Monthly Archives: September 2015

Gethsemani Magnificat

Fondation de Gethsemani coverIn his address to Congress on September 24, Pope Francis gave special recognition to four individuals who “shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people.”  One was the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton, “a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church.”

Born in France, Merton (1915-1968) converted to Catholicism as a youth.  In 1941, he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastic community founded in 1848 near Bardstown, Kentucky, and spent the next 27 years of his life in contemplation (which included a controversial exploration of Asian religion), social activism, and writing.

Crucifix presented to Frank Chelf, 1954

Crucifix presented to Frank Chelf, 1954

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections hold materials relating to the Abbey of Gethsemani, such as a small olive wood crucifix presented to Congressman Frank Chelf in 1954.  Also included are materials collected by WKU faculty member Marjorie Clagett.  As part of her lifelong interest in the French in Kentucky, she researched their Catholic institutions, and in 1949 wrote a paper on the centennial of the Abbey.  She also collected articles, brochures, and a photo essay commemorating the anniversary.

The Abbey’s centennial brought renewed attention to Thomas Merton, who published his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, that same year.  In a review of the book, Life magazine found Merton still searching for the peace he desired.  Despite the contemplative atmosphere of the monastery, he said, with farming, maintenance and other chores, there was still “too much movement, too much to do.”  Nevertheless, he concluded, “Anybody who runs away from a place like this is crazy.”

Crowds gather for the Gethsemani centennial, 1948

Crowds gather for the Gethsemani centennial, 1948

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more on religious orders, including our extensive collections of Kentucky church records, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week

Event Flyer

WKU Libraries celebrates Banned Books Week between September 27 – October 3 to support the efforts of librarians in promoting intellectual freedom and combating censorship. To mark this week there are Banned Books Week displays on the 5th floor of Cravens library and at the Educational Resources Center (ERC) in Gary Ransdell Hall. All books in the displays are available to be checked out!

Cravens Library 5th Floor Display

Cravens Library 5th Floor Display


5th Floor Cravens Display


Reasons for Book Challenges


ERC Display

IMG_20150930_121807 (1)

ERC Display

Students at the ERC Banned Books Week Display

Students at the ERC Banned Books Week Display

The American Library Association maintains a list of the titles and reasons for frequently challenged books.

Below is an excerpt of an article published this week in American Libraries about Banned Books Week and the continued importance of fighting censorship for the freedom to read.

“Banned Books Week Roundup 2015: Recently banned and challenged books in US libraries and elsewhere

George M. Eberhart | September 29, 2015

As Banned Books Weekis celebrated September 27–October 3, it’s helpful to remember that there is still a need for vigilance to ensure the freedom to read. In 2015, books are still challenged (when an individual or group requests the removal or restriction of materials from a library or curriculum) and banned (when materials are removed outright from circulation), not only in the United States but in other countries as well.

Kristin Pekoll, assistant director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, says that librarians and teachers often feel frustrated by these efforts to restrict the scope of reading. “More and more, they are reaching out to our office for support because they’re feeling silenced by their administrations,” she says. “While the fear of losing their jobs is real, more often librarians tell me about professional retaliation in the form of book budget cuts or bad evaluations. The theory is that if their lives are made miserable enough, they’ll quit, and the books will be censored because no one is there to defend them.”

Here is a roundup of recent instances of book challenges in US school libraries, as well as one public and one academic library:

  • In February, parent Catrenna Lopez initiated a challenge to Gilbert Hernandez’s graphic novelPalomar after her son checked the book out from the Rio Rancho (N.Mex.) High School library, saying the content included “sexual graphics, prostitution, child pornography, child abuse, explicit sexual scenes, nudity.” A review committee met on March 16 and decided by a 5–3 vote that Palomarshould not be removed, but students under 18 would need a parent’s permission before it can be checked out. However, school librarian Brenda McCandless had independently made the decision to remove the book from the system in violation of school policy. (KOAT-TV, Albuquerque, July 7; KUNM-FM, Albuquerque, July 14.)
  • In mid-September, Hamilton Boone, the parent of a teen at Satellite High School in Satellite Beach, Florida, wanted Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved pulled from the Advanced Placement summer reading list because of what he called its “porn content.” However, after he admitted that he had not actually read the entire book, the school’s challenge committee unanimously voted to keep it on the reading list. (Melbourne Florida Today, Sept. 11.)
  • Two books, The Librarian of Basra and Nasreen’s Secret School, both by Jeanette Winter, werechallenged in the Duval County (Fla.) School District in July on the grounds that they “promote the Koran and praying to Muhammad,” according to Dianne Haines Roberts, grandparent of a student. She wanted the books removed from the 3rd grade curriculum. However, as the National Coalition Against Censorship pointed out in a July 30 letter to School Superintendent Nikolai P. Vitti, “Arguments that the books promote Islam are misguided: Learning about life in an Islamic culture is no more promoting Islam than learning about a Christian character is promoting Christianity.” The school decided to allow parents to opt their children out of reading the books. (WJCT-TV, Jacksonville, Fla., July 13.)
  • Allen Burch, principal of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida, pulled Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from the summer reading program in August after he received a few dozen complaints from parents about the book’s “profanity and atheism.” According to school policy, challenged books must go through a school review process, but Burch claimed this did not apply to summer reading lists. The Leon County School Board stood by Burch’s decision, but high school student Jaclyn Weinell wrote an op-ed piece for the Tallahassee newspaper that said the school ban was an attack on free thought and praised the book: “Student readers are encouraged to think—about autism, about family, about atheism, and about science—and see the world through the eyes of a 15-year-old narrator with a rather unique viewpoint.” (Tallahassee [Fla.] Democrat, Aug. 13, 24.)
  • In early September, Jackie Sims, the mother of a 15-year-old boy at Knox County (Tenn.) Schools’L&N STEM Academy, had objected to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks when he brought it home as part of his summer reading, calling it “pornographic.” The school fully supported keeping the book, which details the true story of an African-American woman who in 1951 had a sample of her cells taken for research without her knowledge or consent, but Sims seemed determined to challenge the book at the district level. Skloot herself weighed in, saying that Sims had “confused gynecology with pornography” and that her objection was based on a passage that describes Henrietta Lacks’s infidelity and another that discusses her intimate discovery that she had a lump on her cervix. (WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tenn., Sept. 9.)
  • Lee Runyon, principal of West Ashley High School in Charleston, South Carolina, pulled Courtney Summers’s Some Girls Are from a freshmen Honors English summer reading list in late July after aparent complained that the novel’s explicit content describing underage alcohol and drug use, sexual assault, and body image were age-inappropriate. Runyon replaced the book with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak on the reading list, but did so without giving the school board a chance to review the challenge. Former YA librarian Kelly Jensen responded by collecting 830 donated copies of Some Girls Are and giving them away to teens in the area, with the help of the Charleston County Public Library. (Charleston Post and Courier, July 28; Book Riot, Sept. 4.)
  • In May, A. C. Reynolds High School in Asheville, North Carolina, temporarily suspended the use of Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling The Kite Runner in an Honors English class following a complaint from former school board member and parent Lisa Baldwin, who objected to “homosexuality and sexually explicit scenes.” The book was pulled from classrooms, pending review by two committees that finally recommended keeping it. In September, the Buncombe County School Board added a policy allowing teachers to continue using materials that have been challenged until a final decision is made. (Asheville Citizen-Times, May 4, Sept. 3.)
  • After a local Tea Party chapter circulated petitions to have two LGBT-themed books removed from the children’s section of the Hood County Library in Granbury, Texas, religious conservatives spoke at a July 14 meeting of the county commissioners and said their objections to This Day in June and My Princess Boy were based on their Christian faith. In the end, the commissioners agreed with the library board and recommended the books stay in the children’s collection. (The Raw Story, July 15.)
  • Tara Shultz, a 20-year-old student at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California, and her parents in June attempted to have the school put a disclaimer on the syllabus of Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett’s English 250 fiction course because four of the graphic novels that he uses as course materials contain “lesbian oral sex, suicide, homosexuality, pedophilia . . . murder, torture.” The novels werePersepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Y: The Last Man Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman and various artists. Initially, College President Cheryl Marshall agreed to the disclaimer, but later backpedaled and decided to leave the decision up to individual instructors. (Redlands [Calif.] Daily Facts, June 15;Riverside [Calif.] Press-Enterprise, July 2.)

 Two notable instances of book-banning occurred this year in Italy and New Zealand:

  • One of the first official acts of the new mayor of Venice, Italy, Luigi Brugnaro, who took office June 15, was to pull nearly 50 children’s books on LGBT topics from libraries in the city’s preschools. Protests immediately erupted from residents, publishers, librarians, and 250 authors, who wrote to the mayor asking to have their own books removed in solidarity with the banned authors. Brugnaro soon reversed course and whittled the titles down to twoOphélie Texier’s Jean a deux mamans(Jean Has Two Mothers) and Francesca Pardi’s Piccolo uovo (Little Egg), the latter a story about an unhatched egg that encounters multiple types of happy families, including a pair of gay penguins, lesbian rabbits bringing up a family, a single-parent hippo, a mixed-race dog couple, and kangaroos that adopted polar bear cubs. Pardi even wrote to Pope Francis in July about the ban, sending him copies of her books, which, she emphasized, promote the Christian value of tolerance. Then on August 18 English musician Elton John, who owns a house in Venice, criticized the mayor in an Instagram post for politicizing children’s books: “Beautiful Venice is indeed sinking, but not as fast as the boorishly bigoted Brugnaro.” The mayor responded via Twitter, scolding him to stick to the facts and explaining that he was not homophobic, but he wanted to give parents more control over their children’s reading. A scholastic commission has been appointed to examine the books. (New York Times, 18; The Guardian [UK], July 16.)
  • A conservative lobbying group, Family First, on September 3 managed to get New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board of Review to place an interim ban on Ted Dawe’s award-winning YA novel Into the River, making it the first book banned in the country in 22 years. The group objected to the book’s explicit language, sexual content, and portrayal of drug use. Any individual, bookstore, library, or school distributing or exhibiting the book is now subject to a stiff fine until the full board makes a ruling. Joanna Mathew, executive director of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand,said she had “read the book, and while there is content in there that is confronting, it doesn’t warrant being banned.” (Auckland New Zealand Herald, 7; The Guardian [UK], Sept. 7.)

The purpose of Banned Books Week is to draw national attention to these efforts to remove or restrict access to books or other materials, even those that some consider unorthodox or dangerous. OIF’s Pekoll summed it up:The more we talk about these cases and bring the harms of censorship to light, the more courage and endurance librarians will have when they need it the most.”

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WKU Libraries partners to highlight International Literacy Day


WKU Libraries, the PHO_9220 - CopyWestern Kentucky Reading Council, and the College of Educational and Behavioral Sciences partnered to celebrate International Literacy Day on Thursday, September 17 from 3-4:30pm. WKU students, faculty, and staff gave short stories, legends, myths, and true events of various international perspectives, including Library Professor HDSC_0580 - Copyaiwang Yuan and ERC Coordinator and library faculty member Roxanne Spencer. Dr. Margaret Gichuru ended the afternoon talking to a large group of students about South Africa and the literacy efforts being made there.

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Faraway Flix International Film Series opened with South African Film “Tsotsi”

DSC_15The Faraway Flix International Film Series kicked off its year with the South African film “Tsotsi” at the Faculty House on Friday, September 18. Forty faculty, staff, and students attended the event, with a spread of specialized food highlighting the featured country of the month. Amy Hoffman, International Admissions Officer, and Dr. Saundra Ardrey, Politcial Science, talked about South Africa and led discussion after the film was over. The event was made possible with support from the International Student Office, Student Activities, Office of International Programs, WellU, and WKU Libraries.

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Birthday Greetings

As a federal judge blows out the candles on the claim that the iconic song “Happy Birthday to You” is subject to copyright, let’s look back at a few charming early 20th-century birthday postcards sent to members of the Howell family of Warren County, Kentucky.

1912 birthday postcard

1910 birthday postcard

1910-era birthday postcard

And this 1930s card to Senora Tolle of Glasgow, Kentucky.

Birthday card to Senora Tolle

And this World War II V-mail birthday card, sent to Jo Reba Pope of Nashville by her serviceman husband.

V-mail birthday greetings, 1944

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more greeting cards of all kinds in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.  And if today happens to be your “natal day,” well, “Happy Birthday to You”!!

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WKU Libraries announces winner of 9th Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Book Award

Western Kentucky University Libraries has selected Wildflower, written by Alecia Whitaker, as the winner of the ninth Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Book Award. The national award was created to honor the memory of former WKU librarian Evelyn Thurman, who made significant contributions to children’s librarianship and literacy during her 25 years of service to the university and community. Books eligible for the award must be written or illustrated by a Kentucky author or illustrator or have a significant Kentucky-related connection.

wildflower by whitaker

The book is about Sixteen-year-old Bird Barrett being discovered by a country music label while playing in her family’s bluegrass band. As her star rises, she must learn to stay true to her roots while navigating a brand new world of glamour and gold records in Nashville, Tennessee.

Wildflower is a beautifully written book about following your dreams and staying true to yourself even when the road looks bumpy,” said Renee Hale, selection committee member. “The committee feels this is an important message to convey to our area students.”

Alecia Whitaker grew up on a small farm in Kentucky, worlds away from where she currently resides in fast-paced New York City. With a BFA in theatre and a BA in advertising from the University of Kentucky, Whitaker has always been a writer. She has published numerous essays, the popular one-act play Becoming Woman with a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and her first novel The Queen of Kentucky prior to writing Wildflower.

The author will be honored at an awards luncheon in November where she will receive a monetary award from Ms. Thurman’s endowment and a commerative plaque. While in the area, Whitaker will visit local schools as part of the Southern Kentucky Book Fest’s “Fall into Books” program. For more information about the Evelyn Thurman award, visit

This program is made possible by the Evelyn Thurman Children’s Author Fund, the Southern Kentucky Book Fest partnership, and WKU Libraries.

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Tyler Fleming, “King Kong: The First South African Musical”

South-Africa (2)

Tyler Fleming, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Louisville, spoke about “King Kong: The First South African Musical” in our Far Away Places series and as part of the Year of South African celebration on Thursday, September 24 at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Bowling Green, KY.

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Passage to India

Benjamin Covington Grider; Edwin Barter's letter

Benjamin Covington Grider; Edwin Barter’s letter

The acquaintance of Edwin Barter and Colonel Benjamin Covington Grider of Bowling Green dated back to the first year of the Civil War, during Grider’s command of the Union’s 9th Kentucky Infantry.  When Grider next heard from him, Barter had left his home in England to pursue the cotton and coffee trade in India.

In an August, 1865 letter from Madras Province, Barter observed that America had finally turned a page.  “The war for Southern rights is well nigh over, and ‘subjugation’ ‘Coercion’ and ‘precipitation’ are words buried,” he declared.  Now it was time to “count the cost” of “3/4 century’s folly and vice.”  Barter had heard that a local judge was out to get Robert E. Lee, but couldn’t imagine Americans being vindictive toward the Confederate general.

Once in India, however, Barter struck a more mercenary tone toward its brown-skinned inhabitants.  Regarding them with an air of superiority common to many in the West, he likened them to primitives who “draw water from the well and cook their simple food after the same style as their ancestors who lived before Britain was known to the Romans.”  He scorned the natives at length as mendacious, lacking in “go-a-headativeness,” and seemingly immune to attempts to introduce them to the benefits of Christianity and European civilization.  India, he remarked, has “180 million of inhabitants who are governed by 3 or 4 hundred thousand Britains [sic] who exile themselves for a certain number of years, never, or very seldom indeed, permanently settling in the Country, but ever looking forward to the day when they will have pocketed enough to turn their faces towards home.”  Barter described his own prospects as good, but agreed that he was not “at home.”  “How long residence?” he asked tersely–wondering, perhaps, about the political costs awaiting Britain in three-quarters of a century.

Edwin Barter’s letter to Benjamin Grider is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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SOKY Book Fest continues partnership with Warren County 212° Academy

sara212academy212° Academy students from Warren County will once again have the opportunity for a chance to win a spot on the author roster at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in April 2016. For the fourth year in a row, students at the 212° Academy —a program for gifted and talented children in the Warren County schools—will be crafting ideas, writing stories, sourcing illustrations, and ultimately publishing books to be entered into a competition to become one of two authors who can participate in the professional book festival with public attendance in the thousands.

“We are so happy to offer this opportunity to eager readers and writers from the schools,” said Sara Volpi, Literary Outreach Coordinator for WKU Libraries and SOKY Book Fest organizer. “Learning to create and publish your own book is pretty special, but the winners of the contest will also get the chance to represent, sign, and sell their books at both Children’s Day and the main SOKY Book Fest day along with more than 130 bestselling authors from around the United States and other parts of the world, making this opportunity all the more exciting.”

According to Jennifer Sheffield, teacher for the 212° Academy, the goal of this project for students is to not only research and explore a variety of STEAM-related interests, but to experience the process of crafting a book for publication.

sara212academygroup“Each book will be published through, an online book self-publishing website, printed in full-color and assigned an official library ISBN number,” Sheffield said. The winning students will receive certificates of recognition and are invited to sign copies of their books at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest on April 22-23.

The contest is a combined effort between the Southern Kentucky Book Fest partners (Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Warren County Public Library, and WKU Libraries) and the teachers at the Academy.

For more information, visit or contact Sara Volpi at (270) 745-4502.

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Jane Olmsted, “Seeking the Other Side”

Kentucky Live-Seeking the Other Side (8)

Jane Olmsted kicked off this season of WKU Libraries’ Kentucky Live! with a presentation of her book of poems Seeking the Other Side. The event took place in the Western Room of the Kentucky Building on WKU Campus on the evening of September 17, 2015. It concluded with Jane Olmsted signing her books.

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