Did You Know Olney

Across the Globe to MCPL

“Often, the English conversation groups are the entryway to English and to literacy. Many people come to us with little to no formal education and the need for basic communication skills is essential for living, economic, and health issues. The conversation groups provide a welcoming entrance to American life, our community and literacy.” – Nina Uzick, volunteer leader

One of MCPL’s most popular and longest-running programs is our English Conversation Club. Since starting over 30 years ago, MCPL has reached thousands of new English learners at branches across the county. Run by dedicated volunteers, the clubs offer a friendly and supportive setting where customers can practice their English in a judgement-free zone. Not surprisingly, some members who once were strangers form bonds and become friends, even staying in touch after moving on to new opportunities.

Take Olney Library— when the new building opened in 2014, the branch started two English Conversation groups; both continue to be well attended. Mary Allman, the indefatigable volunteer leader for Olney’s Monday evening club (along with Jerry Hurley), has noted the numbers who’ve passed through during the past 5 years. Based on her latest update, this group has welcomed more than 280 people from 64 countries! And they come from every corner of the globe: Burkina Faso and Congo in Africa; Cambodia and Myanmar in Asia; Bulgaria and Estonia in Europe; Nicaragua and Paraguay in Latin America; and Egypt and Lebanon in the Middle East… just to name a few.

We’re impressed not only by the diversity of the participants, but also their commitment to learning a new language in a foreign land. Says Olney’s other dynamic volunteer, Nina Uzick, who’s the Sunday group leader, “Our members will often travel from different parts of the county just to take part in these Conversation Clubs. They’re very dedicated to learning but also a fun bunch.” Below we introduce to you some Olney Library members, all of whom have become accomplished English speakers and are happy to share a little about themselves.

Name: Nicol: Coquimbo, Chile

Coquimbo is a port city in central Chile known for its long coastal beaches with white sand, and has more than 400,000 residents in the region.

We were thrilled to have Nicol join Olney’s English Conversation group. After completing high school in Coquimbo, she came to the US to study English and stayed with her uncle and aunt living in Montgomery County. Over 5 months, she studied at a local international language institute and participated in our weekly evening conversation group.

At the same time, she volunteered at Olney and helped out with behind-the-scene tasks while also supporting the Spanish Conversation group. And it turned out to be perfect timing: our Spanish facilitator unexpectedly needed to be away for a few weeks so Nicol stepped in to lead the group. It was a ‘win-win’ situation, or en español, todo el mundo gana!

While living in Maryland, Nicol enjoyed visiting DC’s Smithsonian museums, which she said was “really fun, especially the natural history museum.” Since returning to Chlie, she planned to enroll in nursing school. Of course, we

hope to see her again when she returns to the US for a visit. Muchas gracias, Nicol. Hasta luego!

Name: Lioudmila: Cotonou, Benin

Cotonou is this West African nation’s largest city and economic center. Cotonou is situated between Lake Nokoué and the Atlantic Ocean, on the southern coast of Benin.

Lioudmila has lived in the US for 5 years. While growing up in Benin, she completed her schooling and then worked at a local market as a seller. After moving to Maryland with her husband and children, she started working at a hotel.

Lioudmila says what she misses about home is “my family and culture… the culture is very different here. Here you can feel lonely, but at home— with neighbors and friends— everyone is around you.” But she says, “I like the opportunity to work, to make your life better.” When she has time off, she cherishes the time she spends with family and friends. And with “four kids, they keep you very busy!”

Lioudmila truly enjoys the English Conversation Group, saying “It’s so good!” Volunteer leader Mary Allman says of Lioudmila, “She’s a wonderful participant in the group. She speaks French and is always happy to talk about her culture in Benin. She’s also a wonderful mother— she brings her children, who read and do homework at the library, while she participates in the group.”

Name: Bhanthe: Kurunegala, Sri Lanka

Kurunegala was an ancient royal capital of Sri Lanka at the end of the 13th century. The city is surrounded by eight large rock formations; the largest is known as Ethagala, or the ‘Elephant Rock.’

Banthe delights in coming to Olney Library to study English and read books. He says, “I am a monk teaching meditation and spiritualism. A lot of people are very interested in learning about meditation and spirituality.” He’s always very happy to talk to them, and “that’s the reason I’m interested in learning English… to teach about Buddhism.”

He’s been in the US for about 18 months, and this was his second winter here. He’s been enjoying his stay but says it’s “a little bit cold” during the winter months (not surprisingly, as Sri Lanka is a lush, tropical island!). Banthe is involved in volunteer service, and would like to get to know the excellent resources in the area, especially the local parks.

As a monk, his day-to-day life revolves around chanting, reading, meditating and preaching. He’s had the opportunity to travel to six other monasteries in the US, located in California, New Jersey, New York, Florida and Texas. While staying in different regions of the country, he was involved in meditation, meet-up and children’s programs.

Name: Juliana Hometown: Bogota, Colombia

Bogota is located 8,800 miles above sea level, making it one of highest capital cities in the world. It is also known for its arts and culture, wines and cuisine, and has ten million inhabitants.

Juliana likes to attend both English Conversation Groups when she can, so she is beloved by members of both groups! She says, “I would like to improve my English. I like to use the library and read the newspaper here. The Conversation Club is good for me. The leaders are very good and very helpful.”

Juliana grew up in the cosmopolitan city of Bogota, with “classical music and books.” She returns every year to “see family and visit friends.” When she lived there, she “worked in an art gallery that represented painters from Colombia.” Now that she lives in Maryland, “Strathmore is my favorite place.” While fond of DC, Juliana “really likes to go to New York to visit all the museums”— like the Museum of Modern Art and newly-built Whitney Museum.

Juliana is a big reader and also “loves” to watch the latest movies. Her recommendations? She likes history books and biographies, such as Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. For movies, she recommends “The Wife” and “Bohemian Rhapsody“ (both of which are in MCPL’s collection), as well as “Maria by Callas,” a documentary released in late 2018 about opera legend Callas (coming soon to MCPL). Thanks, Juliana!

Name: Durga Hometown: Biratnagar, Nepal

Biratnagar is a large city in eastern Nepal, near the border of India. Mount Everest, part of the Himalaya mountain range and the highest mountain on earth, “straddles the border separating China and Nepal.” The Nepali name for Everest is Sagarmatha, which literally translates to ‘head above the clouds.’

Durga has been living in the US for 6 years. Although her mother, sister and family all live in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, she regularly calls and connects with them. She says, “Everyone is good.” Besides family, what she loves and misses about her culture are the big festivals. She continues her Nepalese traditions by celebrating them here. She’s a very good cook and prepares delicious curry dishes served with rice, along with the family’s favorite— “momo,” or rice dumplings!

Durga says she appreciates living in the US: “the system is good, and everybody is nice.” She lives with her son and his family (who are also regulars at Olney, especially the Lego Construction Crew). According to her son, Durga’s

favorite pastime is “watching horse racing,” so on special occasions he’ll take her to the local tracks. Says Nina Uzick, a volunteer leader, “Rain, snow, nothing keeps her away unless it’s a visit from one of her children!… she has a delightful sense of humor and she not only shares funny things, but understands when others do as well”.

Special thanks to Mary Allman, Nina Uzick, Jerry Hurley, Dan Gorin, Jo Dickinson and Gloria Seelman, Olney’s fantastic volunteers who work tirelessly each week to ensure both Conversation Clubs run smoothly

Meet MCPL Olney

Info about Info!

Library customers occasionally ask us, “Where’s the Children’s Area Information Desk? Do you still have Children’s Librarians?” They recall the earlier incarnation of Olney Library, where we had separate Information Desks for Adult and Children’s services.

With re-opening of the new Olney branch in 2014 (how time flies!), MCPL made the decision to create one centralized Information Desk. This way, both children and adults would be able to come to one place to have their questions answered. And, because we often have two Information staff working side by side, multiple customers’ questions can be answered more efficiently.

Children and adults stretching at Olney Library But you may still be wondering, “How about Olney’s Children’s Librarians?” Yes, never fear, we still have (and expect always to have) Children’s Librarians! You’ll see them around the branch leading storytimes, craft programs, and other children’s activities. These staff members are specially trained in understanding children’s literacy needs and conducting children’s programs. Plus, they have a special interest in children’s books and literature.

We’d like to introduce you to our Information Desk staff, starting with our Children’s library staff. All Information Staff members are trained to answer questions about library resources for ALL ages. And we’re always ready to assist customers—in the hunt for a favorite book, tracking down an online article, learning about a new author or library program—or whatever inquiry you may have. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Olney Librarian HeatherHeather is Olney Library’s Head of Children’s Services. She’s worked for MCPL for the past 27 years, with stints at Potomac, Quince Orchard, and Rockville Memorial, before coming to Olney when it re-opened in 2014. Prior to working for the County, Heather earned an MBA in Marketing and worked for corporations such as Marriott and AC Nielsen doing market research. But her heart wasn’t in the work, and she switched to becoming a children’s librarian, as she’s always enjoyed children’s books. In fact, she’s even written a few herself! Heather comes from a creative family. Her late father was a journalist/writer and her sister has published children’s picture books. She enjoys working at MCPL because she “learns something every day” and loves creating picture book ‘bundles.’ Heather adds, Olney has a lot of readers in the community who need help finding good books,” which is another role she relishes.

Favorite children’s book/authors: Bark George by Jules Feiffer; CS Lewis; Madeleine L’Engle; Edward Eager
Favorite children’s program: “Act It Out,” where she leads children in performing roles in children’s books
Favorite genres/types of books: Suspense; time travel like Replay by Ken Grimwood
Favorite authorsDiana Gabaldon, Jodi Picoult, Mary Roach
Hobbies and interests: Heather is a librettist, writing lyrics for song parodies for birthdays, retirements, and special occasions. She also enjoys the challenge of the New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzles.

Meredith Olney Librarian Meredith
Meredith is Olney Library’s longest-serving librarian, spending her entire professional career at MCPL. She started as a substitute in 1978, started working part time in 1982, and finally became a full-time Children’s Librarian I in 1987. She’s also worked at Rockville Memorial and temporarily at Twinbrook. Growing up in Olney, Meredith decided to become a librarian at age sixteen, because she liked reading and coming to the local library. She enjoys working with children because, “Every day is different… I like the community and the variety of ages we have here.” When asked what has changed about the local Olney community, she says, “It’s grown larger… though for children’s programming the number of children varies from year to year.” Olney Library values Meredith for her long-term experience, and institutional and community knowledge.

Favorite children’s authorsKeiko Kasza; Karma Wilson; Tamora Pierce
Favorite children’s books genre: Fantasy; mystery; all types of nonfiction
Favorite library program: 2-5 year old preschool storytimes
Favorite genres/authors:  Mysteries by Janet Evanovich and Donna Andrews
Hobbies and interests4-H, especially their Maryland summer camp (which Meredith has directed for 17 years); candy making; supporting the local fire department


Lori of Olney

You may have seen Lori dashing around the branch, leading a storytime or fun crafting event, or helping with creating a book display (and she loves shelving books!) Lori started working at MCPL in 2013 as a Circulation Substitute, during which time she had the opportunity to work at almost all of MCPL’s branches. In 2014, she became an Olney Library circulation staff member, and about 2 years ago was promoted to a Children’s Library Associate. Before working at MCPL, Lori spent her career in sales for companies of all sizes. When asked why she chose libraries, Lori said, “I’ve always loved libraries, and this is a dream job for me.” As to why she enjoys working at Olney, she replied, “I like my teammates and I like the community.”

Favorite children’s book/authors: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll; The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Favorite children’s program: Craft programs
Favorite genres: Fantasy; mystery; all types of nonfiction
Favorite bookJonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (she also liked the DVD adaptation). And Lori is a big Game of Thrones fan.
Hobbies and interests: “I like to garden, make up recipes, and hang out with my family. My hidden talent is organizing things. And I love animals and have 2 dogs and 2 cats.”


Olney Librarian Valarie

Valarie is Olney’s highly capable and experienced Adult Librarian I. She’s been working in libraries for the past 16 years, with her longest tenure at Loudoun County’s Public Library system (VA). There she worked for 11 years at 3 branches, ranging from a small, urban neighborhood branch to large regional branches. During that time, she also managed a small branch for a few years. Other library experience includes the Government Documents department at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins’ Medical Library. Prior to working in libraries, Valarie worked as an editor of trade journals and magazines. She’s passionate about being a librarian at Olney and says, “I like libraries with a neighborhood feel, like Olney. Our customers are so enthusiastic about books and learning.”

Favorite genres/authors:  Literary fiction, historical fiction, graphic novels and nonfiction; authors include Jhumpa Lahiri, Dinaw Mengestu and Madeleine Thien.
Favorite graphic novels: Graphic novels about history, such as March by John Lewis & Nate Powell and I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached
Favorite MCPL resourceMango Languages and Gale Courses
Favorite MCPL program: I like the history and current event programs that MCPL does, such as Contemporary Conversations.”
Hobbies and interests: Valarie likes art, history, music, movies and nature. She’s just gotten into bird watching and said, “I successfully managed to ‘squirrel proof’ our bird feeder after many failed attempts!” Some more unusual birds she’s seen recently are the house finch, white breasted nuthatch, and Carolina chickadee.


Olney Library Associate Peggy

Peggy is the newest member of Olney’s Information staff, having just started 9 months ago. As an MCPL Public Administration Associate, Peggy is an invaluable member of the team, especially during our busy Sunday hours! Before coming to MCPL, Peggy worked with the US Department of Veteran Affairs for over 30 years, and developed her expertise in health policy issues. Peggy elected to work at MCPL because, “I wanted to get out with people after retirement and this was perfect.” And she adds, “The customers and staff are terrific.”

Favorite book series: “Currently a huge fan of Louise Penny’s Gamache series, but I have too many favorites to name…. and I’m looking forward to November 2018 for the next Louise Penny.”
Favorite genres: History and mystery books
Favorite MCPL resource: Online education resources, such as newspaper databases and Gale Educator’s Reference Complete
Currently reading: Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas
Hobbies and interestsI have gardened for over 50 years and I also love to read and cook. My dogs are also a passion for me. I currently have 4 at home and they keep me very busy!”

Olney Library’s Information staff also includes Marilyn, Head of Adult Services; Carol, Teen/Young Adult Library Associate; and Caroline, Adult Library Associate.

Coming up in future blog posts—meet Olney’s Circulation and Management staff.