A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Brendan Dowling Author Archive


Email: bdowling@ala.org  


Ling Ma Author Photo

Ling Ma on Mob Mentalities, Boring Typography, and the Apocalypse

Candace Chen is a dedicated office drone in the publicity department of a big-time publishing house, deftly negotiating contracts for the novelty Bibles her company churns out year after year. Only when a society-erasing plague, a mysterious fever that rends its victims into a zombie-like existence, wipes out most of her co-workers does Candace reluctantly […]

Neal Bascomb Author Photo

Neal Bascomb on the Incredible Escape from Holzminden Prison

Neal Bascomb brings the harrowing escape from Holzminden prison to thrilling life in The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War. Holzminden prison was Gemany’s seemingly inescapable POW prison, run by the tyrannical commandant Karl Niemeyer. Yet through meticulous planning and ingenious subterfuge, nearly a dozen […]

Andrea Kleine Author Photo

Andrea Kleine on Epic Quests, Coping Strategies, and Dismantling the Traditional Narrative of the Artist

When Hope and Eden’s father forgets to pick them up for one of their weekend custody visits, the two teenagers accept a ride from a stranger who soon proves to be far more dangerous than he appears. Twenty years later, Hope is an adrift playwright in New York when she finds out that her abductor is up for parole. Hope sets off to find the now estranged Eden in hopes of convincing her to testify against him, and the resulting quest not only exposes painful truths from her past, but also uncovers insights into her present. Andrea Kleine’s Eden is a riveting character study that has been met with rave reviews. Vanity Fair stated “the mystery of Eden unfolds across America with humor and some clever detective work, combining a page-turner with a moving meditation on the limitations of family amidst trauma” and NYLON hailed it as “a devastating, revelatory examination of trauma, memory, creation, and the ways in which we define ourselves according to our experiences.”

Keith O'Brien Author Photo

Keith O’Brien on the Radical Lives of Five Incredible Pilots

Keith O’Brien’s Fly Girls uncovers an overlooked period of aviation, exploring the lives of five disparate female pilots from the 1920s and 30s. Through exhaustive research and sweeping prose, O’Brien brings these remarkable stories to life, recounting the risks these women faced on and off the airfield. Critics have heaped praise upon the book, with The New York Times noting that “O’Brien’s prose reverberates with fiery crashes, then stings with the tragedy of lives lost in the cockpit and sometimes, equally heartbreaking, on the ground” and The Wall Street Journal stating that “O’Brien has recovered a fascinating chapter not just in feminism and aviation but in 20th-century American history.”

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.