Saturday, November 29, 2008


You can't be a major recording artist these days without putting out some kind of Christmas album (James Taylor, Sarah McLachlan, Brian Setzer, Clay Aiken, Don Ho, etc. etc.). And while these modern takes on traditional holiday songs can be fun, there is something about hearing the really traditional Christmas music that brings the holiday spirit bubbling up.
For the last 60 years, the Choir of King's College, Cambridge has been bringing that Christmas feeling to the British audience over the radio (and, since 1954, via television as well). We now have a DVD of the concert that was performed in 2000. The choir performs beautiful popular carols such as "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Silent Night", "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". There are also some popular British carols and some much older Christmas carols sung in Latin.
Carols From King's actually features the entire liturgical service, including the Biblical readings. However, there is a 'Carols Only' option which allows viewers to play just the musical portions of the service. Another bonus feature of this disc is the original 1954 concert. The visuals aren't exactly riveting, but this is a wonderful video to have playing in the background while you wrap presents, bake cookies and decorate your Christmas tree. With almost 30 traditional carols, you can enjoy the beautiful sounds of the holiday with your family.

Friday, November 28, 2008

New library update

The campaign to build a new library has been in the news quite a lot lately, and we have received a few questions from people who are wondering where exactly the project stands and what still needs to be done.
Based on public comment and input from the ad-hoc library building committee, the City has designated the Edmonds Street hill (where the old Main School used to be located) as the site of a future library building. This site was selected because:
  • The City already owns the land, thus saving $500,00 - $1 million in land acquisition costs
  • It is equally accessible to borough residents living both north and south of town
  • It can be reached from the 3rd avenue bypass, which means that patrons can avoid Tongass Ave traffic in the busy summer months
  • It can be added to the borough bus route
  • It contributes greatly to the sense of Ketchikan's downtown community identity
  • There are fabulous views of the water and mountains that will be a huge asset to the library's Reading Room
Based on a recommendation from the Mayor-appointed Library Building Committee, both the City and Borough have agreed to a library size of 23,850 sq. ft. With our current collection size, number of computers and number of reading seats, national standards indicate the library building should be 20,378 sq. ft. The additional 3,500 sq ft. in the new library plans will accommodate more seating, space for library programs and community groups, and additional Internet access for the public. The architects (Bettisworth North [Fairbanks] and Welsh Whiteley [Ketchikan]) have begun creating conceptual floor plans and allocating collection and use areas.
As for funding, during the upcoming legislative session the Alaska State Legislature will be looking at funding a program which was established last year (Senate Bill 119) which provides matching funds for the construction of new public libraries. If this program receives full funding, Ketchikan would be eligible to 50% of the cost of our new library paid for by the state. We are already in communication with the Rasmuson Foundation about our project, and the Foraker Group is working with the City to help us accomplish our funding goals.

So What Can You Do to Help?

Talk, talk, talk! Write to your legislators and tell them how important it is to fund the matching grant program (A.S. 14.56.355 - Library Construction and Major Expansion Matching Grant Program). Call up your Borough Assembly members and your City Council members and let them know what you think. Talk to your friends and neighbors and convince them that this new library project will benefit every single person in this community, because the public library is a free service for all. If you need contact information for your representatives, just go to our website.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Friends, Romans, countrymen...lend me your eyes

Shakespeare wrote plays with really juicy plots, especially his tragedies, so it seems a shame that younger readers (teens, not preschoolers) are turned off by the arcane language. Once you get past the iambic pentameter and words like 'wouldst', you end up with gripping tales of lust, treachery, revenge, corruption, greed, madness and ambition. What teenage wouldn't like that?
So we have some new books on the shelf that take some of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies - Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar - and put them in a format that is more appealing to young adults: Manga. Writer Adam Sexton has worked with a variety of illustrators to adapt these plays to the shorter manga format. They have done this in the time-honored tradition of dropping various lines and scenes (Lawrence Olivier's filmed version of Hamlet took an entire hour out of the 4-hour play). However, they have left the setting and the original language intact. The illustrations follow the manga form, and blood is liberally splattered over the pages during the duels and murders that spice up the storyline.
These are great books for any manga fan who wants to branch out beyond Peach Girl, Shakespeare aficionados who enjoy creative adaptations of the Bard, or high school students who need to read the plays for school but who keep falling asleep over their textbooks. These books are even better than Cliffs notes!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Watcha wearing?

You don't have to be a fashion plate to enjoy looking at photos of haute couture, either for the composition and beauty of the photography or for the colorful, elaborate construction of the designers. Since some of the best fashion images have appeared in the pages of Vogue, it seems that a book that showcases the history of that magazine would also be a feast for the eyes.
Vogue Fashion: over 100 years of style by decade and designer, in association with Vogue takes readers through hobble skirts, cloche hats, bias cut skirts, wasp waists, bell bottoms, power suits and heroin chic. Author Linda Watson explains changes in the culturally and economic atmosphere of the West (Europe & America), and how those changes influenced fashion designers. The designers, in turn, pushed the limits of what was socially acceptable and caused behaviors and expectations to change. No one thinks much of seeing a lady's calf now, but in 1909 only actresses and showgirls - and not very reputable ones at that - flashed their legs at men.
The book is almost 400 pages long, but the dimensions are small (15cm x 21cm) so it's not an exhaustive guide to fashion history. The Designers section is nice, because it includes some older and lesser-known artists and fashion houses that have all been influential in their own way. The pages are lavishly sprinkled with color photos and black-and-white sketches (mostly from Vogue, of course) that illustrate the changing waves of fashion and the evolving ideal of feminine beauty. We can snicker at the Pierre Cardin spacesuit-inspired tunics and jumpsuits, but who knows what current fashion staple will be considered appalling in 40 years?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Natural History

A moderate science geek, I love to go visiting natural history and science museums when I travel down South. From the towering American Museum of Natural History in New York City to the Sciencenter in Ithaca (Bill Nye the Science Guy - a Cornell alum - did the message on their answering machine), you can always find something interesting. But what goes on behind the scenes? Who puts together all those dioramas, who pins those butterflies, who polishes those gems, who assembles the bones. How do museums collect all those specimens and why?

Dry Storeroom No. 1: the secret life of the natural history museum answers those questions. Written by Richard Fortey, who was the senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, this book takes readers into the collections and storerooms of that museum, where the specimens conjure up images of intrepid scientific explorers going into rainforests on the trail of exotic plants, into deserts in a hunt for fossils, and into jungles searching for rare animals. Fortey also briefly touches on the politics of maintaining a first-class museum devoted to displaying the diversity and beauty of the world around us. Most of all, Fortey explains that far from being a dusty depository of bones, skins and rocks, a natural history museum is a working laboratory of scientific exploration and discovery. This fascinating book is also a backstage tour and a history of one of the premiere science museums in the world, and wonderful reading for anyone who is interested in how things operate.

Friday, November 21, 2008

For P.D. James fans

One of the legendary names in British crime fiction is P.D. James, whose first novel - Cover Her Face (1962) - introduced readers to the poet and Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh. Her 14th novel featuring the introspective and restrained sleuth is due out this month, and we have it on order in both print and audio format.
To tide you over until the book arrives, we have a wonderful substitute: film adaptations of nine Dalgliesh novels (starring Roy Marsden). These films cover the first volumes from James' series, from Cover Her Face to Original Sin. More recently, Martin Shaw has been portraying Dalgliesh on film. Like any adaptation that takes a fictional character and makes them real, the portrayal either fits with your mental image of the character or not, but you can't argue that Marsden's acting is anything other than solid. These British productions are very well done, with lots of dreary, oppressive location shots and talented supporting casts.
If you're a fan of mysteries or British television, you will really enjoy all of these great films.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What is a trillion, anyway?

It seems that Americans are starting to suffer from number fatigue. We have become accustomed to hearing astronomically high numbers batted around in the news, but if your net worth isn't $50 million dollars, or if you're not used to getting $3 million dollar bonuses, it's a little hard to translate what a number like 700 billion actually means.
Author Rob Simpson felt the same way when he heard that the U.S. government had spent 1 TRILLION dollars fighting the war in Iraq. In answer to the question "Why aren't taxpayers more outraged at the money spent on the war?", he decided to take that 1 trillion dollar figure and translate it into something more concrete. What We Could Have Done With the Money: 50 ways to spend the trillion dollars we've spent in Iraq is not a scholarly tome and I don't Simpson is really arguing that throwing a trillion dollars at a problem is a fast and easy way to fix it, but the suggestions in this somewhat tongue-in-cheek book definitely get you thinking.
We could build 6,667 miles of monorail, or pay for 1.9 million more teachers for our schools, or provide housing for over 10 million homeless families. We could pay off every credit card and gas card in America and still have $230 million left over. My favorite example? We could cover every highway in America with gold for only a third of that trillion dollars.
Feeling outraged yet?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A couple of new books on the shelf look at the struggle with alcoholism from different perspectives.
The Alcoholic is the graphic novel debut of acclaimed writer Jonathan Ames. His main character - acclaimed mystery writer Jonathan A. - recounts his long slide into alcoholism and drug abuse. The crisp line drawings of Dean Haspiel add a starkness to the story of a confused young man who initially uses alcohol as entertainment, but then turns to the bottle to compensate for losses in his life. A nicely written account that doesn't shy away from the degrading details of alcoholism, but still conveys the essential humanity of the character.
The Drunkard: a hard-drinking life is Neil Steinberg's account of his hard climb out of the depths of alcoholism. A popular columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Steinberg had become increasingly reliant on alcohol to get through his days and his wife had become increasingly unhappy with his drinking. And then one night, in a fit of rage, he hits her. Sentenced to mandatory rehab, he finally realizes that he must choose between his family and the bottle. Drunkard follows his first year of sobriety and his self-evaluation of his inner demons.
These books might not be the most lighthearted fare you'll pick up this year, but they're both gripping stories of people in pain.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dull Essentials

The gardening section of the library features some of the prettiest, most eye-catching books in our collection. Our newest gardening book, however, has not a single photograph or splash of color. The Informed Gardener by Linda Chalker-Scott contains over 200 pages of black-and-white text, but the information within that text makes this one of our most valuable books of gardening advice. A horticulturist and associate professor at Washington State University, Chalker-Scott has taken on a couple dozen of the most widely-held gardening 'myths' and explained how things really work.
She argues against staking newly planted trees, against gardening with native plants without regard for how their native environment has been changed by development and against using wound dressings on newly pruned trees. Go ahead and disturb the root ball when you plant trees, don't add nutrients to your soil without testing it first, and don't rely on landscape fabrics to keep your weed population tamped down. Each chapter is brief and succinct, with a description of the myth, an explanation of what is really happening, and a short summary that tells you what you should be doing. Best of all, she backs everything up with references and article citations at the end of each chapter (in case you want to learn more about polyacrylamide hydrogels).
This is a really valuable book for anyone who is interested into moving into more serious gardening and landscaping and needs some concrete advice.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Architects of chaos

The Middle East, by anyone's definition, is a troubled region and scholars, analysts and politicians have spent a great deal of time in the last few decades trying to figure out where it all went wrong. Authors Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac don't necessarily point fingers of blame in their new book Kingmakers: the invention of the modern Middle East, but they do introduce readers to the British and American players who created the Middle East as we now know it.
Spanning the decades from British colonial dominance in the Victorian Era to the redistribution of political boundaries after World War I and ending with America's current war in Iraq, Kingmakers provides very insightful biographies of the handful of men and women who have had an extraordinary impact on world politics. Many of these personalities are military figures - T.E. Lawrence, Sir Mark Sykes and Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb (there's a mouthful). Others are politicians and government officials (i.e. spies) - Paul Wolfowitz, Kermit Roosevelt Jr. and Harry St. John Bridger Philby. There are even a couple of influential women whose analysis and writings greatly influenced public and political perceptions back in England (Gertrude Bell and Flora Shaw, Lady Lugard).
It's a rich mix of personalities and motivations and the authors provide enough background information on these important characters that you can get an idea of what influenced their words and actions. This is very enjoyable reading for anyone who is interested in modern history or politics.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Dewey tour of new videos

570 - Biology & Life Sciences. Proteus: a nineteenth-century vision is a story of Ernst Haeckel, who managed to blend science and art in an inspiring way by painting delicate portraits of radiolarians - single celled sea creatures. In a time before electron microscopes, his artwork brought the beauty of tiny life to people's attention.
630 - Agriculture. The Grange Fair: an American tradition takes viewers into a gentler, more bucolic world where people show off their skills at canning, sewing, shearing, gardening and raising livestock. A grange fair, being a smaller version of a county fair, is always a good place for rural neighbors to catch up with their friends and relax. A video equivalent of Charlotte's Web.
710 - Landscaping & Area Planning. The Art & Practice of Gardening: England, Ireland & America. If you have the least interest in gardens you will devour these tours of famous gardens and interviews with expert gardeners. Along the way, you can garner valuable advice on roses, structural elements, small gardens, use of color, elemental design and using a nursery supplier.
740 - Drawing & Decorative Arts. Drawing Lessons for Beginners: drawing nature will cover such topics as atmospheric perspective (useful for sketching mountains), careful attention to details (for realistic depiction), drawing trees and composing the elements of your drawings. Very helpful advice from artist Donna Hugh.
910 - Geography & Travel. Ganges: how the majestic Ganges has shaped the landscape, wildlife and culture of India is a beautiful look at a legendary river. A 2 1/2 hour BBC production, this film contains stunning images and takes a close look at the wildlife that share the resource with one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
940 - European History. Battle Ground: South Pacific focuses on actions in the Philippines, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands during World War II. Under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, allied forces (mostly American and Australian) fought grisly battles at Manila, Corregidor, Maffin Bay and Rabaul. A great film series for military history buffs and anyone interested in the battle for the Philippines.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Listening to history

A really good book on history is very much like a really good novel - complex characters, a flowing narrative, exciting plot developments and an underlying message about society and humanity. So if you like to listen to novels on audio, you might think about listening to some history on audio as well:
1434: the year a magnificent Chinese fleet sailed to Italy and ignited the Renaissance is by Gavin Menzies, the same author who brought you 1421: the year China discovered America. In this new book, Menzies recounts the visit of a Chinese fleet to the Italian port of Tuscany in 1434. He postulates that it was this contact, and the willingness of the Chinese to share their knowledge of geography, engineering, printing, astronomy, architecture, mathematics and art that sparked an interest in science and learning that eventually led to the Renaissance (and we all know what that led to...). This audiobook is narrated by Simon Vance, who has done a wonderful job narrating the Patrick O'Brian books on ListenAlaska.
All Hands Down: the true story of the Soviet attack on the USS Scorpion by Kenneth Sewell and Jerome Preisler. This is a timely addition to the collection, since we not only just celebrated Veteran's Day, but this tragic event occurred 40 years ago this year. A revenge attack for the supposed sinking of a Soviet submarine off the coast of Hawaii (the cause of the sinking is still a mystery), the attack on the USS Scorpion cost the lives of 99 crew. Occurring at the height of the Cold War, while we were deep in the Vietnam War, the events of the sinking were kept quiet. The authors have used recently declassified Soviet and American military files, as well as hours of interviews, to piece together their story.
The Candy Bombers: the untold story of the Berlin Airlift and America's finest hour is by Andrei Cherny and narrated by Jonathan Davis. This book recounts the events leading to the blockade of West Berlin, and the dramatic airlift of food and fuel that kept the residents of West Berlin warm and fed and - more importantly - full of hope. This dramatic demonstration of America's military strength, material wealth, and determination to block further Soviet movement into Western Europe took place 60 years ago. This book is a nice reminder of that heroic effort.
The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman and Davis in the Mexican War 1846-1848 is by Martin Dugard. The Mexican War doesn't get a lot of attention nowadays, but it was the first U.S. war waged on foreign soil (our incursions into Canada during the War of 1812 apparently don't really count). It was also the dress rehearsal for the Civil War, and many of the big names on both the Union and Confederate side got their start during the Mexican War. Oh yeah, and we also doubled the size of the United States. There are plenty of good reasons to listen to this fascinating account of a neglected part of American history.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

CDs of local interest

We have some fascinating new CDs from the people at Smithsonian Folkways that will be of particular interest to our local patrons. These archive recordings come from the Smithsonian museum in the nation's capitol, and they represent some wonderful attempts to record and preserve global culture.
Haida: Indian music of the Pacific Northwest is a 2-disc set containing over 24 different songs, including a paddle song, a lullaby, a celebration song and a potlatch welcome dance. There are a couple of interviews on the disc as well. Recorded in the 1970's, the collection features 2 Tsimshian songs that were known to the Haida elders who contributed to the recording. Best of all, the CD comes with a very informative booklet in which all of the songs - music and lyrics - are transcribed and any associated history of the song is included. Transcripts of the interviews are also included.
A Cry From the Earth: music of the North American Indians is another set of historic cultural recordings, many of which come from early in the 20th century (there is even one recording that was made in 1894!). There are 6 songs on this disc from the Northwest Coast and Eskimo tribes, and the accompanying booklet provides a nice description of each track, as well as some anthropological information.
The Southeast Alaska folk tradition has quite a variety of traditional and contemporary folk music (this recording was originally released in 1981, so take that 'contemporary' with a grain of salt). Tlingit, Tsimshian, Russian and English songs are all here - from a Tsimshian blanket dance song to a ballad about Russian-Tlingit relations to Joe Juneau's ramblin' blues. The booklet that comes with the CD is a little difficult to read, since it has been reproduced from a badly scanned document, but the information is invaluable once you decipher it.
A Philippine Christmas is both geographically and temporally significant for our patrons, since the Christmas season is galloping down upon us. Featuring Bayanihan - the Philippine National Folk Dance Company - the songs and carols on this disc are sung primarily in Tagalog, although there are a few songs in Cebuano and Ilocano. We have been unable to find an original release date for this album (the Smithsonian doesn't know either), but looking at the album cover I would date this somewhere in the early 1970's.
We always like adding unique little items to the shelves, and we hope that many people are interested in these music selections that you won't necessarily find on Napster.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And the winner is....

For those of you who have been on the edge of your seat waiting to learn the will of the underage voters of Ketchikan, here are the election results for Kids Pick the President:

Barack Obama: 148 votes (43.9%)
John McCain: 146 votes (43.3%)

There were also 43 different write-in candidates, including Ralph Nader (7 votes), Bob Barr (3 votes), and Elmer Fudd (1 vote). There were also 6 question ballots, where the young voter filled in more than one box or suggested a write-in candidate and filled in a box. Sorry, guy, ya gotta choose either your Mom or Obama - you can't pick both.
The youth of Ketchikan took this vote very seriously, and with a total of 354 votes cast (only slightly less than the total participation of Summer Reading Club) it goes to show that the future of our country is in good hands...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I really am sorry

There's an unwritten rule in my house that the Christmas stuff stays under wraps until after Thanksgiving. So I would like to apologize to all of those die-hard defenders of holiday boundaries when I announce that we have brought our Christmas craft magazines and holiday music CDs out of storage.
Perched on the large table in the lobby is a music carousel with 137 CDs featuring music for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. From the Brian Setzer Orchestra to Norway's Silver Boy Choir to Zamfir, we have a little bit of everything. The craft magazines also span a range of interests. There are holiday themes for decorating, cooking and gift wrapping, as well as traditional hobbies such as knitting, cross stitch, papercraft, scrapbooking, painting, quilting and woodworking. If you enjoy tole painting, scroll saw design or ornamenting with rubber stamps, we have the Christmas patterns you need for inspiration.
What's next, you ask? Well, starting this weekend, look for all our fun, fluffy Christmas-themed novels to come out of storage. Mystery writers such as Anne Perry and Mary Higgins Clark have made of point of writing a new book every holiday (Christmas Grace is this year's offering from Anne Perry. We have it on order in both book and CD format, if you would like to place it on hold). In addition, chick-lit and romance novelists love setting their books during the holiday season, so we have lots of Christmas romances to dust off as well.
It's all part of our constant effort to bring our patrons what they want - and yes, we have already had multiple requests for the Christmas crafts and CDs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Never mind manoeuvres, always go at them" -- Admiral Nelson

Living on an island, as we do, you can pretty much be assured that books about nautical topics will be a hit on the bookshelves. For those of you interested in the glory days of naval warfare, when ships of the line tore apart each other's sails with cannonballs and desparate manoeuvres depended on the vagaries of the wind, we've got a couple of fascinating books.
The War For All the Oceans: from Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo, by Roy and Leslie Adkins, looks at that thrilling period of early 19th-century naval warfare. The Battles of the Nile and of Copenhagen, the siege of Acre, privateers, blockades and invasion fleets are all the fodder for discussion in this book. Plenty of diagrams, maps, images and suggested reading make this a nice resource for anyone who would like to know more about the subject. This book would be especially appealing to fans of Patrick O'Brian, Alexander Kent or C.S. Forester - since all of those series are played out against the backdrop of historic naval engagements.
If By Sea: the forging of the American Nave from the Revolution to the War of 1812 is by George C. Daughan. While the Adkins' book looked at the early 19th-century from the British point of view, Daughan takes an American approach, looking at how the young bankrupt country managed to put together the beginnings of a navy. While not as large or powerful as the mammoth British fleet, the American ships were new, fast, well-built and daringly commanded. Victories against British blockading ships during the War of 1812, and the Americans' campaign against the Barbary pirates at Tripoli not only gave the American Navy a feared reputation, it also encouraged the fledgling government to commit to a deep-water fleet for the protection of America' s shores and interests. Daughan does a nice job of looking at battles - both on the sea and in Congress - that led to the development of the U.S. Navy.

Monday, November 3, 2008


This doesn't have any direct bearing on the library, but it is an important issue (and the Kids Pick the President campaign - which is the brainchild of Vera in the Annex - has encouraged almost 300 kids to come into the library and cast their vote for President).
I'm not only going to urge you to get out and vote tomorrow, I'm also going to urge you to bring your kids and grandkids. As everyone knows, children learn by example. What better example could you set than by taking them into the polls with you as you exercise your right and responsibility to choose your elected representatives? I've dragged my daughter in with me to every primary, local and state election for the past 7 years and she has gone from seeing Election Day as just an opportunity to pick up a pretty sticker ("I've Voted") and a cookie to being the day when you get to pick who's in charge (we haven't tried to explain the Electoral College to her yet).
Make this Election Day a family day, and show your kids that this is something important - something that is part of being an adult. (And be sure to thank the poll volunteers for all those yummy cookies!)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Grab-n-go Audio

This morning we unveiled a brand new collection that we hope will appeal to a broad range of people: Playaway audiobooks. These lightweight, easy-to-use audiobooks are designed for listeners of all ages. They won't get tangled, like cassette tapes. They won't get scratched, like CDs, you don't have to switch sides or insert new disks. You don't have to worry about software compatibility or download speeds. It's the easiest way in the world to listen to a good book.
I don't use audiobooks because I don't have a cassette player. Don't worry - these Playaways are actually book and player in one. Run by one AAA battery (which comes included), all you need to listen is a pair of headphones. The Playaway features a standard audio jack which will fit almost all listening equipment.
I don't have headphones. We have earbuds available for purchase at the front desk for $1.
I prefer cassette audio because I don't lose my place in the story when I turn off the player. The Playaway has a bookmarking feature that automatically resumes the story where you left off. No fast-forwarding through the file, no waiting until the end of a track to turn off your player.
I don't use digital audiobooks because I don't have Internet access to download the files. These Playaway audiobooks are preloaded - all you have to do to start enjoying the story is plug in your headphones and press the power button.
I don't use audiobooks because I hate having to learn new technology. These Playaways are easier to use than your VCR (and there's no clock to set!). The power button turns the player on and off, you can control the volume with the arrow buttons, and that's all you need to do. No software, no complicated instructions, no jargon.
We're very excited about the possibilities for this new collection, which was purchased with money from the Alaska State Legislature. Thank you, Rep. Kyle Johansen, for making this new service possible!