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.

Evolution of a Sustainable City

This September, I set up a display on the Central Library’s 7th floor called “Sustainable Cities” to complement a traveling exhibition we were showing at the time elsewhere in the building. The display featured books and documentaries about how to design and build an urban environment that would offer more economic and energy security, better transportation options, cleaner air, and higher quality of life than current cities generally do.

Just for fun, I designed the display about sustainable cities in the form of a miniature sustainable city. Between the books and DVDs on their traditional wire stands there were paper apartment buildings, a cloth representing green space, a lake made from a blue placemat, tiny paper bicyclists, and a person or two in a wheel chair to remind us of the need for accessibility. We then challenged patrons with this question:

What would we see in YOUR sustainable city? Continue reading “Evolution of a Sustainable City”

Futurama Redux: Urban Mobility After Cars, a Traveling International Exhibition


One of the highlights of the 1939 World’s Fair was a massive exhibit called “Futurama,” created by General Motors. It promised that within twenty years the working man would live in a glorious future filled with friendly suburbs, gleaming skyscrapers, and extensive highways—all of this made possible by the comfort and convenience of the personal car.

More than 75 years later, most of us are living in the car-centric future prophesied at the World’s Fair, but it is not quite the utopia GM envisioned. Pollution, traffic congestion, and the looming end to fossil fuels leave us wondering: What comes next?

The international exhibition Futurama Redux: Urban Mobility After Cars offers fascinating answers to this question. Continue reading “Futurama Redux: Urban Mobility After Cars, a Traveling International Exhibition”

Honoring Jim Henson and the Art of Puppetry

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there. – Jim Henson

On Saturday, May 13th, The Seattle Public Library is delighted to be hosting an all-day, all-ages puppeteering event called Jim Henson Con with fantastic co-sponsor, Geek Girl Con. The event will not only honor a beloved genius whose creations have captured the imaginations of people worldwide, but celebrate the art of puppetry and all of those who practice it, whether professionally or simply for the love of the craft.

Among the activities at this convention will be performances by professional puppeteers Jennifer Carroll, Rachel Jackson and Jason Mondine, puppet making opportunities, and Labyrinth and Rainbow Connection sing-alongs. Special guest Karen Prell, who worked with Jim Henson and was the voice of Red Fraggle in Fraggle Rock and the worm in “Labyrinth” will also speak at the event, which is very exciting!

Make or bring your own homemade puppet or Henson-inspired costume and you can participate in our runway show, complete with fabulous prizes! Check out our Facebook event page for the full agenda. Continue reading “Honoring Jim Henson and the Art of Puppetry”

New Magazine Subscriptions: Part 1

We are excited to announce the start of several new print magazines subscriptions at the Central Library and at many branches! Thank you to all the patrons and staff who made suggestions over the last two years. You have helped our magazine collection remain current and a reflection of the many interests of our community. Here are some of Central Library’s most recent additions, with more to come in the near future:

City Dog Seattle famously contains more dogs than children, so it’s no wonder that our city also offers an excellent magazine for the pooch-loving city dweller. If that’s you, City Dog is an excellent local source for information on training, socialization, gear, wellness, and a variety of dog-related local events.

Continue reading “New Magazine Subscriptions: Part 1”