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Iowa House and Senate Bill Tracking

by Brian Visser on March 5th, 2015

billThere have been some big issues discussed recently by the Iowa House and Senate including when schools must start or the recent gas tax increase.  The Iowa Legislature page is a great tool to help follow a bill’s progress.  If you know the bill’s number, such as HF13 for the school start date bill, just enter it into the “Bills Quick Search” on the right side.  You’ll be shown the bill in its entirety.  You can click on “Current Bill History” on the left, and it will tell you when the bill was introduced or if it has passed.  There’s also a link on the left to track versions of the bill.

It’s very possible that you won’t know the bill’s number.  If that’s the case, you can use the “Bill Keyword Quick Search.”  I did a search for “school” and HF13 was the sixth result.  But searching that way can be frustrating.  To take the guess work out of it, consider searching the Des Moines Register (you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to DMR).  They do excellent statehouse reporting and often mention the bill number in their articles.

Want to contact your state representative or senator about a bill?  We have a handy page with that information right here.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

by Beth Fisher on February 27th, 2015

Even though you wouldn’t know it by looking outside Spring really is on the way.  Which means many of us have started thinking and dreaming about our gardens.

As most people know, there are two baisc types of garen plants:  annuals and perennials.  Annuals live fast and die pretty.  They last for only one growing season, and you have to replant them again next year.  Perennials are the mainstays in the garden. They come back year after year.  Many don’t hit their prime for two or three years, making year-round care of the plant important.   One of the most important things to consider before purchasing a perennial for your garden is what its hardiness zone rating is, to know if it will survive the winter in your garden.

The US Dept. of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map is now the standard device used to label plants in the US. zone map

It represents the average annual minimum temperatures in 11 zones which vary in ten-degree differences.  Each main zone is further divided into two sections, A and B, based on 5-degree differences.   The map is now interactive.   You can enter your zip code or state and it will tell you which zone you are in.  You can also click on a state on the map and a popup map will appear showing the zones as well as county lines, major cities and rivers.    Click here to try it out.

A bit of history:

The earliest versions of national hardiness maps were developed in the 1920′s and 1930′s by a variety of groups, most notably the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.  The first USDA Hardiness Zone map was published in 1960 and updated in 1965.  Because it used a different temperature scale for its divisions than the Arnold Arboretum map, it often led to confusion for gardeners rather than clarity.  The USDA map would not be updated again until 1990 when it underwent a huge overhaul, using data collected between 1974 and 1986.  Additional zones were added to include Canada and Northern Mexico as well as Alaska and Hawaii.  Th 1990 map standardized its division s into the well-known 10 and 5 degree division, and became the default hardiness zone map in the US.

There is one big drawback to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map however, it deals with only the average minimum temperatures.  It does not take into account summer weather at all.  Heat, humidity and rainfall are also just as important to the survival of a garden plant, and all that information is found on plant tags as well.   But where can you find maps that give you this  information?

One of the best sources of this type of information is the PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University.   In fact, the USDA used much of their winter data in the most recent overhaul of the Hardiness Zone Map.     From their web site:  “The PRISM Climate Group gathers climate observations from a wide range of monitoring networks, applies sophisticated quality control measures, and develops spatial climate datasets to reveal short- and long-term climate patterns.”

“PRISMs homepage can be found here.    From this page you can find lots of neat informational maps.PRISM_ppt_30yr_normal_4kmM2_annual

  • The link to 30 Year Normals takes you to a map that compiles the data from 1981-2010, and you can adjust it to see precipitation or temperature and you adjust by month.
  • The link to Gallery of State Maps takes you to a US map that you can then click on state by state to see the average annual precipitation (1981-2010) by state.

Combining information from The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and the PRISM maps, can give you a lot of information about where you live and the types of plants the will probably work best in your area.    Unless you are dealing with a microclimate.  But that’s another topic for another blog post.   Happy Gardening!

State Data Center of Iowa

by Anne Mangano on February 26th, 2015

Interested in finding historical population statistics for Iowa? Although the US Census Bureau’s website has a lot of great information, it isn’t the easiest to navigate and its historical data is few and far between, particularly in specifics. If you need a quick fact, you might wish to contact the State Data Center, which is part of the State Library of Iowa. The State Data Center collects information from the US Census, other federal agencies, and Iowa’s state agencies to provide population, housing, business, and government statistics. They have a number of reports on their website, including data profiles for the current year. Can’t find what you are looking for? Contacting them is significantly faster than looking through the Census’s website.

You can contact the State Data Center Monday through Friday 8-4:30:

By phone: 800-24iowa population8-4483

Email: census@lib.state.ia.us

Or chat through their website here.

 

 

Now with twice the searching power!

by Todd Brown on February 5th, 2015

Did you know that you can search for articles directly from the catalog, without retyping your search into a separate database?

From the catalog’s homepage, http://alec.icpl.org, make sure you are using the default “Catalog Pro” tab. Type in your search and press Enter.

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The search results screen will display the first three results for materials in our collection which you can check out. Directly below them is a section labeled “Top results for articles:”. This will display the top 3 articles matching your search terms. Depending on which formats the articles are available, there will be buttons labeled “PDF” and “Full Text”.

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If you are here in the Library you will be taken directly to the article. If you are not in the Library you will be asked to log in with your Library card number and the password that you created for your card, then you will be taken to the article. If you do not have a password or cannot remember what yours is, you can fix that on this page, http://www.icpl.org/cards/password.

 

If those three articles are not enough, you can view more results in a couple of different ways. One way is by clicking on the link under the third article.

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Another way is to click on the “Articles” tab beneath the search box and next to the “Catalog” tab.

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Once you are viewing the Articles tab, there are a variety of ways that you can narrow your search. On the left side of the screen you can narrow your results to magazines, newspapers or books by choosing the appropriate database. This is also where you can also narrow your search by subject, title and place.

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By using this tool you will be able to locate articles much faster and without having to leave the catalog.

Happy Searching!

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Tax Booklets

by Candice Smith on February 3rd, 2015
The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Tax Booklets Cover Image

It was a dark and stormy night…well, I don’t actually recall the weather, but I do remember my surprise when I found out that the IRS had drastically cut the types of tax forms they would supply the Library with through their form outlet program . We’ve been having access to fewer forms for the last several years now, but this year we were informed that, in addition to receiving only the 1040, 1040 A and 1040 EZ forms, we would not be able to get any instruction booklets. As many patrons have pointed out to me upon hearing this, not having easy access to the instructions makes it awfully hard to fill out those forms the IRS is so eager to get. I know. We are with you on that.

The Library can help in a couple ways.

Federal forms and state forms–and the instructions–are all available on the internet. We can print out forms you need, or we can provide you with the internet access and printer to do so yourself. Prints are 10 cents a page. The booklets are longer than forms, and you might not want to print them; instead, you can bring them up on a computer and read them there if you like.

We also have some general tax guides that might be of use to you: JK Lasser’s Your Income Tax and the Ernst & Young Tax GuideThere are copies that you can check out, and we also keep a copy in the Reference area on the second floor.

If you need assistance getting to the forms and booklets you need, stop at the Info Desk on the second floor, or give us a call at 356-5200. We will try and help you get the info you need, in the least taxing way possible.

 

Folklore, old wives’ tales, sayings and adages – do the facts support them?

by Maeve Clark on January 20th, 2015

Are there truths behind the folklore, proverbs and phrases that many of us hear growing up?  You know what I mean, like the woolly or fuzzy bear caterpillar, and if its black stripes predict it will be a colder winter than most.  As for the woolly bear, it is not the best prognosticator of the severity of the winter.  The woolly bear’s coloring, at least according to a post on the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office’s website, depends upon a number of variables. “The woolly bear caterpillar’s coloring is based on how long caterpillar has been feeding, its age, and species.  The better the growing season is the bigger it will grow.  This results in narrower red-orange bands in its middle.  Thus, the width of the banding is an indicator of the current or past season’s growth rather than an indicator of the severity of the upcoming winter.  Also, the coloring indicates the age of the woolly bear caterpillar.”

NYT 1.26.1913Many of the adages have to do with predicting the weather or some type of weather-based observation.  An expression I heard for the first time over the holidays was a green Christmas makes a fat churchyard.  I poked around on the Internet to find out just what it meant and to see if I could trace it back in time.  The most common reading of the phrase is that cold weather brings about fewer deaths.  The reasoning behind this was that cold weather killed off the germs or stalled disease that was more rampant in warm weather.  Or perhaps it was in warmer weather more folk circulated and came into contact with each other, thus spreading disease.  Either way, the cold, they thought, kept germs at bay and people at home.  Well, it turns out that cold weather or warm weather didn’t really have that much to do with the death rate at the holidays.  In fact as far back as 1913 The New York Times ran a piece disputing these nugget of weather lore based on a report from medical officers in London where a warm winter had not made for more deaths but fewer. The farthest back I could trace the adage was as an Irish seanfhocal, Nollag, ghlas, reilig mheith.

The library has a number of books of phrases and sayings and even a title devoted just to weather folklore,  Weather wisdom : being an illustrated practical volume wherein is contained unique compilation and analysis of the facts and folklore of natural weather prediction  by Albert Lee.  Are there old wives’ tales or adages that you use, weather-based or not?  And if there are, do any of them hold true? Please feel free to share them.

 

Who is in jail?

by Tom Jordan on January 14th, 2015

This is not something I ask myself often.  But when I do, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department has a ready answer.  The County’s website is here: http://www.johnson-county.com/.  On that page, there is a Jail Inmate Roster link on the left side of the page.  If you’d like to see Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek’s smiling face before looking at the roster (or if you just want more information on the Sheriff’s Department), then select Sheriff from the Department dropdown menu.  There’s a Jail Inmate Roster link there too.

Jail Roster

 

After a disclaimer page (presumed innocent until proven guilty), then you have the roster.  There’s quite a bit of information there: name, date booked, age, location of the inmate, the charge, bond amount, and a photo.  Right now, Johnson County has 116 inmates.  58 are housed here in Johnson County, 57 are in Muscatine County, and one is in Linn County.

 

 

Winter Weather Driving Help

by Maeve Clark on January 5th, 2015

Well, it finally happened – winIowa DOT snowplowter has arrived and with it snow and bone-chilling cold.  We are asked about where to find out about road conditions and the best source for state and interstate highways is the Iowa Department of Transportation, (Iowa DOT).  The Iowa DOT has a number of resources to make your trip as safe as possible.  If  you link to the Winter Weather Driving Help page you can find out how to connect to the 511 road conditions site.  The Iowa 511 site gives updates on current road conditions including a Track a Plow feature.  Track a Plow shows the deployment and locations of snowplows and what type of snow or ice retardant, liquid or solid, the plow is using, as well as the road conditions including any closures.

There is also an Iowa 511 On the Go option that lets users download a smartphone app for either the iPhone or Android devices.  The  Iowa 511 app provides statewide real-time traffic information for interstates, U.S. routes and state highways in Iowa. It does not include information for county roads or city streets. Other available information includes:
• A zoom-enabled map with traffic event icons that can be selected.
• Real-time updates on winter road conditions, traffic incidents, road work, construction, and road closures.
• Current traffic speeds and closed-circuit television (CCTV) traffic camera images in select cities (Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Iowa City, Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Waterloo) and across the state.
• Electronic roadway sign messages.
• Highway rest area locations.

If you don’t have Internet access or a smartphone, you can still find out road condition information from the Iowa DOT by calling 511 or 800-288-1047.

Tracking Santa

by Heidi Lauritzen on December 24th, 2014

You can track Santa’s progress to North America by checking out NORAD’s Santa Tracker.  To find out where Santa is right now, go to noradsanta.org.

NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been tracking Santa’s journey since 1955.  There’s a wonderful interview from NPR with the adult children of Col. Harry Shoup of the Continental Air Defense Command (now called NORAD), who took the first call from a child who had dialed a misprinted phone number to talk to Santa.

If you go to noradsanta.org, you will see a 3D presentation of Santa and his sleigh flying over the countryside below.  If you do not have a very fast internet connection, you can make an easy switch to a 2D presentation, which shows the places he has already been and where Santa is headed next.  As I write this, Santa is over western Africa…..and only hours away from Iowa.

Top 5 Reasons I Use E-Books and E-Audiobooks

by Jennifer Eilers on December 15th, 2014

5. There are loads of books to choose from.

The library’s e-book and e-audiobook collection has over 10,000 books. So whether you are in the mood for something like Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch or even a classic like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, we’ve got it.

4. I never have to remember to return my books. EVER.

Even though I work at the library, I still rack up a considerable amount of fines on my card so I really appreciate that Overdrive automatically returns my books when they are due.

3. I can read or listen to a book without lugging it around.

As long as I have my phone, I can read or listen to a book. Once I’ve downloaded a book, I don’t even need an internet connection to read. This comes in particularly handy when I’m traveling long distances either in the car or on a plane.

2. The library is never closed.

As long as I have my library card and my password, I can check out a book. Whether I’m looking for something to read right before bed at 10:30 p.m. or listen to during that 6:00 a.m. workout, I can open the Overdrive app and generally find something.

1. I always have someone to read to me before bed.

On most smartphones or tablets you can set a sleep function. This means I can play my e-audiobook before bed and it will automatically turn off after a set period of time. I can doze off listening to my book knowing the next time I go to listen Overdrive will pick up at the place when the timer went off. (It’s also easy to go back a little ways in a chapter if you missed something while nodding off.)

Stop by during one of our Tech Help times: Mondays and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Tuesdays 12 p.m.-4 p.m.  or Thursday from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. for Senior Tech Help. Any one of our technology people can get you started with Overdrive on your mobile device!




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