Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Web 2.0: the next generation

Lately, you might have heard people talking about Web 2.0. If not, you have probably heard of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and wikis among others. All of these tools form this new generation of web sites that enable people to communicate and share information on the Internet.

Years ago, the content of a website was updated regularly and the main purpose of it was to give information about an organization, business or person, but nothing else. Nowadays, people not only use websites as a source of information, but also as a way to communicate with each other or to express their thoughts or ideas about the content of the website. On a site like Amazon, you can see people rating a product; on Facebook, you can get reacquainted with people you haven’t seen in years and make new friends from all over the world; on My Space you can listen to your favorite band and share your thoughts with other fans about their new songs.
The capability to share ideas and to create community, even if it is in the virtual world, is what is called Web 2.0. Something important to mention is that Web 2.0 doesn’t imply any technical changes in software; it has to do with the way the technology is being used.

For more information about this virtual phenomenon, feel free to check the following books out from our library:

Web 2.0 and beyond : understanding the new online business models, trends, and technologies

Once you're lucky, twice you're good : the rebirth of Silicon Valley and the rise of Web 2.0

Unleashing Web 2.0 : from concepts to creativity

Web 2.0 : a strategy guide

By the way, don’t forget to post comments on our blog, another Web 2.0 tool!

Monday, April 27, 2009

For Elise

On this day in 1810, the German composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven gave to the world this simple and sweet piano piece, "Fur Elise". I'm sure you recognize the tune, you hear it everywhere, from hold music to commercials on tv. But, do you know the story behind the tune? "Fur Elise "can be simply translated to "For Elise". Who is Elise, you ask? We're not sure. There are many speculations that Elise was mis-read (Beethoven apparently had messy handwriting) as Therese. Therese Malfatti was one of Beethoven's piano students around the time this piece was written. He proposed marriage to the young Therese, but she declined. The research shows that there was no Elise in Beethoven's life, but there could have been one, we'll just never know.

If you'd like to learn more about Beethoven, check out some books or look at our databases. You can even check out a CD or LP with this lovely tune. Here's a select few items on Beethoven:

Diagnosing Genius: the Life and Death of Beethoven

Beethoven: the Universal Composer

Ludwig van Beethoven: an Essential Guide to his Life and Works

The easy classical fake book: melody, lyrics and simplified chords

Bach. Beethoven. Brahms.

Baby Beethoven
(sound recording)

Favourite Beethoven (sound recording)

(facts from Encyclopedia Britannica, image from NYPL Digital Gallery)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Standardized Testing Woes

Standardized tests were always my downfall as a student. In fact, the thought of Scantrons and #2 pencils still gives me a headache. If you’re facing one of these nightmare tests, then you’ve probably had to pay some exorbitant registration fee already. Save money now by checking out study materials from the library. The Faulk Central Library just received a large selection of exam preparation books including GED, SAT, GRE, and GMAT. We also have certification exam materials for firefighters, nurses, CPAs, and many others. To locate them in the catalog, use the Advanced Search screen and type the name of the test in the search box. Choose title from the drop-down menu. To limit your results, scroll down and type 2009 in the "publication year" box.

These days many tests are computer based, which can heighten the anxiety level for those not comfortable with computers. Many of the library’s test prep books contain CDs with practice tests so you can become acquainted with the test formats and procedures. If you don’t have time to come to the library, visit the
library’s web site to access The database's Learning Centers provide opportunities to practice for academic, licensing, certification, and aptitude tests. The Student Learning Center offers basic math, reading, and writing skills for all ages and abilities. You can also find lessons in job searching, resume writing, and interviewing as well as preparation for the U.S. Citizenship test. You must create a LearningExpress account to access the tests, but this will allow you to track your progress over time and analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Finally, the library also provides access to the LearningExpress ebooks, so you can view a test prep book online when it’s convenient for you. Start studying for free now!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pulitzer Pulitzer Pulitzer

Typically this doesn’t happen. Typically I’m counting the days until the announcement of each big literary prize. Typically I’m aware of the odds-on favorite in each category. Not this year. The announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes didn’t so much as sneak up on me as run right past me. I even missed its coattails. I’m blaming this oversight on the inordinate amount of time I have spent on the opening weeks of baseball season. That being said, I have some serious catching up to do. My reading list over the next few weeks is now set.

Columbia University and the Pulitzer judges announced the 2009 winners this past Monday. The Pulitzer Prize—awarded annually to the best expression of each category—provides a nice payday, increased book sales, and the distinction of almost assured preservation in the pantheon of American letters. Some winners were relative surprises, whereas The Hemingses of Monticello adds the Pulitzer feather to its already decorated cap.

2009 Pulitzer Prize Winners
Title links to catalog record. Author links to review.

Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (Annette Gordon-Reed)

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (Jon Meacham)

The Shadow of Sirius (W.S. Merwin)

General Nonfiction
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Douglas A. Blackmon)

Ruined (Lynn Nottage)
To be published November 2009

The numerous journalism winners may be accessed using The Austin Public Library’s databases, notably Factiva.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Grey Gardens

I was recently reminded of the influential and landmark documentary Grey Gardens. HBO has produced a dramatized version that they aired for the first time this past Saturday night. In HBO’s version, Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore teamed up to portray the mesmerizing mother/daughter relationship that existed between Edith Bouvier and Edith Bouvier Beale.

To be sure, both Big Edie and Little Edie were highly eccentric individuals. However, for me, it’s not their eccentricity or weirdness that makes them interesting. The qualities about the history of their lives together that I find most engaging and haunting are the ultra strong loyalty Little Edie felt toward her mother and the persistent reminder of what should have been for both women.

Edith Bouvier married a prosperous Wall Street attorney named Phelan Beale. When Little Edie was a child her parents divorced. Big Edie went to live in a 28 room mansion located in East Hampton, New York called Grey Gardens. A strangely befitting name given that the two women would spend the next twenty five years inhabiting a once glamorous structure that slowly withered with time until finally reaching a decrepitude and squalor severe enough to attract the attention of the Suffolk County Health Department who threatened to evict them if the structure wasn’t rehabilitated and the human and animal waste not cleaned up. Fortunately for the two women, Little Edie’s first cousin, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, stepped in and provided the funding necessary allowing the women to remain living in the house albeit in only slightly better conditions.

See this pioneering documentary produced by the Maysles brothers first hand. The Austin Public Library has both the VHS and DVD versions available for check out.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Commute + Audiobook = Time Well Spent

If you have a long commute you should try reading a book while you drive. By "reading," I mean listening. Here are some guidelines to help you choose an audiobook.

1) Start with a good story. If you have never listened to a book before, pick what you know is a good story to begin with.

2) Unabridged and one voice make the most enjoyable audiobooks. Most of the Library’s audiobooks are unabridged. There is something incredibly satisfying about having one voice continue through the work.

3) Narrators matter. I have learned to never listen to an author read her own work. (There are a few exceptions –
The Kite Runner , for example.) A professional narrator can make all the difference between a book that sings and one that dies. Listen to Sissy Spacek read To Kiill a Mockingbird. Good narrators can pronounce technical and foreign names exactly, and do accents properly. Their voices don't waver or dull.

4) Most listeners think that fiction and history are best. A strong narrative helps you to stay focused on the audiobook.

5) Having a parallel printed copy of a book can help alleviate one of an audiobook's primary weaknesses: it's hard to remember or jot down a favorite passage. The Library usually has a print version of the audiobook.

We have lots of formats – audiocassettes, MP3, cd, and playaways. We do not have downloadable audio yet, but as soon as the budget improves, we will offer that format, too. You can select the type of format by clicking material format on the catalog search page.

New recommended fiction titles:
Bridge of Sighs
A Carrion Death
The Commoner
Echo Park
The Gargoyle
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Moscow Rules
The Plague of Doves
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Swan Peak
Tortilla Curtain
Unaccustomed Earth

See more recommended titles on the Good Reads page

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! NO! It's...

Are you a person that secretly and deeply in your heart hopes to see a UFO one day? Do you observe the sky in search of one of these unidentified flying objects on a regular basis? Do you believe that there is life on other planets in this universe? Well, you are not alone.

People throughout history have been talking about flying objects of an unknown nature. The first reports of these objects go back to the year 240 B.C. when Chinese astronomers mentioned Haley’s Comet, unknown at that time. Since then, people around the world have talked about sightings of objects of various shapes, colors and sizes. It wasn’t until 1952 when the US Air Force coined the term UFO that we all use today. Ufology, therefore, is the term used for the search for evidence of UFOS.

Here are some titles that might interest you and if you see a UFO, post a note on our blog! Good luck!

Beyond UFOs : the search for extraterrestrial life and its astonishing implications for our future

The living cosmos : humankind's search for life in the universe

Life as we do not know it : the NASA search for (and synthesis of) alien life

Mysterious sky : Soviet UFO phenomenon

Contact with alien civilizations: our hopes and fears about encountering extraterrestrials

UFO crash in Brazil : a genuine UFO crash with surviving ETs : a thorough investigation

Monday, April 13, 2009

Just when you think you have it all figured out...

things change. The Austin Public Library is going through some changes in the public computer area. We're updating the public computers with Microsoft Office 2007 Suite. When the Central Library reopens this Wednesday, you'll notice this change if you use any of those products. Many of the branches have already updated their public computers, and soon all will have Microsoft 2007. As frustrating as it may be, the change is for the better. A lot of businesses use up-to-date software and it's best for the Library to provide the same. That way, when you go out and get a job, you're not behind the technology curve!

If you're grumbling at the change and need a refresher course on the new software, come to the Central Library and take a free computer class. You can also take classes at other library locations, click here to find out where.

Happy computing!

(free photo from

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Lukas Prize Project Awards

The Lukas Prize Project Awards were announced on Wednesday honoring the best American nonfiction. The awards are named for journalist J. Anthony Lukas, who was known for uncompromising examinations of social issues including American counterculture, race relations, and class warfare. His book Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award in general nonfiction, Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and Washington Monthly Political Book of the Year in 1986. He also won a Pulitzer in 1968 for the New York Times article "The Two Worlds of Linda Fitzpatrick." His last book Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America was also a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1998.

The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard choose winners for the three annual awards:

The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Winner: Jane Mayer for The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals - “This is a dramatic account of how the United States made terrible decisions in the pursuit of terrorists around the world--decisions that not only violated the Constitution, but also hampered the pursuit of Al Qaeda. Whatever the short-term gains, there were incalculable losses in terms of moral standing, our country's place in the world, and its sense of itself.”

The Mark Lynton History Prize Winner: Timothy Brook for Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World - “Moving outward from Vermeer’s studio, Brook traces the web of trade that was spreading across the globe. Vermeer’s Hat shows how the urge to acquire foreign goods was refashioning the world more powerfully than we have yet understood.”

The J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award Winner: Judy Pasternak for Yellow Dirt: The Betrayal of the Navajos (to be published by Free Press) - “Judy Pasternak promises to tell a narrative history of the most dramatic and profound sort. Nearly 60 years ago, mining companies descended on the Navajo nation to dig up uranium for the United States government, which was busily building up a stockpile of nuclear weapons, and in the process they turned the beautiful Navajo lands into a toxic environment, where even today there are areas with astonishingly high levels of radiation.”

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Baseball is back

Football may have supplanted baseball as the current modern pastime, but for my money, baseball’s opening day is still king. After a winter spent playing Dominican winterball or fishing with family and friends, major leaguers have spent the early spring shaking out the cobwebs. Opening Day was Monday and the season is underway. It is too early to judge, but some players look red hot while others look like they are still mired in the cobwebs.

Baseball received a double black-eye over the past few seasons. Rampant player salaries and the steroid scandal drove some fans away, but the game remains and very little in this world beats some Cracker Jacks and a day at the ballpark.

I have enjoyed the following books recently:

Ball Four (Jim Bouton)
Bouton’s infamous “day in the life” found him blacklisted by the baseball establishment. Only recently has he been welcomed back into the fold. Bouton reveals the pranks, the camaraderie, and daily grind of a season.

Fair Ball (Bob Costas)
Costas discusses the greed that nearly killed baseball and resulted in the players’ strike of 1994.

Pitching in a Pinch (Christy Mathewson)
Mathewson remains one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Written after he retired, Pitching in a Pinch provides a fascinating account of what baseball was like in the 1900s and 1910s.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Pursuit of Scholastic Truth

One of the most learned and accomplished American historians in modern times passed away recently. To someone who very much values and respects education and scholarship, tracing John Hope Franklin’s career in academia is like strolling down a path through some of this country’s highest ranking institutions of higher education. He was an educator at Harvard, Cornell, Duke, U.C. Berkeley, as well as the University of Chicago and received 90 honorary degrees throughout the course of his life.

Not surprising for an individual of African descent born in the American rural south, John Hope Franklin grew up amongst crushing racism and crippling poverty. Nonetheless, thanks in large part to his parents' influence, he was reading and writing by the age of four.

This love of scholarship and a strong personal sense of social justice would propel him to participate in two of this country’s most important events regarding civil rights. He provided Thurgood Marshall with valuable historical insight in mounting his landmark case of Brown vs. the Board of Education and he joined Martin Luther King Jr. in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

John Hope Franklin is also the author of several important works establishing the integral role Americans of African descent have played throughout the course of this country’s history. One such title that is considered to be the definitive account of the subject is From Slavery to Freedom: a History of African Americans.

Find this and other notable books written by this prolific American scholar within the Austin Public Library’s collection. I’ve listed a few items below to get you started.


The color line: legacy for the twenty-first century

George Washington Williams: a biography

Mirror to America: the autobiography of John Hope Franklin

Runaway slaves: rebels on the plantation

In search of the promised land: a Black family and the Old South

Electronic Books:

The color line [electronic resource]: legacy for the twenty-first century

The free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860 [electronic resource]

Race and history [electronic resource]: selected essays, 1938-1988

Racial equality in America [electronic resource]

Runaway slaves [electronic resource]: rebels on the plantation


First person singular [video recording]: John Hope Franklin

Friday, April 03, 2009

Detroit - Hoping for a Rebound

The auto industry has hit hard times, Motown left for California more than a generation ago, and the public schools are a mess, but this weekend, Detroit will be rockin’ with the NCAA Final Four tournament at Ford Field, and a 3-day music festival. The NCAA claims that the Final Four will pump $30 million to $50 million into the city. Let’s hope that the tournament will give the citizens of Detroit an economic boost that will have some lasting effect. Maybe Michigan State will win the championship.

A 2008 book,
Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American, describes the city's downward spiral, which began after the 1967 riots, and continues today. The author lived three years among the abandoned houses and desolate vacant lots of one of Detroit’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Detroit’s current problems are illustrated by the lives of the two black young men who have been in and out of detention for years. Their lives, where there is little chance of upward mobility, have centered on the street drug trade. They expect to have a short life and a violent death, which is pretty much what they get. Many of the dealers interviewed hope to break out of the inner-city life to become professionals, but the lucrative drug trade offers them the only possible means to afford higher education and to someday “get ghost,” that is, to stop dealing drugs and have a safer life. Many of the customers buying drugs from the two young men are neither from the inner-city nor African-American; most buyers come to Detroit to buy drugs and then return to the nicer parts of Michigan.

An earlier book,
Dancing in the Steet: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit is about Detroit’s earlier, more prosperous times, when Motown was shaping the city’s future. Motown was the first black-owned company to create and produce the musical artistry of its own community -- and then successfully sell it across racial boundaries. At the same time that Motown was having its best years, the local auto industry was allowing a black middle class to grow in Detroit.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Humane Education

I am writing this today from the large, traffic-y city of Houston where I am fortunate enough to be attending the Texas Library Association’s (TLA) Annual Conference with a generous scholarship I won from TLA’s Public Libraries Division (PLD). My schedule is jam-packed with volunteer activities for PLD (in exchange for my scholarship) and various other programs relating to all things libraries. Considering it is my first ever library conference, I am truly geeking out on all of the exhibits, gadgets, and programs, and I am beyond excited to be in the presence of so many other librarians.

My first volunteer obligation of the day brought me to a program called It’s About the Animals: Humane Education in Libraries, where several panelists demonstrated various successful humane education programs in schools and libraries all with the common goal of promoting empathy toward animals. The programs typically involved pairing elementary age children learning to read with trained dogs. Yes, dogs. The children sit and read to the dogs and the dogs serve as non-judgmental, good-natured listeners. Children, particularly children with reading difficulties, seem to benefit quite a bit from these programs as they are allowed an opportunity to practice reading in front of an impartial, loving companion allowing them to gain self-confidence. Because most children have a natural affinity for animals, they tend to love it s much as the animals do. Check out this video about the program, referred to as the READ (Reading Assistance Education Dogs) program:

There was also a good discussion of building humane collections in libraries. Peg Kehret, a children’s author, discussed some of her books and their emphasis on responsible pet ownership and a general empathy for animals. She also discussed a number of service projects she has initiated in schools where students choose an animal-related charity organization to raise money and/or other resources for. Kehret brought up the fact that often times perpetrators of violent crimes do not have empathy for other human beings. Building empathy for animals through books and service projects, Kehret suggests, can be a step toward building empathy for humans, thus serving as a preventative to violent crime. Granted, Kehret admits, widespread empathy for animals is probably not going to rid the world of violent crime, but it’s a start.

Not only does the library have ample children’s books that promote humanity to animals (such as Kehret’s), we also have a host of databases you can use to read more about dogs being used to promote reading as well as more about the use of animals to educate young people. Try a search for “reading and dogs” and/or “children and animals” to view articles from popular magazines, newspapers, and journals on the topic (this requires an Austin Public Library card if you are accessing the databases from home). Now I’m off to the infamous Book Cart Drill Team Challenge to watch one of the silliest, yet most entertaining competitions around (check out APL’s award winning team here).

Academic Search Complete

Charity Navigator: Animals
* A good way to locate local animal-related charities to partner with for service projects.

MasterFILE Premier

Peg Kehret’s Books at APL

Peg Kehret’s Website

Reading Assistance Education Dogs (READ)