A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Brendan Dowling Author Archive


Email: bdowling@ala.org  


Under the Radar

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part documentary film, The Vietnam War (2017), will be the centerpiece for many conversations this fall for veterans, protestors, historians, and others seeking answers to the what, why, and how questions.

Public Libraries Feature Article

The 2017 Public Library Data Service Report: Characteristics and Trends

The Public Library Data Service (PLDS) annual survey is conducted by Counting Opinions (SQUIRE) Ltd. (CO) on behalf of the Public Library Association (PLA). This 2017 survey of public libraries from the United States and Canada captured fiscal year 2016 (FY2016) data on finances, resources, service usage, and technology. Each year PLDS includes a special section. This year the supplemental questions focused on young adult services.

Public Libraries Feature Article

Reading Confidence with Tail Waggin’ Tutors

Children who participate in canine-assisted reading programs are likely to develop confidence in their reading skills and find reading to be more enjoyable. While there has not yet been an extensive amount of data to be found to prove the effectiveness of children reading to therapy dogs at drop-in library programs, a research study conducted by the Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension at the University of California found that school children who read to therapy dogs on a regular basis improve their reading fluency by 12 percent. Studies that are available on canine-assisted library reading programs have found results for improvements in oral reading fluency and accuracy, along with significant increases in engaged reading time and significant improvements in reading skills, such as the ability to explain, describe, analyze, and infer.

Public Libraries Feature Article

A Community Collaboration Rekindles Interest in Classic Literature

Once per month, from September to May, program participants discuss literary powerhouses like Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The program is a collaboration between PRPLD, the English department at Colorado State University (CSU), and a local Fort Collins (CO) business, Wolverine Farm Letterpress & Publick House. Graduate students and faculty from the English department are our expert guides, providing background on the author, historical period, significance of the work, and thoughtful prompts for discussion. The program is drop-in and open to all community members.

The Wired Library

Finding and Partnering with Trainers for Tech Programs

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?

From the President

A New Perspective

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 Author Photo

A.J. Baime on Truman’s “Completely Different Avenue of the American Dream”

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 Author Photo

Jessica Yu on Gladys Kalibbala and the Value of the Small Act

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.

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The Importance of Teaching Adult Services Librarians to Teach

“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 Author Photo

Phil Harrison on Finding the Joy in the Darkness of his New Novel

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 Author Photo

You Have To Do It On Your Own: An Interview with Tova Mirvis

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 […]

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Public Service Loan: Forgiveness The Struggle to Qualify is Real

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.

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Engaging Patrons with Library Podcasts

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 Author Photo

Vanessa Grigoriadis On How Shoe-Leather Reporting Shaped Her Latest Book

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 Author Photo

Amy Stewart On Solving The Problems Of Her Characters’ Everyday Life

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.