Best Books of 2016

After a year full of reading and a total of 55 books finished, I am so excited to finally be able to talk about my favorite books of the year. To switch things up a bit, I made a video to properly talk about why I loved all of these books so much.

Books Mentioned:

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Use These 3 Tips and Become a Library Power User

I absolutely adore libraries, and in the past few years I’ve been a member of four awesome libraries. But it wasn’t until recently that I started to realize all of the amazing services they offered. From digital tools like free streaming and music downloads to actual power tools and musical instruments, libraries around the country are getting creative with what they have available for patrons. Now that I have the 411 on all of this cool stuff, I’m using my library more than ever. Not every library will have the same services, but it is worth taking a look, you may be surprised. Here are my tips on how to get the most from your local library:

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  1. Holds, holds, holds. One of the keenest pleasures of going to the library for a book is browsing, unbothered through the stacks and stacks of books. But if you are anything like me, that takes time that you don’t always have. Rather than forgoing your trip, put your book on hold and it will be right at the front of the library when you need it, waiting just for you.

If your library has multiple branches, holds can also help you utilize more of the books they have available (as well as DVD’s and even CD’s in many places). If you search for a book in the library catalogue you can choose books from other branches and have them delivered to your library to pick up. How convenient is that?

Sometimes you hear about a popular title, and have to wait forever on a holds list to get your hands on it. But, if you know in advance that an author you love is coming out with a new book, or have heard buzz about a hot new release, you can usually put it on hold ahead of the release date in the catalogue and beat the rush. To the top of the list you go!

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  1. Check the website. This is the place where you can find what digital resources your library has to offer. Chances are, if you want to check out e-books, they will be available through services like Overdrive and 3M Cloud Library. In fact, 95% of American libraries now have e-books. Free services like Hoopla also allow you to stream movies, TV shows, and audiobooks. With the rise in popularity of audiobooks, more and more services are popping up to allow you to listen to books for free, wherever you like. Spending a few minutes browsing your library’s website will show you the many new ways you can experience you favorite stories.

Digital services don’t stop there though. Online magazine subscriptions, free, legal music downloads, and even Android apps are all possibilities. Right now I’m crushing on Freegal, a free music service from my library. It lets me download six songs a week, and has a great selection of new music and old favorites. For years my iPod has been filled with music that wasn’t always above reproof. And the sketchiness of my methods made me hesitant to update with the latest songs. But now my music library is full and happy again :).

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  1. Don’t limit yourself to one library. You may be thinking that this all sounds great, but there’s no way your library has any of these cool services. While I would encourage you to give your hard-working librarians a chance, you’re right that not every town has the same resources. However, I have found that libraries are increasingly teaming up to bring you the best stuff. Several libraries I have joined are part of an e-book collective with other area libraries, allowing more cities to use the system. Plus, you can often join a neighboring town’s library by being a part of the same county.

Beyond all of these great options, there is always the interlibrary loan system. It lets you check out hard to find materials from other libraries in a network that can reach across entire states. If you are lost as to where to find a book, try looking it up in WorldCat, and maybe it’s closer than you think.

 

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There is no one right way to use the library. If you still read only print books, or if you have gone totally digital, there are plenty of options for you to make the most of what your library offers. And while I hope you feel like you have learned a library hack or two, the best way to get the most out of your local library is to talk to our librarian. They are more than happy to help, and will be a wealth of knowledge.

Now it’s time to go forth and show libraries some love!

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Groundswell Review

When picking up a book about online trends and technologies, I always look at the date it was published. The rate at which things move on the web makes even five years enough time for a book to become dated. So I had doubts when I saw Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Yi and Josh Bernoff was published in 2008. Eight years is an eternity on the inter-web. But, the book had been recommended to me by a professor, so I took the chance.

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The groundswell the book is constantly referring to is the mass of people online who are using social technologies like blogs, reviews, and forums to talk about companies and gather their own information. They represent the growing power of customers and individuals. Since the book was written, this trend has grown. People are banding together online in ever increasing numbers to threaten institutional power. The groundswell has grown much in the same way that it was predicted in the book. That is the real power of the book, that despite the number of years since it was published, its information is still relevant and compelling.

I actually liked that it was not quite up to date. The references to MySpace and Digg helped to remind me that the technology we use is constantly changing, so don’t get too attached to any one platform. It made me focus in on the theories being presented. And it reminded me to take all current predictions with the prescribed grain of salt. No matter what anyone says, the future is never certain.

Presented in an entirely readable way, anyone can understand and put into practice the theories espoused in the Groundswell. Case studies and academic knowledge were summed up and explained in groundbreaking ideas like: “don’t be stupid.” A lot of their advice might seem somewhat common sense, but the case studies and presentation of each point were what made them so understandable.

The overall tone of the book was very positive. I think that is part of what makes it a great book, especially for beginners. The encouragement to branch out and affirmative examples can help push someone to try something new. And no one will read this and feel shamed for not knowing something. However, I read it as a tad over optimistic. I think it glosses over some of the backlash and criticism companies do and will receive. But that doesn’t make these technologies not worth trying. I assume that was the point Yi and Bernoff were driving home.

Unlined by solid theories, I would easily categorize this book as a business book before aligning it with the niche of just social media. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, you will still be familiar with the technology in this book. Things like product reviews and support forums online seem as integral a part of the web now as Google. But they do represent a change in the business landscape from twenty years ago.

In the end, this isn’t a book about the Internet or technology. It is about a new way of thinking. I found it helpful and interesting for sure. Definitely recommended reading for others interested in the Web 2.0 revolution and social media. Or if you find yourself being thrust in the middle of it and feeling lost, this is a good starting place. It manages to present a lot information without being too boring or technical. Clear, easy writing helps the nuggets of wisdom in Groundswell shine.

As I continue my business education in school and out, I hope to find other books as useful and readable.

 

Water Water Everywhere

This week, South Carolina was hit with major flooding. It was all over the national news. Luckily, the campus of my university was not hit too badly. There was very minimal water damage to any of the buildings and we had power most of the time. But we are sill experiencing difficulties with the water system.

Due to all of the flooding, we are under a boil water advisory. This means no drinking, no washing dishes, and general fear that our water is going to give everyone the plague if it isn’t properly sanitized. Before that we were without running water overnight. The university has been great, providing us with bottled water and portable toilets during this situation. But the interruption to my normal routine has really made me stop to think about the ways I use water.

IMG_20151007_155208water distribution in Columbia

Until I couldn’t just turn on the tap and have whatever temperature of clean water I wanted, I took water for granted. Sure, I appreciated being able to wash my hands and shower. But I never thought there would come a day where I was happy to see a port-a-potty. When your toilet won’t flush though, port-a-potties are a godsend.

port-a-pottyMy beautiful port-a-potty

After our water was turned back on, we sill have to boil it “vigorously” for a minute before it’s safe to use. This has translated into our apartment filling up with bowls full of boiled, stored water. What I’ve mainly been using the boiled water for is washing dishes. I use so much water washing dishes! Seeing it portioned out like that really drives home how much water I’ve been using and never thought about. It’s an eye-opening experience.

I got a tiny taste of not having clean, running water, and that was enough. I can’t even imagine living every day without it. But according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 750 million people around the world lack access to clean water. It’s time to change that. That’s why I decided to support water.org. For over 20 years they have found innovative ways to bring safe water and sanitation to communities around the world. They’re an awesome organization.

 The United Nations recently released their sustainable development goals for 2030.

One of them was to ensure clean water and sanitation for all people.

I’m incredibly thankful that the only thing I’ve had to put up with this week is boiling water. I know many places it is much worse. And I now have a new-found appreciation for the water I use and drink every day. I hope I can continue to act on the lessons I have learned this week as classes and normal life start back soon.

New Time Period Resolutions

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For long time I was skeptical of the whole “new year, new you” mentality, as I am sure some of you are. The calendar reading 2015 instead of 2014 does not have any real influence over whether or not I am actually going to exercise or read more or do any of the things I resolved to do. Eventually, however, my perspective was changed. Back in high school, while working on my Girl Scout Gold Award, I was required to set a boatload of goals, and all of these goals had to follow the well-known SMART format. Attributed to Peter Drucker and George Doran, SMART stands for:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Results-based

Time-bound

Being forced to practice making and achieving goals following this framework entirely changed my perspective on resolutions. I had to ask myself a lot of questions and analyze each goal. How would I measure my progress? What would my results be? By when did I want to accomplish it? For example, instead of resolving to read more, I might say that I want to read 10 books from authors not from the US by the time school gets out for summer. That narrows in on what I really want, to expand my horizons, while giving myself a number and a time frame.

Now that my goals were better and less hazy, I could see why everyone was scrambling to make resolutions each New Year. For me, at least, I had a little time off of my busy schedule to think, and was about to start a brand new semester. In fact, I no longer limit my resolutions to just one set at New Years. Every semester I try to write out a list of goals for myself, and even on breaks I make a few resolutions. I am a total resolution convert. I feel like they help keep me on track and push me to keep challenging myself. What about you? Do you make resolutions at New Years or throughout the year?

Taste of Atlanta

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taste of atlantaThis weekend was part of my fall break, so I had some days off of school. That alone was awesome, but I also got to go to Atlanta to visit my friend Sarah. While I was there, she got us tickets to Taste of Atlanta, a big food festival happening near Georgia Tech. With your admission you got ten coupons that could be traded for food samples at booths set up by local restaurants. Most samples were about appetizer sized, and cost between one and three coupons. The food was all really tasty. We got to try Woody’s cheesesteak, Table at Ten’s key lime pie, Gyro Bros, and Don Antonio’s pizza with sausage and pistachio. Some booths, like Keurig and Chipotle, also had free samples. Yelp was there, handing out free tote bags for checking in. The whole of Tech Square was full of delicious food and free stuff. I was ecstatic. My favorite booth, to no one’s surprise, was Morelli’s Ice Cream. After trying their cream cheese guava swirl, I actually went back to try some pumpkin pie ice cream. Their ice cream was just so good. Throughout the day, different tents around the festival had showcases, competitions, and demonstrations. We went around dinnertime on Saturday, so most of those were finished, and some of the restaurant booths were actually closing up. It made for a great dinner, but I would suggest going earlier, maybe around lunch, to get even more variety. Either way, come hungry. Big thanks to Sarah for taking me!

State Fair

SC State FairGrowing up, I loved the Texas State Fair. I went almost every fall with my parents or friends. Here in Columbia, I also have the opportunity to go to the State Fair every fall, but the South Carolina fair isn’t quite the same. The Texas State Fair is an all-day, leave you exhausted kind of event, while the South Carolina State Fair is more of a nice evening or afternoon outing. They are both a lot of fun, however.

Thursday evening was College Night at the fair, so admission was free. I met a group of friends there, and we spent the evening wandering around. My favorite part is always the smelly barnyard animals. The South Carolina fair has barns full of cows and pigs that are sweet and not man-crushingly huge, plus a whole room full of different kinds of rabbits, and a petting zoo. There were baby piglets this year, and three day old ducklings. They were just too cute. The fair also had exhibit halls displaying the best jams, handicrafts, cakes, biscuits, pumpkins, and art in the state. And, most importantly, they had fried food. In addition to the regular funnel cakes and corn dogs, there is a stand that sells crazy burgers with doughnuts or ramen, and another with fried candy. My personal favorite is the fried Reese’s, ooey gooey with melted chocolate, and totally indulgent.10329941_10152780590953748_8897311082277816915_o sc-state-fair-pig-race

So, while Big Tex might not be there to greet you, the South Carolina State Fair still offers that cozy, fall feeling of neon lights, and something battered and fried, and it is almost like being home.