Meet Kim Blaha, new director of the Syracuse Public Library

Paula Newcom, Indiana State Library’s Northeast regional coordinator, recently spoke with new Syracuse Public Library director, Kim Blaha. Blaha has previously worked at several libraries in northern Indiana. “It was really cool to learn that she was a music major in college and plays the French horn, one of my favorite instruments,” Newcom said.


Sarah Wright/The Mail-Journal

Paula Newcom:  Are you from the area? If not, where are you from originally?
Kim Blaha: I was born in Indiana, but grew up in the Southeast suburbs of Chicago. I have lived in Ohio, Oregon, Wisconsin and now Indiana.

PN: What inspired you to work in libraries?
KB: I have always loved the library and believe it is a calling for me.

PN: What is your favorite thing about working for your library?
KB: My favorite thing about working for my library is the opportunity to be constantly creative. I love solving problems and learning new things. I also enjoy sharing my discoveries with others, whether it is a great book, a cool app or a form I developed to make record-keeping more streamlined.

PN: What is your favorite book?
KB: Currently, my favorite book is “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. That will probably change next month. The book I’ve read the most times is “The Hobbit.” I usually read that once a year.

PN: If you could have dinner with any three famous people in recorded history, who would they be and why?
KB: I would like to have dinner with Ralph Vaughn Williams, because I love his music; President Obama, because I would love to know what it is like to be the head of a country and keep your sense of humor; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to find out how she managed as a woman and a crusader.

PN: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?
KB: I love the outdoors: reading outside in my hammock, gardening and playing ball with my dog. I play French horn professionally and for relaxation I color or do other creative projects.

This blog post by Paula Newcom, professional development librarian. For more information, contact the Professional Development Office at (317) 232-3697 or email

It’s December and the state library is decorated for the holidays; other Indy events

The beautiful Indiana State Library is now decorated for the holidays! The library put up eight different Christmas trees, including one that incorporates a library card ornament from each of the public libraries in Indiana. If you get a chance to get to downtown Indianapolis make sure you stop in and see us.


Original 1934 librarian’s desk

Other holiday events and decorations worth seeing while you are in Indy include:

Lights at the Brickyard
Christmas at Lilly House: Holiday in Bloom
Christmas at the Zoo

…and much more!


Nine-foot tree in the Great Hall

Special thanks to library staffers Connie Bruder, Mary Kelley, Jake Speer, Rayjeana Duty, Joan Gray, Daina Bohr, Christy Franzman, Caitlyn Stypa, Maggie Ansty, Lamar Porter and Scott Lambert for their help in assembling and displaying the decorations.

Digitize your personal documents at the Indiana State Library

We all know the importance of digitizing personal and family papers, books and photographs. Digitized versions of these documents are safe from disasters such as fire, flood and mold. Of course, if your USB flash drive or your computer’s hard drive fall prey to these elements, you’re out of luck, but if you save these items in the cloud or make multiple backups, it can take the sting out of these catastrophes knowing your documents and memories have been spared.


Display of damaged items in the genealogy room at the Indiana State Library.

The Indiana State Library would like to introduce you to Zeta, the library’s new digital overhead scanner. Overhead means you do not have to awkwardly bend book spines in order to attempt to stick a book under a flimsy flap or make sure your document is pressed flush onto a glass scanning bed. The Zeta has the ability to scan documents sized up to 14” by 18.9” with an optical resolution of 300-600 dpi and features fast copy/scan with no overhead glare. The scanner has two USB ports for connecting storage devices.


Zeta book, copy and scan system.

The possibilities are endless when using the Zeta scanner. You can do everything from digitizing your grandma’s old recipe book to scanning and storing your collection of family vacation postcards. If you want to show someone how big your hair was in 1987, the Zeta can definitely handle yearbooks.


The Zeta in action.

The best feature, however, is that using the scanner is completely free of charge at the state library. So, bring in your items and start digitizing. Hopefully, you’ll never suffer a disaster, but if you do, at least your documents will be safe and sound. The scanner is located on the first floor of the Indiana State Library in the genealogy room.

For more information on the Zeta scanner, click here.

For more information on fair use and copyright, click here.


C.W. Webber and the camel calamity

As a manuscripts librarian, sometimes I come across items in our collections which point to bizarre and bemusing events in our nation’s history. What’s the old adage? Fact is stranger than fiction. Recently, I discovered a document relating to one of those historical oddities: The so-called Great Camel Experiment of the 1850s.


Drawing of Bactrian camels in Carson Valley, circa 1870. Source: Edward Vischer, “Vischer’s Pictorial of California,” 1870. View no. 47.

The Document

On Feb. 5, 1850 in Boston Charles Wilkins Webber—journalist, author and adventurer—drafted a circular “to the Young Men of America.” He hoped to entice young go-getters to invest in his new venture: the importation of 50 “long-legged, sure-footed, steady, but swift moving ‘ships of the desert.’”


Excerpt of C.W. Webber’s circular soliciting investors in his camel import enterprise, 1850. Source: Ewing family collection (L323), Indiana State Library,

In the missive, Webber provided several examples for the potential utility of camels in the United States, ranging from the impractical (camel expresses for delivery in the upper Midwest) to the disturbing (the extermination of Native Americans in the Great Plains). However, the most convincing proposal and primary aim of his endeavor was to use camels to establish a “shorter, safer and a cheaper route” overland to California.

Gold Feverish and Footsore

Two years after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, the California Gold Rush was in full swing. Thousands charged to California in the hopes of plucking easy fortunes from the territory’s auriferous rivers. The first transcontinental railroad wouldn’t be completed for 16 years and the two transportation options—by ship and by hoof—were almost equally problematic, arduous and treacherous.


Presumably the first piece of gold discover at Sutter’s Mill in California, 1848. Source: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center,

The southwestern route, the Gila Trail (also known as the Southern Emigrant Trail), traversed great stretches of desert which killed pack animals by the score. There were also other hazards—accidents, exhaustion and diseases among the most prominent. Webber himself, intent on leading an expedition to the Colorado and Gila rivers in Arizona Territory, lost his party’s horses to Comanche raiders at Corpus Christi, Texas less than a year before proposing his camel enterprise.


Broadside for potential emigrants during the California Gold Rush, 1849. Source: Boston Rare Maps,

By 1855, approximately 300,000 people had migrated to California lured by the promise of gold, nearly half of whom had traveled overland from east to west. And all those people needed supplies—food stuffs, clothing, prospecting and mining gear and other goods—which had to travel the same routes as the ‘49ers. Is it any wonder businessmen and pioneers saw an opportunity for new means of transportation?

Why Camels?

Webber was not the first American to propose the use of camels in the U.S. As far back as 1836, the army had flirted with idea of the dromedary’s application for military transport, but it was only in 1848 that they began giving it serious consideration.

Camels’ adaptions for thermoregulation and high water retention made them well-suited to high temperatures and arid conditions. Moreover, the ungulates could bear loads several times those of pack mules. These capabilities made them appear ideal for crossing the deserts of the Southwest and the idea was surprisingly popular with many Americans.


Riders herding camels on the grounds of the Mammoth Grove Hotel, circa 1870. Source: Edward Vischer, “Vischer’s Pictorial of California,” 1870. View no. 18.

An article in the Wabash Courier of Terre Haute, Indiana on July 26, 1856 described the camels as “uncouth and awkward to the extreme,” bearing “a resemblance to the stupid turkey.” Despite their opinion of the camel’s homeliness, the authors finally concluded the enterprise would prove successful, with camel caravans “thread[ing] the weary wastes of the West, and the rugged defiles of the mountains connecting our Eastern and Western fields of enterprise and empire.”

Under Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (yes, that Jefferson Davis), 33 dromedaries (one-humped camels) and Bactrian camels (two-humped) were imported for the army’s use. In 1857, Edward F. Beale led the U.S. Camel Corps (no joke) from San Antonio to Fort Defiance, Arizona and then on to California to test the animals’ potential for military supply transport. At the terminus, Beale reported the experiment as a triumph and avowed he would prefer one camel to four mules for transportation in desert conditions.

Why It Failed

A handful of other army expeditions employed camels in the 1850s, but the U.S. Civil War put an end to the camels’ use in military operations. It certainly didn’t help the camel’s case that one of its biggest proponents, Jefferson Davis, defected from the Union to become president of the Confederacy. After the war, camels were largely viewed as irrelevant as modes of transport while the focus shifted to completing the transcontinental railroad.

As for Webber’s enterprise, four years after he wrote his circular, it seemed his dream would be realized. The New York State Legislature passed an act to incorporate the American Camel Company on April 15, 1854 with Webber listed as one of its commissioners. However, the endeavor died in 1855 and was never resurrected. The California Gold Rush had peaked in 1852 and the company failed to get over the hump (ba-dum-bump).


Act to incorporate the American Camel Company, 1854. Source: New York State Legislature, Laws of the State of New York,


Was the failure of the Great Camel Experiment really a “calamity?” No, not really (the alliterative assonance of “camel calamity” [camelamity?] was just too good to pass up).


Camels outside Holden’s Station in Hermit Valley in the Sierra Mountains, circa 1870. Source: Edward Vischer, “Vischer’s Pictorial of California,” 1870. View no. 19.

Overall, the use of camels for military transportation proved more efficient than pack mules and might have had more widespread appeal if the Civil War hadn’t completely diverted the military’s attention. But ultimately, it was the steam engine that obliterated any practicality of using camels as a means of transportation in the United States. As for the fate of those camels imported to the U.S., many were sold to entrepreneurs who used them to carry supplies to remote mining operations, while some went free and presumably roamed the Southwest until they died off. Residents of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah reported sighting camels in the desert as late as the early 1900s. (In contrast, for an example of a thriving, wild, non-indigenous camel populations, see this article on the feral camels in Australia).

What ever happened to the camel crusader, C.W. Webber?

After giving up his camel endeavor, Webber joined notorious filibuster William Walker in the invasion of Nicaragua and was killed in action at the fourth battle of Rivas on April 11, 1856.

Webber had lived in an interesting life, having dabbled in all sorts of careers from medicine to theology, but his ultimate success lay in writing. He was a successful journalist and wrote several books based on his experiences working with the Texas Rangers and traveling the West, which are in the public domain and freely available online. Webber’s flair for the dramatic really shines in his camel circular. You can view the full circular here in the Indiana State Library Digital Collections (

For more information on camels and their connection to Indiana, check out this blog post from Hoosier State Chronicles.

This blog post was written by Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarian Brittany Kropf. For more information, contact the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at (317) 232-3671 or “Ask-A-Librarian” at

Geek culture in libraries, pt. 2


Photo by Hpoyatos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If you were unable to attend the ILF presentation “Geekspotting 1.0” given by Jocelyn Lewis (Indiana State Library) and Alex Sarkissian (Morrisson-Reeves Public Library) you missed a discussion on how libraries can create programs around tabletop gaming. Since there seemed to be a lot of interest in this topic by those in attendance, here are some more resources that may be of interest to librarians:

Board game night basics — This site will walk you through everything you need to know to host a board game event at your library.

10 great tabletop games that can be played in under 30 minutes — This site will direct you to some quick and fun tabletop games. Many of these games are also rather inexpensive.

11 literary board games to win over book-lovers at your next game night — Not all board games involved fantasy realms or zombies pandemics. These games neatly tie-in to the books on your shelves.

International Games Day @ your library — Although IGD16 has come and gone, ALA has a lot of good information on this site to help guide you through the realm of modern tabletop gaming.

Game and gaming roundtable of the American Library Association — Gaming is so prevalent in libraries that ALA has an entire roundtable devoted to it!

Games explained — One of the more time consuming aspects of gaming is learning how to play. This YouTube channel walks you through the rules for many major tabletop games.

Indiana Young Readers Center grand opening

The Indiana Young Readers Center at the Indiana State Library was officially opened on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 at an event featuring special guest speakers and an open house for attendees.  The evening began with State Librarian Jacob Speer welcoming guests and introducing the speakers. Dr. Robert Barcus spoke on behalf of the Indiana State Library Foundation, a large contributor of funding for the center. Executive Director of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission Perry Hammock spoke about the many Bicentennial Legacy projects across the state, including the Indiana Young Readers Center. Karen Jaffe, head of the Library of Congress Young Readers Center, read aloud a letter of congratulations from Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. Indiana author April Pulley Sayre performed the “Indiana Chant,” which she penned in honor of the state’s 200th birthday and is featured in the Indiana Young Readers Center. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz concluded the speaking ceremony by sharing her support and enthusiasm for libraries and the promotion of literacy to our state’s youth.

Superintendent Ritz and Dr. Barcus then officially opened the Indiana Young Readers Center following a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Guests enjoyed an open house with refreshments and music by harpist Abigail Acosta. Children got their pictures taken with Garfield and Clifford characters and received gift bags that included a free book, bookmarks and more.


The Indiana State Library is the first state library to open such a center for youth. The Indiana Young Readers Center houses a collection of print and Braille books by Indiana authors and illustrators. The newly installed exhibits include interactive activities for visitors to learn more about Indiana authors, genealogy, Indiana history and more!

November is International Jewish Genealogy Month

The International Jewish Genealogy month is celebrated during the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. For 2016, the civil dates are Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, 2016. At the Indiana State Library we have many resources to help you start or further your Jewish genealogy research.

“Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy” (G 929.102 J59a) is a comprehensive book that’s great for both beginners and more intermediate researchers. The book covers not only how to get started, but it also contains research topics such as Holocaust records, Jewish naming patterns, the history of surnames and variant place names. The guide also includes different resources, both within the U.S. and internationally, appendixes containing charts and mini how to guides and maps.


“Sourcebook for Jewish Genealogies and Family Histories” (929.2 102 J59z) is a bibliography of family sources sorted by surname. It also lists whether the information can be found in an institution or general work. Additionally, it cross-references variant spellings due to pronunciation.


“A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery” (G 929.102 J59s) is a great resource for someone interested in Jewish cemeteries and deciphering their family’s graves. The guide goes into detail about the meanings behind monuments and tombstones and their decoration, where a person might be buried in the different sections of a cemetery and simple translations.


“Judaica in the Slavic Realm, Slavica in the Judaic Realm: Repositories, Collections, Projects, Publications” (G929.102 J59sLa) covers Jewish collections found in Russian and Eastern European institutions often overlooked by researchers. It could be particularly helpful to those doing research in the former Soviet empire.

These resources, along with others, can be found in the Indiana State Library online catalog.

New Large Print Books!

New large print books have been streaming in to the Indiana Talking Book and Braille Library for the past two weeks. In total, about 110 new titles have been added to the collection this week. You can borrow these books either by signing up to be a patron of the Indiana Talking Book and Braille Library or by using your Evergreen library card.

Here is just a sample of the new books we have received this week:


The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (Miss Marple, #1)

The murder of Colonel Protheroe — shot through the head — is a shock to everyone in St. Mary Mead, though hardly an unpleasant one. Now even the vicar, who had declared that killing the detested Protheroe would be “doing the world at large a favor,” is a suspect. But, the picturesque English village of St. Mary Mead is overpopulated with suspects and Miss Marple, in her first appearance, is on the case.


Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce, #8)

In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. She is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news; her father has fallen ill and is hospitalized. Looking for something to do, Flavia is eager to run an errand, delivering a message from the vicar’s wife to a reclusive wood-carver. Flavia stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene.


American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a sophomore in college and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a ragtag group of self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. The already sensational story took the first of many incredible twists on April 3, when the group released a tape of Patty saying she had joined the SLA and had adopted the nom de guerre “Tania.”

The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, “American Heiress” thrillingly recounts the craziness of the times (there were an average of 1,500 terrorist bombings a year in the early 1970s). Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics and violence that swept up Patty Hearst and re-creates her melodramatic trial. “American Heiress” examines the life of a young woman who suffered an unimaginable trauma and then made the stunning decision to join her captors’ crusade. Or did she?


Killing the Rising Sun by Bill O’Reilly

World War II is nearly over in Europe, but is escalating in the Pacific where American soldiers face an opponent who will go to any length to avoid defeat. The Japanese army follows the samurai code of Bushido, stipulating that surrender is a form of dishonor. Emperor Hirnhito refuses to surrender. In Los Alamos, New Mexico, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists are preparing to test the deadliest weapon known to mankind. In Washington, D.C., FDR dies in office and Harry Truman now faces the most important political decision in history: whether or not to use that weapon.

Geek culture in libraries

Interested in hearing about the latest trends in geek culture and how they pertain to your library? If so, join Alex Sarkissian (Morrisson-Reeves Public Library) and Jocelyn Lewis (Indiana State Library) at the Indiana Library Federation’s annual conference.  They will be presenting “Geekspotting 1.0” on Wednesday, November 9 at 3pm.  Topics will include Pokemon Go, trends in tabletop gaming and a discussion of the new Star Wars canon.  They will also check-in on popular superhero film franchises and make graphic novel recommendations.


Photo By Tomi Tapio K from Helsinki, Finland (In the dice box) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

To register for ILF16, visit:

If you can’t make it to the conference but want to know more about how libraries can promote and nurture geek culture, visit Cosplay, Comics and Geek Culture in Libraries at

The United States Presidents: Love them or hate them, we’re the ones who put them there.

On Tuesday November 8th, 2016 we have some serious choices to make when it comes to our government leaders, including the president.   This choice has been the privilege of the citizens of the United States since our county began and it is a serious one. Each president becomes a part of American history as shown in the books American Heritage Illustrated History of the Presidents: more than two centuries of American Leadership by Michael Beschloss, Our Assassinated Presidents: the true medical stories by Stewart M. Brooks, Power Play: the Bush Presidency and the Constitution by James P. Pfiffner,  and The President’s Position: Debating the issues – Presidents Reagan Through Clinton 1981 by Lane Crothers and Nancy S. Lind, which is part of a series of books on our presidents.

We have a variety of other books in our collection that may be helpful in understanding the election process. There are books on choosing our presidential nominees, such as In Pursuit of the White House 2000: How we choose our presidential nominees, Edited by William G. Mayer. There are also books on presidential campaigns, See how they ran: the Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate, by Gil Troy; Packaging the Presidency: a history and criticism of presidential campaign advertising, by Kathleen Hall Jamieson; and The past and future of presidential debates, edited by Austin Ranney.  Knowing how the system works can be the first step in making the voting process less stressful.

If you would like to know more about the election process, and individual candidates visit the Indiana Election Division website.

As we approach the upcoming election, remember to use due diligence in researching your candidate; find out where they stand on the issues, and Get out and Vote!

By Dana Bohr, Librarian – Reference & Government Services Division