Year: 2014

A-twitter over e-books

Ever had an unflattering photo making the rounds on social media?  This happens to libraries, too.   A valued (and justifiably frustrated) customer tweeted an image of the library’s copy of Flowers for Algernon open to display facing pages, both thoroughly scribbled with blue ink.

Any parent would recognize the style as that of a child young enough to have believed that he/she was producing something pretty or entertaining.  We expressed our regrets to the alert library patron and tagged the record so the damaged item can be taken out of circulation and replaced when it’s returned.

These things happen.   This anecdote doesn’t just remind us what understanding customers we have; it also endorses the practicality of e-books.  The library’s digital books (Overdrive) are never late, lost, returned to the wrong library, or defaced.

On the other hand, library e-books frequently cost much more than the corresponding print editions, and some desired new titles aren’t offered for library purchase and sharing, only to individual buyers.  And, of course, so many backlist titles aren’t available in digital format.

The perfect borrowing scenario (everything available for free on demand in pristine condition in one’s preferred format) doesn’t exist. But most of us appreciate and profit from the challenge of seeking out multiple formats.  Readers who extol the convenience of collecting e-books and reading on mobile devices should certainly check out the library’s Overdrive choices.  If a particular title isn’t offered there (or is checked out and you’re in a rush), purchase from one’s favorite online vendor may be the way to go.  But remember: that title may be offered in print or audio at the library–at no cost to the borrower.

We’ve frequently chatted with customers who express delight with their e-readers–and then exit the library with an armload of print and possibly a Playaway or two.

In honor of National Poetry Month, here (with apologies to Robert Frost and his wonderful “The Road Not Taken”) is my view of cost-effective reading:  “The Savings Not Overlooked”:

New novels were praised on a site I admire
But aware that if I bought them all
My wallet would suffer, I required
Of myself a solution, library-inspired
An alternative to financial downfall.

I then recalled Overdrive with borrowing free,
Which grants unto patrons a fourteen-day turn
With no risk of late fees.  Then I could foresee
That no-cost e-reading would work handily—
No drawbacks or issues that I could discern.

But wait–for some titles, publishers may elect
To limit their access to just single buyers.
In which case it’s savvy my search to direct
Back to print where there’s frankly much more to select.
(If you read in both formats, success rates are higher.)

As for purchasing books:  if they’re masterfully penned,
Or for gifts or discussions, I’ll pay Barnes and Noble
(Or Half-Price or Book Nook) glad, in the end,
For multiple options.  What I recommend:
Exploit all resources–retail, print, and mobile.

Water Workshops at Home Depot

April 22 marks Earth Day each year.  This year you can help make your home a little more earth-conscious by attending a free water conservation seminar at Home Depot here in Round Rock.

Here’s an announcement about the event:  On Saturday, April 26, 2014, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m, The Home Depot will host free Water earth-dayConservation Workshops at all of its 1,977 U.S. stores. This is a nationwide effort to educate and empower residents across the country to improve water efficiency inside and outside the home.  The announcement of the workshops is one of several measures the company is taking to assist homeowners where many face water restrictions due to current dry conditions.

Workshops will cover water-saving home improvement projects which help conserve the most water, including replacing fixtures with more efficient U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense labeled toilets, showerheads, and faucets. Workshops will also include outdoor water-saving options, such as installing drip irrigation, rotary nozzle or dual-spray sprinklers, and WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers.  In 2013, customers of The Home Depot saved 42.5 billion gallons of water through the purchase of WaterSense labeled products.

Local community organizations are invited to call their local stores to get involved. Residents are encouraged to attend and learn more about water-efficient solutions they can implement at home. Details and registration information can be found

This month: rhyme AND reason

April’s first fifteen days may represent other priorities for you, but this is National Poetry MonthThe Academy of American Poets website offers a multitude of ways to celebrate, including Poem in Your Pocket Day (4/24).

For an enjoyable and non-intimidating local occasion, consider the poetry reading at Round Rock Public Library. Co-sponsored by the Baca Center’s Great Books Discussion Group and the library, this event features readings by poets and those who appreciate them. Each participant is invited to bring his/her own work or a favorite authored by someone else, well-known or otherwise (limit five minutes per speaker).

Having attended in previous years, I long ago put this on my calendar. And I am already scouting for my contribution (which probably should not be another Billy Collins selection, just to prove my awareness of other voices).  As for the other option — presenting an original work — I annually consider and reject it for the benefit of all. This untitled composition explains why:

A poet lives inside each of us
some say; research has not proven otherwise. Unfortunate pencil


But this line of inquiry bodes ill for me.

Confronted with the question by data-gathering types sporting lab coats and clipboards
I could only reply
(1)  Evidently not, in my case
(2)  Unless maybe one does–
unrecognizable as such
due to lack of talent
and  a wretched sense of timing.

How else to explain the amalgam of

a mythic trickster
and a night-laboring elf

who ventures out of elected obscurity to engineer bizarre scenarios?

If I’m provisioned with a sparkling, quiescent page and comfortable chair
a setting meant to lure my thoughts into memorable self-revelation

this perverse force beams a defiant stare.

Elegantly miming a zipper sealing his lips, he retreats
perhaps pausing to brush the air with his clearly NOT ink-stained fingers, signaling later!

Or he may not.  Regardless, he is gone.  vanished.  useless.

rested from non-exertion
he effects guest appearances on occasions
which I probably need not explain
require no creative expression and may only uncomfortably accommodate it.

He gleefully piles on evocative
in the conversational space allocated for one workmanlike noun:

to appreciate
shadows on neighbors’ roofs
newly installed gardening mulch
comparative hues of paper being considered for promotional brochures.

In tribute to such commonplace views
something compels me to to spontaneously apply metaphors where labels should adhere
thus manufacturing poetry’s unpopular distant cousin:  TMI.

What if I never again bothered to bestow
contemplative time
a serene space
writing tools
inscription-worthy surfaces
for my inner poet?

Fingertips on dust-furred tabletops
tapered twigs and an expanse of sand
a sad golf pencil and the back view of a grocery list:

only such grudging supplies
offered during hurried and inconvenient moments
would abet literary output.

Which would improve first–
or timing?

Summer is Headed Our Way

The temperatures have started creeping up into the 80s consistently now…and the beautiful bluebonnets are everywhere!  It’s starting to feel like summer and the City’s water use is going up to further confirm that warming feeling.  Folks have started watering their yards, planting grass and gardens and other outdoor landscaping activities, this is the main reason water use is on the rise.

I want to remind you that the City is still under Stage 1 of the Drought Contingency Plan.  The restrictions were made effective back on October 14, 2013 and haven’t been rescinded yet.  What this means is that IF you are going to use water outside of your property, mainly watering your yard, this can’t happen more than twice per week.  And not during the hours between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Realistically, once per week watering is more than enough currently.  The temperatures haven’t been hot enough to evaporate all the moisture to need to water more than once.  We did have a very dry winter–even with “all” the ice, it’s been one of the driest winters in at least 5 years (that’s how long I’ve been keeping track of the rainfall).  So, some irrigation may be needed in sunny areas of the yard.  Gardens will need water more frequently to establish them.

Because of the lack of rainfall this winter, the lakes haven’t risen either.  This means that the water restrictions will continue for the time being.  If you’d like to hear more about what the current water situation is, come to the City’s public library on April 10 where I’ll be giving a presentation regarding the current water situation and predictions for this summer!

Read the water restriction information with all the details on the City’s Drought Restriction page.

Would you like a film with that?

For someone who pokes fun at shallow social networking relationships (one click and you’re a “friend”) I am awfully quick to claim comradeship with noted authors.

Without demonstrating equal talent, one can still bask in the approbation of kindred opinions.

Masterfully expressing viewpoints I share this week:  Rebecca Mead and Annabelle Gurwitch.  Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch is balm for the souls of George Eliot admirers who love the notably lengthy Middlemarch, often dismissed as dry and irrelevant.  Paralleling events and impressions from her own life with those of Eliot and her characters, New Yorker writer Mead conveys the novel’s timeless appeal.  But then, I’ve always been a fan.

Gurwitch‘s new essay collection on the perils of middle age– I See You Made an Effort–has just fallen into my clutches, so I haven’t spent quality time with it yet.  Reviewers deem the edgy commentaries “rollicking” and “hilarious”.  In the library professions, aging is unfashionable these days, so I smiled to note Bob Odenkirk‘s assessment:  “a book about the worst thing a person can do in America: get older”.

Among Ms. Gurwitch’s other writing and comedic accomplishments you may recall her stint as co-host of TBS’ Dinner and a Movie a few years back–which represents a further opportunity for me to glom onto a proven concept:  why not suggest themed pairings featuring library stuff?

Some of these resources will be new to your entertainment menu:

Try Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, based on Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books, with high production values and authentic vintage costumes and settings.  You can sample foods trendy in the Twenties (see Food Timeline).  Or, search Los Angeles Public Library’s Digital Menu Collection with date 192*.

Read Deborah Solomon’s new American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell and enjoy (what else?) Apple Pie; here you’ll find step-by-step instructions, each stage illustrated.

That’s what Mango Languages calls its latest feature, classic films offered in conjunction with your language lessons.

The Saving Mr. Banks soundtrack CD set includes previously unreleased pre-demo recordings by the Sherman brothers.  According to Richard Sherman, “Tuppence a Bag”/”Feed the Birds” was Walt Disney’s favorite song.  You could pair a project with Walt’s pick: listen, then search the library’s Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center for “bird feeders”.

Read The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff and savor some of Twain’s favorite foods.  According to Menus from History by Janet Clarkson, there were many; Twain’s list from A Tramp Abroad includes at least three iterations of bacon, fresh seafood, a spectrum of the bread/pone/biscuit family, and “all sorts of American pastry”.

Explore (book or audio CD) Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, “the ultimate guide to public speaking”; then view a TED Joy of Eating segment.

Input “steampunk” in the library’s Catalog Quick Search for a Steampunk fiction read.  From there, consider the definition of  “Steampunk Cuisine”, perhaps even entertaining with “Tips for a Retro-Industrial Steampunk Party”.  And there’s always RRPL’s Small Engine Reference Repair Center

Reminder on rainbarrel and compost bin sale

Spring is nearly officially here, it happens on March 20!  I wanted to remind you that the Water Conservation Program is having another rainbarrel sale, which ends on March 31, 2014!  These are the same 50-gallon Ivy barrels and 65-gallon Moby barrels that were sold last year. You can pre-purchase barrels, online at  There WILL be some “extra” barrels available for sale the day of the event, however, we cannot hold them or guarantee the amount we will have–it’s first come, first served.

The pre-ordered barrels will be distributed on Saturday, April 5, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. until noon at the Southwest Williamson County Park near the Quarry Splash Pad.  For those of you that purchased barrels last April, it’s the same place. This is the County Park just north of the 1431 – Sam Bass Road/FM 175 intersection.  It’s the one with the train.

Barrels purchased at this event ARE eligible for the City’s rainwater rebate. There will be applications for the rebate provided on the distribution date.  You must be a City of Round Rock water customer in order to receive the rebate. You do not have to be a City water customer in order to purchase the barrels or compost bins though.

One thing that is a little different than last year is that compost bins will be available for purchase too.  Find out more at the same link.  They will be distributed during the same event.  A picture of them is below.

There is no limit — except your space and $$ — to how many barrels you can purchase; and if you are looking for something larger than 65-gallons, you can certainly purchase tanks from another vendor and apply for the rebate.  I have a list of mostly local vendors that sell tanks on the Rainwater Page of the website.

I hope to see you at the park on April 5!




Do you have a good reimagination?

Perhaps we should make TCM‘s Robert Osborne an honorary library staffer.  He enhanced a customer interaction this week.

The caller queried, “I don’t owe any fines, right?”  Extra-busy recently, she’d lost track of time and required confirmation that nothing was overdue.

Well, you know what can happen when a basketful of items are checked out and the date due sneaks by.   Little 20-cent late fees multiply–so she owed a few dollars.  (Any library insider will tell you that late fees exist only to incentivize returning so everyone can share
tax-funded materials equitably.  If all items came back on time, thus generating zero fines, we’d celebrate.  And so would everyone who’s ever been obliged to wait longer than necessary for his/her turn…)

“Not what I wanted to hear,” she admitted, “but then who could afford to buy all those things if the library didn’t have them?”

Here’s where Mr. Osborne comes in.  The customer brightened just then, remembering her brilliant acquisition from Friends of the Round Rock Public Library’s Book Nook.   She had chanced upon Osborne’s 75 Years of the Oscars: The Official History of the Academy Awards and snagged it for two dollars!  While that copy is outdated by library standards–we now offer Osborne’s 85 Years of the Oscars –that once-costly trove of photos, trivia, and insider reportage is still “sooo entertaining” for the new owner and her friends.

Traffic to the Book Nook continues to increase, due to word-of-mouth testimonials like this.  For $2 (paperbacks, $1) savvy customers walk away with items in at least good condition; some Nook donations are brand-new.   Book lovers indulge in low-cost collecting; deserving volumes get new homes.

One Book Nook customer transforms pages into eye-catching paper wreaths.

Vinyl record clockI believe it’s correct to classify her inventive art as upcycling or repurposing rather than recycling. defines upcycle as “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original”.  And upcycling has its own sub-tags, e.g. ,trashion.

In the introduction to his Upcycling: Create Beautiful Things with the Stuff You Already Have, Danny Seo advocates for eco-friendly concepts utilizing materials already on hand and salvaging from thrift stores and flea markets for this “higher form of recycling”.  He should know:   his guide features tie-dye using Sharpies, robot figures made from pots and pans, and a potato chip bag mirror, for starters.

Delve into the library’s Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center with keywords upcycle* or repurpose*, and you’ll discover photos and how-to’s for designs like shelves, tables, and chairs devised from vintage suitcases; a chair fabricated from old CDs; a designer-look necklace strung from broken jewelry; a mid-century-inspired clock born of a vinyl record; and loads of other outside-the-box notions.

A sampling of more upcycling/repurposing brilliance online:

Upcycle That (founded on Earth Day 2012)
Ikea Hackers
Mother Earth News’ Reusing Things: 100 Ideas of How to Reuse Commonly Thrown Away Items
Bob Vila’s Repurposing for Creative Storage Solutions
HGTV’s 25 Ways to Use Your Old Stuff
Blogger Gail Wilson’s My Repurposed Life

Cashmere sweaters account for a surprising share of repurposing activity; cup holders, baby attire, pot holders, and bracelets represent the tip of the iceberg.

Do you fret about possessing too much of this pricey knitwear, underutilized due to slight damage or un-trendiness?    Me neither.

Self-help on many levels

We don’t operate within Downton Abbey-like social strata, and no impenetrable physical barrier (that we know of) seals off the library’s first floor from the second.  Still, top-floor reference librarians go for long stretches of time without speaking to first-floor youth librarians.
And we like them!  We just stay busy and fail to cross paths.

When our schedules eventually coincide, we share reading suggestions.  Staffers who work with grownups love a top-drawer children’s book as much as youth staff relish an accomplished adult novel.  Colleague David–he works on both floors–recommended a Bluebonnet Award winner to me last week:  The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.  Sure, I love a great title (so this story had me at “Origami Yoda”) but of course what has impressed critics, judges, and readers about this tale is the self-empowerment achieved by a sixth grader who overcomes social ineptitude by crafting a paper Yoda puppet to dispense advice to fellow students.

Brilliant.  We may forget that everyone else finds interpersonal issues difficult, too, but a perfectly timed solution is a universally acknowledged prize.

We don’t label any particular section in the library as “SELF-HELP”.  At a bookstore, such a sign would guide you to volumes fostering higher earning power; discovery of the perfect life partner; acquisition of beneficial habits; clutter dispersal, etc.   Our library offers those, too, along with databases that cardholders can use even when the library is closed; free tax filing assistance; free digital downloads; and many other options.  Even fiction books (see above) can prove wonderfully life-enhancing.

For libraries, SELF-HELP could serve as front-door signage.

Some advice has held up admirably for centuries.  Consider Polonius’ tips on fashion investment in Hamlet:  even Tim Gunn couldn’t improve upon those.  But lessons can become outmoded or at least suffer from that perception.  Imagine basing your efforts to achieve teen social success on a 1950s popularity manual!

That’s precisely what 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen did.  Intrigued by model Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide, Van Wagenen devised an experiment:  try out some of those Eisenhower-era tips while keeping a detailed diary of the experience.   Whatever social benefits Van Wagenen derived from the project, she can add a $300,000 book deal to the sum.  Her manuscript, now titled Popular:  Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, is due out April 15.  Even better, Cornell’s inspirational volume is also being republished that day.

No need to wait until April for newly released books offering all manner of guidance, though; here are a few titles I just spotted on the New Nonfiction shelf:

Arduino Robot Bonanza

Decoding Your Dog

Man Up: A Practical Guide to Being a Dad

Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential

200 Skills Every Cook Must Have

Timeless Chic

Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant

The Religions Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained

Online, you can access expert tips–even videos–on a very timely topic.  Produced locally with Round Rock concerns in mind, Water Spot, City Water Conservation Program Coordinator Jessica Woods’ amazingly helpful blog, offers advice and strategies that none of us can afford to miss.

Irrigation Workshop

Do you have an irrigation system, but don’t quite know how to use it effectively?  Or at all??
Do you have an irrigation system and would like to learn how to make simple repairs, fixes, and upgrades to it yourself?  If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, I’d like to invite you to the free irrigation workshop that the
City of Round Rock Water Conservation program and Williamson County Master Gardeners are having on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at the Williamson County Extension Office at 3151 SE Inner Loop, in Georgetown.

The outdoor event will be comprised of 5 stations that will demonstrate various aspects of an irrigation system’s workings.  You can visit them all, or just the ones that interest you.

Come learn:


  • How water pressure determines how far the water will spray out of the sprinkler head, and how coverage is affected by too high or too low water pressure; learn how you can adjust the water pressure to be “just right!”
  • How to use your controller, you know, the box that turns it on and off.  Learn how to set it, make adjustments, and do more than just turn it on.
  • How to make simple repairs; there are plenty of things you can do yourself on your irrigation system.  Learn how to replace broken or leaking heads, clean out nozzles, adjust misdirected heads…it’s easy!  You can watch the video below to learn how to clean out clogged nozzles now.
  • How an irrigation system works: view the system above ground, learn what all the components are that are involved with turning the system on and off and allowing water to flow through the pipes.
  • What drip irrigation is and how to utilize it in your landscape.  See how drip is a more efficient way to water certain plants and make some conversions from spray heads to drip.


There will also be folks on-hand to talk about water supply and conservation programs in the area.  So, come join us on Saturday, March 22, 2014, between 9am – 12pm at the
Williamson County Extension Office
.  It’s going on rain or shine.  No need to stay the entire time, come and go as you please.


The ghost who got a warm reception

In Valerie Martin’s new The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, famed British author and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle is touring the United States.  Though gracious among his fans, Doyle finds every dinner, interview, lecture, or appearance to be wearyingly predictable:  the American penchant for steam heat will render him miserably warm; he will be implored to “bring back Sherlock Holmes“; he will yet again be solicited for his impressions of America.

One can sympathize; Americans’ love for cozy interior climates and Sherlock Holmes–and their self-assurance–are documented. 

Mary Celeste stampAnd so is the Mary Celeste, an actual American ship discovered intact and adrift east of the Azores in 1872 with captain, crew, and the captain’s wife and daughter missing.  The vessel’s enigmatic fate inspired an 1884 tale by Doyle titled “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement”.  Appearing in the well-regarded Cornhill magazine, the story (though not attributed to Doyle at the time) paid the author well.  Since the account plays a role in Martin’s multifaceted novel, readers, too, are handsomely rewarded.

Doyle’s melodramatic yarn is just one player in the story encompassing a tragic seafaring clan, a heartrendingly tender couple, a resolute female journalist, a long-missing diary, and a charismatic young woman seemingly mystified by her ability to receive messages from the dead. 

The ghost in the title isn’t one that haunts the vessel; it has more to do with the spirit of America at the time: the national obsession with psychic phenomena such as “mediums” who allegedly bridged communication between the living and the dead.  Both sea voyages and the 19th-century Spiritualism Movement attracted participants willing to venture beyond their elements–some merely extracting adventure from the experience, others forever losing their way.

I particularly enjoyed Martin’s description of Pleasant Lake, a sort of Spiritualist resort, complete with séances, clairvoyant physicians, magnetic healers, and spirit photographers.

Viewing artifact photos of that time, we could scoff at the obvious fakery employed to produce depictions of, say, a widower shadowed by a faint image of his wife’s “spirit”–or we could imagine how a lesser degree of sophistication combined with extreme grief could bring the possessor to find comfort in them.  Though fictional, Martin’s book reflects significant historical research and thus affords an authentic sense of this era in American history.

Some elements reflect our consciousness today.  You need only glance at a TV schedule or new book display for evidence of our fascination with the paranormal.  And as for creative attempts to portray a life beyond fact–check out all the strategically chosen, digitally altered, and idealized shots featured on Facebook profiles. 

I’m not sure what it says about me that my Facebook profile shot is a Mad Men-style cartoon of a sheath-clad, bespectacled lady clutching a coffee cup.  A friend commented, “You do know that’s not very flattering, right?”  I could only respond in the immortal words of Pigpen in A Charlie Brown Christmas: “On the contrary–I didn’t think I looked that good.”