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At the Library

By Bailey Anderson | Apr 21, 2014

April has been a month full of celebration here at the library, not only with National Library Week and Easter but also with Earth Day and National Poetry Month (along with its companion, Poem in Your Pocket Day). A week of celebration is upon us at Washington Public Library, with events on Wednesday and Thursday.

To commemorate Earth Day, we will be conducting a second annual Project Recycled Runway on Wednesday, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. Participants will be challenged to create a piece of clothing using only recycled books, tape, and string. Last year’s design is on display in the young adult section. A dress form has been graciously lent to us by Jaz It Up for the day of the event. The newest design will be on display in the front window of the library. Any young adults (sixth- through 12th-graders) are welcome to come participate in the event.

Thursday, April 24, is “Poem in Your Pocket Day” as a part of National Poetry Month. Not only are people of all ages invited to carry a favorite poem with them on this day, they are also invited to sign up to read one of their favorite poems, whether it’s a work of their own or a favorite to read, at 6:30 that night. We request that patrons sign up at the desk before that night so that we know how many people will be participating. Even if you don’t want to read a poem aloud, the readers could use an audience, so listeners are highly encouraged.

Help us celebrate our happiest of months of the year this week at Washington Public Library.

The following new materials are available

Adult Fiction

Aunt Dimity & the Wishing Well by Nancy Atherton, The Target by David Baldacci, Woman of Courage by Wanda E. Brunstetter, The Amish Groom by Mindy Starns Clark, Rainy Day Dreams by Lori Copeland, A Plain Man by Mary Ellis, Secrets of Tomorrow by Cindy Woodsmall

Young Adult Fiction

The Here & Now by Ann Brashares

Juvenile Fiction

The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald, The Life of Ty by Lauren Myracle

Easy Children's

Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets by Barbara Esham, Poor Doreen by Sally Lloyd-Jones, Bunny Bunny Catkin by Cathy MacLennan, Chicky Chicky Chook Chook by Cathy MacLennan, Shoe Dog by Megan McDonald, Sparkly! by Jenny Offill & Chris Appelhans

Audio CDs

Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell, Piranha by Dale Brown, Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain, The Gate Thief by Orson Scott Card, Missing You by Harlan Coben, The Bootlegger by Clive Cussler, The Double Game by Dan Fesperman, By Starlight by Dorothy Garlock, The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory, The Racketeer by John Grisham, The Beast by Faye Kellerman, Under the Dome by Stephen King, Stitches by Anne Lamott, Angels on the Night Shift by Robert D. Leslie, The Influence by Bentley Little, Father Night by Eric Van Lustbader, Phantom by Jo Nesbo, Blood Shot by Sara Paretsky, Grave of Angels by Michael Prescott, The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, Abominable by Dan Simmons, The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs, A Damsel in Distress by P. G. Wodehouse


Comments (3)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | May 02, 2014 21:39

When movies were new

UI's new film collection shows how the film industry grew in Iowa a century ago
By: Tom Snee
CairoCairo street scene circa 1900, captured from one of the movies in the Brinton Collection.

Long before movies were about glamour and allure, before red carpets and who are you wearing, when Hollywood was just a small town in California, the motion picture industry was a business in its infancy trying to figure out its future.

Part of that figuring out process happened in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, and a collection of century-old films that reflects this period recently joined the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections. The Brinton Collection includes 16 reels of old film that will be donated by Washington, Iowa, resident Mike Zahs that sat for decades in the basements, destined for a landfill before he saved them in 1981.

Gregory Prickman, head of Special Collections and Archives in the UI Libraries, says the films were not shot in Iowa, but are still a priceless specimen of both the history of Iowa and the pre-Hollywood film industry.

Some of the films from the Brinton collection can be viewed online, and include scenes from Thailand (the end of which shows significant decay of the original nitrate film) and Cairo, an amusement park ride in England, and a rapids, though which river is unknown. The exact dates that these were filmed are unknown, but they are circa the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

“It shows us the earliest days of the film industry, and that much of the activity that laid the foundation for what it became happened here in Iowa,” he says. “It’s the whole story of the film industry from a uniquely Iowa perspective.”

Made from cellulose nitrate, the films were decayed to the point where they were long since unviewable on anything but the most advanced restoration equipment, and, given the combustible nature of the material, were also highly explosive. But many of those films have been restored with the help of Humanities Iowa and the UI Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives to the point where they can once again be viewed.

The films originally belonged to W. Frank Brinton, who lived in Washington and purchased the movies from production companies like Lumiere, Pathe, and Edison. He then toured small towns in the Midwest and Texas, showing them in the local theater, opera house, or, if the town didn’t have a natural venue, setting up a tent in the town square. None of them likely had red carpets or paparazzi.

Eventually, Brinton closed his business around the time of World War I and put the films in his home’s basement, where they sat untouched for decades after his death in 1919. They later made their way to the home of his widow’s executor, when they came to Zahs’ attention after the owner put the films and a load of other belongings out to be taken to the landfill when he sold the house in 1981. Zahs, who taught junior high history in Washington and is also a local historian, could not let such a motherlode of history be landfilled, so he purchased many of the belongings—which the owner had labeled “Brinton crap”—including the film. He recently worked with UI to have the film restored by Media Preserve, a Pittsburgh company that specializes in restoring old film without destroying the originals, which will be stored in the archives’ refrigerator.

Thailand, with decaying film near the end

A street scene from Cairo, circa 1900

An amusement park ride in England

The rapids of an unknown river

But the collection includes more than just those 16 reels, and that’s where much of its value comes from, says Rick Altman, professor of cinema and comparative literature and an expert in silent film. Along with the film, Zahs saved numerous magic lantern slides from the old Brinton house, and, most importantly from an historical and archival perspective, an array of accounting ledgers, marketing posters, ticket stubs, and other business documents that show a thriving film business in the Midwest from its earliest days.

Altman says those documents are what set this collection apart from other collections of old movies. While rare, many of the films were mass-produced by commercial production companies, so they were seen widely at moving picture houses across the country. The content was typical of films of the time—most of them are short movies of just a few minutes or even just a few seconds. They’re simple and unsophisticated, mostly produced for their novelty value for an audience that had seen few moving pictures before, if at all. They show re-creations of bank robberies, random scenes of urban streets, county fairs, international travelogues. There’s street scenes of Cairo, and animals at the London Zoo. There’s also early “newsreels” of Theodore Roosevelt at a rally or soldiers being drilled before shipping off to the Spanish-American War. Some do tell stories, though very simply, such as the tale of a group of people riding a balloon that’s hit by lightning, crashes into the ocean, and are rescued. The entire story lasts less than a minute.

“There’s also chases,” Prickman says. “Audiences back then loved chases, so there’s lots and lots of chases.”

But Altman says that while they were mass-produced, few have survived, and those that have lack the related marketing and business material that fleshes out the film’s context. He says the Brinton Collection—combined with the UI Archives’ Redpath Chautauqua and Keith/Albee collections that document vaudeville in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—provide a rare insight into how Americans were entertained a century ago, and the transition from vaudeville to movies.

“This is not just a collection of films, but a window into the ways the Brintons ran their business and the earliest days of the film industry,” says Altman. “As a group, the collection offers special insight into how entertainment was handled at the turn of the 20th century.”

For instance, the documents provide an insight into the “soundtrack” of each film at each showing. Sometimes it was accompanied by an orchestra, sometimes by a lone piano player. In some stops, there was no musical accompaniment at all.

The records also tell us the road shows provided the Brintons with a very good living.

“They had a commodity that was of great interest at the time,” Altman says.

Zahs says that W. Frank Brinton himself would have made a good character in a film, as he was a man of vast eccentricities. Among them was an obsession with flying machines, and he designed dozens of them, some of which he built. He even constructed his house with a flat roof so it doubled as a landing place for flying machines, a decade before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.

He was such an oddball that Zahs can remember as a boy people were still talking about that weird old man Brinton, long after his death. But Zahs says his off-center way of looking at the world may have helped him see the value of movies as a business where others just saw faddish entertainment, and it was that vision that helped bring movies to the Midwest and lay the groundwork for the film industry.


Tom Snee, University Communication and Marketing, office: 319-384-0010; cell: 319-541-8434

Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Apr 27, 2014 22:42

Voices From the Past: The Depression and World War II Oral History Project

The material presented in this online version includes all of the transcribed interviews and audio clips from nine of the interviews. The photographs and video are included in full. The Friends of the Stewart Library (now Drake Community Library) embarked on an oral history project in 1992 to record the memories of a group of twenty residents who lived in Grinnell during the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s. The idea grew out of a reading and lecture series that featured books about the experiences of Iowans during those difficult years. In an effort to document the impact of that period on the Grinnell area, volunteers conducted one to two hour interviews that were recorded on tape and later transcribed. Photographs and brief biographies of each of the interviewees were produced for an exhibit about the project. A video describing the venture and featuring six of the residents interviewed completed the Friends’ undertaking.

Biographical information about each of the participants is presented as it was written at the time of the project. Since that time, some of those who were interviewed have passed away, making this material more precious still.

This project is the result of hundreds of hours of volunteer effort. Funds were provided by the Friends of Stewart Library and through a grant from the Iowa Humanities Board and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The online presentation has been made possible thanks to the participation of the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science.

You will find a link below to a table of contents for this web site. For each participant you will be able to view a photo of the person, a short biography, the full interview transcript, and, for selected people, a short audio clip from their interview. There is also a link to the video.

Enjoy the show!

Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Apr 26, 2014 23:09

Drake Community Library (shown above) will undergo a landscape transformation that incorporates a more diverse depiction of prairie wildlife.

Just a stone’s throw from the Grinnell Campus, Drake Community Library is looking to change its grounds with a renovation of its prairie landscaping. All of the library grounds are currently planted with native prairie plants, but after much discussion, the library staff found it necessary to diversify the grounds.

The new Drake Library, located on 930 Park St., was built in 2009, after having moved from a much smaller location on Broad Street. The current prairie-themed landscape outside Drake requires minimal watering and maintenance, and additionally provides educational opportunities for local schools. Across Iowa, other libraries have grown their own prairies to educate their communities about Iowa’s native species.

“[We] put in what was hoped to be a sustainable prairie environment across the entire grounds … We are finding that we will need to deviate from that some,” said Library Director Marilyn Kennett.

To the north of the library, along Fifth Avenue, shade from the building has hindered the growth of the sun-loving prairie plants. In some areas, the soil simply has not supported the native species. According to Kennett, the “good” dirt was stripped from the ground during the construction of the library, which makes it difficult for natural prairie plants to burgeon.

“I think the building construction also created quite a bit of clay and built up mass,” Kennett said.

For their landscape renovation, the library staff received expert advice from the National Resource Conservation Service and the Horticulture Department at Iowa State University, which led them to Forever Green, a Coralville-based landscaping company with experience in environmentally conscious planning.

Forever Green proposed an update that incorporates a butterfly garden to attract migrating monarch butterflies, as well as paths and a patio to make the area more inviting for the community and more accessible for educational programs.

Karen Neal, Youth Services Director for Drake Community Library, said the library has been improvising with its prairie programming.

“We didn’t know how we could use the space until we saw what it was doing,” Neal said.

Once the grounds began truly looking like a prairie, Neal worked with community members, specifically the Grinnell Area Garden Club, to brainstorm potential ideas. Among other programs, the library has invited local children to plant native forbs on the grounds. An after-school program last fall also dealt with various prairie topics, including seeds and the work of prairie burns, which attracted a strong audience of middle school aged boys.

The library has held two prairie burns so far, both coordinated by Conard Environmental Research Area manager Elizabeth Hill, who has also contributed to maintenance and advising for the library’s prairie landscape. The second prairie burn was held last Friday, April 18. An unexpected intake of smoke, however, forced a brief evacuation of the library, and according to Neal, “It smelled like we were at a campfire all day.”

As for future programs, Neal has plenty of ideas, but says she will have to wait until after the new plants have come in before finalizing anything.

At the most recent public meeting on Wednesday evening, April 23, the library’s board of trustees voted to accept the landscape plan proposed by Forever Green and to implement the plan as soon as funding becomes available. In the past, funding for the library’s grounds has come from private sources; therefore, the board members plan to initiate another fundraising campaign for the landscape changes. Once funding plans become clearer, construction will begin on the new planned landscape outside of Drake Library.

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