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Weekly Shhhout-Out

Roaming librarians file dispatches from the world of information.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring has sprung!

picture of jefferson memorial through cherry blossoms in bloom, shared via creative commons license from the flickr photostream of cliff1066Ahhhh, spring… the sun is still shining when I leave the library, robins are returning from their winter quarters, trees are beginning to bloom, daffodils and crocus are popping up all over and youngsters are walking around in shorts and tank tops (no matter that the weather is still too chilly for that- the calendar says it’s spring, by gosh!). It’s that time of year when the sparkling sunshine makes me realize how dirty my windows are and the extra daylight means I notice the dust building up on the floorboards and in the corners. Time for spring cleaning!

Lucky for me, I live in a smallish apartment that requires only one day for a thorough spring cleaning. I remember my teen years, though, when my sister and I would help our grandmother with some of her spring cleaning chores. It seemed endless because there were three floors of row house to be dusted and scrubbed, lots of windows and their screens to be washed before they went in the windows (back when screens weren’t permanent and the windows didn’t tilt in for easy cleaning) and china cabinets full of quirky dish and glass sets that were never used but which still got a thorough wipedown each spring.

Nowadays, in families with both parents working full-time or multiple jobs and children’s activities consuming evening and weekend hours, there just doesn’t seem to be as much time to fit in spring cleaning. Cleaning services can come to the rescue! Even if you don’t have the extra cash to hire a weekly or monthly cleaning service, hiring someone to do the heavy work once or twice a year might be worth saving for.

clean up or you're out! street sign in brooklyn, shared via creative commons license from the flickr photostream of emilydickinsonridesabmx Want to tackle the job on your own? Here are some resources to help you get organized and tackle the tasks efficiently:

1.  Start with a cleaning checklist from household diva Martha Stewart

2.  Find ideas for getting the whole family involved in the book Help! Around the House: A Mother’s Guide to Getting the Family to Pitch In and Clean Up.

3.  Studies are showing that all the anti-bacterial products we are using more and more often may actually be doing more harm than good.  Consider going green in your cleaning with help from books like Organic Housekeeping and Naturally Clean.

4.  Keep your home looking great by organizing and creating better storage (or by getting rid of things, if you tend to be a hoarder).  Books like Clutter Diet and Room by Room Storage Solutions offer suggestions that will get you started.  There are lots of other books on house cleaning and organizing your home available from the libraries. You can even find instructional videos on youtube.

5.  Don’t forget to turn up your favorite music to give you energy for the tasks! Or sing the happy working song along with Princess Giselle from the Disney movie Enchanted.

cover photo of organize your digital life by aimee baldridgeRemember that spring cleaning isn’t just about the house! Maybe you need to organize your digital life, which may include getting rid of some of your less desirable facebook friends.  Still have mementos tucked away from an ex? Do some spiritual cleaning and toss ‘em!

Perhaps your finances are in a tangle and you need to get them organized? We have many books on personal finance in the library.  There are some useful online tools also: planning tools from the Smart Cookies investing website,  comprehensive money tracking and planning tools from Mint.com (easy to use and FREE!) or from Quicken (also easy to use but you pay to download online or buy from your local office supply store). While you’re at it, take the time to check your credit reports. (I do this each year around the same time I file my taxes.) Many websites and companies advertise that they offer free credit reports, but there is only one website that lets you do this free: AnnualCreditReport.com.  Other sites will charge fees somehow or another. Note that the *reports* are free but you do get charged if you want to know your actual *score*.

You could also take some financial advice from the original Domestic Goddess (but I really wouldn't recommend it).

If you’re more in the mood for living vicariously through someone else’s housework, look for Barbara Colley’s mysteries featuring New Orleans super sleuth/cleaning lady Charlotte LaRue or Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us, which explores the intimate and yet formal bond that develops between a housemaid and her abused employer in contemporary Bombay. Opt out of cleaning for a movie like Sunshine Cleaning or Spanglish or episodes of the BBC series Upstairs Downstairs.

All this talk of cleaning wearing you down?   Do you hate cleaning?  You aren’t alone!  You might want to take a look at the case AGAINST spring cleaning or get yourself a magnet to show everyone how you feel.  Maxine, the cranky silver-haired star of her own line of greeting cards, puts it this way, “My idea of housekeeping is to sweep the room with my eyes.”

picture: a clean house is a sign of a wasted life

CATEGORIES: Seasons , Home , Tina R.
POSTED: 1:16:00 PM |

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From Papyrus Scroll to iPad App - The End is Nigh, Again

scroll“But papyrus scrolls feel so much better!” Such were the cries of lamentation heard across the ancient world as papyrus scrolls were replaced by that new-fangled Roman invention the codex, or book. “Why do I have to flip these – what are they called? pages? The scrolls ran so smoothly under my hand, they signified a seamless flow of knowledge, a noble tradition, now it’s all chopped up into scraps signifying nothing …” The Luddites’ fretful complaints drone on down the centuries, ever eloquent in bemoaning the end of civilization as we know it, while civilization as we aren’t quite used to it yet is busy being born. The invention of the printing press was the work of the devil according to these doomsayers, and maybe they were right because it did spread those dangerous things called ideas to the previously unlettered masses. They began thinking for themselves, founding new churches, having revolutions, writing novels that sent Victorian ladies into a swoon, and reading everything from the Bible and Shakespeare to tabloid gossip and vampire boyfriend sagas. Where will it all end? Not with a bang or a whimper apparently, but with a tweet.
The digital revolution is upon us and my grandchildren will grow up in the first fully digital generation. It is bringing out the Luddites once again; check out this cartoon, which at least adds humor to the traditional diatribe. Determined not to join the chorus of old fogies – even though that role is getting age appropriate for me – I bought an iPad and began exploring the world of children’s apps to share with my grandsons. Here is what I have discovered so far: like any other medium - books, films, music, you name it – the good, the bad, and the mediocre are all out there. Just as librarians select and recommend the best books for children, so we can help sort out the sheep from the goats when it comes to apps. If you’ve heard the horror stories about the Smurfs game and don’t want your child playing Angry Birds all day, here’s a sampling of the best apps for the very young tested on my own 1 and 3 year old grandchildren.
 The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Children touch the spider to start the song and watch him climb the water spout, then touch other objects for entertaining actions – make water gush from the downspout, see a caterpillar change into a butterfly, and more. Beautiful graphics, and the singer sounds so much better than I do!
 Fish School. Colorful fish and lively music teach letters, numbers, and colors with interactive games including matching and which one’s different? A low-key, fun way to learn.
 FirstWords Animals. Perfect for children who know their letters and are ready to start recognizing words. Settings allow parents to choose the difficulty level – three or four letter words, matching the letters or filling in the blanks etc. Note: this bird is not angry and doesn't attack any pigs!
 Popout! The Tale of Peter Rabbit. This interactive classic presents the original text and illustrations in pop-up form, with the advantage that the tabs don’t get torn by tiny fingers! Parents can turn the narration off so they can read to their child. Beginning readers get help with unfamiliar words: touch the screen to hear the word. Twittering birds, hopping bunnies, and gently falling leaves bring Beatrix Potter’s natural world to life. A beautiful app that shows the potential for digital books. The Washington Post Book World editors like Peter Rabbit too! They include it in this list of the best picture book apps in the Spring Children’s Book Review section.
I know my grandsons will be reading and learning in both print and digital formats in the future. Introducing them to the iPad hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm for books; it is just another way to enjoy stories together. Maybe when they grow old they will look back with nostalgia on that hopelessly old-fashioned device their grandmother shared with them. And maybe in that brave new world, as information is beamed directly into their brains, some people will cling to their electronic devices and predict the end of civilization, as so many generations have done before them.
One thing I’ve learned in three months with my iPad – Marshall McLuhan was wrong. The medium is not the message. The medium is just the device. Stories are forever.
CATEGORIES: Technology , Children , Books , E-Books , Rita T.
POSTED: 1:00:00 AM |

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Odds and Ends (Sometimes Really Odd)

animated MRI of a watermelon

After writing entries for this blog for over two years, I have learned to save links to
possible sites of interest as I discover them. When blog time rolls around, I check my
bookmarks and see if any themes emerge. Some things just don't fit anywhere, and this has left some oddments lingering in my files. Hey! Maybe that's a category in itself. So, just for fun, here are some sites I've come across in my travels through the Web and wanted to share.

Ever wondered what would happen if you mashed up a famous science fiction book with a famous picture book? Here it is--Goodnight Dune.

That is actutally a good book compared to the one I'm now  going to tell you about. Possibly the worst picture book ever written is Little Kettle-head by Helen Bannerman. Yes, the same Helen Bannerman who wrote and illustrated the controversial book Little Black Sambo. At least Little Black Sambo had a coherent plot--this one is plain weird. Little Kettle-head should be given to everyone who thinks they can write a children's book as an example of what not to do--not ever, ever.  It is so creepy that one doesn't know where to start to enumerate its failings. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. (Okay, I admit it--there were screams of laughter eminating from my office, once I was able to get my jaw off the floor. But I have a sick sense of humor.)

I think it's time to get back to the world of good books, now. Did you know that Tove Jansson of Moomintroll fame also illustrated The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien? Click on the first picture to enlarge it and use the arrows to move through the slideshow.

Speaking of Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is number 10 in this list of Top Ten Most Overrated Novels. Maybe you don't agree with this list. Let them know--they appear to be still taking comments.

I've had many hamsters during my career as a children's librarian, and currently I have
hermit crabs in my office (don't ask) but, early on this year, The Library of Congress had a hawk take up residence in the main reading room.

One thing no library I've worked in has had--zombies. But you never know these days. When confronted with a zombie outbreak is your library prepared? Here's a  Zombie Emergency Prepardness Plan for libraries. 

Libraries have expanded the scope of their collections greatly over the years from new media formats to items such as puzzles and tools. This, however, takes the cake, although I'm vaguely disgusted to talk of food in the same breath as introducing you to the largest collection of belly button lint in the world. All together now: EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!  Way to go Graham Barker for further eroding the reputation of librarians.

Speaking of food and too much time on your hands (that was implied by the above example, right?) some people are creating animated MRI's of fruit to produce living fractiles. Yeah, you heard me. Cool, huh? There's one at the beginning of this blog post. That's a watermelon, believe it or not.

From the innerverse to the outerverse: Do you want to explore the universe and not leave the house? Try Celestia a free space simulation. Whew! I needed a break.

There, we've gone from the ridiculous to the sublime; science fiction to real science. Aren't you glad?


CATEGORIES: Science , Children , Books , Annette K.
POSTED: 2:46:00 PM |

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Everyone knows what a library is and they know that librarians work there... but do you know what your librarians really do all day? (Here's a hint: we don't sit around reading all the time.) A recent discussion among an online group of public librarians revealed some of the most common misconceptions and myths that people have about the library profession. Even my own family and friends- who hear my tales of woe and wonder- still cling to some of these ideas. It got me to thinking that maybe I need to do my part to give you, dear reader, a better picture of what we are all about and perhaps clarify some of these myths.

Not quite. Technically, a librarian is someone who has earned a Master's Degree in Library or Information Science. There are many different levels of work that library employees do and all of them are vital to the smooth functioning of the library. Pages (yes, that's a job title- I'm not talking about paper in books) do most of the shelving in each branch. Library Aides spend most of their time processing holds; that is, finding the books that customers from other branches want and then preparing the hold slip and sending it out to the other branch. Circulation staff direct the flow of materials through the branches: checking items in and out, sorting them for faster shelving, handling questions about accounts and helping to solve problems with the materials (like contacting a customer who forgets to put the DVD back in the case before returning it to the library). Information staff (which includes the "official" librarians) are the ones who do their best to answer any question you have, from "Where is the bathroom?" to "How do they put the last stitch in a soccer ball?" And that's just in the branches! In a library system the size of MCPL, there are a lot of other positions needed to keep things running smoothly- the virtual services team who manages the website, the online databases and provides online reference help; selectors who determine what materials to buy; catalogers who get the materials coded so you can find them in the catalog; drivers who spend their days on the roads of Montgomery County moving thousands of items between branches; and administrators who support the work of the branches and plan for the future of the system. Plus the volunteers- can't forget them! We have lots of students and adults who volunteer to do everything from preparing story time materials for librarians to mending books to fundraising for the Friends of the Library chapters in support of their local branches.

HA! The only time I manage to grab a few minutes to read at work is during my meal break. I certainly do not have the time to read while sitting at the information desk because the steady stream of questions I answer leaves no time for reading. And the due dates... well, if you come to the library then you know we don't stamp these anymore.  (Miss them?  Get the T-shirt.)

Seriously? There are well over 2 million items in the entire MCPL collection. No way does anyone have time to read them all. As for being really smart... well, it is well known that librarians are great folks to have on your Trivial Pursuit or quiz bowl team. We spend our days finding answers to questions about everything, so some of it is bound to stick in our heads.

Ummmm... NO! We have to pay for books just like everyone else does. Occasionally, an author or patron will donate copies of a book we can add to the collection. Many people noticed that MCPL did not have as many new books on the shelves over the last year and that some of our online resources were no longer available, which is a direct result of recent budget cuts.

Have you ever been in the children's section of the library after storytime on a busy morning? If you believe myth #5, then probably not. While the library is mostly quiet, there are teen events for gaming (not quiet, especially with Guitar Hero) and storytimes with songs and games for children and programs like the Chinese Lion Dance that move through the library (banging drums and all). Even our book discussions can get pretty lively sometimes! People gather in the library, so there are (relatively) quiet conversations happening in the lobby, at the check-out and information desks, among the stacks and at the tables and seating areas. The library is full of the vibrant hum of life. If it is too quiet, that means no one is there... and we certainly don't want that.

CATEGORIES: Libraries , Tina R.
POSTED: 10:45:00 AM |

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Celebrating Mardi Gras and Libraries

This is carnival week, an excellent time to visit the digitized Carnival Collection of the Louisiana Research Collection Tulane University.  Below you will see a selection of costumes from the 1873 Mistick Krewe of Comus "Missing Links" parade designed by Charles Briton. 

All the illustrations below, costume and float designs, are reproduced with permission.  Physical rights are retained by the Louisiana Research Collection.  Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. copyright laws.
This collection is the complete set of costume design drawings for the 1873 Mistick Krewe of Comus "Missing Links" parade. It was an important event in New Orleans' Mardi Gras history, becoming one of the first major parades to use satire and political commentary. Many of the images depict figures related to the Civil War and Reconstruction, such as Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Butler, and Louisiana Governor Henry Warmoth. Also depicted are notable figures such as Charles Darwin, and Algernon Badger (head of the Metropolitan Police).
Coral Polyp
Sea Nettle

The following are float designs by Jennie Wilde for the Mistick Krewe of Comus parades. The years for each design are shown after the title. The inspiration for the name came from John Milton's Lord of Misrule in his masque Comus. The first Comus parade was held on Mardi Gras 1857, and this became an annual event. Other organizations sprang up in New Orleans in the 19th century, inspired by the Comus model, and also came to be known as "Krewes". Parading on Mardi Gras night, Comus was the final parade of the New Orleans carnival season for over 100 years. It was much smaller and more sedate than the other parades of the day put on by Rex and the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. The Comus parades became known for their sometimes obscure themes relating to ancient history and mythology. While other New Orleans parades might have themes like "Foods of the World" or "Broadway Show Tunes", Comus would present themes like "Serpent Deities of the Ancient Near East". The following designs are from different years with different themes.

St. George and the Dragon 1909

Legend of Eyla 1910

Dragon Watch 1906

Fu the Celestial 1912

In Xanadu Did Kubla Khan 1911

Pirates 1912

The Garden 1910

The Cock 1910

The Kraken 1907

Comus in a carriage drawn by swans leashed with golden collars. The carriage is made of, or emerging from, banana plants, with bananas and banana blossoms in the lower right. 1910

Many thanks to Tulane University and the Louisiana Digital Library and most especially to the
Libraries let us enjoy these pictures for decades and centuries.
See the blog for Tulane University's Louisiana Research Collection for announcements and updates to the collections. New items are being added all the time.
Hat tip to Bibliodyssey, where I first saw these illustrations.

CATEGORIES: Libraries , Holidays , Nell M.
POSTED: 12:08:00 AM |
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