Community access and technology training are crucial components of public library services. The American Library Association’s (ALA) 2015 Digital Inclusion Survey found that “those who receive formal digital literacy training were significantly more likely to use the Internet to pursue economic opportunities and cultivate social ties.”1 In this context, at Forest Park (IL) Public Library (FPPL) we decided in 2016 to revamp our programming efforts to serve our suburban population of 15,000. Helping patrons effectively use technology to achieve educational, economic, and social goals became our shiny new objective. We were eager to launch a new lineup of programs. However, beyond the many questions and dilemmas inherent in launching a new initiative, I wondered who in the world would facilitate the workshops?
Brendan Dowling Author Archive
During a recent Lyft ride to the airport, I was greeted by a driver who turned to me with a huge smile asking about my travel plans. It was quite early for an intense discussion, but with my mind full of thoughts on my upcoming work, and the current state of the world, I carefully asked her a question: “With all the divisiveness in our country, do you think that libraries have the power to affect positive change and bring people together?”
A.J. Baime’s “The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World” dives deep into the tumultuous first four months of Truman’s presidency. Tracing Truman’s rise from failed farmer to leader of the free world, Baime constructs a compelling argument that no other President has ever faced such a fraught entrance into the office.
Jessica Yu’s “Garden of the Lost and Abandoned” tracks the work of Gladys Kalibbala, a Ugandan reporter whose weekly column on missing children works to reunite her subjects with their families. Equal parts detective, social worker, and child advocate, Kalibbala hunts down the origin of each child’s story, working tirelessly to find a solution for each child’s predicament. Yu brings her skills as a documentary filmmaker (she won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien”) to bring Kalibballa’s story to life. While “Garden of Lost and Abandoned” is her first book, it has been met with rapturous praise. Kirkus Reviews called it “an eloquent affirmation of the vast capacity of the human heart,” while Amazon selected it as one of its Best Books of the Month: Nonfiction. Yu spoke to Brendan Dowling via telephone on November 6th, 2017.
“But, librarians aren’t teachers.” This was one of the first (and most common) comments I encountered when I began my research. “Degree-wise, yes. But,” I asked, “are they instructors?” Do most libraries (read this as librarians) have to walk someone through a process, whether it be how to download and use an app, reserve a book or a room, or access and use library databases? What about programs and classes? Most libraries today are offering a variety of choices to their adult communities: help with résumés, genealogy, technology. Name a topic, and some library in the United States is probably offering a class or program. Do these all count as teaching? Of course they do.
Phil Harrison’s novel The First Day spans decades in tracing the fallout caused by a tumultuous love affair in Belfast. When Beckett scholar Anna meets local pastor Orr in 2012, they embark on a passionate relationship despite their profound differences, thus permanently altering their families’ lives. Thirty years later, their son Sam must deal with the aftershocks of their relationship as he navigates his carefully isolated life in New York City. Publishers Weekly noted “Harrison’s remarkable writing elevates a story that is all the more powerful for its eschewing of easy answers and resolution,” while Kirkus raved that “Harrison’s elegant prose and deeply felt characters create a novel with a fiercely beating heart.”
Tova Mirvis’ memoir The Book of Separation chronicles how questioning her faith sparked monumental changes in her life, including the dissolution of her marriage. Through clear-hearted prose, Mirvis wrestles with her Orthodox Jewish upbringing, her evolving faith, and the courage it takes to step away from one’s community to forge one’s own path. Mirvis’ previous novels […]
I often call public libraries the “people’s university” because as an institution, we serve anyone who comes through our doors with an interest in learning. The public library is a welcoming community space for people of all ages to gather, connect with one another, tinker and try new things, and cultivate new ideas. Whether people come to visit for business networking meetings, looking for research materials for school projects, grabbing popular movies, or learning how to download or stream digital media content, it’s hard to walk out of a library without learning something new.
As podcasts have further embedded themselves into popular culture, public libraries have become active producers of podcast content, through both workshops for patrons and library-hosted programs. At their base level, podcasts are an effective way of archiving library programs and making them accessible to patrons who are unable to attend. Yet many public libraries are pushing beyond merely recording author talks by producing shows that supplement existing programs, reflect the communities they serve, and engage patrons in a unique way. The following is just a sample of the many innovative ways public libraries employ podcasts.
Vanessa Grigoriadis’ Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power and Consent on Campus is a thoughtful overview of sexual assault on today’s college campuses. Interviewing over a hundred students, parents, and university officials, Grigoriadis combines meticulous research with beautiful writing to produce a panoptic view of today’s college campus. A sensitive look at a painful topic, Blurred Lines is a must-read for parents of college-age children.
Amy Stewart’s Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions marks the third in the acclaimed Kopp Sisters’ series, which kicked off with 2015’s Girl Waits With Gun. Here, eldest sister Constance, now a deputy sheriff, bucks against a system where local women are being jailed under flimsy (yet legal) pretenses. As she fights to bring justice to two recently arrested women, her youngest sister Fleurette contemplates pursuing her theatrical ambitions, threatening to disrupt the close-knit family dynamic. With Confessions, Stewart mines an often overlooked period of American history, yielding rewarding results while providing a captivating legal thriller. Fans of historical fiction will be eager to see how the three Kopp sisters—the steadfast Constance, flinty Norma, and starry-eyed Fleurette—continue to surprise as they navigate their sharply changing world. Amy Stewart spoke to Brendan Dowling via telephone on August 4th, 2017.
Kelly Reilly’s debut novel, The Ordinary Adventures of Hannah Alexander, centers around the geology-obsessed Hannah Alexander. Left under the care of her enigmatic grandmother for the summer, Hannah has settled down for a mundane three months until a sinkhole mysteriously appears in her backyard. In short order, mystical insects fly out of the hole and […]
Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink tells the story of two academics separated by 350 years: Helen Watt, a British professor at the tail end of her career, and Ester Velasquez, a Portuguese Jew living in 1660’s London. When Helen is tasked with verifying recently discovered scholarly papers written by a mysterious “Aleph,” she hires American grad student Aaron to assist her. As Helen and Aaron realize the possibility exists that Aleph is a woman, interest in the papers escalates and the two find themselves having to fend off competing forces. Bouncing between present day England and London right before the plague, Kadish explores the inner lives of all three characters as each is pushed to save the thing they love. Booklist praised The Weight of Ink as “a richly textured, addictive novel,” while Toni Morrison called Kadish “a gifted writer, astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion.”
Justin Dillon had a thriving career in music before moving into the field of global activism. For over ten years, he has been a key figure in the anti-slavery movement through his organizations Made In A Free World and Slavery Footprint. With his new book, A Selfish Plan to Change the World: Finding Big Purpose in Big Problems, Dillon imparts the lessons he’s learned along the way, shares his tactics for implementing change, and creating the change you want to see.
While readers might be familiar with Dana Schwartz through her extremely popular twitter parody accounts, @guyinyourmfa and @dystopianya, they will be introduced to another side of her with her charming and insightful novel, And We’re Off. Nora Holmes is set to spend the summer before her senior high school at a prestigious art institute in Ireland, the perfect place to be with like-minded students, escape the gaze of her tightly wound mother, and shed the memories of a fizzled relationship. All of this is thrown away when her mother, nursing her own wounds after a painful divorce, decides at the last moment to accompany Nora on the trip. With a deft eye for character and plotting, Schwartz crafts a winning road trip while also exploring topics like identity, creativity, and of course, mother-daughter relationships.