Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Born on a Blue Day

I'm reading Daniel Tammet's memoir, Born on a Blue Day which is excellent, but I won't review it here because I'm not yet finished. Mr. Tammet is an autistic savant, the subject of a documentary called Brain Man and came to my attention because of the profile on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago. His book is a rare look inside the mind of a person with Asperger's syndrome. Reading the book led me to his website Optimnem Blog which is not only an extension of his book in some ways but also his online store which sells language learning resources that he writes. He also wrote a very nice defense of libraries in this post, Libraries are Important. I like his succint way of expressing himself. By strange coincidence, the post was in response to an article by London Times journalist Helen Rumbelow, which had set me off into a rant in this blog a while ago. My reaction to Rumbelow's own rant was much more emotional than Mr. Tammet's. He writes very clearly and logically and makes an excellent case for libraries.

Reference Librarians finds answers to local mystery in minutes!

A patron called the BHPL Reference Department yesterday to ask us to find the name of a chemical plant located near the Passaic River in Berkeley Heights in the 1960's. After answering her question with some questions of our own, (we don't do this to be annoying, it's called the "Reference Interview") she divulged that there had been an explosion there that she remembered from her childhood when she lived nearby. After some fruitless googling, the online Historical New York Times was searched and instantly up popped an article: "Jersey Chemical Plant Damaged by Explosion," dateline July 19, 1966, Berkeley Heights, NJ. Bingo, instant success, a welcome experience for librarians, and apparently for the patron too. She told us when we called back that she was amazed it took us only a few minutes to find what she and her family had been looking for for years. Much mutual admiration of modern research resources ensued.
The point here is not to pat our own back exactly, but to express some frustration that people don't turn to librarians in the first place. While it may seem perverse to turn a successful patron interaction into an occassion for nagging, here it is: don't wait decades, call the Reference Department. It might take a few minutes, hours or longer, but we always try to get our, no - not man, our facts.
By the way, it was the Millmaster Chemical Company's Berkeley Chemical Department at 11 Summit Avenue. It exploded at 3:05 AM and calls from miles around came into local police stations. No one was hurt. The chemical being produced was "classified" information according to the article in the Dispatch from July 21, 1966. Our patron was awakened in her crib by the noise, she was three years old and still remembers it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More on Bill Bryson

The Guardian's Book Blog ran a piece praising Bill Bryson, which apparently is a risky thing to do in some literary circles.
"How I learned to stop worrying and love Bill Bryson "
"Bryson's crimes against art are to be easy, popular and a thoroughly decent sort. Oh, and he's always cracking jokes.
I realise that what I'm about to say may strike some readers as the literary equivalent of being entranced by Status Quo or nursing a passion for Jacob's Creek wine. Certainly (and shamefully) it's only recently that I have stopped sneering every time I hear this writer's name. But that's all changed now and I'm proud to state it openly: I like Bill Bryson"

Liking Bill Bryson may not be such a problem for average American readers as it is for British book reviewers who have "standards" to uphold. My online book group just finished reading and discussing Bryson's latest book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir. Everyone in this group is part of the baby boomer generation, born in the early fifties. His recollections of growing up in the fifties in DesMoines, Iowa rang a bell for all of us. Literally, we had quite a discussion of what kind of bells and whistles our parents used to get us home by dinner after a day of unsupervised outdoor play in the neighborhood.
Here are some of our memories:
" kids [were more] independent and less scheduled. My father had an old US Army gong, probably WWI vintage, God knows where he got it, that he used to clang to get us all home for dinner. It was kind of embarrassing."
"My father (ex-marine) had a bosun's pipe, a form of whistle, that was very distinctive and also very embarassing! By age 10 or 11 my friends and I had a "roaming radius" of about a mile and a half in any direction from our houses, by foot or by bike."
"My mother had a two-tone whistle she did – and she could do it today and we would all come running. Our next door neighbor had a simple whistle which she blew in different codes depending on which kid she wanted. We all knew each others parent calls – and we all knew who needed to go home. "
" in Gladwyne our lunch and dinner call was the firehouse siren at noon and 6 pm. In Ardmore, we had to be home by the time the church bells finished ringing at 6 pm."
"We had an honest to god boater's FOG HORN to bring us home! It looked like a New Year's horn only was made of metal that my mother painted blue and made a much louder noise! One toot - time to come home. Two toots - hurry Three toots all at once - emergency, get home at once. I think my brother has the fog horn but I can't imagine any kid being far enough away to need one now."
That's the problem, no one would need any of these bells, whistles, horns or church bells these days. Kids are scheduled, tracked and on the electronic leash known as a cell phone.

Garden State Book Awards announced

The Children’s Services Section of the New Jersey Library Association announces the following recipients of the 2007 Garden State Children’s Book Award:

EASY-TO-READ BOOK: LOOSE TOOTH by Lola M. Schaefer, pictures by Sylvie Wickstrom

EASY-TO-READ SERIES BOOK: SECOND GRADE RULES, AMBER BROWN by Paula Danziger, illustrated by Tony Ross

FICTION, GRADES 2 - 5: THE LAST HOLIDAY CONCERT by Andrew Clements, cover art by Brian Selznick


The Garden State Teen Book Awards have also been announced and are are posted on the NJLA website.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian

A Prairie Home Companion features a recurring character, Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian. Here is the link to the website with the script from the most recent show and also a link to the audio version of the skit. It's also possible to get podcasts of Garrison Keillor's monologs: the News from Lake Wobegon.

And now the news from Berkeley Heights Library Reference Desk where all the librarians are above average and none of them are as recalcitrant and regressive a luddite as Ruth Harrison, we hope.
Let's go through the reference department mail together, shall we? A plea for BHPL to purchase Key Signifier as Literary Device for only $99.95 by "the academic who coined the phrase at the 2005 international society..." Pretty sure that's too esoteric and academic for a small public library, especially for the price. Into recycling it goes. The Brookings Institution Press catalog, nice cover photo of the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial reflected in the water. Think I'll wait 'til the books get reviewed by an impartial source, pretty academic stuff, and pretty sure won't miss any bestseller by....recycling the Brookings. Next! Manila envelope marked "Time Sensitive Material." Looks like junk mail, but upon opening, turns out to be two packets of bookmarks from the Internal Revenue Service advertising the IRS website. Hmm. The binders of photocopiable forms and many other forms have not yet arrived, but we do have those all-important bookmarks. Come get them while supplies last. Next, more junk mail which turns out to be a bright purple desk planner to advertise a printer that will make promotional items. Unfortunately the library limits itself to inexpensive pens and pencils with our website and phone number on them. And so on. Junk mail, if you toss it without a peek, it might be important, if you take the time to open it, you often have wasted time. What to do? It's a gamble, a toss of the dice; an instant triage of cost/benefit of one's time is required for each piece of mail cleverly disguised to look as though it might be important.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Theatre In Video, new database of full-length plays

The library has just subscribed to a database that allows patrons to watch full-length plays: Theatre in Video contains streaming videos of the world's leading plays, together with more than 100 film documentaries - more than 500 hours in all. This database contains over 50 titles, representing hundreds of leading playwrights, actors and directors. Included are landmark performances such as The Iceman Cometh, Hamlet, Othello, Awake and Sing, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Playboy of the Western World, and others. Notable actors include Gene Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Richard Dreyfuss, Walter Matthau, Meryl Streep, and more. For the first time, students, instructors and researchers can bookmark specific scenes, monologues and staging, and these landmark performances can become a permanent part of the curriculum.
BHPL card holders may go to the library web site ( and log in to all of the “Remote Databases” offered by BHPL by entering their barcode and pin.

Questions? Call the Reference Desk at (908) 464-9333, nine to nine Monday through Thursday, nine to five Friday and Saturday and two to five on Sunday.

Free Health Newsletters from Overlook Hospital

Atlantic Health Systems website offers free email newsletters on health care topics such as diabetes, pain management, parenting, hearth health, weight management and more. Sign up for the newsletters that interest you at My Atlantic Health News. Newsletters on these and other conditions are also available for viewing at this webpage.
The Atlantic Health Website has lists of classes, doctors and other medical news.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Introducing the Book and other Library Videos from YouTube

YouTube videos about libraries, librarians and books, carefully selected...

Take a look at this wryly humorous YouTube video, Introducing the Book about a monk who doesn't understand how a book works.

Sensible shoes on the go! A video satire inspired by March of the Penguins:
March of the Librarians, Seattle Annual Conference of the American Librarian Association 2007

The Monty Python skit where the library board is interviewing candidates for librarian and a man in a gorilla suit applies: Gorilla Librarian If this is a violation of copyright, we will delete this link.

Conan the Librarian really gets very upset when books are overdue and patrons don't know the Dewey Decimal System. See also the Conan the Librarian website

Monday, February 12, 2007

Disposing of Old Books

Who wants your old books? Have you tried in vain to sell them at a yard sale or give them to your local library, school, college or thrift store only to be sent away not empty-handed? Have you been told that old library books circulate poorly, old encyclopedias and textbooks become obsolete quickly, college books stores pay a pittance for expensive, almost-new textbooks? Are you reluctant to sell books on Ebay because it is a time-consuming activity? Furthermore the cost of shipping books to third world countries is prohibitive. Used and rare book dealers can be very picky about what they will take or even deign to look at. Storing books takes up space and space in libraries and book stores and your house is at a premium.
What can be done with old books? Book lovers just want to feel that their books have found a better place than the recycling bin, but sadly, that's where many books end their lives. Most people seem to think that all books have some intrinsic value but if you examine that common assumption, it isn't true. Since the advent of the paperback, the information and publication explosion, cheaper printing technology, online databases and texts, a culture that generally likes the new and shiny and disposes with the old, books do not have as much actual (monetary) value as they do sentimental value. And if they have been in the attic, cellar or garage for years, they are probably worthless. Not always, but usually.
Nevertheless, here are some possibilities for disposing of old books:

Book Sales in New Jersey

Harvest Books

But you should know that the following rules about what kinds of books are acceptable applies to every library sale, booktrade website, thrift store or other bookish entity that I have ever seen or dealt with:
from the Harvest Books site
"There are some books we cannot use. Since books we cannot use must be recycled at some expense, we do not accept these types of materials even as a donation:
Books that have been wet or are moldy.
Books without covers.
Books that are in poor condition relative to their vintage. Obviously older books will sometimes show their age. This does not mean they are not valuable. But torn, yellowed or creased copies of last year’s romances or thriller novel will not do us any good.
Encyclopedias -- general reference encyclopedias, such as Britannica, are NOT of any use, even to schools --it’s all available on the computer these days.
Readers’ Digest Condensed Books.
Older editions of travel guides or other books that come out with new editions each year.
Textbooks more than two years old.
No newspapers or magazines, please!"

Essentially, if you don't recycle your old books that are unusable, unsalable, unwanted, obsolete; you are passing on the job to someone else who will recycle them.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

P4A Antiques Reference

Residents of Berkeley Heights need not wait for the Antiques Roadshow to come to town to get real market-based information about their antiques, artwork and family treasures. The Berkeley Heights Public Library has subscribed to the p4A Antiques Reference database and it is available free of charge at the library and from home computers or other remote locations. BHPL card holders may go to the library web site and log in to all of the “Remote Databases” offered by BHPL by entering their barcode and pin.

The p4A Antiques Reference database is used by leading personal property appraisers throughout the United States (including many Antiques Roadshow appraisers), antiques dealers, museums, and agencies like the Internal Revenue Service to evaluate almost every kind of antique in today’s collections.

Unlike other reference tools, the p4A Antiques Reference database is focused on the American regional marketplace and does not include the top-scale New York and London art and antiques markets. This means BHPL patrons using the database have a better opportunity to find the types of material seen locally and regionally at auction and retail outlets. These antiques are organized into 1,280 different classifications or subjects including furniture, glass, pottery and porcelain, paintings, prints, clocks, toys, dolls, advertising collectibles, books, autographs, lamps, silver, firearms and historical documents. Each record includes information on when and where the item was sold as well as the price realized. Pricing information ranges from ten dollars into the millions.

The p4A Antiques Reference database is also unique in having at least one color picture for every record - over 250,000 at the present time (and more are added every day.) Library patrons can actually see if the item they are researching closely matches the one described in the database. In addition each record carries a text description and many have extensive reference notes attached to provide background and context information to the user.

Library Offers Newspapers Online

The following newspapers are offered from the library's website through Proquest's "Newspapers Nine"
The dates that are offered with full-text vary. Log in with your library barcode here to access this and other online databases available to BHPL patrons.

Atlanta Constitution
Atlanta Journal
Boston Globe
Chicago Tribune
Christian Science Monitor
Los Angeles Times
New York Times Late Edition (East Coast)
New York Times Book Review
New York Times Magazine
Wall Street Journal; Eastern edition
Washington Post

Websites of Interest to Seniors

BHPL made bookmarks with a list of websites that are useful for seniors. Here is the list, feel free to copy it.

Websites of Interest to Seniors

www. American Association of Retired Persons

www. Information on eldercare, legal, financial, and housing issues. SeniorNet's mission is to provide older adults education for and access to computer technologies to enhance their lives and enable them to share their knowledge and wisdom.

Administration on Aging This U.S. government site is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of a wide variety of topics, programs and services related to aging. This is the U.S. government's official web portal. The section for seniors includes links to information on consumer protection, health, retirement and money. This site helps you compare Medicare health plan options, provides access to many publications on Medicare related topics, and has a directory of participating physicians.

Social Security Administration This site can be used to calculate benefits, apply for benefits, locate a local office, and read publications on social security related topics.

A Simple Curve, the next BHPL foreign film on Movie Night

Join us for the Third Thursday Movie Night at the Berkeley Heights Public Library. The next film will be A Simple Curve (2005), a Canadian film in English. Showtime is: Thursday, February 15 at 7:00 pm in the meeting room.

Literacy Volunteers of Union County

Library lovers, consider sharing the gift of reading. If you would like to volunteer to tutor adults in reading, writing, or English, The Literacy Volunteers of Union County would like to hear from you. Take a look at the LVA website for details on how to train to become a tutor, or you can call (908) 755-7998 or email

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Best Books 2006

Library Journal's January 2007 issue has an article listing the Best Books 2006, including Best Genre Fiction 2006 and Best How-To 2006. Don't forget, if you are looking for a good book, subscribe to BHPL's free NextRead newsletters by email. There are more than twenty subjects or genres to choose from. Go to BHPL's website or click here to sign up. For a preview of each newsletter, just click on the newsletter title.

Strange Piece of Paradise

Take a look at these two posts from the Critical Mass Blog, a review and an interview with author Terri Jentz about her book, Strange Piece of Paradise. Her book describes her near fatal attack while camping thirty years ago and her attempt to go back to the scene of the crime to come to terms with it. The book has received terrific reviews, been nominated for awards and Critical Mass excerpts this review: " Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott writes, "Start this book, and you won’t stop. Memoir, detective story, travelogue, time capsule, horror movie come to life (and swinging a hatchet), obsessive manhunt, a tale of American innocence dashed and left for dead—Terri Jentz’s Strange Piece of Paradise has the narcotic force of a nightmare that won’t let go its grip until the truth is found and set free."