In this op-ed piece published on August 4, 2021, by the Portland Press Herald, PPL Senior Library Assistant, and author, Hannah Matthews, thoughtfully articulates PPL staff voices and experiences of keeping our community and each other safe as we open to the public
Maine Voices: By reopening to the public, Portland library is returning to our mission
BY HANNAH MATTHEWS SPECIAL TO THE PRESS HERALD
Welcoming you all back into our building makes it clear that we are all responsible for keeping each other healthy, safe and informed.
At work the other day, a woman approached me, apologizing. Her young son let go of her hand and went running past us, yelling that he was going to find a book. I could see, behind her mask and glasses, that she was crying.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she kept saying, as I searched my desk for a box of tissues I could offer her. “It’s just been such a hard year. We’re so happy to be back here again, with you.”
When the Portland Public Library opened our doors to the public June 22, my colleagues and I hit the ground running. Those of us on the front lines of public interaction had been nervously preparing for scenarios that could put us or others around us in danger. Many of us, staff and patrons alike, have young children who cannot yet be vaccinated, or elderly parents, or health conditions that make us especially vulnerable to the virus and its variants, and we all carry the weight of this awareness in our bodies.
The PPL staff has, like so many Mainers, faced a patchwork of stressors and struggles during this time: furloughs, reduced hours, shifting job responsibilities to fill in gaps, and the challenges of creating new ways to serve people remotely. Stress, fatigue, heartbreak and anger – financial, medical, logistical and existential – radiated through our city and, inevitably, our work.
And we were constantly, heartbreakingly, aware of our sudden lack of ability to serve all of our patrons. Folks with no computer access or no means of transportation were unable to reach out to us for help or information or human connection, as they normally would. Like nearly every other facet of life in America, we felt our work becoming inequitable as the pandemic dragged on. For people who chose our jobs specifically in order to help everybody, this was unspeakably painful.
In preparing to open to the public and get back to workdays that resembled our pre-pandemic job duties, helping patrons face to face, we have been nervous, yes, but also overjoyed and grateful to return to the pursuit of our mission.
Welcoming you all back into our building has meant seeing the children who have grown by a foot and a reading level over the year they’ve spent at home, the babies who were born since we last saw their parents, the patrons of all ages and circumstances who have discovered new authors and topics and interests in this time away from our stacks and help desks, and who are eager to tell us about all the changes that have happened in their lives during our long time apart.
Being a library worker is about so much more than information and books. Each hour of our workday is filled with the interactions and conversations, both large and small, that shape our patrons’ paths forward and our own. Beyond shelving and recommendations, beyond help with taxes and citizenship, beyond research and reading – librarianship is about securing equal footing for everyone and ensuring that our communities have access to trusted information and mutual aid resources in times of confusion, chaos and stress.
COVID-19 has only made clearer the reason that public libraries exist, and the reason that front-line library workers continue to serve at their desks: We all rely on one other. We are all connected, and thus we are all responsible for keeping each other healthy and safe and informed. That is why our doors have been closed, and it’s also why they are open now.
Welcome to the library, Portland, from the folks who help you find and check out your books, the folks who wipe down the tables and computers before you use them and the folks who take your phone calls and direct you to the community resources you need.
We’re so happy to be here again, with you.
Hannah Matthews is a PPL librarian and her written work has appeared in Esquire Magazine, McSweeney’s, Catapult, and more. Photo credit: Hannah Matthews.
During the last Olympic Games, this librarian created a short vocabulary list of Olympic terminology. With the addition of several new sports, I thought it might be appropriate to add to that list along with explanation of some lesser known and newer sports.
Debuted in 2010 Youth Olympic Games and was chosen for the 2020 games in 2017. Three-on-three basketball uses a smaller ball (size 6), and only half of a regular sized basketball court. The game is a single period of 10 minutes with sudden death at 21 points. The winner is the first team to score 21 or the team with the higher score at the end of the 10 minutes. A tie in regulation leads to an untimed overtime period. Whichever team scores two points wins the game. Note that if a game is tied at 20 at the end of regulation, reaching 21 does not end the game. The sport, as a whole, is overseen by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).
From the FIBA 2020 Olympic Media Guide
The US Surfing Olympic Team, photo from USA Surfing
Surfing as a sport is broadly divided according to the size and type of the board used. The longboard is around nine feet in length and more buoyant than the shortboard, which first appeared around 1970 and is approximately six feet in length. The shortboard has a pointed tip which aids turning, is quicker to maneuver and tends to be receptive to more dynamic techniques. Shortboards will be used at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where 20 men and 20 women will compete in separate competitions. The sport, which will be new to the 2020 games is judged by the following five criteria:
Commitment and degree of difficulty.
Innovative and progressive maneuvers.
Variety of manoeuvres.
Combination of major maneuvers
Speed, power, and flow.
According to the Salem Press Encyclopedia, surfing is one of the oldest continually practiced sports. It first developed thousands of years ago in western Polynesia. Surfing then spread to Hawaii, where it became central to ancient Hawaiian culture. Finally, the sport spread to California and the rest of the world.* Like many sports, surfing has its own culture and Wikipedia has a great list of surfing terms.
Alexis Sablone in action at the 2018 X Games. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images via Out Sports
There will be two different event categories for this year’s new sport. The events are street and park, both with corresponding courses. According to Olympics.com, “both the “Street” and “Park” courses have been designed with equality in mind for both regular and goofy stance skateboarders as well as all genders to compete on.” Goofy, goofy stance or goofy foot all refer to a skateboarder, snowboarder, surfer, or wakeboarder riding with his or her left foot in back, toward the tail of the board. Goofy stance gets this name because most people put their left foot forward, which is called a regular stance.
This competition is held on a straight ‘street-like’ course featuring stairs, handrails, curbs, benches, walls and slopes. Each skateboarder performs individually and uses each section to demonstrate a range of skills, or ‘tricks’. Judging takes into account factors such as the degree of difficulty of the tricks, height, speed, originality, execution and the composition of moves, in order to award an overall mark.
Park competitions take place on a hollowed-out course featuring a series of complicated curves — some resembling large dishes and dome-shaped bowls. From the bottom of the cavity, the curved surfaces rise steeply, with the upper part of the incline either vertical or almost vertical. Among the attractions of park competitions are the immense heights achieved by climbing the curves at speed and performing amazing mid-air tricks.
Lead climbing competition in the final of the boys’ sport climbing at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires on 10 October 2018. Martin Rulsch, Wikimedia Commons
According to USA Climbing, athletes will compete in the Combined format which will feature all three Sport Climbing disciplines – Bouldering, Lead and Speed – in one event with a total of six medals handed out to the sport’s first Olympic athletes. Each climber will compete in all three disciplines, and the final rankings will be determined by multiplying the placement in each discipline, with the athletes achieving the lowest scores winning medals.
Two climbers secure safety ropes to themselves and attempt to scale a 15m-high wall (49.2126 feet), set at an angle of 95 degrees, faster than their opponent on identical routes. Winning times for men’s events tend to be around the five to six-second mark, while women’s events are usually won in around seven or eight seconds. A false start results in instant disqualification.
In Bouldering, athletes climb as many fixed routes as they can within four minutes, on a 4.5m-high wall (14.7638 feet), equipped with safety mats. The routes vary in difficulty and climbers are not permitted to practise climbing them in advance. When a climber grabs the final hold at the top of a route with both hands, they are deemed to have completed it. Climbers tackle the wall without safety ropes and can try a route again if they fall during their initial attempt.
The walls used for bouldering present a range of challenges, with overhangs and some holds so small that they can only be held by the fingertips. Climbers must plan each move carefully, thinking about which hand and foot to place in the next holds, while constantly being aware of the time limit. The physical and mental dexterity required for success is extraordinary.
Lead involves athletes attempting to climb as high as they can on a wall measuring more than 15m (49.2126 feet), in height within six minutes. The climbers use safety ropes and attach the rope to quickdraws (equipment that allows the rope to run freely while leading) along the route. When a climber attaches their rope to the top quickdraw, they have completed the climb. If a climber falls, the height (hold number) attained is recorded. There are no re-climbs.
If two or more athletes complete the climb or reach exactly the same height, the fastest to do so is declared the winner. This is a demanding whole-body activity and dynamic climbing techniques are greatly important.
For a list of PPL titles on rock and mountain climbing, click here.
BMX (Bicycle Motocross)
Boys’ Qualification of mixed BMX freestyle park at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires on 10 October 2018. Depicted: Evan Brandes.
BMX Freestyle has been around since the 1970s, but will debut at the 2020 Games. According to Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body for all cycling sports, BMX Freestyle is a spectacular discipline where the riders perform routines which consist of sequences of executing tricks. It can be carried out in various ways such as on flat ground, in the streets, on dirt jumps, a halfpipe and on constructed ramps. In competition, riders are judged on quality of their performance (difficulty, originality and style). Listing all of the names of various tricks would make this an extremely long blog post. Here is an incomplete list of BMX terms from Alligator Pit to X-Up.
BMX Racing made its Olympic debut in Beijing 2008. BMX Racing is raced on a 350m circuit. Eight riders launch themselves from an eight-metre high ramp and race over a track alternating bumps, banked corners and flat sections. The battle for first place is fierce, as it is necessary to finish in the first four of the heats to have a place in the next round and then in the final. Depending on the lay-out of the section, the riders try either to land quickly in order to gain speed, or to gain height (riders reach up to nearly five metres high).
MOTO: A single racing heat. BERM: An embankment on a track built up on the outside of a turn to create a banked curve. DOUBLE: A jump where two hills are placed close together. HOLE SHOT: Taking the lead position out of the starting gate and going into the first turn. ROLLER: An obstacle on a track that is rolled over as opposed to being jumped. RHYTHM SECTION: A series of jumps back to back on a track that pose as an obstacle. SNAKE: A cut in front of someone else suddenly, disturbing their run or causing them to fall. STAGING AREA: The area where the riders gather for loading into the gate. STARTING GATE: Flat formed area with a hinged portion, where each race begins. TABLE TOP: A jump on a track that is completely flat all the way across it from the takeoff to landing.
Join us as we dive into the stacks this summer with July Staff Picks! Here are cookbooks, movies, music, novels and nonfiction we’re reading, watching, and listening to as the thunderstorms roll and we try to beat the heat.
As a professional landscape photographer, I am very excited about a brand new non-fiction book we have in the Children’s Library called My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer by Suzi Eszterhas. Suzi is an award-winning wildlife photographer whose work is published in books, magazines and newspapers all over the world, including Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids, Smithsonian, Time, and BBC Wildlife.
She travels all over the world to photograph her subjects, which range from adorable panda bears to fearsome tigers. Along with the amazing photographs she takes, you learn about how Suzi lives “in the field” on her shoots. Sometimes she is lucky enough to stay in a fancy ecolodge nearby, but she is often in very remote places where she has to sleep in a tent for weeks and use a solar shower to wash up.
Kids and their grownups will have so much fun reading about Suzi’s fascinating life and work in addition to seeing how she takes her incredible pictures. She says: “I knew I wanted to be a wildlife photographer since I was a young girl. I told my parents that I wanted to live in a tent in Africa. They encouraged me and taught me never to give up on my dreams.”
Don’t miss out on this gem of a book that is just jam-packed with Suzi’s pictures and the marvelous story of her life.
I’d love to recommend My Maddy, a picture book by Gayle E. Pitman and illustrated by Violet Tobacco. In it a child walks the reader through a day spent with their fun-loving parent, who is neither a boy nor a girl—their Maddy!
The story, and Violet Tobacco’s illustrations, are warm, simple, lovely and full of joy. There is a helpful note to readers at the back of the book explaining some of the concepts and issues that concern trans, non-binary, gender-diverse, and intersex parents and families.
Sarah Mari’s Pick
Based on the wonderful book by Diane Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle assembles atmospheric music, fluid animation, and masterful performances to create a viewing experience that both is delightful and touches something deeply emotional. With some (condemned) depiction of war, young children might find this film scary, but older children, teens, and adults alike will all enjoy an escape into the world of Howl and Sophie. Anyone who loves a bit of a deeper dive into their media should check out “Howl’s Moving Castle: An Underrated Masterpiece” by BREADSWORD to examine the beautiful way that this film can connect with our real-life experiences over the last few decades and even the last year and a half.
In Tanya Lloyd Kyi’sMe and Banksy, Dominica Rivers fights back against the surveillance of her private middle school, Mitchell Academy. The school’s Latin motto is securitas genera victoria or security breeds success. Classroom cameras and ID badges that let grownups know where the children are at all times are marketed to make families feel safe. But Dominica learns how unsafe you can feel when you never know who’s watching or recording. When video is posted on an online chat forum of her and other children in moments no one wants made public (turning your shirt right-side-out, picking your nose, or falling on your face), the choice is to live with fear or fight back. Using British street artist Banksy as her inspiration, Dominica and an unlikely group of students band together. Not only do they make a statement about the harm done by surveillance technology in children’s lives and social media misuse, but they create positive change in the lives of all students and make friends while they work together.
Inspired by art and driven by a keen sense of justice, Dominica is the kid I wished I had been when the relentless and arbitrary rules of school made me flee to the Bookmobile for solace and escape. You will cheer for Dominica’s bravery as she risks getting into “good trouble,” and who knows—you might even be inspired to question surveillance, social media, and panoptic problems in creative and bold new ways.
For many of us, the travel restrictions of the last year have meant cancelled trips at home and abroad, and less travel means less exploring of the regional cuisines of our destinations. Even trips to favorite local restaurants had to be curtailed, and we learned that some foods lend themselves better to takeout than others.
Cookbooks are no substitute for experiencing food and culture firsthand, but cooking from the library’s collection has been a way for me to keep exploring while staying home. Here are a couple cookbooks that have helped fill our house with delicious flavors, amazing smells, and bright colors over the last few months.
Asma’s Indian Kitchen, by Asma Khan, traces a culinary route across the Indian subcontinent from Bengal to Kolkata to Hyderabad. Khan is the owner and chef of Darjeeling Express, a popular London restaurant. In the introduction she shares her journey as an immigrant from India to England and her journey from being an eater uninterested in cooking, to becoming a home cook, and on to becoming a chef. I remembered reading the macher jhol (Bengali fish curry) recipe, which calls for halibut, when I heard recently about Maine’s short halibut season having just opened. The next chance I got I stopped by the fish market and returned with fresh halibut in hand. We were delighted with the finished dish, quite different from and milder than other fish curries I have had in North and South Indian and Sri Lankan restaurants. The chukander (beet) raita is a simple, fast, and alarmingly-bright-pink side that is perfect for tempering spicy (or just hot) dishes. The dish we have returned to most often is keema sua pulao (ground meat with dill pulao). Pulao (or pilaf) is a rice dish cooked with vegetables and/or protein, often in broth or stock. The dill, according to Khan, is an unusual flavor in Indian cooking, borrowed from Kolkata’s Armenian community. The ground meat stays somewhat in the background, making it a good side with another vegetable or meat main dish, and it’s great with the raita.
In Cooking With Loula, author Alexandra Stratou shares recipes beloved by her family, most originating with the family’s longtime cook, Loula. While the relationship of the cook to the author and the eventual book left me with some questions about ownership and compensation, the introduction and text throughout illustrate the ongoing relationship between Stratou’s and Loula’s families and Stratou’s deep respect for Loula. The fasolakia ladera (green beans braised in oil) have become a favorite. They take more time and attention (and oil) than you might be used to giving to green beans, but it’s worth the investment. There’s a recipe for a simple spinach purée (in which we have been substituting beet greens – left over from the raita mentioned above – for the spinach) that is a great side and topping on dishes from this book and others from our regular repertoire. Of the main dishes, the oven-roasted lamb here is one of those recipes that is so deceptively simple (lamb, oil, wine, salt, and pepper) that you don’t believe it will result in something so delicious. Desserts and more vegetarian-friendly recipes abound and I look forward to returning to this book again soon.
This spring, I’ve been reading a string of excellent books that all revolve around the theme of Time: time travel, alternate timelines, and connections forged across time. This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, charts the forbidden love between two agents on opposite sides of a time war. The story unfolds through the secret letters that the agents exchange on their travels across various timelines, or “threads.” While it took me some time to grasp the concept, I was ultimately swept away by the image-rich prose, which becomes progressively more intricate and lyrical as the characters’ relationship deepens toward an achingly beautiful conclusion.
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.” Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, begins by turning our understanding of the phrase “the time being” on its head. That’s just the first hint of the surprises to come in this moving and thought-provoking book. The novel alternates between the perspectives of Nao, a schoolgirl writing a diary in a Tokyo cafe, and Ruth, a novelist who discovers the diary washed up on a Canadian island and tries to find out what happened to Nao and her family. But the answer to that question turns out to be far from simple, and Nao and Ruth are more connected than they realize. Steeped in both Zen Buddhism and quantum physics, this book left me pondering the relationship between past and present, reader and writer, long after I turned the last page.
My favorite book of the year so far has been Natasha Pulley’s new novel, The Kingdoms, a gripping blend of time travel and alternate history with just a hint of romance. Pulley has a gift for writing natural-sounding dialogue for historical characters, and for revealing the tenderness concealed behind a tough exterior; both of these strengths are on full display in The Kingdoms. The story begins in an England that has lost the Napoleonic Wars and become a colony of France. Joe Tournier turns up at a train station in London (now known as Londres), with no memory of how he arrived there, and only a mysterious postcard to hint at his past. The tale that follows rewards close attention and rereading—I often found myself flipping back to revisit previous sections in light of new revelations. For fans of historical fiction and unconventional love stories, this century-spanning adventure will be time well spent.
All Adults Here, by Emma Staub: This is a good summer read with just the right light touch on otherwise heavy family issues. Widowed mom Astrid takes a lesbian lover; granddaughter Cecelia is bounced from Brooklyn to the “perfect” burbs after a bullying incident; and unmarried flakey daughter Porter chooses IVF while seeing a married former high school boyfriend. The characters are flawed but trying, and the personal dynamics plus small-town workings are compelling. It’s a very satisfying read with good writing and people you care about.
We Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker: High praise from my favorite author Louise Penny led me to this powerful story. At its core, this is a murder mystery in a small coastal California town. But the tough lives and deaths of the main characters are its heart. Walk, the aging sick cop, and “outlaw” teen Duchess struggle to find a killer while trying to protect the innocents in their lives. Wonderful western landscapes frame this complex, layered, so-sad saga, which offers a glimmer of hope at the end of their journey. Louise was right to recommend this heartbreaker.
Emma Healey won the Costa First Novel award for Elizabeth is Missing, which inspired the Masterpiece television drama of the same name. The DVD stars Glenda Jackson as Maud, “an elderly woman living with dementia who struggles to piece together a double mystery.” Amazing acting earned Jackson a Bafta TV award and an International Emmy for Best Actress. As good as the film is I found the book to be even better, and it’s my favorite book of the summer so far.
Summertime is the perfect time to read new thrillers. While we do our best to make sure you don’t have to wait too long, we expect some will have longer waiting lists than others.
While you’re waiting for your turn to read the coveted blockbusters of summer 2021, here are some hairsplitting horrors and tantalizing thrillers to keep you shivering all summer long:
The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell, by Brian Evenson: Murder, monsters, cults, and one very angry prosthetic leg: this short story collection has it all. This special blend of weird tales and ecological horror is sure to keep you unsettled in multiple ways.
In My Dreams I Hold a Knife, by Ashley Winstead: An unsolved murder tears apart a group of close friends. After returning to college for their 10-year anniversary, they discover someone is still on the hunt for the truth.
Revelator, by Daryl Gregory: Stella leaves the Smoky Mountains to escape her fate as a Birch woman who communicates with a destructive entity. When her grandmother dies under mysterious circumstances, Stella returns to Tennessee to reckon with her destiny.
Velvet Was the Night, by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia: Okay, this last one will surely be a hit for all you fans of Mexican Gothic…rejoice, for Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is releasing another hit! This 1970s noir follows Maite, a young romance-loving secretary in Mexico City who yearns for adventure and intrigue. When her college-age neighbor goes missing, Maite may just get her wish.
July kicked off like a beautiful dream: on a rainy night my friends piled on an enormous couch, and we ate popcorn and strawberry shortcake and watched a wonderful movie from the library—the joyous and tender 2013 film Boy by director Taika Waititi. Set on the rural coast of New Zealand, the story follows two young brothers, Boy and Rocky, as they grapple with the return of their larger-than-life father and discover what matters most to them. We rooted for Boy and Rocky, we spilled popcorn, we loved it.
The recent loss of an old friend has left me adrift. Among other things, I am without my most reliable source for “what shall I read next?” ideas. Not just what to read, but what music I might like, too. If I listed all the authors and music makers he pushed in my direction since we met in 1990, I would run out of paper long before I ran out of names. Maybe I’d have tumbled to some of them in my own time, but there is something special about being introduced by a friend who thought to share what mattered to him, don’t you think?
So let me suggest a very few books and bits of music that my absent friend nudged into my path over the decades.
I am grateful for all the books and music that have made their way to me over my lifetime. I am grateful to the people who facilitated those meetings. Finally, and especially, I am grateful for and to Paul, my old friend, whose love of writing and music is the tiniest piece of what I will miss.
Thank you, Paul, for all you were and all that you gave. It was a joy to share the planet with you.
For more summer reading ideas, try our Staff Picks page or fill out a form at our Your Next (Great!) Read page for your own personal list of reading ideas. You can find our Reader’s Advisory Staff at email@example.com or 871-1700 ext. 705.