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picture of the U.S. ConstitutionWhat Is It?

Most Americans know the Constitution is the foundation of American government and law. Many know that James Madison is often recognized as the “Father of the Constitution” and it was written near the end of the 18th century. When it comes to the details, however, Americans are often a bit fuzzy.  Polls consistently show that many—if not most—Americans do not have a firm grasp of the Constitution and the powers of government. For example, surveys from The Annenberg Public Policy Center and The Center for the Constitution both show most Americans lack a firm understanding of the Constitution. Curious about how much you really know? You can test your own Constitutional IQ at Constitution Facts.

Where do I Learn More?

In 2004, Congress set aside September 17th as national Constitution Day, a day in which we, as a nation, can celebrate and learn more about one of our founding documents. There are plenty of resources available to help explain the Constitution and how it shapes the American government, but the trick is finding one that does not have an agenda that may bias the interpretation. In today’s political arena, groups and individuals from across the political spectrum invoke the Constitution as the foundation for their particular point of view. In such a climate, it is important to find authoritative resources that can provide a balanced look at the document, the time and place from which it arose, and its role in government and law through the decades.  

So, where should you start? Of course, reading the Constitution itself is a logical starting point, but some context can be very helpful.  One good resource is the National Constitution Center, a museum chartered by Congress to provide nonpartisan education about the Constitution and the U.S. Congress itself also hosts an annotated version. The National Archives, which houses the original Constitution, has a useful online exhibit dedicated to the Charters of Freedom, which includes the Constitution. Outside of the federal government, Cornell University hosts the Legal Information Institute which provides an explanation for each section. Finally, try one—or more—of the books from the reading list below. After all of this, you will be well equipped to be a responsible citizen for, in the words of James Madison:

 A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.  –Letter to W. T. Barry (4 August 1822)

In Oregon and many other states, laws can be made directly by the popular vote of citizens. There are two kinds of ballot measures: referendums which are referred from the state legislature to the voters; and initiatives, which are put on the ballot as a result of signature petitions signed by registered voters. These websites can help you learn about the history and future of ballot measures and other methods of direct democracy.

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

This organization advocates for ballot initiative reform from a progressive perspective, and provides information about ballot measure campaigns nationwide. Find information about current measures on the ballot across the nation, read overviews of election results, find out which states allow voter initiatives (PDF, 10KB), and learn about the rules for how to get an initiative on the ballot in each state.

Ballot Measures Database

Find information about statewide ballot measures from across the U.S., back to Oregon's first referendum authorizing the initiative process in 1902. This database, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, is part of a larger site rich with information about initiatives, referendums, and campaign finance, as well as other information about state elections in the U.S.

Direct Democracy: Initiatives and Referendums

Find answers to your questions about how ballot measures work, and their history in Oregon.

Initiative & Referendum Institute

Are you curious about ballot measures across the US? Find reports about ballot measure results and trends, quick facts about initiatives and referendums, and information about how ballot measures work in the different states.

Our guest reader is the irrepressible Dee Williams, a pioneer in the tiny house movement and author of The Big Tiny. Check out Dee's recommendations and if you'd like more good reading, try the My Librarian service and get a handcrafted list made just for you.

There are a dozen or so books that have taken up permanent residence in my little house… some are practical, reminding me how to frame up a wall or flash a window, while others simply remind me what it means to be human and alive, and dad-gum lucky to have this time on the planet.  Here are a few of my favorites:  

  1. My copy of Lloyd Kahn’s Home Work is dog-eared and stuffed with sticky notes that seem to have multiplied over the years.  It’s got thousands of photos of beach houses, rolling homes, adobe huts, stick-built houses and stone-built barns.  This book inspired me to rethink form, function and materials, and also made me want to be more like the quirky, cool people that Lloyd writes about.  Lloyd has also recently published Tiny Homes on the Move, and it is equally over-the-top awesome!

  1. Peter Menzel’s Material World (Sierra Club Books) has held me captivated for years.  It includes photos of families and all their worldly possessions sitting out in front of their house (if they have a house), so the reader gets this voyeuristic snap-shot of how a Mongolian family lives compared to that of a family in Guatemala, Serbia, the United States or dozens of other countries.  It’s a pretty humbling comparison to hold in your hands and heart.

  1. I’ve come close to peeing my pants, laughing, as I’ve read and then re-read Deek Diedricksen’s Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here.  I’ve learned something new every time I’ve thumbed through this hilarious, well-informed encyclopedia of funky-smallness.

  1. I received Tammy Strobels’ new photography book, My Morning View, in the mail a few months ago, and man-o-man it blew me away.  It chronicles Tammy’s journey of living in a tiny house on a ranch outside Mt. Shasta (effing beautiful!!!), and also of working through her grief after losing her dad to a stroke.  Her iPhone photography project is absolutely inspiring, and full of helpful advice for would-be photographers like me.  

  1. Any thing by the poet Billy Collins, Diane Ackerman, or Mary Oliver.

  1. One of the first books I purchased when studying architecture and building was Francis D.K. Ching’s, Building Construction Illustrated. This book has it all, from an introduction to passive solar concepts to the basics of platform framing.  It even provides the common dimension of kitchen counters, tables and couches… super helpful information while designing a little house.

  1. While I was building, Joseph Truini’s book, Building a Shed provided some alternative ways of framing out the overhangs and basic framing for my house.  This book also offers some good advice for preparing a site for building a “ground-bound” house.  All in all, it’s well worth the read!

Whether you get on the waiting list for these books at the library or purchase them, I think it’ll be well worth the investment.  And of course, there are many other books that I’ve totally enjoyed. Cheers!  And happy reading!

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

Do you need information for the current or upcoming elections? Are you looking for your elected officials, campaign headquarters, or county elections divisions? Are you interested in historical information from past elections? The following resources help you find information at the state, city and county levels in Oregon.

League of Women Voters of Oregon

The Oregon chapter of the League of Women Voters publishes non-partisan voters' guides for each election. The League never takes stands on candidates or parties, but they do take stands on issues supported by member agreement and in-depth research. The League also reports on many electoral and political issues of interest to Oregonians.

Multnomah County Elections Division

Oregon Elections Division

Find voter resources and check to see if you're already registered to vote. Track the status of initiatives, find detailed information about candidates and committees, learn about the history of Oregon elections and locate county election offices around the state.

Oregon Follow the Money

Find out who gave money to various political candidates and ballot measure campaigns in Oregon, and see how much money each donor contributed.

Oregonian: Voter Guide

Are you wondering how the candidates in a city, county, or statewide race compare? OregonLive asked candidates from around the state to provide information about themselves and their positions on the issues, and you can compare their answers here.

Portland Elections Division

Find current and historical city election results back to 1905, a list of elected officials from 1913 to the present, and mayors from 1851 to the present. Find out how to become a city candidate, how to file an initiative or referendum petition, or test your knowledge of Portland elections on the trivia page!

Washington Elections Division

Find information about elections, voting, caucuses, candidates and political parties in the state of Washington.

applesThe apples have arrived! The apples have arrived! I don't know about you, but every year I wait patiently for autumn, my favorite season. Yes, I know, autumn means that winter is not far behind, with the cold, and the rain, and the darkness, but there is just something about the crisp, cool colorful days of fall that restores my soul, and prepares it for the winter to come.

As I wander through the stores, the farmer's markets, and the countryside, I am reminded of the many fabulous varieties of apples that we can enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest. So many colors, fragrances, and tastes to be savored. Almost nothing beats biting into a fresh, crunchy apple, except maybe a warm piece of apple pie!!

So, this is your friendly reminder to take advantage of the season's apple bounty! It doesn't last long. And why not take a bite out of the books on the list below? A mix of fiction and non-fiction, they all feature apples on the cover. Immerse yourself in the apple deliciousness!

Her bookjacketSometimes I need to read books that pierce my very soul, the more heart-wrenching the better. That’s when I turn to memoirs like Her by Christa Parravani. This is the tale of identical twins, Christa and Cara. It's the story of the connections between twins and what happens when you tragically lose that connection. And how someone can survive and grow from that tragedy. It's beautiful and powerful. For more heartbreaking stories of survival, try one of these.

And then there are times that I need snarky narrators that take me into their lives, lives so angst-filled that the only way to get through them is to revel in the What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding bookjackethumor. Kristin Newman’s, What I was Doing While You Were Breeding was just the book I needed recently. Newman is a TV comedy writer and it shows, in a good way. It’s a travel guide and memoir in one tidy package. She spent her time between writing gigs in her 20’s and 30’s, jetting off to exotic locales and meeting gorgeous men. Alright, I might have felt a little jealousy towards her; when I was that age, I was totally living paycheck-to-paycheck and the only place I jetted off to was my hometown in Ohio with a plane ticket purchased by my mom. Oh, wait a sec, that’s still pretty much the story of my life. But that aside, she’s a witty, breezy writer who reveals an awful lot about her experiences with quite a few men in a highly entertaining manner. It's a story about being free and reckless, traveling to fabulous lands, and it's hilarious.

If you’d like a few more snicker-worthy memoirs, check out my list here.

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!

Look for the Lucky Day display at each library.  Here are the latest new titles:

Adult Fiction:

Personal / Lee Child

Adultery / Paulo Coelho

Gone Girl / Gillian Flynn

The Monogram Murders / Sophie Hannah

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good / Jan Karon

The Bone Clocks / David Mitchell

The Paying Guests / Sarah Waters

 

Adult Nonfiction:

The Boys in the Boat / Daniel James Brown

An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America / Nick Bunker

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World / Steven Johnson

The Forks over Knives Plan / Alona Pulde

Cool Layer Cakes / Ceri Olofson

Killing Patton / Bill O'Reilly

 

Kids:

Bad Magic / Pseudonymous Bosch

Tales from a Not-So-Happily Ever After: Dork Diaries 8 / Rachel Renee Russell

Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus / Tom Angleberger

Little Author in the Big Woods: a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder / Yona Zeldis McDonough

The Whispering Skull: Lockwood & Co., Book 2 / Jonathan Stroud

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods / Rick Riordan

Pete the Cat and the New Guy / Kimberly and James Dean 

Space Case / Stuart Gibbs

Top 10 of Everything 2015 / Paul Terry

Teen:

Afterworlds / Scott Westerfeld

Falling into Place / Amy Zhang

Firebug / Lish McBride

Isla and the Happily Ever After / Stephanie Perkins

The Revenge of Seven / Pittacus Lore

Skink - No Surrender / Carl Hiaasen

The Vault of Dreamers / Caragh M. O'Brien

Virtual Librarian

by Mindy Moreland

Volunteer Amy SchoppertMultnomah County Library's volunteers are a dedicated bunch. But some volunteers, like Amy Schoppert, take their devotion to a new level. As an Answerland volunteer, Amy not only serves library patrons from across Oregon, but she does so from Tacoma, Washington. Answerland, also known as Chat with a librarian, is an online service that uses librarians from across the state and around the world to provide 24-hour reference service for all Oregonians. Amy and her fellow volunteers chat online with patrons seeking help on a wide variety of projects, from homework assignments to research to questions about library resources. Every shift is different, Amy says. "It can be non-stop challenging questions, and it can be perfectly paced and engaging, but pretty manageable, and sometimes, rarely, it is very quiet. I try to prepare myself mentally for anything!"

Amy was inspired to become an Answerland volunteer when her husband, also a librarian, started volunteering with the service. “The first time he did a shift I knew I wanted to volunteer for Answerland,” Amy recalls. “I was in library school at the time and I remember asking how soon I could volunteer.” Even though surgery, a broken computer, and some scheduling issues delayed her start with Answerland, Amy’s dedication was unwavering. Finally, all the stars aligned. “I was so thrilled when I was finally able to volunteer and get my own shifts,” she recalls.

Answerland staffers answer more than 35,000 questions each year, working with patrons by chat, email, and text message. Over 40 Oregon libraries and over 50 MCL volunteers staff the service. Librarians from all over the country cover shifts when Oregon librarians are unavailable, making it possible to serve Oregonians 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Funding for Answerland comes from the Oregon State Library through the Library Services and Technology Act.

Though she helps patrons of all ages, Amy particularly enjoys working with young students seeking homework help. “They are so pleased and so surprised that a service like this exists,” she says, “Being able to tell them that we are here and available to support their learning is really satisfying.”

A Few Facts About Amy

Your home library is: As I live in Tacoma, WA (but I'm from Portland!) and work for King County Library System, my KCLS branch is my home library.

What are you reading now? I'm reading Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills and To Know As We Are Known by Parker J. Palmer.

What book has most influenced you? Mastering the Art of French Cooking, from which I only cook two recipes -- but we would be eating, I am convinced, nothing but meatloaf and Cheerios if it weren't for Julia Child.

What is your favorite book from childhood? I didn't have any one favorite book. But I certainly remember enjoying Pippi Longstocking and The Borrowers an awful lot.

A book that made you laugh or cry: Beware of God by Shalom Auslander made me laugh AND cry.

What is your favorite section of the library to browse in? Gardening, cooking, fashion.

Which do you prefer: e-reader or paper book? Paper, although I am not allergic to e-readers.

What is your reading guilty pleasure? Books about clothes and fashion.

Where is your favorite place to read? The bathtub!

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Istanbul is my favorite city to wander through. When I think of Istanbul I think of fishermen lining the Galata Bridge, crossing the Bosporus and the Golden Horn by ferry, moving from Europe to Asia and back again. It is a city of mosques and palaces, and where shops spill out onto the sidewalks. You wake to the call to prayer and spend your day immersed in history knowing that you are never far from a pastry shop.  It is also a great place to visit by way of a story. Try these for a taste of Istanbul.

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler. Charles Latimer is a writer living in Istanbul between the wars. He gets a plot idea when the body of a notorious criminal washes up on the shore, but as he researches the story he starts to doubt that the body was really Dimitrios and sets out to find him.

Istanbul Passage book jacketIstanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon . It's 1945, WWII is over and the cold war is starting. Leon Bauer, an American businessman, has spent the war years in Istanbul. During the war he did odd jobs for the CIA. He is asked to help with the delivery of a Romanian the Americans want to keep from the Soviets. The delivery goes wrong, his CIA contact is dead and he has to decide what to do with the smuggledIstanbul Memories book jacket man with the Nazi past that everyone now wants.

Baksheesh by Aykol Esmahan is the story of Kati Hirschel. She runs the only mystery bookstore in Istanbul and is shopping for an apartment. A man is murdered in the apartment she wants to buy and she’s a suspect. The dead man was involved in shady business dealings and Kati starts to investigate.

On the serious side, Orhan Pamuk writes literary novels set in Istanbul.  He also wrote a memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in Istanbul.

 

The Children Act bookjacketThe problem with reading an e-book is that you never quite know when it's going to end. You could be swiping, swiping, swiping, growing more exhausted by the characters and their machinations, as I did with Freedom (sorry, Franzen fans) and with each swipe wondering, "WHEN...WILL...IT...BE...OVER?!"

Then there are times when you're wholly immersed in a character's life and then..."WHAT? That's the end?!" That's how I felt with The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I was floating along on a cushion of imagined world, when suddenly the story fell out from under me. I paged back and forward, but sadly, there were no more words. Too bad, because I was so caught up in Fiona's life, the challenges of her work as a family court judge and her failing marriage -- I so wanted to be the voyeur in the room, finding out how it all turned out.

McEwan creates this really admirable, powerful and ethical woman, who is conflicted and flawed. He does it with such a deft hand that you are left wanting more. You just want to sit down with Fiona and have a chat. "Listen, you're so smart and thoughtful when it comes to intervening on behalf of children in your courtroom. Why are you so blind when it comes to your husband?" I'd have to say that The Children Act is an almost-perfect gem of a book. If only there were a little more...

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