Downs-Jones Library

An Academic Library on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University.

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Marginalia and Hope

Let me tell you a story. It’s about hope, and about love, and about poetry. It’s also about movies.

I recently saw a movie called The Secret of Kells, and you should see it too. Try Netflix. It’s a gorgeously hand-drawn animated film, a bit over an hour long, very sweet. It tells the fictionalized story of the creation of the Book of Kells, a gloriously illuminated Gospel manuscript created in Irish monasteries beginning in 600 AD. The Book of Kells is old, and it is unbelievably, intricately beautiful. Google it. The movie features the abbot of the Monastery of Kells; his young nephew Brendan; the aging manuscript illuminator Aiden and his cat Pangur Bán; the monks of the Scriptorium at Kells; an ethereal forest spirit named Aisling; a horde of menacing Northmen (or Vikings); and St. Columba (or Columkill).

There’s historical evidence for two characters. One is St. Columba. Would you like to guess the other?

It’s the cat. Pangur Bán was real.

We know this because sometime around the 9th century AD, an anonymous monk jotted down a sweet little poem in Gaelic about his cat Pangur Bán, on a copy of St. Paul’s Epistles (Letters). He drew parallels between the cat’s hunting for mice and his own hunting for words and meaning. They both took joy in their seemingly endless pursuits and joy in their resting at the end of their labors.

We know a few things about Pangur Bán. He would have been one of the monastery’s mousers, because the poet presents that as his role. We know he was a white cat, because the suffix Bán means “white” or “fair” in Gaelic. His name means “Fair Fuller”, although I’ve seen it translated “White Washerwoman” – a fuller is someone who works cloth to make it thicker and warmer. We know someone loved him.

He wasn’t magic. He wasn’t special. But one small poem made this little cat immortal.

“Pangur Bán” has been translated many times, including by Beowulf translator Seamus Heaney. If you’d like to read more of it than the excerpt below, you can find it here; Wikipedia has links to more versions. It was also sung by Irish singer Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin in 2011. Pangur Bán continues to appear in fiction; years before The Secret of Kells, he was the star of a set of children’s books by Fay Sampson I loved as an elementary school student. (I was heartbroken when the librarian discarded them because they were too worn; years later, I realized I could track down my own copies.)

Right now there are terrible things going on in the world, but researching this poem, and this one little cat, made me hopeful that good things endure. Words are powerful that way: I could tell you why libraries matter, or I could tell you about Pangur Bán. Somehow this insignificant expression of love survived for over a thousand years: jotted down in the margins, buried on a bookshelf somewhere. Sometimes it only takes a very small light to push back the darkness.

You too have been hunting for meaning. May you find as much joy in your work and your resting as did Pangur Bán.

I and Pangur Bán, my cat
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Pangur Ban Translated means White Cat



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Food, Festivals, Fun, and the Library

At the Downs-Jones Library, we prefer that you don’t eat in the library. It’s a recently renovated building, and we’d like to keep it as clean as possible – and besides, anyone who has ever dropped crumbs in a computer keyboard knows how gross that keyboard rapidly becomes! That’s why we restrict food in the library to the area by the Ram Café.

But here’s a secret: we have food in the book stacks. Just add creativity! The Downs-Jones Library has a number of cookbooks in the collection, including award-winning poet Maya Angelou’s Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. This lavishly illustrated book features a wide range of recipes, including caramel cakes, potato salad, pot roast, Italian soups, pizza, short ribs, tamales, white beans, and even foods that sound unappetizing or unfamiliar, like liver or tripe. (What is tripe, anyway? Like liver, it’s an internal organ – part of a cow’s stomach, processed for cooking, often with onions.) Some are familiar, like bread pudding, others, like “Wilted Lettuce” – made with bacon! – are more unusual. Anecdotes from the poet’s life and the lives of her friends and family accompany each chapter of recipes.

Here’s a recipe from Hallelujah! The Welcome Table for “Crackling Corn Bread”:


  • 2 cups white cornmeal
  • ¼ cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 and ½ cups and 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten well
  • 2 tablespoons (or ¼ stick) butter, melted
  • ½ pound crisp cracklings, broken into ½-inch pieces (in Spanish, cracklings are called chicharones)


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 8 x 2-inch pan
  • Mix dry ingredients; stir in milk and eggs. Pour in butter, and add cracklings. Pour mixture into pan and bake for 1 hour, or until brown and firm
  • Serves 8

Find Hallelujah! The Welcome Table at N TX15 .A5697 2004, or check out some of our other cookbooks on the Downs-Jones Library shelves…

  • African-American Holiday Traditions: Celebrating with Passion, Style, and Grace, by Antoinette Broussard: N E185.86 .B697 2000
  • A Kwanzaa Celebration: Festive Recipes and Homemade Gifts from an African-American Kitchen, by Angela Shelf Medearis: N TX715 .M483 1995
  • The Early American Cookbook: Based on the Alan Landsburg Television Series The American Idea, by Hyla O’Connor: TX715 .O323
  • Men’s Guide to Bread Machine Baking: Making Pizza, Bagels, Beer Bread, Pretzels, Sourdough, and Over 100 Other Great Breads with Your Bread Machine, by Jeffrey Gerlach: TX769 .G472 1997
  • The Ultimate Tailgater’s Handbook, edited by Stephen Linn: TX731 .L55 2005
  • What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel: Further Adventures in Kitchen Science, by Robert L. Wolke with recipes by Marlene Parrish: TX652 .W642 2005

…or online as eBooks:

Happy cooking, and happy holidays!



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One Hundred and…What Now?

Let’s talk about unnecessary sequels.

In completely unrelated news, J.K. Rowling recently announced the release of a new Harry Potter story, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Except it’s not a book you can binge-read, it’s a play, to be produced in two parts, by only one playhouse, in London. It sold out approximately three nanoseconds after this announcement, and will be released in story form shortly before the Internet collapses under the weight of the accumulated wailing of deprived fans. One of these facts is slightly more made up than the other.

But unnecessary sequels. They’re endemic in movies. Why is there such a thing as Cinderella III? Is it just to torment people, mainly parents? And if you name your film The Last Exorcism, and you then release The Last Exorcism 2, you deserve almost everything the Internet can throw at you. I could name several book series that ran themselves into the ground – and then kept going.

We could do this all day, but I can top them all.

Pop quiz (you will not be graded): Name the sequel to the book The One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

A: The One Hundred and Two Dalmatians

B: The One Hundred and One More Dalmatians

C: There is no sequel to The One Hundred and One Dalmatians

D: The One Hundred and One Dalmatians was never a book

Don’t worry, no one else gets this one right either.

It exists, and it’s called The Starlight Barking. It’s not the weirdest thing I’ve ever read, but it’s up there. You know those things you read on the Internet – or in your English class – that make you wonder what the author was on at the time? It’s kind of like that. I sometimes think I imagined this book, because no one else seems to know about it.

(Another trick question: How many adult Dalmatians are there in the original book? It’s actually four. 1: Pongo. 2: Missus, Pongo’s mate. 3: Perdita, the stray adopted to help Missus take care of fifteen puppies. 4: Prince, Perdita’s mate, who shows up at the very end.)

The Starlight Barking is extremely odd. The One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a perfectly straightforward book – except for the fact that the animals can talk to each other, there’s no magic or madness to it. But then we get to The Starlight Barking, which is a sort of airy fantasy/sci-fi/dream sequence. Here’s part of how it goes:

All the dogs in the world wake up. They’re the only ones that do: anyone who isn’t a dog is happily asleep. The dogs – in this case, the Dalmatians from the first book – discover that a lot of strange things are happening. No one is hungry. No one is restless. Doors open when the dogs want them to. They can travel by “swoosh”, a sort of effortless gliding leap. They can communicate long-distance through possibly telepathy. So – of course – they all travel to London and set up a government. Sirius, the Dog Star, starts talking to them. And then it gets weird.

(Things you didn’t know about Cruella deVille: Cruella’s married – to a furrier. She bullies him. Her favorite food is pepper. She had her car horn specially modified to be the loudest car horn in Britain. Several decades ahead of any Bond villain, she has a white Persian cat. Cruella and the cat hate each other: towards the end of the book, the cat lets Pongo, Missus, 97 Dalmatian puppies, and their friend the Staffordshire Terrier into Cruella’s house to destroy her fur collection, and then goes home with them. When Cruella discovers this, the shock turns the black side of her hair white. The white side of her hair turns green. I’m not making any of this up.)

You may have gotten the impression that I would clean up in a The One Hundred and One Dalmatians trivia challenge, but I still don’t know what’s going on with The Starlight Barking. No one’s ever been able to explain it to me, since no one seems to remember it exists – although the Austin Public Library owns a single copy, and it was recorded as an audiobook in 1986. It’s an odd little novella-length sequel, tacked on to a classic children’s story.

Do I love it? Yes. Yes, I do. I’m really glad Dorothy “Dodie” Smith wrote it. I reread it every so often just in case it started making sense while I wasn’t looking. It’s the perfect unnecessary sequel, while at the same time being completely harmless, very cute, and inexplicably weird. It’s a good combination.

Maybe forgotten would be a better adjective for this sequel. But now you know.

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History of Veteran’s Day

Every November, the entire country pays tribute to the men and women who have risked their lives to serve this country in the military through the observance of Veteran’s Day.  Huston-Tillotson students and alumnus are no strangers to this type of public service. HT partners with the University of Texas to offer ROTC opportunities to our students. Many of them take part, learning leadership skills and having their education paid for through the program.  You may have a veteran sitting right next to you in class.  Because of significance of this day, here is a little bit of history about this important holiday.

The roots of Veterans Day can be traced back to World War I.  World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.  However, the fighting had ceased seven months before when an armistice, or a temporary cease in fighting, between the Allied Forces and the Germans, went into effect.  This armistice ended four years, three months and two weeks of the bloodiest fighting the world had even seen.  As a consequence, November 11, 1918, has generally been regarded as the end of World War I.  That next year, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 to be Armistice Day, in honor of those veterans. World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.”  The massive loss of life during that conflict would show the world the futility of war. Unfortunately, we know that didn’t happen.

Since World War I did not mark the end of all wars, Armistice Day evolved into what we know as Veterans Day by 1975.  That year, President Ford signed a bill officially making Veterans Day November 11, with the purpose of honoring all American veterans, regardless of which conflict they served in.  It is one of the few national holidays to be celebrated on that exact date, regardless of what day of the week it is. This is to mark the historical significance of the day and to remind us of the importance of the sacrifice all veterans make.  After all, soldiers don’t get three-day weekends. They put their lives on the line every day. They deserve our admiration, gratitude and respect. To all the veterans out there, today and every day, I thank you.

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Job & Career Accelerator

It is never too early to begin planning for your next job or your eventual career. As an HT student, you have open access to a wide range of online databases and electronic resources. One of these many resources is the Job & Career Accelerator site that offers detailed guidance and helpful tutorials on a variety job hunting topics.

Job & Career Accelerator provides all of the following options:

  • Explore over 1,000 different occupations
  • Discover the career that’s best for you
  • Search local and national job and internship postings
  • Create professional resumes and cover letters
  • Practice and master interviewing skills
  • Get valuable job-search tips and advice at every step
  • Organize and track your job-search progress

Users can create a free and easy to use account where you can track your job search progress and upcoming tasks; create, access, and publish resumes and cover letters; review saved job opportunities; and more. Take a few minutes to set up your account and gain access to a set of valuable tools for your future.

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The Archives War of 1842

Many people do not know this, but here at the Downs-Jones Library, we have an archive. The archive collects and preserves the history of the university, as well as the history of our parent schools, Samuel Huston College and Tillotson College. The Archives also contains African art.

Archives were also an important part of the Republic of Texas’s government. Texas was an independent nation from the years of 1836 to 1845. As a nation, Texas was short on cash. As a substitute, the government gave out large swatches of public land. The records of the General Land Office, which handled all these land grants, were very important for the government to conduct its day-to-day business.

The city of Austin was built in 1839 under the leadership of the second president of the Republic, Mirabeau Lamar.  It was built to be the capital of the Republic and Lamar moved the seat of government here in that year.  This included the General Land Office, which was situated at the corner of Congress Ave and Pecan St (now 6th St).

In 1841, Lamar left the presidency and Sam Houston took office for his second term as president. Houston did not like the city of Austin.  He called it “the most unfortunate site on earth for a seat of government.” He immediately wanted to move the government back to Houston, Texas, which had been the capital during his first term as president.  The Congress resisted him, however, and of February, 1842, Austin was still the legal capital.

In March, and then September of that year, Mexico invaded Texas. Although these invasions both amounted to nothing, they gave Houston the emergency he needed to move the government back to Houston.  When the residents of Austin heard about this, they were outraged and were determined to keep the archives in the city, even if they had to use violence to do so. Houston’s men were twice thwarted in their efforts to get the archives.

Houston was determined though, and not above trickery to achieve his aims.  On December 30, 1842, he sent some twenty men and three wagons in the dead of night to sneak into the city and retrieve the records.  The wagons were quietly loaded and as daylight broke, Angelina Eberly, a woman who owned a boardinghouse at the same intersection of Congress and 6th, spotted what was going on. She spread the alarm and returned to the cannon at that intersection. The cannon was always loaded and ready to go in the case of an Indian attack. Mrs. Eberly wheeled the cannon around so that it faced the Land Office building and set it off. It blew a hole in the side of the building, but no one was injured.

Houston’s men had decided they had enough of the archives and took off. They headed north, and by nightfall, were 18 miles from Austin. They made camp for the night. They woke up the next morning to find themselves surrounded by angry Austinites, complete with firearms and the previously mentioned cannon, which they had dragged along with them. Houston’s men were given the option of fighting or surrendering.  They chose to surrender. The archives were returned to Austin. The question of where the permanent capital of Texas would be was not satisfied until 1870, twenty-five years after Texas became a state, but the archives never again left Austin. If you go to the intersection of 6th St and Congress Ave today, you will see a statue of Angelina Eberly, setting off the cannon. We have her and the other early residents of Austin to thank for ensuring that this beautiful city would fulfill its original purpose.

archives war

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Sheet Music @ the Library

Libraries=books. This is the assumption anyway. So I don’t think it would surprise anyone that the Downs-Jones Library contains a lot of books about music and musicians. But did you know that the library also contains sheet music? Quite a bit of it, in fact.

If you were to wander into the stacks, under the letter M, you would find sheet music of all varieties. There are literally shelves full of it. There is sheet music for all skill levels . There is music for a solo musician, a band, even an orchestra. There is classical music, jazz, hymns and spirituals and show tunes among others. You can even get the scores for operas. There is sheet music for specific instruments (if you are a piano player, you are especially in luck) or sheet music any musician can play, even if your instrument is just a recorder. If you play an instrument and are looking for a new piece of music to wow all your fans, I would recommend you stop by the library.