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Learning to love what the library has to offer

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Charlie Bowen Charlie Bowen

Charlie Bowen is a writer, teacher and web designer. He lives in Huntington.

Librarians generally like me. 

And why not? I'm domesticated. Miss Davenport rescued me in those rowdy, noisy years between grade school and high school. Quickly, she taught me the surprisingly simple ways I could make her not cringe when she saw me coming into her hall — the coolest, quietest rooms in the building.

"Mister Bowen," she hissed, scowling over the half-round, gold-framed reading glasses that were chained to a yellowed string of pearls around her neck, "what voice is that you're using in my house? Surely it's not your Library Voice."

And later on: "Young man, that book is older than you are. Try to show us that you know how to behave among your elders."

And finally, much later: "Eddie" — for at last my regular return visits had let her warm to me enough to learn the name my mother called me  — "how about I let you work in here with me for a year or so?"

I felt as though I had been called to the monastic life. And as far as Miss Davenport was concerned, I had been: long hours, lots of heavy lifting and little or no pay.

In exchange, I got to peek behind the veil. Miss Davenport's library gave me a glimpse of how the information of the world was brought to a logical arrangement.

I was awed when I learned that when the newest book on the market arrived at our door, it already had a place in the great universe that was the wisdom of the Dewey Decimal System. Isn't it amazing, I thought, that a century-old numbering system could so easily expand to accompany information that its creator could not even have imagined?

And that's what still amazes me about libraries: that ever-widening embrace of whatever is new.

Miss Davenport has come to mind many times since those days, as I've watched libraries continue to expand their leadership role by putting new technologies into the hands of the public.

In the cassette tape days of the '70s, it was the library that brought audiobooks to common usage. In the '80s, when a good personal computer cost most of us a week's pay, the library said, "C'mon in and use ours. We've got your PC right here." In the '90s, as the word "web" began to mean something more than merely a home for a predator,  the library launched classes and workshops to teach us how to surf the Internet for information.

And in the new millennium, the local library continues to be out in front of the community's technological edge, whether you're looking for help with apps for your iPad or just want to download a book or two to your smartphone.

As a journalist, I'm most excited about the free databases that most libraries can connect you with, many of them well off Google's well-trod paths. 

Now, of course, all libraries are different. Not all offer the same databases to their patrons. You'll need to check with the Miss Davenport in your town to see what's available. You may have to actually go to the library to use some of these databases; others you may be able to access remotely, from a computer anywhere. Your library will give you the particulars on how to log on and dig in.

Here is a dozen of my all-time favorite databases that are offered in many libraries throughout the state:


  • Ebsco Host, provided statewide through the West Virginia Library Commission, allows access to thousands of periodicals, journals, newspapers and other information sources, including pictures and images. Information modules include general information, business sources and health sources.
  • The West Virginia Encyclopedia is the comprehensive reference resource for the Mountain State of West Virginia. Based on the best-selling West Virginia Encyclopedia, e-WV offers thousands of articles on West Virginia's people and places, history, arts, science and culture.
  • Mango Languages is an online language-learning system that teaches actual conversation skills for 12 different languages. It uses real-life situations and actual conversations to more effectively teach a new language.
  • Heritage Quest Online provides a unique, growing collection of research materials for tracing family history and American culture. Indexes and original page images mean no additional trips, inter-library loan requests or work by researchers or staff.
  • Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970, provides access to more than 660,000 large-scale maps of more than 12,000 American towns and cities.
  • Reference USA includes business, residential and medical contact information. Locate a phone number or compare data about a certain type of business.
  • Newsbank offers complete full-text content of local and regional news from various newspapers as well as special news reports with full-text articles from major newspapers about "hot topics" such as elections, terrorism and the environment.
  • Access NewspaperARCHIVE lets you save and print full-page newspapers dating from 1759 to 1977. 
  • Morningstar lets you track your mutual funds.
  • Value Line tracks your stocks.
  • Facts on File has current articles and news statistics, pictures, charts and maps. 
  • Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia is a quick reference rich with multimedia and news for researchers plus activities for teachers and librarians to use with students. You can search by word or browse by subject — search results include multimedia and links to prescreened, constantly monitored websites. 


Whether you are a student or a teacher, a reader or a writer, a serious researcher or just somebody with a healthy curiosity, a library card ought to be in your backpack for your next online outing. Your local Miss Davenport awaits you.