Library Info

The Quest for Audio Books Made Easy
Sometimes all I want to do is shut my laptop, silence my smart phone, power off my iPod and read a good book. But then there are times when I need those gadgets to help me get through a good audio book so I can busy my eyes and hands on others things like the long car trip to Kansas (Oklahoma can be a killer) or while I'm completing the odious task of washing dishes. These are great times to put on an audio book. Luckily, our audio book options improve constantly.

You can, of course, being by browsing the library's collection and picking up a book on CD or checking out this list of Audie Award winners. I've taken to listening to Oscar Casares' novel Amigoland on CD while I'm getting ready in the morning, eating a meal or cleaning up.

However, as much as I hate to admit it, the library isn't the only place to find great audio books. Below I've listed a few other places you might consider before that next long road trip.

BooksShouldBeFree.com offers free, downloadable audio versions of books in the public domain (books with expired copyrights). Some of these have been recorded by groups of volunteers but most of them have been digitized by The Gutenberg Project and recorded by Libriovox . The site itself makes browsing a visual treat. It offers pictures of the cover, a short description of the book, a preview of the audio book, two options for downloading, recommendations for similar audio books, and reviews of the specific recording of the book. I especially like that the reviews take the reader into account. Sometimes a book can be phenomenally written and then read by a dud. Bummer. Check out the page for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Another Libriovox-powered site, Librophile resembles Books Should Be Free is many ways and includes many of the same titles. One exception is that Librophile allows users to listen to the book right from your browser, a handy little feature. However, I find the site to be less appealing visually and the search feature felt clunky to me. In addition to the public domain content, Librophile also sells audio versions of popular books. Unfortunately, the cost reflects publishing costs plus the cost of a professional reader. Hence, an audio-only copy of Stephen King's Under the Dome would cost you $52.50. Yowza.

If you're more interested in educational material you might consider skipping over these earlier options and trying LearnOutLoud.com. They exclusively provide copyrighted materials which means users must be charged for downloads. Based on a quick glance at the site, it looks like the cost can be as low as $5 and $20. The site doesn't have the same visual appeal as Books Should Be Free but it is also searchable and has books broken down into categories. For more non-fiction books, you might also consider The National Academies Press

 
Google Docs Introduces New (super helpful) Features

For months, rumors had been spreading that Google would being accommodating more file types in Google Documents and would increasing the amount of storage space available for users. A couple weeks ago, the rumors became a reality.
Google now allows users to upload, store, access and share their files through the popular Google Docs. In the past, uploaded files were automatically converted to one of three Google Doc types (word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations). With the new features, you will now be able to upload any file type whether it be a Microsoft document, an Open Office document, an image, a video file or audio clip. In short, the application is giving you a taste of cloud computing. Store your files remotely and access them anywhere you have internet access.


The other big change is the introduction of more storage space. The service offers 1 GB of storage completely free of charge and the option of buying additional space for $0.25 per GB. Based on the ever-increasing storage space given to gmail users, this move doesn't come as much of a surprise.

If you're interested in trying to service, you don't need to worry about switching email addresses or signing up for a lot of new services. You can simply sign up for a Google account using your current email address. Google's changes reflect a larger shift in personal computing which is beginning to really take off. The ability to store your files in "the cloud" gives users more flexibility while still (ideally) protecting personal files.

Google Docs  

Edit PDFs Without Buying Expensive Software

Ninety percent of the time, I prefer communicating via email rather than making a phone call, mailing something or (especially) faxing. This is especially true when it comes to applications or other PDF documents. Like the library computers, most individuals only have access to Adobe Reader, rather than a more sophisticated version of the software which allows you to edit and save PDFs.


An easy workaround presents itself in the form of FillAnyPDF. This site allows you to upload a PDF so that you can enter text into blank fields and then save the document. (FYI, you have the option of creating an account or just going straight to editing your document). By doing so, you can simply email the form on to the intended recipient rather than mailing or faxing it. The site also allows you to change font size, blackout, whiteout or highlight text. After entering all your text, click the download button at the bottom of the page and then save the PDF to your computer or memory device of choice.


I will caution you that there is no clear information on the security of the site so you may want to think twice before using it for confidential information. I have, however, seen the site recommended by several blogs which take security into consideration when evaluating a product or service which I find comforting. What other workarounds do you use for editing PDFs? Share your thoughts in the comments section!


Finding Great Deals on Text Books Online

For many of us, mid-January is nothing special. It may be around now that you’ve finally returned those unwanted Christmas gifts or given up your new year’s resolutions. But for many people it’s time to return to the classroom which means it’s time for the dreaded task of buying text books. I am a big believe in supporting local businesses but it’s just not always possible when you need such specific titles so I go straight to the internet.


Nearly everyone has their preferred online option. Some love the easy interface of Amazon or the pretty colors of Barnes & Noble. But if you’re really trying to find the best deal on new and used books isn’t it best to compare them all? Enter BigWords.com. Rather than sleuthing around the internet, one site at a time, you have the option of searching for the item you need at BigWords who will then search multiple sites for you. Among others, they search Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BooksAMillion, half.com, and eCampus. After you enter all of the books you’re looking for, BigWords makes recommendations based on both the price of the book and shipping costs. Plus, while you wait for them to crunch the numbers they provide you with a list of one-liners to amuse you. One down side of the service is that you will still need to create accounts with each vendor you buy books from. BigWords just allows you to search multiple sites at a time in order to find the best deal.


There are plenty of great services like this. If you’re interested, share your favorite online book sellers in the comments.

Improve Your Touch Typing the Free and Easy Way

Every day in the library I see adults striving to improve themselves and learn new things. Recently we’ve seen a rising interest in updating computer skills, either for personal satisfaction or to remain competitive in the job market. For some, this means attending one of our Microsoft Quick Start classes at the library to learn about Office 2007. Others work on developing specific skills such as touch typing which is what I’d like to talk about today. With such a skill there’s nothing to it but to do it. Here are two recommendations for free, online programs which can help.

Klava is a flash-based, online typing program which is incredibly simple and super handy. Simply go to the website, click in the text box and start typing. There's no registration and no fees which I always appreciate. Klava (shown above) provides you with a list of words which you then type into the text box. As you go, it keeps track of several things for you. The numbers at the top of the screen and to the left show you your characters per minute from the two previous lines. The numbers to the right of that show you your error percentage. Klava also gives you good hints as you go: turning the text box dark gray if you make an error and highlighting the letters you struggle with. The drop-down menus at the bottom of the page allow you to change from Basic English (short words and letter combinations) to Advanced English (full sentences). You even have the option of practicing on a Dvorak keyboard if you have the ability to configure your own keyboard to that format. Klava's strength is its simplicity and I definitely encourage you to give it a try if you are interested in improving your touch typing or just have a few minutes to kill. 

Typing Web is a more popular (and free) tool to help practice touch typing. Typing Web is very different from Klava. It includes multiple typing lessons and tests and is graphic heavy. Unlike Klava it does include a timer and provides words per minute rather than characters per minute which I find to be a more useful measurement. If you need more visual stimulation than Klava provides, Typing Web might be a good choice for you. This program also lets you bypass registration if you’re so inclined and just get straight to typing. Typing Web does have quite a few ads and, unfortunately, some of them are of the flashing variety which can be a bit distracting.

There are countless other typing tutorials and tests online that may be just as good. But I find these to be simple (especially in the case of Klava) and well-organized (Typing Web). Give it a try if you have a minute and see if it helps!

More Tips on Internet Safety

It’s a busy week here at the library but I thought I would take a moment to pass on a blog post I read recently about avoiding online scams. We’ve all seen those suspicious emails and too-good-to-be-true offers and wondered if this time, they might just be real. This post offers great tips on considering the reliability of websites and emails. It also links to another post on choosing strong passwords. I regret that my last two posts have been about security on the web but I think it’s important that we educate ourselves so that we can make the most of our web experiences.

 

The full article can be found at Lifehacker: The Complete Guide to Avoiding Online Scams

Being Smart about Online Status Updates

Online applications like Facebook and Twitter seem to be all about over-sharing the details of one’s life with a large network of people.  However, Lifehacker.com recently wrote about the importance of thinking twice about the information you share in these forums. Specifically, they suggest that posting travel plans online leaves your house vulnerable while you’re away. Thus, they suggest leaving the dates and locations out of your travel plans and making sure your profile doesn’t include your actual street address. But you might also just take into account the people who currently have access to your updates. If you Tweet but your account is locked and if your Facebook page is only accessible to your network of friends, you might rest a little easier. That is unless you think a friend may break into your house.

This is good advice for the holidays when people tend to travel a lot. But it also just gets us thinking about what we’re sharing and with whom we’re sharing it. There are many examples of both positive and negative impacts of social networking. Take a moment to decide if you want to share every part of your profile with each person in your network (and possibly beyond) and make a choice that’s right for you.

Convert Your Files for Free Using Zamzar

A patron recently asked how to convert a Word document (.doc) and an image (.jpg) into PDFs. On many computers this can be done by going to file > print and then choosing a PDF converter from the printer list. However, on some computers – like those at the library – this is not an option. There are a few online tools for this however.

Zamzar is a free, online tool which converts your files and then emails them to you. There’s no need to create an account or pay any sign up fees. I mostly use the application to create PDFs but it can also be used to convert documents, images, and music and video files to other formats.

Simply upload a file, select the new format from a drop down menu, enter your email address, click “convert and wait. Sometimes the file will be emailed to you almost immediately but if the service is busy you may have to wait up to an hour or so. One quirk to the tool is that, after uploading a file, the filename seems to disappear but is actually visible below the input box. Files must also be below 100MB to be converted.

Zamzar is not the only place to go to convert files but it’s a nice, simple tool that does the job without too much hassle.

 

 

 

Find Dining Specials for the Little Ones with a Handy Web App

As the holidays approach, we sometimes find ourselves caught between trying to save time and save money. When in a hurry, it’s awfully tempting to splurge on dining out to save yourself the hassle of grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning the kitchen. 

But have no fear, here comes the Internet to the rescue. We now have a tool to help us find restaurants where the little ones can eat for free or for bargain prices. KidsEatFor lets users enter a zip code and then provides a list of restaurant specials for each day of the week (screen shot below). Clicking on the restaurant name will give you more information about their specials. The service works best for large cities but will give you an idea of what nearby restaurant chains offer specials for kids.

 

 

RR Public Library presents blogs on Technology
Round Rock Public Library is adding a new element to our Library Information blog starting right . . . now. About once a week we'll add a post about technology that, hopefully, our readers will find interesting or useful. We'll cover topics such as open source software/freeware, useful web applications, gadgets, technology in general, and some of the issues that come with emerging these technologies. We'll start with topics we think will be especially useful to our patrons but feel free to contact us (by writing a comment below) if there's a specific topic you would like to learn more about.
World Wide Knit in Public Day

In support of World Wide Knit in Public Day the library will be hosting a Knit-Crochet In on June 20, from 9:00-noon. Keeping with the “public” theme, people who knit, crochet, tat, or make lace will be seated in the library’s gallery area where the general public can watch them do their activity. The event is limited to those who are using the traditional hand held needles, hooks, and shuttles.

 

Library materials related to the theme will be displayed, and a bibliography of resources made available. The event is free. In the event of an overflow crowd, more seating will be available in one of the library’s meeting rooms. So, come on down!

 

http://www.wwkipday.com/

Explorer Book Discussion Group

Join us this summer for our adult summer reading program book club, open to ages 18 and up!

Book club will meet on June 29, 2:00-3:30 at the Round Rock Public Library Gallery, 216 E. Main Street.  We will be discussing Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen.  Pick up a copy today from the library or your local bookstore.  Sponsored by the Round Rock Public Library as part of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s Deep in the Heart of Texas Summer Reading Program. Contact Dale Ricklefs at 512-218-7010.

Join the Summer Reading Program on June 10

Round Rock Public Library's annual Summer Reading Program is about to begin! 

Readers of all ages are welcome to join the program and earn coupons and incentives. Simply come to the library starting June 10, to pick up a reading log and get started. And, the library will be the cool place to be this summer for storytimes, musicians, special programs for teens and more. The program runs from June 10 - August 10.  Please contact Theresa Faris at 218-7011 for more information. 
See You Tomorrow!

The month of October has come to an end.

The library is opening tomorrow and on that you can depend.

We've dusted and wiped and vacuumed and swept. 

    

We've laughed and we've cheered and a few of us wept.

We hope you'll enjoy all that we've done. 

For it has been an adventure.

And the adventure has only begun!

 

Yes folks, the time has come to open our doors.

We want to thank everyone for their understanding and patience.

To be completely honest, all is not yet completed, but we didn't want to stay closed until it was.

Together however, we will be able to work around whatever it is that didn't get completed.

It should be fun to watch it all come together over the next few weeks. 

The bulk of everything is done.

The next week or two will simply be a matter of acclimating ourselves to the changes

and getting a few little things back in order. 

 

We'll see you tomorrow. 

Don't forget that we will be offering guided tours of the library every hour on the hour from 10:00am - 6:00pm.

See all Library renovation photos in our Flickr set

Where are our manners?

It isn't that we weren't brought up correctly.  Our mothers did teach us what to do when expecting visitors: arrange the furniture in a welcoming manner, have comfortable seating available, put away your toys and crafts, and, for heaven's sake--dust!

 

      

Though we don't appear to have paid attention, we really were listening to Mom all along.  Now that the remodeling is done, we are addressing matters of courtesy.  We are replacing supplies into de-cluttered storage spaces so that we can locate and replace printing materials quickly; relocating music CDs for more convenient browsing; streamlining the tops of service desks so that you can see library staff more easily--that sort of thing.  And about that dusting: it's definitely on our list.

See all Library renovation photos in our Flickr set

On Monday, November 3, our first day of re-opening, we will be offering guided tours of the library every hour on the hour from 10:00am - 6:00pm.  We hope that you can join one of these tours and that you'll enjoy the changes and enhancements created with you in mind.  Mom would be proud!

 

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