DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

March 2013

Mar 27 2013

Best Free Reference Websites 2012

by Jesse M

Alphabits TV AdBack in 2009 I posted about the Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA) list of the best free reference websites of the year. Since several years have elapsed, I decided to investigate the 2012 list to see what new and useful reference websites were being featured. Here were some standouts:

Fans of the popular television series Mad Men and nostalgia buffs generally may be interested in Adviews: A Digital Archive of Vintage Television Commercials. Access thousands of historic commercials created for clients or acquired by the D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B) advertising agency or its predecessor from a period ranging from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Art lovers rejoice! Google Art Project brings the art to you by linking to thousands of works of art across 30 institutions in the US and worldwide! Just choose a museum from the homepage and then use Street View technology to virtually explore the museum or click on specific works of art and zoom in to view them in high resolution.

Fans of truecrime books may enjoy browsing through The Vault, a repository of thousands of declassified FBI documents including memos, reports and other materials spanning several decades. While some words and passages have been redacted to protect identities or sensitive information, a plethora of dossiers are available on both well known and minor criminals as well as such notable figures as Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Taylor, George Steinbrenner and even the pop group the Monkees. Please note: Some material contained in this site may contain actions, words, or images of a graphic nature that may be offensive and/or emotionally disturbing. This material may not be suitable for all ages. Please view it with discretion.

And finally, a great resource for students, educators, and anyone interested in viewing country-by-country statistical data, the World Databank offers a wealth of statistics gleaned from databases maintained by the World Bank. World Development Indicators (WDI) provides data across many categories such as education, the environment, health, and poverty, while Global Development Finance (GDF) provides statistics about the economic and financial health of countries. The site is easy to use, just plug in the country or countries, the statistics of interest, and the years needed.

Want to see more reference sites from previous years? Check out the combined index of lists from 1999-2012.


Several nights ago, I was doing some rapid-fire channel-surfing and happened upon the documentary Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a great film about actress/writer Gertrude Berg.  Her groundbreaking radio and television show The Goldbergs was before my time but the story of her life and times had me glued to channel 30 in a way that I hadn’t been in ages or, at least, in a way I hadn’t been since almost a week before. I believe it was the previous Sunday when I’d flipped to channel 30 and landed on the Ken Burns documentary on baseball. It’s in these two instances that I am reminded of the wonders of PBS.

I remember spending many hours with family or on my own soaking in the quality programming of PBS. Whether I was watching the classic 1980s miniseries adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, catching episodes of Sesame Street before and after school or avidly following the early 90s tween show Ghostwriter (I could go into detail about this wonderful show but that’s kind of a whole separate blog post), PBS was the center of my childhood television viewing. Well, it was as long as we didn’t have cable.

In the age of 500 satellite or cable channels, internet and Netflix, it’s pretty easy to drift away from the classy, wholesome, enjoyable if unassuming Public Broadcasting Service. It keeps chugging away, bringing us magnificent programs like Downton Abbey, Antiques Roadshow and NOVA for free (even though they remain ever grateful to “Viewers Like You” for contributions).

So my hat remains doffed and my television remains set to PBS. Below is just a brief list of some of my favorite recent PBS documentaries, available for borrowing from the Library:

Black In Latin America: I was crestfallen for nearly a week as this fascinating series was airing first run on PBS. At the time I was living in an evil apartment complex that, for whatever reason, had the worst signal for PBA 30 and no signal at all for GPB Channel 8.  Several months later, I was able to borrow this series from the Library. The series follows as host Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the African roots of several Latin American nations like Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

The Jewish Americans: This is an incredibly informative and insightful series that I intend to borrow again but next time with a pen and pad at the ready. Narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, this film follows the Jewish American experience and the community’s contributions to American history and culture. I highly recommend it.

Ken Burns…well, anything really: There isn’t a Ken Burns documentary that I’ve seen that I haven’t been hopelessly in the thrall of. I’ve spent six hours on a lazy Saturday glued to my computer screen watching the advent, the unfolding and unraveling of prohibition. I’ve watched the birth and growth of jazz as an American musical form. I watched a whole lot more of his documentary on the history and dominance of baseball than I’d intended to and I’m not even a casual fan of the game. Burns’ work is the gold standard of documentary series filmmaking.


Mar 22 2013

Massively Educational

by Jimmy L

edXA few months ago I took a course taught by a University of Pennsylvannia professor. Although the class had over 28,000 students, I often received personal answers to my questions from one of the many TAs (teacher’s assistants) and occasionally even from the professor himself. My classmates were smart and discussions were lively. The assignments and quizzes were illuminating. I didn’t have to jump through any hoops or prerequisites to enroll, and best of all, I paid nothing for it.

You may already know where I’m going with this since you may have already heard of MOOCs before (or taken one, even). MOOCs, which stands for Massive Open Online Courses, are becoming increasingly popular these days, and although there are some differences, most MOOC sites offer high quality university level education for free on a huge range of subjects.

If you’re interested in MOOCs, there are several currently offering interesting classes:

Coursera — Although the website is .org, Coursera is actually a for-profit company with an idealistic view of free education for all. (I’m not sure how they plan to make money in the future, but for now the classes are free). It is among the largest of the MOOCs and currently offers classes from computer security, economics, ancient Greece, and property and liability law (just to name a few).

Udacity — born out of Stanford University in 2011, Udacity quickly grew to be a platform for free online courses. Currently they are offering courses on statistics, computer science, physics, building a startup business, and many others.

edX — unlike Coursera or Udacity, edX is a not-for-profit enterprise. Founded by MIT and Harvard University in the Fall of 2012, they have plans of making their learning platform an open-source solution that other educational institutions may use for their courses. Currently they are offering courses on biology, quantum mechanics, computer graphics, copyright law, and many more.

Each one of these MOOCs operates differently, and each course is also run differently, depending on the professor’s style, so it would be wise to read up on their policies before enrolling. Although MOOCs sometimes offer certificates upon completion, these are still not universally recognized. For a much longer list of MOOCs and other online educational websites, please check out this post.

Have you taken a MOOC or plan to? What are your experiences with them?


Mar 20 2013

Sew it up!

by Dea Anne M

During the summers, up until I turned 14 and my family moved to south Georgia, my brother and I spent most of our school vacation in the custody of our grandparents. Of course, I would never have thought of it in such terms up until the year I turned 12. Daydreaming and sullen by turns, I wanted to spend all my time either reading (and being left alone) or being taken to the mall. It couldn’t have been fun or easy for my grandmother to have me around the house all day every day for the 2 months I was there and I am impressed in retrospect by how cheerfully she put up with my adolescent nonsense. My grandmother was an amazing seamstress who made me many wonderful outfits, and that summer she offered to teach me to sew.

“Come on, honey. It’ll be fun!”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Thanks anyway.”

Oh the years that I regretted that youthful choice! Never say never though. Recently, I acquired a sewing machine and I am determined now to finally learn how to sew. There are numerous places near where I live that offer lessons and that is certainly an option that I’d like to pursue but some self teaching is certainly in order as well. Luckily for me, and you too if you want to learn, DCPL has plenty of resources to help.chic

It makes sense that simple projects are a good way to start learning the basics. Improv Sewing: 101 fast, fun, and fearless projects by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut provides a number of fun looking projects, some promising to be finished in less than a day. Projects include dresses, shirts, and skirts, none of which require pattern cutting skills, as well as scarves, pillows, curtains and more, many embellished with fun stitching. Chic On a Shoestring: simple to sew vintage-style accessories by Mary Jane Baxter provides plenty of inspiration for simple yet original projects with a particular emphasis on using “upcycled” material.

Once you’re ready to move on to more advanced projects, you might want to check out Sweat Shop Paris: lessons  from a sewing cafe by Martena Duss. The Paris Sweat Shop was (it closed last summer) a crafting space/cafe set up to provide space and equipment for DIYers to produce alternatives to store-bought clothing and its often accompanying questionable labor practices. You’ll find herethreads ideas for really unique and fun garments. If you are ready to take a bold step forward,  Teach Yourself Visually: Fashion Sewing by Carole Ann Camp will provide detailed instruction in all aspects of garment construction from pleats, to darts, to facings.

Finally, for a complete sewing reference book, you could hardly do better than Threads Sewing Guide: a complete reference from America’s best-loved sewing  magazine edited by Carol Fresia.

I realize that I’ve highlighted here resources devoted primarily to sewing items of apparel and that’s only because that’s where my immediate sewing interests lie. Do know that there’s a wealth of material at DCPL to assist you in home decor projects and to lead you through the wonderful world of quilting.

How about you? Are you a sewer or would you like to learn? Where would you love to direct your sewing energies: quilting or clothes?


Mar 18 2013

Listen Up!

by Nancy M

Bloody-Jack-298431Spring Break is just a few weeks away and I’m sure many of you out there have road trips planned. Personally, I hate being in the car. I was the youngest of 3 kids who always had to sit in the middle seat for our endless 16 hour drive to Lake Michigan every summer. These days, I have a long daily commute to the Library and on my weekends I get to drive around with a toddler who hates being in the car just as much as I do. But I really can’t complain (I know it would seem that’s all I’m doing) because I have access to something amazing…audiobooks!

Now, we have a pretty extensive audiobook collection and they get checked out quite a bit so I know most of you out there know about audiobooks. But what you may not know is how beneficial they can be to your child’s reading abilities. Listening to audiobooks carries many of the same benefits that reading instills in your child plus more. They can help improve language skills, (“oh, so that’s how you pronounce that word!”), concentration, and allow many children who might not be strong readers to enjoy a range of books without hampering their confidence. Plus, there are a ton of really great kid and teen audiobooks out there that parents can enjoy with their kids.

Here is a listing of my top 3 favorite audiobooks in the following categories:

Teen (12-13 and up)

3.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and narrated by Kate Rudd (be warned, especially if you are driving, that you will cry your eyes out. This was the 2013 Odyssey winner.)

2. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (narrated by the author as well as a full cast. This is truly an amazing imaginative audiobook experience. The Golden Compass is the first in the trilogy His Dark Materials. Book 2 is The Subtle Knife and book 3 is The Amber Spyglass.)

1. Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer (hands down my favorite audiobook ever! Katherine Kellgren is the most talented narrator out there today and Bloody Jack is just the beginning of an expertly narrated series. Check out her other books as well; she is building quite a resume.)

Middle Readers (8-12)

3. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (13 books in total with Tim Curry narrating a number of them. The first book is called The Bad Beginning.)

2.  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and narrated by the author (Neil Gaiman lends a perfectly creepy voice to this perfectly creepy tale.)

1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and narrated by Jim Dale. (117 hours of pure storytelling delight. Peter & the Starcatchers is the first in another great series narrated by Dale)

For Younger Children

3. Frog and Toad Audio Collection by Arnold Lobel and narrated by the author.

2. Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne and narrated by the author.

1.  The One and Only Shrek! Plus 5 Other Stories by William Steig and narrated by Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep.

You can check out audiobooks at your local DCPL branch or you can download some of them by accessing OverDrive on our website. Click here for Amanda’s tips on how to download audiobooks or check out a tutorial here. And please feel free to share your own audiobook favorites for any age. I’m always looking for good suggestions!

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Mar 15 2013

Red Means Go

by Veronica W

Imagine this. You are driving down a two lane road, traffic in one lane going east, the other travelling west. The eastbound lane, (yours, of course) is bumper-to-bumper, for some reason in the far distance. Suddenly you see in your side mirror that the driver of a car several lengths behind you, has decided not to wait and has shot out into the westbound lane.  He travels about twenty five feet, then makes a left turn onto a side street,  narrowly escaping a collision with 06-Prepare-to-be-Annoyeda car heading west. I don’t have to imagine this scenario because I have seen it, not once, not twice but three times in as many months.

I learned to drive in New York City, famous for its Andretti style driving.  In fact, I was told that Atlanta’s helter skelter traffic is due to all the transplanted, bad driving northerners who have invaded the Georgia roadways.  While I don’t know about that, I do know that once you’ve driven in gypsy cab land,—aka Manhattan—you can drive pretty much anywhere (…in the U.S. anyway. I hear driving in China is almost surreal). However what happens on the roads today can stress even the most skilled driver, because sometimes it’s impossible to defend yourself against the jaw-dropping, aberrant behavior of other drivers (road construction requires another post).

Tom Vanderbilt has written an informative but highly entertaining book entitled Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us).  For those people who want to listen to something while they drive, it comes in audio book form as well as print. In this book, these questions are answered:

  • Why I Became a Late Merger (and Why You Should Too)
  • Why Does the Other Lane Always Seem Faster
  • Why You’re Not as Good a Driver as You Think You Are
  • Why Ants Don’t Get into Traffic Jams (and Humans Do)
  • Why Women cause More Congestion Than Men (and Other Secrets of Traffic)
  • Why More Roads Lead to More Traffic (and What to Do About It)
  • How Traffic Explains the World

Ronin. Bullitt. What’s Up Doc?. Gone in 60 SecondsThe Bourne Identity.  What do all of these movies have in common? They are all on the Best Car Chase Movies of All Time list. I love car chase movies and  reality is suspended as I watch the mayhem caused by a car hurtling through a crowded street.  I’m not so thrilled when I witness the same recklessness on I-285. Although in my younger years I loved speed, today I often stay in the right lane; not because there is less lead in my foot but because sometimes I think the other two lanes are reserved for the racers. By the way, a car salesman recently told me the 4 cylinder is the new 6 cylinder, the 6 is the new 8, etc.  Hmmm. I wondered why all those little cars seemed so peppy.

Now that you are playing with the idea of leaving your car at home, how will you get to where you need to go?  The “MARTA is smarter” people advocate public transportation.  Fitness folk suggest you walk… or at the very least, ride a bicycle. Since none of these options are viable choices for me, I’ve decided it’s less aggravating to care for and feed a horse. Buggies are optional.


Mar 13 2013

Filament Mind

by Jesse M

At Teton County Library in Wyoming, designers Brian W. Brush and Yong Ju Lee have created a stunning art installation which provides visualizations of library searches conducted by users throughout the state, displaying them as pulses of light on a network of forty four LED illuminators and over five miles of fiber-optic cables. The installation, known as Filament Mind, activates when a person searches for specific terms using online library catalogs. 904 subjects including social sciences, arts, languages, history, and philosophy each correspond to a text label with its own fiber optic cable that lights up when a search is performed. If a person then clicks on one of the results of their search, another cable will light up.

The designers hope that Filament mind will encourage people to interact with each other, share ideas, and explore content new to them.

“Some of the best moments I’ve seen with the project have been when a flash of light in a fiber optic cable catches a person’s eye and they see it is illuminating a category of knowledge they never even knew existed,” Brush says.

To see photos and read more about Filament Mind, check out this Wired article on the subject.

To get a glimpse of Filament mind in action, take a look at the video below:


Mar 6 2013

Threads of History

by Dea Anne M

Fifty Years of FashionPeople who haven’t known me very long are sometimes surprised to learn of my deep and abiding interest in clothes and fashion design. Day to day, I wear what basically amounts to a type of uniform—cardigan sweaters and pullover tops in various colors paired with dark trousers. It’s a system that works well for me and it makes rushed mornings a little easier since everything mixes with everything else. In my leisure time however I’m a devoted fan of fashion magazines and personal style blogs. What really fascinates me though is fashion history. Louis XIV, a fashionable monarch if ever there was one, famously said “Fashion is a mirror.” a statement with which I would have to agree. Think of the safety pins and black leather of 70’s punk culture or the uniform style of Communist China as examples of the way dress can reflect cultural and ideological change. As designer Katherine Hamnett has said, “Clothes create a wordless means of communication that we all understand.”

A fun blog that I’ve recently discovered is Threaded, Smithsonian magazine’s source for sartorial history. Here you’ll find well-written analysis of such fashion phenomena as the rise of the flapper in the 1920’s, sequins, and James Bond’s dinner jackets. Another very worthwhile site is The Fashion Historian. Katy Werlin, the historian, is a very engaging writer with an impressive depth of academic knowledge about clothing design and history. Her post on the Little Black Dress is worth a look just by itself. Also, very worthwhile is Wearing History. Blog mistress Lauren is a witty observer of fashion’s changing face. She’s also an incredibly talented seamstress with a taste for vintage fashion. Check out her re-creation of a blue corset from an 1877 Manet painting or the jacket based on an 1899 pattern and prepare for awe and amazement. Finally, I must mention Of Another Fashion. Its subtitle is “An alternative archive of the not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color.” This wonderful digital history features photographs (often of the donors’ mothers or grandmothers) of women and the clothes they wore. It is a gorgeous and fascinating look into the role fashion has played in the lives of American women of color. Don’t miss the photograph of Lucille Baldwin Brown. She was the first African-American librarian in Tallahassee, Florida and, judging by the photograph, possessed impeccable style. More proof that librarians are awesome!

Do you too enjoy the historical aspects of fashion? If so, DCPL has resources to help you indulge and learn.

Fifty Years of Fashion: new look to now by Valerie Steele is a must for any devoted student of clothing design. Steele is the current director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and is a widely respected historian of fashion. The book appeared in 2000, so the most recent designers are not featured, but you will still gain a lot of great knowledge. Also by Steele are Paris Fashion: a cultural history and Women of Fashion: twentieth-century designers

gunnMost of us know Tim Gunn from Project Runway but he also served on the faculty at Parsons The New School for Design for many years and was the chair for the school’s department of fashion design. His book Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: the fascinating history of everything in your closet is a fun, very readable account of the antecedents of every sort of garment that we wear today. From jeans, to belts, to gloves, Gunn illuminates clothing history with his trademark wit and strong opinions (he really hates capri pants!).

styleA few more notables resources are Fashion by Christopher Breward and A Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank.

Finally, I will mention a book that is a personal favorite of mine The Power of Style: the women who defined the art of living well by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins. Not a history of fashion per se, it is nonetheless an entertaining collection of profiles of 14 women who embodied the very meaning of style throughout the 20th century. Some of the subjects will be familiar to most of us: Jacqueline Kennedy, Coco Channel, the Duchess of Windsor but others will be less known such as Rita Lydig, Daisy Fellowes, and Mona Bismarck. In any case, all these women led fascinating lives and were living embodiments that the quality of “style” goes far beyond wearing the latest designer. Highly recommended!


Mar 4 2013

Bonnet Fiction

by Amanda L

A Cousin's PrayerI recently mentioned to a coworker that I was going to write a post about Amish fiction. His response to me, “Oh, you mean bonnet fiction?” I have to confess I have never heard of the term but in doing some research, this term has been used in the publishing industry since  2009. Bonnet fiction is primarily fiction books written with Amish characters and typically have a romantic theme. Through Amish fiction, the authors give the readers a feel of what it’s like to live the Amish life along with the technological differences associated with that lifestyle.

The author who is most often thought of when you mention Amish fiction is Beverly Lewis. Most of her stories take place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Two of her books have been made into television movies.  The Postcard is one of the older titles that we have in our collection. Rachel Yoder, a recent widower, meets Philip Bradley, a journalist from New York. They set out on a journey after finding a postcard.

Another author who writes Amish fiction is Wanda Brunstetter. She has written quite a few Amish books. A Cousin’s Prayer tells the story of Katie Miller who loses her boyfriend in a car accident. She becomes depressed and meets Freeman Bontrager who wants to be near Katie. He falls for her and wants to make her gain his trust and finally his love.

Beth Wiseman is another author who has written a lot of Amish books. In Plain Promise, Sadie, an Amish widow, works at her family’s store selling goods to tourists. She decides that she needs more income and decides to rent out her cottage. Kade, a single father, decides to rent the cottage to get out of the hustle and bustle of his world. Through the cold winter, Kade and Sadie begin a friendship which concerns the rest of the Amish community.

There is even a local author who writes Amish fiction. His name is Dale Cramer and his stories reflect his family’s history. His grandfather was Amish and lived in Ohio but, because of the enforced school rules, decided to move to Mexico to be able to have their own schools. Levi’s Will is one of the stories that tells the story. Mr. Cramer researched this story and community and at the end of his stories lists his sources for the reader to learn more about this interesting community.

Amish fiction is hot and there are a variety of authors who are trying their hands at this genre. To find some more authors, try searching the catalog under the subject heading Amish fiction. There you will find a variety of authors including Barbara Cameron, Kathryn Cushman and Leslie Gould.

Finally, do you want to learn more about the old order Anabaptist that include the Amish? On the Background to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish and Brethern takes each group and explains their origins and beliefs.  It helped me understand that many of the things described in the Amish fiction are in fact what the Amish community experience in their daily lives.


Mar 1 2013

Comic Relief

by Veronica W

Every Sunday  afternoon I get a newspaper and settle down for my usual ritual. I pull out all of the ads and coupons and set them aside for later perusal. I then pull out the sections in which I have no interest, foremost being the Sports section.  After that I neatly stack my favorites, World News, Metro, Living etc.  Then begins the hunt for the comics, which I set aside in a spot of their own.They will be the last thing I read; kind of like dessert.

The comics – or “funnies” – are considered by some to be lowbrow humor, not worthy of serious thought or consideration. However I have found that some of life’s most truthful and relevant realities are pinpointed in the strips. Listen to Lucy van Pelt (my favorite diva) from Peanuts, who asks, “What shape would the world be in today if everyone settled for being average?”  If you want to hear more from Charlie Brown and his gang, check out Peanuts: A Golden Celebration.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert,  speaks to those of us who get up every morning and spend a good bit of time in the marketplace. His take on life in the corporate world is both hilarious and frequently on target.  On your “grin and bear it ” days, pick up Dilbert’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life: Dispatches From Cubicleland, for a good laugh. If you need a quick fix,  here you are.

dilbert best

The great thing about comics is that they speak to every age, interest and situation.  As my marriage aged, so did my understanding of that battling couple, the Lockhorns.  In his exaggeration of marital struggles, John Reiner portrayed what life is like sometimes after you say “I do.”  If  truth is in wine, it’s often in humor as well.


Get Fuzzy and Pearls Before Swine are comic strips for our times. Their edgy, occasionally dark and sometimes tart humor can be reflective of current values, thoughts and realities.  Those of us who grew up with Nancy, Blondie, Mary Worth, Little LuluPogo, and Popeye—just to name a few—are able to see how humor changes as the culture (and your age) changes.  That which elicits a polite, half-hearted grin from a fifteen year old today may make a senior laugh uproariously.   Which of these do you find amusing?  This one…


or this one…

circ 2

Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, it’s enough that we can laugh.   To paraphrase some wise person, in literature and love (and humor), we are often amazed at what is chosen by others.