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Help School and Classroom Libraries Recover from the Northern California Fires

Be part of Project Cicero Bay Area!  The Mechanics' Institute Library is a proud participant in Project Cicero, and we need your help! Please donate new or gently used children’s and young adult books at the Library 2nd and 3rd floor service desks from Monday, March 5 through Thursday, March 8. (No textbooks, adult books or out of date nonfiction/reference books.) For more information please visit the Project Cicero (http://www.projectcicerobayarea.org/) website.


Project Cicero is a volunteer-run, annual children’s book drive designed to create and supplement classroom libraries in under-resourced Bay Area and public schools and this year is being expanded to benefit fire ravaged schools up north.

On March 10, hundreds of Bay Area and Northern California public school teachers will come to a San Francisco location overflowing with children’s and young adult books donated to Project Cicero during this annual book drive. Make a difference!

Posted on Feb. 22, 2018 by Deborah Hunt

Free Online Genealogy Records by Location – Good Places to Search First or When You Hit a Dead End

My family has only been in the United States for 3 generations and I’ve been able to find a lot of information on them in U.S. census records, county vital statistics and other records. However, when it comes to going back to records in Italy, I often am challenged finding records that will provide birth, marriage and death records due to the flowery writing of the 19th century, records that were destroyed in WWII, or other issues.

Online Genealogy Records by Location is a free and easily accessible treasure trove of records both in the U.S. and worldwide.  Each country page has links to search tips, strategies, record types, maps and local research resources in addition to military records, vital records and so much more. I can see I’m going to be spending a lot of time on the Italy page and perusing its links.

Want to learn more? I’ll be teaching about this resource and others, focusing on our Ancestry Library database (free to Mechanics’ Institute members) on Thursday, January 25, from 6-7 p.m. Please register here:  “Grow Your Family Tree” and join MI members and me as we explore how to use these resources to add branches to your family tree.

Posted on Jan. 2, 2018 by Deborah Hunt

What Has 5238 eAudiobooks and 33 eMagazines and is Free to Mechanics’ Institute Members?

It’s RBDigital’s elibrary of resources that you can take anywhere you take your electronic device.

Whether you enjoy good mystery novels, NY Times bestsellers, biographies or other genres, RBDigital’s eAudiobook collection is for you. You can search by title, genre (African American Interest to Women’s Fiction), create a wish list, see a history of what you’ve listened to, renew through the app and more. Many titles have a sample audio preview you can listen to. You can also place a hold on a book that is checked out. An excellent 9 minute video tutorial is here: https://milibraryca.rbdigital.com/#/help/tutorial

Don’t have time to pick up a print magazine or carry one around, but would like to have a digital one available on the go? Whether your interests lean toward Vegetarian Today or Smithsonian or Kiplinger’s, we’ve got you covered. Your MI membership includes access to 33 digital magazines that you can easily download to your electronic device and read when and where it’s convenient for you. No more due dates to worry about! You can also opt in to receive an email when the newest issue of a magazine is available. Need more information? Go to https://www.milibrary.org/downloads/emagazines-help-guide

To access these resources, download the iOS, Android or Kindle app, create a free account and download what you’d like to listen to or read. (As of June 27th, the RBdigital app replaced the OneClickdigital app for eAudiobooks and the Zinio for Libraries app for eMagazines. You can now read eAudiobooks and eMagazines in a single app, the RBdigital app.)

Remember, our professional librarians are here to help you get the most out of the Mechanics’ Institute resources, digital or print. Just call us at 415-393-0102, email us at [email protected] or stop by the Reference Desk on the 3rd floor of the Library, Monday-Saturday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Posted on Jul. 31, 2017 by Deborah Hunt

Project Cicero Book Drive 2017

Be part of Project Cicero Bay Area!  The Mechanics' Institute Library is a proud participant in Project Cicero, and we need your help! Please donate new or gently used children’s and young adult books at the Library 2nd and 3rd floor service desks from Monday, March 13 through Thursday, March 16. [No textbooks, adult books or out of date nonfiction/reference books.] For more information please visit the Project Cicero website. Every donation helps this worthy and literary cause.

Project Cicero is a volunteer-run, annual children’s book drive designed to create and supplement classroom libraries in under-resourced Bay Area public schools. Project Cicero Bay Area completed its inaugural year in 2015. Through the help of families and the public at participating donor locations and student volunteers in the past two years' book drives, nearly 50,000 gently used books were collected and distributed to hundreds of  teachers and other educators in the Bay Area’s most under-served public schools. Through the book drive, close to 20,000 students gained access to new reading material.

On March 18, hundreds of Bay Area public school teachers will spend part of their weekend cultivating their classroom library collections. These dedicated teachers will come to a San Francisco location overflowing with children’s and young adult books donated to Project Cicero during this annual book drive.

Posted on Mar. 9, 2017 by Deborah Hunt

Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff

In this age of information overload, the Mechanics’ Institute does much more than just accumulate and lend books and other materials. We support members as they navigate the sea of sources both entertaining and informative. As busy MI members, who has time to sift for the nuggets in a deluge of content, whether it’s the “Best 100 Books of 2016” or 1 million hits from a Google search?

As a community of Mechanics’ Institute members, conversations and shared interests collectively guide us to assemble resources, services and programming that connect us to one another and with what matters in our civic, social, and personal lives.

Your membership already gets you access to amazing resources in many formats, events and an outstanding chess program, but we enjoy our conversations before and after programs, chatting when you stop by the Library, and purchase suggestions you submit. We welcome the opportunity to get a sense of what interests and excites you. In short, we want to be part of your quest to stay focused, creative, and informed in a landscape where information sources and media outlets are climbing all over each other and shouting for your precious attention.

Looking forward to these conversations!

Posted on Jan. 17, 2017 by Deborah Hunt

Welcoming Mechanics’ Institutes and Independent Libraries from Around the World

In November, the Library hosted “Reinvention: Thriving in the 21st Century”, the fourth in a series of international conferences for leaders of mechanics' institutes and independent libraries. We hosted colleagues from Wales, England, Australia, Canada and the United States.  Three keynoters provided inspiration and future thinking presentations:

  • "Bringing Our Libraries Digital" by Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and Founder, Internet Archive
  • “The Art of Relevance” by Nina Simon, Executive Director, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
  • “The Reinvention Recipe: One Part Desperation. One Part Aggravation. One Part Decimation. One Part Liberation” by Lee Rainie, Director, Internet, Science and Technology Research, Pew Research Center

The conference's speakers presented on topics of relevance, digitization, disaster planning, fundraising and innovation with the aim of helping these organizations effectively plan for the future. On the heels of the Reinvention conference, the Library hosted the annual meeting of the American Membership Libraries Group, of which the Mechanics’ Institute is a member.

It was wonderful to meet in person these colleagues who understand the challenges and sustainability of our historic institutions and buildings. We learned a lot, made new connections and look forward to sharing strategies for success and reinvention going forward.

Posted on Nov. 19, 2016 by Deborah Hunt

Adding Branches to Your Family Tree: How to Read/Research Non-English Genealogical Records

As the Mechanics’ Institute Ancestry.com instructor, I am often asked how to search and read genealogical records that are in our ancestors’ native tongue. Most of us do not speak or read the language of our ancestors so it’s a challenge. My own ancestors are Italian. I did not know how to translate terms such as birth, death, etc. until I found a few wonderful resources that make it very easy.

The Learning Center at familysearch.org has hundreds of free online courses for countries ranging from Argentina to Wales at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. Subjects covered range from birth, marriage and death records to town records. Formats include audio, interactive slides and videos. Languages range from Chinese to Swedish.

Print resources include Finding Records of Your Ancestors available for $4.50 each for:

  • African American
  • Denmark
  • England
  • Finland
  • France
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Norway
  • Sweden

Available from store.lds.org. These booklets contain rich content telling you which types of records are available to search, detailed maps of regions/provinces of a country, words to use, etc.

Another valuable source is the free online (and in person) resources from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The Family History Research Wiki has hundreds of resources on countries from around the world that will lead you to rich resources to flesh out your family tree. 

Posted on Oct. 6, 2016 by Deborah Hunt

Homebound? The Mechanics’ Institute Will Send Library Materials To You

Have you found yourself facing surgery or long term illness? Has a disability left you homebound and unable to come into the library? Mechanics’ Institute Library has a program that allows us to mail you books, audiobooks and magazines.

The program is called Outreach for the Homebound and is limited to homebound members who are no longer able to visit the Library due to illness, injury or disability or who are caring for an ill, injured or disabled family member.

To enroll in Outreach, complete the simple form and pay a one-time $25.00 registration fee.  Materials are mailed free of charge to members through a special service offered by the U.S. Postal Service. You must supply a short letter signed by your doctor, health care provider, or nurse certifying the condition that makes it necessary for you to receive library materials by mail.

Library materials are mailed to you for a six-week checkout period. You may choose to borrow books, magazines or audiobooks. DVDs and music CDs, because of their fragile nature, are not included in the program.

Simply sign up using our online form or contact Donna Clark at 415.393.0102 and we will have you on your way to home delivered library materials in no time at all!

Posted on Jul. 27, 2016 by Deborah Hunt

Backpackers, Surfers and Warriors Fans

In my previous post, I sang the praises of our amazing members and promised to share about our equally amazing staff. Mechanics’ Institute Library staff are a varied lot (hence the title of this blog post) from our eight professional librarians with Masters Degrees to our library assistants and wonderful volunteers. Although we come from different backgrounds and countries, we all have the same goal to provide stellar service to Mechanics’ members, partners, researchers and those taking exams through our proctoring service.

At our Library public service desks you are guaranteed someone to help you with research, using our resources (print and digital), troubleshooting computer issues, and much more. Did you know our eight professional librarians are trained to take you beyond Google? We have expertise in many areas from finance to family history and are here to work with you. Just ask --- in person, via phone (415-393-0102) or email ([email protected]).

I love coming to work each day – our members, staff and volunteers keep me on my toes, enrich my life and inspire with the work they do.

Posted on Jun. 28, 2016 by Deborah Hunt

The Pulitzer Prize and String Theory

I love coming to work each day! Mechanics’ Institute members continually impress me with their broad interests, lively pursuits and their influence for good.

When I came to work here, little did I know that I’d rub shoulders with T.J. Stiles, a member who just won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History, or with artists, writers, world travelers, start-up gurus, and a member of the knitting group known as String Theory! We also have many military veterans, and I honor them as I hear their stories.

I have had many conversations with one member who worked for Southern Pacific and has rail tales that make me yearn for the days before Amtrak. When I mentioned to another member that I had encouraged our staff to have their own “go bags” in case of a disaster, he recommended a great multi-tool, headlamp, other essential gear as well as demonstrated for me some essential knots.

I know that each Mechanics’ Institute member has a story to tell and I’m delighted to learn from all of them each day. In my next post, I’ll share about our amazing staff and how they keep the Mechanics’ humming.

Posted on May. 25, 2016 by Deborah Hunt