Category Archives: Reads

Library Love

Note: As public funding becomes tighter and less reliable, I am concerned about the future of our libraries in communities, universities, and school districts. The library is as important to the health of a community as schools, sports facilities, public service departments, etc. Please support your local libraries with your time, your talent, and your treasure.

Don’t you just love libraries? I know, dumb question coming from a sports geek, but don’t you? I am a fan of the library, especially my local library, the Clay Center (KS) Carnegie Library.

I fondly remember my branch library in my hometown of Kansas City, Kansas. I remember the book smell, the quiet, and not being able to fathom the number of books there must be in the world if we could have this many books in our little library. I was fascinated by the old-school checkout card machine where the librarian would masterfully align and feed the three cards into a slot and the due date was printed on each card. The card stack exited from another slot and the librarian would insert them into the books. It was magic. I was happy I came from a big family so I could watch the librarian run the cards from the giant stack of Hays family books. The sound of that old machine was music to my ears.

As a kid, I was a husky, could-not-sit-still introvert, slow-developing reader of a boy. Without a tremendous amount of help and patience from the adults in my young academic life, I may never have grown up a reader. I always liked the library, though. I liked to graze the shelves looking at the book spines, book covers, and flipping through the pictures. I am a better reader now, but roaming and searching the book stacks is still a favorite activity.

One of the earliest memories of being completely, totally PO’d in life was when I was about six or seven and my onerous older brother told the librarian I probably lied and didn’t read all of the four or five books (a major accomplishment for me at the time) I’d listed on my summer reading program sheet. I remember the sheet vividly, it had a drawing of a genie riding a magic carpet on the top and blank lines for what seems like 50 books. I will never forget the look the librarian gave me when she thought I had cheated. I was so embarrassed and so mad at the possibility of my first real reading success melting right before my eyes, I crumpled into a ball on the library floor and had to be dragged out wailing and screaming.

Libraries.

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I had the honor in 2013 to be the keynote speaker at our local Friends of the Library annual meeting. It floored me to be invited to speak as a writer. I talked about libraries, the role of libraries in the 21st century, eBooks and the middle-grade book I wrote called, THE YOUNGER DAYS. Through this wonderful opportunity, I attempted to convey how important lending libraries are to a community, regardless of size.

I believe libraries and museums are the two vital community institutions. No other community institution, be it police, fire, or city hall, reflects a community like the library and the local museum. These two cultural institutions define the collective communities we live in; they tell us:

  1. Who we were as a community – our history and past is defined in the collections.
  2. Who we are now – our present values are defined in the current acquisitions and direction.
  3. Where we need to go – our core community values serve as an anchor for future decision-making.

Libraries are a center of gravity in our communities. The early leaders of our country knew the importance of knowledge to the dream of democracy. In a second floor room of Carpenter Hall in Philadelphia, just a floor above the room where the first treasonous talks between the traitors to the crown took place, Benjamin Franklin started one of our first new world lending libraries.

“It (the library) was Ben Franklin’s idea. At the very beginning comes the idea of learning, of books, of ideas.”                                             -historian David McCullough.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s personal philosophy revolved around the importance of knowledge to the self-made man, knowledge gained through books. Through his donations and foundation, just under 1700 libraries were started in the United States. The Carnegie Foundation set the standards and groundwork for community lending libraries for the common man. One of the more interesting innovations of the Carnegie Library was the establishment of the open stacks, where patrons could browse the books themselves. Previously, the patron had to rely on a librarian to retrieve a requested book from the stacks located behind the counter. The true library for the common man was established through Andrew Carnegie’s vision and access to knowledge made more accessible than it had ever been.

Libraries serve a major role in our society, below is an ALA list of recommended minimal functions of a library.

  • Collect Circulate
  • Borrow Catalog
  • Provide access to catalogs Provide reference service
  • Offer reader advice Provide access to technology & the Internet
  • Serve children Serve teenagers and young adults
  • Serve adults Provide exhibit space and offer exhibits
  • Provide reading rooms Provide meeting rooms/convene meetings
  • Serve as a community center Serve as a community symbol

As as we dive into the digital age, providing access to technology & the internet jumps out from this list as one of the most important function of a library. Look at these recent numbers from the Institute of Museum and Library Services:

  • 67% of libraries offer access to e-books.
  • 64% are the only source of free Internet access in their communities
  • 169 million people used one of 16,000 public libraries in the study year; 77 million of them used a library computer
  • 86% of public libraries provide free Wi-Fi

With the rise of the digital world, some tend to think the library is a dinosaur. To the contrary, libraries are as important and will be as important as ever in the 21st Century. Libraries will serve will not only to provide access to physical knowledge, but to digital knowledge, as well. Libraries will increasingly by becoming hubs for access and training in digital media and become a major tool in the fight to reduce society’s digital divide.

In their report, Confronting the Future, the ALA defines four major issues on which a library’s staff, a library’s board, and a library’s patrons must find a balance as they move into the digital age.

  • They must find a balance between how much of a physical and how much of a virtual library they want to be.
  • A balance must be found between serving the individual and the community.
  • Develop a philosophy and implement practices that balance being a collections library and a creations library.
  • Finally, a library must find the best fit within their budget, patron needs, and infrastructure to balance their role as a portal for information and/or a site for archived information.

The intersection of all these decisions will determine the sweet spot of a library’s future directions and priorities.

I love libraries. Big libraries, medium-size libraries, school libraries, university libraries, technical libraries, small-town libraries, or a small birdhouse sized wooden box in someone’s front yard to exchange books, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the information, what matters is the content, what matters is the reader.

Update: I have successfully gone over forty years without breaking down in a sobbing mass of goo on the library carpet, but my wife still has to drag me out of the library on occasion.

References

Levien, Roger E., Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library,  ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, Policy Brief No. 4, June 2011.

http://www.ala.org/offices/sites/ala.org.offices/files/content/oitp/publications/policybriefs/confronting_the_futu.pdf

Miller, Elizabeth R., Exploring the role of the 21st century library in the age of e-books and online content. Knight Blog, February 25, 2012.

http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2012/2/25/exploring-role-21st-century-library-age-e-books-and-online-content/

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Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce

There I sat.

In Texas Tom’s.

Late at night, almost midnight.

After one of the first Legion Post 199 doubleheaders of the summer.

Sitting there staring at the red tray holding two Buckaroo Basket orders on the white, shiny table in front of me.

Contemplating. Contemplating not only how hungry I was after a night of baseball, but contemplating the very future of this collection of baseball talent Dennis “Harpo” Hurla had put together for the summer’s Fegan’s Cafe team.

If there was ever a time I needed a clutch hit, this was it.

It was my second season playing for Harpo. I was one of only a handful returners, and, once again, the only player on this talent-laden team from Washington High School. The previous year was a conglomeration of talent from a wide variety of area high schools. This year, though, almost all the players were from Bishop Ward, all from one very successful high school programs that spring season and my school’s most hated rival, no less.

I knew many of these kids and played baseball with many of them coming up through Christ the King Catholic School. Still, I wondered how and where I would fit within the hierarchy of this baseball team. I didn’t wanted to be pushed out to the fringes of the team–I wanted to the hub this team turned around.

This may sound arrogant to you, but it’s part of being a confident athlete. My arrogance and ego as an athlete probably failed me in life 99% of the time, but on the sports field, that other 1% was MINE. That 1% was pure magic. I wanted to be dependable to my new teammates in any situation. I wanted them to rely on me.

There I sat in Texas Tom’s—a greasy, local fast food joint in the heart of Bishop Ward territory—ready to mark my place with my new teammates. I remember as a kid, driving by Texas Tom’s, with the cartoon cowboy painted on its sign, on the way to my grandparents house. We’d never stop there to eat. Never. The Ward guys talked about TT’s all the time. They even told the legend of how several big time Cyclone athletes had achieved rare air through their one-sitting consumption of a two Buckaroo Baskets.

In case you never had the pure, artery hardening experience of the Buckaroo Basket at Texas Tom’s, here’s what you got in your half-a-football sized red plastic basket lined with TT’s paper. One cheeseburger dripping in greasy goodness, one fried burrito made with the finest of synthetic protein sources, copious amounts of steaming french fries, a taco, and to top thing off properly, a handful of crisp deep fried onion rings dropped over the top. Oh, let’s not forget the spicy, red taco sauce served on the side packed in sealable white styrofoam cups due to potential negative environmental impact and ability to eat its way out of a normal paper serving cup.

Double Buckaroo Basket was twice of all the above.

So with a half-dozen set of eyes upon me, the outsider, and the clock close to striking midnight, I snarfed down one Buckaroo Basket and then proceeded calmly to the second. The second Buckaroo Basket proved little challenge as it went down with the expert fashion as only a 17-year-old highly active, Bubba athlete can do.

I finished to smiles, congratulations and many pats on the back. I was cool in their eyes. But, to me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the workhorse of this team. I wanted to be the guy they looked to get the big hit, make the big play, and be the rock the team could be built on. I wanted my new teammates to not only let an outsider into their circle, I wanted them to hook their wagons to me. And I wanted to do justice to Dennis Hurla. Harpo gave me, an unknown from Washington High School, the opportunity to play for Fegan’s Cafe and I didn’t want to let him down.

I told the guys to sit back down in their seats. They did. I reached through the trash on the tray in front of me and fished out the two sealed containers of the taco sauce. The taco sauce the Ward guys said nobody EVER eats. I popped the lids off carefully and every chair in the vicinity slid away from me a few yards. Looking into the eyes fixed upon me and the cup of red goo in my hands, I threw back one after the other and shot down the sauce.

Eyes bulged around our little group and their stomachs turned over. But, I held strong. I stood, picked up my tray and deposited the trash into the can. I turned to my paralyzed, gawking teammates.

“Boys, let’s get the hell out of here. We have another game tomorrow night.”

I had forgotten all about that night 33 years ago. For some reason, the memory popped out of my neural network the other day.

Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce.

It quickly became a team battle cry.

How can one forget something like that?

Probably brain damage from too many containers of Texas Tom’s Taco Sauce.

Buckaroo Basket

(Note: We made to the Kansas American Legion state tournament that year for the first time in many years. Once Harpo survived coaching us crazy SOB’s, he went to several regional and national Legion events before becoming head baseball coach at Bishop Ward where he has won more Kansas 4A State Baseball Championships than he has fingers. I am forever grateful of the time spent playing for Dennis. I know we, the first couple groups of kids he ever coached, are better human adults because of the experience.)

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Terry Pratchett—”bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders”

I will miss the writer Terry Pratchett.

He was a master.

I came to the Pratchett game late. I don’t know what rock I lived under, but I did eventually see the light and find his work. The Discworld novels, the Tiffany Aching books, DEATH, Hogfather, the collaboration with Neil Gaiman, GOOD OMENS. It makes my head spin to consider the volume of outstanding art he produced.

He was a master.

There’s been this vision in my mind of a huge two story wall existing in some secret location which served as a Discworld storyboard. I imagine illustrations of characters, storylines, locations, and a sapient pearwood trunk—all on an octarine background floating on the back of the Great A’Tuin. Truly a piece of wall art one could spent a decade studying. Maybe someday…

Terry Pratchett died March 12, 2015 from his Alzheimer’s. His speech on his Alzheimer’s is magnificent and can be read in a past post. It is a bit depressing to think of the stories he did not get to paper. The volumes of ideas nature kept for itself and we will never see. I think a good life goal will be to read every Terry Pratchett book published. I will give it a try, I believe.

Here’s an example of Terry Pratchett’s genius. It is from his latest (and 40th) Discworld book, RAISING STEAM.

“Most of them arrived in time to see something heading out toward them, panting and steaming, with fast-spinning wheels and oscillating rods eerily appearing and disappearing in the smoke and the haze, and on top of it all, like a sort of king of smoke and fire, Dick Simnel, his face contorted with the effort of concentration. It was faintly reassuring that this something was apparently under the control of somebody human—although the more thoughtful of the onlookers might have added “So what? So’s a spoon,” and got ready to run away as the steaming, dancing, spinning, reciprocating engine cleared the barn and plunged on down the tracks laid in the field. And the bystanders, most of whom were now byrunners, and in certain instances bystampeders, fled and complained, except, of course, for every little boy of any age who followed it with eyes open wide, vowing there and then that one day he would be the captain of the terrible noxious engine, oh yes indeed. A prince of the steam! A master of the sparks! A coachman of the Thunderbolts!”

RaisingSteamCover

Bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders…

Nobody can do it like Terry Pratchett did.

Rest in peace, Sir.

You will be missed.

MidnightCover GoingPostalCoverWeeFreeMenCover

 

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Roadkill Monkey

There’s been a lot of roadkill lately. I know these things. I have maybe the calmest, quietest 42 mile commute around and I’ve been driving it for 27 years. A couple weeks ago, on one morning alone, I counted seven skunks dead on the side of the highway. Seven! It was a bad night for skunks and highways.

Today, I was in the middle of my drive eastward and I felt a little sleepier than usual. The blinding orb of the newly-risen sun was head-on square burning the retina of the poor eastbound commuter. This forced visual focus to the white highway line to my right in order fight the road glare and stay on the asphalt path.

About a quarter mile up the highway, I see a mass of misshapen, twisted, grey and brown fur lifeless in the gravel of the highway shoulder—the all-too-familiar shadow of a dead animal on the shoulder. I move closer, and, for a brief moment, I think I see a dead monkey on the side of the highway.

Swear to God.

The body was stretched and curved—the back of the furry head facing me with the front left shoulder stretched at an odd angle as if reaching to block the bright headlamps of the racing vehicle. You could sense the pain and anguish in the way the body lie there in the gravel. A roadkill monkey. In Kansas.

Monkey_batu

As I arrive at the roadkill, the sun’s angle shifted, allowing more color and detail to be visible. It was not a monkey. It was the severely twisted body of a poor raccoon dead on the side of the road. Honestly, I felt a slight disappointment.

I drove past the “wouldn’t-that-have-been-really-wild-if-it-was-an-actual-monkey” roadkill and grabbed my coffee mug from the safety of its carrier. I had just taken a quick swig when a thought occurred to me. Sure, this was just a racoon roadkill. Ordinary. We see these dead coons almost daily in this area, along with the skunk, possum, squirrel, hawk, or the occasional deer carcass. Normal local creatures, not monkeys.

But, there are places in this world where a roadkill monkey would be the ordinary thing. In such a place, the weird animal to find smashed to smithereens on the side of a highway would be a racoon or a skunk.

Where I only see monkeys in pictures and on the screen and think of a possum or a skunk mostly as a pest, there is somebody out there somewhere who only knows a possum/skunk from a book or film. The monkey is their ordinary.

I guess it really is all about your perspective and frame of reference. Life is an adventure no matter where you are.

Roadkill monkeys.

I either found a new life goal to search out or found a new name for my future garage band.

Raccoon_climbing_in_tree_-_Cropped_and_color_corrected

 

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Milestone Book Anniversaries (When Did I Get So Old?)

It’s the 40th anniversary of the release of Tuck Everlasting.

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Wow!
Tuck Everlasting is one of those books that galvanize readers. One of those books you read (skim) as an obnoxious pre-teen when you knew everything and just wanted to slip a few quick points in the school reading program in order to get a pizza. A book you read again as an adult and it triggers a desire to read all the kidlit you were too cool to read as an obnoxious pre-teen.
A classic.
But is it really 40?
Was I really only 10 when it was published?
Ha! That means it’s timeless also.
Tuck Everlasting isn’t the only awesome book celebrating a recent milestone anniversary. This year, Alice in Wonderland turns 150 and is just as awesome now as it was in 1865.
Last year, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Giving Tree turned 50.

charlie and the chocolate factory
Maybe I’m getting old and tired, but these great, old books stay fresh and vibrant and still find a way to hook readers.
We have all aged well.

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This Is Our House

“This is our house.”
You hear this quite often in sports.
Home field.
The home field advantage.

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At the western gateway of Clay Center we have our sports houses.
We have Unruh Stadium for football.
We have Kelly Campbell Field for baseball.
Our home fields. Our houses.

Campbell Shack Unruh Scoreboard 2

But our sports houses have not been taken care of very well.
Sports fields need maintenance. Almost daily maintenance.
Our fields and stadiums have not been maintained well.
They need some care.
They need us, the community.

Unruh Stands South

Campbell 1B Dugout

There’s been a lot of finger pointing about these problems.
Lots of blame, lots of ideas, very little action.
It reminded me of a phrase Coach Dail Smith would tell our football kids.
“When you point the finger of blame, remember three of your own fingers are pointing straight back to you.”

It was time to become part of the solution.

In late 2013, Rex Carlson, Larry Wallace, Jr. and I took on a project to renovate Campbell Field.
The mayor gave us the fancy title of the ad hoc Committee for Campbell Field Renovation.
Why in the world would we take on such a daunting task?

First, there was the eye test.
Things had fallen apart.
The playing surface was a mess.
Dugouts, mounds, bullpens, fence…all a mess.
Lack of daily maintenance, lack of water, and lots of Kansas wind did major damage.

Second, there was the ear test.
People were saying a lot of bad things about our baseball field. Many of these people were the same people who failed to raise a finger to help, who failed to hold up their promises and turned away from their commitments.
Their words stung. Their words lit a fire.
Their words fueled a change.

Third, we opened our own eyes and saw the work being done for area youth baseball. We saw kids enjoying the game of baseball all around us. We saw teams practicing and working to get better. We saw youngsters smiling and playing the game.

We knew these kids deserved a decent place to play the game.

We also knew the most important thing to accomplish was a renovation plan that could be maintained within the limited budget and resources of the city and the city recreation department. The plan needed to be smart, it need to be maintainable and it needed to maximize every dollar graciously donated by people and businesses of our community toward the project.

With the blessing and support of the city, we are working toward making Campbell Field a safe, playable, rural Kansas 4A high school baseball field. This is our goal. Our goal is not to build a professional or collegiate field. Our system could never maintain such a dream field.

Campbell Infield

In all honesty, facilities aren’t not the best of investments. The more resources you spend on them, the more resources it takes to maintain them. Our philosophy is to take care of what we have so our community can spend the bulk of their  limited resources on programs, not facilities.

We are getting closer to our goal and have set up a fund for donations through the Clay Center Community Improvement Foundation to help the common sense renovations of Campbell Field, Schaulis Field, and Montel Field. If you are interested in helping the cause through  a greatly appreciated donation or an in-kind donation, please contact Rex, Larry, me, or the CC Community Improvement Foundation for information.

I hope a similar, common sense financial approach will be taken with Unruh Stadium renovation.

Unruh from scoreboard

A plan to fix the structural problems and maintain the facility for the long-term. A plan to address the ADA compliant issues with perhaps ramp/viewing areas (30-40 feet across) at the ends of the stands following the basic design Oakley, Kansas used on their WPA-era stadium renovation a few years back.

 

Oakley Stadium1

 

Maybe even redesign the player and fan space in the stadium by turning the current home locker room, men’s restroom, storage room,and referee room at the south end into a new men’s and women’s restrooms/concession area in that space. At the north end of the stadium, expand the visitor’s locker room into current women’s restroom and add additional showers in that space. A new metal building could be constructed for the home locker room/referee room/storage room in the grass area south of the stadium where the team bus currently parks. The fencing behind the stadium needs a face-lift anyway and could be moved to accommodate this structure.  If funds are available or raised, a limestone arched entryway/ticket booth addition would look great attached to the north and south end of the stadium.

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I thoroughly appreciate my years enjoying this view while coaching football.

It was a blast to have coached football and baseball in Clay Center.

It was an honor to be a part of something so special.

We do have something special in Clay Center. Believe me, coming from a 6A city school, what we have in Clay Center, with our fields, our fans, and our kids are all very, very special.

I think it’s time to go to work. It’s time to keep our special things special.

Purpose. Pride. Passion.

The Clay Center Way.

 

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“Beware the Autumn People” Halloween Read 2014

Excerpt from SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury.

Chapter 39: Charles Halloway speaking to Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade in the library as they investigate and try to evade the evil Mr. Dark, the Dust Witch, and the other Pandemonium Shadow Show Freaks.

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His voice trailed off. ‘. . .Beware the autumn people. . . .’

‘What?’

‘An old religious tract. Pastor Newgate Phillips, I think. Read it as a boy. How does it go again?’

He tried to remember. He licked his lips. He did remember.

‘“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.
Where do they come from?
The dust.
Where do they go?
The grave.
Does blood stir their veins?
No: the night wind.
What ticks in their head?
The worm.
What speaks from their mouth?
The toad.
What sees from their eye?
The snake.
What hears with their ear?
The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.
Such are the autumn people.
Beware of them.”’

After a pause, both boys exhaled at once.

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NOTE: If you have never read this book, or, if it’s been a long time since you have, I highly recommend it. Classic Bradbury in a spine-tingling fashion.

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