Friday, August 24, 2012

Olympic Reflections

My husband and I concluded our bi-annual tradition of losing sleep for the two weeks of Olympic coverage that lasts until midnight.  The sporting events have been remarkable.  Stories about Oscar Pistorius, Gabby Douglas, Kirani James, and countless other athletes touched our hearts.  It's been a wonderful experience, full of inspiring stories of dedication and sacrifice by athletes and their families.  For us, the back stories and kind gestures are maybe the biggest reason we watch the Olympics.

One of the stories that captivated us was the story of gymnast Olga Korbut, who didn't simply win gold medals (though she won four of them), she changed the face of women's gymnastics as well as the perception of Soviet athletes.  In the 1972 games in Munich, this 17-year-old joyfully charmed the audience with her talent.  This YouTube video shows her floor exercise.
After the games, the Soviet team was invited to meet with President Richard Nixon at the White
House.  It was said by some that this meeting helped prompt President Nixon to reach out to the USSR
and begin diplomatic relations.  The Olympics serves not simply as an athletic contest, but as a vehicle to know people from other countries, other cultures, other ethnicities.  Maybe it's the euphoria from the we-are-the-world closing ceremonies talking, but I can't help but think that it is from understanding one another in a neutral venue such as the Olympics, that is the key to the possibility of peace in the world.  My 1960s idealism is rekindled; no doubt about it.

In our library, we have the opportunity to connect with other cultures through our collection, whether in book or electronic format.  One of my favorite general titles is How to Be a Perfect Stranger, a book that lets the reader know what to expect when attending a religious service or celebration of various faiths.  Whether you're interest in world religions, cultural or food traditions, or want to explore the various ethnic and cultural areas of Los Angeles, we have a wealth of material to help you do just that.

Happy exploring!

Mrs. Hodge

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teaching tools.

Syncro Gears (thank you, Steve) and rough files

Rough files:
forgotten in a box; 
evicted from the toolbox because they didn’t seem useful. 
Saved by a thoughtful friend, who knew someday I would let the tools teach me. Thank you, Jan, for saving the files and for returning them just in time. You knew there would be a teachable moment in my future.

Sometimes, our tools teach us. These rough files taught me about the precision and beauty of brass: its machine-ability and tenacity.  What it takes to move it, and refine it. As hard-working tools, they made easy work of shaping and refining brass syncro gears. No amount of work with finer files could have shaped the metal. Yet I had earlier discarded the rough files, not realizing their potential, not investigating their strength.

This week, a favorite research tool also came into a renewed status. Although I hadn't discarded it, I had neglected it, but discovered a wonderful surprise of added value.

The research tool is WorldCat, and the new status is the added value in the Advanced Search. To set the stage: The default screen for WorldCat - "Regular" WorldCat- allows you to search for books if you know the exact title or exact author.  You can search "regular" WorldCat and find out what libraries near you have a copy of your desired title (which is really useful if you see an interesting title in an article or bibliography, or hear a cool book mentioned on NPR). 

"Regular" WorldCat requires exactness: knowing the exact title (with all of the words in the correct order). What if you know some of the words? Or part of the author’s name? Or maybe just a subject area and a keyword or two? That's when the added value kicks in. Using WorldCat’s Advanced Search removes the necessity to be exact. Now, rather than exactness, the search boxes allow you to browse, wander and discover. You could find books with Ancient Rome in the title, and food in the keyword section. Or type in the keywords "quantum physics" and limit the audience to juvenile. Would you believe there are ten results?

Discovering the Advanced Search for WorldCat opened a whole new spectrum of searching: browsing. I had been a zealous advocate of its usefulness, but using only "regular" searching had limited the usefulness of the tool. A thorough exploration of its interface revealed the coveted Advanced Search feature and more. Searching through the website was like rediscovering a treasure; it heightened my understanding of the potential of the tool and gave me a new appreciation of its application. Tools help us make sense of our world and give us a sense of power; through the acquisition of new skills and information.