A New Library Catalog is Coming Soon!

MLC Logo Art (300x147) (2)On December 10 Webster Groves Public Library, along with our 8 partner libraries in the Municipal Library Consortium, will start using a completely new computer system. We’re very excited about the change, which will allow us to provide better, faster, more secure service in many ways.

But what’s most important for you to know as a library user is that we will have a great new catalog for you to use for finding library materials, keeping track of your account, handling your library requests, and much, much more. With our new catalog you will be able to:

  • Create targeted searches to find exactly what you want, limited by media type (book, movie, e-book, etc.)
  • Easily create reading lists and wish lists
  • Pay your library fines on line
  • Update your contact information and account preferences without having to visit the library
  • Set up an individual username so you no longer have to enter your library card number
  • Create saved searches so you will be notified when your favorite authors publish new books
  • Choose if you would like the catalog to track your reading history, so you know the books you’re already read
  • Read book reviews right from the catalog, and submit your own reviews

There are many more features guaranteed to make your library experience easier, more enjoyable, and more productive. As soon as we are up and running with our new catalog we’ll start scheduling classes to teach you how to use it, so stay tuned!

The Arch: What’s in a Name?

I am old enough that I recall a time, fifty years ago, when a television was wheeled into my fourth grade classroom and we were allowed (or forced, depending on your perspective) to watch the last piece of the Arch being placed. It was a historic moment largely lost on us kids, who found it mostly yawn-inducing. It seemed to take forever. But now, as the fiftieth anniversary of one of the world’s most striking and meaningful monuments is upon us, I am happy to have been afforded the opportunity to see it.

I heard yesterday that there is still lingering discontent on the other side of the state about the placement of the Arch. Kansas City, some believe, is the actual gateway to the west. More wagon trains departed for points west from Kansas City than from St. Louis. Maybe so, but most of those people provisioned in St. Louis before heading that way, so where do you draw the line?

It is also noteworthy that the Arch is officially known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory, and the fact that Lewis & Clark departed from St. Louis on their famous expedition. So you couldn’t put that in Kansas City.

We have many books in the library on the Arch. The Making of an Icon, by Jim Merkel, Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch, by Nini Harris, or The Building of the Arch, by Robert F. Arteaga are just a few examples. There are also a number of great DVDs to watch about the history and the building of St. Louis’s premier monument. When you look these things up in the library’s catalog, you can look under the subject Gateway Arch, or the subject Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Both names work.

I for one have never thought it belonged anywhere except in St. Louis. What do you think?

Images of America–Webster Groves Edition

Yesterday Tom Cooper, Emma Delooze-Klein and I gave a talk at the Kirkwood Public Library about our recently published book, Images of America: Webster Groves. We spoke about our favorite pictures and told some of the back stories – how we got the picture, why it was taken and so on.
One of the images I talked about was the picture of Hans Lemcke and his band of young musicians at Bristol School in 1929 or 1930. Hans Lemcke was a music teacher in Webster Groves for 37 years but before that, he was in a band directed by John Phillip Sousa. The story goes that Sousa would visit Hans Lemcke in his home. While we were working on the book, I checked the census records and discovered that the Lemcke home was right across the street from the lot that would one day become the site of the Webster Groves Public Library.
As often happens when we give talks about the book, yesterday we learned something new. A woman came up to me after the talk and said that she used to take music lessons from Mrs. Lemcke in the Lemcke home. And unless it had changed, the railing from the sidewalk up to the house was decorated with a treble clef. As soon as Tom and I got back to the library, I checked to see if it was still true. It is!
If you would like to read more stories about the history of Webster Groves, check out our book. Copies are also available to buy at the library.

Treble clef railing




Paul Prudhomme

This morning I learned that famed Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme had died. He was seventy-five. I pondered whether this was news for a library blog, but the fact is there are so many reasons that make it so.

Paul Prudhomme rose to fame in the 1980s, introducing the world to his creative take on Cajun cuisine. As a matter of fact, it was through Prudhomme that we learned the difference between Creole and Cajun food, a distinction first pioneered by Justin Wilson and other cooks. Prudhomme worked at the very beginning of the foodie revolution, the sudden interest in ethnic and regional cuisines, in using only the best, fresh ingredients, in shopping locally, and his food epitomized all of that.

So did his books. Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Cookbook, The Prudhomme Family Cookbook, Seasoned America and several others were hugely popular books that taught many of us basic techniques we still use today. It was from him that I learned to season a spicy dish with black, white and red pepper for a full flavor experience, and to saute my spices for a moment before adding liquids to the pot, to bring out their bouquet. I could go on, and I’m betting many of you could too.

Paul Prudhomme was in the vanguard of great cookbook publishing. For several decades now, cookbooks have been one of the most popular non-fiction genres in libraries. Sure, now you can look up a recipe for shrimp etouffee or chicken creole on YouTube, but there’s something still comforting, and frankly more deeply educational, about having a great chef’s whole book before you, to read all the little tips, the whys and wherefores of why you are advised to cook a dish this way.

One of the best meals I ever had was at Prudhomme’s flagship New Orleans restaurant K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. I still remember it—a meal that began with his signature rich gumbo, followed by a whole crispy fried trout stuffed with crawfish. I hope the restaurant continues to put out great food, and that library users continue to check out and learn from his wonderful books for a long time.

Happy Birthday to You–Free at Last!

Copyright is one of those things librarians deal with all the time. People making copies of pages from books want to know if it’s legal (it is.) People check out our music CDs and make copies of them, and we worry whether that’s legal, but it’s not like there’s anything we can do about that. Librarians attend workshops and seminars about copyright, copyright in the digital age, and more.

There have been two significant court decisions in the past few weeks concerning copyright, both of them probably good news for the average person. First, a court decided that a music publisher could not force YouTube to take down videos that people post just because they contain snippets of copyrighted songs. The court case originated in a video a woman posted of her toddler dancing to a song by Prince, which got millions of hits. The court asserted that this was a clear-cut case of ‘fair use.’ Fair use covers the average person’s use of copyrighted material where no profit is sought or achieved–such as copying several pages of a book for a homework assignment, or a girl posting a video of herself riding a horse while the Eagles warble Desperado in the background.

The other decision was to remove the copyright restriction from the song Happy Birthday to You. Many people don’t know this, but whenever this simple song is sung on a TV show or in a movie, the producers of that show or movie have to pay a royalty to Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. That’s why, if you think about it, you rarely hear people singing the song on TV, even though there are many plots involving birthdays. Or you hear people singing odd birthday songs, like the one Mr. Rogers always sang on his show.

Happy Birthday to You was written by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill around 1893. Actually they patched the lyrics onto an existing song called Good Morning to You. They later sold their copyright to one music publishing company, which later sold it to Warner/Chappell. If the intent of a copyright is to protect creators of content from losing control of their property, that doesn’t seem to encompass some music publisher well over a hundred years later profiting from their creative endeavor, and the court agreed.

It’s funny that in the discussion, much was made of the lyric to the song. Since the tune already existed, it was really the lyric that was copyrighted. That’s right–all 5 words of it. Count them. Five words, with one fill in the blank. So it’s about time that particular silliness was ended. So next time you’re watching a favorite show, and a character on that show has a birthday, you will likely hear the old song sung by the whole cast. And it’s about time.

Are All Books Equal, or Merely All Readers?

A few nights ago we had author R. A. Salvatore at the library. His books are, for the most part, fantasy novels, many of which are related to the creation of characters and scenarios for Dungeons and Dragons. In other words, the kind of genre-specific work that would elicit the comment ‘not my cup of tea’ from many readers. And yet he sells an awful lot of books, and our meeting room was packed with people who came to see him, hear him, and ask him questions.

He spoke about the ‘geek culture’ aspect of his work. He doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like the label. If people want to self-identify as geeks, that’s fine, but many people who do not still enjoy his books. Then he said something I have never heard anyone else say, at least not as clearly as he said it. When you criticize a book, he said, you are criticizing the people who like that book.

Every time that someone chooses to invest time in reading a book, they do so because there is something in that book that speaks to them. Maybe it’s the story, maybe it’s just the action and the chance to escape into fantasy for a while. Maybe the person is in high school and has no friends, and the characters in the book become his friends for a while. But whatever the reason that person has for reading, we have to recognize it as valid.

This is a lesson librarians should all learn early on, or they’re going to have a hard time of it. Many of us read a lot, and we are familiar with a lot of literature, and we can become pretty picky about what we like to read. But you have to always deal with the fact that what you like is only your opinion. If you ever want to find out how much your opinions matter, try choosing a book by your favorite author for your book discussion group and see how quickly it gets torn apart by other readers.

Of course there is literature that will endure for all time, and books that will be forgotten in a few years. But none of us at present know which books those will be. We can make good surmises, but in the end, it’s never certain. For now all we can do is respect all readers and their reading choices.

In Memoriam: Oliver Sacks

When I was young, probably a freshman in high school, I happened to pick up a magazine sitting around the house and started reading an article about a doctor who had worked with patients suffering from sleeping sickness. He had used a drug called L-DOPA, considered a radical treatment at the time, to very good effect.

I graduated college years later with an English degree, and began a career working in restaurants. I spent about ten years as a cook and kitchen manager before I took my first job in a library. One day I happened to see a book with a most curious title: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It was written by Dr. Oliver Sacks, a British neurologist, and told of a number of remarkable, even mind-boggling mental conditions he had diagnosed and treated. I soon found that he had also written the book Awakenings, which told the longer story of his work using L-DOPA on sleeping sickness. Realizing this was the basis of the article I had read years before, I backtracked and read that book too. It was later made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro, with Robin Williams as Dr. Sacks.

As an English major, I had read almost exclusively fiction in college. I had always read fiction. But Dr. Sacks’ books were so interesting and so compelling that I continued to read them. I read his Musicophilia and The Mind’s Eye. The last book of his I read was Hallucinations, in which, among other things, he described his own avid use of mind-altering drugs in his younger years. He is one of the handful of authors responsible for the fact that to this day I read as much non-fiction as fiction. I number people like David McCullough and Mark Kurlansky on that short list.

Most recently I heard an interview with Dr. Sacks on NPR, in which he talked about some of the difficulties he had experienced in life due to his homosexuality—something I hadn’t known about him, and which he spoke of with humor and pathos. Today I heard the news that Oliver Sacks has died at age 82. He was a brilliant, complex person, a compassionate doctor, and a wonderful author. If you have not read any of his books, you are missing a truly great reading experience.