Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Taciturn Tales - The Art of the Short Story

Did you know that an average novel has 80,000 words in it? That's a lot of words. Don't get me wrong, I'm a librarian, I like to read, but sometimes I need a break. That's when I turn to short stories. Short stories have traditionally been defined as stories that can be read in one sitting. Nowadays the definition of a short story is a bit more formal. Short stories are usually no shorter than 1,000 words and no longer than 20,000. If you're really in a hurry, there's a subgenre of short stories called, I kid you not, short short stories. Such micro stories are also sometimes referred to as flash fiction.

Of course short stories are more than just stories that are...short. They have their own style, rhythm, and pace. Sometimes, for instance, short stories will start in the middle of the action, rather than building up to it with an explanation of the setting, characters, etc. The conclusions of short stories can be more abrupt than what one finds in a novel.

Book cover for Tales of Terror by Edgar Allan PoeEarly predecessors of modern short stories include works as diverse as One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) and traditional fairy tales such as those collected and published by Charles Perrault. The modern short story really came into its own during the 19th century. Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the Brothers Grimm, wrote or compiled short stories during the first half of the 1800s. The second half of the 19th century saw short story collections from authors such as Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and many more.

The short story form has flourished since then. There are so many well regarded contemporary short story authors, I won't even attempt to name them. I'll let the experts guide you.  A good starting place is The Best American Short Stories series, an annual publication that collects the best short stories in American literature from well known and emerging authors. The latest edition, 2016 is edited by Pulitzer Prize winning Dominican American author Junot Diaz. There's also the O'Henry Prize Stories. This annual publication compiles the best 20 short stories selected from thousands published in literary magazines.

Book cover for The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea
Short stories can be found in other ways too. For example, there are collections of stories by individual authors. Dear Life, The Water Museum, and Sea Lovers are examples of such collections, by Alice Munro, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Valerie Martin respectively.  You can find such collections by searching the name of an author and adding the phrase short stories. I tried this with Stephen King, for instance, and found both his latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams and his earlier short story works.

There are also themed short story collections. I did a search of science fiction and short stories, for instance, and found a large number of print and ebook collections, including Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation and Women Destroy Science Fiction!, a collection of short stories from Lightspeed magazine, all written by women. You can use this technique to find other themed short story collections, such as mystery or horror collections. We also have short story collections in other languages, such as SpanishChinese, and Vietnamese.

Of course short stories aren't just for adults. MCPL offers short story collections for children and for teens. Kids may enjoy reading fairy tales from the villains' perspective in Troll's Eye View: a Book of Villainous Tales. Remember those short short stories? Busy teens might find time for a tale or two in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories.

I suppose it would be wrong for a post about short stories to be too long, so I'll wrap up here. If you've been inspired to find a short tale or two, we can help you find some you'll love. Talk to one of our friendly folks at the information desk of any MCPL branch or try our What Do I Check Out Next? service, which provides online, personalized reading suggestions.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Deadlines, Writing, and Other Terrors

Blank piece of paperWriting's a funny thing. Terrifying actually, if you think too much about it. Before you start, the page is empty. There's nothing there and you, the writer, have to create content from scratch. You have to fill that blank space. And it's not enough to fill it with letters and words. Those letters and words must form ideas that link together, make sense, and, most terrifying of all, are worth reading. Perhaps that's so many writers struggle with procrastination.

I find creative writing quite difficult for this very reason. The writer has to come up with the story, or poem, or song on his or her own. You can't just describe something that happened, you have to create what happens and then write about it in an understandable, engaging way. At least I'm not alone in feeling this way. Even established writers such as Tracy Chevalier, express trepidation at confronting the blank page. Chevalier, for instance, notes that, "It takes me hours of circling each day to finally 'land' on the writing. Hours of cups of tea and checking for e-mail, checking Twitter, Facebook, the news."

Book cover for Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living
If you're seeking instruction for your creative writing, MCPL can help. A search of the phrase "creative writing" in our catalog will bring up a variety of adult and children's books on the topic. The results will include items such as The Making of a Story: a Norton Guide to Creative Writing. Most of items brought up by this search will focus on the practical, how-to aspect of creative writing. A search of the term authorship will include some how-to texts as well, but also inspirational works such as Joyce Carol Oates' Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life. One book I read and enjoyed in this vein was Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. It is a collection of essays by well known authors such as Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Weiner, and Nick Hornby about their experiences trying to make a living as writers. I learned, for instance, that even after Cheryl Strayed received her seemingly substantial advance for Wild, she was struggling to pay her bills.

There are different types of writing, of course. Even people who don't think of themselves as writers nonetheless do a lot of writing at work. Business writing includes a variety of forms of writing, from seeking information from a coworker through e-mail to putting together the input of a dozen people into a grant proposal. If you're looking to improve your business writing, try some of our books on the topic. We also provide access to online classes about business writing through our Gale Courses database. Available courses include Effective Business Writing, Writing Effective Grant Proposals, and the Fundamentals of Technical Writing. Gale Courses also offers some creative writing classes, such as Romance Writing and Writing Young Adult Fiction.

How to Not Write Bad by Ben Yagoda book coverIn addition to the lofty goals of sharing ideas and stories, there are more mundane aspects to writing, specifically spelling and grammar. Wait, don't go! It's true, many people don't get excited about spelling and grammar. They're the plumbing of the written word. Dull, but vital. So take a look at our writing handbooks if you need to refresh your memory on the proper use of commas or figure out what a semicolon is for (I'm still not sure). If just the thought of the MLA Handbook makes you weep, try something less formal like How to Not Write Bad: the Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them.

In addition to our paper and online writing resources, we also have teen writing clubs at Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Kensington Park, Potomac, and Silver Spring. Share your work and meet other writers in an open, supportive environment. In addition, the Silver Spring Writers Meetup Group, which consists of writers of all levels of writing experience and ages, often holds their meetings at our Silver Spring branch.

MCPL offers opportunities for customers to meet published writers at one of our many author events. For instance, children's book writer Hena Khan, author of It's Ramadan Curious George, will be the next speaker in our Contemporary Conversations series. She'll be at Silver Spring on June 4 at 4 pm. (Registration required).

Well, look at that. The page isn't blank anymore. Having written is much easier than the actual writing.


Mark S.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A May of Memoirs

In May, the world springs full of flowers, budding trees, and drooping bushes, laden with a riot of color and noise. The natural world comes to life again, striding confidently around winter’s corner and declaring, “I’m back! Do you want to hear some new stories?” And most of us say yes; yes we do. In the natural world, it’s blossoms and bees; in the literary world, it’s memoirs.

Memoirs seem to be making a comeback - or maybe they never went away? - but I feel like they are everywhere, with their juicy inclusiveness and alluringly long lashes: “You are in my life now. I’m ready if you are. Here’s my story.” Isn’t everyone you’ve ever heard of, and not heard of, writing their life story? This isn’t a criticism, but a recognition of the natural impulse to share. A venerable pastime is literary voyeurism, allowing us to peek in on a memoirist’s desires and dreams. A healthy indulgence, all because we can.

Book cover for Seven Commentaries on the Gallic War by Julius Casesar
The impulse to tell others our stories in the form of a memoir is not new. Julius Caesar’s memoir of the Gallic Wars he fought, entitled Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, describes the nine years of battles and intrigues fought against the Germanic and Celtic peoples in Gaul who opposed him. Interestingly, he directed his memoir to the plebeians to bolster his tenuous position with the Senate. He was propagandizing to the masses using memoir as his messenger.

Book cover for Walden by David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau’s famous 1854 memoir entitled Walden, or  Life in the Woods, was written about the two years of his life spent at Walden Pond. There, Thoreau records his thoughts on living simply and communing with nature. He also addresses how very personal the personal narrative is. “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.” Thoreau said he saw Walden as an opportunity to answer questions others had about his seclusion - what did he eat, did he get lonely - but he was also well aware that the reader would “accept such portions as apply to him.” And here, I would venture, is the key to a memoir’s success: recognition of one’s self in another’s story. Recommending memoirs is a challenge because if you cannot relate to the author’s point of view, then there are not many other “characters” to whom you can flee for narrative comfort.

Memoirs also exude what I’d call “memoirishness,” a mixture of a well-made memory’s buttery softness with its sandpapery self-protectiveness: “I love telling you all about me, but I can and will keep you at arm’s length if I want. So there!” Memoirishness includes a certain “noirishness,” a connection to its racy film cousin with its lightness and darkness, its mirrored reflections and smoky shadows, a chiaroscuro of revelation and obfuscation. What are we allowed to see? What do we infer? What is still left in the dark? Perhaps we’ll never know, but shall we admit that we are curious?

Well, I will admit that I am very curious. Other people’s lives can be fascinating. People we (mostly) don’t know and are (presumably) curious about enthusiastically and openly share private stuff. So here are some memoirs that have accomplished what many memoirists set out to do: grab our attention, shake things up, and wait to hear what we think:

Comedienne Amy Schumer’s very candid memoir The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo about growing up on Long Island and becoming funny and famous.

Novelist Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, about her lifelong friendship with fellow writer and Sarah Lawrence classmate Lucy Grealy.

Goldie Hawn’s A Lotus Grows from the Mud, about her youth spent in Takoma Park, Maryland and subsequent success in show business.

Faith Salie’s Approval Junkieabout the NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” and CBS News Sunday Morning journalist’s life, marriage, and inveterate approval seeking.

Patricia Gucci’s In the Name of Gucci, about the heir to the Gucci fashion business and love child of its founder Aldo Gucci.

Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, about the loss of her daughter.

If you put the word memoirs in our catalog search, you will get titles galore. Here are a just few on order that caught my eye, but there are many more, so don’t be shy:

Gone: a Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym; My Mother’s Kitchen by Peter Gethers; Nevertheless: a memoir by Alec Baldwin; You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie; This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe; Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In).

“Let me tell you some stories. My stories. Maybe your stories too.” So says the memoir. And I think I shall, because I like being invited in, even if, when I get to the last page, I have to let go. I will remember you.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's that Kid from Algebra Class?

Everyone’s heard of Superman, Wonder Woman, the X-Men, and the Avengers. But not all superhero books are about famous caped crusaders. Some books feature characters with superpowers who are otherwise ordinary people, with ordinary lives. They go to school. They have jobs. They worry about an upcoming math test, the school bully, and how to keep their super powers from hurting others. Some don't even want their superpowers.

It was a customer using our What Do I Check Out Next? service that clued me into to the surprising number of books about ordinary superheroes. Our What Do I Check Out Next? service offers readers personalized reading suggestions based on each customer's individual interests. In this particular case, the customer was asking for books about kids with cool super powers. While looking for books to answer the customer's question, I came across more material than I'd expect about ordinary superheroes. 

Book cover of the graphic novel Powers by Brian Michael BendisMost books featuring ordinary superheroes tend to be children's or teen books. There are, however, adult titles as well. There is an adult graphic novel series, for instance, called Ex Machina. It's about a civil engineer, Mitchell Hundred, who becomes the world's first superhero. Dissatisfied with the limited good he can do as a superhero, he puts away his tights, runs for mayor of New York City, and wins. The first book in the series is Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days. There's also a new graphic novel, which as been called a "cops and capes mashup," titled Powers. It's a police procedural about two homicide detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, assigned to cases involving superpowers. Finally, there's Soon I Will Be Invincible. Doctor Impossible, evil genius and would be ruler of the world, languishes in prison, wondering if there was something better he could have done with his life.

Book cover for Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon
The are more children's books that feature ordinary kids with superpowers. Some focus on individual kids, some are about superhero schools, and some offer a twist, such as featuring the child of a supervillain as the main character. For instance, not only does Joshua Dread have to deal with the usual troubles of middle school, like bullies and homework, he also lives with a dreadful secret. The villains trying to take over the world are his parents. How embarrassing! When Joshua discovers he has powers of his own, life gets really complicated. The NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society series is more Batman-esqe in that it's got heroes with gadgets. A group of five awkward misfits run a spy network out of their elementary school, battling a former junior beauty pageant contestant turned assassin. Finally, for the aspiring kid superhero, there's the Big Book of Superheroes. This how-to guide covers many aspects of becoming a superhero, from acquiring powers and finding a secret lair, to breaking the news to your parents that you have super powers.

Book cover of Who Is AC by Hope LarsonThere are also ordinary superhero books for teens. In Steelheart, David joins a group of resistance fighters dedicated to killing super humans and ending their tyranny. The supervillains of Vindico find they are getting too old to keep on fighting. They kidnap five teens with the intention of training them to become the next generation of villains. There's also the teen graphic novel Who Is AC?. Average teenager Lin acquires super powers after being zapped by...her cell phone. Now she has to learn how to use her powers, fight the villain, and still make her curfew.

You can find stories about more ordinary superheroes in our catalog. A subject search of the word superheroes will bring up the most complete least. You'll have to wade through the many items on more well known superheroes though. I haven't found a way to remove the best known superheroes from the results list and leave just their ordinary colleagues. Information staff at any of our branches can help. Or, you could try our What Do I Check Out Next? service. For those of you who like rooting for the bad guy, you're in luck. Just use the term supervillains.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Job Hunters and Career Changers

Various people in different careers. Words: Jobs & Careers
Ask anyone who is looking for a job or wants to change careers and I'm sure they will tell you they feel exactly how I felt when engaged in this process. It was overwhelming and felt as if the search itself was a full-time job. I remember graduating and not realizing how long the job search  process could take, nor what resources were available to help my search. My job search started all over again when I decided that I was going to go back to school and change my career path to library science. After shadowing a librarian at Silver Spring for an afternoon, I knew I wanted to work at MCPL. I so enjoyed the helpful staff and the customers of all ages with their myriad of fascinating information and reading questions. So of course I was over the moon when I got the call from the MCPL that they were offering me a position at the Wheaton branch as a children's librarian! We want you to have that same over the moon feeling about landing a job or making a career change and we're excited to share with your resources to make that happen!

Online Resources
Looking to gain more skills to leverage your expertise on your resume or at your interview? With Gale Courses you can take highly interactive, instructor led courses entirely online. There are a wide range of courses to choose from including accounting, business, computer applications, design, legal, teaching, technology, and writing. There are discussion areas where you can communicate with your classmates and instructor. It is a great way to gain skills to enhance your resume or stand out in a an interview.

Job search symbols. Words: Job Search
Thinking about college, graduate school, law school, or need to take a career exam? Testing & Education Reference Center has over 300 practice tests and courses online. Included are practice tests and help for career exams such as Accountant/Auditor, American Foreign Service Officer, Cosmetology, Firefighter, Nursing, Postal, Real Estate, Teaching, and more. Need help building a resume or advancing your career? Their resume builder has over 1,000 brainstorming phrases and career modules that cover subjects from career change to salary negotiations.  Their Virtual Career Library has valuable tips that cover areas such as changing careers, creating resumes, writing cover letters, preparing for interviews, and networking skills.

Looking to develop your technology, computing, and business skills? Safari Books Online offers you current e-books in those areas. Some examples are Java, the web, mobile, photography, graphic design, engineering, math, science, statistics, and more.The e-books contain the complete content of over 8000 books, with charts, graphics, and cut-and-paste code segments.

More Job Hunting and Career Changing Resources
Jobs listings and magnifying glass. Words: Jobs
In addition to our valuable online databases, we have other resources to help you search for jobs locally and nationally. We also offer job hunting books as well as resources to help you create resumes,  cover letters, and prepare for interviews. Thinking about a career change but not sure what career fits you best? You can explore career options with online resources and books. Two local employment assistance centers are WorkSource Montgomery and the state of Maryland's Professional Outplacement Assistance Center. Both provide services for teens, adults, seniors, and veterans to help them find fulfilling job opportunities. If you have lost your job, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulations offers unemployment insurance. If you've lost your health insurance coverage, help is available. To learn more about companies you are interested in working for, try our company research resources.

There are events you won't want to miss out on this month.
  • Job Search Strategies at Praisner May 6, 10:00 AM will discuss how to maximize your chances of finding a job and how to brand yourself to find your best job and company match. Registration is required
  • Ten Steps to a Federal Job at Olney May 6, 2:00 PM will teach how to apply for and land a federal government job.
  • Open Lab at Gaithersburg Tuesdays, 10:00 AM provides help with completing online job applications.
  • More 2017 job & career events.

Computers and WiFi
Computer keyboard and tablet with job application.
If you need computers or WiFi to create resumes and apply for jobs, you can do that at our branches. Computers for public use are available in all MCPL libraries, except Noyes Library for Young Children. You can print from these public computers. All libraries provide WiFi access. Laptops can be borrowed for in branch use at select locations. If you need help learning how to use computers we offer many computers classes.

Jobs & Careers at Montgomery County and MCPL
And, of course, Montgomery County Government, including MCPL, offers a wide variety of exciting and fulling career opportunities that you should be sure to explore. MCPL also offers part-time shelving jobs.

We're excited to help you meet your job and career goals by connecting you to the resources you need!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Great Fire of London

Painting from the 1700s of the Great Fire of London
My visit home to London last year coincided with the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, probably the most famous event in English history that isn’t a battle. The anniversary was marked by a special exhibit at the Museum of London and a thrilling reenactment of the blaze in a replica of the 1666 city constructed on floating barges in the Thames.
Street sign for Pudding Lane in London

As all English schoolchildren learn, the Great Fire broke out on September 2, 1666 at a bakery in Pudding Lane and soon spread, raging for three days and destroying most of the medieval city. Eighty-nine churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral, numerous public buildings and businesses, and about 13,000 houses went up in flames. By the time it had burned itself out, only a fifth of the old city was left. The most famous contemporary description of the fire is by Samuel Pepys in his diary. A master of the small human detail, Pepys gives a vivid account of panicked Londoners, even the birds:
Portrait of Samuel Pepys, London diarist
Samuel Pepys

“I rode down to the waterside, and there saw a lamentable fire. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the waterside to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies, till they some of them burned their wings and fell down.”

The writer John Evelyn gave a rather more apocalyptic description:

“Oh the miserable and calamitous spectacle! Such as haply the world had not seen since the foundation of it, nor be outdone till the universal conflagration thereof.” 

Proving that scapegoating and conspiracy theories are nothing new, rumors spread that the Dutch and French were responsible and that foreigners were seen “with balls of wild fire in their hands.” Preachers blamed the wrath of heaven and warned that worse was to come if Londoners did not repent of their sins.

Book cover for By Permission of Heaven: the True Story of the Great Fire of London
To learn more, check out this readable and thoroughly researched account: By Permission of Heaven: the True Story of the Great Fire of London by Adrian Tinniswood.

Of course, an event as dramatic as the Great Fire has inspired many novelists:

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
When a body is found in the smoldering rubble of St. Paul’s Cathedral it turns out the man died not by fire but from a stab wound. Government spy James Marwood investigates in an atmosphere of crisis and dissent.

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen
Romance, politics, and intrigue at the Restoration court of Charles II, the Merry Monarch who surprised his subjects by his bravery in joining the fire fighters.

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
Called the Gone With the Wind of English history, this is the story of a penniless orphan who becomes a mistress to Charles II and lives through the dramas of his reign including the plague and the Great Fire of London.

From the Charred Remains by Susanna Calkins
In the aftermath of the Great Fire, lady’s maid Lucy Campion joins other stunned Londoners in the clean up effort, but becomes involved in investigating the death of a man whose body is found in the ruins, mysteriously untouched by fire.

Image of the Monument to the Great Fire of London
Monument to the Great Fire
From the ashes of London there arose a more beautiful city, much of it designed by the great architect Sir Christopher Wren. St. Paul’s Cathedral is his crowning achievement, but visitors to London should not miss the many surviving little Wren parish churches scattered throughout the City. A walking tour of these churches is one of the most memorable field trips of my schooldays. On my recent visit to London we made a pilgrimage to the Monument to the Great Fire, also designed by Sir Christopher Wren, which stands at the corner of Pudding Lane. From the top you have a panoramic view of 21st century London, worlds away from the cramped wooden city that burned in 1666.

English inscription describing the Monument to the Great Fire of London
Monument inscription
London skyline seen from the Monument

Rita T.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spring Financial Education Extravaganza at MCPL

Money Smart Week with Ben Franklin logoHappy Spring!

As you get ready to tackle your spring cleaning activities, why not take the opportunity to tidy up your financial picture as well?

Wondering how or where to get started?

Montgomery County Public Libraries has that covered!

During Money Smart Week®  (April 22-29), our Chevy Chase, Damascus, GaithersburgGermantown,  Long Branch,  Olney, Rockville Memorial, and Silver Spring  branches will be offering a Money Smart Week®  Spring financial education extravaganza, with workshops, seminars and programs for everyone, presented in a no-pitch, no-sales, no-obligation atmosphere.  Just easy, fast financial information from reputable local financial educators.

Whether you’re hoping to win the lottery or you’re well on your way to achieving the financial goals you’ve set, or you’re somewhere in between, wherever you fall on the spectrum, MCPL has a Money Smart Week®  workshop for you.

If you’re like most people, your formal education probably didn’t include coursework on managing money, getting out of debt, buying a new house or saving for retirement. And since money doesn’t come with instructions, we could all use some help when it comes to managing our finances.

It’s never too early to start teaching children about money.  Why not use this opportunity to start a money conversation with your kids. Middle schoolers in grades 6-8 can earn a prize by entering our Money Smart Week®  Essay Contest. Get the whole family involved in our Can You Guess How Many Pennies event and Money Smart Week®  Game Day at our Olney library.

Toy house and calculator representing home refinancing Get tips on how to achieve financial success (regardless of income level) and the best ways to prepare for home ownership – at our Steps to Financial Success  (April 24) and A Guide for First-Time Home Buyers (April 28) seminars at our  Rockville branch.

Refinancing? Or thinking about it?  Head over to our Germantown branch for Ins and Outs of Refinancing on April 25 @ 7pm.

If your goal is a financially secure and comfortable retirement, don’t miss our Silver Spring and Gaithersburg sessions of Preparing for Retirement.  The #1 independent financial planning firm in the nation, Edelman Financial Services, will share what you need to do to take charge of your retirement, manage your investments and generate the income you need for retirement. (Gaithersburg April 25 @ 6pm/ Silver Spring April 26 @ 6:30)

Women, did you know that you are often at greater risk than men when it comes to achieving a secure retirement?  The president of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement will discuss What Women Need to Know about Retirement at the Chevy Chase branch on April 27th at noon.

Bring your laptop to a powerful, hands-on Live Your Life by Design NOT by Default session facilitated by the Society for Financial Awareness. You'll be shepherded through the process of creating your own financial roadmap at Olney library on April 24 @ 6:30 pm.
4 credit cards on top of one another

Behind in paying your bills? Or are a creditor’s records mistakenly making it appear that you are?  In this Debt Collection: Know Your Rights! session, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, helps you spot abusive practices.

Get inspired to take a fresh look at your finances this spring during Money Smart Week® and Financial Literacy Month.  Come away with improved financial decision-making skills and feeling empowered to take control of your financial life.

Catch a session during your lunch break, or in the evening after work. Here's a complete list of our Money Smart Week events.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tax Day Cometh

Tax Information, money, calculator
With April 18th quickly approaching, many people are thinking about Tax Day! (Although I'm breathing a sigh of relief writing this post since I've already got my taxes filed). Yes, the date taxes are due has actually been extended this year to Tuesday, April 18 so you've got a few extra days to get them in.

I often think of paying taxes as being such a modern concept, but paying taxes has actually been around since ancient times. The Egyptian Pharaohs had their own tax collectors known as scribes. At one point cooking oil was taxed and households were audited to make sure that they weren't trying to find tax loopholes, such as using alternatives to cooking oil. When Greek Athenians needed funds for war, they imposed a tax. If the taxes collected exceeded what they needed, they provided tax refunds. The Romans taxed imports and exports, and Caesar Augustus actually started a 5% inheritance tax that was used to fund retirement pay for the military.

Map of colonial Massachusetts
From my classes in U.S. history I remember learning about the Boston Tea Party when Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty boarded ships in the Boston harbor and threw 342 chests of tea overboard. Taxation without representation led to the American Revolution, with the U.S. going to war with Great Britain. Taxing did, of course, continue in post-revolution America. The individual income tax was first instituted in America during the Civil War to pay for war expenses. It was later repealed. The income tax as we now know it started with the passage of the 16th amendment, which was ratified in 1913. Tax Day used to be March 15, but then it was switched to April 15. Why, you ask? To give tax payers an extra month to recover from end of the year holiday expenses. And to silence all the jokes about the Ides of March. Not sure what the Ides of March is? I'm glad you asked because my colleague wrote a witty and informative piece about it!

1040 tax form and refund check with the Statue of Liberty
Do you prepare your own taxes or do you have someone else prepare them for you? One Pew Research report found in 2013 that 33% of Americans were still preparing their own taxes while 56% had someone else prepare their taxes for them. If you are in the former category, we have help for you! Looking for tax forms? We have print forms at select MCPL branches. We recommend calling the branch ahead of your visit to make sure the forms you need are still available. You can also find links to forms that you can print from home or from one of our branch computers. We also offer tax preparation help, by appointment, at many of our branches for low-to-moderate income county residents.

Every wonder what your county taxes are used for? The Montgomery County Office of Management and Budget has a visually appealing online version of the county Operating Budget. This year's approved FY17 budget has a great pie chart that breaks down how much of the budget goes to schools, libraries, transportation, and more vital county services for residents.

After getting your taxes filed and done, be sure to listen to this peppy song that Irving Berlin wrote during World War II called I Paid My Income Tax Today. Here is a version of the song sung by Gene Autry. You'll be singing it all day long!


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Celebrate National Financial Literacy Month 2017

National Financial Literacy Month piggy bank with dollar sign
It's one of those things that I've always been meaning to do. I'm going to have a look at my finances. What am I'm currently doing to plan for retirement? What could and should I be doing? Could I do a better job budgeting my money? Can I find more areas in my life to save money? Should I think about investing? If you too have been meaning to have a look at your finances or you want to do a financial health checkup, join MCPL in celebrating National Financial Literacy Month this April!

Company Research, Investing, and Investor Education
If you're thinking about investing, or already are investing, its important to do research. MCPL has many online databases you can use in our branches or at home for your investment research. These databases are free to anyone who has a MCPL library card. We have resources for both company and investing research.

money tree growing out of a bookWant to know how well a company or industry is doing? Have a look at Business Insights: Global and Business Source Premier. With Business Insights: Global, you can search by company name or industry. A company search provides key financial figures, compares the company with similar companies and industries, and includes many articles about the company. Business Resource Premier offers company and industry articles from business journals. You also won't get stuck behind a paywall with our online access to the Wall Street Journal, where you'll find great financial information about publicly traded companies.

There are some good options for investing research too. Morningstar Investment Research Center, Standard & Poor's Net Advantage, and Value Line provide financial information on publicly traded companies as well as stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded-funds, and more. You can also find industry information. What I really appreciate about these sites is that all offer financial education resources. We've gathered some additional investor education information as well.

coins and stem growing out of a book
Managing Your Money
Managing your money, whether personal finance or planning for retirement, is important to do. There are many great organizations and websites that help with these two aspects of financial planning, and we've gathered some of the best for you. One I'd like to highlight, since it is National Financial Literacy Month, is the Financial Literacy Month site. It has a variety of tools to put you on the path to achieving financial wellness, including free webinars, financial worksheets, and a 30 step plan.  We have also gathered online resources to help you track your spending and saving, make financial calculations, and find housing assistance. Some local organizations offer classes on money management and finances. While we often think about our own fiances, it's important to remember that financial literacy is important for any age, including kids and teens.

Books and E-Books
And (of course!) we have books and e-books on finances that can help consumers make more informed choices. Looking for books on money management? Books for women on taking control of their finances? Books about money for kids or teens? We've got you covered! In Safari Books Online and Maryland's Digital eLibrary Consortium/OverDrive you'll find business e-books on money management and finances. 

From building wealth to planning for retirement, we've got financial literacy and Money Smart Week (April 22 - 29) programs you won't want to miss!

money smart week logo with Benjamin Franklin
tax information, money, calculator
Don't forget that taxes are due Tuesday, April 18! We have printed federal and Maryland state tax forms at select branches. We recommend calling ahead before visiting a branch for this material. At all branches, with the exception of the Noyes branch, tax forms can be printed off on public computers. Select branches also offer free income tax preparation by trained volunteers for low-to-moderate income Montgomery County taxpayers by appointment.

We're excited for all ages to learn about investing and personal finance! Start your journey to achieving your financial goals today!