David Payne: Hello and welcome to another edition of Library Matters with your host, David Payne.
Julie Dina: And I’m Julie Dina.
David Payne: Today, we are talking about a genre which has become increasingly popular but increasingly difficult to define and that is science fiction. And here with us to talk about sci-fi and explain it, we have two MCPL staff members, Richard McElroy.
Richard McElroy: Hi there.
David Payne: And Beth Chandler.
Beth Chandler: Hello.
David Payne: Just a reminder that all of the books, authors, television shows, and movies that we mention during the podcast today can be found listed on our show notes on the Library Matters website.
Julie Dina: So why don’t we start the show off with asking the most obvious question? What exactly is science fiction?
Beth Chandler: Well, in my experience science fiction is a genre in which the creator extrapolates from our current technology and our current knowledge of the universe and projects what it might be like in the future.
Richard McElroy: In coming up with the definition I would try to, I guess, just still it into a few words as possible. And so based on these two words, science and fiction, it is just a work of fiction that is based around scientific technology. Because it is fiction, it would be based on technology that is not currently possible but that is feasible.
Julie Dina: So do we say is this – does this have anything to do with STEM?
Richard McElroy: That is right.
Beth Chandler: Because it has lot to do with STEM.
Julie Dina: Since everyone is talking about STEM these days.
Beth Chandler: You can find the elements of all sciences and technologies in it. And some stories also incorporate art, language, music, and other elements of, you know, basic – you know, anything that you think about with society or civilization, either hours or some potential civilization with very different beings.
Richard McElroy: Yeah. And it is great because it is fun, so it can encourage kids to get involve with STEM.
Julie Dina: It will encourage me for sure.
David Payne: So now that we’ve defined sci-fi and we know what it is, we tend to think of it, science fiction, as always being set in the future. Is that necessarily the case?
Richard McElroy: Well, I don’t think it has to be the case. It often is the case because that is the easiest way to present science that is not currently possible. But there has been plenty of science fiction that has been set in the present like, Jules Verne, set all of his books in the present and they were all about fantastic journeys into parts of the world that we hadn’t yet discovered using technology that wasn’t quite available at the time.
Beth Chandler: Definitely you can go back in the past – the past and have things for instance, let’s say Leonardo da Vinci had gotten much further with some of his inventions that never came to fruition. And we had 19th century technology back in the renaissance era. That is a possible setting for science fiction or could go back to the days in pyramids and say, “Yes, there really were aliens who helped build the pyramids.” And, you know, and write a story, you know, based on that with highly advanced technology.
Julie Dina: Now, science fiction is often paired with fantasy. Can you tell us why exactly and are there differences, are there similarities between the two genres?
Beth Chandler: One of the similarities is that they both deal with things that we don’t have in our present reality. And a lot of authors also write books of science fiction and fantasy, sometimes you can’t tell the difference. People who’ve read – may read very well know that. A lot of stories are fantasy and some of them edge into a combination and Martian Chronicles is a good example. He brings some characters from the past and from fairy tails into future stories about Mars and the Martians.
One of my favorite Manga, “Fullmetal Alchemist,” is mostly about Alchemian magic. But there is also something called automail, which is a prosthetic replacement for people that actually interacts with their own musculature and nerves that is something that were only starting to develop now these days. And this story was written more than 10 years ago.
Richard McElroy: Beth hit on this a little bit, but I think science fiction and fantasy are often paired together because they often look very similar on the surface. They both often involved aliens, and monsters, and spaceships, and explosions, and stuff like that. But I think the key difference is that science fiction as I said in my first answer is something that is feasible. It is something that we could see ourselves progressing towards as species, or as a society, or as fantasy as something that is not feasible. It is something where we have to suspend our disbelief and go into another world often involving magic or alternate universes or just world that don’t exist altogether.
Oh, and one other thing I’d like to add is a clear example of the difference between science fiction and fantasy is the difference between “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”. I think that “Star Trek” is a classic example of science fiction as it takes place in our world, set in the future based on scientific advancement, whereas “Star Wars” is more of a space fantasy. It is sort of this big opera that is about the story and involves magical elements and it is in a galaxy far, far away, and isn’t necessarily as directly related to the world that we live in.
David Payne: What has drawn you both to science fiction? How do you develop your interest for science fiction books, movies, and so on?
Richard McElroy: I was drawn into science fiction originally as a kid. I used to watch a lot of “Twilight Zone.” My mom would watch it a lot, especially the marathons that would go on TV. I believe on New Years Eve there would be marathons of Twilight’s unplayed. So since then I’ve always been interested in potential futures. I’ve always been interested in the questions about life and possibilities that it brings up.
Beth Chandler: I was to add a similar introduction. It was, you know, through TV. I grew up in the era of the “Star Trek: Animated Series,” which people growing up in the ’70s will remember. And actually we used to play “Star Trek,” my brother, and my cousin, and I. They always wanted to kill aliens and I was more interested in investigating new worlds and new civilizations which are the great appeal for me is exploring the unknown, getting to know that new ways of being – as ancient being.
Julie Dina: What is some of the best science fiction books you’ve ever read?
Richard McElroy: Well, I say that my favorite is probably “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. I – If you’ve only seen the movie and never read book, I highly encourage reading the book available at the Montgomery County Public Libraries.
The “Frankenstein” monster is a much more intelligent creature than he was in the movie. And it really grapples with a lot of questions about existence in our world. About what it is to be human? What it is to be a person? How to be an accepted member of our society? Some other preferred science fiction books of mine include “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick. Also my favorite science fiction short story is probably “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov.
Beth Chandler: I enjoyed the last question, too. I spent much of my teen years reading short stories, many by Isaac Asimov. My favorite for many, many years it does time with one or two others is the “Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K Le Guin. It is a story about a single human who goes as the envoy to try to convince a planet of humans who have been for millennia, millennia distance from other humans. He is going to influence them to join a sort of consortium of known worlds. And this particular planet has people who do not have one set gender. They become either male or female once a month.
Ursula K Le Guin when writing this said that she went to play with the idea of what would a society be without gender? So it is a very character-driven and concept-driven story, but also it has a lot to say about skepticism, how much politics influences things. And also quite a bit about the nature of friendship, loyalty and, you know, patriotism. In addition, she does manage to get some good humor into it.
Richard McElroy: I’m glad that you mentioned humor, because I love humor in science fiction, too, and some matters that I might mention are Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” is just a fantastic, really funny science fiction book that is really easy to read. It is a short readable book that I highly recommend.
Beth Chandler: Yeah, that is a good place to start off with science fiction if you want something that is not going to throw a lot of data in advance science that you would also be very enjoyable. I enjoyed “The Hitchhiker’s” series myself. And actually my other favorite author besides Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, has a wonderful gift for humor. And sometimes, you know, write up one of the most heart wrenching period to the story a moment later she will throw in this sort of rye joke. And you’re like, “I was almost crying a minute ago and now I’m cracking up.” So she was –.
Richard McElroy: – emotions.
Beth Chandler: Yeah. Yes it is.
Julie Dina: So she knows how to sneak it in.
Beth Chandler: She knows how to sneak it in and she has amazingly, you know, well rounded characters. There is, you know, cast of dozens in her “Vorkosigan Saga” stories. And when one pops up, again, I remember, you know, who they are, what their personality is, little bit of their history, very memorable.
David Payne: So let’s go from authors to characters. Which character from a science fiction movie or TV show would you most want as a co-worker?
Richard McElroy: Well, that is easy for me. And I think it is might be the same for most science fiction fans, but I would say Spock from “Star Trek”. He is unemotional. He is completely rational. He is the science officer. And so he is easily as efficient as possible because he doesn’t have to grapple with work place emotions that often arise. Who wouldn’t want to have Spock as a co-worker?
Beth Chandler: Yeah. I thought about Spock, too, actually. And then I thought, you know, he does have that occasional sort of rye almost sensitive humor. But, you know, if I wanted someone friendly to chat with, you know, my other favorite is the Fourth Doctor from the British Doctor Who series. He was one of my favorite doctors. He is cheerful. He is also very ethical. He seems genuinely fun to people. Does his best to get along with everyone and just gives this whole sense that, you know, everything is somehow okay and he is going to be okay. And we’re going to have a pretty, pretty good time dealing with it whatever it is.
Richard McElroy: And if you have a bad day just leave on his TARDIS.
Beth Chandler: Also true.
Julie Dina: So in your opinion, what elements should good science fiction book or film contain?
Beth Chandler: I think it needs to have something of everything. A good, you know, good plot, technology that is, you know, realistic to extrapolate from what we have now or is so far in the future that it seems realistic even though it is something that we can’t quite figure out how it will work. So you need that, the technology, a good plot line, characters you really care about. I love a lot of the old classic science fiction, but I have to admit some of the characters are basically there to, you know, support the technology and the plot and fortunately that has changed the great deal.
Richard McElroy: In my opinion, good science fiction provides a vision of the future that is connected to our present day reality. And the way I distinguished good science fiction from, let say hackey [Phonetic] science fiction, is that the good science fiction allows you to come up with your conclusions about whatever the subject matter is. It stimulates your own curiosity rather than telling you how the future should be.
A lot of science fiction I think often falls into the pitfalls of being preachy and saying how the future should look. Whereas good science fiction just sort of presents concepts that are difficult and doesn’t necessarily tell you what the answer is, but allows you to come up for the answer yourself. And a lot of that I think involves conflicting virtues. Science fiction often presents two different virtues that when taken to their extreme might clash with one another and it forces us to grapple with which ones we value more.
David Payne: Do you think then sci-fi has become more complex if we’re – if our world today is more complex and we’re looking – if we are looking at future worlds? Has it become more difficult to understand?
Richard McElroy: No. I don’t – I mean, I think that it is always been able to. It just progressed with the times and with the progression of technology. So talking about space travel in the first place was difficult to understand for people 100 years ago. And now what is difficult for us to understand is something like let’s say, the nature of consciousness and what it is to be a person and whether an artificial life form can have an equal status to a human life form and where do you draw the line between life and let say having your conscious uploaded on to a computer. There are a lot of questions that for us seem difficult now that might seem easy to those in the future and questions that in the past seem easy to us now but might have been difficult for them.
Beth Chandler: I agree with Richard. Science fiction is always dealt with some of the major more in philosophical issues going back to some of the classics. Isaac Asimov writing his Robot stories, you know, dealt with the question of, you know, a robot is more good for humans or bad for them and the answer seeming, you know, different and ambiguous going all the way up through his timeline further and further into the future. And he explored all sorts of advantages and disadvantages of that one particular type of technology the positronic robot that he created with his mind and his knowledge of science as it existed in the ’50s and ’60s.
Richard McElroy: It seems like most of the good science fiction coming out nowadays is about artificial intelligence because that is something that is really blossoming right now and it is – there are a lot of moral issues that come up there. We have to really have an understanding of if we’re going to move forward with the development of artificial intelligence.
Julie Dina: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Lisa Navidi: Ever wonder about the who, what and why of a book? Readers Cafe is a virtual meeting place for books and readers. Your one stop center for book clubs, book blogs, articles, and literally research. Take a look and you can be the envy of your literally chums. You can find the link in this episode show notes.
Julie Dina: Now, back to our program.
David Payne: Which science fiction world would you most and least like to live in?
Beth Chandler: The first book in the “Terra Ignota” series, “Too Like the Lightning” by Ada Palmer. She – this is just her first novel. She has only written one other when so far that has been published. And it is a future world about 300 years on from now where the, you know, the world is separated into entirely different concept, to what countries are. We finally have our flying cars and they can cross the world in the matter of hours. Still working on trying to colonize Mars, but there is a lot of wonderful things about the culture and the way human beings get along with each other. But of course, there is always that little deed of something that starts falling apart, so I’d like to live there before things start falling apart.
Richard McElroy: Okay. I would say that the science fiction world that I would most like to live in, you know, is about to go with “Star Trek,” which seems to be a common answer for me, but instead I’m going to go with “Firefly,” the TV show by Joss Whedon, because “Star Trek” is a little too sanitized for my taste, whereas “Firefly” is similar. It is a futuristic space series, but it is a little more wild west like. There is a little more freedom out there, a little more conflict, and it just seems like a more a fun universe to live in than, let say “Star Trek.”
David Payne: So looking back over the years, the whole history of the sci-fi genre, which sci-fi movie or novel written long ago and set either in the past or the current present is most hilariously wrong and which is the most accurate?
Richard McElroy: Well, I think it is very important to note that in ‘Back to the Future’ they went to 2015 and the newspaper headline said ‘Chicago Cubs win World Series.’ They were one year off. The Cubs won their first World Series in 110 years in 2016.
David Payne: Right.
Richard McElroy: So that was really impressively accurate.
Julie Dina: That was close.
Beth Chandler: Yeah. One I thought of – as being hilariously wrong was of 2001, “Space Odyssey,” the original book by Arthur C. Clarke in which he has people referring to hotels as Hiltons. He figured, you know, just as many people called refrigerators as frigidaires and adhesive bandages – Band Aids that we’d all be calling hotel Hiltons and we don’t. There are a lot of other things. There was a space station. We had gotten much further forward in space travel than he expected we would, which is one of the ongoing limits of a lot of science fiction fans as well as scientists themselves.
Richard McElroy: There are a lot of technologies that have been predicted very accurately like “Star Trek” for example. Can you tell that I like “Star Trek”?
David Payne: Oh, you bet.
Julie Dina: Yeah.
Richard McElroy: They were using these little screens that they had in their hands that were just like tablets today. They had –.
Julie Dina: iPads.
Richard McElroy: Yeah. They had communicators that were like cell phones. They had replicators where they would just create food or other objects that they needed out of these replicators, which are very similar to a 3-D printers that are currently available in the Montgomery County Public Libraries.
Beth Chandler: Library, yes. Although we do not make candy with them, but I – now make candy with some 3-D printers.
Richard McElroy: Oh, wow.
Beth Chandler: So we’re getting into Tea, Earl Gray, Hot.
Richard McElroy: Exactly. Also with the holodecks where this virtual reality rooms that you could go into and create any kind of reality you wanted. Now, we’re progressing with virtual reality which is coming soon to Montgomery County Public Library near you.
Julie Dina: One thing for sure, you do love your Montgomery County Public Library.
Beth Chandler: It is very good with that. And an interesting thing is that “Star Trek” was not the primary creation of just one person, but it has been written by a dozens of screen writers and multiple directors and producers have had their hand in, so it seems that crowd sourcing a science fiction story. You know, maybe said to help make it more accurate.
David Payne: That is interesting. So what are some of the science fiction books that contained characters of color or of the LGBTQ community?
Beth Chandler: Just to name a few, there is Nnedi Okorafor who is American who grew up in Nigeria. She has written several stories about – not just African-Americans, but primarily Africans. Several other writers Nalo Hopkinson is one, Ada Palmer, who I’d mentioned before has written a lot about characters both of various colors. Three-hundred years from now, most of us are going to be highly into racial, according to her. Very few people who are, you know, purely, you know, one ethnicity or another. And actually, one of our MoComCon guests last year and this year, Don Sakers, is a local author, has been writing for years about characters of color and characters in the LGBTQ community.
David Payne: So diversity very much of the heart of sci-fi.
Richard McElroy: Yeah.
Julie Dina: So what exactly would be the weirdest science fiction book you’ve ever come across, weirdest ever?
Beth Chandler: I will say it was more of a novella, but I would say one of the weirdest stories I’ve read by one of the strangest authors I’ve read, but I love him dearly is –.
Julie Dina: But he is weird?
Beth Chandler: Oh, yes. I -- to further out the better, I mean, I never did drugs because I said all I have to do is go pick up a Theodore Sturgeon novel, you know, as a teenager, or collection of short stories. And he wrote one story called The, and next few words are in brackets, [Widget], The [Wadget] and Boff. And it is about two aliens who are observing earth and making a small change to see if it can effect the larger change in the world, which is something more than one science fiction or author has done.
But this one is so bizarre by the way it puts everything from the alien’s perspective. Ordinary things like somebody trying to ask someone else for a date and meal times in children are seen through the view point of these aliens. So I would say that is one of the strangest stories by one of the strangest science fiction authors.
Richard McElroy: Unfortunately I don’t have anything to notch that.
Beth Chandler: Okay.
Julie Dina: Well, we do have, and I’m sure you both know that our MoComCon last year was very successful. We had tons of people come from the county and from the neighboring counties. Would you please explain to our listeners what exactly MoComCon is?
Beth Chandler: MoComCon stands for Montgomery County Comic Con, but like many conventions in the, you know, science fiction fantasy, comics, et cetera, you know, phantom, it is a convention that ties in a lot more than comics brings in, as I said science fiction and fantasy stories, movies, TV shows, and pretty much various kinds of nerdity including, you know, hot technology. And that is what you’ll be seeing in January at MoComCon.
Julie Dina: Yeah.
David Payne: So are you coming to MoComCon dress as a sci-fi character?
Richard McElroy: Well, indeed I am as I am an employee of the – well, I work at the Silver Spring Library. And fortunately for my co-workers my dream will come true for all of them because I will be there dressed as Spock, so they will get to have Spock as a co-worker for a day.
Beth Chandler: Oh, excellent. Delighted to hear Spock will be working with us. I’m on the actual MoComCon committee, so I won’t be able to dress up. I’ll be wearing one of our colorful and exciting MoComCon t-shirts. But I hope to wear a couple of buttons, almost certainly one of my buttons that says, “Prepare for the future, read science fiction.”
David Payne: Well, finally it is our tradition here on Library Matters to ask all guests to tell us about the book that you have enjoyed recently. What have you both enjoyed reading recently?
Richard McElroy: So this isn’t science fiction work. I haven’t read a science fiction book in a little while, but I recently read “American Pastoral” by Philip Roth which is a fabulous book. I highly recommend. It takes place in the recent past, so it is a recent historical fiction, novel you could say.
Beth Chandler: A book I read recently that I really enjoyed is actually a fantasy novel. And like many science fictions fans, I also read fantasy. It is the first in Philip Pullman’s new series, “The Book of Dust.” The title is “La Belle Sauvage.” And I thoroughly enjoyed going back into the same world as the previous series he’d written in the same universe about Lyra and a world where each human has their own demon which is a part of, you know, their own selves. And he writes a marvelous story taking place 10 years before the previous series. And just like in a good science fiction book, he has a wonderfully realized alternate oxford at alternate earth that you just dive right into. You can almost feel like, you know, you’re sailing along with the main character in his little boat.
Julie Dina: Well, thank you so very much Beth and Richard for all the wonderful information you’ve given us which relates to sci-fi.
Keep the conversations going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple podcast app, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on Apple podcast. We’ll love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.
[Audio Ends] [0:26:59]
Lauren Martino: Welcome to Library Matters. I’m Lauren Martino and...
David Payne: I’m David Payne.
Lauren Martino: And we’re here today with some of the most talented librarians in the system and they can cook too. This is Nalani Devendra and Dana Alsup. And they are going to talk to us today about their favorite cookbooks, their favorite methods, their favorite ways of preparing delicious goodness, and I am excited to have you guys here welcome.
Dana Alsup: Thank you for having us.
Nalani Devendra: Thank you for having us.
Lauren Martino: So, we’d like to know a little bit about you guys. We know you’re awesome librarians but tell us a little bit about you as cooks. What do you like to cook best? Do you have a signature dish? What makes you kick tick as cooks?
Dana Alsup: Well, I’m a recipe follower. I like following recipes. I’m not good at making stuff up and so I don’t feel advanced enough to not follow the recipe. But I – the more I cook, the more I understand like the elements of what I’m doing, like bread making. I made bread recently and I could feel, like I knew just kneading the dough like it’s right – it’s good, it just needs to rise now so.
Lauren Martino: You’ve gotten to that point where it’s like –
Dana Alsup: I’ve gotten to that point with bread-making alone. And then I like – foods I like best, anything fried, whatever, any – anything fried, my heart’s not probably happy about that, but I sure am. And my family is from New Mexico so anything with green chili on it –
Lauren Martino: Green chili.
Dana Alsup: Green chili is, oof, I heard great.
Lauren Martino: Legends. What is the deal with the green chili?
Dana Alsup: Well, it’s from Hatch in New Mexico which is a town and there’s – every fall, they do a roast, so it’s a big – it’s a big thing in New Mexico, and it is only – that’s where green chili is from. So I have a stockpile of green chili in my freezer at all times, put it in anything. Green chili mac and cheese. We’re going to put green chili in the stuffing for Thanksgiving.
Lauren Martino: Wow.
Dana Alsup: My favorite is green chili cheeseburgers. It’s not – they can be hot but they’re flavorful, so it’s not like a scald-your-mouth hot, heat pepper, its flavor. And in New Mexico, they’ll either ask you red or green but you can say Christmas, which means both.
Lauren Martino: Nice.
Nalani Devendra: I’m a lot more opposite with Dana. I’m not that much big follower of the recipe. I get something from the recipe but always I never hesitate to change the recipe, modify the recipe. I always go for the recipe to check how I can change this to my taste or my husband – especially my husband’s taste because I know he’s mostly prefer only to eat Sri Lankan food. But I’m making for him some type of other food, some touch with the Sri Lankan style. I have to be creative.
Lauren Martino: Oh, boy.
David Payne: So, a lot of experimental stuff?
Nalani Devendra: Of course, I do a lot of experimental stuff. Also, every time when my husband realizes I’m doing something, creating something, he is scared of that because he know he has to eat them. That’s what will happen. If I’m around, he’s trying to eat; if I’m not there, all these going to be in the trash.
Lauren Martino: Oh.
Nalani Devendra: Sometime. But most of the time, I have done good job.
Lauren Martino: So does that usually involve like kicking up the spice? I know you were telling me – we work together in the same branch and you were telling me about when you make stuff for work, it’s a – it’s different.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. I have to – I have two ways to cook. If I’m cooking for my husband, I cook as regular. And if I’m cooking for my colleague at work, I call for that – I call in for that the – I’m making a baby food because I’m not using that much spice on there. Normally what our country people do for the babies because they are not yet pick up the spice.
Lauren Martino: That’s all of us at Silver Spring. Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: But I believe now, I’m also enjoying baby food. I’m not anymore good with the spicy. Although, I cook for my husband, I cannot eat some time.
Lauren Martino: So I’m trying to picture what you’d have to do to like, you know, spaghetti or mac and cheese to make your husband like it.
David Payne: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. If I’m doing mac and cheese, I mean, I will add pinch of crusted pepper, then it will give him some spice.
Lauren Martino: It’ll be enough for him.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
David Payne: So, two very different approaches here.
Lauren Martino: Yes.
David Payne: Tell us, where do you get your recipes from? What are your favorite cookbooks?
Dana Alsup: Oh, that is an end-list, endless list. I like using cookbooks. And I found – I use blogs, Pinterest, of course. But a lot of times, a blog – well, the person who writes the blog comes out with a cookbook and there are so many of those and I love those cookbooks. And then you have the blog as like an annex of recipes, almost. So, The Forest Feast, which we own here at MCPL, we own two of the three cookbooks for it. The first one I use is the kid’s version. It’s – the kids’ books for cooking are a lot of fun and they’re very simple and there’s a lot of warning about how you might cut yourself. But The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson is great.
Lauren Martino: What is The Forest Feast? I’m not familiar with this.
Dana Alsup: One, it’s beautiful. She was a food photographer in New York and now she lives in like beautiful Northern California, and they’re vegetarian recipes. But everything is about like five ingredients or less. So you don’t have to go – it’s like the opposite of America’s Test Kitchen. It’s like the antithesis of that, which is nice to say I only need five ingredients to make these, you know, tacos or these cookies or the salad. And a lot of times, it’s just three ingredients and it’s –
David Payne: So it’s cooking at its most basic?
Dana Alsup: Yeah. And it’s beautifully – it’s beautifully laid out, so it’s a pleasure just visually to look at but that’s – I’d say a lot of stuff comes from online, but then part of my job is looking at all the new books when they come in, so all of those new cookbooks go through my hands before they hit the shelf.
Lauren Martino: I feel like I’m always looking at those before lunch and then we just –
Dana Alsup: Oh.
Lauren Martino: I do love eating mediocre lunch while looking at beautiful pictures of food.
Dana Alsup: Yes.
David Payne: Clearly, timing is everything, yeah.
Dana Alsup: Yeah, it is.
Lauren Martino: So, Nalani, you were telling me a little bit about where you cook from.
Nalani Devendra: Actually, if I go back how I started –
Lauren Martino: Yes, tell us about those.
Nalani Devendra: I didn’t know whether I’m good with the cooking because I didn’t cook when I was teenage or after – until I get to this country. Actually, I didn’t cook much. But I do remember when I was very young, my father normally don’t cook. My mother was – who is cook usually. But especially in the Sri Lankan New Year actually I’m from Sri Lanka – at the Sri Lankan New Year Day, my father is the one who cook and I’m his helper. My mom got off on that day. And then I saw something different. I never want to watch how my mommy cook, I don’t remember how she cooked, but I do remember how my dad cooked because he made special dish on that day. And maybe that is why I love it. My father brought one cookbook which is very popular in Sri Lanka. I believe its name is [Gunasekar] [0:09:20] Cooking Book or something. He gave it to me, not for my mommy, not for my sister, he gave it to me. I believe my father knew whether I have a talent on that.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: Then my next start was in the America. I got to this country 2009. And since the second day of my life in America, I start watching the TV. Guess what I watch? My husband at work, I’m at home for eight-hour by myself, I turn on the TV, I found the Food Network. Almost seven hours I watched the Food Network at least for two months.
David Payne: That would do it. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: My favorite and my only one known celebrity was Paula Deen.
Lauren Martino: Talk about fried food.
Dana Alsup: Yes.
Nalani Devendra: But I don’t like her food because a lot of fat. I don’t like to eat a lot of fat. But I love to watch her TV show. And – but I took a lot of things from her, how she do it. After that, I enjoy Giada.
Lauren Martino: Giada.
Nalani Devendra: Giada.
Lauren Martino: Giada de Laurentiis, is that how you say it?
Nalani Devendra: Yes. Yeah.
Dana Alsup: I think so.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Dana Alsup: I believe so.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And there’s other one, I don’t remember her name, Barefoot or something.
Lauren Martino: Barefoot Contessa?
Dana Alsup: Barefoot Contessa.
Nalani Devendra: Yes, of course.
David Payne: All right.
Lauren Martino: Oh.
Nalani Devendra: I wish my husband like my food like that way.
Lauren Martino: What do you guys find appealing in a cookbook? What does it have to have to make you pick it up and what does it have to have in it to make you cook from it?
Dana Alsup: Pictures. I need pictures. A cook book without pictures is sad to me. I don’t, don’t like looking at it. What’s it supposed to look like? Will I like what it looks like? I like having pictures on a cookbook. And like ingredients-wise, what it should have or like butter, cheese, cozy – I generally like cozy foods, I’m not a salad person. Grilled things, grilled meats, yeah, a lot of cozy, cozy food as if I’m hibernating all year round but it sounds like –
David Payne: Do you go for the picture first or the recipe?
Dana Alsup: The picture. I’ll go for the picture. And there are plenty of cookbooks that I’ve looked at several times where I think, “I haven’t seen this before,” and then I see the recipe and it’s like, “I have and this just – oh, it’s too complicated. I’m not doing this.” I’m not – I’ve – although I do have a passion for America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, they are so thorough and they take time to just even read, and so I – if I have the time, I will grab my Test Kitchen cookbook and I will find the recipe, but then I also grab like Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is like half the ingredients half the time and a very good result. So I don’t – although I do like things like bread-making, which take hours to make bread but it’s not a lot of hands-on time. It’s – you know, you’re – it’s rising for two hours –
David Payne: It’s the preparation.
Dana Alsup: Yeah. You come back to it for five minutes. It’s rising for another hour. But the – too much time, I’m just not into it. I have stuff to binge watch on Netflix, right? I’m a casual cooker.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. As you mentioned – Dana mentioned, of course, picture. If it doesn’t have picture, I don’t want to touch that cookbook. Every time like you mentioned if I have a moment at the library, I go to the new cook book section, turn it, “Is picture on it? Yes, that is my book, let me grab it.” I go through that. Although, I kind of admit, I like to see it. If it doesn’t have a picture, although how popular, how good, I don’t want to touch it. As I saw the picture, I can image, “Oh, yes, I can do that. Oh, I can eat that. Oh, my husband will like.” Or maybe I can cook for my colleague. If it doesn’t have picture, I don’t know. I –
Lauren Martino: Yes, you can cook for your colleagues.
Nalani Devendra: Oh, yes, I know.
Lauren Martino: Yes, you can cook for your colleague.
Nalani Devendra: Also, the ingredient is really big. Normally, I loved – the ingredient which is, I can easily find, also ingredient which is I can use every day, but I am kind of good with substituting for the ingredients. I don’t hesitate to drop out the ingredients. I can feel if I use this, it’s not – if I drop out this ingredient, it – it’s not going to make a change. I can enjoy it still although I – if I don’t have the ingredient. Also, other thing, the less ingredient, yes, of course.
Lauren Martino: Fewer ingredients?
Nalani Devendra: Fewer ingredients. I know one of my colleague I used to work with him at the Long Branch Library, Fred Akuffo. That is the point I used to start looking less ingredient recipe because every time when I saw him – cookbook or recipes he has, how many ingredient over there, then he count the ingredients including salt, pepper, onion, everything. I say, “Hey, Fred, don’t count salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, every kitchen has it.” He said, “No.”
Lauren Martino: Sure thing you’ve got that on your stove, right? It’s in there.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And since then, I start looking at the cookbook with the less ingredient. It’s much easier to handle, it is less opportunity to go –
Lauren Martino: To mess it up?
Nalani Devendra: Mess it up, yes. Thank you, Lauren. Then – yes, of course. Also, I have to thinking about whether my husband will like it, so – because that is the only one I have at my home.
Dana Alsup: I agree with that. I also want to know if my husband will like the meal.
Lauren Martino: Because you’re cooking it for somebody else and –
Dana Alsup: Typically, his answer is yes. He’s not a picky eater like myself.
David Payne: So that brings us to a follow-up question. Now, you’re in the mood to cook. You decide to cook something, how do you decide what you’re cooking?
Dana Alsup: Well, a lot of it is dependent upon time. As the – are – my schedule and my husband’s work schedule don’t line up, so sometimes I get an hour to make and eat dinner and that’s it. If he’s going to also eat it, not go to work without food. And other times, a day – a day off or if our schedules line up better, I have much more time to cook. So I can do something that takes more time or I don’t have to prep it, part of it the night before, I can do – I like fast meals like a grilled pizza, those are quick. I don’t have – I can do that real fast, but that’s a lot of how I plan what we’re eating. And I plan everything on Sunday and shop for it. I used to be one of those willy-nilly shoppers. At the end – at the end of the week, I have a whole bunch of stuff that I had to throw away or we didn’t get to or why did I buy this? So I now plan the meals according to our schedules, but it’s also like, you know, if I’m cooking something for my brother, no cheese can be in sight. He does not like cheese. I know. Something’s –
Lauren Martino: That’s strange.
Dana Alsup: We don’t want to get into it.
Lauren Martino: I could understand it for ethical reasons, but –
Dana Alsup: Where I think like – beside – like butter and cheese are my first two food groups. If I’m cooking something for my mom, she’s a fantastic cook and she’s an adventurous cook, she’ll try anything. But I was a stubborn, stubborn picky eater as a child, so I feel that my cooking now for her is like continuously attempting to make up for my horrible eating habits as a child. So it’s like, “Oh, look what I made. I use this ingredient. Aren’t you proud?” And she and my brother are still stunned that I will eat certain things now that I refused to eat as a child.
Lauren Martino: I was totally the same way. And I’m kind of curious, Nalani, were you a picky eater as a kid?
Nalani Devendra: Of course, I was. In Sri Lanka house, some food I don’t want to eat. I mean, I never eat. I don’t know why.
Dana Alsup: I’m the same way. There are still foods I won’t eat, ask my in-laws, they are – they have a list.
Lauren Martino: A list.
Dana Alsup: We have to remember Dana doesn’t like that. I believe there’s something to that, maybe like people that are picky eaters just become cooks like us.
Lauren Martino: Well, there’s a great book by Bee Wilson who’s – the title of it just went out of my head but it’s all about how we learn to eat and part of it is picky eaters, is it a hereditary thing? Is it a choice thing? And it goes into all the different aspects of how we learn to eat as people and as cultures.
Nalani Devendra: Yeah, I do remember as a young kid, I believe – as I do remember, whole one year, I only eat one dish. I mean, rice and that veggie dish. Every day my mom cooked for me, whole year –
Lauren Martino: This was by your choice or hers?
Nalani Devendra: My choice.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Nalani Devendra: Because I was – I don’t want to eat anything else.
Lauren Martino: Like Bread and Jam for Frances but probably over the year.
Nalani Devendra: And, now, I have realized I’m now excited to try new food, not actually Sri Lankan food – sorry. Any other culture food I like to try. When I go somewhere to eat, I try to go with the food because I don’t know what is that. Sometimes I come hungry because I couldn’t eat that, but it’s still okay, I tried it.
Lauren Martino: So you see something, you got to try it.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. Yes.
Lauren Martino: Sometimes you hate it.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: But – and you go hungry but it doesn’t stop you from trying new things.
Nalani Devendra: No, it’s not, because the reason is I have some scare. While I’m eating, I can just think, “What are the ingredients? Do I have this ingredient? What I can do with this ingredient? Can I make this dish?” Sometimes I come home, try it, sometime I’m – oh, yeah, I have done good job. Maybe I am missing some ingredient but it’s still – at least I can get close to it. One thing I just – first thing I did, I love to go to the Ruby Tuesday.
Lauren Martino: Ruby Tuesday’s? Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: They have potato salad. I love that. Always I want to go to the salad bar because of that.
Lauren Martino: Because of the Ruby Tuesday’s potato salad.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And then, I start thinking why I cannot make it. Actually, I did make, I add some spice.
Lauren Martino: Sri Lankan potato salad.
Nalani Devendra: Yes, Sri Lankans would be too scared for potato salad, I made it.
Lauren Martino: Awesome.
Nalani Devendra: And, actually, I have made that for my colleague at the Long Branch before I came to the Silver Spring.
Lauren Martino: For Fred?
Nalani Devendra: Yes, for Fred and the Long Branch people, they enjoy.
David Payne: And, now, a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Female Speaker: What do astronauts eat in space? How does corn become popcorn? What happens to a hamburger inside your stomach? Who can answer all these questions? You and your child can. Our libraries offer fun programs and resources to help your child develop an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, STEM. Come to the library to learn to code, to build, to design, and to open up the world. You can find a link to MCPL STEM resources in this episode’s show notes.
David Payne: Now back to our program. So, an interest – a full disclosure on the show, what’s the most epic failure you’ve ever had working from a cookbook?
Dana Alsup: I made a lemon pasta dish where you order – where you add a quarter cup of lemon juice at the very end. And I served it and my husband said, “Oh, no, it’s good.” And then I had a bite and if you ever need something to peel the outermost layer of the inside of your mouth that’s the dish. It was so acidic. Our mouths peeled. And we threw it away and I threw the recipe away. I don’t even remember what cookbook it was from. We’re very angry at it. And then we order takeout. That was – that was an epic fail and we still talk about it. “Remember that time –” “Yeah, I remember.”
David Payne: Yeah. So, listeners, don’t try that one.
Dana Alsup: Don’t try that one. But beware because I don’t remember the cookbook because we got to add a little bit of lemon juice on that.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, squeeze and put – and I thought – a quarter cup of lemon juice? Oof. Well, I was right.
Dana Alsup: Not more than once I’ve tried the recipe and I’m like, “This has to be wrong.”
Lauren Martino: Yeah. This is just not right.
Dana Alsup: I even – I went back, I looked, I looked, I looked. And afterward, after I made it, I looked, my husband look, “No, it says quarter cup. It says a quarter cup.”
Nalani Devendra: I’m just guessing it might be printing mistake, maybe quarter tablespoon?
Dana Alsup: It’s quite the mistake. Come on, editors, step up.
Nalani Devendra: Of course, I have one recently.
Lauren Martino: I didn’t – I did not taste this but you say other people at our branch did.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. I want to try the zucchini brownie. I found that recipe at one of our cookbook. I don’t remember which one. The recipe is good. Then the first time I made, it turned out like a zucchini chocolate cake –
Lauren Martino: Which is not an epic fail, you know, you can aim for brownies and reach cake and that’s okay.
Nalani Devendra: Then next time I thought, “Okay, I made the mistake, let me correct it.” The next time I made it – oh, my God, I didn’t even want to eat it until I take it to the library. It was a special meeting for something and I brought it. And then as soon as I cut it, I realized, “No, this is not the one. Then I told, “Oh, guys. Don’t eat this one.”
Lauren Martino: What was wrong with it again? Is it just too squishy or is it runny?
Nalani Devendra: Yes, it’s like a really sticky rice.
Lauren Martino: Sticky rice brownies.
David Payne: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: It is like a sticky, I don’t know what’s wrong. Then I was thinking, “Oh, my God, Silver Spring people got scared for Nalani’s food. They will not anymore trust Nalani’s cooking.” Fortunately, they still –
David Payne: I gather they still have you back.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Well, you made that eggplant lasagna and all was forgiven, I assure you.
Nalani Devendra: Thank you, Lauren.
Lauren Martino: That was really good.
Nalani Devendra: And you miss my – I believe you miss my recent fried rice, healthy fried rice.
Lauren Martino: No, I had some of that.
Nalani Devendra: Oh.
Lauren Martino: I had some of that. It was very good.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: So you’d say that was your signature dish?
Nalani Devendra: For them, my colleague, which is I called the baby food, yes, my signature dish is my fried rice.
Lauren Martino: Is the fried rice.
Nalani Devendra: Which is – because I use very healthy version with a lot of veggie, less oil, everyone asking how you do that, everyone asking, “Can you send me that recipe? I’m sorry I don’t have a recipe. Whatever I can find, I add, I made it.”
Lauren Martino: You did.
Nalani Devendra: Then I have to tell them. Okay, write it down.
Lauren Martino: So you have to write your own cookbook now.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And for the Sri Lankan community, my signature dish is – which called in English hoppers, in Sri Lankan word is Aappa. It is long process. It has to – have a lot of experience do you need or whatever, I don’t know. I know a lot of people cannot do that. Everyone, if I’m inviting them, “Nalani, is that going to be hoppers?” I said, “No.” “We don’t want to come.”
Lauren Martino: So, if you know anybody that finds cooking a challenge, what advice do you have for them to help them get over their intimidation, their fear of cooking?
Dana Alsup: I think Nalani and I might bring up the same cookbook. It’s Jessica Seinfeld’s The Can’t Cook Book where she has – she has how-tos throughout it. She tells you – she shows you in pictures, thank goodness, how to chop certain things and how to cut things a certain way. And she even has, before every recipe, “Don’t panic” and a little tip.
Lauren Martino: In big friendly letters?
Dana Alsup: Yes, don’t panic. But it is – it’s simple. And it’s – you will fail at cooking. Cooking is – the kitchen is like a laboratory. You experiment there and you try things, and sometimes they don’t work out because you add a quarter cup of lemon juice. Sometimes they go really in your favor. And the next time you make that it’s not the same thing and you have to figure out why. It is – it’s different every time, and it’s okay to fail. And don’t, like, don’t try to make Thanksgiving as your first meal.
Lauren Martino: Oh, that’s very good advice.
Dana Alsup: Start small, start real small. And it’s okay not to make fancy type meals. The Queen is rarely coming over for dinner, so you don’t need to make her a huge meal. If it’s just you and a family member, you can make something small.
David Payne: Just probably cook breakfast.
Dana Alsup: Yeah, just start small. I love the cover of this book by the way. It’s got all these things burning on the like huge flames leaping out of the pots on the stove. So The Can’t cookbook, just for the cover alone, it’s – yeah.
Lauren Martino: I think it’s worth taking.
Dana Alsup: Yeah, it’s good.
Nalani Devendra: And also, inside of this book, it has given the description and the – with the – with the picture what are the tools you will need.
Dana Alsup: Yes.
Nalani Devendra: And very basic tools because sometime or since we cook, we know some tools but I also don’t know everything. I mean this is really good if someone is going to start cooking also. I will tell if someone is going to start cooking, first step is start – is start boiling water. Second day, add the egg on the boiling water, then you’re going to have – after you cook – boil for 15 minutes, you’re going to have a boiled egg. Hey, yes, you cook. Start – and probably the next day, all right, now, you know how to cook the egg, boiled egg, grab the pasta – box of the pasta and it will tell you instruction how to cook or boil it – boil the pasta. And now you know something.
Lauren Martino: We’ve got carbohydrates and the protein.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. Also, then, go to the grocery store, grab the pasta sauce and then mix pasta – pasta sauce and your pasta, you have a perfect dinner or lunch with the carbohydrate and protein. And, next day, I would tell have some chopped onion, garlic, and if you have some basil or some herbs, and heat up the pan, add some oil on it, let it to – a little bit heat up, add the garlic, ginger, or onion, or any herbs, which is you have for it, sauté it, then add your pasta sauce on it, then you are changing your pasta sauce test a little bit, and add your pasta on it. You have a different test today. And next day if you want, just boil – steam some veggie and add that veggie for that sauté onion, garlic, whatever you are doing and then you have a veggie pasta with the boiled egg.
Lauren Martino: There you go.
Nalani Devendra: There you go. You are cooking.
David Payne: So lots of cooks, there’s your answer. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Here at Library Matters, we really like to ask everybody, what book are you reading that you’re just dying to gush about?
Dana Alsup: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. I’m a murder mystery fan, and Anthony Horowitz wrote Foyle’s War, which is a television show and also Midsummer Murders, which I’ve seen all of them, and they are amazing. So he wrote this book, he’s written several others, but it just – I was on vacation in Italy and I just wanted to stay in and read.
David Payne: Not cook, not cook?
Dana Alsup: Yes. Not cook. I just – I did –
Lauren Martino: Or eat.
Dana Alsup: Or eat. I just – yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re in Italy, but listen, there’s Magpie Murders to read.
Lauren Martino: That is a matter of a good book.
Dana Alsup: I – it was – it was phenomenal. I loved it so much. It was funny. It was not predictable. None of his stuff is. And that was great. And I also just finished reading The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, and that was – that was a different kind of book for me to read, and it was very enjoyable. It’s a – it’s complex. But if you are the type of person that likes watching like reality shows just for the sake of looking in on someone else’s life, then you’ll like this book.
Lauren Martino: Reality show without the reality.
Dana Alsup: Exactly, yeah.
Lauren Martino: It’s fiction.
Dana Alsup: But you’re really peeping in on someone’s life. Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: I just finished, which is a talk about – which called Future Crimes, Marc Goldman – Goodman.
Lauren Martino: Marc Goodman.
Nalani Devendra: Goodman, sorry. I liked it because it’s kind of prediction.
Lauren Martino: It’s predicting the future?
Nalani Devendra: Future. We think all these modern technology make our life easier. Also – on that way, it make easier for the internet crime – happened internet crime.
Lauren Martino: Wow, that’s timely, isn’t it?
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: There’s been a lot of hack.
Nalani Devendra: Like a – we think of – if we have as much door lock, that much convenient. At the same time, if cyber –
David Payne: Cybercrime?
Nalani Devendra: Cybercrime, people who are doing cybercrime, it’s make easier for them to handle our life, take things from our life because we think it is everything is convenient but at the same time, actually – it is convenient plus there’s risk. But I like modern life. I want to buy this smart door lock.
David Payne: Well, Nalani and Dana, thank you very much for joining us on the show today and making us feel very hungry. Don’t forget, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the 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. See you next time.
Julie Dina: Welcome to Library Matters. Here are your hosts, Julie Dina and –.
David Payne: David Payne.
Julie Dina: Do you have a child who is reluctant to pick up a book and read? Today we have Barbara Shansby who is a wonderful and knowledgeable children’s librarian, who is here to share with us activities, tips, and advice that will encourage reluctant readers to start turning the pages, perhaps even before this podcast is over. Welcome Barbara, and thanks for being with us today.
Barbara: You’re welcome.
David Payne: Well, Barbara we are talking about reluctant readers but perhaps we should start by understanding what we mean by that term. In terms of the work that you do, can you explain what is or who is a reluctant reader to you?
Barbara: Sure. We usually think about, consider people reluctant readers if they don’t seem enthusiastic about reading. We see this especially with children who come to the library and then they’ll ask for help finding a book for a class or for a book report, and when we give them a book, they just give you this blank stare or worse, and there just seems to be no appeal at all for the books. The kids often don’t say that they don’t like to read, but we can tell from their body language that that’s a big issue, and just as often we’ll get questions from parents who are very honest about that. They will say their children don’t want to read or don’t like it and can we help them get them the books that they do need?
David Payne: You talked about children. Can we count adults as reluctant readers?
Barbara: Absolutely; although to be honest, they are probably a little bit less likely to come to the library. I do think there are plenty of adults in this day and age who don’t read or who are intimidated by it in some way and it’s a challenge.
David Payne: Well, Barbara, let’s talk about you a bit as a reader. Did you like to read as a child?
Barbara: Yes, I did. I was a huge reader as a kid. I probably spent too much time reading. I was sort of the opposite problem. My parents were like, “Why don’t you go outside for a change?” So yeah, I’ve always been a reader and in fact my book club for a while, we were going to call ourselves The Women Who Read Too Much and I love that title.
David Payne: So how did you develop your – or discover your love for reading?
Barbara: Well, that’s a hard thing to answer because I can’t – I don’t remember what got me started. I just remember that I loved to do it. However, I will say that the libraries were probably a big part of it. We lived in Montgomery County and my mother used to take me and my sisters to the library every few weeks and we’d check out our two or three books or whatever and bring them home and then we finished we’d go back and it was just an ongoing thing and really as I said, a b part of my life. I mean I remember many of my books very fondly and then when I came back to work as a children’s librarian, there they were. That was pretty amazing.
Julie Dina: Why do you think some people are reluctant to read, both adults and children?
Barbara: I think there are a lot of reasons why people don’t like to read. There’s a feel of failure with it if they’ve had books that they didn’t like or couldn’t make it through for some reason, then the whole task might be intimidating. Certainly learning disorders play a part in especially again in children. There may have been frustrations that kids or adults faced in previous classes or with previous tasks. Sometimes people may want to read but they are not just finding what appeals to them at that particular point. I also think we can’t discount peer pressure again for the kids, that if their friends aren’t reading why should they pick up a book? And for adults, lack of time is often an issue. Sometimes a person might be willing to read but it’s just not a priority and with so many other things, they are not going to pick up a book.
Julie Dina: So for adults, it’s best to say make more time and then you become willing to read? Would you say that?
Barbara: Well, not necessarily. I mean it would be nice if that’s easy but maybe for some people, that will happen but often it’s a problem of finding the book that appeals to you that’s going to turn you on in some way and make you want to keep reading.
David Payne: Well, Barbara talking about books and appeal, what kind of books do you think have the potential to really sparkle up a reading inn somebody who doesn’t have it already?
Barbara: Well, I think that’s a really, really hard question. It’s very tough to know what’s going to appeal and what’s going to appeal to which reader. So since I’m a children’s librarian, I’m going to talk more about that. We found that there is a big cache with the super popular books that kids will be enthusiastic about reading Dork Diaries or Big Nate because all their friends are reading it. I think we all remember when Harry Porter came out, kids who had never touched a book in their life suddenly had to have all of those books and they actually did read them and that was clearly peer pressure. But in addition to choosing the most popular books, there are other ways to determine that you are meeting the needs of that particular kid and the first thing that I would look at is reading level. It’s really important to have a book that a child can have success with. If you give them something that’s too hard, it can be really discouraging. So often, especially at the lower grades I’ll show a child a book and say, “Does this look too easy, too hard?” But you want to make it easy for them, so that’s the first thing that we are looking at.
Julie Dina: How do you motivate a reluctant reader? What set of questions do you ask them and how do you go about matching the reader with a book?
Barbara: As I said, we started with the grade level and then we are looking at what’s popular. You know you can’t always suggest Captain Underpants or Dork Diaries. We are also looking at the format that the child wants to try a graphic novel or a ‘comic book,’ something that has more illustrations than texts. Sometimes kids and again especially the boys want nonfiction, books about sports or animals or science, something like that. So that’s the way to go. Sometimes we are asking them if they had a book that they read before that they liked, can we follow up on that somehow? So there’s a lot of ways to go at it and hopefully we are going to find something that really just lights up those eyes and get that kid into the idea that this would be a fun thing to do.
Julie Dina: Could you share with our listeners and tell us about some o the MCPL programs that will be actually helpful for reluctant readers and their parents or caregivers?
Barbara: Sure, I’m happy to do that. The first thing that comes to mind is our summer reading program and of course we are pretty far from summer right now and I know at spring you have a podcast on summer reading but that is a great way to encourage reading that kids actually get prizes for doing activities and for reading books and it’s a big encouragement for them to come to the library and look at different kinds of books and complete their books. So that’s just a wonderful program but during the school year, there are other programs. We have Early Literacy Story Times which are important. For the older kids, there is a Read to the Dog program which is really fun. It’s held at several different libraries and the kids come in and an adult has a dog that sits there and the child picks up a book and actually reads the book to the dog and that’s terrific because will give you no judgment. A kid who might be shy in a class or with another adult, may find it a little bit easier to read to a dog. Similarly, we also have a Grand Reader program where kids are able to read to an older adult who again may be a little bit less judgmental and a more comforting presence. Also, there are several book discussion clubs for kids and that’s a wonderfully motivating activity because kids who talk about a book are really learning more about it and it will encourage them to read more and to get more out of it.
And of course there are other programs. At lots of different libraries we have author visits, we have STEM activities, and there are just so many programs. I also want to talk a little bit about resources for reluctant readers and for any readers. One thing that I learned recently is that one new technique is to encourage kids to read large print books. They are finding that that is somehow less intimidating to a child to read than a book where all the print is kind of squished together and every page looks so dense. A large print book has more wide space, the word are a little bit further apart. It’s easier for many children to navigate and to have MCPL. We have a pretty good collection of children’s books in large print and of course there are also lots of adult large print. Another thing that can be used in a similar kind of way is e-books. We have again a huge collection of e-books that can be downloaded and read on a device or a computer. Again, you could make the print larger. Some kids might feel more comfortable just to read on a computer than to pick up a book, so that’s a good thing. And also for younger kids, we have two programs, read-along books and so that’s another resource that can be used. In addition, on our website we have all kinds of subject book lists. We have graded book lists, so if you want to know what your second grader might like you could print out the second grade list. If you want to know books on nature or history or whatever, you could print out that list. There’s a lot of great resources.
Julie Dina: I knew it, we worked for MCPL.
David Payne: Something – we had lots of readers.
Julie Dina: Yeah, we would cover everyone.
David Payne: And now, a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
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David Payne: Now back to our program. Well, Barbara let’s talk about a few books, in particular let’s say you have a first grader who says they don’t like reading. What would be your automatic go-to book for them? What about for a third grader or a fifth grader or a ninth grader? What are some of the automatic choices that you go to in those situations?
Barbara: Okay, well I’m going to answer with of course more than one because being a librarian, we always like to pile all these books on you. For a first grade reader, if they are below reading level we have a series called Flip a Word and it’s basically phonics. It’s really clear graphics, very simple, basically again phonics, rhyming words and it’s super easy and very appealing to kids. So that would be my first choice for somebody who’s not quite at first grade or struggling with it. If they are a little better reader but just not enthusiastic, I like to suggest funny books so I might say Fly Guy by Ted Arnold or Williams Piggy and Elephant books. I think humor gets kids reading. For the third grader, again the lower level maybe Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo.
Again they are pretty easy, they are funny, they have humor, they have large print, it’s a pretty easy book to read but it’s thick. So that’s nice, that gives them a sense of accomplishment. For somebody more on level, we might do Captain Underpants, Geronimo Stilton, Baby Mouse, those are all good choices I think. For the fifth grader, again if they are below level I might go to some of those third grade suggestions if they are more on level something like Dork dairies, Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, those are all – again, they have the humor that encourages kids. They have lots of illustrations, they are very popular. So usually when a kid sees that, they are pretty willing to give it a try. The ninth grade is a little harder, I thought. If they are below grade level, I might suggest Hatchet by Paul which is a great adventure story but again it’s short, it’s easy text but it moves really quickly, might be one of those fifth grade books that I mentioned. If they are more at grade level, I might suggest Alex Rider or Hunger Games, a lot of excitement, they move quickly. So I think those books have a fairly good chance to encourage a kid to get reading.
Julie Dina: Could you tell me about a story where you were able to actually get a child who was reluctant and had sworn “I’m never ever going to read again” but you turned it around?
David Payne: Okay. So for this we are going to my family members because what’s a good podcast if you are not embarrassing someone in your family? And I’m going to start with my son and then if you want I can give you a story too about my niece. So my story is in middle school – well actually elementary and middle school, one of my sons really did not like reading and he has never become a huge fiction fan. But his summer reading for middle school one year was to read a novel, so I thought that should be pretty easy, how hard can that be? And I kept bringing home books and he kept saying “No, I don’t like it. It looks stupid.” So finally I brought home the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and something about it appealed to him. It’s the story of a girl who witnesses something horrible happening at a party.
The writing is very spare, it’s powerful, it’s not a long book and something in that book just appealed to him and he read it and then later in the year, his school or his class had a contest to design a new book cover for any boo that you had read and he did the cover for Speak and he won the contest. So I thought that was pretty good reinforcement for reading. The other story was also a summer reading story. My niece had to read a huge amount of pages one summer, that was the assignment, read – I don’t know 500 pages or 1000 pages or 200o pages for your summer reading and again I kept handing her all these young adult novels and she kept “No, I just don’t like it. I don’t know, it’s just –” and finally somebody – and I’m not sure I could take credit for it because it could have been one of her friends said – handed her Twilight and that was when that book was hugely popular. And she read the whole thing and that book is like 500 or 600 pages. I just couldn’t believe this girl who wouldn’t open a 200-page novel, but again there was something about it that just appealed to her. It moved quickly, it was fast, it was popular and so she made her 1000 pages by reading all the books in that series. So that’s my story.
Julie Dina: I love them all.
David Payne: So Barbara, for any parent listening who may be concerned that their child doesn’t like to read, what advice would you give them?
Barbara: Okay, I think it’s a really fine line between encouraging your child to read and pushing them too hard and you have to be really careful. So probably the best strategy is to offer books but don’t force them. You want to make sure that there aren’t learning disabilities that are causing the problems but once that’s been dealt with, again offer the books. If there is a specific problem, you want to maybe work with the teachers to get them to encourage reading. But again, have a choice of books, do the nonfiction, do the graphic novels, do the popular things, and make sure that there are some good options for the child.
Julie Dina: Well, still on the same line of what you just said, because you know many parents are concerned for their reluctant readers and some parents actually would prefer their kids to read above their grade level. What would you say to such parents who keep trying to give a child a book that they are not really interested in and it’s below, well the parents consider this book being below the child’s reading level?
Barbara: Well, we do see that a lot with these many arguments between many parents and many children at the library, but again, we are at that fine line. I do think there are kids who need to be pushed to move away from their comfort level and stretch a little, but some kids need to have the positive reinforcement of reading success at the lower level. So sometimes I do say to parents, “Look, it’s the reading that’s important, not so much the format or the level.” And again, this is something if they are finding it hard to get the child up to the next level, this is something more that a teacher might be able to do more effectively. At the library, we really want to make sure the child is enjoying and that it’s not becoming a chore or an effort. So if a kid is happy reading, you don’t want to mess with that too much.
Julie Dina: So we want a joyful child?
David Payne: That would help?
Julie Dina: Now we’ve talked a lot with regards to children but there are some adults who would mention and say, “I really don’t have time to read this long book.” Do you have any solutions as to what would be good for them?
Barbara: Yes. I think that’s absolutely a valid thing. Sometimes people just don’t want to commit to a huge book. In my old age I’m finding that to be more the case for myself. I’m just like, “Oh no, I have many pages.”
Julie Dina: So what would you recommend for yourself?
Barbara: A shorter book. There are lots of very good books that are 300 or 400 pages or less, fiction, nonfiction, whatever. So you don’t have to go the huge novel route but also there are short stories, there are novels or – I’m sorry, short stories or novellas, there are graphic novels, magazine articles, again the nonfiction is always an option. If you have a nonfiction book sometimes you don’t have to read the whole thing, you kind of skip around a little bit or leave out the chapters that you are not interested in. Another option which actually we didn’t talk about for kids but many people enjoy listening to a book, so that’s another way to deal with the lack of time and possibly the lack of commitment. So if you are on a long trip it doesn’t really matter how long your book is, you just listen for as long as it goes. Also I had another idea and that is that adults can also read young adult books or children’s novels. There are a lot of books that are so well written and have interesting themes and characters, but it’s usually a pretty quick read and that’s a great option.
Julie Dina: Well, finally before we let you go, it’s our tradition here o Library Matters to ask our guests to tell us about a book they have enjoyed reading recently. Could you share that with us?
Barbara: Okay. So I’m going to tell you about a book that I just finished a week or two ago and following my own advice for an easy read, it was young adult, nonfiction. The book is called Survivors Club and the author is Michael Bornstein. And this was an amazing story of a young Jewish boy from Poland who was sent to a concentration camp with his family. At the time he was only four years old, but he managed to survive and even more surprising, almost everybody in his extended family survived. Some survived by hiding, some survived by escaping, some seemed to survive just by luck. So even though it was a sad story and it was pretty awful to read about the violence and the trauma that he went through, I felt like it was so inspiring to learn about where everybody did survive and how he was reunited with his family.
Julie Dina: It sounds wonderful. Well, once again, thank you so much Barbara for joining us for this podcast episode.
David Payne: And being an inspiration to the many young children and the parents who are looking to get that boost into reading. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.
Julie Dina: You are very welcome.
David Payne: Don’t forget, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple Podcast app, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcast, we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today, see you next time on Library Matters.
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
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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.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
Lauren Martino: Welcome to Library Matters. I’m Lauren Martino.
Julie Dina: And I’m Julie Dina.
Lauren Martino: The American Library Association has referred to libraries as first responders in times of economic crisis. Montgomery Country Public Libraries has stepped up to the plate by including a focus on providing a strong and vibrant workforce in our strategic plan. And by hiring Adrienne Van Lare last year as Montgomery Country Public Libraries’ Workforce and Business Development Coordinator to accomplish this goal.
Ms. Van Lare came to us from Montgomery Country’s Department of Economic Development where she provided business and workforce assistance to local companies. Thank you for joining us, Adrienne.
Julie Dina: So, Adrienne, can you define workforce and economic development in the context of what we do at MCPL and what does that term mean in relation to the work that you actually do.
Adrienne Van Lare: Certainly. So in terms of what we are doing at MCPL, it is all of the programs and resources that promote positive change that are improving lives, programs that ultimately better our residents and our customers and ultimately our communities. It is the high school – Career Online High School Program for example that we offer whereby students can finally complete their high school education and get a diploma. It can be the STEM Festival Programs that we have coming up for young children through teens. You know, maybe that will inspire the next wave of coders or IT developers. So it is those programs.
It is the programs for job seekers. It is how to start a business workshop to empower businesses with knowledge that will help them grow. So these – all of these programs strengthen the community. They strengthen our residence and it is a way to help contribute to the economic prosperity ultimately of our diverse community.
Lauren Martino: That is really broad and very – did it ever feel overwhelming like –
Adrienne Van Lare: All the time, all the time. And it does. It is a lot. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Wow. But it sounds –.
Adrienne Van Lare: But it is a lot of good stuff.
Lauren Martino: It sounds like you’re doing something right though because you have received – our library has received the award from the Urban Libraries Council. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Adrienne Van Lare: Certainly. We received an Honorable Mention Award for the ULC’s Innovation Initiative Awards. These are awards that show or demonstrate the value and impact public library service in the 21st century. And they award or they give awards in 10 different categories. The category that we won in was Workforce and Economic Development. So it is very exciting.
Lauren Martino: It is.
Adrienne Van Lare: We are excited.
Lauren Martino: And what did we do to get this award? What – do you know what they were focusing on?
Adrienne Van Lare: Good question. I think that they were looking for innovations in the area of digital training. They were looking for programs for individuals to help, you know, with job skills. They were also looking for innovations in creating partnerships to roll out, you know, programs and services gear toward job seekers and small business owners. And I think we’re doing a lot in all of those areas and serving a diverse group of customers. And so hopefully that is what got us noticed by them.
Julie Dina: Great. Well, actually, tell us, well, how did you – how was it for the whole team when you first got the news?
Adrienne Van Lare: Yeah. We were very pleasantly surprised. It is – it was a big deal for us because we’ve only been at this for a year. It was about a little over a year ago that MCPL leadership decided to make workforce and economic development serve a central pillar of, you know, the strategic plan. So we thought we were doing something positive. We thought we were implementing programs to impact workforce and economic development. And this really is validation that we are moving in the right direction.
Julie Dina: Yeah.
Adrienne Van Lare: So we were thrilled.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Julie Dina: Tell us more about your role as workforce and business development program specialist for MCPL, and how you actually became involved with MCPL.
Adrienne Van Lare: Well, I’ve been here for about a year and a half in this role as workforce and business development specialist. I come from the world of economic development. I actually have worked in the economic development field almost my entire professional career. I’ve worked in international development at the international level and then also at state and local – at the state and local economic development level.
Most recently, I was with the county’s Department of Economic Development. Many of you may know that it recently dissolved and privatized. And around the time that it was preparing to dissolve and privatize, MCPL was getting ready to roll out their strategic plan that included a significant focus on workforce and business development. And I was then offered the opportunity to transfer from the county’s Department of Economic Development to MCPL and stay in county government.
Lauren Martino: We’re really happy to have you.
Adrienne Van Lare: Yeah. Well, I am thrilled to be here. It has been wonderful. It has been a great experience so far.
Lauren Martino: What are the main differences between what you’re doing now and what you did before?
Adrienne Van Lare: There are so many differences. It really is very different. I’m used to working directly with companies and 90% of that job involved interacting on a daily basis with local county companies, also with foreign companies looking to establish a North American presence or some sort of a presence here in Montgomery County.
But there are also similarities. I did a lot of rolling out programs for companies that wanted to work internationally, you know, doing business in Africa or doing business in India, those types of programs. So that is very similar.
Julie Dina: So it seems like you’ve basically been around the business for all the economic world. Has anything surprised you most about the library world?
Adrienne Van Lare: I think I was very surprised about the breadth of services that, you know, involved in here.
Lauren Martino: And so are we everyday.
Julie Dina: That is MCPL.
Adrienne Van Lare: So true. Everyday still even though I’ve been here a little over a year, you know, every now and then I’ll learn about some new wonderful service that you offer here that is free. Yeah. It is –.
Julie Dina: And I’m sure in the business world, you weren’t used to free.
Adrienne Van Lare: Well, that is true. That is true. But it is just amazing all of the services that you provide. I think after I had been here a week or so, someone gave me a list of like two pages long sort of spelled out, you know, of all the, you know, all the benefits that you can get with a library card and I remember being floored. And I still am continue to be surprised by just how many services, you know, we offer for free.
Lauren Martino: I like to think about best kept secrets, anything that you offer, that you think is amazing that is not – the word hasn’t quite gotten out yet and you just want to make sure everybody knows about it.
Adrienne Van Lare: I think the fact that we offer programs and services for businesses, business owners and job seekers, entrepreneurs, there is a lot in the library that they can benefit from. And I once worked with a gentleman who was setting up for example a – the US branch of a German company and he had been in Montgomery County for about five months working out of the Rockville Library.
At the time, he connected with me he was looking for a commercial space. But he did everything including Skyping, you know, from a collaboration room with his German counterparts in Germany to using the computers as his office before he was ready to actually set up and take commercial space. And not only that, he said, “You know, my wife takes English classes at the library also and my child benefits from all of the great programs and services that you offer as well.”
Julie Dina: Talking about job seekers, now why do you think the library would be a good place to offer job seekers classes and workshops?
Adrienne Van Lare: Public libraries are an important and dynamic part of the community’s learning ecosystem. And I think that we have job seekers coming to us to use our computers to do online job applications. And so while they’re here, while they’re in the library system, they may as well take advantage of the workshops that we’re offering and the programs for job seekers. So I think people are turning to libraries more and more for help with the job searches and career assistance. So I think it makes a lot of sense for us to be offering these types of programs and services.
Julie Dina: It does. Especially when they remember it is free.
Lauren Martino: Yes.
Adrienne Van Lare: Right, right.
Julie Dina: I meant you can’t forget that.
Lauren Martino: We see a lot of these customers in our branches day after day. I know you’re talking about people that basically run their business out of the library. Yeah, that is like Silver Spring all over the place. They’re spilling out, you know, any place they can find sometimes. I see people in the children section because every place is so full that, you know, there is so many people using the library sometimes you’ll see them like kind of sitting on the floor, on the little bench with their computer like a desk and they’re just, you know, I guess they just need the space.
Adrienne Van Lare: Right.
Lauren Martino: They just need the room. So I’m thinking of specific patrons I’ve had. What do you say to somebody who basically comes to you and they’re like, “I need a job? I need a job. I need any job. It doesn’t matter what job.”
Adrienne Van Lare: Okay. If I’m someone who is desperately looking for a job, any job, there are so many resources that we offer to help with that. In terms of programs, there are so many programs that we’re offering right now. We’re doing a career reentry seminar series at the Rockville Library. This is a seminar series for women who are reentering the workforce after being away for a while.
Lauren Martino: Oh, that is interesting.
Adrienne Van Lare: Yup. That is a – it is a great series. And so that is one of the great programs that we’re doing now. We’re doing a LinkedIn boot camp at the Davis Library on October 21st. We also on October 24th, this is a very popular program that we’ve been running, How to Apply for Jobs with Montgomery County. This is great because it is actually presented or done by Montgomery County HR specialists. So you can get these sort of insider tips on what to do and not to do if you want to get your application noticed.
Lauren Martino: That is nice. When is that again? Tell me.
Adrienne Van Lare: That is on October 24th at the Twinbrook Library.
Lauren Martino: Okay. So the next person who comes in and says, “Are you hiring at Silver Spring,” that is where I’m going to send them.
Julie Dina: Send them to Twinbrook.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I’m sending them to Twinbrook October 24th.
Adrienne Van Lare: Yup. There are also a number of online courses that we offer. These are six-week courses that are instructor-led and there are online courses such as12 steps to a successful job search. And there is also a resume writing workshop that will walk you through the steps to a powerful resume. So those are some good programs that we offer.
In terms of resources, right from our website, there is a wealth of information on jobs and careers. There are links directly to local and national job listings. You can link to the Maryland Workforce Exchange which is a job board, an online job board with a lot of good opportunities listed. There is the Maryland State Jobs Board, USA Jobs of course which is the federal government job site. There are resume builders, online resume builders. So if you need help creating a resume or a cover letter, you can use these resume builders that you can access from our website to create a resume. Of course books, tons of job hunting books.
And then we also have Worksource Montgomery who is a great partner of ours. They are the Montgomery County workforce body and they run two American job centers, one in Germantown and the other in Wheaton.
Also if you’re job hunting, take advantage of the computers that are available for public use at all of the MCPL locations. And of course there is Wi-Fi access also at all of our locations. And a few locations are now offering laptops that can be borrowed in the branch. This is only at select locations so check the website. Those are just some resources.
Julie Dina: Some, that sounds like a lot.
Adrienne Van Lare: Just a few.
Julie Dina: Just to mention a few. Now tell me, how do you determine the location, time, type of services, programs or, you know, how do you decide which workshop to offer the community?
Adrienne Van Lare: One thing we try to do at MCPL is to tailor programs and services for, you know, the communities where we have 21 different branches in the communities and for each branch differ. So we try to work closely with the branch staff and usually they’ll let us know what programs would appeal to their community and their demographic and we work with information that we’re given from, you know, by the branch staff.
Lauren Martino: Can you tell us a little bit more about we have a recent program that just started up that – oh, actually, awards high school diplomas. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? I had a lot of people interested in the branch and I just really like to know some more –.
Adrienne Van Lare: Yeah. It is a great program. It is the Career Online High School Program that we launched last June. It is a combination career and certificate course so that students graduate not only with a high school diploma but also with a career certificate in one of eight different career areas. And they get to choose which career area.
Lauren Martino: Can you – like what are some examples of some of the career areas?
Adrienne Van Lare: Sure. So there is a retail and customer service option, homeland security which would be ideal for someone who is interested in pursuing a job as a baggage screener let’s say. There is a certified protection officer option, good for someone who wants to work in security. Child care and education is another one –
Lauren Martino: Oh, that is a good one.
Adrienne Van Lare: – that prepares folks for the child development associate certification. Food and customer service skills ideal for someone in the hospitality field. Office management, transportation services. And if none of these specific areas appeal to individuals, they can go with the general career preparation option.
So it is a wonderful program that is completely free. It is – there is no cost to the student. They don’t even have to pay for books, and they work at their own pace. So they can – if they have a full-time job, they can come home and, you know, if midnight is the only time that they have to, you know, devout to studies, well, that is – you know, that is fine with this type of program because they can log in from anywhere anytime to do their studies. And it is exciting. We’ve already had four students graduate in the program.
Lauren Martino: Really?
Adrienne Van Lare: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Wow.
Adrienne Van Lare: Very exciting. Three of the four graduates have gone on or have reached out to Montgomery College to continue their education at Montgomery College.
Lauren Martino: Wow.
Adrienne Van Lare: Yes. So that is great.
Lauren Martino: That is awesome.
Adrienne Van Lare: It is a great program.
Julie Dina: Just so you know, word got out that we would have you as a guest today and I actually got a question that someone would like me to ask you. If I’m a recent immigrant and can’t get work in my field of expertise, what advice do you have for me? You’re the only one who can answer this, Adrienne.
Adrienne Van Lare: Well, I don’t know that I’m in a position to give advice but we do work very closely with a wonderful organization called Upwardly Global. They help work authorized immigrants to find work in the fields that they we were working in before they came to the US, so. And they have a good track record. They actually have helped thousands of foreign trained professionals find work in their fields in the US.
Lauren Martino: So can you tell us a little bit about what is coming down the pipe? What are you excited about what else that we haven’t talked about in the future that you’re working on?
Adrienne Van Lare: In terms of sort of where we’re going in the future, we’re going to be rolling out a lot more of these programs and expanding them to a lot more branches. So we’re excited about that. We are working on a partnership now with Worksource Montgomery to do job clinics –
Lauren Martino: Really?
Adrienne Van Lare: – at some of the branch locations. Yes.
Lauren Martino: Wow.
Adrienne Van Lare: So we’re excited about. At the Rockville Library, we have two workforce programs that I’d like to mention, Networking 101 for a Successful Job Search. That is on November 7th. And then on November 14th, Creating Your Own Personal Board of Directors. And that should be –.
Lauren Martino: What? How does that work?
Adrienne Van Lare: Yeah. That is a fun topic. So we’re no longer talking about, you know, having a mentor these days. Now we talk about having a whole network to help with your job search. So yeah.
Lauren Martino: So one is not enough. You need –.
Adrienne Van Lare: One is not enough. Exactly. Now, you need a network or your own personal board of directors. And so this workshop will tell us all how to go about recruiting people to join our network and help us as we look to change careers or find jobs, so.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. Think about everything I’ve had to look for a job and it is always like, “Okay, I need this many references.” And preferably they’re not from my current job because I don’t necessarily want to let them know.
Adrienne Van Lare: You don’t want to let them to know. Right.
Lauren Martino: So I’ve got to, you know, reach way, way back and then it is always tough. I wonder if that – does your board of directors help with that do you think?
Adrienne Van Lare: Probably, probably. You know, you have a ready-made team or network that you can, you know, approach in situations like this.
Lauren Martino: Are you on anyone’s board of directors?
Adrienne Van Lare: I’m not.
Lauren Martino: No?
Adrienne Van Lare: I’m not.
Julie Dina: You mean you’re not yet.
Lauren Martino: You’re not yet.
Adrienne Van Lare: I’m not yet.
Lauren Martino: You can be a part of mine.
Julie Dina: I know.
Adrienne Van Lare: You know, I’ll have to go this workshop and figure out and learn all about that.
Lauren Martino: Let’s see. I’m thinking of patrons I’ve had in the past. I know there was one guy like long time ago, not in Montgomery County, but he came day after day and he brought his three-year-old and he let his three-year-old run rampant around the library while he look at Facebook and I hope he is not listening. But, you know, this went on. It went on and went on and went on for like six months. And then one day he stopped coming. And he came back like three months later and he is like, “Oh, yeah, I got a job.”
Adrienne Van Lare: Right.
Lauren Martino: It is amazing just the difference that – I mean, you know, we see them at certain point, you know, certain point in their life.
Adrienne Van Lare: Right.
Lauren Martino: But it is amazing the difference that you can be making to people with what you’re doing.
Adrienne Van Lare: Right, right. It is – you know, it improves their quality of life, their standard of living, and strengthens communities. So we want people to be employed.
Lauren Martino: Yes.
Adrienne Van Lare: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Is there any like success stories you can think of that you’re particularly proud of?
Adrienne Van Lare: We get a lot of positive feedback from folks who attend our workshops. We have had someone who attended the How to Apply for Jobs with Montgomery County Government tell us that he had applied for several jobs and after the workshop, he said, “Now, I know why none of my applications were accepted.”
Lauren Martino: Really.
Adrienne Van Lare: “Thank you so much. I know the mistake that I’ve been making.” Exactly.
Julie Dina: Sounds great, Adrienne. All the information you’ve given us today, we really appreciate it. But –.
Lauren Martino: We have one more question.
Julie Dina: Yes. Before you leave, before we wrap this up, we want to know, could you tell us a book you’ve enjoyed recently?
Adrienne Van Lare: Sure. I can tell you about the two books that I’m reading presently. One is Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. And that is by Susan Cain. And it is an interesting book. She challenges the extrovert ideal in the context of business leadership in today’s workplace, and the bias that she feels western culture has toward extroverts and how we consider it a virtue to be gregarious and comfortable in the spotlight. So that is one of the books that I’m reading.
The other is Chimamanda Adichie’s book, Americanah. And that – I’m enjoying that also immensely. I enjoy books about people that are straddling two cultures because I’m always drawn to books where, you know, you have people having to adapt to different cultural environments.
Julie Dina: Well, we definitely want to thank you. You were such a – you were full of information. And as much as I work with you daily, you’ve even given me new information today and I’m sure our audience are grateful for it.
Lauren Martino: I’m happy to take a lot of these back to the branch.
Julie Dina: Oh, yeah, I can’t wait.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Adrienne Van Lare: Yeah. Well, great. That is good to know that there is – I’ve given you – I’ve armed with you new information so.
Lauren Martino: And now, a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Febe Huezo: Hey, did you know a library card is a must have in your wallet? With the library card, you can download books, learn a new language and my favorite, download music. Visit a nearby branch and get your library card today so the next time someone ask you what is in your wallet, you can show them your MCPL card.
Lauren Martino: Now, back to your program.
Julie Dina: Thank you so much Adrienne for joining us today. Let’s 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’ll love to know what you think. Thank you once again for listening to our conversation today. See you again next time.
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.
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.
[Audio Ends] [0:24:44]
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
David Watts: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Chances are if you’re a parent or maybe thinking of becoming one, you’ve read a parenting book or two. If you’re a father you may find it slightly challenging to find and connect to modern parenting books. If so, you’re in luck.
Today we have two guests, Fred Akuffo, the Library Assistant Supervisor at Long Branch Library, and Tom Palmer a library associate at Silver Spring Library. Welcome to the podcast Fred and Tom.
Tom Palmer: Thank you.
Fred Akuffo: Thanks for having us.
David Watts: Tell us a little bit about yourself, how old are your kids and what is your parenting style?
Fred Akuffo: Okay. My kids are 13 and 10. I’ll say my parenting style is a daily discovery. That’s what I like to call it. I like to see what new I can find out to make things great for my kids.
David Watts: Okay, Tom.
Tom Palmer: So my son Theo was born just about three months ago, so I’m very new to the whole parenting thing. So I’m not sure I have a style honestly. I’m on the lookout for one. But I would say, for my wife and I, just trying to do as much as we can as a team. You know, we each have our own roles during the day but when we’re home together you know, there’s a crying baby you know, trying to share the load you know, because we’re in this together and that’s – I think that’s the only approach that will keep us staying in this early part.
David Watts: What parenting books for dads have either of you read?
Tom Palmer: So I’m pretty early on in the game. So with a pregnant wife the last year and then a newborn, I’ve not been reading a ton. But one book I’ve been – I did read was The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin which is just so much information, almost overwhelmingly. But you know, I’m sure we’ll talk more about it, but it was very helpful to sort of go through – have someone go through the whole process, what might happen in different scenarios. So I did enjoy that one.
Fred Akuffo: For myself, I don’t really read a lot of the new books. I’m more of a parenting style off of more ancient reading. I use the Bible a lot at my home and I also use Aesop’s Fables. So I like using Aesop’s Fables because it deals with a lot of character issues and I think for growing kids, one thing we want to do is make sure that character is developed. I get a lot of input from that book. And then for the Bible, Bible gives us hope. So that’s another thing I like to make sure that my kids have instilled in their character is a sense of hope in life, because it goes this way, that way, it’s a rollercoaster sometimes, but if we have hope then we can maneuver.
But in case people hearing want some reading that’s newer. There’s suggested books like the Dad’s Playbook which is a coach telling about methods he used for his kids by Tom Limbert, Be Prepared by Gary Greenberg, Better Dads, Stronger Sons by Rick Johnson, and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker. Also another book that I constantly read is the Boy Scout Handbook. It shows a lot of things that you can do with your kids to encourage them to be hard workers, encourage them to be creative, encourage them to be prepared. So I’d add that to the other two.
David Watts: Why did you guys pick those parenting books? Was it a gift or did you choose it on your own, or did someone suggest it to you?
Fred Akuffo: You know, for me, the Aesop’s Fable was a gift that at a very early age my mother gave it to me as a boy. And I’ve always been interested in what I’m going to do as a dad, even as a boy. So I’ve kind of been reading parenting books like all my life because I’ve always wanted to be a dad, you know. You know, I love my dad. My dad was – he didn’t speak much, he’s a tough guy but you know, he loved us, he worked hard for us. And so I always wanted to be in that position. But I wanted to maybe do a couple of things differently than he did. So I was always looking around to see what that would be, what I would change, what I would keep, and I use that to continue to look for different things and raise my own kids.
David Watts: Tom?
Tom Palmer: So for me, once I found out my wife was pregnant, it was sort of like, “Oh, my gosh, I need to learn everything I can about the whole process.” And actually our doula, the woman who taught us our birth class, she suggested The Birth Partner because she knew you know, and I wouldn’t say I was scared but I was you know, nervous a little bit about you know, when someone you love is going through a big thing, it’s scary. And she recommended this, just because it goes through all the scenarios, what might happen, and that was – I mean it’s overwhelming when you look at the amount of parenting books there are. So I kind of asked her and she suggested it and you know, it wasn’t a ton of time to read, but it did help and it made me feel a little bit more in control of the situation. First situation is by nature not – there’s not too much control over it.
David Watts: In your own experience what have you found to be the difference between the general parenting books and books geared specifically for dads?
Fred Akuffo: I’d say the length. Dad books seemed to be shorter, that I noticed, which is good for me because I tend to lose track if things get too long and if things get too wordy. I like advice to be short and concise. So when they’re too long, it can kind of take away from the reading for me.
Tom Palmer: And I would say the general difference I’ve noticed is it just goes in to you know, there are aspects of parenting unique to women and there are aspects unique to dads, or partners, or fathers. So you know, there is – for me, at least, there’s sort of that obvious bond with a mom and a child, you know, physically that she carries them for months at a time.
And so the books I was reading was helping me sort of you know, talk about you know, any problems, or not even problems, just bonding with the new child, you assume it happens instantly and it you know, doesn’t always work that way. So I think for books geared towards dads, it just sort of highlights a little bit more things that are unique to being a dad.
David Watts: What changes have you made after reading the particular books that you’ve spoken up?
Fred Akuffo: I think that call to response is something that I paid more attention to. As you read, you start to see that the things you do your children respond to. When they respond, they don’t always tell you what is going on inside you know, that you can see what’s happening to their emotions physically by looking at how their face is responding. And sometimes we need to pay attention to that I think and act, whereas, my dad wasn’t a touchy-feely guy. That’s something I think I had to learn through reading that.
When I see what I’ve said has upset my son, I can’t just keep talking and bearing down on just getting the information I want to get across. If he is getting upset in the midst of my talking to him, I might have to stop, give him a hug, let him know he is the coolest kid in the world to me and then see how we move forward you know, from there.
Tom Palmer: Again, it’s been three months for me so I’m not sure, you know? And I’m not really sure I’ve even thought about change. I’ve just been sort of doing what we can to get through the day.
But I would say in the books I’ve read, it always encourages sort of emotional honestly, just communicating with my wife. It’s always important, but especially with something that changes your life just drastically.
I was lucky enough to have a dad who is like that, but like you said with your father, even so if he was a little bit more stern than me. So I’ve tried to take it to the next level to sort of just you know, I don’t want to bug my wife everyday, but just to make sure we’re checking in with each other, everything okay you know. And that was stressed a lot in some of the books that I’ve read and that it makes sense and that’s how we’ve always sort of have you know, been in our relationship.
David Watts: What are some of the changes that you’ve seen in your spouses or even in your children in response to you and how you’re being led by these materials that you’re reading?
Tom Palmer: You know, it’s hard to say for me. But you know, in my family, we talked about everything all the time growing up, my wife not so much. So this whole, what I was just talking about, the emotion or you know, talking to each other, making sure we’re on the same page, it has come forth naturally to me than to her. But I think she has really embraced it, especially since our son has been born. And you know, I think I’ve you know, got myself a pad on the back. I’ve done a good job encouraging her to express herself because you know, it’s just – it’s a crazy time, lots of emotions. So yeah, I would say she has changed in that respect a little bit.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I think for me it’s – we will see kind of thing right now. We made changes. They react to different changes. But I think I’m finding out what those changes means sometimes.
One day I got a note that was written by my daughter and she wrote down that you know, “I love my dad,” and one of the questions on this paper works, “What do you like about him?” And she said, “He makes changes,” or something like that, “even when he is in bad mood. As to say, even when he doesn’t want to do something, he’ll do something nice for you,” you know. So I found out you know, that they’re watching all the time, you know.
David Watts: All the time. All the time. Yeah, yeah.
Fred Akuffo: And they’re watching to see what my response is going to be. Are they going to see that you know, I’m stubbornly going to stand firm? Or are they going to see that you know, yeah, I might be firm but if the time calls for it, I might go ahead and make a decision to bend here and there if needed? So I thought that was good. One day when I saw that, they were encouraged by them.
David Watts: Do you find that you’re turning to parenting books to help you as they go through ages and stages? Tom, in your case, the newborn. Fred, in your case you know, adolescence, in tween, teen years.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: I find with the tween and teens, I’m turning more towards people who’ve gone through it, because I like to ask my peers, elders, people I look up to, people I respect, what they’ve gone through, and actually even people that have made terrible mistakes, I ask them too what they’ve gone through, and what they wished they have done differently. Or I listen sometimes when I hear people telling stories about what they think they’ve done well and what worked out well.
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: A lot of times I listen to people’s children also talk about their parents. And I wish – I hear their children say, “I wish I had done this. I wish I had done that.” So I listen to that too. So I’m always looking for something more; I’m always looking to discover something. So my reading has gone down in terms of the parenting books. I definitely keep trying to glean from others.
Tom Palmer: And I would agree with you in that. There’s no one source you know, I go to for advice or you know, information. I think when parenting books can be helpful is you know, at least when my wife is pregnant, certain terms I just never heard of, I’m looking that up.
But then like you said, I go to my family for advice you know, ask friends, anyone. I’m no expert; I’m open to advice. And then you know, we take, my wife and I take that information and we make the decision we think is best if there is a decision to be made. But yeah, I would say a combination of books, internet, and then just asking my parents, my in-laws, my sisters who have all been parents much longer than me.
David Watts: In each of your books, certainly there was that that you found that you agreed with, but were there any concepts or things discussed that you didn’t agree with? And what did you do with that information?
Tom Palmer: I don’t know if I so much disagreed with things so much as I think I got to the point where there is a little bit of information overload. You know, for some people planning for a birth or a newborn, they want to make a meticulous plan and that was one of the things that the author suggested. After a few chapters, I realized I was maybe kind of start skimming the book a little and going to chapters I thought was interesting or helpful because at least with my personality I started thinking like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of this happening before. I hope this won’t like happen to my wife.”
So I think it was just worrying about things that weren’t necessarily likely to happen, but that’s not necessarily something to disagree with. It’s just the way I approach the book versus other people.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And with older readings, sometimes you got to be careful, because things don’t work like they used to at times. There’s a story in Aesop’s Fable about a guy who went to prison and his mom came to visit him and he bit his mom’s ear off. So I’m not advocating that kind of thing.
But the core lesson was the gentleman felt like his mom didn’t discipline him when he was younger and if she had just done that, could have saved him his grief. So yeah, there’s aspects you disagree with, but you’re looking for the core lesson that’s going to be positive, so.
David Watts: So from your experience, Fred, how would you relate what you’ve learned in the book to a new parent like Tom? How would you relate your experience in what he should be mindful of as he reads these books?
Fred Akuffo: Actually I think Tom said it best. You take what you think you need, what you think you don’t need, you don’t exactly incorporate, ask advice from the people you love around you, and work with your wife on making it all work out.
David Watts: Do the parenting books, you have both read, acknowledge that there are norms that should be followed and are those norms applicable even in other cultures?
Tom Palmer: Yeah, I would say the books I read, although I’m not you know, terribly right at this point, but it did touch on some you know, cultural aspect, but it was tended to be from a reaction of a western standpoint. So it did touch in them, but not as much as might be even helpful or interesting to me. But it’s an interesting question that hadn’t really occurred to me before this, because certain things like birth you know, might be universal. But once the baby comes out, different cultures have very different ideas of whether it’s a group mentality or the parents, and the uncles, and the grandparents all raised them, or it’s a typical modern couple where they’re sort of on their own in a new city. And it would be interesting to read a book that was more or so focused on that idea, that difference in cultures in parenting.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I find the books lately that I’ve read don’t embrace at culture as much. They don’t encourage the young wives to talk to the older women who have been through it to get tips and tricks of how to be a mom and how to make things work, you know? I find that sometimes upon reading to even suggest that those ways are the old ways. And to me, I don’t know, to me, that’s a little bit of a lost, because I think if somebody has been through something, they can give you some input and feedback to protect you, to warn you, to give you heads up to make things easier on you.
So sometimes I think the cultural aspect is lacking in the current parenting books I’ve seen. And again, just like Tom was saying, I’m reading them from a more western point of view. And I could recognize that because I’m from a family where it’s mixed. My father is from Ghana. My mother is from America. So that presents another dynamic. You know, he was from a patriarchal society, so the mindset of a dad is a little bit different from my observation and point of view and upbringing.
Tom Palmer: Going off of that, I would say I wish there was – the books I’ve read had more – would show that it’s normal to really rely on family and friends, especially early in the baby’s life. I think that some of the books touched on that, but you might need help from a family member. But I know for my wife and I, we – I don’t know if I could take that without my mom and mother-in-law staying over some nights and helping out. And I can’t speak to it you know, exactly. But I think that’s a fairly universal idea that it’s hard with the new baby and you will need help and that it’s not a sign of weakness to need help. I wish that have been stressed a bit more in the books I’ve read.
David Watts: So you disagree with the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way and looking back sometimes judgment is laid upon older methods. And what you’re saying is you do need some of that former generation’s experience to help you navigate through what you’re going through in terms of its impact in your family, right?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely. Just in something like you know, it seems like from what I’ve read, every few years, the consensus about how to position a baby when they’re sleeping changes.
David Watts: Yes.
Tom Palmer: Whether it’s in your stomach or the back. And so I finally asked my mom because I don’t – I keep seeing different things I don’t know. And it just helps to hear like you know, “We did this and you were fine.” Not that we’ll necessary exactly follow what my mom says, but it just helps to have past generation’s input and you know, they’re saying, “Don’t do this. But we did this with you and it was okay.” So it’s just another perspective that can be helpful.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And actually I’m not saying I disagree, but I am agreeing with Tom. These books don’t push you to go to your folks and urge you to do that. And I think that’s – to me, that seems like a loss to me. The people who care most about you I would think, would be the first people you wanted to get major, major input on. These folks know you, they know what you’re going to go through more than you do, because a new dad is a new dad every time. So you can’t do enough reading to prepare yourself.
David Watts: So let’s stay with that, okay? Let’s see if we can contrast with Tom.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: Given the positions that you now find yourselves in, he is the new dad, you are the more experienced dad.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: What changed over your course of parenting your child that differs from what you’ve read when you first got into the game? In other words, he is reading a lot of stuff and he wants to put it in the test lab and see if it works. But you’ve already been in the test labs. So tell us how your views changed over these 13-plus years that you’ve been a dad, or not.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I mean my views are always changing.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So it’s a hard question to answer, because I’ve tried to look at it on a daily discovery basis. So whereas I thought I needed to be hardline in one area, five years ago, I changed my mind and said, “Well, I’m going to not soften up, but I’m going to be flexible in that area.”
David Watts: Yeah. So that’s good advice.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: So like, okay, I just didn’t know how to word it.
David Watts: Don’t take such a hard position because you may end up talking –.
Fred Akuffo: On certain things. Yes, on certain things. On other things, I had to – I started off not really being – I started off being indifferent. And now I’m intense you know, when it comes to certain things. So my –.
Fred Akuffo: For example, let’s say social media.
David Watts: So what would you tell him as it relates to social media? He has got a blank slate. You are in the midst of the storm right now, okay? Devices, no devices, what was your experience?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I went with – at first, I was no devices, then I found my family giving gifts that were devices without asking me. So now, they have a device. But with that, I found that there’s more in their mind than I know seeing what they are interested in, seeing what they’re reading, seeing what they’re typing or texting. So now, I have more of an inside window. So it’s not the evil device, but it is engagement to me. So my advice to Tom would be see what they are saying, you know –
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: – when it comes to a device you know.
David Watts: And in fact it added a perspective. From a little further up road –
Fred Akuffo: Absolutely.
David Watts: – is balanced. It’s always about balance, you know? My kids have devices and they’re on their devices, but I make them trade device time for reading time. So you know, if I’m going to keep this in sync with Library Matters, my kids probably read more than the average kid because they know in order to get device time, they’ve got to put in to reading. So the device sort of gets taken and the candle gets handed to them and then they’ve got to put that time in. And you know, the device tells me how much they’ve read, which is a good feature of device. So that’s all I would say to you guys, is strike a balance and, you know –
Fred Akuffo: That’s good. That’s good.
David Watts: – try to keep everything on a level plane.
Tom Palmer: And I would say that’s how my parents were. I’m, I would say, lucky enough to sort of, social media wasn’t around when I was younger but you know, like video games, stuff like that where my mom’s deal was, “You want a video game, great, you can save up for it and wait until Christmas. But any book you want, I’ll buy you.” And so that encouraged me to read and if I hadn’t read early, it just – I’m not sure I would be a librarian or the reader I am today.
So – but she was by no means you know, “No video games,” which would have you know, made me turn me away from books. So I agree that at least from my perspective of as a child, that balance was always really important.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, this is interesting, what you are talking about with the time, we call a social media time share, you know? I would like to think about that more. So that’s something that – and that’s what good. That’s why it’s good to hear how people have gone through things, have done things you know, because you can really get some powerful tools that you might not have exactly thought about at that time.
David Watts: We like to always ask our guest what they’re reading on their nightstand or whatever it is that they are consuming, maybe you’re consuming electronically. But what are you reading now or what is your favorite read?
Tom Palmer: Right now, I’m reading sort of a throwback foundation by Isaac Asimov on the young adult library at Silver Spring. So I’m always trying to keep abreast of young adult literature, but sometimes I just need to nerd out and have some fantasy or some science fiction. And so yeah, it’s good so far.
Fred Akuffo: I’m reading The Truth about Money. It’s good to know. I like to tell my son about money and how it really works. He was interested in buying more things. I don’t really give him money. So the only way he gets this is if he works. But I talk to him about, if you make money, you might want to save the money. And he is wondering why and how. So The Truth About Money is a good read. I think so.
David Watts: Would you read that to him?
Fred Akuffo: We read it together. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Awesome.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Let me also ask you, how often do you guys read to your children?
Fred Akuffo: I don’t read as much as I should or would like to. What I did a lot with my kids is have them listen to books on tape, books on audio CD, and they listened to a lot of stories from a series called Adventures in Odyssey, they listened to that like every night.
David Watts: I can remember, Tom, when my kids were smaller, there was a show in PBS called Reading Rainbow.
Tom Palmer: Oh, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah, yeah. And I would get the book and you know, get into the role and read to them. Do you see yourself doing something like that with Theo?
Tom Palmer: I can’t wait. He is so young right now. When he was in utero, we read the books to him –
David Watts: Wow.
Tom Palmer: – because we’ve read that that is helpful. I’m not convinced. But everyone says like it helps develop their brains. It could – but you know, I don’t know if that did anything. And we are not reading – well, there’s these books for instance, Black on White. I think it’s by Tana Hoban I think is the author. And it’s just sort of everyday objects with a white background in dark black, and it’s just about the – supposed to be good film, their vision, like the contrast of the black versus white. So that’s sort of where we’re limited to right now.
But of course we do the goofy voices with him. It feels like I rarely talk in my own voice at home anymore. But I’m very excited. That was a huge part of my childhood. It was my parent reading to me. And so as soon as I get the feeling he is actually going to get something from it, we’ll start doing some real books.
Fred Akuffo: And the reading part, I don’t do as much, but I make up a lot of stories. So my kids love hearing stories about what I call Clarence Boddicker. And Clarence Boddicker is a guy who – all the Clarence Boddicker stories are stories where I made stupid mistakes, but they don’t know it’s me. So the “me” is the Clarence –.
David Watts: So they come soliciting these stories from you?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, they love Clarence Boddicker.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: And they can’t wait to see what happens.
David Watts: How does that make you feel?
Fred Akuffo: It’s good. It’s good, because something positive can finally come out of it. The stories are vivid. They’re compelling, because they’re real, you know? And Clarence Boddicker has to make a decision in the story and he messes up, he messes up all the time. But these are things that they can be prepared for ahead of time so they don’t do the same thing that I did when I was little, so.
Tom Palmer: Did your dad read to you?
Fred Akuffo: No, my dad told me stories.
David Watts: Okay, so you’ll continue.
Fred Akuffo: So I guess I’m – yeah, yeah.
Tom Palmer: I’d have to steal that idea from you.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. But because, see, my father is West African, so his stories dealt with a lot of walking and talking animals.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So – and those are stories you know, I’m sure you’ve heard the Anansi type stories.
David Watts: Yes.
Fred Akuffo: They’re very, very similar to that and –.
David Watts: And did that impact your reading?
Fred Akuffo: Definitely, definitely. In fact, that’s probably why I like Aesop’s Fable so much, because you know, they’re walking talking animals, too, and have life lessons stories and character building and all that kind of thing. So maybe that’s why I don’t like modern-day parenting looks because there’s no animals in them, you know? But yeah, I think entertaining your kids are you parent them is something that –
David Watts: Is important.
Fred Akuffo: – you want to keep in mind, too you know. It’s not just about lessons, but you got to search to entertain them, you got to be creative.
In fact, the creativity is probably the most important part because it just – it gives them color in their brains. And I don’t know. That’s probably a sorry way to describe it. But that’s the only way I can think. You’re painting a picture and they get a chance to do that with you. So yeah, the entertainment part is big in our family you know. We definitely laugh a lot and talk about what we’ve laughed about later, so yeah.
David Watts: How about you, Tom, did your dad read to you as a child and you feel it’s important to keep that going?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely, and I would say my dad actually is sort of more of a storyteller, and my mom was more of the reader. But I’m very, very grateful to them for instilling that in me. And I don’t remember ever being forced to read. They somehow were able to get me interested, and that’s one of those fears I have as a parent is what if my son doesn’t want to read one day and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But it’s just – it’s so important to me. It developed my imagination, critical thinking, helped me as a writer. So that’s – it’s a huge, huge deal for me and it’s something that I want to instill in my son definitely.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, if you ever come across that, not wanting to read, have them read, choose your own adventure.
Tom Palmer: Oh yeah.
Fred Akuffo: That will help them.
Tom Palmer: All right, point taken.
David Watts: I want to thank both of you for being our guest today on Library Matters. And for our listeners, we’re going 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. See you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. I’m Alessandro Russo.
Mark Santoro: And I’m Mark Santoro, the Library Matters’ Co-producer, filling in today for David Watts.
Alessandro Russo: Are you an adult who reads teen fiction, or do you see teen books as just for teenagers? Today’s teen books also called YA or young adult books are more than broken hearts, dystopia and mystical creatures. Today, we talk to two librarians who enjoy teen literature and can give you book recommendations for you to take a second look at YA literature. Please welcome Agency Manager of Potomac Library, Tina Rawhouser.
Tina Rawhouser: Hello.
Alessandro Russo: And librarian at Marilyn Praisner, Annie Seiler.
Annie Seiler: Howdy.
Alessandro Russo: Thanks for being here, Tina and Annie. You’re both adults, why are you reading teen books? What do you like about teen books?
Annie Seiler: Go ahead Tina take it away.
Tina Rawhouser: Okay. So for me I started reading every little bit of everything anyway, but I started reading more teen fiction when I started working more in teen services here in the library system. So for about the last seven years or so, I’ve tried to read more teen fiction. So I know what I’m talking about when I’m talking to teens so that when I’m helping them and when we’re having book discussions, I know what they are reading. And I found that I like it too. There are plenty of interesting books that adults can enjoy that are considered teen or young adult literature.
Annie Seiler: And I read them because I think that they are a lot of fun. And as the teen librarian over at Praisner Library, I get a lot of questions from people of all ages asking what books to read. And so – and oftentimes, if there’s an adult fiction book that’s not quite there that they want to read and I turn people over and say, “Well, have you ever read young adult fiction?” And they really just have a certain positivity about them. Maybe some of the books are – take place in dystopian societies and stuff where the world is ending, but they expect to be better at the end. You expect a happy ending.
Tina Rawhouser: There’s still hope.
Annie Seiler: Yes, yes, exactly. Whereas a lot of – some – not a lot of adult fiction but enough adult fiction does tend to have so much heavy weight of life just dragging down the narrative and family drama and years of regrets that’s just not there in the teen fiction.
Alessandro Russo: Kind of too much for teens in the sense to hold the emotions and tags along with those adult fiction books.
Tina Rawhouser: Well, I think too with adult fiction the themes in adult fiction and teen fiction are similar, you know, world ending, drama and tragedy, life, love, romance, sex, violence, all that in teen books as well as adult books. But I think in adult books, it tends to get long-winded sometimes. There’s a lot more description. It’s more literary in some ways in some of the books. And it’s just written for adults who want to read these lengthy things. And the teens aren’t as interested in that, so we do have the same themes but in a slightly different perspective really. And that’s one of the things I appreciate about it. I don’t particularly enjoy too much literary fiction but I will read more literary teen books versus adult books. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but–.
Mark Santoro: Would you say that teen books are more optimistic or positive than adult books or is that going too far?
Annie Seiler: I think it depends.
Tina Rawhouser: Okay.
Annie Seiler: I really think that it depends on the point of view of the author. And I find that you do have a lot of literary authors who have that weight. And a lot of the teen writers, they are still – maybe it’s just the authors are just silly, or not silly, they’re still positive people.
Tina Rawhouser: I think too it’s when as a teen, teens still have a lot of life ahead of them. So even though they’ve undergone something, you know, in a book that is –
Annie Seiler: Traumatic.
Tina Rawhouser: – traumatic, tremendously traumatic, you know, death, grief, there’s still a little bit of hope at the end because there’s life ahead of them and they’re looking forward to that. I think in adult books, we tend to be a little bit more cynical. You know, there’s not as much life left ahead of us as there is for teen. Hopefully there’s still a lot of life left ahead for most of us. But I think in adult books, there is a lot more ambiguous and heavy endings, whereas teens as Annie said, the ending can be more optimistic because there’s a future. Even if the future is uncertain, the future is there, we’re looking forward to it, we’re going to do something good, is what I get from teen books.
Annie Seiler: And I think also in teen books, they’ve enjoyed telling us – the authors enjoy telling a story. Sometimes there are more literary teens books that really draw you in in a way that you have similar lines with adult literary fiction. But overall, they’re out to tell a good story.
Mark Santoro: I have heard that teen books are more pros-oriented, more plot-oriented. Does that seem right?
Annie Seiler: Sometimes. There have been teen books that I have read that really are solely character driven. One of them that I know – that I will reference in particular is Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: That one is entirely character driven because the story exists in two places. But those two places are both in the main character’s head.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: The premise of this story is you’re following this boy’s descent into schizophrenia.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And he is in high school. And one thread of the story, he is on a boat sailing to the Marianas Trench to go dive down. And that’s how the schizophrenia is talking. And the other thread of the story, it’s what is actually happening in reality. So that is an example of a story that is fantastically literary because you are taken with the main character who I cannot remember the name of, but it’s entirely character-focused. So it truly depends on the book itself as it would for any other type of fiction that really is how the author choose to weave their story together.
Tina Rawhouser: Right. I agree. And I’m thinking along the lines of literary fiction for people who do enjoy that. One of my favorite teen books is really one that I think has crossover appeal for adults which is Code Name Verity.
Annie Seiler: Oh, yes.
Tina Rawhouser: And I had a really hard time getting into this book. But about halfway through, there is a narrative switch. And once that switch happened, it just completely sucked me in and I could not put the book down. I put it down many times over six months trying to get through the first half. Once I got to that midpoint where the change happened in narration, I could not put it down. And I stayed until 3 o’clock in the morning to finish the book.
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Because it was just – it blew my mind. I mean it just really grabbed hold of me. And it was very, very well-written and not – you know, it’s plot-driven but it’s also got all the intricate twist and turns that I think many adult novels have that not so many teen books do. That one I think is definitely on a higher level.
Annie Seiler: Well, and perhaps that expectation is that teen books don’t have this when in reality not all adult fiction may have that. I think it really depends on the type of book that you want to pick up. And, yes, there are the really teen romance books that they’re like, “When am I going to get my next boyfriend? Oh my goodness.” But then they’re starting to – then you have others that are really, really intense.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: And so many of them tap into a lot of current social angst, not even of the current age group that you are working with the teens or going through with finishing high school and going into college, coming into their own bodies, and all of the crazy, messy stuff that comes with that. But then you have – then you throw in the social drama of – for example black lives matter, are being an undocumented – finding out that you’re an undocumented resident. And what happens then? What happens when your entire world gets turned upside down?
Mark Santoro: What books did you read as a teen? And are those still around?
Annie Seiler: Okay.
Mark Santoro: What’s the shelf life of teen books?
Annie Seiler: I think that it really depends on – and this is a theme that you’re going to keep hearing me say. I think it really depends on the book itself. The books that I loved reading as teens, I read classics. I loved Little Women.
Tina Rawhouser: I read a lot of classics too. Yeah.
Annie Seiler: I was all about The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I loved my fantasy novels.
Tina Rawhouser: I maybe showing my age, but they’re still around. I read a lot of Harlequin Romance novels when I was a teen because that’s what my mother read. And they were short, they were easy to get through. And by the age of 20, I had read so many of them that I was a romantic cynic thinking, “Why are all these 18-year-old girls, the stars of these romance novels falling in love with 36-year-old man?” As an 18-year-old, that was just bizarre to me. But that’s what was around the house and that’s what I read.
And my father read a lot of high fantasy, Hobbit, books by David Brooks. And so I read a lot of that too. I mean it was kind of two different ends of the spectrum. And I remember reading a lot of classics. I can’t remember any particularly teen books, books written for teens that would have been considered teen fiction back then in the olden days.
Annie Seiler: And you also had I think one of the first teen series that went I guess more mainstream that people now remember is Sweet Valley High.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And my mom would not let me read those because she thought they were too grown up. But then –.
Tina Rawhouser: Oh my goodness.
Annie Seiler: I was maybe 11 or 12.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Annie Seiler: And she didn’t like the covers. But I would read anything I can get my hands on. And wait, I didn’t have the access to the Harlequin Romance and stuff. So I real – I went to the library and just as much as I could, Michael Crichton, the classics. Like I think I already mentioned, Little Women, fantasies. And that’s really where I prefer to be whenever I would go to bookstores and stuff. I would go to the high fantasies because it was just the total escapism of versus growing up in rural America. You didn’t have a lot of choice for – other than what was at the library then you get to go to the big city and get – go to the bookstore. And – I mean, and this is also pre-Amazon, pre-Kindles.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Annie Seiler: It was the half price books.
Tina Rawhouser: The genre, teen literature has really developed and grown over the last probably 10 to 15 years, which is I was not a teen 15 years ago. So, you know, it’s developed since after my teen years. But I think it’s kind of funny that I read a lot of teen books now not just because I work with teens anymore, I’m not as involved in teen services, but because I’ve come to enjoy a lot of the books that I find in that genre.
Alessandro Russo: Has young adult fiction been around as long as adult fiction, or – and there was never a kind of tag on what’s teen and what’s adult?
Tina Rawhouser: Yes. Yes. And I think – I read an article from I think it was The Guardian about this that prior to these books being separated out when teens became sort of a marketing phenomenon, prior to that, the teen books were in with adult books and they had, you know, what is a – why do we consider something teen literature versus adult. And it’s usually because there is a teen protagonist. So when you think about things like Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, those are all books with teen protagonist but they were never in a section. They were never in the children’s section. There wasn’t a teen section. And they were with adult books. And a lot of adults consider them adult classics. But they’re kind of teen classics really.
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Annie Seiler: I would agree with that that teens have been – the young adult literature has always been around. It just never had the name young adult literature. And that is a modern invention, a modern marketing invention because the publishers and the book sellers realized, “Hey, there is a huge market that these young people can drive that if we provide books to them, they are going to go to their parents and say, “Buy this for me.”
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And so, it has become so much flashier and mainstream because as a marketing cohort, teens are incredibly powerful.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes, they are.
Annie Seiler: As with – even though they’d have no direct purchasing power, if there’s good fiction out there for them to read, their parents typically will pony up the money. And so that’s why young adult literature as a major genre of the publishing industry has really just exploded.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: And it’s awesome. I love it.
Tina Rawhouser: And I think too that teens do have more purchasing – direct purchasing power now than they did in the past. More of them have jobs. They – teens have more disposable income. My stepdaughters have more disposable income than I ever had as a teen because they’re, you know, getting money from family, they’re getting money for chores and things like that. And until I went out and got a job as a teenager, I didn’t have that disposable income. And, you know, I think it’s a different teen world in terms of book marketing and, you know, the cohort as Annie mentioned for targeting them as consumers is very different than it was 15 to 20 years ago.
Annie Seiler: And as an author, not – I’m not speaking as author because I am not, but I know people who are, that they are incredibly excited to be writing for teens because that is the type of story that they want to tell. So many of my friends who are writers that’s where their passion is. They want – as much as we love reading stories in and around teens, they love writing them because maybe it’s harking back to a heyday that they had where things were awesome. And again, there’s that inherent optimism where they want to write a story that is imbued with hope.
And their – as – because they are such a strong marketing force that young adults have, they are given the opportunity to get their work published and put out there. And so it’s just growing and it’s just a huge snowball and it’s fantastic for all involved because you have amazing works of literature coming out into the genre marketed specifically for teens that are great reads. And I think the adults who read teen literature are really some of the largest side beneficiaries of this great boom because we get to – we also get to read these books too. And we’re not being ashamed for it.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Alessandro Russo: Plus, we have the excuse of being librarian, so we can go, “Oh, we’re reading it for Readers’ Advisory.”
Tina Rawhouser: Of course, absolutely.
Annie Seiler: Right.
Tina Rawhouser: That’s what I tell my husband. I have this stack of teen fiction romances for high – for summer romances because I have to read it for Readers’ Advisory. Of course baby.
Alessandro Russo: So teen fiction or just teen YA books come in all different varieties. How do you think that impacts teen literature, having so many different genres within the teen fiction?
Tina Rawhouser: Same way it affects adult literature. I mean, it’s something for everyone. And I think, you know, we kind of talked before about the differences between adult and teen stuff. And I think we talked about character-driven, maybe they’re not as literary. But I think a lot of teen fiction is also very issue-driven. It’s tackling something big that teens are maybe encountering in their lives for the first time. Whereas in adult fiction, we don’t see as much of the – it’s not as common to have issue-driven stories as it is with the teen literature. But I think the variety and scope is very similar between adult and YA these days. I don’t honestly see much of a difference.
Annie Seiler: I believe that the different genres within teen fiction and young adult fiction, it is – it reflects the readership, it reflects the authorship. There are people who want to write the sci-fi books with the teen protagonist. And those have been around for decades. Look at Orson Scott Card writing Ender’s Game. That’s another young protagonist. And whenever you look up these books in the Montgomery County system, those are within the adult section. And same as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Those are in the adult fiction. I think that it was the time point and as when they were published. That’s what moves them into the young adult area.
Alessandro Russo: Do you find yourself turning to teen books in a specific genre, like let’s say teen science fiction, but then when you started reading adult literature, you’re going to mysteries? Or do you kind of just mix it all up.
Tina Rawhouser: I mix it all up.
Annie Seiler: I don’t really go to teen nonfiction as much because if I’m going to read a nonfiction book, I want a big meaty nonfiction book. And so much of the teen nonfiction is great for school assignments and reading and – but me personally, I love like the big doorstop nonfiction books. But give me teen fantasy and adventure books all day long because those are my hearts, totally my hearts. I love me some Sabaa Tahir and I can just read her all day long.
Tina Rawhouser: I think I go to teen books when I’m in a certain mood to – I listen to a lot of audio books. And sometimes too many thrillers in a row make me paranoid in life.
Annie Seiler: Tina, there’s someone behind you.
Tina Rawhouser: And so, I need something a little bit lighter to carry me through that. And I will, you know, pick up a teen novel, not because it – you know, they still have issues, they still have problems but it’s – there’s a certain lightheartedness to some of it. Right now, I’m listening to The Selection by Kiera Cass.
Annie Seiler: I love those books.
Tina Rawhouser: And, you know, I’ve been wanting to read this or listen to it for a while. And I’m enjoying it because it’s, you know, still interesting, but it gives me a break from some of the really heavy things that I may read or listen to more often.
Annie Seiler: It’s like watching an episode of Frontline, Frontline, Frontline, then going to listening to MPR on your car and then saying, “You know what, I need a break. I’m going to watch The Bachelor.”
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Sometimes you have to have that little bit of fictional candy.
Alessandro Russo: So is there a teen book for everyone out there?
Annie Seiler: There is. We just need to find it for you.
Tina Rawhouser: Absolutely. Yes, go and ask us and we will – tell us what you like because the more we – the more you know what you like to read, we can give you similar suggestions.
Annie Seiler: Yes. We’re kind of good at that as librarians.
Mark Santoro: How do you think an adult’s reading experience of teen book is different from a teen’s experience reading that same book? Do they experience the same book differently?
Tina Rawhouser: I think everybody experiences the same book differently no matter what your age is. But I do think that age can make a difference because teens have less variety in life experience for the most part than most adults do. So when I’m reading a teen book, you know, I’m looking at it through the lens of being older and wiser we hope. But, you know, teens, this may be something new that they’ve not experienced before and it is, you know, a window or mirror onto something that they haven’t experienced that they can take some sort of guidance from or learn something from so that when they encounter it in real life, they – there is a framework for understanding it. Whereas as an adult, I’ve already got that framework. And I think – you know, I’ve got two teen stepdaughters and what they read and the way they read and understand things is definitely different from my own perspective when we read the same things.
Annie Seiler: I think it’s really important to go back and as an adult read teen fiction because it brings you back into that mindset of, “I remember how I felt whenever I was going through my first high school crush.” This – I remember what this feels like because I’m so far beyond that point in my life. And especially if you are a parent of teens, you’ve gone through the whole process of when they were a baby, when they were a kid and growing up. You’ve spent so long in the mindset of parent, it’s always good to go back and remember what it was like whenever you were that age, especially whenever it comes to struggles that they may be going through. And I think that it’s a good window to the past of your own teenage years. And – but absolutely, adults experience teen books differently. I’ve gone through reading teen books that I want to reach through the pages and shake this kid and say, “Don’t worry about the boy.”
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: You can – you’ll go to college and you’ll meet others.
Tina Rawhouser: I agree with Annie that the window back into being a teen is important sometimes for adults to see especially if you’re parenting teens, there is a lot of drama in teen lives. There’s a lot of drama in teen books sometimes, unnecessary drama, created drama because when that crush turns out not to like you anymore or goes out with your best friend –
Annie Seiler: Or turns into a zombie.
Tina Rawhouser: – it’s devastating to a teen. But as an adult, you know that times goes on and you will get over it, you’ll fall in love again, you’ll hardly get your heart broken again, and you still go on, you know, and find happiness eventually. But I agree with Annie that there are times when I went to reach though the pages and shake the character and say, “What are you thinking? Why are you doing this?”
Alessandro Russo: I mean, it sounds like a fascinating social experiment to like have an adult book discussion group read a team novel and then have that group, a teen group read that same novel and then compare their answers and then flip it.
Annie Seiler: Oh, that can be very fun.
Alessandro Russo: That would be a good social –.
Mark Santoro: New library program.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: Yeah. I think that should –.
Alessandro Russo: Teens read adult or adults read teens kind of –.
Tina Rawhouser: So book groups that are out there could have a mother-daughter or mother-child session of the book group where you all read a teen book and invite your children to the book group and discuss.
Annie Seiler: Or father.
Tina Rawhouser: Or father. Any – yes. Parent and child I should say.
Annie Seiler: Yes, there we go.
Alessandro Russo: I kind of did that unofficially with the book The Lovely Bones because we have so many different age groups, you know, so curious, different perspectives from a single mom, someone who’s lost a child, from a teen, from – and I kind of accomplished this and it was just fascinating responses, like –.
Annie Seiler: Right. That’s an intense –.
Alessandro Russo: And I read it many years ago when I was single and I still felt for each character even though I never ever had their experiences, you know, so.
Annie Seiler: Which is a mark of an amazing book. Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: How has growing emphasis on diverse books affected teen literature?
Annie Seiler: I think it has been amazing because I feel that from what the – it’s a study in how to do it right. We’re providing an avenue for writers, authors of color, with characters of color, with – from different backgrounds, different sexual orientation, immigrants’ backgrounds to come in, have a push to get these books published and out there in the hands of people who want to read them. It’s incredible. And I am absolutely loving the richness of stories that have come out of these movements. It’s better for everyone involved. Again, with the mirrors. It provides more mirrors for the readers because when I was growing up, it was the Sweet Valley High, those two little white girls on the book covers which looked a lot like me. But now, I am gravitating more and more to characters of color because their experience is so different from what I grew up with, and I want to know what the world is like for them because those are – that’s the population that I serve with in my particular branch. They are customers of color who are coming in, and they want to read these amazing books too. And they deserve to have characters and authors that look like them, that they see themselves in these pages.
Tina Rawhouser: It reflects their world. And I think something in the recent workshop we attended here at the system said this diversity exists in the world. We may not see it in our lives because, you know, as Annie said as a white women, I grew up in a very conservative nearly white area. And now I live in one of the most diverse counties in the county, and I love every minute of it. And I never realized what life is like for anyone who wasn’t like me because that just didn’t exist when I grew up.
So now being able to look at it and being in this area watching my stepdaughters grow up in a much more diverse world than I ever experienced, they need to see these books that reflect what their life is like. They’ve got – you know, in their classroom of 30 kids there are kids from six different countries speaking six different languages with English as a second language. Their backgrounds are all different. Their skin colors are all different. And that’s not something I ever experienced. And I think it’s just amazing that we can offer this now to so many more teens and children than we have ever been able to before.
Annie Seiler: It is so incredible valuable and I think that’s the proudest thing that I feel about being a teen librarian is that we’re able to promote and get excited and say, look at these amazing books that truly are becoming so much more reflective of the world around us. And I think it’s again a study in how to – maybe not a complete study in how do it right. But – because nothing is ever perfect. But it’s a great start.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Alessandro Russo: So now that we’re all energized about this teen book, if you’re a customer, you come in to Montgomery County Library, how do you find them? Where are these teen books?
Annie Seiler: They are in the young adult sections. And which ever bridge you want to come into, you can come and ask the information desk and we will let you know. We will guide you to the really amazing ones that are out there. We also have some great list on our website. If you are a fun of a particular genre, like if you like the mystery books, if you like fantasy books, if you like LGBT books, we have great curated lists of books that have come out in the past 10 years or so that count or within this genre.
Tina Rawhouser: You can also take advantage of What Do I Read Next.
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Our online readers’ advisory service. And our catalogue, searching in the catalogue and narrow things down to young adult or teen materials.
Annie Seiler: Specific to your branch if you’d like it. And if you have – if there is a book that is – that you want to read that has been on your radar and it is not currently available to your branch, ask a librarian to put it on hold for you, and we will send it to your branch to pick up and then you can join us on any of our social media platforms and just rave about how awesome this young adult book was. Let yourself be surprised by the amazing writing that’s out there.
Alessandro Russo: So if an adult approaches the information desk and they have no clue what they want to read and a YA book just pops in your head, how do you kind of convince I guess that adult to kind of test out this YA book?
Tina Rawhouser: This is one of my favorite things to do to adults who come in and ask about things because I’ve read so much teen fiction and literature that in some genres I have a better knowledge of what’s in the teen section than I do of what’s in the adult section. And if we’ve gone through a list where an adult customer is looking for five different books and we don’t have any of them on hand and they want something in their hand today to take home with them, I will – you know, something comes in to my head that’s young adult, I will say, you know, “Would you consider reading a young adult book?” You know? And depending on the expression on their face when I ask that question, sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s harder to guide them in that direction. But I love recommending things like Code name Verity type – not much in several time. Things like The Book Thief too is a really good crossover –
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: – for people who, you know, think teen fiction can’t be literary. It can be very literary and very interesting. Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow which we mentioned at some point during this before by Orson Scott Card. Those are great for sci-fi fans. Books by Terry Pratchett, there are a lot of them in the adult section. But there is a young adult series that’s never shelved in the adult section that I think is my favorite subseries of his. And he is one of my favorite authors. And the first book is the Wee Free Men. And it’s just tremendously fun. So for people who are looking for something a little offbeat, I will take in that direction too. You know, I think as long as an adult has an open mind about it and they’re willing to give it a try, then they will find they enjoy some of these things that are a kind of crossovers between young adult and adult fiction.
Annie Seiler: Usually whenever I approach that question, if a – if I’m recommending a murder mystery to a patron and they’re kind of a little bit tired in David Baldacci, there’s not a Scott Turow available for them, there is a couple of particular books that I would recommend within the young adult section if they really like those types of mysteries. This is Our Story, by Ashley Elston. That is a great murder mystery and a fantastic who’ve done it that’s written with teen protagonists and antagonists.
It’s really easy to find books that are written in – as for historical fiction and fantasy books within the teen section for adult readers. The books by Ruta Sepetys, The Salt to the Sea and Between Shades to Gray. Those will have you bawling. But they’re such amazing stories that if you’re a fan of historical fiction at all especially World war II fiction and survivors, you have to read these. And there is really no difference between those that you would – those two books. And ones written by Kristin Hannah are Tatiana de Rosnay as far as that amazing time period.
And there are – if you’re – if you prefer reading more grown up romances, there are absolutely some of those. There are two that that have less of the, “Oh, he’s my crush,” struggle but true romance in these books. Sarah J. Maas is one of those writers that if you enjoy high fantasy fairies but a good strong female main character as she grows into her romances, it’s fantastic.
Alessandro Russo: Our favorite question on the show is to ask what’s your favorite, in this case, teen book or what is currently in your nightstand?
Annie Seiler: Currently, my favorite teen books, again, they’re with – they’re fantasy fairytale retellings. That’s just my favorite go-to for a fantastic read. But the ones – the books by Leigh Bardugo. You have The Grisha Trilogy. Those are really good action stories with the fantasy background. But it feels like you’re reading in a fantasy Russia. And then she has some – a couple of great spin-off books that really if you like your antiheroes, Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom. Those are such fun books to read. And if you’re going on a plane ride, they’re nice big thick books too. So that will last you a while.
And I’m also a huge graphic novel nerd. So one of my other gateway to graphic novels which also for teen fiction, you have a great selection. But my favorite through there is Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. It’s hilarious. It’s wonderfully drawn. And it’s a great struggle between who truly is the hero and who are villains of the story, and what does it mean to be a monster.
Tina Rawhouser: For me, I tend to – the first thing that came in my mind were along the fantasy line also because that’s one of my favorite genres. And while I think it’s really cruel to ask librarians what your favorite book is because we read way too much and we have too many of them –
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: – what I came up with was the Cress series by Marissa Meyer.
Annie Seiler: Marissa Meyer.
Tina Rawhouser: The first one was just Cinder.
Annie Seiler: Cinder.
Tina Rawhouser: It was tremendously fun to read. It’s a modern retelling, a steam punk retelling of Cinderella. And –.
Annie Seiler: Cinderella is a cyborg in this series and she’s awesome.
Tina Rawhouser: She is awesome. But I’m – as I also mentioned, I’m reading The Selection by Kiera Cass. I love the Terry Pratchett series, The Wee Free Men series by Terry Pratchett. I loved Code Name Verity.
Annie Seiler: There are way too many.
Tina Rawhouser: They are too many. It was really hard to come up with any answer for that question.
Annie Seiler: There is also so many really good realistic fictions out there. One of the books that I keep looking on our shelves to pick it up but it’s been checked out ever since it was released was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes. That’s on my to read list also.
Annie Seiler: Yes. I’ll arm wrestle you for it whenever it comes into the branches. We’ll go check on the shelves and see and we’ll have an arm wresting contest for it. But that – that is a book that falls within the – we need diverse reads that follows the story of what happens when you have what witness to a police shooting of an unarmed man. And it’s – I cannot wait to read it because it’s just been getting so many great reviews.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And so those types of realistic fiction books within the teen – within the young adult new books. If you see it, pick it up because it’s going to be off the shelf the next hour. They go like hot cakes.
Alessandro Russo: So we want to thank both of out guest, Tina and Annie. And remember keep the conversations going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Annie Seiler: Bye.
Tina Rawhouser: Bye.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. My name is Adrienne Miles Holderbaum and I’m one of the co-producers of the podcast.
Mark Santoro: my name is Mark Santoro. I’m the other co-producer of Library Matters.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And today we’re flipping the script, we’re going to interview the hosts. We’re going to talk about working in libraries and also find out a little bit more about each of them. So we’ll begin. David, why don’t you introduce yourselves officially or personally to our listeners?
David Watts: My name is David Watts. I’m a circulation supervisor with Montgomery County Public Libraries. I’m currently stationed at Silver Spring Library.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how long have you been with MCPL?
David Watts: 17 years.
Alessandro Russo: My name is Alessandro Russo. I am the senior librarian at the Rockville Memorial Library. I’ve been with Montgomery County Public Libraries for two and a half years.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how long have you worked in libraries, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: Since 2010 – back up. 2009, I started volunteering in libraries and then in 2010, I had my first library paid position.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Did you have any professional experience before you came to libraries?
Alessandro Russo: So I was raised working in the restaurant and so I dipped into a lot of everything from washing dishes to cooking, to managing a few of my family’s restaurants, so – especially my current position, I use a lot of that – those skills just like personnel organization and working in a very fast-paced environment.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, David? Have you always worked the libraries?
David Watts: No, I haven’t. I worked in the Washington D.C. school system for 18 years. So the library is like a second career for me.
Mark Santoro: And how did you both make the transition from restaurant work or being a public school teacher to working in libraries? Did you have to get more education or certificate or how did you make the transition from one to the other?
David Watts: Well, I sort of burned out, so I came to the libraries to sort of get away from the whole experience of the school system. And I came to a library and started as the bookmobile driver and did that for about a year and then I was promoted to one of the branches at Quince Orchard and I worked as a library assistant too for a year, and then I was promoted again to circulation supervisor, and I worked at Wheaton Library for six years. And then sort of a rollercoaster ride since then. I’ve worked at eight different branches in the same capacity. So, no, I didn’t have specialized education coming in.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro, making change from restaurant work to working libraries, what did you have to do formally to make that happen?
Alessandro Russo: Right. My story began, well, when I graduated high school and I thought I was just going to run the family business, you know. So high school wasn’t my best years as far as, you know, I didn’t try very hard and then I received a scholarship because of a certain status that I had and that allowed me to go to Community College where I discovered anthropology, which is my undergrad, which is my background. And so – and then I went into International Studies. And so I had this glorious idea that I was going to go work for United Nations when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and then reality hit me and I realized that it’s very, very difficult if you don’t have an in at the United Nations. And so, meanwhile, I’m working at my family’s restaurants and, you know, just picking up the trade and then I decide I want to be involved in my community, so I started volunteering at my local library.
It was a very small library in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. And I did that for a few months. And when the library director at the time approached me and said, “If you like this, you could make a career out of this.” And that’s when I kind of never thought me that I would go to graduate school, like I didn’t see myself, you know, getting a master’s degree. And so when I looked further into the program, I looked at the requirements and, hey, you had to take a test, I took the tests and qualified, and I began working on my master’s of library science degree all while I was working at this local library and I picked up a few other positions at other various libraries nearby.
Mark Santoro: So you started working for the library before you were a librarian?
Alessandro Russo: Correct.
Mark Santoro: What were you doing at first?
Alessandro Russo: So at Adamstown, we – we’re a very small staff. There was about four of us and I was including the director. So I was kind of doing librarian stuff at that time as well. I was answering questions. And what was great is I was getting live experience because at the same time I was working on my master’s degree, so I was kind of – as I was building my education, I was able to use what I was learning in the classroom and using it in my job.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: David, what skills from your previous jobs or careers with – specifically with – in D.C. Public Library – oh, sorry, D.C. Public Schools do you use in your current job in the library?
David Watts: Well, all of them. In a previous life, you know, related to kids at a very basic level, helping them to understand what their duties and responsibilities were as students and helping to get materials in their hands and helping them to progress towards whatever their life’s calling was. In the libraries, it’s a little different but somewhat the same. People come in and they’re seeking information. And so we’re their first point of access when they come into the library. We try to guide them to the different collections. We try to help them to receive materials that they have ordered, or we try to help them when they’ve made catalogue selections to actually receive the materials in the way that they would like to receive that. So it correlates in a – in a direct fashion but it is just about helping people. And, you know, many professions provide the same thing but in libraries, we just try to connect with our customers and help them to realize whatever it is that they desire to learn and grow.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So we heard a little bit about how Alessandro became interested in working in libraries and how he started working in libraries, what about you? Did you always want to work in the library?
David Watts: Well, I’m a big library user in that – I grew up in the local area and I grew up in an area that had a small kiosk sized library. So I would walk over to the library every day and read. Well, it just sort of carried on as I went to college. I went to the University of Maryland and I hung out in the under – what used to be the undergrad library and hung out in the McKeldin Library. And, of course, you guys know there’s a library school there. I didn’t go to library school but I always had this love of hanging out in libraries, reading, doing whatever I could to grow my information base.
As I became an adult, I found myself just enthralled with the idea of reading more and more books. I had this – I had this habit of frequenting the bookstores, the large retail bookstores that were in the area. At that time Borders, Barnes & Noble, and I’d spent maybe about $200, $250 a month on materials. I consumed books in a volume fashion. I read about 40 to 50 books a year and it doesn’t include the audiobooks that I consumed. So I’m a heavy volume library user. I love books. I love the idea of books. I love authors. I love the back stories. So working in the library is sort of a dream come true because it allows me to get paid for doing what I love.
Mark Santoro: This question is for both you. Did you have any preconceived notions about libraries before you started working in one that turned out to be wrong?
David Watts: Yeah. And it’s interesting that I was just telling the story to one of my employees. When I was in college at the University of Maryland, my best friend was dating someone who was in the library school. And, you know, the guys in the fraternity, we sort of teased him all the time about dating this librarian, you know, because we “sort of” bought into the stereotype of librarians being staid and shy and, you know, reluctant to engage, so we just really gave him the business so to speak. When I started working in libraries, I found out that that stereotype was totally untrue, and I feel kind of bad that, you know, that I’d given him such a hard time. So it was a preconceived notion about people and it turned out to be absolutely librarians come in all different kinds of personalities and all different kinds of flavors.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Yes, we do.
David Watts: And they’re just like normal people, yeah, exactly.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: So I was very fortunate to have a parent that loved libraries and would take me as a young child. And I still have memories, you know, sitting there in picture book area just flipping through endless amounts of books. And so I kind of took this concept that libraries and books, you know. And once I started working in libraries and being able to see, like, kind of behind the scenes, it is beyond books and like – it’s so much more because, now, being on the information side of it and understanding and receiving all these questions, I always felt like as librarians or library people, we are knowledge managers. Yeah, there’s all this information out there and someone needs to know how to search it, and that’s what librarians do. They know to search it, dissect it, and give it back as responses to public.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So, Alessandro, what was the most surprising aspect of working in the library and/or how they operate?
Alessandro Russo: So it’s not just as simple as “Here’s a book, I’m checking it out, it’s due on this day.” There’s a lot that goes in a library. There’s so much that the public does not see. There’s – working in this library system, you know, it’s such a nice organization as far as we have a very professional circulation staff that knows what they’re doing and takes care of all the circulation items and the behind the scenes, the processings of the book. Meanwhile, it allows the information side to collect resources to answer all these questions, to know the services of the library, to provide like various programming to make connections – community connections particularly and getting people into the branch and getting them to engage, you know. It’s more than just a book comes in, put this – being put on the shelf, and then if someone takes that book out, checks it out and leaves the library. There are just – it’s – there’s just so much – there’s so much to offer and so much to collect here.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: You can be a podcast host.
Alessandro Russo: Correct. I would not – I did not see that coming.
Mark Santoro: How about you, David, were there any surprises when you started working for the library?
David Watts: Well, I guess the biggest surprise is just the volume of work. If you – if you buy into stereotypes as I described previously, i.e., had bought into, you sort of think of working in the library is just sitting behind a desk reading all day. And, you know, my typical day is anything but that. And, you know, you’re constantly in motion and you’re trying to help people and you’re trying to engage people. And sometimes people can be irascible and not willing to be helped even though they’re asking you to help them. So there’s challenges all around. And, you know, I think from the outside looking in, the public perceives that we have an easy job but it’s really not an easy job.
Mark Santoro: Speaking of challenges, what are some of the most challenging or satisfying parts of your job?
David Watts: Well, certainly the most satisfying aspect of my job is seeing new materials come in, become organized, go out on the shelf, and actually see people excited to get that material in their hands. There’s nothing that I love more than a good book or nothing that I love more than reading something new that I’ve been interested in finding. And when people come in and they find these things there’s a certain gleam in their eye, there’s some satisfaction in their voice at being able to obtain this material. And to me, that’s exciting and it’s heartwarming. And then the other aspect that’s helpful is how we have linkages with the community. We see young people come in usually at an early age, preschool, when they come in for our story times. And having done this for 17 years, I’ve watched more than a few young people come in and they’ve now grown up in the library and I’ve watched them at ages and stages, and I’ve watched their reading interest change and all the while, I’ve watched them grow and develop as people. So that’s a rewarding aspect as well.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And how about you, Alessandro, what’s the most challenging part of the job and what’s the most satisfying?
Alessandro Russo: Challenging, I really dislike when I have to ask someone to leave the library, disruptive library users. I mean, you just have to follow the rules. If you follow the rules, then you could stay, but one of – it’s discipline. I’ve really – I’ve really never enjoyed being a disciplinary but it’s a part of the job, so I’ve learned to deal with it and learn to accept it. But what kind of outshines that is the most lasting part of my job is even though if – for example, if you’re helping someone and you provide them with information or you’re searching and you – and it’s just not the right answer they’re looking for, if they leave with a smile or know that you did everything you possibly could to help them, you know that that person is satisfied and they’ll walk out and they’ll remember that service. And it just makes my job a hundred times better when, you know, you tried your best and they’ll come back for another day, and maybe the next time will be much better.
Mark Santoro: What advice would you give to someone considering working in a library?
David Watts: Well, I would say to them as I say to anyone who’s considering a career, don’t think of it in the short-term, think of it across the whole span of a career. I have two 17-year old daughters who just graduated from high school and –
Mark Santoro: Congratulations.
David Watts: And they’re going off into their chosen fields of life. One wants to be a veterinarian and the other one wants to go into the Army. So what I’ve said to both of them is, “Okay, at the beginning, do you see yourself in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years, are you thinking through all of those things?” I think having had a career in government when I – when I first began, I did not see myself where I am now and I did not see halfway in the middle of a career deciding I don’t want to do this anymore. So I would say to anybody that wants to be a librarian, think about whether or not you really wanted to do this and you’re in it for the long haul. And that’s the advice that, you know, I think would be helpful because you guys would have to admit that being a librarian is changing now at such a rapid pace. What will it really be like in 20 years? Well, what you’re signing on for now, in fact, be the career that you chose 20 years before.
Mark Santoro: So, Alessandro, what advice would you give to someone who is considering a job or a career in libraries?
Alessandro Russo: Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. I was told to volunteer on the day I graduated, and it was the greatest advice that I have ever received in professional and career-wise because as a volunteer, you can go into an organization, work at the organization, and you’re always committed but you’re not committed in the level that you’re stuck. You volunteer. You’re feeling around, you’re making sure this is what I want to do. And the other side of volunteering is a lot of times it will get you into the door. The unfortunate thing is volunteering doesn’t pay but you – even if it’s only a few hours a week, you know, you’re still getting exposed to what that organization is and you build your – you’re building an interest and you’re kind of building an idea of asking yourself, is this what I want to do?
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how have libraries changed since you began your career? So, Alessandro, you began in 2009?
Alessandro Russo: Uh-hmm.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: David, you began in 17 years ago.
David Watts: 2000.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: I’d like to know, from each of you, how they changed.
David Watts: In 2000 when I came in, we did not have the technological advances that we currently see. The libraries had public access on computers, but they functioned on a very basic level. I can’t remember what our time limit was originally or even if we had a time limit when I first came, but the basics of having books and materials is pretty much the same. Now, the platforms have changed since I’ve been here. We’ve got eBooks and now we have magazines that are available online. We have received playways. All of these are advances that I’ve seen take place in South Cove [Phonetic] [0:22:38].
Alessandro Russo: So there’s two that kind of stuck with me and, obviously, I haven’t been in the library world as long as David, but the one is, I guess, when I was starting in libraries, it was the digitization of content. And Library of Congress was just starting their Library of Congress catalog two movement, which they were merging and migrating a lot of their records and a lot of their content. And kind of what – libraries kind of follow what the Library of Congress was doing. And so the libraries that I worked at, they were trying to figure out a way to digitize a lot of their collections, especially their historical collection. The one library I worked at has – had the one of the greatest collections for the Johnstown Flood that happened in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
And they were – you know, this was on old newspaper that we’re showing and they needed to find a way to digitize this content. And, you know, Library of Congress was doing it so, you know, they were trying to get on the – get on – trying to, you know, buy the equipment and figuring out how do we budget to digitize this collection, you know. And the second thing is I remember e-readers were the – were the thing. And, you know, every other month some new edition of an e-reader was coming out and, you know, even in library school, there’s articles “Is this the Death of Print?” And now, if you kind of fast forward, we see e-readers are kind of, you know, phasing out and eBooks are going to stick around, but the e-reader devices, I think, you know, they kind of were a phase and people aren’t investing because they – I think they’ve realized how much they misprint, you know.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Right. And they can also read on their phone.
Alessandro Russo: Correct.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And on tablets that multitask and not just being books and they offer more things than just books, they offer a lot of e-resources and – as podcast.
David Watts: And if I could piggyback on what you’re saying, that’s probably the biggest change that we’ve seen in loggers is that the cellphone technology has changed tremendously since 2000 when I came in and the cell phone has become an integral part of what we do in our digital world. And to piggyback on what Alessandro was saying, I worked at a branch in 2000 that still had a microfiche reader. We had two branches that had microfiche readers and they were heavily used. But our administration had the foresight to understand that that was going to be a dying technology and move on. So what you’re saying the impetus that the Library of Congress gave all libraries was to move forward and think about in digital – digitizing their collections. And now, we have 3D printers. I shouldn’t leave that out. When I first started, we had dot matrix printers and we now have 3D printer.
Alessandro Russo: I remember the single – I worked at one library, it’s when I was working in the interlibrary loan office, it was the one copier page, you put a sheet of paper and it just made you one copy.
Mark Santoro: How can people apply to work at the library?
David Watts: They can go to the county’s website, click on careers and search the listings to see if there’s something of interest available and then they can actually apply online and receive responses about the status of their application, all online.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: You can look at our show notes to find out how to apply for a job with Montgomery County Public Libraries. We’ll include a link and instructions. So here’s another question for you guys to learn a little bit more about you. What’s a fun fact the people may not know about you? Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: So, I am a Cicerone certified beer server. Basically, it says I have knowledge in beer in general and how to make beer, different styles of beer. And I kind of – I’m a nerd, a beer nerd.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: What about you, David?
David Watts: I’m a licensed and ordained Baptist minister. I pastored a church for 20 years. I’ve married probably, let’s say, a hundred couples in 25 years of ministry accordingly, and probably buried a couple hundred people or performed eulogies for. I always think that’s interesting. People don’t necessarily look at me and know that.
Mark Santoro: Besides Library Matters, of course, what are your favorite podcasts?
David Watts: I’m currently consuming something called Two Pods A Day, which is a podcast that features independent podcasters, so it gives you a wide range of topics. A lot of it is comedy or satire, but there’s also a lot of content that is nonfiction and relating to things that are happening in the news. So it’s interesting because you sometimes get stale if you just listen to one podcast, and I like it. I’m also dedicated Tony Kornheiser podcast listener. He wrote for Washington Post for 20-plus years and he has a show on ESPN along with Michael Wilbon called Pardon the Interruption. So, he’s well-known throughout the country. And he speaks not only on sports but a range of topics in the news in the particular day. And his podcast style is somewhat acerbic which, for podcasters, is unusual because usually they’re trying to grow and connect with their audience and he’s trying to do just the opposite.
Alessandro Russo: It is true.
David Watts: Sort of being the grouchy old man who says get off my lawn, so it works for him.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: I’m really into the Nerdist right now, which is a great podcast that talks about everything from gaming to what’s the newest hero trailer and so – and they have great guests all the time, and it’s one of those podcasts where you don’t have to listen the whole time, you could kind of fall in fall out of it. Other podcasts I’ve been listening to lately are just a few other ones like Paranormal. The paranormal, investigation ones, or there’s a few ones that are focused on like beer styles and once called the Beard Nerdist, and it’s basically everything you want to know about beer.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Alessandro, what’s your favorite book or what’s on your nightstand? So those are two questions I wanted to ask.
Alessandro Russo: So, I always have a lot of books on my nightstand. But one of my favorite books is Baudolino by Umberto Eco. It’s a book that has adventure and you have the imagination. And I was kind of happy that we have a new library system because I always share it to others so.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, David?
David Watts: My favorite all-time book is Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Simply because it’s – there are so many major themes in the book; there’s revenge, there’s love, there’s betrayal, there are so many themes in the book. I think he does an excellent job of marrying all those themes together and holding your interest for what would be considered an epic book just for the length of it. What’s currently on my nightstand and it just keeps coming back to my nightstand is David and Goliath and that’s by –
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Malcolm Gladwell.
David Watts: Malcolm Gladwell, thank you for helping with that. I love his tone. He narrates his own eBooks, which is what I consume at night at bedtime. So I love his tone. I love his subject matter. He makes technical issues very, very plain and simple, and I enjoy listening to him.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Well, thank you David and thank you, Alessandro, for being guests today.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you. It’s nice to be on the other side sometimes.
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