Religion and the Public Conscience: Ecumenical Civil Rights Work in Seattle, 1940-1960 [Review]

reviewed by Karl Bridges

Religion and the Public Conscience: Ecumenical Civil Rights Work in Seattle, 1940-1960
Randi J. WalkerReligion and the Public Conscience
Winchester,UK:  Circle Books, 2012
ISBN 978-178099081, paperback
192 pages, $22.95

An important issue in religious studies is the examination of the roles that religious communities played in the social development of communities in relation to issues such as poverty and race relations. In Religion and the Public Conscience: Ecumenical Civil Rights Work in Seattle, 1940-1960,  religious scholar Randi Walker provides an overview of this process in the urban Northwest.

Walker takes the cases of two major organizations, the Seattle Council of Churches and the Christian Friends for Racial Equality, to illustrate the role of religion in formation of the idea of a “public conscience” that influenced race relations. Starting with an overview of Seattle from its founding until 1940, she goes on to discuss the philosophical concept of public conscience followed by  a discussion of specific people and events as they influenced developments in the Seattle area.

The modern development of Seattle took place in the context of overall societal changes in the United States.  The northwest region was both less religious and, to some extent, more diverse than other regions of the country, especially during and after World War II, In this context the these organizations approached issues of discrimination, such as segregated blood banks and restrictive real estate covenants, in an effort to create a more integrated society.   These two organizations also provided  venues in which people of different cultures could interact socially.

Walker places these events in  religious and philosophical context relating them to both the views of various religious groups as well as philosophers such as Josiah Royce. In documenting the activities of the organizations and the individual members, the author provides an illustration of how religious communities, especially Christian ones, responded to the call to work out concrete changes in society in keeping with their stated philosophical principles. She points out that the history of race relations was such that the relationships between various racial groups in Seattle resulted in this area having a relatively smooth transition to a more integrated society as opposed to other communities in the United States which experienced much more tension and even outright violence.

This book is a well-documented and well written account of the role of religion in the development of improvements in race relations in Seattle in the mid-20th century.  It is highly focused so, although it provides some good background of history of religion in the United States, it would primarily be of interest to the specialist in either American religious history or urban history.  This book is recommended for academic libraries or for individuals with an interest in religious history of the Northwest.

Karl Bridges is the Assistant University Librarian for Systems at Eli M. Oboler Library at Idaho State University.


Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone [Review]

Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone
George BlackEmpire of Shadows
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0312383190, hardcover
560 pages, $35.00

The word epic could eventually suffer the fate of the word awesome: overused to the point of banality, losing its original meaning, trivialized by becoming adopted by popular culture and seeping into the vernacular.  In its true sense, epic means of unusually great size or extent.  That being the case, George Black’s book Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone lives up to its title, spanning decades, crossing cultures, and describing some of the most spectacular scenery ever beheld.  With an unparalleled ability to weave together multitudinous facts and points of view into a compelling and cohesive narrative, Black’s book comes off with the same grandeur as the landscapes he describes and the personalities he brings to life.

This is not just a book about the discovery and exploration of what became Yellowstone National Park; it provides a rich, broad, and deep backstory that gives one a fuller understanding of what, besides its natural wonders, makes Yellowstone such an incredible place.  The land of Yellowstone is vividly described as a land of contrasts, from soaring peaks to deep canyons, from monumental and breathtaking cascades to hellish and diabolical landscapes.  Likewise, the story of Yellowstone is one of contrasts, with characters both noble and deeply flawed, events both heroic and terrible, and trade-offs of both monumental sacrifice and tragic injustice.

Contrasts and ironies abound.  People such as Nathaniel Langford and Lt. Gustavus Doane inspire both veneration as well as condemnation.  Doane, the aspiring explorer and intellectual, follows his participation in one of the greatest Indian massacres in United States history – the Marias Massacre of 170 or Blackfoot Indians, mostly women and children – with some of the most soaring descriptions of the awe-inspiring beauties ever penned during the first major exploration of the Yellowstone region in 1870.  This exploration was made possible by the massacre, removing the final impediment of Indian opposition that had, in part, plagued earlier attempts.  Langford, an ambitious businessman and prominent Montana citizen, is both likable because of his multitudinous talents as a jack-of-all-trades and abhorrent as one of the cruelest vigilantes in the region he was trying to establish and civilize.  Black’s robust portrayal of these and other larger than life personalities gives the book its flavor and creates a multi-dimensional depiction of this era of history that mirrors the world of then and now.

One of the most intriguing themes of the book is the depiction of noble ideals achieved through dubious means.  The figures in this story are admirable but flawed, and Black makes these people come vividly to life in the great tradition of historians like Shelby Foote and David McCullough.  Noble ideals, yes, in the establishment of the world’s first national park; dubious means, in the violence and cruelty suffered because of the clash of civilizations and the triumph of one at the expense of the other.  The predominant 19th century themes of exploration, violence, and civilization  eventually come together to form a nexus, all three on an inevitable collision course that makes the realization of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park a bittersweet accomplishment, giving one a fuller appreciation of what it took to preserve the beauties of the park and causes one to shed a tear or more when realizing how much blood was spilt and how many injustices committed to obtain this natural wonderland.

Black mixes a tireless and indefatigable tendency towards thorough and critical research (almost 100 pages of notes and bibliography) with an amazing ability and talent as a storyteller of the first rate.    His ability to combine the two makes for a riveting, compelling, story that is an absolute must for any library.  The breadth of its scope provides not only a history of the Yellowstone which is its main object, but a sweeping view of the history and settlement of the 19th century American West.  One of the best books this reviewer has ever read.

This book is recommended to all college libraries and public libraries, especially those with a strong concentration of materials in history of the U.S. West.

Christopher N. Fox is the Catalog Librarian at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

On the Dark Side of the Moon [Review]

On the Dark Side of the Moon
Mike MedberryOn the Dark Side of the Moon
Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0870045134, soft cover
162 pages, $14.95

Reviewed by Cheri Rendler

The outward signs of stroke are sometimes obvious, but what happens within?  Mike Medberry, long-time conservationist, had the misfortune to examine this issue on a personal level when he was struck down by a stroke while hiking in Craters of the Moon National Monument in Southeastern Idaho, in a desolate, waterless land of lava flows and tunnels in the Snake River Plain.  The stroke hit in 2000 as Mike was preparing for a visit by then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.  A compromise was in the works to expand protection for the Monument to include a preservation area, an effort that Mike had been working on.  In his book On the Dark Side of the Moon, Mike recounts efforts to rebuild his life post-stroke while at the same time following the progress of the conservation efforts for expansion of the Monument.

After his stroke, Mike views himself as a child in an adult’s body, learning once again to do everyday tasks and coordinate his movements. In addition, Mike must learn to speak again and attach the correct words to objects.  He felt that his life “…moved in slow motion while the rest of the world zipped around” (31) and he “missed the spark that I felt had defined me” (31).  While Mike’s job with the Lands Department was held for him, he finds he has to give it up, being unable to deal with the complex issues and multitasking that the position requires.  He finds another less demanding job and starts to write about his recovery and the Craters of the Moon National Monument, in an attempt to rediscover himself and the landscape he cherishes.

While the book is primarily about Mike’s recovery from his stroke, we also learn about the history of the Monument’s creation and walk with Mike as he retraces the steps of Robert Limbert, the man responsible for promoting the Monument designation to Congress in 1924.  Expansion was deemed important to protect the unique Great Rift area and kipukas, natural land areas surrounded by lava flows, while also ensuring that land already being grazed could remain so.  The factors involved in the effort for the Monument’s expansion are examined from political, historical and environmental viewpoints, along with the compromises reached between conservationists, Idaho legislators and recreationalists.

Final designation of the Monument and Preserve in 2007 was long and hard-fought, as was Mike’s recovery from stroke.  He finds himself drawn repeatedly back to Craters of the Moon, hiking alone as he contemplates the beauty and magnitude of the area.  It is his connection and appreciation of the strange beauty of this area that restores his peace and appreciation of living in the present.  Instead of the “black vomit” that pioneers recounted when seeing the lava, Mike sees the unbearable beauty, and the extremes of climate and landscape that are an inescapable part of life and shape who he is.

This memoir is focused more on the personal struggle and success of Mike Medberry and should not be considered a historical text.  It is recommended for those who have suffered through stroke or other major brain injury and their families, and is appropriate for general public library audiences.

Cheri Rendler is the Collection Development Librarian for Meridian Library District.

Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators [Review]

reviewed by Kay Flowers

Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators
Carrie Russell
Chicago, IL: ALA Editions, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-1083-2, softcover
192 pages, $50.00
eEditions PDF e-book, $40.00

Copyright is a complex subject, and practical books that address copyright issues in day-to-day settings are few and far between.  Carrie Russell’s Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators, however, is one of the practical reads.  Written for K-12 teachers and librarians, and using a school as a backdrop, the book addresses many of the common and new copyright questions that arise in the K-12 setting in a light and engaging manner. In her conversation with the reader, the author acknowledges the complexity of copyright while offering evidence and suggestions on the best interpretations available.

Carrie Russell speaks from extensive experience.  She is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office of Information Technology Policy of the American Library Association.  As part of its concern with access to information, the Program monitors copyright and its role in providing public access through fair use.  In her introduction to the book, Russell mentions that many of the issues covered were originally questions she was asked in earlier presentations.

The strongest element in the book is the review of current uses of copyrighted material, from digitized books to downloading music and everything in between.  Every chapter is presented in terms of activities that are common in schools but can be murky in terms of copyright.  One example is the music video.  Many students enjoy making their own music videos, using copyrighted music and/or copyrighted images.  Such videos can be used as projects in classes, so understanding their copyright implications is essential.

Another strength of this book is that the author presents copyright questions in terms of a conversation between the teacher and the school librarian.  Both are encouraged to conduct a fair use evaluation of any proposed use of copyrighted works.  In this way, the librarian does not always say “no,” and the teacher is encouraged to examine her instructional goals as part of the evaluation.

The author places a strong emphasis on fair use and the practice of conducting fair use evaluations for any proposed activity involving copyrighted material.  This emphasis is in purposeful contrast to reliance on the guidelines that have directed copyright policies in the past.  In fact, the author notes that guidelines are not law and do not carry the force of law.  She also points out that though guidelines were written as a safe haven, and were never meant to represent the maximums allowed under the fair use doctrine, they have, nevertheless, been interpreted in that way.  Too many school districts and teachers are reluctant to test fair use beyond the guidelines, so the institution and its instructors have limited their teaching options.

The supplemental material in the book includes information on a 2008 copyright survey sent to members of LM-Net (discussion group for school library media specialists).   The copyright guidelines mentioned above are also provided as appendices.  There are several sets of guidelines that have been developed in the years since the Copyright Act of 1976, varying from interlibrary loan to multimedia projects. Regardless of the author’s emphatic support of fair use, the guidelines are part of the history of copyright policy, and teachers and librarians should be aware of them.

The only weakness in the book is the placement of information about copyright lawsuits so early in the text.  The complexity of copyright litigation is stultifying, and introducing it in Chapter 2 might discourage further reading.

Any library that provides support for K-12 teaching would benefit from acquiring this book.  School libraries are the obvious first choice.  Universities and college libraries that support departments of education should also consider including this work in their teacher education collections as a resource for pre-service teachers.

Kay Flowers is currently the Director of Academic Programs in the Student Success Center at Idaho State University.

Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership [review]

reviewed by Laura Abbott

Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership 
Kate Marek
Chicago, IL: ALA Editions, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0-8389-1079-5, softcover
120 pages, $50.00

The children’s librarian should not be the only professional sharing stories in the library on a regular basis. According to author Kate Marek, a Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, those with library leadership positions will want to increase their organizational storytelling ability in order to more successfully communicate values and vision and to initiate change.  In Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership, Marek points out that the power of narrative comes from the storyteller’s ability to tell his or her own authentic stories in order to create meaningful bonds and to inspire people.

Marek’s intent is to enable librarians to begin developing and utilizing leadership storytelling skills, and through her fluid writing style, solid content, and efficient organization, she succeeds with this endeavor. She writes, “You must engage a listener’s heart as well as his mind if you truly want to generate commitment for change or for a new idea.  Stories pull the listener in and make individual human connections that data and information alone cannot make” (9).

The author acts as a motivational cheerleader inspiring the reader to discover the simple power of story that is in each of us.  She divides organizational storytelling into four basic concepts that can be easily used by managers based on their library’s needs: communicating visions and values through storytelling, using stories to navigate change, using stories to build community, and telling stories through buildings.  An example of some of the useful advice Marek gives is “Telling your own personal story with honesty and humility, especially in terms of things you have learned along the way, opens you up to connections with others and at the same time provides a unique mechanism for them to understand your values and priorities” (22).

Marek sees the vital importance and potential power of libraries in the community and explains that “the library is the perfect place to facilitate sharing [of stories]. In doing so, the library expands its role from a community information resource to a key player in transforming community” (51). Throughout the book, the author gives real-life examples of library leaders who have used storytelling to improve their position and that of their library in the community. For those who need a little more confidence boosting in the art of storytelling, the last chapter includes practical tips on how to build and strengthen organizational storytelling skills.

Written in a clear and straight-forward style, this relatively quick read is enhanced with chapter notes, a lengthy current resources list, and an index. I would recommend that any public, school, or academic librarian make room for it in the staff resource collection, especially if he or she wants to find new ways to communicate ideas and to build trust whether it is with coworkers, a library’s governing body, or with the public.

Laura Abbott is the Children’s Services Librarian at the Nampa Public Library.

War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War [Review]

reviewed by Julia Stringfellow

War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War 
Lisa M. Brady
Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-8203-4249-8, paperback
208  pages, $24.95

In Lisa M. Brady’s War Upon the Land, the title alone introduces the reader to the idea that there was a third side involved in the Civil War–the agricultural environment of the South. Brady’s book provides a detailed look at the American South in the midst of the Civil War and the impact of environmentalism, a widely unexplored subject until now. The author explores the idea that the Union Army was successful in defeating the Confederacy due to the environment working in their favor.

Brady’s book is a brilliant marriage of military and environmental history. The descriptions of the war-torn South produce a vivid imagining of what the South was like during the Civil War.  As Brady writes, “The metaphors ‘desert,’ ‘wasteland,’ and ‘wilderness’ punctuate the written records of those who witnessed the war’s destruction, especially in those areas where the Union chevauchées occurred” (127).

As the war dragged on, the North became more acquainted with the environmental conditions of their opponent, such as constant rain, flooding, and disease-carrying insects, and learned to use these conditions to their benefit as they battled their way through the South. The most powerful ally the South had at the beginning of the war was agriculture, but that relationship steadily deteriorated as a war that was initially thought would last only a few weeks dragged on to four years. The book shows how both nature and the effects of war brought much destruction to the South.

The organization of the book’s content enhances the clarity of the subject by providing a chronological narrative of how the South prospered before the start of the war to how it was almost unrecognizable by 1865. In addition, the maps of battle sites and the famous march of the Union Army’s General William Sherman complement the text well. The extensive notes, bibliography, and index sections also greatly strengthen the content.

This book would interest environmental and military history scholars and researchers, but is also a must read for those general readers who have a keen interest in the Civil War.  For these audiences, both academic and public libraries will benefit from adding this book to their collections. Because the book debuts at a key point in history as the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is being commemorated, university courses focusing on the Civil War would also benefit from the inclusion of this work.

The author, Lisa M. Brady, is an associate professor of history at Boise State University and has substantial experience in working with the subject of the Civil War and environmental history. She is currently the editor of the journal Environmental History andhas written articles and book chapters on the subject of war and nature. This is Brady’s first book, and her writing style is very approachable and engaging. It is clear she conducted extensive research in preparing this work. Given that this book is fascinating and sheds light on a topic that was previously untouched by scholars, this reviewer is eager to see what the next book by Brady will reveal.

Julia Stringfellow is an archivist/librarian and assistant professor in Special Collections and Archives at Albertsons Library, Boise State University.

True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries [Review]

reviewed by Alex Kyrios

True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries 
Edited by Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco
Chicago, IL: ALA Editions, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-8389-1130-3, softcover
200 pages, $50.00

Despite its title, True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries isn’t full of tales of battle. Some of the brushes with censorship described are just skirmishes, or even cases of conflict narrowly avoided. The 31 chapters edited by Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco, of Santa Fe University of Art and Design and Albuquerque Public Library, respectively, cover an admirably broad span of topics, each a reflection of censorship in an American library. We may think of censorship as an issue affecting only public and school libraries, but there are also cases from academic libraries as well as a prison library.

These personal stories, which range from serious descriptions of heated community battles (such as “32 Pages, 26 Sentences, 603 Words and $500,000 Later: When School Boards Have Their Way”) to the lighthearted “The Princess Librarian: An Allegory,” will appeal to librarians, library staff, and readers with an interest in censorship issues. Readers will also find the discussion questions, related to some of the scenarios described in the book, a valuable resource. These questions, such as how a library can establish community ties, respond to challenges and appropriately classify materials, can foster important conversations in a library faced with book challenges—or better yet, before that happens.

One of the common themes in the chapters is the willingness of groups such as the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom to support librarians fighting censorship. Especially in cases where a loud or influential patron stirs up a media circus over a book, organizations such as ALA and the American Civil Liberties Union are willing to back up library staff and help them respond to challenges appropriately.

This book will be a valuable companion to libraries facing censorship attempts, but it may be more effective at preparing librarians and staff to deal with censorship issues before they happen. The authors stress the importance of libraries having a comprehensive collection development policy which can be referred to when library materials are challenged. The book’s stories prove that librarians and library staff who can specifically explain why a controversial book meets the library’s collection development policy are on much more solid ground than those who have to make ad hoc arguments with challenging patrons.

One of the more interesting sections is a pair of chapters addressing materials on Native American tribes, especially in cases where scholarly sources contradict tribal tradition or ignore cultural sensitivities. How should a librarian balance the cause of intellectual freedom with inclusion of minority groups? The book shows that sometimes there are no right answers.

True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries includes something for librarians and staff in any type of library. Some of us may never have to talk to a patron who objects to a book, but we may have to deal with coworkers who want to censor objectionable materials. Any library employee who would have to answer a material challenge should read this—and if your library doesn’t know who that person is, that’s a problem! Libraries across the country have dealt with all sorts of challenges, and this book is full of accounts of triumphs and defeats to inspire and inform a beleaguered library. You don’t have to go it alone.

Alex Kyrios is a Metadata and Catalog Librarian at the University of Idaho.