Author Archives: WCPLtn

How to Find Reliable Information on the Internet

 By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

The Internet can be both bane and blessing if you are researching information. While the World Wide Web allows almost immediate access to information around the globe, it also provides the perfect setting for those seeking to dupe a consumer, perpetuate a rumor, create a scare, or push an agenda. It is therefore crucial to evaluate online resources before believing them or using the information they contain.

Ask Some Questions

Evaluating information starts with asking yourself some questions. One way to do that is to turn to the 5 W’s – who, what, where, when and why.

Who?

  • Who is responsible for the information on the site? Is the site owner clearly identified with contact information provided?
  • What does the domain extension for the site tell you about the information owner? A non-profit organization is typically indicated by .org, an educational institution by .edu, a commercial site by .com, a small business by .biz, and a government site by .gov.
  • What do you know about the site’s owner or publisher? Is he or she a recognized expert with credentials provided? Does the site represent a particular, subjective viewpoint, or can it be considered a reliable, objective information source?

What?

  • What is the purpose of the site?
  • What type of information are you finding? Does it seem credible? Is it professionally presented and without obvious typos or grammatical errors?

Where?

  • Where did the information owner or publisher get his or her information? Are sources cited? Are additional resources cited?
  • Where is the organization or owner located? Is there a contact address provided that helps to legitimize the source?

When?

  • When was the information written? Is it timely, or is it hopelessly out of date? Has it been recently updated?
  • Are any links included still current? Or do they lead you on a wild goose chase?

Why?

  • Why was the site created? Does the organization state a mission, goal or objective?

A quick run-through of these questions can help you to get a sense for the integrity and usefulness of a website. There are no guarantees, however. The caveat of “buyer beware” or “reader beware” should be kept in mind.

The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. Your library can help with your research needs, guiding you to carefully vetted sources of information and free, specialized online research tools.

Use Our Online Resources

If you need help finding trustworthy information on a particular topic, you’re in luck! WCPL has a variety of resources available to help you:

  • Our Articles and Databases collection is accessible 24/7, so you can use it while visiting any branch library, at home, or on-the-go. Just use your library card number or password to access remotely. You’ll find resources on the Arts, Education, Health, History, and more.
  • The Gale Directory Library features “51 trusted directories on companies, publishers, associations, and more—sources that cannot be found elsewhere on the Internet.” Try using this resource for your business, research and homework needs.
  • The Gale Virtual Reference Library has reference e-books and encyclopedias that cover business, cultures, history, literature, science, technology, travel and more. It is similar to the great Reference section that we have upstairs in the Main library, but you can use it from the comfort of your home.
  • Our Helpful Websites page features an assortment of free, informative websites that can help you with homework, research, and other informational needs. We did the groundwork for you, so you can start with a list of reliable sources on a given topic, rather than trying your luck with Google.

Take a Free Class (or Two)!

Don’t be overwhelmed by the Internet! Come to our Surfing the Web 101 class to learn the basics. We will introduce you to web browsers and search engines, teach you how to search online, and help you to evaluate what you find there.

Our computer class schedule is published monthly. Just call us or visit the web page to see what we’re offering, when.

Ask a Librarian

Last, but definitely not least, ask a librarian (or a reference assistant). We can help you find information at the library or in our digital collections. You can use our online form, email us with your questions , or call us during regular library hours at 615-595-1243.

Better yet, stop by the Main library and ask us in person. We’d love to meet you and help with your information needs! And if nothing else, remember the CRAAP test.


Sources:

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Teens, Win Prizes by Reading! Now What to Read?

By Erin Holt, Teen Department

Our Teen Summer Reading program is in full swing over here in the Teen Room! The more you read, the more you win – we’ve got earbuds, car chargers, giant candy bars, gift cards, and more! Stop by our Teen Room on the 2nd floor and pick up some review sheets, start reading, and we’ll do the rest!

But there lies the question of WHAT exactly will pull you in enough to stop Snapchatting, FB Messaging, texting, and setting up hang outs with your friends? We’ve gotcha covered! Check out these awesome websites that our Teen Librarians, Erin Holt and Howard Shirley, have collated for you! You’re bound to come across something that strikes your fancy! And hey, if not, give us a call in the Teen Room at 615-595-1278 and talk to Ms Erin or Mr Howard, we’ll be more than happy to take you on a book walk, and we guarantee you’ll leave with your arms full of good reads!

But just in case you want to look for yourself, here are some fun websites that offer some awesome books JUST for TEENS!

And those are just a few of our fave sites!

Summer Reading is a Family Affair at WCPL

By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

The kids are out of school, the temperature is rising, and the world is in bloom.  The good ole’ summertime has arrived in Middle Tennessee, bringing with it outdoor fun, visits to the park or pool, and summer camp.  Students may also amuse themselves watching TV, playing video games or viewing funny You Tube videos.  Seems like we’re forgetting something, doesn’t it? Oh, that’s right! Reading!

Reading can be a fun part of the summer, too!  WCPL participates in a Cooperative Summer Library Program that offers programming and reading adventures for all ages (children, teens and adults), and we encourage everyone to participate.  It may not seem like it because it’s so much fun, but summer reading also offers some important benefits:

  • Helps young children to build foundational reading and language skills
  • Prepares school-age children for success by developing their language skills
  • Motivates teens to read and discuss literature
  • Helps to prevent summer reading loss, a.k.a. the “summer slide”
  • Encourages adults to experience the joy of reading
  • And, if you’re already a voracious reader, you can win prizes for what you already do!

With this year’s “Build a Better World” program, we invite patrons of all ages to try something new this summer. Read a new book. Participate in our Make-A-Thon on Saturday, June 3. Enjoy our free events. Get out the house, meet new people, and learn how to help our community.

Registration for the children’s program began on May 20 and runs through July 29. Readers and pre-readers alike can sign up to be a part of the fun.  A simple activity card for each age group features 25 different activities. When the kids complete any six of the activities, they receive a free paperback book of their choice. After completing six more activities, they receive another prize.  There will be free program for kids of all ages on Thursdays in June and July, including an animal show, a magic act, a ventriloquist, and more!

Teens will have their own special program, which will encourage them to read and track the number of books they have completed.  After accomplishing some specific goals, students’ names will be entered into prize drawings.  There will be three tiers of prizes, and the winners will be revealed at a special “lock-in” celebration toward the end of the summer.

Adults are included, too! All adults who submit a book review will be eligible for a weekly prize drawing. Prizes are donated by local businesses. And hey, we know you have enough to do, so there is no registration required for adults. A handwritten (or emailed) book review is all that is needed to put you in the running for a prize.  Free programs for adults will include “Life Reimagined,” “Pet Care,” “Fraud Prevention” and more!  Check web site frequently throughout your summer, so you won’t miss out on anything.

So what are you waiting for?  Grab a good book at the library, and help us to “Build a Better World.”

May Is National Pet Month

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Furry or feathered?  Scaled or smooth?  If you are considering getting a new pet or adding an additional beastie to your home, these are only two of the many questions that you must ask yourself and your family members, of the two-legged and four-legged variety, because your existing pets are also family.

National Pet Month was created as a celebration of the joys that pets bring to people’s lives, and vice versa.  Some of the aims of National Pet Month are:

  • Promoting the benefits of pet ownership
  • Supporting pet adoption
  • Increasing awareness of the services available from professionals who work with animals
  • Raising awareness of the roles, contribution, and value to society that service animals provide

If you are already sharing your home with a pet, here are a few fun suggestions to celebrate National Pet Month:

  1. –Do a photo shoot or a YouTube video with your pet!  Who knows, your segment with Captain Fluffypants could be the next viral sensation, maybe even with more “hits” than a Kardashian video.
  2. –Look into creating a “Take Your Pet To Work Day” at your place of employment.  (Hey, if they let human children do it, why not the animal children?  I bet you a box of Milk-Bones that some of them would be better behaved and more pleasant to have around for the day than the humans.  Just sayin’.)
  3. –Got a hipster cat or a feline princess?  Make them a customized bed that matches their personality.  Pinterest has squillions of ideas.
  4. –Get off the couch!  Hit your favorite dog-friendly park with your pooch for some new training, such as jumping through a hula hoop or learning to respond to hand signals, or just take a leisurely stroll along the trails and enjoy the day.  For your feline friend, teach your cat to walk on a leash so she can enjoy the outdoors, too.  Make sure you and your pet stay hydrated while playing outside.
  5. –Be a “pet whisperer” and learn to decipher your dog’s or cat’s body language.

Certainly, not everyone can (or should) have a pet.  However, this doesn’t preclude your ability to contribute to enriching the lives of domestic animals.  If you choose not to share your home with a pet, please consider making a donation to a local or national animal welfare organization.  There are several listed at the end of this article.

I hope you have purr-fectly enjoyed this blog, and that I haven’t driven you barking mad.  (OK, y’all know I can’t make it through a blog without at least one pun, right?)

 

Local resources:

  • Happy Tales Humane Shelter
    4001 Hughes Crossing, Suite 161, Franklin TN
    615-261-7387
    “Happy Tales Humane is a privately funded no-kill animal shelter.  We envision a world where every companion animal is loved, wanted, and nurtured. Happy Tales is committed to our mission of providing human, no-kill options for homeless and neglected animals in Middle Tennessee.”
  • Snooty Giggles Dog Rescue
    www.snootygiggles.com  
    SGDR began when founder Shawn South-Aswad and her husband began taking in a few dogs who needed a place to stay until they could find their own home. As time passed, they developed an affinity for “senior” and medical needs dogs that were being overlooked by the general rescue population. SGDR has now grown into a foster team of more than 50 families who open their homes and hearts to these amazing dogs and foster them until the perfect match of a forever home is found.
  • Williamson County Animal Center
    106 Claude Yates Drive, Franklin TN
    615-790-5590
    www.adoptwcac.org
    The Williamson County Animal Center is a public open-intake shelter serving the citizens of Williamson County, Tennessee. The shelter is a county tax-funded agency caring for domestic animals, and enjoys the distinction of being a 2nd place winner in the 2014 ASCPA Rachael Ray Challenge.

As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed here belong solely to the author, who is owned by 4 cats (Roxie, Pearl, Blackie Lawless aka Boo, and Jack Bauer), a betta fish named Swimmy Hendrix, and a leopard gecko who goes by the name Charmian, which means “little joy.”  No animals were harmed during the making of this blog.

You’ve All Heard of Limericks, I’m Sure

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Limericks can even be done for Math!

You’ve all heard of Limericks, I’m sure
Whether racy or actually pure
They’re funny old rhymes
From good old times
And the good ones are rarely demure

They all start in jolly old Britain
Whose poems were occasionally written
In lyrical styles
To bring forth some smiles
And the poets were instantly smitten

City of Limerick, Ireland

The name, it comes from good green Erin
The Maigue Poets used to declare in
the city, Limerick.
Those bards got a kick
from the poetry style used there in.

The transition to bawdier verse
(Or something ocassionally worse).
The decade was roaring
and not a bit boring,
still, reactions were quite terse.

Original Edward Lear Limerick

There once was a man, name of Lear
Who wrote them, though not very clear
His meanings were nonsense
With ridiculous contents
And his fame stretches from then to here

Some people delight to change form
From the meter and scheme as a norm
They sometimes depart
On whole, a la cart
But can do so in in whatever manner they choose and still leave it mildly humorous

So let us praise the limerick this way
On this, the Limerick’s Day
They bring joy and delight
And the length is just right
Except like now when I’m carried away!

As one last PS I must add
A very hard time I have had
To not use Nantucket
Or mention a bucket
But I know that would really be bad.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

In case you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo means the Fifth of May in Spanish.

Cinco de Mayo dancers in Washington DC

So sit down with a margarita, put on some mariachi music and read about this almost more American than Mexican holiday. (May 5 is often confused with the Mexican day of independence. The nation celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. On this date in 1810, Mexico won her independence from Spain.)

Cinco de Mayo does commemorate an historic event in the city of Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexico. President Benito Juarez sent a rag tag army of volunteers to meet the French army there. General Zaragoza led this army against the much-better supplied French army. The 4,000 man Mexican army defeated the 8,000 man French army on May 5, 1862. The French army was considered the best in the world at that time and defeating the French was a huge morale booster, and gave the beleaguered country a sense of unity and patriotism. The Mexicans lost 100 men in the battle, the French 500.

Anonymous, Batalla del 5 de mayo de 1862 (Battle of the 5th of May of 1862)

France returned next year with a much bigger army (30,000 soldiers) and a chip on its shoulder. This time France defeated Mexico, and ruled the country for three years. How did this all come about? When Juarez became president in 1861, Mexico was broke. They were still recovering from the Mexican-American war in the 1840s, when a defeated Mexico allowed the United States to annex Texas. The country had borrowed money from Spain, Britain and France to keep the country going, and was recovering from the defeat. It couldn’t afford to pay back the loans.

Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and settled the matter. France was in no mood to settle; they wanted more territory and decided to invade Mexico at the port city of Veracruz. France only ruled Mexico for three years, installing Maximillian I as king. The United States was able to help Mexico after the Civil War ended. With additional funds and arms, plus with the pressure on France from Prussia, France withdrew to protect closer borders. In June, 1867, President Benito Juarez became president again, and started pulling Mexico back together.

Interesting Facts about Cinco de Mayo:

  • Napoleon III, the emperor of France, had the idea to take over Mexico, and then send arms and men to help the Confederate Army. Not that he was pro-Southern, he just wanted the nation to continue to be divided and weak. Since this invasion, no foreign country has ever invaded any nation in the Americas.
  • Some historians believe that if it were not for the Mexican victory during the Battle of Puebla, the Confederates would have won the Civil War and changed the fate of the United States forever.
  • Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, and is not really celebrated outside of Puebla and a few other cities. In the United States, however, it is a huge holiday.
  • Photo taken by “The Republic”

    In and around Puebla, “Cinco de Mayo” is known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (the Day of Puebla Battle). And they celebrate with re-enactments and parades more than with tequila, margaritas and such.

  • May 5th was made more popular under Franklin Roosevelt, who established the “Good Neighbors policy” in the 1930s.
  • Americans eat nearly 81 million pounds of avocadoes on Cinco de Mayo every year, according to the California Avocado Commission.
  • Many cities in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo with weekend-long festivals, including Denver, Chicago, Portland and San Diego.
  • Los Angeles wins with the largest party (in the world!). It is called Fiesta Broadway. Many other countries enjoy this celebration as well. Even Vancouver, Canada has a big celebration, with a skydiving mariachi band!
  • Chandler, Arizona has a Chihuahua race on May 5!
  • Because we like to celebrate and drink tequila, the United States drinks more of this potent liquor than Mexico, where most tequila is made!
  • Enchiladas and tamales make up more the traditional dishes and as they take a bit of time to create and cook, it becomes a time for family togetherness.

Read the rest of this entry

Adventures in Digital Storage (in honor of Preservation Week)

By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department

“Today, the average household creates enough data to fill 65 iPhones (32gb) per year. In 2020, this will grow to 318 iPhones.”

This is a conclusion from the seventh EMC Digital Universe study at Hopkinton, Massachusetts highlighting a special concern with how “data is outpacing storage. The world’s amount of available storage capacity (i.e., unused bytes) across all media types is growing slower than the digital universe.”

Concerns about digital storage and preservation are not new, but they are now more pressing. Michael Irving, of New Atlas, explains how “even the best of our current range of devices are only relatively short-term solutions to the problem. Hard drives, and optical storage such as DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, are vulnerable to damage and degradation, with a life expectancy of a few decades at best.”   Irving continues:

Scientists are increasingly looking to nature’s hard drive, DNA, as a potential solution to both the capacity and longevity problems. As our own bodies demonstrate, DNA is an incredibly dense storage medium, potentially squeezing in a mind-boggling 5.5 petabits (125,000 GB) of information per cubic millimeter. By that measure, according to University of Washington professor, Luis Ceze, all 700 exabytes of today’s accessible internet would fit into a space the size of a shoebox. You could then tuck that shoebox away in a vault for thousands of years, and the DNA-stored data would remain intact.

Indeed, digital storage modeled on DNA is a promising solution. But until it becomes more than experimental, what should we do in the meantime? For instance, what if you have just been chosen as the archivist for a massive collection of family photographs? How would you choose to store the data? In addition to preserving the actual physical photos, what is the best approach from a digital point of view? After the photos are scanned, what is the best way to store them as digital documents?

A helpful answer comes from Denise May Levenick, who inherited her family photo treasures. She shares tips and techniques for preserving a collection in her latest book, How to Archive Family Photos: A step by step guide to organize and share your photos digitally (Family Tree Books: Cincinatti, 2015. In our library nonfiction section under 745.593 May). It is good to keep in mind that, although focusing on photos, the principles she outlines apply to more than photo collections.

One important decision for digital material concerns negotiating different file formats. Ms. Levenich explains about using JPG and TIFF files.

JPG is a file format that uses compression when saving files and is called a lossy file format because repeated opening and saving of JPG files deteriorates the image quality over time.   TIFF is a file format that does not use compression when saving files and is considered a lossless format because it maintains its quality over time.

What this means for preservation is that the TIFF lossless format better maintains the digital data than the JPG format, which loses quality with use. One concern with TIFF files, however, is that TIFF is sometimes unreadable by various programs. In this case, our staff librarian photo buff, Rebecca Tischler, recommends saving picture files in PNG. PNG, pronounced “ping,” stands for the Portable Network Graphics format which compresses information in a lossless manner, meaning all the image information is there when the PNG file is decompressed. Further it neither degrades nor loses information with saving, restoring, or resaving like the JPG. Don’t count out the JPG, however, as it has its uses too, one being the JPG can preserve a lot more color than the PNG.

Once your format is chosen, it is necessary to back up your photo files. Ms. Levenick recommends the 3-2-1 rule.

  • 3 Copies
  • 2 different media
  • 1 copy stored off-site

She explains, “Many different combinations will provide a good backup solution, but the key to a great backup system is to spread out your copies across different media and different storage locations. When hurricanes and tornadoes wipe out a home and family photo collection, it’s reassuring to know that digital copies are safe in the cloud, or stashed at a relative’s home in another state. Don’t wait for a disaster to safeguard your precious family memories. Practice the 3-2-1 Backup rule regularly, especially after a major scanning session.”

 


Sources:

Heritage Display March 2017

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

Last Month, we had an interactive display upstairs. Patrons could add their ancestry to a world map and see where some of their neighbors came from as well.  Some had many ancestries, and some only had one, but it was interesting to see how diverse our patrons were.

And those who didn’t know their background, we pointed them to the Special Collections department, where patrons can get some help doing genealogical research with databases such as Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest.  If you want to know more about where your family comes from, ask one of our wonderful Special Collections Librarians for help.

But for now, take a look at all the responses that were left at the display.

  1. English, Welsh, Polish, German, French, Scandinavian, Scottish
  2. Welsh
  3. Greek, English
  4. Snowbeast (AKA Canadian)
  5. Venezuela
  6. Indian
  7. Hispanic
  8. British
  9. Tamil, Hindi
  10. Prussia, Austria, Germany
  11. Italy, Germany
  12. Norwegian, German
  13. African American, German
  14. German, Prussian, Polish
  15. Scottish
  16. Thai
  17. English, Welsh, Italian
  18. Tamil, Hindi
  19. Alien
  20. Chinese
  21. China
  22. English, Scottish, Norman French
  23. Mongolia
  24. French, Great Britain
  25. German
  26. Brazilian
  27. Mexican, Spanish
  28. Mexican
  29. French, Mexican
  30. Italy, Germany, Europe
  31. English, Irish
  32. German, French, Irish
  33. Cuba
  34. Armenian
  35. Scottish, English, French
  36. Swedish, German
  37. Deutschland
  38. Swiss-German, English
  39. French, Irish
  40. Polish, English, Irish
  41. China
  42. Chinese, Hunan
  43. Thai, Chinese
  44. German, Swiss
  45. Antarctican
  46. Kiwi
  47. Canadian
  48. Pennsylvania Dutch
  49. Ireland, Germany
  50. Guatemala
  51. At this library we found out the Hill family from Texas is the Hill family from ESSEX U.K.!
  52. Irish, Italian
  53. Norwegian, Icelandic
  54. Czech, Dutch, German, English
  55. Norwegian, French, Polish
  56. Brazilian, Italian, Irish, English
  57. Irish, German
  58. Mexican
  59. Tartar Kazakhstan
  60. Italy
  61. Swedish, English, Scottish, Irish
  62. Scottish, Scandinavian, Polynesian, German
  63. Mexicana Latin of African and Spanish ancestry
  64. Venezuela, Peru
  65. Black, Irish, Blackfoot
  66. Balkar
  67. Cherokee, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Swiss, Nordic
  68. Germany
  69. Mexico
  70. Mexican
  71. Spanish, Mexican
  72. Columbian
  73. Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian
  74. Mexican
  75. Indian, German, Dutch, English
  76. Italy
  77. Syrian
  78. European
  79. Vietnamese
  80. Anglo-Irish, German-Polish
  81. Scottish, Welsh, English
  82. Spanish, Scottish, French, Polish, Welsh, Irish
  83. Haitian
  84. Irish, Cherokee
  85. Spanish, Italian, Greek, English, Scottish, Irish, Moroccan
  86. Indian, Irish, German, English
  87. German, English, Irish, Dutch
  88. Spanish, Scottish, Irish, English, Danish, German, French, Ecuadorian, Incan
  89. Ghanaian, Haitian
  90. German, Irish, Scottish
  91. English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, Swiss German, Cherokee
  92. Haiti
  93. Celts, France, Ireland, England/Wales
  94. French, Scottish, Cherokee
  95. Canadian
  96. Italian

THE BRONTË BROTHER

Branwell’s portrait of the Brontë sisters. He painted a column over his own likeness in the center, but the image has re-emerged over time. From left to right: Anne, Emily and Charlotte

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë spent much of their short lives cloistered in a small English village parsonage, yet created some of the world’s most important novels, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. But another gifted Brontë sibling, who shared the same upbringing and artistic ambitions as his sisters, failed at almost everything he tried. April 21 marks the 201st anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, but instead of celebrating that landmark, let’s take a look at Patrick Branwell Brontë and the impact he had on the lives and works of the Brontë sisters.

The Brontë Family

Patrick Branwell Brontë (Branwell) was born on June 26, 1817, one of six Brontë children, and the only son. In 1820 his father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, moved his family to the parsonage in Howarth, a village on the edge of West Yorkshire moors. After Branwell’s mother died a year later, his older sisters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily, were sent to school, leaving Branwell and his younger sister Anne at the parsonage. Maria and Elizabeth soon died from tuberculosis, but Charlotte and Emily were brought home before they became ill.

The four surviving Brontë children were extremely close, and their imaginations and creativity flourished in the insulated parsonage. The four created drawings, maps, complex stories, and poems about an imaginary world, Angria, which was inspired by Branwell’s toy soldiers. Branwell and Charlotte collaborated closely on the Angria works, while Anne and Emily created their own fictional world, Gondal. The siblings continued escaping to the elaborate Angria and Gondal sagas into their twenties.

Promising Son

Branwell, slight with flaming red hair, was his father’s favorite, and the Reverend pinned his hopes for the family’s fortune on his son’s accomplishments. He was a fine scholar, described as “brilliant” and “genius.” He aspired to be a famous novelist, poet and painter.

Haworth Parsonage

Failures and Disappointments

In 1838 Branwell set himself up as a portrait painter near Haworth, but failed to earn a living and returned to the parsonage. He was, however, successful as a witty drinking companion for other local young artists. In 1840, Branwell gained work as a tutor with the Postlethwaite family. He spent his free time writing poetry and drinking with friends. He bragged that the family thought him to be a sober, virtuous young gentleman, when the opposite was true. He was fired after six months, when the family learned he had fathered a child (which died) with a local servant girl, and he crept home to Haworth.

Branwell next became “assistant clerk in charge” at a railway station. The Brontës’ hopes for his chances at advancement were dashed when he was fired for incompetence. Again, he returned to Haworth a failure.

In 1843, his youngest sister Anne, working as governess for the Robinson family at Thorp Green Hall, recommended him for a position as a tutor. Unfortunately, Branwell began an affair with his employer’s wife, Lydia. It is uncertain whether he or the much older Mrs. Robinson initiated the relationship. Mr. Robinson discovered the affair and fired the hapless young man, prompting his downward spiral.

Back in Haworth, Branwell had to face the shocked disapproval of his family. Charlotte was especially disappointed. Branwell’s use of alcohol and opiates increased, but he continued to write. He rejoiced when Mr. Robinson died, as he imagined finally achieving wealth and status by marrying the widowed Lydia. She rejected him.

Domestic Disturbance

Bleak cartoon by Branwell – Death challenges him to a fight

After this last disaster, Branwell gave in completely to alcohol, opium, and depression. He flew into rages, threatened to kill himself or his father, and begged friends for money for alcohol. One evening he set fire to his bed, and from that point forward his father made him share his bed for the family’s safety.

The effect on the Brontë family of Branwell’s dramatic decline was profound, especially considering his early potential. Anne may have been the first to suffer directly from Branwell’s actions. She was respected in her position as the Robinson’s governess, yet she resigned a month before Branwell was fired. It is speculated that she left when she learned of his affair.

If the depiction of the situation at the Haworth parsonage portrayed in Masterpiece Theater’s To Walk Invisible is accurate, life with Branwell was a complete misery. Branwell’s violent rages, public drunkenness and steady deterioration were horrifying and embarrassing. Charlotte ceased speaking to him after learning of the affair, and wrote to a friend that she could not allow her to visit if “he” was at home. Emily was more accepting of Branwell, and stayed up to help him to bed after his nights of drinking. One biographer argues that Emily was destroyed by watching her beloved brother’s descent into madness. After his death, Emily hardly ate, and she only survived him by a few months.

Anne at 13 drawn by Charlotte

While Branwell was wallowing in self-pity and addiction, his sisters were writing their famous novels, which were submitted with pen names. Jane Eyre (by Charlotte writing as Currer Bell), Wuthering Heights (by Emily writing as Ellis Bell), and Agnes Grey (by Anne writing as Acton Bell) were all published in 1847. All three were quickly successful, especially Jane Eyre. Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in 1848.

When Branwell died at age 31 in September 1848, the official cause was “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” (malnutrition). It is now thought that he actually died from acute tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism, drug use and alcohol withdrawal (delirium tremens).

After Branwell’s death, it was clear that both Emily and Anne were also ill. Emily never left the parsonage again after his funeral and died of tuberculosis three months later at age 30. Despite Charlotte’s care, Anne died in May of 1849 at only 29. Charlotte enjoyed much fame after publishing two more novels, Shirley in 1849 and Villette in 1853. In 1854 she married Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls. Charlotte found unexpected happiness with Nicholls, but died less than a year later in the early stages of pregnancy.

Branwell’s Influence

In addition to the sorrow and disruption Branwell’s deterioration caused in the Brontës’ daily lives, he also figured prominently in their works. Here are just a few examples:

Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond in 1850

Jane Eyre

  • Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, was directly influenced by Branwell. A topic of debate in the 1840s was how best to care for the mentally ill. Was it better for families to send their drug addicted, deranged or mentally incompetent children to asylums or keep them at home? The Brontë family faced this issue with Branwell, just as Mr. Rochester did with Bertha. Mr. R’s torn feelings about Bertha – his rage toward her mixed with his determination to care for her – reflect the Brontës’ conflicted feelings about Branwell.
  • Bertha’s intemperate conduct was Mr. R’s first hint that his new bride was deranged, and Branwell provided the model for that behavior.
  • Bertha’s attempt to torch Mr. R in his bed was inspired by Branwell setting his own bed on fire.
  • When scenes involving Bertha were criticized as “too horrid,” Charlotte replied that such behavior was “but too natural.” She knew this from her personal experience with Branwell.
  • The character of Jane’s loathsome cousin John Reed could also have been influenced by Branwell, as he and the adult John shared several traits – drunkenness, indebtedness, and violent rages.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

  • Helen Huntingdon, the heroine of Anne’s novel, escapes with her young son from her abusive, drunken, and philandering husband, Arthur. When Helen learns that Arthur’s degenerate lifestyle has made him ill, she returns to care for him until he dies. The red-headed Arthur is an unflattering portrait of Branwell, and Helen’s actions echo the Brontës’ horror at Branwell’s behavior combined with their concern for him.

    Emily by Branwell – the only remaining fragment of a family portrait

Wuthering Heights

  • Alcoholism and lunacy are both elements of Emily’s novel. Paul Marchbanks states in A Costly Morality, “Cathy I demonstrates the ability to induce delirium, sickness, and prolonged mental illness in herself at will. The anti-hero Heathcliff, like the depressed and self-destructive Branwell, oscillates between desiring and spurning such madness, craving the restlessness of lunacy when generated by his dead lover’s haunting spirit and later spurning such mental disorder when triggered by the irritating presence of young Cathy II.”
  • An early biographer of Emily, Mary Robinson, acknowledges Branwell’s influence on the creation of Heathcliff: “How can I let people think that the many basenesses of her hero’s character are the gratuitous inventions of an inexperienced girl? How can I explain the very existence of Wuthering Heights? . . . Only by explaining Branwell.”
  • Cathy’s brother Hindley Earnshaw, like Branwell, descends into alcoholism, finally drinking himself to death.

Conclusion

The Brontë sisters’ lives were short, yet their accomplishments were great. In contrast, Branwell’s short life was marked by failure and ruin. Despite his influence on his sisters’ works, Branwell was probably unaware of their successful novels. As Charlotte explained, “We could not tell him of our efforts for fear of causing him too deep a pang of remorse for his own time misspent, and talents misapplied.”

Plaque commemorating siblings’ birthplace in Thornton, Great Britain

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Rockin’ Reads For Kids

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

In honor of this year’s inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here is a random assortment of rockin’ reads for the young, or young at heart.  In absolutely no discernable order:

Who Are The Rolling Stones? by Dana Meachen Rau  (J92 ROL)

Sanitized for your protection, this book chronicles the meteoric rise and unparalleled success, five decades later, of this author’s favorite band.  As this is a children’s book, none of the lurid details of the many (ahem) colorful incidents that earned The Stones their reputation as the bad boys of the British Invasion are present.  (Also worth reading in this engaging series of biographies for elementary and middle school-aged students:  Who Is Elton John?; Who Was Bob Marley? (to be published in June 2017);  Who Was Elvis Presley?;  Who Were The Beatles?; Who Was Michael Jackson?; and many more music-related titles.)

Jimi:  Sounds Like A Rainbow by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J92 HEN)

A beautifully written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented musician James Marshall Hendrix, later known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earthly realm entirely too soon at the age of 27.  His legacy lives on through his music, and his influence continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri and illustrated by A.G. Ford (J 92 CASH)

Those four simple words were how this man with the deep, soulful, often otherworldly voice would start his shows after “I Walk The Line” became the number one country song in America, and the anthem for how this once dirt-poor man from Arkansas wished to live his life.  Neri captures The Man in Black’s legend in free verse, and Ford’s lush, detailed paintings of the Southern backdrop of Cash’s life make this book one that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Music Lab:  We Rock!  A Fun Family Guide For Exploring Rock Music History by Jason Hanley  (J 781.6609)

If an alien landed in your bedroom one night and tasked you with teaching him/her/it about Rock & Roll, it would be fortuitous if you had this sensational book close at hand.  Written by Jason Hanley, Ph.D., education director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this book offers an introduction to some of the greatest songs in rock history, provides anecdotes about the artists and the social and historical events at the time the songs were written, and provides fun lab-style activities that begin with the basics of rock and move through the soul and punk genres, and then cover dance and new wave.  Best of all are the frozen-in-time photographs and the recommended set lists.  I totally have to throw the horns for this book. (Don’t know what that means?  Look it up.)

How The Beatles Changed The World by Martin W. Sandler  (J 782.4216 SAN)

When the Lads From Liverpool burst onto the music scene in the tumultuous decade known as The Sixties, they charmed and excited millions of fans the world over, and they ultimately transformed and transcended the rock genre.  This compendium of their rocketship ride to musical stardom contains hundreds of stunning photographs that capture the rich, beautiful history of The Beatles.

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed The World by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson and James Levine  (J 920 ROB)

Penned by 4 multitalented music industry veterans, this very cool volume would look right at home on anyone’s coffee table and includes 2 CDs with tracks from such legends as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, and Hank Williams, to name just a few.  The book pays loving tribute to twenty-seven groundbreaking artists whose innovations and creations altered the music landscape for generations to come.

Strange Fruit:  Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216  GOL)

At the time of “Lady Day’s” death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, she was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time.  Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the civil rights movement.

What Was Woodstock? by Joan Holub  (J 781.6609 HOL)

Well, duh, Woodstock was the sweet little yellow bird who was Snoopy’s best friend.  Right?  Charles Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip publicly acknowledged in several interviews during the 1970s that he named the bird after the music festival held at Max and MiriamYasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, over three days in August of 1969.  (Artwork from the festival features a bird perched on the neck of a guitar.)  My favorite part of this clever little book is the page of “Sixties Slang.”  You dig?

Shake, Rattle & Roll:  The Founders of Rock & Roll by Holly George-Warren  (J 781.66 GEO)

A whimsically-illustrated introduction to 14 of rock & roll’s groundbreakers and earthshakers, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and more.  In the words of Chuck Berry:  “Hail, hail, rock & roll!”

Rock on with your bad selves, and happy reading–


As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way representative of WCPL, its employees, or their parents who may have shouted at them to “turn that infernal noise down!” at some point in their lives. To that end, you may have to speak up a bit when talking to the author, because she spent many hours next to a Marshall stack in her flaming youth, and last week.
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