Friday, April 13, 2018

Library on Wheels - by Sharlee Glenn

This week (April 8-14) is National Library Week. Wednesday (April 11) was National Bookmobile Day. It was also the day that Glenn's book about the very first Bookmobile was published. I had pre-ordered it from Amazon, and it was shipped on Wednesday, arrived to Thursday, and read (by me) on Friday. Well researched and illustrated with historic photographs, letters, and other period artifacts, this book tells the story of Mary Lemist Titcomb, chief librarian of the Washington County (Maryland) Free Library from 1901-1931. Titcomb established several innovative library programs in the early 19th century, including instituting one of the first children's rooms, and delivering books and other library materials to schools. Not content with simply serving those who were able to come to the public library in Hagerstown (the county seat) Titcomb launched a story hour program for rural children, and set up book depositories in smaller towns, to ensure that access to books and reading was widespread. Realizing she was still not serving all residents, she commissioned the first bookmobile in the United States - a horse drawn wagon whose route included family farms and other isolated areas. The wagon was driven by the library's janitor, Joshua Thomas, who proclaimed himself to be a "Book Missionary" on the 1910 U.S. census.

My favorite part of this book has to be this bit from a newspaper article written about Ms. Titcomb for The (Hagerstown) Builder 
The hostess was most gracious, most charming. She wore a soft gray silk and a dainty slipper was visible. The hostile one saw it, saw too-could she believe it?-the feminine frivolity, a jeweled buckle. She heard too, the little woman discussing "Spring Fashions" vivaciously, knowingly, for Miss Titcomb is no mean authority on style and her dress, like her work, is always up-to-date.
It seems you can be fashionable while wearing sensible shoes.

For more books that feature bookmobiles (including another one about the very first bookmobile) you can see my previous posts here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Educated - by Tara Westover

Raised and home-schooled by survivalist parents in the Idaho mountains Tara Westover rejected her family's admonishments not to go to college and enrolled in Brigham Young University (BYU) before she turned 18. Ultimately she becomes a Cambridge-educated PhD, but not without painfully examining her role in the family. Her father's conspiracy theories about universities and the Illuminati were made known to her long before she thought about going to college herself. Her mother had taken charge of her children's homeschooling, which mostly consisted of letting them learn what they wanted when they wanted, and included occasional trips to "the Carnegie library in the center of town".

Westover recognized that she was one of the least disciplined of her siblings when it came to "doing school" which gave her a lot of reason to doubt her abilities when she arrived at BYU. Her misgivings were magnified when she discovered that her classmates had an understanding of US culture and history that she did not share. Her realization that everyone else knew what the Holocaust was, for instance, caused her not only embarrassment, but also opened her eyes to the fact that her peers shared a collective knowledge that she was missing. She did not even know what she did not know.

If Westover had anxieties about her place at BYU they were only compounded when she arrived at Cambridge. Upon her arrival on campus she and her denizens were invited to take a tour of the chapel, including the roof. She describes the experience of watching her classmates, and her professor fight the wind on top of the building as they cling to the wall while she climbs higher. Finally explaining to her professor that "she'd roofed [her] share of hay sheds" and that
The wind is just wind. You could withstand these gusts on the ground, so you can withstand them in the air. There is no difference. Except the difference you make in your head...I'm just standing...You are all trying to compensate...You've made yourselves vulnerable. If you could just control your panic, this wind would be nothing.
Even this insight though, was accompanied by apprehension
I wanted the mind of a scholar, but it seemed that Dr. Kerry saw in me the mind of a roofer. The other students belonged in a library; I belonged on a crane.
Her ultimate success in earning her PhD demonstrates that she certainly did belong in a library, and the final third of the book (from the time she lands in Cambridge for the first time) is scattered with references to using it. This stands in stark contrast to the first 200 (plus) pages, where there is only one.