Tag Archives: Sheila

A Legend For All Times – Beverly Cleary

motorcyclemouseToday is the 100th birthday of outstanding children’s author Beverly Cleary.  She is most well-known for her funny, laugh-aloud, homespun tales featuring Henry Huggins, Beezus, Ramona (the Pest) and the Mouse and the Motorcycle, all beloved characters who have stood the test of time and are still well-read today.

Aside from a biography about Queen Elizabeth and her playhouse, which I mentioned several years ago on this blog, the earliest “novel” I recall reading was the Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary.  It was published in 1958 — just imagine!  It was a coming of age story for pre-teens, a romance which set in place my longstanding partiality for this genre.  I think I must have read it in 1962 around the age of 12.

The cover depicted a girl in a pink raincoat with a black velvet collar.  Shelley, the girl, wanted a yellow slicker like all of the other girls in her class, but her parents refused and Shelley was stuck with the pink coat.  She stood out like a sore thumb, much to her dismay and humiliation.  I really identified with Shelley.  My parents were strict and we had little extra money to indulge me and my sisters in the latest trends of kids’ fashion.  Typically we got three new outfits as the school year began and they rotated with our older clothes, which in turn became hand-me-downs.  I was the luckiest girl in my family as I was the oldest.

luckiestgirlI can clearly remember having a huge fight with my dad over whether or not I could wear lipstick in 7th grade to my Confirmation!  He finally relented as my mother, aunts and teenage neighbor girls — Judy, Linda and Sis, pleaded my case.  I only wear lipstick now on special occasions, probably some deep-seeded, principle-only victory.

Shelley — the Luckiest Girl — got a reprieve when she was sent for the school year to live in California with an old friend of her mom’s.  There, she gets a taste of freedom she never imagined at home.  And when she meets Hartley, a boy who wants to be a writer, and Philip, a boy on the basketball team, what a dilemma — sigh! It’s first love.  This book was bound to make a lasting impression on a young, wanna-be rebel girl like me.

Happy birthday and thanks, Beverly Cleary.  Ms. Cleary lives in California and is assured an enduring place in children’s literature, having won the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw and having had both Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and Her Father named as Newbery Honor Books. Cleary also won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association for “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature”.  She was a great read then, as she is now.

Introduce her books to your young friends.

-Sheila J.

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Love and War in the Time of Napoleon

Napoleon’s myriad attempts to conquer Europe featured his struggle, from 1807-1814, to dominate Portugal and Spain. Of course the British were part of this fight, and the conflict plays a part in many Regency Romances. Two recent series portray the impact on individuals and families whose participation on the war front and behind the scenes leave a lasting impact of life and love.

proposalMary Balogh’s seven-book, romance series features the Survivor’s Club, six men and one woman who return to England, broken of body, mind and heart. They spend three years together at the seaside estate of the Duke of Stanbrook, supporting and encouraging each other as they heal, preparing to venture forth and live out their lives among the town and the country folk they each belong to. Balogh, in her usual sensitive style, relates these romantic tales with strong parallels to our disabled veterans returning home from the Middle East wars of today. Each of the seven characters meets physical and mental challenges as they vie for independence and love. The last book in this series, Only Beloved, will be published in May 2016. Balogh excels at developing relationships. She takes the time to portray how people start at one place and change, usually driven by hope and longing for a life of peace and contentment while treasuring those special moments of fleeting joy or happiness.

Survivors’ Club

pinkcarnationAnother excellent Regency romance series has wrapped up this past fall. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series is told from the point of view of contemporary Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly, who travels to England to do research into a ring of British spies tracking the movement and secret strategies of Napoleon and his armies. Eloise lands at the doorstep of Arabella Selwick-Alderly and her grand-nephew, Colin, who reluctantly open their family archives to Eloise. As the months go by, Eloise begins to unravel the elusive tidbits of information about the spy training school run by her ancestor, Richard Selwick (the Purple Gentian), that sends its spies—both male and female—behind enemy lines and into Parisian parlors and boudoirs of many historical personalities of the Regency era. Their intrigues reach as far as India and end on the Iberian Peninsula, where the final mission of the Pink Carnation is played out. These stories are rich in humor and historic detail and as Eloise not only discovers the identity and destiny of the Pink Carnation, she finds for herself a husband and a different kind of future for herself than she intended at the start of the series.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

 

-Sheila

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Need An Answer? Ask A Librarian: Part I

Last summer I wrote about my early years working at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and how libraries have changed in the 40 years I have worked here. One of the biggest changes that has occurred is in how we provide information services or reference. Access to technology has played an indelible role in that.

Carnegie Library has emphasized reference and information services from its first days. According to Ralph Munn’s History of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh:

The Reference Department was organized in 1895 by Elisa May Willard…by the end of 1905 it contained 66,000 books and 12,000 pamphlets. It was designed as a depository for U.S. government documents. Significant collections of scientific and technical books and journals were begun in 1898. An early report lists (1) members of clubs, (2) men seeking scientific and technical information, and (3) students, in that order, as the principal groups of users.

In the 1930s two telephone booths were added to the General Reference Department so that librarians could take calls from patrons who had questions at work and from home. In the 1950s, newspapers and journals began to be published in microfilm, eliminating the need to keep brittle newsprint or binding them.

Microfilm: it was -- and is - a thing. Reproduction of a photograph from the Pittsburgh Photographic Library  (all rights reserved).

Microfilm: it was — and is – a thing. Reproduction of a photograph from the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (all rights reserved).

Special subject divisions were spun off the General Reference Department on the second floor over the years. The Technology Department moved to new space on the third floor at Main in 1909. In the 1930s, Art, Music, and Pennsylvania became separate divisions with only Music and Art also including circulating books with reference materials. Main remained pretty much in this configuration until the 1980s. Central Lending was renamed Popular Library in the 1970s.

For me, after several years on the Bookmobile and a short stint at the Brookline Branch, I was transferred to Main in 1976 as a Library Assistant. I was assigned to the staff of the “Popular Library” where all of Main’s popular circulating books were housed. But half of my time was scheduled to work with the newly established “Telephone Ready Reference Unit.” Because of budget cuts at that time and the loss of about 1/3 of the librarian positions in all Main departments, the thought was to funnel all telephone calls coming to Main for reference assistance to three Library Assistants at the phone line 412-622-3114. Our work area was about 10 ft. x 10 ft. and adjacent to the complete card catalog in the General Reference Department. If we could not answer a question in 3-5 minutes we were instructed to transfer the call to a professional librarian in the subject departments – General Reference, Science & Technology, Music and Art, Pennsylvania, or to the Popular Library.

Reproduced from the 1977 CLP Annual Report. Vicki and Mary in TRRU.

Reproduced from the 1977 CLP Annual Report. Vickie and Mary in TRRU.

Our role was to identify books, authors, titles and CLP ownership of them. We’d look up basic facts in a core reference book collection of about 150 titles. They included basic encyclopedias, the World Almanac, dictionaries (we had several foreign language dictionaries at hand), business directories, and telephone books from all of the major cities across the USA. (We used these just to look up addresses. We were only allowed to look up phone numbers on the occasion of a telephone operator’s strike). We answered many questions about grammar and quotations, government offices, personnel and statistics, movie stars and films, people, popular and world cultures and sports. During the day, we had most calls from companies, news reporters, and secretaries and after school and in the evenings it was students with homework needs. Readers of all ages called at all times if they were looking for books they were interested in.

It was fun work and challenging. To be good at this job you really had to have a broad general knowledge and an interest in popular culture and current events. And you had to love to read – read fiction and non-fiction and love to read about books and reviews. If you already knew the answer, you had a head start in using the print tools in looking up the answer to verify a source quickly and efficiently. Mary, Vickie and I, the intrepid first three LAs, fulfilled this job to a T. And for CLP, by relying on TRRU to answer the easy questions, the subject librarians had time to develop new computer skills like searching commercial, fee-based indexes like the New York Times Database, DIALOG, ORBIT and others. They learned the principles of Boolean searching (the use of the and / or statements). The databases required an in-depth reference interview to refine the query, and while expensive to use database searching was often a big time saver.

When Bob Croneberger became Director in 1986, his feeling was that there was so much information being generated in the world, library customers would be best served by subject specialists rather than generalists.  So we restructured Main and divided the Popular Library and General Reference into the Humanities and Social Sciences Departments.  I had been going to Pitt’s Library School at night to get my Master’s Degree so that I could become a librarian.  I did in 1980, and worked for 6 years at Main as the Young Adult Librarian.  Then, I was honored to be selected the first Head of the Social Sciences Department as we transitioned from General Reference.  And part of that job was supervising Ready Reference!   By the mid 1980’s the Library had its first online public access catalog.  Now, not only could we look up a book to tell if CLP owned it, we could tell if it were at Main, at a branch library, and if it might be out circulating.  This was a boon to the customer because if they needed a book quickly, they could call in advance before driving to a location armed with hope alone.

Around this time we introduced CD-ROM databases. In addition to paying to have access remote research databases online, we purchased reference databases that were updated monthly as new CD-ROM was sent. Initially these databases were just indexes to journal articles, but gradually over the next 10 years full text articles were included for each search. Students could now come, spend some minutes entering search terms and get complete article print-outs as a result, instead in spending hours poring over the Readers’ Guide, Essays & General Literature Index, and the Applied Science and Technology index to identify articles that met their research needs, then sending requests for journal titles to the closed stacks or Microfilm, reading the articles and taking notes on 3” X 5” index cards or photocopying articles to read at home. Boom – what had taken 3-4 hours at the library to do, now took one hour or less. The convenience was amazing.

Over the next ten years library resources continued to change.  In 1995, in time for the 100th anniversary of CLP,  Social Sciences and the Music & Art departments were at long last renovated.  At this time we introduced public access workstations to access the catalog and the internet for the public and the staff.  The life of the reference librarian was transformed overnight. Web based searching was available and individuals, companies, organizations, government, universities and libraries, and publishers of all types began to put free content up on their hastily produced websites.  By 2000, things were changing again.

All rights reserved to Pew Research Center

All rights reserved to Pew Research Center

 

Main Library department’s reference statistics counts peaked at 1,145,567.  More individuals had access to personal computers at work and at home.  During that question bubble we answered many questions that instructed folks on how to find information on the World Wide Web by themselves. Richard and Melissa taught classes on searching the Web.  And soon users were finding their own answers to the easy questions.

That’s a lot to ponder, and there is more to come. In “Ask A Librarian – Part II” I will describe the reference revolution from 2000 to today.

–Sheila

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The Tangled Knot: Women’s Fiction, Summer 2013

Autumn is officially here, but let’s take one last look at the books of summer, shall we?

My usual reading agenda of popular fiction consists of regency and contemporary romance and mystery/thrillers. I usually toss in a book or two that is classified as “women’s fiction.” Typically, while there may be elements of romance involved, the focus is on the personal transformation of the main female character and how she responds to the trials and tribulations of life. Publishers target the marketing of these stories to women readers. Some of these tales are funny while others take a more serious look at problems and relationships. This summer, marriage at its various stages formed the common theme of all of these books.

Andrews, Mary Kay. Ladies’ Night.

ladiesWhen lifestyle blogger Grace Stanton discovers her husband in a compromising position with her personal assistant, she drives his cherished sports car into their pool. The divorce judge declares she must attend expensive anger management sessions. There, Grace meets other women and a man in similar straits. Their post-therapy cocktails reveal they have much in common, including a need for friends, suspicion of the methods of the wacky therapist assigned to them, and distrust of the no-nonsense judge who was put them all in this odd, court-mandated situation. Andrews’ stories always have a light touch, and her characters are just like someone you know.

Cook, Claire. Time Flies.

When Melanie’s husband of many years hooks up with a younger woman, she becomes more and more reclusive. Her grown boys keep fliesin touch, but are focused on their own lives. Melanie has a paralyzing fear of driving on highways. She’d rather dance with a mop than face dating after all the years of marriage. Her welded junk sculptures are cathartic and meaningful to her creative side, but she wallows in her isolation. Then her friend BJ nags her into attending their high school reunion. As they journey down memory lane with an oldies soundtrack, catching up with each other in that way only best friends can after being parted for a long time, Melanie comes to understand that looking forward is better than looking back. Cook’s breezy, personal writing style engages and satisfies as her funny observations about people and life make Melanie’s trip a satisfying experience for the reader as well.

Delinsky, Barbara. Sweet Salt Air.

sweetsaltair Friends from childhood, food blogger Nicole invites Charlotte, a professional travel writer, to visit for the summer and help her prepare a cookbook based on the cuisine of her family’s Maine island summer retreat. As the weeks pass, and Nicole’s surgeon husband faces a medical crisis of his own, the friends reconnect, share and uncover secrets that can pull them back as close as they once were…or drive them forever apart. Delinsky never fails to provide a thoughtful look at life’s problems and the choices we make.

Hilderbrand, Elin. Beautiful Day.

Could a Nantucket wedding be anything less than perfect? Following the wedding planning advice left behind by her deceased motherbeautiful in a “Notebook,” Jenna, the bride, and her groom’s families gather for a dream wedding. However, their complex, intertwined, and often dysfunctional interactions make for a funny, sad, satisfying read, even if you need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the family members.

Kinsella, Sophie. Wedding Night.

weddingHa! Told from the alternating points of view of two British sisters, this comedy of errors almost meets the high expectations for laugh-aloud humor of other Kinsella stories. Disappointed when her long-time beau presents vacation tickets instead of an engagement ring, frustrated Lottie drops him and runs directly into a whirlwind relationship with an old boyfriend, Ben. Within days the couple hie off to Greece to get married! Lottie’s practical older sister, Fliss–recently and bitterly divorced–feels she must step in to thwart Lottie’s impulsive rebound wedding. Hilarity ensues.

Porter, Jane. The Good Daughter (A Brennan Sisters novel).

Life is becoming complicated for Kit Brennan. She’s pushing 40, single, teaches school, and is a middle sister among four, all of whom daughterare coping with the reality of their mother being in the last stages of cancer. Kit is fresh from a long-term relationship with a man who just would not get married. She has a student facing dangerous family issues at home, a new house, a loudly ticking biological clock, and she’s just met a new guy who could be “the one”…except that he doesn’t quite meet her family’s high expectations to be a suitable match for the “good” daughter of the family.

Wiggs, Susan. Apple Orchard.

apple Who knew that there are apple orchards in Sonoma wine country? Not antiques expert Tess Delaney, who also discovers the family she never knew she had there. A workaholic, totally focused on her career, Tess has the shock of her life when an attorney appears out of the blue to tell her she may soon inherit a business she knows nothing about–growing apples. As she begins to unravel her own life story, Tess learns about the perils and sufferings of WWII on resistance fighters, and the impact of that experience as they began life afresh in America. Why did her parents separate? Why didn’t she know she had a half-sister? Wiggs can spin a family tale like few others–her Lakeshore Chronicles series is top-notch. Check them out too!

Weisberger, Lauren. Revenge Wears Prada.

Ten years have passed since Andrea Sachs worked for demanding editor Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine. Andrea and formerrevenge enemy/colleague Emily become reacquainted and start their own successful bridal magazine, The Plunge. After a few years, its commercial popularity has drawn the attention of Miranda’s magazine publisher. So, the partners face a dilemma: should they sell out for big bucks and be affiliated with Miranda’s controlling editorial influence, or remain their own women? This conflict has the potential of splitting up the partners, and what impact will coping with marriage,  in-laws, babies, and lost friendships have on this weighty decision for Andy? This is a satisfying sequel to the popular novel The Devil Wears Prada.

–Sheila

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Happy 40th To Me

Last month I celebrated my 40-year anniversary working for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. I was hired as a clerk, fresh out of college, at the CLP Bookmobile Center. I was armed with an undergraduate degree in library science, qualified to be a school librarian. Alas, school library positions were hard to come by. It was the 70s, the Vietnam war was going strong, and every other person wanted to be a teacher. To be a public librarian, then and now, a master’s degree in library (information) science was required. I was lucky to find a library-related job.

Click the image to read more about the history of bookmobile service in Allegheny County.

Click the image to read more about the history of bookmobile service in Allegheny County.

Like many Pittsburghers, except for college, I had never ventured too far away from my Brighton Heights home. The travel radius around my home was tight. I rarely went beyond the North Hills to shop, or to make a visit to my cousins in Penn Hills. Going downtown was always a special treat. Lunch at Stouffers, then shopping at the three big department stores: Horne’s, Gimbels and Kaufmann’s.Sometimes there would be a stop at the Candy-Rama for some special sweet treats. Movies were a draw to town as well, at the Penn, the Stanley, and the Fulton theaters. But I never went to the downtown library. I took the scary bus trip to Main in Oakland (transfers were involved) for my high school research papers.

However, I was a library brat. I had one maiden aunt who worked at the Allegheny Regional library and another who worked closer to home at the Woods Run branch. Books and libraries were in my blood and a habit from my earliest days.

So, working on the bookmobile was an adventure for me. I really loved it! We traveled weekly routes all over the bridges, hills, and valleys of Allegheny County to deliver books to customers from our 3,000 volume mobile libraries. We went and parked at shopping centers and municipal buildings large and small, in mill towns and suburbia. I made friends there that I will always have, though many are now retired.

Bookmobile service was a very personalized, almost boutique service. You really got to know the regular borrowers and often chose books for them based on what you knew they liked to read…without them even asking. The bookmobile was a great training ground. There was no card catalog on board. Staff had to memorize b0th the Dewey Decimal and the Library of Congress call numbers (CLP switched classification systems in 1972), so you could find the subjects people wanted on the orderly shelves, for both kids and adults.

The bookmobile customers were voracious readers, especially of all kinds of fiction. You really learned all the genres and authors–popular, classic, and literary. We were allowed to read as we drove to and from our stops so it was not uncommon to read a few books each week. This was like feeding steak to a lion.

All of the work was done manually. Registering customers for library cards, taking requests and filling holds–all were done with pen and paper and we kept the information in cardboard shoe boxes. For checking items in and out we used a camera system. Book requests were searched for and laboriously sorted into bins for placement on each of five bookmobiles. Services were very transaction-oriented. We even called the date due cards we put in pockets in the books “trasaction” or “T-cards.” The T-cards had holes along the side like early computer data punch cards and staff used long, thin rods which you skewered into the holes systematically to sort for adjacency of dates. All of the returned T-cards were matched up against the photo logs of check-outs to see if all T-cards had been returned. If not, well, that’s the way we identified if someone had materials overdue, and if they had fines. We kept long lists of names and folks with fines so we could send them overdue notices in the mail.

The world of libraries has changed dramatically over these past 40 years. Computers were introduced in the mid-1970s and have since changed almost every aspect of our library work, our collections, and our services, both behind the scenes and for public service. Our work then and now has been focused on developing a community of readers of all ages. What the public wants from the library is still somewhat the same, but also very different, too. I will talk about these changes from time to time in this blog in future months. People think of the library as a very quiet, traditional place. We anchor our neighborhood, we help everyone. But scratch the surface and you will discover a dynamic, vibrant institution that has constantly changed over time, and is still changing.

–Sheila

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“Make People Smile and Think While They’re Smiling”

Cyrus “Cy” Hungerford was the longest-serving editorial cartoonist in Pittsburgh history. He was hired by The Pittsburgh Sun in 1912 and and moved to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fifteen years later, where he served until his retirement in 1977. Hungerford’s cartoons satirically illustrated local, national, and international events. Every aspect of life was a target of his clever, gentle humor: politics, sports and entertainment, business and labor, and the various Pittsburgh cultural scenes. His caricatures of politicians from William Harding to David Lawrence to Richard Nixon; personalities from the Duchess of Windsor to Joe Stalin; and world events from WWI to the Cold War and Vietnam were pointed, and brought a smile to readers’ lips over their morning coffee. Hungerford also cleverly inserted cartooning symbols popularized by Thomas Nast in the late 1800s–like the political party emblems of the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant–with inventions of his own that reflected the social scene. One of these was “Pa Pitt,” a chubby, bespectacled, colonial fellow respresentative not only of Pittsburgh and its history, but also the public interest.

Pa Pitt

From the collections of the Pennsylvania Department, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved.

As we enter the current political season. we thought it might be interesting to look back on some of Hungerford’s past election cartoons and see how times have changed (or not). Hungerford presented hundreds of his original cartoons to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in April, 1975. Copies of an array of election cartoons will be hanging in the First Floor Gallery at Main, and some original Hungerfords can be viewed in display cases by the silver elevator on the second floor for a limited time.

As a bonus, we are happy to present speakers Rob Rogers and Tim Menees as they talk about Following in the Footsteps of Hungerford. These accomplished local editorial cartoonists will discuss Hungerford’s impact and how cartoons continue to take on local and national politics with humor and style. You can hear them on Sunday September 30th 2012 from 2:00-4:30 p.m. in the Quiet Reading Room on the First Floor at Main Library. Please join us!

–Sheila

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Readers’ Choice

Recently I was watching the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten sent her husband Jeffrey out to shop for French wine to go along with her lovely French dinner: veal chops with Roquefort butter. Jeffrey engaged in a discussion with the wine shop owner/expert about what wine to select. He was shown the pretty labels of three bottles of wine. The potential flavors and aromas were discussed, as was the region where the grape is grown…another indicator of possible quality and taste.

Jeffrey finally chose a bottle because the label’s name included the name of Ina’s favorite open market in Paris. So, to purchase wine, you narrow the field–American, French, Italian, Australian, etc.; do you want red or white, or, to be even more specific, a special grape or growing region? Do you want something that goes well with a certain type of food? Do you want something to savor, or something for fun? Do you want sweet, dry, bubbly, or smooth? Do you want something cheap, reasonably priced, or sinfully expensive? What’s the occasion? So many decision points! But when it comes down to it, buying wine is really just a gamble. When you uncork the wine (or unscrew the lid), it could be just what you had in mind…or it could taste like vinegar.

Then it struck me: buying a wine is like picking out a book to read.

Libraries (and the lamentably endangered bookstore) really offer browsers a chance to survey the offerings. You can search with deliberate intent for something specific or you can look serendipitously to find a book that calls to you. You can see and hold a book and compare it to all the other books around you. Do you want fiction, non-fiction, biography, or some familiar–or esoteric–subject? Is the print size easy on your eyes? Book jackets may set the tone. Are they plain words or stark images, colorful landscapes, line drawings, a still life, persons or objects? The jacket also may provide a blurb or summary of the text and maybe even an expert or celebrity endorsement.

If you are in a library you may have to settle for a plain binding with no jacket information at all, especially for older, well-read books. You may look for genres you like, favorite authors, and sources for great reviews. Among the things you might hope for: quality writing, logical progression, a sense of humor, rigorous research, or an ending that makes sense. You may seek out a book that will evoke an emotion: joy, pathos, humor, peace of mind, seriousness, social conscience, action, curiosity, speculation, or intrigue. A book can make you want to learn more about information, or characters, or places, both near to home, or far, far away (sometimes even beyond reality).

Library and bookstore websites try to emulate the in-person experience. You can browse booklists, find read-alikes, explore book resources and databases like NoveList, and read professional or personal reviews. An online bookstore can track what you have purchased and suggest other titles based on that. And it’s just like selecting the wine–you don’t know what you’ll get until you try it. But here is where the online experience will never beat a library: the personal interaction with a smart, knowledgeable librarian.

A reader’s advisor in action. Original strip from Unshelved

An excellent readers’ advisory librarian can have a conversation with you and discuss your tastes and interests. They will find out what you have really liked in the past, and they will help each reader to hone in on that perfect book for a quiet weeknight or beach vacation (or class/research project!). And maybe you don’t want print, but an audio or e-book will do. Librarians promote a culture of reading, for the very young to the seasoned adult, regardless of the book’s format. If librarians don’t read a particular genre or type of book themselves, they make it their business to read and learn about books of all kinds, from classics to best-sellers. They know the reading tastes and subject interests of their colleagues who can serve as a back-up resource when they are occasionally stumped. Librarians make no value judgments about what you want to read, whether it’s for serious purposes or just for fun. The most important thing is connecting the book to the reader.

So my advice, whether you’re buying wine or just looking for something to read, is to turn to the professionals, so you don’t waste your time or money. If you are in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh looking for a book, just “Ask A Librarian.”

–Sheila

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