Biodiversity Heritage Library

For patrons interested in various biology topics, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is a great open source site with this stated goal:

The Biodiversity Heritage Library improves research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.

BHL also serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life.

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Biodiversity is defined by Merriam Webster as “biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals“. So this topic is broad and vast, covering animal & plant biology, classification, extinct and surviving species, evolutionary history and many others.

Slate.com did an article on the site’s flickr.com image page: “2 Million Beautiful Images of Biodiversity Are Now Available for Free“.

So here’s how it works: I searched “platypus”:

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and it took me here:

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I chose to look at an article, as opposed to a book, book review or other resource, and after choosing the “article” tab and “view article” this is what came up:

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As you can see, this is an actual article from an actual academic journal that someone may find useful for their research. This search is good for searching across books and journals, scientific names, authors and subjects. You may also browse by title, author, date, collection and contributor.

They have many of the other features standard to most pages these days, such as their social media links, a blog, a link to other media and links to their visual resources.

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Practical, Information Rich Resource for Local Gardeners

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The Tennessee Home Vegetable Gardener 2018 Calendar is a great resource for the local home gardener. It is a resource rich in practical information to assist anyone wanting to use methods specific to our particular area.

You can find the calendar here: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W436.pdf, or you can go to the UT Extensions publication page and search “Tennessee Home Vegetable Garden” as I’ve done here:

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This search gives you the following screen, from which you select the encircled link:

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So, what’s in the calendar? Here’s a quick rundown:

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Aside from having the conventional calendar, each month also has an information page full of what tasks are best done in any given month. The top page of any month spread includes a to do list as shown above, while the bottom page has the conventional calendar with key dates marked:

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The back of the calendar includes several indices for more specific notes to record crop yield, weather patterns and crop issues such as pest and disease problems:

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This resource is free as a pdf to anyone who wants to access the link above. It could be useful simply printed out on regular copy paper, but may be more practical printed out on card stock, or placed in a binder to better last throughout a whole year of gardening.

A Free, Comprehensive Legal Resource

Courtlistener.com is an open source legal resource curated by the Free Law Project. The purpose of the site is to offer users “…a free legal research website containing millions of legal opinions from federal and state courts. With CourtListener, lawyers, journalists, academics, and the public can research an important case, stay up to date with new opinions as they are filed, or do deep analysis using our raw data.”

The opening page looks like this:

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I began my search with a simple Shelby County Tennessee and got this hit:

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If you look at the encircled field indicated by the arrow you can see in this next screen that I further narrowed down my search with a date and received more specific results:

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You have several different tools at your disposal on this site, which is full of much raw data. This can augment our legal offerings in a valuable way.

Basic Computer Skills for Patrons

www.gcflearnfree.org is a free e-learning site full of many different tutorials of interest to those in our department. The one I will highlight today is about Basic Computer Skills.

According to their “About” page the parent site gcflearnfree.org is:

A program of Goodwill Community Foundation® and Goodwill Industries of Eastern NC Inc.® (GIENC®), all GCFLearnFree.org® educational content is designed and produced in the GCF Global Learning® building in downtown Raleigh, NC.

So they are a free site designed to present learning opportunities on many topics free to anyone who has an internet connection.

As we have many patrons on a daily basis claim helplessness when it comes to using a computer, this tool will come in handy as a way to help a patron self-help themselves. Here’s how it works.

First, the patron would need to log in to https://www.gcflearnfree.org/topics/computers/ to see the course offerings:

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You can see that there are four subheadings: Computer Basics, Basic Computer Skills, Mouse Tutorial and Typing Tutorial. Once you engage in the Computer Basics tutorial you will begin here:

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More relevant to us on the Third Floor of Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library is the Basic Computer Skills course:

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This course starts with the basic skill of how to turn a computer on, then moves up from there. Not every single component of the training is necessarily relevant to our department or library as a whole, but many of the issues frequently mentioned to us as Reference Desk Librarians are addressed in these trainings.

Many patrons will not have the time or the incentive to learn using this method, but for those willing to put in a bit of effort this is definitely a worthwhile resource to which we may direct them.

Financial Education From FINRA

Navigating finances can be difficult: you have to know about budgets, interest rates, mortgage calculators, IRA’s, 401k’s, durable power of attorney documents…the list can seem endless.

Thankfully the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has a helpful way to educate everyone in these matters and more. FINRA.org explains in their “About FINRA” page that they are…

“…dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation of broker-dealers.

FINRA is not part of the government. We’re a not-for-profit organization authorized by Congress to protect America’s investors by making sure the broker-dealer industry operates fairly and honestly.

So, in that spirit they have created a detailed, free educational resource to help consumers, even those who may not be investors per se, navigate just about every conceivable financial situation.

When you visit the FINRA Investor Education Foundation you will find the following setup:

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Since that type is a bit small, let me just tell you that each of the fifteen boxes you see here link to a detailed tutorial on a particular financial subject. The fifteen subjects are as follows:

  • Managing Money
  • Banking & Saving
  • Credit
  • Home Ownership
  • Education
  • Insurance
  • How to Invest
  • Investments
  • Retirement
  • Social Security
  • Kids and Money
  • Difficult Times
  • Protection
  • Getting Help
  • Estate Planning

Each training is self-paced, full of helpful information and may even be paused and completed at a later time. All you have to do to participate is sign up for a free account, choose the course you want to try, then follow the links. The program leads you through the process at the pace you desire.

 

 

Improve Your Typing

For those interested in improving their typing (or learning to begin with) there is a great site called typing.com.

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This site is great, because while you may pay a fee to rid the site of ads, you may also take many lessons, from basic beginner to advanced, absolutely free. Additionally, you may practice to sharpen your skills as often as you like.

I advise you to sign up for the free account so you may keep track of your progress, which includes how you progress with increasing your words per minute and error rate.

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The display of all available classes is not only thorough and helpful, but you can choose any lesson in any skill level–you don’t have to complete the beginner lessons before you move on to higher skill levels, so if you just feel weak in a particular area you can go directly to lessons and practice for that area.

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When you choose your lesson you’re given an overview of what skill you’ll be measuring/practicing:

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This one is, obviously, for the u, r and k keys. Once you start typing it will begin measuring your error rate and typing speed.

Here’s a more basic one for the r and u keys.

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Once you complete the exercise you are given a score in this manner:

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You can also set up a teacher account, but I have to plead ignorance on that aspect of this site, as I have not explored it at all.

We type so often in this time of the internet, and especially as librarians we need to be able to type quickly and efficiently, so this site is a great way to keep our skills sharpened. It is also so user friendly, and free, that we may confidently recommend this site to patrons needing to improve their skills.

SPECIAL NOTE: Using the number pad is a much quicker, more efficient way to enter material item numbers, library card numbers and other long numbers. Check in this site for tutorials on how to best use the number pad and increase your speed and accuracy.

What’s a MOOC?!

A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course. The basic idea is that various institutes of learning will allow people to essentially audit courses for free, or even to pay a fee to gain various types of credit, from certificates, which have limited use, to actual college credit. Details vary according to who is offering the course, but the learner is the one who decides if they wish to learn simply for curiosity and the love of learning (most common) or if they want to earn some sort of certificate or some other validation of the time spent learning (less common).

There are several websites that specialize in hooking people up with such courses, with just a few being coursera.org, udemy.com and edx.org. You can find out so much about these courses and how they work at various sites around the web, but Forbes posted a good summary recently about the future of MOOCs. Additionally, you may find the following illustration helpful in understanding how an MOOC works:

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Basically this illustration asks several questions pointing out that the concept remains in the evolutionary stages despite being a web presence for quite some time. So, when you go to various outlets to experience an MOOC you won’t necessarily find the same experience as any other site. Some learners find this exciting, some frustrating. The MOOC doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, so, let’s look at how one in particular works.

I signed up for a course on coursera.org:

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As I became a registered, free user I was given limited access to class materials: I can follow along, complete readings and assignments but cannot take tests or quizzes or receive any sort of grade. To gain these features I would need to pay a fee to participate officially in Berklee College of Music courses. The fact that I have that option demonstrates one of the advantages of an MOOC–choice.

So, here’s just one example of what I can get for free: a video lecture from the teacher:

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As I progress through the course I will share the progress and, when the course is complete, I will give my opinion on how helpful (or not) I felt the course was.