Charleston, SC -- Main Branch of the Public Library -- August 20, 2007

I had the pleasure of speaking with Cynthia Bledsoe, the Main Library manager. She's excited about the library receiving an NEA Grant to do the “Big Read”—one book, one discussion, between September 9th and Ocbober 14th. The book is Their Eyes were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. They have all sorts of things lined up—speakers, jazz programs, high school kids are making a quilt, and it’s not all going to be in libraries. Events will also be housed in town halls and community centers to involve everyone, not just library users.

They had a great orientation in Minneapolis to learn about The Big Read.

Local sponsors have helped give more books to high school classes that don’t have easy access to the books. Also involved is the Florence Chrittendon home, that helps unwed moms, and a juvenile jail.

The library is a center for learning. They teach twenty-four public classes every month in their computer lab on the internet, Word, Excel, and Html, for both the public and staff.

Something that makes their library unique is their hollocost collection, the extensiveness of it made possible by a grant by Jerry and Anita Zuker. Charleston has a large community of holocost survivors. Here is a beautiful quilt that a group of Junior High students made to honor the survivors.

Theirs was the first community in the country to get copies of the SOA Foundation tapes of survivors. Before, people had to go all the way to Califorinia to view them. The tapes include testimonies of survivors' lives at the camps and how they came to the United States.

Something else that makes their library unique is this facility for distance learning, with screens and phones to see classes in Columbia and Clemson. Doing distance learning at home, she said, is difficult. Here, you have a community, in your own communit, to do it with.

What she’s been reading lately—the latest Harry Potter and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.

As for local authors, she recommends Sue Monk Kidd, from nearby Mount Pleasant and Natalie Dupree, a chef and cookbook writer who makes Charleston her home. Also Josephine Humphreys and Ann Rivers Siddons. And, as there are several colleges in the area, academic writers as well are prolific.

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