MCL Blogs

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Patricia Bath

Patrica Bath Photo:Blackliberalboomer

She’s amazing. She attends Howard University School of Medicine, New York and Columbia universities. She believes everyone has a “Right to Sight.” She invents the Laserphaco Probe and procedure to improve cataract surgery results. She’s the first African American woman doctor to patent a medical invention. She’s the first African American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. She’s the first woman on faculty at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. Again, she’s amazing!

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Firsts, 4,000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events by Jessie Carney Smith

Gerald A. Lawson

Gerald A Lawson Photo: museumofplay

If you play Playstation or Xbox or any other gaming console and enjoy video games, you have Gerald A. Lawson to thank. A self-taught engineer who never graduates from college, Lawson is the founding father of the modern-day video game. He creates the first home gaming system with interchangeable game cartridges.  Lawson met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak pre-Apple. In fact, regarding Jobs and Wozniak, Lawson is quoted as saying, “I was not impressed with them—either one of them, actually.” This is one amazing story. Discover more.

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: African American Firsts in Science & Technology by Webster, Raymond B.


Calling all artists in grades 6-12 and their parents, caregivers & educators! 

2014 Teen Summer Reading Art Contest WinnerTeen Summer Reading Art Contest Winner 2013Teen Summer Reading Art Contest Winner 2012

If you've played the Summer Reading game or been a volunteer for the program, you know that a LOT of people participate. So if your art is chosen to illustrate the teen gameboard, a LOT of people will see it! (Above are the winning entries from 2014, 2013, and 2012.) And if you submit the winning artwork, you'll also win a $100 gift certificate to Collage: mixed media art supplies and creative classes!

Download the entry form in PDF and submit your artwork by March 29th. The theme is superheroes. Good luck!


Summer Reading is made possible, in part, by The Library Foundation.

Molly Williams

Molly Williams Photo: the44diaries

Molly Williams is the first recorded woman firefighter. Her story goes a little something like this. The year is 1815. A slave for a New York merchant, Molly works as a cook in the Oceanus Engine Company in New York City. At the Oceanus firehouse, she is known as volunteer 11. Molly works with as much dedication and strength as any of the men firefighters. Her dedication and strength are put to the test during a horrible blizzard. Want to know more? Get the book at Multnomah County Library! And if you like this story, read about Dinae Mines.

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Molly, by Golly: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Fire Fighter by Ochiltree, Diane 

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan Photo: Atlantafreespeech

He had a knack for fixing things. He improved the function of sewing machines and owned a sewing machine store, a tailoring shop and a country club. He invented and patented the three-position traffic light (still in use today) and the safety hood, later known as the gas mask. He and his brother used the safety hood to save the lives of city workers from a poison-filled tunnel. The U.S. Army saved the lives of many soldiers using Morgan’s safety hood. It doesn’t end there. He started a newspaper called the Cleveland Call to address racial injustice. Oh, his formal education didn’t extend beyond elementary school. That’s right, Morgan didn’t attend school beyond 6th grade!

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Scientists, Healers and Inventors by Hudson, Wade




When I had a college radio show, I often played spoken word pieces by William Burroughs.  His odd cadence and bizarre subject matter made the strangeness of 3 a.m. that much more strange.  I’d broadcast the pieces into the dark quiet of the night, ghostly fog in the evergreens and the occasional glowing possum eyes outside the studio window.  After the heady description of a heroin high or alien sex, I’d follow up with something loud, dissonant and experimental.  That’s what student loans are made of.

A black and white picture of William Burroughs.  In the backgroud is a hat on a hook and an exit sign.William Burroughs instigated the Beat Generation and embodied the movement’s proclivity for drugs.  His book Junky basically made drug use glamorous.  When he lived in New York, his house (The Bunker) was like a supermarket for narcotics.  Burroughs was incredibly prolific and kept writing and speaking until his death in 1997.  His work influenced Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and more.  Punk and heavy metal owe him a debt.  He was open about sex and his own homosexuality in an age of repression.

For his 100th birthday, the BBC made a documentary about his work, life, and legacy.  For his 101st, This American Life rebroadcasted it.  It’s an unsentimental and fascinating hour of radio.  Take a listen.


Portland, Oregon

February 7th, 2015

Historical Black Debutante

Photo: Oregon Historical Society


This theme wouldn't be complete without focusing on Portland's Black Community. Despite living under the harsh burden of discrimination, racism, exclusionary laws etc. Portland's Black community continued to grow and thrive. In 1883, The Northern Pacific Railways brings jobs and more African Americans to the region leading the way for a burgeoning Black, middle class. At this time, most of Portland's Black community reside in NW Portland. The community has four churches, The Rutherford Haberdashery and many Black owned Businesses. Some years later, the community has grown to include three Black newspapers, a hotel, postal clerk, shoe clerk, attorneys, stenographers, a dentist and a doctor! it's an amazing history! Check it out here, here, and here!

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: African Americans of Portland by Oregon Black Pioneers and The Ebony Princesses of the Portland Rose Festival 1967-1982 by Morris, Lenora C.

Septima Poinsette Clark


Septima Poinsette Clark

Photo Credit: www.brothermalcolm.cnet


Septima Poinsette Clark was an advocate and educator of civics education long before it became popular.  As a teacher and member of the NAACP, she pushed issues of education and equal rights. When the State of South Carolina placed a ban on NAACP membership, Septima refused to obey and lost her job and pension as a result. She, along with her cousin, started the first citizenship school to educate Black citizens in reading and writing, election procedures and government. Her name may not be so familiar, but those in the fight for Civil Rights knew exactly who she was! In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged her when receiving his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize award.


Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County: Lighting the Way by Schiff, Karenna Gore

Abominable Snowman Movie AdYetis sounded so much scarier when I was a kid. There was only one yeti, The Abominable Snowman, (the terror of the Himalayas!) His malicious smile was complemented by nails long enough to pierce a person’s heart.  These days, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and yetis are still popular, but they’ve been rehabilitated. Two recent books for children show the loveable side of yetis. In fact, I found I found them to be yeti-sized funny!Yeti Files cover

Kevin Sherry’s The Yeti Files overflows with illustrations of yeti Blizz Richard’s home in the big trees, complete with an “epic tire swing,”a “zippy zip line,” and a “highly polished fireman’s pole.” Blizz is a happy-go-lucky guy, except for his need to keep hidden. And keeping hidden when you’re that big is hard work! Especially when your cousins are careless...and your friend, Bigfoot, is missing. The Yeti files is a great choice for kids who are moving up from easy readers into chapter books.The Abominables cover

Eva Ibbotson’s yetis in The Abominables are also happy-go-lucky creatures. A little girl named Agatha gets lost in the Himalyas and discovers a small group of yetis living peacefully together. They shelter and feed her and adopt her as one of their own. In turn she teaches them all she knows about civilization and lives with them into her old age. But when the yetis’ lives are threatened, Agatha comes up with a plan to ship them to England. This dangerous plan that involves keeping yetis quiet, calm and hidden in a refrigerator truck and soon becomes a series of near misses and misunderstandings.

For more laugh-out loud funny reads for kids reading chapters, try the attached lists.

Depiction of Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1836-1923)Maybe there is a story you learned from your parents, or your teachers, that explains the world to you. Maybe they learned it from their parents, from their teachers. We don’t always think about these stories as stories, but we don’t always think about them as facts, either - they’re bigger than that. They just are.

We certainly don’t think of these stories/facts/truths as myths, but the ancient cultures whose mythologies we study and amuse ourselves with - the Greeks, the Norse, and all the many other cultures who may have been less dominant but who were no less creative and human - probably didn’t think of their foundational stories as myths, either. Mythology is a name we give to something of the past, but maybe right now we are creating, and recreating, new stories that will be the mythologies of the future.

I thought it would be interesting to see what books, music and movies came to mind for the Multnomah County My Librarians when they heard the word “mythology.” The results, gathered in a reading list called Multcolib My Librarian: Myth picks, are wildly varied. There are traditional Southwest and Northwest folktales (La Llorona and Paul Bunyan, respectively), reimaginings of ancient stories (The Song of Achilles), ballet scores and a comic book with golems in World War II (Breath of Bones). There are mythologies of the distant past (Homer’s Iliad) and nascent American mythologies of the 20th century (Chandler’s Continental Op).

What does mythology mean to you? What books (or movies, music, poetry) would you add to our list?

Black Wall Street

February 5, 2015

Black Wall Street Memorial

Photo Credit:


The year is 1921 and Tulsa, Oklahoma is booming!  As one of the most affluent Black communities in the country, Tulsa boasts of 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, jewelry stores, 2 movie theaters and 2 newspapers. There’s a postal substation, a branch of the Y.M.C.A, a hospital, bank, post office, libraries, schools, law offices, private airplanes and bus systems.


Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County: Reconstructing the Dreamland by Brophy, Alfred L.

Multnomah County Library's Lucky Day service includes books for kids, teens and adults.  Lucky Day copies are available for spontaneous use and are not subject to hold queues.  Nobody can place holds on these items; it's first come, first served.  That means you might not have to wait at all for the most popular new titles!  You never know what you might find at your neighborhood library - it just might be your Lucky Day!

Hiram Rhodes Revels

Congressman Hiram Rhodes Revel 1827-1901

Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first Black American to serve in the U.S. Congress. Revels served from 1869 to 1871. A Republican from Mississippi, Revels was born free to free parents and attended school during a time when educating Black children was illegal. During the Civil War he recruited Black regiments. He was a preacher, educator and civil rights advocate.

Further exploration:,-Hiram-Rhodes-%28R000166%29/

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress by Swain, Carol M.

African Americans in the Civil War

United States Black Regiment Photo:Wikipedia



Have you heard of African American troops who fought in the Civil War? The 1863 Militia Act created the Bureau of Colored Troops to ensure participation of African American men in the Union Army and Navy. All-Black regiments were formed in Massachusetts, South Carolina and elsewhere. Keep in mind, although fighting for the Union, Black and white regiments were segregated. In all, an estimated 180,000 African American men fought in the Union Army and 20,000 served in the Union Navy.

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black, Blue & Gray: African Americans in the Civil War by Haskins, James and Slaves to Soldiers by Black, Wallace B.



Annie Burton

Annie Burton Photo: Duhaime


Annie Burton was born in Clayton, Alabama, in 1858. Her mother was a slave who ran away after being whipped. This is one of many childhood memories. As an adult, Annie moves to Boston where she marries and becomes a maid. She never forgets what life was like during slavery. In 1909, she authors Memories of Childhood’s Slavery Days. This book has been converted from physical to digital format and is available for free on the web.


Available at Multnomah County Library: Six Women’s Slave Narratives by Andrews, William L


Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-BurtWhat’s a zine? Generally, we think of zines as little, inexpensively produced, most often handmade print items. Is a zine a book? Well, it’s a kind of book - a self-published book that’s usually not distributed very widely, and tends toward  the ephemeral. Zines have often been made by people whose viewpoints or experiences may not have been well represented by traditional publishing. Many of them are personal. They can be mostly text, or mostly image, or anywhere in between. Anyone can make a zine! And the author of a zine is in charge of the whole process - the content, production, and distribution of the publication.

And sometimes, a person makes not just one zine, but many - zine after zine! And sometimes, the work that they’ve self-published in zine form takes new form as a book published by a publisher, whether small or large. Ok, now it’s still a zine, and also a book. 

Big Plans by Aron Nels Steinke

Here's an example: Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, once a zine and now a book-length memoir by Pete Jordan that has been described as “part adventure, part parody, and part miraculous journey of self-discovery.” Or Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? by Portland artist Kate Bingaman-Burt, whose zine What Did You Buy Today? Daily Drawings of Purchases documents, well, everything she purchased. Plenty of graphic novels have their origins in zines, such as Henry & Glen Forever & Ever (the fictitious cartoon adventures of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, available in a series of zines), and Big Plans by another local cartoonist, Aron Nels Steinke.

At the library, we have zines, and we also have books that began as zines:

Zines Become Books, Part 1

Zines Become Books, Part 2

We also have an event coming up at Central Library on February 7th at 2pm, featuring local authors who make zines, people who’ve made zines and also books, and folks who have worn all sorts of other hats in the process: small publishers, educators, community connectors. Please join us at Zinesters Talking: From Zines to Publishing!

Percy JulianWelcome to Black History Month 2015. Every day this month features people and events making significant contributions to American history and how we live Now! 


February 1st-7th, 2015 Topic: Slavery to Civil Rights

D'wayne EdwardsFebruary 8th-14th, 2015 Topic: Innovation

February 15th-21st, 2015 Topic: Fashion

February 22nd-28th, 2015 Topic: Now!


Multnomah County Library's Lucky Day service includes books for kids, teens and adults.  Lucky Day copies are available for spontaneous use and are not subject to hold queues.  Nobody can place holds on these items; it's first come, first served.  That means you might not have to wait at all for the most popular new titles!  You never know what you might find at your neighborhood library - it just might be your Lucky Day!


I solemnly swear on a stack of unopened self-help books I’ll do something reflective, meditate, or whatever such a thing suggests. In the meantime, they can keep my bookshelf looking thoughtful…

nerdist book coverHowever, when things got rough a while back, the right book appeared at the right time. Speaking to my inner skeptic, pop culture loving self, and former Dungeons and Dragons(D&D) player,  Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way offered the advice I was looking for in my time of rediscovery. Unlike other books promising personal growth, the nerdist way takes a humorous look at discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses, improving on both through, well, nerdy excercises (literally and figuratively).

Whether it’s identifying who you are, improving your physical prowess, or finding the motivation to seeing  projects through, there’s something for everyone’s inner nerd. Me? I Made a character sheet ala D&D with Hardwick’s advice and found myself in a coffee shop filling in experience points of my goals with colored pencils.

Being nerdy never felt so good.

Congo Refugee Finds Refuge in North Portland Library

by Donna Childs

First, a bit of background, from Medical Teams International:Picture of Volunteer Elise Ekombele

Congo’s long-standing conflict has been called the world’s deadliest dispute since World War II. Aid organizations estimate that nearly 5.4 million people have died in this decade-long conflict, nearly half of them children. An additional one million people have been displaced by the ongoing violence in the Congo.

One of those displaced by these brutal wars is North Portland Library volunteer Elise Ekombele. Born and raised in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elise was forced to flee from her home to a Senegalese refugee camp with her son. Through a US refugee resettlement program, they were sent far away to Portland, Oregon, speaking no English and knowing nothing about American culture. Despite the difficulty of learning another language and culture, Elise likes it here because it is so much safer and more peaceful.

As she has learned English, Elise has had several jobs in Portland. A French speaker (the official language of Congo), she first worked at the Portland French School. She has also held positions at various organizations that assist immigrants, such as IRCO and Catholic Charities, and is currently looking for work. Although Elise has made much progress learning English and adapting to her new life in America, she says it is her son who “has become a real American.” He graduated from the University of Montana where he was an accomplished athlete scouted by the NFL.

Elise has been volunteering at North Portland every Thursday for the past year. According to staff, she is very conscientious about her volunteer duties as a Branch Assistant. She also volunteers with her church, helping to distribute food boxes to those in need.

To improve her English, Elise participates weekly in two different language programs at North Portland. The Talk Time program provides an opportunity for non-native speakers from around the world to practice English in an informal, conversational environment. She also participates in l’Echange, a French-English language exchange program for native English speakers who want to practice French and native French speakers who want to practice English. Elise has found a perfect balance of helping the library and benefiting from library services and programs.

A Few Facts About Elise

Home library: North Portland Library

Most influential book: A biography of Angela Davis (title unknown)

Favorite book from childhood: A novel written by a French woman about Chinese women (title unknown)

Favorite section of the library: Biographies and self improvement books, new ideas! 

E-reader or paper? Paper

Favorite place to read: In a chair in the bedroom

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.


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