Do you know Annie Easley?

 

On Saturday, I had a high school student come up to the reference desk with her mom.

Her mom said, “Go ahead, ask him.”

“Good morning, can I help?”

“I’m looking for information on Annie Easley.”

Do you know Annie Easley? If you do, I’m impressed. I have never heard of her.

So we went to the OPAC, or Online Public Access Catalog and typed in the name.

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“I found some things on the internet, but I need a book source,” she told me.

So I asked the student, who I will call J, what she had already found out about her. Easley was a scientist, and a mathematician.

“Follow me,” I said, confident that I could find a reference book with her name in it.

I pulled some subject encyclopedias on science, and women in science. Nothing.

Bound and determined to find J. some print on paper, I conducted my reference interview, then grabbed some sources. J and I scanned and skimmed alphabetical entries and indexes. Still nothing.

I learned more about Easley along the way, interviewing J about how she learned about Easley. J was African American, and so was Easley, and it’s February (African American History month), but she was not on a teacher’s list of people to research. Easley was also born in Birmingham, Alabama.

Earlier in the day, I had messaged a fellow student about what librarians without a master’s degree are called.

“Feral Librarians,” Ginny remembered.

I was a feral librarian rabidly interested in finding a book source for this shy, yet curious young student.

“They called her the Human Calculator,” J said, and added that Easley worked for NASA.

Doesn’t she sound like a woman who should be in book about mathematicians and scientists?

J also called her a “programmer.”

I told J, her mom, and now her younger brother, who had joined our tour of reference, that I just learned about this new documentary called, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap.

This documentary shows the large gender and minority gap in the world of science, specifically, computer science. Sadly, our collection was helping prove their argument and this student had done her homework. She knew Easley’s middle initial, “J.” I learned later that Easley actually developed code for NASA.

Walking back to the catalog I asked J to check the general encyclopedias. She confirmed my initial doubt and there was no mention of her in Worldbook, or Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Who is this lady?” J’s little brother now wanted to know, as we grabbed two more books from the stacks. From then on, he joined us in our search.

J’s dad came by, and seeing the stack of books, suggested to his daughter that maybe she needed to find another person.

She was thumbing through a book, and looked over at him. I could tell she was ready to give up.

“No way,” I told the whole family, then looking at J I said, “You need to champion Easley.” I’d gone feral, and decided book sources be damned. “No book sources from the public library, well, use that in your paper,” I said. I smiled, she smiled. Not a Cheshire smile, but the kind of smile that said, “I’m not sure if this librarian is crazy or just more curious than a cat.”

 Some books without Annie Easley

“I’m sorry,” I said, frustrated and angry that I could not find a print source for her. This young woman had found a person, an African American like herself and a mathematician, programmer, and NASA employee and my resources failed. The whole family and I went back to the computer and found Easley’s Wikipedia page.

“You stumped the librarian today,” I told them, and was disappointed I did not have a book sources.

J knew about Alabama Virtual Library, but she hadn’t looked at Wikipedia’s sources.

Easley’s Wikipedia page linked to a 55 page PDF from NASA’s “Herstory” Oral history project. The document was the transcript of an interview with Easley about her life.

“That’s better than a book,” I said pointing at the screen, That’s a primary document. This is her own words.” J, and everyone in her family, thanked me. Her dad shook my hand. As they headed to circulation to check out some items, I realized that Wikipedia, libraries, and librarians do not compete. They compliment.

My name in a Textbook

It happened February 13, 2016 at 6:23 Eastern Standard Time. In my second semester of online library school at the University of Alabama.

I was reading Reference and Information Services: An Introduction by Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath (2013).

On Page 115 it states:

In the past, the stouthearted librarians of the New York Public Library

would prove this time and time again as they ventured into schools to

play the game, “Stump the Librarian.”

 

 

 

 

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Next Door to the Dead

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Yesterday was Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), a time, especially in Mexico, for people to gather at cemeteries and pray for their deceased loved ones. As the leaves drift off the trees and the acorns pop on rooftops, I often, for reflection and remembrance, read and write poetry this time of year. The day made me think about Next Door to the Dead, a book of poetry by Kathleen Driskell. A Poetry Foundation national bestseller, Driskell lives in a former country church with her family just outside Louisville, Kentucky. Next door is an old graveyard that she was told had ceased burials when she bought the historic church. In this keenly observed and contemplative new collection, this turns out not to be the case as Driskell’s fascination with the “neighbors” brings the burial ground back to life, both literally and figuratively.

Driskell is the associate program director and poetry faculty member of Spalding University’s writing program, and is where I received my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. While a student, I was fortunate to hear many great authors and upcoming writers read their works. It seems to me that hearing the spoken words of the writer, just as you read them on the page, and I immediately had an appreciation for Driskell’s writing and voice.

While reading the poems in Next Door to the Dead, I heard Driskell’s voice, not her actual voice like an audio recording, but  rather, the memory of her voice from her readings.

Of course her poetry is much more than a remembered voice, it is personified, humorous, organic, and moody. Her poems articulate the cemetery much like creative nonfiction grounds you in place. The details taken from history, or from observations from a kitchen window, or during a walk, convey the author’s authenticity of her surroundings.

“Epitaph” the grave of Colonel Harlan Sanders is her only nod to celebrity.Now that Norm McDonald is satirizing Sanders, this poem seems more relevant as seems to both question and acknowledge Sanders as less than an original recipe of a man.

Her ability to be in nature and observe the organic role of death, is why “Crow” stands out to me, as it will to many readers. In “Tchaenhotep,” Driskell’s verse personifies an Egyptian mummy on display for decades at a local museum. “Epitaph, for the man with no last name” is the story of how man meets his grave, what relics rest with him, and why some things were left out. “Not Done Yet” is a story of a dog, a fly, a flea, and the “biting sorrow” that surrounds all three.

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Driskell’s poems are richly detailed, humorous, mournful, loving, and sometimes whimsical, all difficult feats given her subject. While most people avoid thinking about death, Driskell’s poems are thought-provoking. The book is not about loss, or mourning, it is about place, not just our physical place, but where our souls feel full. Her poems dance around our mortality but they never devolve into darkness. While many went to the cemetery to remember and honor the deceased on Dia de Muertos, Driskell, with a poet’s sensibility, “visits” the cemetery next door to celebrate the vivid human, animal, and botanical life that surrounds us.

Order your copy of Next Door to the Dead from your local bookstore or from the links below.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

What’s your Halloween Costume?

Josh Sundquist is a cancer survivor, paralympic skier, motivational speaker and author. At Halloween, he’s always entertaining. This year he brings a classic amputee joke to life. Click on the photograph or the link at the bottom to watch “Making of IHOP,”  Josh’s short video about this year’s costume.

Josh Sundquist’s 2015 Halloween Costume

His Amputee Rap is great too!

Blogging While Building a Home and Going Back to School

Stump the Librarian is branching out. This space has always been geared toward my creative writing, my work at Fairhope Public Library, and the amputees that populate my literal and figurative world. Fear not followers, Stump the Librarian will continue with two posts each month about books, movies, libraries and amputees. I’ve added “Question” and “Answer” pages to extend an olive branch to “Stump the Librarian” Google searchers. Stump the Librarian is a universal search term, so if you land on my site for that reason, great! I’ve got some questions for you and I encourage you to browse around and read more, especially if you are an amputee or a librarian.cropped-dscn1098.jpg

Building a Home Downtown Fairhope

Our builder, Delia Pierce of Lemongrass Custom Homes, has over a decade of experience and her homes in Fairhope and Point Clear are beautiful, but she knows and appreciates that we are on a much tighter budget, We went to TK Cabinets on Friday where we started to design our kitchen. We have already changed our garage location which is setting us a back a week. Thank goodness we came to this conclusion while we’re still on paper. This will give us a nice private back yard. I’ll be posting photo essays of our progress. If you want to stay up to date and “follow” our construction process go to Alan Samry. I plan to post once a week

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Back to School

Later this week I will be attending orientation for the University of Alabama’s Online Masters of Library and Information Studies program.

I’m looking forward to beginning this program, and a bit apprehensive about the amount and type of work that will be required. I’m one of 43 students in Alabama’s 11th MLIS cohort. We have self identified as “Elevenses.” (AKA Elevenzies, or 11zs) My suggestion, from This is Spinal Tap, “These go to eleven,” was soundly rejected. I’m taking two courses, Organization of Information and Introduction to Library and Information Studies. I’m receiving the Friends of the Fairhope Library Scholarship and I’m grateful that it covers the cost of one course. Thanks to my coworker Rob Gourlay (Alabama MLIS ˈ15) for letting me borrow two of his books. The classes take place in real time on Blackboard. If anyone cares to follow my educational experience, you’ll find it at alansamry.wordpress. I’m told by several people who have been through the program, there could be some required blogging for future classes, but my goal is to post my experiences about the program once or twice a month.

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Change is the only constant in the world. I’m trying to embrace it. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.

How does an Amputee Librarian Celebrate the Holiday Season?

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Win a Book!

Building the book tree at the Fairhope Public Library was a team effort. Cheers to Rosalie, our nonfiction book club member, for suggesting the contest idea to us during our discussion of This Town. Guess the number of items in the tree the next time you visit the library. Even Cheryl the Builder doesn’t know how many items were used. I’ll be counting them after the new year, and the winner will be announced January 5. The winner picks one popular title that was used in the book tree.

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A Christmas Story Display.                                                                                      (Donated to the Fairhope Public Library by Pat Herndon)

The 1983 movie, A Christmas Story, is based on Jean Shepherd’s 1966 short story collection, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd helped write the screenplay and it is his voice narrating the movie.

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Stump’s Merry Mash-Up.

The photo was inspired by Josh Sundquist and Leo Bonten. Sundquist’s Halloween photos are leg-endary and Bonten actually turned his amputated leg into a lamp. Last year, with the help of an app, I was Grinched.

Next Week: Stump: the Librarian’s 2014 list of books, movies, TV, and Music. Until then, Read the 2013 list.

Why Oregon?

That was the response from family, coworkers, and friends when I told them Sue and I were going to Oregon for vacation. I told them all the state had to offer and mentioned a few must dos, which we did.

Now that I’ve been back for a week, I asked myself the question again. Here’s a few of the moments that made my vacation such a fun, amazing, and unique experience.

City

Portland’s downtown library is a historic landmark. It was buzzing with activity the day I went. I happened upon a skateboarding exhibit on the third floor by Cal Skate, a local skateboarding shop that’s been in business since the early 1970s.

After going through the history of skateboards and checking out the old decks, trucks, and wheels, I wandered into the Literature and History Room and walked up to the information desk. I complimented the two library guys on the library and the exhibit, and followed up with a question.

“How did Portland get the nickname Stumptown?”

“I don’t know,” was the reply by the man my age. It didn’t seem to me like a difficult question. However, this is often a reactionary response. I say it too sometimes because, even though people come to the reference desk for information, no one likes a know-it-all. Perhaps we were just annoying out of towners, but providing answers or at least attempting to find answers to questions is what makes librarians librarians. I waited for the librarian to say more, like, “let me research that for you.” He didn’t. It was the first time since starting my blog that a librarian didn’t know, and was satisfied with not finding out.

I Stumped the Librarian!

Still burning for an answer, I joined a walking tour, Secrets of Portlandia, a free tour not including tip, led by a guy named Travis. He was a wealth of information on the culture and history of Portland, even though he told some really corny jokes along the way.

The city got its infamous nickname during the mid 19th century. Portland was built for it’s timber and proximity to the river. However, when they took these massive trees down, they left the stumps in the ground. And there they stayed, for decades, rotting away, slowly. Leaders in other frontier cities lured settlers away by giving the city the derogatory moniker Stumptown.

During that time, one Portlandian said, “Portland has more stumps than people.”

“We embrace the nickname now,” Travis told his group of ten tourists.

One company has cashed in on it.

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Mountain

Aside from my own, I didn’t see any stumps in Stumptown. I even checked the Japanese Tea Gardens, International Rose Garden, and Forest Park. I took a day trip and a hike to Mirror Lake, which offers a reflected view of Mt. Hood on its surface. According to a Timberline Lodge volunteer I chatted with on the hike, the older trees were “notched” along the base of the trunk so platforms or scaffolding could be built around the tree. This created a level surface for two loggers to stand on while they cut down the tree using a two man handsaw.  The stumps with notches are over 100 years old, according to our volunteer.

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Sea

Just like Lincoln City’s motto, I did “try something new.” I made a glass starfish at Jennifer Sears Glass Art. This hands on experience is a must do for any artist or tourist. (Also don’t miss a whale watch on a Zodiac boat)

Each step is hands on, from heating, shaping, cupping, pulling, and cutting.

After I finished my starfish, a flat-topped man in the audience (I didn’t know I had one while I was making my starfish) stopped me and said, “I like how you customized your starfish. Is that carbon fiber?” He was pointing to my prosthesis.

“Thanks, and yes it is,” I said.

“A friend of mine back home has a carbon fiber prosthesis too. His AR 15 has a carbon fiber barrel.”

“That must make for a cool Facebook photo,” I told him and he waxed on about guns.

“He’s modified it so there is no recoil when you fire it.” He spoke with the experience still fresh in mind, his hands cradling the make believe rifle.

“Sounds like you’ve got rifle envy,” I said.

“Yeah, I do, but hey, I’m gonna tell my friend about your starfish. That’s an original there.”

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