Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hamilton: Founding Father and Broadway Star

Book cover, Alexander Hamilton by Ron ChernowDid you catch PBS’s recent special, Hamilton’s America, and want to learn more about Alexander Hamilton and the mega-hit Broadway musical based on his life?  (You can watch it online through 11/18.) MCPL has the resources to get you started!

At 700+ pages, Ron Chernow’s compelling biography, Alexander Hamilton, was the inspiration behind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical. Chernow brings to life Hamilton’s Dickensian childhood in the West Indies as an orphaned illegitimate child, as well as his early struggles and successes in New York as war with Britain foments. He describes Hamilton’s vital role in the Revolutionary War as General Washington’s Aide-de-Camp, and his combative interactions with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams as they worked to build the fledgling nation. Chernow relays Hamilton’s evolving understanding of economic and political theory and how it shaped his decisions as America’s first Treasury Secretary—and later, the great tragedies that befall his life and lead to an early death in a duel with nemesis Aaron Burr.  

Book cover, Alexander Hamilton the Outsider by Jean Fritz
While Chernow’s work is a tour-de-force, you may be interested in other biographies of Hamilton. MCPL’s collection also includes writings by Hamilton such as the Federalist Papers, a remarkable collection of 85 essays by Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison from 1788 that encouraged citizens to ratify the U.S. Constitution. For children and teens, MCPL holds several biographies, including award-winning author Jean Fritz’s Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider.

Album cover, Hamilton the RevolutionWant to know more about the genesis of the celebrated musical? As described on PBS, Lin-Manuel Miranda bought a copy of Chernow’s Hamilton in 2008 en route to his vacation. He immediately envisioned the possibility of a musical—and given Hamilton’s outsider status, outsized ambition and sense of honor—writing a hip hop score. Hamilton: The Revolution, co-written by Miranda, gives an insider’s view of the creative process, with essays, interviews, photos and lyrics. Miranda spent the next 6 years working on Hamilton, taking a full year to write the opening song, which he famously presented at the White House in 2009. 

If you’re interested in the music score, MCPL holds copies of Hamilton: An American Musical. You can borrow the soundtrack through Marina Interlibrary Loan, or go to the label’s official page for lyrics and song excerpts. If Hamilton has piqued an interest in rap and hip-hop, listen to and download artists’ works referenced by Miranda—such as Notorious B.I.G., DMX and Jay-Z—on Freegal, MCPL’s free music download service. MCPL also has books on the history of rap and hip hop.  

Scene from the play Hamilton The national tour of Hamilton is scheduled to stop at the Kennedy Center in DC in June 2018 (!) For now, it continues its Broadway run, and opened in Chicago this past fall. While tickets are scarce and expensive in New York, you can enter an online lottery for $10 front-row tickets to each performance. And while in Manhattan, visit Hamilton's home, the Grange, and stop by his and his family’s burial sites at Trinity Church. The dueling ground where both Hamilton and his son were fatally shot is across the Hudson River in Weehawken, NJ. Happy Hamilton-mania! 

Want to read more? Check out our earlier blog posts

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Banned Books Talk

Banned Books Week is September 25th through October 1st. This week is important because it reminds us of how fortunate we are in Montgomery County to have a strong and vibrant library system with access to a collection of abundant and diverse materials. We recently sat down with a famous banned book for a quick chat.

Q – Good evening, thank you for being here. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

The Great Gatsby book coverA – Thank you for having me. My title is The Great Gatsby. My author is F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was published in 1925, and the story I tell takes place over the summer of 1922. The jazz age was in full bloom. Extravagance was everywhere. Extravagant homes, parties, dress, lifestyles, I reflect it all. Themes I touch on include materialism, class, morality, decay, violence, gender roles, and the American Dream. My main characters are Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire, still pining for his now married ex-love; diaphanous Daisy Buchanan, the object of Gatsby’s affections; Daisy’s brutish, wealthy husband Tom; and the morally ambiguous professional golfer Jordan Baker.

What really sets me apart though, I believe, is my fluid, beautiful, buttery prose. Fitzgerald was definitely at the pinnacle of his game. I think I might be somewhat of an acquired taste though. When I was first published, I didn’t really cause much of a stir and my sales were tepid. After Fitzgerald died, though, that’s when I experienced my resurgence. I maintain my exalted status as a literary classic to this day.

Q – Why were you banned?

A – Well, officially the reason given was for language and sexual references. By today’s standards I really am fairly tame. And actually, the year I was banned was 1987. I was tame for 1987, too. So I think it’s something else that makes me controversial. I believe it has to do with the elegant, surgically precise way I expose human failings and hypocrisies. I believe it has to do with my absolute honesty in showing my characters’ true natures and therefore flaws. The truth of the matter is I’m proud of the ban and wear it as a badge of honor. 

Q – Thank you for speaking with us today.
A – The pleasure was all mine.

-Carol R.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

College-bound Library Staff Give Sage Advice

Library pages are central to a library's operation. They are the ones who re-shelve every book returned to the library. Pages need to be accurate, efficient, and know the shelving system inside and out. And they're always willing to help customers find a specific section of the library!

Photo of a library page at Olney Library
Olney Library has many dedicated pages. Some, like Steven, have been with us since the library re-opened in spring 2014. Milan started in December 2015. While working as pages, both Milan and Steven undertook rigorous academic programs and recently graduated from Olney's Sherwood High School. It's not surprising they'll be attending top universities this fall: Steven will begin at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore; Milan will travel to Chicago to attend Northwestern.

Congratulations to both! While we'll miss them, we're excited for Milan and Steven to start the next chapter of their lives. Before taking off, they told us about their plans, offered advice for students, and of course made some book recommendations! (You can check out Milan's video responses here and here.)

Photo of a library page at Olney Library
What do you like best about working at Olney?
Milan:  Nice co-workers and the quiet atmosphere. And definitely enjoyed knowing what resources are available for me. I didn't know everything the library did before I started working here.
Steven:  It's quiet and peaceful

Which genre of books do you like reading?
Milan:  I read everything
Steven:  Time travel books

Book recommendations
Milan:  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Steven:  Time for Andrew: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

Recently read
Milan:  The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-- but Some Don't by Nate Silver
Steven:  An Abundance of Katherines by John Green and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Advice for high school students preparing for college
Milan:  1) Get to know a few teachers, they'll help with your application and writing recommendations. 2) Join clubs, even if you're not sure if you want to continue with them, because you never know what can become your new passion or hobby. 3) Figure out your learning method; in college teachers may not be so quick to help you learn.
Steven:  Use a lot of checklists and try to get everything done. Do the best you can!

Planned course of study
Milan:  Journalism
Steven:  Applied math

What are you most looking forward to in college?
Milan:  Meeting new people, being able to figure out more about yourself.
Steven:  Getting to study what's interesting to me, living on campus. It will be fun to meet new people.

Thanks, and good luck!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Art for Everyone

The Olney branch is lucky to have a beautiful space to exhibit paintings and photographs on its walls. The gallery is located at the back of the library, where natural light streams through the immense double-height windows. Customers love being able to study, read and think surrounded by art.  And, all pieces are available for purchase!

Members of the Olney Art Association
Members of the Olney Art Association
For more than 20 years, the Olney branch has partnered with the highly-respected Olney Art Association to present work at the library.  According to Ann Bolt, art teacher and 16-year former librarian at Montgomery County Public Libraries, “The Association has always exhibited at the library, and we appreciate the opportunity to show our work.” Ann has been an artist all her life, from the time she started “drawing on chalkboards…then going to college to study art.” Her current work focuses on landscapes and trees.

Deborah Wolfe paints watercolors. She started drawing at age 6, painting at 9. She currently serves on the Association's board, and has been a member for eight years. Deborah said one benefit of being a member is the opportunity to attend workshops and art demonstrations, mentioning there are “several art teachers within the Association, and workshops are coming up.” 
Art and Nature at Olney
Art and nature at the Olney branch

Karen Norman is the Association’s Program Chair. Her mother, Barbara Brown—now age 87—was one of five artists who founded the organization in 1974. Karen teaches all around the DC metropolitan area, including at the Smithsonian, and also has her own art studio. She said, “This is a great organization for camaraderie and making new friends,” and she “loves the new space and hanging system” for art at Olney Library.

The Olney Art Association is a non-profit education organization whose mission is to promote the visual arts in the greater Olney area. In addition to meetings, critiques and demonstrations, members can exhibit at venues throughout the community, such as Woodlawn Manor, Sandy Spring Museum and Brookside Gardens. Any artist age 18 or older is welcome to apply! For more information, please contact Sally Drew (, Olney Library Exhibits Chair and Association secretary.

To see more photos, please visit this link. A full listing of artists in the current show is located on the window sill near the exhibit.  Look out for new work at Olney-- shows are installed every few months! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Made in Olney, USA: A National Week of Making at the Library

Life-sized Jenga!
Our Olney branch hosted several activities to kick off the 2016 National Week of Making.

Kids participated in hands-on STEM activities, such as creating "thaumatropes" -- a 19th century toy that merges 2 separate images into one, using string and 2 small disks. They also constructed paper airplanes-- fulfilling one MCPL Summer Read & Learn activity -- and played large-scale Jenga, built from 12-can soda boxes!

A marvelous mandala
Adults had the chance to relax in a spa-like environment and create elaborate drawings from beautiful templates. Librarian Marilyn Smith added a calming fragrance in the air, placed dishes of peppermint candies and flowers around the room, and played soothing jazz music to create a peaceful environment that engaged the senses. Customers focused on their colorful designs and had a moment to de-stress from their busy lives. Many are already asking about the next Adult Coloring session!

These customers worked until closing time

Customers of all ages have been enjoying the 'jigsaw puzzle table' in Olney's main gallery. Some stop by for just a few minutes, others stay an hour or longer to contribute to the growing puzzle. This was a challenging one with 1,000 pieces, but by working together, Olney customers quickly completed the puzzle of New York's Times Square...  join the fun the next time you stop by Olney!  Check out all of our photos here.