David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters, I'm David Payne. And on today's episode, we're going to be looking at the vinyl revival, the renewed interest and the increase sales of the gramophone record and how it ties in with MCPL second annual vinyl day. And who better to have as our guest today than MCPL's very own music man Twinbrook Branch Manager Eric Carzon. Welcome back, Eric.
Eric Carzon: Hi, good to be back.
David Payne: Eric, of course, has been on several podcast talking about music-related matters and he's also in charge of Twinbrook's collection of musical instruments. How is it going Eric?
Eric Carzon: Oh, it's going great.
David Payne: Oh, very good. So let's start off by talking about the upcoming Vinyl Records Day. What do we need to know? Where, when, what?
Eric Carzon: All righty. So, Vinyl Record Day is on Saturday, April 27th at the Silver Spring Library and it's from 12 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., so you do not need to register in advance. And some of the highlights of what's going to be going on at the vinyl record day, we're going to preview some clips from the upcoming documentary, Feast Your Ears, that's about the famous radio station WHFS 102.3, so the original HFS. And one of their deejays, Cerphe Colwell is going to be there to kick that off and also signs some of his books. WHFS was very famous starting in the '60s, played a very eclectic mix of music.
Some folks in more recent years might remember it as WHFS 99.1 where it played a progressive alternative rock for a number of years before being bought out in 2005 and changing formats. And then it sort of has a colored history after that, going in and out of different formats and bouncing around all over the country in different incarnations. We also are going to have a panel discussion on vinyl record recording a collecting with some folks that are in the industry and we are going to have our – do again our famous arts and crafts with vinyl records, which was a big hit last year. So that's a great family activity.
We also are going to have our first ever Make Music Montgomery Talent Showcase, so we did some auditions earlier in the year. We're going to have several talented folks from our community play us some music. We're going to have a couple celebrity community judges who do local things in the music scene here. And they're going to provide some commentary and select some of the best acts from Make Music Montgomery. There'll also be a record sale during the whole thing, so you would be able to buy some vinyl records from the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County. And, of course, you can dress up as your favorite artist if you wish. And then to cap it all off, we have a volunteer group who's going to have a record-listening room after the event's over so you'll be able to head up to the fifth floor and listen to some records after 4:00 o'clock.
David Payne: That's great. So something for everybody.
Eric Carzon: Yeah exactly.
David Payne: Will you be taking over the whole building the whole library or this is –
Eric Carzon: No. This year, most of the actions are going to happen on the third floor and the fifth floor.
David Payne: Great.
Eric Carzon: So the fifth floor is where the arts and crafts are going to be and the record listening at the end of the day. And then all of the main events are going to be on the third floor.
David Payne: Great. You mentioned the – sorry. You mentioned the Make Music Montgomery contest, tell us a bit more about that and how did the auditions go with that?
Eric Carzon: Oh, great. Yeah, so the auditions for Make Music Montgomery went great. Well, we tried to make it as easy as possible. So if you're interested in doing this next year, we do it next year. We had people submit audio files basically and/or video files we said, you know. Basically, submit us any current format that's readable. We didn't have any problem with reading the files. We did have a live audition and a couple of folks took advantage of that. We just basically made a recording of them. So we had sort of a subpanel of judges go through the acts and select the best ones. And so those acts will perform at Make Music Montgomery on Vinyl Record Day. And that should be a good time. We sort of stole the page from America's Got Talent. So, we're going to do a nice version. You know, there's no mean judge in there.
David Payne: Was there a great diversity in the type of performances and the type of –
Eric Carzon: We tried to get as much diversities as we can. You're going to see, there's a – some – from the Chinese community, there's going to be – they're playing the zither, a Chinese instrument, and doing some dance along with the zither playing. We got some ukulele guitar. We have original songs from the diversity of artists. And then, so we'll pick like an overall best act and the most physically challenging, the most original, the best tribute to an artist, and the most charming, the sort of the crowd-pleaser acts are some of the categories that we have.
David Payne: So we had a very first Vinyl Day last year. From that, what learned from that kickoff? What are the changes that you made this year? How did you go about sort of thinking about this second year?
Eric Carzon: Yeah. I think we tried to tighten the focus a little bit. So that's why most of the actions are on the third floor, a little bit on the fifth floor. We put in Make Music Montgomery to break up the panel. I think we had, like, a speech and two panels last year. So we tried to make it a little more active in terms of our – in terms of our programming.
David Payne: Do you anticipate a large crowd this year?
Eric Carzon: I certainly hope so.
David Payne: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Eric Carzon: You know, but, you know, as long as – as long as whoever comes has fun, then we'll be happy.
David Payne: And, again, looking back at last year, what are some of your favorite moments from that first one?
Eric Carzon: I think watching the kids eat up their crafts was really great. You know, there's a lot of energy there. Just people enjoying the records, you know, because there are some – there are some gold in there – in those records, you never know what you're going to find.
David Payne: Right.
Eric Carzon: And then the people are really engaged in the panel discussion. They had a nice discussion about collection, about playing them on the radio and about the artists.
David Payne: And what can we expect from the Friends of the Library record sale this year?
Eric Carzon: There's a good diversity of records because, you know, people donate constantly to the Friends of the Library. So a lot of the genres are represented. You know, sometimes you'll encounter something fairly rare. You might encounter – you know, I've got one that I bought that was signed by the artist. So, you know, there are stuffs that sometimes people don't know what they have. They throw it away and don't realize that oh, you know, I've got a, you know, I've got a Michael Jackson records signed by Michael Jackson or something.
David Payne: So it's clear from Vinyl Day and your experience it and the trends that we're seeing that people are still very clearly listening to vinyl. Why do you think in a world in which technology has greatly changed the way in which we listen to music, what is it about, a basic glossy seven or 12-inch disc that makes it so attractive to people?
Eric Carzon: Oh, yeah, there's a few things about vinyl. I think that the vinyl record highlights the album experience. So, you know, some of the restrictions of the format are actually some of the benefits. So you've got a fixed amount of time, about 50 minutes to make that impression. And for decades, artists, you know, utilized that to really craft an experience. So I think that is still a benefit of the vinyl record experience. And, you know, it's sort of a reaction to the digital, which, you know, has its benefits. I mean, I – I'm a fan of both. And, you know, the great thing about digital music is it's very portable.
You got thousand songs in your pocket. You can make mixes. So, you know, you can have Sting and Elton John and Nickelback on the same mix if you want. And, you know, if you want to throw Ella Fitzgerald, great. But there is something to be said for absorbing an artist conception of, like, you know, "I'm an artist, you like me. You like my music, I'm going to give you 15 minutes of an experience." It's like listening to a story or reading somebody's book. So that is also an experience. I think another thing about it is there's an element of nostalgia.
David Payne: Yes.
Eric Carzon: I mean, you know, a lot of us grew up with vinyl records, you know, that was my first music experience. So I think we have fond memories when we re-experience vinyl. And, you know, we like the scratch or the sort of – the rhythmic pulse of the thing going up and down and there's sort of a slight background hiss that's there, and turning the record over and the A side and the B side. So those are all things that resonate with people.
David Payne: Plus the actual covers themselves.
Eric Carzon: Yeah, I agree. And that's a – you have a lot more flexibility with the cover art. You can do a lot more, you can actually read. I mean, the frustrating thing with CDs is you really can't read the words or any of the things in the cover art. So I think that is also an element. And, you know, like I said before, it's not an all or nothing proposition. The way I like to think about vinyl records now is it's kind of a luxury experience, you know. It's kind of like the dessert to your meal or your after-dinner coffee or maybe owning an antique car. You know, you're probably not going to drive your antique car to the grocery store but on that perfect Sunday or if you're having people over, you know, you're going to show them to your garage and say, "Here's my antique car."
So I look at vinyl records the same way. It's like you want to have a sort of special experience, you'll like, "Hey, let's have a special music listening experience." And then you can – and you can pull it out. And, you know, there is also an element of it's a different sound experience. And I'm not an audio file but there are arguments to trade back and forth over which formats have which advantages. You know, there are certainly people in the camp that will say that the vinyl record is actually the superior audio experience. That the analogue recording and playback captures more fully the actual intent of the artist in the full sound spectrum as opposed to the digital music.
There are digital audio file that will tell you, "No, no, no, it's the opposite," you know, if you look at the parameters or whatever, you know, if you listen to high fidelity, high quality digital audio, it's like, you know, sonically better. You know, for me, I ditched all that and just go, "Well, you know, what are you in the mood for? And what is your purpose?" you know. If I'm going on a six-hour drive, then digital music is great and I can make – I can make a six-hour mix if I want to very easily. You're not going to do that with vinyl. But, you know, if I want the vinyl experience then, it definitely has its benefits.
David Payne: So that takes me to my next question that you partially answered. How does the sound quality of the vinyl record compare with other recording formats?
Eric Carzon: And I think for me, it's just mostly a difference in the experience, you know, the – one of the things – especially I remember back when CD started to come in to play, the absence of the background noise threw some people because vinyl records have a very distinctive beginning and end background noise and mechanical noise. And, you know, some people like that. Digital music actually there are so many different qualities of digital music like, you know, the MP3 format. It's intentionally less music. So there is less there. And if your ears are that attuned, you would be able to tell the difference in listening the MP3 file, there is less sound there and they do that in order to compress it down and create less data so you can fit more songs on to a given length of digital media. But, you know, CD quality versus vinyl quality is sort of one of those arguments on media that the people argue back and forth. But to me, it's really more about the experience.
David Payne: So are there any new developments in vinyl, particularly thinking of how they're made these days?
Eric Carzon: Yeah. Apparently so. I've done a lot of research. You know, I'm no expert but I did read up on a couple of articles in our area, for instance, there is a new vinyl record press, and that's sort of a trend. So there's been a few and – like I was reading an article from the vinylrecordfactory.com and they said that – they were talking about how presses were opening up in five different continents, including United States. And one of the more recent ones in our area in 2018, the Furnace Record Pressing Company opened a new press in Alexandria, Virginia. And if you go to their website, you'll see they're very active.
They've got pricing and you can – if you want to go press yourself a vinyl record, you've got a new source to do that. And the other thing that – I was reading an article in Popular Science magazine and they were talking about a company called Viryl Technologies that developed a new vinyl record press. And that was an accomplishment because up until a couple of years ago, most of these record presses were basically scouring the world for old vinyl presses that had been left over an then they were refurbishing them and restoring them to working order and then running their presses.
And so there's actually been a lot of pent up demand because that was a very slow process, they break down a lot, it's a very messy and difficult manufacturing process. So this company invested and created a brand new. I think the model number is called WarmTone. But they created a brand new record press which hadn't happened in awhile. And according to their website, the Furnace Record Press, for instance, is using one of their new models and so are few other companies around the world. So the fact that they're sort of reinventing the pressing process and, you know, taking 20 or 30 years' worth of technology advancements, I'm sure that the new press is probably more efficient than the old press.
David Payne: Right. How much do you think as an aside institutional knowledge about the whole process, the record press process, I mean, was it Sony I was reading when they decided to go back into the world of gramophone records? They had a hard time finding somebody old enough to remember how to – how to manufacture them.
Eric Carzon: Yeah. I'm sure it's an issue, and that's one of the questions that we'll probably come up in the panel discussions at the event because I think we're all interested to hear a little bit about that.
David Payne: Yeah.
Eric Carzon: I did. You know, in fact, there are some new tech – the other new technology I was reading about is there is supposedly some work going on on a new vinyl format, so really like high definition vinyl. So that would be interesting. But the fact that the Viryl company, you know, they had to gain enough expertise to be able to invent a new format. So that's – I think that's a probably good for the industry that they're, you know, getting some people to invest in new knowledge. And, theoretically, they probably had to catch up on the old knowledge in order to be able to do that.
David Payne: So for anybody who wants to get into the world or develop their collection of vinyl records, how does one go about developing a great collection of vinyl?
Eric Carzon: Well, if you got a relative that might be a starting point. But, actually, there are – we're blessed with a lot of local record shops. A few that come to mind; there's Joe's Record Paradise and The Record Exchange. Those are both in Silver Spring, pretty close to each other. Barns & Noble has a pretty – I'd like to say about a third of their media section is devoted to vinyl now. And it's interesting, it's a mixed of old and new vinyl. So, you know, if you go and you browse, you're going to see like remix of classic vinyl albums but then you'll also see like the latest, you know, the artist's very latest album, you know, pressed out there vinyl.
So a little of both is going on. Now, the Barns & Noble and the new – the new records are actually more expensive than CDs but, you know, by a – not insubstantial factors as far as I can tell. But there is a wealth of used records as well. So the Friends of the Library bookstores, both of them, one Rockville and the one in Colesville Road, the old Silver Spring Library site, and eventually will move back to the Wheaton Library when Wheaton reopens. Both of the Friends of the Library book sales have a substantial record collection that you'll see at the festival. And the other place that has a pretty substantial used record collection that I've seen is Wonder Book in Gaithersburg.
David Payne: Yes, yes.
Eric Carzon: And they've got like a whole room dedicated to vinyl. So there are lots of different places, you know. You could probably hit yard sales as well. Although, the – since you don't know what temperature control the user kept their records in, so a little more dicey.
David Payne: That's right, yeah, buy everywhere. Yeah.
Eric Carzon: Yeah, absolutely.
David Payne: Would you know particularly with new vinyl, are we seeing new vinyl in sort of across the board in terms of the various musical genres and classical, jazz, rock or is it more confined to a particular type of music?
Eric Carzon: I haven't shopped enough to fully tell. But as far as I can tell, there is a bit of diversity. Yeah. Especially with the – I'd say the more I've seen is actually the pop.
David Payne: Oh, yes, yeah.
Eric Carzon: You know, like soft – the sort of pop artist seemed to have a lot of vinyl coming out.
David Payne: Yeah. Looking ahead, do you see the vinyl revival continuing to grow as much as it has in recent years?
Eric Carzon: Yeah. I think the jury is out on that as well. I think that the fact that the industry is invested in new pressing factories because that is a substantial capital investment.
David Payne: Right.
Eric Carzon: So, I think that suggest that they believe that the trend will continue enough to remain stable enough for them to make that investment.
David Payne: Right. Yeah.
Eric Carzon: Personally, I don't see vinyl ever resuming its dominant role.
David Payne: No.
Eric Carzon: But I could totally see it as kind of this stable niche of this luxury music experience.
David Payne: Right.
Eric Carzon: You know, it's not going to be for everybody and it's, you know, not even for people who like it. It might not be their mainstay of how they absorb music but, you know, it's kind of a – it's a reachable luxury, you know, it's a hobby you can have. And I personally think that it will remain that way for some time.
David Payne: And who would have thought that it would have developed the way it did, so.
Eric Carzon: Yeah, yeah.
David Payne: So, amongst your vinyl collection, do you have a favorite album or song you listened to on vinyl?
Eric Carzon: Yeah. I've got a couple. My favorite vinyl album of all time, I think, Janis Ian, Between the Lines. And I like the whole album experience. I love that. My mom was a big Gordon Lightfoot.
David Payne: Oh, yeah.
Eric Carzon: So I got the bug as well and I love his first album actually. It's his very first album that was great and I listened to it over and over again. I used to listen to Barbra Streisand's Greatest Hits Volume 2 over and over again, Billy Joel and Elton John. And one I've actually been looking for, I regret, I don't know – you know, I was a kid when I listened to it but I don't know how it got lost or destroyed or whatever, but I used to have a soundtrack of Star Wars that had the music and the dialogue.
David Payne: Oh, nice. Yeah.
Eric Carzon: And so, you know, and I got it right when the movie first came out in '79 and I listened to that thing to death. And I had the whole dialogue memorized. And I have looked high and low for that record, even in CD format and I cannot find it. So that was one of my favorites. And one of these days, I hope to find it again in any format.
David Payne: Sounds like a collectable.
Eric Carzon: Yeah.
David Payne: Yeah.
Eric Carzon: Yeah.
David Payne: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing your personal record collection with us. And we normally each episode by asking our guest what they're currently reading or a book or something they've recently enjoyed. So while you're listening to your vinyl records, what are you reading?
Eric Carzon: No, absolutely. So I just finished Adventures of an IT Leader. And it's a great book. It teaches sort of serious IT management principles that you would, you know, take in graduate school, but it does it in a guise of story. So it's like very entertaining, very educational. It was actually assigned to me in a graduate class so I read it. And it's in the MCPL collection on RB Digital as an audiobook and I highly recommend it. I'm about to start the book City on the Line which is by our Chief Administrative Officer. His name is Andrew Kleine. And he writes about his experience as the budget chief in Baltimore City during the Great Recession.
David Payne: Right.
Eric Carzon: And then, finally, since I am the manager of the Library of Things: Music, I do read the Daily Ukulele almost daily. It's got 365 ukulele songs. I use it for my monthly program. And it's a staple of MCPL's music collection, so you can find it in a lot of branches.
David Payne: Great.
Eric Carzon: And if you're starting out on uke that is the book you want.
David Payne: And you're developing your repertoire.
Eric Carzon: Yeah, right.
David Payne: Yeah. And for our listeners, you can find details of all those on our show notes. So, Eric, thank you very much for sharing your vinyl record knowledge. I hope the Vinyl Day 2019 goes very well. Good luck with that.
Eric Carzon: It's my pleasure.
David Payne: And we look forward to Vinyl Day 2020.
Eric Carzon: Yeah.
David Payne: Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcasts app, Stitcher or where you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.
Summary: Vinyl Day organizer and Twinbrook Library manager Eric Carzon offers a sneak peak at the April 27, 2019 event, Just for the Record - A Vinyl Day, taking place at Silver Spring Library He also talks about the appeal of vinyl records and recent developments in the vinyl record industry.
Recording Date: April 11, 2019
Guest: Vinyl Day planning committee member and Twinbrook Library manager Eric Carzon.
Host: David Payne
What Our Guest Is Reading:
Adventures of an IT Leader by Richard Austin
City on the Line by Andrew Kleine
The Daily Ukulele by Liz and Jeff Beloff
Guest's Favorite Vinyl Albums:
Items of Interest Mentioned During This Episode:
Cerphe Colwell - Former WHFS DJ and author of the book Cerphe's Up: A Musical Life with Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, CSNY, and Many More.
Feast Your Ears - A documentary on the history of the DC area radio station WHFS.
Just for the Record - A Vinyl Day - A celebration of the music, culture, art, and sound of vinyl records. Silver Spring Library, Saturday, April 27, 2019, Noon - 4 PM.
Library of Things Music - A collection of musical instruments at Twinbrook Library that are available for eligible customers to check out.
Popular Science article on the first new fully automated record pressing machines in over 30 years.
David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters, with your host David Payne.
Lauren Martino: And I'm Lauren Martino.
David Payne: And for our episode today, we're going to be talking all about money. There are two important events coming up in the calendar relating to money, one is Money Smart Week, the week of March the 30th to April the 6th, and then April is National Financial Literacy Month.
Lauren Martino: Not to mention tax month.
David Payne: Indeed, how could we forget? And joining us today I'm pleased to welcome our two guests, Mark Santoro who has swapped his usual technical producer role for guest.
Mark Santoro: Hello.
David Payne: And also Angelica Rengifo, who is normally to be found in the outreach department, but she's here, along with Mark, sharing her interest - strong personal interest in financial literacy. Thanks for joining us, Angelica.
Angelica Rengifo: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
David Payne: So, let's start off with asking you both, what do you mean by financial literacy. Let's start with you, Angelica.
Angelica Rengifo: Well, financial literacy can be a mix of financial credit and debit management, and the knowledge necessary to make financially sound decisions.
Mark Santoro: So, I checked out - I went to Investopedia and checked out their definition of financial literacy, and it goes something like this; financial literacy focuses on the ability to manage personal finance. It includes knowledge of and the ability to make decisions about investing, insurance, real estate, paying for college, retirement, tax planning. So, that's kind of a formal definition. My own personal definition is having the knowledge to control your finances rather than your finances controlling you.
Lauren Martino: Think you covered it.
David Payne: Think you covered it, yeah.
Lauren Martino: So, Mark, how did you become interested in financial literacy, can you tell us a little bit about your financial literacy journey and why you're here talking to us about financial literacy today?
Mark Santoro: I think basically it was life kept giving me prompts.
Lauren Martino: Life will do that.
Mark Santoro: Yes. So I graduated from college and was living on my own for the first time, in my own apartment. So there was all the financial aspects of that, finding an affordable apartment, and then what kind of car can you afford. And that kept happening over the next couple of years; living on my own, getting married, buying a house, so - and every time something like that was coming up that was new to me I turn to books, and that kind of got me into it.
Lauren Martino: So, and Angelica, can you tell us a little bit about your financial journey, and why this is of interest to you?
Angelica Rengifo: So, the idea of being debt-free for good, no mortgage, no car loan, no student loans became very appealing to me when I started following people on Instagram. And I follow people who are minimalists, and then I follow fashion bloggers. And -
Lauren Martino: The interesting combination.
Angelica Rengifo: Exactly. So, one, you can guess - one group will give me anxiety, and the one to like go, "Oh, I would like to have debt. Oh, maybe I need that." And then I will have the other one, the other group, and I'll be like, "I don't need any of this other stuff that I'm hearing from this other group."
Lauren Martino: Talked a lot about that in our de-cluttering episode, I remember.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes. So the idea of just not being a slave to the things that you own, to the debt that you have, and not being able to live your life because you worry about how you're going to make the next payment, it's something that is very appealing. And also, I guess, seeing family members, I have a cousin, who I believe he was born with this knowledge.
Lauren Martino: Born with this knowledge.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
David Payne: That's useful, yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Wow, that's winning the lottery right there.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes. Ever since he was a little, five, seven, he will lend money to adults.
Lauren Martino: What?
Angelica Rengifo: He will be able to like save so much that he will be able to lend money to other people and ask for interest.
Lauren Martino: When he was five and seven?
Angelica Rengifo: Uh-huh, or nine. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Wow.
Angelica Rengifo: So, and I didn't get that knowledge, and we were raised in the same household, so.
Lauren Martino: So, I'm curious what's he doing today, is he a banker or -?
Angelica Rengifo: No.
Lauren Martino: No?
Angelica Rengifo: No, but he's very good managing money. And yes, I think I will bring him up a little bit more later as well.
Lauren Martino: If we do the show again we'll have him on there.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
David Payne: So, you've both given very good definitions as to what financial literacy is and your interest in it. But can you sum up for us why financial literacy is so important. Let me turn to you first, Mark.
Mark Santoro: Well, like I said, you want to be in control of your finances and not the other way around. And we all have to deal with money. And the older you get the more complicated it gets. So, everything from - you start out as a kid and you need enough money to buy that cool toy, and then as an adult, well, you got to think 40 years ahead and make sure you've got enough money for retirement and everything in between.
Lauren Martino: And every one of those steps seems really pressing, doesn't it, like the toy is. It's always a big deal no matter where you are.
Mark Santoro: Right. Yes, and that's probably one of the big challenges is prioritizing.
David Payne: Uh-huh, exactly.
Mark Santoro: So much of it, if you don't know it at all to begin with, know what is a priority.
David Payne: Right.
Mark Santoro: And the priorities change depending on your age.
David Payne: Right.
Angelica Rengifo: I think I agree with Mark about having that freedom, well being financially independent. And being financially independent isn't like, "I don't live with my parents anymore." It's more like, "I don't owe the bank X amount of money, and this money I can use it for my benefit."
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Angelica Rengifo: So, it's about changing your priorities also.
David Payne: Changing your priorities in a world where financially there are so many different options right now, different choices for people that you can really get lost in things.
Angelica Rengifo: A lot of consumerism in our everyday world.
Lauren Martino: It seems like financial literacy isn't just about money and numbers, it's about your life, and your priorities, and where you're going to put that.
Angelica Rengifo: And goals, yeah.
Mark Santoro: Well, yes, that's what I've - I listen to a lot of personal finance podcasts.
Lauren Martino: Do you have any favorites?
Mark Santoro: So many.
Lauren Martino: Sorry, let me put you on the spot then.
Mark Santoro: We'll get to that.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Mark Santoro: But my point was, one of the things they talk about in like selecting a financial advisor, right - because they always make this distinction on the podcast, "We are not offering financial advice, we are just providing you with information. Then you've got to go - if you want the nitty-gritty see a professional, right."
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: But one of the big questions is, well, how do you choose a financial advisor. And one of the things they talk about is, before the financial advisor is asking you about income or debt or whatever, what are your goals, what do you want to do, and you need a direction first before you can start driving the financial car.
Lauren Martino: Is that a common term that they use, the financial car, or is that your -?
Mark Santoro: No, that just - I just coined it on the spot.
Lauren Martino: I like it. Okay, so this is where it originated.
Mark Santoro: Right. You heard it here first, folks. But yes, the goals are important. And then you get into the nitty-gritty detail of how much do I have to save towards retirement or what kind of car do I want, et cetera.
Lauren Martino: Angelica, can you tell us a little bit about how one begins to become financially literate?
Angelica Rengifo: I will recommend someone to find books, find books that interest you. It might not be the whole book, as we all are not inclined to read those kind of books for pleasure. Some people might, I believe Mark is one of them. But wanting to know where you stand financially will be the first step.
Lauren Martino: So recognizing you have this need?
Angelica Rengifo: Yes. Because nobody is going to put that interest in you, no one is going to change your situation for you. So, that is, again, being a little bit corny, knowledge is power, and in this sense is very true.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh. Mark, do you have anything to add to that?
Mark Santoro: It's unlikely that someone's going to say to themselves, "I should become financially literate." So there's going to be a prompt, something's going to bring up this need, either because they have a lot of debts or because there's a life event, like they're buying a house or whatever. So it kind of depends on where you are. I mean, ideally you learn some of these - learn about personal finance as a child because your parents are talking to you about it.
Angelica Rengifo: But it is never too late to start.
Mark Santoro: But it is never too late to start, and you don't have to know. If you're 30 and you're like, "What? Oh, how do I do this?" That's what the library is for.
Angelica Rengifo: And there is no timeframe for learning, so you can learn maybe that you have to write down what you spend on a week, and that's your first step, and you can stay on that step for as long as you need. And maybe you can go to the next step and say, "Oh, this is how much I owe here, this is how much I owe here, this is how much the interest for each of these accounts or debts are." And just like have that little bit of knowledge or like in the back of your mind, "Okay, now I know this, but what am I going to do."
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: One of the nice things about financial literacy, for instance, is that you can use different formats. So you can go to books or you can go to blogs, or you can go to YouTube videos or podcasts. There's lots of different formats that you can use to get yourself started. And depending on how specific information you need and how tailored it is to you.
Angelica Rengifo: And people can also use different methods and mix them up to their own needs. It doesn't have to be, "Oh, I can only use this one method, but it doesn't cover everything that I need."
David Payne: It's a very personal subject, it's -
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, it is. Yeah.
David Payne: Yeah, absolutely.
Lauren Martino: There's such wide interests there's so many difference resources.
Angelica Rengifo: Not two people have the same debt or the same income.
David Payne: The same need, you're right.
Angelica Rengifo: The same needs, yeah.
David Payne: Right, yeah, absolutely.
Angelica Rengifo: Or wants.
Mark Santoro: So one of the things that you want to make sure is never rely on one source. So, if you're, say, a fan of Dave Ramsey, who is a -
Lauren Martino: There are some hardcore Dave Ramsey people out there.
Mark Santoro: Yes. So he is a - he does YouTube, he does podcasts, he does books all around the theme of personal finance. And some of what he says I like and some of what he says I don't. But don't just choose one person. Don't be the Dave Ramsey guy or the Suze Orman girl or whatever. You've got all sorts of different sources so you can, if five different sources say save 15% to 20% of your income, then that's a hint that this is kind of right. And the more you listen or read the more you'll be able to kind of discern this is what everybody is saying, this is different, and it's wacky or it's - okay, just different.
Lauren Martino: Or maybe this is where it's going to get.
Mark Santoro: Right.
Lauren Martino: This is what I need to get me where I'm going.
Mark Santoro: Right. And like I said, no one sits around and says, "I need to be financially literate." No, it's something prompts you.
Lauren Martino: If you, gentle listeners, are that person that is - please write us and tell us what you think anyway.
David Payne: So Mark, you talked about resources, and we talked about what financial literacy is. Tell us about some of MCPL's resources that might be helpful for personal finance, investments, as well as other resources that one might find, perhaps on social media?
Mark Santoro: Okay. So, obviously, there would be books. And you would have books such as something general, like Personal Finance for Dummies. And I love this series because it just takes a topic and it just breaks it down, it's like an introduction in 300, 400 pages. So, Personal Finance for Dummies, it's got real estate, it's got investing, it's got budgeting, all in one place in your hand. So, we have books that are general like that.
Lauren Martino: For people just getting started, yeah.
Mark Santoro: Right. And then we have things that are very specific, so just investing, just real estate, just taxes. For example, there is Every Landlord's Guide to Managing Property. You go really, really general all the way down to landlords, so.
Lauren Martino: Which is a big thing around here, I mean it's not - it's specific, but there's a wide audience I think in this area for that.
Mark Santoro: Yes. I mean, that's in the podcast sphere there are some podcasters who are kind of really big into being landlords and having investment property that are residences and they're using the rent as an income stream. So, yeah, that's one part of personal finance that you - and whatever your specific need is we probably have a book about it, or at least to get you started. We have general finance magazines, personal finance magazines like Money Magazine, and Kiplinger's Personal Finance, I think it's called. There are online resources as well. I think the best one would be Safari, which is a collection of e-books.
Angelica Rengifo: There's a lot on Safari.
Mark Santoro: Yes, there's a lot on Safari.
Angelica Rengifo: In depth.
Mark Santoro: Yeah, so it's smaller than what you'll find physically in MCPL's collection, but it does the same thing where it's big broad personal finance to flipping houses, right. It has books that are very broad and very specific. Lynda.com and Gale Courses are online classes. They have a few items related to some aspects of personal finance. Not as strong as Safari, but if you like to kind of sit there and watch the video or do the exercises you might find something in one of those as well. And then finally, if you're really a hardcore stock investment type of person we do have online access to Morningstar, S&P NetAdvantage, and Value Line, so you could go and you could see all the very detailed information about Disney's finances.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: Or the mutual fund that you're looking to invest in. And that's a lot more hardcore than I get into. I'm a simple index fund guy. But if you're really into it we've got them for you. They're available online, you can get them from your house and anywhere else you have an internet connection, long as you have an MCPL library card. Signup today.
David Payne: And I probably should note or remind listeners that accessing, particularly those last few items that you mentioned, is completely free. And that's a very good deal because normally it would cost quite a bit of money to get hold of those.
Lauren Martino: And you can do it from home too, you don't have to be in the library to get a lot of that.
Mark Santoro: Yes. Enhance your personal finances by using the library, because all our stuff is free.
Lauren Martino: Angelica, do you have anything you'd like to add?
Angelica Rengifo: Some of the resources that I found were mainly some books. The first book that I actually started reading when I wanted to become more knowledgeable was Beating the Paycheck to Paycheck Blues, which -
Lauren Martino: This was a problem for you at one point or?
Angelica Rengifo: It was just a good start because I didn't know how to live beneath my means.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Angelica Rengifo: Below my means. So, I think it was a good way to learn how to not overspend, a good point of reference.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
David Payne: Something that's very easily done.
Angelica Rengifo: It is not easily done. It definitely takes time to even just make the decision to, okay, I want to learn about this, and then -
David Payne: Follow through with it, yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: The next decision is like how am I going to implement this, and what is the goal, what is the purpose.
Lauren Martino: It's a lot easier to read books than it is to like practice what is says.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, very true.
Lauren Martino: So, this is - as it's April and we are celebrating Financial Literacy Month and other fun April events dealing with finances, such as tax season and Money Smart Week, can you tell us a little bit, Mark, about some of the events that are going on around MCPL for the month of April?
Mark Santoro: Okay, so yes. There's Money Smart Week, which starts March 30th and runs through April 6th. We've got events around that, and then all of April is National Financial Literacy Month. So there's all sorts of different events centered around this. One example is Making Sense out of Money, which is going to be at the Potomac Library in early April, and that's for kids. So, a representative from the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection will lead a fun and interactive activity all about spending money wisely, we presume.
Lauren Martino: Is this for children then or?
Mark Santoro: This is for children, yes. This is labeled for elementary school-aged children. And we've got some other things later on. For the end of the month there's something at Wheaton about the basics of investing, and then there's another one at Twinbrook, How to Protect Yourself Against Identify Theft.
Lauren Martino: It's an important topic.
Mark Santoro: Yeah. So there's different events for different people that covers very different - lots of different aspects of personal finance. And you'll be able to see a link to all these events from our homepage so you'll be able to check out when and where they're taking place during that first week of April and then throughout the month of April.
Lauren Martino: In addition to the homepage, it’ll probably be on our show notes as well, right.
Mark Santoro: Yes, it'll be on like our show notes as well.
David Payne: And one might think that financial literacy is something that only adults should pay attention to, but clearly the younger the better. Let me ask you both why is financial literacy as equally important for children and teenagers as it is for adults? Let me start with you, Angelica?
Angelica Rengifo: I believe because teaching them about money and how to manage it could have a great impact in their future. And the sooner they learn about it the easier it will be for them to master it.
Lauren Martino: Like your cousin.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes where I don't know when I didn't - what I missed.
Lauren Martino: I remember having to take a class where we had to budget and pretend - this is the job we were going to pretend to have and this is how we're going to pay for everything. And I mean we did the exercises, but I don't think it made a very big impact. So I'm like, "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll figure it out." Yeah, and then it's kind of hard to communicate to you, yes, you will have to do this in real life at some point.
Angelica Rengifo: Maybe a way to teach kids also is with an allowance. As they - maybe they might want something that is more -
David Payne: More than their allowance, right, yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: Expensive than their allowance so they have to budget for it. And yeah, and plan for it.
Lauren Martino: I think a lot of people employ that strategy. I'm kind of curious, Mark, you've got kids at home. Do you have a sense of are they learning this in school or do you give them an allowance to - how are they learning about financial literacy?
Mark Santoro: So yeah, there's a thing in the parenting sphere, and I guess to a certain extent in a personal finance sphere, allowance or no allowance, all right, so there's a little -
Lauren Martino: Yes, we've been pondering this in my house actually.
Mark Santoro: A little controversy here, and my family -
Lauren Martino: And do you make it work for them - or do you have to work for your allowance or do you just give it to them, and -
Mark Santoro: Exactly.
Lauren Martino: All these questions, yes.
Mark Santoro: Exactly. So, my family is in the pro allowance camp.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Mark Santoro: Until you get to 16, then we cut you off.
Lauren Martino: And you get a job on your own?
Mark Santoro: Right.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Mark Santoro: So, our oldest daughter turned 16, well, she kind of cheated. She already had a job. So by the time we cut her off it was all right. But yes, so the kids get an allowance. There's a mandatory savings amount that they have to - so it's almost like a family social security program. So yeah, your weekly income is - now I'm going to get in trouble because I don't know what it is. Thanks, hon; my wife takes care of that.
Lauren Martino: Your wife dolls out the money?
Mark Santoro: Yeah. Anyways, so let's say it's $10, for easy math, they only see $7 of it.
Lauren Martino: Well, that's an important lesson to learn, isn't it, because they will be dealing with that for the rest of their lives?
Mark Santoro: Right, and the $3 goes into a - they all have bank accounts.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: And so that's where that taxed money goes, into their bank accounts. Actually I think it's six. So, yes, we're in the pro allowance camp. So, what was the original question about why is it important for kids and teens, well, one, they got to deal with money right now. And not just in the future when they're adults; they're alive now and it's something. Why can't I have this $100 replica of the Millennium Falcon or whatever, so it comes up.
David Payne: And it's interesting because therein lies the difficulty, particularly with teenagers if you think how much of the advertising market.
Lauren Martino: Right.
David Payne: Is aimed at teenagers, in particular, spending money, so important for that age group to really understand.
Angelica Rengifo: But then, I do not have kids, but I will think that teaching them about delayed gratification it's a good way to teach them how to -
David Payne: How to think about -
Angelica Rengifo: Save for something, maybe be, be a little bit tight for a couple of weeks, and in the end you'll get something bigger than if you had not waited.
David Payne: Right, absolutely.
Mark Santoro: Yes. And as Angelica mentioned, it sets them up for their adult years when they have bigger responsibilities. I remember when I was growing up my parents never taught me anything about money.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: I mean they might have said something generally like, save money. That's true, and not very useful, so -
Lauren Martino: More to it than that.
Mark Santoro: Yeah, my poor children, they get the lectures -
David Payne: They get the [CROSSTALK].
Mark Santoro: Yeah, at the dinner table, "Why do we live in this house? Let me tell you, it's because blah, blah." Lots of very specific information about why we did this, why my wife and I did this, or how we paid for this, or how we plan for this; everything from housing to college education to - so, because I didn't get much growing up in terms of information about - I have no idea what my father made when we were kids.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: No scope of what the limitations where or anything, what he felt about how expensive a vacation we could go on; nothing. So I've probably gone too far the other way, and they know a lot about our specific situation and why we do what we do.
Lauren Martino: But do you think it helps that they understand maybe a little bit more about why you make the choices you make?
Mark Santoro: Hopefully, that's the plan.
Lauren Martino: Because I remember, oh gosh, the other day, like my daughter destroyed one of her water bottles and she's like, "Oh, we can just go out and buy another one." It's like, "Well, we can. But we can't willy-nilly destroy everything we have and just buy other ones. Like there are limits." I remember go asking my parents, it's like, "Oh, we need money; we'll just go to the ATM and get money, right, because that's what you do."
David Payne: It's a money tree.
Lauren Martino: That's what you do to get money, right. So, Angelica, what do you think one of the worst mistakes people tend to make with their finances is?
Angelica Rengifo: I think blinding yourself to where you stand; not knowing what is coming in every month and what has to come out every month. A lot of people get the look of deer on headlights kind of when they hear the word budget.
Lauren Martino: I can relate, yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: And budget is not just like putting yourself limits, but also budgeting for fun. I have in my budget, personally, like a little bit of me. I have on my budget certain amount of money for every two weeks. There was a time recently that I spent my allowance.
Lauren Martino: You gave yourself an allowance.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, I spent my money for the two weeks in a weekend.
Lauren Martino: Oh wow.
Angelica Rengifo: So I had to make changes for that week. And the only person to blame was myself, but it puts limits on what you can spend. I can go to the movies, I can go out to have drinks with friends, I can go out to have a lunch or dinner with friends, but I'm not going to be doing that every single day.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Angelica Rengifo: So that's where it comes, the limitation. And also, maybe not a mistake, but something that you find with like creating a budget is contentment. Contentment that a walk in the park, which is free and good for your health, it's a good way to spend your time. So, I will say, yeah, not knowing what your financial situation is is a mistake.
Lauren Martino: So knowing your financial situation isn't just about knowing your limits, it's about using your limits to create freedom.
Angelica Rengifo: Uh-huh.
Lauren Martino: And being able to explore those things that we're so focused on our consumer culture it's like this is going to make me happy, this is going to make me happy, whereas you miss everything that makes you happy that you're not getting advertised about all the time.
Angelica Rengifo: Uh-huh. And that's the thing that we think that what we are getting and buying is going to make us happy, but that's not going to last for a long time. The high is not going to last until - and then we need another thing, and another thing. And we go back to a little bit of minimalism with like trying to be happy with what you have. You do not need to be spending money all the time to be happy, and thus contentment.
David Payne: So you've both obviously read and learnt an awful lot about financial literacy. Let me put you on the spot and ask you both, out of everything that you've read and learnt what's the best piece of financial advice you've ever heard, Angelica?
Angelica Rengifo: I will go back to my cousin.
David Payne: Can't blame you.
Mark Santoro: Yeah, we wanted to hear more about him actually, so.
Lauren Martino: [CROSSTALK] start his own empire after this.
Angelica Rengifo: I hope that he listens to this. The fact that he says that the light gratification, it's a way to save for bigger things has put things on the spot. I don't need to have, oh, I need something, I have to go to the store and I can get it because everything is available within 24 hours with Amazon Prime, for example.
Lauren Martino: Oh gosh.
Angelica Rengifo: Which is a bane of my existence right now.
Lauren Martino: The bane of your existence, yes.
Angelica Rengifo: But that's the thing, changing our mindset about what we need and what we want is, I think, is key in being financially stable.
David Payne: How about you, Mark?
Mark Santoro: Goes back to the idea of planning. And the first part of that is to know where you are. So, what's your net worth, how much debt do you have, if you only know what your monthly payments are and don't know the total that's a problem. Knowing how to calculate these things or how to find out what these things are. Maybe people avoid it because it's a scary number, but knowing is better than not knowing, and that's the key to get started.
Angelica Rengifo: But it's like not being afraid is a good - you cannot be afraid forever. And the other side of that is living without debt. Like what if your whole income was yours to do whatever you wanted; no mortgage, no car payments, no credit card payments, just food, clothing, and a roof or not even that, like electricity and things like that. What if that's all you had to worry about, you wouldn't have to worry about making a lot of money either, and you could have more hobbies, more fun.
Lauren Martino: Or the choice to do what you like as opposed to what's going to earn you enough money to sustain this amount of debt.
Angelica Rengifo: Uh-huh, yeah.
Lauren Martino: So we talked a little bit about budgeting. Do you think, Mark, that maintaining a budget is a guarantee to a financial success or is there other things that you need to take into consideration?
Mark Santoro: Well, guarantee, no. There's no guarantees in anything. But I mean that's part of knowing your situation. You can't really succeed if you don't know where you are at the time, so you would start with that. There's among the podcasts that I listen to, personal finance enthusiasts are all about like know where every penny goes. And then there's others who are a little bit more relaxed who are, "Okay, know what your expenses are, have a savings goal, and what's left is yours to be free with." So, having a budget, it depends on where you are. And of course how much room you have. If you make a lot of money you have a little - in theory anyways have more elbowroom than if you don't make a lot of money. And we have budgeting books in the library. We have books about helping you get out of debt. So, for instance, this one had a fun title, The Spender's Guide to Debt-Free Living.
Lauren Martino: Sounds very useful for a lot of people.
Mark Santoro: Yeah. And then one of Dave Ramsey's things and why he is a little controversial in the personal finance sphere is he's vehemently anti-debt, anti-debt extremist. But if that's your thing, if you're starting at the bottom of the heavy debt load that might be a place to start, Dave Ramsey is the entry level personal finance person.
Angelica Rengifo: He has Baby Steps - they are called Baby Steps to Financial Freedom, and they are definitely a good way to start. You can - but time or learning about other methods can change them to your liking, but he is a good first step to financial freedom, debt-free life.
Lauren Martino: So, it sounds like understand debt and credit is really important understanding financial literacy.
Mark Santoro: Right. And as a, say, as a foil to Dave Ramsey, you would have someone like - there's a podcast called Money for the Rest of Us, by a guy named David Stein, and he's a little bit more traditionalist. In his previous professional life he managed investments for universities and other large organizations. So he kind of has more of a traditionalist view of things, about how to manage debt versus investments, for instance.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: So as we said before, you don't want to rely on one person, so get kind of a broad view.
David Payne: A broader view.
Mark Santoro: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: A range of opinions to figure out what's good for you.
David Payne: Right.
Mark Santoro: I don't know how to shoehorn this in.
Lauren Martino: Shoehorn away.
Mark Santoro: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: Shoehorn away.
Mark Santoro: In preparing for this I ran across a book that brought a smile to my face. So I mentioned before how life events were kind of prompting me to go look at books. So, my wife and I were pretty young when we bought our house. And no one had talked to us about how to buy a house.
Lauren Martino: And that's a big thing.
Mark Santoro: Yes.
Lauren Martino: I remember I had the same experience, like what the heck are we doing.
Mark Santoro: So, we knew we were ignorant. So we went to the bookstore and we found this book with this cheesy title, 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask. And in preparing for this podcast I find it's still around. The library owns it. It is in its fourth edition. It is straightforward and it brought back memories. And it's literally - it's just each section is a question, and it's very straightforward and very easy to follow, and I was glad to see it still around.
David Payne: That's great. As Lauren said, it can't get much bigger than buying a house.
Lauren Martino: I wish we'd had that.
David Payne: Yeah. So, can you tell us what your favorite apps for money management or budgeting are, Mark?
Mark Santoro: Ah, well this is where I'll show my age. I'm going to have to defer to Angelica, because I don't actually use any money management apps, other than listening to personal finance podcasts. I've heard of them, but I haven't actually used any of them.
Lauren Martino: So, Stitcher is your favorite money management app?
Mark Santoro: Yes.
Angelica Rengifo: I think the first app that you need to be looking at daily or maybe even more than once every day is your bank's app. You need to know so that way - you need to know what you have so that way you don't overdraft. That's $30-$35 right there that you're wasting.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Angelica Rengifo: So that will be my first recommendation in apps, the bank app. If you have a few banks check them constantly so you also know when checks clear, and anything that looks suspicious you would know what it is or what it isn't.
Lauren Martino: And there are apps that will consolidate like different banks, right. And we use Mint at home.
Angelica Rengifo: Oh.
Lauren Martino: And that'll give us all the credit card debt. And you have to kind of go through and say, okay, well this money it decided was a -
Angelica Rengifo: I usually use Mint for budgeting. So, like I said, I have a budget so I put this is how much I can spend on this, this is how much I can spend on gas, this is how much I can spend on food per week. So that way if I'm getting close I'm like, okay what do I need - like especially on food, what do I need right now that cannot wait until my next budget or my next allowance comes in, so.
Lauren Martino: I might be showing my ignorance because, yeah, I'm not the one that typically sets all this up. So, I'll leave it to you, sorry.
Angelica Rengifo: The other app that I found looking for ways to pay down the only thing that I have right now, thank god, student loans.
Lauren Martino: Oh, student loans.
Angelica Rengifo: But I found an app called Debtor, D-E-B-T-O-R.
Lauren Martino: Uh-huh.
Angelica Rengifo: And the app is free. You do not have to connect it to anything. And it's up to you if you use it. I just like the -
Mark Santoro: Not connected to any bank accounts or credit card accounts?
Angelica Rengifo: Bank accounts or credit cards, yes. The reason why I like it is because it gives me a visual of my debt. I input how much it is my loan, how much it is the interest rate. And I can either enter how much I pay monthly and it gives me how many months I will have to be paying that amount, which is scary. Or it gives me the option to enter months. So I can enter 12 months, I can enter eight, 15, 18, 24. And it gives me also how much I will have to pay per month and how much I will save, or overpay in interest rate. And it will show me a graph of the debt, of the amount. So I really like that because a lot of people don't know how much more they will be paying on top of the original loan or debt that you have, but this app does it all for you if you have.
David Payne: And it is a scary thing for people, which is one reason why I think many of us avoid it, perhaps.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, I agree.
Lauren Martino: It sounds like a really - sorry.
Mark Santoro: So, if you wanted to pay off your debt early this will tell you how much extra you have to put in a month?
Angelica Rengifo: Uh-huh, yes. It will tell you how much, if you enter by months, it will tell you how much will be - should be your monthly payment and how much you will save on the interest rate.
Lauren Martino: It sounds like a really powerful app. I remember like scribbling all over pieces of paper when we were buying a house trying to figure out -
David Payne: Things that keep changing, yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. And know I now when I enter the numbers and then it's right there.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: That's awesome.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah.
David Payne: So, we normally close our episodes by asking our guests to tell us what they're currently reading or a book they recently enjoyed, Angelica?
Angelica Rengifo: So, I recently finished reading Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste and I have no idea how to pronounce her last name.
Angelica Rengifo: It's Ng. And I just found out that Hulu got the rights to make into a miniseries. So, I'm really looking forward. I'm not promoting Hulu, just in parenthesis, but I'm just looking forward to definitely seeing what they do with the book.
David Payne: Thank you. And Mark?
Mark Santoro: So, I just started this book. It's a short - it's a science fiction short story collection. And you may have heard about Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
David Payne: Uh-huh.
Mark Santoro: It's a play off that. This one is A People's Future of the United States. So it's a bunch of short stories set in the future. And this is - each one is kind of distinct and separate, but this is what the U.S. might look like in 20 years, or 50 years, or whatever. So, just started it. The first story that I read had - California had broken away from the United States, and they were separate countries. But there was this one town there was a bookstore that sat on the border, and there are literally two entrances to this book store. And you could come in and browse the books, and it was one of those places that, in theory, the people of California and the people of United States could come together. But of course there's still kind of some tension there.
Lauren Martino: Ooh.
Mark Santoro: And then one of the things the countries are fighting over is water rights. And so a conflict -
Lauren Martino: California, yeah.
Mark Santoro: A conflict, an armed conflict breaks out over this and it kind of talks about the experiences of the people in this bookstore at the time. So, it's an interesting kind of way of exploring how the tensions that are going on, the cultural wars in America now or how does this play out 20 years from now, 50 years from now.
Lauren Martino: And do you think that's based on the library that's on the border of United States and Canada they talked about - there was a podcast, like This American Life, where they kind of - there is a library on the border, and like all these immigration issues because they'd have people like - there were like big signs everywhere saying, "No reunions." But you get people that like couldn't leave the United States because they were like waiting for their Green Card or whatever, and they'd end up reuniting with family that couldn't enter the United States and this library.
Mark Santoro: Oh, that's interesting. I hadn't heard about that, but perhaps the idea of the bookstore on the border came from that.
Lauren Martino: That's fascinating, yeah, because there's so many cultural things that can happen in such a place.
Mark Santoro: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Now or in the future. Thank you so much Angelica and Mark. I know I'm going away with a lot of new information and new motivation to deal with my own finances, and I hope our listeners are doing the same.
Please keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcast App or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We are very interested to know what you think. Thanks for listening to our conversation today and we'll see you next time.
Summary: In celebration of Money Smart Week (March 30 - April 6, 2019) and National Financial Literacy Month (April), personal finance enthusiasts Angelica Rengifo and Mark Santoro talk about MCPL's books, online resources, and upcoming events related to personal finance.
Recording Date: March 6, 2019
Angelica Rengifo is a Library Associate on the MCPL's Outreach team. Mark Santoro is a librarian on the Digital Strategies team.
Hosts: Lauren Martino and David Payne
What Our Hosts Are Reading:
Angelica Rengifo: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Mark Santoro: A People's Future of the United States, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
Mentioned During the Episode:
Mint - A personal finance app for budgeting, investment tracking, and more.
Books & Authors
Beating the Paycheck to Paycheck Blues by John Ventura - This book's a bit old, from 1996, which is probably why MCPL doesn't own it anymore.
Every Landlord's Guide to Managing Property by Michael Boyer
100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask by Ilyce R. Glink
Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson
The Spender's Guide to Debt-Free Living by Anna Newell Jones
MCPL Online Resources
Decluttering episode of Library Matters
Money for the Rest of Us - Personal finance podcast David Stein
This American Life - A weekly public radio program and podcast
Haskell Free Library & Opera House - The library on the US/Canadian border, located in Vermont and Quebec.
David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with your host, David Payne.
Julie Dina: And I'm Julie Dina.
David Payne: And actually this is a podcast with a different -- differences we're doing double duty today.
Julie Dina: Yes we are.
David Payne: And we are the hosts, we are the guests. So this is a new format and today we're going to be looking at library lovers’ month. February is more than candy hearts, chocolate and Valentine's cards it's also Library Lovers’ month. So Judy, let's start with the why and the what of library lover’s month. Library lover’s month is basically a month long celebration of libraries of all types, public, academic, school, special and for MCPL. The celebration of libraries lover’s month throughout the month is being facilitated by our friends of the library, Montgomery County. And if you go to their web page or their social media sites, you'll see all the things you can do to get engaged with that. Also we should mention that in each branch, there are postcards that are available. And if customers would care to write down all the things that they like about the library, they will be forwarded to our friends’ group and then sent to the Montgomery County elected officials. So a good chance to say why you like the library and express your feelings about the very wonderful things that MCPL does. And there is a link on the Montgomery County library's website which will take you directly to all the library lover’s month related programming. So that should be very easy to access. Now, why have library lover’s months?
Julie Dina: Just like people show their love for friends, their kids, their spouses, why not show your love for the library that you frequently visit.
David Payne: Right and all the great things that libraries do and have.
Julie Dina: I mean we've got a ton -- we've got tons of resources that are heavily used by our customers. And having library lover’s month is one way for the customers to actually not only show the library how much they love all the services and all of the support that they actually get from the library, but it's also a way of them -- how can I put this? It is just their way of showing how much they love using the library and that they're glad that they actually have a library they can count on.
David Payne: Which if you think about it is a great resource. If you think about the power of library card which is free.
Julie Dina: And I say don't leave home without it.
David Payne: Absolutely. And it's really a passport to all kinds of wonderful things opens our eyes to the world beyond our front doors.
Julie Dina: Yes.
David Payne: Also they connect people to people, see some of the many events that go on in our meeting rooms. They basically offer more than just book line lending.
Julie Dina: They also bridges the gap if you really think about it. There are a lot of -- I personally being an outreach person I've seen people, immigrants, refugees, I've seen them at all of our branches at different times. And why are they there? They tell me because they're hoping to find books that are in their languages that otherwise they would have to go buy or not even find at another place. Like you said earlier we provide a space, most people charge to utilize these spaces, but we actually offer it for free.
David Payne: Right. And you talk about languages we have the word language collections throughout the system.
Julie Dina: We've got Mango languages.
David Payne: We have got Mango Languages and we have got Rosetta Stone so
Julie Dina: You can't go wrong.
David Payne: If it is a language you want to learn or read it's there somewhere in the county all accessible with a library card and really libraries offer more than just book lending. Many people think that it is the book lending that is what the libraries are about, public libraries are about. And while they're known for their collections of books and magazines really they and we offer a whole host of other community services, quiet reading and writing spaces, computers with internet access, laptops for use in the library and in some branches to take out.
Julie Dina: Go kits.
David Payne: Go kits for our younger readers.
Julie Dina: CDs, DVD.
David Payne: Help with workforce matters, job searches, resume writing, story times.
Julie Dina: Printing services.
David Payne: Printing, audio ebook options, programming we really promote literacy that's the bottom line so all reasons to support the library and express your like of the libraries this month.
Julie Dina: And mind you that's not even half of what we even provide.
David Payne: That’s right. So perhaps we should tell the listeners a bit about us, a bit of background. Julie you are in outreach, and I'm the Branch Manager of the Aspen Hill library. How long have you worked with MCPL and what have you done in the various stages of your career here?
Julie Dina: I actually was just thinking about it. I can't believe it's actually been over 17 years. So I actually started as a volunteer because I loved coming to the library. I would always stop at both desks, the information desk and the circulation desk I would talk to the librarians, I would ask about books. And lo and behold, one of the managers actually asked if I would like to volunteer. I said, “Oh, of course I would.”
David Payne: Little knowing what that would lead to.
Julie Dina: Little did I know that I will be talking about this years later. So I started as a volunteer as I mentioned earlier and then within six months I found out that there was a vacancy with the circulation desk. I got promoted to work in as a library assistant, I think that's what it was called. That's how far back. And even while I'm supposed to be checking out books, I'm talking with customers and we're discussing the books they're checking out. I'm telling them about services that we offer or did they know if you get this – this is also something that you might like. And then after that I left once I graduated from college, I left and went to go work elsewhere. But I loved the library so much I came back after a couple of years and then I started working, at this time I started working with the information desk as a library associate.
And this way I was able to suggest books for customers, I could actually help do research for my customers since I already love talking to them. I would go out you know, in the stacks and see what people might need help with. And best of all, I am now an Outreach Librarian which means I get to go out not only wait for the customers to come to me, I go out to them. And that's the part I love the most because I love talking to people. I not only love staying in one place, I like to go to different places. And this way I can see all our customers from all different walks of life in different places, talk about services that we offer which is an array of resources and I can never list them all. But in a nutshell that's what I do.
David Payne: Great, and we'll come back to outreach in a bit.
Julie Dina: Sure. How about you, David.
David Payne: Well, I've been with MCPL what, a year and a half now. I've been at the Aspen Hill brands managing there since June 2018 before that I was manager at the Davis library and Potomac as well. So I already seen a bit of the county. Most of my working life has been in public libraries across the country. I worked in Florida; in Ohio; Philadelphia where I was a branch manager as well for many years and then federal county libraries and then here. So it's been a big change.
Julie Dina: So now that we've actually talked about that, let's move into bringing into an international perspective. David, you mentioned that you used to work as a library assistant in Britain. Can you also tell us about if you've had any experience as far as public library experience in Britain is that something you can share with us?
David Payne: Absolutely. I mean, the Public Library movement in Britain really parallels that of this country. It goes back to the 19th century. And had -- you know there has been or was a fairly robust network of public libraries. Growing up for me growing up as a boy in London in the 1970s the local public library was rather nondescript plain building as far as I was concerned. But it was one of the focal points of my growing up there. I remember as a boy I was really into two things trains and football or soccer as you call it here. And so I think I went through every single book on trains and soccer in my local branch. And that used to be the thing I used to look forward to the most of the weekends after school. And actually I always remember that I was able to combine my like of trains and soccer by traveling all over the country the length and breadth of Britain supporting my favorite football team.
So I used to go into library and to the reference section where they used to keep the national, British National train timetable. So I used to spend hours poring over that and used to be a running joke that perhaps it should have been shelved under fiction. But so that was my recollection as a boy, but when you look at the Public Library Movement in Britain now it really reads like a horror story. And there's a tail in there that really relates to why things like library lovers month is so important. Over the past decade or so due to local government budget cuts the Public Library Movement or network in the UK has been savaged. And over the past 10 years or so, probably well over 500 libraries have been closed. Many of them have, the ones that haven't been closed are now staffed run by volunteers or community groups.
Many staff have lost their jobs. I think I read looking over the figures which I researched before this broadcast, about 8000 jobs have gone in public libraries over the past 10 years, 500 libraries cut number of books held by libraries have dropped by 14 million, which is quite staggering. And you can imagine the effect that has on everyone in terms of literacy; in terms of the economy and really the whole country. And it's not to say that people there, people in Britain don't rally and support their libraries they certainly do. But I think the message is this is why showing your support matters. And obviously in this country, there being cuts and libraries up and down the country have had challenges, but not on the same scale. But again, library lovers month an opportunity to express the reasons why we need libraries and why that's so important.
Julie Dina: Thank you so much for sharing that with us.
David Payne: That's quite a -- quite a sobering tale.
Julie Dina: Yes, I hope things turn around.
David Payne: Well, hopefully.
Julie Dina: For the good.
David Payne: hopefully, hopefully. And perhaps Julie, you can talk about your background from Africa.
Julie Dina: Specifically Nigeria. So although I don't remember a public library experience specifically, as far as libraries are concerned, what's more prominent back home are university libraries. And I do remember that some elementary schools and this is something that teachers come up with because libraries are generally funded by the federal government of the country. And so when there's not enough funding, that means libraries will not function as they're supposed to be. So I do know some teachers in certain schools do something called an invisible library, which means parents and teachers donate books, then the teacher assigns each person to a particular book, and then they give a certain amount of timeframe for you to read that book. You come back to school after that timeframe is over. Everyone talks and shares their experience about the book they've read and then she reassigns.
So typically the book is not being shelved in school because there is -- you can't get an account for it. So it's just -- it's just a change of hands but it does exist. And so I know there's the National -- I mean, the National Library of Nigeria and the goal originally when they were only 36 states were to have a branch in each state. But so far, I think it's still only 16 as much as they do aspire to run the library as frequent as they would just like in the Western world economy is what it boils down to. So like you mentioned, it's good to show your support for libraries lovers’ month here in the States because there are parts of the world where people don't get a free library card. They certainly do not get free resources and more importantly, the vast array of resources that we have here is nowhere near what they have back home.
David Payne: Right and I think it is important you mentioned the word free. I mean even in Britain today the libraries that have survived for many years now while taking out books remains free if you take out a CD or a DVD you pay a nominal fee so again, a big difference.
Julie Dina: Yeah, so that really matters so keep loving your library.
David Payne: So obviously the Public Library has a place in the community, a big place. Where do you see MCPL in the community from your viewpoint in outreach?
Julie Dina: I actually see MCPL as a glue factor. The library connects a lot of people to a lot of things. You mentioned earlier that we are a space for people to meet and to me, that's enriching the community. People look forward to come into the library to meet other people who they're working on the same project, the same goal. People are meeting for Lego groups. People are meeting here for knitting groups, book discussions. We've got immigrants who when they come here as an outreach person, when I tell them come to the library, you're going to get this service for free. And it's like I have to keep saying free, free, free like the commercial because they can't believe it. But the library is very prominent in the fact that we provide a lot of -- these are not just services that are luxurious service – these are basic need, who doesn't need to learn a language?
And they need this language in order to have conversations with other people who can provide a service that they need. So I think MCPL is very prominent in our community and we've got, may I also mention, we have partnerships with a lot of organizations. We have partnership with the Rec department. We've got partnership with the JCA, not only the JCA. And for those who are wondering what it means it means the Jewish Council of Aging. Not only that we also have a huge partnership with HHS. If you look in the community, especially in the HHS departments you'll see a lot of deposit collection in the community and these are books that MCPL provides.
Not only that we also have partnerships with a lot of the barber shops in the areas. So not only are you waiting to get your hair cut, or to get your hair washed while you're there, you get to read one of our books or have one of our resources, which is right there in place for you. So that's just -- that's just a minimal amount of what I've mentioned. But people know who we are and they rely on us for a lot of things.
David Payne: And I think from my viewpoint as a branch manager you see the larger picture and the impact of the branch of the library in the community. You mentioned some connections. I think there's also the fact that the library is an anchor for economic development and neighborhood revitalization, the Wheaton library for instance, part of that work down there. We really help to strengthen community identity.
Julie Dina: That's true.
David Payne: We are free. We provide a place for me people to meet each other. We hear about the third space, that mix of first and second space the home and work or whatever it is work and home. Home and work.
Julie Dina: I think it is homework.
David Payne: Homework and the third space that mix that fusion between –
Julie Dina: I was just talking about that earlier.
David Payne: So it's that's a safe space. I mean really as you mentioned identify and fill gaps in community services, early childhood education, lifelong learning and the work we do in in technology literacy.
Julie Dina: Which is very huge.
David Payne: Which is very huge.
Julie Dina: And we have -- I know we promote a lot of early literacy especially the big one that's coming up 1000 books before kindergarten. People just can't believe that there's such a program and it as big as the summer reading program. So we've been going into the communities; we've been going into daycare centers and parents as well as caregivers as well as teachers are all excited about it.
David Payne: Right. So tell us about 1000 books –
Julie Dina: Before kindergarten.
David Payne: Before kindergarten.
Julie Dina: So this is sort of reading program that's parallel to our summer reading program where our goal is to get both parents and kids to read or perform any educational activity, 1000 before kindergarten. So basically how it works is you go to any of our 21 branches just like you would with summer reading and sign up for this program. And for every milestone, there's a very wonderful gift waiting for you at the branch. And not only that, when we say 1000 books people are like, “Oh my gosh, how do I read 1000 books?” Don't you fear because it's not just limited to books it could be a trip to the grocery store and you and your child you're singing along that's an activity.
You can log that has an activity or you guys are driving in the car and you say, “What shape is the stop sign?” That's an activity. So even with the one sentence I just made you've already done two activities. So we want a lot of -- and we've actually, the outreach team, we've been covering a lot of daycare centers, we've been going into headstart schools, and we have been letting all caregivers know that this is a wonderful program. And I think the community is actually excited about that.
David Payne: Absolutely. There have been great response. And we should also mention, you can read a book more than once.
Julie Dina: Oh, yeah that’s true.
David Payne: You read it multiple times and get to a 1000.
Julie Dina: So if it's your favorite book this is your time to utilize it.
David Payne: So Julie you mentioned -- you talked earlier about your work in outreach. Outreach does what exactly; what do you and your team do and what part of your work do you think would most surprise people the most?
Julie Dina: So let me start from the back. What would surprise people the most is people just can't believe that we actually do pop up libraries which means we're not at a branch. It could be a festival sort of like Poolesville day or Potomac day and we would have our table there. And guess what, people just can't believe we're actually given out library cards. So that's one thing that surprises people also the fact that we do pop up story times. We now have a partnership with the Lake Forest Mall. And people in my team actually would do story times and sometimes even crafts. That's not something that you know libraries are known to do in the past, but we do do those and we also do dance parties and I know I did a couple of them this past summer and had fun doing it. And that was my -- that was my cheaper way of going to the gym.
So as far as what we do outreach, just like the name outreach, we go out into the community and tell our customers about all the wonderful resources and services that MCPL has to offer. We tell them about our educational resources. I mean, I've been to a lot of events where we have a table and just a few flyers that I have in front of me. People just can't believe that we're actually offering these for free. I'll tell you about a particular one linda.com which actually has over 300 professional video courses. And this is that these are actually taught by the industry experts and which your library card, this is free. Believe it or not, if you were to subscribe to it and I'm sure some of you are going to test it as you're listening to me you will be paying money for it. It's not free.
David Payne: Big money.
Julie Dina: A lot of money.
David Payne: And it's a great great resource.
Julie Dina: It's a great resource. Those customers who actually know about linda.com when they see it on my table, although I'm telling them it's free, they still tell me what's the discounted price because they know the value of it. So if you're someone who has been thinking about a career change, you know, you're someone who has certification in your career. Some of the courses that are actually taught are actually certification base. So imagine how much you will be paying for that. So that's one thing I love going out to do. We go to festivals, we go to schools, a lot of schools, we do presentations about resources that we offer, which is also a way when we go into high schools we tell high schoolers who are always looking for SSL hours that the library is one place they can start their search.
Also, outreach team does a lot of -- as I mentioned earlier story time. We have that at the branch but also for those who can't come to the branch, we go out and give them exactly what they love. We give them story times I mentioned we do dance parties. So it's not just limited to the branch. I feel like the outreach team is MCPL on the move. So we go out there, give the customers what ordinarily you would get at the branch.
David Payne: And how many do you have on your team?
Julie Dina: It's four people right now.
David Payne: Four people doing all that work.
Julie Dina: There used to be eight of us, but now they've got the Fantastic Four.
David Payne: Now can customers contact you to request your participation in events? Or do you just choose which–?
Julie Dina: There's actually a form on our website when you go on our website, which is actually attend your events, whatever your event is, you fill out that form and of course -- one of our – one of our outreach member will get back to you. And at the show notes of this program will actually include the link to that form. Now, David, you being an agency manager, and you mentioned at the Aspen Hill library, what do you think will surprise people most about the work you do, especially in a busy public library where you are?
David Payne: I think what I don't do basically, I have many people who have asked me why do you need a Library Manager? Why do you need a branch manager? And many people are surprised that you actually need a branch manager really the fact is that libraries don't run themselves and as a branch manager over the years, not just an MCPL I actually often been amazed myself for some of the things that I've done many of them less glamorous.
Julie Dina: Such as?
David Payne: Being on my back fixing leaking toilets. And one of the great things about the job is literally don't know what each day will bring.
Julie Dina: That's exciting.
David Payne: That's exciting in some way. But many people don't realize what the scope of the job is. And again, each manager approaches it differently. For a hands on person like me I chip in wherever needed. I was helping set up a room for a program last Saturday at my branch and the customer popped ahead and and said, “Wow, you do everything.”
Julie Dina: You are wearing different hats.
David Payne: Yeah, basically with different hats. And really my job is really to make sure that the branch is running and that involves work with the staff, with scheduling, you have to make sure the building, the facility is as it should be as work with a collection. There's programming, work with community groups, friends groups, library advisory committees. It is really no end to it. So it's really almost a jack of all trades. And that's what I really like about it. And I think like I say, most people don't realize the actual scope of the job in really making sure that the branch runs as it should be from day to day.
Julie Dina: So what you're saying is that a lot of people should start applying to be agency managers?
David Payne: Oh sure. Sure if you like adventure there you go. So Julie, when you do your outreach visits, what are the most popular services that you highlight?
Julie Dina: Artists’ works which is also a great resource where you actually are able to learn any of the different musical instruments that they offer for free. And not only that, it's also the instructors are actually Grammy and Emmy Award winners, which is really cool. And more importantly let me tell you what people cannot believe that's a surprise and this is a recent resource that we just acquired for our customers. It's called canopy and with canopy it works sort of parallel to Netflix. You're able to stream hundreds of movies and guess what guys, it's for free.
David Payne: It is so free and these movies are actually from all over the world I think.
Julie Dina: I just found that out last week yeah, because they sent me a suggestion. So imagine I could actually go on and on. People also love Mango Languages because I come across a lot of people who may not necessarily be from here, or even people who are from here like myself, I want to learn French and the fact I have Mango language and I don't have to go pay a specialist or someone who actually would charge me that's unheard of. And I'm so thankful to my MCPL for making that possible. So if you want to hear more, or if you want to know more about services and resources that we offer, I suggest go on our website go under -- actually you can go through A through C resources and see every and all of the resources that we offer or you can come to one of my events. So David, this is a question we usually ask our guests and since we're being both today I've got ask you this. What are you currently reading?
David Payne: I'm actually reading a new book by Frederick Forsyth, that great writer of thrillers and intrigue, it's called The Fox came out last year and it's a slightly different approach by him about -- the story about a 18 year old computer hacker and the havoc he wreaks in terms of hacking and technological espionage. Forsyth to me is a great writer and this is certainly a good work perhaps not his best without going into details. It is slightly humorous it's a parody of current politics in this country and in Britain. So there's a touch of humor and irony in there which may not be for everybody and again it's not -- perhaps not his best work but certainly great Forsyth read. And then I return to you Julie.
Julie Dina: Well, I'm currently reading and I not even halfway into the book, but the book it's called Ghana must go. And I remember having to display this book when I still worked at the Wheaton Library branch. And at one point, I had to place a hole because it was very popular. And it's by the author Taiye Selassie. And it's basically about a father who lives in Accra, which is the capital city of Ghana and he's a known surgeon and he suddenly dies. And at this point all his kids are scattered in different parts of the world of which I think United States is one of them. But because the death of this man has rippled through the whole world, his kids get to find out and one of the reasons why they all moved part was because of family secrets and crimes. And I think at some point their dad failed them as a father. But because of this death they're all coming back together and they're revealing things that we didn't know about in the beginning and at this point I'm going to say I have not finished a book. So I do know we have copies in our catalog so if you would like to come along this journey with me check -- check it out from one of our branches.
David Payne: And the same of the Frederick Forsyth book many copies of the fox in your local branch.
Julie Dina: We do know how to pick them.
David Payne: We do.
Julie Dina: Well well well this has been a very interesting program.
David Payne: It has been different.
Julie Dina: It has been different but I'm glad we were able to tell you or give you are you know opinion as far as what we love about the library and our experience in libraries from different parts of the world. With that, I would like to say let's keep this conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple podcast app, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple podcasts we’ll love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Summary: February is Library Lovers Month, a time to celebrate all libraries do. Hosts Julie Dina and David Payne talk about some of the ways MCPL helps bring County residents together and helps them learn and grow. They also talk about their experiences with libraries in their countries of birth, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
Recording Date: February 6, 2019
Hosts: Julie Dina and David Payne
What Our Hosts Are Reading:
Julie Dina: Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
David Payne: The Fox by Frederick Forsyth
MCPL Resources Mentioned During this Episode:
1000 Books Before Kindergarten: Combine reading and educational activities to reach 1000 books to a child before kindergarten.
Book Discussion Groups: Discuss works of literary fiction, mysteries, African American literature, and more at one of MCPL's many book discussion groups.
Education and Test Prep: Learn a new skill through Lynda.com or prepare for a test like the SAT or GRE with these free online learning resources.
Go!Kits: A Go!Kit is a backpack loaded with a tablet, books, toys, and recommended all centered around a particular theme, such as geology, machines, or the weather. There are Little Explorer Go!Kits for kids ages 3 to 6 and Young Voyager Go!Kits for kids ages 7-12.
Knitting and Crochet Groups: Learn to knit or crochet, or share your skills with others at an MCPL branch near you.
Internet to Go: Aspen Hill, Gaithersburg, Maggie Nightingale, and Marilyn Praisner have laptops with wireless hotspots that can circulate outside the branch.
Loanable Laptops: Laptops are available to be be borrowed for in-branch use at all branches except Noyes.
Movies: Enjoy free movies through our streaming services such as AcornTV and Kanopy.
Music: Enjoy free music downloads and streaming through Freegal, American Song, and more.
Outreach: Invite a member of our Outreach team to share the news about MCPL services and resources at your upcoming community or school event.
Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode:
Lauren Martino: Welcome to Library Matters. My name is Lauren Martino; I'm your host today. Black history month is right around the corner and with us today are two MCPL staff members ready to give you some background on African American fiction as well as some titles to read for black history month and all year round. With us today is Christian Wilson who is a librarian at the Silver Spring library, hi Christian?
Christian Wilson: Hello, how are you doing today Lauren?
Lauren Martino: I'm good. How are you?
Christian Wilson: I’m doing well, I’m doing well.
Lauren Martino: And with us as well as Diane Betsy who is a library associate with Collection Management and has run the African American book club in Rockville for the past 15 years, is that it?
Diane Betsy: Yes, 15 years, we had our 15th anniversary.
Lauren Martino: Oh, that's exciting, welcome Diane.
Diane Betsy: Thank you, I'm so glad to be here.
Lauren Martino: Let's start with, how do you define African American fiction? What makes something African American fiction?
Christian Wilson: I would say African American fiction is fiction written by African descendants of slaves that were brought here from the beginning of colonial times, so 1619 until slavery was abolished in 1865 in the United States of America and its territories. I would say fiction by any other authors who are African or Afro descended, but are from say the Caribbean or from Africa themselves would not count as African American fiction, because they just don't have the shared experiences that we do as descendants of slaves in the United States.
Lauren Martino: So something like swing time that takes place in Great Britain primarily is -- would be something that wouldn’t quite qualify?
Christian Wilson: Unless it’s written by an African American author who was a descendant of slaves in the United States, it probably would not qualify like Adichie’s books; they would not qualify, even though she was reared here, she doesn't have the African American experience of being descended from slaves that were brought here. She was -- she's from Nigeria, so that's completely different worldview.
Diane Betsy: Okay, we see things a little different...
Lauren Martino: Okay, let's discuss this.
Diane Betsy: In the African American Book Discussion Group of Rockville Memorial Library, that's our official name. Forgive me. We started out thinking African American book discussion was basically African American authors; that is people, black people born in the United States who wrote books about black people born in the United States. Over the years though, we've expanded our definition so that we include -- actually we tell people we read books by and about people of African descent.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Diane Betsy: And therefore we read Zadie Smith, who's an English author, Chimamanda Adichie, we read a lot of Edwidge Danticat from Haiti, we read a lot of authors from the -- what they call the black Diaspora, Diaspora. So when in our book group and we say African American authors, we really mean people born or people who are descendant from Africans not specifically just the United States of America.
Lauren Martino: Okay, I guess you can define America pretty broadly too depending, it’s like…?
Diane Betsy: Yeah, because America as well…
Lauren Martino: Is Haiti part of the Americans?
Diane Betsy: The American, yeah the American content, so to say the Americas you would be including the America, so you’d be including Canada, the United States, South America. In our book group, we just say African American authors and -- but we mean, black people who were – people who were descendants from Africans from all over, we read from all over the world.
Lauren Martino: So there's a couple of different definitions and I imagine there are books that you just don't want to pass up on, because they are just that good.
Diane Betsy: Exactly, yeah.
Lauren Martino: So can anybody comment on like the history of African American fiction, kind of where does it have its roots, where did it begin?
Diane Betsy: I have a little problem with that question, because if you're saying African American fiction, if you do research on that question, do you know what you get? Slave narratives; which is not fiction.
Christian Wilson: It’s not fiction at all.
Lauren Martino: No.
Diane Betsy: So, but everything that you read if you go to Google, if you go to Wikipedia, they all say slave narratives, I'm going, “Wait a minute, that's not fiction.” But I guess some people consider that fiction, but to me fiction would be Uncle Tom's cabin, which was 1852 that would be African American fiction, I would think.
Christian Wilson: Yeah, I would also go back to like even Phillis Wheatley, her poems, she was writing in the 1700s. She was kidnapped from what is now modern day Senegal, you know she was writing very well back in those times and so I was -- considered her to be one of the progenitors of African American fiction definitely.
Diane Betsy: Fiction, exactly.
Christian Wilson: I would say that there are so many writers and if you just have to take the time and look that wrote other things besides slave narratives during the time of colonialization and slavery and then reconstruction 17/1800s passing to that time even – as you said before Uncle Tom's cabin, that's really the start. It didn't just start in the 1960s where everyone was writing for The Civil Rights Movement, it's been here since…
Diane Betsy: It started with Harriet Beecher Stowe, who by the way was not an African American.
Christian Wilson: yeah, decided to write African American fiction, so it's been here for a while, it's been here for -- since the first slaves were brought here, African American fiction has been here, I will say that.
Diane Betsy: Well yeah, if you want to count the narratives, oh well there's been fiction that we didn't know about is what you're saying.
Christian Wilson: Right.
Diane Betsy: They weren’t published, we didn't know about them, but maybe there were some fiction. But in terms of fiction we know about, I'm thinking Harriet Beecher Stowe, because her book was published in 1852, I can't think of anything that was published before that about African Americans or slaves. That was fiction.
Christian Wilson: Yeah.
Diane Betsy: So then we get to fiction when we hit the Harlem Renaissance.
Christian Wilson: Absolutely.
Diane Betsy: That started from the 20s and it went all the way to the 40s. Now you have actual fiction, you've got -- the first one I could find was a Nella Larsen.
Christian Wilson: ‘Passing.’
Diane Betsy: She wrote ‘Passing’ in 1929 and she got it published in 1928, she wrote Quicksand and then you had, of course Zora Neale Hurston, she's still being taught in universities in the United States. Her very first novel was that ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ that was published in 1937. And then I think I had Richard Wright in 1944 ‘Native Son.’ Those were works of fiction and they became very popular in the Harlem Renaissance 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, to me that's where African American fiction began.
Christian Wilson: And it took off at that point and just went like a rocket ship from the Harlem Renaissance and other cities where there were renaissances as well. It just really just start -- it was always there, but it just really just defined itself as the sort of like the gatekeeper, the fictional gatekeeper to the entity which is African Americans at that point.
Diane Betsy: Yeah. And I think what made that happen, that explosion in a sense if you will, is the fact that white Americans knew about it. These works of fiction that was being written about in newspapers and magazines that white Americans read. So for example, you had in the 50s, you know we had ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ this huge play by Lorraine Hansberry that was on Broadway, there's no way that got to Broadway just because of black people, I mean white people had to back that show, they had to agree to a put that show on. It was a tremendous hit and you had Ralph Ellison doing the ‘Invisible Man’ in 1952 that is still a classic. I think you were asking us about classics at some point. ‘Go Tell It on The Mountain’ by James Baldwin, 1953. Those were crossover books, those were books that the white publishers and booksellers were aware of and they were moving them and because of that, more African Americans learned about them. See, there were books possibly before, but the average African American working every day never heard of them.
Christian Wilson: I’m kind of curious as to the role of librarians and all of this. But I don’t suppose – I didn’t ask you that ahead of time, so I won't.
Diane Betsy: Well no we need to talk about a little bit, but it’s a little bit touchy, it's a little bit touchy.
Lauren Martino: Do you know? Oh really, why?
Christian Wilson: Well they weren't really allowed to promote African American books, because the libraries themselves were segregated. So African Americans could not go into the library and borrow books, even though they were paying for the library services with our tax dollars.
Diane Betsy: Exactly.
Christian Wilson: If they wanted to borrow books, they would have to do it through their churches or backdoor…
Diane Betsy: Or through a backdoor somehow, they were not allowed to go into the library building. So I think I could have this date wrong, but I think as recently as 1960…
Christian Wilson: It sounds about right.
Lauren Martino: There were two or three black men who were actually arrested for walking into a library in Virginia.
Lauren Martino: Wow!
Diane Betsy: And taken out, because up to that point, it was still against the law for black people to enter a library. So black people weren't learning very much in libraries, because they weren't allowed in. Remember originally during slavery, it was against the law to teach a black slave to read. So that grew into black people were not allowed into the library. And that was true up until, I would say the 60s probably; it was a cut off.
Christian Wilson: Mid 60s, yeah.
Diane Betsy: And we're talking now across the country that may not have been true in New York City, let's say or Washington DC possibly, but across the country it was…
Christian Wilson: Especially in the Deep South.
Diane Betsy: Deep South for real.
Lauren Martino: Wow! Now that I'm thinking about it, there's this picture book about this African American astronaut as a boy, like walking into a library and like I think maybe he got like special permission, like maybe the librarian like passed him a book. I have to look that up and maybe put it in the show notes, yeah.
Diane Betsy: I remember that story, there were many -- actually there was a children's book, wasn't it?
Lauren Martino: Yeah, it was like a picture book.
Diane Betsy: Yeah, a children's picture book right. There are a couple of books that document the difficulty that black children had getting into a library that went away eventually, but black people would not have been learning about black writers in a library. It would have been a newspaper or a neighbor, somebody they worked for said, “Oh, have you heard about this book?” Church perhaps. Not the library.
Christian Wilson: Yeah, church definitely is one of the big focal points of the African American community. So they definitely would have been learning about it through church. But the caveat, anything that would have been suggestive would not have been in the church's library, my parents’ old church in Philadelphia where I'm from, they have their own church library, but not every church could afford to have a personal library full of the box and what's going to go in there was only things that they're going to say that are appropriate for the church parishioners. So you may not get blues for Mister Charlie, which is one of my favorite James Baldwin books in the church. You may not get ‘Their Eyes Are Watching God’ you may not get A Native Son, because they made -- have determined that those books are not appropriate for the church parishioners.
Diane Betsy: Yeah and depending on year you're talking about they may not have heard of their eyes were watching God. Remember Alice Walker gave the world Zora Neale Hurston. She was doing research and she discovered this black writer named Zora Neale Hurston and she gave the world ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ prior to Alice Walker no one I knew, no school teachers, no publishers had ever heard of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ When did Alice Walker come along? In the 60s, so we didn't even know about Zora Neale Hurston in the 50s and the 40s, the average black person I'm saying.
Lauren Martino: So she had been -- she had published her work by then, but just nobody – it wasn’t on anybody’s radar?
Diane Betsy: She had fallen into obscurity; she did not get along with the powers that be in the Harlem Renaissance. I'm going to just slide right over all that. And she sort of left the north in disgrace, a lawsuit and all that was really ugly. And so she died virtually in poverty. She was on the welfare when she died cleaning people's homes. And Alice Walker was going to -- I think it was either Brown or -- the name, the expensive big colleges for women in the north?
Lauren Martino: Radcliffe?
Christian Wilson: Smith’s or–?
Diane Betsy: She was born in Smith -- Smith or Vassar one of those two colleges she was going to. And she was doing research…
Christian Wilson: I think it was Vassar.
Diane Betsy: And needed information on Voodoo. And as she was searching the library, she found a couple of books written by this woman named Zora Neale Hurston and turned out to be a black woman she's never heard of her. And she did a lot more research, a lot more research and discovered this writer and did her doctoral thesis on Zora Neale Hurston. And that's how the world learned about Zora Neale Hurston all over again.
Lauren Martino: So she’s kind of this literary tradition like with slave narratives and poetry that I guess you didn't really -- I'm sure people, black people weren't encouraged to write fiction, do something as frivolous as that back then way, way back in the beginning, but…
Christian Wilson: Yeah.
Diane Betsy: Well you talk about a time in American history; I think when the average person wasn't necessarily graduating from high school. So white people clearly -- black people clearly were not graduating from high school and they were lucky if they were getting out of the third grade before they had to go to work. So I'm talking about the average person now, I'm not talking – there was a black middle class across the country, very small but yeah, they had their advantages, they were going to college.
Lauren Martino: So talk a little bit about the origins of African American fiction, can you tell us a little about why African American fiction is important Christian?
Christian Wilson: It gives -- African American fiction gives African Americans a voice and literary and Cultural Community of the United States. That's why it's important. It's important for people who are represented here in the United States via population, via entertainment to be able to tell their own stories. I find as a children's librarian, it's very frustrating sometimes because we do have African American fiction in the children's department, but they're not written -- the books are not written by African American authors, they're written by white authors.
Lauren Martino: Not all the time?
Christian Wilson: Not all the time, but it's important for African Americans to be able to tell our own stories within the literary scheme, because a lot of the stereotypes are that black people don't read or black children don't read. It's important to say, “Okay, look yes they do read, not only are they reading Harry Potter, but they're reading P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia. You know it's important to have our own voices out there to show that yes, we do contribute to the cultural life and of the United States beyond rap music or R&B music or you know entertainment comedy, but we do like there are -- we are multifaceted. That's why I believe African American literature fiction urban fiction is so important.
Diane Betsy: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that African American fiction is important. First of all for the same reason that fiction is important period, all fiction makes it clear to us the reader that we are not alone. I learned that from Diane Rehm.
Christian Wilson: It’s true.
Diane Betsy: That so close to my heart when she said that, because that's really true. She had another famous one, why do we have book clubs? Because it's the only place where we can discuss life. I think that's true for my book club. We get together, read the books and we discuss life. I think that some of the other points though that Christian was making is important, the members of my book club really read the black fiction for the history. We learned so much of our own history by reading fiction, not just historical fiction, but regular fiction informs us about the black experience in different parts of the country and tells us a lot about our history. Now, my book group tends to be 45 and up in terms of age. So when we were in school, in public school, I was in public school in New York City. There weren't a lot of books for us to read that were written by African Americans. So we tended to read Dickens and -- you know the story said everybody else in class read. The children who are going through school today, the black children have a wealth of black authors that they can read. They get more of the black experience at a younger age, but the people in my book group are hungry for stories about themselves, their mothers, their grandmothers, what things were like, where do we get that? We're getting that from the fiction, because it wasn't taught to us in school or the movies didn't give us that. Historical fiction is very, very popular in my book group. So for example, we loved and adored ‘The Good Lord Bird’ that was about John Brown's hanging at Harpers Ferry as…
Lauren Martino: Harpers Ferry, yeah.
Diane Betsy: Harpers Ferry. Okay, there's another book out on that same subject that talks about the five black people who were hung with John Brown.
Lauren Martino: You know by name?
Diane Betsy: Right, there's a book about it, right?
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Diane Betsy: Well there's history that we're getting, this is a work of fiction. The Good Lord Bird was a work of fiction. ‘Darktown’ by Thomas Mullen, we read a couple of years back that was about the first eight black police officers hired in Atlanta and the fact that they were not allowed to carry guns, they would not allow to ride the car. And if they arrested someone, they had to call the white police officers to come and the rest them, this is a work of fiction, but it was heard so much about what it was like for the first black police officers. ‘Douglass' women’, has anybody read that one?
Lauren Martino: No.
Christian Wilson: That’s why it’s on my to-read-list.
Diane Betsy: Jewell Parker Rhodes, fascinating book…
Lauren Martino: She wrote adult book?
Diane Betsy: Pardon?
Lauren Martino: She wrote adult too?
Diane Betsy: You didn't know?
Diane Betsy: She started out writing adult book, her first book I think was called Voodoo about a madam Marie…
Lauren Martino: Yeah, Madam Marie Laveau.
Diane Betsy: Marie Laveau, I mean you should read that one, but she wrote a book called Douglass' women, it was about Frederick Douglass and the fact that he was married to a black woman named Anna, who he referred to as a black log.
Lauren Martino: A black, what?
Diane Betsy: Log.
Christian Wilson: Like Log.
Diane Betsy: Like a tree.
Lauren Martino: Tree stump.
Diane Betsy: Right. His daughter wanted to marry someone and he said, “No, you can't marry that person and he's not educated.” And she said, “But dad, we're in love.” And he said, “Do you want to spend your life tied to a black log like me?”
Lauren Martino: Oh Gosh.
Diane Betsy: That was a work of fiction, but the information for the book came from the diary of his daughter which is in archives. He had an ongoing affair with his assistant who was a German woman named Ottilie. And in the summer time when he wasn't traveling and she wasn't handling his speeches, Ottilie would go home with him and Ottilie stayed in the room at the top of the house and the wife and the children were downstairs and the daughter's diary talks about trips that dad made upstairs in the middle of the night.
Lauren Martino: Oh gosh.
Diane Betsy: How would we ever have known that, all right? Somewhere in history someone asked Anna Douglas why? Oh, she refused to read. That was why Frederick Douglass was angry with her. Why did she refuse to read? And her answer was, when I look at the things that people who know how to read have done, I don't ever want to learn how to read.
Lauren Martino: It's a little heartbreaking.
Diane Betsy: Anyway, I learned that through historical fiction, it's called Douglass women, Jewell Parker Rhodes that's one of the things that people in my book group get out of these books, we are learning our history.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. So these are books that are -- they're fiction, but they are well researched…?
Diane Betsy: Historical fiction very well researched.
Lauren Martino: Based on…
Christian Wilson: Colson Whitehead's, ‘The Underground Railroad’ that's another good one.
Diane Betsy: That’s another good one, right? That was just recently, did he get the National Book Award?
Christian Wilson: I think he got like…
Diane Betsy: Pulitzer, no he got the Pulitzer for ‘The Underground Railroad’
Lauren Martino: About two years ago, I think.
Diane Betsy: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Now that's the magical realism and that is such that I just love to have someone sit down with me and say, okay, this happened, this happened, this happened and this happened.
Christian Wilson: Did you get a chance to read it?
Lauren Martino: I did read that one.
Diane Betsy: Was that fun?
Lauren Martino: It was a little bit -- I kind of felt, what's the right word? A little dizzy.
Christian Wilson: There was a long…
Lauren Martino: It was a long crazy trip.
Christian Wilson: There was a lot going on.
Lauren Martino: There was a lot going on, yeah.
Christian Wilson: But there was a lot of history in that book. So that's a good one Underground Railroad is another good historical fiction. Now you know there really wasn't an Underground Railroad, I mean there wasn’t…
Lauren Martino: I know I got that much.
Christian Wilson: He created the train.
Lauren Martino: It's really fun to imagine, like that imaging like…
Lauren Martino: It's like first of all you know there's no conductor and then there's like no track, it just kind of gets like harder and harder.
Christian Wilson: But I keep saying to myself, but it could have been true when you think of all the underground tracks that were made for coal mines. People could have connected car, I mean I kept saying, but it could have been true, because in my end its fiction, okay it's fiction, but it's historical fiction.
Lauren Martino: Yes.
Diane Betsy: Yeah and it's bringing to light things that you'd never would you know pick up the journal to read.
Christian Wilson: Exactly.
Lauren Martino: So we talked a little bit about Harriet Beecher Stowe. I'm kind of curious whether you all will agree on this or whether there's going to be some controversy. Do you have to be African American to write African American fiction?
Christian Wilson: Okay, so I'll answer this one. I think that if you have an affinity to African American descendants of slaves in the United States, as I said before, I think I opened it by saying, you know this is what I believe African American fiction is. It's the stories of African American descendants of slaves. I don't think that you have to be African American, but I think you need to understand and know our shared experience. I think if you're coming in from say Japan and you just want to write a story about the black struggle, like you need to really like live it and be in it, in order to write it. I think just writing like superficially is not going to really do anything about the black experience. Like bring it to life or you know give it a voice, because it's not authentic. It just feels like you know the soul singers of the 80s like you know Teena Marie and George Michael, like they sung soul music, but they intergraded themselves into the black music scene. So like their sound songs were authentic, I mean I still know people who didn't believe that Teena Marie was Caucasian. I mean to this day people…
Diane Betsy: A lot of people still think that Teena Marie is black, she's just a light skinned black person.
Christian Wilson: Like Ezra Jack Keats?
Diane Betsy: Yeah.
Christian Wilson: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Like I’m looking for an African American author, can I get a book by Ezra Jack Keats…
Christian Wilson: And you are like sorry, he is Caucasian. So yes, it's possible and it has happened in the past and when we get to urban fiction, I'll discuss more about how people who are not African American are writing urban fiction.
Diane Betsy: I think that as Ezra Keats is an example of what you're saying, he could write a story about a little black toddler in the snow, because there isn't -- I mean a little black toddler in the snow is like a little white toddler in the snow or a little Asian toppling the snow. There really isn't any difference there, but when you get into adulthood now you've got serious differences. So, but I think that you're right, if you are serious about your subject and you know your subject, you can be Caucasian and you can write good books about African Americans or people of African descent. I have examples here, ‘The Secret Life of Bees’, Sue Monk Kid was not an African American; did you know that? A lot of people -- then movie came out with Queen Latifah; a lot of people were shocked to find out that Sue Monk Kid was not a black woman. Another one would be, Henrietta Lacks, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, remember that? The author…
Lauren Martino: It was nonfiction, but yeah…
Diane Betsy: That was nonfiction, but the author was Rebecca Skloot who was not an African American, but she lived with that family like it was her own. And she could write that story. How about this one was in the movies, the book was great though. The Help by Kathryn Stockett…
Christian Wilson: I was just about to say that.
Diane Betsy: Okay, ‘The Help’ was not written by an African American woman. And that was one – that the first five minutes of that movie had everybody -- we went as a book club to see and we sat there passing tissues, I mean we were crying the first five minutes. Do you know -- I forgot the actress that played that part. But in the first five minutes, someone off camera says, “Tell me about your life as a housekeeper.” And before she can speak, she gets emotional and everybody in the theater was crying, it's just incredible. But anyway, the author of The Help was a white woman named Kathryn Stockett. And then we have Uncle Tom's Cabin, we talked about that. And my favorite, this is going to surprise you, Mark Twain.
Christian Wilson: You know I have mixed feelings about him, because he used the N-word so much in his literature, but he was writing about African American character.
Diane Betsy: Have you read Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson?
Christian Wilson: I've read parts of it.
Diane Betsy: You should read the whole thing.
Christian Wilson: I need to read the whole thing.
Diane Betsy: It is his first and only book actually about an African American family, a slave woman who was pregnant and her mistress was pregnant and her master had gone off to war. They had babies on the same day, but the mistress died and the slave woman switched the children and made a scar on the white babies hip and a scar on her own hip so she could prove he was hers, but he wasn't. So it's a detective story in the sense that eventually, Pudd'nhead Wilson who's an attorney who can't get a job, who has this little game he plays with a new scientific concept called Fingerprinting, eventually it goes to court and they figure out who belongs to who? And so people have said that this book was a very good research and is it your life experiences that determines who you are or your genetics? Because we see what happens to this white child who was raised as a slave son. So, I think that is a fascinating book. My Book Club read and they adored -- they hated it, I mean they were like, I'm not reading Mark Twain, but I got them to read that book and they were like, “Oh my God, they just…” we were overwhelmed. So yes, yes to your question, you do not have to be African American to write a good book about African Americans.
Lauren Martino: I guess it really takes all of it. You need the people that have lived these experiences, whose parents have lived these experiences and also the people that are maybe the very interested outsider. There's got to be a tall order to immerse yourself into it in order to do a really job.
Diane Betsy: Well Mark Twain spent a lot of time on Mississippi river boats.
Lauren Martino: He did?
Diane Betsy: It would have been really, really hard for him to miss African American's on those river boats. They played the music and they were the –
Christian Wilson: Yeah, cooked the food.
Diane Betsy: They cooked food…
Lauren Martino: And watch the children, yeah.
Christian Wilson: But you have to look at it from a certain perspective, you can't look at it like you know your typical person availing themselves of these services, you've got to…
Diane Betsy: You have to be sensitive to what you're seeing happening around you, yes you do. Yes, but you can, you can get away with that very easily.
Lauren Martino: So we've talked about a lot of good books so far. If you could take any one book that's part of African American fiction and make everyone in the United States read it, what would it be?
Christian Wilson: I will start with ‘Waiting to Exhale’ by Terry McMillan. This is why I want to say it, because it doesn't deal with what people stereotypically think African American women should be. It's not about welfare queens, it’s not about drama -- I mean it does have drama, I will say that.
Lauren Martino: It's a book?
Christian Wilson: It’s a book it always has drama, but it's depicts for -- middle to upper middle class African American women living in a different part of this country than you would expect. They're living in Phoenix, Arizona in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. And how they navigate their lives as middle aged women just to show that you know we're more alike than we are different as Americans, you know? We’re more alike than we are different as women; we're more alike than different as we are people, we go through the same exact things, you know? Heartache, divorce, adultery, drug use, you know, all these things happen and it's not class based, it's not race based, it's just this is just human things that happen. Now, I will say this, if you haven't read the book, there is something in there that does happen that's like you know whoa, I didn't expect that to happen. But you know, the way that Terry McMillan writes books -- she has a nice way of closing things up and in a very satisfactory ending, she doesn't leave cliffhangers. So if you're looking for a book that leaves a lot of cliffhangers or you know a lot of disappointment, that's not what you're going to find. But if you're looking for a good story told by a great storyteller, I would suggest ‘Waiting To Exhale’ and also the sequel ‘Getting to Happy’ because there are things that happen in ‘Waiting To Exhale’ that do get resolved in ‘Getting To Happy’, but both of those together, you know those are great books and they are great options for anyone.
Lauren Martino: I’m a sucker for a good ending.
Christian Wilson: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: ...to make this one up, Diane what do you have?
Diane Betsy: Well, my choice would be ‘Cane River’ by Lolita Tademy, because ‘Cane River’, is another – my favorite historical fiction novel. This is the story, the real story of an American black family that begins with this slave woman who was sold into Louisiana on the 19th century and we follow her daughter and what happens to her and her daughter and what happens to her all the way up to the present generation. And the family members that get sold away from each other, the slave girl that a white master fell in love with and killed her husband to make sure that he could have possession of her. The black family who in the 20s inherited all this wealth of acres of land left to them by a French grandfather and all of that land was taken legally in court by the white people in that town. She actually has pictures of the court papers in the book, but because the book is fiction, because she can't -- in the fiction you don't mention certain names and stuff, you find out what happened, but nobody gets sued. And that's why I've always said if you want to read the truth, read fiction. If you want to lie, read nonfiction, because they're so busy protecting people in nonfiction.
But in this story ‘Cane River’ you get the history of black slavery in America, what happened to those children? The children that were able to slip into white America and crossover and no one knew they were black. The children who stayed behind who eventually were disinherited from thousand -- and the papers are still in that courthouse in that town, but the book ‘Cane River’ gives you the entire story of what happened to that family over six, seven, eight generations. And it is a fabulous read, she was one of the authors at the book festival on the mall about four or five years back. It is a fabulous book. It is one of the best books you'll ever read and it's called ‘Chain River.’
Lauren Martino: So now we're talking about fiction as kind of a mask that allows you to talk about the history, not just something that brings it to light, but it kind of gives you the safe space in which you can tell what happened?
Diane Betsy: Exactly.
Christian Wilson: Absolutely.
Diane Betsy: Exactly the safe space that you can tell what happened.
Lauren Martino: That's amazing. Like my notion of fiction has been exploded. We've talked about a lot of different kinds of African American fiction; can we talk a little bit about some of the sub genres. I know some like urban fiction have gotten some mixed kinds of attention. Can you tell us a little bit about that Christian?
Christian Wilson: Well, you know there's different sub genres, Christian fiction, urban fiction, well you know the Christian fiction actually has nothing to do with me, it has just been more about the living Christianity…
Lauren Martino: Not your fiction…
Christian Wilson: It’s not my fiction, right. But urban fiction is a special stand out, because it really started out of the genesis of the civil rights movement. You had a guy named Iceberg Slim and I don't believe that, many of his books are still in print any more that you could probably find them on Amazon and eBay. He started writing about; you know the tribulations of living in a poor African American neighborhoods that were urban in the 1960s and 1970s. And so many authors caught onto what he was doing, but it kind of went dormant until the 1990s when it really started picking up again. You had authors like Omar Tyree, sister Souljah and Nina Foxx and Sapphire starting to write books. Of course Sapphire is probably the most famous urban fiction writer next to sister Souljah, because she wrote ‘Push’, which is the novel that ultimately became precious…
Diane Betsy: Precious in the movies, right.
Christian Wilson: Which was the movie that was inspired by the novel ‘Push’ that had all the big time stars, it had Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, in that movie with -- what's her name? Mo'Nique, the comedian.
Diane Betsy: Right Mo'Nique, right.
Christian Wilson: So it was a way for people who really did not have their voice heard and they were not suspected of being readers or being consumers of literature to be heard. And it really did document what was going on in these neighborhoods at that point of time in their lives. And it does – I mean it's very hard to read if you're not used to it, it's very hard to read, because you're just sitting here and you're reading it and you're like, “I can't believe these experiences are happening to people, I can't live. This is really reality for many people.” And I will say that, you know, 80% of the African American community does not live in poverty, does not experience what's going on, but 20% does. And so this is a voice for the 20% and this is a voice for the marginalized and this is a voice for the oppressed.
Diane Betsy: And I think another sub genre would have been the crime novel.
Christian Wilson: Like the Walter Mosley‘s?
Diane Betsy: Walter Mosley's the ‘Devil with the Red Dress’ started a series – sorry…
Christian Wilson: Devil in a Blue Dress.
Diane Betsy: Devil in a Blue Dress started a series; the reason why I love that book so much though, is that it gives a tremendous history, African American history. Because if you ever wanted to know how did all those black people get to Compton, how did all those black people windup in California? Read the ‘Devil in a Blue Dress ‘ and you’ll find out that all those black people moved up from Texas to California during the war to go to work in the plants to make parachutes, etcetera. That is how all those black people got -- how did I find that out? I read the ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ by Walter Mosley. And so there's a lot of history in this particular series on Easy Rawlins as a detective, a lot of African American history.
Christian Wilson: And then also very briefly, I would also say that it's not only African Americans writing urban fiction, you have a whole now even sub-sub genre of Latino urban fiction, that's out there. And you know one of the reasons I found this out was because when I was coming out of my undergraduate university, there were people who would just set up book stands. And these books were not in any library yet and it would just sell urban fiction on the street corner for $5 a book. They'd self publish, self edit and it would just sell these books.
Diane Betsy: And that's the way a lot of black poetry got started when Nikki Giovanni in the 60s standing on street corners selling her poems and eventually a publisher approach her.
Christian Wilson: Exactly.
Diane Betsy: Alright and now we have this whole field of black poets, but she started it by standing on a street corner in the 60s.
Christian Wilson: And now you have this whole field of black urban fiction being sold -- not sold, but borrowed in libraries and being circulated in libraries.
Diane Betsy: Well, Montgomery County Library -- while we're on the subject back in 2010, we would get urban fiction, maybe seven copies, maybe eight. We move up to 2017/18. We've got 23 copies of each one every…
Diane Betsy: Yeah, for every library.
Diane Betsy: Things have changed in Montgomery County Libraries when it comes to urban fiction.
Lauren Martino: I'd like to think we've made a little progress in libraries since the 60s and even as far back as 2010.
Diane Betsy: That's a lot of copies though.
Christian Wilson: It’s a lot of copies, it’s a lot of copies and I mean it's less than I would like to see, but we're doing better.
Diane Betsy: For a sub.
Christian Wilson: For a sub genre.
Diane Betsy: Sub genre of African American, it's a lot of copies, because we don't get that many copies initially of something done by Coates t or Ta-Nehisi Coates and people like that.
Lauren Martino: So we've got one more question we like to ask all of our guests on a library matters and that is, what are you reading right now?
Diane Betsy: Right at the moment, I am reading Washington Black, it is one of the best stories I have ever read. It’s written by Canadian -- a black woman named Esi Edugyan and its winning all the awards in Canada and in Britain, now I imagine in time it'll win awards in the United States. But it's about a black slave named George Washington Black, he's a little boy and he gets given to a scientist and the scientist is building contraption no one has ever heard of before, today we call them air balloons. And so he has a million adventures, sort of like the Secret Life of Pi, but it's that exciting, the things that happen to him, there’s an explosion, his face was scarred, he gets older, he winds up in Alaska. This is one incredible story; I have not read anything this good in a long time. She is married; she lives in British Columbia which is…
Lauren Martino: Who is she, the author?
Diane Betsy: The author Esi Edugyan. They live in British Columbia which is right across the Washington state line in Canada. She is married to a white man who's Canadian, who is on the best seller list. His name is Steven Price and his bestseller is called By Gaslight, came out in I think 2015; he's also an award winner for poetry. They take turns taking care of their kids and writing.
Diane Betsy: I think she's the descendant from -- parents from Ghana, but she was born and raised in Canada, fascinating book, ‘Washington Black.’
Lauren Martino: All right, Christian, what's yours?
Christian Wilson: Animal Farm by George Orwell. Oh you know it’s so funny that I picked it up because I was like you know what? This is one of the only books by him that I have not read. And so I'm reading it and you know it's very -- not interesting, but it showcases human nature and in through the animals on the farm and you're just learn the pig is superior, because he's telling everyone what to do and no one is questioning him. And it's just like, you know everyone is equal, but some people are more equal than the others.
Diane Betsy: So it's the nature of politics in the United States.
Christian Wilson: Not to get political.
Diane Betsy: I’m shocked you didn’t have to read that in schools, so I was in school…
Christian Wilson: Not political, we had a choice between Animal Farm and 1984 and I chose 1984.
Diane Betsy: See, they give the kids choices these days, when I was in school you didn't have a choice, you were told read this; this and this and one of them was animal farm.
Christian Wilson: And then also we had to read all the King's Men and so that one you know, but I was like, I need to come back and read this one these days, I do. And you know, this month was like the month I'm like, okay, this is the book I'm going to read this month.
Diane Betsy: I am so glad you read that book, I really am.
Lauren Martino: Well, I'd like to thank you so much, Christian and Diane. This has been a fascinating discussion.
Diane Betsy: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: And I'm really glad you could be guests today.
Christian Wilson: Thank you so much.
Lauren Martino: Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the apple podcast App Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We'd love to know what you think. Thank you very much and we will see you next time.
Summary: Collection Management Library Associate Dianne Betsey and Silver Spring Librarian Christian Wilson talk about the history, development, and current state of African American literature.
Recording Date: January 9, 2019
Guests: Dianne Betsey, a Library Associate in our Collection Management Department and leader of the Rockville Memorial Library African American book discussion group. Christian Wilson, Children's Librarian at Silver Spring Library.
Hosts: Lauren Martino
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Dianne Betsey: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Christian Wilson: Animal Farm by George Orwell
Books and Other Media Mentioned During the Episode:
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
Cane River by Lalita Tademy
By Gaslight by Steven Price
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Darktown by Thomas Mullen
Douglass' Women by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
My Mother as I Recall Her by Rosetta Douglass Sprague
Native Son by Richard Wright
Passing by Nella Larsen
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
Quicksand by Nella Larsen
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Authors Mentioned During this Episode:
Other Items of Interest:
Lauren Martino: Welcome to Library Matters. I’m Lauren Martino and I’m here with my co-host, Julie Dina.
Julie Dina: Hello.
Lauren Martino: And today, we are here to talk about decluttering. Happy January, the holidays are over. Your house is probably packed with stuff. And it’s New Year, it’s a time for new beginnings and it’s a season to declutter. So with us today, we have two MCPL staff members, Fred Akuffo.
Fred Akuffo: Hello, everyone.
Lauren Martino: Who needs decluttering and has some very creative strategies he tells us to – that have worked for him that he’d like to share. I’m really curious to hear this, because I need this myself. And with us today as well is Angelica Rengifo.
Angelica Rengifo: Hello.
Lauren Martino: Who assures me she is on a minimalists journey. Angelica and Fred, can you define decluttering for us? What is it and why should we be thinking about it?
Angelica Rengifo: So, one of the first things that I will like to may clear is that decluttering is not organizing.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Angelica Rengifo: So, decluttering is to get rid of things.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Angelica Rengifo: Get rid of things you don’t use. Get rid of things you don’t want anymore. Get rid of things that are broken and you’re not thinking of fixing or getting fixed.
Julie Dina: Or you are thinking, but that’s all you’re doing.
Angelica Rengifo: Or you’re not going to get to it.
Julie Dina: Yeah
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah. So decluttering is making a space for things that matter in your life and taking away declutter that it doesn’t allow you to see and appreciate those things.
Fred Akuffo: For me, decluttering is placing things back in their proper place for better flow in your life. If you listen to a lot of TED talks as a TED talk about flow and how gaining and comprehension of how flow works makes your life better. So for me, I think decluttering is a practice that can assist with that.
Julie Dina: So every one is talking about decluttering. Now, let’s dive in and find out why is decluttering actually a thing now where people just neither 20 years ago, or was the concept simply calls something else back then. What do you guys think?
Angelica Rengifo: Did June Cleaver ever declutter? Does she ever need it? It’s what I want to know.
Julie Dina: That’s a research we need to.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I think with the shows like Horrors and things like that, I think it cost people to maybe pay attention to more of what they have gone on in their own homes. Now the Horrors are you know, people who are on the extreme. But I think when you watch a show like that and then you turn around and look at your own place, you see, you know, some efforts that you could probably participate in as a practice.
So I think, yeah, with some of the media that has come out now, addressing some different things that people struggle with, decluttering has become a bigger issue. Also, cluttering is not just physical, it’s –
Julie Dina: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: – sometimes I think you can have some mental cluttering going on and that can contribute to how it looks in your life.
Angelica Rengifo: Decluttering, again, going back to the question is a thing because we – maybe the gen – now people want to have experiences. They want to create memories instead of accumulating things and more things on top of things that we sometimes don’t even know that we have and then we end up buying the same thing twice or three times because we cannot find the original thing.
For example, right now you have TV show on Netflix based on the book of Marie Kondo, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” about how to tidy up. And we see the houses of these people filled with things that they don’t use, that don’t fit them, that were part of like a period of their lives that is long gone and we just accumulate things and that’s how I think generations have change.
We are not going to take all the stuff that we buy and we accumulate. We’re not going to take it with us once we are like sick in bed at the end of our lives. We are not going to say, “Oh, I remember that dress that I bought 15 years ago.” We’re going to remember all, “Oh, I remember the trip that I took with my kids for three days to the beach.”
Lauren Martino: All right. Have you read heard “The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up”?
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah, I have read a quite a few books about decluttering.
Lauren Martino: I just love the facts that there’s a life-changing Manga. So, Fred, what made you aware your need to declutter? What got you started thinking about this?
Fred Akuffo: Okay. This is an interesting one. I’ll say comments form the internal customer and what do I mean by that? I noticed one day, one point, that I had – one of the cleaners who is in-charge with cleaning up the library asked me, “So you would like me to clean your desk for you?” And, you know, I was like, “No, no, I got it.”
And then a second question came from the same person thirty seconds later, “Not really, I can do that for you if you like.” And I’m like “No, no, no. That’ll be fine. I got it. I got it.” And then not long after, maybe another day that following week I had a volunteer who work at the branch and same question came up. “Hey, you know, I can come an extra day if you like and help you out with your desk.” “No, I’m all right now. I’m good.”
Lauren Martino: Was there a spill?
Fred Akuffo: No, no, no. I let her know, “You know, I’m okay. I’m going to be getting to it in a minute.” And then the same second response from her came, “No, no, no, I’m serious. I can do that. I can come another day and we can work on your desk, you know what I mean?” And so at that point, I’m starting to become aware that –
Lauren Martino: The sign.
Fred Akuffo: – there is something wrong here and –
Lauren Martino: The world is letting you know.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah. So I took a quick glance maybe from a visitor guest point of view and just looked with some other eyes and noticed that I can’t see the color of my desk. It’s all white covered with papers, books, things like that. So, I made a mental note to myself, “Yeah, we might need to take care of that and do a little bit decluttering.” So I’m more of the folks that are need of the decluttering.
Lauren Martino: How about you, Angelica?
Angelica Rengifo: Three years ago, I could be found shopping at least once, twice a week, anything, food, clothes, shoes, accessories, decor, online, at the store. And then, I think I watched something on TV and I said to myself, “I want to travel. I want to see other things. I want to have memories. Other people are doing this, why can’t I do it?”
And I started analyzing my spending and realize that all of my money was going to shopping and things that I will wear once, maybe never. I have shoes – I had pair of shoes that I never wore. And – because they look cute on the store and they look cute on feet, but then I was not comfortable buying.
Lauren Martino: You can walk.
Angelica Rengifo: I mean, walking on them.
Julie Dina: Yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: And I decided that all my money was going to go traveling. And last year, I just went too odd that I started a no spending year. This is my third month.
Lauren Martino: No spending year.
Angelica Rengifo: It has been hard. It has not been perfect.
Lauren Martino: So what are the rules of these, like clearly you have to buy food.
Angelica Rengifo: A no cloth – yeah.
Lauren Martino: Okay, okay.
Angelica Rengifo: And so essentials I buy, food, of course, gas, doctors appointments, rent, of course, just the essentials and I give myself once a week to like go out to eat.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Angelica Rengifo: But I’m not allowed to buy shoes, clothes, decor. I’ve been looking at this blanket for like a month then I’m like I want it but I don’t need it. So it’s also changing the mentality of buying, of wanting and masking this want as need. So that’s what has changed my perspective on consuming goods besides food, which I need. But also, I was buying more food that I needed for a week.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: So, things were going bad and it was – as a result, I was wasting money that way too. So I – trying to do at least planning from Sunday two meals per week to declutter my fridge as well and my pantry.
Julie Dina: So decluttering could be seen as a way of saving money as well.
Angelica Rengifo: Oh, it is a big way of saving money towards maybe paying your debt, student loans, which is usually a big one for everybody, paying your mortgage, your credit card, making finally plans to take that vacation that you have always wanted. And so –
Lauren Martino: You’ve done any of these traveling yet that you want to do? Where it begun?
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, I have.
Lauren Martino: What this enabled you to do?
Angelica Rengifo: I’ve been to few a cities in Italy. I’ve been to London, Paris, Amsterdam, a few other ones. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Wow. Is it worth it?
Angelica Rengifo: Yes. It has been really worth it. I’ve been getting rid of clothes at the same time and I really don’t need anymore right now, so, yes.
Lauren Martino: Do either of you have any resources you’d like to share that have been particularly helpful in your decluttering journeys?
Fred Akuffo: For me, I had read a book a friend of mine has suggested. It wasn’t a decluttering book, but he talked about things in a decluttering method. And this is a “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. And he talked about not having things build up by not taking care of things.
So, if you have something that needs to be done, do it, get it off your checklist, so it’s not building a pile up in the back of your mind. And the back of the mind, when you have a pile up building up, you start to lose other things to deal with that. So it’s kind of like I express to people sometimes and I say, “Look, if you tell me to do more than three things at a time, I’m going to start forgetting things. I’m going to start dropping things,” you know, because, you know, for me that’s what I can handle. You know, sometimes I tell my wife, “You know, only three things to the grocery list. If you had five, I’m going to forget the milk, okay?” So – but that’s –
Lauren Martino: It’s a Pat Hutchins’ book.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
Lauren Martino: Don’t forget the butter.
Fred Akuffo: Right, right, right. So – but that’s what I’m talking about in terms of the nonphysical side of decluttering. Sometimes you got to declutter, you know, your thoughts, your mind, you know. And sometimes we don’t want to focus on meditations much because we got sits still.
And in today’s society, everybody is moving everywhere, you know, high rates speed and all that kind of thing. But sometimes it’s good to just take that time where there would be 15 minutes in two days. Just meditate on what you’re going to get – got going on and what you need to take care of. And then take care of those things and check them off so that your mind can be free and your flow can be better.
Lauren Martino: Angelica, what do you have to share with us?
Angelica Rengifo: Some of the people that I follow on YouTube are more towards minimalism, but they also give you an insight on things that you can’t use. You don’t have to follow every single thing, you don’t have to go to the extreme. But some of my favorite ones are “Pick Up Limes”. She has decluttered and she’s a minimalist not only in her lifestyle and her work, but also even her diet.
Julie Dina: How does that work?
Angelica Rengifo: She is all about plant-based diet and her meals are very simple, very repetitive in the sense that it’s not the same thing every day, but maybe every other week she repeats a series of meals. And by practicing what you are making, what you are cooking, it becomes easier.
Lauren Martino: You get better at them.
Angelica Rengifo: So it simplifies your life, what you’re buying at the store. You’re using it more. It doesn’t go bad and you know where to get it and at what prices you’re going or what places you’re going to get the best prices from. So I really like her.
Then Joshua Becker and, of course, “The Minimalist” are the two – or three in this, three guys that – or really the pioneers in the minimalist movement.” And they also have books. They have TED Talks. And they are really good at making you think a different way about things in your clutter, in your baggage. And what you have and what you don’t need in what to – or how to appreciate what you have that you’re not seeing.
Lauren Martino: Do have any particular titles by Joshua Becker you can recommend to us.
Angelica Rengifo: Well, I am reading – he has two books and I am reading right now “The Minimalist Home.” This is – Joshua Becker is a husband and he’s a father, and he started to declutter his home with his family. And he, again, is a pioneer in this movement and he gives you guidelines on how to simplify your home lifestyle and what issues contribute to home clutter. So this is a great book to maybe start with Joshua Becker in “The Minimalist Home.”
Lauren Martino: So do either of you have any tips for those of us who just doesn’t come naturally to?
Angelica Rengifo: We have to, one, to make a change, first of all, because we can’t read all we want and it sounds pretty and it looks pretty, and it’s the fad right now. But if we don’t really wanted, it’s not going to last and we will go back to our old ways. So, first of all, we have to want it.
And then I think it will be great to create a plan. Like, what do we want to get rid of? Why do we want to get rid of things? What are we going to do with the things after we peerage them from whatever they are?
Lauren Martino: That’s the challenge.
Angelica Rengifo: How are we going to get rid of them? And know yourself that you’re going to be able to follow through, that you’re going to do the things that you plan for. And that – and also realize that not every single method that you read or hear about is going to work for you. So, I do a little bit of everything I have read. I have read the book about “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson.
Lauren Martino: Which just sounds like a crazy well novel to me, right? This is – it sounds like fiction.
Angelica Rengifo: But it’s an easy read. It’s very short if you want to do it as an audio book. And she is an older person. She is a widow and she gave me this point of view of like, do I want my family to go through all my belongings when I’m dead? And of course the answer is no for 99.9 percent of us.
Julie Dina: Why should my descendant see that I bought this horrible blue dress in the ‘80s and –
Angelica Rengifo: Exactly. So that’s one thing that I have kept with me from her book. Then I have Marie Kondo in the does this make me happy? Does this make me want to go like, oh yes, I want it. I want to keep it. So, things say that not everything is going to work for you. So you have to know yourself to decide what is going to work and be willing to try what you think my worry can then decide what to keep.
Fred Akuffo: And in terms of knowing yourself, you know, sometimes I handle things from a lazy man’s point of view. So, if you’re – if you consider yourself more on the lazier side, one thing you can do is do they wanted a challenge? And that is any area that you want to take care of in terms of cluttering, get rid of your clutter. You can take one item out of that area each day and/or it could be one or two, you pick the number five.
But whatever number gets you to point where you’re tired to do it anymore, you pick that number once a day and then by the end of the week, you’ll have a noticeable change. And it will seem like you never did anything at all.
Julie Dina: And it’s like somebody has that. I think it’s Regina Leeds has that 8 Minute Organizer book that’s like, you know, just take eight minutes and do something today and –
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah, sort of along those lines. Yeah.
Julie Dina: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: So you didn’t have to, you know, take all the time out of your life but, you know, you’re making progress in little moments as well.
Angelica Rengifo: Eight minutes.
Lauren Martino: Eight minutes.
Angelica Rengifo: Now, have I done this? No. Partially because I started doing it and then my husband rested up. So the new plan is to let’s do it together, eight minutes together.
Lauren Martino: Together.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, so that we both see the fruits of our labor and can hopefully keep it that way.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. If you’re going to do it a little bit out of time, you can’t put anything on top of it after you’ve it.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, yes.
Fred Akuffo: So, you take those five pieces, make sure three pieces don’t get back on their.
Angelica Rengifo: And that’s the challenge, right?
Lauren Martino: Do either of you have any tips on decluttering sentimental items?
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
Angelica Rengifo: This is the worst.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. My tip would be, you know, sentiment is tough because sentiment means different things to different people. And they impact people in different ways in terms of gravity.
So one thing I suggest when dealing with sentimental items is – have you – when is the last time you visited the sentiment in your life? You know, you can ask yourself that question. You know, if it’s so important, when is the last time I actually dealt with this particular item in terms of how much I claim it means to me? If it was like five years ago when you last held this item in your hands, it’s probably not that much of a sentiment.
Angelica Rengifo: I think for sentimental items, again, they are really hard to get rid off. Like Fred was saying, is different. It’s a different item for everybody. It’s a different item size for every family member. But, why not make a part of the decor, get rid of all this other clutter around this item that doesn’t let you see what is sentiment – very sentimental to you or that you’re attached to it and show off this one that is more important than this other two or three.
So, sometimes you don’t have to get rid of sentimental items. You don’t have to feel guilty about keeping them. Show them off if they are that important to you. If it is a dress, like let’s say your kid’s baptism, why don’t you frame it and put pictures around it and something like that and keep it.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I like that. Make it part of the decor, yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: So, now we’ve succeeded in decluttering, we hope. Let’s imagine we’ve gotten there. We’ve done it. Things are decluttered. How do we keep it that way?
Angelica Rengifo: So I will say some ways to keep it that way is not bringing in anymore items that you do not need. Do not bring into your kitchen single used gadgets. You don’t need a cutter for apples, one for your mangoes, one for your avocadoes; there is a knife. A knife does the same job that all those three gadgets does one way.
Think about ways that something you already have can’t – what this thing you already have can do instead of buying one new thing for just one purpose. Also, another thing that we can do is make plans for every single dollar in your budget. The way it’s planned it is like a promise to yourself that this money is going to – we’re going on a movie on Sunday and pizza afterwards. Those are memories.
Yes, you’re spending money but those are memories that you’re creating with people that you care about. Instead of bringing things into your house that are not going to give you space to lay down in the couch or walk around the bed or put your car in your garage because our priorities are so twisted that we are keeping things in our garage while we have an investment that is $30,000, $40,000 outside under the snow, rain and sun all year around instead of putting it inside the house in protecting this car that is costing us a lot of money.
Lauren Martino: It’s a good point.
Fred Akuffo: It’s interesting she said that. I – not that I’m hearing this, I’m thinking one thing that will help us stay away from the ad seen on TV store.
Angelica Rengifo: Oh, yeah.
Fred Akuffo: I’m talking about specialty item.
Angelica Rengifo: Pro-tip
Fred Akuffo: There’s a lot of –
Lauren Martino: Like the mango cutter you talked to –
Angelica Rengifo: Like that mango cutter.
Fred Akuffo: The mango cutter.
Angelica Rengifo: I almost bought it.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, the microwave, egg boiler.
Angelica Rengifo: Yup
Fred Akuffo: You know, all those things.
Julie Dina: Well, now that we’re towards the end of our episode, this is traditional final question that we ask our guests. What are you currently reading? Fred, let’s start with you.
Fred Akuffo: “Federal Mafia” by Irwin Schiff. And it’s about taxes and the nation. And when you clutter people down with all the taxes and stuff, you can’t think freely about, you know, the ones you do need to pay or should be paying or should not be paying. So the power is that maybe benefiting from the lack of clarity of all those different tax logic, got to pay attention to. I haven’t read the book all the way yet so I’m still finding out, but that’s one.
And then another one is “Creature from Jekyll Island.” And that’s the interesting one because it talks about the Federal Reserve and how it is intentionally doing what exactly the people who created it meant for it to do, which doesn’t look like what we think it looks like.
And so that kind of relates to the cluttering too because, you know, sometimes when you are in the midst of clutter, you can’t see what things look like until somebody says to you, “Hey, I can clean that for you.” So, you know, a lot of people –
Angelica Rengifo: Like a full circle.
Fred Akuffo: A lot of people think that the Federal Reserve needs to be cleaned up and so, you know, maybe we got some decluttering to do in that space of finance for the country as well.
Angelica Rengifo: So, I am reading right now “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. I wasn’t originally – was not thinking about how it relates to declutter, but thinking about it that way, this is a period in time when France was occupied by Germany and how this dad and his daughter have to move to another town. And what will you take with you if you have to leave in a hurry at your house?
Lauren Martino: Oh, wow.
Angelica Rengifo: What is important to you?
Lauren Martino: What’s that important?
Angelica Rengifo: I asked myself that question a few weeks ago and I said, I will take my dog and my passport are I think what I will take with me. Everything else can be replaced.
Lauren Martino: I will like to thank both of you for coming to our program today. Let’s keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to podcast on the Apple podcast app, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on our Apple podcast; we’ll love to know what you think. Thank you once again for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Summary: Decluttering enthusiasts and MCPL staff members Fred Akuffo and Angelica Rengifo talk about the decluttering movement and how libraries can help declutter your life in the new year.
Recording Date: January 9, 2019
Fred Akuffo: Library Assistant Supervisor at Aspen Hill Library
Angelica Rengifo: Community Outreach Associate for MCPL
Hosts: Julie Dina and Lauren Martino
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Angelica Rengifo: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Books and Other Resources Mentioned During the Episode:
Don't Forget the Bacon by Pat Hutchins
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson
Getting Things Done by David Allen
The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker
The Minimalists: A website advocating simpler lifestyle with less stuff.
Pick Up Limes: A Youtube channel and website by a Canadian foodie advocating a simple life and a plant-based diet.