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Author Archive for Brent Palmer



Little Dutch Boy Game

by Brent Palmer on November 30th, 2014

If you have kids that regularly visit the Ellen Buchanan Children’s Room, then you have probably met Mabel the Table.  This is a large interactive touch table that immediately draws kids’ attention.  The library has been a long-time host of Coder Dojo Iowa City, the local chapterdutchboy of an international movement to teach and inspire kids in the vocation of computer programming.  Young programmers in this dojo collaboratively designed and built a custom game called Little Dutch Boy that is only found on Mabel the Table.  The game is a race against time as a dike holding back water is starting to fill with holes.  Players around the table try to plug as many holes as they can with their fingers before the water gets too high. I hope you have a chance to try it out next time you are at the library.  The kids of Coder Dojo did a wonderful job of working together to contribute a cool new custom app for our table.  If you are a game designer or involved in a developer group and want to help us improve these games or create new ones, please contact me at the library

The Last Policeman Series

by Brent Palmer on October 31st, 2014
The Last Policeman Series Cover Image

If you enjoy both sci-fi and mysteries, investigate the Last Policemen Series.  The first two books in the three-part series by Ben H. Winters bagged an Edgar and a PKD award respectively.  The third has just come out.  The books follow the movements of Hank Palace, a new young detective in a small New Hampshire police force.  He made detective early not so much because he is a rising star on the force, but because there is an asteroid careening toward Earth and many of the police and detectives are running off to satisfy their bucket lists.  Nonetheless, he takes cases seriously even though the world is coming to an end and his colleagues shake their heads and snicker.  The cases themselves are interesting enough: a missing person’s case, a suspicious death and the disappearance of his sister.  But this is also a pre-apocolyptic look at society slowly becoming unraveled and it is interesting to see Winters vision of it.  Fortunately, it’s not so bleak or terrifying as The Road, partly because our protagonist is so dependable and his pursuit of the truth sustains us as the end nears.  These are quick and enjoyable reads. We have all three.

New Self-Checkout Stations Coming

by Brent Palmer on September 30th, 2014

One of our strategic plan goals for us this year is to improve our self-checkout stations.  There are currently six of these stations, four near the main entrance of the library, one on the second floor near the info desk and one in the children’s room.  Patrons can check out materials at these stations,  access account information and pay fines.  The goals for this project are two-fold:  to improve the experience for our patrons and to make the payment of fines more secure.

Within the next few weeks we will be rolling out the new updated self checkouts.  We believe that the software will be easier to use and the touchscreen monitors more responsive.  In order to pay fines, there will be a credit card terminal next to each machine that looks similar to those you see at other retail places.  These terminal will make the payment of fines more secure.

There are quite a few steps to putting all this into place including additional wiring at each station, putting together a hardware profile, network configurations, integration with our library system, configuring each station and setting up the credit card processors among many others.  With any change at a well-used service point, there will undoubtedly be frustrations, kinks in the system and adjustments that have to be made.  I ask for your patience and help as we try to bring these new self-checks on line. Stay tuned and feel free to send me questions.

Hungry Dragon Game

by Brent Palmer on August 29th, 2014

Mabel the Table, the Children’s Room’s interactive touch table made her debut at the beginning of the summer and has gotten lots of use since then.  The library recently teamed up with Dev/Iowa Bootcamp to produce some new games for Mabel.  Part of the U of I’s entrepreneurial efforts, the Bootcamp is an intensive nine-week hands-on program where participants learn web development skills and industry practices.  As part of the program, members of the community can pitch a project to have the bootcampers take them on as a client.  We presented the idea of creating games for the interactive table in the children’s room and two students stepped forward.  One game is called Hungry Dragon and allows several kids to play at the same time controlling their dragon to grab balls moving around in the center.  The other is a creative painting game where kids can paint a picture and post it for others to see.  If you are visiting the Children’s Room, have your kids give these local games a try and give us feedback.  If you are a programmer or game developer and want to help us improve these games or create new ones, please contact me at the library.

The Story of a Crime

by Brent Palmer on July 24th, 2014
The Story of a Crime Cover Image

Many of you are fans of Scandinavian crime fiction such as Mankell’s Wallander, Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole and the girl with the dragon tattoo.  But if you haven’t discovered Martin Beck, it’s time.  There is a series of ten crime fiction written in the 60′s and early 70′s by a team of writers named Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö that are arguably the origin of modern police procedurals.  The side stories for the characters evolve over time, so it is best to read these in order. The books are well written and have a certain melancholy timbre that a lot of these Scandinavian crime stories seem to have.  They also have their own sense of time.  The stories will slow down to a crawl and you feel the long agonizing wait for some clue to surface.  Taking place in the 60′s, there is a Madmen-esque nature to the scenes as well.  LOTS of suits and smoking.  And being written in the 60′s, there is also an interesting leftist political thread that runs through the novels.  If you don’t happen to be a Marxist, that’s OK, the politics don’t get in the way of the stories.

The story behind the series is also intriguing.  [See this Guardian Article].   Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were lovers and formed a family though they never married.  They planned and wrote all the stories together. They would trade chapters or sometimes take different characters. There were ten books over ten years, each book having thirty chapters.  They envisioned the ten novels as a cohesive set that together would tell the story of a larger crime: the decay of Swedish society.  The end of the series also coincided with the end of their relationship.  Per Wahlöö became terminally ill and died before the final book was published.

ICPL has the entire series in print, ebook and e-audio.

Digital Privacy at ICPL

by Brent Palmer on June 5th, 2014

Libraries are traditionally strong supporters of intellectual freedom.  From our official confidentiality policy:

Confidentiality of library records is central to intellectual freedom and directly related to the ability of citizens to use library materials and pursue information without fear of intimidation.

I would like to highlight some of the policies we have in an effort to support digital privacy of our patrons.

Public Internet Computers

At one level we have installed privacy screens on the public Internet computers.  These screens are simply meant to limit what others around you can see on the your screen.

In addition, all browsing history and file downloads are cleared after you log out.  It is important to remember to log out of the public Internet computers and Express Internet computers when you are finished

Catalog Searches

When doing searches in our public catalog in the building, your browsing and searching history can be removed by hitting the logout/reset button.  If you walk away, this will happen automatically after a short period of inactivity.

Checkout History

Your checkout history in our catalog is disabled by default.  Even if we were served with a subpoena we can’t disclose this information if we aren’t storing it.

 Note: However, sometimes it is nice to have that list.  You can opt to turn on history by logging into your account and clicking on “Reading History” in the left corner.

Let us know if you have questions regarding our confidentiality policies.

Come to the Table

by Brent Palmer on May 1st, 2014

Come to table

Want to build something? Have a great idea?

The Iowa City Public Library has an interactive touch table for its Children’s Room and needs your help bringing it to life. We are looking for games that are:

  • multi-touch
  • multi-player
  • collaborative or constructive
  • for ages 6-12
  • easy to get started

Contact Brent Palmer

The secret behind the Horsehair Stopper

by Brent Palmer on March 31st, 2014
The secret behind the Horsehair Stopper Cover Image

I’m always looking for good bedtime reading to share with my son. You know, something that we both can enjoy. Something that doesn’t involve bvd-clad superheroes farting their nemesis into submission or snide protagonists complaining about their lame teachers(yes, Big Nate, I’m lookin’ at you). Well you all know Roald Dahl has several good books that have been perennial favorites. But one that had escaped my notice until recently is Danny the Champion of the World. This one is a bit more realistic. No flying peaches or rivers of chocolate, but it is a very sweet story (BFG does make a cameo by the way).

Danny lives with his widower dad in a run-down camper. He has always idolized his dad who is an ace car mechanic, but discovers that he is sneaking off at night and for what is obviously illegal activity. Danny eventually gets drawn into the scheme and realizes that his Dad is in some very real danger. Danny is put to the test and is terrified that he might lose him.

Fundamentally, it’s a story about emerging from child-like innocence and beginning to see the world differently. For Danny, the transition is scary and difficult and it turns out that his dad is not who he thought he was. He has to adjust to this new person, but in the end he loves him all the more for it. And his father must take a leap and let Danny in on his deep dark secret. This story really can be enjoyed from both perspectives. It’s also one of those stories where the condescending rich guy gets what’s coming to him. Spectacularly. Who wouldn’t love that? And even if you don’t have a little one to read it to, it’s good enough to read to yourself. Check it out to learn the secret of the horsehair stopper and how Danny becomes Champion of the World.

The English Major

by Brent Palmer on February 28th, 2014
The English Major Cover Image

I recently made a good find in the Book End: The English Major by Jim Harrison.  Although the title makes it sound like an epic love story set in colonial Africa, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a true American travel story.

Harrison fans who love his character Brown Dog will identify with the protagonist, Cliff, who has same down-to-earth way of looking at things, a love of the Michigan outdoors and a cluelessness about women (that somehow seems to work for both of them).  Unlike BD, he was once a lit teacher with a love of books. But he became disenchanted with literature and eschewed the intellectual life for a pastoral one when his wife inherited a cherry farm in northern Michigan.

The story, which opens after his marriage falls apart, takes the form of a kind of travel diary.  Mourning the loss of his dog and his cherry farm (his wife sells it to a developer), he sets out for a cathartic road trip to visit every state.  Along the way, he hooks up with an former female student, reconnects with his son and has some raucous adventures with his fishing buddy.  As he winds his way across the west, he is forced to reexamine his life and marriage with honesty. Although Cliff doesn’t make it to every state, with some help from his ex-wife, he figures out how to put together a new life.




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