Adrienne Miles-Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello, and welcome to Library Matters. I’m Alessandro Russo.
Lennea Bower: And I’m Lennea Bower, Manager of Digital Strategies, the division in-charge of Library Matters. I’ll be filling in today for the vacationing David Watts for this episode.
Alessandro Russo: Parker Hamilton will be retiring this month after 12 successful years as Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries. Parker began her career with MCPL 37 years ago and during this time, she has seen immense change in the library system. Parker was a guest in our first Library Matters episode when we discussed libraries in a time of change. Today, Parker is here for a retrospective of her career in librarianship and with MCPL.
Welcome back to library Matters, Parker. Thank you for coming.
Parker Hamilton: It’s good to be back.
Alessandro Russo: So, tell us about your career with MCPL. Was MCPL the first library system you worked for? What positions have you worked in at MCPL and which was your favorite?
Parker Hamilton: I began my career as a librarian in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was the first credentialed librarian at the Douglass Center Library. It was a project funded by Urbana Free Library and Champaign Public Library serving the predominantly African-American community of the Champaign-Urbana area. We called it the North Side. And so, it was my first job and it was really exciting because it was in a recreation center. And so there was a door that separated the library from the recreation center and it’s a one-stop shop for the community.
So I had the opportunity to be a community activist but also be a credentialed librarian. I can remember having programs with Bobby Seale from the Black Panthers being our guest but also helping children and their parents find books to use in order to do homework assignment. So it was really an exciting time for librarianship in that particular area, and exciting for me to be a part of changing and impacting the community.
Lennea Bower: How many positions have you worked in at MCPL leading up to being the director now for the past 12 years?
Parker Hamilton: Oh, well, I started out as a Librarian I. That’s the entry level for librarians and that was at the Long Branch Library, and basically went up the classification scale – Librarian I, Librarian II, Librarian III. Then I became an agency manager at Long Branch Library and agency manager at Davis. And then I entered administration and I did human resources work, strategic planning work, and management of branches. And then I left the library system for a while and was assistant chief administrative officer for the county and then came back as acting director and then named permanent director.
Lennea Bower: And why did you choose librarianship? I mean you mentioned some of the things that you liked about it but why did you choose that as a career?
Parker Hamilton: Not because I love reading, but because it was an opportunity to connect with learning and knowledge. I was introduced to that wealth of information when I was working at the Commerce Library at the University of Illinois. And I just saw all the information and just felt that I wanted to be a part of connecting people to those options and those opportunities. So it was the content of the book and – rather than for the love of the book.
Alessandro Russo: So when you started working in libraries, did you have a specific career goal?
Parker Hamilton: No, I basically wanted to serve people. I wanted to connect people. I never had on my bucket list to be director of a library system. It just happened.
Lennea Bower: Do you have any advice that you would give your younger self, back when you were starting at MCPL?
Parker Hamilton: Think about career goals. I’m not sure I would tell myself that because I think that you need, honestly, to be open to possibilities. I think sometimes we get so obsessed with saying what we’re going to do that we don’t recognize the packet when it falls in front of us because it doesn’t look the way that we want it to look. And so, I think I would probably just do it the way I did it, just, you know, look for the opportunities and prepare myself and make sure that if a door opens, I have the credentials to walk through it.
Alessandro Russo: What are some of your favorite memories working with the public?
Parker Hamilton: I remember when we did a mini renovation at the Long Branch Library and we put in new carpets and we upholstered chairs and paint the building, and everything. And one day after school, you know, the kids come in, and they’re teenagers, they’re supposed to be teenagers, and this kid put his foot on the chair and one of the other kids went over there. “Mrs. Hamilton just fixed this place up for us. Take your foot off of that chair.” And I was like, “Yes.” You know, it was just a sense of pride of this is our library. This is special. And the fact that I didn’t have to do it and it was just, you know, just right on the money. And so that was really good.
My other experience that I really liked in the county probably is not in libraries. It was when I was assistant chief administrative officer. I did a lot of work with the community and I could remember working to bring Prince George’s County officials together with Montgomery County officials to work on common issues, and one was gangs in our area. And so, that experience and just acknowledging that we have gangs in Montgomery County, because you don’t have gangs in Montgomery County, was a good memory because I had a role in listening to the community, understanding the reputation of Montgomery County as this affluent, white, middle class community but knowing that it was the right thing to do.
And working with people who saw that and understood that made me really realize it’s all about the people. It’s all about the residents. And so, there was that growth, that true commitment in serving the residents of this county and wanting to do the right thing on their behalf.
Lennea Bower: So what are some of the greatest challenges that you faced during your career?
Parker Hamilton: Greatest challenges faced during my career? I like to repeat questions. I guess it gives me time to think here. I think the greatest challenge is trying to make informed decisions for 1 million people when they all want different things, and limited resources, and just trying to figure that out especially when not everyone agrees with what the response should be. And so, that was very challenging, continues to be very challenging.
And it was almost easier when we were going through the recession because you had limited resources and you had to prioritize. You had to make those informed decision. People understood that. But now that our budget is over $40 million, the expectation is, “Well, why can’t you do this for me?”
And so, it’s been challenging and not everyone understands the role of technology. We have people who want us to have more technology, but we can’t afford to spend all of our money on technology because we still have a huge population who want prep material.
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: And so, you have to do the best you can with the information that you have and I pride myself of being flexible because I can make a decision today and if I get new information and that decision is no longer reasonable or viable, I do make new decision.
Alessandro Russo: Were there barriers or setbacks that you faced in your career either on non-library or library setting?
Parker Hamilton: Barriers or setback. Well, I’m an African-American female. I’m 69 years old. I have experienced discrimination. I have had people who wanted my voice to be silenced. I have been disrespected. I can remember working at Long Branch Library and the person wanted the supervisor. I walked out. I want the supervisor. I am the supervisor. I am the manager of this branch.
And there are times that people walked out because they did not want to talk to or believe that a person who looked like me is truly the manager of this branch and that happened in Montgomery County, Maryland. So, that was a surprise to me. It was something I did not expect because when we lived in Evanston, Illinois and we researched areas to where we might want to live, we decided to live in Montgomery County, Maryland because its reputation was one of tolerance, being progressive and to face racism was very hard – was very hard.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. I can imagine. That’s not what you’re looking for when you go into work in the morning. So, what’s the proudest moment of your career?
Parker Hamilton: I think when people especially people who look like me come up and say, “You made a difference in my life. Because of the programs and services that MCPL offers, I’ve been able to get a job” or "My child actually got an A on that exam that they were studying really hard for.”
And so, I think it’s knowing that what we do as librarians, as staff of MCPL makes a difference in the lives of people. We’re just not this romantic vision of public libraries. We actually change lives. We transform lives and that makes me feel really proud of the work that we do.
Alessandro Russo: So, why do you think it’s important for customers to see themselves reflected in library staff, the programs, and the collection especially and our resources?
Parker Hamilton: I think it’s important because, first of all, they’re taxpayers and if they’re taxpayers, they should be able to come into our public libraries and find the books and materials that they want to read. And so, I think that for them to know that we know, that they live in Montgomery County and that they use our public libraries shows respect and there’s nothing more important for an individual from my perspective and to know that they are respected.
Lennea Bower: So, you’ve spent 12 years as the director of the MCPL system. What pleases you most about this time under your leadership?
Parker Hamilton: We just started a new pilot where we’re going to – we’re not charging fines for children’s materials that are not returned on time. That was a hard fight for the library system to get approval to do that, but we finally got approval. And it’s important to me because, again, it goes back to respect. Can you imagine a child with a hand load of books in their hand and would like to check those books out and a caregiver or mommy or daddy goes to the checkout counter and we tell them that you have fines on your account and it has been blocked.
And that child is told by mommy or daddy or someone, “You have to put those books back.” Because of this pilot program, that will not happen. And so, we will open the doors to learning, we’ll open the doors to reading and we’ll do it with respect and dignity.
Lennea Bower: That’s a great pilot.
Parker Hamilton: It’s a great pilot. It’s a long time coming. It is the right thing to do because at the end of the day, we want kids to read, right, and we want them to get the information that they need to be excellent student. I’m excited to follow it and see where we end up.
Alessandro Russo: What are some of the greatest advancements you’ve seen or witnessed in your career in libraries?
Parker Hamilton: Greatest advancement, of course, its technology. I think our digital strategies unit is awesome.
Lennea Bower: Thank you.
Parker Hamilton: You’re welcome. And in terms of what we do – I remember – remember this, Lennea, but I can’t remember what the word is now, but I would always ask you guys about our influence on Twitter and whether or not we were influencing the conversation. Because for me, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about influence.
I think the influence conversation in Montgomery County but also conversations in the library world, our library system is known as a leader in the library world, especially in the urban libraries world and that’s because of, you know, the advances we have taken with technology in our system. I think we’re probably on every social media platform, if we’re not on it, we will soon be on every social media platform.
I think the fact that we have robust Wi-Fi in our branches, our digital media labs, our leadership in the area of STEM, the Go! Kits that we have, have put together for our kids and their caregivers and then the workforce development opportunities that we have, the fact that people who do not have a high school diploma can come to the library system and get a high school diploma because not everyone learn the same way and schools, as much as we would like to think, school is not for everyone.
And not everyone can excel in that environment. So to give an option for them to get that high school diploma, to get that promotion, to go to college, that’s what we do. And so, I think those advances are really good.
I love the fact that our profession is attracting a diverse group of people – young people, old people, male, female. We look like Montgomery County. And I think that that’s huge. And I – you know, I probably shouldn’t say this, but the fact that young people want to be librarians, awesome, right?
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: It is awesome.
Parker Hamilton: That’s awesome, right? You know that.
Alessandro Russo: It is awesome. Yeah, very awesome.
Parker Hamilton: You know, and I think people want to do it because we want to make a difference. And we do make that difference. That’s pretty cool.
Lennea Bower: I think you stole my next question which is –
Parker Hamilton: Uh-oh.
Lennea Bower: – how we get the next generation interested in librarianship, and I think you talked about they are, but what more can we do to kind of keep that moving forward with getting people interested and involved and –?
Parker Hamilton: I think being out in the community, going to the schools, and I think just being who we are, because I think if we’re nice, if we’re kind and we set that model of respect and dignity, folks are going to say, “Oh, they’re pretty cool people. I want to do what they’re doing. I want to make that difference that they’re making.”
I can remember one time I thought about being a teacher and I thought about being a teacher because of my teacher. And so I think folks will think about coming to our profession because of us. And so, we’ve got this huge, you know, job to not only deliver outstanding customer service, but always recognize that whenever we’re out there, we’re a role model. And so, we just need to do our best. And we do. And we do.
Lennea Bower: And then to turn that around, for those young people that are interested in it, what advice would you give them? You said you wouldn’t – you said that you felt like you found the things you needed when you need them, but what advice would you give to young people who are interested in pursuing librarianship?
Parker Hamilton: Librarianship?
Lennea Bower: Mm-hmm.
Parker Hamilton: Of course you have to study hard because in order to work in the State of Maryland as a librarian, you need a master’s degree in library science. We have another program, but you also need a bachelor’s degree for that. And so, I think, you know, you need to study hard. I don’t think that you want to say, “I want to be a librarian,” I think you need to be curious about the world, curious about information because it’s that curiosity, I think, that makes the best librarian. You know, just wanting to know and then wanting to help connect what you know to that person standing in front of you.
Alessandro Russo: Do you see librarianship changing in the future or have you noticed changes in librarianship?
Parker Hamilton: I think we have changed. I think that we do not hire people just because they love books. I think we hire people because we want that connection to the folks who are coming into the library. We hire people because of their attitude. We hire people because of the recognition that all people should be respected. I think we hire people who are into humans, who are into people.
And so, I think that we have changed because when I was looking for a job here in Montgomery County, the only thing they asked me about was what books do I read. And now, when you interview for Montgomery County, you are asked that but you’re also asked about technology. You’re also asked about just general knowledge. You know, we’ve got this thing going on now called fake news.
Lennea Bower: Mm-hmm.
Parker Hamilton: You know, we are the ones who help people decipher whether what they’re reading is fake or not. And in order to do that, we have to be up on it. We have to be curious. We have to know what’s happening in the world.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. And we’ve got a series on fake news that –
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
Lennea Bower: – we’ve started under your leadership, so.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: And what about for people of color, I mean I know in our county we try – in our system, we try very hard to hire a diverse group. As we’ve already said, that looks like Montgomery County, but I know in the library world in general, attracting people of color to the profession has been a big push over the last several years. Are there certain things that you think can be even stepped up more to bring those – raise interest for young people, especially if maybe they live in an area where they don’t go into the library and see themselves in the current staff?
Parker Hamilton: I think we need to do different type of programs. I think we need to stop calling a book a good book. I think we need to do a better job of selecting books. I think that a book is good if someone reads it. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a book that’s written in African-American English. I think that’s a good thing. But I do know that some people would not select that book with African-American English because that’s not what we speak. And African-American English is a language.
Lennea Bower: Right.
Parker Hamilton: Filipino English is a language. And so I think the publishers need to step up and publish more books that people can relate to. And then once that happens, I think we, as librarians, need to select those books. And then we need to connect the people to those books. And so, I think that white people should read books in African-American English and vice-versa. White people should read books that have black characters just like African-American read books with white characters.
And I just think we just need to come together. I would love to see poetry slam with rap music. I mean, rap is poetry, right?
Alessandro Russo: Mm-hmm.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. Just like Hamilton.
Parker Hamilton: There you go. There you go. Some people might think it’s lowering our standards. I think it’s meeting people where they are. And that’s what we do as librarians. We connect with people where they are. And so, we just need to continue to do that.
And I also think we need to ask more. I think we, as librarians, sometimes think that we have all the answers. And if we just ask the question, we might learn something, and then you’ve got a lifelong learner in someone who might want to become a librarian.
Alessandro Russo: So, enough about libraries. What are you looking forward to most in retirement?
Parker Hamilton: Being with my grandkids and my kids. I’m from the south. I’m from a little place called Red Top, South Carolina, and so I look forward to going back to the south. I look forward to eating peaches and strawberries and collard greens and okra and just have it fresh. And so, I look forward to that. I’m just looking forward to just being for a while, just be – just to lean into whatever it is. Then, in a couple of years or maybe a year, I’ll see where I end up.
But I do want to do some public service work. I’m going to be living about 20 minutes from Tuskegee, Alabama and I think that I might be able to make a difference there in the lives of some people. So I want to do that.
I also love historically about colleges the marching bands.
Lennea Bower: Oh yeah.
Parker Hamilton: And so Tuskegee University has outstanding marching band. So I’m looking forward to go in football games.
Lennea Bower: Just to watch the marching band?
Parker Hamilton: Just to watch the marching band. I don’t care who they’re playing, I just want to go and watch the marching band.
Lennea Bower: So who are the marching band competitions, you know, are you going to watch?
Parker Hamilton: I know drum, drum, I know. So I am looking forward to that. I understand that there is an organization called the Eastern Alabama Performing Arts that’s supposed to be really great, bringing great programs and everything. So I will do that. But that mainly I’m just looking to spend time with the grand kids and the kids and to just be for a while.
Lennea Bower: Do you have a library card for your new system down there yet?
Parker Hamilton: Not yet. But I will get one as soon as I get down there. Well, I’m looking forward to it because, you know, I want to read the new James Blake book with Grace or something like that where he writes about the activism of athletes. And so I don’t know why but I am fascinated by that. I heard him on NPR.
Lennea Bower: I think I heard that in [indiscernible] [0:27:47].
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. And so I want to read that and so that might be the first book that I’ll try to check out for my new public library.
Alessandro Russo: So if you had a favorite podcast, what would it be?
Parker Hamilton: Of course. What is this podcast called? It’s Library Matters, right?
Lennea Bower: Yes, that’s correct.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: All right. Well then, of course, this is my favorite one of all. That’s not – that’s a no brainer.
Lennea Bower: Any other podcasts? Were there ones that you didn’t bring into being and –
Parker Hamilton: I don’t know whether to call them podcast or not, but I have just become an NPR junkie. I listen to them on Saturdays, you know. I visited a car show, you know, the brothers from – the brothers from Boston.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah, yeah.
Lennea Bower: Oh yeah, from Boston.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. I even listen to that on Saturdays. So I just turn the radio on and listen to whatever comes up. But I was telling someone the other day, I’m looking forward to having space in my brain to actually remember some of those things that I listen to because right now, I have all the library stuff in my brain and focus on that. And so other things kind of go out because there’s no space. So I’m looking forward to have more space in that brain.
Lennea Bower: A lot of those NPR shows, they have some of those hosts that have podcasts that they are too separate from the shows, you can dive even deeper into some of those –
Parker Hamilton: All right.
Lennea Bower: – topics per –
Parker Hamilton: Okay. So you got to have to share those with me and we have to look for it because you’re a big podcast listener.
Lennea Bower: I am a big – well, I think Alessandro and I both are. I’m a big in a lot of news and that’s how I consume a lot of my news is through podcast.
Parker Hamilton: Right. All right. All right.
Alessandro Russo: I think I’m more of the diverse kind of podcast. I love like the haunted stories and like the ghost stories, the ghost hunter ones. There’s one that it’s all about Kurt Vonnegut Publication.
Lennea Bower: Kurt Vonnegut.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah. And it’s amazing because you read those stories and then you get these guy’s new perspectives and you’re just like blown away.
Parker Hamilton: Wow.
Alessandro Russo: That they just take another light – just another light into the book.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, there’s just so much out there you know, you have to prioritize a little, but I think other than that, you’re up all day and up all night.
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Parker Hamilton: And – but I think that radio is fascinating. And, you know, I don’t watch television that much anymore except for a few things. You know, I love House of Cards and NCIS. I watched it on channel 9 but I also watched it on WUSA. So – and so I’m, oh, I’ve seen that one before but I still watch it.
Lennea Bower: Do you watch all the spinoffs too or just the originals?
Parker Hamilton: I watch all the spinoffs and I also watch the one that was Michael Weatherly, Bull.
Lennea Bower: Weatherly.
Parker Hamilton: I watch that as well.
Lennea Bower: I used to watch Michael Weatherly on Dark Angel, which is what he was on before he was on NCIS.
Parker Hamilton: Oh well, yeah, I think he’s a very good actor. I like him. I was worried when he left NCIS, but he’s doing a great job.
Lennea Bower: So do you have a favorite library app? So now we’re going – we’re moving from podcast apps –
Parker Hamilton: Actually, I do not. What was the answer?
Lennea Bower: I don’t know the answer. I’m just asking, do you use any of our apps? Do you use any of our – I mean obviously you know what our electronic services are but do you use them outside of the library?
Parker Hamilton: I follow you guys on Facebook.
Lennea Bower: Through you.
Parker Hamilton: I follow us on Facebook. I follow us on Instagram. I follow us on Twitter. I do not follow us on Pinterest.
Lennea Bower: You don't want to pin books with us?
Parker Hamilton: I am. I do not do that. I look at our website all the time. I love the spotlight section on it. I love our shout out blogs. I absolutely love the shout out blogs. I learned so much about our collection. And I learned so much about the staff member that’s writing it. And I go and I follow them. So I remember Anita Vassallo who’s going to be the acting director for Montgomery County Public Libraries. She did a shout out blog on apps and as a result of that, I had our student campaign on apps that was called Get Appy.
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: But I did it as a result of reading her shout out blog.
Lennea Bower: I knew about that campaign, but I did not know about the shout out blog, why they seem to – that was right –
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
Lennea Bower: – during MCPL, but –
Parker Hamilton: Yeah, it was like, oh wow, everyone needs to know this. Let’s do this. And so I love the shout out blog.
Lennea Bower: Well, shout out to our podcast producer, Mark, who is the editor of the shout out blog.
Parker Hamilton: Way to go, Mark.
Lennea Bower: As well as the producer of the podcast.
Parker Hamilton: Of the podcast.
Lennea Bower: So –
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. So I do like that a lot.
Alessandro Russo: Is there a book out there that you can say has inspired or changed you the most?
Parker Hamilton: There’s a book out there that I go back and read at different stages in my life. It’s Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Gift from the Sea or the gift of the sea. I think it’s Gift from the Sea. It’s a small book but if I go back and read it at different stages in my life and it always comforts me. It makes me feel like I’m not alone with what I’m dealing with. So I guess it would be that book. But I couldn’t get even the title right. Is it Gift from the Sea or gift of the – do you know?
Alessandro Russo: I think it was Gift from the Sea.
Parker Hamilton: Gift from the Sea.
Lennea Bower: We’ll definitely get it right in the notes, go to app or so.
Parker Hamilton: I think it’s Gift from the Sea.
Lennea Bower: Which is probably something we should say to everyone with the podcast, we always put the titles that are mentioned in here in the office and the notes, so people are listening and can’t write fast enough.
Parker Hamilton: Can’t write fast enough, so get it right for – get it right for me. But it’s a book that I’ve gone back to over the years. When we were living in Evanston, Illinois and we were getting ready to leave, this is 1980, one of my friends gifted it to me.
Alessandro Russo: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest and remember, everyone, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, Stitcher or 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 and see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. This is part 2 of our two-part episode on reading aloud to children. In part 1, we discussed the benefits of reading aloud to children with MCPL’s children’s librarians, Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino.
In this second part of our episode, we’ll hear samples of story time readings from both of our guests. The librarians will demonstrate how to bring a story to life and discuss what made their sample stories good for reading aloud.
Our guests will also answer questions that they have heard from parents over the years about reading aloud to children.
Welcome to the podcast, Jane and Lauren.
Jane Dorfman: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So we have a special treat on today’s podcast. We’re actually going to get some samples of story time. And our first title is –
Jane Dorfman: Bark, George, which is about a mother dog and her little puppy, George. It’s by Jules Feiffer.
And one day, George’s mother said, “Bark, George.” And George went, “Meow.” “No, George,” said George's mother. “Cat’s go meow, dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And George went, “Quack-quack.” “No, George,” said George’s mother. “Ducks go quack-quack, dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And George went, “Oink.” And after he went, “Moo,” she took him to the vet.
And the vet said, “I’ll soon get to the bottom of this. Please bark, George.” And George went, “Meow.” The vet reached deep down inside of George and pulled out a cat.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Quack-quack.” And the vet reached deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a duck.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Oink.” And the vet reached deep, deep, deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a pig.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Moo.” The vet put on his longest latex glove and he reached deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a cow. And in the illustration, George’s mother has fainted away.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Arf.” George’s mother was so thrilled. She kissed the vet, and the cat, and the duck, and the pig, and the cow. And all the way home she wanted to show George off to everyone on the street. So she said, “Bark, George.” And George went, “Hello.” And that’s the end.
I really love this book. I’ve never seen it fail on kids. The pacing is just perfect. It has very few words. Everybody knows, I mean, a preschooler knows a dog doesn’t say meow, or quack, or moo. And I think they even get the end when he says, “Hello.” And you wonder what’s in there now. And I – and it always gets a laugh and it’s the very last page of the book and the expressions on the mother dog.
So I try to convey some of the expressions. Like, she’s getting a little put out with all these animal noises. “No, George,” she’s trying to be, you know, patient. “No, George. Ducks go quack-quack. Dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And he continues to make animal noises.
But I think the first time the child hears this book, they have no idea that these things are all inside of George and they’re pulling them out one by one. And I don’t think they even think about, “Oh, no, a cow would never fit inside of a puppy.” And the vet is very funny and he’s very matter – you know, he puts on his longest latex glove and it’s just a great story. And I think it’s perfectly paced, very few words and great illustrations. But I think, you know, it kind of works without even seeing the pictures.
Lauren Martino: I like using Story Time just because if I have a big group of different ages it works for little kids. It’s one of the very few books that work for little kids because they can jump in with the animal noises and even the grownups enjoy it like it doesn’t matter how old the kid is, they’re going to enjoy this book.
Jane Dorfman: I think they especially like the mother passing out.
David Watts: Well, as an observer, it had a good beat. It was easy to dance to. I think from ‘87, they might, you know, go over a lot of our listeners heads but, you know, from a band stand perspective, your cadence was good and you – the way you delivered it showed –
Jane Dorfman: I have read it a lot.
David Watts: – that you understand the nuances of it.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: All right. I have a book called The Monster at the End of This Book: Staring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin and I like to introduce the author and the illustrator whenever I read a book because kind of – it’s part of that being aware of what a book is. Let’s see and I just I have known – I wouldn’t choose just any random book dealing with a licensed character because there are a lot – you know, they vary widely in quality. Some of them are not – don’t make such good read alouds but this one, I listened to this one when I was a kid. It stood the test of time.
So we have Grover on the parenthesis. This is a very dull page. What is on the next page? What did that say? On the first page, what did that say? Did that say there will be a Monster at the end of this book? It Did? Oh, I am so scared of Monsters!!! I’m turning the page. This is important. Shhhh Listen, I have an idea. If you do not turn any pages, we will never get to the end of this book. And that is good because there is a Monster at the end of this book. So please do not turn the page. What do think? Should I turn the page?
Jane Dorfman: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Should I turn the page? Okay. You turned the page. I’m going to turn the page again. Maybe you do not understand. You see, turning pages will bring us to the end of this book and there is a Monster at the end of this book. But this will stop you from turning pages. See? I am tying the pages together so you cannot – what do you think? Should I try it? I’m going to do it. Okay. Okay. Now, these pages are tied together so I’m going to go snap. You turned another page. You do not know what you are doing to me. Now stop turning pages. There. I, Grover, am nailing this page to the next ones so you will not be able to turn it and we will not get any closer to the Monster at the end of this book.
And this page is nailed together. You think I can do it? You think I can do it? All right. All right. All right. Do you know every time you turn another page, you not only get us closer to the monster at the end of this book but you make a terrible mess? Okay, so I’ll stop right there. But you can there’s a lot of opportunity here. It’s kind of hard to read this book without a kid present to be honest because you really want their input. You really want them egging you on. They get really into that. But, yeah, it’s very participatory. You can’t read this book without a back and forth exchange. But, yeah, and it’s also fun to ham up. You’re making it really hard to turn the pages.
Now, if you have the kid do the pages, you know, they’re just going to turn it and then you can – you know, make a big deal about how strong it is and, again, it’s fun to get the kids involved, too, doing that. Yeah, and turning pages is a skill. It’s not easy.
Jane Dorfman: As witness, both you and my book have patched up tear – torn pages.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yes. These are well-loved books.
Jane Dorfman: Library books, yeah. That’s what’s supposed to happen to them.
Lauren Martino: I think we picked good ones. Should I tell them the end of the book? The monster at the end is Grover himself, so, you know, it’s really not a – there are some kids – you know, I think the first time I read this to my daughter, she’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to hear – I don’t want to see this monster either.” But once they’re in on the joke, it’s like, “Yeah, this is a fun book to read.”
Alessandro Russo: So we have a few questions from parents and caregivers. First question, what should you do if your baby is more interested in eating the book than reading it? Should you wait until they’re older to start reading?
Lauren Martino: Well, the earlier you start, the better. And, you know, it’s understandable you’re going to feel a little strange reading to a child that can’t respond to you that, you know, is barely looking at you. But it’s a really good time to start because they’re captive audience. They’re not going to move away from you. They don’t have much of a choice. And it’s okay if the baby chews on the book. I mean if it’s a library book, we’d rather them not, quite frankly, but that’s why you have books –
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, those board books will take a lot.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: They’ll take a lot.
Lauren Martino: Go from that.
Jane Dorfman: You can give them a book to hold and play with and you can read some totally different book and have them so they can see the pictures.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yeah. That’s a good one.
Jane Dorfman: And I notice that I avoided this pun. You should take it in small bites. But, yeah, read – you know, you can read a few minutes and – a bright colored picture and if they need something to hold, you know, they can have a board book to chew on.
Lauren Martino: And that’s how babies learn about the world at that point. Put everything in their mouth.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And it’s – you know, if you find you can’t read them to them on the floor, there’s always the car seat or the bathtub or the high chair. Like there is always a point at which they, you know, can’t get away from you.
And with tiny, tiny little babies, you can almost read anything to them because really it’s just exposing them to a language of – I guess that brings up another point. I don’t know if it’s on here but, you know, people have their different personalities reading. Like I tend to be very animated and Jane tends to be a lot more low-key and subdued but there’s value in that. Like I’ve got – you know, people I trained to do story time under me and some of them are like, “I can never be as bouncy and huge and loud as you are.” Well, I’ve made babies cry, reading the way I do. So, there’s value in a lot of expression and value in more toned down, so you just work with your personality.
David Watts: What could I read to my baby or toddler that would not put me to sleep?
Lauren Martino: Well, there’s a few authors that tend to be a little bit more adult-friendly. Sandra Boynton tends to go over well with adults. I don’t know that we have the board books with these but there’s a series by Dav Pilkey called Big Dog and Little Dog. There’s always some crazy punch line at the end. I personally enjoy them. I don’t think we have the board books but we do have the easy readers that are based on the board books. So if you have a baby that’s not necessarily going to crunch up the pages, that might be a good way to go.
But with babies, it’s not even necessarily about reading exactly the text. You get into the pictures, you can talk about, you know, it’s the cat like the one we saw yesterday on the neighbor’s porch. You don’t have to limit yourself to the text if it’s boring. You can find something interesting in the book even if it’s, you know, an interesting pattern on somebody’s shirt.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, I think it is great to talk about the pictures. But there’s a whole wealth of board books. I think the parent who found this boring just needs to look a little bit more.
Lauren Martino: Ask your librarian.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, ask your librarian –
Lauren Martino: We’ll help you out.
Jane Dorfman: – for any good suggestions, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: My second grader still wants me to read to him. What about reading out loud to older kids? Does that tamper their ability to read on their own? So basically, is there an age –
Jane Dorfman: Cutoff?
Alessandro Russo: – cutoff?
Jane Dorfman: No. I think I would read to my kids. In fact, I did read to my kids as long as they would still listen. And that was way past the time when they could read for themselves. I think they like that. They like the parent involvement, you sharing a really good story with them. You know, a long chapter book that you read a little bit every night is just wonderful. It’s good for everybody. And I think it probably only helps their ability to read if they’re constantly exposed to these wonderful books.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I tend to think of reading aloud to older kids is sort of advertising it for reading beyond the early readers because, you know, when you’re learning to read, you’re reading – you know, about Dick and Jane or whatever, the modern equivalent is – they’re not – you know, that they’re only so interesting. There’s only so much you can – they do a lot to make them interesting but it’s good to let kids know there’s something beyond that. And if they keep going through the effort, they’re going to get –
Jane Dorfman: Get to that book, yeah. I think so, too.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. And also, you’ve got the vocabulary again. Kids’ listening vocabulary is usually way ahead of what they can read. So if you’re exposing them to more words, more words, more words that they’re listening to and they’re getting what it means, then ultimately when they begin reading them, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to decode. That’s why audio books are good for kids, too. Anytime in the car, when they have to do chores, it makes life a lot more pleasant and also keeps exposing them to those good books and the vocabulary.
Alessandro Russo: I know I valued – I remember in elementary school, we had – all my teachers read us chapter books –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: – and I remember particularly our fifth grade teacher, he loves The Great Brain series by Fitzgerald and we couldn’t wait until he finished one book and we went for the – and he was going to say, “Oh, tomorrow we’re going to start the new Great Brain book.” And it got me, you know, to like books.
Lauren Martino: I think we’ve all got memories like that, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
David Watts: My child wants me to read the same book every night. How can I introduce new books to her?
Jane Dorfman: You might do a compromise. Read the same book and then read a new one. I think children find a lot of comfort especially if it’s bed time book, that repetition of the book, they know what – and no surprises, there’s nothing scary. It’s like a visit with a friend, you know. We went through that with my kids with Bread and Jam for Frances, a book I just adore but I did get a little tired of it, over and over and over. But, you know, it’s not worth fighting about. You should just read the book, same one, and slip in a new one every now and again.
Lauren Martino: Also, repetition is also is really important to the way kids learn. It’s like you’re sick to death of it. You don’t want to read it again. But your child is actually – there’s a good chance your child is getting something different out of it every time you read that. I mean even as an older kid, I remember I read books over and over and over again. Like in third, fourth, fifth grade, I would take the same book and I would get something out of it every time. It drove my mother crazy that I kept having the same book around. People made fun of me at school. But I was – I, you know, could tackle in much harder book that way and then get a grip on it.
You can also look, too, for books that are similar. If you need a break from bear stories on, you can try one of the other bear books by Karma Wilson and ask a librarian. Again, we can – we can help you find something similar, something based on something else your child is passionate about.
Alessandro Russo: My child wants me to read books to them that are not written in my first language. I’m afraid I mispronounced too many words. Is it still beneficial to read out loud to them from books written in another language?
Jane Dorfman: Mispronunciation, you know, I think it’s good for kids to see you trying hard to do something. This is – it is very hard to learn English. And you – if the parents is really working on that and reading aloud and maybe the child will even correct you if they’ve picked up, you know, English faster, it’s cool.
Lauren Martino: Kids love that.
Jane Dorfman: They love to do that.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Well, I think just the active reading aloud and working hard at something is good. But to read aloud or tell stories in your first language I think is really also beneficial. Not only do they get exposed to another language, but, you know, they get exposed to your culture in the stories that you remember.
And the library can help you with a lot – we have books in Spanish and French and Farsi and Russian and Chinese and probably I am skipping a couple, but lots of different languages. Maybe not every branch, but if it’s in the catalogue, we can get it sent to whatever branch is convenient for you. And we have, you know, children’s books in those languages.
Lauren Martino: And we can point you to resources, too, like the International Children’s Digital Library. And if we don’t have it in the library system, we can get books from other library systems.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: We go all over the country for books for people. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to teach your child a language besides the one they encounter in their environment every day. And the more you expose children the language when they’re young, no matter what language it is, the more they’re going to benefit from it. So absolutely read, tell stories in whatever language you’re comfortable in. Just keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it. And don’t forget, too, about wordless picture books. We’ve got a number of picture books that don’t have any words at all and you can take them and tell them in whatever language you speak, that’s the same. Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: My preschooler chooses picture books that are much too long to read in one setting. What suggestions would you make on how I could break up the story?
Jane Dorfman: Well, I’m afraid my suggestion would be to make a longer sitting, but if your child doesn’t want to do that, you know, decorated beautiful bookmark together and say, “This is where we’re going to get to tonight and we’ll hear the rest of it tomorrow night.
I do think it’s nice to let children choose books even if it looks perfectly random when they run into the library and they just start pulling things off the shelf for home, you have to take these home and read them.
But I think it gives the child some validation that, “Oh, you picked a good book. You picked a really interesting one. And it’s really long, we’re going to read half tonight and half tomorrow night.”
Lauren Martino: We’ve got a four-book limit at bed time in my house and that’s four chapters if it’s a longer book. And some of the books we – you know, dad will read it and I’ll read it, you know. And, you know, we can start wherever we happen to be. But we end up reading it so many times that, you know, we can dip in and out. It’s good to get it linear at some point, but you can always kind of recap, oh, I remember this happened in the beginning and so this is kind of where we’re at.
Jane Dorfman: And that would be good for your child to recap too, telling –
Lauren Martino: Oh, absolutely.
Jane Dorfman: – what happened last night? What do you remember before you fell asleep or whatever.
Lauren Martino: Why is he here? How did he get here? Oh yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Are there good books to encourage my preschooler to use their imagination or to read to me?
Jane Dorfman: I think that Lauren mentioned some of the wordless picture books. We can really get the pace of those. They can think what’s happening. They can read you the pictures. So many books for preschoolers. I think they’re just imagining themselves in the book anyway or they have kind of limited real life experience and when they read about the bear hibernating or the child sailing a ship off to where the wild things are. I think almost any good book is going to help them use their imagination.
Lauren Martino: And you can also just invite your child to tell you a story and write down what they say and have an illustrator or you can illustrate it and it would be really fun to see later on what your child comes up with.
David Watts: Help us to know how we can change our read aloud style as your child grows older and you’re trying to connect. Do you read the same way to a newborn as you would to an elementary school age child?
Lauren Martino: With very small babies, again, you read it – any language is good language. You can have a conversation about the book. You’re obviously not going to get a whole lot of –
Jane Dorfman: Interaction.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. Yeah. Your interaction is going to be limited. But as the child gets a little bit older, if you pause – if I pause and say, “Should I turn the page and wait,” and you wait longer than you think you have to because that child’s going to take a while. Pretty soon, you know, even if they’re grunting in response or, you know, making any kind of noise looking at you, that’s a response.
So you’re practicing having this conversation around the book that’s teaching this back and forth needed for a conversation. It’s one of those important language skills.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And again, toddlers, you’re going to – you can start asking them to point to things, to label things, to get them involved. You know, they’re not going to be able to answer – you can ask them, you know, what do you think he’s going to do, just to model that you should be thinking about it. They’re not going to answer you, you know, exactly how you would answer it as an older kid. But you can start asking those questions.
Preschoolers, you’re going to ask longer, more complicated questions. They’re going to comment on stuff they remember from their lives that relate to the book. And when you get to the second grader, the third grader that you’re asking, you can – what would you do in this situation, things like do you agree with what he did. You get into the really kind of deep nitty-gritty questions that are going to be asked on essays when they get in fifth grade. But, you know, in a fun sort of non-judgmental sort of environment where it’s just you and your child interacting.
Jane Dorfman: I think the pace will change, too. You do want to wait slowly to the babies and then to –
Lauren Martino: Slower than you think.
Jane Dorfman: Slower than you think.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Because you hear sometimes people reading aloud, they’re just whipping through that book and like, you know, the child really does need a little time to consider and to let that soak in. But by the time, you know, that you’re still reading to your second and third graders, you can pretty much read as you would read to an adult.
Lauren Martino: And they can take over some of the reading, too, if they want.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, that’s – and I think you need to – one thing I think, older kids are afraid you’re going to stop reading to them when they learn to read it themselves. And I remember somebody saying that her kid won’t read aloud to her and I think that was a fear. Okay, if I show you how well I read, you’re going to not read to me anymore and I’m going to miss that. So assure them that that’s not going to happen.
Alessandro Russo: Should I only read books that are on my child’s reading level?
Lauren Martino: I don’t read books that are only on my reading level.
Jane Dorfman: No. I think you can read way beyond your child’s reading level and I think that’s part of the joy of reading aloud. It would be very tedious if they could only read beginning readers and that’s all you could read.
Lauren Martino: And at the same time, if they show – I hear it all the time, it’s like, “Oh, that’s a baby book. We’re not reading that book.” It’s like –
Jane Dorfman: Oh yeah, I hate that.
Lauren Martino: But if your child’s interested in it, there might be a reason for it or, you know, even if it’s, you know, not as complicated as you might think it would be and there’s still things in that book you can discuss –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm. Or parents will say, “You’re too old for those from that section.” Oh, I hate that.
Lauren Martino: Oh. I mean, there are picture books for really, like, elementary school kids and up that – they have picture books in the grownup section –
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Lauren Martino: – right, that would not be appropriate for kids. So, you know, you can’t judge a book by the genre. There’s always something in there for a child that’s interested in it.
And it may surprise you, again, with what they’re interested in. I have this memory of wanting to read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I was probably in second grade and that was completely inappropriate. My media specialist let me know it. They would not let me check out that book.
But if your child shows interest in it, you could always give it a shot. I mean, my three-and-a-half-year-old just glommed on to this series from the ‘30s about Betsy from like Carolyn Haywood that my mom really loved and I read them as a kid. And there’s just something in there that she was able to grasp even as a very young child. So, lower or higher, your kid surprises you.
David Watts: We like to ask all of our guests if you have a favorite book or what’s on your nightstand now.
Jane Dorfman: I have lots of favorite books. I’m re-reading a book by Ann Patchett called The Magician’s Assistant which I just love that book. It’s got a little magic – it’s an adult book. It’s got a little magic, a realism, it always carries me away. And I think I’m somewhat like kids that if I don’t have something really pressing to read, I’ll go back to these old favorites and read them again. I know exactly what happens. But it’s a comforting thing to do, yeah.
Lauren Martino: My childhood favorite is a Wrinkle in Time. My adult favorite book is called Redshirts and it’s by John Scalzi who – actually, he wrote science fiction TV. And so it’s like parody of Star Trek and yet very, very clever, witty, hilarious if you know it or if you don’t. But toward the end, there’s like this separate section kind of based on the fall out from everything else and it just – it blows your mind. It gets really thought-provoking. I love books like that, that are super entertaining and also just open up new horizons. It’ nice to know that authors can do both.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you, Jane and Lauren, for sharing your stories, experience and enthusiasm with us. Let’s remember this is part 2 of 2. If you missed part 1, make sure to check it out. There’s a lot of great content about reading aloud to children. 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 podcasts.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Today’s episode is about reading aloud to children. Our discussion on the topic was so interesting that we went over our usual recording time so we decided to break it up into two parts.
Today, we’ll be discussing part one of two. In this first part of our reading aloud episode, we’ll discuss the benefits of reading out loud to children, how to make reading aloud fun and engaging, and how to select the best books to read out loud.
Our guest for both parts of this episode are children’s librarians Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino.
Welcome to the podcast, Jane and Lauren.
Jane Dorfman: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So tell us a little about yourselves, how long have you work for MCPL, your positions?
Lauren Martino: See, I’m head of children services at the Silver Spring Library. I work for MCPL for three years starting three years ago in September. I worked at the Noyes Library for Young Children for a couple of months and then went from these smallest oldest libraries in the system to the newest and biggest one, which has been a lot of fun.
Jane Dorfman: I’m Jane Dorfman. I worked for 21 years in the system and I’ve been in various different branches, and presently at Davis, which was just remodeled, and I am the head of children’s there.
David Watts Speaker: Jane, Lauren, why should we read aloud to children? What are the benefits of it?
Lauren Martino: Well, research continues to show that children who read aloud, who have – the parents read aloud to them do better in school, they show up to school prepared. They get exposed to a lot more vocabulary than you normally would. You’ve got to think of not only the words they encounter on the day-to-day basis but also the quality of words.
You and I, we’re using words that we use all the time, every day. They’re going to get words like “is” and “hi” and, you know, all the comments stuff. It’s the unusual words like latex and veterinarian, Jane will use later, that you come across in books. That’s a really important part about it.
Jane Dorfman: I also think it’s a pleasure. I think children’s books are just wonderful and the bonding that you do with your child when you read to them, when you’re sharing something together, you both loving this book, I think that’s as good a reason as the improved school, you’re better ACT scores, you know, I think, the closeness you get with your children when you read to them is you can’t substitute anything for that.
Lauren Martino: And it’s an easy closeness, isn’t it?
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Like my daughter always want to play princess with her and I’m just, “I’m too old for that.” I can’t figure it out. But you have a book in front of you. It’s easy. You just – you follow the book and you follow the prompts and it makes easier to relate to someone younger than you, I think.
Alessandro Russo: So one of MCPL’s strategic goals is literate Montgomery. And one of the objectives of this goal is early literacy. How does reading out loud to your children contribute to early literacy?
Jane Dorfman: I think the vocabulary that Lauren mentioned, the increased vocabulary, the thousands of extra words they’re going to hear, I think they’re going to know what a book is and the awareness of the print and the letters besides the pleasure in reading. I think they’re going to get the idea that reading is a fun activity, something that they want to do rather than something, “Oh you have to read five books. Your teacher says so.” I think they’re going to really enjoy it more.
Lauren Martino: When you talk about early literacy, a lot of people get the idea that it’s, you know, teaching kids how to read at a really young age. Well, I think we – you know, you hear stories about kids that learn to read at two and the, I mean, the fact of the matter is not all kids need to learn to read at two. And my husband learned to read at two and it’s great for him. But unless you’re really – you have a proclivity for that, you know, it’s okay, kids are going to be fine.
But early literacy talks a lot about what’s – what they need to know to read before they actually read, so things like Jane mentioned, what a book is, the fact that you read at left to right, you read starting at the top and going down, what a book looks like right side up and upside down. It’s all part of early literacy.
Alessandro Russo: It’s kind of like just building the foundations of literacy?
Lauren Martino: Exactly. Also things like phonemic awareness, how you can break words apart into different sounds. You get a lot of books that rhyme, and rhyming is a very important factor that you’re getting language that, again, you don’t normally hear that highlights different parts of the word. That’s going to help kids read later on.
David Watts: So tell us how we can make reading aloud to children fun and engaging? Could you give us some tips so that we could understand it better?
Lauren Martino: One of the first things, I think, any librarian learns about story time, and I think it applies to parents reading to their kids as well, is picking books you enjoy because your enthusiasm is contagious. If you enjoy the book, then your child is going to pick up on that and they’re going to enjoy it more too.
Let’s see it’s fun to use different voices for the characters, not only because it’s fun. I mean, who wants to talk like a pirate? I want to talk like a pirate. I don’t know. Give yourself permission to talk like a pirate. But also because it highlights the different characters and actually helps them understand what’s going on.
And also if you involve your children, you ask them questions. You make them – give them a way to participate in the book. That helps a lot. It’s also going to help with comprehension and really add to their – what they’re getting out of the book.
Jane Dorfman: And I think a lot of picture books have things happening in them and you can ask the child, “Do you think that’s a good idea?” And they’ll answer, “No.”
Lauren Martino: Yes.
Jane Dorfman: And then asking them to predict what happens next and to draw attention to something in the pictures and often in picture books, you know, some of the information which is hard to do on the radio, but is conveyed in the illustrations and you can show the child and they can point out those little things. And I think –
Lauren Martino: The side plots.
Jane Dorfman: The side plots.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: And read in an expressive voice and put some energy into it.
Alessandro Russo: So getting them involved seems to be –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: – a very good.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah.
Lauren Martino: And there are books that really lend themselves to this, you got books with flaps, books with – you know, you don’t have to rely solely on this. But if you have a kid that’s really having trouble getting into this whole reading thing, you can start with stuff like that.
And also, no. Just – it’s okay to shorten a book if it’s just a little bit too much. It’s okay to cut the book short like. There’s a wonderful non-fiction books that have special – you know, they’ve got the big words that you can give for younger kids and the, you know, sort of smaller words that you can get into as they get older. So, just knos, you don’t have to limit yourself to exactly what the book says.
Alessandro Russo: So is there – does a good read out loud book, is there such thing? And if there is, how can we help our listeners find one? Is it kind of like a trial and error kind of –?
Jane Dorfman: I think it’s a lot of trial and error and I think it’s also very subjective. I mean, there are going to be some books that we love but every book is not for every child or every parent, and you need to find things that you like. And like Lauren said, your enthusiasm is going to carry over to the child.
You certainly need to know how long a book your little one is going to listen to. You don’t need to read 20 minutes. You can read three that is as much time as they want. You can go back and finish the book later or put it aside if it’s just – you know, I certainly had some books in story time where I really can’t put them aside, but I went, “Boy, this isn’t done. I will never read this book again.” You know, so have the parents look at them and read them and really take a cue from their child. Let them take the lead.
Lauren Martino: And paying attention to your – on what your child is interested in really helps. I mean there are books that, you know, they can be really way longer than you ever thought your child would pay attention to, but if it’s on the right subject matter, or it’s just something that sparks interest in your child, they’re going to listen to it and totally surprise you.
Jane Dorfman: And on how to find it, ask the librarians. So many people will wander the library; they never come up to the desk. That’s what we’re there for and that’s what we’re paid to do. That’s what we’re waiting to do.
Lauren Martino: And they feel so guilty when they talk to you.
Jane Dorfman: Yes. I hate to interrupt you, but, you know, but yeah, ask because the librarians read a lot and we know these books by and large and –.
Lauren Martino: We could answer these questions.
Jane Dorfman: – yeah, this is what makes our day.
Lauren Martino: And let’s see just another note about – and then again the pictures we mentioned, it’s a – you know, the read – a good read-aloud book is dependent on your child but there are some that just have so much richness in what’s going on in the pictures that you can really just get into those or – I wouldn’t say the only books you should read aloud but they make for really good read-alouds.
David Watts: Help us to understand what we as parents or guardians could do to build interest in reading in our children?
Jane Dorfman: I think you need to just to read, to read a lot, and be enthusiastic about it. Find things that you love and read those – read everything. You know, this is such a broad range of things. And you may not – I never knew what a backhoe trencher was until my son at about two became really interested in backhoe trenching.
Lauren Martino: A bunch of trucks.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. You know, if that’s their interest, you need to follow it with a little bit of books about everything. And pick up from your daily life. If you see a bug outside, we can find you a book about that bug, you can read about the eggs and larva stages and just these all kinds of stuff to build an interest in reading.
Lauren Martino: Yes, that it is really important for your kids to see you reading. It’s kind of hard to expect them to get really into it unless you are setting that example. And I mean we have a summer reading program going on this summer and it goes everywhere from birth to – and there’s an adult component because we really want the adults reading in front of the kids.
Let’s see – and then just having books around.
Jane Dorfman: I think that’s good too.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, because, you know, bringing home lots of books from the library is great too, but just having ones that, you know, just sit on your shelf and then the child sees it every day until one day, they’re like, “Oh, let me pick this up and see what it is.”
Also sometimes – something that gets neglected a little bit about reading at home is, you know, you don’t have to read books all the time. Cereal boxes are great to read.
Jane Dorfman: Comic pages in the newspaper.
Lauren Martino: Absolutely. My daughter asks me to read them every Sunday, and some of them, I’m like, “There’s no way you’re going to know – like I can’t read Doonsbury to you, it will go over your head, but okay.” Or even – you know, my daughter loves stop signs when she was a baby.
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmmm.
Lauren Martino: We went – and every time we saw a stop sign, we’d say, “Look, it’s a stop sign. S-T-O-P, stop.” And so, you know, she can’t spell many words that much but she can spell stop.
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm.
Alessandro Russo: What are the elements of story times that are held at the library? Is it just reading out loud or there’s more activities involved?
Jane Dorfman: Well, there are a lot of finger plays. There are a lot of opportunities to move around because we do things to music. There are fun boards, which are taken from a book but it’s a bigger visual that the whole group can see it once and point to and there’s also that sort of pacing of putting up the final pieces one at a time.
And, you know, different librarians do different things but I don’t think you can expect infants and twos and even five to six year old to sit and listen to book after book for half an hour. It’s just not going to happen.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, a lot of parents would come up and they’re like, “Oh, my child can never do that.” And it’s like they don’t understand. It’s like, “No, we don’t make them sit and be perfectly quiet the entire time because that’s not realistic.”
Yeah, we sit – we really like to stress reading, writing, talking, singing and playing in all of our story times. I mean, down to like, you know, how do you write in story time? Well, we do little finger plays that work on small motor movements which are kind of precursors to writing, you know, big motor movements. And I found that my story time for toddlers go a whole lot better when I just reserve several minutes at the end to shake our sillies out and do big jumpy sort of songs and just everyone is happier that way.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: You know, I admire you guys for what you’re doing. And dealing with large groups of little children sort of frightens me, so maybe you can help the listeners understand the tricks of the trade? What are the secret recipes that you use that you could pass on to caregivers and teachers and other librarians who have to conduct story time on a regular basis?
Lauren Martino: One of the most useful things is to have something up my sleeves to get everyone’s attention when the grownups are talking and the kids are talking. My supervisor, Cindy Gil, taught me that – she likes to countdown the story times like, “We’re going to start story time in five, four, three, two, one.” And then, “We’re all excited to start story time.”
I’ve also resorted to it. I’ve got a little bunny puppet and sometimes I’ll be like, “I have a friend. My friend wants to come out and my friend is very shy. I really need everyone to be very quiet so my friend can come out.” And once everybody is quiet, then the little bunny comes out and waves and whispers in my ear all their expectations for story time. And I mean there are songs that you can put out there – you know.
I’ve never – every elementary school kid ever will respond to [MAKES NOISE]. They know what to do there.
Alessandro Russo: I remember that from elementary school.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I did it at school visits like yesterday. It worked like a charm.
So just have a way of bringing them back because sometimes you lose them. Also, just that big – like we said, building in the wiggle time like I tend to – you know, my formula is like a book, a song, a book, a song, and, you know, sometimes if you got older kids or kids that are going to be able to sit still a little longer, you can stretch it to two books but, you know, just understand that’s – you know, it’s not always going to work out.
And also just remembering the text to picture ratio and just making it appropriate for the kids that you have, it’s a good way of thinking about it. Like babies, you know, it’s like one sentence per page is plenty. You can, you know, work up to a couple of sentences for preschoolers, but I don’t know – depending – you got to know your audience. And I found that, you know, you get ambitious sometimes, you try something a little harder. You got to have an exit route if you do that.
Sometimes, just remembering kind of your lowest common denominator or the kid that’s going to have the hardest time sitting still. You can cater to that kid. Sometimes it works out a little better.
Jane Dorfman: I do think you have to break up the activities. You have two keep – have them just sit and read, do some finger plays, do a stretch. I also want the parents involved. And I say that, you know, in the beginning, this is the kind of story time that works best if you participate with your child. And then I will look hard at those people who are already on their cellphones, they have just sat down. And then sometimes I find it hard after we’ve done jumped around, move to – done some music. Then we’ll all take a big breath and sit down kind of like a flower. And just that feeling of taking in the air and letting it all out is just a naturally calming feeling.
Lauren Martino: That’s nice.
Jane Dorfman: But I think that you can’t expect children to act like adults. If they’re twos, they’re going to act like twos and, you know, you just have to expect that. And especially if you have a really large group – you know, sometimes you can’t get through all them and show – you got together, you can’t get through all the books.
Lauren Martino: It’s better to have more.
Jane Dorfman: It’s better to have more and some – fresh new things.
Lauren Martino: So you can adjust to new things.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And at any time you find a book is not working, sometimes if you can just work a little bit more participation in there, like get the group doing something, that helps a lot like Caps for Sale is a really long book, it’s hard to do for a lot of groups, but if you can work in the part where they all stand up and act like monkeys, then it works a lot better.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: What do you do with a precocious child who likes to ask a hundred questions, one after another after another?
Lauren Martino: That’s a good question.
Jane Dorfman: I’ll answer a couple, and then I would say, you know, we’re going to ask the rest of those questions at the end, we’ll talk about it then.
Lauren Martino: Because you don’t want to shut them down.
Jane Dorfman: No, you don’t want to shut them down.
Lauren Martino: Use your good instinct, and you model for the parents, you do answer the questions.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. But you can’t – I mean – if you ask the kids a question, you know, that’s always a dangerous thing to do, you know, because you’re asking – you see the dog – I have a dog at home, do you know what he did last week? And it just – we just gets –
David Watts: You open the door.
Jane Dorfman: The group gets away from it. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And you want that one on one, you really want that one on one, but with 50 kids, it’s –
Jane Dorfman: Yeah –
Lauren Martino: It’s a different ball game.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Maybe a good additional story time policy would be no phones for parents –
Lauren Martino: We have cellphone song in my library.
Alessandro Russo: Nice.
Lauren Martino: I put my cellphone up high, I put my cellphone down low, I wave my cellphone around in the air and then I silence it and I put it away.
Jane Dorfman: It doesn’t rhyme.
Lauren Martino: It’s okay, they laugh, they do it.
David Watts: Go back to tot tot titi tot.
Lauren Martino: There you go. It’s also helpful to think about the size of your group. If you’ve got five kids in front of you, there’s a lot more books, you can look at books with more intricate pictures that you can get right up on top of rows. If you have a big group, either – if you have big books, so much the better, if you can project your book on a screen, so much the better. Otherwise, you got to think about books that – very clean lines that are easy to see from far away.
I really like Jan Thomas’s books for that reason, the really thick lines, and very bright colors, and you can see them from, you know, they’re not that big, but you can see them from a mile away.
Jane Dorfman: The library has a lot of big books which are like 3 feet tall, but I think a good test is to put your book up front and go stand where that child is going to see. And you’d be surprised how little you can see. And children’s vision isn’t even 20 – especially with the infants and toddlers, it’s not 20-20 for a long time.
So you’re waving this tiny book up there, and they’re just not seeing it.
Alessandro Russo: Is there any online resources that listeners can use to find read-out loud books?
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, our website has lots of lists that are age-appropriate for preschools, and toddlers, we have some electronic sites. I would rather the parents read, but that will read to a child, you know, you can log on to our websites, we have a lot of lists. And there’s a nice service, what do I check out next, and we don’t get a whole lot of questions for kids, but it’s available.
You can say, my child likes this, this and this, they’re 5 years old, and somebody will give you a list of suggestions, and there’s Beanstack which is the summer reading software that will send you a weekly book for your child.
Lauren Martino: If you want to get really in-depth and you have a particular subject and you need to find a book on that subject, we have something called, Novelist, I think, it’s a K-12 –
Jane Dorfman: There is a K to 12.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. And for your slightly older kids, but you know, you can – we use it a lot when we’ve got the random question – I knew a book about a bunny, and a duck, and I can’t remember the name. But you can get really specific on the kind of topics you want in there too.
David Watts: Well, just off the top of your head, who are the famous authors that a parent could look to?
Jane Dorfman: They could look to I think Mo Willems.
Lauren Martino: Oh, Mo Willems.
Jane Dorfman: I like – some on the class – because some of these things like Madeline, children should just know that, you know, and it’s a longer book, that little picture, it looks a little old fashioned, but kids still love it, and the words rhyme.
And I really wish they would do some of the basic folk tales. It’s another cultural legacy, especially for parents who – this is not their native land, and this is not their first language. The Little Red Hen, Three Bears, Three Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, you know, and some of the folk tales for the folk tale collection, this should be kind of in everybody’s –
David Watts: My kids love Clifford, anything that had Clifford, they were good to go.
Lauren Martino: I like Bill Martin Jr., and I think a lot of people – he’s got a lot of classics, but people tend to associate it as books with the illustrators.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: So you know, that’s where you’re going to find, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and a lot of really well-known things.
Jane Dorfman: That have really good rhythm, and nice – they have great pictures, but they sound good too.
Lauren Martino: I like the one called – an author called Susan Middleton Elya for books that kind of – she incorporates Spanish words in this sort of rhyming ways. So if you have any interest in exposing your children to different languages, like when the line ends with a Spanish word, it’s a lot easier to remember. I was amazed reading like [Spanish Language] [0:20:20] and you know, it’s like my daughter suddenly remembers the Spanish word at the end because it comes to mind.
But there are so many of them, it’s kind of hard to limit it to one. I like Carmel Wilcox too, just for the rhyming, Ashley Scott – Bears Snores On, and Hilda Must Be Dancing.
Jane Dorfman: That’s a sweet book.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I think I memorized that one at some point.
David Watts: So do you have a go to favorite?
Lauren Martino: Of an author?
David Watts: That’s sitting on your desk that you constantly just grab and go with?
Lauren Martino: Oh, gosh, I really like Trashy Town. It’s one of those of very participatory because there’s so much repetition that at some point, the kids just catch on to the – damp it in, smash it down, drive around the trashy town. Is the trash truck full yet? And you look at them, and they all go, “No!” And Mr. Giley drives on.
Alessandro Russo: I remember my go-to book was, Where the Wild Things Were.
Jane Dorfman: Still well-loved.
Alessandro Russo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Actually, I asked my daughter this morning, what her favorite book was, and she’s like, yeah, Where the Wild Things Are – and – but to – it’s Cinderella, okay.
And I think they did a survey a while back of like, all the children’s librarians, and picked the top 100 children’s picture books, and Where the Wild Things Are, was number one.
Alessandro Russo: Nice.
Lauren Martino: It’s a masterpiece. And I don’t know, it’s a little less well-known, but there’s a Japanese Illustrator called Komako Sakai, I really like. Her books were really, really quiet, but they’re just – you can just tell that she’s watched kids. And there’s just little details in there that you know, you would only know if you’ve sat and watched kids and just very into their lives, like she’s got a whole book about this little girl that gets a balloon.
David Watts: Say her name one more time?
Lauren Martino: Komako Sakai.
David Watts: Okay.
Lauren Martino: Every kid has that experience and every kid can relate to it, especially, you know, under 2, around 2 years old, that’s an important thing to remember as you know, you introduce books that they – measure their experience because they get really into that, they know it, and they can relate to it.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you Jane, and Lauren, for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm about reading aloud to children.
Listeners, remember this is Part 1 of 2. To continue to listen in on this discussion about reading out loud to children, make sure you tune in to Part 2. We will have two story time sample readings, as well as questions relating to reading and children, answered by our guests.
Keep the conversation going, by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes, we love to know what you think. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Libraries' podcast.
David Watts: Hello, and welcome to Library Matters. Are you ready for summer reading? This episode is all about MCPL Summer Read and Learn program. To teach us more about Summer Read and Learn, we have librarians, Christine Freeman and Susan Moritz, as our special guests today. Welcome to Library Matters.
Susan Moritz: Thank you. Thanks for having us. We're really excited to be here.
David Watts: Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Susan Moritz: Sure, certainly. My name is Susan Moritz, and I have been with MCPL for about 11 years now. Currently, I am a program manager with Virtual Services. We work on all sorts of different things, but just a few quick things are the website, social media, digital technologies, but previous to that, I've also been a children's librarian and a reference librarian. And I'm really excited to be on the Summer Read and Learn Committee this year with Christine.
Christine Freeman: Delighted to be here. My name is Christine Freeman. I am the early literacy program manager here at Central. Previous to that, I worked at Noyes Library for young children and owned a library, and I've been with MCPL two years next month.
Alessandro Russo: So, what is Summer Read and Learn program? What's the learn part about? What are some goals of the program?
Christine Freeman: Well, the real purpose of Summer Read and Learn is to keep our youth engaged during the summer and to prevent summer slide. We know that children learn in different ways. The learning tracks will encourage children to learn by seeing, doing, and participating. The tracks also encourage family engagement. So, there are many activities they can go and they can do together.
The great thing about the program is it's flexible, and it fulfills the needs of all of our children with its flexibility. Children who like to read can read more books. And we have our reluctant readers. They can focus on activities without reading as much. And of course with summer reading, we want to remember our real purpose, which is instilling a lifelong love for books in libraries.
David Watts: When does the program begin and end?
Susan Moritz: So, the program begins June 10th, and it's running this year through September 10th. And two of the things we're sort of excited about, actually I should say we're really excited about is that the - that kids can sign-up. There's no cutoff for the sign-up, a sign-up this year. So kids can sign-up and complete the program all the way through September 10th. And we're also excited, because they are a little bit of later ending to schools I believe from Montgomery County are starting after Labor Day this year. So that gives everybody who's coming back from their summer reading camps or their travels or vacation, it gives them an extra week to come complete the program and pick up their prices at the branches.
Alessandro Russo: What ages is the program for and who can participate?
Christine Freeman: We really have something for everyone. For our littlest ones, we have early literacy game board. And that's for ages zero to five; even newborns can participate because we want parents to read to the babies right when they're young. We have a elementary school game board for ages 6 to 12. And we do have teen book of views for teenagers to participate. For adults, we have the reading challenge, and that will let them explore our collection and expand their reading.
David Watts: So, tell me how does the program work and how would one sign-up for it?
Christine Freeman: It's really easy to participate. You can either go online and sign-up from home, or if you just happen to be close to your nearest branch, you can pop in there. We have our staff who is ready to sign you up. They'll give you all the details and tell you how to participate. We have delightful game boards that the children keep track of their activities and their reading. It's going to be a lot of fun. The teens can do book reviews like I said earlier, and the adults can do the reading challenge.
Susan Moritz: I think they will be very excited about it this year.
Christine Freeman: And it really is something for everyone. Everybody is going to have a lot of fun this year.
Alessandro Russo: And the program years is Beanstack. Can you tell us about Beanstack?
Susan Moritz: Sure, sure. I like to think of Beanstack as being sort of an online portal for fun. But what we do, it's a great way to read and learn. What we do inside of Beanstack is we create our own MCPL reading challenges. We've got a reading challenge going on right now, which is for all ages, it has like 12 different reading challenges like we had a book that the cover is green or read a book that's been on your mental to read list for over a year or read a book that's like over 100 years older than you are. So we've got that going on right now.
And of course the other great read and learn program that we're going to be having, starting June 10 is Summer Read and Learn. So starting June 10, people can sign-up for that program. And besides that, going on all year throughout Beanstack, it's a great service to be able to like log your reading if you want to keep track of like, "Oh, I've read all these books." I mean, it's a great way to keep track of it online. You can get personalized reading recommendations for all ages, just tell them, inside Beanstack, tell them what you like to read and I'll give you reading recommendations. You can write book reviews. So, there is a lot of great things inside Beanstack.
And one of the other wonderful things is as a parent, you can just sign-up for your account and then you can just add your kids underneath there as reader. So you only have to remember one login, one password, and then once you're inside and you've logged up and you've created your account in Beanstack, you can then sign-up for as many of our reading programs as you like in there.
Alessandro Russo: Beanstack is accessible through the library website?
Susan Moritz: Yes, exactly, through the library website. And of course, you know, once June 10th hits, we're going to see Summer Read and Learn all over the place. So you'll be able to quickly find it.
Christine Freeman: What I really like about Beanstack is they send you emails that will give you readers advisory for your children. I sent it for my son, and said every once in a while, get readers' advisory for him. It's really nice to be able to know what books to go to library and check out that way.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely.
Alessandro Russo: It's a good helpful tool to have for parents to just scratch their head and say, "What do I get my child to read next?"
Christine Freeman: Uh-huh, yeah.
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely. And what I also love about that is like if you're a parent who likes those emails to come directly to you, hey, you've got them right there. There's reading recommendations, but if you're like, "Ah, you've got too much email, it's too much," you can still even with your account just log-in and see what's being recommended to you. So either way for whatever works, if you prefer email, the email can come to you with the reading recommendations, if not, you can just log into Beanstack and see what they're recommending.
David Watts: Could you explain the different tracks to us? How many there are and whether or not participants have to complete all of them?
Susan Moritz: Sure, sure. Well, I like to think of tracks as being sort of a list of exciting and engaging activities that gets the kids excited, it gets them learning, it gets them reading. And I think also with - so we've got five tracks for each of the age groups this year. So we've got babies through preschool. And there are five tracks of read, sing, play, write, and talk, so, working on our early literacy skills.
And we also have, for the older kids, for elementary school ages from 6 to 12, we have - our theme this year is Build a Better World. And so, each of our tracks are with that theme, so we've got build it our earth, recycle our world and community and there - so like I said, there is five tracks, but you only have to complete two activities, and your choice of whichever one you want to complete, you only have to complete two activities in each track to complete the track. And if you complete all five tracks, you complete the program.
Alessandro Russo: Can you give us some examples of learning activities?
Susan Moritz: Sure. Christine?
Christine Freeman: Yeah. So I am really excited about our theme this year. It's Build a Better World, and I think what's so great about the activities is it's not just in the library, they're exploring outside in our communities. So, for our little ones, activities like listening to a book about animals or attend a library program and sing along; elementary children might attend a science program at a library where they might look at a map or a globe and maybe talk to some about what they learned. They might even be exploring out at a park and making a picture of what they see, do a lot of great activities in there. And I think having community, diversity, recycling on our planet are all themes of the - overall theme of Build a Better World that's really nice about this program.
Alessandro Russo: That sounds like a great addition to the reading part, but you're also getting kids out and inside and involved and kind of interested in their community?
Christine Freeman: It's really important, because kids learn in different ways. Not all kids can sit and just read. Some kids need to explore. They need to use their hands, they need to listen. So I think that really helps with the children that learn in different ways to participate.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. It definitely encourages those reluctant readers who learn by doing.
David Watts: Could you tell us how Summer Read and Learn integrates with our MCPL strategic plan.
Susan Moritz: Sure. I love how it - how it does support our strategic plan, and I sort of think of it as supporting in two major ways. One is our Literate Montgomery. Our Literate Montgomery, one of the pieces of Literate Montgomery is early literacy, and early literacy is sometimes I think of it's just a fancy way to explain about, it's the skills that kids need, especially our babies through preschoolers, to make sure that they are reading ready and they are ready to learn, and those things need to be in place before the kids learn to read. So, in our Summer Read and Learn program, our tracks are based on those early literacy areas. So the read, sing, play, write, and talk, and we have activities within those that are great encouragements for parents and sort of modeling for parents what things they should be doing to be able to get their - get their kids ready and excited to learn and get those skills in place.
And what I also love about that is our story times, and I know both Christine and I have done story times in MCPL. And if you haven't done, if you're a parent or a caregiver who hasn't brought your kid to story time, you should bring your kid to story time. They're wonderfully fun, exciting, learning environments and the librarians are actually modeling these kinds of things that you can do at home or wherever you are in order to encourage those early literacy skills, and so your kids can gain them, so they can be successful. And one of the ones that I like to pick on is sing, and something we do a lot in our baby programs is sing. And so for instance, if I say the word "Happiness," you just hear happiness, but if I sing, "Haa-ppi-ness," kids are hearing those little phonological sounds, there is like smaller sounds in the words and that's how they're going to be sounding out words when they go to read. So I think that's - so our librarians are such a great model of what you can be doing and like I would tell the parents, "You know, you are your child's first and best teacher," and we want to - we want to get that information to our parents and caregivers so that their kids can be a success. So I think between our read and learn activities and our story times that really supports that Literate Montgomery.
And the other one that I really think is great is of course the light of Montgomery. I think everyone's going to be really delighted just with the activities and the reading that go along with the Summer Read and Learn, just with everything, the online component, our game boards, the activities they can do, our STEM programs, you've got great learning, programs that are coming that encourage those kids to engage young minds and to get them curious and ask, "Why," and answer those science questions. And we're also going to be having a lot more story times in our branches than I think a lot of our customers have seen in years past during summer time. I think we'll have a lot more of those. So I think I'm excited about it as you can see.
Christine Freeman: I think there's nothing more exciting than seeing the children coming with the parents and they finish summer reading, because the sense of accomplishment that the parents and the child has is just really great, big smiles, everybody is happy. It's really a lot of fun to see.
Susan Moritz: Uh-huh. And I think one of the great things that Christine did at Noyes Library, I think, did you have like a little announcement or something?
Christine Freeman: We did.
Susan Moritz: When kids were to complete the program which I think was exciting.
Christine Freeman: We had a bell, and actually when somebody finished summer reading, we would ring the bell and then we will make an announcement and it was like, "Christine has finished summer reading program, let's give her a big round of applause," and everybody will clap their hands and the child gets all excited and really did that when the child wanted us to. If they were really shy of course, we did a quiet celebration.
Susan Moritz: There you go.
Christine Freeman: A celebration nonetheless, right.
Alessandro Russo: So, Montgomery County, as you know, is a very diverse county, how do you think residents will see themselves with the - in the Summer Read and Learn program?
Christine Freeman: Yeah. The Kids is designed to be appealing to our diverse communities. We have tracks like read a folk tale from another country or you can listen to music from another country. And I think that will encourage sharing and celebrating differences. We all took community-based activities, such as visit a park and draw a picture of what you see, which I mentioned earlier, and read a book about Maryland, DC, Virginia or Delaware, and that kind of shows us that we're all one world, which is in going with the theme.
Susan Moritz: Uh-huh, definitely. And I think our book lists also this year I believe are very - they've got very diverse titles and very diverse authors. So, I think a lot of kids are going to be excited to see these - their book list based on grades, so if you're a parent, you're like, "Ah, what should my third-grader read," we've got a book list for third grade, we've got a book list for second grade, that sort of runs in the gamut, and I think not only will our very diverse community be able to see themselves in the book titles that are being suggested this year. I think they're also being excited about exploring other cultures and learning about other people that are in our community.
Christine Freeman: I don't think keeping on the book list, she was really looking at mirrors and windows, and I think that's really important, even our tracks I think reflect that we really do keep in mind that our Montgomery County is a diverse community.
Susan Moritz: I love that phrase, "Mirrors and windows." Yeah. That's a wonderful phrase.
David Watts: I know you've touched on it briefly, but I'm going to ask you if you would underscore the importance of the summer reading program, and how it fits into the local school's effort to keep learning alive during the whole summer?
Susan Moritz: Definitely. I can't emphasize enough how important the Summer Read and Learn program is. I mean, we're basically open when the schools are closed, and we're very attuned to and very excited about trying to prevent summer slide. And I think we've touched a little bit on summer slide, which is if you haven't heard of it before, it's basically how kids start to lose that that achievement gains that they gained throughout the year. They - and we want to help prevent that as much as possible by keeping them engaged and learning with, you know, between the books and the learning activities and just everything. So - and we're I mean in general, we are open when the schools are after school, and we're open on the weekends, and we're open on the evenings and we're excited to have - to be able to help keep kids engaged and turn them into lifelong learners because we're - you learn at every stage, and so, stop - helping prevent summer slide is definitely one of the keys.
The other thing that we are super-excited about to be partners with Montgomery County Public Schools is our Library Link program, and the best way to describe it is we want to get a free library card in every kid's hand in Montgomery County Public Schools, because that library card is the key to everything. It is the key to our collection, our books, our databases, our homework help; just everything that keeps them engaged and learning and excited about STEM and just everything. So we're super-excited to have that to be doing that, you know, to be partners with the schools and to be doing that.
And the other way that we interact with schools since we're talking about Summer Read and Learn of course, is our school visits, which we are super-excited about, our librarians have started to be going to the schools, and they are visiting the classrooms and the all the local schools in their area, and they are getting the kids excited about Summer Read and Learn to get them excited and ready to sign-up. And they also a lot of times do books talks as well, and I know, I think Christine and I both have been on school visits before, and let me tell you there's nothing like the feeling like you go in a little bit nervous because especially if sometimes, you know, you're in that room, in that auditorium room, you know, sometimes with like half the school or the whole school and - but then you just get so excited by talking to the kids. They are just like, "How many of you signed up for the Summer Read and Learn before?" And they're raising their hands, and you just sort of feel of their excitement about Summer Read and Learn. And of course there's nothing like that feeling about also being back at the branch when the kids come in, "You came to my school," or you know, "Sign me up, I'm ready to sign-up," or you know, which the other one that my heart just melts is when kids would be - would say, "I want to check out that book you talked about when you came to my school." And that's - there's nothing more heart-melting than that. So we're really excited that the local schools allow us access to come in and talk to the kids and get them, because we're all in it together to help kids prevent summer slide, so get them excited about learning and engagement.
Christine Freeman: I have to tell you that I went last year to an assembly up in Olney, two assemblies actually back to back, and one little boy, he always talking and he said, "I know libraries are so cool." And I had to stop - I had to stop and I was like, "What did you say?" And I made him say it really loud, so everybody could hear. And it was fun, because after he came up to me, he was like, "What is that music thing you were talking about?" And I'm like, oh, Freegal, do want me to tell you about it. So I got it in my phone, I was showing him, I'm surprised his teacher didn't notice he was kind of straggling behind. He was really excited.
Susan Moritz: For a good reason, he was straggling behind, yes.
Christine Freeman: Yeah. And it's really fun to see all the kids get excited summer reading.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And free also, wonderful - you can download free music, I think up to five songs a week I want to say now.
Christine Freeman: Uh-huh.
Susan Moritz: So yeah, definitely.
Christine Freeman: And I've to tell you, I bought Adele's album, and then I went to Freegal and I was like, "Ah," like I could have gotten the songs from there! Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely. And I have got a long wish list in there, so that I can keep track of which ones I want to come back if I can't get them all, you know, the whole album downloaded that week there, so…
Alessandro Russo: So, part of the Summer Read and Learn program involves some great performances and events that are happening throughout the county. Can you highlight some of those events?
Christine Freeman: I am so super-excited about this, because I've booked the programs that was sponsored through Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, so, we have some great stuff coming there of storytellers, we have inspirational speakers, we have a wide variety of musicians from all over the place. And I did see when a performer named Chris Fascione and he's at Chicago and he's a storyteller; fabulous. He takes folktales, and he does all the parts. So he's like running around doing all these different characters, and he's just - it's great, it will be in a couple of our libraries. We also have Under the Sea that is out of Glen Echo Park Aquarium. And they bring live animals, and it's great because it's educational, it's fun, it's interactive, the parents loved it, so they will also be at some of our libraries. We have so many programs throughout the system that this is a great opportunity to go visit a library that you've never seen before. So, on checking out our online calendar, you'll see everything there that we have.
Susan Moritz: Okay, I'm excited about the Under the Sea because I know Christine raved about it before about how wonderful they were at Noyes, when they came to visit. So yeah, so I'm excited about the - yeah, they all sound great. I want to go to see everything.
Christine Freeman: We had some great music of the didgeri, digeridoo?
Susan Moritz: Yes didgeridoo, right?
Christine Freeman: They were like awesome. We have some percussionists coming in, they were going to bring drums and that was - it's like a kind of like a Latin sound. That will be fun. 1,2,3 Con Andreas, who does a bilingual program; lots of great stuff coming in.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I can't wait.
David Watts: The Great Fines Read Off program runs year round, but it is particularly popular during the summer. Please tell us about Great Fines Read Off and how it would work?
Susan Moritz: Sure, Great Fines Read Off is super-simple, easy, and like you said, popular. So for kids 17, ages 17 and younger, they can earn a "Library Buck," and make them a little air quotes; for every half-hour they read in the library, so it's super-simple, they just come into the library, and they've got library fines on their card, go to sign-up at the information desk or whatever branch they're at, they go and read while they're in the library and they can read whatever they want to, they can read books, e-magazines, e-books, you know, websites, whatever they want to read. And then they go and then at the end they just check back in that they're finished with their reading, they clipped whatever library books they earn and take it to the checkout desk and get those fines off their card. And like you said, it is so super-popular; even I had an adult one time who was a little bit bummed that she could not take part in the program, she said she would love to read off her credit card bill, and you know, I too would also love to read. I know I wish everybody did this, right, you could just read off your bills at the library; sounds awesome to me, so - but unfortunately it is just for kids 17 years and younger, but it would be like you said it goes on all year long.
Christine Freeman: And parents can read off for the little kids who can't read yet, right?
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely, definitely. and yes, have you - siblings too, if you've got an older sibling that reads, you know, and you both earn, the reader and the readee, both can earn there, so just they both have to check-in and check-in at the branch when they come in. Great program definitely.
Christine Freeman: Definitely.
Alessandro Russo: So, if you're an adult and you want to participate in Summer Read and Learn, but you have no clue what to read; what are some resources that we have that can help that?
Susan Moritz: Perfect, well, they've come to the right place. So, yes, we are a great place to find exciting titles to read. So, one of the ways is of course through our reading challenge that I spoke about, and they can sign-up for an account with Beanstack if they don't have it already and join that. And like I said, they've got 12 reading challenges like the end of the cover the book is green or read a sci-fi or fantasy book or read - I mean, just so there's 12 different reading challenges. So, that's one way to sort of like - or I like to call it read like a librarian, because we read so much and so many different things to help - because you never know what customer is coming up. Customer maybe coming up that loves Westerns, or you know, teen dystopias, so you never quite know. So I'd say it's like a read like a librarian, having that nice challenge there. So that's definitely one way.
We've got another way that if you don't know what to read is we got a great online service called What Do I Check Out Next? And what people can do is they can fill in our form online and they can say sort of what types of books either they like to read or they are in the mood to read, what kind of genres, and then we can email them back a - we email them back three to five reading suggestions. So that's like a personalized reading list that we've got. And another one, which I completely also need to of course to mention, is in Beanstack you can also get personalized recommendations through them. So through that online service you can say they've got like four pathways or four doorways, you can say like, "I love plot-driven novels," or you know, whatever it is that you love. And they will of course either email you their personalized reading suggestion, and or you can if you get too much emails, like I do sometimes, you can just log-in to your Beanstack account and see what's recommended to you. But I love that - what I love about Beanstack and What Do I Take Out Next especially are the personalized, it's you know finding that the right book for the right person at the right time. So, I love that.
Christine Freeman: And if you happen to be in a library, take advantage of your librarian. So, librarians love to give readers advisory advice. Walk up to the info desk, and they'll be happy to show you some of their favorites or some that they think you might like.
Susan Moritz: Definitely. I remember before I started to work at MCPL, I was like, "Ah, what should I read? What should I read?" And I'm like, had I known I could just walk up to the desk and ask them like - that's just sort of - that would have blown my mind at the time.
Christine Freeman: And I feel the children's librarian and I look for her, like I would find her when I was little and she would take me and help me to find the books that I wanted.
Susan Moritz: I love that, I love that…
Christine Freeman: It is great, excited to be a librarian when I had that children's librarian's help, I must have been like eight.
Susan Moritz: Definitely. That's fabulous, because you definitely do remember those like reading suggestions you do get from your librarian. I mean, I do remember my school librarian reading text like Make Way for Ducklings, and it's like you know these stories they're just like ah, you know, you just think back so fondly of them, and like you said, make it your favorites librarians, and so - for more recommendations.
Christine Freeman: I know they're waiting.
Susan Moritz: Yes. That's what they call it now, but come on in…
David Watts: How has the Summer Read and Learn program grown and developed over the years?
Christine Freeman: So, in the past, we've had children log the books that they've read, and as we know not all children like to read. So, the great thing about Summer Read and Learn program is that the kids who don't like to read so much can participate by doing learning activities. Now the kids that love to read, they don't have do any activities, they can just keep reading books, and they can do that. It really helps for children that are not strong readers, and that's why we now have a reading program that everyone will be able to enjoy. Of course, we are always looking for feedback from our customers, and we'll continue to evolve our summer reading program to meet the needs of our community.
Alessandro Russo: So, traditionally we ask our guest if they have a favorite book, or if they want to share what book is currently on their desk ready to read?
Susan Moritz: Sure. So, the two that I read that I really liked recently were The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, and I was really excited - for some reason I get sucked into those stories where there's sort of like a locked room kind of mysteries, you know, so there's a journalist, she gets a chance to go on this maiden voyage of this like rich - it's like a cruise line, where it is very limited, I think there is like 10 cabins. And so, like, this rich person is like taking out these very wealthy people, but also invite some journalists for good publicity for their new cruise line. And of course, that evening, she had - well, earlier in the day, she had spoken to this woman who was in the cabin next door in cabin 10, and then of course that evening she hears a woman scream and a splash, and you know, and of course the woman is gone, she can't find her, and of course no one on the ship says, "Oh, that cabin was supposed to be empty. There's nobody in there." So yes, so of course you got to read the book to find out - did the woman really exist, is it all in her mind? So I love that. That was a great one that I really read recently.
And another one was An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I love that one, it's a teen dystopia as Romanesque, and it's like the Romanesque empire is sort of taken over the lid and sort of subjugated these people call the scholars. And of course Laia, her - she's a scholar, and her parents have since been killed by them, and her grandparents, she witnesses her grandparents being killed. But when they stormed sort of into her home and her brother is taken prisoner and is escorted off presumably to die, and she of course wants to find the resistance and save her brother and all sorts of exciting thing. It's a great audio book because the alternate voice has got two different narrators. So I love that.
And next up, which I haven't read much about, the Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, I'm going to be - that's next on my to-read list. So, what exciting books have you been reading, Christine?
Christine Freeman: Let's see. I think, well, I think my favorite book of one year that came out was Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. It's great. It's set in San Francisco, where I'm from. And it's a terrorist event occurs and these really smart teenagers happen to be cosplaying there. And so, they kind of like figure out what's really going on and kind of save the day, I like that. I'm also a big fan of YA, other YA dystopian books. I just got to Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, not very long ago, if you like Queen of the Tearling, you'll love the Red Queen. It kind of combines dystopian and fantasy, which I like. That's great. And of course anything by Rick Riordan, I'm a huge fan.
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely.
Christine Freeman: Huge fan.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I know, I was thinking fondly of the Rick Riordan books, because I had a kid who came in - he was actually visiting our branch while he was visiting his grandparents, so he's out from Florida. And he was like, I've got - he wanted to recommend books to me. So he's like pulling off from the shelf one of which was The Lightning Thief, you know, the first Percy Jackson book, so I was like I've got to read this book there, so…
Christine Freeman: I have to say they are only books I buy…
Susan Moritz: Oh, that's great. That's great. That's great.
Christine Freeman: Everything else from the library, but I buy Rick Riordan…
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely. And I'm excited about the Victoria - Aveyard?
Christine Freeman: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: I haven't read that one there, that sounds good but I have read Little Brother and that is an exciting - that's a very - I truly understood water boarding, after that I was sort of liking that, so it was just like - but yeah, was really like - it was like tense and exciting and you didn't know what was going to happen next. Yeah, that was a really good book.
Christine Freeman: Yeah…
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank both of you for joining us today. We've enjoyed our conversation. But 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, and wherever you get your podcast. Also please review and read us on iTunes. We'd love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to the conversation today. See you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Libraries' Podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries' Podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. I am Alessandro Russo…
David Watts: And I am David Watts. We hope you'll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve. In an effort to keep our library branch locations in optimum operating condition, Montgomery County has invested money for upgrades to the aesthetics and functionality of some branch locations. So that we may better understand this important process, we are joined today by our Public Services Administrator for Facilities, Rita Gale. Welcome to Library Matters, Rita.
Rita Gale: Thank you very much for inviting me.
David Watts: Please introduce yourself to our listeners and tell them what your background is and how you've been with MCPL.
Rita Gale: Okay. I am currently the public services administrator for space management, ADA, and collection management. I have been with Montgomery County Public Library since 1986. I joined the library system as a Branch Manager at the Potomac Library. And have moved up, became an agency manager at Rockville. And then when the public services administrator position which at that time was called library regional administrator position became vacant for the different area because we've been - the public service administrators had been various things in my career. We had areas at that time when the Gaithersburg area became vacant, I took that position. And I have been a variation of a public services administrator ever since 1988.
David Watts: Rita, if you wouldn't mind, could you explain to our listeners what the refresh process is properly defined as and how that occurs naturally?
Rita Gale: Okay, so basically in the library department previously we did our projects what we called through renovations. They were full scale often times teardowns of the buildings. The concept was that it was taking about 20 to 30 years to actually get through all of our libraries since we have 21 of them. And in library land, changes and modernization happens much faster than 20 year. So, we were not seeing that our facilities were current in 21st century by going through that process. Plus, it was very slow and very expensive.
So when we did our facilities plan in FY'13, the concept of refresh came through as a way that we could cycle through each of our facilities in a seven-year period and make changes to them, not on the grand scale that a renovation did, but in a very efficient and quick methodology to both refresh them from the perspective of having new paint and carpeting, but also modernizing them, so that they included elements of services that libraries throughout the country were offering. For example, collaboration spaces, also technology, the latest and greatest in technology.
For example, we offered charging stations for mobile devices. We had just put those and added those at Kensington Park and Twinbrook when we reopened them. So the refresh concept is relatively new for libraries. Definitely, new for the county and is just a better and a faster way of actually modernizing and refreshing our facilities.
Alessandro Russo: How are branches determined like which branches are selected for a refresh, how is that determined?
Rita Gale: Okay. So we have 21 facilities and we intend to refresh them all. The way that we determine the order of doing those refreshes was basically looking at the condition of the facilities. And so, we as I mentioned actually defined a scope of work. And in looking at that scope of work for all of our facilities and what feedback we had received from the community about what new things or what improvements needed to be made, input that we received from our funders about what they think we should we doing in our facilities. And then looking at the actual condition of our facilities, we made the decision in FY 15 which was the first year that we did refresh projects to modernize the Kensington Park and Twinbrook libraries. Those were libraries that we felt needed the most attention immediately.
As we have now gone through the process and done three libraries for FY 16 and are about – are in construction for the FY 17 projects, we've added some input that we've received which is the proximity of the libraries we choose to each other and the proximity of impact libraries for those projects as elements that we consider, but primarily we're looking at what the condition of the facilities are.
Alessandro Russo: Just to clarify, impact libraries meaning when a branch closes that means naturally there is going to be more people traffic at that specific branch.
Rita Gale: Well, and also the concept is that when we close a facility, we expect that the people – that our customers who use that facility are going to go some else hopefully to continue to have service while we're actually closed in the refresh branches. And so, the facilities that we expect those customers to go to are what we call our impact facilities.
David Watts: What are the advantages of a refresh as opposed to a renovation?
Rita Gale: I think probably the biggest advantage is that we get around to every single one of our facilities faster. We're actually able to touch every one of the 21 facilities as I said in a seven-year period. Previously when we were doing full scale renovations, it was taking us 20 years to get to maybe one, at the most two facilities. So, it was a really lengthy process. The other advantage is that our intent with the refresh projects is that they will be only closed 4 to 6 months. One of the things that we heard from the community when we did our full renovations was that it was taking a year-and-a-half to two years to complete the work in those facilities. We are blessed with customers who love us and who actually want their libraries all the time. And they were not very happy that they did not have library service in that two-year period. So, we felt that in addition to being able to improve our facilities that we were going to be able to also do that with less impact on the customers, not that there still isn't, but definitely less impact. And those are two things that we hope really are helping to sell the concept of refresh.
Alessandro Russo: What are the budgetary limits for refresh projects?
Rita Gale: So with all of the construction projects in the county, there is a budget called the capital improvement program budget, which is funded by the county. And it provides the primary means of paying for construction and improvements in county facilities. So, when we introduced the concept with the FY'13 to '15 – FY'13 to '16 facilities plan, we had the concept, but we really didn't have the funding in place. So we spent the first year actually talking with the county executive, with the office of management and budget, with the council about the advantages of this program and how we would like to have it funded on a continuous basis as opposed to having to go every year to solicit funding.
So, we were fortunate enough to receive what's called level of effort funding through the capital improvement program budget. And that means that for the six years of that capital improvement program budget, there is an amount allocated per year for these refresh projects to take place. Now in addition to that, we also wanted to incorporate where we could improvements that were needed in the facilities related to Americans for Disabilities Act. And the county has a separate division, the ADA compliance unit that has funding. And so we wanted to make sure that if there were improvements that needed to be made that we would do that at the same time.
And so, that unit actually funds some of the improvements that are made. And then, the division of facilities management who maintains our facilities has also level of effort funding for special projects like roof replacements, striping parking lots, replacing HVAC equipment. And we felt that if while we were doing the programmatic things in a refresh; there was building things that needed to happen like roofs and parking lots that we would try to coordinate that with the facilities management division. So when we do our projects, we try to do that.
And then funding for those elements comes from those budgets. And then, the final piece is that the Maryland State – the State of Maryland has funding called capital grants, which are strictly for capital improvements. They are meant for the 22 public library systems in the state. And we have to apply each year. And we have to compete. And we have been fortunate for all the years that we've been competing to receive funding from the state, which actually helps to contribute as well.
David Watts: If you wouldn't mind, Rita, could you give us a status update on your current projects which are in process? And perhaps, some of the upcoming plans for projects?
Rita Gale: Certainly. So as I mentioned, we have completed two projects, the FY'15 projects at Kensington Park and Twinbrook, both opened last year and are fully operational. We are currently completing construction on the Aspen Hill and Little Falls libraries. And they were two of three libraries in FY'16. The Davis Library was the third. And we just opened the Davis Library on April 8th. We are very excited. We've gotten great feedbacks so far about the improvements we made there. We don't have dates yet for Aspen Hill or Little Falls, but we're hoping within the next month – two months that we'll be opening those facilities.
We are also in preparation for the FY'17 refresh projects which are Quince Orchard, White Oak, and Bethesda. And both White Oak and Quince Orchard have closed for the beginnings of their refresh projects. Construction will start on Quince Orchard actually hopefully next week, and at White Oak, in a couple of weeks. And then, we have decided to hold off on Bethesda in terms of closing it because remember I mentioned that word impact before, well, one of the impact branches for Little Falls was Bethesda.
And so, we felt that if we closed Bethesda at this stage without having both Davis and the Little Falls open that we would probably hear from the customers telling us that that was a bad decision on our part. An so, our director made the decision that we would hold off opening – I am sorry, closing of Bethesda until we opened to Little Falls.
And then, we are going to go into design in July for the FY'18 projects which will be Marilyn Praisner, Poolesville, and Long Branch. Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: You mentioned earlier that different libraries are older than others and they kind of need specific projects for those. But just in general, how do - the refresh projects between branch is differ and how are they similar?
Rita Gale: So I would say that the similarities are that generally we work on bathrooms for all of the projects. Modernizing them and in many cases making ADA improvements. We usually carpet or put new flooring in and we usually paint. So, those are primarily the things that we carry over from project to project. The variations come in when we start putting in programmatic things that relate to the demographics of the community.
So, one of the things that we are trying very hard to do in all of our facilities, not so much from demographics, but because of the way that our public uses libraries now is what we call collaboration spaces. And our collaboration spaces are in closed rooms that will house between two and six individuals, who can be in that space for whatever collaborative efforts they're looking for. So it could be students who're working on a project, who need a space where they can talk and spread out papers, and maybe work on a computer, or it could be businessmen in the community who need a space to meet with somebody to talk about a business plan.
So, collaboration spaces are spaces that we'd like to put in, but we don't necessarily always have the room to put them in. An example of a demographic space that we look at, for example, we have never really build out our facilities to have dedicated space for teens, most of our facilities have an adult reading room and a children's reading room, but we haven't called out teens, and in many of our communities the demographic is that there are enough teens that we really feel like we should have spaces dedicated to them. So, that those are the kinds of things that vary from place-to-place. If we had a demographic that was heavily senior-related, we might create spaces that were a little different and at seniors. So, those are the more programmatic improvements that are related to what the community is about.
Alessandro Russo: You have to customize those localized communities.
Rita Gale: That's correct, yes.
David Watts: Rita, tell us about where staff is assigned while the branches are closed for refresh?
Rita Gale: So, the first couple of weeks, we keep the staff in the facility and they help us shut it down. In other words, get it ready for the construction company to come in. That usually involves going through storage cabinet, supply cabinets, reading out things that may have accumulated over years, so that we're trim and fit when we open up. If we're going to move collections, reorganize the space, we try to do that during those first two weeks. So pretty much by the time this staff leave after the first two weeks, we've got the building in a place where it is as organized as it can be and as reorganized spatially as it's going to be. The staff then go, again, to those impact branches that I mentioned before, we actually check with our staff to see where they would like to go with the impact branches that we identify. And then we also often times identify branches that need some additional staffing because they can seize another reasons. So, our staff generally then spend the next four months in those libraries helping the staff in those libraries to provide service to the customers, who hopefully they are seeing coming to those impact branches to receive service.
Alessandro Russo: And it also helps from the patron side to kind of if they never went to that library just an extra level of comfort to, you know - to familiar library face.
Rita Gale: Having another human being there that they actually have seen before who can help maybe introduce them to the services to have that particular library is laid out, maybe explain certain policies, yes, that's part of the reason why we feel it's important for them to be located in places where we expect that the customers from the closed branch are going to go.
Alessandro Russo: As far as from the public side has there any comments specific comments as far as they love the collaboration spaces, they love the paint jobs and anything that kinds of sticks out to you?
Rita Gale: Well we see positive input again we've opened Kensington Park and Twinbrook at those two libraries one of the things that we did, we made a conscious decision to move the children rooms in both those locations which were spaces that were open and we move them into closed spaces and the spaces that from what I understand the feedback that the branches have – those two branches have received, that they received very positive feedback from parents, caregivers, people generally about those spaces and how they were designed, I mentioned that we just opened the Davis Library on April 8 and I understand that one of the things that people have said about Davis is that even though we didn't do lighting improvements in the aspect of replacing light fixtures, we actually changed out the light bulbs, put all new bulbs in and fit it out the ones that perhaps were lit and people have commented about how much brighter the branch is which was an unintended consequence for us. We've also heard that the collaboration spaces at Kensington and Twinbrook are very well used and we're starting to see that at Davis where we also have collaboration spaces.
David Watts: You preciously stated that all the branches will eventually be refreshed, what are the next steps when that has occurred, when all the branches have been completed?
Rita Gale: Well as I mentioned we have a six-year capital improvement program budget and we expect that within seven years we'll get through all 21 facilities and because we really feel that this model is working well for us, we believe it's working well for our public that we expect to yes that we're going to ask for that capital improvement program to be extended for another seven years and our full expectation is that we will start all over again, now we may not start in the same order because we have learned some lessons, but again remember what I said is that part of the reason we're doing it is not just to refresh the building, but to modernize the building and even in seven years, we probably will have had many changes occur in library land that we will want to see implemented in these facilities.
So we fully expect that we will have different changes to make, but that in seven years when we start over again, we'll have we may paint again, we may carpet, but we will have other programmatic and service related things that we can implement and again the piece about the funding is that we may not necessarily always be able to fund everything the first go around, so the other piece about having funding to go back again a second time is that we may be doing things that we haven't done the first time. So for example, we haven't been able to spend a lot of time and effort and work on our staff areas and so on the second round we may actually make improvements to our staff areas in addition to our program, our public areas.
Alessandro Russo: Are there any current trends you see in the current library refresh projects like as far as the charging stations I know we're kind of a big one is there anything?
Rita Gale: Well, one of the things that we're technologically one of things that we're working on doing is making our meeting rooms and where we can space wise with our collaboration spaces what we call smart rooms and by that I mean that we're trying to put equipment into those rooms that the public can use to do, to help them with that piece that I described about collaboration.
So, that if the person brings a laptop and wants to show the other people in the room something that they've designed perhaps or they want to do a mini presentation that instead of having glass walls which we have in many of our collaboration spaces which don't do well for projection. That we will have equipment that is inherent on the table that they can actually do, so we're looking at that for example in our collaboration spaces. In our meeting rooms instead of having what, what's called LCD projectors and I'm not sure what that abbreviation stands for, but we had projectors mounted on the ceiling that we then would project on to a screen.
We're actually putting in TV's, so we actually have TV monitors, TV screens that on which the customers will plug in to do their presentations and show them on a nice large screen. We've also introduced laptops and we at some point in time are going to look at putting iPads or tablets not necessarily iPads, but tablets for customers to use in the branch because while we have workstations with actual equipment PCs.
We also have all of these this furniture that part of the refreshes to put electric near every piece of furniture, because everybody brings in a device that needs to be plugged into something and so, what we want to do is take advantage of that electric and say okay instead of putting PC's in our locations what will do is will loan the customers laptops to plug into or loan them a tablet to use, so that we can maximize the space again.
David Watts: Rita, have you developed any favorite features in the Refresh process?
Rita Gale: Well, I would say that my favorite piece about the Refresh projects is, is the fact that in four months we can actually improve them so, that they look all of our facilities look different that they, they don't that they're not as tired looking, that they're modernized and that people are energized by coming into these buildings and seeing that we can actually make improvements and we don't have to close them down for two years. So, I don't have a specific individual thing, but I am energized by the concept that we can actually make visible improvements to those facilities that will make them hopefully better for the, our customer base and also more modern for our customer base.
David Watts: And maybe just give you a victory lap here great project in Silver Spring. Recently awarded as Design EX award for urban libraries I believe. I know that was a great collaboration for you with the planning office and with the project manager. Now you've got Wheaton that's about ready to start, you want to add anything about that?
Rita Gale: Well, definitely Silver Spring is a new construction it was a project that was designed to move out of a about 14,000 square foot facility into a 70,000 square foot facility so a much larger facility of a very well use base, very loved library in terms of the community and how much they're using at end and all of the services.
And you are correct that the other new construction that has just begun is with the Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center, our first project where we will actually physically be collocated in the same building with a recreation of the Community Recreation Center. We currently on the same campus at Marilyn Praisner with a Community Recreation Center, but that's a campus location not a building location. So, the demolition of the Wheaton Library occurred a few weeks ago and construction is underway.
Alessandro Russo: It's our tradition here on Library Matters to ask our guest what their favorite book is or also is there any is there a book waiting to be read on your nightstand.
Rita Gale: So, I like to travel. So, what I have on my nightstand right now are Fodor's guides for Alaska, because I'm going to be taking a Cruise this summer to Alaska. And so, I'm reading up I also have things that I would love to read that I just don't have that, have not had a chance and there are two series that I'm interested in reading one is the wicked series a play that I saw at the Kennedy Center that just loved one of my very favorite ones by Gregory Maguire. And I'm also a big fan of an A&E Program that has gone over to Netflix called Longmire and Greg Johnson has written a whole series of books and I would love to be able to actually get around to reading those as well.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest today; certainly we wish we could go in there Alaska Cruise with you. But we do hope that you have an enjoyable time and we do congratulate you on all your success as a Public Administrator.
Rita Gale: Great, thank you so much for inviting me.
Alessandro Russo: And then for listeners, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to describe to the podcast on iTunes Stitcher or whatever, wherever you get your podcast from. Also please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you think. Thank you, and see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries' podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries' podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology and learning. I am Alessandro Russo.
David Watts: And I am David Watts. We hope you'll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.
Alessandro Russo: On today's episode we will be discussing what books prompted you to make a big or small lifestyle or habit change. There are many books that have helped change us in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. I can think of a few titles myself such as Norman Vincent Peale's the Power of Positive Thinking. A few others that come to mind include The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz or even Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Today, we are fortunate to be joined by MCPL staff members, Teresa Kolacek and Carol Reddan. Teresa and Carol please introduce yourselves to our listeners.
Teresa Kolacek: Hi am Teresa Kolacek and I have been working with MCPL since 1998, first as a Children's Library Associate at the Damascus branch and then later at Gaithersburg Library and I am now an Adult Library Associate Two at the Davis branch, which will be reopening on April 8th.
Carol Reddan: Hi, I am Carol Reddan and I am a library associate at Olney branch. I also am a Olney resident. I started in 1999 as a substitute because my children were small. So that was great, it gave me a chance to go to every branch in the county so I know the county well but I am happy to be settled in Olney as the team librarian.
Alessandro Russo: What books prompted you to make a big or small lifestyle change or habit change.
Teresa Kolacek: Well, there were many books because I read mostly nonfiction for pleasure but one of the ones that really stands out is the book by Nina Planck, author's last name P-L-A-N-C-K called real food, what to eat and why. This is a book that came out in the mid 2000s and talks about eating the way our grandparents or great grandparents ate, food that was not raised in conventional factory farms, grass-fed meats, pasture raised chicken, butter, you know fresh from the farm, were basically unadultered food and how it can increase your health and actually be much healthier than all of the "health food" that is out there in the local supermarkets.
Carol Reddan: That book that prompted me was Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott who like many people spent a year abroad during college and she lived with her French family and took home many valuable lessons that she uses to this day in her daily life, and its – its mostly about paying attention to daily life and how we eat, how we dress, how we interact with one another.
Alessandro Russo: So did you read these books in attempting to make a change or was it kind of just go with the flow and see where it goes?
Teresa Kolacek: For me I've had a long interest in food, in cooking and eating well and healthy living and so when I saw this book, Real Food and it basically gave me an authoritative source for the things that I had been picking up literally organically and here was somebody who grew up in Virginia on a farm, moved to London to open a farmer's market there, then ended up working in New York City at a farmer's market so she was instrumental in actually bringing the farm movement, the farmer's market movement to the United States and to the DC area. In fact, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market is one of the – the best markets on East Coast and she was among other people instrumental in – in starting that movement. So for me it was a source that I could point to when I was eating butter and things that other people considered not healthy, I could refer them to this book.
Carol Reddan: When I came about this book, I was actually working at the return desk and a woman was returning lot of books and this just caught my eye and was asking about it and I was just intrigued because she told me she is a Professor at Montgomery College and every summer she picks a subject to devote herself to while she is off work and this particular summer she was sort of devouring all the French books, there are so – so many books about idealizing French culture and this was one of them, so I thought "hmmm" so I took a look at it and I liked a lot of what it said in the book and some things I take issue with but overall, I think there is a lot to be said. I don’t want to over-idealize French culture but she makes some good points about how they approach their food, fresh food, diet. Jennifer Scott the author was a college student used to a very American lifestyle of supercasual snacking and it – going to France was just the antithesis of all that and it just turned her around and for years now she is trying to maintain these French habits.
Alessandro Russo: I guess the question that begs asking is did you incorporate any of this into your own lifestyles and did it change your families and how you connected with the world?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, my husband definitely appreciates this because he loves eating as much as I do. We basically go to the Farmer's Market at Dupont Circle on Sundays, pick up most of our food there and then I cook over the weekend and he loves it because he gets to eat homemade farm-fresh food, mostly organic that is – that tastes like real food. If you taste meat that is raised without hormones and all these other additives and literally conventionally factory-farm meats are fed things like candy wrappers and – and literally garbage so you are eating that stuff as well. When you eat those items it’s just – its why you European cooking also is. If you go to Europe, if you go to other cultures and you eat their food and even people who were born aboard and come here they say the food tastes different. I have met staff members who work in MCPL and said they had to get adjusted to the food in America once they came here because it didn’t have flavor.
Alessandro Russo: Well the saying is you are what you eat so…
Teresa Kolacek: Definitely.
Alessandro Russo: It holds true in your case.
Teresa Kolacek: And I have to also add that I have read this Madame Chic book and I also read in that area.
Carol Reddan: It’s an overlap.
Teresa Kolacek: Yes I totally agree with everything Carol just said…
Carol Reddan: Good habits are good habits.
Teresa Kolacek: Because so much of that is not just French per se but –
Carol Reddan: Right.
Teresa Kolacek: A different, maybe a more European lifestyle where food is important. In America, food is considered an afterthought to eat while you are watching television, while you are driving to work. Most Europeans of whatever culture would not eat that way so food is something to be shared with family and friends.
Carol Reddan: Yes.
Teresa Kolacek: It is time to relax and to enjoy. It’s a pleasurable activity, whereas in America you are made to feel guilty if you enjoy eating what some people consider bad food.
Alessandro Russo: Here is an Italian saying [Foreign language] means where there is a kitchen there is family. So it's kind of the European of, that’s the center of their world. The -- the kitchen is where you talk, kitchen is where you are sharing, you know, and that’s why I relate very close to what they are talking about European food style, lifestyle versus American lifestyle.
David Watts: So you spoke a little bit about the impact on – on your husband but how about your family at large?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, we don’t have any children and both, my husband and I have family who live either overseas or other state so, it doesn’t really impact the other family members. But one thing that it did impact was when my husband went, and he has always been healthy but he went to get his physical one year and I forget what his cholesterol numbers were but then he went back the next year and his HDL good numbers increased by like 20 or 30 points and his doctor said "What are you doing?" He said "Well I eat three eggs every morning for breakfast, buttered toast," you know whole – we buy whole grain bread from the farmer's market and basically it is much healthier because he is eating literally real food instead of manufactured food.
Carol Reddan: I do try to institute these changes in my life and I have success and I will trail off and then I'll come back to it again. I follow Jennifer Scott's weekly vlog which helps keep me sort of in that philosophy so and I – there is a lot of overlap with some of, you know, the things that you are talking about with paying attention to food, not eating on the go, when you eat you sit down to eat and just kind of celebrating daily life. I've tried to do that, pay attention to that. Like she notes that when she lived with this French family, the woman, the mother of the family likes doing her daily household chores, like she didn’t mind cleaning, it was sort of a celebration of the home, you know, it's not a chore, not something to be looked down on but something to celebrate and she makes a lot of her own home cleaning products which I've done, the daily shopping is just like a nice daily ritual to you know, get what you are going to bring home to eat for dinner. Its daily patterns of life that you should celebrate be into not look it as a burden or you know, so. Yeah and I have, my family did notice like you know, you keep making that household cleaner. The house – why does the house smell like vinegar? I am like that’s a good smell, that’s a good smell.
David Watts: So you had a hit on the idea that these books have impacted your lives but in general, do you feel happier, do you feel richer in the sense of just more positiveness in yourself?
Teresa Kolacek: I definitely feel happier, more content in the sense that I am not worrying about what I am going to eat because I don’t have to worry about counting calories, counting carbs, measuring this, measuring that. I eat the way human beings have eaten for millennium which is to eat good food, fresh, you know, wholesome food. I cook it the way I like to prepare it, mostly Mediterranean style but also I use lard in the wintertime to make my soups that I get directly from the farmer's market. There is another wonderful book out there that is more scientific than real food, it's called The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and this woman actually went back and got a degree in either biology or biochemistry so she could read the original scientific studies going back to Ancel Keys from the 1950s and what she found was that what the scientific studies actually showed when you dug into them was not with the information they were putting out to the public and in the summaries. So, Ancel Keys cherry picked his data to support his hypothesis as opposed to giving all of the results and what she is documenting in this pretty hefty tom is that saturated fat is not bad for you, that you should be eating again, the grass-fed and pasture products that this whole focus on low fat, no fat diet has been what's caused the diabetes and obesity epidemics to occur.
David Watts: Is there a way to make organic living affordable?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, one thing you can do is if you have a windowsill or a little patch of land, you can grow some of your own food like tomatoes, lettuce, some things that would be more expensive like organic tomatoes per pound are going to – and because they are heavy and I like to eat a lot of tomatoes, that costs more than say buying organic lettuce. The other thing you should consider is at least buying some, if not all of your meats or dairy because the toxins of the animal meat get concentrated, the higher up the food chain it goes. So it's actually more important, if you can, to at least eat some organic meats and dairy and the other thing is if you look around and you cut out the junk food that you eat and – and this is – it will have to be a gradual transition but if you start weaning yourself away from all the junk food that is sold in the regular grocery stores and start spending that money on fruits, vegetables, good meats, dairy or whatever you'll find that you can at least help out budget wise by money you save on the junk food you can put towards good food and there are all kinds of list. If you just Google search like the – the worst pesticide laden fruits and vegetables so you don’t have to eat everything like bananas, you peel those, so that’s not as important to have an organic banana as it would be say something like lettuce that you know is harder to clean.
Carol Reddan: One tangible aspect that this book helped me to implement is kind of an approach to minimalism in your lifestyle and she really goes over how her French family had very, very few clothing. Their closets were very tiny. They actually – they lived in a fairly tiny apartment and each person had about 10 items of clothing and they would just wear their clothing over and over again and at first she was – didn’t think that that was possible but then she did that when she came back to America and now she has a whole thing where she has given Ted talks about having 10 items in your wardrobe and I can’t say that I've gotten down to 10 items but it – I have reduced my closet by about like 30 to 35% and that makes you feel like you have so much more. My closet used to just be like packed like that with articles of clothing that I mostly ignored and you just have to look at it and take out what you don’t wear and now I just have things in there where there is space and it just feels like I have so much more and it is just really gratifying every time I look in my closet and I have a feeling of accomplishment. I got rid of all those things I wasn’t using, give them away to charity and it just – I get a nice gratifying feeling every time I look at my closet now. And I have cut down a lot on the amount of take out like eating on the go, so that feels really gratifying too like planning ahead a little bit like on Wednesday nights I work till 9 o'clock so I try to plan ahead, get something in the morning, a whole bagel or something that I can come home and just toast as opposed to stopping by a fast food place. So, I have instituted little changes like that and its – it's really gratifying and – and gives you a really good feeling when you feel successful that you are carrying them out.
David Watts: Sounds like less is more.
Carol Reddan: Less is always more, right? Right. Right.
Teresa Kolacek: I'd just like to say since I've also read that book I think she said that its like 10 pieces of clothing per season so it's not like you have to live summer and winter –
Carol Reddan: Yes, yes.
David Watts: Right.
Teresa Kolacek: With the same 10 pieces.
Carol Reddan: Ummhmm.
Teresa Kolacek: So that does and you change your clothes seasonally so you have, you know a [indiscernible] [0:16:15] wardrobe.
Carol Reddan: And she always places quality above quantity, 10 really well-made good pieces are worth so much more than 20 cheaper pieces of clothing that are going to last. Like don’t buy something just because it's on sale, buy it because you really, really like it and you want to have it for a very long time.
David Watts: Tell me how both of you have detailed how these books have brought about lifestyle changes for you but relate that from our customer's experience, how – how do you deal with that information question and how do you refer people to something that might help bring about a lifestyle change for them?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, when people come to the Davis branch especially and they – they do a lot of reader's advisory so they are looking for things to read and when somebody comes in and asks me a question about, you know, diet and lifestyle they are not quite sure what they want, they don’t have a specific book in mind, I always, this is the very first book I recommend, The Real Food. I also now recommend The Big Fat Surprise that’s why I've had to have this book reordered at our branch just because it gets checked out so much. So it is something that I and also even colleagues. There was a colleague I worked with at Kensington who was so thrilled when I recommended this book to her and she has made lifestyle changes based on this book.
Carol Reddan: I recommend this book to people who just are looking for something to read, it’s a quick read, it's very easy to read, its well written and broken down in neat little concise chapters but I also want to take – make a point although that not that everything Jennifer says I totally agree with, some I do take issue with some of her advice. Like she – she places a lot of emphasis on dressing up every day. She is real big on never wear extra size clothing, always dress your best. She wears a lot of dresses and I am not totally on board with that, I see nothing, maybe I am just too American but I see nothing wrong with wearing extra size clothing out and about.
David Watts: Or T-Shirt –
Carol Reddan: Or I yeah, yeah. I mean to me its about, yeah, you want to be presentable and clean but she – she – it seemed to me she seems to place more emphasis on appearance than comfort.
Alessandro Russo: Is there is a conversation with yourself that you kind of try to keep yourself motivated to you know, you've made these lifestyles already, but what's your – what's your kind of – your own advice to yourself to say this is worth it.
Teresa Kolacek: Its second nature, I don’t even have to think about it. I've been doing this for so many years now that its – it's very easy for me to pass up the junk food that people into work when if – if somebody brings in say a cake to celebrate something and I look at the ingredients on the package and it's you know, 5 inches long paragraph, I don’t need that, I don’t feel well. When you start eating this way and then you would eat something that has all of these chemicals and additives, it sometimes gives me an upset stomach so it's an easy way to – to just ignore and as far as what Carol has been talking about the Madame Chic, I've also tried to incorporate some of those things and I basically went through my wardrobe and although I have way more than 10 articles of clothing, I've minimized it so I have mostly neutrals and a few basic colors that work with anything so I don’t have to think in the morning. Whatever pair of pants I put on goes with whatever top I want to throw on and it – it's more dictated by the weather how I dress than anything else.
Carol Reddan: What's your usual dinner? What's dinner?
Teresa Kolacek: Actually my main meal of the day is more – is lunch because, again –
Carol Reddan: Okay.
Teresa Kolacek: That’s a more European so I cook enough on the weekends that I have a couple of days' worth like I just made lamb osso bucco with all kinds of vegetables and cannellini beans. I made a big pot of that so I have that for lunch, the next time it is my lunch – two days is my limit for the leftover so I am having the second leftover lunch today.
Carol Reddan: Do you eat out a lot?
Teresa Kolacek: No rarely.
Carol Reddan: You don’t eat out?
Teresa Kolacek: Rarely special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries because if we go out to eat it is going to be a place that serves really good high-quality food and that’s expensive and we couldn’t afford to eat out that way. So we never eat out fast casual or fast food but my husband has found that there is a – a chain that’s starting up, it's in Marshall, Virginia and it's called Gentle Harvest and they have grass-fed burgers for $5.00 so if we want to eat fast food we may have to drive over there. Farther afield for it.
Carol Reddan: Okay, like keeping in mind a lot of places like Chipotle, their meat is all organic and –
Teresa Kolacek: Yes but when you take the whole experience –
Carol Reddan: Right right.
Teresa Kolacek: Again its still not as healthy as making it yourself and –
Carol Reddan: Sure.
Teresa Kolacek: And my bottom line is if its something I can cook better at home, I am not going to go out and pay money for it to eat somebody's else food. If I go out to eat and I cook – and I eat something that I don’t make then that’s – that’s different or on special occasions.
Carol Reddan: So well I have to plead guilty to being work in progress and trying to implement this. We eat out a lot but, you know, I do try – but I – I feel that restaurants and places are responding to this and consumers are demanding better quality food and I think it is happening. I don’t – I don’t stop through fast food places a lot but we do eat at sort of high-casual places a lot and I think a lot of them are responding like you can get some really decent pizza or -- and I love ethnic food and I just cannot recreate it to that degree at home, so I – you know, I try to implement these changes with varying degrees of success and I find I always sort of have to re-read the book every couple of months to sort of get back in that zone. Watching her vlog every week helps but I do tend to – I don’t know what is about American lifestyle but it seems hurried and quick and I don’t know, you know, I think about it like she has a whole culture sort of supporting that sort of lifestyle, we don’t. Her culture and her workplace supports stopping in the middle of the day and just chilling out or I think their culture supports placing lifestyle above work and I think they have a better balance but I actually don’t live there so I have to work with what I have and --
Alessandro Russo: Your environment has such an impact on how you live --
Carol Reddan: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: And the outside influences, you know –
Carol Reddan: There are temptations.
Alessandro Russo: Their temptations.
Carol Reddan: There are temptations almost more than influences because as well I tried to keep the wardrobe down, emailed coupons and incentives all the time and yeah so –
Teresa Kolacek: That’s what is spam folder for.
Carol Reddan: Right right.
David Watts: Just in for stimulation –
Carol Reddan: Yeah.
David Watts: Of commercialism which is very part of our culture.
Teresa Kolacek: It's very hard to ignore that and for me maybe it's easier because I don’t have children.
Carol Reddan: Right.
Teresa Kolacek: So it's not like I am taking kids to a soccer practice and need to stop and get –
Carol Reddan: And I am just coming out of that part of lifestyle that is just, yeah, it's so scheduled and crazy and you really have to pay attention and make a concerted effort to not fall back in those habits.
David Watts: I think the truth is, a lot of listeners they – same situation there are families and one kid is doing soccer practice, the other kid has piano lessons. We have 10 minutes to grab food, what do we do you know.
Carol Reddan: What do you do?
Teresa Kolacek: And I think the – the difference between that and European culture is that in Europe the family is the most important unit, it is not dictated by the children's schedule. In the United States, you have so many opportunities for your children's enrichment that you want to take advantage of everything and so that has a tendency to dictate your schedule whereas in Europe you – you may not have other than your child may be playing a sport after school its – it’s a different focus and it's very hard in this country to implement some of these things.
Carol Reddan: I was almost doubting that some of the things she says in the book but I mean I do believe the French family she lived with, the mother woke up every morning at 5 and made a homemade breakfast and then lunch was usually taken out but every evening they made a three or four course homemade dinner. Now I was sort of doubting that but I – its true. They somehow manage to accomplish that and the mother worked, the father worked. I mean they maintained, you know, outside jobs but it's just a different approach that you have to be very mindful too, it's just as easy to stop buy and get some cheese and some fruit in between things as it is to stop by fast food, its making it the priority.
Teresa Kolacek: But the other thing difference is with Europe many people don’t have long commutes like you do in this Washington area. So, if you are 15 minutes away from home it's very easy to stop at the market on the way, buy whatever you need fresh to make dinner that night and as far as cook breakfast, I mean I couldn’t survive without a breakfast. So, I am not one of these yoghurt and granola people, I make eggs every morning and toast and I couldn’t function if I didn’t have that.
David Watts: Who would you recommend the book to and who wouldn’t you recommend this book to?
Teresa Kolacek: Well I recommended and I have to everybody who is interested in food, and the one person I would recommend it to because I think it is just such a basic way to live that I think people should reconnect with the way food used to be and if they do that as much as they can, they may be can't do everything but even if you only implement 20% of the things in the book, you will improve your health by that measure so it's worth it from that aspect.
Carol Reddan: I would agree. I am fully in favor of anybody reading anything. So I would recommend it to anybody and everybody, people can read. There is no book, no one person shouldn’t read. Everybody should read everything. So I would recommend it to absolutely anyone.
David Watts: So have these books now become your favorite book or do you always – or do you have a favorite book?
Teresa Kolacek: I read so much and there are so many things I love that I can't pick just one, and I, as much as I love nonfiction, I do read fiction as well and so a recent title that I read that I would like to recommend is Sirius, a novel about the little dog who almost changed history. It's by Jonathan Crown and it is about a Jewish family that has to escape Berlin during Hitler's rise to power, they end up in Hollywood, courtesy of the actor Peter Lorre and Sirius, a little dog becomes a big star. Eventually, he becomes separated from his family and winds up back in Berlin ironically adopted by Hitler while he is working for underground resistance movement. So this book obviously has an element of a fairytale and it is wonderfully written and the underpinnings of the story are true. So, Hitler did actually have a Wire Fox Terrier that was with him in the bunker near the end and – and some other things so it's – it’s a delightful little book, a quick read and if you are looking for a little escape, I highly recommend it.
Carol Reddan: I have many, many favorite books and genres. I am mystery fan and tend to like the classics, the British, Agatha Christie type and I also like real-life mysteries. I like true crime. I recently read Tinseltown by William Mann, which goes back and looks at the unsolved murder of the movie director William Desmond Taylor in the early 1920s, that remains unsolved but he went back and looked through all types of materials and he really thinks he – he solved it there. He was a famous silent film director, it was the huge Hollywood scandal of the day and he was found murdered in his apartment and other starlets were suspects and other directors and they could never solve it but this gentleman thinks he solved it by finding out some secrets the director had.
David Watts: Well thank you to both of you for sharing your insights and to the lifestyle change and also sharing with us about the book interests that you all have. Thank you for being our guests today.
Teresa Kolacek: Thank you.
Carol Reddan: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So remember to keep the conversation going by following us on our social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, Pinterest and providing feedback. You can download the episodes through iTunes, podcast republic and Stitcher, and remember to rate each episode.
David Watts: Thank you listeners. We will see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Library's podcast.
Alexander Russo: “Library Matters” is Montgomery County Public Library’s new podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology and learning. I am Alexander Russo, a librarian at MCPL’s Kensington Park branch.
David Watts: And I am David Watts, the circulation supervisor at Silver Spring Library. We hope you’ll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.
Alexander Russo: The library goes beyond the walls of our branches. One of the ways in which we do that is with our award-winning Outreach team which was formed in 2012. Today, we have Julie and Febe from the Outreach team here to share their experiences with us.
David Watts: Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a part of this Outreach team.
Julie: Hi, my name is Julie and I can tell you that my journey actually began a long time ago at the branch at Sliver Spring Library, and I enjoyed working at the library. However, when I graduated from college, I left to go work at the senate. I truly loved working at the library that even when my kids would come visit, they would always say, "when are you going back to your real job?" which was the library. So, I eventually talked to – I still kept in contact with the people at the library and I saw that a position with Information Department was actually – they were recruiting a list and I came back to the library, and once again, years passed by, I figured, okay, now my kids are older, I would want fulltime. So I spoke with Carol who used to be a PSA here with the library; I miss you Carol, and I talked to her about getting fulltime and she said, you know, at that time, there really wasn’t any fulltime for my position. So she said she will go brainstorm, you know, with other folks, she did, and she came back saying, “well, you know what, with your personality and since you are always out and you love talking to people, how about the Outreach team? I didn’t even let her finish and I said, “yes”. So that has been my journey – I truly love going out there to meet people. I love the branch as well, but this is more of me. So that has been my journey and it still continues.
David Watts: Very good. Febe?
Febe: Hi, my name is Febe and I joined the library system in 2015. I was originally at a desk – behind the desk with HHS. So I was already in the county, but I saw this opportunity and it was, I guess, a chance to literally come out of the physical walls and go out to the community and it helped that I know the Long Branch area well because that’s where I was assigned to originally at the Long Branch library, and I am also bilingual, I speak Spanish, so that was a plus. In the community, I speak a little bit of their language, and so far I have really enjoyed Outreach the most. When I started, I had to split my time, you know, half – half of the time in the branch and half of the other time in Outreach, but as of August of last year, we have been doing Outreach fulltime and I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened to our team because we could really dedicate ourselves to just Outreach, have more time to focus and like be more strategic about the people we are reaching out to and what we want to do with them, so.
Alexander Russo: So, just for the listeners out there, can you describe to us what Outreach is and what’s their role in the library?
Julie: I would say Outreach – actually the Outreach Department to me, I would say, is actually the face and the voice of MCPL. We are the ones who go out there to events, we go to the schools, we go to organizations that ordinarily would not come out to us otherwise. So, I feel we are a very important part of the library and it was an excellent idea that they brought this, you know, they created this team in 2012 because we have come across a lot of people who would be in awe to find out about services that we provide and if we weren’t out there to meet them, they typically wouldn’t walk through our doors at the branch level.
Febe: Yeah, I agree with Julie. People see us and, you know, what we present is what they expect when they come to our branch. So, like she said, there is always – every time I go to either an information table, I do a presentation to a school, just everywhere I go, there is always one or two – three people that are surprised about something that we have, whether it’s digital services, downloading free music or the magazines or just the Homework Help; I mean there are so many things that people don’t know they can have access to right from their sofa, like you don’t have to go out. You can, you know, read a book from your home through our website, so.
David Watts: What are people most surprised to find out about MCPL, I mean when you are out interacting with the public, outside the walls of the library, what is it that they ask you the most about?
Julie: One thing that’s consistent that they are very surprised about is that pretty much all our services are free. So, when they enquire about getting a library card and we tell them information on how they can get one, they ask us how much it costs. So even while we are saying it’s free, they are still asking what’s the minimal fee. They are very surprised about that. They are also very surprised that we have – we have so many resources that are easily accessible to, you know, residents, to people who are not even living in the United States, but have, you know, a Montgomery County Public Library card. Imagine being in Spain and wanting to learn how to speak French, but because you have our library card, you have access to our Mango Languages and you could start learning that way. So you don’t even have to be, you know, physically in Montgomery County, however, you are using our resource. So, there is still, I would say mostly our database, the fact that we provide a lot of this free, they are surprised about that.
Febe: I tried to reach out a lot to new Americans, and so I do a lot of presentations to people who – their first language is not English. So I really promote our language learning tools, Mango Languages and – and most – our newest one, Rosetta Stone, so they are always surprised that we have that, and the most surprising thing is that, you know, Mango comes with an app and you can download it and so you can pretty much learn, practice, you know, if you are taking ESOL, you know, you can on-the-go while you are cooking or while you are driving, you know, you can practice and it’s free. You don’t have to pay for it, you know, people ask, “how much do I pay?’, and I said, “it’s free”. “How much do I pay for a library card”, you know, there are some people who, you know, that don’t – you know, they are not from United States, they come from various parts of the world, then oftentimes where they came from, if there was a library it was so remotely far away. And so they don’t have that library experience and then here, you know, they are hearing about all these library services, but they don’t really know how it works. So, you know, sometimes I have people asking, “oh, is the library card free?” and I am like, “yes, it’s free”, you know, it’s free to get one and it’s free to get all of the – you know, access all of our services. So, that’s – that’s always a surprise for people that we have free programs and free services.
David Watts: So you are teaching our mission statement just by being out in the community; they are learning about the fact that we are free and equal and there is equal access for various diverse populations that are here in Montgomery County. So, tell me a little bit about your experience day-to-day when you are going out into the community?
Julie: So, I can say it all varies, day by day, week by week and depending on the season, it varies. So, for example, in the summer, we do a lot of table events at festivals because that’s when most people have their Community Day. We do some concert series, which is also mostly in the summer. In the winter, we do more of back-to-school nights, reading – you know reading nights. We do school presentations; we do – we go to organizations that might have like a fair, where we would set up a table, I mean, who would not want to know about our Gale courses. That makes you better professionally as well as personally. So it varies for me and I am sure – with Febe as well, it varies depending on what we have got, what season it is, what activities are going on, and what’s out there for us and for them.
Febe: Kind of the same thing – since we both are part of the team, I just – I guess I could add that we are also bringing programs like Storytime.
David Watts: Um-hmm.
Febe: So, you know, during the winter we do a lot of presentations; we are not, you know, doing informational tables unless it’s like an event, you know, inside a building, obviously, but yes, we are doing a lot of presentations. Lately, we have been doing library-linked presentations because we are delivering, you know, the library cards to the public schools, and so we are also telling the kids what, you know, what the library link is and what they can do. So there is definitely a lot of presentations during the winter and summer, you know, we also promote summer reading – our summer reading program, and other branch summer programs that happen during that time as well.
David Watts: I have even seen you at the Silver Spring – downtown Silver Spring marketplace.
Julie: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Tell me about that experience.
Febe: I – it has been, I guess it depends where we are stationed, if I can say. It helps that we are visible; I haven’t been to – I went to the Sliver Spring Market at least once or twice, but I did a couple of farmer’s market in Takoma Park-Langley area, but what I can say is, you know, I bring books. I think with Liberta Tsai, another team member, we did the Silver Spring farmer’s market and we brought cooking books, you know, from all kinds, you know, Asian cooking, you know, recipes and what not to not only, you know, have people look at like our fliers and like our programs, but to also, you know, if they wanted to check out a book, you know, we would also bring pop-up – we will have a pop-up library.
Alexander Russo: So being part of this Outreach team, could you say you’ve learned something may – maybe personal or even professionally?
Julie: I would say actually joining the Outreach team is such a blessing, like for me to come to work and enjoy working, you know, like that – that’s priceless to me. So if I wasn’t in the Outreach team – I also love working at the branch, but being with the Outreach team, I get to go outside of the walls of the building to see what else is out there because what I see at the branch is pretty much consistent – the same thing. If I wasn’t with the Outreach team, I would not be at say, the German Festival – I am not going – I mean I may go to the German aisle to the find a German book, but I am not going to be able to talk to people to ask them how – what kind of food is this, you know. Do you know we have cooking books? If you go to the branch, or I can show you right now, you know, on our website that you can also easily access to get information about different cultures. So, I would say I – I am so appreciative of it and this is the best thing ever.
Febe: I am grateful as well because I do like what I do. Slowly, I learned that I enjoy doing Storytime like, I – I didn’t think that was something that – you know, when we started we – Storytime wasn’t even something in our minds, but towards the end of last year, you know, they started to, you know, point that out that we would eventually bring Storytime to other organizations. So I have really enjoyed that, and you know, I compare myself from like my presentation to now, and you know, you do presentations like every week and very slowly you start to lose – I mean you are always nervous and it’s natural, but very slowly, you start to become better and – and you want to make things better too, you want to perfect, you know, your presentations and the materials that you bring, you want to make sure that it’s like, you know, en pointe, you know, so, yes, we have – there is so much to learn in the Outreach team and it’s a fun team to be part of.
David Watts: So tell us how a public organization could reach out to you all for a visit?
Julie: So, other than seeing us on the street and tapping on us – to ask us how you can get us to your organization, you can actually go on our website and on the tabs across the website, there is one "Contact Us." When you click on “Contact Us” on the left, it says, “invite MCPL to your program or events”, you want to click on that and it will ask you, you know, basic questions, how many people do you think will attend? What kind of event is this going to be, pretty much so we know how to prepare if we are bringing in, what materials to bring or how to prepare for the presentation, so that’s one way. But if you can’t remember any of that, you can call any of your branches, go there or call them and ask them how can you get the award winning Outreach team?
David Watts: The NACo award-winning MCPL Outreach team.
Julie: How can you get them out there and we would come right in.
Alexander Russo: Is there one event that you were stationed at that comes to mind that kind of left an impact?
Julie: I have to think about – there are so many of them, they are too many, I mean how long is the program?
Febe: I would say, because I – I am – I am a music lover, I think there was a – when I – this is when I first started like a month after I had started, there was a Caribbean something at the Strathmore – Discover Caribbean or something like that and they had lots of performers from different parts of the world like African performers from Brazil, even a youth band that was there, you know, and we had an informational table. So, it was – it was all there for us to see and they also had like a live Jamaican cooking class, and there was a lady there and she had her cooking station, and you know, telling people what to do and things. So that was a pretty neat – I was working but I was enjoying – I was enjoying the music and performers.
David Watts: Well, we ask all of our guests what their favorite book is, if you have one, or what you are reading currently, what’s on your nightstand?
Julie: One of my favorite books is actually a children’s book and it’s because I have read it over and over when my kids were little, and I still read it to my nieces and my nephew and it’s by Margaret Wise Brown and it’s entitled “Goodnight Moon."
Febe: I have several too. My new favorite would probably be the “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton. She, you know, talks about, you know, her experience in the music industry and her battle through bankruptcy and, you know, illness, and kind of how she, you know, fought her way through and she also reveals some painful secrets there, you know, in the book. So that was a nice book. I also have two favorite children's books and I didn’t have any because I don’t have kids yet, but because I am doing Storytime, you know, I learned that you have to read something that you love, that you enjoy, and the books that I have – I always take are the “Brief Thief” and “The Farting Dog.” Kids go crazy – they go crazy over it. So, those are my favorite for now.
Alexander Russo: We would want to thank our guests for this episode and keep the conversation going by following us on our social media. You follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Subscribe to our podcast via itunes. And don't forget to rate the podcast and to provide us with feedback.
David Watts: Thank you listeners, we will see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
David Watts: Hi, I’m David Watts.
Alessandro Russo: And I’m Alessandro Russo. On each episode of Library Matters, we explore the world of books, libraries, technology and learning.
David Watts: MCPL is dedicated to expanding our services outside our walls. One of the ways in which we do that is through our What Do I Check Out Next service. Customers looking for reading suggestions use our online form to tell us about the types of books they’re looking for. Our MCPL librarians then use their expertise and experience to come up with a list of three to five books that match the customer’s reading interest.
Alessandro Russo: Today, we have Susan Moritz from Virtual Service Team and Librarian Lisa Navidi to talk with us about the What Do I Check Out service. So tell us about yourselves, how long have you been with MCPL and just your role in MCPL.
Susan Moritz: My name is Susan Moritz and I work as a program manager in Virtual Services. I have been with MCPL for a little over 10 years now. I started out as a children’s librarian actually at Wheaton Library and then was also a children’s librarian in Rockville Memorial. And I went to – I also worked as a reference librarian for Ask a Librarian. And then currently, I am here as a program manager in Virtual Services and it’s really exciting. We do a lot of stuff with social media, the website, and new technologies. And I’ve actually worked with Lisa before at Rockville Memorial.
Lisa Navidi: Yes. We’re old friends.
Susan Moritz: So it’s great to get together again.
Lisa Navidi: I began my life in MCPL in January of 1986 at the Bookmobile Service where I got my best training for Readers’ Advisory service. Agnes Griffen who was the former director of MCPL has always said that working on the Bookmobile is the most personalized Readers’ Advisory service you can get. I’m now head of Adult Services at Davis Library where it’s all about the book. But I’m currently deployed at Bethesda Library during our refresh. I was part of the founding members of the Readers’ Cafe, a Readers’ Advisory link from our website. Readers’ Advisory is basically someone comes up to you and says, “I read this book or I read – I like chick lit. Can you suggest other books?” And that’s what I do.
Susan Moritz: Yes. I think that was a good phrase. It was like connecting the right reader to the right book at the right time.
Lisa Navidi: Reader to the right book at the right time.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Alessandro Russo: What is What Do I Check Out Next? How Does it work?
Susan Moritz: So check – so What Do I Check Out Next, it’s an online Readers’ Advisory service there. So what customers do is they go online to the Readers’ Cafe and then they fill out our What Do I Check Out Next form. And it basically ask them, you know, their name, their email address, what types of books do you like to read or what are you in the mood to read. Maybe it’s a – you know, maybe you love mysteries, but you’re looking for a light beat read, you know. So what are you in the mood to read, what authors you don’t like. We have a selection for you. You can pick out the genres you like. You can tell us like all about what – the type of book you’re looking for. And then –.
Lisa Navidi: And the format as well.
Susan Moritz: And the format.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Exactly, what format. You know, sometimes people only want to read audio books because they’re on public transportation and that’s the main way they read, or they want e-books. You know, whatever format also that they’re looking for. And also what audience are looking for. Maybe they are a mother who is looking for books for their children. So what kind of formats they’re looking for as well. Maybe they’re an adult like me who also loves teen books. That could also be as well there. So what kind of audience are you looking for for your books?
And you fill all that out and it comes to our reading experts, our librarians who are passionate and so well-read. Again, I can’t say enough about them. They are awesome. And they get the question and they send an email back to the customer in about three to five business days, so Monday through Friday, not including holidays. And they send it back to them with three to five book recommendations that match exactly what they – the book they are looking for.
David Watts: How did this all start, this concept of What Do I Check out Next?
Susan Moritz: Sure. It actually – it started with a question I guess I should say. I always want to say an idea, but it actually starts with a question. And we’re sort of – we are wondering, how can we connect with our readers who are not inside the branches? Because a lot of our librarians they’re at the desk, the customer comes in, they see them, you know, “I’m looking for, you know, this mystery. You know, what do you recommend?” Or, “I’m looking for, you know, a book to, you know, take on the road. You know, what do you recommend?”
But we wanted to connect with those readers who might not be physically coming inside our library. They might be having their library card, using our online databases, using our resources outside of our walls. And how can we connect our expert readers who are so passionate – and so they’ve got so many great ideas – with people who are looking to read and inspire them to be passionate and find the books that they want to read? So it sort of started as a question, how are we going to connect, and that sort of evolved out of that.
Alessandro Russo: How many questions do you get?
Susan Moritz: We get, I would say, about 20 to 40 a month. It definitely spikes at different time. So during the summer when I think a lot of people are on vacation, it’s very – it’s sort of on the higher end of that 20 to 40 questions a month. But then it was funny because this past November, we actually had a huge spike in our numbers. And what I’m wondering is if people were like, “Hey, what do I want as gifts or what do I want to give as gifts,” you know, because, you know, it’s not – you can’t – it doesn’t have to just be about yourself. You could be looking for book for somebody.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. Or going away on vacation –
Susan Moritz: Yeah, that’s –.
Lisa Navidi: – during the holidays and you want to take something.
Susan Moritz: Definitely.
Lisa Navidi: Something that will be absorbing.
Susan Moritz: So I agree, Lisa, yeah. I think that’s when we sort of see our highest numbers. Or when people are going to be traveling, they’ve got a little bit more downtime. So I think that’s when we see our numbers spike.
David Watts: So would you say that these suggestions, are you doing more research for these suggestions or this kind of – do you have just the bank of books in your head already lined up to say, “Hey, these are some great titles?”
Susan Moritz: I totally wish. Lisa?
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. Actually, I do have a bank of books in my head for a lot of genres, different genres. But there are genres that I’m not familiar with. I know that’s the next question. But I tend to advice about different book – about the same kind of books that I like and I figure it’s one person, one book, and they won’t be talking to the next person.
Susan Moritz: But it’s hard when you’re passionate about a book.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: It’s like you want to share it with everybody.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: It’s like, “Oh, this is a great book. You’ve got to read this book,” you know?
Lisa Navidi: Yes, exactly.
Susan Moritz: So that does – I wish I did have a cadre – I do keep a reading list of my own books from starting out in the public libraries, you know, working actually in the branches. And I actually have my own like a Google Doc of, you know, for children’s books, teens’ book and adult books and then broken down to the subjects we normally get asked a lot about, you know, about, you know, mystery or science fiction, different multi-cultural.
Lisa Navidi: You’re a lot more organized.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. I try. Luckily, I just have the authors and the titles. If I was that organized, I’ve actually have the summaries too, a little line summary as well there. So I think that’s sort of like my first go-to when I’m trying to think of things. But if I don’t have a list of books, one of the other things that we were talking about was a NoveList Plus. That’s another resource we have in the library that’s on Readers’ Cafe. And you can say, you know, what types of books you’re interested in and it will give you some suggestions.
And then from that data, so you can link in to the catalogue. And even cooler, when you’re searching the catalogue, when you search for say Harry Potter, which is of course a series that I love, you can scroll down in the catalogue, open up the tab and it actually has other suggestions right there. They’re actually – it’s actually embedded right in the catalogue too as well. So when you’re using our catalogue, you can get some other ideas of books that are similar to the ones that you’re excited about.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, very helpful.
David Watts: Had it influenced to read genres you’ve generically had never been attracted to?
Susan Moritz: Working in the libraries has so opened my mind up to genres, you know. I sort of found myself reading more like very classic or historical fiction and I really have been like, you’re right, I want to help this customer. It just really expanded my mind. And I’ve read the Intro to – I’m also a George R. R. Martin from Games of Thrones. And one of the things I read was his – he was introducing one of this – a collection of short stories. And he said about the – I don’t know if you’ll remember, but the spinner rack. And he was in a small town that didn’t have a lot of bookstores or libraries and he would go into the drugstore and they would have like the spinner rack, you know, with the books there.
And he would just get so many – read so many books. Whatever happen to happen to be in that drugstore in that day and he said he read so many different genres and it helped him to become a writer. And even though, you know, he’s writing Game of Thrones and fantasy, he bought – he brought so much of historical like political royal intrigue into his fantasy novels. And I think that just reading – I just think it’s such a great thing. It just expands, you know, my reading and my connection and just it opened yourself up to other genres which I think is just wonderful. It makes you a better person, you know, more well-rounded I guess is what I was saying.
Lisa Navidi: For me, I’ve run several book discussion groups and we try – especially in the Davis one, we try to hit different genres and short stories and nonfiction and literary fiction. And I try always to, you know, open them up. And that’s what makes me – has made me read different genres and different kinds of books.
David Watts: I’m sure that knowledge has helped you with the What Do I Check Out Next.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And vice versa. It goes back and forth. Then I can say, “Oh, this is a book I recommended. You know, would you guys like to read it?”
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I know. That’s a great idea with – about the book clubs because I also belong to my personal book club. And as my sister said who’s also in it, “You know, I read books that I never would have picked up myself. I never would have, you know.”
Susan Moritz: Yeah. And it’s – and someone said just like, wow, that was – like the last one we read, I was like, “Wow, I never heard of this book. What a great book. I really enjoyed it.” It was The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. I mean, I never would have picked this up and it reminded of like another book I love, Where’d You Go Bernadette. And we have, you know, like Lisa says, you know, book discussion groups at the library. It was a great way to connect. And like you said like read books that you wouldn’t necessarily read.
Lisa Navidi: That’s what I tell them. Yeah.
Susan Moritz: And you’re – and you find these gems that you never knew existed if you’re just in this one genre.
Lisa Navidi: And they listen. They go, “Why are we picking that book?” Well, if you all love it, then there would be nothing to discuss.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. That’s true. That’s true.
Alessandro Russo: What’s the most interesting book you ever read?
Lisa Navidi: It’s about President Garfield and the murder. It’s called – oh, I get this. It’s going to –.
Susan Moritz: Well, if you tell us enough about it, maybe it will come back to me.
Lisa Navidi: Destiny of the Republic. And it’s murder and mayhem and medical stuff and it’s all about the social climate around the assassination of President Garfield. And that’s a book I recommend a lot. It’s just fascinating and I just sort of picked it up and started reading it and –.
Alessandro Russo: What’s the most interesting question that you’ve gotten from a query?
Lisa Navidi: Strange that you should answer that question and that you should ask that question. I have one here that I picked. I’m looking for suggestions for my teenage son. We have a tradition of reading out loud before bed, but he has outgrown the new Newbery type books and some of the deeper classics are hard to get into for only 10 to 15 minutes a night. And then he talks about the books that he has read, the classics. But lately he’s asked for mysteries, crime novels, spy novel. And the last – I’m afraid I’m in a lost for authors. So I thought that was very – and so I told – I answered it, “Thanks so much for bringing this interesting question to our librarian’s group. This has actually sparked a conversation among our Readers’ Advisory librarians.” And it did. There were four of us and we were discussing what books and that’s the kind of things that we recommended.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: Or not from me, but from all of us.
Susan Moritz: And what I thought what’s so wonderful about that is only reading aloud at any age, you know, like, you know, because here it was a teenage son you just think of like, “Oh, the story times and they’re young,”, but like keeping that passion alive, you know, when they get older, you know, and you know, if they’re reluctant readers. So keeping that exciting.
And then also the – like I think we were talking about what if you’re not very familiar with the genre. And my colleagues, you get to know your colleagues and you’re like, “Oh, wait, so and so loves historical fiction,” or, “I know they love graphic novels.” And you know there was people you can tap to. And like Lisa was saying with this answer, they all – you know, her colleagues, you know, on the What Do I Check Out Next because I call them a team because they are a team.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: And they came together to be like, “Hey, this is the best, you know, that our brains came up with, you know, to help, you know, carry on this great tradition with your child as the child’s getting older.”
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
David Watts: Do you receive, as far as questions go, and then you respond, do you receive a lot of positive feedback from your suggestions?
Lisa Navidi: No.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: They could have sent it up into the ether and occasionally we’ll get. But I have not – I’ve received one, one or two I think.
Susan Moritz: I was going to say the stuff that I have seen has been enthusiastically positive. And I think some – but sometimes I think that comes right at the question itself sometimes. Sometimes it’s in response back about it. But sometimes it’s – right in the front end when they’re submitting the form, they say, you know, “I love this. I can’t wait to read.” And I think what I was – what’s great about it is Lisa and I were talking about earlier was the diversity and like the customers and the questions and how like excited they are to have this. There was one comment about the, “I was looking for a book matching service and I Googled and I found this service.” And I was like – I was just blown away. I was like, “Wait, you Googled and you found our What Do I Check Out Next?”
Lisa Navidi: Wow, that is –.
Susan Moritz: You know, I’m just – you know, now we’ve made it right.
Lisa Navidi: It’s great.
Susan Moritz: But it’s just so exciting about just the, like I said, the diversity and the – but they’re all bringing that passion for reading. They’re excited to read. They want to read some of the things we’ve gotten, mothers who, “I’m so busy, but I’m looking for some good books to read,” or, “I’m looking for – you know, I’m a busy parent, I’m looking for books for my kids”. We had one that was a teacher who not only loved to read books themselves, but were looking for thought-provoking books for his classroom. So lots of different diversity and somebody who is retired who, “Now, I’ve got this time to read.” Somebody who definitely only wanted fiction titles because they read too much nonfiction at work.
Lisa Navidi: Right.
Susan Moritz: So I just love the diversity of the customers and the questions a they’re all super enthusiastic. You know, I think when I hear back from them.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. I think this is a really different kind of service we’re providing because if you go online and go to different sites, you’ll get a computer matching kind of thing. And this is actually people.
Alessandro Russo: A person.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: A person.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. And I think that’s what – I think Lisa hit on something that that was very important to us when we were launching this service because we – when we were thinking about it, we looked at two different library systems who – the one will definitely nameless. We looked at them and I tested out as a customer. I went on, I filled out their form, I sent it back. And one, it was just sort of a wrote – look the like the response, it just looked somebody copied and pasted, you know, a review and sent it to me.
The other one which I believe was Seattle Public Library was just awesome. They sent me back. I told them I love everything which is true, from Jane Austen to like George R. R. Martin, you know, wide range of stuff because I read a wide range of stuff. But it was just so personal, so upbeat, so positive. It was just like I had my own personal librarian who was as excited about reading as I was and was trying to match with exactly what I had said I was looking for to read with some other books that I had not read before that I was excited about. And that was definitely the model I was going for, was definitely that personalized, friendly, upbeat, you know, connecting, you know, sort of readers to their own sort of personal librarian.
Alessandro Russo: It sounds like even though let’s say you’re providing this answer to the suggestion, even though you may not get a response saying thank you, it’s just they came to you as a service and they receive that service and you’re just putting that positivity out in universe. You know, like, “Here’s our suggestions. Take them, run with them, do what you need to with that.”
Susan Moritz: Definitely. And one of the things I was thinking of was that a lot of times, it takes that time to read. So, you know, we’re giving – we’re sending three to five book recommendations.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: So it takes some time to read from them to be like – but we definitely have had repeat customers who was like, “Hey, you said I could come back when I’ve got – when I need some more reading suggestions. I read the book.”
Lisa Navidi: I feel like –.
Susan Moritz: So we had somebody who came back with that. And when I was looking through comments, one of the other one was somebody who said, “I’m just so tired of like reading this review because a lot of stuff sometimes is fluff.” You know, you always hear about sometimes about those people are who are paid on Amazon to write reviews, you know.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, yeah.
Susan Moritz: And being disappointed. You know, these – you know, “Oh, everyone love this book so I, you know, picked it up but, you know.” And then being disappointed. But they actually have a personal recommendation based on what you said that you like and not just sort of – it’s not as much hit and miss out there in the online universe with trying to find book – good books to read.
David Watts: I think it’s a great service. Personally, I read a lot of books and I also take a lot of time previewing what’s next. I tend to read a specific author and read everything they have to offer because I kind of know what I’m going to get. So what you’re service offers is the opportunity to have a resource where I can find out about a book without actually having ever read that anything that that author has done. And I think that’s a great service to the community, and a great service that our department offers.
Susan Moritz: Thank you. And yeah, like you, I definitely – when I find a good author, it’s like you want to read everything by them.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, yes.
Susan Moritz: And I just recently discovered Jon Krakauer Into the – Into Thin Air, Into the Wild.
Lisa Navidi: Oh, right, yes. Yes.
Susan Moritz: And I think that’s also been something that’s been great for me. It’s like nonfiction. I used to seem like when I was growing, nonfiction was so boring. And now, not that nonfictions I read like novels and I’m just like, “What’s going to happen next?”
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: And exactly like that, like you find that great author.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: And it’s a great thing too. It might be for the customer an author they have never heard of that now they are excited about. And, hey, maybe they like us. We’ll read through everything that they can find by that author.
Alessandro Russo: So traditionally, we ask the question, what’s your favorite book you have owned?
David Watts: And what’s on your night stand?
Lisa Navidi: Oh, okay.
Susan Moritz: That’s pretty big. How long do we have here?
Lisa Navidi: Well, right now, what’s on my nightstand is Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place. She’s an Irish author and I just like the way she writes about women a lot. But in this book, she writes about a couple and she takes – she narrates it from the woman’s point of view and then she narrates it from the man’s point of view. And it keeps me going back. That’s how I know if I like it, because if I don’t like it, then I’ll find excuses to read something else.
David Watts: I think the best reads are where you can imagine the voice of the author –
Susan Moritz: Oh, definitely, definitely.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, yes.
David Watts: – and when they are speaking on your wavelength.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. Yeah.
David Watts: And you tune in and you say, “I really like how they’re speaking to me. Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: But what my favorite books is, it depends.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. I was – I feel like it’s the favorite book that I’m reading right now that I’m so like loving.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, exactly.
Susan Moritz: That’s the – yeah.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: There’s too many to choose from.
Lisa Navidi: This year, I discovered, or last year, Fredrik Backman who wrote A Man Called Ove, and all the other books, Brit-Marie Came Home or Brit-Marie something. And I – oh, I read all his books so far.
Susan Moritz: Oh, that’s great.
Lisa Navidi: And he’s coming out with a new one. And it’s just a fresh new – yeah.
Susan Moritz: Well, that got me excited. I think I picked up one that was Tell Me I’m Sorry or Tell Me Your Sorry.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, yes. So it’s –.
Susan Moritz: I can’t remember what it was, but it’s something by him.
Lisa Navidi: That’s his, yeah, second one.
Susan Moritz: So I’m excited to read that.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, that is fast.
Susan Moritz: Oh, good, good.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Awesome.
Lisa Navidi: Really goes into a lot of different genres, plus fairytale stuff.
Susan Moritz: That sounds great, merging all the great genres into one.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, yes.
Susan Moritz: Fabulous. Let’s see. I’m trying to – for myself. So right now, I’m going to admit it, I’m feeling the force so I’m reading Rogue One, the novelization, so hashtag Star Wars. So –.
Lisa Navidi: I just thought of that.
Susan Moritz: Yes, very good, very good. So I’m reading that. I’m listening – enjoying that. And I don’t know. There’s just something about – I love seeing the movie, but then I want to know what they were thinking.
David Watts: Yes, yes.
Susan Moritz: So that’s my –.
David Watts: The backstory.
Susan Moritz: The backstory, exactly.
David Watts: Yeah, yes.
Susan Moritz: So that’s my reason for reading Rogue One. But – yes, I’m reading that, enjoying that. And then I also listening to The Case of the Missing Servant by I think it’s Tarquin Hall, which has been really good. It’s a mystery set in Delhi. It just sort of reminds me sort of like a bit of a cozy mystery. I just finished, you know, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.
David Watts: Wow.
Susan Moritz: Very, very good, awesome. It’s – it goes through his life. As soon as he climbed out the window and disappears, he’s 100 years old. And then it also goes through his backstory when he was born. And it peruses the chapters, you know, what happened when he was – and he basically almost hits every single political person. President Truman, he winds up in Los Alamos. Stalin, Russia, he winds up in a gulag. I mean, he just run – you know, like Forrest Gump runs into all these different things.
And next up also, it was very good. I highly recommend it. That was a pick from my book club. And the other ones that are on my nightstand that come up, As You Wish, you know, literature. It what brings us together today. So it was great. I can’t wait to read that one, As You Wish, the making of the Princess Bride.
Lisa Navidi: I’ve read that.
Susan Moritz: If I wouldn’t got the little joke. And, so yeah, I can’t wait to read that. I’ve heard good things. I also was so excited to read, I think it’s called The Summer Before the War. It’s on my nightstand.
Lisa Navidi: I read that. Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yes. I loved –.
Lisa Navidi: That’s a good one to recommend to people who are – who love Downton Abbey.
Susan Moritz: That’s I’m about to say because I’m missing Downton Abbey, so.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. Yes.
Susan Moritz: And I loved her other book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Awesome, awesome book.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. So that was a great book. So I can’t wait to read her, speaking of, you know, you want to carry on with the author. You know, it’s like I like this book. And yeah, yeah, I just see the piles and piles of books that are surrounding me that are waiting to be read. So – but that was a few of the highlights that are coming up next.
David Watts: You’re in good company. You work at the right place.
Susan Moritz: Yes, definitely, definitely. Yes. And also in the right place to pick up all my family members’ hold. So, yes, you know, sharing the reading love. Definitely.
David Watts: I got a text while we’re doing this interview to bring a book home.
Susan Moritz: Oh, there you go.
David Watts: We can all relate.
Alessandro Russo: I want to thank our guests today, Susan and Lisa. And we want to thank our listeners. And make sure join us next time and to follow us on montgomerycountymd.gov/libraries and to make sure you check out or social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Thank you.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries new podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. I’m Alessandro Russo, a librarian at MCPL’s Kensington Park Branch.
David Watts: And I’m David Watts, the Circulation Supervisor at Silver Spring Library. We hope you’ll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.
Alessandro Russo: For our first episode, we have MCPL Director Parker Hamilton with us to discuss the role of libraries and MCPL in particular in a time of change. What is your role as MCPL director?
Parker Hamilton: I’m the director of public libraries for Montgomery County, Maryland. And in that role, I get to serve the residents of Montgomery County, Maryland. We’re a County of about 1 million people, we’re very diverse. I came to the county in 1980 from Evanston, Illinois and settled in the county because of the diversity that it promised us in 1980. If I’m to be true, that diversity did not exist but it does today. And so in my role, I am charged, I am honored to provide library services to the residents of Montgomery County.
Alessandro Russo: It sounds like a big job.
Parker Hamilton: It’s a big job. But you know what’s so cool about it? I have so many people help me do it. Not only do I have an outstanding staff of people but I have community support, the funders support us, and we have national organizations that help tell the story of public libraries. So, it’s a big job but it’s not one that I do by myself.
David Watts: Parker, the role of libraries in our country is in flux. Where do you see or how do you see leverage changing in Montgomery County in the next five to 10 years and even in the far distant future?
Parker Hamilton: You know what? I believe, and I think we see it in Montgomery County, our residents determine what a library would look like and what public libraries can do. As you look back how Montgomery County has changed over the years, we were a white affluent community. And the services and programs that we offered during that time served the needs of that community.
David Watts: Absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: Now, today, we are minority, majority community. We have young people, we have people who speak different languages, we have people who are looking for jobs who cannot afford to go to a college, we are the university of those people, and so that informs us and helps us as librarians and administrators decide what to offer because we can sit in our offices or in our branches and even go out and say, “Oh, I am going to do this. If it does not have an impact, if it does not draw in the community why are we doing it? So I think it’s the community. It’s the residents that will help us determine how we’re going to look in the next five years.
David Watts: Well, I think you’ve done an excellent job in being forward-thinking. I work at Silver Spring as you know and we are not a drive-up branch. So, when you talk about how libraries have changed in this county, most of our branches are drive-up branches, family can just drive up, but Silver Spring was designed specifically for walk-up clientele. That took a lot of guts because I’m sure there was a lot of pushback when that was on the drawing board. But I think you would admit it’s been successful.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, Silver Spring is it’s really, really successful. We just had this huge event there last Saturday. My staff is this really funny. We have lots of really great ideas in this library department and the folks come to me and say, “Parker, I have this idea and I think we should do this comic convention.” They expected me to say no and I said, “Come on.” So I think I’m a good listener and I listen to understand. And I think if someone is bold enough to come up with an idea and want to share it with me, then I want to say yes. It may not look exactly the way they think it should look by the time we get through tweaking it, but I do want to say yes because I do believe that that experience helps us as an organization. And if only administrators are doing it, then we’re not going to grow as an organization. I really believe that we can lead from any position. So a frontline staff person can help lead this organization.
Alessandro Russo: And you did mention the few – the changes that you’ve seen being within MCPL. And I think a good point you just brought up is kind of this concept of it’s not a administration making decision its trickle-down system, it’s kind of tell us what you want within the staff ladder and then we’ll all work together to try to make it happen.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly, because we’re a system and we’re a team. And you guys hear from people that I never get to talk to, but I also hear from people that you never get to talk to, and I also have bosses, and so, with all of that information, then jointly, together, we serve the residents of this county. We did our strategic plan recently.
David Watts: That’s just what I was about to ask you about.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
David Watts: If you could help us to understand the new strategic plan, where it came from, what was the impetus for it, and how did we arrive at the decisions that we should take?
Parker Hamilton: Well, you touched earlier, David, about the library of the future. So our county executive held a summit, it was The Library Summit of the Future, and then he got a second one. And, you know, may I take the opportunity?
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: So if you’re going to have a summit with Mr. Leggett, our strategic plan is coming to the close. Let’s use that opportunity to talk to our residents and gather information to help us create a new strategic plan. And so, we took that opportunity to talk to over a thousand residents. It happened in the branches. Our outreach team went out and talked to folks in the community. Mr. Leggett did a online chat and we asked questions and we listened and we allowed people to build off of each other. And so by visibly sharing what folks are hearing and say, “This is what Mrs. Brown thinks. This is what Mr. Bran – Mr. Jones said, what do you think?” you know. And I really believe that it’s important that people see themselves in our libraries. And so, if you walk into our library, David, as an African-American male, I want you to find information, programs, and services that you can use that will make an impact in your life. And I want that for every residents whether, they’re 16 years old, whether they’re 80 years old, whether it’s a mother or a father, or a caregiver pushing them in their stroller, you should be able to walk away with something to take home or either use in our library in order to enrich your life.
So the strategic plan came about as a result of Mr. Leggett’s second summit. And Mr. Leggett is a great supporter of library services he has a great vision for what he wants to have happen in this county. And he knows where to go and say, “I want this done.” So one of the things that he said to me at that summit was, “Parker, I want libraries to do more in the area of workforce development. So you’ll see in our strategic plan, an emphasis on workforce development. You also see in our strategic plan an emphasis on delighting the customers that became very critical because, as I said, earlier this county is a minority-majority county, and try as we might in all of our branches we don’t have staff that reflects the community. And so it became important that we train our staff in order to understand the demographics of this county and what that really means. We like to think that we live in a colorblind society, but I believe that color matters because we are who we are because of our background. I am who I am because I’m an African-American female, 68 years old from the South. The life that I’ve lived has brought –
David Watts: Reflects that.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly. And that is for everyone. And so, if you don’t understand what it means to talk to a child who may have lived in El Salvador or Africa, how are you going to provide library services that’s going to delight them.
David Watts: Absolutely, absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: And so that delighting, our customers became – let’s delight our customers but let’s take care of our staff, let’s train our staff, let’s develop our staff in order for success to take place on both sides of that desk.
David Watts: So in that, customer-based decision making is one component. That’s allowing a customer to feel that they’re involved in how the service is delivered to them and helping them to also understand where we have to draw a line sometimes.
Parker Hamilton: Right, right.
David Watts: And that’s about being conversational with our customer.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
David Watts: Even though they come from these various diverse backgrounds, it’s saying to them, “I want your input. I want you to be involved. I want us to be partners. It all helps fulfill our mission statement, which as you know is to help everyone to learn and grow.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly, exactly.
David Watts: So some of the programming that we’re doing is getting broad and going in that direction. What, in terms of programming, are we doing to grow and develop?
Parker Hamilton: I think – I just want to go back one more step and talk about the strategic plan as a commitment. I think it’s my commitment to the staff that this is the work that we’re going to do, but I’m going to ensure that you have the resources to do the work.
David Watts: Absolutely. And Mr. Leggett – not to cut you off – has been instrumental in us getting the level of funding that we need to be successful.
Parker Hamilton: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.
David Watts: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: And then it’s our commitment to our residents that we’re going to provide the best services possible within our resources. I believe that we’re public servants and I believe that the taxpayers are our bosses. And I think when you have that that philosophy of service, it helps with that conversation that you want to have. It helps with the respect that we want to have. And so, we’ve been working really hard, trying to develop different types of programs. We’re working with the public schools. We’re working with the workforce development organizations, we’re working with the colleges, and we’re trying to see how not to present programs that conflict with each other with programs that complement in each other, and forms on a continuum.
David Watts: Absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: So if a certain subject is being taught in the school – for example, STEM – then libraries, I think, should help with that, and that is why you say that we’re doing a lot of programs in STEM, we’re doing coding, we’re doing a lot of programs for our young adults. And people are living longer. Mr. Leggett has an emphasis on seniors, so we’re doing lots of program on seniors. And because seniors are living longer, they’re having two, three career opportunities. And because the world is changing, they have to develop new skills as they go to search for jobs when they’re 60 years old versus 20 years old. And so that’s why we’re doing technology programs for teens and seniors. And I just think that the conversation you talked about gets us there.
David Watts: Absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: And so, we will do different type programs next year because we’re going to hear from our customers this worked, what about this. And then we’re going to hear from our staff and see. You know, I went to a program at Barnes & Noble or I went to a program in another library system and this is what they’re doing and this is the impact, let’s give it a try here. And here’s why I think it would make a difference in the lives of the people who live in Montgomery County.
David Watts: One thing that I did want to touch on, Parker, because I – when you were talking about new programs, I know you’re excited about this new initiative library link and it must have been tremendously rewarding to be a part of that and to see that in the branches.
Parker Hamilton: I’m just going to tell all my staff. Usually, when we sign a memorandum of understanding with another agency, that is signed by someone directly in Mr. Leggett’s office, either the chief administrative officer or either the assistant chief administrative officer or even Mr. Leggett. So we finally got the agreement ready for signature. I went to my day-to-day boss Tim Firestine, the chief administrative officer. And I said, “I want my name to be on this document because I’ve been in this system almost 36 years and we have been trying to formulate a formal arrangement with library administration and the administration of Montgomery County Public Schools and we neither have one. And so to achieve that, I really wanted my name on it and, yes, I did jump up on them.
Alessandro Russo: I mean, that’s a very large bridge to construct and have in place, but one thing I think that the most positive impact it’s going to have it’s going to open other doors between the public libraries and even the school media specialists, you know.
Parker Hamilton: Absolutely. That’s just the first step and, you know, because a library card is a library card. It’s really important to have a library card to use our databases, to check up materials. But even more important, I think, is that relationship that’s going to occur between librarians like you and staff. And because at the end of the day, their students are our students, and we want to ensure success, you know. One of our missions is to prepare children ready to learn.
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: So how do you prepare children ready to learn? You need to know what’s going to happen when they go to kindergarten. You need to know what’s going to happen in first grade.
Alessandro Russo: That’s sharing of curriculum.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
Alessandro Russo: What they have on their shelf we can kind of use it as inspiration for programming and events.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
David Watts: And just to touch upon it since we’re surrounded by it, the library Go! Kits have been –
Parker Hamilton: Oh, absolutely, look at those.
David Watts: That was really successful.
Parker Hamilton: Yes.
David Watts: And it’s growing. I know that it was an initiative that you helped bring in with funding from the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County.
Parker Hamilton: Yes.
David Watts: So you’re continuing in your legacy trailblazing.
Parker Hamilton: Well, you know, that’s very kind. But as I said earlier, you just don’t do it by yourself. You don’t do it by yourself. And you make sound selections about the people that you bring into the system and you give them an opportunity to grow. You’ve been on the young adult programs, you’ve – you helped with the – at the comic conference, you served on my director’s advisory committee.
David Watts: I drove the book mobile.
Parker Hamilton: There you go. And so just the experience and opportunity and, you know – and I believe in stretching.
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: And I also believe that I want to prepare staff to walk the doors. Sometimes you walk through a door and it’s cracked and you got to push it a little bit. And then, you know, you go through it. And then sometimes, there’s a wall on that side of the door and it pushes you back, but that shouldn’t stop you. And so, that development, that training, that talking is just critical for us as a system to improve, to grow, to do our very best in serving the residents of this county.
David Watts: Well it hasn’t all been roses. I mean, I’m sure there’s been some challenges along the way. Would you like to talk about what your greatest challenge was as director?
Parker Hamilton: My greatest challenge as a director was when we went to the last recession.
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: The last recession was really hard on public libraries. Our budget, by the end of the recession, had been cut by 30% and our customers, our users still had the same expectation. But the greatest pain was telling staff that their position was eliminated. No, we did not – the county government found ways to place people, but they were no longer MCPL staff.
David Watts: Right, right, yes, yes.
Parker Hamilton: And they were the people that we selected, that we trained, that we formed relationships with. We knew the impact of going from a part-time job – I’m sorry – for a full-time job to a part-time job, you know.
David Watts: To work. Yes.
Parker Hamilton: We get to become family. And so, we know that Mary was the breadwinner because Joe was someplace else.
David Watts: Yes, yes.
Parker Hamilton: And so that was really, really hard.
David Watts: But you shepherded us through. It was tough. Now, we’re back to pre-recession funding levels. What’s next on your table for the libraries?
Parker Hamilton: What’s next on my table? I was telling some folks the other day it’s, “I want to continue the networking that we’ve done with nonprofit organizations with other county departments to ensure that we’re stronger as a county. And so what I want to do is have a thank you in that working party, you’re just planning it. I want to bring everyone in the room and have the different organizations who have helped us deliver programs and services like the folks who work at comic convention and just introduce them to each other and thank them for helping us, you know, move forward when we needed help, and we needed help because we weren’t able to do it. Now, we want to give back to them and we want them to continue to work with each other, you know, serving our county. I think that we need to do more marketing of our programs and services. I think we’ve got great events going on, great ideas, and we don’t do the best that we can in that area. So that, there’s the area of gap that we need to do, and I think this podcast is a good way to start. I’m excited about the next programs that you guys have lined up. And so I think that’s going to be really –
Alessandro Russo: We’re hoping it goes well, so.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. Well, listen, you know, you - both you guys are great, so I just think it’s going to be a great opportunity to showcase MCPL.
David Watts: Well, we’re excited about starting this venture and we’re excited about the opportunities that you’ve given us. But just, if we can as we prepare to close out – obviously you became a librarian because you love books. Not true?
Parker Hamilton: Actually, no. I do not love books.
David Watts: You do not love –
Parker Hamilton: I do not love books. I love – I love learning.
David Watts: That’s a shock. Okay.
Parker Hamilton: I love learning.
David Watts: Okay, okay.
Parker Hamilton: I became a librarian because when I went to the University of Illinois, I did – I was a financial aid and I worked in a library at night in order to supplement our income. We were on food stamps, you know, we were poor. As I said earlier, I grew up in the South. And when I walked into that library and I saw those tools, I was like, “Oh, my gosh. If I had been exposed to this, I would have really been a sharp student.” So, yes, I love books but I love learning.
David Watts: Okay.
Parker Hamilton: So I see, you know, libraries as a learning place, and a product that we have are books. And I know not everyone feels that way, but I think I’m a unique director because I did not plan to become a director. I was, you know, I was asked and it was, I guess, it was timing. And so having worked on the second floor, I took this job aside as a business. And so, okay, so what do I need to do to ensure that the products that we have that the tools that we have ends up in the impact that we want to have. And that’s why when I think about a library before, I think about books, I think about learning.
David Watts: Okay.
Alessandro Russo: So would you say you have a favorite book?
Parker Hamilton: I did not have a favorite book, but I do love Southern writers. I like Eudora Welty. I love the Eudora Welty. And I also like those English literature – what’s the guy’s name? Was it Henry Fielding? James Fielding? Henry Fielding? Henry Fielding, I think. Piers Plowman, that was an old book written along with the Chaucer’s Tale – Canterbury Tales.
Alessandro Russo: Canterbury Tales.
David Watts: Canterbury Tales.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. So, I like reading that type of literature. But I find myself drawn to two books written by female southern authors.
David Watts: Okay.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
David Watts: What are you reading now?
Parker Hamilton: What am I reading now? I’m not reading anything now. But last week, I have a guilty pleasure. I just admire Taraji Henson.
David Watts: Okay.
Parker Hamilton: So I borrowed her biography from the Rockville Memorial Library and read it in one day.
David Watts: Wow.
Parker Hamilton: I’m a binge reader, you know. If I want to read it I’m going to read it. And so, I got it on a Friday evening and went and got my hair down on a Saturday morning back home. And from 10:00 o’clock to probably around 7:00 o’clock at night, I was enjoying Taraji Henson.
David Watts: Yeah, she’s from the D.C. area.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah, in the D.C. area. She’s just an amazing person.
David Watts: Okay. So we want to thank you for being our first guest and our greatest guest today.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, today. Bring me back after the end of the series and then –
David Watts: We absolutely would –
Parker Hamilton: Then we’ll see what you say.
David Watts: We absolutely will. It has been delightful to chat with you, Parker.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, I’ve enjoyed this.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you, Parker.
Parker Hamilton: Nice getting to know.
Alessandro Russo: Yes.
David Watts: You’ve brought a lot of insight to us relative to libraries and the strategic plan and we’re looking forward to having future conversations with you about other aspects of the libraries.
Parker Hamilton: Okay, sounds good. I look forward to it. Well, congratulations.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you. And we want to thank our listeners. And make sure to join us next time and do follow us on montgomerycountymd.gov/library. And make sure you check out our social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Thank you.