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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dreaming of April...

An odd thing is happening outside my office window right now: it's raining and raining hard. That's not odd, it's just that it's February, when we typically get loads of snow and ice. Instead, I'm hearing thunder! While I didn't enjoy getting caught without an umbrella earlier today, I wouldn't be a true Midwesterner if an unexpected thunderstorm didn't make me wistful for Spring.

And speaking of things that make me wistful for Spring, my co-worker David Ayala just passed my door on his way to his dinner break. David and I talk baseball several times a week - a lesson for every Chicagoan out there, since David is solidly black and white and South Side, while I'm blue-all-over North Side. We talk, we laugh, we make our little digs now and then, but we respect each other's ball clubs, I'll tell you that. Tonight David called out, "Hey, did the Cubs win today?" My week has been so stressful, I forgot about Spring training, forgot that my Cubs had a chance to have a go-round with those pesky Dodgers who made us look foolish last October. Awesome - we won this time.

Do we look foolish now
, caring about things as trivial as baseball and the Academy Awards when the global economic situation grows more fearsome every day? After the Oscar broadcast, the media was flooded with photos and critiques of every attendee's gown or tuxedo, when we were promised a "scaled-down," more meaningful show. Hmmm. I saw a news article today, raking actress Gwyneth Paltrow over the coals for her new Web site, The site offers her glowing, girlish suggestions on everything from the best places to eat in Paris to "fashion...the fun frivolity that can really cheer a girl up." Does the world need Gwyneth's GOOP right now? I can tell you I'd be hard-pressed to afford all but a few of her recommendations, so, well, it's GOOP to me! (Her Web site also needs some serious work - it is the slowest-loading site I've encountered in years.)

But do we need this kind of mindless escape when times are troubled? Do we need a little baseball, a little awards show glamour, just to ease the anxiety?

What do you think? Is GOOP a good thing or just plain goopy? Are the Cubs and Sox a bunch of overpaid bums or all-American boys on our field of dreams? In the midst of all this winter, how long will it really take for spring arrive again? Post your comments here and share with me your thoughts about sports, celebrities and fashion - do they help us or hinder us during difficult days?

Monday, February 23, 2009

And the winner is...

America loves a winner. A few weeks ago, we were caught up in the drama of the Super Bowl, which was quickly surpassed by the Grammy Awards, which are now forgotten thanks to last night's Oscar broadcast. We analyze the nominees, debate the winners, yawn at the boring "industry" stuff and gape at the expensive clothing and jewels.

Did you know you have a winner right here in your own neighborhood? All of us here at DPPL were excited to find ourselves amongst the top ten libraries in the state of Illinois, based on Library Journal's new ranking of more than 7,100 libraries across the country. DPPL received a three star rating, based on circulation of items per capita, attendance at programs, usage of in-library computers and other factors.

Many of the other Illinois libraries honored by the rating system have considerably higher budgets than DPPL - in fact, some of their budgets are twice the size of ours! - so we are especially proud that we provide state-of-the-art service and an enormous variety of materials while still offering good value to our community. Your support, your investment, in us makes it possible for us to bring you a good return: a library of which you can be proud. Have you ever wondered how much you save on an average trip to the library? Use the online "Return on Investment" calculator to find out.

Individual staff members here at DPPL continue to be singled out for their contributions to the library field as well. In September 2008, librarian Bob Blanchard was honored for his work in providing library services to the blind and physically disabled residents of Illinois. Bob also wrote two articles in a forthcoming book, Thinking Outside the Book: Essays for Innovative Librarians. More recently, in the February 2009 issue of Booklist magazine, in an article by Joyce Saricks, Head of Adult Services Roberta Johnson was praised as part of a "wealth of local talent" in the field of Readers' Advisory. Many of our staff members teach workshops, give lectures, chair committees and devote themselves to spreading a "gospel" of excellent customer service and innovation.

What does this mean to you, as a patron? You can count on us to keep giving you the best value for your tax dollars, in a friendly, helpful, inspiring atmosphere. Good ratings and "stars" make us proud, but not as proud as we are of serving the Des Plaines community for more than one hundred years.

Read Library Journal's "America's Star Libraries" article here.

Read an article about DPPL and other local winners, from the Daily Herald. (PDF)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Romance Contest Winners!

Everybody who attended our "Love in the Afternoon" event was a winner, if only because they left with a tummy full of chocolate and a big smile. However, we had several Romance-related contests during the month of February, and we'd like to congratulate the winners here.

Suzanne Horcher correctly guessed the second best love movie according to the American Film Institute, Gone With the Wind. She won a $25 gift certificate to AMC theaters.

Anthony Abatangelo won the greatest love song contest and received a $25 gift card from Borders Books.

Kathryn Kuntz won a $25 gift from Borders Books for naming her favorite love story, Emma by Jane Austen.

Steve Wagner won the For Love of Country contest by identifying Don Quixote by Cervantes as his favorite book written by a foreign author. He also received a $25 gift card from Borders Books.

The teen contest was won by Sylvia Mendez who named Twilight by Stephenie Meyer as her favorite love story. She also won a $25 gift card from Borders books.

There were almost 200 entries for this year's contes and we thank everyone who participated. Don't get left out - next time we have a contest in the library and/or our Web site, please join in the fun! It's our way of giving back to you for all the support you give to the Library - and, our way of making life a little bit more fun. Have a great weekend. Keep scrolling down this page and you can watch the slideshow of all the photos from last week's Valentine's Day event.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Love Hangover? Not a chance.

We had a great time at last Saturday's "Romance in the Afternoon" event. The day began with our Romance Movie Marathon, and continued into the afternoon, when 6 authors from the Romance Writers of America, Chicago North chapter, gathered to meet and greet our patrons. One of them, Sherrill Bodine, has a new novel, "Talk of the Town," which was featured as "Red Hot Read" by Cosmo magazine! All the writers were warm and welcoming and they even took the opportunity to snap some photos in our Romance Pavilion.

We also noticed that as soon as the warming dishes of Morkes chocolate arrived, so did the crowds. Along with chocolate, Morkes provided fruit, cookies and other items for dunking, and many a happy face was soon covered with chocolately drizzle - and we never heard one complaint (some of you went back for seconds, in fact...). Cookies, punch and festive bookmarks were given away and a selection of our staff's favorite love songs brightened the mood on the third floor.

I think that the atmosphere in the Des Plaines Public Library is always cheerful and upbeat but Saturday was special. We hope you thought so, too, and thanks for spending part of your Valentine's weekend with us. Did you make it back for the concert on Sunday, featuring vocalist Bradford Newquist? We'd love to know what you thought of our Love in the Library events - please share your comments with us here and enjoy the photo show up above. "Love in the Library" is by Jimmy Buffett.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cupid's Empty Pockets

I do a quick scan of the news every morning while I wolf down my Raisin Bran Crunch. Today, I read a headline on MSNBC that came as no surprise: "Love for sale, 15 percent off." No, no, love is not really for sale: the article just spells out what we already knew, that Americans are going to spend less on Valentine's Day this year. The opening of the article describes a young married couple. Two years ago, he gave her jewelry from Tiffany's. This year, it's a play date at the park with their two year old and a rented movie on the way home.

I wish I had a few minutes to talk to them, because I have a better idea: park first, then library. You can walk home with an armful of books, videos and CDs, for the parents and the toddler, for no charge whatsoever. I have no idea what a single movie rental costs these days, but they could save that money for ice cream or another treat.

A consulting firm quoted in the article says Americans are going to spend an average of 15% less on Valentine's gifts than they did last year. (Do you ever wonder how they get those numbers? I mean, did you wake up today and think, "I spent $100 last year, so it's definitely $85 this year?") If you include the library in your plans, I think you can still have a great Valentine's Day.

This Saturday, February 14, DPPL is hosting "Romance in the Afternoon," from 1-3 P.M. Can't afford that flight to Paris? Relax for awhile in our lovely Romance Pavilion on the third floor. It's all decked out with ribbons and bows, soft lighting and comfy seats, your own cozy little nook in les Jardins des Tuileries, if you close your eyes for a moment.

If your sweetheart likes romance authors, come out and meet some of the area's best. They'll have books available for signing, too - an inexpensive but more meaningful gift when you actually get to meet the author! I'm willing to bet your sweetie likes chocolate - in fact, there's a strong chance you do, too, so enjoy free chocolate samples from Morkes, The Chocolate Shop. Along with gourmet milk and dark chocolate, there will be marshmallows, pretzels and decadent strawberries for dipping.

A romantic date often includes a romantic movie and we have a free movie marathon planned for Valentine's Day. From 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM, we're showing three of the American Film Institute's best romantic movies (call us at 847-376-2787 for the film titles -- we cannot list them here). You might be thinking, "Gee, a beautiful setting, romance books, free chocolate, free movies, this is almost perfect - but my honey would love a night out, some live music, something like that." Relax - we've got you covered. Just come back on Sunday, February 15 for the live concert, "My Funny Valentine," with crooner extraordinaire Bradford Newquist. Visit his Web site here: you can hear song clips and read the accolades this performer has received. The show is from 2-3:15 PM. It's free but reservations are appreciated - click here to register.

If your Valentine's Day isn't awesome this year, well, don't blame us! Romance is in the air at DPPL - stop by and share it with us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"If music be the food of on"

That's a quote from Shakespeare, the play "Twelfth Night." If you end the quote there, one gets the impression ol' Willy was a lover of music. However, if you complete the phrase, "Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die," it's less obvious if the problem is love's pangs or annoying music.

In the same way that romance is the most popular genre for books here at the Des Plaines Public Library, love must be the most popular topic for songwriters both past and present. Romantic love, for sure, but other kinds of love have inspired songwriters over the centuries, too. One can go back to the ancient Hebrew scriptures, for example: " The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. The LORD is good to all, compassionate to every creature." (Psalm 145) The "Song of Solomon" is a spiritual lyric dressed in very romantic language:
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
Hymn writers of every age have composed what can surely be described as "love songs," from "How Great Thou Art" to "I Have Loved You."

Pop songwriters moon-June-and-swoon over a potential love, a new love, even an old gone bad, but memorable and meaningful songs have also been written about familial love and friendship. "Butterfly Kisses" was a big hit, a father's affectionate remembrance of his daughter growing up. Elton John's "The Last Song" mused over the "love between a father and a son," in a struggle for reconciliation before dying. Carly Simon's "Love of My Life" is a mother's tender ode to her children and Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band" is a son's tribute to Dad. Friendship songs can be silly, like the odd combination of Jackson Browse and Clarence Clemons singing, "You're a Friend of Mine," poignant like James Taylor's famous version of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," and boisterous, like "I'll Be There For You," the song The Rembrandts recorded for popular sit-com "Friends."

But, romantic love songs rule the day, no doubt about it. The photo above is the white board in our staff lunchroom. Someone wrote, "What's Your Favorite Love Song?" and within days, the board was covered with suggestions. Classics like "That's Amore," "At Last" and "People" mingle with metal ("No One Like You" by The Scorpions), disco ("More Than A Woman" by The Bee Gees) and, for those bad days, "Another Bites the Dust," by Queen. It's quite a diverse playlist!

So - what's your favorite love song, any type of song, any type of love? Click the "Comments" link here and let us know - if there's a story behind your choice that you'd like to share, please do so. Check back on Wednesday for all the details on our special February 14th "Love in the Afternoon" extravaganza and to read what other readers had to say about favorite love songs.

See last year's PlainTalk article on favorite love songs.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All You Need is...Love?

Every year, on December 26th, you can count on one thing: the retailers will move the Valentine's merchandise out onto the sales floor. In the six weeks that follow, our eyes and ears are bombarded by advertisements for cheap rose bouquets, not-so-cheap diamond jewelry, spa packages and candlelit dinners. All you need, apparently, is love.

And in the good times, the comfortable times, we buy into it with great glee. Why not? If you're fortunate enough to have a sweetie that you love, or want to share some heart-shaped happiness with your kids or friends, go for it. All the bad news in the world can wait for a day. Right? I wonder if Valentine's Day will be different for people this year. These are difficult days, uncomfortable times, when splurging on that five course meal or diamond pendant just won't swing it for most folks. But how can you disregard a day, a week, to celebrate love, to lift up the people you love, if love is all you need?

Maybe Valentine's 2009 is an opportunity to reach out in love but in a less commercialized way. By all means, spend if you can - our economy needs it! But how about spending on some canned goods for the Self-Help Food Pantry that you and your kids pick out together? That could be your "valentine" to the whole community. How about writing your spouse a heartfelt love letter on an attractive card, then spending a date night at the Library, where an armful of books, music and movies will cost you nothing? Stop for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine on the way home, and you'll never miss all the expensive fuss. Expand your definition of "love" and shovel an elderly neighbor's driveway, drop off a pile of Valentine's cards at a local care facility for the disabled, call up that family member you haven't spoken to for years because of a now-forgotten disagreement. You can get your money's worth out of Valentine's Day without spending a dime.

I say all of this to invite you to experience "Love in the Library," a month-long salute to many-splendored love, love of every kind: romantic & familial, love between friends, between strangers, between lifelong companions. The celebration began a few days ago, when we unveiled our lovely new "Romance Pavilion" on the third floor. Close your eyes and you'll be in a Parisian salon, filled with objets d'art and nothing but the best romantic literature, music and film. Go ahead and chuckle - romance is the most popular genre in Des Plaines, so you're not fooling us with that cynical smirk! If you haven't seen the new Romance Pavilion, stop by, take a seat and relax for awhile - and then pick up some books or other items to take home.

Next up on our calendar is a Valentine craft day for Kids, this Saturday, 2/7/09, from 1-4 PM. You know your kids want to make you a Valentine, so drop them off and they'll get free supplies and instructions on a treasure they'll create just for you. The drop-in craft will take place in the second floor Storytime Room.

Stay tuned and in a few days, I'll give you the scoop on our HUGE Valentine's Day event, complete with chocolate tastings, romance book authors, contests and a movie marathon! No doubt about it, we all need love to get us through bad times and to make the good times that much sweeter. So come out to DPPL and feel the love!