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Library Matters

Library Matters is a podcast by Montgomery County Public Libraries exploring the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.
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Library Matters is a podcast of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) in Montgomery County, MD. Each episode we explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. Library Matters is hosted by Julie Dina, Outreach Associate, Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian at our Silver Spring branch, and David Payne, Branch Manager of our Davis branch. 

Oct 25, 2017

Lauren Martino:  Welcome to Library Matters, I am your host Lauren Martino.

 

Julie Dina:  And I am Julie Dina.

 

Lauren Martino:  Turn on the lights, make sure your cell phone has reception, lock the door to the basement and whatever you do, don’t say, "I'll be right back". We have the librarians Heather Wright from Olney Library and Tom Palmer from Silver Spring Library with us today and we are about to explore the world of horror fiction and horror movies, what they are, what they do to us and why we keep coming back for more, Tom and Heather, welcome to the show.

 

Heather Wright:  Thank you.

 

Tom Palmer:  Thank you for having me.

 

Julie Dina:  So let's begin the show, with getting a clear understanding or the definition of a horror book or film.

 

Heather Wright:  It's literature that reminds us that the world is not safe and that we need to have a healthy caution at all times.

 

Tom Palmer:  I like that.

 

Heather Wright:  Such as now.

 

Lauren Martino:  It sounds like — yes, is that from Neil Gaiman?

 

Heather Wright:  Possibly.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yeah it sounds like something he'd say. So we called you in here today, I know Tom — I was sitting next to Tom on the desk and asked him if he would do this with us and he said yes, but said he was going through a horror kick recently and had also taken a class in horror fiction in college.

 

Heather Wright:  Cool.

 

Lauren Martino:  What draws you to — why now, what's fueling this horror kick of yours?

 

Tom Palmer:  So I recently started reading Stephen King and I am huge fantasy nerd and I read his dark tower series which is kind of like a mash up of horror and fantasy.

 

Lauren Martino:  Everything he does is a mash up or horror, like whatever else he is writing about, yes.

 

Tom Palmer:  I would say that is about right, and so then I went on, I am reading "It" right now by Stephen King, I have read the classics, Shelley and Dracula, but I think what I like about it is it explores themes that are sort of universal to people but are maybe taboo in other genres, whether it's something like revenge, repressed memories or just fear in general. It might be part of a book in another genre, but in horror it's really sort of the focus and you can sort of dig deep into those and sort of — it almost makes you feel introspective about things you don’t normally think about, who wants to think about when they are afraid? But it can be fun in the same way people like being scared in movies and what not.

 

Heather Wright:  I agree, I think one of the things I like the most about horror and I don’t read a lot of horror but —

 

Tom Palmer:  I don’t either.

 

Heather Wright:  But I started reading Stephen King when he first came out with Carrie and was hooked ever since but what I like about a good horror novel is not that it scares me, that sort of is the secondary thing but that if it makes me think and ponder about something, that is a little bit deeper, and they often do, like what is the meaning of life or what's out there, that could be out there that we don’t think about and is there something evil and inhuman in nature that sometimes comes out under certain circumstances, that's the kind of thing I like.

 

Lauren Martino:  Or even what is precious that we might be losing if an evil clown gets set loose on the world.

 

Julie Dina:  So with that being said, what would you then say makes a good horror story?

 

Heather Wright:  Well, a couple of things, first of all it needs to have that "What if?" And I will put that in quotation marks, "What if" scenario. What if an evil clown reached out of the sewer and grabbed children, what if a vampire came to your town, what if something that ordinarily wouldn’t happen combined with two other things. I think you need the feeling of suspense as you are reading it, what is going to happen next, it's got to be a real page turner and an element of surprise, there has to be something that makes you think, whoa that just happened, I didn't see that coming, those three things I believe are necessary.

 

Tom Palmer:  And I completely agree, the what if, the fear of the unknown is a huge aspect of horror movies and books but for me first and foremost any book has to be readable, it has to have a good flow, I have to sort of be drawn in and then I've read books before where the what if, the hook was interesting but I just sort of couldn’t get into the story and I think people like Stephen King do a good job of making it readable and sort of universal and relatable and then of course you’ve got to have a little bit of fear and that introspective feeling that you were talking about. But really it's the basic, is like any other genre, just a good book with horror elements added in I think.

 

Julie Dina:  I've always wondered why do people want to be scared though, why?

 

Heather Wright:  Well not everybody does want to be scared but there are interesting theories about those that do want to be scared, why they want to be scared and I will tell you what research says and then I will tell you my theory my — armchair psychologist theory — to see if Tom you agree with me.

 

Julie Dina:  Listen up.

 

Heather Wright:  Okay so way back in our ancestor days, the days of the cavemen they lived in constant fear that they were going to be eaten by a wild animal and so —

 

Lauren Martino:  A justifiable fear.

 

Heather Wright:  Yes. That was a justifiable fear and so ingrained in each human being was this fighter flight aspect of life, it was the surge of adrenaline that they immediately had to decide do I run away and escape this animal who is going to eat me or do I fight this animal and eat this animal? So that went on for a few millennia and then came civilization and things calmed down a little bit and there were fewer wild animals out there that were going to eat us but we still have that fight or flight instinct physically and we still need that rush of adrenaline. So at that point people started telling each other stories around a camp fire, stories with evil spirits that were going to take them off somewhere and that was sort of the beginning of the horror genre to sort of satisfy that the need for adrenaline, and now I am going to add my armchair psychologist aspect of it. In modern times, there is a ton of stuff out there that could scare the hell out of you that really is happening. We have weather phenomena, we have terrorist threats, we have crazy shooters if you start thinking about this you could really go crazy with fear. So we don’t want to think about this, so what our subconscious does is create fear out things that probably are not going to happen, things like clowns reaching up out of the sewer, things like vampires in our bedrooms and if we can be scared of that for a little while and see that we can vanquish that, then our need for adrenaline rushes is satisfied, I rest my case.

 

Tom Palmer:  Well way to leave nothing for me to say —

 

Heather Wright:  Oh I am sorry.

 

Tom Palmer:  But I completely agree with you, I think the sort of primal reason is people like that shock to the system endorphins feel good, not everyone likes that shock but it's that if you are going through life and things are dull, dreary, it can feel good to sort of be jolted and think and reexamine life. But I would agree it can help to sort of experience fear in a way that you know is probably not going to happen. For instance, like I don’t really like realistic horror, I am not a big fan of serial killer stuff because that happens and it's not something I want to think about but I think we are safe from demonic clowns so that is something I don’t mind reading about… hopefully.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yeah hopefully, what's that under the table?

 

Tom Palmer:  Right, but yeah basically I think it boils down to that fighter flight and that feeling alive I think.

 

Julie Dina:  So some would go bungee jumping and some would just go for a horror book.

 

Heather Wright:  Exactly.

 

Tom Palmer:  I think that is exactly right.

 

Lauren Martino:  Have either of you been unable to finish a book because it was too scary, too gruesome, too troubling?

 

Tom Palmer:  This actually happened to me for the first time recently.

 

Lauren Martino:  First time?

 

Tom Palmer:  If you would have asked me three months ago, I would have said no, I don’t know what that says about modern media and the way I grew up but I'm pretty desensitized to like, just to movies, video games, violence but I actually read American Psycho recently by Bret Easton Ellis and there was a part in the book involving a rat, if you have read it before you will know what I am talking about.

 

Heather Wright:  No.

 

Tom Palmer:  It is just awful and it was sort of — it seemed to me like violence for violence sake and I sort of felt like, why am I reading this, I know this isn’t fun and so I think that is the one and only time that a book has been a little too much for me, I never finished it.

 

Heather Wright:  I have one that I did finish but I kind of didn’t want and this was a recent Stephen King book called Revival, this came out a few years ago and it’s about a preacher who stops being a preacher because his family is killed in a horrible accident and he doesn’t believe in God anymore so he decides not to be a preacher but he develops this ability to cure people, did you read Revival?

 

Tom Palmer:  I haven’t, I've heard, but I have read about it though.

 

Heather Wright:  Okay and he uses a form of electricity, he calls it special electricity that somehow can cure people, but after they are cured, they have seizures where they see visions of a strange landscape that can't be explained. So to make a very long story short, he uses this electricity and hooks it up to someone who is dying, with the theory being that as they die, he can get a vision through this electricity of what they are seeing and what they are going through. So it happens and it's horrible and it's just horrible, it's the closest thing to hell that I can imagine, that immediately you are led away by huge monsters that look like ants and you are beaten and tortured for the rest of your existence and I kind of — I didn’t want to finish but I had to finish and I stayed away from Stephen King for a while after that.

 

Julie Dina:  Where would you say he gets his inspiration from?

 

Heather Wright:  Stephen King has said that he was inspired in his writing by a fellow named Richard Matheson who wrote one of the first zombie stories which is called "I Am Legend" which some of you may have heard of and some other modern horror writers have also said Peter Straub I believe and Dean Koontz have also been influenced by this guy who writes a lot of psychological suspense into his horror.

 

Lauren Martino:  What is the point of zombies if they are not suspenseful? Actually, I grew up in Peachtree City which is not far away from Senoia Georgia, which is where The Walking Dead is filmed now, so my whole town is pretty much like overrun with zombies and zombie actors and like it's kind of strange.

 

Heather Wright:  Yeah that would be a great vacation site, do they market that it's there?

 

Lauren Martino:  Oh they do, oh my goodness, like there is like a little downtown with the cute little shops that have zombie soap and zombie candles and I am not making this up.

 

Heather Wright:  Wow, it could have an amusement park, zombie rides.

 

Julie Dina:  That might be next.

 

Lauren Martino:  I am sure it's coming.

 

Heather Wright:  I'd like to go.

 

Lauren Martino:  It's like I never thought this would happen in my hometown. The book that I read that I could not finish — and I don’t know if this quite counts because it is a true story but there is a graphic novel called My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf.

 

Tom Palmer:  Okay that doesn’t sound good already.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yes, no it was written by a friend of Jeffery Dahmer's from high school and exploring like why — what may have gone wrong or you know what happened in high school that may have — and you know I was pregnant at the time so I was already queasy all the time and you know there is something about the drawing of it that it's just — the drawing just looks gross, even if it's not portraying anything gross like Ren and Stimpy or you know like —

 

Tom Palmer:  Oh boy.

 

Lauren Martino:  Or you know, Beavis and Butthead, there is something with —

 

Julie Dina:  Beavis and Butthead

 

Lauren Martino:  You know, you just look at the drawing and it just kind of grosses you out and the whole book is like that even when nothing gross is happening and of course gross stuff does happen, so yeah that — so yeah I just was like I am feeling too queasy, I can't do this.

 

Julie Dina: And now, a brief message about MCPL resources and services

 

Lisa Navidi: Are you afraid…afraid of running out of fascinating, gripping, thought provoking, books? Well MCPL has a solution for you. It’s called Librarian’s Choice! Real librarians write articles about the books they enjoy, just so they can share it with you! Want to find out more? Check out Librarian’s Choice from our homepage. Happy reading!

 

Julie Dina: Now back to our program.

 

Lauren Martino:  We talk about why people are into this, why some people just can't stop being scared and I've known kids that inexplicably like it was like all he wants to read is horror books, should I be giving them all these horror books? What do you think about that? I mean because really young kids sometimes, they've got this craving and how much —

 

Heather Wright:  Well I think if a kid has a craving for any kind of book, being a children's librarian, you give them that kind of book.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yes.

 

Heather Wright:  Yeah I mean with some exceptions probably but children have the same feelings that adults have about being afraid, even stronger, I think if a child faces something frightening in a book or a movie that has conquered them, you have to make sure that the good does conquer for children and it often does in a children's book then that makes the child feel a sense of power that good does conquer evil and that I think a child gets a feeling of self-confidence from this so I would not steer a child away if they are interested but I also wouldn’t force a child to read horror.

 

Lauren Martino:  Do you think it makes a difference if it's a movie or a book? Like would you feel the same way about exposing your child to a horror movie versus it in writing?

 

Tom Palmer:  I think a movie is another level these days, some of the horror movies that are made, I mean, now but going back to the 70s are just — no I would not like my child seeing that. I think a book, there is a little more leeway but I tend to — other genres I might let them read a bit of an older book like a science fiction something, drama but horror can have some really disturbing aspects to it and I think it's very much an adult thing. I mean there can be their Coraline horror-ish fiction and —

 

Lauren Martino:  And that is scary enough.

 

Tom Palmer:  And it is scary.

 

Lauren Martino:  Oh my gosh, the audio book, the singing rats, well about the bones —

 

Tom Palmer:  So I think children are interested because anytime you say don’t read this and don’t look at this, of course they are going to say why I want to look at that? But I have vivid memories of seeing movies as a child and thinking I shouldn’t be watching this, I'm going to get scared but you can't help it and you want to see what the big deal is and of course I was frightened later and so maybe I would try to avoid that with my own child, I am sure he will see it, you know but.

 

Heather Wright:  Well part of the problem is that movies don’t necessarily end happy.

 

Tom Palmer:  Oh no, very rarely.

 

Heather Wright:  Definitely not, I will tell you about a movie that my parents took me to, this may have been the first movie that I ever saw in a movie theater, I was five years old and they couldn’t get a babysitter so the first movie I ever saw was, Psycho.

 

Lauren Martino:  Oh my goodness.

 

Heather Wright:  Oh my goodness is right, so I still — I remember this day, I don’t remember much from when I was five but I remember turning around and crying and not facing the screen at the end, not the shower scene, I didn’t care what was going on and a five year old wouldn’t care about that but at the very end when the rocking chair turns around and you see sitting in this rocking chair, this rotting corpse of an old woman, still years afterwards, every window, I would see this face in the window, it was really hard for me to get to sleep and I can still picture it vividly so my parents were good parents except for that day.

 

Julie Dina:  So have you stayed away from windows now?

 

Heather Wright:  That’s hard if you are actually. And plus I have seen Psycho a few more times.

 

Julie Dina:  Oh okay, you’ve conquered.

 

Heather Wright:  I have toughened up.

 

Julie Dina:  Yes, you've conquered your fear.

 

Lauren Martino:  But that didn’t keep you away from showers though I think that would have really taught your parents a lesson.

 

Heather Wright:  That is true, “Well honey Heather is really smelling bad today, it's your fault.”

 

Julie Dina:  It’s funny you brought that up because I was going to ask you, what would you consider the scariest movie, book or film that you have ever seen or story?

 

Heather Wright:  Well I gave this one some thought and I am not going to say Psycho, because — I am going to say it's the book and the movie, both scared me, see if you agree with me, The Exorcist.

 

Julie Dina:  Oh yeah I will never forget that one.

 

Heather Wright:  Wow, well in the movie, the imagery I thought was so realistic at the time, probably now, people would laugh at that but what really scared me about The Exorcist, was then later I did some research being a librarian you know, a future librarian at the time and this kind of thing really happens. The Exorcist was based on a true story in Prince George's County.

 

Tom Palmer:  Yeah absolutely.

 

Lauren Martino:  Where in Prince George's County?

 

Julie Dina:  What?

 

Heather Wright:  I forget but you can look it up and I mean that’s just one example, these things happen all the time, so that is what scares me when I think whoa, this could happen to me anytime, but it hasn’t. How about you Tom?

 

Tom Palmer:  Well I will state up front that I'm a pretty big wimp when it comes to movies, I actually don’t love horror movies and my wife is even a bigger wimp so we are not a big horror movie family. I actually think one of the scariest books I have read is Frankenstein and it's just so different from the movie — the book. So you sort of have in the movie this big stupid monster and then in the book, he is very much intelligent and has emotions and struggles with those and I don’t know if it scared me but I remember feeling sort of, my God I can't imagine knowing who created you and then immediately they say you are disgusting and I hate you and go away and then he grapples with those feelings and it's actually a very heartbreaking book but I was amazed at how scary it was for a book that was written a long time ago and the fact that Mary Shelley was 19 years old or something when she wrote that, it's just unbelievable to me.

 

Lauren Martino:  I bet there's 19 year olds out there that —

 

Tom Palmer:  Yeah but I —

 

Lauren Martino:  Given the right training, yes.

 

Tom Palmer:  Yeah so that’s true.

 

Julie Dina:  So would you then say that the horror genre has developed or changed over time?

 

Heather Wright:  Yeah. Well like I think I said before, horror stems back to when people started telling each other stories around camp fires, there has always been an element of horror. I think horror fiction as we know it now probably started to develop during — when Shelley wrote Frankenstein and this was the 19th century and a lot of classic horror books came out then, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and this used to scare people which is interesting because things were written very differently then, there weren’t things where people jump out behind things and scare people, it was much more atmospheric and using your imagination. A lot wordier as time has gone on, things have changed I think, modern horror. People say really Stephen King was one of the first who created the kind of horror fiction that we have now where besides just supernatural things, he uses things that scare us in modern society, things like call phones that can — it can cause a plague if anyone has read Cell.

 

Tom Palmer:  Viruses yeah.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yes.

 

Heather Wright:  Okay or just evil lurking in the most unlikely places and now actually in modern horror things have changed even more, just in the last couple of year I think there's — since the teen series Twilight by Stephenie Meyer that came out, it was kind of the only thing like it at the time but there's just been a glut of things for teens and then spreading down to children and for adults on vampires and werewolves and zombies and it's just kind of everywhere you look now.

 

Tom Palmer:  Yeah I would agree with everything you are saying, I think horror film has sort of — I think there's still good horror films but a lot of it is, in my opinion just sort of upping the antique with the violence and with the —

 

Lauren Martino:  You have to have somewhere to go.

 

Tom Palmer:  Yes and just sort of I would say shock tactics and that is one of the reasons I am not a huge fan, there is not a lot of subtlety these days but fiction, Heather said it pretty well, it's just sort of tamed by today's standards but I think authors can be more creative now with what they write. I think back then it was maybe ghosts or someone, a killer or something and now it can be anything, Stephen King uses what he calls the Macro verse, that’s creatures from other universes and I think that would have been maybe unpublishable back in the 20s or something like that. So I think —

 

Lauren Martino:  Those imaginations hadn’t quite stretched that far.

 

Tom Palmer:  Exactly but —

 

Heather Wright:  Isn't the clown from It from that universe?

 

Tom Palmer:  He is; he is not from our universe right.

 

Heather Wright:  Well thank goodness for that.

 

Tom Palmer:  Yeah.

 

Julie Dina:  Do you think some of this is expanding into TV shows too these days?

 

Lauren Martino:  You know I have seen more and more of — you know I sat through Stranger Things and it was —

 

Heather Wright:  Loved it.

 

Lauren Martino:  It was hard, oh my gosh but I couldn’t stop, like I just couldn’t stop and I feel like we are seeing more and more of that too where you get the chance to really develop.

 

Heather Wright:  Yeah I've been trying, I love horror TV, I grew up with The Twilight Zone and absolutely loved it and I have been trying to find something that rivets me the way that — I tried stranger things absolutely, I am a fan of that "Bates Motel", see that is a Psycho thing. The Bates Motel series which is the origins or Norman Bates and how he got be the way he is and his relationship with his mother, it's all very creepy. I've been trying to watch American Horror Story, I don’t know if anyone has watched that, the first two seasons were fantastic, it's gotten very strange with the addition of Lady Gaga which is in itself somewhat horrific.

 

Lauren Martino:  That is strange yeah.

 

Heather Wright:  I know but I keep trying and then I used to watch The X-Files and there's so much of it out there now, I think it goes along with the literature, there is just — there seems to be a glut of it now.

 

Tom Palmer:  Have you tried Penny Dreadful?

 

Heather Wright:  No but I have heard about it, is that good?

 

Tom Palmer:  I can't recommend it enough, it's got sort of a lot of the classic characters from horror, it's got Victor Frankenstein, Dracula but sort of a different take on — it's only three seasons but so good, you should definitely try it.

 

Heather Wright:  Oh I will, I will tonight, how about Black Mirror, it's on Netflix, it's sort of… it's horror from a very modern perspective taking into account the way technology is going and then they take the "What if technology turns in this direction, kind of in a twisted way" how would that affect what our lives are like? It's fantastic.

 

Julie Dina:  Since a lot of these scary movies or books or stories have tricks in them — would you say or could you tell us of a book that you know is actually very scary but isn’t marketed as a horror book?

 

Tom Palmer:  It's hard because the book I have in mind, it's not that of a stretch but it's The Road by Cormac McCarthy and it's sort of in a post apocalyptic book so it's not a huge stretch but it's not marketed necessarily as a horror book but it's very intense in the sense of, should some sort of environmental disaster happen and society broke down, you know some of the things that is in the book, you can see humans doing and it's very disturbing, because it's again that idea of this could happen, humans can behave this way and it's very scary so that would be mine.

 

Heather Wright:  And I am going to say a book called Geek Love, G-E-E-K.

 

Julie Dina:  I've seen that book.

 

Heather Wright:  By Katherine Dunn.

 

Lauren Martino:  Is it — please tell me more, why is this a scary book?

 

Heather Wright:  Okay it's not marketed as horror but it's so horrible, oh my God, it's about a couple who run a carnival and they want their carnival to be more popular, so you are not going to believe — so what they do is the woman takes drugs and chemicals into her system in order when she is pregnant to create fetuses that have abnormalities on purpose so that these will be oddities in their carnival and so they've got Siamese twins, they've got a son who has no arms and legs and he's got flippers instead and their whole family is made up of — well I don’t want to say the word but the book says of geeks. So it is about this carnival that they have and the son who doesn’t have arms or legs and has flippers is also very handsome and women fall in love with him when they see him floating around in his tank and so he starts a cult and in order to be a part of the cult and come to the meetings and get to hang out with him you have to cut off a body part so that you are like him and the more body parts that you cut off, the higher in this cult you get to rise. Now we were down to hardly any copies in the Montgomery County library system, maybe this is a good thing, but I just read an email about new books that they are buying and that is one of them.

 

Tom Palmer:  Oh my.

 

Lauren Martino:  Oh Gosh.

 

Heather Wright:  So other people must like this book, well not like — it isn’t the word, but must read this book other than myself.

 

Lauren Martino:  I can't let go of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, like I am totally slaughtering his name. He just won the Nobel Prize right, Kazuo Ishiguro which is basically — and spoiler alert, here is your chance to stuff up your ears because as you go further in the book, like they never say it outright but you keep being like oh my gosh, that's what this book is about but they just keep hinting at it until the very end. But yeah we are living in this world where people are cloned pretty much for the purpose of donating their organs and like right around maybe 30 or so, they complete or something to that effect where it's like you know, congratulations, you are done, and they take everything and that is the end of you and it's just — it's the most horrific thing and I mean the whole book is about trying to find humanity and meaning, leaving like this. So I mean it's much more than just the disturbing part of it but it's just like I'm still to this day haunted by some of the images and what happens in this book, I just can't let it go.

 

Julie Dina:  So there you are at the Information Desk and someone approaches and your heart starts racing and your palms grow sweaty because it is somebody from a book or movie you've read recently, it's the last person you wanted to see, who is it and what do they ask for?

 

Tom Palmer:  That's a tough one; I'll give it some thought, possibly Hannibal Lecter asking for a copy of how to cook everything, maybe a wine guide.

 

Lauren Martino:  A wine guide.

 

Tom Palmer:  That is what I came up with.

 

Heather Wright:  Pennywise the Clown from It he is a really very gross clown who kills little children and the more frightened they are the better they taste and he would come up to the service desk and he would say to me where is the children's room? I don’t know, we don’t have one.

 

Lauren Martino:  So do you have anything you'd recommend for somebody looking for some of these items and interested in learning more, where should they go on our website or among our resources to find out more?

 

Tom Palmer:  In terms of resources we always have the Reader's Café online and What Do I Check Out Next which is a great function on our main webpage so that has plenty of good recommendations for horror books.

 

Lauren Martino:  And you are one of the recommenders for that aren’t you Heather?

 

Heather Wright:  Yeah, yes and I have recommended horror books to people, not a lot.

 

Julie Dina:  But some.

 

Heather Wright:  But some, yes. What Do I Check Out Next is a service provided by Montgomery County librarians where you email in a question, what type of books you are interested in and within three to five days, one of our librarians who do this will email you back with a list of three to five books and a little description of each and why we think that book would be interesting to you.

 

Julie Dina:  And finally it's our tradition here on Library Matters to ask our guests, to see what they have enjoyed reading recently would you guys share with us what books you have actually enjoyed reading recently?

 

Heather Wright:  Well the book I am reading now and almost done, I am going to finish it tonight, is called The Motion of Puppets and this is kind of horror, it's by Keith Donohue, who is actually a local writer, I think he lives in Bethesda. This is about a couple who are recently married and she works for a circus and one day on her way home from the circus to her apartment she goes into a toy store, that she has always admired the toys in the toy store especially the puppets in the window. Let's see where this is going and she goes in at night after hours and for some reason the door is open and the proprietor of the toy shop assaults her and turns her into a puppet. Takes out her organs, stuffs her with stuffing and she becomes one of the puppets that live in the toy store. Now for some reason the puppets in the toy store are also alive, they can come alive at night and talk to each other. So the story then alternates between her life as a puppet and her husband who doesn’t know what happened to her and he is trying to find her and one day he sees on TV a parade of puppets that this toy store has done and he sees a puppet that looks just like his wife. So he's got a clue now how to find her and where I am now is he's just found the shop where she is but he hasn’t found her yet so we'll found out what happens when I get home tonight.

 

Lauren Martino:  That sounds a lot like —

 

Tom Palmer:  That sounds very exciting.

 

Lauren Martino:  It sounds like Splendors and Glooms by —

 

Heather Wright:  Yes which I have also read, yes.

 

Lauren Martino:  I love that park, that’s the —

 

Heather Wright:  Yes that's the same theme but with a child — a little girl turned into a puppet yeah which is a very spooky creepy thing really when you think about it.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.

 

Heather Wright:  So don’t think about it.

 

Julie Dina:  Tom?

 

Tom Palmer:  Well my recommendation and the book I just finished was It for the reasons I said before. Before that I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, not really horror-ish but fantasy. It is about — the concept is the old gods that were worshiped in ancient times Thor and all these different ones trying to stay relevant in today's world where people either don’t believe in God or tend to believe in a God and this is the whole pantheon of old gods trying to find followers because that's where their powers comes from basically. So it is very interesting and it is also a TV show now which is good.

 

Heather Wright:  Everything is turning into a TV show.

 

Julie Dina:  Yes.

 

Lauren Martino:  They've got to come up with their ideas somehow.

 

Julie Dina:  Well thanks Heather and Tom for joining us on this episode of library matters, we appreciate all the wonderful scary information you’ve given us, don’t turn off the light. Let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on new 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 for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.

Oct 10, 2017

Listen to the audio.

Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer):  Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.

 

Julie Dina:  Welcome to Montgomery County Public Libraries’ Library Matters podcast. I’m Julie Dina, one of the new hosts along with Lauren Martino and David Payne. In this episode, Lauren and David enjoy a lively discussion about Game of Thrones with two staff members who are fans of the books and show. We have a bonus feature at the end. A brief talk with Acting Director, Anita Vassallo, another Game of Thrones fan who couldn't make the main recording, but didn't want to be left out of the fun.

 

David Payne:  Welcome to Library Matters with your host Lauren Martino.

 

Lauren Martino:  Hello.

 

David Payne:  And myself David Payne. Today we’ll be talking about a fantasy epic that has become a cultural phenomenon since it first appeared in print over two decades ago taking place in settings where magic joints and dragons exist. You may be forgiven for thinking we are referring to Harry Potter. It is in fact Game of Thrones that we will be discussing a world that began with the publication of George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series in the mid 1990s and has continued with his subsequent adaptation into a fantasy drama series on television, which has attracted record viewing figures all over the world.

 

Here to tell us all about the intriguing world of Game of Thrones, I'm very pleased to welcome two MCPL staff members who come to claused as Game of Thrones devotees Susan Moritz and Angelica Rengifo. Before we go any further however, as we delve deeply into the Game of Thrones world, please note there will be spoilers in this conversation. If you're not up-to-date on Game of Thrones and wish to avoid spoilers, do come back to us after you’ve caught up to the most recent Game of Thrones episodes. So welcome Susan and Angelica.

 

Susan Moritz:  Hello.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Hello, thank you.

 

Lauren Martino:  So David and I have never seen any Game of Thrones shows or read any of the books. So how would you describe this world and why should we be interested?

 

Susan Moritz: Well, it’s sort of hard to – it’s so such a vast and exciting world that’s hard to break it down into one little – [Multiple Speakers].

 

Lauren Martino:  Come on in 30 seconds.

 

Susan Moritz:  In 30 seconds what can I say? So I guess I want to say that it was that it’s like a medieval fantasy and its set in the fictional land of Westeros and there are seven kingdoms that are ruled by one king, exactly.

 

Lauren Martino:  One king to rule them all.

 

Susan Moritz:  One king to rule them all, exactly, exactly very much like Lord of the Rings-esc. And it’s sort of what happens when the king is accidently killed during a boar hunting accident, but he is really murdered of course.

 

Lauren Martino:  Freak boar hunting accident.

 

Susan Moritz:  Freak boar hunting accident, exactly, exactly. How would that have ever happened? You know, so of course, it sends this fragile piece that sort of kept these seven sort of separate kingdoms together basically falls apart. And vast chaos and everyone decides that they want to be king and who wants to sit in the iron throne, do you think that’s right Angelica, are there other things that I missed?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  I’ll say that definitely it looks very medieval.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  It’s fantasy. We have dragons, we have magic, we have dead people that come back to life.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes, White Walkers exactly.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  No, and also like for example the Dondarrion that is brought back to life by Thoros of Myr. We also have a lot of sex, a lot of backstabbing, we had a politics and a lot of complicatid family ties.

 

David Payne:  Sounds like you’re ever things is there.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes.

 

Lauren Martino: Downton Abbey?

 

Susan Moritz:  Well, I think it was funny like I watching the show until like the very last I think it was the very last episode or the second to last episode of the season I sort of didn't realize it had this sort of fantasy element to it. And it just sort of looked I mean, even though it was set in a fictional fantasy world it sort of just looked very medieval, very King Arthur-esc kind of time period.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  And the big bull have happened.

 

Susan Moritz:  But then these dragons get hatched.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes,

 

Susan Moritz: And there was like wait, there is dragons here. So then I was like, wait, I think this is a little bit more even more fantasy, magic kind of stuff that I was thinking it would be as.

 

David Payne:  So do you think one has to have a sense of or appreciation of history to enjoy the series or does it not matter?

 

Susan Moritz:  I don’t think it matters, I mean, I –.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  No, we can say – I can say from personal experience I have never been into fantasy. I have never been into Harry Potter or anything like that until I started watching and reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

 

Susan Moritz:  Well, this is perfect because I have been a fan of you know historically fiction and history and fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. So I think this is great. It shows that you can like and no matter you feel like this if your thing or not.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  I’m definitely into history and I love my favorite movies have like Trilogy have been the Lord of the Rings, but I’d never like Harry Potter. And this show, even the TV show, it's really great and the production is so great.

 

Lauren Martino:  Why do you think it has attracted such a wide fan base? What makes it appealing to fans of so many different completely different people that all like the same thing?

 

Susan Moritz:  I would say that sort of my two criteria for any like great TV show or movie or books is it’s got to have a good plot and it has a great plot. It has these twists and these turns and I remember even after that I was hooked by the very first episode, some marginal TV show that takes you while to get into, but I was like this whole like plot twist at the end where you find out that the Queen is sleeping with her twin brother.

 

Lauren Martino:  What?

 

Susan Moritz:  And yes, exactly, exactly. And where the beloved Starks because I love the Stark family, you know, accidently one of the kids sees them and it’s like and her brothers like “the things I do for love” and pushes him out of the tower you think to his death. He winds up surviving, but you’re like, but it ends with him like falling out of the tower and you’re like, oh, my god, what’s going to happen next. So I think it’s got a great plot with these surprising twists and it just has great characters like you really like with the Starks you really love them.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes.

 

Susan Moritz:  You’re just so invested what is going to happen and what’s going to happen next. Are they going to get justice? Are they going to get back together, they’re going as a unit as a family unit. And the other thing is there is characters that you hate so badly that you hope that something horrible, horrible, horrible happens to them.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes, you hope that something horrible happen to them. And the one of the thing that I have to say about the characters too is just because you sometimes think you know them like there is definitely characters I love and characters I hate. But there is ones that you feel like that change like Jamie Lannister, I think we had talked about that about how starts off he is the one the brother of the Queen who pushes his kid. You think this is the most horrible guy ever. He is sleeping with his twin sister. He has pushed this little boy.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  And he is full of himself. He is – he thinks he is entitled to everything, and he doesn’t care. He has no care for anybody besides his sister not even his father I mean, he is afraid of his father in some way or another. But I want to bring up the point that you said that you got hooked on the first episode of the show. I didn't.

 

Susan Moritz:  Oh, you didn’t?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  No.

 

Susan Moritz:  Oh, how funny. How funny. I was totally hooked of that first episode.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  No, it took me a while. I tried to watch the first episode three times and I couldn't get pass I don’t know it was too much.

 

David Payne:  So what make you go back?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Just the fact that it was history and everybody was talking about it. And like yeah, it has a history and then I got into the books and also I didn’t know it like it was always present in my mind that I have to watch this, I have to watch this. And that’s what I tell everybody because that's what I experience when I get friends to like try to watch it I tell them, don't give up on the first and second episodes.

 

Lauren Martino:  And that’s hard you have to stick with it.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes, push through because like that’s what happened to me. I had to push through and like actually sit down and say, I'm going to finish this first episode. I’m going to finish this second episode.

 

Susan Moritz:  Well, there is definitely payoffs. There is definitely payoffs for sticking with the series like, these are like the characters like change like with Jamie like you hate him in the very beginning. The Queen’s brother like he is this horrible guy. And then he like he himself suffers a tragedy he is like in order to help out Brienne I mean his swordhand gets cut off. And he basically has to relearn how to like so of course this is very important, but you know, he totally got to be good and he has got these good qualities. And you've just totally in the first episode of written him off as this horrible murderer, that’s a horrible guy.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Because he has to learn to be him without being a fighter. That was his personality and his worth was that he was able – he was the best sword man in the kingdom. And when that his hand gets cut off he cannot put value on himself and does what he like almost dies when he was being brought to the, what was it?, back to south, yeah.

 

David Payne:  So, you talked about the TV series. How would you compare it to the books I mean, having read the books and seen the show, which one do you, do you both prefer?

 

Susan Moritz:  I like both, would you say that you like both too?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  I like both because I like the books because he goes, George R. R. Martin, goes into so much detail describing the landscape, describing people, describing the thoughts of the characters. And also I like the show because you can put a face to the characters that you have been reading about. And the other thing is that like after season five they go on a different like a different direction than the books do.

 

Lauren Martino:  Really so they diverge.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes. And there are a lot of plots like side plots that do not get the attention or not even mention on the TV show that you find on the books. Like for example, the Dorn plot with the sand, snakes, and the daughter of the King of Dorn it's a really great plot in the books. And on the TV show it’s a side plot is a – we are losing time watching this because it doesn't go anywhere.

 

Susan Moritz:  I would totally agree with that and that’s exact same thing I was thinking about like there is this Kingdom of Dorn, one of the kingdoms. And then in the TV show it was like, oh, we’re going to include it and then it was like oh, no, wait, we've got so much, so much we got to go.

 

Lauren Martino:  Back up.

 

Susan Moritz:  We’ve got a range that. And exactly pack up exactly, exactly. And I like the way that I started with it too like I watched the first season. So they’re having – and then I read the books and I read all the way through. And so I was thinking that you know, it's like I already have these images in my head, this is this character, this is this. And you already had that sort of intro to it so you’re not like overwhelmed by detail or stuff with the books like who is this and what’s this again and you’re already sort of ready to jump on. But now since George R. R. Martin is not writing fast enough the show has gone past the books. So basically the show is now all we have now that you’re going to write all the books like that’s – that’s all you got left now.

 

David Payne:  Has it become too complicated?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  No, I like it. So like even the reading and the books are great, yeah.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yeah, I don’t think it’s become too complicated, but I think it’s probably become too complicated for George R. R. Martin to write.

 

Lauren Martino: And one person is not enough anymore

 

Susan Moritz: Definitely, and it was like with his thing apparently he doesn’t, unlike I think JK Rowling, does not outline anything. So he just like, so his got it like 1000 page books. And so he just sort of like has this huge world with all these characters and it’s like then he used to write, write, write.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  And he writes chapters. So each chapter is a character and it’s the point of view of the character. But I’ve heard I don't know if it's true that he has hired someone to get whatever he see his mind in draft.

 

Susan Moritz:  Oh, my goodness. I love that.

 

David Payne:  Well, I have to ask Game of Thrones was described to me as "Shakespeare's history plays with dragons”. Now I don’t know how familiar you are with Shakespeare’s history plays, but any thoughts on the comparison?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  I do not agree with that.

 

Susan Moritz:  You don’t.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  I don’t.

 

Susan Moritz:  I would totally say that I would agree. Yeah, do you want to do the con and then I’ll do the pro.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  So I don't agree with that even though Shakespeare has written about Richard III and The Wars of the Roses it's still a play. He doesn't develop something new. He doesn't develop the characters. We don't know the depth of the characters. So I feel like he is about comparison and he is not fair to George R. R. Martin, because again we can go back to the fact that two of the plays by Shakespeare are based on kings that went through or where became kings after The Wars of the Roses. And A Song of Ice and Fire is based on The Wars of the Roses. And so, but it has more depth. You can definitely take sides.

 

Susan Moritz:  Oh, definitely.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  You cannot do that on a play. So I feel like no, I do not agree with that. I think that’s great.

 

Susan Moritz:  Well, I didn't realize about The Wars of the Roses that does bring an interesting element into it. And I guess what I thinking of that Shakespeare like history of plays I was thinking of sort of the characters and sort of like sort of similarities kind of thing. And I was thinking in Henry V like one of my – one of the great lines as I and I’m pretty sure hope everything and hope I’ve got all my Shakespeare all coordinated my brain. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. And I feel about –.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  You think.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes, yes and then in this show it has been uneasy for every single person even the king who was the King Robert Baratheon you know when the show starts the kings before them that his king –.

 

Lauren Martino:  Before the freak boar hunting accident.

 

Susan Moritz:  Before yeah, yeah, when there was the mad king before him that was burning people a lot. No, I mean, it’s been since then and anybody else who has come in it’s been very uneasy.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Very dead.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes and so I see, yes. So I see that I definitely see that. I also see with sort of Henry V that sort of like band of brothers, everybody together, I sort of see that and sort of in Jon Snow and Dany sort of the inspiration the people who follow them they're just so inspired by them and they’re really dedicated to sort of how Henry V was with that. I just see different things with different ones. On Henry IV, you know, overtook the throne from I think it was Richard II and about how like, it was the whole like divine right of kings, and this is this and even in this.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  But in plays that you don’t get developed.

 

Susan Moritz:  Well, that’s true.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  That’s what I feel, but it’s not similar. They’re not similar because the characters do not get developed. You don't feel like they have personality. Everything that we know about the characters in Shakespeare plays is what we know from history. What we have read in other things, not from Shakespeare himself.

 

Susan Moritz:   There is only so much room to expand to change what’s there.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yeah.

 

Susan Moritz:  Whereas George R. R. Martin has been whatever he wants to do.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.

 

Susan Moritz:  Right, yeah they definitely doesn’t have the depth I would say you’re writing the characters and then with Shakespeare he was probably writing for Queen Elizabeth II. I want to make sure that everybody sort of hey, that’s her that came out looking pretty good and Richard III of course was not going to look good at all. Although, I hear conflicting reports about that how he was in the real life there so.

 

David Payne:  It sounds like you both know your Shakespeare.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yeah, well that’s good, yes.

 

David Payne:  So a quick aside for initiated like Lauren and myself. What is the thought of Game of Thrones, what does that allude to?

 

Susan Moritz:  I think it’s the Game of Thrones. I just think of the line that Cersei Lannister whose the Queen says to Ned Stark it’s like “when you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.” So basically when you're trying to gain the throne you either going to win and you’re going to get on that, you’re going to get to on the iron throne. They got this iron throne with that’s basically melted of swords right from I think the people who they call bend the knee, you’re pledging your oath to you know your allegiance to this person. So they’ve got this like iron throne that you sit on which obviously looks very uncomfortable.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  It was on parks and rec.

 

Susan Moritz:  Oh, well, why is this, that’s right, that’s right.

 

Lauren Martino:  She gave Ben his own Iron Throne. It was this big, that was the best present he ever got in the whole world that is also I’ve tried.

 

Susan Moritz:  No, no, no and that’s I totally forgot about that and you totally reminded me of about I think I heard that the Queen, the current Queen actually got to visit the set and of course they were like oh, do you want to go sit on. And she is like oh, no, no. And I was like smart lady, I can do imagine –.

 

Lauren Martino:  Don’t allow yourself with that.

 

Susan Moritz:  Exactly, exactly.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  And also now that you bring up the throne prequels books that came before song of Ice and Fire there is a King, a Targaryen, that used to sit on the throne and he will get cut because again it’s made of real swords. It’s not just like not swords that are not going to cut your or whatever.

 

Susan Moritz:  So it’s uneasy the bum that sits on the iron throne, not just head with the crown there so.

 

Lauren Martino:  Exactly. So now, you’ve peaked my interest MCPL has all of these items I can go back to my branch and I can either order the season one or I can order the audio book or I can order the print book

 

Angelica Rengifo: or download the audiobook.

 

Lauren Martino:  Or download the electronic audiobook. So which would you recommend, what should I go do?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Oh, I prefer you to read.

 

Lauren Martino:  To read the actual book.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes.

 

Lauren Martino:  Do the book and not the TV show and not the audio book.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yeah, I’ll prefer the story maybe for someone who does not have an idea of it like Susan said, watch the show so you know who are the characters and you have an idea of who is who and where they are and where they come from and you can put a face when you.

 

Lauren Martino:  Quick introduction.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yeah.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yeah, and I think it’s great too if you’re not too much into like the sex and the violence and stuff. Having watched the first season and then read through all the books I was prepared for like seasons two through I guess five about anything bad that was coming up. So I sort of knew I was like okay, I’m going to go this scene is coming up in the show. I’m going to go to the kitchen. I’m going back and I’ll be little back right here. So that to me was very helpful knowing it was coming down the pike there. One of the funniest things I think about it is like there is a huge character death. I mean, when you first see it, you’re just like oh, Ned Stark. He is this Sean Bean because I love Lord of the Rings and Sean Bean was in there.

 

Lauren Martino:  Oh Sean Bean.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes.

 

Lauren Martino:  Sean Bean dies?

 

Angelica Regifo:  Yes and like in every movie.

 

Lauren Martino:  Yes, I know, I know.

 

Susan Moritz:  Because it was like the second to last episodes of season one. And I was like oh, no, at the last minute no, no, no.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  So and then this is the third season, second season when Catelyn Stark dies and Robb Stark and you’re like.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yeah, The Big Red Wedding. And what I loved about that was like so I knew it was coming.

 

Lauren Martino:  The Big Red Wedding.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  No, it’s The Red Wedding.

 

Lauren Martino:  Because everyone dies?

 

Susan Martino: Two of the main characters you love die. And you think they're all okay, because there is just the guest rights. You come in. You’ve eaten from, if I’ve come to your home and you fed me some food that I'm okay, but it didn't and they turned on them and went up killing them. And if you need a laugh they have YouTube videos of people who knew what was coming and videotape the people around them who are watching.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes, I’ve watched those on YouTube. It’s really how people like cry.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yeah, and it was one of those things like especially starting with Ned Stark’s death like you had said like you brought these books so long ago. Not long ago 90s wasn’t that long ago right, but because he wrote them so long ago that now that people had been getting into it through the series. They’ve been watching like what, you’ve killed off this character. And so you know he is like I wrote that so long ago. And he got like I think stuff that that he upset, fans were upset back then. But now it’s like this whole resurgence of people who are like what?

 

Lauren Martino: What did you do this for?

 

Susan Moritz: Exactly, exactly.

 

David Payne:  So we determine that a lot of people are dying.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes.

 

David Payne:  And a show that has a reputation for gratuitous violence, is that reputation merited do you think? What makes it essential for the story it’s telling?

 

Susan Moritz:  I sort of think it feels like it feels essential in the sense that and I'm not a fan of torture and other things that have happened. But if the characters that either do it or they do it themselves or either the actors or that they are the ones that order something to be done you just hate them and despise them so much that you’re just compelled that justice must be served. And something horrible must happen to these people and that’s how I feel about and there is like you know.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  I want to just say about it and I wanted to bring up the fact that good people also get torture.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes.

 

Angelica Regifo:  And good people get killed. The good ones die, the bad ones die and you’re sad. But then you’re happy because the bad ones die. And one of the best things ever is when Joffrey died.

 

Lauren Martino:  Jeffrey?

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Joffrey

 

Susan Moritz: And Ramsay Bolton? Oh, those I feel like the two are like the worst people. Although Petyr Baelish also but.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Oh, yes, Baelish was also gratifying to see him die.

 

David Payne:  So it’s like a whole cast of characters.

 

Susan Moritz:  And I think that’s why this season, the last season has been just so gratifying is that finally the tables you feel have turned and we’re like finding the characters you love or getting some justice and getting some vengeance. It has been like oh ­–.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  The Starks are back together.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  And the pack is to together and pack together.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yeah.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  They’re going to survive, hopefully all of them.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes, definitely.  The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives when winter comes.

 

Lauren Martino:  So if you have seen all the TV shows, and you have read all of the books and there you’ve got so much free time on your hands now that you're all done with everything and waiting for the next season or waiting for the next book, what do you suggest like is there anything that's also good along the same lines that can fill the void in your life until the next thing comes out?

 

Susan Moritz:  No.

 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yet I will say watch them again, rate them again, read other George R. R. Martin books. Because he writes in such a way that I haven't seen somebody else write. He is so much. I mean, I'm into a lot of detail so I’d like that about him and I like his books because of it. So I will say read the books again, watch the TV show again.

 

Susan Moritz:  And like you get those from the libraries and I love when the library started to get the TV shows in the catalog and yeah, I can finally binge watch all these shows that I want to watch. But some good ones, I would suggest that we have in our collection that people can like place holds on and check out on The Borgias that was really good. I like that TV series. The Tudors, I mean that sort of gets that sort of medieval kind of element. Supernatural.

 

I’ve mean to watch Empire that's very like backstabbing like who's on top you know, kind of thing power grabbing. I’m trying to think what and there are some other things. And one of the Philippa Gregory writes a lot of you know historical fiction, the Shakespeare plays, Shakespeare movies and there was something as oh, but I love that Angelica mentioned that some people might not know that he has written these sort of like little short prequel novellas, George R. R. Martin.

 

Lauren Martino:  Oh!

 

Susan Moritz:  So you can get like sort of these little like sort of prequel stories. And he has them hidden in these super thick short story compilations. So you can and I’ve definitely I’ve checked them out of the librar before. And so yes you can get those. Other things I think we’ve got like the Wit of Tyrion Lannister, Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister. So we’ve got these all other, these other Game of Thrones books that if you’ve read the books, but we got these other companion kind of books that are cool too.

 

David Payne:  So there is life after Game of Thrones.

 

Susan Moritz:  Yes, yes, yes, we hope so. I have one more season and then we hope there is.

 

David Payne:  On MCPL we’re happy to find those resources for you. Well, Susan and Angelica thank you both very much indeed.

 

Julie Dina:  And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.

 

Febe Huezo:  Looking for your next favorite book, MCPL can help. Fill out or what do I check out next online form and tell us what you like to read. You can find the link to the service on our homepage. We will email you a list of three to five books that our librarians have chosen just for you. Happy reading.

 

Julie Dina:  Hi, I'm Julie Dina, one of the new hosts for Library Matters. And here with me is Anita Vassallo, our new Acting Director. Anita couldn't make the main recording for our Game of Thrones episode, but knowing that she is such a great fan we are making this special segment just to have her here on this show. So here we are. Welcome Anita and thanks for being here with us.

 

Anita Vassallo:  Thank you Julie. I am a big Game of Thrones fans so I'm really excited that I was invited to be here with this little extra piece for the Game of Thrones podcast.

 

Julie Dina:  So why don’t you just tell us, what is compelling about Game of Thrones?

 

Anita Vassallo:  So I think for both the books and the TV show in the past seasons the most compelling part is the intricacy of the plot and the slow and careful development of all of the characters. You currently dive way into this world then the people had inhabited. And then of course there is the anyone can die at any time philosophy. So Game of Thrones is famous for chopping the heads off of major characters in a most unexpected fashion and just moving on from there.

 

So although I really love the TV show and have watched every single episodes since the day it premiered I do miss now the pacing from the first seasons like maybe the first four or five seasons where it was very careful of how they were developing everything. And now because we just finished the second to last season and there are only six episodes left everything has really speeded up and sometimes you're wondering how did they get from there to that, but you just have to kind of forget about that part.

 

Julie Dina:  You mentioned something about characters. So what particular character would you say your most like?

 

Anita Vassallo:  Well, I'm not sure I’m really most like any of them, but the one I admired the most is Lady Olenna Tyrell. And since you haven’t watched this show you don’t know who she is.

 

Julie Dina:  I don’t.

 

Anita Vassallo:  But she is the matriarch of the Tyrell family who lives at Highgarden that's their seat so she is my idol. She is very funny and sarcastic. She is kind of like the grandmother in Downton Abbey. So she can toss off these quips and cut people down to size. And this past season she was basically executed, but she was still throwing off the quips right before her death. And after she drank poison that was given to her by Jaime Lannister she still managed to twist the knife into him one more time. So she is great, great gosh.

 

Julie Dina:  Well, since you talk so much about her, if you could invite one particular character to a dinner or if you can invite them and take them somewhere who amongst all these characters that you love would you be?

 

Anita Vassallo:  Well, I did think about this because I knew this was a question and it comes up to a choice between Tyrion Lannister and Tyrion would be great to take out because he would have a lot to say about all of the behind-the-scenes double-dealing and his crazy family. And he would also probably be a lot of fun because he likes to drink and have a good time. So for Tyrion we’d have to go out to a really nice wine bar because he loves his wine. But the other person that I think will be really interesting to take would be Maester Aemon. And Maester Aemon is the 100-year-old blind Maester of the Night's Watch. Look at Julie looking at me. But in reality he was a Targaryen prince. He was the son or the uncle of I think of the Mad King, Aerys if I have that right. And if I don't have it right we’ll find out about it in half minute. So he refused the crown and he has been with the Night's Watch for many, many years and think of all the stories that he could tell.

 

Julie Dina:  So Anita I can see the glow in your eyes when you talk about all these different characters and you’re talking about this show. Can you tell me one most surprising thing about Game of Thrones?

 

Anita Vassallo:  Yes, so I think the most surprising thing about Game of Thrones both George R.R. Martin books and the television show is how people who really don't love fantasy and have probably never read a fantasy book or so enthralled with it now even if they came to through in TV show they go back and read the books or they listen to the books on audio so they don’t really know anything about fantasy. They don't know about Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books, but they just love this and they get so obsessed and maybe it's the sex and violence.

 

Julie Dina:  It could be, it could be that gets a lot of people. So I do know that you’re a great fan of horses and you do own a couple of them.

 

Anita Vassallo:  Yes, we have horses at home so you know if you’re a fan I guess that's one way of putting it. But I know that horses are really important in Game of Thrones because the nearest Targaryen of course is the Khaleesi of the Dothraki. Look at Julie’s face.

 

Julie Dina:  Yes, and all these things.

 

Anita Vassallo:  And they are basically the horse lords, the lords of the grass, the sea. So horses are extremely important in their culture. Their main God is the Great Stallion and when the nearest Targaryen becomes pregnant of course she has to eat a Stallion's heart and that's a very graphic scene shown on this show. So yeah, I mean and it’s fun to watch all the beautiful horses and the second to last or third to last episode this season was a great battle scene with all these horse warriors attacking some infantry and they came roaring in on their horses and they stood up on their backs with their bows and arrows and it was really cool.

 

Julie Dina:  Well, I’ve got to say thank you so much Anita for joining us for this segment. Let’s keep this conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcast from. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you're thinking. Once again, I want to thank all our listeners for joining on to this conversation today and see you next time.

Sep 12, 2017

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Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer):  Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.

David Watts:  Hello and welcome to Library Matters.  Today, we’re going to talk about Montgomery County Public Library resources and services for people with disabilities.  From our monthly Talking Book Club at Rockville Memorial Library to the assistive technologies available in each branch, today we’ll discuss it all with Elizabeth Lang, Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager for MCPL.  Welcome to the podcast, Elizabeth Lang.

Elizabeth Lang:  I’m glad to be here.

David Watts:  Take a moment and tell us a bit about yourself, what’s your background, and how did you become interested in library services for people with disabilities?

Elizabeth Lang:  Well, my background is in social work, as well as in bookstores and libraries.  In my past life, I was a social worker at a domestic violence shelter.  And I found that to be very emotionally difficult and shifted over to working in bookstores.

When I was a manager in retail bookstores for, I want to say, about a decade, I was working in a Barnes & Noble, and saw a position posted for Talking Book & Braille Library.  And I wound up working as a librarian and as the Assistant Director for Public Services at the Talking Book & Braille Library in Missouri for about a decade.

That service provided library materials to people who are blind or visually impaired or who had other print disabilities and couldn’t use standard printed materials from their local public library.  I had never intended to go into the field of library services for people who have disabilities; I just kind of wound up there.  And then moved to DC to take a position as a Branch Manager in 2013.  And I worked for them until I came here last November.  And with DC, I was both the Branch Manager and I managed their Center for Accessibility, which was one department at the Martin Luther King main branch.  And the Center for Accessibility provided library services to patrons who had a wide range of disabilities.

In Missouri, I had been providing library service to people who had print disabilities, but at MLK and the Center for Accessibility was providing library service to any person who had any sort of disability that prevented them from using the standard services and materials available throughout the library.  And I’ve just sort of been here ever since.

David Watts:  Tell us about your new role at MCPL.

Elizabeth Lang:  Okay.  As you said, I am the Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager.  That’s kind of a mouthful, and what it means is I spend about half of my time working on facilities issues, including our refresh projects where we’re renovating our branches, and then about half of my time is focused on providing services, library services to people who have disabilities.

So far as I know, it’s a unique position.  I have not encountered any other library system or library that has a position that is really focused that uniquely on providing library services to people who have disabilities systemwide.

David Watts:  Can you give us a brief description of the Americans with Disabilities Act, otherwise known as ADA, and how it impacts MCPL specifically?

Elizabeth Lang:  Sure.  The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush.  The law prohibits discrimination, and guarantees that people who have disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else has in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

The main part of the ADA that impacts MCPL is called the Title II Regulations.  So those apply to state and local governments, specially.  Title II protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities that we provide.  It also requires that newly constructed or altered government facilities be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

So that means we have a responsibility to design all of our collections, our services, our programs and our facilities in a way that includes everyone.  So nationally, about 12% of the population has some form of a disability, and, in Montgomery County, that number is roughly about 82,000 people.

So for those 82,000 folks, I would like to believe they all use the library.  They’re the folks we’re concernin ourselves with and that I focus on making sure we’re doing a good job of serving.

David Watts:  What traditional library resources and services does MCPL offer for people who have disabilities?

Elizabeth Lang:  We have a pretty wide range of services and materials.  So we have large print books, which most people have heard of, that can be used by folks who have visual impairments.  We also have books on CD.  We also do have a small selection of Braille Books at some of our libraries.  We have a listing of local resources on our library services for People with Disabilities webpage.  We have a Talking Book Group that meets every month that our Rockville location for people who love audiobooks.  Two of our branches also have an accessibility center with work stations and resources that are dedicated to people who have disabilities.

David Watts:  What are some of the new or innovative resources and services MCPL offers to residents with disabilities?

Elizabeth Lang:  Well, every one of our branches now has an assistive technology workstation.  One of our customers has called it the Cadillac of Assistive Technology workstations.  It has screen reading software that’s called JAWS as well as enlarging software that’s called MAGic.  Both of those are for use by people who have low vision and/or who are blind.  It assists them in using the computer.  So the workstation has a large monitor as well for somebody who has a visual impairment and needs the screen enlarged.  It can get pretty big.  That’s very nice.

It also, that workstation, contains something called the ClearView+ Speech desktop magnifier.  Some people know this piece of equipment by the name CCTV, closed-circuit television is what it had been called in the past.  But the one that we just put in is more than the sort of old-fashioned closed-circuit TV that would just show you an image of what you had laid on a tray.  This when you lay your material on the tray, it can show that image on the screen.  It has a very large screen.  It also offers the option of reading aloud.  So it will take – basically it takes a photograph of the item that you’ve placed on the tray, it will show it to you on the screen and then if you tap the screen, it will start reading the defined text areas that it has located out loud to you.  It cannot be used by somebody who has no usable vision, but for someone who has a visual impairment or is legally blind, it can help them read much more easily than, you know, struggling with just using glasses, particularly for something that has very small print.

David Watts:  What is the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, what resources and services does it offer that are different from what’s available in MCPL?

Elizabeth Lang:  Good questions.  The Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a state resource.  It’s a library for people who have print disabilities.  I was talking about the library where I had worked in Missouri, the Talking Book & Braille Library there, that was Missouri’s Talking Book & Braille Library.  The Maryland State Library is the same thing.  So every state has one.

David Watts:  Right.

Elizabeth Lang:  So the one that serves Maryland is based in Baltimore.  And they are supported by the National Library Service, which is a division of the Library of Congress.  So they provide audio books and audio book players to people who can’t use standard print materials.  They mail it all out through the post office and it’s no charge to the patrons.

So to use that library, people have to be certified as having a disability that prevents them from using print.  So they serve sort of a subset of perhaps the folks that we serve.  But they do serve everybody throughout the state.

We, you know, we’re focused on Montgomery County and we will serve any customer within Montgomery County who is interested.  So some of our patrons are probably the same people who are being served by the library in Baltimore.  They can certainly take advantage of both libraries at the same time.  And there was a little bit of overlap, as I’ve said, we do have some books on CD.  That’s a slightly different format than the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides to their customers.  But they can use both of them.

David Watts:  Tell us what happens of MCPL needs to make a change to be in compliance with ADA requirements but can’t make that change for some reason.

Elizabeth Lang:  Sure.  Well, it does happen occasionally that we will discover that some aspects of our buildings or our services are not in compliance with ADA regulations or requirements.

Sometimes it’s something that I or a staff person will discover and sometimes it’s something that’s brought to our attention by one of our customers.  An example that comes to mind is I think it’s our Long Branch facility has a very steep road just outside.  And the sidewalk there is very steep as well.  And we’ve had the county’s ADA Compliance Office staff out there taking a look to see what can be done when we refresh that branch to bring us into compliance in all areas with ADA requirements.

Well, we can’t recut the road or redesign that sidewalk to the extent that would be required to bring it into line with the slope that is required for someone who’s using a wheelchair.  It’s just a very steep street and sidewalk.

So the ADA does recognize that there are going to be instances like that where we simply can’t.  We cannot cut into somebody else’s property.  If something were going to be prohibitively expensive, if we had to, you know, raise a building and rebuild it completely, but we didn’t have the funding.  Let’s say if the building had been built so long ago that nothing was in compliance, it recognizes that’s probably not possible.

So there’s some wording that it says that if something would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service program or activity or in an undue financial or administrative burden, then we can’t be bunched to do whatever it is that’s been requested.

David Watts:  How has MCPL incorporated ADA requirements, universal design, and the state of concerns of people with disabilities into the refresh of its branches?  What are some specific examples?

Elizabeth Lang:  The main focus of my position actually is to sort of pay attention to the intersection of all these things.  So that’s a large question.

And I will sort of start with universal design.  The idea behind universal design is that things can be designed to be usable by everyone, regardless of whether a person has a disability or not.  There’s generally a way to set the built environment up to make it easy to use for everybody, including children.

So ADA requirements are sort of a piece of universal design.  And the law does get pretty detailed about what you can and can’t do with regards to the size of your doorways and the width of your pathways and those sorts of things.  But that’s sort of like a bare minimum expectation really of what will be done that will create an environment that is just—at its most basic level—usable by everyone.

Universal design takes that a step past that, obviously, and trying to design something that’s usable for everybody.  So when we’re refreshing out branches, I pay attention to sort of all of those things.  We have to make sure that we’re designing to the basic level of the ADA standards that are countertop to the right height that if we’re putting in a catalog computer for people to look books up on, that we don’t put it on a standing workstation only that’s really just usable by people who are literally standing.  So if you’re using a walker or a wheelchair, then you wouldn’t reach it.

So we have whole range of things that I pay attention to with the refreshes.  And how we know what the stated concerns are with regards to our customers with disabilities, I speak with folks who have disabilities almost every day about their library services and what they want.

We have several mechanisms for feedback on our website as well.  And we have an advisory committee that is focused specifically on accessibility.  And they meet I believe that it is quarterly, and talk with us about the existing branches, what they see, what they sort of have on their wishlist of ideally this is what this library would be like.  And they have been walking the branches whose refreshes are coming up.  They’ve been walking through those with us to point out very specific things like the slope on the sidewalk outside Long Branch that is too steep or a door where the pushbutton for the handicap entrance, you know, somebody using a wheelchair without that push button can’t get in.  So they point those things out and make sure that we’re aware of them.  We make a nice big list, and then when we go into design for that building, we incorporate as much of that as we can.

David Watts:  There are a wide variety of disabilities from vision impairments to mobility challenges.  How does MCPL address or accommodate them all?

Elizabeth Lang:  There are a very wide variety of disabilities and we try to accommodate everyone.  We want everyone to come to the library and be delighted.  What we do is take a case-by-case basis, specifically when we have someone who has a concern, we will address that with the particular branch or staff person who has brought it to our attention.

There will be instances where people who have disabilities will have needs that conflict.  One example that seems kind of outrageous but kind of made the rounds online as a “Did you know this actually happened?”  Somebody who used seeing eye-dog, a guide dog, was attending an event, I honestly don’t remember which library, not in this area, and there was a person with a very, very, very severe asthma-related response to dogs and they both wanted to be in the same place and it became a point of great discussion whether the person with the guide dog was allowed to stay because that person is sort of impinging on another person’s ability to breath, which is no small issue, right?

David Watts:  That’s a pretty severe disability.

Elizabeth Lang:  It is.

David Watts:  Yeah.

Elizabeth Lang:  It is.  So that’s an extreme example, but I have had people asked me, “What happens if person A wants something and that interferes with what person B needs?”  So it does happen.  Thankfully I’ve not encountered anything in our system yet.  But again, we just take our customer’s needs on a case-by-case basis where we’re made aware that there’s something needed.

David Watts:  How do you get input about what Montgomery County residents who have disabilities want and need from MCPL?

Elizabeth Lang:  Well, I touched on this a little earlier.  We, in addition to our online feedback and the feedback that we get from our branches directly from customers, again, we have our advisory committee.  And in addition to the feedback that I get from them at our meetings, our formal meetings, I am in touch with them regularly to just bounce things off of them to ask their opinions, to get their guidance and their feedback on the things that we’re thinking about implementing or changing.  And then we also – I have fairly close relationship with the ADA Compliance Office, the Montgomery County ADA Compliance Office.  And they hear a lot more than we do directly from Montgomery County residents who have disabilities and specifically what they need.  And that’s sort of a two-way feedback street with them as well.

David Watts:  How does ADA influence architectural design in public spaces?  How do you believe it will impact libraries of the future?

Elizabeth Lang:  Well, as I’ve said, the ADA regulations do have sort of a basic set of kind of bare-bones guidelines as I think of them with regards to how physical spaces have to be designed to be accessible.  Things like designs you’ve probably seen that have the wording and then the Braille underneath them perhaps next to a meeting room door, those kinds of guidelines.

They specify things like if you have something that protrudes from the wall, say a monitor, maybe a computer monitor or a display screen that if it’s more than four inches up from the wall, it has to be either over a certain height, I believe 70 inches or below 28, so that if I’m using a cane, I’m not caught unawares by something that’s sticking out from the wall.  I might run into that with my shoulder or my head if that’s the only thing there.  So ADA requires that if something is sticking out more than four inches and it’s within those 28 to 70 inches, I have to have something permanent underneath it, like a bench or a cabinet that someone who’s using a cane would be able to feel with the cane before they hit the protruding object.

So there are a lot of very small detailed requirements like that that influence the architecture of a building.

In the future, again, I think we’re going to move toward a more universal design as people become more and more aware of what is good for everyone.  It’s really relatively easy to build to those things when you’re building a new facility.  Older facilities are harder to sometimes sort of bring up to speed.  But we haven’t encountered anything yet where there wasn’t something that we could do to make it better.

David Watts:  How does the increase in the number of older Americans impact ADA services and resources?

Elizabeth Lang:  Well, as you might guess, as our population ages, our ADA related services and resources will be in greater demand.  I was looking at some information from the Pew Research Center this morning that was talking about this very thing.  And it was seeing that as people age, they do become disabled.  And that our largest group of people with disabilities nationwide are those who I believe it was 75 and older.

So of folks who have disabilities, about 25% of them never go online.  You know, we talked a lot about how everybody is connected 24/7, but there are very large group of people who are not connected in that way.  People with disabilities are also 20% less likely than somebody without disabilities to own a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone.

So again, we’re maybe looking at the need to increase more basic resources, print books, print magazines, print newspapers, or providing the technology for our customers to use because they don’t own it themselves.  You know, helping them learn what those things are and connecting them in that way will be ever more important.

David Watts:  How can we find out more about MCPL’s resources for people with disabilities?

Elizabeth Lang:  Well, we have some good information on our website.  We do have what’s called a LibGuide that is specifically filled with information about our services for people who have disabilities, and not only our services at the library but some countywide, I believe there are also statewide resources there for people to use on a variety of topics.  They can always contact one of our branches and the librarians there can help them with any information needs that they have.  It’s kind of what we specialize in or they can contact me directly.  I’m at 240-777-0039.  I’m happy to talk to anyone about their concerns, their needs, or any topic related to library services about people with disabilities.

David Watts:  Elizabeth, we have this habit of asking our guest to tell us what they’re currently reading and is on their nightstand or what your favorite book is.

Elizabeth Lang:  I could never pick a favorite book.  So I’ll tell you what I’m reading right now.  On my mother’s recommendation, I’m reading the A is for Alibi series which I had always been sort of aware of.  A lot of people really love Sue Grafton’s writing.  I had just never picked it up.  But I just finished F is for Fugitive.  And tonight, yeah, I will be starting G is for Gumshoe.  It’s really great series, mystery, kind of –.

David Watts:  It draws you.

Elizabeth Lang:  It does.  It does.  They character is a great character.  The main character Kinsey Millhone is the investigator.  She is a private investigator who started as a policy officer and she is very quirky and kind of lovable in the end.  I’m loving it.  It’s fantastic.  My mom made a great recommendation.

David Watts:  Well, we want to thank you for being our guest today on Library Matters.

Elizabeth Lang:  Thank you for having me.

David Watts:  And for our audience, we want to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast.

Also, please review and rate us on iTunes; we’d love to know what you think.  Thank you for listening to our conversation today, and we’ll see you next time.

Feb 6, 2017

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Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer):  Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.

Alessandro Russo:  Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries new podcast.  Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.  I’m Alessandro Russo, a librarian at MCPL’s Kensington Park Branch.

David Watts:  And I’m David Watts, the Circulation Supervisor at Silver Spring Library.  We hope you’ll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.

Alessandro Russo:  For our first episode, we have MCPL Director Parker Hamilton with us to discuss the role of libraries and MCPL in particular in a time of change.  What is your role as MCPL director?

Parker Hamilton:  I’m the director of public libraries for Montgomery County, Maryland.  And in that role, I get to serve the residents of Montgomery County, Maryland.  We’re a County of about 1 million people, we’re very diverse.  I came to the county in 1980 from Evanston, Illinois and settled in the county because of the diversity that it promised us in 1980.  If I’m to be true, that diversity did not exist but it does today.  And so in my role, I am charged, I am honored to provide library services to the residents of Montgomery County.

Alessandro Russo:  It sounds like a big job.

Parker Hamilton:  It’s a big job.  But you know what’s so cool about it?  I have so many people help me do it.  Not only do I have an outstanding staff of people but I have community support, the funders support us, and we have national organizations that help tell the story of public libraries.  So, it’s a big job but it’s not one that I do by myself.

David Watts:  Parker, the role of libraries in our country is in flux.  Where do you see or how do you see leverage changing in Montgomery County in the next five to 10 years and even in the far distant future?

Parker Hamilton:  You know what?  I believe, and I think we see it in Montgomery County, our residents determine what a library would look like and what public libraries can do.  As you look back how Montgomery County has changed over the years, we were a white affluent community.  And the services and programs that we offered during that time served the needs of that community.

David Watts:  Absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  Now, today, we are minority, majority community.  We have young people, we have people who speak different languages, we have people who are looking for jobs who cannot afford to go to a college, we are the university of those people, and so that informs us and helps us as librarians and administrators decide what to offer because we can sit in our offices or in our branches and even go out and say, “Oh, I am going to do this.  If it does not have an impact, if it does not draw in the community why are we doing it?  So I think it’s the community.  It’s the residents that will help us determine how we’re going to look in the next five years.

David Watts:  Well, I think you’ve done an excellent job in being forward-thinking.  I work at Silver Spring as you know and we are not a drive-up branch.  So, when you talk about how libraries have changed in this county, most of our branches are drive-up branches, family can just drive up, but Silver Spring was designed specifically for walk-up clientele.  That took a lot of guts because I’m sure there was a lot of pushback when that was on the drawing board.  But I think you would admit it’s been successful.

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, Silver Spring is it’s really, really successful.  We just had this huge event there last Saturday.  My staff is this really funny.  We have lots of really great ideas in this library department and the folks come to me and say, “Parker, I have this idea and I think we should do this comic convention.”  They expected me to say no and I said, “Come on.”  So I think I’m a good listener and I listen to understand.  And I think if someone is bold enough to come up with an idea and want to share it with me, then I want to say yes.  It may not look exactly the way they think it should look by the time we get through tweaking it, but I do want to say yes because I do believe that that experience helps us as an organization.  And if only administrators are doing it, then we’re not going to grow as an organization.  I really believe that we can lead from any position.  So a frontline staff person can help lead this organization.

Alessandro Russo:  And you did mention the few – the changes that you’ve seen being within MCPL.  And I think a good point you just brought up is kind of this concept of it’s not a administration making decision its trickle-down system, it’s kind of tell us what you want within the staff ladder and then we’ll all work together to try to make it happen.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly, because we’re a system and we’re a team.  And you guys hear from people that I never get to talk to, but I also hear from people that you never get to talk to, and I also have bosses, and so, with all of that information, then jointly, together, we serve the residents of this county.  We did our strategic plan recently.

David Watts:  That’s just what I was about to ask you about.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.

David Watts:  If you could help us to understand the new strategic plan, where it came from, what was the impetus for it, and how did we arrive at the decisions that we should take?

Parker Hamilton:  Well, you touched earlier, David, about the library of the future.  So our county executive held a summit, it was The Library Summit of the Future, and then he got a second one.  And, you know, may I take the opportunity?

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  So if you’re going to have a summit with Mr. Leggett, our strategic plan is coming to the close.  Let’s use that opportunity to talk to our residents and gather information to help us create a new strategic plan.  And so, we took that opportunity to talk to over a thousand residents.  It happened in the branches.  Our outreach team went out and talked to folks in the community.  Mr. Leggett did a online chat and we asked questions and we listened and we allowed people to build off of each other.  And so by visibly sharing what folks are hearing and say, “This is what Mrs. Brown thinks.  This is what Mr. Bran – Mr. Jones said, what do you think?” you know.  And I really believe that it’s important that people see themselves in our libraries.  And so, if you walk into our library, David, as an African-American male, I want you to find information, programs, and services that you can use that will make an impact in your life.  And I want that for every residents whether, they’re 16 years old, whether they’re 80 years old, whether it’s a mother or a father, or a caregiver pushing them in their stroller, you should be able to walk away with something to take home or either use in our library in order to enrich your life.

So the strategic plan came about as a result of Mr. Leggett’s second summit.  And Mr. Leggett is a great supporter of library services he has a great vision for what he wants to have happen in this county.  And he knows where to go and say, “I want this done.”  So one of the things that he said to me at that summit was, “Parker, I want libraries to do more in the area of workforce development.  So you’ll see in our strategic plan, an emphasis on workforce development.  You also see in our strategic plan an emphasis on delighting the customers that became very critical because, as I said, earlier this county is a minority-majority county, and try as we might in all of our branches we don’t have staff that reflects the community.  And so it became important that we train our staff in order to understand the demographics of this county and what that really means.  We like to think that we live in a colorblind society, but I believe that color matters because we are who we are because of our background.  I am who I am because I’m an African-American female, 68 years old from the South.  The life that I’ve lived has brought –

David Watts:  Reflects that.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly.  And that is for everyone.  And so, if you don’t understand what it means to talk to a child who may have lived in El Salvador or Africa, how are you going to provide library services that’s going to delight them.

David Watts:  Absolutely, absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  And so that delighting, our customers became – let’s delight our customers but let’s take care of our staff, let’s train our staff, let’s develop our staff in order for success to take place on both sides of that desk.

David Watts:  So in that, customer-based decision making is one component.  That’s allowing a customer to feel that they’re involved in how the service is delivered to them and helping them to also understand where we have to draw a line sometimes.

Parker Hamilton:  Right, right.

David Watts:  And that’s about being conversational with our customer.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly.

David Watts:  Even though they come from these various diverse backgrounds, it’s saying to them, “I want your input.  I want you to be involved.  I want us to be partners.  It all helps fulfill our mission statement, which as you know is to help everyone to learn and grow.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly, exactly.

David Watts:  So some of the programming that we’re doing is getting broad and going in that direction.  What, in terms of programming, are we doing to grow and develop?

Parker Hamilton:  I think – I just want to go back one more step and talk about the strategic plan as a commitment.  I think it’s my commitment to the staff that this is the work that we’re going to do, but I’m going to ensure that you have the resources to do the work.

David Watts:  Absolutely.  And Mr. Leggett – not to cut you off – has been instrumental in us getting the level of funding that we need to be successful.

Parker Hamilton:  Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.

David Watts:  Yeah.

Parker Hamilton:  And then it’s our commitment to our residents that we’re going to provide the best services possible within our resources.  I believe that we’re public servants and I believe that the taxpayers are our bosses.  And I think when you have that that philosophy of service, it helps with that conversation that you want to have.  It helps with the respect that we want to have.  And so, we’ve been working really hard, trying to develop different types of programs.  We’re working with the public schools.  We’re working with the workforce development organizations, we’re working with the colleges, and we’re trying to see how not to present programs that conflict with each other with programs that complement in each other, and forms on a continuum.

David Watts:  Absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  So if a certain subject is being taught in the school – for example, STEM – then libraries, I think, should help with that, and that is why you say that we’re doing a lot of programs in STEM, we’re doing coding, we’re doing a lot of programs for our young adults.  And people are living longer.  Mr. Leggett has an emphasis on seniors, so we’re doing lots of program on seniors.  And because seniors are living longer, they’re having two, three career opportunities.  And because the world is changing, they have to develop new skills as they go to search for jobs when they’re 60 years old versus 20 years old.  And so that’s why we’re doing technology programs for teens and seniors.  And I just think that the conversation you talked about gets us there.

David Watts:  Absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  And so, we will do different type programs next year because we’re going to hear from our customers this worked, what about this.  And then we’re going to hear from our staff and see.  You know, I went to a program at Barnes & Noble or I went to a program in another library system and this is what they’re doing and this is the impact, let’s give it a try here.  And here’s why I think it would make a difference in the lives of the people who live in Montgomery County.

David Watts:  One thing that I did want to touch on, Parker, because I – when you were talking about new programs, I know you’re excited about this new initiative library link and it must have been tremendously rewarding to be a part of that and to see that in the branches.

Parker Hamilton:  I’m just going to tell all my staff.  Usually, when we sign a memorandum of understanding with another agency, that is signed by someone directly in Mr. Leggett’s office, either the chief administrative officer or either the assistant chief administrative officer or even Mr. Leggett.  So we finally got the agreement ready for signature.  I went to my day-to-day boss Tim Firestine, the chief administrative officer.  And I said, “I want my name to be on this document because I’ve been in this system almost 36 years and we have been trying to formulate a formal arrangement with library administration and the administration of Montgomery County Public Schools and we neither have one.  And so to achieve that, I really wanted my name on it and, yes, I did jump up on them.

Alessandro Russo:  I mean, that’s a very large bridge to construct and have in place, but one thing I think that the most positive impact it’s going to have it’s going to open other doors between the public libraries and even the school media specialists, you know.

Parker Hamilton:  Absolutely.  That’s just the first step and, you know, because a library card is a library card.  It’s really important to have a library card to use our databases, to check up materials.  But even more important, I think, is that relationship that’s going to occur between librarians like you and staff.  And because at the end of the day, their students are our students, and we want to ensure success, you know.  One of our missions is to prepare children ready to learn.

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  So how do you prepare children ready to learn?  You need to know what’s going to happen when they go to kindergarten.  You need to know what’s going to happen in first grade.

Alessandro Russo:  That’s sharing of curriculum.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly.

Alessandro Russo:  What they have on their shelf we can kind of use it as inspiration for programming and events.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.

David Watts:  And just to touch upon it since we’re surrounded by it, the library Go! Kits have been –

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, absolutely, look at those.

David Watts:  That was really successful.

Parker Hamilton:  Yes.

David Watts:  And it’s growing.  I know that it was an initiative that you helped bring in with funding from the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County.

Parker Hamilton:  Yes.

David Watts:  So you’re continuing in your legacy trailblazing.

Parker Hamilton:  Well, you know, that’s very kind.  But as I said earlier, you just don’t do it by yourself.  You don’t do it by yourself.  And you make sound selections about the people that you bring into the system and you give them an opportunity to grow.  You’ve been on the young adult programs, you’ve – you helped with the – at the comic conference, you served on my director’s advisory committee.

David Watts:  I drove the book mobile.

Parker Hamilton:  There you go.  And so just the experience and opportunity and, you know – and I believe in stretching.

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  And I also believe that I want to prepare staff to walk the doors.  Sometimes you walk through a door and it’s cracked and you got to push it a little bit.  And then, you know, you go through it.  And then sometimes, there’s a wall on that side of the door and it pushes you back, but that shouldn’t stop you.  And so, that development, that training, that talking is just critical for us as a system to improve, to grow, to do our very best in serving the residents of this county.

David Watts:  Well it hasn’t all been roses.  I mean, I’m sure there’s been some challenges along the way.  Would you like to talk about what your greatest challenge was as director?

Parker Hamilton:  My greatest challenge as a director was when we went to the last recession.

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  The last recession was really hard on public libraries.  Our budget, by the end of the recession, had been cut by 30% and our customers, our users still had the same expectation.  But the greatest pain was telling staff that their position was eliminated.  No, we did not – the county government found ways to place people, but they were no longer MCPL staff.

David Watts:  Right, right, yes, yes.

Parker Hamilton:  And they were the people that we selected, that we trained, that we formed relationships with.  We knew the impact of going from a part-time job – I’m sorry – for a full-time job to a part-time job, you know.

David Watts:  To work.  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  We get to become family.  And so, we know that Mary was the breadwinner because Joe was someplace else.

David Watts:  Yes, yes.

Parker Hamilton:  And so that was really, really hard.

David Watts:  But you shepherded us through.  It was tough.  Now, we’re back to pre-recession funding levels.  What’s next on your table for the libraries?

Parker Hamilton:  What’s next on my table?  I was telling some folks the other day it’s, “I want to continue the networking that we’ve done with nonprofit organizations with other county departments to ensure that we’re stronger as a county.  And so what I want to do is have a thank you in that working party, you’re just planning it.  I want to bring everyone in the room and have the different organizations who have helped us deliver programs and services like the folks who work at comic convention and just introduce them to each other and thank them for helping us, you know, move forward when we needed help, and we needed help because we weren’t able to do it.  Now, we want to give back to them and we want them to continue to work with each other, you know, serving our county.  I think that we need to do more marketing of our programs and services.  I think we’ve got great events going on, great ideas, and we don’t do the best that we can in that area.  So that, there’s the area of gap that we need to do, and I think this podcast is a good way to start.  I’m excited about the next programs that you guys have lined up.  And so I think that’s going to be really –

Alessandro Russo:  We’re hoping it goes well, so.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.  Well, listen, you know, you - both you guys are great, so I just think it’s going to be a great opportunity to showcase MCPL.

David Watts:  Well, we’re excited about starting this venture and we’re excited about the opportunities that you’ve given us.  But just, if we can as we prepare to close out – obviously you became a librarian because you love books.  Not true?

Parker Hamilton:  Actually, no.  I do not love books.

David Watts:  You do not love –

Parker Hamilton:  I do not love books.  I love – I love learning.

David Watts:  That’s a shock.  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  I love learning.

David Watts:  Okay, okay.

Parker Hamilton:  I became a librarian because when I went to the University of Illinois, I did – I was a financial aid and I worked in a library at night in order to supplement our income.  We were on food stamps, you know, we were poor.  As I said earlier, I grew up in the South.  And when I walked into that library and I saw those tools, I was like, “Oh, my gosh.  If I had been exposed to this, I would have really been a sharp student.”  So, yes, I love books but I love learning.

David Watts:  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  So I see, you know, libraries as a learning place, and a product that we have are books.  And I know not everyone feels that way, but I think I’m a unique director because I did not plan to become a director.  I was, you know, I was asked and it was, I guess, it was timing.  And so having worked on the second floor, I took this job aside as a business.  And so, okay, so what do I need to do to ensure that the products that we have that the tools that we have ends up in the impact that we want to have.  And that’s why when I think about a library before, I think about books, I think about learning.

David Watts:  Okay.

Alessandro Russo:  So would you say you have a favorite book?

Parker Hamilton:  I did not have a favorite book, but I do love Southern writers.  I like Eudora Welty.  I love the Eudora Welty.  And I also like those English literature – what’s the guy’s name?  Was it Henry Fielding?  James Fielding?  Henry Fielding?  Henry Fielding, I think.  Piers Plowman, that was an old book written along with the Chaucer’s Tale – Canterbury Tales.

Alessandro Russo:  Canterbury Tales.

David Watts:  Canterbury Tales.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.  So, I like reading that type of literature.  But I find myself drawn to two books written by female southern authors.

David Watts:  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.

David Watts:  What are you reading now?

Parker Hamilton:  What am I reading now?  I’m not reading anything now.  But last week, I have a guilty pleasure.  I just admire Taraji Henson.

David Watts:  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  So I borrowed her biography from the Rockville Memorial Library and read it in one day.

David Watts:  Wow.

Parker Hamilton:  I’m a binge reader, you know.  If I want to read it I’m going to read it.  And so, I got it on a Friday evening and went and got my hair down on a Saturday morning back home.  And from 10:00 o’clock to probably around 7:00 o’clock at night, I was enjoying Taraji Henson.

David Watts:  Yeah, she’s from the D.C. area.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah, in the D.C. area.  She’s just an amazing person.

David Watts:  Okay.  So we want to thank you for being our first guest and our greatest guest today.

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, today.  Bring me back after the end of the series and then –

David Watts:  We absolutely would –

Parker Hamilton:  Then we’ll see what you say.

David Watts:  We absolutely will.  It has been delightful to chat with you, Parker.

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, I’ve enjoyed this.

Alessandro Russo:  Thank you, Parker.

Parker Hamilton:  Nice getting to know.

Alessandro Russo:  Yes.

David Watts:  You’ve brought a lot of insight to us relative to libraries and the strategic plan and we’re looking forward to having future conversations with you about other aspects of the libraries.

Parker Hamilton:  Okay, sounds good.  I look forward to it.  Well, congratulations.

Alessandro Russo:  Thank you.  And we want to thank our listeners.  And make sure to join us next time and do follow us on montgomerycountymd.gov/library.  And make sure you check out our social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Thank you.

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