Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. My name is Adrienne Miles Holderbaum and I’m one of the co-producers of the podcast.
Mark Santoro: my name is Mark Santoro. I’m the other co-producer of Library Matters.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And today we’re flipping the script, we’re going to interview the hosts. We’re going to talk about working in libraries and also find out a little bit more about each of them. So we’ll begin. David, why don’t you introduce yourselves officially or personally to our listeners?
David Watts: My name is David Watts. I’m a circulation supervisor with Montgomery County Public Libraries. I’m currently stationed at Silver Spring Library.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how long have you been with MCPL?
David Watts: 17 years.
Alessandro Russo: My name is Alessandro Russo. I am the senior librarian at the Rockville Memorial Library. I’ve been with Montgomery County Public Libraries for two and a half years.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how long have you worked in libraries, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: Since 2010 – back up. 2009, I started volunteering in libraries and then in 2010, I had my first library paid position.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Did you have any professional experience before you came to libraries?
Alessandro Russo: So I was raised working in the restaurant and so I dipped into a lot of everything from washing dishes to cooking, to managing a few of my family’s restaurants, so – especially my current position, I use a lot of that – those skills just like personnel organization and working in a very fast-paced environment.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, David? Have you always worked the libraries?
David Watts: No, I haven’t. I worked in the Washington D.C. school system for 18 years. So the library is like a second career for me.
Mark Santoro: And how did you both make the transition from restaurant work or being a public school teacher to working in libraries? Did you have to get more education or certificate or how did you make the transition from one to the other?
David Watts: Well, I sort of burned out, so I came to the libraries to sort of get away from the whole experience of the school system. And I came to a library and started as the bookmobile driver and did that for about a year and then I was promoted to one of the branches at Quince Orchard and I worked as a library assistant too for a year, and then I was promoted again to circulation supervisor, and I worked at Wheaton Library for six years. And then sort of a rollercoaster ride since then. I’ve worked at eight different branches in the same capacity. So, no, I didn’t have specialized education coming in.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro, making change from restaurant work to working libraries, what did you have to do formally to make that happen?
Alessandro Russo: Right. My story began, well, when I graduated high school and I thought I was just going to run the family business, you know. So high school wasn’t my best years as far as, you know, I didn’t try very hard and then I received a scholarship because of a certain status that I had and that allowed me to go to Community College where I discovered anthropology, which is my undergrad, which is my background. And so – and then I went into International Studies. And so I had this glorious idea that I was going to go work for United Nations when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and then reality hit me and I realized that it’s very, very difficult if you don’t have an in at the United Nations. And so, meanwhile, I’m working at my family’s restaurants and, you know, just picking up the trade and then I decide I want to be involved in my community, so I started volunteering at my local library.
It was a very small library in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. And I did that for a few months. And when the library director at the time approached me and said, “If you like this, you could make a career out of this.” And that’s when I kind of never thought me that I would go to graduate school, like I didn’t see myself, you know, getting a master’s degree. And so when I looked further into the program, I looked at the requirements and, hey, you had to take a test, I took the tests and qualified, and I began working on my master’s of library science degree all while I was working at this local library and I picked up a few other positions at other various libraries nearby.
Mark Santoro: So you started working for the library before you were a librarian?
Alessandro Russo: Correct.
Mark Santoro: What were you doing at first?
Alessandro Russo: So at Adamstown, we – we’re a very small staff. There was about four of us and I was including the director. So I was kind of doing librarian stuff at that time as well. I was answering questions. And what was great is I was getting live experience because at the same time I was working on my master’s degree, so I was kind of – as I was building my education, I was able to use what I was learning in the classroom and using it in my job.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: David, what skills from your previous jobs or careers with – specifically with – in D.C. Public Library – oh, sorry, D.C. Public Schools do you use in your current job in the library?
David Watts: Well, all of them. In a previous life, you know, related to kids at a very basic level, helping them to understand what their duties and responsibilities were as students and helping to get materials in their hands and helping them to progress towards whatever their life’s calling was. In the libraries, it’s a little different but somewhat the same. People come in and they’re seeking information. And so we’re their first point of access when they come into the library. We try to guide them to the different collections. We try to help them to receive materials that they have ordered, or we try to help them when they’ve made catalogue selections to actually receive the materials in the way that they would like to receive that. So it correlates in a – in a direct fashion but it is just about helping people. And, you know, many professions provide the same thing but in libraries, we just try to connect with our customers and help them to realize whatever it is that they desire to learn and grow.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So we heard a little bit about how Alessandro became interested in working in libraries and how he started working in libraries, what about you? Did you always want to work in the library?
David Watts: Well, I’m a big library user in that – I grew up in the local area and I grew up in an area that had a small kiosk sized library. So I would walk over to the library every day and read. Well, it just sort of carried on as I went to college. I went to the University of Maryland and I hung out in the under – what used to be the undergrad library and hung out in the McKeldin Library. And, of course, you guys know there’s a library school there. I didn’t go to library school but I always had this love of hanging out in libraries, reading, doing whatever I could to grow my information base.
As I became an adult, I found myself just enthralled with the idea of reading more and more books. I had this – I had this habit of frequenting the bookstores, the large retail bookstores that were in the area. At that time Borders, Barnes & Noble, and I’d spent maybe about $200, $250 a month on materials. I consumed books in a volume fashion. I read about 40 to 50 books a year and it doesn’t include the audiobooks that I consumed. So I’m a heavy volume library user. I love books. I love the idea of books. I love authors. I love the back stories. So working in the library is sort of a dream come true because it allows me to get paid for doing what I love.
Mark Santoro: This question is for both you. Did you have any preconceived notions about libraries before you started working in one that turned out to be wrong?
David Watts: Yeah. And it’s interesting that I was just telling the story to one of my employees. When I was in college at the University of Maryland, my best friend was dating someone who was in the library school. And, you know, the guys in the fraternity, we sort of teased him all the time about dating this librarian, you know, because we “sort of” bought into the stereotype of librarians being staid and shy and, you know, reluctant to engage, so we just really gave him the business so to speak. When I started working in libraries, I found out that that stereotype was totally untrue, and I feel kind of bad that, you know, that I’d given him such a hard time. So it was a preconceived notion about people and it turned out to be absolutely librarians come in all different kinds of personalities and all different kinds of flavors.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Yes, we do.
David Watts: And they’re just like normal people, yeah, exactly.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: So I was very fortunate to have a parent that loved libraries and would take me as a young child. And I still have memories, you know, sitting there in picture book area just flipping through endless amounts of books. And so I kind of took this concept that libraries and books, you know. And once I started working in libraries and being able to see, like, kind of behind the scenes, it is beyond books and like – it’s so much more because, now, being on the information side of it and understanding and receiving all these questions, I always felt like as librarians or library people, we are knowledge managers. Yeah, there’s all this information out there and someone needs to know how to search it, and that’s what librarians do. They know to search it, dissect it, and give it back as responses to public.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So, Alessandro, what was the most surprising aspect of working in the library and/or how they operate?
Alessandro Russo: So it’s not just as simple as “Here’s a book, I’m checking it out, it’s due on this day.” There’s a lot that goes in a library. There’s so much that the public does not see. There’s – working in this library system, you know, it’s such a nice organization as far as we have a very professional circulation staff that knows what they’re doing and takes care of all the circulation items and the behind the scenes, the processings of the book. Meanwhile, it allows the information side to collect resources to answer all these questions, to know the services of the library, to provide like various programming to make connections – community connections particularly and getting people into the branch and getting them to engage, you know. It’s more than just a book comes in, put this – being put on the shelf, and then if someone takes that book out, checks it out and leaves the library. There are just – it’s – there’s just so much – there’s so much to offer and so much to collect here.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: You can be a podcast host.
Alessandro Russo: Correct. I would not – I did not see that coming.
Mark Santoro: How about you, David, were there any surprises when you started working for the library?
David Watts: Well, I guess the biggest surprise is just the volume of work. If you – if you buy into stereotypes as I described previously, i.e., had bought into, you sort of think of working in the library is just sitting behind a desk reading all day. And, you know, my typical day is anything but that. And, you know, you’re constantly in motion and you’re trying to help people and you’re trying to engage people. And sometimes people can be irascible and not willing to be helped even though they’re asking you to help them. So there’s challenges all around. And, you know, I think from the outside looking in, the public perceives that we have an easy job but it’s really not an easy job.
Mark Santoro: Speaking of challenges, what are some of the most challenging or satisfying parts of your job?
David Watts: Well, certainly the most satisfying aspect of my job is seeing new materials come in, become organized, go out on the shelf, and actually see people excited to get that material in their hands. There’s nothing that I love more than a good book or nothing that I love more than reading something new that I’ve been interested in finding. And when people come in and they find these things there’s a certain gleam in their eye, there’s some satisfaction in their voice at being able to obtain this material. And to me, that’s exciting and it’s heartwarming. And then the other aspect that’s helpful is how we have linkages with the community. We see young people come in usually at an early age, preschool, when they come in for our story times. And having done this for 17 years, I’ve watched more than a few young people come in and they’ve now grown up in the library and I’ve watched them at ages and stages, and I’ve watched their reading interest change and all the while, I’ve watched them grow and develop as people. So that’s a rewarding aspect as well.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And how about you, Alessandro, what’s the most challenging part of the job and what’s the most satisfying?
Alessandro Russo: Challenging, I really dislike when I have to ask someone to leave the library, disruptive library users. I mean, you just have to follow the rules. If you follow the rules, then you could stay, but one of – it’s discipline. I’ve really – I’ve really never enjoyed being a disciplinary but it’s a part of the job, so I’ve learned to deal with it and learn to accept it. But what kind of outshines that is the most lasting part of my job is even though if – for example, if you’re helping someone and you provide them with information or you’re searching and you – and it’s just not the right answer they’re looking for, if they leave with a smile or know that you did everything you possibly could to help them, you know that that person is satisfied and they’ll walk out and they’ll remember that service. And it just makes my job a hundred times better when, you know, you tried your best and they’ll come back for another day, and maybe the next time will be much better.
Mark Santoro: What advice would you give to someone considering working in a library?
David Watts: Well, I would say to them as I say to anyone who’s considering a career, don’t think of it in the short-term, think of it across the whole span of a career. I have two 17-year old daughters who just graduated from high school and –
Mark Santoro: Congratulations.
David Watts: And they’re going off into their chosen fields of life. One wants to be a veterinarian and the other one wants to go into the Army. So what I’ve said to both of them is, “Okay, at the beginning, do you see yourself in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years, are you thinking through all of those things?” I think having had a career in government when I – when I first began, I did not see myself where I am now and I did not see halfway in the middle of a career deciding I don’t want to do this anymore. So I would say to anybody that wants to be a librarian, think about whether or not you really wanted to do this and you’re in it for the long haul. And that’s the advice that, you know, I think would be helpful because you guys would have to admit that being a librarian is changing now at such a rapid pace. What will it really be like in 20 years? Well, what you’re signing on for now, in fact, be the career that you chose 20 years before.
Mark Santoro: So, Alessandro, what advice would you give to someone who is considering a job or a career in libraries?
Alessandro Russo: Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. I was told to volunteer on the day I graduated, and it was the greatest advice that I have ever received in professional and career-wise because as a volunteer, you can go into an organization, work at the organization, and you’re always committed but you’re not committed in the level that you’re stuck. You volunteer. You’re feeling around, you’re making sure this is what I want to do. And the other side of volunteering is a lot of times it will get you into the door. The unfortunate thing is volunteering doesn’t pay but you – even if it’s only a few hours a week, you know, you’re still getting exposed to what that organization is and you build your – you’re building an interest and you’re kind of building an idea of asking yourself, is this what I want to do?
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how have libraries changed since you began your career? So, Alessandro, you began in 2009?
Alessandro Russo: Uh-hmm.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: David, you began in 17 years ago.
David Watts: 2000.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: I’d like to know, from each of you, how they changed.
David Watts: In 2000 when I came in, we did not have the technological advances that we currently see. The libraries had public access on computers, but they functioned on a very basic level. I can’t remember what our time limit was originally or even if we had a time limit when I first came, but the basics of having books and materials is pretty much the same. Now, the platforms have changed since I’ve been here. We’ve got eBooks and now we have magazines that are available online. We have received playways. All of these are advances that I’ve seen take place in South Cove [Phonetic] [0:22:38].
Alessandro Russo: So there’s two that kind of stuck with me and, obviously, I haven’t been in the library world as long as David, but the one is, I guess, when I was starting in libraries, it was the digitization of content. And Library of Congress was just starting their Library of Congress catalog two movement, which they were merging and migrating a lot of their records and a lot of their content. And kind of what – libraries kind of follow what the Library of Congress was doing. And so the libraries that I worked at, they were trying to figure out a way to digitize a lot of their collections, especially their historical collection. The one library I worked at has – had the one of the greatest collections for the Johnstown Flood that happened in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
And they were – you know, this was on old newspaper that we’re showing and they needed to find a way to digitize this content. And, you know, Library of Congress was doing it so, you know, they were trying to get on the – get on – trying to, you know, buy the equipment and figuring out how do we budget to digitize this collection, you know. And the second thing is I remember e-readers were the – were the thing. And, you know, every other month some new edition of an e-reader was coming out and, you know, even in library school, there’s articles “Is this the Death of Print?” And now, if you kind of fast forward, we see e-readers are kind of, you know, phasing out and eBooks are going to stick around, but the e-reader devices, I think, you know, they kind of were a phase and people aren’t investing because they – I think they’ve realized how much they misprint, you know.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Right. And they can also read on their phone.
Alessandro Russo: Correct.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And on tablets that multitask and not just being books and they offer more things than just books, they offer a lot of e-resources and – as podcast.
David Watts: And if I could piggyback on what you’re saying, that’s probably the biggest change that we’ve seen in loggers is that the cellphone technology has changed tremendously since 2000 when I came in and the cell phone has become an integral part of what we do in our digital world. And to piggyback on what Alessandro was saying, I worked at a branch in 2000 that still had a microfiche reader. We had two branches that had microfiche readers and they were heavily used. But our administration had the foresight to understand that that was going to be a dying technology and move on. So what you’re saying the impetus that the Library of Congress gave all libraries was to move forward and think about in digital – digitizing their collections. And now, we have 3D printers. I shouldn’t leave that out. When I first started, we had dot matrix printers and we now have 3D printer.
Alessandro Russo: I remember the single – I worked at one library, it’s when I was working in the interlibrary loan office, it was the one copier page, you put a sheet of paper and it just made you one copy.
Mark Santoro: How can people apply to work at the library?
David Watts: They can go to the county’s website, click on careers and search the listings to see if there’s something of interest available and then they can actually apply online and receive responses about the status of their application, all online.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: You can look at our show notes to find out how to apply for a job with Montgomery County Public Libraries. We’ll include a link and instructions. So here’s another question for you guys to learn a little bit more about you. What’s a fun fact the people may not know about you? Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: So, I am a Cicerone certified beer server. Basically, it says I have knowledge in beer in general and how to make beer, different styles of beer. And I kind of – I’m a nerd, a beer nerd.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: What about you, David?
David Watts: I’m a licensed and ordained Baptist minister. I pastored a church for 20 years. I’ve married probably, let’s say, a hundred couples in 25 years of ministry accordingly, and probably buried a couple hundred people or performed eulogies for. I always think that’s interesting. People don’t necessarily look at me and know that.
Mark Santoro: Besides Library Matters, of course, what are your favorite podcasts?
David Watts: I’m currently consuming something called Two Pods A Day, which is a podcast that features independent podcasters, so it gives you a wide range of topics. A lot of it is comedy or satire, but there’s also a lot of content that is nonfiction and relating to things that are happening in the news. So it’s interesting because you sometimes get stale if you just listen to one podcast, and I like it. I’m also dedicated Tony Kornheiser podcast listener. He wrote for Washington Post for 20-plus years and he has a show on ESPN along with Michael Wilbon called Pardon the Interruption. So, he’s well-known throughout the country. And he speaks not only on sports but a range of topics in the news in the particular day. And his podcast style is somewhat acerbic which, for podcasters, is unusual because usually they’re trying to grow and connect with their audience and he’s trying to do just the opposite.
Alessandro Russo: It is true.
David Watts: Sort of being the grouchy old man who says get off my lawn, so it works for him.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: I’m really into the Nerdist right now, which is a great podcast that talks about everything from gaming to what’s the newest hero trailer and so – and they have great guests all the time, and it’s one of those podcasts where you don’t have to listen the whole time, you could kind of fall in fall out of it. Other podcasts I’ve been listening to lately are just a few other ones like Paranormal. The paranormal, investigation ones, or there’s a few ones that are focused on like beer styles and once called the Beard Nerdist, and it’s basically everything you want to know about beer.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Alessandro, what’s your favorite book or what’s on your nightstand? So those are two questions I wanted to ask.
Alessandro Russo: So, I always have a lot of books on my nightstand. But one of my favorite books is Baudolino by Umberto Eco. It’s a book that has adventure and you have the imagination. And I was kind of happy that we have a new library system because I always share it to others so.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, David?
David Watts: My favorite all-time book is Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Simply because it’s – there are so many major themes in the book; there’s revenge, there’s love, there’s betrayal, there are so many themes in the book. I think he does an excellent job of marrying all those themes together and holding your interest for what would be considered an epic book just for the length of it. What’s currently on my nightstand and it just keeps coming back to my nightstand is David and Goliath and that’s by –
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Malcolm Gladwell.
David Watts: Malcolm Gladwell, thank you for helping with that. I love his tone. He narrates his own eBooks, which is what I consume at night at bedtime. So I love his tone. I love his subject matter. He makes technical issues very, very plain and simple, and I enjoy listening to him.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Well, thank you David and thank you, Alessandro, for being guests today.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you. It’s nice to be on the other side sometimes.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Listeners 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 hear what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you soon.