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Don’t Be Shy

August 11, 2008

Libraries use bad words sometimes. Inappropriate language.

I mean, do you know what “database” means? If I say, “Here’s a list of subscription databases the library offers,” do you say, “Fantastic!”Or does a little voice in the back of your head say, “Huh?”

This kind of inappropriate language is not shocking but it is stultifying. However, I’ve yet to hear better out of the library world or “information industry.”

Libraries have done better by avoiding comprehensive terms altogether. The most successfully used library websites get right to the details. There’s a philosophical lesson in that.

These library webpages are traveled with directions such as “Find Books” (which takes you to the library catalog) and “Find Articles” (which takes you to a magazine database).

This reflects what libraries really do with their users (Or are you a reader? Patron? Customer?) … what they really do with “you.” Libraries classify and organize and arrange things in the back room but out front attend to an endless stream of particular requests. Individual inquiries.

But I digress. The point is that we have ways for you to find stuff you want through your home Internet access that opens up a world Google can’t reach. Let’s get right to it …

For example, if you’re filling in your family tree, the library offers two helpful collections of extensive genealogical information. One is called HeritageQuest, which many of you have used in the library and from home. The other is Ancestry.com, which may only be used from library’s Internet access (Ancestry’s rules, not ours).

A third option, which we’re exploring for a few weeks, is Footnote.com.

Footnote is a digital archive of original documentation, but it is also a social networking site through which members can contribute content and discussion.

It is similar in this regard to Ancestry.com, but its intention is “history” as well as “genealogy.” Please try it during August and let us know what you think.

Another new database is the Auto Repair Reference Center. I think it works in a straightforward manner. When you go there, the first screen is a list of years. You click on the model year for the broken car you want to fix and proceed from there. Yes, you can use it from home.

And yes, it’s free … as in, it’s free for you to use as a member of our library. Of course, it’s not free in that somebody has to pay for the access to this database. The library pays. (But we all pay for the library, mostly through property taxes.)

What else? In this same way, you can search for (and find) magazine articles of all kinds—from popular magazines and academic journals on most subjects—and often read the article right from home. (If the full-text of the article is not available that way, we can try to get it for you via Interlibrary Loan services.)

What else? A wonderful poetry index and collection that includes the text of many poems, including some for the new Poet Laureate Kay Ryan. The Encyclopedia Britannica. A fiction reference called Novelist through which you might discover authors similar to your favorites (who aren’t writing fast enough for you).

And more, more. Your joy at this will depend on how you use the Internet at home. Certainly, if you’re already reserving and renewing books from home, you’re already set up to peek at these collections. If not, come in to set up a PIN.

Don’t be shy. Give them a try.

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