Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Free Online Learning with MCPL

Have you heard about all the online learning folks are doing these days? Want to join in, but don't know where to start? Start at your library!

Black and white cartoon of a woman with a book next to a laptop and headphones
One of our most exciting online learning resources is It offers over 6,000 courses on a wide variety of topics including, business, technology, and creative endeavors like photography. All the courses are based on video instruction, with some courses supplementing the videos with practical exercises for students to complete. The length of each course varies. I ran across a basic Microsoft Word course that was just over 35 minutes long. I've taken a Sharepoint course that was over 9 hours! Thankfully, the courses are broken up into manageable sections of about 5 minutes, so it's easy to dip in and out of a course as your time allows.

Another powerful tool MCPL offers for free online learning is Gale Courses, a collection of high quality classes. Areas of study include accounting and finance, general business, computer and web technology, healthcare, legal matters, personal development, and writing.
Gale Courses icon

Each course runs for six weeks. New sessions begin every month. Let's say you want to take the Spanish for Medical Professionals course. There are upcoming sessions that begin December 12, January 16, February 13, and March 13. This course contains 24 hours of instruction time. You have 6 weeks from the start date of the course to complete those hours of instruction. The course includes a discussion board where you can interact with other students. It also has some quizzes. When you complete the course with a passing score, you receive an award of completion.

Safari Books Online iconOne of our most popular technology learning tools is Safari Books Online. It is a collection of e-books about many aspects of technology and business. Safari books are read in a browser, there's no downloading involved. Safari books are available 24/7, but there are a limited number of simultaneous users, so if you can't get in right away, you may have to wait a bit and try again.

Orange book cover with a group of 6 human silhouettes, 1 of whom is breaking out of the box they're all inSafari includes many electronic versions of books you may have seen on our shelves, such as the For Dummies series and the O'Reilly technology books. Some of these books are for the serious techie. Recent titles of this type include Developing Cybersecurity Program and Policies and Web Programming with HTML 5, CSS, and JavaScript. If you're not quite ready to administer your own server, Safari has more basic technology books for you too, such as those about Microsoft Office software like Word and Excel.

Safari has more than just technology books. There's a whole category devoted to personal and professional development. These books cover many business topics: time management, public speaking, investing, business writing, and more. The boldly titled Career Courage, for instance, can help people decide what they want to be when they grow up.

Whether it's computer programming, public speaking or advanced statistics, MCPL has what you need to advance your career or take another step on your journey of lifelong learning.

Mark S

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Finding Consumer Information

Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.
Cartoon image of a laptop next to a clipboard, calculator, and cup of pencils

With the end of the year holidays approaching, and much gift buying and giving happening, that old phrase keeps on popping into my head. I was wondering just how long we have been concerned with scams and buyer's remorse. We can probably trace it back to 1523, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, when writer John Fitzherbert wrote to warn buyers to ride horses first before purchasing one to see if the horse is tame or wild. Just like back then, when purchasing a product or service, we hope to find the one that makes us the happiest. At MCPL, we are committed to providing information to help our customers make informed choices in the marketplace. Here are some great resources to help you be an informed consumer.


Looking to purchase a cell phone, computer, washing machine and dryer, vacuum cleaner, car, or other product? You can research these types of products online using Consumer Reports. It is a great source to get unbiased product testing and ratings information. Their general information about products is a great way to help customers know what to look for when purchasing a product. Once you know what features you want, you can check that product's ratings. Products are rated from excellent to poor based on test results.


If you are interested in a local service and not sure what company to go with, have a look at Washington Consumers' Checkbook. It has ratings, comments, and advice on many local services from accountants to window installers. Once you find the service you are interested in, you can limit the companies to those within a specified number of miles of your zip code. Companies are rated for quality, price, and the percentage of customers who rated the service as superior. You can also access their customer survey results and comments. Washington Consumers' Checkbook is available online, but can be accessed only at a library branch.


In addition to ratings on automobiles, auto repair services and auto insurance, you have online access to AutoMate. It contains up-to-date repair and maintenance information on almost all domestic and imported vehicles. Interested in purchasing or selling a car? Have a look at the Kelley Blue Book and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) for car values. Auto safety information can also be found from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Automobile Recall and Defect Information site.


Health is another consumer area that you really want to make certain you are getting the most authoritative information.  The Health and Wellness Resource Center is a trusted source for articles on health, medicine, and wellness from magazines, journals, and reference books. It has information on diseases and conditions but also includes trusted health websites and a medical dictionary. If you would like to research doctors that you are interested in seeing based on years of practice, medical school attended, primary specialty, state of license, and board certification, Reference USA is a good source. You can research physicians' state licences, including disciplinary actions, for Maryland and Washington, D.C. on our Health resource guide. To find rated doctors, hospitals, and more, have a look in the Washington Consumers' Checkbook. Health information is vast, rapidly changing, and sometimes presents contradictory viewpoints. It must be evaluated critically by the user.

Nonprofits and Charities

This time of year a lot of individuals donate to nonprofits and charities. With so many organizations it can be difficult to find those that match your interests. It's also good to know what the nonprofit or charity does with your donation. For example, the State of Maryland has a Charitable Organization Division that registers, regulates and renews charitable organizations doing business in Maryland. We have resources to assist you in researching and evaluating charities.

Government Help

And don't forget that there are government organizations to help you. With Montgomery County's Office of Consumer Protection, you can file complaints and search their complaint records. The State of Maryland also has a Consumer Protection Division where you can file complaints and get important consumer information. From the Maryland State Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, you can check to see if businesses or individuals are licensed in Maryland before doing business. The federal government also has many consumer protection agencies and departments.

We’re happy to provide you with the resources you need to make informed consumer choices this holiday season and beyond!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Finding a Good Book

Open book filled with varied images like a dog, a girl with a red umbrella, and a hot air balloon
Are you having trouble finding books that you or your child would enjoy reading? I've always been a voracious reader, but I remember as a young adult getting stuck reading just one genre or rereading my favorite books or authors. I didn't know what other books were out there that I'd enjoy. After I came to work at MCPL, my reading life expanded greatly.

Being exposed to a variety of engaging books and customers with different reading preferences gives our librarians a wealth of book knowledge that we can't wait to share. We're here to help you find the right book at the right time for you or your child!

Events are a fabulous way to discover new books for you or your child. We have more storytimes than ever. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers can start the magical journey to becoming lifelong readers. At storytimes, you can learn how to get your child ready to read. We also offer special storytimes like bilingual and pajama storytimes.

Young children can also sign up for our 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program. Reading to a child expands his or her vocabulary exponentially and it is a great bonding experience that will create life-long memories. Children can also engage in early literacy experiences like fingerplays or singing a song. Sign your child up today!

Colorful seascape with 2 yellow fish and the words 1000 Books Before Kindergarten
There are many children's programs to delight your elementary school age children too. If you have a new or reluctant reader, try one of our read to a dog programs. Reading to wonderful certified therapy dogs enables kids to gain reading confidence and skills Our dogs are ideal companions who listen attentively without judgment. It's a pawsitive experience!

And don't forget about book discussions! These are lively events where you can meet new friends and deepen your understanding of books. We have book discussions at branches throughout the county. There are also book discussions that have a specific focus, such as our African American, Chinese, FrenchJewish, mystery, and talking books discussion groups. Thinking about starting your own book discussion? We've got tips and reading suggestions to get you started.

Reading Suggestions
It's never too early to start reading to your babies. We also have books for older children who are reading on their own, whether they are comfortable readers or beginners. We have booklists on many favorite genres from adventure to trains on our Kids' page as well as diverse booklists by grade that will be mirrors and windows for your children. Does your child have a favorite book or author? Try NoveList K-8 Plus for reading suggestions based on books or authors that your child has enjoyed.

brother and sister reading at OlneyFor teens there are a variety of popular "if you like" and topical booklists, on subjects like dystopian worlds and road trips, on our Teensite. Our librarians who love teen books have also compiled some great diverse books to read for middle and high school students. Be sure to have a look at our Teen Pinterest board and YouTube playlist Teen Talk! which includes fun videos of MCPL staff and teens talking up their favorite teen titles!

Let's not forget about the adults. Have a look at our entertaining reading suggestions on Readers' Cafe. These include our We Recommend and Librarian's Choice selections. You can also find What We're Reading and more on our Pinterest boards. We also have NoveList Plus for adults with reading suggestions based on books or authors you have enjoyed. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast, Library Matters where you can get to know our staff and get the inside scoop on what fabulous books they're reading. For parents or caregivers I highly recommend the episodes "Reading Aloud to a Child" Parts 1 and Part 2.

Ask MCPL Librarians
people reading at a cafe and text: What Do I Check Out Next
If you're stuck, or just looking for a personal book recommendation for you or your child, you can always ask us, the reading experts! You can ask our librarians in-person at any of our branches. Or you can ask us online through our award winning What Do I Check Out Next? service. Just complete the form and we'll email you 3-5 book recommendations in 3 business days.

At MCPL we're here to help you or your child discover your next favorite read! Happy reading!


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Winter Exercise

Woman running on snowy path
Finding the motivation to exercise can be challenging. It's especially tough in winter. If it's not raining, it's snowing. Even when the sun is shining, it's cold. I'm a runner myself. I feel your pain. I've skipped more than a few runs as the days have gotten colder.

Thankfully MCPL is here to help. Not ready to face the cold and dark of winter? Exercise inside! Our branches have a wide variety of exercise books and videos to help you keep fit while the weather outside is frightful. We have videos for cardio work, as well as strength training. We also have more focused material, such as our therapy exercise books for those with arthritis, osteoporosis, and other medical conditions. We even have exercise videos just for kids. Ask your librarian for suggestions. Whether you're looking for an intense 30 Day Shred with Jillian Michaels or something more mellow like The Pain Free Program, we can find something to keep your winter active.

Blue background with yellow silhouette of a figure in a yoga pose.
If you're looking for peace of mind as well as fitness, a number of our branches offer tai chi and yoga programs. Of course, we have tai chi books and videos, as well as books and DVDs about yoga.

Perhaps you view winter as more opportunity than obstacle. Judging by the number of skiing books we own, it's a popular pastime. My one experience on the slopes didn't go so well, so I'll read about it instead. Two Planks and a Passion: a Dramatic History of Skiing may be worth a look for the title alone.

If you prefer skates to skis, we've got you covered. Whether you're a hockey player, figure skating, or beginner, we've got plenty of books and videos to smooth your glide. Montgomery County doesn't have any public ski slopes, but we do have two very fine ice rinks, at Cabin John and Wheaton. While you're there, tell the Montgomery Parks folks we said hi.

As for me? Well, our Canadian neighbors say it's still possible to run in winter, if you're well dressed and careful. Or, there's always the dreadmill...

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Veterans Day 2018

Red poppy next to barbed wire and the words WWI 100 Years, Veterans Day
In the United States, November 11 is a national holiday, Veterans Day. It is a day for honoring all those who have served in the American armed forces. It is different from Memorial Day, which is set aside to remember those died in military service. Veterans Day is for all US military veterans.

Some federal holidays, such as Columbus Day and Presidents Day, are officially observed on a Monday, to give everyone a long weekend. Veterans Day is different. Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11 because of that date's historical significance. Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I. That war's fighting officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, or 11:00 AM, November 11, 1918. After World War II, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars. Despite the name change, Veterans Day remains linked to its historic origin. 

Who are America's veterans? Here are some figures from the US Census.
  • There are about 18.2 million American veterans
  • 1.6 million are women
  • Over 9 million are age 65 or older. 1.6 million are younger than 35
View of rows of soldiers in uniform. If you want to learn more about our veterans, MCPL has many fine non-fiction books and videos about veterans.  I was particularly intrigued by the book Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel, which follows the lives of several members of an infantry battalion after they return home from a 15 month tour of duty in Iraq. This book has also been made into a movie.

A wide variety of novels feature veterans as prominent characters. These books range from literary fiction to thrillers, historical fiction, and even romance novels.The Whiskey Rebels by Davis Liss, for instance, is a historical fiction novel that follows the lives of two Revolutionary War veterans struggling to establish lives amidst the turmoil and intrigue of our nation's early years.

MCPL has many resources for veterans entering the civilian workforce. Our Jobs and Careers page has links to career and self-assessment tools, as well as resources for creating resumes and cover letters. MCPL also offers online courses and tools to help veterans prepare for entrance and vocational tests such as the SAT, LSAT, NCLEX and many more.

Badge that reads honor their service, strengthen our community
Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services has a page dedicated to local veterans. This page offers information about local events of interest to veterans, as well as information about community organizations such as Serving Together that help veterans access local resources.  In addition to local resources, Maryland has a state level Department of Veterans Affairs that supports Maryland veterans with employment services, training, health services, and financial programs.

Finally, among its many services, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a Returning Service Members section dedicated to military personnel transitioning to civilian life from service in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

We thank all veterans for their service and appreciate the contributions they continue to make to our community.