Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Century after the Fire

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column each week in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

In 1911 over one-thousand workers were killed in work-related accidents every week in the United States. Divided by the days of the week that number becomes over 140 people per day. As we know this was before the advent of strict child-labor laws and many of those workers were children.

March 25, 1911 was a single day in history when 146 workers died just on the Lower East Side of New York City. 146 workers in one building on one corner of Green and Washington Streets immediately lost their lives. It was the worst workplace disaster in New York State for ninety years until September 11, 2001.

The Triangle Waist Factory employed over 500 women and men on the top three floors of a 10-story building near Washington Square in Manhattan. These were mostly immigrants between the ages of 14 and 25 who worked in what we would today call a sweatshop.

There were 240 sewing machines on each of the 8th and 9th floors of this garment factory. The machines were closely packed side by side and the workers’ elbows nearly touched as they worked. Most of them worked 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week for paltry wages. It was a greedy time and well-to-do men (immigrants themselves) were interested in the bottom line – profits.

The then-modern building was meant to survive a fire and it did. 146 workers didn’t.

Lit possibly by a cigarette, the fire exploded as it consumed small pieces of thread, fabric and tissue paper patterns that had been discarded on the floors and swept under tables. Large lengths of fabrics and huge spools of thread sat on every worker’s table. Hundreds of ‘Gibson Girl’ shirtwaists in fluttery fabrics were piled high in varying stages of assembly. The flames roared as they were fed by these dry goods. The inferno quickly engulfed the entire 8th floor.

Nearby fire engines raced to the scene and firefighters held high their hoses as they poured water on the building. Exit doors for escape were locked, presumably to keep the workers from taking breaks before closing time or to deter them from stealing fabric from the factory. There were no sprinklers in the building although they had been invented and were available. Building codes simply didn’t require them. Antiquated fire company ladders reached only to the sixth floor. As the fire traveled throughout the 8th floor 80 of the young girls and boys, women and men escaped the flames and jumped to their deaths. Helpless onlookers looked on in horror. Another 66 more victims were burned as they were either unable or unwilling to jump.

The company’s owners, one of them being visited by his own young daughters, escaped to the roof along with all of the clerical staff. The tenth floor housed the factory’s offices and there were no locked doors on that floor.

The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was last week on March 25. HBO produced a powerful short documentary that premiered on March 21, 2011. The Department of Labor launched a website ( devoted to the fire complete with archival photographs and audio narration. Articles focusing on the Triangle Fire have been highlighted in nearly every major news website and newspaper this month.

History classes in elementary and junior high schools have examined the fire in studies of labor and social injustice. Many of the books written about the fire are written for elementary and junior high audiences. “Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy” (2011) by Albert Martin is one such book written for young adults. I’ve written about my respect for non-fiction children’s books with their wonderful graphics that easily illustrate and text that is readable and interesting. Martin’s book is just that. After introducing the topic in the first chapter he continues with concise descriptions of the United States and New York just after the turn of the century. We begin to understand immigration and neighborhoods and struggle. We marvel at the resilience of the poor and we shake our heads at the greed of the rich. This book can be read in one or two sittings.

Many other authors have written about that famous fire. “Fragments from the Fire: Poems” written by Chris Llewellyn was awarded the Walt Whitman Award for 1986. “Triangle: The Fire that Changed America” by David Von Drehle was written for adults in 2004 and is available in large print format and unabridged audio book format. Historical fiction for both adults and children using the fire as a backdrop of the story includes Katherine Weber’s “Triangle” (2007). Fiction for young adults 12 and up includes “Uprising” by Margaret Peterson Haddix and “Threads and Flames” by Esther Freisner (2010).

There are many non-fiction children’s books including Katie Marsico’s “The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: Its Legacy of Labor Rights” (2010), Donna Getzinger’s “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire” (2009). A dozen more were published in the last decade alone.

Sometimes horrible events can be a catalyst to powerful change. The Triangle Fire was one such tragedy. One of the witnesses of the fire that day was Frances Perkins, a social worker and graduate of Mount Holyoke College. Ms. Perkins went on to become FDR’s secretary of labor and the first female member of a president’s cabinet. She was influential all of her life in helping the working poor. In Kirstin Downey’s biography of Frances Perkins, “The Woman behind the New Deal”, one chapter is devoted to the impact that the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire had on Ms. Perkins. It was that turning point in her career that inspired her to help transform the course of history after she had been so moved by heartbreak and social injustice.

For help searching in the Minuteman catalog for these titles or for placing requests for all library materials please visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shooting the SuperMoon

Charlotte Canelli is the Library Director of the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin each week.

I find I rarely use my ‘real’ camera these days. This is simply because I carry a camera with me at all times and that is the one in my mobile phone. The candid shots using my phone can be so easy and fun. I email them or post them in seconds to friends and family on Facebook. I also have a photo album (called the camera roll) on the iPhone with me everywhere I go.

There’s a photo of my daughter’s final wedding dress choice taken right in the dressing room of the bridal boutique. Another is of my grandson in his dapper brown suit right when he dashed out the door to his friend’s Bar Mitzvah. Yet more capture my family and friends and my life’s special and significant moments when a larger camera is too inconvenient to carry.

There are other photo opportunities, however, and they still require something more sophisticated. A case in point was this past Saturday night – March 19th or the night of the SuperMoon.

According to Wikipedia, the term SuperMoon was first used in 1979 by an astrologer named Richard Nolle. A SuperMoon is when the Earth, Moon and Sun are lined up and when the Moon “is in its nearest approach to the Earth.” In scientific or astronomic circles this phenomenon is called perigee-syzygy meaning that the Moon is “full or new” (perigee) and the Moon is “closest in its orbit to the earth” (syzygy).

The term SuperMoon works just fine for me. What is especially exciting is that a SuperMoon appears to be up to 30% brighter and 13% larger than most of its other monthly appearances. Some people say that the moon is so bright that it actually generates power on the solar cells.

SuperMoons are actually not that rare. There are occurrences of “full” SuperMoons two or three times each year. We often see the Harvest Moon in October when the Moon is very large and close to the horizon.

What made this past weekend’s SuperMoon exciting was the crystal clear sky surrounding it and the fact that this SuperMoon was the closest it had been in 18 years. Well, close is relative. The Moon was only 221,565 miles away.

As my husband and I were driving home to Norfolk from dinner this past Saturday night we glimpsed this lovely moon out of the corner of our eyes. It peeked out now and again from behind the constant woods that are a part of our New England landscape. Determined to photograph it, we began to chase the moon. Laughing, we spent about fifteen minutes trying to find it undistracted by tree limbs, streetlights or woods. We finally did and I snapped the photo using my mobile phone.

In the end, to my surprise, my photo of an amazing Moon was a bit disappointing. It looked a bit like the streetlights we had tried to avoid!

Moments later after we arrived home I found Gerry digging into the closets and dragging his tripod, SLR digital camera and telephoto lenses out into the frosty backyard. Undaunted by the frigid temperatures, he was determined to capture this Moon. Ah, I thought. He’s trying to show me up with his fancy-schmancy photographic equipment. I rolled my eyes and sighed. Let’s see him capture this amazing phenomenon better than I have!

Moments later he arrived back inside with an astonishing photograph. The frosty and crystalline surface of the Moon with its dark and brooding craters was a sight to behold. The photograph was quite simply an untouched “supershot” of this SuperMoon. It was a photograph that could only be taken with an experienced eye and some rather sophisticated equipment.

If you’d like to learn more about photography, the Morrill Memorial Library has some great books on digital photography, SLR photography and Photoshop enhancements. In addition, we have a current subscription to the magazine, “Popular Photography”.

Scott Kelby’s “The Digital Photography Book: The Step-by-Step Secrets for How to Make Your Photos Look Like the Pros!” Kelby has written three volumes that won’t confuse you with the jargon of the experts. Instead, he gives you great advice on making all your shots better ones and buying equipment that meets your budget.

“The A-Z of Creative Digital Photography” by Lee Frost focuses on the creativity of your work with great tips for ‘touching up photos to adding special effects.” David Pogue is the writer of many ‘missing manuals’ – or the books that were not in the box. His book on digital photography (“David Pogue’s Digital Photography: The Missing Manual”) includes advice on buying a camera to creating better ones on your Mac or PC.

“Mastering Digital SLR Photography” by David D. Busch is subtitled “the serious photographer’s guide to high-quality digital photography.” It focuses on the photograph and not particularly the camera.

And, of course, Kodak turned us all into amateur shutterbugs years ago. I owned a Brownie Kodak camera when I was nine years old. Kodak has advice for us in this digital age in Paul Comon’s book “Kodak, the Art of Digital Photography: How to Compose Winning Pictures.” The focus of this book is on the composition of the photograph.

We have many more books on photography from “Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography” by Brenda Tharp and “The Everything Digital Photography Book: Shoot, Upload, and Enhance Photos Like a Pro” by Rick Doble. If it is Photoshop (CS5 or Elements) that you are interested in the library owns a dozen or more books with expert advice and training. These include titles such as “Digital Photography beyond the Camera: Expert Photoshop and Digital Know-How for Top Quality Images and Prints” by Ian Farrell and “Photoshop Elements 8 All-in-One for Dummies” by Barbara Obermeier.

For help searching in the Minuteman catalog for these titles or for placing requests for all library materials please visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Researching a New Car

Jenna Hecker is the Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library and also works as a Reference Librarian. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin this week.

This was a challenging winter for commuters. The bitterly cold wind threw my little Volkswagon Golf around. I got a flat tire driving over a pothole. There was a point in January when I was convinced it would never stop snowing. But my little car fought hard, making it through the treacherous weeks. The day the weather won came in late February. My nearly ten-year-old car slipped on a patch of ice on the highway, lost control, and hit a barrier. I knew the minute my front end slammed into the concrete that I would be looking for a new car. Luckily, the only thing I hurt was my pocketbook, and personal schedule.

Even for someone who researches professionally, a car search can seem daunting. Should I look for used cars or new cars? Where would I find pricing information? What was the best balance between safety and gas mileage? How small is too small? The anxiety of negotiating with dealers brought me to tears – after filling out an online form requesting free car quotes, I received three to thirteen voicemails daily and innumerable e-mails from dealers all over eastern New England. I was drowning in car information. I had to develop a system.

I began my information gathering at – one of the first auto information websites ever launched. Edmunds has two really good car pricing resources – a tool to determine True Market Value of a car (basically, what you should be paying for a car), and True Cost to Own (how much a car will cost you over five years, considering typical maintenance, miles per gallon of gasoline, etc…). It offers clear, easy-to-follow reviews, and good tools for price comparison. After collecting information from Edmund’s, I narrowed my search to four small hatchback cars with good safety ratings. Next, I used my library card to log in to Consumer Reports through to check what they recommended for subcompact hatchback cars. I read Car and Driver magazine in our reading room, and looked through NADA guides in our reference area.

Luckily the library has been a source of comfort. It offers a place to hang out when you are without a ride, and there are plenty of books here to inform your car search. Consumer Report’s New Car Buying Guide proved useful to a first time new car buyer like me. It includes ratings, reviews, and buying advice for over 200 new cars. Since this was my first car purchased in Massachusetts I checked out Car Smart: A Consumer’s Guide to Buying and Owning a Car in Massachusetts, by the Massachusetts Consumers Coalition, which proved helpful for learning the ins and outs of state-specific rules. For instance, my car will cost me 7% sales tax as a Rhode Islander buying a car in Massachusetts. If I had crashed my car in Rhode Island, part of that would be reimbursed, but since the crash was in Massachusetts that reimbursement was factored into my insurance payout. It is all enough to make one’s head spin, and to nearly convince me to make a move to the Bay State.

I was especially worried about going into a car dealership – a single girl alone in a sea of experienced car-selling older men. I had been duped and scared into unnecessary warranties, or into buying cars that leaked water from their sunroofs, or randomly caught on fire in the past. I just wanted to get this purchase right so I checked out In the Driver’s Seat: A Girl’s Guide to Her First Car by Erika Stalder. Stalder’s brightly colored guide focuses on the basics of car maintenance, but also gives great diagrams of things like rotors and calipers. The book is meant to empower female drivers and help teach them how to identify and fix basic car issues themselves.

When I felt confident enough to begin test driving, I had decided on one Ford model car based solely on my research. Based on test driving (and, of course, interior gadgets), I liked a Honda and a Hyundai better. After requesting quotes from area dealers – which fueled the already rampant e-mail and voicemail-based attack, I found the right car for what seemed like the right price. I wasn’t done dealing with the woes of car buying – my former lien holder sent my car title to the wrong address, I wrote the wrong amount on my down payment check and had to stand in line first thing in the morning at a bank to get a cashier’s check. I came in to the library one morning to my car dealer standing at the circulation desk– waiting for me to arrive to retrieve more papers. It seems the job of a car buyer is never done.

In the end I found a car that I liked that fulfilled all of my safety and fuel-efficiency needs, and for a fair price. All of the research I had done made me feel empowered at the dealerships – and helped me stand up for myself. If you are thinking of buying a new car, come to the library. We have lots of resources for both people who are clueless like me, and for car experts. Plus, we are in a pedestrian-friendly location!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Desperate for Dexter

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin this week.

The first television I remember was black and white and very large. Its convex and shiny grey screen was surrounded by a wooden console and it sported two rabbit ears and several knobs the size of tiny tea cups. I have photographs of my older brother and I sitting transfixed in front of that screen when we were very young.

My family had strict viewing habits and so, during childhood I managed to miss much of what was televised. Like most typical American families we all watched together. After dinner on weeknights we watched Walter Cronkite. On Sunday nights we watched Ed Sullivan. On the off-chance I spent a day home sick I watched Romper Room with my younger brothers. An occasional treat was watching Jack Bailey’s Queen for the Day or Bill Cullen’s The Price is Right at my mother’s side.

My family didn’t watch many sitcoms or serialized television. It was simple. There was one television in the household and my father preferred war movies and westerns. Being a girl and a pacifist, I didn’t relate to war, guns, bows or arrows. I turned to more interesting things like sewing and reading and organizing my fabrics and bookshelves instead.

You might say that I missed out on an entire generation of American culture as it aired on neighboring television screens. Oh, I admit I found ways to sneak in an episode of Dobie Gillis or I Love Lucy somehow. I mean, I did manage to grow up normal. I often sat glued to my girlfriends’ sets like any deprived child would. In their homes I watched enough of The Fugitive and Flipper to satiate my appetite. But there are still huge gaps in my cultural education.

What was left out were most serialized TV shows. My philosophy is simple. If I can’t watch an entire series from first to last I simply do not want to watch at all. I guess it was a leftover from childhood when I experienced a TV land that seemed so out-of-sync.

It’s left me in the dark. At least a dark that has no trace of the glow of a TV screen.

So, now, how in the heck did I get mixed up with Dexter? At least Dexter: Seasons One through Four.

Sometime last spring I decided I was just too far out-of-the-loop. I was tired of missing out on all the great references to Charlotte on Sex in the City or to Jon Hamm, the handsome Mad Man. I asked this of my entire group of Facebook friends: “If you had to watch one series, which would it be?”

If you want to feel loved on Facebook, try this approach. Your cup will runneth over. Who knew there were so many series out there to follow? Who knew everybody else was watching them but me? Who knew so many people were so passionate about television!

Dexter was the number one suggestion. (If you know anything about Dexter you might wonder about my friends, by the way.) Dexter is also based on a book, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” by Jeff Lindsay.

I took the bait and I got hooked. Luckily, most past seasons of all television shows (cable and otherwise) are available on DVD. There are many options for viewing. Premium cable channels offer them “on demand”. Netflix allows immediate streaming of some past seasons.

Best of all, most of them are available at your local library. Libraries in the Minuteman Library Network carry an impressive array of television series that are often available right on the shelf of your library or after a short wait once you’ve made the request. April Cushing, the Adult Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library has been trying to purchase the best and most-requested for our library. It’s impossible to keep up with all of them all but we try our best.

Given all of these viewing options, however, I found out the hard way that there is always a catch. Now that I’ve completed watching the first four seasons on DVD, I’ve found that Dexter’s clever producers have conspired against me. The fifth season (aired this past year) will not be released on DVD until this August right before the sixth season of Dexter is scheduled to be run on Showtime.

And so, I’m Desperate for Dexter. I’ve complained bitterly to friends and family who helped to get me hooked. “Oh, we understand,” they’ve all admitted. “But,” they cheerfully add, “this is the perfect time to get hooked on yet another series!” Oh great.

While I await the release of Dexter, Season Five (August 2011) I’m ready to ask my friends for a next suggestion. “But, please,” I’ll beg, “make sure all the seasons have already been released on DVD so that I can request them from my library!”

For help searching in the Minuteman catalog for these titles or for placing requests for all library materials including DVDs and television series, please visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website,