In a Cloistered Monastery – A Reference Question

Picture of a turn.“The architecture of cloistered convents features a small door to the exterior designed specifically to allow groceries and other small supplies to be delivered while maintaining the privacy and separation of the nuns. What is the formal name for such a door (it likely has a name in Latin) and what is the English translation of that word?”

This question came in to the Level 7 reference desk at the Central Library on a busy day during the week before Easter. We hunted around a bit online and did not immediately find a fitting term, so we took the patron’s contact information to dig a bit deeper.

Among the Library’s books on religious orders, I found Virgins of Venice, which describes the lives and transgressions of cloistered nuns in Renaissance Italy, and Cloister and Community, an elegant, photograph-filled book that shows modern life in a Carmelite monastery. If either discusses this feature, it was not in the index. In our very rich architecture section, I searched Monasteries of Western Europe and The Romanesque: Towns, Cathedrals, and Monasteries. Both offer detailed descriptions and floor plans of religious buildings, and thorough indices and glossaries, but not quite to the level of detail I needed.

Finally, I searched online for an actual modern cloistered monastery and discovered that the Sisters of Carmel—although cloistered—offer a web form through which members of the public can ask questions. Although it was holy week, I sent one in.

To my gratitude and delight, they quickly replied!

What [you are] referring to is what is known as “the Turn”.  It is short for a turn-style, which is like a shelf that rotates, so that outsiders can put things in (i.e. groceries, etc.), spin it around, and the Sisters can receive the items without ever leaving their enclosure.  We do not know the Latin term for this.  It is a very practical thing that is used in most cloistered Monasteries, including ours!  We attached a picture for you. We hope this is helpful. God bless you and Happy Easter! – The Carmelite Sisters”

We always say that a librarian need not know everything; we must simply understand who the experts are. It certainly proved true in this case.

For more information about life  in a cloistered monastery and references to the Turn, check out this article in the New York Times, found by my colleague!

~posted by Anne C.

Seattle Rep’s NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN: Beyond the Theatre

Seattle Repertory Theatre presents NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN by Christina Ham from April 26 to June 2, 2019. Librarians at Seattle Public Library created this list of books, music and films to enhance your experience of the show.

Nina Simone’s “Four Women” is a haunting, critical exploration of racial stereotypes and the legacy of slavery through the lives of four black women: Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing and Peaches. In NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN, playwright Christina Ham brings these characters and Simone herself to life as they gather in the ruins of the 16th Street Baptist Church the day after 4 young black girls died in a terrorist bombing. This tragedy profoundly impacted Simone, prompting her evolution from artist to artist-activist and inspiring her to write and perform powerful songs such as “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Young, Gifted and Black” and of course, “Four Women.”

Before you see the play, learn more about Nina Simone’s music, life and the political and social context that informed her work with these Library resources:

The Essential Nina Simone If you’re not familiar with Simone’s oeuvre, this collection is an excellent introduction. Includes “Four Women,” “Mississippi Goddam” and other songs featured in NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN.


Nina Simone: Live in ’65 & ’68 There’s no substitute for seeing the High Priestess of Soul perform her spellbinding songs live. Filmed for a Dutch television program, these concerts include “Mississippi Goddam” and “Brown Baby,” both featured in the show. 



4 Little Girls NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN begins with the horrific 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, when 4 young black girls lost their lives. Spike Lee’s acclaimed documentary explores this tragedy and its impact on the civil rights movement.



I Put A Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone First published in 1992, Simone’s autobiography recounts her journey from her childhood as the precociously talented pianist Eunice Waymon to nightclub entertainer to international star who helped create the soundtrack of the civil rights era.


What Happened, Miss Simone? New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis called this 2015 film about Simone an “often electric, bracingly urgent documentary” that traces her life from child prodigy to troubled, self-exiled star to a final artistic comeback. For more details on her life and work, read the companion book of the same name by musical journalist Alan Light.


For more suggested reading, listening and viewing, check out this resource list.

~posted by Abby

Theater in the Library: My Name is Asher Lev

Seattle Jewish Theater Company has been performing classic and contemporary Jewish theater throughout the Seattle area since 2011. The Library has hosted several of these performances in the past and we are pleased to give patrons an opportunity to see SJTC’s latest production. Join us in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Central Library on Sunday, April 21 at 2pm for SJTC’s production of My Name is Asher Lev. The production is directed by Shana Bestock and produced by SJTC artistic director Art Feinglass. The performance will be followed by an audience discussion with the cast.

The play My Name is Asher Lev is adapted by Aaron Posner from Chaim Potok’s classic novel. Set in Brooklyn in the 1950s, the play tells the story of artistically gifted Asher Lev, whose burning need to create art puts him at odds with his family and Hassidic upbringing.

If watching SJTC’s performance piques your interest, Posner also adapted The Chosen, another of Potok’s novels. If you’re interested in more of Asher Lev’s story, Potok wrote a sequel novel, The Gift of Asher Lev.

For more information about the play and this production, check out Seattle Jewish Theater Company’s website.

~posted by Richard V.

‘Tis the Season for Hanami

Spring has sprung in the Pacific Northwest and the cherry trees are putting on quite a show! One of the more popular attractions in Seattle for cherry blossom viewing, also known as Hanami, is our cherry trees located at the University of Washington Quad.

Although the origin of the trees is debated, according to The Daily:

“In 1912, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki donated cherry trees to the United States, which marked the growth in friendship between the United States and Japan. The trees were distributed around the country, with 34 of them planted in the Washington Park Arboretum. Because of construction [of State Route 520], the trees had to be relocated, and 31 of them were relocated to the UW, where they are now planted in the Quad.” –The Daily of the University of Washington

Photograph of blossoming cherry trees on the University of Washington Quad.
The Daily – Takae Goto

They just reached peak viewing on March 29th. However, there is still time to celebrate! ParentMap has a list of other locations in Seattle and nearby to enjoy cherry blossom viewing.

Continue reading “‘Tis the Season for Hanami”

Three on a Theme: Yellow-Gloved Covers

Do similar covers or titles catch your eye? Often, for me, it’s just two books at a time. The big payoff is when you come across three on a theme published close to one another, as in these recent stellar books — a memoir, a biography, and a  novel — with their yellow-gloved covers.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land (2019)
A college essay, “Confessions of a Housekeeper,” laid the groundwork for this memoir of young woman’s struggles as a single parent living in poverty while pursuing her education. Stephanie Land and her infant daughter lived in a homeless shelter in Mount Vernon, Washington, when she began cleaning houses.  “More than any book in recent memory, Land nails the sheer terror that comes with being poor, the exhausting vigilance of knowing that any misstep or twist of fate will push you deeper into the hole,” said a review in the Boston Globe. If you enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, this is a book for you (and Ehrenreich wrote the introduction to Maid). If you enjoy excellent writing and strong memoirs, like Educated by Tara Westover, this is a book for you. It’s currently in our Peak Picks collection, so stop by your SPL branch and pick it up. Continue reading “Three on a Theme: Yellow-Gloved Covers”