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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What happened to "Random Kindness?"

Do you remember, a few years ago, when it became popular, trendy even, to use the sentence, "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty?" The words would call out to you from bumper stickers and t-shirts - maybe they even inspired you to an act of kindness or beauty.

Remember, too, how, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Asian tsunami, Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast, we all assured each other that now it would be "different?" To be sure, those calamities brought out the best in millions of people - we donated, we volunteered, we prayed. When the dust began to settle, we swore the kindness - random or specific - would continue. We would be better individuals, families, spouses, siblings, parents, and neighbors. We'd spend more time with the kids and less time with the TV. We'd tell people we loved them without hesitating. We'd do more for the poor and the marginalized people in our society.

Is a state of kindness difficult for the human spirit to maintain? After all, it takes much less energy to be apathetic. "Nothing I can do will make a difference." "One person can't change the world." A few simple words and you've shrugged off the responsibility. And yet...and yet...

Preacher John Bunyan, living in England in the mid-1600s, wrote, "You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you." Yet how often do we find ourselves asking, "What's in it for me?" Flash-forward 400 years, and I'm walking into the Library's second floor office area, saying good morning to Marge, one of our administrative assistants. When I ask how she is, she replies, "I can't complain, because compared to other people, I've got it so good. My problems are so small." A great perspective on life, and one we often lose. It's easy to dwell on what's wrong instead of celebrating what's right. In short-sightedness, we can take in the foreclosure crisis, unemployment issues, soaring gas and food prices, political scandals on every level and become self-protective, self-absorbed people who abandon kindness. Ask your parents & grandparents how they got through the Great Depression -- it was often by relying on the kindness of other human beings whose circumstances may not have been much better than their own.

What's my point? I thought I'd introduce another "regular" feature to PlainTalk - "not so random" acts of kindness, if you will. Have you discovered a way that allows you to quickly, easily, even painlessly make the world a better place, in a big or small way? Do you have a favorite "act of kindness," whether it stemmed from your own generosity or someone else's? Once a month, we'll have a "Kindness Column," in which I'll share tips from the Library staff on easy ways to do good -- and invite you to send in your own suggestions, too.

What do I mean? An example might be: what kind of toilet paper do you buy? Strange topic, I know. I recently discovered a brand of toilet paper I had never encountered, called "Spirit." Let's face it - we scrutinize everything on the store shelves these days because prices have gone through the roof. So this unknown product caught my eye and not only was the price right, but I noticed in the fine print that it is made by people with developmental disabilities, right here in Illinois. By buying it, I support their work and help give them solid employment - without any sacrifice to me, it's a product I need! Check out their Web site and look for Spirit on the shelves. Don't see it at your local store? Ask them to stock it.

Let's find new ways to keep the good going and provide an antidote to the bad. Want to suggest a simple act of kindness? Just post it here in the Comments section. Provide as much information as you can. Suggestions that relate to doing good right here in Des Plaines are particularly welcome. If we get enough input from you, our readers, we'll develop this into a resource on our Web site, so please don't be shy. We would love to hear from you. (P.S. The photo up above is our own Arlene Steiner, one of many friendly faces at the Circulation desk. She's helping a patron use the self-checkout machine.)

One-Click Searches on Kindness and related topics: (Use these links to find books, DVDs and more in our collection)

Kindness (adult and youth books)

Charity (adult and youth books)

Altruism (adult and youth books)

Friday, August 22, 2008

DPPL People - Meet Bob Blanchard!

August is drawing to a close (how did THAT happen?) but don't think I have forgotten about "DPPL People," the monthly column where you get a close-up look at one particular Library employee. This month, I am particularly happy to introduce you to Bob Blanchard, a reference librarian in our Adult Services department.

Describing Bob in that way does him little justice, as you will find him at the Reference Desk on the 4th floor, the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk, and even occasionally helping out in Youth Services. Bob leads some of our book discussions and arranges some of our programming, specifically programs to enlighten and entertain older adults. You're also very likely to find Bob representing the Library out in the community, which might mean giving a talk at the Frisbie Center or wheeling a decorated book cart in the 4th of July parade. Bob coordinates the assistive technology we offer to patrons who need it - items like magnifiers and machines that read books aloud to people. Bob's dedication to serving people with disabilities recently earned him a very prestigious honor, the Alexander J. Skrzypek Award from the Illinois Library Association. To quote the ILA's Web site: "The award is given to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of library services for the blind or physically disabled in Illinois."

Bob will receive his award in September at the ILA conference in Chicago. To demonstrate our pride and gratitude for his work, here is a closer look at Bob Blanchard. Bob - thank you for all you do for us and our community!

DPPL People Questionnaire

Three words that describe your current state of mind are…

Happy, blessed and lucky.

What is your most treasured possession?

I am part of my family, so I don’t possess my wife or child. And our cats would vehemently deny that they are possessed by anyone (or anything). So, I guess it would have to be my replica Chicago Wolves hockey jersey. That and Starcastle's first album.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Eating out too often.

Who are your favorite writers?

Moses, the Gospel writers and the Apostle Paul. On the lighter side, Dave Barry's fiction is really funny, as is Garrison Keillor's. And I like Kinky Friedman's mysteries.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction (in writing, film, drama)?

Bugs Bunny, Spongebob Squarepants and the John Cusack character in “Say Anything.” (Ed. note: That would be "Lloyd Dobler." Girls dig John Cusack in that movie, too.)

Name three persons/characters from history with whom you would like to have dinner.

Jesus, Ben Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci. Individually or collectively, I think my brain would really hurt after conversing and dining with them.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My family.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My wife, Amy, and our son, Paul.

Who is your favorite artist?
Leonardo's interesting, but I’m currently partial to my son’s artwork, especially the escapades of “Hungry Guy.”

Who is your favorite musician?
Geddy Lee of Rush. There is no finer rock bassist.

The quality you admire most in a man is…

The quality you admire most in a woman is…

Biggest pet peeve?
Our cats’ insistence that their suppertime is during our siesta time.

Favorite food?
Our homemade shrimp etouffee. Ooo-eee, I gar-un-tee it’s good!

What three words would your closest friends use to describe you?
Has a way with words, funny, persistent.

Why did you choose to work in a library?
To help people, and to learn things in the process!

What is your favorite thing about the Des Plaines Public Library?
Pretty much everything -- great coworkers, building, collections and patrons.

Name one, and only one, "desert island" book, CD or movie. Only one.
The Marx Brothers’ Silver Screen Collection on DVD.

The movie of your life - who plays you and what song plays during the final credits?
Guy Pearce. Remember him from L.A. Confidential? The song would be “Slow Turning” by John Hiatt.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Perils of Going Green, Or, BYOB

First, to clarify: in this case, BYOB stands for "Bring your own bag."

I've told you in the past about some of the Library's efforts in becoming a greener place in the community. Most recently, we've begun providing a place where you can recycle your TechnoTrash ("Getting Where You're Going..." from July 2008), items such as old VHS tapes, cassettes, CDs, cords and chargers. Late last year, we began offering a place where your plastic bags could be turned in for recycling. (And yes, they are recycled, through a partnership with our local Jewel food store.) In April, for Earth Day, we shared our "going green in the workplace" video with you and helped the city distribute free CFL bulbs to homeowners. We also now offer you a "Going Green" resource guide on our Web site.

So far, it's been smooth sailing and we're proud not only of our efforts but for your enthusiasm and support, too. A few months ago, we made another big decision, and that was to do away with the 25,000+ plastic bags we were giving away every year. That's a lot of plastic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away 14.4 million tons of plastic every year (click that link to see just "What's In Our Trash."). You don't have to be a scientist to figure out that that's a bad thing. As part of the community, we want to do our part and the first step is eliminating the free plastic bags.

We also don't want to leave you stranded on a rainy day with your arms full of books, your handbag or your children's hands to hold, a stroller to push, an umbrella to balance. Our decision was to provide inexpensive reusable bags for purchase. Sounds good so far, right? We found a company that met our specifications: a place where we could order many bags, with the Library logo printed on them, bags that were not just reusable but washable and recyclable. We also wanted some assurance that the bags weren't made in a sweat shop or by child labor. Oh -- and could we get them for around $1.00 apiece? We found all of that with a company called 1 Bag At A Time, and we received word today that the bags have been manufactured and are now being shipped. Hooray for that -- but it will be several more weeks before they are here at DPPL for your purchase. As an aside -- the company also sells bags for personal use, so if you'd like a matching set of "grocery luggage," check out their Web site. Small orders of bags ship very quickly and the bags are good quality.

So, we ask for your patience, we thank you for letting us know you want these bags when they arrive and we humbly suggest you "BYOB" until mid-September - bring your own bag for your Library books and other items. When the bags arrive, PlainTalk will let you know.

Monday, August 18, 2008

We interrupt this sunny, summer day to remind you...

that it is an election year.

I know, I know -- given the non-stop media coverage of the campaigning, primaries, and related issues, you are probably grateful to have a compelling distraction like the Olympics. However, it IS an election year - a presidential election year! Are you prepared to cast your vote and exercise your democratic rights? It can be easy to take an apathetic perspective -- "My vote doesn't mean anything." We can become shockingly blasé about the significance of our vote and our responsibility to educate ourselves as voters.

I saw this quote last week:

“In our democratic society, the library stands for hope, for learning, for progress, for literacy, for self-improvement and for civic engagement. The library is a symbol of opportunity, citizenship, equality, freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and hence, is a symbol for democracy itself,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Lofty-sounding words? Perhaps. Not everyone who walks through our doors is seeking civic engagement. But think about it a moment longer. Hope? How about a new immigrant family getting library cards for the first time? Civic engagement? How about the many community groups that use our free meeting rooms? How about the opportunities we provide to meet with government representatives every month? Freedom of speech and thought? Read the variety of books in our collection, then use our computers to write your own blog or email a newspaper editor or senator. Literacy? The "Learn to Read" group meets here to teach English several nights a week. Self-improvement? Take a free class in computing, gardening, cooking, attend a lecture on finance or health.

We can help you with all of those things, so let us help you VOTE, too. How? From September 26, 2008 through October 7, 2008, you can register to vote at the Library. Watch our Web site for more details. In the meantime, we can also help you make your decision, with books and recommended sites on the two presidential candidates. Use the links below to search for books/DVDs in our Library or to view our online Election '08 guide, where we've gathered sites on both sides of the fence, as well as those riding the fence and, most importantly, the best objective, non-partisan sites.

Election '08 Guide

Books/DVDs on John McCain in our Library

Books/DVDs on Barack Obama in our Library

Living in a true democracy is a privilege and a responsibility -- let the Library help you be an active, educated participant.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

DPPL - Yr new BFF on the WWW?

As the Web Services Librarian, a big part of my job is finding new ways to make it easy for you, our patrons, to communicate with us in an online setting. Today's PlainTalk puts the spotlight on three new ways you can support us, make suggestions and express concerns about the Library without ever leaving your computer. (Assuming that you, like me, rarely leave your computer.)

First -- I've been making a big plug lately for the "How Do I?" menu on our new Web site. It's a drop-down menu with lots of online services people need to find quickly and often. Use it to access your account information, find directions to the Library, and browse through job openings at DPPL. The last link in the "How Do I?" menu is real keeper - "Contact the library." Click there and you'll not only find address and phone numbers, but a lengthy list of email links for various Library departments. You'll also find a link to information about our Department Heads, making it easier for you to direct your inquiry or concern to the most appropriate staff person. We appreciate everyone who takes the time to send us an email, whether it's a compliment or complaint. Those emails often guide us in making sensible changes and improvements.

Secondly -- If you've read PlainTalk's sibling, "Positively Ellinwood Street," the blog of our Readers' Services department, you may have noticed an eye-catching virtual bookshelf on the right hand side of the screen. The bookshelf is a link to Shelfari, an online social network dedicated to people who love books and reading. Many of us on the Library staff have Shelfari memberships and we've even formed a "Des Plaines Public Library" group. If you'd like to join us there and share your favorite reads with us, go to: and "Request Friendship." (That's a link in the top right-hand corner.) Shelfari is a free service and you can make your account as public or private as you'd like.

What can you do on Shelfari? List the books you've read, are reading, and your all-time favorite, and build them into virtual shelves with pictures of the books' covers. Write reviews of the books and rate them, and meet other people online who share your point of view -- or challenge it, perhaps. Check it out today and see what you think, but we'd love it if you joined our Shelfari group.

Finally -- if Shelfari's not your cup of tea, you may be a Facebook user. Facebook is another social networking site, open to anybody who wants to make a profile and communicate with others. Again, it can be very open or very private -- you may want to share vacation photos, you may want to tell the world you're about to eat an entire large pepperoni pizza by yourself while watching reruns of "Green Acres," or you may choose to savor those moments on your own.

One thing you can do on Facebook is be a "fan." For example, on my Facebook profile, I am listed as a fan of the Chicago Cubs and - the Des Plaines Public Library. It would warm our hearts if you'd become a DPPL Facebook fan, too. How? Just search for "Des Plaines Public Library," and you'll find our official Facebook page. Tell them you want to be a DPPL fan, and, you're in. Simple. We'll use the page to send you important news and announcements about the Library and you can use it as a way to communicate your questions and thoughts to us. Find out more at

So, look for us on the Web in old, familiar places and some new, fresh scenes as well. We're here for you - keep in touch! (BTW, or, "by the way", a BFF is a "best friend forever. If you've never used IM, or "instant messaging"/chat, shorthand, ask your kids or grandkids. It's the best way to type online without spraining your thumbs!)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Magazines -- My Shameful Secret

When you attend any sort of gathering that involves librarians, people who work in libraries, people studying to earn a degree that allows them to work in libraries -- the talk often leans toward books. Ask those same folks about their passions and interests, and you'll hear about books and reading. It's inevitable. Right?

So here I am, a librarian, a long-time employee and patron of a variety of libraries, and I have to confess: I do love reading, but my real love is a thick, glossy magazine. Of course I love books, I've cherished them since my youngest days and have favorites I revisit time and again. But when I'm stuck home with an illness, when I'm trapped on a plane, when I'm blissed out on the beach or in a snazzy hotel coffee shop, or simply lounging in the tub, I loooooove a great magazine. I had my first letter to an editor published when I was ten years old (completely startling my parents and siblings, who had no idea).
While magazines remain a constant, I confess I am somewhat fickle in my affections for specific titles. My first loves were music magazines. Then followed a fixation on cooking and home-related fussiness. Fashion comes and goes, and so does my taste in fashion magazines, from
Allure to Vogue. And I love a magazine that's a little bit of everything - it's like a miniature library that slips into my handbag.

Why should you care? Because right here, at the Des Plaines Public Library, we have the most amazing selection of magazines I have ever seen. I honestly have to avoid it during my working hours, such is the temptation to browse. At my former library job, we also had hundreds of magazine titles. Well, sort of. It was a college library, so we had a collection of "periodicals," most of them something like, "The Journal of Research About Things You Can't Possibly Understand."

I'm kidding, but it was not the magazine lovers' paradise we have on the third floor of DPPL. Every day, on my lunch break, I can indulge a different side of my personality. Need a quick fix of fashion? There's Vogue, along with dozens of other fashion titles. When I need an update on what Sweet Lou, The Riot, DeRo and the boys are up to, I can grab this month's Chicago Cubs Vine Line. Travel magazines like In Britain and Ireland of the Welcomes remind me of happy times in places I love. The computer geek in me loves Macworld, the musician digs Rolling Stone, the English major craves The New Yorker and my soul likes a dose of Christian Century now and then.

But that's just me and my interests. With close to 700 titles, I dare say we've got a magazine for you, too. I took a stroll through the magazine stacks this morning and found this list of titles I never even knew existed:
  • Divorce
  • Forensic Examiner
  • La Cucina Italiana
  • Cloth Paper Scissors
  • Tea Time
  • Giant Robot - Asian-Americans, pop culture and martial arts
  • Going Bonkers - "The self-help magazine with a sense of humor"
  • Living Without - devoted to helping people with food allergies and chemical sensitivities
  • Trailer Life
  • Adoptive Families
  • Hobby Farms
  • Paranoia
If those are not your cup of tea, we have all the most well-known magazines, where you can satisfy your curiosity about the Jonas Brothers (on Rolling Stone???!!), Brad and Angelina's twins (People), and Carla Bruni (the "new Jackie O," according to Vanity Fair.) If you haven't browsed our magazine selection, you owe it to yourself to check it out. And speaking of checking it out, you can check out our magazines and take them home to enjoy for two weeks, except for the most current issues. (We keep those on the shelf so everyone has an opportunity to see them.) Wondering if we have a specific title? Go to the Library home page and in the Catalog box, top right hand corner, type in the title of the magazine, click the "Title" option, then click "Search." The Catalog contains all of our books, movies, music and magazines.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Is there really something for everyone at the public library?

I think, if you speak to most public library employees, you'll find at least one commonly shared viewpoint: that public libraries really ought to offer something for everyone in the community. Is that always easy? No. Does that mean you should abandon the pursuit of the ideal? No.

In the photo montage up above, you'll see a unique way in which we reached out to teens in our community this past week. On Wednesday, August 6, 2008, we hosted a live, noisy, rock and roll concert right on Library Plaza. Through the generosity of our Friends of the Library (and the programming genius of one William Harmer, Teen Librarian of the Baldwin Public Library in Baldwin, MI, who dreamed up the "Rock and Roll Library Tour"), our guests were indie rock band The High Strung. To say we were pleasantly surprised would be the understatement of the year. Josh, Derek and Chad of The High Strung were funny, talented, utterly lacking in "attitude," and a big hit with our audience, which included not only teens but moms, dads, little kids,seniors, and lots of passers-by just wondering what was up with the music. We were also thrilled to host opening act The Friendly Ghosts, from right here in Des Plaines -- Jimmy, Alyssa, Casey and Vince brought along quite a posse of fans and did themselves proud. (p.s. Ghosts -- am I spelling your names right? If not, post a comment here)

Libraries are spending a lot of time, energy and dollars these days to change their image with teens. Anime, manga, graphic novels (that means an illustrated novel, by the way, not inappropriately explicit material), pizza and movie nights, the latest trends in gaming and music -- it's all right here at the library, because teens have asked for it. If you're a teen and are reading this, check out our blog just for teens, The Blog of AWESOME, and consider joining our Teen Advisory Board.

You might be thinking, "Well, adding programs and materials just for teens isn't quite 'something for everyone.'" In a previous post, I wrote about our RFID tagging process. One thing many of us have commented on is how the tagging process, requiring hours of time in the book stacks, forces us to look at every section of our book collection. You know what? A lot of us find material that disturbs us, offends us, even makes us depressed. I, for one, really dislike books that seem to glamorize violence -- true crime books, or horror fiction. It's hard to stomach shelves full of books that disagree with my political views, but, there they are. Books that seem to misinterpret or direct hatred toward my particular religion can get under my skin.

While only a small portion of the books in our Library bother me, there are, of course, thousands of others that simply don't interest me. Maybe the topic seems boring, or beyond my comprehension. Maybe I don't speak the language, whether it's Gujarati or .asp or - gulp - trigonometry. Should the interests of librarians - or any small group of individuals - be the only deciding factor in what we purchase for our book stacks? Would we truly be a public library if we didn't offer something for every user in our community?

When you attend what librarians often refer to as "Library School," meaning, a graduate program in library and information science, one of the first lessons you're taught are the words of a wise thinker, S.R. Ranganathan:
  • Every reader, his/her book;
  • Every book, its reader;
  • Save the time of the reader.
I share those words with you here as a simple statement that we would be failures as librarians, failures to our profession and its traditions, if we didn't make every possible effort to provide something for everyone. Does that mean you, too, might find a book that disturbs you, or angers you? Yes. Does it mean many books in our library simply won't interest you or be of use to you? Yes. If you're here and using our library, however, that means you know there is plenty here for you -- and that goes beyond books, to our DVDs, CDs, programs and events. You may not need our materials at all: you may need a public computer, a meeting space, or simply a quiet place to cool off and use a clean restroom. We've got those for you, too. I'm very proud to work here in the Des Plaines community, rich in tradition and diversity, and a friendly, down-to-earth place. I'm also very proud to work for this Library, which takes seriously the call to provide the book for every reader, the reader for every book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What Are We Doing?

If you've been on the Library's 4th floor recently, you may have asked yourself,
"What on earth are they doing?"
After months (years?) of planning, we are preparing for a new RFID system.

RFID stands for "Radio Frequency Identification." In a library, that translates into small tags placed into every item that is available for check out. For people like you, that translates into fast, automated check in and check out. Once the system is in place, the two most noticeable improvements for patrons will be that items are instantly checked in upon return - you'll even receive a check in "receipt" - and multiple items can be checked out at one time. No more struggle as you try to line up the books' bar codes, one by one, under the red light. Put your stack of items on the reader and it does the work for you.

But, that's down the road apiece. In the meantime, we are busy, busy, BUSY adding RFID tags to more than 200,000 items in the Library. Every single library employee, from every department, is participating, so you're probably seeing faces you don't recognize.
(That's Chang Hong from our Circulation staff in the photo above.) We are tagging every hour that the Library is open in order to complete this large task as quickly as possible. The tagging workstations make beeping and buzzing sounds to cue us in - if you're a "Star Wars" fan, it may sound like R2-D2 is out in the bookshelves! We will keep you posted on our progress and what RFID means to you, the people we serve. If you see us tagging, stop by and say hello!