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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just say book banning

From the American Library Association's Web site:

"Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."

You'd be hard-pressed to find a librarian who thinks that banning books is a good idea. Yes, we understand that some books aren't appropriate for certain age groups. Yes, we understand that some books foster rather unpopular, even blatantly offensive ways of thinking and behaving. But there's a difference between banning a book outright and giving individuals or families the right to choose what they will read.

I assure you that I could walk up to the 3rd and 4th floors of the Library right now and find an armful of books that deeply offend me. Since this isn't the "Karen McBride Public Library," but rather the Des Plaines Public Library, there ought to be materials here that aren't my cup of tea. Materials that tear apart my belief system, my religion, my artistic tastes, the food I eat, the candidates I support, my deepest values. If our values are so weak that they cannot stand up to someone else's verbal attacks and criticism, they're not very good values, are they? Reading the opinions of others, or at least knowing where they stand, is a very good exercise in knowing where you stand. Be proud to live in America, because in other parts of the world you couldn't read this blog. In fact, I couldn't publish it. Sadly, this country seems to be full of people shouting right now, big-voiced bullies eager to make sure you hear them and nothing else. In the quiet confines of the public library, you can escape the bully and hear what others have to say, as well as finding plenty of support for your own arguments.

This year, Banned Books Week begins on September 26. I asked my colleagues at DPPL to share some thoughts about favorite books and how their lives would be changed if these books had been banned.

Linda Knorr, Readers' Services: "...definitely the Harry Potter series. Although I’m considerably older than the target reading population, if I had not had the freedom to read those wonderful stories of wizards and witches, I would have missed out on loads of fun and hours of reading pleasure."

Bob Blanchard, Adult Services: "'Forever' by Judy Blume. I read this for a children's literature class, and it exposed me to young adult (or high school) fiction. I didn't know that some of those books can be pretty explicit! Still, I'm glad I read it, because it showed a side that many teen girls face or may face when they explore their sexuality."

Holly Richards-Sorensen, Assistant Director: "'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L’Engle. I read this book when I was in 4th or 5th grade and it started my love of Science Fiction. After I read this I moved on to read Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, you get the idea."

Gwen LaCosse, Adult Services: "'Catcher in the Rye.' Through Holden Caulfield, his main character, J.D. Salinger gives voice to those in our culture who feel they are on the outside looking in. Even though I read it many years ago in high school, I consider this book to be timeless. It should never be banned."

My choice would be The Bible. Too many people talk about it - whether to condemn or to defend - without ever reading it or knowing what it really says. I'm delighted to have the freedom to explore The Bible and make up my own mind about its message.

Delight in your freedom - defend the right to read.
Learn more about Banned Books Week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Get some online help

Today's PlainTalk will be short and sweet - I'm working on making them all that way but often my enthusiasm gets the better of me!

First of all, for those of you who track your investments online: you can attend a free, virtual tour of the Morningstar Research Investment Center on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 3 PM. What you need: a phone and a computer with Internet connection. You will also need to register for this free event, so the Morningstar people can send you log-in instructions. To register, email
In your email, say you'd like to register for the virtual tour on September 30th and you must mention that you are a patron of the Des Plaines Public Library. Learn how the experts use Morningstar to keep tabs on their investments and then become an expert yourself.

Secondly, of more general interest: users of our Catalog can now recover their password via email if they have forgotten it. From any screen in the Catalog, look for the new "Password Help" button. You'll get two menu choices: "Forgot my password" and "User Password Change."

If you've changed your password from the generic "patron" one (everybody starts out with "patron," minus the quotes) and no longer remember it, click "Forgot my password" and type in your library card number. If you have an email address on file with us, your password will be sent to that email account.

Don't have your email account on file with the Library? Go to "My Account" and "Register for Email Notification." I find this service to be a lifesaver, as I am not so good about checking my phone messages. Use the "User Password Change" link to change your password. While "patron" can be easy to remember, it's also a less secure option, since thousands of other library users share that same password.

That's all for today - stay safe in the rain and fog out there!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Doing Good Right Here in the Community

In these days of political and economic turmoil, do you find yourself being grateful for the simplest things? The things you possibly took for granted even just a year ago? Like, having a home or a job?

Being thankful is a good place to start. If you are fortunate enough to be living through all of this turbulence without huge sacrifices, with your basic needs still fulfilled, I'd ask you to think about moving beyond gratitude into action. You can do it right here in your local community.

Case in point: Last week, Debbie Walusiak of the Self-Help Closet & Pantry of Des Plaines stopped by the library to pick up another book by her newest favorite author, Elin Hilderbrand. Debbie talked with librarian Joanne Griffin about the appeal of Hilderbrand's novels, set on Nantucket Island. She likes that the books are easy to read, entertaining and engaging, but also feature story lines that are usually about troubled relationships or family relations, including characters with secrets and complicated lives. No doubt Debbie enjoys the chance to plunge into the lives of these complex characters because her days and nights are spent taking care of such urgent, basic needs in our own community: the need for people to have adequate food and appropriate clothing. Many of us, with the best of intentions, make donations to organizations like the Self-Help Closet & Pantry at Christmas or other holiday times. Songwriter George Michael referred to our tendency to wear charity like a fancy coat we pull out twice a year. Self-Help Closet & Pantry needs your help all year long. Get a list of needed items. Think about it - if you included the Self-Help Pantry on your grocery list once a month, you could make a worthwhile, long-term contribution with the smallest amount of effort.

Case in point: Woohoo! There's a new restaurant on Lee/Mannheim: Via Roma. It gets better - delicious food, cozy, welcoming ambiance and the prices are unbelievably affordable. I compared my lunch there last Tuesday to lunch at my usual spot. Let's see - the food at both is delicious, but my other place costs me $5 more on average; where I usually go, I have to stand in line to order my food, then wait in another line with a pager until it's ready, I even have to pour my own soda; I leave both feeling full and happy, but full, happy and with more money in my pocket? "Priceless," as the TV ads say. We all want to see downtown Des Plaines thriving and active. If you're fortunate enough to have a job right now, do your part to keep local businesses alive by patronizing places like Via Roma. You'll enjoy every bite and have plenty left in your wallet to support the Self-Help Closet & Pantry! Via Roma, 847-768-7481, is currently only open mornings/afternoons. Proprietors Alessandro Forti (also the chef) and Lisa Leslie will welcome you with authentic Italian cooking and down-to-earth Italian-American hospitality.

Want to stay informed about efforts to revitalize Des Plaines? Then follow the local blog, "Revitalize Des Plaines!" Every time I read the RDP blog, I find out something new. Did you know a Japanese restaurant (yum!) is coming to the site of the former Subway sandwich shop at the corner of Miner and Pearson? I didn't until today and I found out thanks to "Revitalize Des Plaines." RDP is a blog, so you're welcome to leave your comments and concerns there, too, and get in on the conversation. "Revitalize Des Plaines" is a welcome addition to our community and the posted articles provide interesting local history, too. You can also be a fan of RDP on Facebook. Read what RDP has to say about Via Roma and another new DP restaurant, Mehanata.

So get to it! Don't just talk about being grateful for the good things you have - use your gifts to build up this community and the good people living and working here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Youth is a beautiful dream..."

"...on whose brightness books shed a blinding dust."

Hmmm. That quote from spiritual thinker Kahlil Gibran suggests he thought poorly of books - odd, since he was in the business of writing them! Is it possible he was wrong? Can books and learning actually burnish the bright glow of youth? Better still, can they help reclaim and nurture the still-youthful dreams of those of us who are decades past what society rigidly defines as "young?" Librarians like to think so.

Along with 65,000+ of my closest friends, I had the good fortune to see rock band U2 live at Soldier Field last Saturday night. It did indeed return me to the beautiful dreams of youth, if only temporarily. I remembered being young enough to stand and dance on a hard metal surface for that many hours without needing a handful of ibuprofen to soften the pain. I remembered telling everybody I was going to be a rock star when I "grew up." I remembered believing that music is a powerful force for positive change in a brutal, joyless world. I still believe that last one. So how can books, how can the Library, help inspire me and you to dream again, to reach for dreams rather than brushing them aside with the paraphernalia of youth?

Easy question.

Books help you learn, books expose you to ideas and places and people you may not be able to meet in person, books inspire, books can become training manuals for DOING.
Now, I totally understand that if you spent your childhood dreaming of becoming an astronaut or kung fu action hero, and you're now 54 years old and never studied aeronautics or martial arts, you may have to temper your dreams somewhat. Is that so bad? When I mope that my rock star fantasies remain strictly in my head, good friends remind me that I've been able to sing, professionally but locally, for almost 30 years, so maybe I ought to be grateful instead of whining. Maybe you can become an expert on the planets and stars, visit iFLY in California and experience human body flight, or win the lottery and book your flight on the space shuttle. Maybe you can study and master the martial arts to the best of your abilities and then teach people at the local park district. I used library resources to plan the Singing Librarians' entry in the Des Plaines 4th of July parade, and let me tell you, we felt like rock stars cruising around on that enormous float and getting you to dance in the streets.

Right now, your dreams may be of the more grown-up, practical variety: finding a job, buying a home, raising a family, earning a college degree, putting food on the table. There are more books (and videos) on those topics than you can possibly imagine. Check out a few and see if there's wisdom to be found, motivation to be gained. We have books here on just about every topic, and what we don't own we can borrow from libraries around the world. Reading doesn't have to be a passive, vicarious experience. Get into the Catalog and start searching for your dreams, whether they are the beautiful dreams of youth or the hopeful dreams of right now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering What We Cannot Forget

On my drive in to work today, I pondered: "Should I write a blog post about September 11? Is it necessary, knowing that a million other bloggers, the mainstream news media, and heaven knows who else will be doing the same thing?" Probably not necessary, and yet, as an American, when you see this date on your calendar, don't you still feel like you're struggling to make sense of it all? Don't you let your mind go back for a moment or two and relive whatever you were doing that morning, how you heard, how you reacted?

Even for those of us who seemed somewhat sheltered here in the Midwest, many miles from the actual attacks, there were surely lasting effects. Up until that day, I rarely ever watched, listened or read the news. When the events of that September morning unfolded, my only sources of news coverage were the Internet and the radio (I don't own a TV). The sounds being broadcast over the radio quickly became unbearable to me, but I was so grateful for all of the Internet news available that day and in the days that followed. I became a daily news reader and now I start every single morning with a read through the Chicago, national and world news. I imagine that most of my coworkers and our library patrons also experienced some kind of change that day, whether for good or bad. In discussing our nation's current economic crisis with family members last weekend, I even suggested that September 11 might have played a role. Was our rush to spend, spend, and spend some more a way of comforting ourselves after this painful experience, a kind of collective post-traumatic stress syndrome ? Did it give us a sense of security to purchase a home (that may have been more than we could afford), well-made luxury cars, and other fineries? Did we borrow money thoughtlessly because we'd lost hope in what tomorrow could bring?

Whether your memories of September 11 bring you anger, sadness, fear or even more positive emotions - a desire to see peace in a troubled world, a willingness to volunteer and reach out to help others - I think it's important to acknowledge your feelings and use them to inspire you for good. You might recall that in the days following 9/11, an awful lot of people said, "America will be different now. People are going to be more polite and helpful, less selfish. Communities will grow stronger." I'm not so sure it turned out that way, not yet, but I'm a big fan of hope and optimism and I don't think it's ever too late to reach for something better. Below you'll find a variety of links relating to September 11, to post-traumatic stress, to volunteering and other related topics.

Read/view films about the September 11, 2001 attacks and their aftermath (list includes non-fiction as well as fiction inspired by the event)

Read about volunteer opportunities at the Library and in our local community

Read about post-traumatic stress disorder

Read about happiness and optimism and how to find more of them in your life

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Losing the Blues

I hope you enjoyed the long holiday weekend.

I didn't! I allowed one rotten experience on Saturday to drop me into a funk for the remainder of the weekend and there I stayed. At those times, I find that an excellent cure is to distract myself with something worthwhile, so I plunged into some books and, a rarity for me, a movie ("Julie and Julia" - loved it!).

I often feel like the only librarian in the world who doesn't carry around a tote bag full of books, spend weekends curled up with a juicy novel and know all the latest indie film actors. I'm a Web librarian, so I do a LOT of reading - on screens, big and small. I'm also a musician and music is both my passion and my escape. But now and then I crave a great read just as much as normal people do! This weekend I was extra grateful for my savvy colleagues and the many resources we have here at DPPL to help people connect with a good book.

I began the weekend with Dave Thompson's hilarious and over-the-top "classic rock manifesto," I Hate New Music. I didn't always agree with Thompson's premise that rock music died around 1977, but I roared out loud at his jokes and nodded in agreement when he nailed a point. I'm now about halfway through with Serve the People: a stir-fried journey through China, by Jen Lin-Liu. I almost exclusively read non-fiction and this book has my favorite characteristics: exotic locale, colorful descriptions of meals, places and characters, and a narrator who is smart, curious and kind. The word "dumpling" appears many, many times.

How did I find these enjoyable reads that seemed just right for me? First, by tapping into the knowledge of our wise Adult Services staff, in this case, our Head of Adult Services, Roberta Johnson. She suggested I Hate New Music, knowing that if I'm not making music, I'm very happy to read about it. I found Serve the People by browsing Roberta's suggestions on our Shelfari "virtual bookshelf." You can browse that bookshelf, too, simply by visiting Positively Ellinwood Street, our blog about books, movies & music.

Need more suggestions? Try:
By the way, another comment from our Web Site survey: someone said they missed an old function of the Catalog, when a searcher could enter something like "New Fiction" and get a list of just that. I have never seen that functionality in the Library Catalog and cannot explain to you why it disappeared, although I suspect a change in the way items are catalogued. The "Power Search" can be used for that type of search but because we share item locations and types with 24 other libraries, it is confusing to say the least.

My recommendation? Bookmark our "One-Click Searches" page. There you'll find links that search for the newest Fiction & Non-Fiction in our Catalog, along with DVDs and other item types. There are lots of one-click searches on the page, but if you have a specific type of book for which you often search, feel free to recommend other one-click searches to us. Next time you've got the blues or just feel the need to read, let our experts and resources guide you to something wonderful.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The people of Des Plaines have spoken!

31 patrons responded to our Web Site survey. Not huge numbers but the results are very useful. I found patterns in what you like and what you find frustrating and that will help me make decisions down the road. I'm seizing this opportunity to list some of your comments here and, when necessary, respond to them. Feel free to add more comments of your own.

1) A anonymous patron left a comment on PlainTalk a few days ago concerning patron privacy. As a librarian, it makes me cringe to think of someone commenting on what I borrow from the library. First, please be assured that our automated system deletes the record of what you borrowed once you have returned the items. Secondly, state law and library policy state that information about items you currently have checked out is considered confidential, to be used only for internal operations such as collecting overdue fines. Within our employee Policy Manual, it clearly states that "We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom..." and "We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed..." etc. All library employees learn about these policies as part of the orientation process.

To the patron who left this comment: I apologize on behalf of the Library and have forwarded your comment to our Library Director. To all our patrons: if you ever experience the feeling that your privacy is being violated by an employee or another patron of DPPL, please seek assistance from our Administrative staff.

2) Several of you mentioned the frustration of not being able to log into the Catalog/your account and STAY logged in. We hear you. You can sign on at the top of the Catalog home page and place several holds without entering your card repeatedly (if you haven't tried that, give it a whirl next time you're browsing for fun new books and movies). Beyond that, improved log-in functionality is one of my top priorities in our search for a new system. My other top criteria, based on what I've heard from you, follow.
  • If our new system has added features, like the ability to review books, rate them, create lists of what you've read and save them - great. However, those features cannot require a separate log-in. For those of you who experimented with WorldCat Local when we tested it, you know what I mean. Your usual DPPL Catalog log-in did not authenticate you on that site, so you had to constantly move back and forth between the two. No one has time for that and I'll battle long and hard before I buy a system that can't get it right.

  • I'd love to see a "shopping cart" type of feature in the Catalog. Pick out as many items as you'd like, add them to your cart, then place one hold at the end covering all the items. Based on your comments, I think you'd like that, too.

  • How about a menu of links to help you refine your search? You type "harry potter," and a list pops up: "book," "DVD," "sound recording" - you make your choice and get more precise results.

  • Above all: improved search relevance. Many of you wrote, "Bad search engine!" or "I type in an author or title and my results make no sense." I can tell from our survey results that most of you prefer to do your searching from home. Next time you're in the Library, if you have 10 extra minutes, stop by one of the public service desks and ask for some tips on how to get better results in the Catalog. You'll be grateful for it and you'll get a little librarian "insider knowledge." We have to search the Catalog all day and even took graduate school classes in searching, so we know the quirks and pitfalls.
3) To the patron who thought we should leave movies to folks like IMDB: On a personal level, I'm with you. I don't own a television and I only see a couple of movies every year. Nevertheless, if we decided to only offer books and gave up on movies, there'd be a mighty revolt here in town. Movies account for 50% of our annual circulation. I see it as a community service - we save you money on the costly hobby of watching movies and TV series.

4) To the patron who said "It doesn't tell you where the books are located." I'm not sure if you mean the Dewey decimal call number or the library, since we share our Catalog with 24 other libraries. My guess? You mean that in your initial list of results, you don't see a call number. Drives us crazy, too, and add that to the list of criteria for our new system!

5) To the patron who checks online, finds an available item but gets here and the item is gone: Save yourself the hassle. If you need the item in a hurry, call us first (847-827-5551 - you can speed things up by knowing on which floor the item should be). Someone can walk to the shelf, make sure the item is there and hold it for you. If you have a day or two: click the blue "Place Hold" button, put a hold on the item and we will contact you when it's ready for you to pick it up. We hate a wasted trip as much as you do, so let us do the work.

6) To the patron who wasn't crazy about the phrase "Pre-overdue notice": We discovered that we can indeed change that wording and have requested something new from our computer consortium. Watch for the change and I hope you find it more to your liking.

7) To those who want more book reviews, movie reviews, the ability to create lists, email or text information to yourself or others, improved hold queue information - we hope all of those things and more will be coming soon. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I represent DPPL on a committee that is searching for a new Catalog for our entire consortium. It isn't easy, because every product I've seen has some excellent qualities and some deficiencies. Thanks to your input, I have a much clearer understanding of how you use the Catalog and how you'd prefer to use it. I promise you that your preferences will be first and foremost in my part of the decision-making process. In the meantime, when you're confused or stymied by the Catalog or anything on our Web site, talk to someone here at the Library or feel free to email me: Karen McBride,