Saturday, January 21, 2012

Learning Express Jobs & Careers Test Preparation

Learning Express is a relatively newly available resource to residents of Maine through the public and university library system. This resource provides interactive tests and tutorials across a broad spectrum of educational, career, and skill-building pursuits. These tests and tutorials offer assistance designed for the young and the old, for the computer novice and the computer expert, for people seeking a GED, for students needing to prepare for the SAT and ACT, and for people seeking American citizenship, and much, much more.

What follows below is a screen by screen demonstration of how to access test preparation for a career in nursing. Though focused specifically on this test, many of the same access methods apply to other tests such as SAT and ACT preparation for those preparing for college, ASVAB testing for those interested in a career in the military, and for those seeking to improve their understanding and familiarity with many popular software programs such as Microsoft programs like Word and Excel.

As a Bangor Public Library library card holder, your first step for accessing Learning Express is to go to the library's website at (As shown below).

From this web page, you will see a link for Marvel! Maine's Virtual Library on the right of the screen. Click the Marvel! link.

Clicking this link will take you to the web page displaying all databases and resources available through Marvel! (Shown below).

The resources are listed alphabetically. You can either scroll down to the Ls or click L to find Learning Express. (Shown below).

Below is the home screen for Learning Express. This screen displays on the left side the twelve categories of tests and tutorials. This screen also indicates an area for logging in as a returning user or for registering as a new user. The reason for logging in or for creating an account is that Learning Express will keep track of your progress in a given tutorial. Creating an account means you need not start over in any test or tests you are taking. Registering requires only a username and a password of at least six characters.

The steps taken so far apply for access to all Learning Express tests and tutorials. Now, we focus specifically on locating nursing career preparation. To find the nursing exams, click the Jobs & Careers link. All jobs & career categories Learning Express offers are shown in the next slide. (Shown below).There are sixteen career categories listed. A few highlights among the offered exams are Commercial Driver's License, EMT and paramedic (under Emergency Medical Services), ASVAB preparation (under Military), Praxis I and II (under teaching), and LSAT preparation (under Legal).

The Nursing and Allied Health has three categories. These are Entrance Test Preparation, Licensure and Certification Test Preparation, and Career Guidance. Below is a partial listing of the Entrance Test Preparation online courses -- there are 21 total (the screenshot only shows eight).Learning Express can prove to be a terrific tool in one's pursuit of many educational, career, skill-building, and other goals. We recommend all our library users across Bangor and the state consider Learning Express as a means to aide in accomplishing those goals.

If anyone has any questions or needs assistance using Learning Express (or any other Marvel! resource), you are encouraged to contact our reference department at Bangor Public Library for guidance.

Patrick Layne
Bangor Public Library
Reference Librarian
207.947.8336 x126

Friday, May 27, 2011

Finding Foreign Language Fiction Books at Bangor Public Library (& Elsewhere in Maine)

Bangor Public Library has recently added to our collection two new fiction books written in Chinese.

One of these books is Luo di / Ha Jin zhu, yi (English translation: A good fall by Ha Jin).
Here is a permanent link to our catalog record of this book:

The second of these books is
Jin yue / Ailisi Xibode (English translation: Almost Moon by Alice Sebold).
Here is a link to the record for this book:

Locating books available in Maine written in Chinese is possible, though slightly more complicated than a regular catalog search. In searching in the URSUS catalog, limiting to Chinese as the preferred language is an option. However, you would need to start with a simple keyword in order to limit later. For example, in searching a simple keyword of "fiction" in URSUS,
you would get 32000 (the maximum) results. If you then clicked Modify Search and then for the Language selected Chinese, you would narrow in to 38 results.

Of these 38 results, though, only a few are books written in Chin
ese. Most are English translations of Chinese works.

In MaineCat, you can get better results for Chinese works and obtaining those results is not as difficult. [Though, even this trained librarian had difficulty in finding the easiest way -- it took a few tries to get it right].

From the original MaineCat screen at, click on Word Search. This will take you to a page that looks like this:
In the top search box, search "fiction" then select Chinese as the language. This search will net 76 results, the majority of which are clearly Chinese language titles, not English translations.

Limiting to fiction works in other languages is also an option on MaineCat. An Italian fiction search nets 157 titles, Latin 38 & Portuguese 23, including
Ah, os lugares aonde voce ira!, a Portuguese version of Dr. Seuss' Oh, the places you'll go!

Let me know if you have questions or comments. Or if you have better tips at using URSUS or MaineCat for looking foreign language books.

Patrick Layne
Bangor Public Library
Reference Librarian

Saturday, March 26, 2011

NPR and Books

NPR has been in the news quite a bit recently. Have you noticed? I am not here to rehash all the arguments about plans to cut NPR's funding or to lay out a detailed case for why I would oppose or approve of the cutting of NPR's funding.

All I would say is that I think NPR's reach is much greater than skeptics would have you believe and that its audience is not as narrow as some would have you believe.In working with the interlibrary loan requests that come in to us at the library, I occasionally notice some out-of-the-expected books to keep popping up in our requests. These are books that are decades old, not by widely known authors, not written by someone who Oprah likes (though she could like them, I guess, if she knew about them).
I wondered for a year or so why these uncommon books suddenly would be getting requested often, sometimes a few times a day for a week or so period. Then, I did a fairly obvious act to appease my curiosity. I "Bing"ed it (I don't Google or Yahoo!).

Recent coverage on NPR of these books became the most likely source of their sudden and returning popularity. Turns out NPR is a great advertiser of off-the-beaten path books. Three specific books our patrons have requested I am almost certain stem from specific NPR broadcasts.

These three books are: The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett, Oreo by Fran Ross and Operation Family Secrets by Frank Calabrese Jr.

House Without Windows was published in 1927. The author was a teen prodigy who had two books published by the age of 16, but then the author mysteriously disappeared. Here's a link to the NPR story: Bangor Public Library owns a copy of this book. It is currently checked out.

Oreo, originally released in 1974, is a story of a biracial young women searching for her estranged father. Here's the NPR link: Finding an available copy of this book is difficult, so Bangor Public Library is ordering a copy of the book, which was republished in 2000.
Operation Family Secrets is a memoir of a son who helped authorities with the conviction of fourteen notorious Chicago mobsters, including his own father. Here's that NPR story: This is a newer book that the Bangor Public Library has ordered a copy of for our collection.

These three books do not have much in common as far as their themes, content or time period. But what they do share is that all were reviewed by NPR correspondents who broadcast to an audience most likely more diverse than these books are.

These books may not be for everyone. NPR may not be for everyone. But, lost often in the discussion of reducing our investment in NPR is a fair evaluation of who public radio reaches and what ideas (ideas often utterly devoid of any political content or stance) it may alone being broadcasting in our culture. I don't know that a commercial market would let us know again of books like Oreo or The House Without Windows because these books are no longer commodities that will be sold on any market in any large amount.

Ideas that are sold as products have a definite place in our country, but so do ideas that are largely commerce-free. NPR serves a terrific purpose in this regard, as do many of its other "public" kin like our public libraries and our public parks.

Let me know how you feel.

Patrick Layne
Bangor Public Library
Reference & Interlibrary Loan Librarian

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Are These Writers? #5

William Hickling Prescott, a native of Salem, Massachusetts, grandson of Colonel William Prescott, commander of rebel forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill (the "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" battle), is a noted historian who lived from 1796 to 1859.

Prescott suffered a rather unusual injury during his time as a student at Harvard around 1811 which threatened his future as a writer & derailed his career ambition of becoming a lawyer. Richard B. Morris in Dictionary of American Biography [1935, volume 8, page 196] tells us of an "accident which was to determine his career; leaving the Commons one day after dinner, he turned his head to observe the course of a frolic which had broken out behind his back, and was struck by a hard crust of bread in the left eye, whose sight was thereby immediately and permanently destroyed." [The bizarre & unusual nature of this incident can be a major reason it is recounted throughout the Internet in all most all the Prescott articles I've found in my research]. Let this be a cautionary tale to all of us about how we handle our bread & protect our eyes in public settings.

Though cautioned by doctors about the difficulty of a literary career, Prescott pursued one anyway, even after the inflammation from the accident spread to his other eye. He was assisted by secretaries who would read to him during his research & he utilized a noctograph to assist him in writing. What is a noctograph? It is a writing frame designed for use by blind people. Below is a picture described by Castle Freeman Jr. (credited later in this post) as Prescott employing the noctograph, which unfortunately, does not greatly illuminate what the device looks like or how it works (and I looked extensively on the Internet for a more promising image of a noctograph -- but to no avail):In 1821, Prescott's commitment to writing began to pay off, as he began to have articles & reviews about literary and historical subjects appear in North American Review. This success continued for the next fifteen years, resulting in the publication of Biographical and Critical Miscellanies in 1845, a collection of many of the articles previously in North American Review. These articles ranged from an extended look at early American novelist Charles Brockden Brown to an article entitled "Asylum for the Blind" to several articles about Spanish history and literature.Prescott had found a topic to devote his life's work to in those early short articles about Spanish history. For the rest of his writing career, he was engaged in the research & publication books about Spanish history. From 1829 to 1836, Prescott worked extensively on his first book, the three volume, History of Ferdinand and Isabella. Though Prescott had misgivings about publication of the book, persuasion of friends & colleagues resulted in him selling the work for $1000, with about 1250 copies being published.
Good reviews & strong sales of Ferdinand and Isabella paved the way for his second book in 1843, The Conquest of Mexico. This time, Prescott, pocket seven & a half times the fee for publication, with four times as many copies being published. Another three volume set, Conquest of Mexico further solidified as a valued historian & as a valuable & a marketable writer.
Prescott's later publications continued this preoccupation with Spanish imperial efforts in the New World. The Conquest of Peru was released in 1847 & History of Philip II came in 1855, each matching Prescott's earlier works in both regard by the public & sales in the marketplace. The popularity & influence Prescott commanded are illustrated in these two facts: 1) by 1860 more than ninety-one thousand copies of his works had been sold & 2) both Ferdinand & Isabella and Conquest of Mexico each had at least 140 editions & printings (source: Casper, Scott E. "William Hickling Prescott." The American Renaissance in New England: Third Series. Ed. Wesley T. Mott. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 235).

Still, as with any historian of the 19th century, Prescott has met criticism over time for romanticized interpretations of the Spanish conquistadors & of biased representations of the conquered natives of the New World. Also, as Castle Freeman curiously, but perhaps accurately, notes, a portion of Prescott's success may have "had to do with the notion that Prescott was a blind genius, conjuring in utter darkness the vivid scenes of his great histories. In fact he was never completely blind, but the obstacle to his chosen work was not much less than total blindness would have been. "[Source: Castle Freeman Jr.].

Now, I know all of you are not going to rush to the Bangor Public Library to check out & engross yourself in the voluminous collections of Prescott publications, which our library does own. If, though, you would like to read the highlights of Prescott's work, you may consider the Irwin R. Blacker book pictured below, which contains Prescott's works in much short forms.
Next up in this series, well, I am not sure yet. I believe the last seven writers shown on the library's rotunda are recognizable. So, Prescott may be our last. Or, I may decide to blog about those seven writers anyway. Let me know what you think.

Feel welcome to leave any comments you'd like here or you can email me directly at

Patrick Layne

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Who Are These Writers? #4

Our fourth arguably-long-forgotten writer commemorated on the library's rotunda is Francis Parkman. Parkman was an American historian from Boston who lived from 1823 to 1893.

One of Parkman's more widely-known works is The California and Oregon trail: being sketches of prairie and Rocky mountain life. This book, more commonly known as The California and Oregon Trail or The Oregon Trail, is an eyewitness account of his 1846 trek across the West. Parkman in this, his introduction to the reading public, revealed a writer of sharp focus on detail & one of great literary style & accessibility. The work also established him as an important historian and chronicler of soon-lost societies and traditions.

While this book is still highly regarded for its vivid depiction of the landscape of the West & as a record of the peoples of that era, the book has also met criticism for its stereotypical representation of Native Americans & for an overarching contention of the supremacy of European or civilized people which lead to the inevitable demise of the less civilized native peoples.

Of course, part of these difficulties with this work are simply the result of the prevailing attitudes of the time. Many critics & scholars note these deficiencies & biases in reviewing Parkman's writing here (and in other works), but these reviewers still hold high esteem for The Oregon Trail and other Parkman publications.You can judge The Oregon Trail yourself by checking out a copy at Bangor Public Library or from another library in state. The book continues to be reissued 160 plus years after original release and remains readily available. Alternately, you can view the book online at

Parkman's crowning achievement as a writer & historian, however, are his multivolume France and England in North America. This work is now available in many forms, but upon original release, was published as follows:

Pioneers of France in the New World

The Jesuits in North America
La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West
The Old Regime in Canada
Count Frontenac
A Half Century of Conflict

Montcalm and Wolfe

According to Michael J. Mullin,
France and England in North America "shaped the conventions of colonial, frontier, and Native American history until World War II." Mullin acknowledges Parkman as the first scholar to seriously investigate the colonial frontier as a subject for historical review. Further, Mullin concludes that "his writing illustrated the continuity between America's attempt to subdue the area west of the Mississippi and England's effort at taming the American continent east of the Mississippi a century earlier." Mullin further notes that "his strength as a writer lay in his ability to convey the immediacy of historical events to the reader" (source for all: Dictionary of Literary Biography volume 186, 1997).France and England in North America faces historical criticism as well. Many scholars have found Parkman staunchly pro-Protestant, decidedly anti-Catholic. He also has been criticized for writing centered upon what is called "the great man theory" of history.

However, as with The Oregon Trail, most of the faults of France and England in North America are superseded by its strengths in the minds of most historical scholars. Richard Vitzthum, in an exhaustive review of each of the books in this series, notes that the "strength is its extraordinary unity of subject matter, style, and argument. From beginning to end, it is dominated by a conservative, romantic artist who is writing for an assumed audience of conservative, romantic readers about a gallery of conservative, romantic heroes. Its setting is a wilderness of virgin forest and water, of primal sun, sky, and storm, that will be no less vibrant and appealing a century hence than it is today" (Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 30, 1984).
France and England in North America remains readily available in various editions at the Bangor Public Library and at other libraries in Maine. A few volumes of the work are also available online through Project Gutenberg.

One last quick note about Parkman:

The Society of American Historians offers a yearly award for
the best nonfiction book in American history known as the Francis Parkman Prize. For a list of past winners dating to 1957 & how to nominate a book, visit

The next post in this series will shed light on who Prescott is.
Feel welcome to post any comments or questions about this & other Bangor Public Library Blog posts.

Patrick Layne

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Byki Language-Learning System

Thanks to a generous contribution from the Friends of the Library, Bangor Public Library is pleased to offer the Byki language-learning system.

Byki offers interactive language-learning activities in over 85 languages. The system functions in short online lessons taken at each individual's pace. These activities quiz a user in recognizing foreign languages by sight & sound, including giving the user the ability to slow down pronunciation.

To access Byki, first go the library's website at Then, click this icon:
Online, all you will need to do is click the green Sign Up Now link (shown below). Enter your name, select a username & password, and ... you're ready to go!Give Byki a look; we think you will be impressed. Feel welcome to ask the library staff (or me) if you have any questions about this new library service.Patrick Layne

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who Are These Writers? #3

John Gorham Palfrey is another writer featured on the Bangor Public Library rotunda whose name & publications may not hold the high stature each held in 1912 during the library's construction.

Palfrey, an ordained Unitarian clergyman, editor, historian, & U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, lived from 1796 to 1881. Palfrey has an extensive list of accomplishments in each of these roles, but our focus here will be on his achievements as a writer. [For a complete biography, have a look here]. Palfrey's most famous work would have to be the five volume [originally planned as three volumes as shown in the above image] History of New England. This set is "an encyclopedic study of the political, intellectual, religious, and social origins of the region from it discovery by Europeans to the eve of the American Revolution" (source: Alexander Moore, Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 30, 1984). Bangor Public Library owns this behemoth collection, which totals over 2400 pages, including a nearly one hundred page index in volume 5.

This set, published between 1859 to 1890, faces & has faced mixed reviews for most of the nearly 120 years since its completion. In 1984, Alexander Moore noted, "Palfrey displayed the best and the worst aspects of nineteenth century historical writing. His scholarship and attention to detail were unquestionable, but his regional chauvinism and racial theorizing have placed his work in disrepute. In this regard, Palfrey's obscurity is a result of changing trends in historiography, not the datedness of his research or lack of historical insights."

Moore continued: "In the twentieth century writers have ... consistently cited Palfrey's History as the worst example of a bad school of historical writing they call 'filiopietistic' [wow! what a word! its meaning is "of or relating to an often immoderate reverence for forebears or tradition"], 'apologetic' and even 'clerical.' Unfortunately, by attacking Palfrey's ... biases, they [his critics] have not addressed the historical quality of his work. Palfrey's History of New England is a dense, multilayered work, prodigiously researched and annotated with footnotes that stretch, in approved nineteenth-century style, for pages in length. The work contains lists of major political officeholders for all the New England colonies from their founding until 1775."

Moore concluded that Palfrey's History of New England is "despite its bulk, quite readable." He also opined that Palfrey's set discussed every aspect of New England's natural, political, religious, and social history and that Palfrey's "insights into the Puritan mind as well as historical events have proven largely to be correct." Perhaps Moore's greatest compliment to Palfrey was that he felt History of New England (and other Palfrey publications) were "to all historians ... examples of the power of historiographical labels to conceal more than they reveal." In other words, Moore felt that too many historians & readers may be dismissing Palfrey due to over a century's worth of pigeonholing of his work, but in doing so, are missing out on the quality of it.
Yet another reviewer, James Truslow Adams, makes note of the extensive use of the footnotes, which Adams calls "a convenient and useful mine of information as to events and characters in the period" [James Truslow Adams, Dictionary of American Biography, 1931, volume 7, page 170]. In looking at the library's copy of volume I of History of New England I see a footnote on nearly every page (including page 191 which is essentially all footnoted). If nothing else, one gains an appreciation for both the amount of detail & the complexity of organization Palfrey put into his major work.

The first volume of History of New England can be viewed online here.

Another important Palfrey work (also owned by Bangor Public Library, but in our non-circulating collection) was the widely distributed abolitionist pamphlet, Papers on the slave power. In 1843, Palfrey's father died in Louisiana, leaving Palfrey an inheritance which included twenty slaves. While he had been for years a vocal advocate of abolition, the potential of slave ownership sent Palfrey into action. Despite legal difficulties, heavy financial loss, and fractured relations with his surviving family members, Palfrey traveled to Louisiana, claimed his slaves, returned to Boston and freed his slaves. Palfrey had hoped to keep his actions private, but they became public & Palfrey found himself thrust into a greater stature within the abolitionist movement [source: a paraphrasing of Alexander Moore's account in Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 30]. In this role, Palfrey published a series of essays in the Boston Whig in 1846, which were later collected & published as Papers on the slave power. These essays, according to Moore, contained the narrative of the history of slave trade in the U.S., including a recounting of the compromise on the issue of slavery at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Palfrey also issued in this work a call to stop the spread of slavery and an aim to undermine it in state is already existed.

This historical importance of this publication of Palfrey's is worth noting on its own merit. However, I would also like to point out how important (and cool) it is to be able to say that I held this publication in my hands today -- all thanks to the fact that the Bangor Public Library owns it & has owned & maintained it for more than 160 years after its publication.

Bangor Public Library's books, as well as its architecture, represent and reflect a culture and tradition of commitment to scholarship, reading, and social significance in the history of Bangor. While people today may not know who John Gorham Palfrey is or what he has added to American & New England culture, it is a comfort and source of pride to know that the people of Bangor did care in 1912. Even more reassuring is that such a commitment by the citizenry of Bangor has continued & flourishes a century later.

The next post in this series will shed light on exactly who Parkman is.Feel welcome to post any comments or questions about this & other Bangor Public Library Blog posts.

Patrick Layne

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Who Are These Writers? #2

John Fiske is another writer featured on the library's rotunda whose name seems to have diminished in recognition over the last century.

Fiske, a philosopher & historian born Edmund Fiske Green in Hartford, Connecticut, lived from 1842 to 1901. As a child, he was already quite the scholar, noting in his adult writings that by age eight he had read about two hundred books, across a wide spectrum of topics, primarily philosophy. By the age of twenty, he could read in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and so on (the list continues with another thirteen languages, including something called Zend, which turns out to be Zoroastrian-based).

Fiske was a supporter of the theory of evolution well before it had gained any measure of popular validation with Charles Darwin's publication in 1867 of On the origin of species by means of natural selection. Darwin's position, however, was not (and often still is not) without controversy, and those supporting it could face professional hardships. Fiske, for example, had been deemed an atheist so he was not admitted to the faculty of Harvard despite having being a well-regarded lecturer & writer. Fiske, instead, in 1872 was given the position of assistant librarian at Harvard. While this was meant to be a demotion, Fiske found the work rewarding and beneficial to his career. [Fiske included the forty page essay, "A Librarian's Work" in his book Darwinism and Other Essays] .

By 1879, Fiske had resigned his post at Harvard, taking to delivering a course of lectures on American history at the Old South Church in Boston & across the Atlantic in London. During this period in his life, Fiske developed a reputation as the most popular lecturer on history America had even known to that point. The majority of Fiske's writings during this time, however, were primarily philosophical volumes such as Myths and Myth-Makers, The Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, The Unseen World, Darwinism and Other Essays, Excursions of an Evolutionist, and The Idea of God as Affected by Modern Knowledge.Fiske began to focus on historical writing in the late 1880s, a focus which continued into the early 1900s. His works during that time include The Critical Period of American History, 1783-89, The Beginnings of New England, The Discovery of America, and New France and New England. Fiske had made this transition, according to some, based on financial need, and according to others, based on "his wish to study America from the standpoint of an evolutionist" (Source: Dictionary of American Biography, Volume III, page 422].
I asked my brother, a history doctoral student at the University of Kentucky, about how Fiske is viewed by today's history scholars. Below are his comments:

"Fiske isn't read by historians too much today. I don't recall reading anything written by him. However, I am sure, given the dates of his writings and his life, most anything he has written has been debunked by modern historians. He was entering the profession just as it was becoming 'professionalized and most of those guys are looked upon differently now. Not that they were generally bad historians, which some were, but that they didn't have to tools and skills that have been developed since their time. I also know that he was a Social Darwinist, and that theory has pretty much been debunked as well, so if that tinge is in any of his writings, then he would get attacked for that has well."

My brother's sentiments are largely echoed in the Fiske biography written by James Truslow Adams from the Dictionary of American Biography copyrighted 1931 [the source of much of this blog post's content]. "In the historical field," Adams wrote, "Fiske was solely a popularizer ... far from making any original contribution of material or interpretation, he merely narrated conspicuous facts, and he did that not authoritatively, but with a charm of style rare among American historians." Adams, however, did view Fiske's role as a historian as "the prime cause of not a few of the distinguished scholars of to-day first turning to history as their life-work" [both quotes page 423]. So, in other words, Fiske is seen as vital as legitimizing & elevating the study of history, but not as all that great of an historian.

While history, Adams, my brother, or I have not been particularly kind to John Fiske, the architects of our library in 1912-13 did not have the benefit of knowing how our society was to change in the next century. One hundred years into our future, some of our most revered scholars & writers inevitably will be seen as outdated as well. But with their efforts, as with Fiske's, each will have played a vital role in the advancement of thought & scholarship in our country. We can celebrate all who have & will continue that cause.

Up next in the Who Are These Writers Series, Palfrey.Feel welcome to post any comments or questions about this & other Bangor Public Library Blog posts.

Patrick Layne

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who Are These Writers?

The rotunda above the second floor lobby & just outside the Bangor Room & the Lecture Hall features the names of twelve writers. At the time of the building's construction circa 1912-13, each of these writers held enough public interest to be worthy of current (and presumably future) reverence. Several of these authors, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Emerson and Whittier, for example, remain easily recognizable to readers today. A few, however, required some light detective work to identify.Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Thomas Bailey Aldrich is one of the authors deemed prominent enough for etched-in-stone status when our building was constructed between 1912-13, but whose fame has apparently been fleeting ever since.

Aldrich, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was a poet, novelist, & editor born in 1836 who died in Boston in 1907. Ferris Greenslet's biography of him (available at Bangor Public Library) characterizes Aldrich as "the exquisite lyric poet, the inimitable story-teller, the accomplished editor, the witty, urbane man of letters." Aldrich's work as editor of The Atlantic Monthly from 1881-1890 established him as a mentor to many writers, including other writers such as Lowell, Longfellow & Holmes listed with him on the library's rotunda.
Aldrich's work was regarded as witty and humorous, which contributed to his being quite popular during the peak of his career. He was, in fact, at one point during his lifetime determined to be more popular than Mark Twain and Walt Whitman (source: That Aldrich is linked to Twain is noteworthy since perhaps Aldrich's most famous book, The Story of a Bad Boy, is considered a forerunner to Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The Story of a Bad Boy
, published in 1870, was a semi-autobiographical fictional story about growing up in Portsmouth, which Aldrich calls Rivermouth in this book. The book predates Huckleberry Finn by 14 years, leading critics to call "this novel ... the first realistic depiction of childhood in American fiction" (source: . Twain himself commented that The Story of a Bad Boy was his inspiration for creating Tom Sawyer (source: .
Greenslet's biography includes several letters written between Twain & Aldrich. These letters have a playful tone, that of two men who knew each other well. So well, in fact, that in an 1871 letter Aldrich makes fun of Twain having a pen name. Aldrich teases Twain that if Twain were to come to Boston & not come to see him, then Aldrich would "put a paragraph in 'Every Saturday' [a weekly illustrated Boston-based magazine which folded in 1874] to the effect that through you are generally known as Mark Twain, your favorite nom de plume is 'Barry Gray.'"

Bangor Public Library owns The Story of a Bad Boy and several other Aldrich works if you'd like to take a look. Aldrich would presumably be happy to have his works revisited since he is credited as saying, "Books that have become classics - books that have had their day and now get more praise than perusal - always remind me of retired colonels and majors and captains who, having reached the age limit, find themselves retired on half pay." [Source: unknown, but referenced extensively on the Internet]

Another Aldrich-attributed utterance, one which seems an apt axiom for adjourning this Aldrich analysis: "What is lovely never dies, but passes into other loveliness. " [Source: Aldrich poem, A Shadow of the Night]

Next up on the Who Are These Writers? series: Who is Fiske? Feel welcome to post any comments or questions about this & other Bangor Public Library Blog posts.

Patrick Layne

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Book about a Thousand Things

Last week, I was stopped at a traffic light on Exchange Street in Bangor on the way to work. Across the street stood Cornerstone Barber Shop, the place where I usually go for haircuts & where I always take my oldest son.

Anyway, while stopped in traffic, I noticed the barber pole on the building. I had thought before that I knew or vaguely knew the origin of the stripes on the barber pole. It was something I thought I should look up.

That morning at work, probably not even an hour after thinking about that question, I was standing in the book stacks here & a book title caught my eye.

That book, A Book about a Thousand Things, by George Stimpson, copyright 1946. I suppose I wondered what the thousand things were, so I pulled the book from the shelf to take a look. I opened the book. Curiously enough, I opened the book to pages 94 & 95, page 95 containing the phrase "how did the barber pole originate?"
Call it kismet or dumb luck or simple coincidence, whatever you want, I had found the answer to my question without even knowing (at least not consciously) I was searching for it. Another beauty of this is that is that as I looked elsewhere in Stimpson's book, I found answers to questions I might not have thought to ask, but that I was nonetheless happy to have casually discovered. For example, do you know that Boycott was a person & it was he that was the first to be boycotted? He was a landlord who wasn't very nice to his tenants during the 1880s.

This anecdote well illustrates what I would like to think are the strengths of libraries: either by design or chance, a person will more than likely discover his or her answer here. Or will think to ask here. Or will learn here. Or just happen to find out because a book title or jacket catches his or her eye. One need only be curious.

So, according to George Stimpson, how did the barber pole originate?

"The barber pole with spiral stripes is a relic of the days when barbers were also surgeons. As early as the fifth century A.D. the barbers in Rome extracted teeth, treated wounds and bled patients as part of their professional work. When the London barbers were incorporated in 1461 they were the only persons practicing surgery in the city. In the reign of Henry VIII Parliament passed a law providing that barbers should confine themselves to minor operations such as bloodletting and drawing teeth, while surgeons were prohibited from 'barbery and shaving'. It was not until 1745, only thirty years before the American Revolution, that the barbers and surgeons of London were separated into distinct corporations, and the practice of surgery by barbers was not abolished in France, Germany and other European countries until much later. The barber-surgeons generally bled their patients in the arm, and, in the days when few people could read and pictures and emblems were used as shop signs, the emblem of the profession was a spirally painted white and red pole from which was suspended a brass basin with a semicircular opening in the rim. The white ground represented the bandage used in bloodletting, the red stripe represented the blood, and the basin represented the vessel used to receive the blood. Strangely it has been the barbers and not the surgeons who have retained, it a modified form, this ancient symbol of their profession. In the United States the brass basin is generally omitted from the barber pole, but it is still common in Britain. American barbers also added a blue stripe, perhaps to make the color conform with those of the national flag."
If you'd like, here is a link to another fan's opinion of Stimpson's book:

A Book about a Thousand Things and related books can be found in the 030-032 Dewey section of Bangor Public Library. If you need help finding a book, always feel welcome to ask me or another reference librarian here at Bangor Public Library. You can ask us in person, by phone (947-8336 x130), or by email (

Patrick Layne

Bangor Public Library

Bangor Public Library
Bangor Public Library,
145 Harlow Street,
Bangor ME 04401