February 23rd, 2010

Get Answers with AskUsNow!

It’s almost midnight, you have the bio test in the morning, and this is the last concept you need to understand.  You have read the same words describing cell respiration over and over again and just can’t make any sense of them.  Of course, you may have played Zelda a little too long.  What if you could just talk it out, look at it in a different way, and ask a few questions about it?  Do you know that you can?  You can “talk,” or rather chat, with a live person on the web.  Maryland AskUsNow!  is a reference service that you can log onto from the Cecil County Public Library’s website, or any Maryland library’s website, no matter what time of day (or night) it is…24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

All you need to do is go to the “Using Your Library” menu tab across the top of the CCPL’S website, and click on “Ask a Librarian” or click here. This site will have all you need to know about the service, including privacy issues.  The fun stuff page even has links that you may find helpful.

When you log on, you can be anonymous or even make up a name if you want.  An e-mail is not necessary, but it may prove to be helpful to access all the information that was given to you during your chat.  A transcript is sent to you after the session has ended. And, if the librarian cannot find the answer within the session or finds more links after you’ve logged off, those are sent to you automatically.

The cool thing is that you may be chatting with someone from Idaho or Oregon or Montana–or even the UK!  Besides librarians, you may be chatting with reference staff from one of the many universities that monitor the service.  So, if you have a complicated math problem, someone from Cal Tech may pick up your question.  An important tip: when you type in your question, be sure to be specific.  For example, if its high school level physics, college level bio, middle school math or an elementary school science fair project, be sure to mention that in your initial question. This way, the person who picks up your question will be the best one to give you the fastest answer!

Anyone with a question, no matter the subject, can get answers. It’s certainly not limited to students.  For example, legal questions are often asked. If the chat librarian is unable to find the answer, the question will be referred to the Maryland State Law Library’s Reference Staff. They do not chat live, but any question that is referred to them is answered promptly by e-mail.

If you haven’t used this service, try it!  AskUsNow! is always available, and Cecil County Public Library’s staff monitors 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. every Wednesday!



February 17th, 2010

Books Get Lonely, Too

Did you know that the Cecil County Public Library system carries 65,409 fiction titles, and of those, only about 2% can be browsed on the new book shelf? What is the fate of the remaining 98%? We’ve read and reread Patterson, Koontz, Picoult, and Cornwell. Goodness, if you only checked out books recommended by the media, you’d be pigeonholed into reading only vampire fiction. There has to be more!

It breaks a librarian’s heart to have to console the poor book that gets checked out 15 times while appearing on the new book shelf, only to fade into obscurity once moved back in the stacks. You wouldn’t believe the tales of woe coming from the fantastic book written by a one-time author. (Don’t forget, Harper Lee only wrote one book!) And what about the authors who used to capture our imaginations decades ago that we’ve forgotten? Let’s all have a moment of silence for Kenneth Roberts, the author who brought life to the War of 1812; Mary Stewart, the woman whose Merlin series entertained readers 40 years ago; witty Georgette Heyer, the pioneer of the regency romance novel.

And it’s not just the older books that have been lost in the shuffle. Try international authors like Penelope Lively, the novelist whose books are wildly popular in the United Kingdom, or Sweden’s Henning Mankell, author of the captivating Kurt Wallander crime novels. Perfectly fantastic books are hiding under ugly covers, like Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, a book on TIME magazine’s top 100 books published in the English language since 1923.

Sadly, some books are lonely simply because they are shelved on the very top or bottom shelf. Walter Mosley’s Bad Bad Brawly Brown, a mystery set during the turbulent civil rights era, hasn’t been checked out since 2006. Under the Skin, Michel Faber’s bizarre sci-fi horror novel requires a footstool to reach.

Here is where you, dear reader, must take on the challenge to discover something new – go where few people have gone before. YOU be the Oprah that brings an unknown book into the limelight.

What book did you “discover?”