Buzzworm news briefs

New frontier for bookworms

First the library ditched those tedious (though now very retro-cool in secondhand shops) card catalogs that could be accessed only by patrons armed with the Dewey decimal system. And from the computerized card catalogs, it was only a short leap to online services.

That’s right — your library is now online. So instead of whiling away the workday playing free cell, you can be browsing new stock, renewing the items you’ve already checked out, and — as part of Buncombe County’s new 24/7 access — even downloading e-books.

Here’s how it works: Log onto the county’s Web site (buncombecounty.org) and link to the library under the list of governmental departments. To view your own account or check out items, enter your library-card number with no spaces (it’s the long number on the back of your card) under “User ID” and the last four digits of your phone number as your PIN.

The card catalog — you’ll recognize it as the same one you use when in the bricks-and-mortar library — shows not only what’s available but which branch has it. Reserve an actual book or move on to the new e-library, where you can download audio and electronic-text versions of works by popular and award-winning authors. Among the titles in the collection are: The Cider House Rules by John Irving, The Dorothy Parker Audio Collection and Lemony Snicket’s The Grim Grotto.

To download these materials, a free software program must first be installed from the Web site. After that, the audio or e-book is yours for two weeks, during which time you can transfer it to an MP3 player or burn a CD. After the 14-day lending period runs out, these digital books expire, eliminating late fees. Just one catch: The software used for virtual checkouts is compatible only with Windows programs, so no e-books for Mac users.

For more information, call the Asheville-Buncombe Library System at 250-4711, visit any branch, or e-mail library@buncombecounty.org.

— Alli Marshall

White squirrels posing

It’s not surprising that photographer Don Weiser was able to get his models to work for peanuts. Everyone knows that the subjects of his recently published photo gift book, The White Squirrels of North Carolina (White Squirrel Art Publishing, 2005), have a penchant for nuts and seeds.

Most prominently featured is Snow Whitey (aka Scampers), a white squirrel who turned up on Weiser’s Pisgah Forest property about four years ago, after he’d put out some bird feeders.

Because Snow Whitey “was very precocious … [and] pushy and smart and took chances, I thought it was more fitting my idea of what a male squirrel might be,” explains Weiser, who now apologizes for being sexist. “Especially because it beat up the other squirrels that bothered it.”

But when the squirrel disappeared the following year and then returned a couple of months later with a posse of little ones (all but one of them gray), Weiser stood corrected, and the squirrel earned her third nickname, Mama Whitey.

She’s had two more litters since then, each including at least one white squirrel. These offspring also make appearances in Weiser’s book.

Mama Whitey, notes the photographer, “has grown to sort of trust me over the years, and while I never wanted her to eat out of my hand … she does feel comfortable enough to eat with me fairly close by, and she will, being fairly inquisitive, look or stare at me at times, hence the ‘posed’ look. It almost seems like she’s trying to figure me out.”

Nearby Brevard, famous for its white squirrels, is one of only a few towns in North America and Canada that boast sizable populations (to learn more, visit www.roadsideamerica.com).

Legend has it that the white squirrel was introduced to the area when a carnival truck overturned there in 1949, freeing several of these unusual critters. Long story short, nature took its course, and the animals became so cherished by the local populace that in 1986, the Brevard City Council unanimously passed an ordinance protecting them. The town also holds a White Squirrel Festival each May.

Weiser’s book can be found at several stores in Brevard, including The Forest Place, Highland Books, Main Street Ltd., Quotations Coffee Shop and the White Squirrel Shoppe, as well as online at www.whitesquirrelshoppe.com.

For more information, visit Weiser’s Web site, www.whitesquirrelart.com.

— Lisa Watters

Filling in the cracks

The Asheville Homeless Network was literally founded on Moss Bliss‘s couch in April of 2004 by Bliss and Gwen Parr (now McCourry), a homeless acquaintance of Moss’ whom he was letting sleep there.

As Moss explains it, Parr (who has since left the area) had felt that the existing local organizations helping the homeless weren’t coordinating their activities effectively or communicating with the homeless population they were serving.

“There are a lot of problems dealing with the homeless in this town; a lot of holes, a lot of cracks,” says Moss. “We didn’t want to be another agency, but we wanted to help fill in the cracks.”

AHN’s members include the homeless, the formerly homeless and their allies. Among the organization’s goals are: (a) getting information to the homeless population about what help is available and where; (b) making information available about their rights and the local laws that affect them; (c) lining up organizations and churches to help individuals directly; (d) changing the public’s perception of who the homeless are; and (e) educating city and county officials about homeless people’s needs.

A little more than a year-and-a-half later, AHN (whose tag line is “Helping the Homeless Help Themselves”) already has more than a few accomplishments under its belt. The group now boasts 63 members, was recently certified as a nonprofit corporation, has its own Web site (www.ashevillehomeless.org) that features a wealth of information, has endorsed candidates for City Council (all of whom have since been elected), and is part of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition.

But those are just baby steps for the group, says Moss. Its longer-term goals include building or buying a handcart that, once licensed by the city, would be used to sell handicrafts made by local homeless people; erecting a “tent city” (with porta-potties and possibly showers) on surplus city property, to provide low-cost shelter; and encouraging local shelters to more effectively and humanely meet the needs of the homeless.

“Some of us have extreme needs [and] some of us have fallen off the mental-health wagon,” Moss concedes. But “at least half of the homeless have jobs. They just don’t have good enough jobs to afford housing — to be able to live anywhere.”

There are a myriad ways people can support the organization, he notes. Church and civic groups are encouraged to “adopt” a homeless person for two months through AHN’s Adopt A Homeless Person program. Other needs include: donations of fabric, yarn, and sewing and knitting supplies members can use to create handicrafts; camping equipment and bicycles for a lending library; and storage space for donated items.

Gifts of money can be made directly through the PayPal button on the Web site or via AHN collection jars (which can be found downtown at the Grove Corner Market, Vincenzo’s and The Sword & The Grail), and indirectly by buying items online from one of the group’s affiliated companies, such as Target, Wal-Mart, Office Depot or Cingular Wireless (all of which donate a percentage of sales to the organization).

The Asheville Homeless Network holds meetings every Thursday at 2 p.m., upstairs in The Perch at the Grove Corner Market in downtown Asheville. For more information, call 254-7449.

— Lisa Watters

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