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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, chiff.com.

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 (badastronomy.com). 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 CNN.com 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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com 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.