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

online tools

Once upon a time one of my graduate school professors gleefully recounted her days as a militant library science student (yeah, you never saw that phrase coming, didja?) at Columbia University in the ’60s.   She said the school administration’s biggest fear during all the unrest was, of all things, that students would destroy the university library’s master catalog, known in jargon as the shelf list.  Back in the day, as they say, it would have been too easy to destroy a shelf list–just pull the rods out, dump the drawers and kick the cards all over the place–thereby rendering a rich and extensive collection pretty much useless.  Sure, it could be reconstructed but doing so would take ages and a lot of people who knew their ABCs and understood the mysteries of either the Dewey Decimal classification system or the even more mysterious Library of Congress system.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with card catalogs since I was a small child, when my children’s librarian, after making certain I had washed my hands, introduced me to the mysteries of looking up a book.  As I started my life in libraries I got more involved and the shine sort of wore off.  I still loved the smell of the cards, the sound of a drawer being pulled out and set with a thunk on the little pull out shelf and the feel of that honey brown wood.  I admired the elegance of tracings (the subject headings for each title) and was strangely comforted by the presence of the the shelf list that hulked behind the “staff only” doors of every system I ever worked in save one.  However, I was never so lost to the romance that I couldn’t see the ugly side, especially when I was  on my knees trying to scoop together the contents of several drawers that a frolicsome patron, no doubt in a brave attempt to amuse the staff, would dump at the end of a long Saturday.  My love for all that solid wood and perfectly sized cardstock died violently when I took a job at a major university and was presented with cases of retired shelf list cards.  My task was to pull all those elegant tracings, rendering the catalog accurate.  I felt like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, faced with a room full of straw to be spun into gold, but there was no crazy little man with a long beard to save me.  Nope.  That task took the better part of two years.  On-line catalogs have some drawbacks too, but they are here to stay, despite early predictions.  They offer more access points, are much easier to update and keep accurate and offer so much more information than their venerable predecessors.  They can even be browsed at 2:00 a.m. by folks in their jammies and scuffies.

Starting today, the DCPL catalog also contains, along with a record of holdings for books, music CDs, DVDs and Read-alongs, holdings for electronic content that we purchase.  A good portion of our budget has been trending towards electronic media the past few years and now it’s easier than ever to find.  Go on, try it out—go to the catalog on our homepage and look up Learning Express Library, home site for many on-line practice tests including the TOEFL.  Try  Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell and then follow the hotlink to other OverDrive products.   I think it’s all pretty cool and I’ll never, ever have to pick these records up off the floor.


Jun 14 2010

You just gotta be there. . .

by Patricia D

You know, in these modern times genealogy as a hobby is  easy.  You have the census on-line through DCPL’s reference databases which contain Ancestry and Heritage Quest, both keyword searchable.  No more trips on the odd Friday off to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Southeastern branch. Thanks to Google Books and Heritage Quest you’ve got access to digitized county histories, most of which did not have indexes but are now keyword searchable.   Many counties now have their historical records on-line so the six to eight week ordeal of getting a death certificate is  a thing of the past.  As a hobby genealogy is now cheaper, quicker and a lot of it can be done from home.

So much can now be done from the comfort of an easy chair, a Wi-Fi equipped laptop balanced on your knees and a beverage of choice at your elbow, but there is still nothing as thrilling as being there.  When your fifth great-grandfather writes from 1869 that his  sister married a man named Erp, sometimes it takes driving  into Monmouth, Illinois, your car filled with the heavy, golden light of a late afternoon autumn sun,  for you to suddenly go, “Oh, snap!  Grandpa couldn’t spell!” because of course  Monmouth, Illinois is the birthplace of Wyatt Earp.  Yep,  they have a great  big sign right inside the city limits proclaiming it.  This puts a whole new spin on your research because you are suddenly not tracking down a faceless person who lived and died in upstate Illinois but someone whose sister married Wyatt Earp’s uncle.  You now know you are tied to a piece of Western mythology.  You are so overcome with this revelation you have to go sit in a diner, drinking coffee and eating very good butterscotch pie, wishing that you had paid more attention to Kurt Russell instead of Val Kilmer in Tombstone.  Because you are smart as well as friendly, you’ll talk to the folks around you and they will introduce you to one of the Earp descendants,  who just happens to be eating butterscotch pie with his grandson.   He will offer to send you scans of letters from your ancestor to his that the family has been keeping for over a hundred years, and then he will draw you a map to the private  cemetery where your folks, and his,  are buried.

So here’s my advice.  Use the books we have (929.1072 on the library shelves) to learn how to set up your record keeping and get started.  Use the DCPL databases to begin researching—Heritage Quest is available from home but due to licensing restrictions you have to be in the library to use Ancestry.  Do as much work as you can from the comfort of your armchair but make the time to visit the right courthouse, town or cemetery.  It’s the only way the facts become stories, and the whole point of genealogy is the stories.


Feb 26 2010

Help Wanted – Optimal Resume

by Lesley B

This month the Library added a new online tool for our patrons – Optimal Resume (available through our Reference Databases page). As the name suggests, Optimal Resume assists you in creating a resume and cover letter but it has many other features that make it a comprehensive aid to job seekers. Every day, library staff help people using our computers make resumes and search for work. We’ve been looking for something that would make it easier for job seekers and Optimal Resume is the best product we’ve seen. It’s used in many college and university career centers and we’re happy to be able to offer it to DeKalb County residents.

To use Optimal Resume, you will need to first set up your account through the library’s website. If you’re accessing the website at home, you will need your library card number and PIN. You only have to go through the Library’s website the first time. Once you’ve set up your account, you can login directly to our Optimal Resume website.

Once you login, you’re taken to the Document Center. The resume and letter sections have lots of professionally written sample resumes and lots of online help (like a link that suggests appropriate “action verbs”). Optimal Resume takes you section by section through the resume process and formats the document for you. You can work with their examples, start your resume from scratch or upload an existing resume. You can customize your resume for different job openings and store all the versions online in your Optimal Resume account. No more keeping your resume as an email attachment or on your flash drive (we have a lot of flash drives in our lost-and-found drawers.)

Beyond creating resumes and letters, Optimal Resume will help you create your own website. You can post your resume, create an online portfolio and more. Your website can be public or password protected. I used several of the sample documents to create a resume and application letter for the imaginary Jane X. Sample. You can see her personal website at http://dekalblibrary.confidentialresume.com/Jane_X_Sample/.

If you have access to a webcam, you can use Optimal Resume to record yourself during a practice interview. A video “coach” offers advice on good ways to answer some of the usual interview questions. It’s a great way to rehearse for a real world interview.

The Libray is offering classes to help you get started with Optimal Resume and staff will be also be available to assist you with the site during any of our “Open Labs for Job Seekers”. Come in and try it out at any of our libraries or at any time from your home computer.


Sep 11 2009

Listen Good

by Lesley B

We usually recommend a book to someone because we like the story or the setting or because it’s funny, etc. The other night a patron recommended an audiobook to me because the reader was really good.  Ed Sala’s reading of James Lee Burke’s White Doves at Morning was so compelling that this gentleman had come to the library to find more. The Library includes the name of audiobook readers in the catalog, making it easy to search for a favorite performer:audiobook-reader-search1

From the catalog page, select Sound/Video. From the first search box, select Audiobook Word(s) from the menu. In the second search box, enter the performer’s name.

AudioFile, a magazine devoted to audiobooks, has a Golden Voices list if you’re interested in finding more recommended readers or you might like one of Stephen King’s 10 favorite audiobooks.  I personally recommend Flo Gibson’s reading of Persuasion by Jane Austen.  On the page, Austen is amusing to me; but read aloud she is truly funny, with a wicked sense of humor and great timing.  Have you got a favorite audiobook reader?


Aug 14 2009

What’s a good time for you?

by Lesley B

Ever try to set a date for an activity involving more than two people? Well, a friend recently introduced me to a handy little web thingie called Doodle.  She was organizing a book club and trying to set a date for our first meeting. All club members got an email with a link to a calendar. Everyone entered the dates they were available, making it easy to see the best day for the meeting. No more ‘reply all’!

You can also use Doodle to help a group make a choice. Here’s a sample poll for a book club:picture-31

Schedule events and help you make a choice, that’s all Doodle does. Simple is good, especially if your book club is very ambitious. Sigh. No one liked my haiku suggestion.


May 11 2009

Consumer Health Source

by Amanda L

This month the feature database is Consumer Health Complete. This database is one of the many sources the DeKalb County Library cardholders have access through GALILEO. All of these databases can be found on our Reference Databases page.

Have you or someone you loved been diagnosed with a disease by the doctor? Have you wanted to know more information but were afraid to ask the doctor? Consumer Health Complete is a good resource to learn more about diseases and health information.

Consumer Health Complete contains many electronic versions of Reference books that we have on the shelf like the Complete Guide to Prescription & Nonprescription Drugs. You can browse the electronic versions of the Reference books or you can keyword search the books. Consumer Health Complete also has the type of documents it contains broken down by category such as Pamplet & Fact Sheets, Encyclopedias, Evidence-Based Reports, Images and Diagrams and Alternative Sources to name a few.

[read the rest of this post…]


Jan 22 2009

Brainstorm Online

by Jimmy L

I’m a visual person.  Sometimes I need to get out a pencil and sketch out a diagram of a complex problem.  Recently, I found a free tool called bubbl.us that helps you make a visually attractive diagram online.  It’s very easy to draw “bubbles” and label them, color them, move them around, and create linkages between them. Once you’re done, you can export it as an image or web document to share with friends and collaborators.  Here’s a very over-simplified diagram I made in 3 minutes, just as an example:

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Jan 8 2009

Judging a Place by its Cover

by Jimmy L

Can you recognize these legendary album covers?  If so, what about where these photos were actually taken?  Word magazine has created a Google Maps mashup called Album Atlas that makes it really easy to find out, so that you can be the most knowledgeable guy or gal at the music store (at least concerning this topic).  You can click anywhere on the map with a blue flag and it will show you an album cover taken at that location.  Alternately, you may click on an album title from the full list, and it will show you the location on the map.  Continue reading this post if you want the answers to the above questions… [read the rest of this post…]


Apr 22 2008

Check Out the New GALILEO!

by Chris S

One of the best services the Library has to offer is GALILEO, which stands for GeorgiA LIbrary LEarning Online. With a DeKalb County Public Library card you get access to many many electronic resources, including eBooks, eAudiobooks, magazines, historical documents, and newspapers, not to mention academic and trade journals and other powerful research tools. GALILEO has been working on a web site redesign for the last couple of years and they just released their new version last month. Here’s a screenshot:


GALILEO is one the best resources you have at your fingertips. Don’t take our word for it, though – try it yourself!


Mar 27 2008

Books are my “Wiki”-ness

by Jimmy L

You probably know what a wiki is, at least vaguely, from the most famous wiki website Wikipedia.  But did you know that wikis can help you read and enjoy a book more?

There is a whole subset of wikis dedicated to individual books,
authors, and book series.  These wikis are great for those thousand
page books (or series of books) where you may forget who some the characters are if you put
the book down for a few days.  Wikis come in handy here, as they
provide an almost encyclopedic knowledge concerning the universe of the
book or authors in question.  Here are some useful ones I found on the web:

I’ve only listed the most popular ones I can find, as those are the ones with the most content.  However, there are many more.  Here’s an index to some more wikis about books.

You don’t need to know much about wikis in order to enjoy them (just
think about Wikipedia; you can use it just like any other
website).  But if you wish to participate in content creation, it’s
very simple.  Here is a video that explains that process and the basic
concept of wikis in plain english: