Monday, November 30, 2015

Find Consumer Information

People holding customer sign. Find consumer information.
Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

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 we hope, when purchasing a product or service, 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.


family buying a washing machine
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, features are mentioned, and they have their recommendations for best buy.


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 Wood Finishers. Once you find the service you are interested in you can limit the companies to 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 on their survey for overall performance. 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.


seniors driving a car
In addition to ratings on automobiles (Consumer Reports) and auto repair services and auto insurance (Washington Consumers' Checkbook), you have online access to Auto Repair Reference Center. It contains up-to-date repair and maintenance information on almost all domestic and imported vehicles. ASE-certified technicians created all of the content. 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. Automobile Recall and Defect Information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and information on Maryland's Lemon Law can be found on our Automobiles resource guide.


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 includes 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 25, 2015

Something Familiar, Something Unusual—Music from Freegal

I have a long commute and sometimes travel out of state, so I like to have a full MP3 player to keep me company. Most of my music CD collection is on it, and, when MCPL got Freegal, I tried it out not only so I could explain it to library customers but so I could add to my own collection. As many people have said, Freegal is "eclectic," containing some unusual musicians while short on or some major artists. But Freegal has music in dozens of genres from acid rock to zydeco, and as you’ll read, my tastes are pretty eclectic.  Also, free music—five songs a week!—is not to be dismissed easily.

As a child of the 70s, I was delighted to find some Billy Joel right away, and, as time went on, Freegal added more of his titles. Recently, I found a few karaoke recordings so I now have fun doing my own rendition of "Only the Good Die Young" on the way to work in the morning. There’s also karaoke of another favorite of mine, Weird Al Yankovic. Use the word "karaoke" with your favorite artists to search (be careful: some recordings do have lead singers on them). A family sing-along might be fun on your next long trip—at least for a while.

My husband’s music interests have fostered my love of classic and big band jazz. Freegal has provided me with a wealth of songs, including at least a hundred by my favorite jazz vocalist, Ella Fitzgerald. Some of  "How High the Moon" is just one Freegal tune that includes her legendary scat singing. And when I heard a young jazz vocalist and songwriter, Cecile McLorin Salvant, on the radio I was delighted to be able to download some of her songs right away.

On Freegal, I’ve found classical vocal music I sang in college, multiple versions of "Les Miserables" and "West Side Story," and Tuvan throat singing—something I’d never heard till I went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival soon after moving to the metro DC area. I recommend "Khoomei (Styles of the Throat Singing)" for a sampling if you’re curious. Freegal also has a generous collection of traditional and popular music from around the globe, so if you want to find some music from your home country or from a culture you learned about on a documentary or YouTube video, try Freegal.

It's also a great place to check out music you might not ordinarily buy. I tried out a couple of of songs by one of my teenage nephew's favorites, the Irish-American punk band Dropkick Murphys (songs not recommended for children younger than teens!). Now I have new insight into my usually-quiet nephew's personality.

Downloading five songs each week—remember, for free—lets me experiment with new music, as does the "preview" segment you can try before deciding. So explore for yourself, whether it's for something new or old favorites, add them to your computer or the MP3 player of your choice, and enjoy!

Beth C.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What'll I Read?

Do you ever have one of the moments when you just don’t know what to read?

cover of Winter by Marissa Meyer
I've been waiting months
for Winter to come out!
Maybe you’re waiting for the next title in your favorite series to come out, and you want a special read to get you in the mood (without re-reading the beginning of the series for the second, third, or eighteenth time).

Or maybe you’re trying to complete a Read Harder Challenge (like this one from Book Riot) and you really need to find the right book to check off the _______ box. (Personally, I’ve been procrastinating a poetry selection.)

Believe me, we’ve all been there. We know how hard it can be to find just the right book to fit what you’re looking to read RIGHT NOW. We know there are moments when that huge To Be Read list on your nightstand or in your Catalog Wish List just doesn’t include a single book you want to read at the moment.

But, your luck is about to change, because we’ve got six great tools to get you what you want to read:

  1. In-person Readers’ Advisory: This is an old standby. Come to a branch and ask a librarian. They can talk to you about what you’ve read and what you’ve liked and help you find something you want to read.
  2. Online Readers’ Advisory: If you don’t have time to come to a branch, try our online Readers’ Advisory services. Our What Do I Check Out Next? Service is staffed by our expert librarians. Fill out a few questions about what you like to read (and what you don’t like to read), and they’ll provide personalized recommendations for you to try. They’ll even try to match your preferred format (print, e-book, or audiobook). We also offer a few online databases for that suggest other books to read, including Beanstack and NoveList K–8 for young readers and NoveList Plus for adults.
  3. Librarian’s Choice: It’s probably no surprise that our librarian’s read a lot. And, every month, they review a title and tell you why you might enjoy it. The detailed reviews also include information about similar and related titles. This month’s review of Orange is the New Black includes information about the hit TV show as well as other books related to the events in Piper Kerman’s well-known memoir.
  4. We Recommend: We recommend doesn’t provide the detailed personalized reviews of Librarian’s Choice. Instead, it highlights items from our collection that focus on a specific theme. Books range from novels to memoirs to scientific tracts. It’s a great place to find books you might not have heard of on themes that interest you.
  5. If You Like lists: If you’re having the classic dilemma “I want to read something like what _______ writes, but I’ve already read all his/her stuff a bunch of times,” than our If You Like lists are a great place to start. With lists available by author or genre, there are a number of options to help you when you just don’t want to read your favorite author or you’re looking to get into a new genre.
  6. display of books for Halloween at Damascus Library
  7. Book displays: Stop by any branch and you’re almost sure to spot a book display or five. Whether it features staff favorites, recently returned titles, or books on a certain theme, book displays can be a great place to find an unexpected gem.

Try out one of these services and then let us know what you think in the comments. You might discover a great new author or genre you’ve never even heard of. Whatever happens, it’s a great way to get reading!


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maryland STEM Festival

two people run through a tower of plastic cups
Participants in the Germantown Cup
Challenge on November 6
The first Maryland STEM Festival is going on right now (November 6–15) and MCPL is proud to be participating! The purpose of the STEM Festival, as stated on its website, is to provide “inspiration, educational, and accessible programming in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) throughout Maryland.”

To that end, the Festival has gathered information about STEM events happening around the state into a central calendar where members of the public can look for events of interest happening near them. "The Festival," the website says, "provides STEM opportunities to all of Maryland without requiring them to travel significant distances."

group of four people surrounded by colored lights
Participants at a previous Light
Painting event at our Olney branch.
MCPL is excited to be offering STEM Festival events for all ages at multiple locations around the County. Events range from LEGO® and Duplo® building events for young children to chess clubs for older children and adults. The Wheaton branch will welcome FutureMakers for two light-painting events for teens and tweens on November 12. We are also excited to offer two special events in cooperation with Goddard Space Flight Center, Hurricanes and Clouds and Precipitation, both at the Aspen Hill branch on November 14.

STEM is a key part of our ongoing programming, especially for children and teens. Customers are also encouraged to drop in anytime to explore our STEM stations for children. Caregivers and children can also take advantage of our Go! Kits, which provide a mini-iPad, books, and specialized toys to explore selected STEM themes. Go! Kits are available for two ages of children: Little Explorer kits are intended for ages 3–6 and Young Voyager kits are designed for kids in grades 3–6.

STEM is an important and growing field that touches every aspect of modern life from entertainment to communication to medicine and beyond. We are excited to work with the Maryland STEM Festival in their goal to “give Maryland a vibrant STEM economy to make us a national leader in the 21st century economy.” Please join us!

Monday, November 9, 2015

We're Here for You! Expanded Hours at MCPL

New Hours at Chevy Chase and Potomac
MCPL is expanding the hours of Chevy Chase Library and Potomac Library. Starting, Monday, November 16, both Chevy Chase and Potomac will be open Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 8 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, they will be open 10 am - 6 pm.

MCPL understands that our residents have a variety of work, school, and other time commitments. We are dedicated to being there for you when you need us. This expansion of hours is the latest in a series MCPL has implemented over the last few years.

There are now 13 libraries throughout the county opened on Sundays, 1 pm - 5 pm.  We've got the workweek covered too, with 9 branches open 9 am - 9 pm Monday through Thursday. In addition, all MCPL libraries, except Noyes, are open 10 am - 6 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. For a complete list of all MCPL branch hours, locations and phone numbers, see our Library Branches and Hours page.

During those rare times when our branches aren't open, fear not, we're still here to serve. We have music for you, to download or stream for free, from our online music resources. A wide variety of e-books and e-magazines are available any time of the day or night as well. Books, movies and more can be found, and placed on hold, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through our catalog.

Connect with us, We're here for you!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Stories of Migrant Youth

On October 7, 2015 County Executive Leggett and MCPL Director Hamilton joined students from Sherwood High School and their teachers for a special ceremony celebrating the opening of a new exhibit, Stories of Migrant Youth, at Silver Spring Library and to honor the students whose work forms the exhibit.

At the ceremony, County Executive Leggett discussed a recent study by Wallet Hub that named Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, Rockville, and Germantown as among the top ten ethno-racially diverse cities in the country. He continued by explaining how multiculturalism is part of everyday life in Montgomery County. Mr. Leggett described his recent experience with two cultural celebrations taking place in Silver Spring on the same day. "One might look at this and say, this is, in fact, the exception,” he told the audience. “It is not an exception: it is the usual thing that you see in Montgomery County."

Turning the spotlight to the works of these students, Mr. Leggett said, "We need to tell the story of how we got here... This helps us to do that." The display consists of books created by English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students at Sherwood High School that tell the story of their journeys from their home countries and the new lives they have built in Montgomery County. The students come from around the world, with the largest contingent coming from Central America.

The students whose works are included in the display were among thirty who participated in a community outreach program with the Sandy Spring Museum in the fall of 2014. During the program, they learned bookbinding skills, participated in trauma-informed informal art therapy sessions, and created the highly personal narratives that form the exhibit.

Video from the event is available on the Montgomery County Public Schools website. The video includes interviews with some of the participating students, Sherwood High School ESOL teacher Aileen Coogan, and artist Beatriz del Olmo who worked with the students on the project.

The books will be on visible in the display case on the first floor of the Silver Spring Library through November 15. Stop by to see this moving and powerful exhibit today. The ceremony and exhibit are sponsored by the Office of Community Partnerships, Montgomery County Public Libraries, CASA de Maryland, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce—Montgomery County, and the County Executive’s Latin American Advisory Group.