A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Brendan Dowling Author Archive


Email: bdowling@ala.org  


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 […]

Mario Giordano Author Photo

Mario Giordano on Sicily, the Two Fs, and his Glamorous New Detective

Mario Giordano’s Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions introduces an indelible new detective to mystery lovers in the form of the hard-drinking, charismatic Poldi, a Bavarian transplant who has moved to Sicily to drink herself to death. Her end-of-life plans, however, get interrupted when her handsome handyman is discovered murdered. Poldi soon finds herself thrust […]

Diane Barth

Diane Barth on How Noticing the Small Details Enrich Friendships

Diane Barth’s I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women’s Lives draws on Barth’s extensive experience as a psychotherapist to examine the complexities of female friendship. Barth interviewed a broad range of women about their relationships, discussing how their need for friendship transforms over time and common problems they encounter. The result […]

From the President

Creating Opportunities

Because our culture is so divided now, the role of public libraries as an anchor in our communities is even more important. Libraries are not only the center of our communities. They help us stay grounded. Public libraries are safe zones, places where all people are welcome and included. Places where it is safe to explore different cultures, food, and religions. Places to be introduced to ideas that might be different. Places where it is safe to have conversations with people you might not know and who you might disagree with. Places of civic discourse.

January/February The Wired Library

Towards a Framework for Digital Justice in Public Libraries

In the wake of the net neutrality repeal, now more than ever, public libraries need to rise to the challenge of engaging in digital justice work. As librarians, we know that the repeal of net neutrality hurts all of us. However, in a climate of increasing inequality and opportunity gaps, marginalized communities, especially people of color, low-income households, and rural communities, are primed to be most negatively impacted by the FCC’s egregious party-line decision.