The HistoryMakers – Your New Favorite Digital Archive

I have a confession: I love history. As often as some think about the Roman Empire, I’m thinking about my favorite topic of historical research: baseball. I’m always trying to learn something new, something interesting, something that shapes my understanding of the people involved in baseball history. I want to know what it was like to be there. You know, the kind of history you only get firsthand from someone who was there. Which is how I’ve already invested a few hours exploring the newest resource offered to the library patrons of Allegheny County: The History Makers, the Digital Repository for the Black Experience.

The HistoryMakers is a non-profit organization that created their digital archive in order to document and preserve the history of African Americans — their lives in their own words. The process began in 2000, which means they were able to interview a lot of African Americans who had experienced life in 20th century United States and beyond. There are tons of interviews with videos, photos, and text transcripts. Some faces you’ll recognize, like Barack Obama, who was interviewed in 2001 when he was still working his earlier gig as a U.S. senator.

And if you’re ready to feel old, they feature a picture of him prior to the post-Presidency grey hair.

The exciting thing is, many of the faces and stories in this digital archive will be new to you, even if you have special historical interests! Let’s take a quick deep dive to illustrate my point. Where are my baseball historians at? …I said where are my-

Ah, geez. Someone shoved you into a locker again.

Everyone knows Hank Aaron, right? With a career WAR of 143.1, he’s easily in the conversation for the greatest baseball player of all time. And you may also impress your peers by name dropping Ernie Banks. In his biography section on The HistoryMakers, they contextualize his impressive prime from 1955 to 1960 with the fact that he: “…hit more homers than anyone in the majors, including Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, and he finished his career with five seasons of forty or more home runs. In 1959 he became the first player in National League history to win consecutive Most Valuable Player trophies, a year removed from setting an NL record for homers by a shortstop with forty-seven.” Here’s a snippet of Ernie Banks’ Baseball Reference page for all my stats nerds out there:

That 1958 stat-line is what we stats nerds like to call “a pretty big deal”.

As cool as it is to dissect Ernie Banks’ career numbers on Baseball Reference, it misses the key element that is provided by The HistoryMakers — his story. And we aren’t learning about him from some dramatized biopic or secondhand documentary. Ernie Banks himself is telling us about his life on and off the field.

But your historical knowledge of baseball players of that era is incomplete without Dennis Biddle, who may not have his own Baseball Reference page, but holds the record as the youngest person to play in the Negro Leagues when he was just 17 years old. He got picked up by the Chicago Cubs in 1955 (for historical reference, only 47 years into their 108 year World Series drought), but unfortunately broke his ankle on the first day of spring training and never got to play in the MLB. So, he went back to school and became a social worker, positively impacting the lives of countless underprivileged youth and juvenile offenders. In 1996, he founded Yesterday’s Negro Leagues Baseball Players LLC which preserves the history of African American baseball players pre-integration.

The unique value of this resource is that it provides a plethora of primary source information directly from African Americans — entire life stories that we wouldn’t even have without The HistoryMakers.

What’s great is that my example doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. There is so much more to explore on these individuals and many others on The HistoryMakers. All you need is your Allegheny County Library card.

Derek – South Park Township Library

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Tracking Your Reading

After being asked for book recommendations for the umpteenth time, I finally decided to track my reading all of last year and into this year. Not only do I have access to easy recommendations, but also a genuine sense of accomplishment comes over you towards the end of the year. You can also track daily reading, set goals, and many other options.

You can customize how much time you put into a reading app (I like to log when I read and do ratings at the end!), but there is also a tremendous amount of options for apps and websites to use. Here are a couple I can vouch for, The StoryGraph being my tracker-of-choice.

Option 1 (The Obvious One): Goodreads

Love it or hate it, Goodreads is an integral part of any librarian’s life. Patrons know it, and whether we like it or not, often swear by it (I once had a patron insist I look up the books they were checking out on Goodreads—if it was under 4 stars, back to the stacks with it). Goodreads is free, it is comprehensive, and it has an incredibly active reviewing community. You can attach both your Amazon account and your Libby account to Goodreads to make tracking even easier. Goodreads also offers recommendations and reading stats, along with helpful widgets to add to your email signature, and many more features I am sure I am unaware of.

Goodreads is the vanilla with sprinkles of reading trackers. Well-known and reliable.

Option 2 (The One for Data-Lovers): The StoryGraph (SG)

To be honest, I saw someone who has been a book nerd and writer for their whole lives using SG, and I checked it out. I’ve been hooked ever since. SG is attractive to me because of two things: the pointed questions in a review instead of just a blank space for a paragraph, and the data tracking. For comparison, here’s what Goodreads asks when you review a book:

 Compare this with what SG asks:

The guided reviews are great, but the real star is the content warnings. Eventually, I am sure every service will have some version of this, but SG is leading the way. Additionally, SG focuses on stats throughout your yearly reading journey—tracking what moods you favor, the pace of books, how large they are, genres, and more. That said, there is a paid version of SG that I am wholly unfamiliar with, as I get everything I need from the free version. Here’s an example of a year-end data set:

Other options:

These are the only two I am intimately familiar with, but there are many options out there (including good old-fashioned pen-and-paper tracking/journaling!). Here is a site with a list of helpful suggestions:

What programs/websites/apps do you use? Any tips/tricks you’d like to share? Drop me a line at:

Happy tracking!

Cameron R.S. Smith | Cooper-Siegel Community Library

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New Language Learning Resource

Earlier this year, we shared exciting new databases from the PA PowerLibrary. Have you tried any of the new resources?

We have! And we want to make sure everyone knows about Transparent Language Online! This online learning tool offers courses on over 120+ languages, including multiple dialects. Work through units & lessons to gain knowledge about the language, then practice using reading, speaking, listening & writing techniques.

Categories focus on the essentials, grammar, vocabulary, and languages for business & travel. Courses vary in levels from basic to intermediate and advanced fluency.

Patrons can utilize Transparent Language Online on its own or pair it with the library’s other language resource, Mango Languages.

Create an account to track your progress, otherwise, continue in guest mode. Either way, you still get full-access to all of the helpful content.

Get started honing your language learning skills today!

Richelle at Sewickley Public Library

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Need LEGIT legal forms? Don’t just “Google” it!

We’ve probably all had that reference interview that started with something simple like needing help printing, when what was REALLY needed was much more than that: a résumé re-write, mini-lesson in MS Office, or trickiest of all – legal advice. That is something we can’t dispense and most of us are not equipped to do so! However, what we CAN do is simplest of all – point to Gale Legal Forms.

Last week I had a patron very frustrated with the fact that she was told she needed a specific form, but “Googling” it just let to bad places, either non-legit or costly or both. She was having trouble accessing one such website to print out the form (which was going to cost her $30 to download). Luckily she asked for help, because I was able to help her take a U-turn out of that particular dark alley and send her straight to Gale for free, legit, and accurate access to the very form she needed.

This tax season (and really all year round), we should have this resource in our back pocket ready to pull out instead of saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you, I’m not a lawyer.” As a notary, I often have to say that myself, but I can at least add Gale Legal Forms as a legitimate place to start, with hopefully more ease of use and definitely fewer dark alleys than Google Country. And of course it’s always free when brought to you by your friendly neighborhood library!

Legal Forms – eResources for Allegheny County Public Libraries (

– Heather Auman, Western Allegheny Community Library

Continue ReadingNeed LEGIT legal forms? Don’t just “Google” it!