reasons, I scan the list of banned books every year, looking for those I’ve read.  As a parent, I compare the list with what I’ve seen on the reading lists of my kids and wonder at whether I’m a bad parent or not for allowing my children to have read that particular banned or challenged title. As it turns out I don’t feel bad, in fact I feel proud at having had the opportunity to read a particular book or allowed my children to experience those stories. If anything, especially in terms of children and teen books, these challenges provide an opportunity to have some really important conversations with your children regarding certain subject matters that some might find difficult to talk about, but are often experiences that they or friends they know may have had in their real life.

Obviously, there are some books that include subject matter that may be more appropriate for a  reader depending on their age and experience, and parents should definitely keep that in mind in terms of supervising their own children’s reading habits, but what I think is the most important thing to remember during the upcoming week, and throughout the year, as we all encounter new and challenging books, is that it is an individual’s choice as to what to read, and not something to be dictated by others.

BBW14_Profile_op1

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Here are some of my favorite Banned Books:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
  4. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
  5. Harry Potter(series), by J.K. Rowling

– Maria J.

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Howdy, Partner!

There have been many great partnerships throughout history – Orville and Wilbur, Hillary and Norgay, the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ben and Jerry,  the Curies, Bert and Ernie, Sherlock and Watson, Katniss and Peeta  -just to name a few. These partnerships, whether real or fictional, were formed over like interests and are a testament to what can be accomplished when people work together towards a common goal. Right here in Pittsburgh, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is creating some great partnerships with the goal of literacy throughout the city.

I’m extremely fortunate to be a part of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Office of Programs and Partnerships (OPP). Within this department which is housed at the East Liberty branch of CLP, we have a great collection of staff reaching out to a variety of groups in their own unique way, forming partnerships and conducting programs throughout the city to promote a variety of literacies within the community.

The BLAST crew regularly head out to the Pittsburgh Public Schools and related events, connecting with our city’s young readers and future leaders, aiding in early learning and literacy skills.

The Labs @CLP work at providing space and time for teens to connect to new learning experiences via technology.  Teens, an often neglected and misunderstood demographic, are able to engage with fellow teens and library staff through unique, technology-centered literacy.

LYNCS, of which I am a member, reaches out to various groups in Pittsburgh to provide a variety of literacies in neighborhoods, communities and schools. We run the gamut of providing pre-school story times, senior citizen technology programs, information and hands-on technology  at community events, and financial and job literacy to Allegheny County Jail inmates alongside our colleagues from the various neighborhood branches. In addition, the LYNCS crew has managed a temporary, pop-up library in the neighborhood of Allentown, bringing library services and programming to a community lacking easy access to our neighborhood branches and their services.  Over the past year and a half that we have been in this temporary setting, we have had the pleasure of working with great community partners to provide access to library services, unique programming and a community center for this often neglected and little known Pittsburgh neighborhood. A great result of the partnerships formed with various Allentown and other Hilltop groups, has led to the pop-up library  transitioning to the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center (ALEC), a project which would not have been possible without the partnerships formed with our community neighbors.

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LYNCS colleagues at an outreach event.

 

The entire staff of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is working to reach out to all of the city neighborhoods, not only through library services and programming within the neighborhood branches, but also through a variety of outreach initiatives encouraging literacies beyond its brick and mortar locations. We are happily building new partnerships, whether it’s at the circulation desk or in a city park, not just during this National Library Week, but every day of the year.

-Maria J.

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A Love of Letters

Some of you may be aware that today is Valentine’s Day. Personally, my immediate family and I are not practitioners in the arts of giving greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, chocolates and whatever else might come on this particular day. In fact, when I first found out I was scheduled for today’s post, I felt that I had drawn the short straw (have I mentioned I’m not a fan of this “holiday”?), but a recent read and the fact that this month notes the 23rd anniversary of the blind date with the man who eventually became my husband, has given me some fodder for today’s post.

Our partnership which began all those years ago, was way before the age of Skype, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, and thus our long distance (he in Pittsburgh, me in Cleveland) relationship’s success relied on land lines, the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes (before EZPASS!) and the US Postal Service. Thanks to the Post Office playing the middle man, I have received some of the best gifts I could ever ask for – letters from a loved one.

I recently finished one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time – To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield. Now, I must admit that over the past two decades I have succumbed to the charms of e-mail, Twitter, and texting, and have become lazy when it comes to picking up the phone or the setting pen to paper and addressing an envelope. But reading Garfield’s work had me reminiscing of the good ‘ole days of sending postcards on vacations, writing to friends who were away for the summer or when I was away at college, and especially of those longed-for letters and cards from that man just a few hours away down Interstate.

Garfield’s work is a fantastic history of letter writing throughout the ages. Military missives, familial correspondences and various letter writing guidelines over centuries are captured in this work. He really seems to shine when focusing on the love letters between couples, some famous and some not so, throughout history – Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, The Millers and Anais Nin, Charles Schultz and his various mistresses – or maybe it’s Garfield allowing those letters to shine for themselves that makes this such a wonderful read. Two of the most captivating couples interspersed throughout Garfield’s book Abelard and Heloise (12th century monk and his student), and Chris and Bessie (WWII British soldier and girlfriend). The latter is a couple whose letters are placed intermittently throughout the book, and the reader follows along as their relationship evolves from friends to fiancés. After following along with all these couples for 400 pages, it would be hard for anyone to come away from the experience without pining for the days before 140 character limitations.

Garfield mentions the emergence of letter writing clubs (knitting clubs, book clubs, cooking clubs, why not letter writing clubs!?) and other ways lovers of letters are trying to rekindle this lost art. Right here in Pittsburgh, our cultural partner and neighbor, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, is hosting letter writing events today and tomorrow for the opening of their new exhibit XOXO: An Exhibit about Love and Forgiveness. I can’t think of a more perfect way to get into the habit of letter writing, renew old practices, fan some flames of love and create some life-long memories.

Maria J.

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A Few More Books for BUCtober and Beyond

Even thought we’ve already had an Eleventh Stack blog about our winning baseball team in this Steel City, it’s so rare that the major sports news in October should be about anything but the Pittsburgh Steelers. I felt that another post highlighting one of our other black & gold teams–the Pittsburgh Pirates–wouldn’t be overkill, but a tribute to their great season.

This post-season of the Pirates is the team’s first since moving into their new home on the North Shore, just blocks from the Allegheny branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Their level of play this season has been enough to get even the fairest weather of fans behind this team that has a heart as big as the rubber duck docked along the Allegheny River. Personally, I’m thrilled with their success this year, since my family was convinced that both my move to Pittsburgh twenty-one years ago, as well as my inter-rival-city marriage (Cleveland v. Pittsburgh) which took place the same day as the last post-season home game in the Pirates’ modern history, had something to do with this alleged curse on the Pirates. No matter how long this post-season play lasts for the Buccos and their fans, the thrills and intricacies of baseball can last beyond October with some great reads for all ages. Many of these are favorites amongst the rabid baseball fans in my own household.

It’s impossible to recommend any baseball books for Pittsburgh fans without talking about two of our baseball greats: Roberto Clemente and Honus Wagner, who both provide a great deal of literary fodder. Fellow Eleventh Stack blogger, Scott, has listed several great reads, including 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. The Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente, by Paul Robert Walker, is another great avenue for younger readers to learn about this baseball player and humanitarian. Bruce Markusen’s Roberto Clemente: The Great One is often the go-to tome of the right fielder for adult readers. It will soon be obvious to readers of any Clemente biography why Pittsburgh has a bridge named after the Hall-of-Famer, and Major League Baseball annually awards players who model Clemente’s work on and off the field.

Honus Wagner is another famed Pirate and he is honored in children’s literature through Dan Gutman’s Honus and Me, the first in an historical fiction, time travel series tied to the thrill of collecting baseball cards. In real life, Honus Wagner baseball cards are as coveted as the fictional Willy Wonka Golden Ticket. Gutman uses this rarity as the jumping off point for his children’s book series which goes on to introduce the subjects of racism and women in non-traditional female roles in subsequent titles.

Speaking of female roles, and since I’m the lone female in my household, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend some other titles which either highlight their role in baseball history or are characters in some great baseball literature. For the younger set, and a book I relished reading to my young sons to highlight the importance of women in baseball, check out Sue Macy’s A Whole New Ball Game. If you or your children aren’t aware of the role women played by continuing the tradition of baseball during World War II, when male baseball players were hard to come by due to the war, this is a great introduction to that era of baseball history.

Shirley Wong is one of my favorite female characters in kids’ historical fiction. A Chinese immigrant to Brooklyn, New York, Shirley learns English and how to acclimate to her new world thanks to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, in Betty Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. While my colleagues and I might tend to recommend the Lupicas and Christophers when it comes to sports fiction for kids, this is one of many non-traditional characters in baseball stories we can point young readers to.

The women in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (you might know this one as the movie Field of Dreams) are no shrinking violets. The main female characters in these novels really get into the heads of the baseball-obsessed men in their lives, for good or for bad. And as it turns out, maybe the men aren’t the only ones obsessed with this sport and the drama it can bring to one’s life. If you only know these titles from their movie presence, I would highly recommend that you read the poetry these authors have created in bringing baseball to life on the printed page.

Many of these titles share space on the shelves in my home library, but there are many copies available for borrowing through the library’s Next Generation Catalog. In fact, I just used the catalog to put a title on my own holds list. I’ve recently been introduced to another female in baseball lore, Effa Manley, who apparently played a pivotal role throughout the history of Negro League Baseball, in which Pittsburgh played a huge role with its own Crawfords and Homestead Grays. The biography, The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues, by Bob Luke, is the next baseball read that I can’t wait to get started on. However, it may have to wait until BUCtober is over, because for now, the Pittsburgh Pirates are holding most of my attention.

These are just a few of the multitude of baseball books available to any reader who wants to read more beyond the statistics and standings of the regular season play. The post-season will soon come to an end, and regardless of how the Buccos finish off, there can be plenty of baseball to keep any reader occupied until spring training picks up again next February.

–Maria J.

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Getting to Know Allentown All Over Again

Today we welcome another new blogger to the Eleventh Stack team, Maria J. You’ll be getting her take on the Carnegie Library, and librarianship in general, monthly from now on.

As a staff member of the CLP LYNCS (Library in Your Neighborhood, Community and School) department of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I have had the pleasure of working in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh since October 2012.  Carnegie Library has established a temporary pop-up library at the corner of Arlington and Warrington Avenues in the southern Hilltop neighborhood, with the goals of bringing library service and creating community connections through February of 2014.

You can like the pop-up library on Facebook here

You can like the pop-up library on Facebook here

Allentown is one of those little surprises in the city of Pittsburgh which may only be recognizable to many for the reputation it has garnered through some unfortunate stories in the news. I have known this neighborhood since my childhood, when my siblings and I would come from Ohio to visit relatives who lived on the South Side slopes. It was a sense of homecoming for me to be able to come back to the community after decades of change–change for both me, and for this neighborhood.

While there are more empty lots and empty storefronts in Allentown these days, what hasn’t changed is the fact that these hills are filled with friends, families, and children. You may not realize this, as you travel along Warrington or Arlington on your way to the South Side or the other Hilltop communities, but if you were to stop in at the Pop-up, you’d soon realize the vibrancy of the neighborhood.

The little storefront which houses this temporary library quickly fills up with a variety of people and sounds. The clicking of keyboards and the laughter of children are often mixed with music from YouTube videos watched by patrons, the sound of ukuleles occasionally used in our programming, or the echo of traffic rushing by on Arlington Avenue on those days when we prop open the front door. The day I’m writing this happens to be a school holiday, and there are folks ranging from preschool to retirement in this little storefront-cum-library. While the adult patrons may be searching for jobs or reconnecting with old friends online, the younger kids are playing games on our iPads or XBOX, or creating works of art at the craft table we’ve set up to keep them busy during the day. This is definitely not your grandmother’s library, but nevertheless, the neighborhood grandmothers are no strangers to it!

Many of our visitors are familiar faces to us now after our having been here for nearly a year. They’ve become our friends, and sometimes we spend more time with them during the day than we do with our own families. We have made friends with young and old alike: staff and visitors have come to know and interact with each other on a first name basis, and we have come to know their personal stories, too. These are stories you couldn’t imagine by driving quickly along the cross streets, full of presumptions about the Hilltop neighborhood, but they are stories to which many of us can relate: stories of happiness and heartbreak, of homework troubles and homelessness, and also stories of hope. And every day, with each new visitor, we are introduced to another story, another friend, and, hopefully, soon, a familiar face and name.

–Maria J.

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