Category Archives: Books & Reading

Friday Reads: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Hello, Library People. I can pretend I’m writing this Friday Reads for the whole world, but I know my likely audience, and I’m writing it for library people. So, hi there, library people!

Today I walked into my public library for the first time in months, and I went to the shelf to look for a book (that I looked up in the online catalog before I went into the building), and the book was where it was supposed to be, and I got to check it out and take it home, and I am excited to read it. I appreciated every step of this process so much. I know and love people who work in libraries, and I care about their safety—and I even care about the safety of library people I don’t know (or love?)—so I understand why I wasn’t able to go into my public library’s physical space like this last month, or the month before that. I will understand if circumstances require that it happens again, that I can’t soup-to-nuts my whole borrow for myself. I just want to emphasize that I appreciate being able to go into my local public library, and I won’t take it for granted.

Now, that book I’m excited to read (or, at this point, to keep reading). I was looking online to see what Octavia E. Butler works were available to check out at my local branch, and I saw they had this book that I was surprised I didn’t already know about: a graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s novel, Kindred.

Speculative fiction gets a bad rap for being escapist, which is a hard argument to fight because it presupposes there’s something wrong with escapism in entertainment. And graphic novels get a bad rap for being comic books, which again is a hard argument to fight because it presupposes there’s something wrong with comic books. For this reader, though, I saw the recipe for a great read.

If you want a story that lets you leave your world completely, yet teaches you more about the world you eventually have to go back to, then Octavia E. Butler is a writer for you. Butler writes literary speculative fiction, or speculative literary fiction, whichever word arrangement makes you more comfortable. Library people, since I’m writing this for you, I will tell you why you’ll like Kindred in particular. As a library person, you have strong views about genealogy. Whether you love or hate genealogical research, that familiarity facilitates an instant interest in this plot: A young Black author in the living in 1970s California meets her White slaveholder progenitor—and her safety and her very existence depends on his survival in the antebellum South.

Kindred is available as a novel, and an audiobook, and a graphic novel. (A movie is in post-production, but theatrical releases are all messed up right now, so no telling when that’s coming out, but it stars Janelle Monae, so you’ll be hearing good things about it.)

Duffy, Damian, John Jennings, Nnedi Okorafor, and Octavia E. Butler. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. , 2018. Print.

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#BookFaceFriday “Her Royal Highness” by Rachel Hawkins

We all bow down to the queen of #BookFaceFriday!

Hear ye, hear ye! It’s time for this week’s #BookFace. Check out the young adult fiction novel “Her Royal Highness” by Rachel Hawkins (Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2019) it’s available to all Nebraska OverDrive Libraries in Audiobook format. 173 libraries across the state share this collection of 17,165 audiobooks and 28,972 eBooks. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use (SU), as well as SU ebooks and audiobook titles that publishers have made available for a limited time due to the pandemic or Black Lives Matter.

If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

“Regal romance abounds in this flirty, laugh-out-loud companion novel to Prince Charming, by New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins. ” —Book Jacket

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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What’s Up Doc? New State Agency Publications at the Nebraska Library Commission

New state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for May and June 2020.  Included are audit reports from the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts, reports from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, and new books from the University of Nebraska Press, to name a few.

Most items, except the books from the University of Nebraska Press, are available for immediate viewing and printing by clicking on the highlighted link above, or directly in the .pdf below.  You can read synopses of the books received from the University of Nebraska Press in the Book Briefs blogposts.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Publications Clearinghouse in 1972, a service of the Nebraska Library Commission. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, and provide access to all public information published by Nebraska state agencies.  By law (State Statutes 51-411 to 51-413) all Nebraska state agencies are required to submit their published documents to the Clearinghouse.  For more information, visit the Nebraska Publications Clearinghouse page, contact Mary Sauers, Government Information Services Librarian; or contact Bonnie Henzel, State Documents Staff Assistant.

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Free ALA webinar: “Last Chance for a Complete Count”

ALA is offering a webinar for library staff: 2020 Census: Last Chance for a Complete Count, on July 8 at 2 pm ET. Registration is free. After the session, the recording will be posted at ala.org/census.    

New guide on adapting census outreach in response to COVID-19:  
ALA released a new publication, “Libraries and the 2020 Census: Adapting Outreach in Response to COVID-19 (PDF).” The free guide explains changes to the 2020 Census process and highlights opportunities for libraries to adapt census outreach activities.    

Check your community’s response rate:  
How does your area compare in its response rate to date? Which neighborhoods are lagging behind? Find current data to inform your outreach and messages on the 2020 Census Response Rate Map or the Census 2020 Hard to Count Map.    

Share your event on the Census Counts calendar:  
Is your library planning a 2020 Census event (including virtual events)? Submit it to the national Census Counts calendar. Check the calendar for other events from partners in your community.
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Friday Reads: The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig

I read this novel for my book club and was grateful to have discovered the Montana author, Ivan Doig, who unfortunately died in 2015. The Bartender’s Tale is a slow and pleasant read. It has the pace of a nice morning walk through a small rural Montana community where everyone knows your business.

The book takes place in 1960 and begins with Tom Harry, the owner of a well-worn bar called The Medicine Lodge as he drives to his sister’s home in Arizona to reclaim his 12-year-old son Rusty.  The atypical single father and son forge a new life together based largely in and around the bar. At The Medicine Lodge, life-long lessons in treating people right are more than just good business practice. Tom is something of a local ombudsman in every way but by election. 


Rusty knows that his mother and father split the blanket shortly after he was born but nothing much beyond that.  Rusty befriends Zoe, the daughter of the couple who own The Spot – an average eatery down the street – who is also new to town. Their jokes, laughs, and shtick are typical of kids coming of age. Their favorite thing to do is to listen to conversations through the vent in the back room of the bar; an activity that provides a curriculum of adult vocabulary and sex education.


When Del Robertson shows up with a grant-funded project through the Library of Congress to record people’s stories, there is a shift of focus for Tom and Rusty. They assist Del in helping persuade often-unwilling volunteers agree to participate. Then, another disruption named Proxy (a nickname for her hair color) arrives in a red Cadillac with her moody 21-year-old daughter in tow. Proxy has a past with Tom, from another bar named The Blue Eagle, and everyone seems to know that these still waters run deep. 

This was a book I was sad to finish. Despite Doig’s death, I’m grateful to know that he completed 12 books in this series. Even though this book is 10th in the series, this book worked quite well on its own.

Doig, Ivan. The Bartender’s Tale. Riverhead Books, 2012

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#BookFaceFriday “Gardening in Miniature” by Janit Calvo

Enjoy the little things with #BookFaceFriday!

Get your green thumbs ready for this week’s #BookFace. Check out “Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World” by Janit Calvo (Timber Press, 2013) it’s available to all Nebraska OverDrive Libraries in eBook format. 173 libraries across the state share this collection of 17,165 audiobooks and 28,972 eBooks. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use (SU), as well as SU ebooks and audiobook titles that publishers have made available for a limited time due to the pandemic or Black Lives Matter.

If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

Miniature Gardening is a magical option for the gardener with limited yard space. This book will position well anyone who wants to begin creating a little world filled with happy growing things.” —Publishers Weekly

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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#BookFace & Friday Reads: “Lovely War” by Julie Berry

I first picked up this book because I was drawn to the cover art and soft, muted color scheme, but also because I’m a sucker for historical fiction. I expected a straight forward period romance, boy meets girl, boy goes to war, there’s pining, an injury, and a happily ever after. Don’t get me wrong, there is some of the expected, but let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised by this novel’s unexpected plot and characters.

It all starts with a torrid affair between gods, Aphrodite and Ares to be exact. Then turns into two love stories the goddess orchestrated during the last World War. The author introduces us to interesting characters from different walks of life, weaving their stories together for the reader. Berry dives in to overlooked parts of World War I history like the roles of black American soldiers, James Reese Europe’s introduction of Jazz to France, and YMCA volunteer work to name a few. I really appreciated the appendix and bibliography included at the end of the book. They let the reader know which parts of the story are factual and expand on those issues. Berry also includes references to nonfiction works that she used, so the reader can keep learning.

This title comes from our large collection of children’s and young adult books sent to us as review copies from book publishers. When our Children and Young Adult Library Services Coordinator, Sally Snyder, is done with them, the review copies are available for the Library System Directors to distribute to school and public libraries in their systems. Public and school library staff are also welcome to stop by and select some titles for their library collections. We think this one would be a great addition to any library. Contact Sally Snyder for more information.

Love this #BookFace & reading? We suggest checking out all the titles available in our Book Club collection, permanent collection, and Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

Berry, Julie. Lovely War. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019.

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Reading For Change: Anti-Racism Titles in Our Book Club Kit Collection

Earlier this week, the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture posted their Black Liberation Reading List. This is among many anti-racism reading lists publicized in recent days (here, here, and here) but I’m choosing to highlight this list because the Schomburg Center has focused on the Black experience, history, and culture for 95 years. Their list of 95 books includes both fiction and nonfiction.

If your patrons or book club groups are interested in these titles, we have a selection of them in our Book Club Kit collection:

You can find these books and similar titles for all ages on our Book Club Kit page: http://nlc.nebraska.gov/ref/bookclub/, by choosing “Black lives” in the Genre drop down menu.

We have also gathered a number of resources for library patrons and the general public to learn about social issues on NebraskAccess.

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#BookFaceFriday “The Clutter Corpse” by Simon Brett

We are sparking joy with this #BookFaceFriday!

It’s Marie Kondo meets Agatha Christie in this week’s #BookFace. Check out “Clutter Corpse: The Decluttering Mystery” by Simon Brett (Severn House Publishers, 2020) it’s available to all Nebraska OverDrive Libraries in eBook format. 173 libraries across the state share this collection of 16,670 audiobooks and 28,473 eBooks. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use.

If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

Watching Ellen investigate… on her own is thoroughly fascinating. Brett fans, along with readers who liked Richard Roper’s How Not to Die Alone (2019), will love this quirky, warmhearted mystery’Booklist Starred Review

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Friday Reads: For Love of the Game by Michael Shaara

With the absence of baseball in the spring of 2020 comes the opportunity for an alternative – a good baseball book. I came across a copy of Michael Shaara’s For Love of the Game among my books. I don’t recall that I actually read the book at some time in the past. I do remember the movie version that starred Kevin Costner as Billy Chapel, the baseball legend and sure to be future Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, the book’s protagonist.

Having read the book recently, the book and movie versions have some significant differences. So it goes. In short, Chapel will pitch the final game of the season and likely his last as a major leaguer. This with the background of an uncertain personal relationship and also the knowledge that the team he has been with for his entire career is about to betray him.

Michael Shaara is best known for The Killer Angels, his Pulitzer prize-winning classic regarded as one of the best Civil War novels. For Love of the Game was published after Michael Shaara’s death. The book includes an introduction written by Sharra’s son, Jeff.

Michael Shaara began his career writing science fiction short stories. A family vacation to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1966 was the inspiration for his novel, The Killer Angels. It was his love for baseball that resulted in For Love of the Game.

Shaara, Michael. For Love of the Game. Ballantine Books, 1991.

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#BookFaceFriday “Blue Hole Back Home” by Joy Jordan-Lake

It’s sweet summertime for this #BookFaceFriday!

Jump in feet first this summer into Nebraska OverDrive Libraries! New titles are added almost daily, like this week’s #BookFaceFriday! “Blue Hole Back Home” by Joy Jordan-Lake (Triple Falls Press, 2017) is available to all Nebraska OverDrive Libraries in both eBook and Audiobook format. 173 libraries across the state share this collection of 16,670 audiobooks and 28,473 eBooks. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use.

If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

“Sacred’s not a word I’ve ever much liked. But maybe some things, and some places, just are. And maybe the Blue Hole was one of those things. Shelby (nicknamed Turtle) never had any female friends. But when a mysterious girl from Sri Lanka moved to town in the summer of 1979, Turtle invited her to a secret haven: the Blue Hole. Turtle had no idea how much that simple gesture would affect the rest of her life, or the lives of those she loved. In a time when America was technically well beyond the Civil Rights era, there were those in Turtle’s small Appalachian town who rejected the presence of someone different. And in just one summer-in a collision of love, hate, jealousy, beauty, and a sacred, muddy swimming hole-nothing and everything changed. ” — Book Jacket

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Friday Reads: The Beautiful Ones

Intro: With all the unrest in the nation that started in the Minneapolis area, I thought it appropriate to post this FR. Years ago, I had a high school friend who moved to Chanhassen, Minnesota (just south of the Twin Cities), where Paisley Park is. I visited my friend a few times in Chanhassen, and quickly realized January was not a good time. Summers were nice, though. Sadly, my friend has passed away (cancer). He never saw his 26th birthday.

Opening: Yep, it is another music biography. I have a sort of love and hate relationship with music biographies, but this one is well done and I recommend it. A few years ago, I was in the Minneapolis area (after the death of Prince) and thought of touring Paisley Park. I decided against it because I did not think that Prince would have wanted visitors that way. However, I completely understand the estate’s decision to do so. By not opening it up, there’s no way it would sustainable. Musical biographies can be quite a hit or miss, but often are a miss due to the fact they come across as braggadocios. Prince certainly seemed like the antithesis of that.

Background Info: Before he died, Prince was working on this book, with the help of Dan Piepenbring. The intro was written by Dan, summarizing his first meetings with Prince, and Prince’s vision for the completed work (he intended for it to cover his childhood up to his performance at Super Bowl XLI (in 2007). Dan’s anecdotes provide an interesting segue into the actual writing of Prince, and the numerous photos published in this book. The stories, including Dan staying at the local Country Inn and Suites (the place closest to Paisley Park in Chanhassen, MN), Prince driving him around in his Lincoln MKT, and live performances at Paisley Park.  

Filler Material: The bulk of the middle part consists of Prince’s actual writings, and then the translations. His writings are hard to read, given his affinity for code (e.g. eye symbol for I) and handwriting.  The gist of the book, and hats off to the publishers, was not to fill in the chronology after where Prince was at with his writing. Therefore, there is no speculation about his thoughts, as the material is published just as he wrote it, and stops at the point where he was at when he passed (before the Super Bowl XLI performance). As a companion piece, Originals (on CD, vinyl, MP3, take your pick) published after his death, is highly recommended. Toss it on the old (dust off the console stereo) or new hi-fi and turn up the volume.

Killer Ending: “So much has been written about me, and people don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’d rather let them stay confused.” – Prince

Prince. The Beautiful Ones. Spiegel & Grau, 2019.

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What’s Sally Reading?

More Book Awards Announced!

The Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature announced, on May 6, 2020, the winners and honor books for two prestigious awards.  The Irma Simonton and James H. Black Award  went to The Crayon Man: The Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons written by Natascha Biebow and illustrated by Steven Salerno. This award is for “an outstanding book for young children,” with text and illustrations working together, and is selected by children.  Given since 1973 (where have I been?  I just now heard about this award!) the award also has three honor books.

The Cook Prize has been awarded since 2012, and acknowledges excellence in picture books addressing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in its content.  Also selected by children, the 2020 winner is Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet written by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Teresa Martinez.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry is one of the Honor Books for the Irma Simonton and James H. Black Award.  Zuri’s hair is hard to control. Since today is a special day, Daddy is up to the task.  They try several hairstyles with poor results.  Then, just the right approach works for them. Everything is ready when Mommy gets home! There is a welcome banner up for her, but we do not know where she has been.  A wonderful story of family care and love.

(The Nebraska Library Commission receives free copies of children’s and young adult books for review from a number of publishers. After review, the books are distributed free, via the Regional Library Systems, to Nebraska school and public libraries.)

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#BookFaceFriday – “The Silence of the Library” by Miranda James

Hey, all you cats and kittens out there! Is your formerly silent library thinking about opening it’s doors again? The Nebraska Library Commission has resources available to make the process as purrfect as possible. Check out our Pandemic Resources page for recommendations and guidance from local and national organizations, as well as examples of policies and procedures being used by other Nebraska libraries.

If you’ve not yet told us that your library is reopening or modifying services for the pandemic, please fill out our Nebraska Library Services Form. The information you submit helps us keep our Nebraska Libraries Spreadsheet on closings, reopenings, and modifying services up to date in these rapidly changing times.

Keep an eye out next week for information on applying for CARES Act funding.

“The Silence of the Library” by Miranda James (Berkley, 2014) is a part of the Cat in the Stacks mystery series.

“Combines a kindhearted librarian hero, family secrets in a sleepy Southern town, and a gentle giant of a cat that will steal your heart.”—Lorna Barrett, New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries

Our models this week are our tireless Computer Services Director, Vern Buis, and his lovely cat Bernie. A former stray, Bernie decided to move into Vern’s place about a year ago, and that was that. Now he’s living the good life and modeling for bookface photos on the side.

Love this BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Friday Reads: The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young

I don’t know about you, but reading during this pandemic has been a challenge. Between working from home, keeping a school-age kid on track with his lessons and a preschooler out of the cookie jar, not to mention feeding everyone 3-5 times a day (why are we so hungry?!?), and the constant blare of the news, I just don’t have the time or attention span to concentrate on a book. Is it just me? (Apparently not).

Fortunately, my public library recently started contact-less pickup and I got a load of middle-grade novels and picture books for the aforementioned children. The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young was at the top of the pile.

Set on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, this is the story of a half-Irish, half-Ojibwe girl named Billie who is determined to win her town’s annual pumpkin race and get revenge on her former best friend for sabotaging her attempt the previous summer. It is also the tale of how every story has two sides, growing pumpkins is a full-time job, and sometimes winning isn’t something we do on our own. It was the perfect book to kick off my summer reading and yours too!

Young, Cathleen. The Pumpkin War. Random House, 2019.

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ALA Partners with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission to Donate 6,000 Book Sets to Libraries

CHICAGO – The American Library Association (ALA) is pleased to partner with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission (WSCC) to distribute 6,000 women’s suffrage youth book sets to libraries across the country. Public and school libraries are encouraged to apply for the book sets by June 15, 2020.

This generous donation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment and highlights the importance of libraries as hubs of civic education and engagement.

Created by Congress to mark the centennial of women’s suffrage, WSCC selected the books and is providing funding for the project. Each set consists of three books corresponding to different reading levels: “Around America to Win the Vote” by Mara Rockliff for elementary readers; “The Woman’s Hour: Our Fight for the Right to Vote” by Elaine Weiss for middle schoolers; and the “National Park Service Women’s Suffrage Reader,” an anthology of essays for high school readers.

A working group representing members and staff from ALA’s offices and three youth divisions—American Association of School Librarians , Association for Library Service to Children, and Young Adult Library Services Association —will field the requests and have created a recommended list of diverse books, as well as program and display ideas to accompany the book donations. In addition, ALA and the WSCC will co-host a series of virtual women’s suffrage herstory times.

ALA and the WSCC look forward to getting books to libraries and into the hands of young readers, and to commemorating the diverse suffragists on whose shoulders we stand today.

Contact Jazzy Celindro, jcelindro@ala.org, for more information about the project or with questions about the application.

About the American Library Association
The American Library Association (ALA) is the foremost national organization providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. For more than 140 years, the ALA has been the trusted voice for academic, public, school, government and special libraries, advocating for the profession and the library’s role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all. For more information, visit ala.org.

About the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission
The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission was created by Congress to coordinate the nationwide commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s constitutional right to vote in 2020. Led by a bipartisan group of women leaders, the WSCC has a nonpartisan mission to make sure Americans across the country have the chance to participate in centennial commemorations and to learn about this important but often overlooked history. Through digital events, educational programs, media campaigns, and collaborative partnerships, the WSCC is working to ensure that the centennial is honored nationwide. Learn more about the centennial and the WSCC on our website, www.womensvote100.org

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Friday Reads: Star Wars: Ahsoka

I am simultaneously mourning the end of The Clone Wars animated series and thrilled over the announcement that Rosario Dawson may be playing the live-action version of Ahsoka in season 2 of The Mandalorian.

So, in honor of both of those events, I am sharing the novel Ahsoka, by E.K. Johnston. It is part of the new series of novels that are being published in conjunction with the new films and TV shows.

Ahsoka Tano is my favorite Star Wars character, after the Rebel Princess Leia. She first appeared in the Star Wars world in The Clone Wars animated movie and series, as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, training under him to become a full Jedi.

Ahsoka takes place a year after the end of The Clone Wars and Order 66, the order enacted by Chancellor/Sith Lord Palpatine declaring Jedi as traitors to the Republic and ordering their execution, which was carried out by their own clone troopers. Ahsoka was one of the few Jedi to survive. The novel explores how Ahsoka dealt with her personal fallout from that devastating event. And reveals how she ended up as a secretive but integral member of the Resistance 14 years later, in Rebels.

Being a huge fan of Ahsoka, I was thrilled to learn what happened to her between her two series appearances. And I was not disappointed. It is a well written story, portraying Ahsoka’s struggle to find her place in the galaxy and decide what her future will look like.

The book was published in 2016, before the final season of The Clone Wars was released this year. So, there are some references and specific dialogue in the book that does not match up exactly with the ending of the series. But, I find them minor issues that do not detract at all from my enjoyment of both the book and the final season of the show.

And the audiobook is narrated by none other than Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka in The Clone Wars and Rebels. Bonus!

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#BookFaceFriday – “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

Sweet summertime is so close, the days are getting warmer and all I can think about is that perfect summer read. Keep your book clubs going all summer with titles like “Where the Crawdads Sing” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018) by Delia Owens. This New York Times bestseller is a part of our book club kit collection and available for your group to borrow. Check out all of our Book Club titles!

“A painfully beautiful first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature…Owens here surveys the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of an abandoned child. And in her isolation that child makes us open our own eyes to the secret wonders—and dangers—of her private world.”—The New York Times Book Review

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Four Ways New Technology Is Revolutionizing the 2020 Census

From scribbled answers in 1790 to online responses in 2020, innovation has always been part of the Census. The Census Bureau has always been a leader in using, adapting and developing new technologies, but the 2020 Census will be the most sophisticated and high tech yet. 

The census began in 1790 with collected information handwritten by U.S. Marshals visiting outposts in every corner of the new nation. Every decade since, the ways the U.S. Census Bureau has tried to meet its goal of counting every person living in the United States have undergone changes as dramatic as the growth of the nation itself.

Through the centuries, the decennial count progressed from in-person collections of handwritten answers to mass mailings of paper questionnaires in 1970. Among other changes along the way: creation of an electrical punch card tabulator for the 1890 Census and the first use by a government agency of the world’s first modern computer – the UNIVAC 1 – for the 1950 Census. It was developed by engineers John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, whose corporation was a division of Remington Rand.

In the previous century, Herman Hollerith, a former Census Office employee, invented a punch card tabulating machine used by the Census Bureau from the 1890 Census forward. Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company, which eventually became International Business Machines (IBM).

America Counts spoke with Robert Colosi, a mathematical statistician in the Census Bureau’s Decennial Statistics Studies Division, about ways technology is revolutionizing the census.

He shared four specific changes that have had a major impact on how the Census Bureau counts everyone once, only once, and in the right place.

Innovation 1: Using Satellite Imagery to Check Addresses

Before the Census Bureau can count every person in the country, it must first collect addresses for every housing unit. One way the Census Bureau uses this address list is to mail census materials, including invitations to respond online, by phone or by mail.

Census Bureau employees used to “canvass” neighborhoods in person, jotting down new addresses and correcting old ones on paper.

This long-running operation, known as Address Canvassing, is one of the ways the Census Bureau updates its Master Address File or MAF. The Census Bureau also works with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to confirm already existing addresses on file.

Address canvassing was costly and time-consuming. Employees traveled a total of 137 million miles to update the MAF before the 2010 Census.

“The number of miles we traveled was astronomical,” Colosi said. “We’re not going to do that for the 2020 Census.”

In 2015, the Census Bureau began using aerial images from a network of satellites.

The Census Bureau developed computer software that allows employees in offices to compare satellite images from 2010 to new ones taken in real time. This helps them identify new houses, apartment buildings and other units to verify in the traditional Address Canvassing operation.

Thanks to the new In-Office Address Canvassing system, census workers reviewed 100% of all addresses in the United States for the 2020 Census and validated 65% in the office, removing them from the in-field workload.

That means workers needed to canvas fewer neighborhoods in person, saving time and money.

Address listers or canvassers hit the streets in August 2019 and completed the operation two months later, on track for the 2020 Census.

Innovation 2: Introducing Online Self-Response

The 2020 Census is the first time everyone has the option to respond to the census online as well as by phone or mail.

The Census Bureau has an Internet Self-Response tool designed to make it easy to complete the questionnaire online and keep responses secure. Directions for responding online will be included in letters, postcards and other mailings sent to most homes beginning in mid-March.

Every response submitted on the internet is encrypted. That means data are changed into a code that only Census Bureau data analysts can read. Responses travel through a secure cloud computer network and the Census Bureau locks them in a “digital vault”.   

The Internet Self-Response instrument, the website for completing the census online, is available in English and 12 other languages.

Census Bureau employees, called census response representatives will also provide computers and tablets for access to the Internet Self-Response tool at places like libraries, community centers, health care centers and places of worship. This is particularly helpful in rural and other areas with limited or no internet access. 

Innovation 3: Introducing Mobile Devices to Enumeration

From collecting census responses and job applications to storing questionnaires, the Census Bureau has used millions of pieces of paper to gather and file information. Now it relies much more on technology – and much less on paper.

In 2020, census takers who go door-to-door to help people respond will collect information on smartphones using a custom application created by the Census Bureau. 

“The Systems Engineering and Integration Team created 52 systems in our ‘system of systems,’” Colosi said. “There’s a whole group of systems related to that one contract of enumeration and operations control. All of it was built by Census Bureau staff and contractors.”

To protect privacy, we encrypt all data and devices require two-factor authentication to be unlocked.

When a device connects to the internet, encrypted data immediately transmits to the Census Bureau’s digital vault – and is no longer on the device. Encrypted data are only stored on the devices until they connect to the internet.

Software in the smartphones also provides specific routes for census takers to follow to visit homes. Optimizing routes in this way helps census takers do their jobs more efficiently. 

If a device is lost or stolen, the Census Bureau will remotely wipe it clean of all applications and information.

Innovation 4: New Ways to Protect Data

The Census Bureau is the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy in its many surveys and programs, including the 2020 Census.

Opportunities to share and protect its data continue to grow with technology and innovation, particularly through data mashups.

Data mashups are algorithms that combine different data sources to expand graphical understanding of the data but can also find the origin of a particular set of data.  

To protect against that, the Census Bureau has developed processes to protect its data from people who might try to make such mashups. Its Disclosure Avoidance System helps prevent improper disclosure of data. This addition is one of several advances the Census Bureau has made to safeguard an individual’s data.  

“When we produced products in the old days, we didn’t have super high-tech and savvy users,” Colosi said. “The idea of computing data mashups to try and combine different data sources to find individual responses was not common. Now it is.”

All responses to the 2020 Census are confidential and protected by law. Title 13 of the Federal Code prohibits the Census Bureau from publishing or disclosing any private information, including names, addresses and telephone numbers.

“Our cybersecurity meets the latest, highest standards for protecting your information,” Census Bureau Chief Information Officer Kevin Smith said. “We work with industry experts to continually review and refine our approach to make sure we are staying ahead of threats and ensuring quick response. From the moment we collect your responses, our goal — and legal obligation — is to keep them safe.”

Census Bureau employees take an oath to keep your answers confidential. Violators face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

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Census Bureau Launches COVID-19 Data Hub

COVID-19 Data Hub The U.S. Census Bureau has released a new resource page on Census.gov to help federal
agencies, businesses, and communities make decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similar to the Census Bureau’s resources pages created during natural disasters, this resource
page includes information on population demographics, economic indicators and businesses.

Learn More

It features a new interactive data hub that centralizes already-released data from the American Community Survey and the County Business Patterns program to facilitate users’ access to data useful in pandemic-related decision making. The data hub, released as a beta version, will be updated periodically as the situation changes and as feedback is received from users.  You can sign up for COVID-19 Data Hub Updates here.
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