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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Friday, January 30, 2015

'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena' would've been worth the fine

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra, a 2013 novel set in a war-torn village in Chechnya, was recommended to me by a couple of friends.

After borrowing a copy from the Saratoga Springs Public Library and reading the first three pages, I was hooked. I selected it as my book club’s read the next time it was my turn to pick.

I love this book, but one copy suffices. The library initially
insisted I couldn't renew my copy because someone had
reserved it, even though several were in the stacks.
The library's Jeannine Jeter solved the problem.
Marra’s writing is beautifully vivid, his story-telling remarkable. Although the main story takes place over only five days, readers learn in layers about the past and future of the main characters as well as those who pass through in only a sentence. Not a word is wasted in what Ron Charles described in the Washington Post as “fresh, graceful prose.”

I’m about a third of the way through the book. I knew it was due any day now, so when I happened to be at the library yesterday, the woman at the checkout desk scanned my key card: “Tomorrow,” she said. Renew it, please. “Can’t,” she replied. “Someone reserved it.”

Probably someone in my book club.

Over in the M’s, five or six copies awaited a borrower. “There’s a bunch of them,” I said. “Just switch the reserved copy to one of the available ones.”

“Can’t,” she replied. Maybe someone at the Information Desk could help, she said.

At the Information Desk was Jeannine Jeter, who appreciated the absurdity of the situation. But she didn’t know how to outsmart the computer system’s insistence that only my copy of the book would satisfy the waiting customer, even though several were in the stacks.

Short-term solution to avoid a late fee: Check out one of the other copies, and return the copy at home before the end of the next day.

A short while later, though, Jeannine sent me a message: She’d figured out how to switch the reserved book request to an available book, and renewed the copy I’d originally borrowed. So now I have two on loan, one of which I will drop off on my way home from work today. I promise.

I love it when someone won’t take no from a computer for an answer, when someone takes the initiative to tackle and solve a problem, for the satisfaction of getting it done. 

Thank you, Jeannine. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

'Girls Who Code' founder speaking in Saratoga Jan. 24

Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.
Reshma Saujani is the speaker for the
Cabin Fever luncheon Jan. 24 in Saratoga Springs.
Sign up at 
Combined, they form STEM, an acronym for what students ought to be studying to fill well-paying jobs in the public and private sectors.
Many of our local schools, elementary through post-graduate, are focusing on STEM. More than a million STEM-related jobs are expected to be open up in the next four years — “but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them,” according to a federal government website,
Next Saturday, we have an opportunity to hear firsthand from a woman who has been in the front lines of preparing young women for jobs in technology. Reshma Saujani, founder of the national nonprofit organization Girls Who Code, is the speaker at the Cabin Fever Luncheon on Saturday, Jan. 24, in Saratoga Springs. I’ll be there, for sure, and seats are still available. (See below for details unabashedly plugging the event.)
Saujani’s interests and experience may be rooted in STEM, but her reach is much broader. Her website describes her as “a true political entrepreneur (who) has been fearless in her efforts to disrupt both politics and technology to create positive change.”
It’s not bragging. A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Yale Law School, her recognition includes being named one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women Changing the World, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People, and Business Insider’s 50 Women Who Are Changing the World. Her book, “Women Who Don't Wait in Line,” is about female leadership and, as summed up by the Daily Beast, “talks about running for public office and having the courage to fail.”
Saujani is an Illinois native of Indian descent, has been a lawyer, a congressional candidate, and Deputy Public Advocate of New York City. Her political platform focused on “creating educational and economic opportunities for women and girls, immigrants, and those who have been sidelined in the political process.”
Which brings us back to STEM and Girls Who Code.
The website succinctly states its mission and vision:  “To inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.”
Boys ought to have those skills, too. But as people in the STEM fields will attest, girls have catching up to do.
“We believe that more girls exposed to computer science at a young age will lead to more women working in the technology and engineering fields,” explains
Among the exciting things about Girls Who Code and Saujani’s other work is her success in bringing together leaders in the public and private sectors —  educators, engineers, and business — and combining instruction, mentoring, entrepreneuship and civic engagement.   
Now, about the Cabin Fever Luncheon. It is hosted by Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, the local branch of an international public service organization that I’ve belonged to for more than three decades.
Soroptimist efforts address both local and global issues, such as domestic violence, human trafficking, grants to local nonprofits, and scholarships to women and girls improving themselves through education and community service. The group has two big fund-raisers each year, the Secret Gardens Tour (July 12 this year) and the Cabin Fever Luncheon.

To sign up for the luncheon or learn more about Soroptimists, visit or call 581-1201 ext. 4184.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Focusing on local news, across county lines

You are more likely to find me at my
desk than at the gym. (And, full disclosure,
my desk is this neat only the night
before a vacation.)
My standing New Year resolutions include going to the gym, eating healthier, worrying less about my children and writing regularly. And here we are, the first Sunday of the year, and so far so good — for the writing.
Since Jan. 1, I’ve been to the gym, um, not once. I had Chinese food for dinner and leftover Chinese food for breakfast. When my sons call I drop everything, even though they’re 27 and 25 and living independently (while my husband wryly observes that he lands in voice mail).
For me, 2014 was a year of personal and professional change.
The big thing was that I turned 60, an age that I am happy to have attained and yet in denial of having reached. If you’re my age or older, you know what I mean. If you’re younger, just wait.
Professionally, after years as managing editor of The Saratogian, where I began my journalism career, I was promoted last January by Publisher Mike O’Sullivan to the expanded role of executive editor of The Record, The Saratogian and the weekly Community News, which all fall under the umbrella of a company called Digital First Media.
A regional approach already in play in the advertising department under Advertising Director Barbara Fignar and in the sports department under Executive Sports Editor Kevin Moran expanded into the digital and print news coverage under the leadership of Editor Lisa Lewis, News Editor Paul Tackett, Digital Editor Karen Wallingford, and City Editor Charlie Kraebel, who just celebrated his one-year anniversary with us. Happy anniversary, Charlie!
Mid-way through the year, newsroom staff reductions — an occupational hazard in the news business everywhere — necessitated a leap into a regional approach to planning, reporting and editing. One of the challenges has been keeping our eye on news of particular interest to our specific and diverse communities, while recognizing that a regional approach is in fact appropriate for much of the news, especially as it relates to our quality of life, health, finances, jobs and family.
Consider, for instance, some of the top local stories of 2014:
The sprawling Albany diocese, which includes Rensselaer and Saratoga County, got a new bishop, when Edward B. Scharfenberger was appointed by Pope Francis to succeed Howard J. Hubbard, a Troy native who led the diocese for 37 years.
The 62-year-old Hoffman’s Playland in Latham got a new lease on life with new owners a new location for this summer adjoining Huck Finn’s Warehouse & More.
A Schenectady waterfront project was selected for the region’s only full-scale casino, beating out two proposals for Rensselaer County, including one put forth by the owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway.
One of New York’s most power politicians, former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, whose district included Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, was acquitted of charges tied to accusations that he took a businessman’s bribes in exchange for steering state money toward the man’s business interests; the state attorney general subsequently agreed that the state would pay $2.4 million as reimbursement for his legal defense bills.
And there was business growth of note in both Troy and Saratoga Springs, along with milestones like the 50th anniversary of the Holiday Inn, the hotel that spurred the revitalization of downtown Saratoga Springs, and the 30th anniversary of the Saratoga Springs City Center. Those two entities continue today to anchor the two ends of Saratoga’s lively Broadway.
Impressive development in downtown Troy during 2014 included the reopening of the former Proctors building on Fourth Street as home to the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce; the start of renovations to Tech Valley Center of Gravity’s future home; new life breathed into the historic Dauchy Building by Saratoga-based Bonacio Construction; the purchase by Pfeil & Co. — another firm with ties to both Troy and Saratoga Springs — of the historic building that houses the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall; and the debut of the River Street Lofts.
The regional outlook is in addition to, not in place of, local news.
For instance, our daily Community Page in print and the digital Community page under Lifestyle on our websites, and, contain a running calendar of events submitted by representatives of local organizations as well as a large photograph, usually submitted by readers, to feature a local activity that has occurred or promote one that is coming up. (Send photos to Charlie at
We realize that our readers’ interests and concerns don’t end at the city or county line. We work, play, seek medical care, study, travel and have connections throughout the Capital Region. And a good human interest story is always a welcome read, regardless of ZIP code.
That said, our niche is what it’s always been — local news — including the celebration of individual achievements in the school and workplace, non-profits and their staff and volunteers, spaghetti suppers and other fund-raisers large and small, neighborhood issues, keeping officials accountable, and providing a forum for opinions.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. You know where to find me: Not at the gym.