Thanks for visiting. We aren't actively blogging here anymore. Please visit us on our new site.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Buen trabajo, Story Explorers!

Next time you are in the Library, stop by the second floor display case and see the work of our Story Explorers!

The Story Explorers meet for one hour a week and participate in theme-based activities, along with snacks and just plain ol' fun. I don't often get a chance to work with the kids who visit our Library, but when I do, I'm always delighted to discover how creative, personable and SMART they are! Hmm - does that mean smart kids hang out at the Library, or does hanging out at the Library make you smarter? I was one of those kids who couldn't get enough of the Library. I was lucky enough to have two within walking distance of my school, and often on the way home I'd find a reason to visit one or the other. I don't think I had an inkling then that I'd make libraries my career, but what great inspiration those after-school visits must have been!

However, that's not what I'm writing about today - I'm writing about our Story Explorers. This great group of kids took the time at last week's session to compose some very unique works of art that also serve as calling cards to introduce their creators to another group of children, many, many miles away. The Des Plaines Public Library is very proud to be the Sister Library to Biblioteca Benjamín Franklin in Guadalajara, Mexico. In a few weeks, these colorful, personalized artworks will be on their way to say "¡Hola!" to children in Guadalajara, so stop by and see them soon. You can also meet our Story Explorers and see a few examples of their work in the short video up above.

In a world where children are often taught to fear and dislike people who are, in any way, different from them, I think any effort to break down barriers and celebrate our common humanity is a wonderful thing. Thanks, Story Explorers, for your good work and your good example!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Congratulations to our "Smart Home" winners!

I dreaded coming to work this morning. Why? Today was the end of our "Smart Home" ticket giveaway, and since we had more contestants than pairs of tickets, I knew I would have to disappoint a few people. I hate that!

However, I first want to thank everyone who participated. We had seven contestants - not a huge number but all of them had great suggestions for ways to go green at home and in everyday living. I'm not only going to publish their suggestions here in PlainTalk, but I'll also add them to the Library's Web site on "Green/Environmental Resources," where they can inspire other people to find life-changing but simple ways to care for the Earth. Here are the contestants' green suggestions, and the names highlighted in green (of course!) are the 5 winners of "Smart Home" ticket vouchers. Please keep reading and writing in to PlainTalk and watch for other contests in the future. Last summer, we gave away a $20 Panera Bread gift card, so you just never know what surprises await you!

Vitaly and Marina G.
"I am very interested in the green, sustainability revolution that is coming to the United States. My favorite suggestion for how to go green at work or home is using less material. By using less material, we are able to reduce the strain that we as humans put on the environment. An example of this is: using less paper towels or completely eliminating them and using a towel to wipe your hands dry. This is green because it would require the cutting down of fewer trees. Also, if you must use paper towels, it is best to use 100% recycled paper. At work, instead of making coffee in a Styrofoam cup, bring a cup from home and reuse it everyday. Little contributions that each individual makes daily it was will globally alter the way humans change the relationship we have with the environment. A very simple thing is using energy efficient lighting throughout your house. This reduces not only your energy bills, but uses less nonrenewable energy sources that release CO2 into our environment and slowly strain the health of the earth."

Michelle C.

"One of the hardest things to recycle or reuse is the bad guy Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam. Most communities' recycling programs, including mine, won't take these items. Recycling the styrofoam that comes with most appliance packaging is an easy one - just break it up and use it in your next Ebay shipment.
But what about the endless restaurant styrofoam take home boxes that are dirty after you've gobbled down your yummy leftovers? If you are gardener like me, these are great to use in your potted plants for drainage and filler. Just don't mix them into your dirt beds. Your backyard animal visitors may eat the pieces and become ill or suffocate."

Kim M.

"Our family recycles everything, we use energy efficient light bulbs and use high efficiency appliances. We think conserving energy and being green is very important. We are hoping to get our elementary school on board, and start a paper recycling program at Plainfield School through our PTSO. I would love to take the kids to the museum to see the Smart Home exhibit!"

Carol J.

"I would like to have a plastic bottle, glass bottle recycling program at my work place. We use a lot of bottles in the hospital which could be recycled, but are not."

Denise A.

"I like to clean my home without chemical based cleaners. I use baking soda, vinegar and basic soaps such as the Method brand. I also use Borax instead of bleach. I use laundry soap without chemicals. I am happy that I am not adding more toxins to the air inside or out."

Michelle G.

"We have stopped buying bottled water for outings and trips. It was very convenient to keep a case of bottled water in the car for whenever we were out, but I was very concerned about the waste since we weren’t always able to find a recycle bin when disposing of the bottles. So, we have purchased a variety of sizes of reusable water bottles and fill them up before we leave the house."

Liz J.

"Use reusable grocery bags. If you leave them in your car, you won't forget to bring them to the store. You can also fit more items in a large canvas bag than you can in a plastic bag from the store, so you can make less trips carrying your purchases from your car to your home. Also, because they won't rip like plastic does, your items aren't in danger of spilling out and breaking. And some stores give you a discount for using reusable bags."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Extreme Makeover: Teen Edition

I have no idea if any teens read this blog. DPPL has another blog just for teens, The Blog of Awesome, so if you're a teen or the parent/teacher/friend of a teen, feel free to pass that along. There's nothing more difficult, I think, than trying to plan Library events, design Library materials and choose Library resources for teens if you are not a teen yourself. It's been quite some time since I've been a teen! (Ugh, why did I have to remind myself of that?) We have a wonderful staff member who works with teens, Cheryl Gladfelter, who is not a teen but was one very recently, and she's got a great understanding of what teens like and appreciate.

Nevertheless, the young and not-as-young here at DPPL try our hardest to reach out to teens and engage them, get them interested in what the Library has to offer.
We recently rolled out a whole new Web site for teens - designed, thankfully, by a bright and talented very young man who made me feel like a senior citizen when I met him. :) The site looks great, from the crumpled paper background to the handdrawn graphics on every page. We also did our part by improving the resources we made available to teens online and added lots of new features. If you, or the teen in your life, haven't checked it out, please do. There are places to write your own book and music reviews, information about the Teen Advisory Board, and links including the Blog of Awesome. Oh - not to mention great online homework help. We'll keep adding to it to make sure it stays interesting and relevant. We offer a lot of events specifically for teens, including a teens-only book discussion of American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang on November 15, 2008.

Right now we're also having a contest just for teens who are artistic and creative. We desperately need a new (and cool, please) logo for our Teen Advisory Board, to use on their t-shirts. Here's the scoop on the contest:
We're looking for the best graphic depiction of the spirit of the Teen Advisory Board. To find out what that is, click here. Your design can be words, pictures or a combination of both. Be creative, but keep it simple, too. Teens from grades 7-12 are welcome to participate. RULES:
  • Only original 2D artwork can be submitted.
  • One submission per artist.
  • Your design must be no larger than 8.5 X 11" paper. Submissions must be clean, dry and uncrumpled.
Submissions are due by 5 PM on November 7, 2008 and must be turned in personally at the Library's third floor Readers' Services desk. Voting will take place online on our new Teen Web Site, from November 10-14, with the winner announced on November 17, 2008.

If you know a teen with a gift for graphic design, please pass this info along - we're really excited about this contest and showing off the creativity of Des Plaines teens!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Advice for the Lovelorn, the Thirsty, the Handyman, the...

It's not a poetic reflection on one of the first chilly, dark nights of Autumn, it's a fact: we spend our days far more isolated from other people than our parents or grandparents did. As someone who works online many hours of every day, I can vouch for that. Sometimes I stumble out of my office and down the hallway to chat with Marge or Roberta because I am, as a childhood friend's Mother used to say, "Starving for adult conversation."

One side effect of this social isolation can be a lack of good sources for help and advice. Living relatively alone for the last 9+ years, there have been so many times I could have used a sounding board for how to fix something in the house or the car (my parents, while lovely, intelligent people, would be the first to tell you they are not very "handy" people).
Turns out, the same World Wide Web I work on for so many hours daily is a great source for helpful "how to" advice. I've used the Web to find out how to disconnect a washing machine and how to mix a martini in all its varieties. Of course Web sites are super handy for driving directions. Along with being a librarian, I'm a professional singer, and the Web helps me find song lyrics or tunes to download when I need to learn something fast. It may not be the same as leaning over the backyard fence, getting advice from a neighbor, or as snazzy as a GPS system in the car, but it's better than being left to your own devices! In these tough economic times, more of us are going to be tempted to attempt household and auto repairs on our own, so it's good to know where to find help.

Here are a few worthwhile places to look online for "how to" instructions, advice and ideas. But, "Caveat Websurfer," or something like that: remember that most of the advice on these sites has been posted by well-meaning, supposedly knowledgeable experts. I find it's best to get a second or third opinion, too, (often available on the same site) and see if all the sets of instructions jive with each other before jumping into my task.

Bloggers can be excellent sources of advice and instruction - you can browse by topic at a site like, find blogs that deal specifically in advice, like The Wisdom Journal, or just do a Google search: blog how to change a tire.

eHow - How To Do Just About Everything

Lowe's Home Improvement How To Library

Yahoo Answers - Get answers from real people, browse for information

For automobile repair help, visit our own Automotive Subject Guide.

How Stuff Works - more of a learning site, with some "how to" thrown in
How To Videos - from

Expert Village - how to videos, topics from playing the bass guitar to plucking your eyebrows

Are you an expert on a topic? Many of these sites will let you contribute your expertise as well.
Do you have a favorite "how to" or advice site online? Share it with us in the Comments section.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Croquet Tournament 2008

When staff here at the Library began planning our Centennial Croquet Tournament in 2007, I don't think anyone ever dreamed it could become an annual event. But the combination of good times, sunny skies, a rose garden and some jovial contestants proved too irresistible and the Library's Annual Croquet Tournament was born! Enjoy the slideshow of photos from this year's tournament up above - we thank everyone who participated and we are also grateful to the Des Plaines Park District for their cosponsorship. If you think the tournament looks like fun, watch our calendar next Fall! Don't forget, we're giving away 5 pairs of tickets to the Museum of Science & Industry's "Smart Home - Green + Wired" exhibit - see all the details in the post down below.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ticket Giveaway - Smart Home: Green + Wired

No matter if our nation's economy has you seeing red or feeling blue, one thing is clear: it's never been smarter to "go green." Whether your greenness stems (no pun intended) from your affection for Mother Nature or simply your desire to save "green," it's all good. When the Library participated in the city of Des Plaines CFL bulb giveaway a few months ago, I had time to meet many residents in person and couldn't help but be impressed by the depth of knowledge and interest in green living in this town.

So we'd like to offer a special opportunity to some of Des Plaines' greenest residents - a chance to visit the Museum of Science & Industry's "Smart Home: Green + Wired" exhibit, absolutely free.
(It looks really, REALLY cool!) We're giving away 5 pairs of tickets, each pair with a total combined value of $46 and general admission is included. The ticket vouchers are valid until 1/4/2009. The tickets come with a phone number - just call and give the reservation representative the code on the ticket and you'll be on your way. Why are we doing this? As part of our ongoing effort to encourage "greenness," and also to provide lifelong learning experiences of every kind to the Des Plaines community. We want you to think of the Library as the place where Des Plaines works, learns and plays.

So - how do you win a pair of tickets?
Send me an email at

In that email, I need 4 pieces of information:

  • Your name
  • Your home address
  • Your Des Plaines Public Library card number
  • Most important - your favorite suggestion for how to go green at home, at work, or at play.
  1. The contest is open to all Des Plaines Public Library card holders (including those with a non-Des Plaines address) only.
  2. ONE ENTRY PER card number, please.
  3. You must be 13 years of age or older to participate. Younger than 13? Have mom or dad send in your entry.
  4. Employees of the Des Plaines Public Library are not eligible.
  5. A drawing for the tickets will be held on: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2008, so entries must be received by 9 PM on Monday, October 27, 2008.
Good luck on the contest!
Questions about the contest?
Type them in the Comments space here.

Questions about the Smart Home exhibit? Visit the Museum of Science & Industry's Web site.

Have you seen our latest green endeavor? It's a little ditty about "Mr. Totebag!" Use our Green Resource Guide to keep up on the latest, local, green activities.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Finding Democracy

The Illinois Humanities Council recently sponsored a videomaking contest with the theme, "Looking For Democracy." Being the type of person who enjoys experimenting with video, and the type of person who passionately believes that libraries play an important role in helping all American citizens participate in democracy, I figured I'd give the contest a whirl.

Turns out, I was unprepared and in way over my head. Still, at best, a novice videographer, I struggled with how to express everything a public library does to get the average citizen in touch with democracy. Suddenly, my lack of a special effects department, my small but mighty Sony videocam and my utterly self-trained video production abilities seemed, gosh, pretty pathetic. Oh - and the video had to be less than 5 minutes, and you, dear PlainTalk reader, know how wordy I can be.

I did in fact make a video for the contest, and my coworkers gamely went along with it, and I knew the moment I submitted it that it was nowhere near good enough. Lesson learned, that one can't approach such a task casually and with the sense of irreverent goofiness I bring to my video projects for DPPL. Proverbial tail between my legs, I've been back to work on the blog, the Web site, all the other, somewhat less glamorous tasks I pursue on a daily basis - only to find out my coworkers had been the ones finding democracy after all.

For the last few months, we've been encouraging people to come the Library to vote. And, you heard us, particularly in the last week, October 1-7, 2008 - during that time 417 people registered to vote at the Library, with almost 300 registering on the last two days! Proves that just rolling up your sleeves and getting to work is often the fastest, most direct way to reach your goal, something we're pretty darn good at around here. I salute my colleagues for all their efforts during our voter registration drive, and leave you with some thoughts from our Head of Public Information, Heather Imhoff, in an email she addressed to the library staff:

As always, you guys really pulled together and pulled this off in the most efficient way possible! A special thanks to Susan and the entire circulation staff, who were already pros at the registration process and really showed us how it’s done!

Amongst those registering to vote for the very first time were new U.S. citizens from countries world, including India, Poland, Mexico, China, Algeria, Philippines, Bulgaria, Peru, Korea, Ukraine and Russia. On a personal level, I was surprised by how honored I felt sitting at that table registering so many new Americans to vote for the first time. I know about the struggles of those who’ve come before me, who have secured my right to vote, and yet until now, I really have taken that right and gift for granted. Participating in this process opened my eyes and I feel a little bit more American today because of it. I hope that all of you who participated took away something from the experience, as well.

Now that you've registered to vote, don't forget to take that democracy you've found and use it. Vote on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. Need guidance in making your decision? Check out our 2008 Election Guide.

What's Happening This Month at DPPL - October 2008

Watch a quick slideshow to learn about events and programs coming up this month at the Des Plaines Public Library. If you missed last weekend's reenactment of one of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, there's plenty of Lincoln-inspired programming in the works. And this Saturday, October 11, is our 2nd annual Croquet Tournament! Even if you didn't register to play, spend a wonderful afternoon outdoors with us at the Central Rose Garden in Des Plaines. The rose garden is accessible from Thacker and is across from Central School. Stop by the park between 1-5 PM and watch the fierce croquet competition, while listening to live folk music and enjoying the gardens.
Want to learn more about our events and programs? Visit our Web site,, 24/7, all year long.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What's The Good Word?

Last month, I promised you a monthly feature on "Random Acts of Kindness," so true to my word, here it is. It's part of my job, day in and day out, to stay tuned into what's happening on the Internet. I read the online news daily, have favorite blogs and Web sites, whether it's the spot-on parody of The Onion, the addictive bargain hunt of eBay, the inside jokes of Homestar Runner and his gang, and, until this past weekend, the official site of a particular Chicago baseball team...

But as we all know, there's a lot on the Web that is unkind, slanderous and hurtful. As a "Web Services Librarian," I struggle with my personal and professional belief in freedom of speech and the free-for-all environment of online publishing. You've probably noticed that many mainstream news sources, such as the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald, allow people to comment on their online news stories. When you take a moment to peruse the comments, you can lose a lot of faith in your fellow human beings. The poor spelling and grammar might make you chuckle or shake your head, but the racist, misogynist, violent language used in many posts is a source of deep dismay. It's as if the playground bully is all grown up and lurking on his/her computer, just waiting to steal your good name and your lunch money. (Am I the only person who cringes at those, "My kid beat up your honor student" bumper stickers?)

It's one thing if you choose to seek out that kind of information on the Web - while I can't go there with you, I respect your right to create and use information that runs counter to my own beliefs. (As long as the information is legally acceptable.) But it does disturb me to find these "comments" posted on what I long thought were credible news sources -- and typically posted anonymously, when these same news outlets would be heavily criticized for using anonymous sources within the articles themselves. It really hit home for me recently when I found a front page story on a woman who had been brutally murdered, a woman I "know" only from the unhappy circumstance of singing at her funeral. The comments left after that article were so disappointing and insensitive, many of them suggesting it was the victim's "fault" for not buying a gun and killing her assailant first. I couldn't imagine how her family would feel, seeing these comments published for all the world to see.

Have you noticed this trend? How do you feel about it? Go ahead and leave a post here -- but please remember that the Des Plaines Public Library respects all people, all points of view and is a place where children should feel safe and comfortable, so we can't accept posts filled with obscenities and hateful speech.

So, how does this fit in with "Random Acts of Kindness?" First of all, there's lots of good stuff online, so take the time to find it and encourage it! A coworker, Heather Imhoff, recently forwarded this blog to me: The Happiness Project. In this blog, writer Gretchen Rubin test-drives "every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study" on happiness she can find, and shares her successes and failures with readers. So it's positively-focused, but not Pollyanna-ish - Rubin brings along a realistic world view and a heaping dose of intelligence. Check it out and see what you think - if you know if similar blogs or Web sites, devoted to a more positive way of living, please use the Comments space here to make your recommendations.

Secondly, perhaps we can start a trend of courteous, meaningful, intelligent public discourse, to loosen the powerful grip of the anonymous hate-speakers out there. Use those Comment forums on news articles to flex the muscle of your mind and your vocabulary, rather than resorting to name-calling, bigotry and even downright falsehood. The current Presidential campaign is certainly a public forum where it seems that intelligent, truthful conversation has been all but forgotten - can we challenge our candidates to turn that situation around for the good of our nation, for the good of our children? I believe we can.

Your comments are welcome.