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Author Archives:Liz Reed

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10/10 Recommend: The Review Wars

It’s an accepted fact that we are living in the era of information. More than ever, people have instant access to knowledge that can help them make decisions in their everyday lives.  People are using their smartphones, computers, and other devices to make informed choices about their medical care, their political views, and how to spend their money.  And it has never been easier to spend money thanks to the convenience of shopping online.  Open access to information about products and services means we now have endless choices to consider.  So how do people figure out the best way to get the most for their money? Even with all this new technology, people still rely on an old-school method:  recommendations and reviews.

There are so many services and websites that provide us with consumer reviews.  This should make the process of selecting the best products and services easier but somehow things are still just as complicated!  There are two ways most of us look at reviews online: separate review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor OR the reviews sections of websites that directly sell products like Amazon.com.  Products and services that are well reviewed generally jump to the top of any results list.  But it seems businesses have responded to these attempts to empower the consumer with fake reviews.  Supposedly, individual users of sites like Amazon.com are meant to buy a product, use it, and then rate or review it with feedback for other individual users to contemplate when making their own purchasing decisions.

So how does a company that sells products on a site like Amazon get individuals to write bogus reviews?  By offering incentives, of course!  Some companies have set up Facebook groups to recruit potential reviewers by offering full refunds on the product they were selling if the reviewer provided a high number of stars and a glowing review.  This ensures the product will appear at the top of search results, creating the illusion of goodness rather than revealing an accurate assessment of it.

Of course, the idea of sending out free product in hopes of good reviews is not a new marketing strategy.  Business have done this for years.  The difference now is where vendors previously hoped that the free things would sway people’s recommendations, companies now require an explicit exchange to occur in order to secure a good rating for their product:  you get this thing for free if, and ONLY if, you write a good review for us.

YouTube is another treasure trove of reviews that would appear helpful since videos allow potential buyers to see a product in action.  The comment section of review videos can also aid consumers suss out potential problems.  But brands have discovered a way to take incentives a bit further than just providing free products to content creators.  Many brands now sponsor lavish trips to exotic destinations and invite select “influencers” that reflect their key demographic to participate when new products are launched.  I imagine it’s pretty tough to film a negative review of a product from a brand that has just sent you on a fre trip to Tahiti, a reason many YouTubers cite when they simply opt NOT to talk about a product on their channels at all instead giving it an honest, critical review. In reality, many content creators are not able to monetize their channels or other social media platforms and thus depend on free products to keep their reviews going.

The tension between free products from brands and honest reviews puts consumers in the middle.  Now that the holiday season is kicking off, more and more people are shopping online.  This past Black Friday and Cyber Monday seemed especially focused on online deals, with some starting the weekend before Thanksgiving and others extending to the week after.  Clearly, with our busy lives and holiday seasons, we are drawn to the convenience of shopping via the Internet. But if we aren’t able to examine the quality of the goods we’re purchasing or make any kind of assessment until they arrive in packages at our houses, we have to use reviews smartly to our advantage.  Using a few basic techniques and some common sense will help you spot a product with many fake or biased reviews.

First, it helps to read a bunch of positive reviews for a product.  Notice the language.  Do reviewers use the same key phrases or words to describe the product? If so, that can be a sign that the brand has provided reviewers with preferred talking points to include. Secondly,  look at how specific or detailed people are in their review.  The generic phrase “This product is great” doesn’t really help anyone decide if the product is a good fit.  If a review can point a few different things that made this product worthwhile or call out a few small drawbacks, it’s more likely the review is genuine.

It also helps to know when a product came on the market.  If it’s just been released and there are many glowing reviews, it can be a sign that the vendor solicited biased opinions that aren’t accurate or helpful. Finally, and this is for the truly detail oriented folks, if you start to notice the same usernames providing positive reviews for multiple products in a short period of time, you can generally conclude that reviewer might have been swayed by the promise of free stuff.

Online shopping is one of the miracles of our current technological age.  Theoretically, we should be able to save  time and money by engaging in a very targeted consumer experience rather than traditional browsing.  Through online reviews, we also have access to the best consumer resource out there:  other people’s experiences.  But even though technology has helped us spend more money than before, in order to spend it wisely, we still must evaluate our information in ways librarians have been recommending for years:  consider your sources carefully and verify the facts before you decide to hit that “Place Order” button.

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Kate’s column in the December 7, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Winter Reading ’17-’18 BINGO: Hibernate with a Book!

goodies and snowThe Morrill Memorial Library invites you to Hibernate with a Book this winter! You know you’ll be cuddling up with a few good books, so why not have a chance to win a prize with Reader’s BINGO?

Reader’s BINGO is open to everyone high school-aged or older. Any books you finish this winter can be included on your BINGO sheet, with each book counting for a single square. Don’t worry, audiobooks and graphic novels definitely count.

BINGO goes from December 2017 through March 9, 2018.

Each completed BINGO row equals one entry for our prize drawings. Gift Certificate prizes have generously been provided by the local sponsors listed below, and we also have a basket full of autographed books from local authors donated as a prize. book and fireplace

Download BINGO sheets below, or pick them up in the library. BINGO sheets can be submitted to Nancy Ling in Outreach or to Liz Reed in Reference. Turn them in even if you’ve only completed one or two rows – you might win! Sheets must be returned by noon on Friday March 9.

Download your BINGO sheet here!

Gift certificate prizes provided by:

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Keep checking back
for more sponsors!

 

 

Please contact either of these librarians with any questions:

Liz Reed: lreed@minlib.net
781-769-0200 x110

Nancy Ling: nling@minlib.net
781-769-0200 x228

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The World’s Worst…and Best Puppy

Let’s admit it. We had been warned. “Puppies are just like babies,” friends said. “At your age, a puppy will wear both of you out,” our kids told us. They chew. They make messes. They need so much attention.

We lost our beloved 11-1/2 year old Boxer in September 2016. Over the next nine months as we grieved, we also managed to convince everyone, including each other and ourselves, that we weren’t anywhere ready for another dog. We were enjoying the freedom from having to be home on time. We didn’t miss the muddy paw prints, the dog toys strewn about, and our car no longer boasted a full coat of dog hair on the seats and the floor.

There were no streaky nose prints on the car windows or on the French doors at home. There was no annoying barking at the mailman and any friend or foe who came near our home.  There were no stray dog toys and bones tripping us up, and no more slippery water sploshes on the kitchen floor.

Yet, we missed the u-shaped, body-shivering hellos that greeting our every homecoming. We yearned for the warm, solid presence of a beloved dog at our feet in bed. We were even nostalgic for the leggy-cuddles – those that caused us to cry “uncle” and retreat to the love seat across the room – alone, without the furry friend who had pushed us off the couch.

One day this past June, a friend hinted that there might be some sweet puppies we would like to meet in New Bedford. They were eight-week old Boxers, a comical, loyal breed we knew so well. We convinced ourselves that we were only curious. We were “only looking,” we claimed. With six young grandchildren in our home for holidays and vacations, we were reluctant to rescue a grown dog who might take months or years to learn to trust. Yet, for obvious reasons, we were not so sure about a puppy, either.

Once a snub-nosed runt-of-the-litter puppy stared into my eyes, licked my fingers, nuzzled my chin, and curled up on my lap, I was smitten. Logic, resolve, and a window-shopping-fantasy ended right there. My husband Gerry knew it was love at first sight and sighed deeply, while at the same time secretly smiling. This new puppy we named Oreo (for the slice of white that appeared like the frosting in an Oreo cookie) came to live with us that week.

Several days later, reality set in. Our soft, cuddly puppy nipped at our grandchildren’s heels and grabbed them by the back of their heads, nibbling on their hair, knocking them over with all 12 pounds of his effervescent love. He stole the socks right off my feet and my knitting from the coffee table. He piddled and chewed and tripped us with every step we took. Those first few months I was sure he would never grow out of every stage he suddenly was in. He seemed to gain a half-a-pound a day, outgrowing every bed, leash and harness before we even got the credit card bill.

We crate trained. We downloaded the WAG app and arranged dog walkers like UBER rides.  We met other four-legged friends and their owners, praying that our puppy would wear himself out in a half-hour of before-suppertime play. We scolded, we praised, we admonished. We sighed.

We had, after all, been warned about puppies.

At nearly eight months, Oreo’s energy is unbounded. He peers from his crate when we walk through to door, as if to say “Hey! Thanks for coming back.” He sits, he stays. He gives one paw and “the other.” He makes his presence known on every couch and bed when he rests his grateful, heavy head on our cold and tired calves. His dog walkers call him the King of Norwood as he greets every person, dog, leaf and stick with enthusiastic attention. He still manages to steal a knitting needle here and there, run off gleefully with my socks.  Left alone, he can’t be trusted not to gnaw a chair leg or pillow, mistaking them for one of his dozens of toys. He will endlessly play fetch in and out of the house and up and down the halls and stairs.

One of our puppy guidebooks suggested that there are no bad puppies, just bad humans. While this advice might be brutal and unwelcome, it is most likely true. Dogs who mess in the house need a more regular schedule of being let outside. Dogs who chew need toys and exercise. Dogs who nip need stern training.

Oreo is either dog-walked up to an hour every day while we are at work or he spends the full day in doggie daycare and arrives home too exhausted to eat dinner. During the Thanksgiving holiday, we realized we needed to add “vigorous walk” to Oreos’ vacation schedule, too.

Fortunately, the south coast where we spend our holidays boasts many dog-friendly walking trails, off-season beaches and cranberry bogs. We’ve found countless resources online and on sites such as the Trustees of Reservations, Buzzard’s Bay Coalition and the Sippican Land Trust. When we venture further out for day trips to stretch Oreo’s legs and save our furniture, socks, and my knitting projects, we’ll take along some books like Best Hikes with Dogs Boston and Beyond by Jenna Ringelheim, Best Hikes with Dogs in New Hampshire and Vermont by Lisa Densmore, Doggin’ Massachusetts by Dog Gelbert, and Dog-Friendly New England by Trisha Blanchet.

Last week, when we weren’t watching, Oreo chewed a 3” triangular piece off a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind stool that sits in our back utility hall. I fought mightily to stifle my aggravation. He’s only a puppy, I groaned.

Last Sunday I nestled down on the couch with Oreo and re-watched Marley and Me, the 2008 film version of John Grogan’s book about his beloved Golden Retriever. Sobbing at the end of the film, I tightly held Oreo, all legs, massive paws and broad chest. I wondered how we, too, had ended up with the world’s worst dog – who we love with all our hearts.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the November 30, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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Revisiting New England from Fluff to Baked Beans

The United States is a diverse country. We are a culturally, intellectually, and religiously diverse people, and our regional foods reflect that. Every state, and even every city can lay claim to its own slice of American culinary culture. Buffalo, NY contributed the chicken wings that are so popular on game day, Philadelphia is all about the cheese steak, and it is hard to think of Chicago without thinking of deep dish pizza. While New England may not have a dish as popular as the buffalo wing or as iconic as Texas barbeque, a surprising number of amazing foods have roots right in our own back yard.

I started thinking about this when I saw a new book sitting on one of my co-worker’s desks awaiting processing. “Fluff: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon” by Mimi Graney chronicles the story of the fluffy marshmallow spread that has been a lunchbox hit for decades. After reading this entertaining history and running to the store to purchase a jar of the marshmallow-y goodness I was seriously craving, I came to think of other things that are regional favorites.

Naturally, my mind went straight to what many people consider to be the Commonwealth’s most recognizable treat: Boston cream pie. While this “pie” might be the official dessert of Massachusetts (yes, Massachusetts has a state dessert), I don’t find it to be terribly representative of classic New England food culture. As Brook Dojny explains in “The New England Cookbook : 350 Recipes from Town and Country, Land and Sea, Hearth and Home,” New England cooking has been shaped not only by the native peoples that have inhabited this land for countless generations, but also by the multitude of immigrants that found their ways to our rocky shores, and even by geography itself.
Quintessential New England recipes are hearty and filling. They use easily available ingredients, largely from local sources, and are rarely fussy or overly complicated. Some prime examples of this are baked beans, chowders, Johnny cakes, steamed seafood, and the fruit cobblers and pies that are so prevalent on our tables.

Speaking of desserts (mostly), “The New England Orchard Cookbook : Harvesting Dishes & Desserts from the Region’s Bounty” by Linda Beaulieu was another recent find that solved a problem common to many Bay State families this time of year. We were positively drowning in a glut of apples after an apple picking outing with my husband, sister, and niece. Even with four enthusiastic apple eaters, we had barely made a dent into our haul weeks later. While I had to order this book from another library in the Minuteman Library Network, it was well worth the wait. Part travel guide, part agricultural history lesson, and part cookbook, this book did not disappoint. In no time, we had reduced our apple stock- without getting sick of them!

While most New Englanders can agree that an old fashioned apple pie is delicious, there are many traditional dishes that folks love or just love to hate. Moxie soda (love), brown bread from a can (love), Necco Wafers (love, especially the clove flavor), clam chowder (hate), and even good old marshmallow Fluff (love). Regardless of whether you think Indian pudding is delicious or horrible, mealy sludge, I think we can all agree that New England has a lot to offer when comes to filling our bellies.

Read Alli Palmgren’s column in the November 23, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. Alli is the Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.

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The Holy Grail of Grammar (and other Humdingers)

My family is big on wordplay—the sillier the better. Whether it’s deliberately mispronouncing or making up words for comic effect (only to us), overusing idioms (beating a dead horse), or simply quoting dumb movie lines, we delight in linguistic levity. As our Commander-in-Chief might tweet, “It’s just sad!” No doubt, but entertaining nonetheless.

My ex-husband and I had a thing for Monty Python and Charles Dickens–“that’s Dikkens with two K’s, the well-known Dutch author.” Certain catch phrases, like this one from the Monty Python Bookshop sketch, still make me smile. If I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, my former spouse would call me Mrs. Gummidge—the “lone lorn creetur’” in David Copperfield who “everythink goes contrary with.” The name stuck.

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. As a high school English teacher, his students’ misuse of the mother tongue was no joke. Those who committed the egregious sin of spelling “a lot” as one word received an automatic “F”. Harsh? Perhaps. But if they gave a rat’s…I mean, if they cared a fig about their GPAs I bet they made that mistake only once.

Our kids are forever quoting dialogue from favorite films–Old School, Airplane!, Wedding Crashers, and Groundhog Day top the list. Before I left to visit my youngest while she was studying in Paris, her sister in San Francisco texted me, “Bring me back something French.” Seriously? I hadn’t planned on buying any souvenirs, plus my carry-on was already crammed to capacity.

“Mom,” another daughter explained patiently, “it’s a quote from Home Alone.”

If you wish to showcase your talent for reciting random movie lines, there’s no shortage of material at the Morrill Memorial Library.

A font of hyperbole, my mother was renowned in the family for her own quotes. Spending time at the shore with Mom was no day at the beach. As we trudged from the parking lot to the water one afternoon she complained, “This beach has too much sand!” Eyeing the cot on which she was to sleep during a weekend visit, she muttered, “Prisoners sleep on thicker mattresses than this.” And the last time she saw her bearded grandson, the Christmas before she died, she told him, “You look terrible!” Mom did not mince words–or beat around the bush.

I may have said “I’ll eat my hat!” once or twice myself, and I’m especially keen on “colder than a witch’s…” er, you get my drift. If idioms tickle your fancy as well, give this one a whirl–I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World by Jag Bhalla. (That’s a new one on me, too.)

But back to my maternal parent. Regarding her youngest grandchild, who Mom believed showed particular promise: “At least she’s not going to grow up to be just a librarian.” Ouch. My daughter enjoys her job in TV news but once admitted that her dream was to be an archivist (read: librarian who likes old stuff). Have you heard the expression, “turning over in her grave”?

No stranger to the pun himself, my partner called his own mother Cleopatra, Queen of Denial. Desperate for a girl after having produced three sons, she called her fourth child Mary for the first few days. The baby’s name was in fact Bill.

I may be just a librarian but my real passion is copy-editing. Put a red pen and the written word within my reach and I’m as happy as a clam at high tide. Knowing my penchant for proofreading, my boss presented me with this laminated keepsake: “My life is a constant battle between wanting to correct grammar and wanting to have friends.” While I usually manage to bite my tongue, it requires a Herculean effort to refrain from fixing typos in the margins of whatever book I’m reading. Were it not for the shame of getting caught defacing library property…

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night prevents me and my partner from playing along with Jeopardy every night with our favorite host, Alex…Trebek! The only categories in which I have a snowball’s chance in… well, of distinguishing myself, are those relating to language. “Proverbially Speaking” was a walk in the park, and I nailed “Words that Begin and End with N.” It’s extremely satisfying when I shout out the right answer, or rather question. Except that when I don’t, the correct response often gets drowned out in all the excitement.

I suspect this homegrown word game may never be ready for prime time. When someone uses a vaguely erudite or multi-syllabic word in conversation, the other will respond by saying basically the same thing minus the big words. For example, after a wedding we’d attended my friend commented, “Wasn’t the bride absolutely radiant?” Me: “Yeah, and she looked pretty darn good, too.” Upon hearing someone recently described as indigent, I couldn’t help remarking, “He probably didn’t have a ton of money, either.” I engage in this terribly witty repartee with just two people–my significant other and his ex-wife. It’s our way of poking a bit of fun at each other for using a ten-dollar word.

To learn the proper usage of “its” versus “it’s” or “me,” “myself,” and “I,” Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) are your go-to guys.  But if you want to dig deeper and enjoy a few chuckles in the bargain, check out Lynn Truss’s British bestseller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves—the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Another humorous read for the serious word buff is Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris, who chronicles her long career at The New Yorker and shares amusing anecdotes and helpful tips. I also really liked Kory Stamper’s Word by Word: the Secret Life of Dictionaries–a wonderfully irreverent inside look at the life of a lexicographer.

Regardless of your particular quest, make haste to your local library. And if you don’t find the holy grail of linguistic treasures, or whatever it is you seek, I’ll eat my hat.

April Cushing is the Adult and Information Services Supervisor at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Mass. Read April’s column in the November 9th edition of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

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