Everything Librarian: August 2013

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Midwives in West Virginia

I was helping a patron today at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library who was looking for some information about her Harman and Huffman ancestors in Randolph County and Pendleton County, West Virginia. In digging through our records of marriages, births, and deaths, I found an old photocopy about Aunt Sara Midwife (1853-1916). I have no idea where the piece of paper came from but the story of Aunt Sara is so typical of the strong frontier women of West Virginia. I have transcribed below what I found:

Aunt Sara Midwife

"Aunt Sara Murphy Wilmoth Phillips the second of thirteen children of Elder James and Mary (Polly) Stansbury Murphy. Her paternal grandparents were Jonah and Sarah Pride Stansbury.

She was born December 3, 1853 in their home on Haddix Mountain, Randolph County, near the Tucker County line.

She was married July 15, 1869 first to Abel Wilmoth, and to this union were born four children, Lloyd, Hinnie, Emma, and Evva [sic]. Later she married Albert Phillips, but they had no children. Besides her own four children Aunt Sarah helped to rear three other children who needed a home, Elam Cross, Charley Wamsley, and Gladys Vanscoy. After marriage she lived in a log house, but later they built the fine home that was located in the field near where the J and H market is now located. The home burned within the last year, and the burned remains can still be seen from the highway.

Perhaps the greatest contribution she made to her community was her services as a midwife which according to records began in 1889 when she was 36 years old, and ended in 1916 when she was 63. She died December 26, 1916. In her medical records the first births recorded were those of Cora Wilmoth, January 10, 1889, who later married her youngest brother, Hickman Murphy, and Columbus Rossey, July 19, 1889 who was the son of her oldest sister, Isabella. One of the last recordings in her book was Roscoe Murphy, January 16, 1916, a cousin. She worked very little the year of 1916.

Her son-in-law Austin Curtis, who married her daughter Hinnie said, "Her records were thorough, and promptly recorded at the court house."

In most of the reports we find the name of each child, the date of birth, and the number of the child. She gave the names of the parents, and many times their ages, the maiden name of the mother, and the county where they were born. It is interesting to note how many of the parents came into Randolph County from Barbour County.

In response to calls, in early years by the father's voice, and later years by phone, night or day, she mounted her sorrel mare, Maude, and away she went on a side saddle with her little black bag. In cold weather she wrapped her legs even though she wore long skirts and petticoats. She stayed as long as she was needed at each home until both mother and baby were alright.

She was not only a midwife, but she was a friend to help the mother care for the babies, and she did much work as a Doctor anytime she was called.

Aunt Sarah did her work well because of her God given talent, and experience. She was not required to have a practicing license, as did her niece, Bessie Ferguson, who was also a midwife in later years.

Aunt Sarah perhaps never charged more than five dollars to deliver a baby, yet she was a good manager in her home and accumulated considerable wealth. She found work for all members of her family as they raised, harvested, and sold farm products. The merchants in Montrose would buy, trade, and sell, anything the people in the community had extra.

Even though all the children worked for Aunt Sarah, she sent them to school and they all loved her.

Her records show that she delivered 36 babies in this community. Many of their names you will recognize as you read the following complete list as preserved by her grandson, the late Russell Curtis, and his wife Pauline, who loaned the fragile books and Aunt Sarah's picture to be copied. We hope that you will be able to find some names and dates that will help you in compiling your own family history.

In the front of one of Aunt Sarah's books we found this message:

"When these you see, Oh, think of me."

I am indeed thinking of you today, Aunt Sara Midwife of West Virginia.

Fiction From West Virginia

Which reminds me...Have you read the "The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife" (2012) by Patricia Harman? It is a story that may be a lot like that of Aunt Sarah Midwife.

Patience Murphy is a midwife who travels her community birthing babies and helping out new mothers. Murphy has come to Appalachia to escape a chequered past and to reinvent herself. (And honestly, a lot of people still come to WV to start over or to reinvent themselves.) Midwife Murphy distinguishes herself by serving both the white and black populations of West Virginia.

Probably also true to past times, Midwife Murphy accepts produce or livestock from patients unable to to pay cash.

Patricia Harman proves herself to be a top notch writer by delivering authentic mountain prose without resorting to hokey dialect. As a West Virginian and midwife, Harman's story has the distinct ring of truth and beauty. Each chapter tells the story of a birth and ends with the entry in her journal.

"The Midwife of Hope River" is one of those magical books that is written so seamlessly that it almost reads itself. Rewarding and rich, "The Midwife of Hope River" is a book that will please discerning readers of all ages.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Remembering September 11, and Explaining It to Kids

Earlier this spring a third grader at the next-door Harman School asked if the Pioneer Memorial Public Library had any books about September 11. In searching our online catalog I realized that we did not. I put this subject matter on my mental wish list -- where could I find a book that was suitable for kids about the attacks on America that occurred on September 11, 2001?

First, this is an important topic. For most adults we will never forget where we were when we heard the news about this great tragedy that effected so many. Many of us were effected personally by friends, family, or acquaintances who were at or near the sites. Even watching the events unfold on television was traumatizing for millions around the world. It is important that we be able to talk about this day, and it is important that there are books available to our children so that they might better understand September 11.

I am pleased to say that we recently acquired a book that may be considered a great introduction for kids about the events that took place on that fateful day.

"America Is Under Attack" (2011) by Don Brown is easy to read, but difficult to experience. I forgot how complicated the events were that took place on that day. Four separate airplanes were ultimately hijacked and used as weapons by al-Qaeda terrorists. The book uses attractive and slightly cartoonish illustrations to show the roles played by the firemen, the terrorists, and the thousands of innocent victims whose only mistake was boarding a plane, or showing up for work at the Pentagon in Washington DC, or the Twin Towers in New York City. Thankfully, the faces of the people in the book are abbreviated and let the words of the book shine through to tell this complicated tale that reveals the best and worst that humanity has to offer.

Brown also uses real stories of people who were on the scene in New York City. These individual stories of courage and tragedy help to make this story real and memorable. The bibliography that is a part of this book helps if you want to see source documents or check out other books and articles to read. This book is appropriate for ages 6-10 and grades one through five.

As a parent, I do suggest that you read this book first so that you know what your child is reading and that you are ready to answer questions. Also, you may want to make sure that this book is appropriate for your child. Some more sensitive and impressionable kids may find the events of September 11 disturbing, and honestly, they are quite right to feel this way. While many historical events may be upsetting or difficult for youngsters, knowledge is power. If your son or daughter is asking questions about September 11, "America Is Under Attack" by Don Brown is a great way to start a conversation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How To Sell Books, CDs, and DVDs on Amazon

I started selling books and CDs online ten years ago when I realized that I had too many and that I needed to part with some of my collection to make room for newer items. It has taken me a long time to become good at selling online. I have also made a lot of mistakes along the way. But below, in cheat sheet form, is how to sell stuff on Amazon.

Open an Account

If you have never bought anything on Amazon you need to start an account. If you have bought on Amazon, you already have an account that you can use as your seller account. Go to Amazon.com to get started.
Start Small
Start with a small stack of books, CDs, or DVDs that you would like to sell. Using the ISBN, author, or title, search (on Amazon) for the item that you would like to sell on Amazon. Once you find the record for it, if you look to the right of the page you will see a small button that says, "Have one to sell?" Click on this button and follow the prompts for listing your item. (This part is just like Level One cataloguing. You cannot create a new record on Amazon--you have to attach it to a record that already exists.)
Condition Take some time to examine each item so that you can accurately assess the condition of your book, CD, or DVD. Does the book have a dust jacket? Include a description of the condition of the dust jacket ("mild shelf wear", "a few small rips", "like mint"). How is the binding of the book? Are all the pages intact? Has someone written their name or notes in the book? Does your book info match up to the Amazon book info? If it has a different copyright or printing date, you want to include that. Does the book smell funny? Has it been kept in a smoke-free household? Is the cover scuffed? Is the CD lightly scratched but still playable? These are all aspects of each item that you should consider and include in an accurate description that will help you sell more easily. Be careful in your descriptions. Discerning book buyers will not hesitate to return an item that is not as described.
When evaluating condition, always err on the side of reducing the condition.
Condition choices include:
Like New - This item should look like it just came from a bookstore shelf. I have had books returned for minor scuffing on the dust jacket.
Very Good - This item might have minor cosmetic blemishes but is almost Like New.
Good - These are books that have writing someone's name on the inside cover, perhaps the pages are slightly yellowed, but the binding is tight and all the pages are intact and readable.
Acceptable - I almost never sell books that are rated at this level because it means a book has serious condition issues. If these books don't have substantial resale value these "acceptable" books are also great for lighting your fireplace in winter.
Pricing Take a look at the quantity of other copies that you are selling. If there are several hundred copies of a book for sale, chances are it is selling for not a lot of cash. It is up to you to decide what your financial threshold is for selling books. For example, I have decided that books that are worth less than $10 are probably not worth selling online personally. (These books probably go to the library book sale or Better World Books.) I try to price my books ten-cents below the lowest price on Amazon, therefore my listing gets picked first by the shopper looking for the cheapest price.
The price of a book is just like a stock or bond in that it's value may fluctuate regularly based on number of available copies. As a dedicated bookseller, I update my inventory pricing once a week to remain the lowest price seller on all of my items. I also usually tweak inventory on Fridays knowing that weekends are the busiest shopping time.
Shipping Consider which shipping options that you will offer to your sellers. The more options you have the more chances you have at making a sale. However, because of my location (in a remote state) I only offer "regular shipping". One-day and two-day shipping are just not viable options when you live in the hills of West Virginia.
Yay, You've Sold a Book! Once you sell a book you need to be diligent about shipping out within one to two days, otherwise customers will complain. When shipping books, CDs, or DVDs, I recommend shipping via Media Mail as this is usually the cheapest form of mailing. First Class mail may be cheaper for smaller and lighter items such as CDs and DVDs. Talk to your local postal employees and make those people your friends. They can be very helpful in recommending shipping choices that will save you cash.
Amazon makes order fulfillment easy by providing you with a shipping label (use it, it avoids typos) and a receipt, both of which you print out from your printer. Technically, if you include even a handwritten note of thanks on the invoice the post office can make you pay First Class. The Postmaster of any USPS center has the right to open and inspect any Media Mail package to confirm that you are sticking to the rules, but honestly, in all my years of selling and shipping this has never happened.
Make sure that you package your book, CD, or DVD for safe shipping. A cheap way to handle this is by buying bubble mailers in bulk at a place online called ULine. (There are many places and just like books, these prices fluctuate too. Do some research to find the best price.) Imagine that the item that you have sold is going to get thrown and tossed by the package handlers and pack accordingly.
Getting Paid Amazon pays out twice a month directly into your (or your library's) bank account. They hold cash out in case of refunds and they also take their cut. (You didn't think Amazon would help you sell for free, did you?) Amazon is purposefully vague about their percentage, but as best as I can figure, they take about a third of your profits. Amazon also reimburses you for shipping, but if you are shipping larger or heavier items you might lose money in this process. That is why it is more profitable to sell small things rather than big things. (Avoid heavy coffee table-sized books.)
That's pretty much all you need to know to get started. The real trick is being able to figure out quickly which books have resale value and which do not. This skill has taken me years.