Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My personal reading list

Writing about the reading list feature in SWAN, the library’s online catalog, made me think of my own personal reading list. Like many librarians, I keep a personal reading list. It is just a notebook in which I write down every book that I read. I started my written list long before SWAN would keep the list for me. I only write down the title, author, and date I finished reading the book. Once I intended to include comments or even mini-reviews, but the Downers Grove librarian who advocated that everyone should keep a personal reading list years ago also recommend keeping the entries brief, so you actually bother to do it every time you finish a book. If you wait until you have enough time to write comments about each book it becomes work, and you will never get around to it.

That was very good advice because I really have written down every one of the books that I have read since I started keeping the list. I would absolutely not have kept up with the list if I forced myself to write more about each title. Even with that small amount of information, a glance through the pages of my notebook brings back an amazing number of memories of my life at the time I read each one.

The Field Guide to North American Spiders reminded me of September 2007, when a large spider had taken up residence on our back porch and every night would construct a beautiful web in the open door way. Every morning the web would be in tatters, sometimes from the wind, sometimes because I forgot about it and walked through it when I let the dog out. But every evening for over a week she would come out of hiding at sundown and begin spinning a new web for the night’s hunting. My wife and I would sometimes just stand and watch. We did identify her, though I don’t remember what kind of spider she was. But I can vividly recall how beautifully her web shone in the moonlight every night during that magical week.

The other day I wanted to find a recipe for orecchio pasta with cherry tomatoes. I remembered that I had cooked it from a new cook book that I was reading, when my wife’s yoga teacher/mentor from California came over for dinner when she was in town to do a workshop a couple of years ago. Sure enough, I looked through my notebook and found “My Italian Garden” by Viana LaPlace, a wonderful collection of recipes for cooking the produce from the author’s garden in southern Italy. Then I remembered the lovely evening we spent in our tiny kitchen full of yoga teachers and friends.

Other books remind me of occasions as varied as vacations at the beach or long hours in the hospital while my wife recovered from a serious illness. Sometimes I just want to be reminded a about a favorite series that I read in the past. Looking at my list reminded me that it has been a while since I have checked to see if C.J. Box has written any more mysteries featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Picket. A quick search of SWAN shows that, yes, there is one I haven’t read yet!

So if you are reader, get yourself a spiral notebook and keep it in the place that works best for you. My wife keeps hers on her dresser and writes her notes before she goes to sleep at night. I keep mine in the dining room and add my books while drinking my morning coffee. Your reading list will soon become part of your regular routine.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Your SWAN account

Last week I wrote about the SWAN online catalog and my surprise that some regular library users were not aware of SWAN. I have also found that some folks who regularly use SWAN, have never explored “My Account.”

SWAN is the library’s circulation system, as well as the catalog of our collection. “My Account” gives you access to the record of materials you have borrowed from the library, and the ability to manage your account. There two easy ways to get to “My Account.” On any page of the library website, click on “My Account” in the upper right hand corner of the page to go directly to the “My Account” log in. When searching the SWAN catalog, click on “Home” to go the SWAN home page, then click on “My Account” at the top of the box on the right side of the screen to get to the log in.

To log in, enter your name, your library card barcode number, and your PIN. If you haven’t established an account previously, enter the number (or word) you would like to use for your PIN or password. If this is your first time, you will be asked to enter it again to verify it. Then you are into your personal account.

On the first screen you will see your name and address near the top, with a list of all the materials that you currently have checked out below. You can see when each item is due, and you can renew some or all of the items you have checked out. When you try to renew materials, be sure and look at each item to verify that you were able to renew it. If there is a waiting list for a particular item you will not be able to renew it and it must be returned to avoid an overdue fine.

By the way, if you see that the items you just returned still shows that they are checked out, don’t panic. We check in nearly million items each year. It may take a day or even a couple of days after a busy holiday weekend for staff to catch up. We do keep track of when items were actually placed in the book returns, and you will not receive overdue fines, even if it takes us a day or two enter your return into the system.

Back to “My Account.” To the left of your name and address you will see a box that shows the number of items you have requested and the amount of any fines that you have accrued. Click on the number of requests and you go to list of all the items you have reserved. When an item is available it will indicate that the item is ready for pick up in the status column. Click on the amount of your fines line and you will see the detailed information about any unpaid fines, and have the ability to pay the fine on the spot with your credit card.

My favorite feature is the “Reading History” button in the cluster of six buttons to the right of your name and address. Clicking on “Reading History” allows you to begin keeping record of every item you check out of the library. The list will begin when you activate it and will continue until you choose to stop keeping the reading list. You can delete selected items or all the items in your list. At any time, you can choose to stop keeping the list and automatically delete the existing list. Also, you are the only person with access to your “Reading History.” It is not part of the record that library staff have access to when we check your materials in or out.

Take a few minutes to explore “My Account.” There are other features that I haven’t discussed. Give them a try!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Never Heard of SWAN!

Never heard of SWAN! Don’t know that we have an online catalog of our collection? Oh my gosh! Sometimes we take something so much for granted that we forget that other people may not know anything about it.

In a recent conversation with an acquaintance who is a regular library user, I discovered that not only had he never used SWAN, our online catalog, but he did not even know that it exists. He uses the library like a book store and just goes to the shelves to browse through whatever is there. He was amazed that we have an online catalog that lists every item that we own --- books, magazines, audio books, DVD’s, and CD’s -- and tells the user if the item is on the shelf, or when it is due to be returned.

Even more, SWAN (the System-Wide Automated Network) also shows you the collections of the other 79 SWAN libraries at the same time. Titles popular at one library, may not be popular at another. There is often a copy available somewhere else, if Downers Grove does not own a title or our copies are checked out. Just click on “request” in the SWAN catalog and another library’s copy will be sent to you at Downers Grove within a few days. (You can also dash over to the owning library and check the item out with your Downers Grove card, if you just can’t wait for the delivery!)

Even when titles are in high demand everywhere, you can still click on “request” to get on the waiting list. If you search for a new, popular title, you may see something like “75 requests on 53 available copies”. That means that all of the SWAN libraries combined own 53 copies of that title, and that 75 people are waiting for the title. If you click on “request” you will become the 76 person in line. With 53 copies available, it doesn’t take long to fill 76 requests. As each of those 53 copies is returned, it is sent to the next person on the waiting list at any SWAN library. (The exception is that a request at the library that owns the book is filled first, when that library’s copy is returned. This means that when Downers Grove’s copy is returned, it will go to the next Downers Grove cardholder in the waiting list, and only go to another library if no one from Downers Grove is waiting for the title.)

By the way, SWAN libraries are not all public libraries. There are several college libraries in SWAN, including Morton College and Prairie State College. Even better, Brookfield Zoo and Morton Arboretum libraries are also SWAN libraries, giving users access to their unique collections.

It is fairly easy to do a basic search of SWAN. We have placed a search box in the upper right hand corner of each page of our web site. Just for fun, try entering the word “frisbee” in the search box and clicking on “search”. In the results of your keyword search for “frisbee” you will see that that the first item listed is a DVD (note the graphic at the right side of the listing) of a movie titled “Frisbee: the Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher”. The second item is a video cassette about games using Frisbees. The next several items are all books about Frisbees.

If you click on a title you will see a list of the libraries that own that specific item and whether or not it is on the shelf. Look at the buttons across the top of the screen. You can click “Read about it” to read reviews and/or summaries of the title. Note that this information is available for many, but not all of the titles in the SWAN catalog. If Downers Grove doesn’t own the title or our copies have been checked out, click on the “request” button and one of the copies that are available at other libraries will be sent to Downers Grove for you to pick up.

When you click on “request” you will be asked to enter your name, your library card bar code, and your PIN. If you don’t have a PIN, click on "what is a PIN" to find out how to create one. Once you create a PIN you will have access to your SWAN account. Your account has a number of great features, including an option to keep a reading history. But I will talk about that next week.