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The Word for “Potatoes”

lisbonMuch of my family history has been washed away on the river behind the soap mills in Rhode Island.  That is where my grandparents worked, lived, and abandoned speaking Portuguese for English, and where they hoped that their children would learn English, too, but with a Rhode Island accent that misplaced “r’s”.  They hoped that their children would learn math from strict nuns-turned-schoolteachers; that their children would one day have jobs better than their own.  What my great grandparents had hoped for when they left the Azores was something better, but not for them.

My family was one of the lucky ones, for the most part, and each generation was more well-educated, had better jobs, spoke better English (whatever that means), and some became so American that they actually spoke it much worse.  As my grandparents passed away, I realized, as many people do when they lose the history that their parents and grandparents remembered, no matter how hazy their memories were, that I could not explain why growing up with chourico for breakfast or malasadas on Sundays seemed the pinnacle of Americanness.  Nor could I understand how soaps in the shape of roses, or sailboats, or sunflowers, which all smelled how they looked–even the sailboats!–did not play such an important role in the homelife of my friends; they all bought boring, white soaps that smell nothing like how they looked.

I will not pretend that I was interested in the life that my family had left behind, at least until I was given the opportunity to go to Portugal, to write in some small apartment with an ocean view in Lisbon, and to eat the food of which my father had made his own versions–maybe to drink some of that sweet wine from Porto, too.  I had been too focused on the future to think about how it was built on the possibility of someone else’s past.  Regardless, and perhaps in spite of a long, willful ignorance of my family’s cultural heritage, I became curious about the language that sounded like it was Spanish whispered with a Russian accent.  During my research, the colonial history of the country, the power it once had as an economic empire, and the current social and political progress it celebrates surprised me, for I held onto a belief that, since my family had left, it could never have been a wonderful place, let alone be one today.  It was refreshing and empowering to find out how wrong an impression could be by questioning it and determining for myself what was and what was not true.

Much if not all of what I found was from books like Nobel Prize Laureate José Saramago’s Journey to Portugal, Paul Crowley’s Conquerors, or one of the travel books on Portugal (Lonely Planet, Rick Steve’s, and Fodor all have great editions), and I was lucky to be able to use the library’s subscription to Mango Languages so that I could brush up on my Portuguese before the trip.  Of course, so much of tracing my family’s roots would have to happen on the winding, cobbled streets and in the coffee shops that brewed strong coffee, but the books gave me a head start, and it turned out that potash, the word my father had always used for potatoes, was wrong; it is actually batatas.  Who would have thought?

Samuel Simas is the technology assistant at the Morrill Memorial library; he is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Read Samuel’s column in the June 22nd issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Library and Museum

My Presidential Library

Library and MuseumI was in sixth grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. My family lived in Berkeley, California.   I was home ill that fateful day with yet another bout of chronic tonsillitis.

As I watched morning television at 10:20 am with my 3-year old younger brother, KTVU (Oakland) interrupted Miss Nancy’s Romper Room. We heard shocking news that the President had been shot. (I lived on the West Coast. If you lived on the East Coast, it was 1:20 pm when Walter Cronkite interrupted the daytime soap opera, As the World Turns, to tell you this horrific news.)

I called to my mother and she rushed to the television from the kitchen.  Shortly, we joined stunned neighbors gathering outside in the driveways.

This scene is as vivid as yesterday to me. My family had just moved from Boston a few years earlier in 1959. Ours was a fiercely democratic, union-loyal household – my step-father was secretary-treasurer of the local AFL-CIO and a member of the typographer’s executive council. When I was eight years old I stood on the downtown corner in Berkeley with my family and watched a hopeful John F. Kennedy waving to us from his motorcade as he cruised through town. I waved back and hollered with thousands of others along his route on Shattuck Avenue. Later that year, our family watched the 1960 presidential election returns early in the evening at dinner time. California time.

Although the actual election results were incredibly close (the tightest race since 1916), Kennedy was ahead early in the evening after the East Coast polls closed. Throughout the evening Nixon picked up votes in the Midwest and West Coast. California, in fact, voted for their hometown boy and Nixon picked up all 32 of my state’s electoral votes. San Francisco’s East Bay, however, went to Kennedy. My family was ecstatic with joy when we were told of his national victory the next morning.

It was just a few years later and the Kennedy years brutally ended.

We all were glued to the television throughout that weekend. JFK was killed on a Friday and President Lyndon Johnson declared the day of the funeral, Monday, a national day of mourning. Even as an 11-year old, I realized that the world had changed that fateful November.

A few months later, in the summer of 1964, my family had recently moved to the golden-hilled Bay Area suburbs. Parade Magazine featured a story on Jackie Kennedy who was beginning to fundraise for the JFK Presidential Library. The Parade weekly supplement was a favorite of mine; it arrived inside our weekend newspaper. Just weeks before he was assassinated, Kennedy had chosen a spot next to the Graduate School of Business in Cambridge overlooking the Charles River; the presidential library was going to be built on the campus of Harvard. Kennedy felt strongly that his personal effects should be included in the records of his presidency and for that reason “museum” would be added to the library name.

The tradition of official presidential libraries began with Franklin Roosevelt.  They were and are part of the National Archives and Records Administration in the United States. Each president after FDR has had a presidential library built through a foundation.  Today, there are thirteen in total (including Barack Obama’s which has begun its funding stage; it currently is administered by the Obama Foundation.)

After President Kennedy’s assassination, his family and friends were tasked with a building this memorial to JFK: the library. Mrs. Kennedy took charge and met with architects, many of those meetings in the Kennedy compound on the Cape. Jackie and others began the fundraising campaign. It was immediately successful due to the fact that the world was still mourning the president. Over $4.3 million was pledged within months. Large donations came from foundations and from organizations in other countries. Thousands more were received in small donations from the public.

That summer of 1964, I read Jackie Kennedy’s appeal for her husband’s presidential library in Parade magazine. I decided to hold a car wash to raise some money to donate to the cause. I enlisted skeptical neighborhood girlfriends, got permission from the gas station at the end of my street (to use their water, space and hose), made some signs, gathered some sponges and soap, and washed cars for several hours during the morning and afternoon. In the end, I sent $11.45 off to Mrs. Kennedy with a personal note hoping for the success of the library. It included the passion of my own young grief for President Kennedy.

By December of 1964, just one year after JFK was killed, a $10 million goal was reached and architect I. M. Pei had been personally chosen by Mrs. Kennedy to design the library.  After only one more year, $20 million had been pledged.

By the early 70s, however, Robert Kennedy, President of the Library Corporation had been assassinated and the Harvard location in Cambridge was found to be a troublesome spot due to some squabbles over MBTA land and the hope of combining forces with the JFK School of Government. Costs had risen and Cambridge residents and officials were concerned about traffic in the area. Architect Pei was asked to abandon his choice for stone for the alternative concrete to help cut the rising costs.

Finally, in 1977, plans at Harvard were abandoned and the present Columbia Heights site was chosen and groundbreaking finally began. The costs were kept to $20.8 million, thanks to Pei’s changes, and the building was completed in 1979, built from concrete and glass overlooking Boston and the ocean. Caroline, John Jr., President Jimmy Carter and Senator Edward Kennedy attended the dedication.

Today, in 2017, the Library is joined by the Massachusetts State Archives (1985) and the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate (2015). Columbia Point is also home to the University of Massachusetts – Boston.

Normally, the Morrill Memorial Library is closed one Friday each June when library staff attend workshops and/or hire a speaker for an entire day of enrichment for the library staff. This year for our staff development day we were closed for the new carpeting project. We spent three days last week visiting other libraries and attending a workshop at the Minuteman Library Network training center. On the last day, Friday, June 10th we toured the JFK Presidential Library and Museum and his 100th birthday exhibit. We ended the day at the State Archives and Commonwealth Museum.

It was terrific to take the time with our tour guide to learn more about the JFK library. I asked a tour guide if perhaps letters to Mrs. Kennedy were saved in the archives and if perhaps the donations were recorded. He suggested that I could to write to the librarians and archivists. It certainly would be thrilling to see my 11-year old handwriting and my personal note to Jackie Kennedy noting my own contribution to this important library.

The Morrill Memorial Library has passes to both the JFK Library and Museum and the Edward Kennedy Institute. Admission is free to the Archives and Commonwealth Museum. All three share a parking lot. They are so very worthy of your visit.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Charlotte’s column in the June 15th issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.


Stuck on a Desert Island

beach-84631_1280For our 6th annual library essay contest the topic was “If You Were Stuck on a Desert Island, What Book Would You Bring and Why?” Yes, this is an oft used question but we had as many different answers as sand upon the shore.

With over 100 entries, 14 judges, and a whole lot of fabulously creative writing, the selection process was anything but easy. That said, congratulations go to the follow winners, most of whom read their work at our celebration on May 22nd, from 7-9 pm:

Level 1 (Grade 3-4): Melanie Clark, First Place; Charlotte Martino, Second Place; Partha Jammalamadaka, Third Place; Sysille Eaton, Benoit Gebbie, Devin Lemorticelli, Nicole Martino and Kyra Walsh, Honorable Mentions

Level 2 (Grade 5-8): Alyssa Lahaise, First Place; Joy Xu-Allan, Second Place; Trevor Brown, Third Place; Serena Elias, Jason Le and Haniya Sperling, Honorable Mentions

Level 3 (Grade 9-Adult): Mary Erickson, First Place; Anthony Cavanaugh, Second Place; and Joseph Gallant, Third Place.

Now you might be wondering what books were chosen and why? Of course we had the popular books by J.K. Rowling, Jeff Kinney and Rick Riordan. Still, it was the most creative essays that rose to the top. Take Melanie Clark’s for example. She opened her essay by imagining that her island life began after “something big hits the hull of the boat. The boat starts to sink, you quickly put on a life, vest, grab your book, jump off the boat, and swim to the deserted island.” On the way Clark grabbed her Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban because it was a “page turner” and you don’t want to be bored when you’re hanging out on an island for a while.

For Charlotte Martino El Deafo by Cece Bell was an obvious choice. She thought this book would give her ideas of things to do. “For example I can pretend to be a superhero like Cece, and I can build friends out of sand and water because Cece had a lot of friends in the book.” As Anthony Cavanaugh wrote about The Mark of Athena, it might be helpful to have a Roman or Greek hero in your back pocket. “They must fight to survive using the many powers and skills that they have received from their unearthly parents.” For other participants like Partha Jammalamadaka, it came down to the page count and the sense of humor with Diary of the Wimpy Kid: Double Down. Who wouldn’t want a laugh or two when hanging out by your lonesome on an island?

And speaking of humor, others won the hearts of the judges through their funny ideas. Benoit Gebbie decided after finishing Ready Freddy that he would use some of the pages from the back of the book to make origami creations like “paper shovels, paper boats and paper hats.” While this idea might give a librarian a nightmare or two (ripped books!), one can only read a book so many times. Ultimately Jason Le decided to bring Jedi Academy but he reassured his readers that being stuck on a desert island was “impossible because I’m awesome.” Ha!

Alyssa Lahaise had an out of the box idea. She’d cart along her very own book, aptly named Mr. Book. “Mr. Book would have a durable, black cover so that nothing could destroy him. He would have chapters on building fires, hunting and gathering food, constructing or finding shelter, and calling for help.” All of this would be helpful because as Lahaise claimed,  “Honestly, the first thing I would probably do is freak out.”

The pragmatists also had their say. Devin Lemorticelli brought along the Guiness Book of World Records of 2005. Why not? After all, he’d have lots of time to pour over all those stats. Likewise, Nicole Martino thought her social studies book Harcourt Horizons States and Regions would give her “something to learn every day.” Plus “this book tells you how to make a soddie which is a home that the pioneers made.” With Who Was King Tut? Kyra Walsh explained “what the Egyptians did to survive in the desert” and Sysille Eaton wanted to tote Magic Under the Stars since the main character, Shannon, “loves camping as much as I do.”

According to Joseph Gallant, We Seven was a must. If the Mercury astronauts could endure life in cramped one-man capsules, Gallant could handle life among the palm trees. Of course, no one could go wrong with Trevor Brown’s choice of The Legend of Robinson Crusoe. After all, he had to “build a fort that could withstand weather and animals for about 27 years” before Crusoe was rescued. Now that’s resourceful thinking.

Finally, there were the books selected for inspiration alone. Haniya Sperling suggested The Wizard of Oz since “its many lovable characters will capture the heart of everybody who reads this enjoyable tale.” Serena Elias thought Dolphin Tale was inspiring because “it tells people never give up, because if you give up you will never know what you can achieve.” Likewise Egg and Spoon was a hit with Joy Xu-Allan. The story was “so entrancing that even if it was my tenth time reading it, I wouldn’t be bored.” According to the first place winner, Mary Erickson, Walden by Henry David Thoreau would bring the most solace. As she wrote, “When on a desert island, there is not contact with the rest of the world, so one needs to know how to live simply and co-exist with nature.”

Certainly, our librarians hope that none of our readers are stuck on a desert island for too long this summer but, if you are, you will have some good books to choose from while sitting in your beach chair.

 Nancy Ling is the Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Nancy’s column in the June 8th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

2016 Sneak Peeks

Reserve June and July Best Sellers and Sneak Peeks

Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?

2017 June Fiction

Download or view the June Fiction and June Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog.  Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.


When My Story Began

readingThis week, I returned from a professional conference in Hyannis. As you might guess, I spent four days surrounded by colleagues – librarians of all types from Massachusetts libraries, organizations and associations.
Did we spend the time shushing each other? No, of course not! Instead, we introverted types arose early each morning and going to bed late, devoting each day to share our hopes and dreams for the present and future of libraries.

What drives librarians to reach well past our own comfort levels and beyond our own communities? We attempt to grow as professionals, to learn from our colleagues, and share with other librarians our own unique way of serving our Massachusetts communities in the best way we can.

For many of us, this burden of extroversion is an assault on our systems. It is entirely true that we are drawn to the field of librarianship by our love of information and our love of sharing it. Most of us are altruistic and generous with both our time and our resources. We are extremely enthusiastic about learning, researching and reading.

However, after several days spent in meetings and workshops and at dinners and lunches, we are what I call “interpersonally spent.” My husband knows enough to expect any conversation on the phone with me after a day I have spent this in this intensive extroversion. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I can’t put two words together to speak to you.” He knows I desperately need a break and that I crave a recharge. And he understands and expects nothing more than a “Goodnight please!”

I don’t think I became a librarian because I am an introvert. I didn’t, in fact, become a professional, mastered-degreed librarian until I was 51 years old. Growing older in this chosen profession, I’ve discovered why I was drawn to this field and how my own history unfolded.

I could begin the story in 1952 when I was born to a mother who cherished books. I own many of those of her childhood books where she carefully wrote her name, Carolyn Eunice Taft, in pen or pencil in 1937, 1938 and 1939.  Throughout those years of her youth she received books from her eldest sister, Gladys. My mother cherished those volumes throughout her life, and then she passed them on to me. Through some of those precious books in the Children of All Lands series, I, as a child, also traveled the world with Shaun O’Day of Ireland, Little Philippe of Belgium, and Little Ann of Canada.

My story might have started in a classroom in Berkeley, California. My amazing teacher was responsible for one of the greatest impressions of my life when she built a library nook in the corner of our 4th grade classroom. Perhaps the wall were made of a large refrigerator box. More than likely, though, this library was built by her husband and constructed of wooden walls. I remember the thick piece of carpet on top of a linoleum floor, and a lovely cushion in the corner. My memories are so exquisitely vivid. I loved to retreat within those walls surrounded by several shelves of books, most likely borrowed from the school’s own library.

Perhaps my story began with my first library card at the public library. I grew up in a city where children walked blocks to school and church and where we rode our bicycles along the sidewalks where five library branches were within an afternoon’s travel. Parents rarely accompanied us; mothers were often home with younger siblings and we were considered old enough to be on our own. The influx of people from the San Francisco had caused Berkeley to split at the seams and four library branches had been built to accommodate them in the 30s. I rarely visited the imposing main branch in Berkeley. It was a Carnegie library built 20 years after the San Francisco earthquake. The branches were my haven.

My favorite was the lovely and cozy Claremont branch on the hills leading west to the Claremont Hotel. It was a favorite place to go after school. The North branch on The Alameda, just northwest of the downtown, was a great place to spend summer afternoons with a friend. We read, talked, and made dandelion chains on the grassy knolls surrounding the library.

My story might begin instead with my own personal library. It was made up of the Christmas and birthday gifts my mother gave me. She began with The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew in 1960 when I was young enough that very careless cursive, my youthful signature, graced the inside cover. My collection of these classics still have top billing on several shelves of my current library. They are joined by later books she gave me as a young adult, such as Gone with the Wind. As a young teen I never missed the opportunity to add Scholastic paperbacks to my collection – those books we chose from the newspaper-type flyer they passed out each month in school.

Perhaps it was when my high school library became a respite from the California sun and pollen; that was where I spent my physical education classes 1967-1970 when I could not be allowed on the baseball or archery fields for much of the year due to severe allergies to California grasses.

It goes without saying that my days and nights and weeks spent in my college library may have been where I truly learned to respect the treasures that are held within the stacks. I was at times a history, political science, English, and Russian studies major. I researched Civil War soldier Joshua Chamberlain (years before the movie Gettysburg was released) and studied mountains of Civil War annals on the upper floors and long hallways. I stacked volume after volume of the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature on tables and flagged entry after entry for research papers I’ve now forgotten I’d ever written.

My story also could begin with my own daughters.  I volunteered in their elementary school library, stamping due dates and shelving endless piles of books. I stacked their desks at home high with so many books for their own projects that they learned to avoid asking me, their mother, for any help. Years later my youngest daughter was in college when she paid me the highest compliment I’ve ever received; she admitted that it was my particular annoying habit of indulging their every research whim that made her appreciate her own strength to research. There was, indeed, a method to my Mom’s madness.

My story certainly didn’t end there and it doesn’t end here. Yes, I finally, returned to graduate school at the end of the last century, partly as a means to support my new single self, but mainly to pursue my lifelong dream to spend as much time in a library as I could – sharing, educating, learning, and being among some of the smartest, committed, caring people I know – my colleagues, Massachusetts librarians.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Charlotte’s column in the June 1st issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

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