Friday, March 4, 2016

It's an Election Year!

This is a big election year, and a lot of people have questions about how to register to vote, where to get information about the candidates, or how to change your registration. So we've collected some links to help you navigate the election stream.

If you live in Pennsylvania, one of the best places to start is This site from the Pennsylvania Department of State permits you to register online to vote, change your political party registration, obtain an absentee ballot application, or find out where to register in person at your county voter registration office. You can also find your polling place address, what kind of ID is required to vote, a demonstration of the voting system, and more. Not sure if you are registered? Click on "Register to Vote" then "Confirm Your Registration" to search your name and find your status.

And don't put off registering too long: you need to register by March 28 in order to vote in the general primary on April 26. The last day to register for the general election is October 11.

There are a number of non-partisan sites to help you find out more about both the incumbents for your area and the candidates running for those seats. Some ask you questions to help you figure out who agrees with your convictions most strongly. Others give you more of an overview for all the candidates for your area. Sometimes you have to visit a couple different sites to find one you are comfortable using for your voting information. offers a quiz where you can answer how strongly you feel about certain topics, then tells you how closely your beliefs align with presidential candidates' statements or voting records.

Project Vote Smart asks for your zip code, then searches for all the candidates for the positions you'll be voting on. Read their biography, find out how they voted on issues important to you, or what their position is on key topics. is a project of the League of Women Voters Education Fund. This site provides personalized voting information based on your home street address.

Other sites focus more on fact-checking the candidates to evaluate if they are telling the truth or 'stretching' it, or they 'follow the money' to find out what companies have contributed to a candidate's campaign.

For fact checking, try either or PolitiFact has a Truth-o-meter to give you a short answer to the accuracy of candidates' statements, with longer analysis and explanations provided by independent journalists. FactCheck covers both political statements and news stories for accuracy, with specific sections for checking science-based claims (SciCHECK) and groups spending money to influence elections (Players Guide).

Keep following the money by exploring either or the National Institute on Money in State Politics. OpenSecrets is produced by the Center for Responsive Politics, and focuses on "tracking money in U.S. politics and its effects on elections and public policy." The second group identifies campaign contributions for state politicians, too: click on "My District", enter your complete street address, and see who the top donors were for your elected officials.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why Do Libraries Throw Out Books?

Many people who read love books. They consider the physical volume a sacred thing; maybe not exactly in those words, but somewhere deep down many people are horrified at the idea of throwing away a book, any book. When people have to clean out their house or a relative's house, the library gets lots of donations of books for this very reason. So why do libraries throw out books?

If you search online, you will find news stories about public libraries doing just that. The Pottsville Free Public Library was mentioned recently in a story about someone who likes to retrieve things from the city recycling center. This blog post is an explanation why the library throws out certain books that no longer belong in our collection.

Libraries call the process weeding. Just as you remove the weeds from your garden so there is space for the plants you want, libraries remove the "weeds" from their book collections so there is space for the books their patrons want to read. No library has an infinite amount of space. If we purchase new books, we have to have someplace to put them.

So how do we choose which books should be discarded? Books that are in really bad condition are obviously candidates. If a book looks so "icky" you don't want to touch it, or if the book is physically falling apart, who's going to want to read that?

Libraries also withdraw and discard books that are out of date. We are responsible for providing our community with accurate information, both for students doing homework and for adults trying to learn new things. If we give you a book about financial aid for graduate school that was published in 1990, will it be of much help? If you are trying to find the best information for dealing with a chronic illness, do you really want to depend on a book that is so old it doesn't include anything about recent medical breakthroughs? If you need help with a legal question, how many laws might have changed between 1995 and 2015? If a student needs to do a paper on recent United States history, shouldn't that book include the 9/11 attacks? We know that many people do not check the date a book was published before reading it, so we need to make sure that the information we are providing you is current and relevant.

But what about fiction? Why do we send some of those books to recycling? They might fall into the "icky" category. If a book is on the local schools' summer reading lists we try to keep copies of those titles, replacing them with new copies if we can. However, other fiction titles are discarded because no one has read them in many years. They might have been read a lot when they first came out, but as the years pass they get forgotten, or no longer of interest. This applies to the nonfiction section, too. Here's an interesting tidbit: cookbooks may be the only subject where every single title in our collection has received regular use by library patrons.

And if a book is not used in a long, long time, it becomes like a weed. Think about a book shelf or a closet full of clothes. If there are many old books, or old clothes, how likely are you to go through it looking for what you want? The eye sees "old" and the brain says "never mind, what I want isn't here." Even if it is, hiding among the old.

Is there any way to prevent this situation? Well, we could stop buying books. Then we wouldn't need the shelf space and could leave the old books there to collect dust, only withdrawing the "icky" ones. But that doesn't make the library collection useful to our community. No one wants to go into a library and only see old books. That's not a library. That's a storage facility.

Is there a way to only buy "the best" books that won't go out of date? We do try. We can't read every book that is published, so we select the books to purchase by reading reviews by professional reviewers in respected journals. We try to find the most interesting, relevant, and informative books for our library users, because that is what we believe you deserve in your local public library. We look for positive reviews of fiction, nonfiction, children's literature, and reference books, as well as for our DVD and CD collections. 

But even the best books get old eventually, and the most popular titles now will be almost forgotten in a few years. Scientific advances will make our current science books too old to use. Medical discoveries will change how illnesses are treated. Current events will become part of our nation’s history. 

We like books, too. But we have a responsibility to use your tax dollars to help the community be informed and entertained. And we can't do that with shelves full of "weeds."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Observing the National Week of Making

June 12th began the National Week of Making, where we celebrate those who like to tinker, play with, invent, and make all kinds of wonderful things. Many cities across the country are hosting Maker Faires to help people get started. You can find out more about the national events at the website for A Nation of Makers.

But even if you can't get to one of these faires, you can still try your hand at making something new by using the books and magazines at the Pottsville Free Public Library.

Think you might like to try doing some woodworking? Check out some of the issues of "Family Handyman" magazine for projects and tips, or browse through the books in the 684 section of the nonfiction books on the second floor.

Interested in jewelry? Two magazines, "Craft Ideas" and "Bead & Button" are right up your alley. Books can be found on the second floor in the 739.27 and 745.5 sections.

Stained glass catch your fancy? Browse through the books in 748.5 for projects.

Browse through the materials in the 697 section to learn more about solar power and heating for your home. 

Learn how to make your own clothing with the books in the 646 section, or step over to 747 to learn how to make your own window treatments. 746 hosts the books on weaving your own fabric, or go back one more step in the process and learn how to spin (also in the 746 section).

The maker movement is all about expanding your abilities, increasing your understanding, and being hands-on. There are so many ways to explore the creative possibilities of making things!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Celebrating Women's History Month

March is National Women's History Month, and the Pottsville Free Public Library has several resources to help you learn more about the subject. Whether you need something online or want to come in to the library, you have lots of options.

The Infobase ebook collection, accessible from the library's home page at, includes three different ebooks specifically on women. Titles include "A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women", "Celebrating Women in American History", and "Encyclopedia of Women and American Politics". These reference books are available to anyone with a Pottsville Library card, just type in your library card number when prompted.

Your library card also gives you access to the EBSCO ebook collection in the POWER Library Network. Under "E-Resources", click on the button for "Find a Book" and then select "eBooks on EBSCOhost". You can search the collection of ebooks like you would search for magazine or newspaper articles. If you type in "women's history", you'll get a list of more than 800 ebooks that are available to read! Reading levels range from juvenile nonfiction (such as "Fighting for Equal Rights: A Story About Susan B. Anthony") to college level and higher (such as "Women and the Law in the Roman Empire"). Different search options allow you to narrow down the scope of the search.

If you want a print book, there are a large number of options in the library's catalog. The Children's Room has such titles as "33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women's History" (J 305.4 T) and books about Susan B. Anthony. In the Reference Department you can find books like "Fighting for the Union Label : the Women's Garment Industry and the ILGWU in Pennsylvania" (REF 331.4 W83). And the Adult collection on the second floor has books about Margaret Sanger, Seneca Falls, and women in World War II.

For help in finding a specific topic, feel free to contact the Reference Department by phone, by email, or visit us in person! :)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Income Tax Season Problems, Part Two

Part two, you ask? Yep, because it's not just dealing with filing your income tax returns: it's avoiding all the scams out there that make your income tax filing more of a headache.

The IRS has a list of the "Dirty Dozen" tax scams on their site at These are scams that have triggered the most complaints filed with the IRS, and can cause penalties and criminal prosecution for victimized taxpayers. The IRS can't say this enough:  "Taxpayers should remember that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax returns even if it is prepared by someone else." (Quoted from the IRS page linked above.)

Be aware that if you haven't filed your taxes in the past as you should, you may be setting yourself up for the phone scams that are going around. Callers threaten taxpayers with arrest or penalties if they do not immediately pay back taxes using prepaid cards or similar methods. You need to remember that the IRS sends out notices by US Mail, and it will not request your personal information over the telephone. Hang up on these callers immediately and report the call.

          If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from
          the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
(From "Phone Scams Continue to be Serious Threat",

You also need to be aware that, if your personal information was stolen through one of the many data breaches that has occurred in stores and companies over the past few years, you could be a victim of fraud. If you try to file your tax return online, and are told that you have already filed a return, contact the agency immediately. Fraudulent tax returns using identity theft are on the rise and state tax departments are trying to watch for it.

The IRS has created a number of videos on YouTube to help you out. You can view their most recent video about avoiding scams, or learn how to choose a tax preparer, or several other topics.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Groan, It's Tax Season Again...

We are all saying that. Which is worse, the winter weather we've been dealing with (or threatened with), or the period from January to April 15 when we know we just have to sit down and figure out what we owe the government? For some, that's a real toss-up. 

And this year is a bit more frustrating than past years. Just when everyone is expected to report their health insurance status on their income tax forms, the IRS has decided not to send out instruction books due to their budget cuts. So everyone wants to know, how are we supposed to file our taxes if we don't know how to fill out the forms?

The good news is, for many people it is free to file their federal income taxes using one of the many tax services available. More than 85% of people file their federal taxes online, either using a professional preparer's service or doing it themselves. If you don't have a computer at home, you can use the public computers at the Pottsville Library to file your taxes. (Just keep in mind that, legally, we cannot answer any tax questions for you. We can help you print, or set up an email account, but please don't ask us how to fill in specific lines on the tax forms.) Want to find a reputable online service? Visit the IRS web page at for a list of companies that offer free federal tax filing for adjusted gross incomes of $60,000 or less.

For people who prefer to use the paper forms, it can get a bit trickier. The Pottsville Library did receive the federal tax forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ, but we did NOT receive any of the instruction booklets or any of the additional schedules and forms. (Did you see our picture in the paper? Those were state tax forms in the photos, not federal. The photo caption didn't make that clear.) We can print off specific pages from the instruction books for you from the internet, although we don't recommend printing off the entire instruction book: at 10 cents a page, even the 1040EZ would cost you more than $4 to print. We have a copy of the tax table at the Circulation Desk (right inside the front door) and a copy of Publication 17 at the Reference Desk.

The alternative is to order an instruction book from the IRS. There is a telephone number to call, 1-800-829-3676, but be prepared to wait to get through. Or you can order copies online from and get them mailed to you within a week or two.

However you file your taxes, try not to wait until the last minute: it might be harder to find and get what you need to finish the job!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gifts for the Holidays

Tis the season to find the perfect gift for your friends and family. Books are a great gift idea, but how do you find the right one?

Does your friend like movies? There are a number of films out recently that were based on novels, such as J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit", or Suzanne Collins' "Mockingjay" (but maybe start with "Hunger Games", the beginning of the series). For love stories, go with John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars" or Nicholas Sparks' "The Best of Me". Teens might be interested in Veronica Roth's "Divergent" series, or James Dashner's "The Maze Runner".  For more books connected with films you will want to visit /Film's list of The Best Movie & TV Book Gifts of 2014.

It can be tough to find books for girls that encourage their imagination and curiosity or help them form  positive self-esteem. The website A Mighty Girl has recommendations for all ages, in a variety of languages, in different subjects and for a wide range of prices. Biographies of famous women like Eleanor Roosevelt or Wilma Rudolph, works of fiction like "Pippi Longstocking", and a large number of award-winning books can be found on this site. Sites like Kirkus Reviews and the New York Times (linked below) have additional suggestions for books for kids.

And if you know someone who is fascinated by Schuylkill County history, there are a few books available you'll want to consider. The Pottsville Free Public Library has a few copies left of "Schuylkill Stories: The Chronicles of Ione Geier", a compilation of some of Mrs. Geier's favorite columns from her years of writing for the Pottsville Republican newspaper. Michael J. Lisicky recently published "Shop Pomeroy's First", about the popular department store in eastern and central Pennsylvania. Or for the true-crime reader you could go with Stephanie Hoover's "The Kelayres Massacre: Politics and Murder in Pennsylvania's Anthracite Coal Country".

E-books are great in some ways, for some readers. Most e-readers (either dedicated or on a tablet) permit you to make the text larger and easier to read, and they all make it easier to take many, many books with you for a fraction of the space of print books. If you are thinking of buying a dedicated e-reader for someone, take a look at reviews like those of CNET or The Digital Reader for more information before making your purchase.

Cookbooks are a really popular book gift for any occasion. There are so many different diets and health trends, you are sure to find something to fit the needs of the recipient. Or, instead of one book, you could look into gift subscriptions of a magazine like Cooking Light, Gluten-Free Living, Taste of Home, or Vegetarian Times. All of these titles are at the Pottsville Library if you want to take a look at them before buying them for others.

Here are some other sites that identify great gift books for various subjects:

The Slate writers chose their favorite books for 2014

(And if you want to give an e-book, one web page has several suggestions how to wrap it!)

New York Times Sunday Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2014

NBCNews Brainy Reads: Top Science and Tech Books of 2014

Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Books of 2014
(This page also has links to the best nonfiction, children's, and teen books.)

Do you have a favorite site for finding gift books? Let us know!