A Librarian in the Land of Totem Poles

tlingit-totem-pole.jpgAs a librarian I always enjoy it when a patron asks a question about something that relates to my own personal interests. Recently I helped a patron with a question about totem poles. In 2004 I accepted a an interim library job at a small college in Sitka, located on the coast of Alaska, a decision that turned out to be a tremendous adventure. One unique Alaskan adventure I was able to experience was the placement of a new totem pole. Carved in Sitka National Park, the entire town was invited to the totem pole raising ceremony, where, after several ceremonial rites including a formal naming ceremony, adults manned the ropes on the sidelines which helped to guide the pole as children from the town tugged on the two long ropes which pulled it up and into place.

It is said that the most important person or object on a totem pole is the one that is at the base. This is an important distinction between Western and Native culture (since we usually think that “low man on the totem pole” designates a low status). There is a pole in a main square in downtown Sitka which illustrates this cultural difference. At the time this pole was constructed, the govenor insisted that he be placed at the top. Since the object of ridicule is always at the top the carvers were happy to grant the governor his wish!

The University of Alaska at Anchorage has an excellent website including an authoritative article on totem poles as well as a wealth of information about Alaskan history and culture. A trip to Alaska is always unforgettable; check the library for travel guides (917.98) and information on it’s colorful history (979.8) as well as the dvd aisle for a taste of the state’s spectacular beauty. And for more pictures of totem poles, look for The Most Striking of Objects: Totem Poles of Sitka National Park in our Government documents collection.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s LabyrinthVisually stunning, chillingly frightening yet finishing with a ray of hope, the memory of this Spanish foreign language film will linger with you long after you’ve seen it.

Set after the bloody Spanish Civil War in 1944, Spain is being decimated by Fascists who brutally crush the Resistance. A particularly cruel and ruthless General brings his heavily pregnant wife and step-daughter Ofelia to the countryside to await the birth of his son. Left on her own, Ofelia explores the area surrounding the old farmhouse and explores a walled garden where a labyrinth leads her to Pan. This mysterious figure promises her that if she completes three difficult tasks she will save her mother and her problems will end. Suddenly Ofelia is caught in a battle between good and evil and the line between reality and fantasy blurs.

Beautiful, horrific, brutal, sometimes terrifying, this is a fairytale for adults about the power of the imagination and hope for the hero in each of us.

The library has many foreign language films available for check-out as well as many “independent” films that may not have shown locally. Be sure to browse our collection for amazing films from around the world.

Post-Oscar Fun

PopcornSo, how did you do with your Oscar pool? A couple surprise winners – Tilda Swinton for Best Supporting Actress and Marion Cotillard for Best Actress among them – probably messed up more than one score sheet. A complete list of winners can be found on the official Oscar site. If you want to catch one of the movies highlighted last night (or one of hundreds of others), be sure to check the library’s collection; we’ll be purchasing or have purchased all of the winners (Atonement, Juno and There Will be Blood aren’t on DVD yet but we’ll order them as soon as release dates are announced) Place holds on your favorites and we’ll call you when they’re available.

Of course, half of the fun of Oscar night is watching the stars and seeing the beautiful gowns. Get a recap of the all the glamour (and missteps!) at Entertainment Weekly’s online site and on E! Television’s site. What do you think – who had the best dress and who needs to hire a stylist?

Into Great Silence

Into Great SilenceInto Great Silence is a compelling film that chronicles the lives of the ascetic monks of the Grande Chartreuse in the picturesque French Alps. This is a unique movie in that there is no voice over and few subtitles. The tolling of the immense church bells calling the monks to prayer provides us with a rare glimpse of the rhythm of daily life for the men who live outside of the hustle and bustle of our modern time. This stark yet beautiful documentary introduces viewers to the symbols, rituals, and traditions that the Carthusian monks have followed since the founding of this hermit order in the eleventh century.