Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Morning at the Reference Desk

Phone Question:
 "Good morning, this is the Berkeley Heights Public Library, how can I help you?"
"This is the Berkeley Heights Public Library..."
"I'm sorry, you have reached the library, can we help you?"
"Yes, give me the phone number to Macys."

Phone Question:
"What is the phone number of Union County Paratransit?"
 Reference Librarian gives him the number from the website.
"No, that's not right, last time you gave me..." patron recites alternate number from the website.
"Yes, that number is listed as the dispatcher. Is that what you wanted?"
"Yes, that's the one I have."
"Great, glad to help."

Phone Question:
"Can you look up the phone number for...," caller lists three different businesses in 3 locations in NJ.
"I found company phone numbers, but none are listed at the locations you gave me."
"OK, give me what you got."
Librarian gives phone numbers and locations.
"Those aren't in the towns I want."

In Person Question:
"Yesterday's librarian gave me the name and titles of the books my grandson likes, can you find them? I left the piece of paper she gave me at home though."

In Person Question:
"I  just wanted to tell you I can't come to the program I signed up for because...." [insert life story here.]
"Thank you for letting us know. I've made a note that you cannot come."

In Person Question:
"I got a notice that my ebook is ready for me to download to my iPad, can you do that for me?"
"Yes." tap, tap, tap, done.
"How did you do that?"
"I followed the instructions in the email notice that you got."

Phone Question:
"I'm calling from XYZ encyclopedia company, is this a good time to talk to you?"
Librarian thought balloon: :-O

Patron listening in to Reference Desk activity:
"Gee, I'd love to be a librarian, just reading books all day."
Librarian thought balloon: :-(

Note: Why do patrons use the library as a phone # look-up service? It costs money to call the phone company 'Information' line and many people do not have computer access at home. The Reference Librarians use Reference USA, a database of U.S. and Canadian phone books and directories which can be found on the 'Databases & Articles' page of the library website. You will need a library card barcode to use this database. How do librarians know what book a patron means when they don't remember the title or author? This is actually a very common type of question called "stump the librarian." No really, it's not called that, but it is a common question and often the answer can be found by using NovelistPlus, another nifty database available from the Databases & Articles page.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Night of the Witches by Linda Raedisch

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was my first introduction to Walpurgis Night; asked when her birthday is, Lisbeth Salander replies, "On Walpurgis Night . . . Very fitting, don't you think? That's when I gad about with a broom between my legs." In time for this year's Walpurgis Night, which is always April 30, I read Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions & Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night by Linda Raedisch.

Walpurgis Night falls six months after Halloween. Not coincidentally, it is also the eve of Beltane, the midpoint between the vernal equinox and summer solstice.  As one might expect on such a spooky date, Walpurgis Night is said to be when witches from all over northern Europe fly to the Harz mountains of northern Germany on their broomsticks for a night of revelry and bonfires. 

Night of the Witches describes more contemporary celebrations of Walpurgis Night - from children's parades to bonfire-jumping - as well as the folklore behind the night. Walpurgis Night is named after a saint - and not just any saint, but one from whose remains sacred oil is said to flow every year.  The chapter "A Field Guide to Witches" describes types of European witches - from Valkyries, the Norse goddesses who decided who would die in battle, to wolf crones - hags living in the forest with a pack of wolves to do their bidding. The chapter "A Walpurgis Herbal" explains thirteen of the herbs used on Walpurgis Night, and why.

Chapters of recipes and crafts round out the book, ranging from origami kitchen witches - good for keeping the pots in your kitchen from boiling over and the toast from burning - to the more difficult: making your own besom (twig broom).  Broomstick Bread (in German, stockbrot) sounds fascinating.  Apparently you can make fresh bread by wrapping thin strips of dough on a stick and holding it over a fire, like roasting marshmallows.

Harry Potter fans will discover J.K. Rowling's inspiration behind Fenrir Greyback and the mandrake root in the folklore retold in Night of the Witches.  A few other of the many interesting things I learned from the book: witches fly with the sweeping part of the broom behind them, the better to cover their tracks, and the Victorians dreamed up the pointy black witch's hat.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Learning a Language On your Phone

Mango Languages is a set of online courses that teach over 30 foreign languages, plus English as a Second Language.  (Their offshoot, Mango Military, is used by military bases to teach our troops Arabic, Dari, Pashto, and Urdu.) Within each language, you have a choice between Mango Complete - a 100-lesson course - or Mango Basic, a shorter course for beginners.

If you don't have time or the discipline to sit at a computer to take one of the Mango courses, you can now take them on your smartphone or iPad using the Mango Languages app.  Why not swipe through a few screens of your current lesson, while you're waiting for your opponent to take their turn on a game? The Mango Languages app can be downloaded free onto Android phones and iPhones. The first time you use the Mango app you will need to log on. You can create your log on here.

If you'd like to get a quick taste of Mango, try the Pirate language course and you'll have your sea legs in no time!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fire Safety Videos

Count us among the people who had not heard about the great fire safety series "Fire Is . . . " until Newark Mayor Cory Booker rescued a resident from a burning building and held the DVD in his hand at the ensuing press conference, as reported by the Star-Ledger. The videos are also online at The site explains that younger children are usually taught about fire safety with fun activities, like visiting a firehouse. The "Fire Is . . . " series is meant for children in grades 5 - 7, to provide them with more information about the reality of fires in an "informative, but not scary" way. The project was conceived by Frank Field, the New York TV meteorologist, and feature his children Allison and Storm who are also meteorologists. The video chapters are titled:
Fire is Black
Fire is Hot
Fire is Fast
Fire is Smoke and Gas
Fire is an Emergency

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What the World Eats

In What the World Eats, Peter Menzel took photographs of families from 21 different countries, each taken in their home, surrounded by the food that they will eat over the week to come. I found myself pouring over the photos, which are wonderfully composed still lifes as well as portraits. The text is by Faith d'Aluisio, but the large format of the book, with its charts and recipes, means it's easier to browse than read cover to cover.

Menzel's best known book is Material World, which came out in 1995 and shows pictures of families with all of their belongings piled in front of their home. (Something one of my friends did on a smaller version for their Christmas card photo one year - and wouldn't it be more interesting to see your friends with a week's worth of food piled around them rather than their vacation pics?) What I Eat came out last year and pictures individuals from around the world, from surfers to sumo wrestlers, with a day's worth of their food.

Monday, April 16, 2012

French (& Spanish) in Action

The classic French course "French in Action," which used to run on PBS, can be viewed for free online at Annenberg Learner. (There's also the Spanish course, Destinos.) They are both immersion courses so there is no English, except for a short introduction. Yale University used French in Action in its beginning French classes for many years, until a student sued them, saying that being forced to watch it constituted sexual harassment. (Read more about that in Alice Kaplan's French Lessons: a Memoir; she is also the author of the recent book Dreaming in French: the Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis.)

Last year French in Action had a reunion and posted photos of the actors in attendance, which are oddly delightful for anyone who has spent hours watching French in Action. Anyway, I highly recommend the series, and if you need some help in English with your French, try our Mango Languages database (BH library card required).

Friday, April 13, 2012

Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George

The New York Times called Elizabeth George's second book in the bestselling Inspector Lynley/Sergeant Havers series "a thick red-herring stew." That term applies to its sequel, Well-Schooled in Murder, too. Everyone in the English private school where the crime was set had the opportunity and means to commit the murder and several people had a motive. The New York Times called Well-Schooled "stay-up-all-night trash". This is a pretty good summary: the murder of a 13-year-old is horrible and not something you really should read about for entertainment, but trying to figure out who the murderer is makes for compelling reading.

As in most mysteries, Lynley and Havers are not the most fleshed-out characters to walk the page, but they feel like the readers' old friends: Lynley the earl/detective inspector who is unlucky in love, and his sergeant Havers, a misanthrope from the unfashionable part of London, struggling to take care of her elderly parents. The books in this series, except for the first one, can be checked out as ebooks at by anyone with a Berkeley Heights card.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1940 Census Now Available

The 1940 census is now available on the computers at the library! (Once you get here and log on, click on Ancestry, then 1940 U.S. Census). The 1940 census is still in beta, so you can only search by name for people who lived in Delaware and Nevada. However, on the right side of the page is a browse tool that lets you select a state, county and town.

If you select New Jersey, Union County and New Providence (Berkeley Heights' original name), you have a choice of census enumeration districts. The census enumeration districts for New Providence Township are 20-62A, 20-62B, and 20-63. These districts are described geographically to help you figure out which one you need. Because you can't search these by name yet, you'll have 38, 18 or 11 pages to browse through looking for that relative of yours in Berkeley Heights. We'll keep you posted once the entire 1940 census can be searched by name.

The censuses after 1940 are not available. To protect the privacy of individuals, the census bureau will not release them until 72 years have gone by.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Tortilla Curtain

The library's Tuesday Night Book Group will be discussing T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain (1996) tomorrow night. The publisher website describes the book this way:

'In Southern California's Topanga Canyon, two couples live in close proximity and yet are worlds apart. High atop a hill overlooking the canyon, nature writer Delaney Mossbacher and his wife, real estate agent Kyra Menaker-Mossbacher, reside in an exclusive, secluded housing development with their son, Jordan. The Mossbachers are agnostic liberals with a passion for recycling and fitness. Camped out in a ravine at the bottom of the canyon are Cándido and América Rincón, a Mexican couple who have crossed the border illegally. On the edge of starvation, they search desperately for work in the hope of moving into an apartment before their baby is born. They cling to their vision of the American dream, which, no matter how hard they try to achieve it, manages to elude their grasp at every turn.'

Delaney is delivering his household refuse to the recycling center, driving along Topango Canyon in heavy traffic in his immaculate car when a man darts into traffic and collides with Delaney's car. The victim is hurled into the underbrush and Delaney stops his car to investigate. The car accident is the beginning of Delaney's growing awareness of the illegal Mexican immigrants who live near his exclusive, gated community in the Los Angeles suburbs. When Delaney finds the accident victim, Candido, he gives him twenty dollars and leaves him in pain in the woods. The story then shifts back and forth between the lives of Delaney's family and Candido and his wife America.
In many ways, Tortilla Curtain reminded me of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. Bonfire begins when Sherman McCoy, a rich Wall Street businessman, runs over a black man in the Bronx. The accident propels the action, the plot, the moral reckoning of Wolfe's book as it does in Boyle's. Both Delaney and Bonfire's Sherman McCoy feel guilty about their crime, but rationalize their subsequent neglect of the wounded or dead they left behind. Both men are smug, self-satisfied men, insulated from the real world. In today's parlance, they would be the 'one percent', the superwealthy as labeled by the 'Occupy Wall Street' protesters. Bonfire takes place in the booming Wall Street era of the 1980's. Tortilla Curtain was written in the mid 1990's before most of the U.S., aside from California and other states bordering on Mexico, had even become aware of the surge of illegal immigrants over the border. Each book's themes deal with prejudice, hypocrisy, materialism and greed.
The other book that comes to mind when reading Tortilla Curtain is Voltaire's Candide (1759). No matter how hard Candido works to improve his life, he encounters remarkably bad luck at every turn, but always manages to retain some Panglossian optimism about what is possible in the United States. Like Candide, his optimism and hard work are sorely challenged. Unlike Voltaire's book, the reader does not know how things turn out for Candido at the end. Candide settles down at the end of his journey and decides that he must cultivate his garden and not think endlessly about philosophy and the what-ifs of life. Candide replies to his clueless tutor Pangloss's nattering on with, "mais il faut cultiver notre jardin." And presumably he does let hard work define and comfort him from then on. But for Candido, it is doubtful that his continued hard work will result in anything good unless someone gives him a hand up. At the end of Tortilla Curtain, in the midst of a deadly mudslide, Candido and America and Delaney are swept away in a deluge of mud. Two end up on a raft and one raises his hand from the mud to be grabbed and given a hand up for a second chance.

Read the full text of Candide here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One by Stanley Fish

Stanley Fish treats sentences as an art form, and How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One could be a (very short) textbook for Sentence Appreciation 101, if such a course existed. Fish also shows you how you can imitate great sentences by parsing their underlying forms and copying those forms.

The chapter on first sentences is particularly good. Fish uses the first line of Agatha Christie's Nemesis as an example of a sentence that "leans" into the story that follows, "beckoning us to the next sentence . . . promising us insights, complications, crises, and, sometimes, resolutions":

In the afternoons it was the custom of Miss Jane Marple to unfold her second newspaper.

He goes on to analyze the first sentences of authors as varied as Elmore Leonard and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as last sentences from everything from the movie Some Like It Hot to Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness.

I would recommend How to Write a Sentence to any reader who simply must underline or copy down passages as they read. I would not recommend it to anyone who dislikes literary analysis or someone looking for straightforward advice on how to write (despite its title).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

If you like the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been a bestseller and ongoing popular selection for book groups since its publication over two years ago. Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 and her cells were saved for scientific research. For some reason, her cells produced generation after generation of cells for experiments and became the still widely used HeLa cells used worldwide for genetic research. Science writer Skloot tracked down the human side of the story as well as explaining the science for the lay reader and the book became a hit. For more information, Ellen's review of it for our library book group can be found here.
If, like millions of readers, you liked The Immortal Life, you might want to try the following titles about medicine and public health.

My Own Country: a doctor's story (1995) by Abraham Verghese recalls his experience treating patients with AIDS in rural Tennessee in the early years of the epidemic. This non-fiction book was Dr. Verghese's first book and was well-reviewed at the time. His first novel, Cutting for Stone (2009) has been very popular with reading groups and is usually checked out at most libraries and has a waiting list. If you liked Cutting for Stone, you might want to go back and read the author's earlier books too.

The Emperor of All Maladies, a biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukkerjee (2010) traces the history  and treatment of cancer. This is a big book at 571 pages and it does not have the human interest aspect that Henrietta Lacks does, but it will hold the interest of readers interested in science and medicine.

For more medical titles, come take a look at April's book display near the Reference Desk. Some featured authors are psychiatrist and author Oliver Sacks, CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, surgeons Atul Gawande and Sherwin B. Nuland.

Related lists of books with medical themes: and many thanks to these bloggers and readers for making these lists
Goodreads: Popular Medical Theme Books
Overbooked: Medical Fiction Booklist
The Wellcome Trust Book Prize for medicine in literature