Parnassus on Wheels

What a blah weekend!  Raw and rainy, neither Saturday nor Sunday inspired me to any great exertions. On Saturday I drove to the south end of Tongass Highway for the first time (and for those of you who urged me to go, you were right: the two large waterfalls along the way are spectacular).  Then I drove back north through town to visit the Rendezvous Thrift Shop. I was looking for furniture, but there was none to be found. There were, however, books. I can never go by a book shelf without looking—thrift shops, grocery stores, book sales—it doesn’t matter where they are.  You never know what you’ll find.

Among the recently-published paperbacks were a few older books. One in particular jumped out at me. It was a copy of ‘Parnassus on Wheels’, originally written in 1917 by Christopher Morley, and reprinted in 1955 for the Book-Of-The-Month Club.  I had not read it in at least a few decades and the details were dim in my mind.  But I remembered the way it made me feel.  Reader, I bought it.

‘Parnassus on Wheels’ is the fictional story of Helen McGill, hard-working sister of successful author Andrew McGill. Helen is stuck cooking and minding the farm while the Great Man writes about his rambles around the country. (It is said to be based on author David Grayson, an early 20th century writer of Thoreau-like essays.)

Helen is a salt-of-the-earth, practical woman in her late 30s who resents her brother’s frequent absences.  When Roger Mifflin comes by looking to sell his bookshop on wheels, Helen decides to buy it herself.  Her subsequent adventures are funny and diverting, and give an insight into the life of a rural woman of 100 years ago.  Her description of a typical day of cooking, for instance:

“Hot bread and coffee, eggs and preserves for breakfast; soup and hot meat, vegetables, dumplings, gravy, brown bread and white, huckleberry pudding, chocolate cake and buttermilk for dinner; muffins, tea, sausage rolls, blackberries and cream, and doughnuts for supper—that’s the kind of menu I had been preparing three times a day for years.”

Parnassus is the name of the bookshop, drawn by a horse called Pegasus. McGill and Mifflin ride through the countryside, stopping in farmhouses and small towns to sell their wares. Mifflin has a passion for the power of books:

“The mandarins of culture—what do they teach the common folk to read? It’s no good writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling five-foot shelves; you’ve got to go out and visit the people yourself—take the books to them, talk to the teachers and bully the editors of country newspapers and farm magazines and tell the children stories—and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation. It’s a great work, mind you!”

For anyone who loves books the story is a small, perfect gem.  This 160-page book is a hymn to the written word, a gentle portrait of rural America in the 1910s, and an inspiration.  And—it is in the UAS-Ketchikan Library’s collection, call number PS3525.O71 P3 1955.

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I admire Monica Lewinsky

24 hours ago I would not have said this. I, with many millions of others, thought of her as a celebrity, little more than a cartoon character. The young, bubble-headed woman who behaved inappropriately with President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s. When the scandal broke, I went along with others in condemning President Clinton for jeopardizing his political career for meaningless sex, and assuming Ms. Lewinsky was a thoughtless bimbo.

I have always prided myself on being compassionate and empathetic—on being able to reach through the surface to the pain and suffering within. In 2009, the scandal broke about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford visiting his mistress in South American instead of hiking the Appalachian Trail. ‘Hiking the Appalachian Trail’ became a euphemism for sexual indiscretion, and there was widespread hilarity about the story. I remember thinking about how painful the stories and the laughter must have been to their families and friends, and how love and sexual obsession can derail careers that have been carefully built up over decades.  It is funny from the outside looking in, but not when you are in the grip of it.

But I didn’t think about any of this in connection with Ms. Lewinsky, either at the time of the scandal or since then. She was not a person to me.

Then, yesterday, I saw her 2015 TED talk. It started awkwardly—she told a story of a young man hitting on her, saying that he could make her feel 22 again.  The audience seemed uncertain about how to take this. But then she reminded us that at 22, she made the mistake of falling in love with the wrong person, and that mistake almost cost her life.  Ms. Lewinsky was articulate and thoughtful in her devastating description of the days, weeks and years after the scandal, and its effect on her and her family.

She went on to show how the development of social media since the 1990s has made cyber-bullying and public shaming easier, more pervasive—and immensely profitable for companies which provide platforms for such activities. Ms. Lewinsky made the case for a change in our culture to one in which such public shaming and humiliation is no longer indulged or acceptable. She correctly pointed out that casual racist and sexist remarks, once fully accepted in our society, are now much less so, at least on television and mainstream media. That kind of cultural change takes time, but it can and does happen.

Finally, Ms. Lewinsky asked that we all bring our compassion and empathy to what we watch and read.  Public shaming and humiliation of another person reduces them to an object–in the viewers’ minds, not fully human. No matter how little sympathy we feel for that person, their actions or their lifestyle, it is essential to remember that they are, in fact, as human as we are. They are not a joke or an object to be condemned.

With grace and courage, Monica Lewinsky told her truth and spoke for others who suffer, as she has, from public shaming and ridicule. And more importantly, she reminded all of us to bring our full humanity, our compassion and empathy, to what we read, watch and witness.  Watch her TED talk.

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Ketchikan Library use, 2013-2016

This is the report distributed to the Ketchikan City Council for their March 16, 2017 meeting, and cited in a subsequent KRBD story:

KPL Use, 2013-2016

Ketchikan Public Library Use, 2013-2016


At the Joint Ketchikan Gateway Borough-City of Ketchikan Cooperative Relations Committee meeting of February 10, 2017, the Committee requested City staff to provide per capital library uses for 2015 and 2016 in a similar manner as was previously provided for 2014.


Each year, with other libraries in the state, Ketchikan Public Library sends statistical data on library use to the Alaska State Library. The State Library compiles this data and makes it available on their website:

This information is used to track how public library use is changing over time in Alaska, but it can also be used to track how library use has changed in Ketchikan. Attached are several statistics on use for Ketchikan Public Library over the past four years.

Population Served and Users

The number of Ketchikan Gateway Borough residents is the Population Served. It comes from the State of Alaska, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Current Alaska Population Overview:

The number of Registered Users is kept by the library’s ILS (Integrated Library System). Every few years we delete inactive users from the system; this was done in 2014. The number of New Users is also kept by the library’s ILS; it is a count of new registered users, not including those who have renewed their library privileges.


Circulation statistics show how many times library materials have been checked out or downloaded. The Children’s Circulation and Adult Circulation are for all categories of physical and electronic materials, including books, videos, music, magazines, and equipment such as headphones and projectors.  The numbers include items owned by KPL, borrowed from other First City Libraries, and borrowed from other libraries through interlibrary loan. Circulation of adult and children’s materials fluctuates, but has remained fairly constant over the past four years.

Program Attendance

The library conducts several hundred programs each year, open to everyone. These range from story times and interactive craft programs for children, to teen games and film showings, to talks, meetings and discussions for adults. A variety of meeting and programming spaces in the Copper Ridge Lane facility have made it possible to comfortably accommodate more programs and people.

Reference Questions and Computer Use

People come to the library with questions—about class assignments, family history, Ketchikan history and culture, and, well, everything. Staff use their expertise and knowledge of library resources to answer these reference questions. Routine inquiries such as ‘Where is the bathroom?’ and ‘What books do I have checked out?’ are not counted as reference questions; only those that require some investigation or interpretation to answer.

People use library computers to find information, do research, apply for jobs, and print out documents. Others bring in their own devices, and the library provides wifi access so they can log into the internet.

At the Dock Street facility, cruise ship visitors would often come in to ask questions about Ketchikan’s history or family connections to the area. They also used library computers to check their email or use the internet. The library’s move to Copper Ridge Lane led to a reduction in tourist use, but questions and computer use by local residents have slowly increased since the move.

Meeting and Study Room Use

At Dock Street there were no meeting or study rooms. At Copper Ridge Lane, these rooms have seen increasing use since the facility opened in 2013. The only bookings counted here are those that are sponsored by organizations other than the library; library events are counted in the Programs categories.

Total Uses

This figure is calculated by summing the number of uses in each of the above categories.

Other Uses

Uses not counted in the chart include:

  • People who walk in to read and do research but do not check out materials;
  • People who come in to pick up PFD and IRS forms;
  • People who make copies;
  • People who come in to see local artists’ works;
  • Assistance to inmates in weekly library program at Ketchikan Correctional Center;
  • Assistance to residents at the Saxman Senior Center, Pioneer’s Home, Manor, Seaview, New Horizons, and Rendezvous senior facilities.

Per-Capita Use

This is a calculation of the number of Total Uses of the library each year, divided by the Population Served for the same year. For example, in 2016 there were 15.06 uses of the library for every child, woman and man in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. This calculation has been remarkably consistent, ranging from 14.33 to 15.06 annual uses per Ketchikan Gateway Borough resident.

A Community Good

The numbers do not tell the whole story. A library is a community good, just as the school system, fire and police departments are community goods. A school system educates all children and creates a vibrant and thriving local economy, enhancing every resident’s life whether or not they have children. Similarly, a library supports residents of all ages to learn new skills, apply for jobs, become literate, explore new technological and virtual worlds, and broaden their knowledge of other people and cultures. It is a resource that enhances the overall economic and civic life of every member of the community, by improving the lives of individuals within it.

KPL Other Uses, 2013-2016

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Settling in …

I have been very remiss!  A lot has happened since I last posted about moving to Ketchikan. I started work on January 9, and since then have been learning just how fortunate I am to have a job working with great people, in a beautiful building and with such community involvement and support. I have a lot to learn–every library has its own procedures and policies, and those in Ketchikan are all to make things as seamless as possible for our users. I’m catching on, if a bit slowly …

Deer Mountain from the library

Deer Mountain from the library

It is easy to be distracted by the beauty of the building and surroundings. The windows look out over Deer Mountain, now snow-topped, and striking whether the sun is shining or fog is moving in. The view from my office is a little more prosaic–I see KRBD, Ketchikan’s community radio station. They are excellent neighbors–the library has a regular morning spot to publicize programs and services, and people here listen to KRBD.  And from my office door, I see the library’s beautiful fireplace–a popular place for people to read, or just sit and think.

Speaking of fireplaces, last week I visited the Ketchikan campus of University of Alaska Southeast.  The library is on the second floor of the Ziegler Building, with beautiful views of the city and water.  Campus Director Priscilla Schulte, Librarian Kathleen Wiechelman and I sat near a virtual fireplace that their IT department created. It is so realistic you can almost feel the warmth!  The creativity and dedication that Kathleen, Shellie Tabb, and everyone at UAS-Ketchikan demonstrate to student learning and success is inspiring!

And on Friday we said goodbye to Outreach Librarian George Pasley, who is moving to Tennessee for a new pastorate after over a decade in Ketchikan. Last Thursday we had a going away party for George at the library, and the staff presented him with a handmade book of poetry. (Among other things, George is an accomplished poet.)  On Friday I accompanied him for the library program at the Ketchikan Correctional Center, where the inmates made a celebratory cake and everyone wished George well. George has been feted for the past month and will be deeply missed here. I feel fortunate to have met him, however briefly our paths crossed!  All the best, George, as you begin the next chapter of your life.

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And now for something …

… completely different.

I finally did it—I purchased an DNA test and sent it in.  I just received the results and there were no surprises—at least no surprises in the past few generations.

According to the DNA analysis, our ancestry (that is, of my siblings and me) is 46% Western European (Germany, France, other countries in the region).  This is right in line with our family tree—many of our ancestors came from Germany.

Another 30% is Irish. Our maternal grandfather was from Bruckless, a town in Donegal, Ireland, and there are Irish ancestors on our father’s side as well.

And 18% is from Great Britain.  Our mother’s great-grandfather was Archibald Mirrielees, from Scotland.

So that accounts for 94% of our ancestry.  The 6% is a little more mysterious:

2% – Caucasus (West Asia)

< 1% – North Africa

< 1% – South Asia (India and surrounding region)

< 1% – Finland/Northwest Russia

< 1% – Scandinavia

Archibald Mirrielees’ wife, our maternal 2nd great grandmother, was born with the surname Eng, We always assumed this was a German name, and so it may be. On the other hand, it may be something more exotic.

More investigation may be in order …


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Ketchikan – Week 1


The view from The Inn at Creek Street

Tomorrow morning it will have been one week since I drove off the ferry. Because it was New Year’s Day, not many places were open.  I called the Inn at Creek Street, where I reserved a room for two nights (later extended to three), and Jose asked me to meet him at New York Cafe.  The Cafe was closed, but Rafi and Elizabeth very graciously gave me a cup of coffee and later a serving of good-luck soup called hoppin’ john, made from black-eyed peas, pork and spinach (and other things, I’m sure!).  It was a lovely welcome to Ketchikan!  Jose showed me to my room, which looked out over the harbor and Gravina Island beyond.  I stopped by Tatsuda’s IGA for provisions for the next few days, and relaxed.

Monday was observed as a holiday by most businesses in Ketchikan, but Marna from Coastal Realty Group met me and we visited the apartment.  We stood on the balcony and chatted for some time while enjoying the beautiful view.  On Tuesday the city was a much livelier place.  I arranged with the local utility company for electric, internet, phone and TV for the new place, visited Parnassus Bookstore and talked with owner Charlotte–who used to work at the library–and had a nice dinner at the Good Fortune Restaurant on Creek Street.  My fortune read, “Now is a good time to explore.” Can’t argue with that!

Apartment view before the snow ...

Apartment view before the snow …

On Wednesday I moved into my new place.  It is a beautiful apartment south of town with views of the Tongass Narrows, Pennock Island, Gravina Island, and (on a clear day) Prince of Wales beyond. The inside of the place is still a little cavernous–my furnishings are not due to come in for a few weeks–but I inflated my mattress, purchased a folding chair and small table from Walmart (I’ve been frequenting it a lot this past week), and unpacked my car with the essentials.

Thursday started well with a meeting of the First City Rotary Club at the Cape Fox Lodge. The members couldn’t have been more welcoming–I miss my friends at the Middletown Rotary Club but I was very heartened to receive such a warm welcome at First City. Michelle, a member who is also District Governor, talked with me about becoming a member and I’m pursuing it.  At 9am I attended my first library staff meeting, and I am excited about working with such a great group of people who are so well thought of in the community. After the meeting I went to the DMV and got my car registered as well as taking the test to get my Alaska driver’s license. (I passed!) After lunch I attended a planning meeting for the Alaska Library Association Conference, which takes place in Ketchikan at the end of February. My last stop on Thursday was to have been the City Council meeting, but embarrassingly, I couldn’t figure out how to get to the Council Chambers. (It may have been in part due to tiredness on my part.)  By the next meeting I will have figured it out!

... and after.

… and after.

Friday I got hooked up to internet and TV–the KPU person who did it was very efficient and helpful.  I was going to go out later that day, but it had snowed all morning, and I noticed that cars going up the hill in front of the building were having a lot of trouble.  I decided to stay at home and relax instead.

Today I put my new Alaska license plates on the car (yea!), got groceries for the week, and took care of some logistical stuff.  I start work on Monday!

Southern Alaska--Ketchikan is at the southern end of the Panhandle.

Southern Alaska–Ketchikan is at the southern end of the Panhandle.

Detail of southern end of Revillagigedo Island.

Detail of southern end of Revillagigedo Island.

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To Ketchikan …

Friday was a day of waiting.

The hotel I stayed at in Bellingham was in a commercial area, and there was a Fred Meyer next to it.  Fred Meyer is one of those all-in-one stores that has groceries, clothing, furniture and everything in between. I went to get Sea Bands, recommended for seasickness, and to pick up a few toiletries—I left a small bag behind at some point during my trip. I quickly found what I needed, and then checked out the clothing section. It is funny how clothing styles differ from one part of the country to another! Lots of plaid shirts (men’s and women’s), big fleecy outerwear, and leggings.

J. J. Donovan statue in Bellingham

J. J. Donovan statue in Bellingham

Then I went into the Historic Fairhaven section of Bellingham, where the ferry terminal is located.  I checked in at the terminal, and then headed straight for the bookstore, Village Books, which has a large selection of new and used books.  After a leisurely browse, I picked up a few books on Alaska and one on the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.  Then I went to Fat Pie for a salad and a slice of pizza.

When I got back to the terminal I found that due to weather, the ship was not leaving port until 8pm and vehicles would not start boarding until 5pm. They suggested I check the car in and drive to my assigned lane, then leave it there.  The historic district is in easy walking distance from the ferry, so I did as they suggested and walked around town for a few hours.  Then I returned to the terminal and read for a few more hours, and then got into my car.  I read for a little while, but gave that up to watch the activities at the dock.

The Kennicott

The Kennicott

Vehicle boarding did start a little before 5pm, and our lane was one of the last ones to board, since Ketchikan is the first stop. It was about 6:30pm when I drove on to the ferry and was expertly directed to the appropriate space.  My room was surprisingly spacious and very comfortable.

I put on my Sea-Bands to fend off seasickness (thank you for suggesting them, Carolyn!), feeling a little self-conscious about it. Then I had dinner at the café and went to bed early, about 8:30pm. I slept pretty well, all things considered.  I was glad I bought the books in Bellingham—there was no TV or Internet access and the view outside was mostly (but not entirely) fog and rain.  The staff could not have been nicer or more helpful.

This morning at 9am we arrived in Ketchikan, and very shortly afterwards I drove off the ferry.  I’m finally here!

January 1, 2017

January 1, 2017

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