Monday, January 29, 2007

OpenOffice: The Free Office Suite

Christmas is past and Santa probably dropped off more than a few computers. If you're one of the lucky ones, you may be a little disappointed by the fact that your teaser version of Microsoft Office 2003 is about to expire, leaving you to get by with Microsoft Works. Before you shell out a couple of hundred bucks for the full version of Office 2003, give yourself a break: download and test drive Sun Microsystems' gift to society: OpenOffice 2.1.

OpenOffice is a clone of the better-known Microsoft product that includes analogs of the office suite applications. The freeware product will run on Windows, as well as Macintosh or Linux. You'll want a broadband connection to download it, but once you have it on your computer, installation is relatively straightforward.

Are you a bit leery of installing a freeware application on your own PC? Don't fret, there's an easy way to to take a test drive. If you're a Gmail user you've probably noticed a "Docs and Spreadsheets" menu bar near the upper left hand corner of the screen. Believe it or not, Google now supports native OpenOffice document editing and also provides nearly three gigabytes of online storage! Amazingly, anyone with access to a computer on the Internet is ready to produce documents and spreadsheets that may then be accessible from any other Internet PC.

So why would one wish to download and install OpenOffice to his or her own PC? Bandwidth limitations mean that even very fast connections (e.g., the 10MB Ethernet enjoyed by WPL patrons) means that online applications still run less quickly than local applications. My advice? Test OpenOffice at your local library. If you like it, download a copy (maybe to a big USB drive?) and install it at home.

c 2007 Waterloo Public Library

Monday, January 22, 2007

Books! Books! Books!

Bored? Looking for something fun to read? If so, stop by the Waterloo Public Library and see the new display tables. Whether your taste runs to novels, mysteries, biographies, how-to, or self-help, we either have what you want or will find a way to get it.

The books you're seeing above are mostly those that have been read by WPL book club participants. We'll have a steady supply of them, as well as a doubling of our ever popular Express Books collection.

Be careful, though. As I was working on a balky catalog computer this afternoon I had to walk by the display tables several times. The first time I saw all the books, the second time I noticed a Philip Roth title that I've been wanting to read since 2004. On the third pass I couldn't help myself: I picked up The Plot Against America, walked it five steps to the self-check machine, and now I have another treasure on my night stand! Let's hope I'm able to get up in time for work tomorrow.

c 2007 Waterloo Public Library

Sunday, January 21, 2007

IM Reference Service Widget

The Waterloo Public Library Reference Department now offers, on a trial basis, reference services via Instant Messaging. If you have a question, type it into the window you'll see in the upper right hand corner of this blog.
Whenever the library is open and the reference desk is staffed, we'll try hard to get your questions answered. As time goes on, and we become more comfortable with the concept, we'll probably be adding other IM clients.

c 2007 Waterloo Public Library

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hello USB Drives; Good-bye Floppies!

The end of the floppy disk drive era is rapidly approaching! For several months now, PAC users have seen signs on the monitors announcing the end of floppy drive support as of February 1, 2007.

The most popular floppy, the 3.5", has been on the market since 1987. And believe me, we regularly see patrons using heirloom diskettes that their grandmothers used in college when Ronald Reagan was President.

Even under the best circumstances, a floppy is highly vulnerable to environmental degradation. After a decade or two under the front seat of the car, or floating around in a purse, the magnetic media within the floppy's cover is damaged by dust, dampness, and static electricity. Their reliability in WPL PACs has been dismal. Patrons are annoyed by the loss of data; library staff are frustrated by damaged or failed drives.

We're well-prepared to make the change: Each of our PACs has front-accessible USB ports linked to a desktop shortcut. Usually, a flash drive will be automatically recognized within 30-60 seconds of insertion. Rarely, the drive will only be accessible via browsing with an application such as Word or Excel. In any case, the flash drives are more reliable, have greater capacity, and when the cost per megabyte is calculated, far more economical than the floppy.

The library plans to set up a floppy-to-flash drive transfer station for those of you who need to move files. Or, if you insist on continuing to use floppies, you may bring your own external USB floppy drive. External drives can be purchased either online, through catalogs, or at local discount stores. As of this moment, the library does not plan to sell flash drives. If there is enough popular demand, the Friends of the Library may be persuaded to add them to their FriendShop inventory.

If you're looking for a good deal on either flash or external floppy drives, keep an eye on the Sunday morning newspaper inserts. You'll find the flash drive to be a great advance over the floppy. Once you've made the move, you'll wonder why you waited!

c 2007 Waterloo Public Library

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Browser!

As library staff members weed the non-fiction collection we regularly come across titles that we hate to throw away and wish to give a second chance at life. So, ace librarian, Tim K. created the "Browser" on the slat-wall of the second-floor elevator shaft.

As we find items that we think would be good reads, we'll place them on the Browser. If the book is checked out, it gets to stay in the collection for at least another three years. However, if it's still on the Browser after a few weeks, off it goes to book heaven.

If you happen to read a book on the Browser, and want to write a review, send it to as an attachment and we'll post it to Lost in the Stacks, a blog devoted to reviews of books saved from a trip to the landfill. Better yet, volunteer to be a regular reviewer and we'll set you up to blog your articles directly.

c 2006 Waterloo Public Library

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Not so very long ago, I had to balance the obligations of a full-time job with part-time studies as a University of Iowa graduate student. With the doorstep of the university library some 82 miles from the end of my driveway, research time was precious. I quickly learned that our EBSCOhost online databases are a great time-saver.

EBSCOhost Web, an online database service subsidized by the State Library of Iowa, is especially useful for students. We currently list some 20 different databases offering full text search and retrieval of literally thousands of publications. My favorites include Academic Elite, MasterFile Premier, and Business Source Elite, which target the needs of college students. However, students of all ages can find good information from Primary Search, Middle Search Plus, and MAS Ultra-School Edition.

All EBSCOHost products (EBSCOhost web is just the tip of the iceberg) are accessible on the WPL's 31 PACs connected to our high speed Internet connection. Bring your research tasks to library reference area and one of our friendly librarians will get you started. However, if you're anywhere on the Internet, and have a Waterloo Public Library card, you're good to go.
c 2007 Waterloo Public Library

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tax Time

Sharpen your pencils and gather your 1099s and W-2s - it's that time of year again.

WPL will have both state and federal tax forms to help you out, as usual. They are located at the top of the stairs on the second floor.

We are partnering with H&R Block to offer an informational program on 2007 tax changes. Join us in Meeting Rooms A&B on January 9th at 6:30 p.m. If that doesn't fit your schedule, the program will be offered again at noon on January 11th.

We also want to let you know about an additional refund you may not have heard about:

In a surprise move, the Federal Government will be refunding federal telephone excise taxes paid on long distance charges that were billed after 2/28/03 and before 8/1/06. For those individuals not required to file a federal income tax return, you can simply file Form 1040EZ-T, Request for Refund of Federal Telephone Excise Tax, to request a refund.

In short, EVERYONE who had long-distance service during that time period is eligible. The IRS estimates that 159 million people are eligible for this refund.

When requesting this refund, you will be able to take the standard refund amount ($30-$60, depending on the number of exemptions you take on your return), or you will need to use form 8913, and document your actual long-distance expenses and taxes paid.

c 2006 Waterloo Public Library

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Vision Aids in the Reference Department

Having trouble reading the fine print with your latest prescription? Have you given up reading your favorite magazines or newspapers because your eyesight isn't what it used to be? If so, the Waterloo Public Library vision aids area is the place for you! My favorite toy is the video enlarging system. The fine print instructions that came with my new camera are no match for its 64x magnification capability.

For more details, visit our Services - Elderly/Disabled web page. Or, just bring your tiny stuff to the reference desk and ask for help. We'll get you started, and within seconds you'll be reading like a kid again!

c 2006 Waterloo Public Library

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