Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year's Trivia

As 2005 winds down and you get ready to celebrate the arrival of a new year, here are some fun facts from Chase's Calendar of Events (available, of course, in the reference section of your nearest library branch):

* The British Act of 1751 set January 1 as the begining of the new year in the Gregorian calendar year. Prior to that, it had been celebrated as March 25 (near the spring equinox). Most English-speaking countries continue to honor that date.

* 2006 is the 230th year of American independence (until July 4th).

* January 1 is the first day of year 6719 of the Julian period, which began in 4714 BC.

* Earth begins a new orbit of the sun -- about 583,416,000 miles in 365.2422 days by the end of the year.

* Called "Everyman's Birthday", in some contries everyone becomes a year older on January 1, rather than on their birth anniversary.

* It's also a time for making resolutions. Among the most commmon: get to the gym, tame the flab, get organized, and help others. If doing good is on your to-do list, consider volunteering at the library. We have more than 3,000 volunteers who assist us by keeping shelves in order; landscaping; working at the check-out desk; teaching Web search skills and more. We can use your help!

In the meantime, tell us: what are you looking forward to for 2006?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's the Thought That Counts

According to the Direct Marketing Association, 65 percent of us return gifts after the holiday.

If your child got two Charlie and the Chocolate Factory DVDs or the sweater from Aunt Elizabeth is two sizes too big, here are a few tips for exchanging unwanted items, thanks to the Web directory,

1. Don't wait too long. Stores often have a time limit for returns, which might vary from a week to 30 days.

2. If you don't know where the gift came from, do some research. If you can't find an identifying label, check the Web for online stores that carry the item. Often any store that carries it will exchange it. However, some stores do not have refund policies and will exchange only at the current price, which could be lower due to sales. Others charge restocking fees, which on big-ticket items like electronics could be hefty -- as much as 20 percent! Also, make sure the store knows the return is a gift, so the credit doesn't show up on the giver's card.

3. Finally, after you've read the latest bestsellers, consider donating them to your nearest library branch. Our branches hold used book sales that help fund the "extras" that help make the Fairfax County Public Library among the best in the nation.

By the way, you can tell us: what was the worst holiday gift you ever received?

Friday, December 23, 2005

On the Go

If you aren’t on the road already, chances are you will be between now and New Year’s. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, travel increases by one-quarter during the Christmas-New Year’s season.

While the media focuses on crowded planes and trains, BTS stats show that nine out of 10 holiday travelers get behind the wheel. Where do we go? You guessed it. Forty-three percent of Christmas/New Year’s trips are visits to family, compared to only 24 percent the rest of the year. While about half of holiday travelers make same-day trips, those who stay overnight usually average a bit less than four days, which supports the 16th-century adage “fish and guests in three days are stale.”

If you need a bit of diversion on your travels, drop by your nearest library branch and pick up a recorded book. If you’ve got an MP3 player, visit our Web site and learn more about our downloadable audio books.

In the mean time, let us know where you fall in the holiday stats. Where will you travel this holiday and for how long?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

When Does Winter Begin?

Tomorrow marks the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. The early Romans called the event “solstitium” or “sun stoppage.” At the winter solstice, the sun is at its lowest point in the sky in our hemisphere and actually appears to stand still for several days.

In astronomy, the winter solstice occurs when one of the Earth’s hemispheres is tilted farthest away from the sun -- December 21/22 in the northern hemisphere and June 21/22 in the southern. It is the longest night and the shortest day of the year.

Many refer to our solstice as the beginning of winter; others debate whether astronomy or weather should determine winter and insist the solstice actually marks the middle of the season ( After all, Shakespeare did write “A Midsummer Night’s Tale” to commemorate the summer solstice -- the mirror event six months hence when we’re tilted the opposite way -- closest to the sun.

Here are a few library programs that might cheer you up during the dark winter days:

Tuesday, December 20, 2:00 PM
Golden Oldies. Movies from Hollywood's golden era. Ask for film title. Sponsored by the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library. Adults. George Mason Regional Library, 7001 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA, 703-256-3800.
Wednesday, December 21, 1:00 PM
Silver Screen Series for Seniors. Monthly movies. Watch and discuss a video classic. Adults. Centreville Regional Library, 4000 Stringfellow Rd, Chantilly, VA, 703-502-3883.
Wednesday, December 21, 7:15 PM
Ho Ho Holidays! Stories and activities for the whole family. All ages. Reston Regional Library, 11925 Bowman Towne Dr.,Reston, VA, 703-689-2700.

By the way, what’s your opinion? Does winter begin tomorrow? If not, how should we determine when the season officially starts?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thank You, Bing

If it wasn’t for Crosby’s rendition of "White Christmas" in the 1954 film of the same name, perhaps we wouldn’t appreciate the several inches of white stuff that have fallen so early this December. But, when Bing crooned “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” he was at a celluloid lodge in Vermont. New England can often count on the white stuff on December 25, but it is sometimes rarer in our mid-Atlantic region. Northern Virginia averages about 17 inches a year, most often in January and February. In fact, it’s difficult to find a state in the U.S. that hasn’t had snow at some point. Even Florida reports a record four inches of snow falling at its Milton Experiment Station in 1954.

If you’re interested in snowfall records, the most snow to fall during one season (1,140 inches) occurred on Mt. Baker in Washington during 1998-1999. As for a daily record, Silver Lake, Colorado received 76 inches in one 24-hour period way back in 1921.

Do such vagaries of weather intrigue you? If so, visit the Fairfax County Public Library on the Web. Our information experts have selected links to some of the most reliable weather sites, such as Weather, The Weather Channel, World Weather Information Service and WxUSA Weather Hub.

May your days be merry and bright.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ready to Read

Early literacy is what kids know about reading and writing before they actually read and write. Parents and caregivers are important in helping their children get ready to read because they know their children best; children learn best when they are in a good mood -- parents know their moods; parents understand the easiest way their children will learn; and children learn best by doing and they enjoy doing things with parents.

Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library, a project of the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children, offers tips for those who want to help kids get ready to read. Libraries also help parents and caregivers prepare preschoolers for reading by offering a wide variety of stimulating activities and a large collection of books for infants and toddlers.

Mary Knapp coordinates the Motheread®/Fatheread® program for the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation, Inc. (cosponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities). She gives the example of a teen mother in one of her classes who was excited to learn about the benefits of reading to her baby.

“I didn’t believe it when I was told my nine-month-old baby would like to be read to,” she told Knapp. “But I took that book home and read it to her and I made the dog sounds, and then my daughter started making dog sounds, and then she bounced and danced up and down when I read the rest of the books!”

For more on how to raise an avid reader, talk with a children’s librarian at your branch.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ribbons and Bows

‘Tis the season for giving for people who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Islam’s Eid al-Fitr. In the western world, the exchange of gifts traces its origins to ancient Roman festivals celebrating the new year. Early gifts were simple, sometimes twigs from a sacred grove to ensure good luck. Other gifts might be vegetables to honor a fertility goddess. Gifts during the northern European pagan Yule celebration honored fertility deities with gifts made from wheat products, such as bread and alcohol. As Christianity spread, early church leaders tried to ban the custom, but it prevailed and sharing gifts was incorporated into the holiday.

Modern Christmas gift-giving customs date from 19th-century Victorian England. The Victorians transformed the tradition into an elaborate affair, often with cobweb parties. Each family member was assigned a color, led to a room crisscrossed with yarn of various colors, and then required to follow the maze of yarn to find a gift tied at the end of their color yarn. The inedible Christmas pie was another tradition. Treats were hidden in a bowl of grain; after dinner, guests gathered around the pie and dipped a spoon into the grain. The gifts they unearthed were theirs to keep. From there, it wasn’t much of a leap to allow St. Nicholas, later known as Santa Claus, to bring gifts to stuff in stockings hanging on the fireplace mantle.

If you’re in the gift-giving mode, visit the Holiday Book Mart from 2 – 4 p.m. on December 11 at the Fairfax City Regional Library. More than a dozen local authors will sell and autograph their work. Other special holiday celebrations this weekend include live performances by student musicians, plus crafts and refreshments from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Centreville Regional Library and from Noon to 2 p.m. at the Lorton Library.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Make a Wish Come True

Thousands of readers are on the library’s waiting lists to check out popular books and bestsellers. The Fairfax County Public Library is not always able to buy enough copies to satisfy demand. You can help shorten the waiting lists and get books into the hands of avid readers!

Library specialists have created a list of high-demand books that you can purchase through a special program. By donating one of these books to the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation, you can be sure that you’re meeting an immediate and specific need.

(Note: although will suggest additional books for your consideration, please do not purchase books for the library that are not specifically requested on the library’s Wish List.)

When you buy books on the library’s Wish List, they will be mailed directly to the library’s book processing center. The library will place a sticker on each book letting future readers know it was a gift to the library. In addition, you will be notified by the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation that your generous donation was received. Your donation will be tax deductible to the fullest extend of the law.

For more information on donating books through the Wish List program, please contact the library foundation at 703-324-8300, or by e-mail.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Long-distance Loans

Need a book that's not in our collection? Try our interlibrary loan service. We borrow up to 7,000 books from other libraries throughout the U.S. and Canada and loan them to readers here in Fairfax. Sometimes the lending institutions require a fee for this service (for example, Harvard and Princeton charge up to $30), which we pass on to the borrower. Many borrowers have found the convenience to be worth the nominal cost.

ILL users have included Ph.D. candidates, authors, genealogists and others researching a wide variety of subjects from raising earthworms to rocket science. One ILL user previewed books to be purchased for a library in India; others get assistance with finding medical information. Items available for interlibrary loan include books, microforms and periodical articles.

To request an interlibrary loan, stop at the information desk at your library branch and fill out an ILL request form. Our ILL staff will then search for an institution that owns the item and agrees to lend it to us. When the item comes in, you will be contacted by the branch.

To find out whether a book you want is in our collection, check our online catalog.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Paws That Refresh

I hate to get personal on the blog, but it’s hard not to when it comes to the topic of dogs. It was hard, for years, to understand my dog-loving friends and their passion for their pets. I had read the accounts of how dogs had changed lives, but I didn’t buy it. I was by no means anti-pet, but I just thought that humans had a better chance of helping each other than their furry friends.

Then I got sick and came back to Fairfax County, where I had grown up and gone to high school. My parents still had the family dog -- Falcon -- and one of their first moves was to hand him over to me.

At first, it made no sense. I had a debilitating illness that I was trying to recover from, and they had they handed me more responsibility. Little did I know! Two years later, everyone -- from my mother to my best friend to my next-door neighbor -- agrees on one thing: my dog saved my life.

Now I have an interest in the healing that comes through animals and have found some great books in the library, including New York Post columnist Cindy Adams’ tale of healing in the book The Gift of Jazzy, which can be located through the online library catalog. Adams was given her dog, Jazzy, by friends after the death of her husband.

My newfound appreciation for dogs is part of the reason that I’m excited that Colleen Pelar, a certified professional dog trainer and author of Living With Kids and Dogs … Without Losing Your Mind, will be speaking at the Chantilly Regional Library next week. I love dogs and believe that they can help, heal and especially teach children lessons about kindness, gentleness and responsibility.

Hope you can make it to Ms. Pelar’s presentation on Tuesday, December 6 at 7 p.m. If you'd like to attend, call 703-502-3883.

Guest Blogger, Jayson Blair

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Gridlock at the Library

A web page on The Washington Post site captures one of the most important jobs of Ron Shaffer, the traffic columnist more commonly known as Dr. Gridlock, when it says “Dr. Gridlock offers therapy for that most intimate relationship: the one between you and your commute.”

Dr. Gridlock offers much more than tips on the best hours to take the inner loop or the outer loop. I remember reading Dr. Gridlock as a high school student, studying harder to get my learner’s permit than I was for my classes, and gaining more knowledge about how to handle the roads than I did from my driving instructors and Department of Motor Vehicles manuals. What stood out about learning from Dr. Gridlock was that it was simply so much fun. He never missed an opportunity to interject some humor into the often frustrating experience of driving in the Washington area.

He also offered valuable advice on road etiquette and how to defuse tense situations. In addition, I learned from Dr. Gridlock that a downside of playing the Indigo Girls and Guns N’ Roses at full volume was that I could not hear the horns blaring at me from behind. Also: not to eat hot soup and, most importantly, not to shave while driving in my car.

As I began commuting from my home to college classes on the other side of the Beltway, Dr. Gridlock’s tips for safe ways to calm yourself and find a diversion in traffic became helpful (Tip: Don’t try to read Dr. Gridlock in traffic, especially not on your Blackberry).

There are some online resources out there. The Virginia Department of Transportation, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, offers a number of cool online resources for the commuter, including maps on lane closures, incidents, and views of roadways from traffic cameras. And Google just gets ridiculous with the traffic check plug-in to its desktop sidebar. Even though the Internet has all these wonderful resources, there’s something to be said for the advice of a homespun traffic columnist who knows how to find each and every piece of the now-infinitely chopped up Braddock Road.

Join us at 1:30 p.m. on December 2 at the Lorton Library and ask Dr. Gridlock questions directly (instead of hoping to be one of the few letter writers he gets the chance to respond to in his column). You can discuss anything from the best way to respond to hand gestures on roadways to the best way to get from Reston to Fort Belvoir at 2 p.m. on Mondays. I’ll be there for all those reasons, but most importantly to thank Dr. Gridlock for years of advice that kept me -- just barely -- out of the traffic section of the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court!

Guest Blogger, Jayson Blair

Friday, November 18, 2005

Switching Gears

Swallows return to Capistrano; college students return home for the holidays. Students who left as French majors may come back with a newfound zeal for forestry; next year it might be forensics. "About 80 percent of students who start college switch their major at least one time," Career World magazine reported. "Many students will change their major three or four times over the course of a college career."

It's good preparation for the estimated seven career changes they'll make later in life. Check out what the college graduates below did before they became best-selling authors:

Maya Angelou -- reporter for The Arab Observer in Egypt.

Jeffrey Archer -- member of the British Parliament.

Jean Auel -- circuit board designer.

Terry Brooks -- attorney, as were John Grisham and Richard North Patterson.

Tom Clancy -- insurance agent.

Clive Cussler -- worked at a supermarket and a gas station; aircraft mechanic,
advertising executive.

Robert Fulghum -- IBM salesperson, rodeo performer, minister, prison counselor, bartender.

Sue Grafton -- hospital admissions clerk, cashier, clerical/medical secretary.

Ursula Hegi -- English teacher, as were Dean Koontz, Wally Lamb, Larry McMurtry and Toni Morrison.

Jan Karon -- advertising executive, as were Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker and James Patterson.

Stephen King -- janitor, laborer in an industrial laundry, English teacher.

Jon Krakauer -- carpenter, fisherman.

John Le Carré -- "military intelligence."

Anne Rice -- waitress, cook, theater usher, insurance claims examiner.

Amy Tan -- language consultant to programs for disabled children.

Joseph Wambaugh -- U.S. Marine, Los Angeles police officer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Background Checks

They've been discovered in Bethesda, MD and Vienna, VA. Women who were promised lucrative jobs in America ended up as victims of an ongoing outrage known as "human trafficking."

The numbers are chilling. The United Nations estimated that globally, up to two million women and children are "trafficked" every year, including some 50,000 who are brought into the United States. Around the world, about 27 million men, women and children are currently 21st-century slaves, generating an estimated $7 billion per year for their users.

The U.N. declared December 2 as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. If you were investigating modern-day slavery -- or any other issue -- for school, work or personal reasons, the library makes it possible for you to find articles from thousands of newspapers, magazines and journals -- for free.

If you've ever tried to find magazine articles on the Internet, you've probably had the frustration of finding out that many publications charge a fee for accessing current or archived material. The library subscribes to services that make those articles free, and all you need in order to access them from home or work is your Fairfax County Public Library card.

To research a topic across journals, magazines, newspapers and other types of periodicals, start here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

It's that time of year again. The time when teens, adults and seniors sweat over college admission essays, scholarship applications and financial aid forms, hoping to become part of America's 15 million college students. High school students and adults seeking a career change might consider pursuing a library science degree.

"People who work in libraries are delightful -- part detective, part teacher," says Chantilly Regional Library Manager Bonnie Worcester. Librarians "handle the intellectual treasures of our culture," adds Reston Regional Library Manager Nadia Taran. "The efforts of the best minds."

"What I like about my job is the opportunity to learn at least one new thing each day," says Branch Coordinator Elizabeth Waller. "It makes me a good party guest," she laughs.

"I decided I wanted to be a librarian in second grade because I liked to read," explains Denise Morgan, Lorton Library's manager. Centreville Regional Library Manager Pat White-Williams concurs. "It was just a natural progression for me that I would end up in a job where I can share my love of reading with others."

Tina Cunningham, who manages the Fairfax City Regional Library, calls her career "an adventure in multi-tasking" and "a never-ending treasure hunt." She adds, "In our information-saturated society, there's still a need for those who can sift through information and find the fact that answers the question."

Several staff seconded Debbie King, George Mason Regional Library's manager. "I have daily opportunities to make a difference in people's lives. Sometimes readers tell us that we've led them to the answer of monumental importance, and it's personally gratifying when they say, 'You made my day.'"

Becoming a librarian requires a master's degree. Here are some resources to help you get started with the planning process for any type of degree.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Veterans Day

A U.S. Naval officer was the first. In 1982, while the concrete for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being poured, the officer walked up, threw in his brother's Purple Heart medal, and saluted. Since then more than 53,000 other objects have been offered in remembrance.

One woman left her wedding ring. She was getting remarried the next day, and wanted to finally close the relationship with her husband who had died in Vietnam. Others have left sonograms, teddy bears, dogtags, POW/MIA bracelets, cards, letters and photographs. All are carefully bagged and transferred to the National Park Service's Museum Resource Center in Lanham, MD.

Some people use art to pay their respects. On November 9, 1984, Frederick Hart's sculpture was added to the Memorial. The statue of three soldiers faces The Wall, conceived by artist Maya Ying Lin, that names more than 58,000 Americans killed or missing in Vietnam. Others honor those who serve our country by writing about the military experience. Check out:

Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien. Winner of the National Book Award, this novel alternates between a platoon's dreamy fantasies and the harsh reality of their lives. O'Brien's beautifully-written The Things They Carried -- which captures the emotions of the Vietnam "jungle rat" -- may become a classic.

Courage Under Fire by Patrick Sheane Duncan. A female helicopter pilot is nominated posthumously for the Medal of Honor for her actions during Desert Storm fighting in Iraq. Lieutenant Colonel Nat Sterling is detailed to conduct an inquiry into her act of valor -- and redeem himself from fratricide.

Operation: Homefront by Caroline B. Cooney. When Laura Herricks' mother is mobilized with her National Guard unit to Saudi Arabia, the family learns to take care of themselves both physically and emotionally as they live the war through television.

Sharkman Six by Owen West. Trained warriors on a peace-keeping mission in Mogadishu must adhere to the rules of engagement, which prevent them from saving the lives of noncombatants. The conflict escalates when their enemies use those rules -- and the media -- to their own advantage.

God's Children by Harold Coyle. Inexperienced infantrymen and their leaders are thrown into unexpected combat encounters during a three-day operation that began as a routine patrol. A realistic look at "peacekeeping" in the Balkans.

We Were Soldiers Once, And Young by Harold Moore, Joseph Galloway. This story about Vietnam's Ia Drang battle includes a cover photo of infantry platoon leader Tommy Rescorla, and a description of his actions in the war. Footnote to history: on September 11, 2001, Rescorla safely evacuated all his Morgan Stanley colleagues out of the World Trade Center. The veteran was last seen headed back into the south Tower to check for stragglers.

Find other books in the library’s online catalog.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Bye-Bye Now

Readers love the Fairfax County Public Library so much, sometimes it's hard to get them to leave. To ease the sweet sorrow of parting, staff in many of our branches use musical cues at closing time.

"When you're having a tough time clearing the building, it's hard to improve on bagpipe music," states Kathy Tewell, assistant manager of our Chantilly branch. "I like to use Sousa marches, which are sprightly and get the message across that it really is time to go," says Tina Cunningham, manager of our Fairfax City branch.

The practice of dancing readers out the door at closing time began in 1985. The man responsible for almost 20 years of dear departures is former Centreville Branch Manager Dave Bennett. When he first came up with the idea, Bennett worked at our Tysons-Pimmit branch in Falls Church.

"They used to flick the lights on and off," Bennett explains. But then a new type of lighting was installed that took a long time to power up once turned off. Fortunately, the branch had a public address system. That's when Bennett suggested playing a song over the PA system to signal that closing time was nigh.

"The first song ever used was 'Good Night' from the Beatles 'Double White' album," Bennett recalls.

Since then, staff have enjoyed selecting a little night music to escort visitors out. Faves have included "Homeward Bound" by Simon & Garfunkle; "Let's Go" by Los Lobos, "So Long, Farewell" from "The Sound of Music" soundtrack; "Bye Bye Love," by the Beatles; "Happy Trails to You" by Roy Rogers & Dale Evans; and "I'll Be Seeing You" by Frank Sinatra.

"'Good Night, Sweetheart' always gets people dancing in the stacks," says Pohick Branch Manager Carolyn Koehler.

Occasionally staff use topical exit tunes. When one of the Harry Potter books debuted, our Chantilly branch played excerpts from the Harry Potter soundtrack. "The children froze in awe as they immediately recognized the opening strains," says Branch Manager Bonnie Worcester.

Readers aren't always as accepting of changes in our musical send-offs. Jerilyn Polson, assistant manager at our Centreville branch, reports, "Once when I was out [a staffer] mistakenly put the tape in on the wrong side. The uproar from staff and customers alike was an unmistakable rebuke for changing their beloved routine."

Most of the time, however, library users compliment our departure ditties. Reston Branch Manager Nadia Taran says, "We currently play Mozart, and Mozart fans leave smiling."