Blogs: Homework databases

In the 19th century, land west of the the Mississippi was often referred to as “The Wild West”. The less regulated structure and society of the American frontier enticed those with a sense of adventure,  including many with a disregard for the law. The outrageous, illegal and often lethal acts of a colorful cast of outlaws is largely glorified today. Trying to separate fact from myth can be a challenge.

Learn a little about the real identities and actions of a few of these outlaws.

Billy the Kid was a teen outlaw who reportedly - and inaccurately- killed more than 20 people before being fatally shot at twenty-one.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were part of a gang called The Wild Bunch. They organized a legendary train robbery.   

Doc Holliday  formerly a dentist, moved West hoping to cure his tuberculosis. A gunman and gambler, he is also credited for saving Wyatt Earp's life.

Confederate soldier turned outlaw, Jesse James was shot by Robert Ford, a member of his own gang who wanted the $10,000 bounty.  A photo that reportedly shows the two of them has recently emerged, though it has yet to be authenticated.  Even through photography, the truth of history escapes us!

Belle Starr, known as the “Bandit Queen”, outlived several outlaw husbands and partners she collaborated with before being fatally shot herself. Her murder remains unsolved.

Want to learn about an outlaw not featured here? Just ask a librarian!

Are you on your way to being a famous chemist?  Then you need some examples of those who came before you!  Or do you just need to write a report on a scientist?  Well, we've got you covered for that too.

A great first stop is the Biography in Context database.  (If you're using this outside the library it will ask for your library card number and pin, so have those at the ready.)  You can search by name if you know who you want information on or click "Browse People" on the upper left and select "scientists" from the drop-down menu to explore your options.

Check out the booklist below for some more ideas!  Need more help?  That's what we're here for.  Contact a librarian to get what you need.

Wikipedia logo.Wikipedia, is a free encyclopedia with over 4 million articles in multiple languages, created by users all over the world. Can you trust all of them? Probably not, although this website can be great for finding a quick answer when you don't need the information to be 100%-guaranteed accurate.

Your professor or teacher might say that you can't use Wikipedia when you're writing a research paper - but this doesn't mean that it's not useful to you in your research. Many of the articles in Wikipedia have citations indicated throughout them, and a list of references at the end where the authors are claiming to have found their information. This doesn't prove that everything in the Wikipedia article is true - but if you find a fact that you need, you can use the citations and the list of references in the article to find out which source might have that fact. 

And if you need help finding any of the sources listed in your Wikipedia article, just ask a librarian and we can help!

Photo of a cameraYou need a photo or an image for a project you’re working on. You need it fast. You don’t want to pay anything to anybody, or get sued for copyright violation. Luckily, there are a lot of sources on the Web for finding royalty-free images! (Royalty-free = you don’t have to pay any money to use it.) Here is a list of some of the best websites for finding these types of photos and images. Is there a website that you like to use? Add a comment and let us all know!

The creators of many of the images on these websites are giving up some of their copyright protection and allowing you to use their photos and artwork. However, they may have usage rules that they require you to follow: for example, they might ask you to attribute the creator of the image if you use it. (Attribution = including information, on your website or wherever you use the image, saying who made the image and where you found it.) Before you copy or use any image, it’s a good idea to look at the webpage for the image and check for usage or licensing rules. I’ve included links to the general usage rules for many of the websites in this list. Quick disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and cannot provide advice regarding your legal rights. However, I can help find material that might assist you in your research, or help you learn how to contact a lawyer. Questions? Please ask!

Creative Commons logoCreative Commons Search - Creative Commons is an organization that creates standards for sharing content on the Web (photos, videos, writing, anything!) This webpage has buttons to search many different websites for images and other content that are free to use based on Creative Commons standards - choose a website and then type in your search. Searchable websites from this page include Flickr, Google Images, Wikimedia Commons, and more. Usage information is included on the bottom of the page, below the buttons for the different sites.19th century painting of an American schooner

U.S. Government Images search - The search engine lets you look for photos and images from the federal government. You can find photos of just about anything, from satellites to Socks the cat, with little or no usage restrictions. Most of the results take you to images located on the Flickr website: before you use the image for your own project, make sure to look for usage information on the image's Flickr page.

Children reading a wireless newspaperThe Commons - The Commons is a section of the photo-sharing website Flickr which provides access to images from public photography archives at museums and libraries around the world. It’s a great place to find historic photos, and everyone (including you!) is encouraged to add comments and tags to the images. The photos on this site have “no known copyright.”

Encyclopedia of Life - this website’s mission is to “increase awareness and understanding of living nature,” and it includes information and images on all kinds of living creatures, from moths to amoebas to mollusks to monkeys. It includes many images, most of which are free to use as long as you attribute the source. Here is a usage statement for the site.

Photo of a flowerMorgue File - a morgue file is “a place to keep post production materials for use of reference.” In other words, it is a place to store things. In this particular online morgue file, you can find many high resolution stock photos. Here is a usage statement for the site.

Openclipart - Unlike many websites which offer photos to use, this site has royalty-free clip art (clip art = little images and drawings ready to use in electronic documents). You can even register and submit your own clip-art for other people to use! Here is a usage policy for the site.Scissors illustration

Are websites not your thing? Do you prefer books? Well, the library still has plenty of those. We have many books of illustrations and prints on all sorts of topics, most of them royalty-free. To find them, just do a subject search in the library catalog for “clip art.” You’ll find books with images of Victorian women’s fashion, birds, children’s book illustrations, fairies, and much more, many of them including CD-ROMs with computer files of all the images in the book. At the end of this blog post is a book list showing examples of the types of clip art books that the library owns.

If you still have trouble finding the images that you want, or if you have more questions about any of this, you know what to do: Ask a Librarian! We’ll be happy to talk more about it.

Images included in this post:

If you think cells are simple boring organisms, well think again, cells are in fact fascinating basic structural, functional living organisms that also refered to as "Building Blocks of Life". Even though cells come in all shapes and sizes, they seem invisible to our eyes. We need the aid of microscopes to explore the world of cells. You can visit “A Tour of the Cell” by clicking on the video below provided by Bozeman Science. Further, you can find out more about cell division through this link “Scientists Solve a Mystery of Cell Division” provided by Today’s Science.

Chromosomes, DNA and Genes

The command center of a cell is it's nucleus. Within the nucleus is the genetic material or the blue print of each cell also known as DNA. The DNA molecules form into a structure that shapes like a letter X. For more information about chromosomes and DNA check out the videos below. 


This post contains high levels of drugs, crime, and lawyers. What we may be missing is quite enough justice…

Statue of Lady Justice

How often do we hear the words of the Miranda Warning, You have the right to remain silent; you have the right to an attorney in our favorite cop shows?  Usually, that’s where the show ends. And yet the real story is only beginning. 

I admit I really don’t spend much time thinking about criminals or lawyers, except to avoid them.  So when Attorney General Holder gave a speech to the American Bar Association  last month about how we send people to prison, saying that “as a nation, we are coldly efficient” at putting people in prison and that “we must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is in too many respects broken”, I had only a vague idea of what he was talking about. Turns out it is all about numbers: The number of prisoners, the number of years they are in prison, the number of cases that public defenders have, and the money we spend as a nation.  The forces at play?  Mandatory minimum sentencing and the 6th amendment’s right to an attorney.

The right to an attorney can be found in the Bill of Rights. Our modern idea of it is from the case Gideon vs. Wainright:  When Clarence Gideon was tried for stealing $55 dollars and breaking into a pool hall the State of Florida told him they didn’t have to give him an attorney.  He was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit and used that time to change the legal system

Mandatory minimum sentencing says there are crimes people shouldn’t serve less than a set amount of time for.  They aren’t new- the minimum sentence for the killing a meat inspector was set in 1907- life in prison or the death sentence.  (That's the year after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published.)  Then in the mid 80s and 90s sentences were set for a wide range of drug crimes.  The effect?  The U.S. now has the highest prison population in the world, but not in any equal sort of way, and we spend huge amounts of money ($80 billion in 2010) locking people up.  

Sing-Sing Prison in the early 20th century

When people are sent to prison for set amounts of time no matter the situation, things just get weird.  And don’t let me forget the Cooperation Paradox: the more involved you are in a criminal enterprise, the more information you have to bargain with- meaning that the criminals who are the guiltiest get the lighter sentences.  

So, two very different parts of the legal system.  What happens when they collide? Nothing good.  There are too many people in the system for the number of public defenders.  Many people never actually see their lawyer- or a trial.  In a wonderful if curse laden interview by John Oliver with the director of the documentary “Gideon’s Army” Dawn Porter they explain better than I ever could

Steve Edgar, Prison number 21655

So let’s head back to where we started: Holder’s speech for the Smart on Crime Initiative.  The gist of the initiative is that by focusing on prosecuting the most serious of criminals and not snaring everyone else in mandatory minimum sentencing crimes, the Department of Justice will be able spend money and effort elsewhere, saving people from the system and the system from the burden of all those people.  It’s pragmatic and surprisingly readable.  Changing the laws will literally take an Act of Congress, but the U.S. Attorneys can choose how to charge people.  Will it work?  I can’t tell you that.  I’m a librarian not a seer.  But we can hope for the best.

Curious to know more?  Check out the Reading and Viewing List on the subject or ask us a question!

As I’m sure you all already know, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had declared that this week is National Aerospace Week!  Which means it’s time to indulge in some of my favorite things:  Music, frogs, geodesic domes and home cooked meals.  I guess we should add outer space to the list as well.  But first, a word from Carl Sagan about our Pale Blue Dot.  It’s totally worth the minute and a half.  I’ll wait for you.

Ready?  It has been an exciting time at NASA leading up to this week.  It is time again for the Harvest Moon for those of us on Earth and out in space Voyager 1, which launched in 1977 and is older than me, has officially left the building (and entered interstellar space), the Q&A here brings up some interesting points, like how you can’t get rid of those old computers, because the new ones don’t understand what Voyager is sending back.  And the newest member of family, the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) left Earth for the Moon with some unintended frog assistance:  

LADEE and Frog Launch

But in spite of all these events and their ongoing efforts to increase awesomeness around (and above) the globe, not all the news for NASA has been cheery lately.  Even while working in partnership with private ventures, the reality is that the Space Shuttles have been retired and the NASA budget, like most government agencies, has shrunk in the last years.  (The video is from 2009, but covers the issues quite well.) 

But there is plenty to still study and dream about.  New types of vehicles are being created, new inventions will be added to the list of thousands that are already are a part of our lives, and work for a mission to Mars is underway.  (Including, but not limited to how to cook for long space missions.  Hint: pack tortillas.)

And what do the minds at NASA do when they aren’t being officially awesome?  The make music videos of course! Not only can you watch the obligatory parody, a group from the Jet Proplsion Labratory helped create this merging of science and rock and roll that we will cap our Aeronautics Week!

Want more?  Ask an astronaut... I mean a librarian!

Hazard Diamond displays typesWith Syria in the headlines and talk of red lines, air strikes and diplomacy swirling, the issue of chemical weapons seems to be on the mind.  And even as news outlets are reporting that the Syrian government might have agreed to give up its chemical weapons I find myself wondering what it is about them that frightens us in a way other weapons don’t.


Chemical weapons is an umbrella term for a set of chemicals ranging from LSD to Ricin to Mustard Gas that do all sorts of different (and terrible things) to people.  While I conjure images of World War I when I think of chemical warfare (the first mass use was at the Battle of Ypres) its use has been around much longer stretching back Roman times and to an archeological site in, of all places, Syria.  And even after they are banned in 1925 by the Geneva Protocol there is Napalm from the Vietnam War and Anthrax laced letters lurking in our more modern history. 

World War I soldiers wearing gas masks

I suppose part of the reason chemical weapons frighten us so is that it is indiscriminate, works far beyond (and long after) the control of those who release them and can be the work of very few people.  Perhaps it is because many chemical weapons are substances that have been created or used for more positive uses and have been turned into something terrible.  Or maybe we tend to get anxious around too much science.  Or that gas masks are scary. 

From Doctor Who, The Empty Child

Whichever it is, I’m going to go home, hug my puppies and hope for the best.


Need some specific information we haven’t covered? Contact a librarian and we’ll be glad to help.

Watergate security log


This probably won’t come as a surprise but librarians like questions.  And we really like answers.  We like finding them and sharing them.  But there are questions that don’t work that way:  What is right and what is wrong?  When do you keep a secret?  Is it ever OK to break the law?  Where should a person’s loyalties lie?  Complicated in the best of times, when you enter the world of whistleblowers these questions really get messy.  It’s not that they don’t have answers, more that they don’t have only one answer.  And as the stakes get higher, often the answers are harder to pin down.

According to the National Whistleblowers Center, we have laws to protect people who “stop, report, or testify about employer actions that are illegal, unhealthy, or violate specific public policies”.  Seems pretty clear, right?  Well…only sort of.   It’s just that no one seems to agree on what counts as being whistleblower and what is just breaking the rules.  NPR reported a recent study that found that 55% think NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a whistleblower while 34% call him a traitor.  And any of you who are good at math will notice that those numbers don’t come anywhere near 100%.  So while we wait to discover Mr. Snowden’s future, let’s meet some other players in the whistleblowing world.  And whether you prefer to read the Handbook, follow the official paper trail or sneak a look at Hollywood’s take, the library has you covered.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s  Whistleblower programs each received around 3000 tips from both private and public employees.  They oversee the laws to protect people when they come forward with information.  For many cases, this might be as far as it goes.  Does the relative anonymity of these cases make them any less complicated or risky?  Or is it true that we are all the stars of our own dramas?   At the other end of things we have some of the country’s best known if not always the best loved whistleblowers who were involved in everything from Watergate, to police corruption, to nuclear power, to farming.  And an entirely different approach to whistleblowing was introduced to the world by Wikileaks, who instead of blowing the whistle on one thing publish any and all secrets.   Even from these few examples it’s obvious that being a whistleblower is a precarious and downright dangerous thing to be, even if they do make a movie about you.

If you want to explore this topic more, or if you have more questions about any of this, you know what to do: Ask a Librarian! We’ll be happy to talk more about it.

Need to verify a fact? Find a statistic? Locate the source for a quote? The Web has lots of information in it, but it can be tricky to figure out which information to trust. In this blog post I provide links to websites that are great sources of reliable, authoritative information that you can use when you're doing quick research.

Infoplease is short for “Information Please” - which traces its history back to the radio quiz show of the same name which ran on NBC from 1938 to 1952. The creators of the show later began publishing an almanac, and the website has been online since 1998. It features an almanac, an online version of the Columbia Encyclopedia (6th edition), a dictionary and thesaurus, and more.

Bartleby is a website that provides access to books (mostly older books and classics) on the Web, free of charge. They have an excellent selection of books of quotations, which make it a great site for trying to find a classic quote. Note: most of their sources are from the late 1800s and early 1900s - so if you need a more recent quote, you’ll have to try a different resource, like (or, of course, you could ask a librarian for help). Notable books available on Bartleby include: Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, the King Jame’s Bible, Oxford Shakespeare, Gray’s Anatomy, and Strunk’s Elements of Style.

This website from provides many quotes, including 20th century ones, from the Columbia World of Quotations (1996).

Merriam-Webster Online is a great, authoritative online dictionary, based on the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

State & County QuickFacts by the United States Census Bureau contains all sorts of easy-to-access facts about people, business, and geography in the United States. The main census site,, contains even more information and - although kind of tricky to use - is also a very valuable tool for statistical research.

The Oregon Encyclopedia is a constantly growing encyclopedia of essays on all things related to Oregon. The entries are written by knowledgeable authors and are authorized by editors and fact-checkers before being published. You can even suggest a topic or write your own article!

In a previous blog post (“I can’t use Wikipedia for my research paper! Or can I...”), I talked about how Wikipedia, though it is not always 100% reliable itself, can be used  to find sources that you can cite when you’re doing research. When you find an article on a topic of interest, look at the “References” section at the end of the article and follow the links there to see where the article is getting its information.

These are just some of many fantastical information sources online. Do you have one that you like that I didn’t mention? Then add a comment! Also, if you are ever stuck in your search for a fact, quote, or any bit of information, remember that you can always ask a librarian for help.

Happy researching!

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