A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Brendan Dowling Author Archive


Email: bdowling@ala.org  


Melissa Stephenson

Melissa Stephenson on the Daunting Task of Getting the Story Down

Melissa Stephenson’s powerful memoir, Driven: A White-Knuckled Ride To Heartbreak and Back, traces her relationship with her beloved brother, who died by suicide, by cataloging the various cars from her life. With extreme compassion and biting humor, Stephenson recounts her various relationships with family members, as well as the wanderlust that launched her from her small hometown in Indiana.

John Lingan

John Lingan on Patsy Cline, Her Hometown, and the Groundbreaking Generation of Country Music Entrepreneurs

When John Lingan was sent to Winchester, Virginia, to write an article about Patsy Cline’s hometown, a quick visit turned into multiple return trips. The resulting book, Homeplace, is an exhaustively researched and compassionate account of Winchester and the nearby resort town, Berkeley Spring, West Virginia. The reader’s tour guide through the area is Jim McCoy, a former radio DJ famous for discovering Patsy Cline when she was a teenager, who later owned and operated a local honkytonk, The Troubador, that serves as a place for the community to drink, listen to music, and have a good time.

Jessica Long Author Photo

Jessica Long on Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

Jessica Long was born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, a medical condition that required the amputation of both legs below the knee. She was adopted by a family in Maryland, and quickly developed her spectacular gift for swimming. At age twelve, she was the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic team, winning three gold medals. Over the past four Paralympic games, she’s won twenty-three medals, and is currently training to compete in her fifth games in Tokyo in 2020. With her sister Hannah, Long has written a photo-illustrated memoir, Unsinkable, which details not only her triumphs in the pool, but also the more personal moments of her journey, such as reconnecting with her birth family in 2012. Booklist gave Unsinkable a starred review, calling it “inspirational on so many levels, . . .a great addition for middle school collections.”

Megan Flaherty Author Photo

Meghan Flaherty on Dancing Back and Writing Herself Back into Tango

Megan Flaherty’s heartfelt Tango Lessons details how a passing interest in tango turned into a full-fledged passion for the author when she was in her early twenties. With levity and grace, Flaherty guides the reader through the history of the dance, as well as the world of nightly prácticas and ballroom dance competitions. Flaherty also writes candidly about how the dance helped her confront face traumatic events from her childhood and issues in her relationships. Tango Lessons has been highly praised by the literary community, with Kirkus Reviews calling it “a vibrantly intelligent reading pleasure” and Pulitzer Prize-winner Margo Jefferson hailing Flaherty as “entertaining, thoughtful, and trustworthy because her self-examination—doubts, insecurities, grief—is never self-indulgent.”

Hannah Pittard Author Photo

Hannah Pittard on the Complexity and Messiness of Life

Hannah Pittard’s sweeping Visible Empire focuses on the aftermath of a real-life plane crash in 1961, which claimed the lives of over 100 Atlantans traveling home after an extended art tour of Paris. Pittard employs her formidable skills to focus on how the crash affects four Atlantans: Robert Tucker, a middle-aged newspaper editor whose mistress was on the plane; his wife, Lily, who is eight months pregnant with their first child; Piedmont Dobbs, a teenager who was recently denied the chance of being one of the first African-American students to integrate Atlanta’s Public Schools; and Anastasia Rivers, a calculating grifter who uses the crash as a springboard to a better life.

Kenneth Bonert Author Photo

Kenneth Bonert on Finding the Right Tone to Make the Story Come Alive

Kenneth Bonert’s The Mandela Plot is a propulsive literary thriller set in late 80’s Johannesburg, when eighteen year-old Martin Helger’s life is upended upon the arrival of Annie, an intriguing American college student. Annie quickly proves to have a bevy of  secrets, and Martin is soon exposed to a world far different than his sheltered working class […]

The Wired Library

Teaching Technology

Public libraries are approaching the digital divide using different strategies. Aside from providing access to computers and internet, the most common digital divide–bridging mechanism is group classes on technology. The public affirms this focus for libraries: 94 percent of Americans believe public libraries should “offer programs to teach people, including kids and senior citizens, how to use digital tools such as computers, smartphones and apps.”

Feature Article

Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action Applying the OODA Loop Concept to Libraries

As we know, technology continues to redefine how we perceive the communities in which we participate. The perils and promises of machine learning shape our world around us in knowable ways. Social media allows us to participate at arm’s length as never before. It has transformed how we form and nurture our affinity groups so that we experience increasingly more closed systems that reluctantly absorb outside information. The world has become more entropic and arguably less connected to traditional institutions because of social media’s absorbing and disruptive influences. It has become hard for public institutions such as libraries to build upon traditional patron allegiances and support, and more perilous to depend solely on them. Moreover, in our attempts to nurture these allegiances, we struggle to comprehend the directions of change in our environment. Is it any wonder our pursuits often seem an endless cycle of chasing new purpose and self-justification while lurching toward new ideas that sometimes seem ill suited to our core principles?

Feature Article

Ready, Set, Negotiate! Preparing for Successful Contract Talks

The first day of contract negotiations is approaching and members of both teams are getting a little nervous. Will talks be smooth or disagreeable? Do both sides know what’s coming or are surprises in store? What is the best way to prepare for successful negotiations? Both sides can do plenty to come to the table prepared to create a contract that meets everyone’s needs.

Feature Article

Librarians, Meet Your Motherboard

Motherboards, CPUs, and RAM, oh my! In the twenty-first century, libraries are dependent on these easily confused or misidentified hardware components and terminologies. Modern information systems—ranging from library OPACs to electronic research databases—all require machines that have a motherboard beneath their shiny plastic hoods. Library skills, including Boolean searching and complex taxonomic classification, also rely on computer technology. Librarians regularly make expensive decisions about the hardware in their facilities, but it is easy to get tongue-tied by the acronyms and technical names for the hardware in these machines. A basic grasp of hardware components has the potential to greatly enhance our awareness of our information systems. Libraries can also save money by making informed technology decisions. It’s time we met our motherboards.

From the President

Courage to Evolve

Recently, we hosted visitors from a public library in Texas. The library director,
the mayor, and their finance officer toured several of our libraries and spent
time talking with our team members. After asking us some thoughtful, probing
questions about the philosophical underpinnings of our services, the mayor noted,
“You need to come up with a new noun. My image of what a traditional library looks
like has just been challenged, and what you are doing here is not a library—it is something
else. It is intriguing and challenging, and I want to spend time here, but what you
are doing needs a new name.” I challenged him to help us invent a better descriptor.

Jeff Bercovici Author Photo

Jeff Bercovici on Fitness, Freshness, and Redefining “Peak Age”

Jeff Bercovici’s Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age is an in-depth exploration of how elite athletes have managed to prolong their careers in recent years, transforming how our culture views fitness in the process. Through interviews with numerous sports scientists and athletes, Bercovici guides the reader through the latest scientific breakthroughs and training strategies that enable older athletes to not only maintain their competitive edge, but in many instances tower over their competitors.

Caleb Roehrig Author Photo

Caleb Roehrig on Representation, Stealing Books From His Mom, and Writing Unlikeable Characters

Caleb Roehrig’s twisty White Rabbit centers around high school sophomore Rufus Holt, who’s thrust into the role of amateur detective when his hard-partying half-sister awakes next to the corpse of her boyfriend and enlists Rufus to clear her name. Complicating matters is that Rufus’ ex-boyfriend, Sebastien, has chosen the exact same night to try to reconcile after their tumultuous break-up a month earlier. For the next several hours, Rufus and Sebastien attempt to get to the bottom of the murder, bumping up against vicious classmates, tyrannous drug dealers, and an insidious new designer drug wrecking havoc on the community.

Barbara Lipska Author Photo

Barbara Lipska on Deciphering and Destigmatizing Mental Illness

In January 2015, doctors informed Barbara Lipska that her melanoma had spread to her brain. With her frontal lobe compromised by tumors, Lipska soon began exhibiting schizophrenia and dementia-like symptoms. The subsequent eight weeks were a harrowing ordeal for Lipska, who was unaware of the affects her illness had on her brain, and her family. Yet two months after she was diagnosed, the experimental immunotherapy doctors prescribed had successful results. With her mental health restored, Lipska applied her skills as a neuroscientist to dissect the physical affects on her brain. Her resulting memoir, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery, co-written with Elaine McArdle, is a moving account of her illness plus an accessible exploration of the relationship between the brain and behavior.

Cris Beam Author Photo

Cris Beam on Empathy’s Ability to be Both Personal and Exemplary

In Cris Beam’s I Feel You: The Surprising Power of Extreme Empathy, Beam brings her formidable skills as a journalist to unpack how empathy is deployed in the 21st century, examine its origins in popular culture, and understand its fluid definitions. Along the way she shows the reader the role empathy has played from the […]