County Life: Making and Trying

try it logo plainBessie’s Books and Other Things

The Haliburton County Public Library held a “Try it Fair” at the beginning of December.  This is something that bigger library systems have undertaken successfully but we weren’t sure that we could do it.  We ended up attracting twenty seven skills and activities demonstrators and over 250 people attended in a four hour period.

Try it Fairs, or Try it in Ten, or How to, or Skill Share Fairs are becoming popular for libraries to host as they are a way to encourage people to be curious and playful.  Attendees can try or can make something that they may never have tied or made before.  These kinds of fairs are a result of our current learning climate.  Partially attributable to the rapid pace that technology is evolving, formal in classroom learning is no longer keeping up with the pace of change.  People have to be willing to explore on their own and engage in self-guided learning in order to stay current in our ever changing world.  Libraries have always been interested in lifelong learning and human inquisitiveness.  Libraries organizing Try it Fairs is an expansion of this interest in the physical sense.

We held ours in the High School Gymnasium, for the first two hours we limited it to high school students only, and then for the next two we opened it up to the public.  We offered anything from really high-tech skills including trying a 3D printer, horseback riding on simulated horses, hemming pants using an industrial sewing machine, or making a button.

We are still analyzing the feedback but overwhelmingly it appears that we need to do it again.  Try it Fairs are part of the “Maker Movement” which is loosely defined as,  “a resurgence of the desire to create physical objects; it can manifest itself as a technology-based extension of DIY and revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with existing ones. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them to designs.”

To learn more about this topic we have several books at the library that will get you started with your own maker projects and tell you more about the movement itself:

Free to make: how the maker movement is changing our schools, our jobs, and our minds by Dale Dougherty with Ariane Conrad

Maker lab: 28 super cool projects: build, invent, create, discover by Jack Challoner

The big book of maker skills: tools & techniques for building great tech projects by Chris Hackett and the editors of Popular Science.

I find the maker concept exciting because it allows for trial and error.  I think for many of us of a certain age, making mistakes is uncomfortable.  Speaking for myself, I was always worried about wasting materials, wasting time, or simply looking stupid.  Permission to explore and experiment without worry of failure is a completely new way of thinking for some.  We really do plan on holding another Try it Fair.  If you didn’t get a chance to come in December, watch for the next one, where you too can come and be inquisitive.

*Originally published in County Life, February 2017.

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County Life: Bessie’s Top 3 Reads of 2016

Bessie’s Books and Other Things

Great reads seemed a little scarcer than usual in 2016.  I have repeatedly heard from prolific readers that there hadn’t been as much good stuff this year.  When I looked back at what I have read over 2016 I can see that there are fewer high rated titles but still enough to make the pursuit of that perfect book worthwhile.

the-summer-before-the-warMy favourite read of the year was from Helen Simonson who gave us The Summer Before the War. It’s the summer of 1914 and life in the sleepy village of Rye, England is about to take an interesting turn. Agatha Kent, a force for progress, is expecting an unusual candidate to be the school’s Latin teacher: Beatrice Nash, a woman has never taught Latin at this school before. Agatha’s nephews, meanwhile, have come to spend the summer months, as always, both with dreams of their own: Daniel, the poet, to publish a literary journal in Paris, and Hugh, to graduate from medical studies and marry his surgeon’s daughter thus inheriting a lucrative practice. But then Hugh is sent to pick up Beatrice from the train station and life, of course, changes.

what-i-wasI listened to a wonderful young adult book on CD called What I Was by Meg Rosoff, a beautifully crafted and heart-achingly poignant coming-of-age tale that is set mainly in a hut on an isolated strip of land in East Anglia. The narrator is an older man who recounts the story of his most significant friendship with the nearly feral and completely parentless Finn, who lives alone in a hut by the sea. He idolizes Finn and spends as much time with him at the beachside hut as possible, hoping to become self-reliant and free instead of burdened by the boarding school dress code and curfew. But the contrast between their lives becomes ever more painful, until one day the tables turn and everything our hero believes to be true explodes with dire consequences.

HL under the visibleThe Haliburton County Public Library participates in the Evergreen award every year.  With this award ten works of Canadian fiction, non-fiction, and short stories are chosen by a committee of the Ontario Library Association and library patrons have the chance to read them until October when they can vote for their favourite.  One I really enjoyed from this list this year was Under the Visible Life by Kim Echlin. Fatherless Katherine carries the stigma of her mixed-race background through an era that is hostile to her and all she represents. It is only through music that she finds the freedom to temporarily escape and dream of a better life for herself. Orphaned Mahsa also grows up in the shadow of loss, sent to relatives in Pakistan after the death of her parents. Struggling to break free, she escapes to Montreal but eventually she finds herself forced into an arranged marriage. For Mahsa, too, music becomes her solace and allows her to escape from her oppressive circumstances. When Katherine and Mahsa meet, they find in each other a kindred spirit as well as a musical equal, and their lives are changed irrevocably.

All three of these books were satisfying reads for different reasons.  Even in a lean reading year there is bound to be something you can find to enjoy, especially if you are willing to venture across genres and format types.  All the books mentioned are available in one way or another at the Haliburton County Public Library.

*Originally published in County Life on December 1, 2016.

County Life: Gender and Sports

concussionBessie’s Books and Other Things

The second week-end of September was sporting Nirvana if that is how you are inclined.  The Blue Jays were in a head to head series with the Boston Red Sox and were fighting to keep their place at the front of the American League East.  In football, my team (Buffalo Bills) and my husband Doug’s team (Oakland Raiders) played on Sunday. The U.S. Open held both the women’s and the men’s final on the week-end.  In addition there was golf, pro-soccer MLS and EPL, as well as numerous world cup of hockey exhibition games. Both my children went back to school leaving us for the first time with an empty nest and not a lot of obligations past watching TV and folding the odd basket of laundry, in much reduced quantities I might add.

My daughter has gone back to school to study pro sports, making me hyper aware of the current and historical issues surrounding pro and high level amateur sports.    There is a disturbing pattern with some current and retired football players with a prevalence of brain damage, brain injury, and trauma induced brain diseases including Alzheimer’s.  The movie Concussion starring Will Smith is based on the true story of the accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players, and the uphill battle he faced in bringing the information to the public.

As more and more hockey and football players suffer health issues from repeated blows to the head, the safety of contact sports is challenged.  With this knowledge, what motivates people to take such a risk with their overall health?  LeBron James, the star forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sheds some light on why people would take the risk. “It’s a safety thing.  As a parent you protect your kids as much as possible…I needed a way out,” he said. “My kids don’t need a way out. They’re all right. I needed a way out when I was a kid. I tried to do whatever it took to get out. That’s my excuse.”  In essence, without the pressure of poverty his children are exempt from taking on the high risk behaviours he felt he had to.

The movie Race was shown by Those Other Movies in September, but if you missed it the library does have a copy as well as Concussion.  It tells the incredible true story of Olympic legend Jesse Owens.  In his epic quest to be the greatest athlete in history, Owens chooses to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he must overcome not only elite competition, but also the brutal racial climate of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. To me sports do seem to be a microcosm of real life, the fight for racial integration has been no less complicated in sport than it was in society.

Watching the media coverage of the recent Summer Olympics has brought to the forefront gender inequality when human achievement is being reported. How women are portrayed in the context of sports whether in the media or in movies about sports could fill a whole other article. Whatever your game, you can search for books and movies in our catalogue to broaden your perspective on it and other issues surrounding sports.

*Originally published on County Life, September 2016.

County Life: The importance of community

new wilberforce libraryBessie’s Books and Other Things

We knew when it was built that it was special. How could it not be when it took so much collaboration to make it happen? The old Wliberforce library branch could not be made accessible so the Municipality of Highlands East wanted a new branch.  The Haliburton County Public Library wanted a new branch because the old one, according to provincial guidelines, was too small.  Enter Fleming College who could build an interesting building using students in their Sustainable Building Design and Construction Program at an affordable cost to the municipality.  Pat Marcotte who owns HavenCraft Designs in Bancroft was an instructor with the program and designed the building.

An enthusiastic group of fundraisers called the Library Launchers began planning almost right away to raise funds for shelving and furniture of the branch.  This was in the fall of 2012.  The building was built, the funds were raised and the library branch opened in the spring of 2014.  Fast forward to this month and the building has won a library architecture award.  Many of the award jury comments revolved around the notion of community and how the drive of several organizations with limited resources has resulted in a well-loved community hub.

I came to this community in 2009 for a job.  I believed that it would be a stepping stone for me; I’d stay for a few years, get some experience, and move onto a bigger library system.  That was my thinking before I arrived.  I figured I’d have trouble making friends knowing it was a close knit community and people were already set in their relationships.  I didn’t know how my children or husband would adjust.  Now more than seven years later I and they are deeply entrenched.  We have all made wonderful friends here. I feel like the Wilberforce Branch represents everything good about Haliburton County and everything I have grown to love.

Recently my father-in-law died and neither my husband nor I said much about it, other than to our workplaces and closest friends.  Through the community grapevine we were inundated with offers of support.  My father-in-law isn’t even local, he lived in Cornwall.  We had a friend offer to come feed our cats while we were away.  Another friend, knowing that our son was in the Highland summer festival’s production of Oliver and had to come back right after the funeral for a dress rehearsal, volunteered to meet us half way so the rest of the family could stay in Cornwall.  Besides these things we were sent or hand delivered many cards of condolences and messages of support.   The whole experience made us feel valued and cared for by our community.  This is not the first crisis that the people of Haliburton have gotten me through and probably not the last.

The Wilberforce Branch was one of five out of fourteen submissions to win an award.  It was honoured along with two branches of the Toronto Public Library, Centennial College, and Ryerson University.   It was clear that our project stood out as it was the smallest, the cheapest, and the only one not in a city.  It won because it exemplified the three criteria of the award, Societal Advancement, Technical Advancement, and Environmental Advancement.  That our library was able to triumph amongst such stiff competition is a testament of the unique nature of the people of Haliburton County who habitually come together and create something out of nothing in the most impressive ways.

*Originally published in County Life July 28, 2016.

County Life: Stories of famous men as told by women

loving-frankBessie’s Books and Other Things

Until very recently history has almost exclusively been written by men.  Often famous men are portrayed as having obtained greatness independent of any assistance.  There seems to be a recent trend in fiction to tell the story from the perspective of the women in the lives of famous men.

For me, this trend started with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.  Published in 2007 it tells the story of Mamah Cheney who was the lover of Frank Lloyd Wright. An intellect in her own right she was a translator who spoke six languages.  The book painfully reveals the kinds of choices some women made at the time to be able to carve out a life or career independent of being a wife and a mother.

Ernest Hemingway’s first wife’s name was Hadley Richardson and was eight years his senior.  The book, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain tells the story of the tumultuous and passionate relationship that lasted six years and produced one child.  McLain’s story is said to be true to actual events and that notion is confirmed in Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast which takes place in Paris during his time with Hadley.

Nancy Horan followed up Loving Frank by publishing Under the Wide and Starry Sky in 2014.  This book is the story of Fanny Osbourne the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson, like Hadley Richardson, Fanny was older than her husband.  Stevenson was actually in fairly poor health throughout his lifetime and Fanny looked after him so he was able to write.  He died in his forties and what he did produce is very much because Fanny fed him, nursed him, and made sure he slept, as well as read and critiqued his work.

A Canadian writer Carol Bruneau wrote These Good Hands that was published this year.  This book tells the story of Camille Claudel who was a pupil and then mistress of the sculptor Auguste Rodin.  Set in 1943 Claudel has been in a mental institution in France for thirty years and has grown old.  The story of her youth and immeasurable talent is told in alternating chapters between her recollections and the observations of a fictional nurse put in charge of her care.  In the Rodin museum in Paris there is an iconic sculpture of the naked Claudel that exemplifies the profound effect she had on his art.

One other book that doesn’t quite follow the theme but illustrates the history of a very interesting set of sisters was published late in 2014 called Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar.  The book is about Vanessa and Virginia Stephens better known as Virginia Woolf the writer and Vanessa Bell the painter.  The sisters were part of the “Bloomsbury Group” a group of creative people who met frequently and produced a variety of work.

Reading fiction like the titles discussed is my window to a history of women that I would not otherwise discover.  These selections also remind me that rarely do we create something of importance in isolation.

*Originally published in County Life on July 23, 2016.

County Life: Access to info more than just about books

Bessie’s Books and Other Things

Books are important in terms of what they represent, their content.  Access to information is a basic right of all Canadians and Public Libraries fight to keep that access equal to all.  But the printed book as a format is evolving.  Much of the information that used to come out of printed books can be found online.  Information changes so quickly that libraries have actually stopped buying some formats  like print encyclopaedias because they are obsolete before they even hit our shelves.  We would rather offer up-to-date databases than expensive out-of-date books.  Does this mean that I think the book is dying?  No, but it is changing.  It no longer has to be paper that I can hold in my hand, my beloved novels can now be downloaded wherever I may be and I can download audio to listen to in my car or wherever I like.  I heard someone once describe it in the following way, “The library is concerned about access to the content and not what container that content comes in.”

If you view it that way, books are still very much alive, what goes on our shelves is evolving, and the container of the content is changing, but they are still books.

That said libraries lend other things besides books.  The possibilities are endless if you have the space and the staff.  There are libraries in Ontario lending; fishing rods, cake pans, tools, musical instruments, pedometers, energy use readers, and many other things you can think of.

As space allows, the Haliburton County Public Library has begun to look at non-traditional library products that are useful to the community.  We are home to one of the first seed libraries in the province.  There are now seed libraries in four of our branches.  Seed borrowing isn’t quite like other kinds of borrowing, we don’t actually expect to get the seeds you borrowed back, we hope that they will grow into something, but when you are harvesting your seeds we also hope that you think of us and bring some into share with others.

We have a small selection of electronics including ereaders and laptops.  We want people to be able to play with devices and learn how they work; much learning that goes on in libraries is self-directed.  However, we will also be conducting workshops in the summer on specific topics that will help you learn about different devices and their capabilities.

At the Dysart Branch we have entered into a partnership with the municipality to lend outdoor activity equipment that is compatible with use in Head Lake Park.  For example, if you are visiting the park and decide you would like to try Disc Golf, you can borrow the discs at the library.  The same goes for tennis, basketball, football, soccer, and more.

Libraries are changing but the fundamentals of what we do have stayed the same; we allow access to information, technology, and public gathering space.  As long as we stick to the fundamentals we should be able to evolve with the needs of the community.  What that evolution will look like is anyone’s guess, but constant change certainly makes working in Libraries interesting.

*Originally published in County Life May 26, 2016.

County Life: Romance has a bad rep.

broken_heartBessie’s Books and Other Things

Romance has a bad rep…

Genre fiction is tricky.  Just because you like murder mysteries, does that mean you will like them all?   If genre fiction is produced by a literary author, does it fall into the genre?  Clearly Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series is science fiction, but even she won’t admit to that.  Who doesn’t view books by Jane Austen as literature classics?  However,  they are also the best romance novels I have ever read.  I attended a workshop in the fall that completely concentrated on the romance novel, probably the most mocked kind of book there is.  The presenters made some strong points about why this might be.  From the feminist perspective often things favoured by women are criticised.   Initially the romance novel was mass produced for a lower socio-economic bracket.  That’s two strikes against the romance novel; it is liked by women and the poor.  I am certainly not arguing that all romance novels are created equally, they are not.  But in the library world there is no such thing as a bad book.  Books are either to our taste or they are not.  We want people to read, we don’t care what.  Our job is to figure out what people like and why and guide them in that direction.  Our job is definitely not to dictate what people read or put any conditions on what they should like.  Reader’s Digest compiled a list of their choice for the top ten romance novels of all time.  Although there are some romance genre superstars like Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks on the list, there are also authors that are not usually thought of as “Romance Writers”.  The list is as follows:

  1. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (1977)
  2. Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
  3. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992)
  4. True Believers by Nicholas Sparks (2005)
  5. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969)
  6. Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts (2002)
  7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
  8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
  10. Follow the Stars Home by Luanne Rice (2000)

One must take all top ten lists with a grain of salt; this is just one organization’s opinion and the validity of it depends on how much stock you put in Reader’s Digest.  For me, omitting Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a huge oversite, but barring that, this list represents what I am talking about.  It spans centuries, many countries of origin, classic literature, and what we would consider contemporary romance novels.  I have read almost every book on this list and really the only thing that ties them together is the thread of a romantic relationship as a main plotline.

There are many misconceptions about the genre of romance.  However, based on this list alone the genre clearly offers readers a wide variety of choices hopefully resulting in something there for everyone.

*Originally published in County Life March 10, 2016.