Ottawa Public Library

I have returned the voltmeter

My time with the Ottawa Public Library's Kill-a-Watt meter has come to an end. It was fun and informative. My final measurement was of my stereo system while not in use. With all my components (amplifier, CD player, turntable) off, or rather on stand-by,  my stereo draws 17 watts of power.

I will have to re-order the meter from the OPL when I have more time.

The Kill-a-Watt meter is one example of a non book or other media item the OPL has available.


Take a look at for more items.

Shocking Voltmeter News!

Well, I was a little shocked.


I have been having a running discussion on monitor power usage. When flat screen monitors first came out I was told that they used less power than the old CRT monitors. Lately I've been told that large flat screen monitors actually use more power than large CRT monitors. So, having the means to test this, I did!

I currently use two Dell 19" flat screen monitors. To make the test fair I unplugged one flat screen and connected a Sony Trinitron 17" CRT monitor. I have also heard that a white screen uses more power than a black screen, so I tested that as well. 

  White Screen Black Screen
Flat Screen

28 watts

.37 amps

29 watts

.39 amps


86 watts

1.03 amps

63 watts

.78 amps


The results were clear. Flat screen monitors at this size use less power than CRT monitors. The shocking results?  While black screens may use less power than white in the old CRT world, the opposite is true with flat screens.


While browsing the Ottawa Public Library site I noticed that they had watt meters available for borrowing. These are the kind of meters you can plug into the outlet and then into which you can plug various electric devices. I put one on hold and it arrived less than a week later.

I've been curious for a while about the actual draw of the many electronic devices we have, especially when in 'standby mode'.

How much electricity does it take to run the VCR's clock?

What is the difference between a computer in 'sleep' mode versus a computer in 'hibernate'?

How accurate are the watts/amps on the device's labels?

What uses more power a flat screen monitor or a CRT monitor?

Now I can find out!

 My first project was to check out my computers.

Computer Electricity Usage

When measuring the computer electricity usage I noticed that the numbers varied quite a bit depending on what the computer was doing. Booting up took more power than idling. Anytime the hard drive was accessed the numbers jumped up. The numbers below are averages of a few seconds of observation. Where there was a large spread I have given the spread as best I could observe. I assume that there are probably other factors I didn't consider that may affect usage.


  Watts VA Amp
Laptop Sleep Mode .03 14 .13
Laptop On 53 93 .70
Laptop Hibernate .03 14 .14



  Watts VA Amp
Desktop On  60-80  93-117  .77-1.00
Desktop with Flat Screen  80-90  158  1.11
Desktop with Two Flat Screens  110-120  164-185  1.36
Desktop with Monitors and External Hard Drive (running) 120-130 119 1.5
Desktop with Two Flat Screens and iPhone plugged into USB port 115 177 1.47


It turns out that usage varies quite a bit and seems to depend on what the computer is doing. If I were testing multiple computers for comparison I would have to be pretty rigorous in my approach to ensure that each computer was working the same. It does make me wonder if different operating systems would have different electricity usage. Plugging and unplugging my iPhone had a small but measurable effect on usage.

Ottawa Public Library Strikes Again

The Ottawa Public Library is a great service with some great resources. As I have noted before, it has recently updated its website and catalogue systems. The roll-out has not gone particularly smoothly. Instead of being off-line for two days the system was out of order for four. There are still issues with tracking holds and there remain other 'post-migration issues'.

I think that if any other organization was having this level of trouble I would be beyond frustrated. And yet I am not. I am predisposed to give the Library the benefit of the doubt. In fact, in my experience Library employees are more frustrated with the situation than I am.

It is pretty clear to me why this is. Everytime (every time) I have communicated with the library about their systems I have gotten a response. On Monday, I used the website form to complain about an odd error message I was getting. When I tried to renew a book I got a message that read "Privilege has expired". Today I got a reply that they had fixed the problem. The message has been changed to “Your card has expired, please renew it at your branch”.

By being such good communicators, the library has created a high-level of goodwill. It helps that the library starts with a mandate to help people and that they seem to take their mandate seriously. I hope for the library staff's sake that the system migration gets finished soon, but by communicating so well they have ensured that I will remain patient.

Public Library: Online resources

I don't know if this qualifies as hidden, but it certainly is a gem. As well as books and DVDs the Ottawa Public Library offers online access to a large selection of online resources. Linked to from the homepage and from the 'Find an item' menu, anyone with a library card can access free and commercial databases organized by subject and format.

  • In the market for a new barbeque? Check out Consumer Reports.
  • Interested in current events around the world, search an archive of hundreds of newspapers.
  • Wonder why your car is making that odd noise, find service bulletins on your car (Auto Repair Reference Center).
  • Need homework help, try the eLibrary Elementary database.
  • Access a full-text search of the Globe and Mail from 1844 onwards!

Oh, I could go on and on.

If you don't know where to start, try the AskON online reference service, "A free information service for Ontarians, provided by Ontario's public libraries. Chat live with askON staff from Ontario libraries."

The possibilities are limitless.

OPL A Brief Appreciation

I love the public library. My whole family are heavy library users. We are now downloading audio books, borrowing movies, graphic novels music CDs and even a few books. I will be attending the Library's Awesome Authors awards ceremony this week (sponsored by the Friends of OPL). A few weeks ago a started using the new Ottawa Public Library website.

While there are still a few technical glitches (that seem to be getting fixed a good rate) I am really impressed overall. This is a much improved site. The truest sign of this is the increased amount of time I am spending on the site.

The primary navigation scheme (top of page) seems to be based broadly on functional categories. This is a list of things to do on the site. Each menu item has a tagline that helps clarify what it represents. I probably would have buried the 'About OPL' content deeper and used that real estate for something more interesting but I understand how this content always finds its way to the top. Jan Harder's face is never more than two clicks away!

The body of the page is made up of six large content blocks. Each block, when selected reveals a sub menu. The submenu offers some pretty good clues as to the functionality it offers. I like this navigation style, although it took me a few visits to understand exactly how it worked. I may be slow. There are overlaps between the top navigation and the content blocks navigation. On some sites this would bother me more and I would probably would have merged the 'Using the Library' menu item and the 'Planning my trip to the library...' content block.

At the very top of the page is a search box to search the catalogue, website, or articles. At the same level are links to the catalogue, the computer sign up site, the kid's site and a feed back button.

All of this is accessible without logging in. Anyone with a library card can login which is where the fun starts. A partial list of new features:

  • Keep book lists                       
  • Organize lists by titles I've borrowed/titles I own
  • Easier access to a wealth of digital media and databases
  • Easier to see what I have out, when things are due, what I have on hold
  • Find and connect to other users with overlapping collections
  • Easy to add to my collection from the catalogue. Maybe impossible to export my lists out of the OPL system.

Even with the technical fixes to date there are a few frustrating quirks remaining.

  • The site seems to ask for a new login whenever the catalogue is accessed
  • I can't find aggregated ratings for items. It would be cool to see the highest rated or the most commented on items featured
  • You can earn community credits by rating, tagging or commenting on items.There isn't an explanation of what the community credits are good for. The help and FAQ pages are too generic. "Ask your Ask your librarian if your library is currently offering prizes for community credits." The help files should be for the actuall application the OPL has of the software.
  • While the software seems to support it, I still can't send myself reminders when items are coming due

In summary, the new site is a great improvement.

It shows that it is possible to have a navigation scheme that works well even if it isn't especially intuitive.

I hope the library continues to test the site and makes changes where warranted.

I hope that the technical glitches get fixed before users get frustrated with the new functionality.

I hope the OPL is getting good feedback on the site. They deserve it.

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