Steel City Heritage Services LLC

I am happy to announce the founding of my new business, Steel City Heritage Services LLC!

Please keep me in mind for genealogical research and family archive consulting. Specific information regarding rates and services will be available in the coming weeks.

Instagram: @steelcityheritage
Twitter: Coming soon!
YouTube Channel: Coming soon!

My Ideal Bookshelf

I’ve had an interesting article open in a browser tab on my phone for months, waiting to be read. It was entitled, “Why ‘Shelfies,’ Not Selfies, Are a Better Snapshot of Who You Are” by David G. Allan. I finally got around to reading it yesterday.

A “shelfie”, as the name suggests, is a photo of your bookshelf, as it is now, or better yet, your “ideal bookshelf”.

As Allan puts it, “[Shelfies are] a fun and insightful exercise to ponder your ideal bookshelf. Which books have influenced you the most? Which volumes make your heart soar or brain buzz? Which do you reread because, at different stages of life, they reveal new insights? Or which ones do you find so enjoyable that you return to immerse yourself in the story again and again? And what do they collectively say about you?”

So, without further ado, here is my ideal bookshelf, and a description of why they are special to me. Post your own in the comments or on social media! Let’s get sharing!


My ideal bookshelf

  • The Silmarillion by Tolkien: If some of Lord of the Rings didn’t make sense, this can really help to sort it out. Really interesting and realistic chronicles of the movements and differentiation of the Elven peoples. Tolkien was a linguist, so he understood this phenomenon. I considered being a linguistic anthropologist when applying to undergrad.
  • Prayers by the Lake by St. Nikolai Velimirovich: The first time I encountered Orthodoxy was at a Fall retreat. On the flyer was St. Nikolai’s poem “Arise O Sons of the Sun of God”. It took me years to find out who wrote it, but when I did, I fell in love with Prayers by the Lake. I mean:
    “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do no curse them. Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have.”
  • Life of St. Anthony the Great: One of my patron saints. I’ve always looked to emulate St. Anthony in seeking out the best teachers and taking what’s good from them.
  • Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios: Required reading. Do all things with love.
  • Holy Psalter: Contains the whole of human experience. Empathy and consolation for every situation one finds oneself in.
  • Love Your Enemies by Hieromonk Gregorios: This is worth its weight in gold. Seriously.
  • DSM-V: I guess I used this to try to make sense of myself. It sure gave me a lot of false starts! I don’t recommend trying to understand yourself through the DSM.
  • Metamorphosis of Plants by Goethe (MIT Press edition): One of my favorites. I wrote my Senior Essay at St. John’s College (“Why Are Flower’s Beautiful?”) on this book. Goethe for me is the polymath par excellence. I especially admire and look to emulate his ability to incorporate a sense of beauty into his work. Not just to investigate the world and explain it, but to preserve a sense of transcendence. Scientists should be poets. What can I say? I’m an idealist.
  • History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides: Another favorite of mine. Thucydides for me … I remember reading about an incident during a siege … we think we are very advanced nowadays, and people back then so primitive, but I don’t see it. Human nature has not changed in 2,500 years. Our material quality of life and understanding of material reality has improved, but human nature is the same.
  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler: I recommend this to everyone. I find his techniques for getting the most out of a text with the minimal amount of effort to be very useful and effective. Like he says, if you want to know what a book has to say, you have to force it to give up its secrets. Books worth reading don’t give up their knowledge without some effort on the part of the reader.
  • Pensees by Pascal: I wrote my Junior Essay at St. John’s College on a few of his Pensees. Pascal also represents something wonderful to me. He longed for something more. He gave up all his previous scientific work as nothing. He was a scientific genius, but he understood that Man’s work is so insignificant. That’s partly what I wrote my essay on. He says there’s an infinite distance between body and intellect. But also he says there’s an infinitely more infinite distance between intellect and Charity (Agape love). No man can comprehend Love with his intellect.
  • The Works of John Donne: One of my favorite poets. He can write both the sacred and profane with equal virtuoso. I’m very partial to “A Valediction: Forbidding Morning” and “A Jet Ring Sent”.
  • Plato’s Apology: Needs no apology.
  • Hesiod’s Theogony: I am a big fan of cosmologies. I usually delve deeply into the cosmology of whatever fiction I am engaged in (Star Wars, The Elder Scrolls, LOTR, etc.). But it all started with “Theogony” some 2,800 years ago.
  • The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester: People tease me when I tell them this was a page-turner. I couldn’t put it down! Best book I read in grad school.
  • Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Edition: I learned how to birdwatch with this guide with help from my grandfather.
  • Mparamu lu Sicilianu/Learn Sicilian by Gaetano Cipolla: I’ve always felt obligated to learn Italian. But to be honest, I find Italian dull compared to Sicilian. My ancestors spoke Sicilian, not (Tuscan) Italian. It’s a more beautiful language, to be sure. Unfortunately it’s also now partly seen as a dialect for the uneducated.
  • Italian Pizza and Hearth Breads by Elizabeth Romer: Italian-American food for me is comfort food. My family didn’t do the Feast of the Seven Fishes at Christmas, but we did have lasagna or homemade sausage for Christmas dinner. When I need to feel “at home”, I make some good Italian food. Also, I took it upon myself to learn a lot of family recipes. I said to myself, “I can’t depend on someone else to cook these for me, so I had better learn how to do it before they die.” Feeling connected to my ancestors through our family recipes is a really precious memory for me. This book has some good recipes. I enjoy baking schiacciata.
  • Forest Hills (PA) by Jodi Shapiro & Joel Bloom: I grew up listening to Pittsburgh history. My family has been here since at least 1875, maybe earlier. So the story of Pittsburgh is the story of my family. I love Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. This one is written by two of my mom’s friends from high school. There’s a picture of my mom in here as a kid.
  • The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa: The quintessential Sicilian novel. Set during the Risorgimento (Italian Unification- 1860s), it details a noble Sicilian family’s struggles to accept the changing times. That’s been a bitter lesson for me to learn, that things change. Maybe that’s the Sicilian in me. More importantly, I enjoyed seeing what it might have been like in my ancestral homeland before we emigrated.

There you have it: my idea booshelf. What’s yours?


2016 Librarianship Goals

I had my appraisal meeting this week, which went well. My goals for the next year are posted below:


  1. Complete a draft of a comprehensive LibGuide for using the US Census by April 30, and the final version by August 15.
  2. Complete at least 5 US Census Bureau training webinars by April 2016 to prepare to support the Duquesne researchers and users of the US Census LibGuide.
  3. Collaboratively plan to present a session called “Not the Usual Suspects” to teach researchers how to expand and improve their research results with effective database choices by December 2016.
  4. Collaboratively plan for potential “Hidden Treasures” programming by December 2016.
  5. Provide at least three EndNote instruction sessions and tech support for Zotero sessions as needed throughout 2016.


  1. Write an article for a “Gumberg Gems” or “Hidden Treasures” series for each issue of the library’s BiblioBrief newsletter in 2016. The articles will highlight interesting print materials in Gumberg’s collection and will be coordinated with the Director of Information Services and the Marketing and Electronic Communications Librarian.


  1. Serve as member of the interdisciplinary Trauma-Informed Community Development (TICD) Research Coalition at Duquesne University. Provide research assistance and maintain the TICD LibGuide throughout 2016.

Taunts on Ancient Greek Sling Bullets

I came across a very interesting image on Wikipedia a few weeks ago (yes, I use Wiki. Compulsively). I was reading about slings (the weapon), and there was an image of an Ancient Greek lead sling bullet. Take a look:

According to Wikipedia, the image said, “Take that!” or “Catch!”. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. While Wikipedia isn’t as bad as people say it is, I’ve been fooled before (Turns out Rick Steves did not fight a bear in the woods. In my defense I was in early high school…).

I did do some digging, and was able to confirm that Wikipedia is actually right this time. Check this out. First off, the sling bullet says, in Ancient Greek, “ΔΕΞΑΙ” or “δέξαι” (Ancient Greek was written completely in what we would call capital letters, although the proper term is “majuscule”. “Lower case” (miniscule) Greek writing did not develop until the 9th and 10th centuries AD in the Byzantine Empire).

My first step of digging was to confirm the translation. I used the wonderful Perseus Hopper word study tool. Perseus confirmed that “ΔΕΞΑΙ” is 2nd person singular aorist imperative middle of  δέχομαι, meaning “take, accept, or receive”. Don’t worry if you’re not a linguist or grammarian. That basically means “ΔΕΞΑΙ” can be translated (literally) as, “[You] take!”, “[You] receive!”. So it is pretty acceptable to translate this as, “Take [this]!” I don’t know if I’d translate it as “Catch!” but I would agree that it’s in the spirit. (Translation is a tricky thing).

My second step was to confirm that the image of the sling bullet was authentic. One of my colleagues is an actual Classicist (not a Johnnie Classicist like me), and he was curious where it came from. Fortunately the Wiki page provided a link to the British Museum, where the artifact is kept. It was excavated or acquired in 1851 from Athens. It is made of cast lead. I think the fact that it was cast is particularly interesting, because to me that suggests that “ΔΕΞΑΙ” was included in the mold. Did every bullet cast by this craftsman include “ΔΕΞΑΙ”?

The artifact is dated to the 4th century BC (400 BC-301 BC), which is right in the Golden Age of Classical Greece. This time period starts just after the end of the Peloponnesian War (404 BC) and right around the time Socrates was executed in 399 BC. The 4th century includes the lifetimes of Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon, the birth and death of Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC), which lead to the struggle for power known as the Wars of the Diadochi (starting 322 BC), leading to the reigns of his generals Ptolemy I Soter (founder of Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt) and Seleucus I Nicator (founder of Seleucid Empire). So, that’s a lot of ground!

Okay, so, I confirmed that the object was authentic and that the translation was accurate. What does this mean? What really struck me is that writing “Catch!” or “Take this!” is very much in the spirit of behaviors we have seen in modern warfare. I’m sure you’ve all seen the images of soldiers writing on bombs during the 20th century, especially during World War II. Here’s a more recent example.

Maybe we aren’t so much more advanced than them as we think we are…



Exploring Sicilian Towns With Google Maps

I had the pleasure of exploring some ancestral hometowns in Sicily today, without every leaving my chair.

I am, of course, an outspokenly proud Italian-American, but my relationship with Sicily is more complicated. It is a love-hate relationship. I love the food that’s been passed down to me; I love the piety and emphasis on family. But the more I learn about Sicily, the more I understand why many Sicilians left. Let’s just leave it at that for now.

Being a history buff, librarian, and sort of family historian, I have always wanted to return to my ancestral homes to visit. Now, with something as simple as Google Maps Street View, I can!

I had explored some of Sicily before using Street View, mostly “driving” through the countryside, and viewing a few shots of Palermo. I looked at one of my ancestral towns a little bit. Today I spent more time in the two towns I know of: Burgio and Castelbuono. My great-grandfather was from Castelbuono, and my great-grandmother was from Burgio. They later met in Palermo or maybe New York, and I know for a fact they married at Maria di Ausiliatrice (Mary Help of Christians) in Manhattan.

Burgio is a comune in southwest Sicily, in the province of Agrigento. It’s about 25 miles from Corleone, of Godfather fame.


Location of Burgio (Burgiu)

Castelbuono is located in north-central Sicily, in the province of Palermo, very close of Cefalù, home of the famous Norman-Byzantine-style Cefalù Cathedral.

castelbuono location.PNG

Location of Castelbuono (Castiddubbuonu)

Google has mapped a great many roads in Sicily, even ones in small towns such as Burgio and Castelbuono. It was pretty amazing to “walk” the streets, trying to follow the signs. In Castelbuono I tried to follow the signs to the police, the castle, and a few other attractions. I was only successful with the police and the castle.

One thing I noticed was how often the Street View captured people looking at the Google car. Maybe it’s because these are small towns, with very narrow streets. Partly I think it’s just that old Italian neb-nosing. I also enjoyed seeing some of the fliers posted to the walls of the buildings. There were even ones for a circus! Another interesting find was a memorial above the Banco di Sicilia in Castelbuono that commemorated (I think) the Risorgimento (Italian Unification). Alas, no ancestors listed.

castelbuono memorial.PNG

Memorial above Banco di Sicilia

I’m very glad to have been able to get to know my towns before possibly going over there. It allows me to have more realistic expectations, and also to explore without breaking the bank. I’d encourage anyone interested in their geneology to talk to their family members, find out where you came from, and see if you can view it on Google Maps. You might be surprised at what you find!



Starting Up Again

Hey all. I started this blog a year ago on the recommendation of my WPWVC-ACRL (the local chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries) mentor, Ethan Pullman. At the time I was unemployed, looking for my first library job. In March 2015, I was hired at Duquesne University as the temporary ETD Coordinator (ETD stands for “Electronic Theses & Dissertations”). With that being my first job, I entered a fairly intense period of transition- adjusting to professional life, figuring out new ways to take care of myself, adapting to professional relationships, having less free time, etc.

Unfortunately, my blog was something that was given up in the shuffle. I was hired as a Part-Time Research and Instruction Librarian following the expiration of my temporary ETD position, which is what I am doing now. I am enjoying my time at Duquesne, and hope to write a few thoughts about my time as ETD Coordinator before I move on to writing about other things.

Look for a post or two coming up about my time as ETD Coordinator, some projects I have been working on as a Research and Instruction Librarian, and some upcoming personal projects. The personal projects will include some writing and amateur bookbinding. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to write more, as it is something I really enjoy.

First Post!

Hello Pittsburgh!

This will be my professional blog regarding Library and Information Science (LIS), issues pertaining to it, and much more!

I have interests in archives, special collections, library advocacy, serving under-served users, Pittsburgh history, paleography, book binding, book collecting, book history, world history, digital humanities, the Classics, and linguistics. I plan on using this blog to showcase how these issues relate to LIS.

Please feel free to comment on my posts and especially to share any articles you might find relating to the above subjects. At St. John’s College (see About Me), we talked about “the Great Conversation”. I am excited to see where our great conversation will go!