Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bye-Bye, Floppy! Hello, Flash!

Heads up!

On February 1st, 2007, WPL will discontinue the support of floppy drives in its computers.

The first floppy drives were introduced in the early 1970s, and at that time they used 8-inch disks. By 1976, this was reduced in size to a 5.25-in diskette which some of you might remember.

In 1980, Sony introduced the 3.5-inch floppy, which today can hold
about 1.4 megabytes of data.

(For a more complete history of the floppy, click here.)

While floppies have been great for holding text documents, which have small file sizes, they are simply becoming outdated as computer program file sizes get larger and people routinely transfer music, pictures, and video files online.

So, beginning February 1st, the floppy drives in our computers will be disabled.

For our many patrons who currently store their documents on floppy disks, you will either need to find a way to store your documents on the web, or you will need to acquire a flash drive.

Flash drives (seen in the photo to the right) are also known as thumb drives or jump drives. They come in many different shapes and colors. The size of the drive, meaning the amount of information it can hold, affects its price.

For those of you who need to replace your floppies and don't want to put a lot of money into it, Target has a 32-megabyte Memorex brand flash drive for about $5. Other area retailers probably offer similar deals.

A 32-megabyte drive won't hold a lot of pictures, so if you can afford it, we recommend that you look for a larger drive. These drives plug into USB ports located on the front of all WPL computers.

While our floppy drives are still working, we recommend that you acquire a flash drive and plan on transferring your files off of your old floppies before Feb. 1.

If you don't want to purchase a flash drive, there are also ways that you can store your documents online. Many people choose to create a document on the WPL computers, and then save the file and e-mail it to themselves as an attachment.

Another service that you might want to try is Google's Documents and Spreadsheets service, which allows you to create and store text documents on the web so that you can access them from any computer with Internet access.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Printer Woes

The Reference Department public printer has been intermittently blowing toner on the left margin of print jobs. The vendor has been notified and should be in to fix it yet this morning. In the meantime, if you get a result like the page above, contact a staff member for help.

Also, keep in mind that the Public Access Computers will be unavailable most, if not all, of Monday the 4th.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Computer Outage December 4, 2006

The Waterloo Public Library PACs (public access computers) will be unavailable most, if not all, of the day Monday, December 4, 2006. Starting at 9:30 a.m., the vendor and I will upgrade the server, reservation, and print-release stations from Pharos Vx3 7.0 to 7.2. I will then upgrade each client machine.

Since we're making such major changes, we're also going to upgrade the printing. I've never been pleased with the speed of the new printer and have been working with Kyocera engineers for a solution. It looks like they have a new driver that will speed things up a bit.

So, the PACs won't be available Monday morning and will be down until all upgrades are in place. I can't say precisely when they'll be back, but I expect the computers to be out-of-service at least until late afternoon or early evening. It's possible that they will be unavailable until some time on Tuesday.

If you really need to be on a PC Monday, I suggest that you visit the Cedar Falls Public Library at 524 Main Street, Cedar Falls, IA.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Learning Center PACs Tweaked

Saturday's introduction of the Learning Center Public Access Computers (PACs) to our reservation system was a bit confusing. I overlooked the fact that the available stations would be assigned by the computer's "network name" rather than the "display name." The result was some confusion when the Learning Center PACs were assigned first by the system. We've reconfigured the system and now the computers out on the floor should be assigned before the Learning Center stations.

The Learning Center gets a bit warm with all those computers running, and adding 6 users doesn't help. For now, we've got a couple of fans to keep the air moving, but we hope to get some improvements from the city's HVAC people. In the meantime, short-sleeved shirts might be in order.

If you're assigned to a Learning Center computer and need some staff help you may have to come to the Reference Island. That's a disadvantage of opening up this fairly remote location, but better than the alternative: Sitting in a chair watching the Queue display for an hour!

Should you run into a problem with your computer, or if you'd like to make a suggestion for improvement or additional features, don't hesitate to use the "comments" button at the end of this article.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Return of the Coinbox

The 23 Waterloo Public Library PACs (Public Access Computers) have a new Internet homepage today: the Waterloo Public Library Reference Department blog. This tool will make it easier for staff to get messages to you, and the "comments" link at the bottom of each page will make it easier for you to speak with us. If you have a yearning for the old home page, there's a link just above this article and another one in the "Links" section just below the "Contributors" block. We'll run the blog for a few months and will then decide whether or not it's worth continuing.

We have lots of news today: the coinbox which controls the print-release station is back from the repair depot in Texas. For the past month or so all public access computers have been on bypass (also known as the "honor system"), and color printing has been disabled. I took advantage of the library's Thanksgiving holiday to plug it in and to reconfigure the server to once again accept money for printing.

The box, a Jamex purchased by the Friends of the Library back in 2002, has controlled the printing of more than a half-million sheets of paper--that's enough to stretch from the library parking lot to downtown Des Moines! It was more than ready for an over-haul; let's hope the technicians got everything put back together correctly.

While I was at it, I also added the six Learning Center computers to the group of PACs controlled by the Pharos reservation system. The added machines should reduce the length of the queue and will also cut back on the congestion near the reservation station.

The Learning Center will still be used for tutoring and training as the reservation system allows us to make "block" reservations. Currently, the Learning Center computers are reserved each Monday and Wednesday afternoon, 2:50-7:00 p.m. The Learning Center may also be reserved at other times by our trainers. This may seem a bit inconvenient, however, it's a small price to pay for gaining another 250-300 hours of PAC access each week!

That's all for now, but we'll try to post messages every couple of days or so. If you wish to communicate with us, use the comments button at the bottom of the page, or send an email to

Monday, November 20, 2006

If Fox had published it?

Fox News announced earlier today that, on second thought, publication of O.J. Simpson's book, If I did it?, wasn't such a hot idea after all. In a rare case of corporate "morality," Fox's owner, Rupert Murdoch, concluded that the initial decision had been "ill-considered." In any case, the book has been cancelled, (for the moment, at least) but the question remains: had the publication proceeded as planned, is this a book that public libraries should be expected to purchase and circulate? My answer? Yes!

Libraries, especially public libraries, are in the business of providing access to information desired by their readers. If our patrons want to read a book, our job is to get it into their hands as quickly, economically, and privately, as possible. This practice is nothing new. Controversial books regularly appear on library shelves and are just as regularly challenged by censors. In fact, the controversy over the Simpson book is reminiscent of the uproar over Andrew MacDonald's novel, The Turner Diaries back in the mid-1990s.

That wierd little book is of negligible literary value, but has nontheless become the bible of American anti-government extremists. In 1995 The Turner Diaries became familiar to a wider audience when excerpts were found in Timothy McVeigh's car when he was arrested after the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing. I'm certainly not an "anti-government extremist," but as a student of literature I wondered what there was about this book that made otherwise normal people into heartless murderers.

So, I figured I'd visit the local library to check it out. After all, I knew that public libraries regularly carried copies of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, and likewise figured that they'd have no qualms about carrying MacDonald's work. I was very wrong. My then local library did not have a copy, the librarian was not at all interested in getting it via ILL, and it sunk in on me that maybe I shouldn't pursue the issue. So I backed away and didn't think about the incident for more than a decade.

However, while in library school I learned about the father of modern librarianship, S.R. Ranganathan, and his 5 laws of library service. His second and third laws, "Every person his or her book and Every book its reader," require that every library patron should have access to the materials that they desire, and that every book should be likewise available. Ranganathan felt that libraries should be in the business of information dissemination, not restriction.

Ranganathan would be pleased to see that the holdings of the Waterloo Public Library include The Turner Diaries; he would also expect to see us acquire Simpson's If I did it,when and if it becomes available. If the decision to cancel Simpson's book is rescinded, I predict that most public libraries will make it available and that their patrons will have unrestricted access.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday @ the WPL

We had another busy day in the Waterloo Public Library Reference Department. Within 10 minutes of opening, 15 computers were in use; we had 100% usage on the public machines by 1:30 p.m. and the queue remained occupied through 4:30. The 6 Learning Center PCs were in use by 2:00 p.m. By the afternoon's end, WPL patrons had completed more than 75 sessions.

Staff and patrons combined to run an astounding 3.2 GB through the firewall's external interface. It's hard to believe that only a few years ago the library rarely exceeded 500 MB per month. The big increase in performance can be attributed to two big advances: First, instead of sharing a T1 line with other libraries we now have access to dedicated 10MB ethernet connection. Second, we have an excellent collection of Pentium 4 computers with at least a gigabyte of RAM.

Despite the tremedous amount of work accomplished by scores of patrons, a couple of people did have problems. One young lady couldn't access data on her diskette drive. The diskette, which appeared to be a hand-me-down from her grandmother's college days, was not recognized by our drives.

I wasn't able to help her, but I did have some advice: Instead of using a diskette to transfer data, I suggested that she acquire and use a thumb drive. Even the smallest thumb drive has greater data capacity than a 3.5" diskette. The thumb drive is also much more reliable and, if you figure the price per megabyte of storage, far cheaper.

Yet another reason for changing from diskettes to thumb drives is that the WPL will soon (February 1, 2007) disable the diskette drives on all public access computers. So, if you want to bring data to the WPL computers, bring it on a thumb drive, or post it to yourself as an email which you may then download for editing. Frankly, when I know that I'm going to want to access data from a remote site, I save it to Google Docs.

However, that's a topic for another blog.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Express Lane Checkouts!

A popular addition to the Waterloo Public Library's list of services is our two 3M 6210 Self-Checks. Since their installation several years ago the machines have absorbed as much as 70% of the library's circulation traffic.

The Self-Checks are easy to use, quick, and private. Their LCD screens provide illustrated step-by-step instructions. If the system is not able to complete a transaction--most commonly because of a fines or an expired card--you'll be directed to the Circulation Service Desk, only a few steps away.

Some patrons have expressed concern that the new machines are impersonal and may have displaced workers. In fact, no jobs were lost due to the Self-Checks' installation, and existing staff have used the extra time to support other services. In any case, if you want your check outs to be handled by a real person, step over the the Service Counter and we'll get you going!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Learning at the Waterloo Public Library

Need help with homework? Do you need to refurbish your resume? Do you need assistance with an online job application? For help with these and other tasks, visit the Learning Center at the Waterloo Public Library.

Librarians are available Monday and Wednesday afternoons, 3-7 p.m., to support patrons of all ages. For more details, visit the Learning Center website.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Teens @ the Waterloo Public Library

The Waterloo Public Library's newest addition to the blogosphere is "Teens @ Waterloo Public Library." Teen Librarian, Kristi Anhalt, is working to provide innovative library services to teen patrons of the WPL. For more information on teen activities and services, be sure to check out her blog!

Monday, November 13, 2006

WiFi at the Waterloo Public Library

For about a year now, patrons of the Waterloo Public Library have been using their WiFi capable devices to connect to the Internet. The library uses a surplus Dell workstation, a complementary broadband connection from MediaCom, an inexpensive Linksys WiFi AP, and the free management service of PublicIP to provide free WiFi Internet access.

Settings for WiFi connections are fairly simple. The operating mode should be "infrastructure," not "ad hoc." The SSID should be "linksys." The network setting for "Internet Protocol" should be "Obtain an IP address automatically." If you're near an access point (e.g., Reference Department or the meeting rooms) your device should acquire a connection within a minute or two.

When you open your web browser you'll be prompted to login. You may either create a username and password or click the "skip" button to proceed. If you use a login instead of the bypass we are in a better position to provide technical support if you have a problem. In either case, access is controlled by the MAC address of your device.

Within five seconds of logging in your browser should automatically go to the library's home page. You'll also see a Public IP connection window that you may minimize (don't close it, or you'll have to start over.)

Once connected you'll have 4 hours of access per day to as much bandwidth as our MediaCom broadband connection can provide. Access is not filtered for content, but the library does limit port access to 80 (Web Surfing) 443 (SSL, e.g. credit cards), 110 (smtp email downloads) 3389 (mstsc e.g., remote desktop) and 5000-5001 (Yahoo Chat).

Access is not encrypted--WiFi users should take care to use their own firewall solutions. Total daily downloads are limited to 300 MB; service starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 9:00 p.m., seven days a week. Staff members have been advised to not reconfigure patron WiFi devices (we don't want to break anything). If you have difficulty connecting, please ask a librarian to page a member of the IT staff for assistance.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Finding Great-Aunt Emaline

From now until the end of November 2006, is offering free access to its Immigration Collection. If you've been trying to trace the elusive great-aunt Emaline, now may be the time to try.

If you need a few clues to help trace great-aunt Emaline, WPL can provide you with access to HeritageQuest, a database containing scanned and searchable images of the U.S. federal censuses from 1790 to 1930. All you need to access it is your library card number. Starting in 1900, the census asked individuals who had immigrated when they came to the United States.

You can also use HeritageQuest at the library. If you have any questions about this service, please call WPL's reference desk at 291-4476.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wikipedia: Authoritative? Or Questionable?

Wikipedia bills itself as the web's "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." That statement illustrates Wikipedia's greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness.

Anyone with an Internet connection can instantly create or edit an article on Wikipedia. Wikipedia contributors are not certified nor are their credentials verified--either formally or informally. Critics are concerned that this open--apparently laissez-faire--approach makes Wikipedia content vulnerable to incomptents, zealots, or vandals. While the possibility of bad Wikipedia content troubles the detractors, the proponents contend that the open approach also provides for continual peer review which leads to a superior product.

For example, several weeks ago a prominent news celebrity attempted to demonstate the vulnerability of Wikipedia to vandalism by adding false information to the Wikipedia entry devoted to elephants. The fellow was appalled to see how easy it was to introduce false information. However, within an hour of his changes, an expert on elepants, who had taken upon himself the responsibility of monitoring the article, noticed the vandalism and posted corrections.

The Wikipedia approach to content management follows the paradigm of the the open-source software movement. Uncompiled open-source software code is made freely available to programmers. Anyone is allowed to acquire, edit, and redistribute the software, and thousands do so. The result? Open-source software regularly out-performs that of such giants as Sun Microsystems and Microsoft. Sure, open-source software often has bugs, but those bugs are often discovered and repaired within days while commercial applications often need weeks or months to make repairs.

The same phenomenon is occuring with Wikipedia: experts look after the articles and make regular updates. Users are able to view discussions of the articles and may even view previous versions. This allows the discerning user to evaluate the veracity of the content. Commercial encyclopedias simply do not have the resources necessary to employ similar numbers of experts. In fact, comparative tests of Wikipedia and traditional encyclopedia publishers indicate that Wikipedia's articles are at least as useful, and in many cases superior.

Wikipedia entries can now be found for the Waterloo and Cedar Falls Public Libraries. When you get a chance, take a look at them. If you see errors, go ahead and fix them. I have both articles on my "watch list," and wil be able to see and evaluate the changes.

While you're at it, look at some Wikipedia articles in your area of expertise. If they're broke, fix 'em. If they ain't broke, leave 'em alone.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

E Audio Books at the WPL

Patrons of the Waterloo Public Library may take advantage of our subscription to NetLibrary's E-Audio books service. E-Audio books are in the form of mp3 files which may be downloaded using links found in the WPL's online catalog.

Copyrights on the E-Audio books are managed using Microsoft's DRM (Digital Rights Management) protocol. This means that books, which are mp3 files, must be played on a device that has Windows Media Player 9 or or better installed. Media player will not only allow the files to play, but will also allow you to transfer the file from your computer to an mp3 player. The DRM process will also disable the file after 3 weeks, though you may login and make a renewal.

For more information about the Waterloo Public Library's NetLibrary E-Audio books subscription, and how you may activate your account, visit the library or call 319 291 4480 for assistance.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Marilyn Manson: Uncensored

A Saturday morning incident at the reference desk provides a good illustration of how the WPL provides resources unavailable to the typical K-12 student. A mom and her middle-school daughter were collecting resources for a school research paper. Her topic? Marilyn Manson!

As it turned out, the library's only Marilyn Manson title was checked out and they were in too big of a hurry to wait out a hold on the item. So, I took them to a public access computer and pointed the girl at our Ebscohost full-text search and retrieval products. Our young scholar sighed loudly, and said, "we have Ebsco at school and I've already used it. I want to use Google." Her somewhat exasperated mom wanted to why, if she Internet at school, was it necessary to spoil a Saturday morning with a trip to the public library.

The daughter shrugged, and said, "the school filters Google. The library doesn't." The daughter is correct. The WPL does not now, nor has it ever, filtered Internet access. Allocating scarce resources to degrade the performance of our most important research tool makes no sense.

The daughter used Google to find her Marily Manson articles, printed them out and was soon on her way. Like thousands of other WPL patrons, she was able to search for information without concern that someone would arbitrarily limit her access to sources.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Voting Update

Thanks to a question from a patron who has recently had back surgery, we have learned that if you will have difficulty getting to your polling place because of mobility issues, the Black Hawk County Election office can help.

Today (Saturday, Nov. 4th, 2007) and Monday (Nov. 6th, 2007) you can call ahead to the Election Office (319-833-3007) and ask them to meet you curbside so that you can cast an absentee ballot. Hours for this service are 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday.

Friday, November 03, 2006

ILA Planning 2007

More than 80 Iowa Library Association leaders participated in the 2007 planning retreat, held on the Grinnell College campus today. The ILA, a primarily volunteer operated organization, includes 1406 librarians--public and private--from libraries across the state.

The primary purpose of the planning session is to prepare for the next conference. However, the planning retreat also provides an opportunity for the in-coming ILA president--in this case, Grinnell College librarian Sheryl Bissen--to introduce herself to the various committee and sub-division leaders. Sheryl used the occasion to pitch her theme for ILA 2007: Iowa's Libraries: Cultivating the Future.

Bissen's metaphor plays on the agricultural heritage of Iowa, while providing an opportunity to build on the enthusiasm for Web 2.0/Library 2.0 fostered by Michael Stephen's presentations at ILA 2006. The new president called upon librarians to use modern communication technologies to establish contact with Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, born between 1978 and 1998. The Millennials have no conscious memory of a world without the Internet, and have little patience with older forms of communication.

Bissen contends that if librarians fail to "cultivate" the Millennials, we'll lose their patronage permanently. Losing this younger generation will further exacerbate the problem of a rapidly aging population. Therefore, look for ILA 2007 to focus on the use of Web 2.0 to expand the appeal of Iowa's libraries to a more technologically sophisticated generation.

Expect ILA to incorporate Web 2.0 technologies into its communications with members, and anticipate pre-conference workshops and conference sessions which explore ways to reach out to the Millennials. For example, the Information Technology and Young Adult sub-divisions are seeking someone to run a day-long pre-conference workshop devoted to console games (e.g. PlayStations and/or XBox). Recommendations are welcome!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Vote! Vote! Vote!

As a public library, part of our job is to provide the information that American citizens need to be able to make an informed choice at the polls.

On Nov. 7th you will be able to influence the future of this country by casting your vote.

You can look up your polling location by going to the Black Hawk County website. When you get there, click on the words "Real Estate Mapping." Look up your own address, and then in the left-hand window, scroll down to the bottom. You should see the words "Polling Location." Click on this link to find out what ward and district you live in, which State House and Senate districts you live in, and where you go to vote.

If you haven't yet decided who you want to vote for, the Waterloo Courier's Archives can be of assistance. Just type in the name of the candidate you want to find.

You may also want to visit Project VoteSmart and for more information on issues and candidates.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Today's graphic novels

Comics have come a long way since the first titles were introduced in the early 1930s, and some deal with considerably deeper topics than the old-fashioned superheros of days-gone-by (although those are fun too!).

At WPL, you'll find a great selection graphic novels to tempt you. Pick one up, and consider attending the following, sponsored by the UNI Interpreters Theatre:

"Audience Assemble!!! Looking at comic books in new ways
Guest Artists: Timothy Uren and Dr. Harry Brod
November 2, 3, and 4
7:30 PM Curtain
Supported in part by the UNI Gallery of Art

Comic books have been a part of American culture and life since the 1930’s. Often dismissed as juvenile and for children only, comic books are now recognized by many as a legitimate, sophisticated art form, appreciated by adults worldwide. Minneapolis Performance Artist Timothy Uren and UNI Professor of Philosophy Dr. Harry Brod share their unique perspectives on the impact of comic books on their personal lives and on society and culture in general.
Admission is free, and seating is on a first come, first served basis."

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