Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Exterior of Versailles Palace

This summer I traveled to Paris for the first time and visited many of the iconic tourist destinations from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Montmartre. But the highlight for me was the day we spent at Versailles. This was my personal reason for including Paris on our travel itinerary. I had always wanted to see the palace of Louis XIV, the Sun King. As a native Londoner I wondered if it was really more magnificent than Buckingham Palace. I found the answer is an unequivocal yes. The vast size of the building and gardens make Buckingham Palace look like a humble cottage. The sheer amount of gold ornamentation, baroque paintings, and sculptures covering every available surface, and idealized images of the Sun King everywhere you look is overwhelming. In the Hall of Mirrors, the mirrored walls and crystal chandeliers reflect and dazzle with an almost blinding light, the apotheosis of Louis’s self-aggrandizement. By the end of the day the French Revolution seemed an inevitable and necessary reaction to all this excess.

Versailles Hall of Mirrors

Here are some books I consulted before my trip so I would be an informed tourist:

A “fast-paced” (Kirkus Reviews) history of the building and the lifestyles of those who lived there, royalty and servants, from construction to the revolution.

The Gardener of Versailles by Alain Baraton.
This memoir by the gardener-in-chief at the palace since 1982 was a best-seller in France. While overseeing a team of 80 gardeners on the 2,100 acres, Baraton also deals with visitors who try to hide in the gardens overnight and other misadventures.

The popular biographer gives a lively account of the many women in Louis’s life from his mother and wives to his many mistresses. Also available as a CD Book.

The compelling story of a scandal that roiled the court at Versailles as a craze for fortune-telling and love potions ended in a witch-hunt and the burning of a woman accused of poisoning and sorcery. This book is available from Inter-Library Loan.

Not surprisingly the splendor and romance of Versailles have inspired many novelists, including these:

Versailles by Kathryn Davis.
A poignant historical novel told from the perspective of Marie Antoinette, for whom the palace was both playground and prison, separating her from the people who would determine her tragic fate.

Merivel: A Man of his Time by Rose Tremain.
A sequel to Restoration, this novel by the critically acclaimed author follows her anti-hero Sir Robert Merivel to Versailles where he hopes to become King Louis XIV’s physician. His adventures at the court he deems dazzling but superficial include an affair with a beautiful Swiss botanist and the rescue of a captive bear.

A Plague of Lies by Judith Rock.
A mystery featuring the series character Charles du Luc, a Jesuit priest in seventeenth century France. In this episode du Luc travels to Versailles to present Louis’s wife with the gift of a reliquary. But on his first night at the palace a courtier dies of suspected poisoning, and a gardener is found murdered.

Grounds of Versailles Palace

The gardens are perhaps the most spectacular part of Versailles. I had hoped to visit le Hameau de la Reine, the mock farm in the gardens of the Petit Trianon where Marie Antoinette and her ladies played at shepherdesses. But our guide pointed to the map of the gardens and explained that the Petit Trianon was a two hour hike away! That gave us some perspective on the vast scale of the palace grounds. We had quite a hike just exploring the gardens in the immediate vicinity of the palace. It would be easy to get lost in the maze of walkways between the many circular enclosed gardens hidden away behind walls and hedges. Each one came as a surprise, ingeniously disguised until you suddenly came upon it around a bend or up a rise. The most memorable was a fountain water garden heralded by the sound of baroque music playing. I couldn’t resist taking a video:

French music in the reign of Louis XIV was heavily influenced by Italian opera and ballet. In fact the leading composer at the French court, Jean-Baptiste Lully, was born in Italy. He changed his name from Giovanni Battista Lulli when he arrived in France in 1653. As I write I am listening to some of his compositions for Louis XIV on MCPL’s free music streaming service Classical Music Library.

Album cover for L'Orchestre Du Roi Soleil by Jean-Baptiste Lully
You can explore all MCPL’s music options here and pair your own reading with some related listening.

Finally, for a virtual tour of Versailles check out the DVD The Palace of Versailles: A Grand Tour inside the Historic French Palace.

After we left Versailles, suffering a kind of sensory overload from all the gold and glitter and baroque magnificence, we relaxed over traditional French crepes in a little bistro just a short walk away. Somehow our conversation turned to the French Revolution.

Rita T.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

3 Things I've Learned from Reading Challenges

MCPL 2016 Reading Challenge
I first found out about reading challenges in late 2015 (Yes, I was way behind the times). I loved the idea. Since it was so late in the year, I tried remembering what I had read during the year and slotting it into different challenge categories. I think I did pretty well, although without any record of what I had read, it was hard to verify if I was remembering the timeline correctly.

Whether I fudged my numbers or not, I loved the concept of reading challenges so much that I pushed for MCPL to hold its own challenge. We revealed our first reading challenge in January.

Now the year is winding down and we are opening up the MCPL Reading Challenge completion form, I would like to share a few things I have gotten from the reading challenges I have completed, both MCPL's and others:
  1. Comedic memoirs. I am not a big television watcher. I announced this summer that I was going to watch all of Game of Thrones. Three months later, I am on Season 1, Episode 8. (Please, no spoilers in the comments!) I have seen the occasional episode of hit shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, but I am by no means an avid follower. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I quickly followed it up with Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler and Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I enjoyed them all. Plus, they make great audiobooks, read by the (very funny!) authors.
  2. Graphic novels. I had heard a lot about the Saga books over the years, so I read the first one in 2015 to try to round out a challenge I had started in November. I enjoyed it a lot and have read several others. I have also started reading Fables and read the first Lumberjanes and Nimona, both by Noelle Stevenson.
  3. Completed MCPL Reading Challenge form
    My completed Reading Challenge
  4. Quantity does not guarantee variety. I read a lot. I am not a regular user of Goodreads or any other similar software, so this year I decided to start tracking my reading using Google Sheets. To date, I have finished or started 97 books in 2016. I read across a wide range of genres, time periods, and formats. You might think that amount of variation would guarantee a certain diversity of titles, but it doesn't. While I made a point of reading titles that would fit the categories in MCPL's Reading Challenge, I find I am still not reading anything from certain categories found in other reading challenges.
Completed the challenge? Congratulations! We would love to know what books you read. Book suggestions will be shared on social media. Challenge participants who submit a completion form will be entered to win a limited number of prizes during a drawing in January. You can suggest topics for our 2017 Challenge. Happy reading!


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Food for Fines 2016

Food for Fines 2016 October 16-30
Fines happen. Whether it's a book that slid under the car seat during the drive to the library or a movie that never made it back into the case, many of us owe a dollar or two (or more!) to the library.

However your fines happened, we are pleased to be offering our second annual Food for Fine campaign!

Every canned good or non-perishable food item you bring to your library October 16–30 will reduce your existing fines or hold fees by one dollar. (Donations cannot be used towards other fees.) The Food for Fines program is part of our support for Montgomery County’s Community Service Week.

Requested Healthy Food Items: Instant Oatmeal; Brown rice; Whole grain pasta; Canned vegetables; Canned fruit; Fruit cups; Tuna, Salmon or Chicken, in water; Dry or canned beans; Natural nut butters; Milk boxes; Cooking oils and spices; Infant formula and baby food
All food will be donated to the Manna Food Center. Shelf-stable foods such as canned fruits, vegetables and meats, dried beans, brown rice, quinoa, low sugar cereals, baby food, formula, and vegetarian items will be accepted as donations. Unfortunately, we cannot accept home-canned items, opened foods, or foods past their expiration dates.

No fines but still want to get involved? No problem! All customers are welcome to drop off donations at our branches during this program.

Last year's Food for Fines program collected approximately 240 bushels (6,000 pounds) of food for Manna! Director Hamilton and other MCPL staff toured Manna to learn more about how food donations are helping our community residents. See photos from last year's program:

2015 Food for Fines

Visit our website to find your closest branch and plan your donation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It's Science!

science information
One of the best scifi shows I have binged watched lately is Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany is an absolutely amazing actress who has played, at this point, so many clones of herself that I've lost track. Growing up (and even now!) I tend to gravitate toward tv shows that have a science fiction bent because they tend to have intriguing characters, fascinating story lines, and they make your imagination expand and grow, Which is why I am so thrilled that this month we are promoting science to enable us all "to boldly go where no one has gone before!"

electricity books
Looking for authoritative and free science information online? You can find science articles and biographical information from Science in Context and Science Reference Center. If you know your child's Lexil number, you can limit the content searched in both databases by your child's reading level. Science Reference Center also offers lesson plans for teachers and worksheets to test your knowledge. World Book Online is a great encyclopedia database with science information for all ages. If you are looking for biographical information on famous and fascinating scientists, be sure to have a look at Biography in Context. You can browse or search under scientists or under specific occupations such as chemist, engineer, or mathematician.

Looking for science e-books to read? Gale Virtual Reference Library has always available e-books on subjects such as the environment, medicine, science, and technology. Safari Books Online also has a wide variety of always available e-books on computer technology, software development, information technology, engineering, math, and science. Maryland's Digital eLibrary Consortium (Overdrive) is good source for computer technology and science e-books to check out and read.

LEGO world
Want to engage your child with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fun? Looking for science experiments to try at home? Science in Context, Science Reference Center, and World Book Online all have exciting science experiments to learn from. We have print science experiment books on a variety of topics, as well as science fair project websites. Looking for STEM e-books for your kids? We've got those too. And, of course, don't forget to visit our branches for exciting STEM programs that allow children to explore and discover the science of the world around us.

Your kids will be fascinated and intrigued by the programs we are having as part of the Maryland STEM Festival! We'll have STEM-y storytimes, show you how to connect electronics and circuits in creative ways, how to create cool art with floppy disks, a stop motion animation workshop, potions that bubble, and many more exciting STEM events! These events will run all through November, but some require registration.

chemistry teacher teaching kids
A great way to also explore STEM topics with your children is to check out a Go! Kit. The kits are designed to encourage the parent/caregiver and child to actively explore the world around them.  Each kit contains several books, science tools, a mini- iPad with preloaded apps, and a list of the contents of the kit.  Each kit can be borrowed for 2 weeks. We have Little Explorer Go! Kits for ages 3-6 and Young Voyager Go! Kits for grades 3-6.

Interested in trying out new technology? Come to our Digital Media Labs where you can learn and create digital photography, storytelling, video production, graphic design, music videos, social media, animation, computer programming, art, and more. Digital Media Labs are designed for teens and adults.

home and energy efficient symbols
If you're like me, you are looking to ways to save money when it comes to energy costs. October is Energy Action Month and we've got a series of energy exploration events where you can discover tips and projects to save energy and money at home! Topics will include weatherization, lighting, heating/cooling, and energy-efficient appliances. Bring a copy of your utility bill to these programs and you can be entered to win a sustainability kit! This series is co-sponsored by the Department of Environmental Protection, Pepco, and the Department of General Services.

We invite you to explore and discover science and technology at MCPL!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Library Card Sign Up Month

September is National Library Card Sign Up Month! Do you remember getting your first library card? What did it feel like to realize for the first time that you could take home one of the beautiful, colorful childrens' books, for free? Or maybe you got your first card as an adult and used the library to find a job, find your next car, or learn a new recipe. I remember wandering the stacks of my hometown library, looking for books our teacher had read to us in class.

Libraries have come a long way since I combed the childrens' stacks for the latest Encyclopedia Brown book. MCPL now offers e-books, e-magazines, audiobooks, online classes, downloadable and streaming music, online articles, test preparation, and STEM Go! Kits for kids. You can use your library card to learn to play a musical instrument, sing, or make art, or even earn your high school diploma!

Want to learn more about what a library card can do for you? Here's a list of 20 free library resources and services that might be new to you.
  1. Earn your high school diploma.
  2. Check Consumer Reports from home.
  3. Learn to play a musical instrument, sing, or make art through ArtistWorks.
  4. Learn a language online.
  5. Find a musical score online.
  6. Stream one of 250 performances of the world's leading plays.
  7. Borrow books from libraries across the country.
  8. Prepare for the SAT, LSAT, NCLEX and more.
  9. Search your family history with HeritageQuest Online.
  10. Take an online technology, business, or creative class with Gale Courses.
  11. Download e-books.
  12. Start your own business.
  13. Download music from Freegal.
  14. Renew your materials online.
  15. Download audiobooks.
  16. Read an e-magazine from home.
  17. Discover your next favorite book
  18. Check out exercise videos.
  19. Find articles, encyclopedias, and biographical information for your school project.
  20. Put a book on hold online.
Library cards empower their users. So tell your family, tell your friends! There's so much you can do with a library card. Sign up for one today!.