Senior Power: BPL, Wherefore Art Thous?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday June 29, 2010 - 12:50:00 PM

Kudos to Peter Warfield’s Partisan Position, Monday, June 21, 2010 Planet: “Berkeley’s Branch Library Plans: Two Demolitions Instead of Renovation, Book Cuts and Permanent Changes to Zoning Variance Requirements.” 

I had watched and listened (Channel #33) as he did a courageous and articulate job, trying to get Council’s attention, ultimately being turned off.All the while gnashing my feminist, age-affirming teeth (and I have all of them.) I had already discovered that the power structure that sustains the BOLT (City of Berkeley Board of Library Trustees) eschews the presence on the Board, or among the public attending meetings, of professional librarians experienced with buildings and collection development. 

When I studied the proposed plan posted outside the North Branch library, I was stunned! I could not believe my eyes (yes, they’re good too)– no consideration whatsoever for the several specialized collections already existing at North but which have been constrained to such small spaces that I, foolishly it seems, assumed that they would flourish as a result of the renovation. 

Yes, I am concerned first and foremost with space for collections – mainly books and other printed materials. At North there is already recognition of the need for some of them. There are ‘starter’ spaces containing relatively few (no new adds) volumes of LARGE PRINT books in all genres, so called reference books (reference collection recently shrunk!), mysteries, books-in-Japanese, science fiction, New Books, LINK books, folios, ad infinitum. I foolishly anticipated provision designated for their continuance plus expansion. The shelving of the traditional (basic) fiction and nonfiction collections are already “tight.” 

And Warfield recognizes so well the speciousness, the historical dichotomy of a public library efficiently functioning with a one-for-all reference-service-circulation-information ‘desk.’ Ridiculous. 

So what does this all have to do with senior citizens (and residents of North Berkeley)? For starters, there are two senior citizens’ housing projects and one senior center within walking or a quick bus-ride distance. 

Many elders prefer North because they can park there, with or without a placard; there is an albeit limited LARGE PRINT books collection; they grew up there; they are comfy with the accessible, visible professional librarian seated at his/her Information desk that has an available seat right next to it; they aren’t necessarily computer-literate, etc. 




What a thrill to turn on the California TV channel and see and hear -- ‘live’ -- the Legislature honor Phyllis Lyon. It was the California Legislative LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) Caucus Awards Ceremony. Lesbian Activist Del Martin (1921-2008), with partner Phyllis Lyon, formed Daughters of Bilitis, one of the first lesbian organizations in the United States. 

On Monday June 14, 2010, the California Legislative LGBT Caucus hosted a special awards ceremony. The Legislature proclaimed June 2010 as LGBT Pride Month and celebrated the LGBT Community’s past accomplishments and contributions. The Assembly also honored LGBT individuals selected from across the state for their lifetime contributions and accomplishments in creating a better future for California and the United States.Sacramento’s Tina Reynolds, co-founder of Equality Action Now and long-time activist, was chosen to receive a lifetime achievement award along with other noted honorees. 


Departures (Okuribito) is a Japanese film rated PG-13 “for thematic material.” It is loosely based on Aoki Shinmon’s autobiographical book, Coffinman: The journal of a Buddhist Mortician. Death is a taboo subject in Japan. 

Okuribito, as I’ll refer to it, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars. The dvd is in public libraries’ collections. The optional English subtitles are exceedingly well-done, wholeheartedly capturing the meaning behind the words, as well as in “good” English. 

Combine incredible scenic background (photographed in Sakata, Yamagata prefecture in northern Japan, on the Sea of Japan) and music by Joe Hisaishi, and you get 131 minutes of pure tenderness involving several elders. I especially like the Christmas Eve scene. 

Briefly, plotwise, Daigo Kobayashi is a cellist in a symphony orchestra that has been dissolved. His mother had left him her house; his father had abandoned the family but not before imbuing his son with a love of music, especially the cello. He decides to move back to his old hometown.Spouse Mika understands; she verges on, but is not quite passive. He answers a classified ad titled 'Departures' thinking it an advertisement for a travel agency, and discovers that the job is actually for a 'Nokanshi' or 'encoffineer,' a funeral professional who prepares bodies for burial and entry into the next life. 

Okuribito means a "sending person".The English title, Departures, is opposite in perspective. The movie is about those who survive after a beloved’s departure. While his wife and others have nothing but contempt for the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art, acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. My Japanese friend says, “I liked the movie, although many criticize it's too sentimental. Death is emotional, but not necessarily sentimental.” 

“Best” Awards of the Japanese Academy, 2009 were in every category -- actor, cinematography, director, editing, film, lighting, screenplay, sound. Best supporting actor was Tsutomu Yamazaki as Ikuei Sasaki, the old man who is Daigo’s new employer and mentor. Best supporting female actor was Kimiko Yo as Yuriko Kamimura, as the empathetic NK Agency employee. 

If you like tenderness with strength, especially when the aged are involved, you will enjoy Okuribito aka Departures. 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at 

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