Cover of Julius Lester's Let's Talk About Race

In the middle of he news coverage about the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and the subsequent demonstrations and moments of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, a particular story got a strong reaction between library workers and library supporters around the social networks. The story centered around Ferguson Public Library, and how it became a safe haven for children to spend time and learn when the public school district decided to postpone the start of the school year due to the tense situation.

The story is a reminder that public libraries are more than a place to find books or media or a quiet space to study or gather thoughts. This story is pertinent because it shows how a library is actually an integral part of its community, and how and why it provides services to its community. And that service is changeable and dynamic.

Staying along that spirit, I want to use this opportunity to illustrate how all libraries, including our own, can help us better understand and discuss the complex dynamics at play in Ferguson – dynamics that are not distant and are actually also part of our daily lives here in Somerville, in Massachusetts, in the United States at large.


Race, prejudice, oppression and racism are concepts that are around us every single day. These words carry years of tension and generate discussion that we sometimes prefer to avoid. But silence doesn’t make the reality of race-based prejudice and racism any less harsh. In a moment like this, we can see what resources we have available to educate and evaluate ourselves and to help educate and listen to others around us. Remember that some people might have the option to discuss race and racism from an angle in which they haven’t experienced prejudice or discrimination, but for others those are a constant in their lives.

The-Skin-You-Live-in-by-Michael-Tyler-illustrated-by-David-Lee-CsicskoChildren need to have a clear understanding of these issues to better navigate a world that will confront them with prejudice and oppression. They need to be able to understand when they are being cast in a different shadow because of their skin color, or when they are the ones actually casting the shadow on others. This is important because – although for some it might not seem that way – childhood is racialized. As children go through different stages to learn how to walk and talk, they also go through a series of stages on understanding race. They learn that their skin color is a permanent characteristic and will start to understand the role their race plays in their identities. It is important to expose them to conversations about race so that they can start evaluating themselves, the world around them and present-day prejudice.

Promoting and reading diverse books is not only about supporting books that reflect ourselves and others, but also what it means to be ourselves/others and how we are perceived and treated in society. Books provide the opportunity to teach kids about racial and ethnic differences, as well as the historical and contemporary racism. Much like there are books that help children to read, learn and understand the difference between red, white and blue, there are also a variety of books that tackle issues of skin color, race, racism and oppression to help children have a conversation about race.

Books to start or continue a conversation about race: (Available in the Minuteman Library Network)

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler and David Lee Csicsko

Under Our Skin: Kids Talk About Race by Debbie Holsclaw Birdseye and Tom Birdseye

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester and Karen Barbour

All The Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger

Bein’ With You This Way by W. Nikola-Lisa and Michael Bryant

The Color of Us by Karen Katz

Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly

Who Belongs Here? by Margy Burns Knight

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

The Palm of My Heart by Davida Adedjouma and Gregory Christie

Black, White, Just Right! by Marguerite W. Davol and Irene Trivas

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

Daisy and the Doll by Michael Medearis,  Angela Shelf Medearis and Larry Johnson

Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle and Jeanne Rorex Bridges

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss and Floyd Cooper

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell


Resources for teachers, educators and parents:

Anti-Bias Education For Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards

White Privilege in Schools by Ruth Anne Olson

The First R: How Children Learn About Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin

Teaching for Change

Anti-Defamation League

Understanding Race

Facing History and Ourselves

Zinn Education Project


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facebookBy now you’ve probably heard or read about Facebook’s new app Messenger, which, annoyingly, people are being strong-armed into downloading on their smart phones. And since I’ve been blogging about privacy issues, Facebook Messenger is worth mentioning here. The degree of access the app has to smartphone functions has provoked some hysterical press commentary everywhere from Amarillo TX’s Newschannel10 to Cosmo. And the Messsenger app’s capabilities do sound scary, on the face of it: the app can access your camera, send SMS messages to numbers in your phone book, and access your smartphone’s microphone, to name three of them.

However, there are actually good (and rather mundane) reasons for Messenger to have those capabilities: if you want to upload photos to Facebook using the Messenger app, it needs access to your camera. If you add a phone number to your FB account, Messenger sends a confirmation code via SMS to the new number.  And since the Messenger app is designed to enable you to call Facebook friends, it needs access to your microphone.

And frankly, most smartphone apps are invasive: many of them want your location, access to devices on your wireless network, or your call log. Whatever you’re worried about Messenger being able to do, you probably have  already downloaded an app that’s doing just that.

The most compelling argument against the Messenger app is simply that it’s terrible: it drains your smartphone’s battery, it has “chat heads”–images that everyone finds annoying–and it’s unnecessary.   As one App Store customer put it,

There is nothing that I could add to my messages that would make it so special that it deserves its own app. ..I could be messaging someone on Facebook with the secrets to ColdFusion, extraterrestrial life, the origin of God, and who killed JFK, and it still wouldn’t deserve its own app. 

And you only have to download the Messenger app if you try to continue using Facebook’s original mobile app.  Avoid apps altogether for Facebook use and just open it on your smartphone’s web browser.

Problem solved.


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domesticspyunclesamOnline privacy (or the lack of it) is  of ever-increasing concern to many. Not only is our own government spying on us, but the world’s largest email  service provider and most popular search engine (which both belong to the same company) are quite open about tracking and saving as much information as they can about our online behavior (in other words, almost everything).

Fortunately there are ways we can get some of our privacy back. For starters, break the Google habit and start using the most excellent DuckDuckGo. Their motto  is “The Search Engine That Doesn’t Track You.”

Also go here to spend a few seconds learning about HTTPs Everywhere, a free web browser extension that encrypts your communications with a number of websites.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a mildly technical but quite good and comprehensive pair of guides to securing the privacy of your email and IMs.

If the EFF guide is too technical for you, here’s something quicker: if you use a pc, iPhone, iPad or Android, or use the Firefox or Chrome browser, download the encryption extension Virtru, which encrypts your email and attachments, allows you to control who can see them, and even makes it possible to recall sent emails.

Versions of Virtru that work with macbooks and mac desktops are in development, but in the meantime if you’ve got version 10.9 or later of the Mac OS, go here.

More on this topic later.


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whalesharkSince Monday’s post on Shark Week, I’ve received quite a few comments about the Discovery Channel’s sensationalist and inaccurate Shark Week programming.  And rightly so. Shark Week producers have actually lied to scientists to get them to appear in programming, and  Discovery airs “documentaries” in which most of the material is made up.

So don’t watch Discovery Channel.

And whatever you do, don’t let Shark Week stop being about the sharks.

The National Geographic Channel has some level-headed and scientifically informed (albeit dramatically titled) programming. And over on Facebook a friend posted “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Shark Week” (thanks, Sarah).

At SPL you can pick up books such as Shark Chronicles, in which the authors do justice to the inherent fascination of these misunderstood creatures.



And check out this short video from the PBS series It’s Okay to Be Smart: “What if There Were No Sharks?:”







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Movies and summer just seem to go together, don’t they? Well we think so, and we have some great ones coming up for kids, teens, and families.

Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., we’re showing The Iron Giant! Kids of all ages and families are welcome to attend. Bring snacks and get ready for one of the coolest movies ever, one that answers the question “How can an 11-year-old boy keep a 50-foot tall, metal-eating robot from space a secret?” Following the movie, there will be a discussion of the book the film is based on, The Iron Giant: A Story in Five Nights, by Ted Hughes. The discussion is recommended for kids ages 9-12.

On Friday at 2:30 p.m., teens are invited to the monthly Anime and Manga meet-up for a screening of My Neighbor Totoro, a classic from Studio Ghibli. There will be Japanese snacks while they last, and a chance to say goodbye to Teen Librarian Cynthia, who will be much missed as she leaves us for another job opportunity.

Last, but certainly not least, a movie that needs no introduction: The Wizard of Oz! We’re planning to show the story of Dorothy and her friends on the front lawn on Wednesday, August 20th beginning at around 7:45 p.m., immediately following our Summer Reading Club Awards Ceremony. In case of bad weather this event will have to be cancelled – so keep your fingers crossed for a beautiful evening!

All of these events are free and will take place at the Central Library. We hope that you’ll be able to come!


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“Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that’s all.” –Hooper in Jaws.

Those are great lines from a scary movie,  and you know what? They’re true. sharkSharks have existed for at least 450 million years. That’s almost twice as long as dinosaurs. And five major mass extinctions have occurred in the past 439 million years. Sharks survived them all. Miracle of evolution, indeed.

And now Shark Week is upon us, the media’s annual celebration of all things shark. Sharks are fascinating (they can regrow teeth and detect electric currents). And Shark Week is fun. However, you should take much of what you watch on the Discovery Channel (the birthplace of Shark Week) with a large grain of salt. University of Miami marine biologist David Shiffman is a harsh critic of Shark Week television. So what’s a Shark Week fan to do? First you can apply Shiffman’s advice for watching Jaws to Shark Week specials: have fun, just remember it’s fictional. If you’re on Twitter you can learn facts about sharks and keep up with shark news by following Shiffman’s feed @WhySharksMatter. And you can read about sharks at Shark Savers (an international organization that’s basically the Lorax for sharks). And check out the National Geographic Channel’s Shark Fest.

Stay tuned for more Shark Week news and shark fun facts….we’ll even have info on the relatives of sharks...



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Hoopla is here! We are delighted to offer this new service that allows Somerville patrons free access to thousands of movies, television shows, music albums, and audiobooks for mobile devices and computers.

To start using Hoopla, download the free digital mobile app on your Android or iOS device or visit Then, begin enjoying titles from major Hollywood studios, record companies, and publishers. Titles can be borrowed for instant streaming or for temporary downloading to smartphones, tablets, computers, and Apple TV. Hoopla is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Best of all, there’s no waiting for popular titles and the service’s automatic return feature eliminates late fees.

To get to the Library’s Hoopla page, go to the catalog, click on databases, then scroll down the alphabetical list until you get to Hoopla.


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by Eileen and Sujei

If you’re like me, you have a ton of things on your mind/plate. And although I knew July was International Zine Month, I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on this blog post till now. But, all this information is still valid – and it’s always a good time to enjoy and make zines.

But wait – I should slow down, back up – and address a question you may have: What is a zine anyway?

A zine made by women over 40. Found at the Papercut Zine Library.

A zine made by women over 40. Found at the Papercut Zine Library.

For those of you not into underground, DIY publishing, first things first: Zine (pronounced “zeen”) is short for fanzine. A zine can be produced by anyone with something to say or share. The low cost of making one allows the maker the freedom to produce as many as them as he or she wants, for a limited/small circulation. They are usually cheap or free to obtain, and zinesters like to trade theirs with other makers.

Zines can contain anything one’s imagination can fathom – types of zines: perzines (personal zines), political zines, DIY zines, music zines, art zines, parenting zines, sexuality & gender zines, people of color zines, traveling zines, comics zines, e-zines, etc. They are often made by communities who are marginalized by mainstream society – like the poor or disabled, LGBTQ individuals, people of color, those with radical political views – the list goes on and on. They provide a unique glimpse of contemporary culture that challenges mainstream publishing industry and dominant historical narratives.

What do you need to make a zine? An idea, an interest, a gimmick, a pet peeve. And then you’ll need supplies: Paper, scissors, glue stick, markers, pencil, stapler … and a computer. But, wait, nope, you don’t need a computer or a typewriter. Because zines have been around a long time, many makers don’t use electronics to make their zines. Plenty of zinesters hand write or draw their content, cut them out and paste them on a master copy. Then, when satisfied with its content and layout, the maker makes copies of the zine, folds and sometimes staples them together.

But, you may be wondering, how can I obtain access to enough room to lay out my zine and make copies? Well, the library of course! Your local library has tables and chairs and a copy machine so you can make your copies. (SPL’s copiers cost 15 cents per black and white page; 30 cents per color page.) But, you may be thinking, I can’t draw. I can’t write very well. The important thing is to be able to express an idea, love, hate toward a particular topic. But can you fill up one sheet of paper with your art or ideas, no matter how “bad” or “silly” you may think them to be? I’m betting yes.

Boston’s local zine library – Papercut Zine Library – just moved a last month from Lorem Ipsum Books in Inman Square to Allston, for the time being anyway. They are still available for appointments and events, but are not circulating issues. For those who can get to Framingham, the local public library has a young adult zine collection.

And do you enjoy getting snail mail? Promote your zine online through distros or fests and make those trades! Start your own collection. And I’ve even seen zines sold on sites like for a few bucks. Chat with other zinemakers on twitter by checking out the hashtag #izm2014 or #zines. Network with other makers at this month’s New England Zine Fest and MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) in October. You can also catch up with what happened at the RIPE (Rhode Island Publishing Expo) that just happened here.

Here are some sites to give you some ideas:

Books in the Minuteman System about Zines and Zinemaking
Whatcha mean, what’s a zine? : the art of making zines and minicomics by Mark Todd + Esther Peal Watson
Zine scene by Francesca Lia Block & Hillary Carlip
The Factsheet five zine reader : the best writing from the underground world of zines  Collected by R. Seth Friedman
Start your own zine : everything you need to know to put it into print! by Veronika Kalmar
Zine : how I spent six years of my life in the underground and finally found myself– I think by Pagan Kennedy
A girl’s guide to taking over the world : writings from the girl zine revolution Edited by Karen Green and Tristan Taormino


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More than a repository of books, public libraries host story hours, ESL classes, and community meetings, many libraries also include a cafe so patrons can relax with a good book and cup of coffee or meet other parents while their children are attending a book group.  The Boston Public Library has taken their cafe one step further to become a destination restaurant.

Check out the Boston Magazine’s review of the BPL’s Courtyard Restaurant at:


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Since our Muslim Journeys series began at SPL, I’ve been reading quite a MslmJrnysbit about Islamic history and culture and taking note of events in the Islamic calendar. As with Christianity and Judaism, the Islamic year is based on a lunar calendar. Ramadan, the period when Muslims must fast between sunrise and sunset, ended recently. A writer for The Atlantic brought up an issue that had never occurred to me: how can Muslims be expected to fast between sunrise and sunset in a place where the sun is up for twenty hours?

Our planet tilts substantially over the course of the year and in the northern hemisphere’s summer months the northernmost parts of the planet are tilted toward the sun. So in countries such as Canada, Finland, Norway and midnightsunSweden, there are times when the sun is still up at midnight.  Most of us can’t go without food or liquids for twenty hours and still function, so on the face of it an observant Muslim in say, Tromso, Norway, or Juneau, Alaska, has a big problem. Fortunately there’s a fatwah (clerical decree)* that states that Muslims in the lands of the midnight sun can observe the timetable of the nearest Islamic country, or the timetable in Mecca. So if the sun sets at 8 pm in Mecca, then Muslims in Norway or Iceland can break their fast at 8 pm local time (even if the sun’s going to be up another 4 hours).

Ramadan actually ended yesterday with the feast of Eid al-Fitr. Here’s a great photo gallery of celebrations worldwide courtesy of the BBC.

*Contrary to what most non-Muslims might think, the word fatwah does not mean an order to kill someone, although unfortunately a fatwah can be an order to kill someone (as in the case of Salman Rushdie). The word simply means a ruling on a point of Islamic law by recognized authorities.


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