Author Archive for Jason Paulios

Finding a record of ownership

by Jason Paulios on April 22nd, 2016

Back in November I wrote about using the City of Iowa City Housing & Inspection Services’ permit activity lookup tool for finding more information about Iowa City house history.  A coworker recently showed me another great house history link hidden at the bottom of individual accounts on the Iowa City Assessors parcel search results page.  If you are looking at a house result you can scroll to the bottom of that page and you’ll see “related information links” below the GIS map.  There are a few useful links for house hunters here including former tax information for the property as well as a quick link to the GIS map with coordinates.  The most interesting link for local history buffs is the “Old Property Report Card” in the lower right corner which will show you a past record of ownership with names and prices paid.  There’s also often pointed comments on these cards regarding the huge leap in sales prices that happened in the 1990s such as these :




A Sugar Creek Chronicle – Cornelia F. Mutel

by Jason Paulios on April 22nd, 2016
A Sugar Creek Chronicle – Cornelia F. Mutel Cover Image

The latest in the Bur Oak Books series from the University of Iowa Press is Cornelia Mutel’s account on climate change as seen from the mixed oak woodlands in rural Johnson County, Iowa. The book is cleverly structured to follow the four seasons during the year 2012, each season features daily journal entries detailing weather and climate notes. Interspersed are notable updates on various woodland species in the acreage alongside Iowa natural history. Paired with the day-to-day of 2012 country living are complimenting memoir sections detailing growing up in Madison, her mother’s early death, and parenthood in Iowa City.  

Her writing is organized and passionate, her love of the natural world is infectious and I often found myself considering putting down the book to wander a nearby nature trail. Throughout all the meditative trail walking anecdotes filled with chipmunk scurrying and spring ephemeral blooming are sobering climate science facts and how they are impacting all these things we care about. Her research is presented in small digestible amounts and her teaching background is evident in the way in which she breaks down complicated earth science processes. 

Using CatalogPro – Advanced Searching

by Jason Paulios on February 4th, 2016

For a few years now we’ve been slowly integrating a catalog discovery layer that we’ve called CatalogPro, this is a keyword search that allows for a narrowing down of results after the search is initiated. It’s gotten more powerful over the years and now works much better for those titles that might have traditionally difficult keyword search terms (try searching Twilight or Room for proof!). There will still be times when you don’t have specific title or author information or you’ll want a more efficient way to search individual terms, thankfully CatalogPro has an Advanced Search option.  You can get to this search via the link below the search box (see the highlighted area in the image below).


Advanced Searching allows for boolean search which allows you to fine tune your search including “and”, “or”, and “not” operators.  An Advanced Search for “Plants” OR “Flowers” AND “Iowa” in books will give you 30 items which is much more helpful than a normal keyword search of “Plants flowers Iowa” which shows yields 6 since it’s searching for the presence of all three keywords in the record instead of the combination done in Advanced (“Plants & Iowa” and “Flowers & Iowa”).

It’s easiest to narrow these results prior to the search using the dropdown menus on the Advanced Search page, common searches would include a format type (ex. book vs. ebook), location (ex. adult nonfiction vs. children’s nonfiction), and possibly year range (ex. looking for only most up-to-date publications).  I’ll share some more CatalogPro tips in future weeks including spell-check, eBook/eAudiobook checkout, and super-secret remote shelf browsing!

Iowa City building permit search

by Jason Paulios on November 16th, 2015

Recently I was trying to research the construction history for my house and found some errors and/or incomplete information. The Iowa City Assessor site has a Parcel Search lookup which shows you a lot of property detail. Unfortunately, like many local databases, the information tends to be more accurate when searching construction that has happened since the world has adopted computers. My house had information describing the garage and small addition as being constructed the same year as the original building which seemed unlikely.

The next step is to visit the website for the City of Iowa City Housing & Inspection Services’ permit activity lookup. This is a great tool and could be used by people wanting to search a property prior to purchase or to research potential remodeling/repair contractors, just do a search for a local builder to see what other jobs they’ve completed. In my case the remodel must have happened too far back to be in the system so I headed to City Hall to see if they had any hard copies.  Staff there were happy to show me the back files and we found all the records on microfiche! From these I determined that the original building was done in 1955 (dated October 26th) and that the small addition (77 square feet) was from 1961 and estimated to cost $200 (hahahaha, even with inflation this is still only $1600 today or about $21 per square foot).

For your next house history hunt make sure to include the Housing & Inspection Services department!  Here’s a super detailed drawing plan for constructing a garage in 1961:


Bird names

by Jason Paulios on June 4th, 2015

As an avid birdwatcher my favorite reference questions obviously involve bird identification quandaries.  The other night a patron showed me a photo she’d taken on her smart phone of a group of large dark-colored birds in a field.  I don’t think she was prepared for me to scream “Turkey Vultures!” into her face…but when you show me bird photos that is what sometimes happens.  She had questions about where the name originated and it occurred to me that I wasn’t actually sure but was excited to look for references.  Her enthusiasm was not on the same level, more of a passing interest, so she thanked me and took off before I could overload her with vulture trivia.  My research found the following:

As to the name origins of Turkey Vulture, I found a book called Latin for Bird Lovers by Roger Lederer and Carol Burr which is a casual dictionary of genus and species names for birds.  Inside I found the genus Cathartes (pronounced ka-THAR-teez) defined as : “Greek, katharos, clean, pure, as in purifier or purger, as in Cathartes aura, the Turkey Vulture, which scavenges, thereby clearing away dead animals.”  The species name was also included, Aura (AW-ra), as in “Breeze, air” which would probably describe their habit of drifting along on thermal winds though this is not mentioned specifically in the book.

Another bird name book ICPL offers is 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells.  Here the author has the following to say about Turkey Vulture naming, “North American settlers, who gave them their common name, thought they looked a bit like turkeys [bald heads and dark bodies – my note] and soared like European buzzards.”

So there you have it mystery patron, Turkey Vultures just happen to look like turkeys.

B.Y.O.Book recommends…

by Jason Paulios on March 26th, 2015
B.Y.O.Book recommends… Cover Image

The B.Y.O.Book “Books In Bars” book club had our second of three winter meetups at Brix Cheese Shop & Wine Bar last Tuesday to discuss Jon Ronson’s The psychopath test : a journey through the madness industry.  Each session ends with us going around the room to announce what we’re currently reading and I thought it would make a great booklist to share with those that couldn’t attend.  There’s still time to register for the next meetup where we’ll be discussing Dept. of speculation by Jenny Offill, called one of the 10 Best Books of the Year – 2014 by the New York Times Book Review.


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  2009 Pulitzer Prize winner. At the edge of the continent, in the small town of Crosby, Maine, lives Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher who deplores the changes in her town and in the world at large but doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. Annie initiates an e-mail correspondence with Tucker Crowe, a reclusive Dylanish singer-songwriter, and a connection is forged between two lonely people who are looking for more out of what they’ve got.

The bastard’s tale: A Dame Frevisse medieval mystery by Margaret Frazer. In fifteenth-century England, Dame Frevisse reluctantly leaves the sanctuary of her nunnery for the intrigues, high politics, and treachery of the royal court as she becomes embroiled in a plot that could threaten the throne of England itself.

The lowland : a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra pursue vastly different lives–Udayan in rebellion-torn Calcutta, Subhash in a quiet corner of America–until a shattering tragedy compels Subhash to return to India, where he endeavors to heal family wounds.

The secret place by Tana French (audiobook version). Investigating a photograph of a boy whose murder was never solved, aspiring Murder Squad member Stephen Moran partners with detective Antoinette Conway to search for answers in the cliques and rivalries at a Dublin boarding school.

Bone in the throat by Anthony Bourdain. When up-and-coming chef Tommy Pagana settles for a less than glamorous stint at his uncle’s restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy, he unwittingly finds himself a partner in big-time crime.

A blink of the screen : collected shorter fiction by Terry Pratchett. A collection of short fiction spanning the author’s career includes pieces from his school years, his early writing jobs, and the successful Discworld series.

Longbourn by Jo Baker. A reimagining of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” from the perspectives of its below-stairs servants captures the drama of the Bennet household from the sideline viewpoint of Sarah, an orphaned housemaid.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Calliope’s friendship with a classmate and her sense of identity are compromised by the adolescent discovery that she is a hermaphrodite, a situation with roots in her grandparents’ desperate struggle for survival in the 1920s.

A spool of blue thread by Anne Tyler. The changing needs of aging parents impact a family gathering during which Abby Whitshank relates how her husband and she fell in love during the summer of 1959 and shared decades of marriage impacted by children and long-held secrets.

Leaving time : a novel by Jodi Picoult. Abandoned by a grief-stricken father and scientist mother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, thirteen-year-old Jenna Metcalf approaches a disgraced psychic and a jaded detective in the hopes of finding answers.

Get in trouble : stories by Kelly Link. A collection of short stories features tales of a young girl who plays caretaker to mysterious guests at the cottage behind her house and a former teen idol who becomes involved in a bizarre reality show.

The bone tree by Greg Iles. A follow-up to Natchez Burning finds Southern lawyer Penn Cage desperately struggling to protect his father from false charges and corrupt officers by confronting the puppet master behind the Double Eagles terrorist group.

Stoner by John Williams. William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known.

The bone seeker by M. J. McGrath. A former polar bear hunter and Inuit guide in the Canadian arctic investigates after finding one of her summer school students dead near Lake Turngaluk, in the third novel of the mystery series.

The buried giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. As the wars that have ravaged Britain fade into the past, Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, set out on a journey to find the son they have not seen in years, and are joined in their travels by a Saxon warrior, his orphaned charge, and a knight.


All joy and no fun : the paradox of modern parenthood by Jennifer Senior.  Drawing on a vast array of sources in history, sociology, economics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology, a journalist challenges basic beliefs about parenthood, while revealing the profound ways children deepen and add purpose to life.

Not that kind of girl : a young woman tells you what she’s “learned” by Lena Dunham. The creator and star of HBO’s “Girls” documents her coming-of-age in and out of the spotlight, recounting her experiences with everything from dieting and embarrassing sex to dirty old men and performing in less-than-ideal conditions.

Lean in : women, work, and the will to lead by Sheryl Sandberg. The Facebook CEO and “Fortune” top-ranked businesswoman shares provocative, anecdotal advice for women that urges them to take risks and seek new challenges in order to find work that they can love and engage in passionately.

Dead wake : the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. A chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania discusses the factors that led to the tragedy and the contributions of such figures as Woodrow Wilson, bookseller Charles Lauriat, and architect Theodate Pope Riddle.

Silver screen fiend : learning about life from an addiction to film by Patton Oswalt. Reveals the author’s addiction to film between 1995 and 1999, during which he absorbed classics and new releases three days a week and applied what he learned in these films to acting, writing, comedy, and relationships.

How to be alone : essays by Jonathan Franzen. The author presents his 1996 work, “The Harper’s Essay,” offering additional writings that consider a central theme of the erosion of civic life and private dignity and the increasing persistence of loneliness in postmodern America.

Undeniable : evolution and the science of creation by Bill Nye. Revealing the mechanics of evolutionary theory, the scientist, engineer, and inventor presents a compelling argument for the scientific unviability of creationism and insists that creationism’s place in the science classroom is harmful to the future of the greater world.

The Secret Place – Tana French

by Jason Paulios on January 7th, 2015
The Secret Place – Tana French Cover Image

Teenager Holly Mackey (daughter of a Detective featured in French’s previous detective novels) is living and studying at an all-girls boarding school outside of Dublin, Ireland. The administrator of the school posted a notice board where students can anonymously leave notes called, “the secret place”.  The novel opens with her having discovered a note saying, “I know who killed him.” She understands it refers to the unsolved murder of a student from the nearby all-boys school whose body was found on the grounds the previous year. She takes the note to the only cop she trusts, cold case Detective Stephen Moran. He wants a promotion to the murder squad and is savvy enough to know he can approach the newly partner-less, gruff Detective Antoinette Conway and hope to impress.

The story is told mostly from the Detective’s point of view with chapters interspersed following the back-story of Holly and her friends’ experiences at the school the prior year. The solve happens over the course of a day of intensive interviewing at the school; the Detectives’ frustration and desperation for a collar ends up creating a locked-room mystery vibe that can feel quite suffocating. Since most of the book is devoted to the testimony of independent teenagers (e.g. puberty, rebellion, in-fighting, and inherent distrust of adults) you soon find yourself suspecting everyone and wondering if these cops should just give up.

French’s books are always extremely detailed and, since you’ve the Detective’s point of view, you get the feeling that you’re meant to be taking good notes in order to solve this. There’s generally a foreboding feel, sometimes hinted as supernatural but often manifested as unease about every character’s motives. Her stories are dark and meticulously plotted, they lean towards police procedural rather than the more typical bestseller suspense.

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

by Jason Paulios on October 2nd, 2014
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell Cover Image

David Mitchell is my favorite writer and I was so excited for this book to arrive.  Like many of his earlier books (Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas) this is another novel broken up into novellas/chapters focusing on different characters that are interwoven to create a more nuanced tale. This changing point of view can be tricky because just as you find yourself settling in with a character it ends and you’re shuttled off a decade in the future and a different setting.  I thought it worked so well in Cloud Atlas, possibly because he brought us back to the characters through the second half of the book but probably more that it read like an audacious novel puzzle.  In The Bone Clocks I thought at least three of the stories either weren’t necessary or just lacked the payoff he meant them to have.

The story mostly follows a path around the life of Holly Sykes, beginning with her angsty teenage years living above a pub with her raucous family and ending in a all-too-believable post-climate change crash Ireland.  Her brother vanishes early-on and she finds out it is probably a supernatural kidnapping. She soon encounters various people that are sort of immortal, they are being reborn into new bodies but retain prior knowledge.  They are secretly battling another form of predatory immortals who have devised a way to harvest innocent souls in a special ancient church to grant extended life.

Despite my reservations about some of the chapters, Mitchell remains a master of language and character building.  There are many positive reviews out there for this novel (and a 2014 Man Booker Prize longlist nod) so it’s probably one to try if you’re a fan of Mitchell’s earlier books.  If you’re new to him, I would instead recommend the classic Cloud Atlas.

Scanning help

by Jason Paulios on June 21st, 2014

scanToday a patron needed to quickly scan his paper-based homework in order to turn it into his teacher electronically as a PDF.  We have a number of flat tabletop scanners for use with the public Internet PCs but his homework included drawings that were done in pencil.  Often you can change the DPI to their highest settings and it will pick up the lines but this time it just wasn’t working.

The patron came up with the idea of taking a photo of the homework but preferred a PDF format. I used my cell phone to download a free PDF scanner app called “PDF Document Scanner” (there are many others but this one was free and didn’t watermark the image).  I took scans of each of his pages, cropped out the background tabletop and compiled them into a multi-page PDF.  I emailed the files to him and he was able to open them on his iPhone to verify that they would work as submissions.



U.S. Congress voting records

by Jason Paulios on March 10th, 2014
Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Last week I received a call asking for the voting record for the recent nomination to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  The patron wanted to know which Senate Democrats had voted against Mr. Debo Adegbile’s nomination.

This vote was high profile enough that many newspapers such as The Washington Post answered her question, but I thought it best to go right to the source : U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 113th Congress – 2nd Session (2014).  Using the Senate’s votes summary page allows you to easily search through recent roll call votes with detailed summaries.  After selecting the vote number (in this case, 0048) you can view the vote question and result, number required for majority, and the count.  The count may be sorted in various ways, I sorted by vote position which allowed me to see who in the “NAYs” were Democrats.

I used this government tool to supply the names, but the Post article also helped me explain the rationale for some of the voters. This gave the patron a better account so she could write to the dissenting voters.

If searching for results for a House vote, the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives also has a Roll Call votes page though I don’t find their summaries to be as comprehensive or easy to sort through as the Senate version.