By Sue Botos
It used to be that the only way to experience a culture was to actually visit a country. Now, thanks to several websites, avid and armchair travelers alike can have the world at their fingertips.
During a presentation of the Rocky River Public Library’s Computer Breakfast Series, librarians gave “travel tips” on how to navigate several databases, including CultureGrams, a site that offers a window into the language, customs and the daily lives of people in all countries recognized by the United Nations.
Reference desk librarian Maureen Stratton used the example of Italy to show how the site can be used by everyone, from students doing reports to retirees planning a trip. “There’s a lot of different ways to do the same things,” she said, pointing out the various menu items, which included maps, information about politics, a daily updated currency converter and other charts, tables and graphs.
“The cool thing is, if you want to really immerse yourself you can click on an icon and listen to the national anthem,” she said, adding that there is also a button that presents information like an audiobook.
One of the interesting features of the site is a photo gallery depicting daily life and street scenes from various cities throughout a country. Stratton said that a video of an Italian couple making pasta was especially enjoyable.
“You can hear the native language and really get a glimpse of how they live their lives,” she stated.
Interviews with residents of various ages, in English, are another unique feature designed to give users a look at everyday life. With a click, Stratton showed how a user can hear from an adult, a teenager and a 10-year-old about such universal activities as school and work.
CultureGrams is also a resource for cooks who want to give an international flair to their meals, with recipes ranging from the familiar, like pasta, to the bizarre fruit bat soup from Micronesia.
Familiarity with a language can be a big help to a traveler, and Stratton demonstrated how the Mango Languages site offers learning programs in over 60 languages, including “Pirate.” She said that once a user creates an account, they can take a “placement test” to gauge their ability in a language. Progress and number of languages being studied are also tracked for easy reference.
Reference librarian Emma Dittmer demonstrated the National Geographic Virtual Library, which offers entire volumes of the magazine from the first one in 1888 through 1994, the year the organization stopped compiling a printed index. Referring to the old printed directory of magazine articles, Dittmer noted that this site is “kind of like the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature we used to use, but so much easier.”
She added that the site is relatively easy to navigate. “It’s just a matter of trying. There’s no right way to do it. Just try,” she urged.
While articles can be saved, shared and bookmarked, Stratton warned that if a user tries to print a story, the entire magazine is printed.
For other cultural insights, Dittmer recommended EBSCOhost, a site for newspapers, magazines and reference books compiled in one location. “This database is amazing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in first grade or a graduate student, there’s something here for everyone,” she noted.
Dittmer, a former teacher, said that the site is especially useful when she is working with students doing research. “Don’t Google something. Go to an authoritative source,” she advised.
For “armchair travel,” the staff recommended NoveList Plus, a guide to present-day fiction, which includes many titles set in other countries, and IndieFlix, the independent film site. The library’s own Reading Room offers staff reviews of books and helps patrons discover new novels.
All of the above websites can be accessed by library card holders through the Rocky River Public Library website, http://www.rrpl.org, then clicking on the “Research Resources” tab.