Our latest staff profile is of Heidi, our Technology Librarian extrordinaire.

Heidi says, “I deal with technology issues at all three library locations.  I fix things when they get broken, and I also order and set up new tech equipment from computers, to scanners, to WiFi paraphernalia and more.  I offer one-on-one technology training to our patrons, and collaborate with SCATV to provide a series of classes called Getting Comfortable in the Digital World.  I work on technology programming too: we’ve  recently provided several “Technology Petting Zoos,” which let the public get some hands-on time with the Library’s circulating iPads.  And we’re offering a 12-week class this summer that will teach high school age kids computer programming using the credit card sized computer, Raspberry Pi.”

In addition to this, I do scheduling of library staff, sit on several committees both at SPL and in the Minuteman Network, work regular shifts at the Central Library’s reference desk, and cover public desks in all departments as needed.”

“In my free time I enjoy reading, hiking, traveling, going to the beach, and I’ve just taken up kickboxing.”

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flyer_Raspberry_Pi

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Don’t miss out on the Friends of the Library book sale this weekend! You’ll find great books at rock-bottom prices! Proceeds of the book sale help fund library programming and museum passes. The book sale begins at noon on Friday and continues to closing time on Sunday.

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Friday the 13th. The unlucky day. But why do people think Friday 13th is unlucky? No one really knows. Why would anyone even think a particular day is unlucky? Stuart Vyse, the author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, says that superstitions stem out of a desire for control over our lives: so if we think there is a particular day on which the universe is out to get us, we’re going to be more careful.

Film Life of Brian with John Cleese,Michael Palin and Graham Chapman

And if something bad happens to you on Friday 13th, you can blame the malevolent forces of bad luck. The concept of an unlucky day might have begun with the Ancient Romans, who divided their entire calendar into comitalia (lucky days) fasti (regular days) and nefasti (unlucky days). On nefasti a Roman tried to limit their activities. A Roman general would never consider fighting a battle on a nefastus. Nor would a priest conduct religious ceremonies. A Roman merchant who needed to sign a contract would wait for a faustus, or preferably a comitalis. Avoiding nefasti gave the Romans the illusion they were doing something to prevent misfortune.

But why Friday? Why the 13th? No one is sure. Some say it’s because fridayFriday was the day Jesus was crucified and that Judas Iscariot was his  13th disciple.  Others maintain that the superstition after the 1907 publication of Thomas W. Lawson’s novel Friday, the Thirteenth about an unscrupulous broker’s attempt to crash the stockmarket on that day. I haven’t read it (and probably never will) but check out the cover (right).

Isn’t it menacing? Just looking at it makes me anxious about the rest of today.

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…for May 12, 2016.

farley-mowatCanadian author and environmentalist Farley Mowat (1921- 2014) was born on this day in Bellville, Ontario. He wrote more than 40 books, the most famous being Never Cry Wolf (1963), supposedly an account of his experiences observing wolves in the wilderness of subarctic Canada. Mowat was often accused of not actually having spent as much time with wolves as he recounts in the book.  Mowat’s usual response was that his critics were confusing facts with truth. The book was an immediate bestseller upon publication and is credited with making  wolf conservation popular  with the Canadian public.

Related reading at SPL: Farley: The Life of Farley Mowat by James King, and Wild Harmonies: A Life of Music and Wolves by Hélène Grimaud.

Today is also the birthday of English poet and painter Dante Gabriel rossettiRossetti (1828-1882). Rossetti, together with William Holman Hunt and  John Everett Millais, founded the Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, a literary and artistic movement heavily influenced by Romanticism that sought inspiration in medieval culture, which they believed to have an artistic integrity the modern world lacked.  Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery hosts the world’s largest online collection of Pre-Raphaelite images here.

Related reading at SPL: Essential Pre-Raphealites, which explains the movement’s guiding principles with reproductions of paintings by various members.

Related reading in the Minuteman Library Network: The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti. Christina was Dante’s sister and is generally considered a much better writer than her brother.

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mercuryMercury is moving between Earth and the Sun today, a relatively rare event known as a solar transit. It began around 7 am today and will continue until 2:42 pm Eastern Time.

Whatever you do, don’t look directly at the Sun to try watch it. In any case, there’s not much to see: just a small black dot (Mercury) on the face of the Sun. If you don’t have a solar filter for your camera or binoculars there are plenty of live streams on the Internet, such as the one here.

NASA has provided some explanations as to why solar transits matter and what scientists learn from them at their website.

One of the most important solar transits in modern history was the 1761 transit of Venus. Astronomers realized that by observing the transit from specific points around the globe, they could gather data that would enable them to calculate the Earth’s distance from the Sun. European scientists embarked on dangerous and uncomfortable voyages around the world, from England to Newfoundland and South Africa, from France to India, from Austria to Madagascar, just to watch one planet for six hours, take notes, and do some mathematical calculations.

If astronomy or the history of science interests you, check out Andrea Wulf’s history of the dangerous, adventurous voyages of these astronomers, Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens.

 

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witchesPeople have been voting for the next Somerville Reads book. So far Stacy Schiff’s The Witches is in the lead. If you haven’t voted already, come to the Central Library and do so.

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We’re getting ready for Somerville Reads 2016 – our next One City, One Book program, which will take place in the early Fall – and we need your input! Which of these books would you most like to read and discuss as a community? You can read about each book below (the reviews have been edited for length) then vote for your pick at the bottom of this post.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowel
What do you get when a woman who’s obsessed with death and U.S. history goes on vacation? This wacky, weirdly enthralling exploration of the first three presidential assassinations. Vowell (The Partly Cloudy Patriot), a contributor to NPR’s This American Life and the voice of teenage superhero Violet Parr in The Incredibles, takes readers on a pilgrimage of sorts to the sites and monuments that pay homage to Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, visiting everything from grave sites and simple plaques (like the one in Buffalo that marks the place where McKinley was shot) to places like the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where fragments of Lincoln’s skull are on display. An expert tour guide, Vowell brings into sharp focus not only the figures involved in the assassinations, but the social and political circumstances that led to each-and she does so in the witty, sometimes irreverent manner that her fans have come to expect. (Publisher’s Weekly, starred review)

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
If Jesse Owens is rightfully the most famous American athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, repudiating Adolf Hitler’s notion of white supremacy by winning gold in four events, the gold-medal-winning effort by the eight-man rowing team from the University of Washington remains a remarkable story. It encompasses the convergence of transcendent British boatmaker George Pocock; the quiet yet deadly effective UW men’s varsity coach, Al Ulbrickson; and an unlikely gaggle of young rowers who would shine as freshmen, then grow up together, a rough-and-tumble bunch, writes Brown, not very worldly, but earnest and used to hard work. (Booklist, starred review)

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: a Memoir by Roz Chast
New Yorker cartoonist Chast (Theories of Everything) had vaguely thought that “the end” came in three stages: feeling unwell, growing weaker over a month or so in bed, and dying one night. But when her parents passed 90, she learned that “the middle [stage] was a lot more painful, humiliating, long-lasting, complicated, and hideously expensive” than she imagined. Chast’s scratchy art turns out perfectly suited to capturing the surreal realities of the death process. In quirky color cartoons, handwritten text, photos, and her mother’s poems, she documents the unpleasant yet sometimes hilarious cycle of human doom. (Library Journal)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
A resplendent novel from the author of The Sky Is Everywhere. Fraternal twins and burgeoning artists Jude and Noah are inseparable until puberty hits and they find themselves competing for boys, a spot at an exclusive art school, and their parents’ affections. Told in alternating perspectives and time lines, with Noah’s chapters taking place when they are 13 and Jude’s when they are 16, this novel explores how it’s the people closest to us who have the power to both rend us utterly and knit us together. (School Library Journal)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
In a radical departure from her Jackson Brodie mystery series, Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. She drowns, falls off a roof, and is beaten to death by an abusive husband but is always reborn back into the same loving family, sometimes with the knowledge that allows her to escape past poor decisions, sometimes not. Alternately mournful and celebratory, deeply empathic and scathingly funny, Atkinson is working at the very top of her game. An audacious, thought-provoking novel from one of our most talented writers. (Booklist, starred review)

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
In 1692, the Massachusetts Bay Colony executed 14 women, 5 men, and 2 dogs for witchcraft. The ensuing terror cut a wide swath through the colony, affecting residents of all ages and educational backgrounds. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Schiff (Véra; Cleopatra) chronicles the surrounding events, painting a vivid portrait of a homogeneous, close-knit network of communities rapidly devolving into irrational paranoia. Proving, yet again, that truth is stranger than fiction, she mines existing records, extrapolates all the major characters, and pieces together the unfolding story in suitably dramatic fashion as neighbors, friends, and family members turn on one another. (Booklist, starred review).

Click here to vote for your choice!

Somerville Reads is a project that promotes literacy and community engagement by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss the same book.

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…is available for public review  at the Central Library, 79 Highland Ave. Ask at the reference desk for help finding it.

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NBC nightly news correspondent Richard Engel has written an intriguing book about living two decades in the Middle East. From witnessing bomb explosions, kidnappings,  bribery’s, meeting Saddam Husseinand and at one point was the only living American reporter in Baghdad during the Iraq War, Engel has shared a great and fascinating experience with us that all American should read.

The book begins with a brief history of the Middle East, how it’s come to be, so many cultures, religions and types of people all in the one place. Engel also brings up the fact that most Americans know nothing about this culture. In school, we learned about it as, Mesopotamia, “the cradle of civilization,” but today we just think the Middle East, a place, most Americans don’t even want to hear about.

As a freelance journalist he moved to Cairo  in the early 90’s and saw the revolution in 2013, he also spent time in Israel, and watched bombings explode across the street, then moved onto Baghdad where he became the only American journalist in Iraq during the war. At that point he became a NBC news correspondent. Engel discusses how ISIS came to be in power today and what he foresees will happen to the Middle East in the next ten years.

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