Be Kind. Be Positive. Make a Difference.

Over the past week I have been thinking about how every weekday at around 2:20pm EST between 2010-2013 that the Portland Public Library would fill up with anywhere between 30-70 teens. I recall the dramatic change in the library, and no I’m not talking about how the sound level would increase. What I’m talking about is the energy, the passion, and the kindness that came into the library every day with these teens. These teens needed the library to connect, to share, to socialize, and to learn. The library gave them a safe and welcoming space to do all of that, and that space continues to thrive and offer the same wonderful and excellent services to many new teens today. It is a beautiful thing.

Around 75% of the teen population that came into the library back in those days were not born in the USA. They came from countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Sudan to name a few. They came from countries where their lives were torn apart, their families were displaced, and in the words of a former co-worker “they came from places where one of the first things they learned to say was “please don’t kill my family.”” The people that came to us needed the library but more importantly they needed the United States of America, a place where they had the opportunity to live their lives and pursue their dreams.

I have been thinking about about the teens I worked with at the Portland Public Library today all this weekend and today as I take in all of the news about the travel bans enacted by our government here in the USA. I think about those teens and their families and hope they are safe and well. I worry about them a lot these days. I also think about the future teens and their families from other countries that might come to the USA someday seeking a place to live their lives and pursue their dreams. I want to help them, but how?

It is a time of great unease and there is a lot going on is very troubling. Sometimes it gets to a point where it wears me down, but then I realize that I can’t let it defeat me. I have to stay strong….we have to stay strong. The way we can do that is to continue to promote kindness and positivity in all of our actions.  Kindness and positivity go a long way. This is one way we can help those that we care about.

Andromeda Yelton’s latest post (quoting the ALA Code of Ethics) reminds me of what I need to do every day as a librarian….I need to “provide the highest level of service to all library users.” I need to be there for everyone in my community. And I need to continue to be there for those that I worked with in the past and those that I will work with in the future. This is another way that we can help those that we care about.

We each have our own way of making a positive and kind impact on our own world. I urge everyone reading this to think about what they can do to make someone else’s life better these days. You can have an impact!

(title from Andromeda Yelton’s post, read it here: We provide the highest level of service to all library users. Thank you Andromeda for this post)

Big Stars

Let me tell you the story of the last few days.

CHAPTER ONE starts with a news story about libraries lending out various kinds of items other than books.  One of the items mentioned in the news feature was part of a program that two of my dear friends organized and initiated.  I was over the moon to not only see libraries in the news but to see them in the news for sharing unique things with their community.  However, my mood soured when I saw that one of the items that my dear friends helped get in libraries being proudly displayed by someone with no connection to the original project.  Even worse was that there was no mention of who was the catalyst for the amazing project.

CHAPTER TWO finds me at home with my family.  While lying down with my son Aero while he napped, I decided at the urging of my big sister Heather McCormack to finally watch Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.  I had a previous flirtation with Big Star back in 2012 where I got an idea of their backstory but it really didn’t hit me how important this band was until I saw the film.  They had created such a beautiful sound that I have long been in love with but I didn’t realize it until now.  Big Star never got the proper credit they deserved while they were still around.  Now, three out of the four original memebers of the band have passed into another plane of existence.  Will they ever know just how important that the sounds they made are?  I don’t know.  That’s for another post.  I noticed a similarity between the article about libraries lending out various kinds of items other than books and the story of Big Star: two stories about people and ideas ahead of their time, not getting proper credit in the moment.

CHAPTER THREE is where we cue the music, specifically I Am The Cosmos by Chris Bell (formerly of Big Star).

See, I had always thought “ALEX CHILTON” when I thought of Big Star.  He was the one behind the Big Star album Third/Sister Lovers that I’ve heard so much about.  I was very wrong.  The moment I first heard the opening lines of I Am The Cosmos I had a moment just like the moment I had when I made the connection between the article about libraries lending out various kinds of items other than books and the story of Big Star: THREE stories about people and ideas ahead of their time, not getting proper credit in the moment.  Chris Bell was Big Star.

It was one of my great friends, one of the friends mentioned above in the article about libraries lending out various kinds of items other than books, that first told me about Chris Bell.  I have no idea of the date, but I know it was a “hey, you think Third/Sister Lovers is good? Check this out.”  He then proceeded to play me something from Chris Bell’s solo album.  I was too “but, but, but BIG STAR THIRD/SISTER LOVERS ALEX CHILTON” to even notice Chris Bell at the moment.  Another moment that was happening before it needed to happen.

CHAPTER FOUR happened this morning while in the shower. I noticed all of these similarities between the events of the last few days and the theme of folks not getting their proper credit in their own time all the while I Am The Cosmos played on my iPhone on repeat.

Every night I tell myself,
“I am the cosmos,
I am the wind”
But that don’t get you back again

I knew that I had to write this post as soon as possible.  I had to put these thoughts out into the world.  I knew it would be a risk to post it on this blog since it was out there and not dealing with libraries.  So after I helped my wife Haley put our kids to bed, I began to type and I didn’t stop typing until the end of what you read here.  What is it I am trying to do?  I strongly believe that when you put something out into the world with a specific purpose, it will have that desired effect on the world.  It will make the positive change you want it to make.

The change?  That those who bring amazing things into the world get the love and good vibes that they deserve while they are all still with us.  This is very important to me.  This has always been very important to me.  This will continue to be very important to me.

With all of that said, I give love and thanks to Kirsten Cappy and Michael Whittaker, two dear friends who live on Earth right  now and are responsible for putting some amazing things out into the world and bringing a lot of joy to their community.

One More Time: Photos from the Ukulele Lending Library

Kirsten Cappy and Michael Whittaker.  Two of my favorite people in the world.
Kirsten Cappy and Michael Whittaker. Two of my favorite people in the world.

I wanted to share this set of photos I just stumbled across from Kirsten Cappy of The Curious City.  I think they best sum up how awesome and fun the Ukulele Lending Library Project is for the Portland, ME community.  I just love these photos.

Click here to check out the full set


Today is my last day at the Portland Public Library.

May 15 2010 at the Grand Reopening of the Portland Public Library
May 15 2010 at the Grand Reopening of the Portland Public Library

Three years ago we came to Maine as a trio and now we leave as a quartet. We’re heading to the South, somewhere just three years we thought we’d never call home, but now we’re proud to be moving to such a forward thinking city full of awesome people doing great things. Here we go.

I have learned a lot here in Maine and will always look back at my time and the people I surrounded myself with very fondly. I had some major ups and major downs, but I wouldn’t change a thing. From these moments and situations, I’ve grown as a person and I feel better equipped to handle life and everything that comes my way.

Thank you Portland, ME, specifically the teens, members of the community, and the folks that I worked with at the Portland Public Library. I have nothing but love and respect for each and every one of you. I know I use the word community a lot on this blog but I don’t think I really understood the true power of community until I lived in this town. The way that I’ve seen this town come together has shown me that no matter what, if we work together towards a common goal, we will get there. My heart goes out to so many people that I’ll forget to mention a few but I’ll try: Tim Spalding and his family, Jan Kendrick, The West End Neighborhood Association, The Rowe Family, The Schuitt Family, Leza Gough, Kirsten Cappy and Mark Mattos, Michael Whittaker and Michelle Zichella, Justin Busque, Abraham Schechter, Michelle Souliere and so many others…you know who you are.

Community, Libraries, Ukeleles, and Love

This is beautiful.  I was merely the dude that said “YES, PLEASE DO THIS AND YOU HAVE MY LOVE AND SUPPORT” to Kirsten Cappy and Michael Whittaker, two Portland, Maine colleagues and chums that I’ve worked with in the past.

Any time your library can get 4 ukuleles donated to circulate in your library you’ve won.  Top that off with a ukulele jamboree right in front of the library jamboree with the community and teens and you have something magical.

All of my love, support, and thanks to Kirsten Cappy and Michael Whittaker.  These people are the future of libraries.

Got Uke?  No?  No worries, your library does.


Portland, Maine library card holders can now check out ukuleles and equally hip young adult books from the Teen Room of the Portland Public Library.


Based on a madcap idea by Portland Public Library teen staff member, Michael Whittaker, local businesses Curious City and Moose County Music and Surf teamed up to create a Ukulele Lending Library.  Four ukuleles were donated by Moose County and named by Curious City after teen books in the Portland Public Library collection.


“This is crazy awesome,” says teen librarian Justin Hoenke, “this is a cool example of the community thinking differently about libraries.”


Patrons can check out a bag containing a ukulele, an instructional DVD, a uke chord book, and the novel or non-fiction book the ukulele was named after.


“Ukuleles came into the culture from the Hawaii just like surfing did.  They became the symbol of the cross between music and beach,” says Dana Trumann owner of Old Orchard Beach’s Moose County Music and Surf, “Ukes have had a hipster resurgence and we thought why not bring the instrument from the beach to the library.  It is just one more migration for the funny little instrument.”


Available are the ukuleles entitled “Reunited” (in tune with the novel by Hilary Weisman Graham), “So Punk Rock” (in tune with the graphic novel by Micol and David Ostow),  “Seraphina” (in tune with the award-winning fantasy novel by Rachel Hartman), and “So You Wanna Be a Superstar?” (an audition guide for teens striving for success on any stage).  Each book has music as a central theme.


“Ukuleles are the entry drug to music and performance,” said Portland Public Library staffer Michael Whittaker, ” this program will allow patrons to experiment free of charge.”


Curious City, a Portland-based company that builds programs that allow readers to discover and engage with the books in unique quirky ways, saw the Ukulele Lending Library as a new way for teens to encounter a book.


“Books have a hard road to being found by readers,” said Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, “I want someone to check out a uke on a lark and discover the graphic novel So Punk Rock (about a group of Jewish prep school boys who unwittingly find fame after a ska cover of “Hava Nagilah” at a Bar Mitzvah) kicking around in the bottom of the uke bag.  That, to me, is what literacy should look like.”


The program was launched on April’s First Friday with a 30-member ukulele flash mob of members of PIUKE, the Peaks Island Ukulele Group and the Falmouth Flukes.  Passersby stopped, gaped, and say along to The Beatles’ “Let it Be.”   Teens and adults picked up and plucked the library ukes on display and declared the program, “amazing,” “so cool,” and “only in Portland.”


Curious City hopes the program will not stay “only in Portland” and plans to share the “Got Uke?”  plans with libraries nationwide
PHOTOS!  Look at how glorious this event was:


Why I dig LibraryThing


I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not big into the social books/cataloging scene, but I do have mad love for the community that it supports.  I also have mad love for LibraryThing.  Yes, founder Tim Spalding is my neighbor (see?).  Let’s put that aside because it really doesn’t mean anything.  Here’s why I dig Tim and the LibraryThing team: they are real, honest, and caring people.  They don’t hide their feelings, they share, and they look out for the community that helped get them where they are today.

I say go Team LibraryThing.  May Goodreads becoming part of Team Amazon mean good things for you, the LibraryThing community, and your families.  Why?  Because good, honest, people (and businesses) should succeed.

Things to read:
LibraryThing: How to succeed in an Amazon/Goodreads world
LibraryThing: How to succeed in an Amazon/Goodreads world (Part II)
Free LibraryThing accounts through Sunday



While I still have almost two months left here at the Portland Public Library, tonight feels like the closing of a chapter.  At 6pm, we will host a viewing of THE WHOLE WORLD WAITING, a film about  15 immigrant teenagers from Portland, Maine.  I’ve seen all of these teens in the library at some point.  Some stop by to say hello every once in awhile while others are in here every day.

I want to take the opportunity to thank not only these teens for sharing their stories but to Sonya Tomlinson, David Meiklejohn, and everyone at the Telling Room for putting this film together.  This project is beautiful and these stories are so great to hear.  Also, thank you for your kindness and support during my time in Portland, ME.

For more information on the film, the filmmakers, and more:

Budget Fabulous Films by David Meiklejohn

Young Immigrants Share Their Stories for the Camera via Portland Press Herald

The Whole World Waiting and The Young Writers and Leaders Kickstarter