Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
Julie Dina: Welcome to Montgomery County Public Libraries’ Library Matters podcast. I’m Julie Dina, one of the new hosts along with Lauren Martino and David Payne. In this episode, Lauren and David enjoy a lively discussion about Game of Thrones with two staff members who are fans of the books and show. We have a bonus feature at the end. A brief talk with Acting Director, Anita Vassallo, another Game of Thrones fan who couldn't make the main recording, but didn't want to be left out of the fun.
David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with your host Lauren Martino.
Lauren Martino: Hello.
David Payne: And myself David Payne. Today we’ll be talking about a fantasy epic that has become a cultural phenomenon since it first appeared in print over two decades ago taking place in settings where magic joints and dragons exist. You may be forgiven for thinking we are referring to Harry Potter. It is in fact Game of Thrones that we will be discussing a world that began with the publication of George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series in the mid 1990s and has continued with his subsequent adaptation into a fantasy drama series on television, which has attracted record viewing figures all over the world.
Here to tell us all about the intriguing world of Game of Thrones, I'm very pleased to welcome two MCPL staff members who come to claused as Game of Thrones devotees Susan Moritz and Angelica Rengifo. Before we go any further however, as we delve deeply into the Game of Thrones world, please note there will be spoilers in this conversation. If you're not up-to-date on Game of Thrones and wish to avoid spoilers, do come back to us after you’ve caught up to the most recent Game of Thrones episodes. So welcome Susan and Angelica.
Susan Moritz: Hello.
Angelica Rengifo: Hello, thank you.
Lauren Martino: So David and I have never seen any Game of Thrones shows or read any of the books. So how would you describe this world and why should we be interested?
Susan Moritz: Well, it’s sort of hard to – it’s so such a vast and exciting world that’s hard to break it down into one little – [Multiple Speakers].
Lauren Martino: Come on in 30 seconds.
Susan Moritz: In 30 seconds what can I say? So I guess I want to say that it was that it’s like a medieval fantasy and its set in the fictional land of Westeros and there are seven kingdoms that are ruled by one king, exactly.
Lauren Martino: One king to rule them all.
Susan Moritz: One king to rule them all, exactly, exactly very much like Lord of the Rings-esc. And it’s sort of what happens when the king is accidently killed during a boar hunting accident, but he is really murdered of course.
Lauren Martino: Freak boar hunting accident.
Susan Moritz: Freak boar hunting accident, exactly, exactly. How would that have ever happened? You know, so of course, it sends this fragile piece that sort of kept these seven sort of separate kingdoms together basically falls apart. And vast chaos and everyone decides that they want to be king and who wants to sit in the iron throne, do you think that’s right Angelica, are there other things that I missed?
Angelica Rengifo: I’ll say that definitely it looks very medieval.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Angelica Rengifo: It’s fantasy. We have dragons, we have magic, we have dead people that come back to life.
Susan Moritz: Yes, White Walkers exactly.
Angelica Rengifo: No, and also like for example the Dondarrion that is brought back to life by Thoros of Myr. We also have a lot of sex, a lot of backstabbing, we had a politics and a lot of complicatid family ties.
David Payne: Sounds like you’re ever things is there.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Downton Abbey?
Susan Moritz: Well, I think it was funny like I watching the show until like the very last I think it was the very last episode or the second to last episode of the season I sort of didn't realize it had this sort of fantasy element to it. And it just sort of looked I mean, even though it was set in a fictional fantasy world it sort of just looked very medieval, very King Arthur-esc kind of time period.
Angelica Rengifo: And the big bull have happened.
Susan Moritz: But then these dragons get hatched.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes,
Susan Moritz: And there was like wait, there is dragons here. So then I was like, wait, I think this is a little bit more even more fantasy, magic kind of stuff that I was thinking it would be as.
David Payne: So do you think one has to have a sense of or appreciation of history to enjoy the series or does it not matter?
Susan Moritz: I don’t think it matters, I mean, I –.
Angelica Rengifo: No, we can say – I can say from personal experience I have never been into fantasy. I have never been into Harry Potter or anything like that until I started watching and reading A Song of Ice and Fire.
Susan Moritz: Well, this is perfect because I have been a fan of you know historically fiction and history and fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. So I think this is great. It shows that you can like and no matter you feel like this if your thing or not.
Angelica Rengifo: I’m definitely into history and I love my favorite movies have like Trilogy have been the Lord of the Rings, but I’d never like Harry Potter. And this show, even the TV show, it's really great and the production is so great.
Lauren Martino: Why do you think it has attracted such a wide fan base? What makes it appealing to fans of so many different completely different people that all like the same thing?
Susan Moritz: I would say that sort of my two criteria for any like great TV show or movie or books is it’s got to have a good plot and it has a great plot. It has these twists and these turns and I remember even after that I was hooked by the very first episode, some marginal TV show that takes you while to get into, but I was like this whole like plot twist at the end where you find out that the Queen is sleeping with her twin brother.
Lauren Martino: What?
Susan Moritz: And yes, exactly, exactly. And where the beloved Starks because I love the Stark family, you know, accidently one of the kids sees them and it’s like and her brothers like “the things I do for love” and pushes him out of the tower you think to his death. He winds up surviving, but you’re like, but it ends with him like falling out of the tower and you’re like, oh, my god, what’s going to happen next. So I think it’s got a great plot with these surprising twists and it just has great characters like you really like with the Starks you really love them.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Susan Moritz: You’re just so invested what is going to happen and what’s going to happen next. Are they going to get justice? Are they going to get back together, they’re going as a unit as a family unit. And the other thing is there is characters that you hate so badly that you hope that something horrible, horrible, horrible happens to them.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yes, you hope that something horrible happen to them. And the one of the thing that I have to say about the characters too is just because you sometimes think you know them like there is definitely characters I love and characters I hate. But there is ones that you feel like that change like Jamie Lannister, I think we had talked about that about how starts off he is the one the brother of the Queen who pushes his kid. You think this is the most horrible guy ever. He is sleeping with his twin sister. He has pushed this little boy.
Angelica Rengifo: And he is full of himself. He is – he thinks he is entitled to everything, and he doesn’t care. He has no care for anybody besides his sister not even his father I mean, he is afraid of his father in some way or another. But I want to bring up the point that you said that you got hooked on the first episode of the show. I didn't.
Susan Moritz: Oh, you didn’t?
Angelica Rengifo: No.
Susan Moritz: Oh, how funny. How funny. I was totally hooked of that first episode.
Angelica Rengifo: No, it took me a while. I tried to watch the first episode three times and I couldn't get pass I don’t know it was too much.
David Payne: So what make you go back?
Angelica Rengifo: Just the fact that it was history and everybody was talking about it. And like yeah, it has a history and then I got into the books and also I didn’t know it like it was always present in my mind that I have to watch this, I have to watch this. And that’s what I tell everybody because that's what I experience when I get friends to like try to watch it I tell them, don't give up on the first and second episodes.
Lauren Martino: And that’s hard you have to stick with it.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, push through because like that’s what happened to me. I had to push through and like actually sit down and say, I'm going to finish this first episode. I’m going to finish this second episode.
Susan Moritz: Well, there is definitely payoffs. There is definitely payoffs for sticking with the series like, these are like the characters like change like with Jamie like you hate him in the very beginning. The Queen’s brother like he is this horrible guy. And then he like he himself suffers a tragedy he is like in order to help out Brienne I mean his swordhand gets cut off. And he basically has to relearn how to like so of course this is very important, but you know, he totally got to be good and he has got these good qualities. And you've just totally in the first episode of written him off as this horrible murderer, that’s a horrible guy.
Angelica Rengifo: Because he has to learn to be him without being a fighter. That was his personality and his worth was that he was able – he was the best sword man in the kingdom. And when that his hand gets cut off he cannot put value on himself and does what he like almost dies when he was being brought to the, what was it?, back to south, yeah.
David Payne: So, you talked about the TV series. How would you compare it to the books I mean, having read the books and seen the show, which one do you, do you both prefer?
Susan Moritz: I like both, would you say that you like both too?
Angelica Rengifo: I like both because I like the books because he goes, George R. R. Martin, goes into so much detail describing the landscape, describing people, describing the thoughts of the characters. And also I like the show because you can put a face to the characters that you have been reading about. And the other thing is that like after season five they go on a different like a different direction than the books do.
Lauren Martino: Really so they diverge.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes. And there are a lot of plots like side plots that do not get the attention or not even mention on the TV show that you find on the books. Like for example, the Dorn plot with the sand, snakes, and the daughter of the King of Dorn it's a really great plot in the books. And on the TV show it’s a side plot is a – we are losing time watching this because it doesn't go anywhere.
Susan Moritz: I would totally agree with that and that’s exact same thing I was thinking about like there is this Kingdom of Dorn, one of the kingdoms. And then in the TV show it was like, oh, we’re going to include it and then it was like oh, no, wait, we've got so much, so much we got to go.
Lauren Martino: Back up.
Susan Moritz: We’ve got a range that. And exactly pack up exactly, exactly. And I like the way that I started with it too like I watched the first season. So they’re having – and then I read the books and I read all the way through. And so I was thinking that you know, it's like I already have these images in my head, this is this character, this is this. And you already had that sort of intro to it so you’re not like overwhelmed by detail or stuff with the books like who is this and what’s this again and you’re already sort of ready to jump on. But now since George R. R. Martin is not writing fast enough the show has gone past the books. So basically the show is now all we have now that you’re going to write all the books like that’s – that’s all you got left now.
David Payne: Has it become too complicated?
Angelica Rengifo: No, I like it. So like even the reading and the books are great, yeah.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I don’t think it’s become too complicated, but I think it’s probably become too complicated for George R. R. Martin to write.
Lauren Martino: And one person is not enough anymore
Susan Moritz: Definitely, and it was like with his thing apparently he doesn’t, unlike I think JK Rowling, does not outline anything. So he just like, so his got it like 1000 page books. And so he just sort of like has this huge world with all these characters and it’s like then he used to write, write, write.
Angelica Rengifo: And he writes chapters. So each chapter is a character and it’s the point of view of the character. But I’ve heard I don't know if it's true that he has hired someone to get whatever he see his mind in draft.
Susan Moritz: Oh, my goodness. I love that.
David Payne: Well, I have to ask Game of Thrones was described to me as "Shakespeare's history plays with dragons”. Now I don’t know how familiar you are with Shakespeare’s history plays, but any thoughts on the comparison?
Angelica Rengifo: I do not agree with that.
Susan Moritz: You don’t.
Angelica Rengifo: I don’t.
Susan Moritz: I would totally say that I would agree. Yeah, do you want to do the con and then I’ll do the pro.
Angelica Rengifo: So I don't agree with that even though Shakespeare has written about Richard III and The Wars of the Roses it's still a play. He doesn't develop something new. He doesn't develop the characters. We don't know the depth of the characters. So I feel like he is about comparison and he is not fair to George R. R. Martin, because again we can go back to the fact that two of the plays by Shakespeare are based on kings that went through or where became kings after The Wars of the Roses. And A Song of Ice and Fire is based on The Wars of the Roses. And so, but it has more depth. You can definitely take sides.
Susan Moritz: Oh, definitely.
Angelica Rengifo: You cannot do that on a play. So I feel like no, I do not agree with that. I think that’s great.
Susan Moritz: Well, I didn't realize about The Wars of the Roses that does bring an interesting element into it. And I guess what I thinking of that Shakespeare like history of plays I was thinking of sort of the characters and sort of like sort of similarities kind of thing. And I was thinking in Henry V like one of my – one of the great lines as I and I’m pretty sure hope everything and hope I’ve got all my Shakespeare all coordinated my brain. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. And I feel about –.
Angelica Rengifo: You think.
Susan Moritz: Yes, yes and then in this show it has been uneasy for every single person even the king who was the King Robert Baratheon you know when the show starts the kings before them that his king –.
Lauren Martino: Before the freak boar hunting accident.
Susan Moritz: Before yeah, yeah, when there was the mad king before him that was burning people a lot. No, I mean, it’s been since then and anybody else who has come in it’s been very uneasy.
Angelica Rengifo: Very dead.
Susan Moritz: Yes and so I see, yes. So I see that I definitely see that. I also see with sort of Henry V that sort of like band of brothers, everybody together, I sort of see that and sort of in Jon Snow and Dany sort of the inspiration the people who follow them they're just so inspired by them and they’re really dedicated to sort of how Henry V was with that. I just see different things with different ones. On Henry IV, you know, overtook the throne from I think it was Richard II and about how like, it was the whole like divine right of kings, and this is this and even in this.
Angelica Rengifo: But in plays that you don’t get developed.
Susan Moritz: Well, that’s true.
Angelica Rengifo: That’s what I feel, but it’s not similar. They’re not similar because the characters do not get developed. You don't feel like they have personality. Everything that we know about the characters in Shakespeare plays is what we know from history. What we have read in other things, not from Shakespeare himself.
Susan Moritz: There is only so much room to expand to change what’s there.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Whereas George R. R. Martin has been whatever he wants to do.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Right, yeah they definitely doesn’t have the depth I would say you’re writing the characters and then with Shakespeare he was probably writing for Queen Elizabeth II. I want to make sure that everybody sort of hey, that’s her that came out looking pretty good and Richard III of course was not going to look good at all. Although, I hear conflicting reports about that how he was in the real life there so.
David Payne: It sounds like you both know your Shakespeare.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, well that’s good, yes.
David Payne: So a quick aside for initiated like Lauren and myself. What is the thought of Game of Thrones, what does that allude to?
Susan Moritz: I think it’s the Game of Thrones. I just think of the line that Cersei Lannister whose the Queen says to Ned Stark it’s like “when you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.” So basically when you're trying to gain the throne you either going to win and you’re going to get on that, you’re going to get to on the iron throne. They got this iron throne with that’s basically melted of swords right from I think the people who they call bend the knee, you’re pledging your oath to you know your allegiance to this person. So they’ve got this like iron throne that you sit on which obviously looks very uncomfortable.
Angelica Rengifo: It was on parks and rec.
Susan Moritz: Oh, well, why is this, that’s right, that’s right.
Lauren Martino: She gave Ben his own Iron Throne. It was this big, that was the best present he ever got in the whole world that is also I’ve tried.
Susan Moritz: No, no, no and that’s I totally forgot about that and you totally reminded me of about I think I heard that the Queen, the current Queen actually got to visit the set and of course they were like oh, do you want to go sit on. And she is like oh, no, no. And I was like smart lady, I can do imagine –.
Lauren Martino: Don’t allow yourself with that.
Susan Moritz: Exactly, exactly.
Angelica Rengifo: And also now that you bring up the throne prequels books that came before song of Ice and Fire there is a King, a Targaryen, that used to sit on the throne and he will get cut because again it’s made of real swords. It’s not just like not swords that are not going to cut your or whatever.
Susan Moritz: So it’s uneasy the bum that sits on the iron throne, not just head with the crown there so.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. So now, you’ve peaked my interest MCPL has all of these items I can go back to my branch and I can either order the season one or I can order the audio book or I can order the print book
Angelica Rengifo: or download the audiobook.
Lauren Martino: Or download the electronic audiobook. So which would you recommend, what should I go do?
Angelica Rengifo: Oh, I prefer you to read.
Lauren Martino: To read the actual book.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Do the book and not the TV show and not the audio book.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah, I’ll prefer the story maybe for someone who does not have an idea of it like Susan said, watch the show so you know who are the characters and you have an idea of who is who and where they are and where they come from and you can put a face when you.
Lauren Martino: Quick introduction.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, and I think it’s great too if you’re not too much into like the sex and the violence and stuff. Having watched the first season and then read through all the books I was prepared for like seasons two through I guess five about anything bad that was coming up. So I sort of knew I was like okay, I’m going to go this scene is coming up in the show. I’m going to go to the kitchen. I’m going back and I’ll be little back right here. So that to me was very helpful knowing it was coming down the pike there. One of the funniest things I think about it is like there is a huge character death. I mean, when you first see it, you’re just like oh, Ned Stark. He is this Sean Bean because I love Lord of the Rings and Sean Bean was in there.
Lauren Martino: Oh Sean Bean.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Sean Bean dies?
Angelica Regifo: Yes and like in every movie.
Lauren Martino: Yes, I know, I know.
Susan Moritz: Because it was like the second to last episodes of season one. And I was like oh, no, at the last minute no, no, no.
Angelica Rengifo: So and then this is the third season, second season when Catelyn Stark dies and Robb Stark and you’re like.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, The Big Red Wedding. And what I loved about that was like so I knew it was coming.
Lauren Martino: The Big Red Wedding.
Angelica Rengifo: No, it’s The Red Wedding.
Lauren Martino: Because everyone dies?
Susan Martino: Two of the main characters you love die. And you think they're all okay, because there is just the guest rights. You come in. You’ve eaten from, if I’ve come to your home and you fed me some food that I'm okay, but it didn't and they turned on them and went up killing them. And if you need a laugh they have YouTube videos of people who knew what was coming and videotape the people around them who are watching.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, I’ve watched those on YouTube. It’s really how people like cry.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, and it was one of those things like especially starting with Ned Stark’s death like you had said like you brought these books so long ago. Not long ago 90s wasn’t that long ago right, but because he wrote them so long ago that now that people had been getting into it through the series. They’ve been watching like what, you’ve killed off this character. And so you know he is like I wrote that so long ago. And he got like I think stuff that that he upset, fans were upset back then. But now it’s like this whole resurgence of people who are like what?
Lauren Martino: What did you do this for?
Susan Moritz: Exactly, exactly.
David Payne: So we determine that a lot of people are dying.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
David Payne: And a show that has a reputation for gratuitous violence, is that reputation merited do you think? What makes it essential for the story it’s telling?
Susan Moritz: I sort of think it feels like it feels essential in the sense that and I'm not a fan of torture and other things that have happened. But if the characters that either do it or they do it themselves or either the actors or that they are the ones that order something to be done you just hate them and despise them so much that you’re just compelled that justice must be served. And something horrible must happen to these people and that’s how I feel about and there is like you know.
Angelica Rengifo: I want to just say about it and I wanted to bring up the fact that good people also get torture.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Angelica Regifo: And good people get killed. The good ones die, the bad ones die and you’re sad. But then you’re happy because the bad ones die. And one of the best things ever is when Joffrey died.
Lauren Martino: Jeffrey?
Angelica Rengifo: Joffrey
Susan Moritz: And Ramsay Bolton? Oh, those I feel like the two are like the worst people. Although Petyr Baelish also but.
Angelica Rengifo: Oh, yes, Baelish was also gratifying to see him die.
David Payne: So it’s like a whole cast of characters.
Susan Moritz: And I think that’s why this season, the last season has been just so gratifying is that finally the tables you feel have turned and we’re like finding the characters you love or getting some justice and getting some vengeance. It has been like oh –.
Angelica Rengifo: The Starks are back together.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Angelica Rengifo: And the pack is to together and pack together.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: They’re going to survive, hopefully all of them.
Susan Moritz: Yes, definitely. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives when winter comes.
Lauren Martino: So if you have seen all the TV shows, and you have read all of the books and there you’ve got so much free time on your hands now that you're all done with everything and waiting for the next season or waiting for the next book, what do you suggest like is there anything that's also good along the same lines that can fill the void in your life until the next thing comes out?
Susan Moritz: No.
Angelica Rengifo: Yet I will say watch them again, rate them again, read other George R. R. Martin books. Because he writes in such a way that I haven't seen somebody else write. He is so much. I mean, I'm into a lot of detail so I’d like that about him and I like his books because of it. So I will say read the books again, watch the TV show again.
Susan Moritz: And like you get those from the libraries and I love when the library started to get the TV shows in the catalog and yeah, I can finally binge watch all these shows that I want to watch. But some good ones, I would suggest that we have in our collection that people can like place holds on and check out on The Borgias that was really good. I like that TV series. The Tudors, I mean that sort of gets that sort of medieval kind of element. Supernatural.
I’ve mean to watch Empire that's very like backstabbing like who's on top you know, kind of thing power grabbing. I’m trying to think what and there are some other things. And one of the Philippa Gregory writes a lot of you know historical fiction, the Shakespeare plays, Shakespeare movies and there was something as oh, but I love that Angelica mentioned that some people might not know that he has written these sort of like little short prequel novellas, George R. R. Martin.
Lauren Martino: Oh!
Susan Moritz: So you can get like sort of these little like sort of prequel stories. And he has them hidden in these super thick short story compilations. So you can and I’ve definitely I’ve checked them out of the librar before. And so yes you can get those. Other things I think we’ve got like the Wit of Tyrion Lannister, Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister. So we’ve got these all other, these other Game of Thrones books that if you’ve read the books, but we got these other companion kind of books that are cool too.
David Payne: So there is life after Game of Thrones.
Susan Moritz: Yes, yes, yes, we hope so. I have one more season and then we hope there is.
David Payne: On MCPL we’re happy to find those resources for you. Well, Susan and Angelica thank you both very much indeed.
Julie Dina: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Febe Huezo: Looking for your next favorite book, MCPL can help. Fill out or what do I check out next online form and tell us what you like to read. You can find the link to the service on our homepage. We will email you a list of three to five books that our librarians have chosen just for you. Happy reading.
Julie Dina: Hi, I'm Julie Dina, one of the new hosts for Library Matters. And here with me is Anita Vassallo, our new Acting Director. Anita couldn't make the main recording for our Game of Thrones episode, but knowing that she is such a great fan we are making this special segment just to have her here on this show. So here we are. Welcome Anita and thanks for being here with us.
Anita Vassallo: Thank you Julie. I am a big Game of Thrones fans so I'm really excited that I was invited to be here with this little extra piece for the Game of Thrones podcast.
Julie Dina: So why don’t you just tell us, what is compelling about Game of Thrones?
Anita Vassallo: So I think for both the books and the TV show in the past seasons the most compelling part is the intricacy of the plot and the slow and careful development of all of the characters. You currently dive way into this world then the people had inhabited. And then of course there is the anyone can die at any time philosophy. So Game of Thrones is famous for chopping the heads off of major characters in a most unexpected fashion and just moving on from there.
So although I really love the TV show and have watched every single episodes since the day it premiered I do miss now the pacing from the first seasons like maybe the first four or five seasons where it was very careful of how they were developing everything. And now because we just finished the second to last season and there are only six episodes left everything has really speeded up and sometimes you're wondering how did they get from there to that, but you just have to kind of forget about that part.
Julie Dina: You mentioned something about characters. So what particular character would you say your most like?
Anita Vassallo: Well, I'm not sure I’m really most like any of them, but the one I admired the most is Lady Olenna Tyrell. And since you haven’t watched this show you don’t know who she is.
Julie Dina: I don’t.
Anita Vassallo: But she is the matriarch of the Tyrell family who lives at Highgarden that's their seat so she is my idol. She is very funny and sarcastic. She is kind of like the grandmother in Downton Abbey. So she can toss off these quips and cut people down to size. And this past season she was basically executed, but she was still throwing off the quips right before her death. And after she drank poison that was given to her by Jaime Lannister she still managed to twist the knife into him one more time. So she is great, great gosh.
Julie Dina: Well, since you talk so much about her, if you could invite one particular character to a dinner or if you can invite them and take them somewhere who amongst all these characters that you love would you be?
Anita Vassallo: Well, I did think about this because I knew this was a question and it comes up to a choice between Tyrion Lannister and Tyrion would be great to take out because he would have a lot to say about all of the behind-the-scenes double-dealing and his crazy family. And he would also probably be a lot of fun because he likes to drink and have a good time. So for Tyrion we’d have to go out to a really nice wine bar because he loves his wine. But the other person that I think will be really interesting to take would be Maester Aemon. And Maester Aemon is the 100-year-old blind Maester of the Night's Watch. Look at Julie looking at me. But in reality he was a Targaryen prince. He was the son or the uncle of I think of the Mad King, Aerys if I have that right. And if I don't have it right we’ll find out about it in half minute. So he refused the crown and he has been with the Night's Watch for many, many years and think of all the stories that he could tell.
Julie Dina: So Anita I can see the glow in your eyes when you talk about all these different characters and you’re talking about this show. Can you tell me one most surprising thing about Game of Thrones?
Anita Vassallo: Yes, so I think the most surprising thing about Game of Thrones both George R.R. Martin books and the television show is how people who really don't love fantasy and have probably never read a fantasy book or so enthralled with it now even if they came to through in TV show they go back and read the books or they listen to the books on audio so they don’t really know anything about fantasy. They don't know about Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books, but they just love this and they get so obsessed and maybe it's the sex and violence.
Julie Dina: It could be, it could be that gets a lot of people. So I do know that you’re a great fan of horses and you do own a couple of them.
Anita Vassallo: Yes, we have horses at home so you know if you’re a fan I guess that's one way of putting it. But I know that horses are really important in Game of Thrones because the nearest Targaryen of course is the Khaleesi of the Dothraki. Look at Julie’s face.
Julie Dina: Yes, and all these things.
Anita Vassallo: And they are basically the horse lords, the lords of the grass, the sea. So horses are extremely important in their culture. Their main God is the Great Stallion and when the nearest Targaryen becomes pregnant of course she has to eat a Stallion's heart and that's a very graphic scene shown on this show. So yeah, I mean and it’s fun to watch all the beautiful horses and the second to last or third to last episode this season was a great battle scene with all these horse warriors attacking some infantry and they came roaring in on their horses and they stood up on their backs with their bows and arrows and it was really cool.
Julie Dina: Well, I’ve got to say thank you so much Anita for joining us for this segment. Let’s keep this conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcast from. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you're thinking. Once again, I want to thank all our listeners for joining on to this conversation today and see you next time.
Spoilers Are Coming! This episode has more Game of Throne book and television series spoilers than you can shake a sword at.
Recording Date: September 20, 2017
Episode Summary: Winter is coming. At least that's what the Game of Thrones fans among our staff say. We invited a few such fans onto the podcast to share their enthusiasm for the immensely popular Game of Thrones books and television series.
Note: Library Matters has new hosts! You'll hear 2 of our new hosts, Davis Library Branch Manager David Payne and Silver Spring Librarian Lauren Martino during the main part of the episode. Our third host, Outreach Associate Julie Dina, introduces this episode and returns at the end to talk with our Acting Director, Anita Vassallo, who couldn't make the main recording session, but is a big Game of Thrones fan and didn't want to miss out on the fun.
Susan Moritz, Digital Strategies Program Manager
Angelica Rengifo, Outreach Associate
Anita Vassallo, Acting Director, MCPL
Featured MCPL Service: Tell us what you like to read by filling out our What Do I Check Out Next? form and receive 3-5 personalized book suggestions from your MCPL librarians.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Henry IV, Part II, William Shakespeare
"Uneasy lies the bum that sits on the (Iron) Throne." Susan Moritz
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 7, Cersei Lannister
Game of Thrones Books and Media Mentioned During This Episode:
Game of Thrones (television series): A dramatic, often violent cable television saga of the conflicts, alliances, and intrigue among noble families vying for control of or independence from the high kingship that rules over the 7 kingdoms.
George R.R. Martin: Have you finished the Song of Ice and Fire book series, but still want more? Try some of the other novels and short story collections George R.R. Martin has written or edited.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin: The epic fantasy book series upon which the Game of Thrones television series is based. The series currently consists of the following books -
Martin's fan eagerly, impatiently, await the next planned books in the series, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring.
Other Books and Media Mentioned During this Episode:
The Borgias (television series): A chronicle of the 16th century Borgia family's rise to power in the Roman Catholic Church.
Henry IV by William Shakespeare: A history play about King Henry IV of England and his struggles against internal unrest and Scottish invaders.
Henry V by William Shakespeare: A history play about King Henry V of England and his role in the Battle of Agincourt in France.
Philippa Gregory: The author of British historical fiction novels, many of which are set in the 16th century Tudor period.
Richard III by William Shakespeare: This history play depicts Richard III's rise to power and his short lived reign as king of England.
Supernatural (television series): A pair of brothers make their way through the world as monster hunters.
The Tudors (television series): The early years of King Henry VII's 16th century reign over England.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
David Watts: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Today, we’re going to talk about Montgomery County Public Library resources and services for people with disabilities. From our monthly Talking Book Club at Rockville Memorial Library to the assistive technologies available in each branch, today we’ll discuss it all with Elizabeth Lang, Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager for MCPL. Welcome to the podcast, Elizabeth Lang.
Elizabeth Lang: I’m glad to be here.
David Watts: Take a moment and tell us a bit about yourself, what’s your background, and how did you become interested in library services for people with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, my background is in social work, as well as in bookstores and libraries. In my past life, I was a social worker at a domestic violence shelter. And I found that to be very emotionally difficult and shifted over to working in bookstores.
When I was a manager in retail bookstores for, I want to say, about a decade, I was working in a Barnes & Noble, and saw a position posted for Talking Book & Braille Library. And I wound up working as a librarian and as the Assistant Director for Public Services at the Talking Book & Braille Library in Missouri for about a decade.
That service provided library materials to people who are blind or visually impaired or who had other print disabilities and couldn’t use standard printed materials from their local public library. I had never intended to go into the field of library services for people who have disabilities; I just kind of wound up there. And then moved to DC to take a position as a Branch Manager in 2013. And I worked for them until I came here last November. And with DC, I was both the Branch Manager and I managed their Center for Accessibility, which was one department at the Martin Luther King main branch. And the Center for Accessibility provided library services to patrons who had a wide range of disabilities.
In Missouri, I had been providing library service to people who had print disabilities, but at MLK and the Center for Accessibility was providing library service to any person who had any sort of disability that prevented them from using the standard services and materials available throughout the library. And I’ve just sort of been here ever since.
David Watts: Tell us about your new role at MCPL.
Elizabeth Lang: Okay. As you said, I am the Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager. That’s kind of a mouthful, and what it means is I spend about half of my time working on facilities issues, including our refresh projects where we’re renovating our branches, and then about half of my time is focused on providing services, library services to people who have disabilities.
So far as I know, it’s a unique position. I have not encountered any other library system or library that has a position that is really focused that uniquely on providing library services to people who have disabilities systemwide.
David Watts: Can you give us a brief description of the Americans with Disabilities Act, otherwise known as ADA, and how it impacts MCPL specifically?
Elizabeth Lang: Sure. The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The law prohibits discrimination, and guarantees that people who have disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else has in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
The main part of the ADA that impacts MCPL is called the Title II Regulations. So those apply to state and local governments, specially. Title II protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities that we provide. It also requires that newly constructed or altered government facilities be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
So that means we have a responsibility to design all of our collections, our services, our programs and our facilities in a way that includes everyone. So nationally, about 12% of the population has some form of a disability, and, in Montgomery County, that number is roughly about 82,000 people.
So for those 82,000 folks, I would like to believe they all use the library. They’re the folks we’re concernin ourselves with and that I focus on making sure we’re doing a good job of serving.
David Watts: What traditional library resources and services does MCPL offer for people who have disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: We have a pretty wide range of services and materials. So we have large print books, which most people have heard of, that can be used by folks who have visual impairments. We also have books on CD. We also do have a small selection of Braille Books at some of our libraries. We have a listing of local resources on our library services for People with Disabilities webpage. We have a Talking Book Group that meets every month that our Rockville location for people who love audiobooks. Two of our branches also have an accessibility center with work stations and resources that are dedicated to people who have disabilities.
David Watts: What are some of the new or innovative resources and services MCPL offers to residents with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, every one of our branches now has an assistive technology workstation. One of our customers has called it the Cadillac of Assistive Technology workstations. It has screen reading software that’s called JAWS as well as enlarging software that’s called MAGic. Both of those are for use by people who have low vision and/or who are blind. It assists them in using the computer. So the workstation has a large monitor as well for somebody who has a visual impairment and needs the screen enlarged. It can get pretty big. That’s very nice.
It also, that workstation, contains something called the ClearView+ Speech desktop magnifier. Some people know this piece of equipment by the name CCTV, closed-circuit television is what it had been called in the past. But the one that we just put in is more than the sort of old-fashioned closed-circuit TV that would just show you an image of what you had laid on a tray. This when you lay your material on the tray, it can show that image on the screen. It has a very large screen. It also offers the option of reading aloud. So it will take – basically it takes a photograph of the item that you’ve placed on the tray, it will show it to you on the screen and then if you tap the screen, it will start reading the defined text areas that it has located out loud to you. It cannot be used by somebody who has no usable vision, but for someone who has a visual impairment or is legally blind, it can help them read much more easily than, you know, struggling with just using glasses, particularly for something that has very small print.
David Watts: What is the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, what resources and services does it offer that are different from what’s available in MCPL?
Elizabeth Lang: Good questions. The Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a state resource. It’s a library for people who have print disabilities. I was talking about the library where I had worked in Missouri, the Talking Book & Braille Library there, that was Missouri’s Talking Book & Braille Library. The Maryland State Library is the same thing. So every state has one.
David Watts: Right.
Elizabeth Lang: So the one that serves Maryland is based in Baltimore. And they are supported by the National Library Service, which is a division of the Library of Congress. So they provide audio books and audio book players to people who can’t use standard print materials. They mail it all out through the post office and it’s no charge to the patrons.
So to use that library, people have to be certified as having a disability that prevents them from using print. So they serve sort of a subset of perhaps the folks that we serve. But they do serve everybody throughout the state.
We, you know, we’re focused on Montgomery County and we will serve any customer within Montgomery County who is interested. So some of our patrons are probably the same people who are being served by the library in Baltimore. They can certainly take advantage of both libraries at the same time. And there was a little bit of overlap, as I’ve said, we do have some books on CD. That’s a slightly different format than the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides to their customers. But they can use both of them.
David Watts: Tell us what happens of MCPL needs to make a change to be in compliance with ADA requirements but can’t make that change for some reason.
Elizabeth Lang: Sure. Well, it does happen occasionally that we will discover that some aspects of our buildings or our services are not in compliance with ADA regulations or requirements.
Sometimes it’s something that I or a staff person will discover and sometimes it’s something that’s brought to our attention by one of our customers. An example that comes to mind is I think it’s our Long Branch facility has a very steep road just outside. And the sidewalk there is very steep as well. And we’ve had the county’s ADA Compliance Office staff out there taking a look to see what can be done when we refresh that branch to bring us into compliance in all areas with ADA requirements.
Well, we can’t recut the road or redesign that sidewalk to the extent that would be required to bring it into line with the slope that is required for someone who’s using a wheelchair. It’s just a very steep street and sidewalk.
So the ADA does recognize that there are going to be instances like that where we simply can’t. We cannot cut into somebody else’s property. If something were going to be prohibitively expensive, if we had to, you know, raise a building and rebuild it completely, but we didn’t have the funding. Let’s say if the building had been built so long ago that nothing was in compliance, it recognizes that’s probably not possible.
So there’s some wording that it says that if something would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service program or activity or in an undue financial or administrative burden, then we can’t be bunched to do whatever it is that’s been requested.
David Watts: How has MCPL incorporated ADA requirements, universal design, and the state of concerns of people with disabilities into the refresh of its branches? What are some specific examples?
Elizabeth Lang: The main focus of my position actually is to sort of pay attention to the intersection of all these things. So that’s a large question.
And I will sort of start with universal design. The idea behind universal design is that things can be designed to be usable by everyone, regardless of whether a person has a disability or not. There’s generally a way to set the built environment up to make it easy to use for everybody, including children.
So ADA requirements are sort of a piece of universal design. And the law does get pretty detailed about what you can and can’t do with regards to the size of your doorways and the width of your pathways and those sorts of things. But that’s sort of like a bare minimum expectation really of what will be done that will create an environment that is just—at its most basic level—usable by everyone.
Universal design takes that a step past that, obviously, and trying to design something that’s usable for everybody. So when we’re refreshing out branches, I pay attention to sort of all of those things. We have to make sure that we’re designing to the basic level of the ADA standards that are countertop to the right height that if we’re putting in a catalog computer for people to look books up on, that we don’t put it on a standing workstation only that’s really just usable by people who are literally standing. So if you’re using a walker or a wheelchair, then you wouldn’t reach it.
So we have whole range of things that I pay attention to with the refreshes. And how we know what the stated concerns are with regards to our customers with disabilities, I speak with folks who have disabilities almost every day about their library services and what they want.
We have several mechanisms for feedback on our website as well. And we have an advisory committee that is focused specifically on accessibility. And they meet I believe that it is quarterly, and talk with us about the existing branches, what they see, what they sort of have on their wishlist of ideally this is what this library would be like. And they have been walking the branches whose refreshes are coming up. They’ve been walking through those with us to point out very specific things like the slope on the sidewalk outside Long Branch that is too steep or a door where the pushbutton for the handicap entrance, you know, somebody using a wheelchair without that push button can’t get in. So they point those things out and make sure that we’re aware of them. We make a nice big list, and then when we go into design for that building, we incorporate as much of that as we can.
David Watts: There are a wide variety of disabilities from vision impairments to mobility challenges. How does MCPL address or accommodate them all?
Elizabeth Lang: There are a very wide variety of disabilities and we try to accommodate everyone. We want everyone to come to the library and be delighted. What we do is take a case-by-case basis, specifically when we have someone who has a concern, we will address that with the particular branch or staff person who has brought it to our attention.
There will be instances where people who have disabilities will have needs that conflict. One example that seems kind of outrageous but kind of made the rounds online as a “Did you know this actually happened?” Somebody who used seeing eye-dog, a guide dog, was attending an event, I honestly don’t remember which library, not in this area, and there was a person with a very, very, very severe asthma-related response to dogs and they both wanted to be in the same place and it became a point of great discussion whether the person with the guide dog was allowed to stay because that person is sort of impinging on another person’s ability to breath, which is no small issue, right?
David Watts: That’s a pretty severe disability.
Elizabeth Lang: It is.
David Watts: Yeah.
Elizabeth Lang: It is. So that’s an extreme example, but I have had people asked me, “What happens if person A wants something and that interferes with what person B needs?” So it does happen. Thankfully I’ve not encountered anything in our system yet. But again, we just take our customer’s needs on a case-by-case basis where we’re made aware that there’s something needed.
David Watts: How do you get input about what Montgomery County residents who have disabilities want and need from MCPL?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, I touched on this a little earlier. We, in addition to our online feedback and the feedback that we get from our branches directly from customers, again, we have our advisory committee. And in addition to the feedback that I get from them at our meetings, our formal meetings, I am in touch with them regularly to just bounce things off of them to ask their opinions, to get their guidance and their feedback on the things that we’re thinking about implementing or changing. And then we also – I have fairly close relationship with the ADA Compliance Office, the Montgomery County ADA Compliance Office. And they hear a lot more than we do directly from Montgomery County residents who have disabilities and specifically what they need. And that’s sort of a two-way feedback street with them as well.
David Watts: How does ADA influence architectural design in public spaces? How do you believe it will impact libraries of the future?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, as I’ve said, the ADA regulations do have sort of a basic set of kind of bare-bones guidelines as I think of them with regards to how physical spaces have to be designed to be accessible. Things like designs you’ve probably seen that have the wording and then the Braille underneath them perhaps next to a meeting room door, those kinds of guidelines.
They specify things like if you have something that protrudes from the wall, say a monitor, maybe a computer monitor or a display screen that if it’s more than four inches up from the wall, it has to be either over a certain height, I believe 70 inches or below 28, so that if I’m using a cane, I’m not caught unawares by something that’s sticking out from the wall. I might run into that with my shoulder or my head if that’s the only thing there. So ADA requires that if something is sticking out more than four inches and it’s within those 28 to 70 inches, I have to have something permanent underneath it, like a bench or a cabinet that someone who’s using a cane would be able to feel with the cane before they hit the protruding object.
So there are a lot of very small detailed requirements like that that influence the architecture of a building.
In the future, again, I think we’re going to move toward a more universal design as people become more and more aware of what is good for everyone. It’s really relatively easy to build to those things when you’re building a new facility. Older facilities are harder to sometimes sort of bring up to speed. But we haven’t encountered anything yet where there wasn’t something that we could do to make it better.
David Watts: How does the increase in the number of older Americans impact ADA services and resources?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, as you might guess, as our population ages, our ADA related services and resources will be in greater demand. I was looking at some information from the Pew Research Center this morning that was talking about this very thing. And it was seeing that as people age, they do become disabled. And that our largest group of people with disabilities nationwide are those who I believe it was 75 and older.
So of folks who have disabilities, about 25% of them never go online. You know, we talked a lot about how everybody is connected 24/7, but there are very large group of people who are not connected in that way. People with disabilities are also 20% less likely than somebody without disabilities to own a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone.
So again, we’re maybe looking at the need to increase more basic resources, print books, print magazines, print newspapers, or providing the technology for our customers to use because they don’t own it themselves. You know, helping them learn what those things are and connecting them in that way will be ever more important.
David Watts: How can we find out more about MCPL’s resources for people with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, we have some good information on our website. We do have what’s called a LibGuide that is specifically filled with information about our services for people who have disabilities, and not only our services at the library but some countywide, I believe there are also statewide resources there for people to use on a variety of topics. They can always contact one of our branches and the librarians there can help them with any information needs that they have. It’s kind of what we specialize in or they can contact me directly. I’m at 240-777-0039. I’m happy to talk to anyone about their concerns, their needs, or any topic related to library services about people with disabilities.
David Watts: Elizabeth, we have this habit of asking our guest to tell us what they’re currently reading and is on their nightstand or what your favorite book is.
Elizabeth Lang: I could never pick a favorite book. So I’ll tell you what I’m reading right now. On my mother’s recommendation, I’m reading the A is for Alibi series which I had always been sort of aware of. A lot of people really love Sue Grafton’s writing. I had just never picked it up. But I just finished F is for Fugitive. And tonight, yeah, I will be starting G is for Gumshoe. It’s really great series, mystery, kind of –.
David Watts: It draws you.
Elizabeth Lang: It does. It does. They character is a great character. The main character Kinsey Millhone is the investigator. She is a private investigator who started as a policy officer and she is very quirky and kind of lovable in the end. I’m loving it. It’s fantastic. My mom made a great recommendation.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest today on Library Matters.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you for having me.
David Watts: And for our audience, we want to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes; we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today, and we’ll see you next time.
[Audio Ends] [0:24:44]
Recording Date: August 8, 2017
Episode Summary: Guest Elizabeth Lang discusses MCPL resources and services for people with disabilities, as well as MCPL's efforts to incorporate accessibility into all aspects of its operations.
Guest: Elizabeth Lang, Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager
MCPL Resources and Services Mentioned During this Episode:
MCPL's Accessibility Centers are located in our Rockville Memorial and Silver Spring branches
Accessibility Advisory Committee
Assistive Technology Workstations
MCPL Services for People with Disabilities
Rockville Memorial Library Talking Book Club
Other Resources and Services Mentioned During this Episode:
DC Center for Accessibility
Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Montgomery County ADA Compliance Team
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Wolfner Talking Books & Braille Library in Jefferson City, Missouri
Books Mentioned During this Episode:
Kinsey Milhone mystery series (A Is for Alibi, etc.) by Sue Grafton
Other Items of Interest:
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
David Watts: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Chances are if you’re a parent or maybe thinking of becoming one, you’ve read a parenting book or two. If you’re a father you may find it slightly challenging to find and connect to modern parenting books. If so, you’re in luck.
Today we have two guests, Fred Akuffo, the Library Assistant Supervisor at Long Branch Library, and Tom Palmer a library associate at Silver Spring Library. Welcome to the podcast Fred and Tom.
Tom Palmer: Thank you.
Fred Akuffo: Thanks for having us.
David Watts: Tell us a little bit about yourself, how old are your kids and what is your parenting style?
Fred Akuffo: Okay. My kids are 13 and 10. I’ll say my parenting style is a daily discovery. That’s what I like to call it. I like to see what new I can find out to make things great for my kids.
David Watts: Okay, Tom.
Tom Palmer: So my son Theo was born just about three months ago, so I’m very new to the whole parenting thing. So I’m not sure I have a style honestly. I’m on the lookout for one. But I would say, for my wife and I, just trying to do as much as we can as a team. You know, we each have our own roles during the day but when we’re home together you know, there’s a crying baby you know, trying to share the load you know, because we’re in this together and that’s – I think that’s the only approach that will keep us staying in this early part.
David Watts: What parenting books for dads have either of you read?
Tom Palmer: So I’m pretty early on in the game. So with a pregnant wife the last year and then a newborn, I’ve not been reading a ton. But one book I’ve been – I did read was The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin which is just so much information, almost overwhelmingly. But you know, I’m sure we’ll talk more about it, but it was very helpful to sort of go through – have someone go through the whole process, what might happen in different scenarios. So I did enjoy that one.
Fred Akuffo: For myself, I don’t really read a lot of the new books. I’m more of a parenting style off of more ancient reading. I use the Bible a lot at my home and I also use Aesop’s Fables. So I like using Aesop’s Fables because it deals with a lot of character issues and I think for growing kids, one thing we want to do is make sure that character is developed. I get a lot of input from that book. And then for the Bible, Bible gives us hope. So that’s another thing I like to make sure that my kids have instilled in their character is a sense of hope in life, because it goes this way, that way, it’s a rollercoaster sometimes, but if we have hope then we can maneuver.
But in case people hearing want some reading that’s newer. There’s suggested books like the Dad’s Playbook which is a coach telling about methods he used for his kids by Tom Limbert, Be Prepared by Gary Greenberg, Better Dads, Stronger Sons by Rick Johnson, and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker. Also another book that I constantly read is the Boy Scout Handbook. It shows a lot of things that you can do with your kids to encourage them to be hard workers, encourage them to be creative, encourage them to be prepared. So I’d add that to the other two.
David Watts: Why did you guys pick those parenting books? Was it a gift or did you choose it on your own, or did someone suggest it to you?
Fred Akuffo: You know, for me, the Aesop’s Fable was a gift that at a very early age my mother gave it to me as a boy. And I’ve always been interested in what I’m going to do as a dad, even as a boy. So I’ve kind of been reading parenting books like all my life because I’ve always wanted to be a dad, you know. You know, I love my dad. My dad was – he didn’t speak much, he’s a tough guy but you know, he loved us, he worked hard for us. And so I always wanted to be in that position. But I wanted to maybe do a couple of things differently than he did. So I was always looking around to see what that would be, what I would change, what I would keep, and I use that to continue to look for different things and raise my own kids.
David Watts: Tom?
Tom Palmer: So for me, once I found out my wife was pregnant, it was sort of like, “Oh, my gosh, I need to learn everything I can about the whole process.” And actually our doula, the woman who taught us our birth class, she suggested The Birth Partner because she knew you know, and I wouldn’t say I was scared but I was you know, nervous a little bit about you know, when someone you love is going through a big thing, it’s scary. And she recommended this, just because it goes through all the scenarios, what might happen, and that was – I mean it’s overwhelming when you look at the amount of parenting books there are. So I kind of asked her and she suggested it and you know, it wasn’t a ton of time to read, but it did help and it made me feel a little bit more in control of the situation. First situation is by nature not – there’s not too much control over it.
David Watts: In your own experience what have you found to be the difference between the general parenting books and books geared specifically for dads?
Fred Akuffo: I’d say the length. Dad books seemed to be shorter, that I noticed, which is good for me because I tend to lose track if things get too long and if things get too wordy. I like advice to be short and concise. So when they’re too long, it can kind of take away from the reading for me.
Tom Palmer: And I would say the general difference I’ve noticed is it just goes in to you know, there are aspects of parenting unique to women and there are aspects unique to dads, or partners, or fathers. So you know, there is – for me, at least, there’s sort of that obvious bond with a mom and a child, you know, physically that she carries them for months at a time.
And so the books I was reading was helping me sort of you know, talk about you know, any problems, or not even problems, just bonding with the new child, you assume it happens instantly and it you know, doesn’t always work that way. So I think for books geared towards dads, it just sort of highlights a little bit more things that are unique to being a dad.
David Watts: What changes have you made after reading the particular books that you’ve spoken up?
Fred Akuffo: I think that call to response is something that I paid more attention to. As you read, you start to see that the things you do your children respond to. When they respond, they don’t always tell you what is going on inside you know, that you can see what’s happening to their emotions physically by looking at how their face is responding. And sometimes we need to pay attention to that I think and act, whereas, my dad wasn’t a touchy-feely guy. That’s something I think I had to learn through reading that.
When I see what I’ve said has upset my son, I can’t just keep talking and bearing down on just getting the information I want to get across. If he is getting upset in the midst of my talking to him, I might have to stop, give him a hug, let him know he is the coolest kid in the world to me and then see how we move forward you know, from there.
Tom Palmer: Again, it’s been three months for me so I’m not sure, you know? And I’m not really sure I’ve even thought about change. I’ve just been sort of doing what we can to get through the day.
But I would say in the books I’ve read, it always encourages sort of emotional honestly, just communicating with my wife. It’s always important, but especially with something that changes your life just drastically.
I was lucky enough to have a dad who is like that, but like you said with your father, even so if he was a little bit more stern than me. So I’ve tried to take it to the next level to sort of just you know, I don’t want to bug my wife everyday, but just to make sure we’re checking in with each other, everything okay you know. And that was stressed a lot in some of the books that I’ve read and that it makes sense and that’s how we’ve always sort of have you know, been in our relationship.
David Watts: What are some of the changes that you’ve seen in your spouses or even in your children in response to you and how you’re being led by these materials that you’re reading?
Tom Palmer: You know, it’s hard to say for me. But you know, in my family, we talked about everything all the time growing up, my wife not so much. So this whole, what I was just talking about, the emotion or you know, talking to each other, making sure we’re on the same page, it has come forth naturally to me than to her. But I think she has really embraced it, especially since our son has been born. And you know, I think I’ve you know, got myself a pad on the back. I’ve done a good job encouraging her to express herself because you know, it’s just – it’s a crazy time, lots of emotions. So yeah, I would say she has changed in that respect a little bit.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I think for me it’s – we will see kind of thing right now. We made changes. They react to different changes. But I think I’m finding out what those changes means sometimes.
One day I got a note that was written by my daughter and she wrote down that you know, “I love my dad,” and one of the questions on this paper works, “What do you like about him?” And she said, “He makes changes,” or something like that, “even when he is in bad mood. As to say, even when he doesn’t want to do something, he’ll do something nice for you,” you know. So I found out you know, that they’re watching all the time, you know.
David Watts: All the time. All the time. Yeah, yeah.
Fred Akuffo: And they’re watching to see what my response is going to be. Are they going to see that you know, I’m stubbornly going to stand firm? Or are they going to see that you know, yeah, I might be firm but if the time calls for it, I might go ahead and make a decision to bend here and there if needed? So I thought that was good. One day when I saw that, they were encouraged by them.
David Watts: Do you find that you’re turning to parenting books to help you as they go through ages and stages? Tom, in your case, the newborn. Fred, in your case you know, adolescence, in tween, teen years.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: I find with the tween and teens, I’m turning more towards people who’ve gone through it, because I like to ask my peers, elders, people I look up to, people I respect, what they’ve gone through, and actually even people that have made terrible mistakes, I ask them too what they’ve gone through, and what they wished they have done differently. Or I listen sometimes when I hear people telling stories about what they think they’ve done well and what worked out well.
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: A lot of times I listen to people’s children also talk about their parents. And I wish – I hear their children say, “I wish I had done this. I wish I had done that.” So I listen to that too. So I’m always looking for something more; I’m always looking to discover something. So my reading has gone down in terms of the parenting books. I definitely keep trying to glean from others.
Tom Palmer: And I would agree with you in that. There’s no one source you know, I go to for advice or you know, information. I think when parenting books can be helpful is you know, at least when my wife is pregnant, certain terms I just never heard of, I’m looking that up.
But then like you said, I go to my family for advice you know, ask friends, anyone. I’m no expert; I’m open to advice. And then you know, we take, my wife and I take that information and we make the decision we think is best if there is a decision to be made. But yeah, I would say a combination of books, internet, and then just asking my parents, my in-laws, my sisters who have all been parents much longer than me.
David Watts: In each of your books, certainly there was that that you found that you agreed with, but were there any concepts or things discussed that you didn’t agree with? And what did you do with that information?
Tom Palmer: I don’t know if I so much disagreed with things so much as I think I got to the point where there is a little bit of information overload. You know, for some people planning for a birth or a newborn, they want to make a meticulous plan and that was one of the things that the author suggested. After a few chapters, I realized I was maybe kind of start skimming the book a little and going to chapters I thought was interesting or helpful because at least with my personality I started thinking like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of this happening before. I hope this won’t like happen to my wife.”
So I think it was just worrying about things that weren’t necessarily likely to happen, but that’s not necessarily something to disagree with. It’s just the way I approach the book versus other people.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And with older readings, sometimes you got to be careful, because things don’t work like they used to at times. There’s a story in Aesop’s Fable about a guy who went to prison and his mom came to visit him and he bit his mom’s ear off. So I’m not advocating that kind of thing.
But the core lesson was the gentleman felt like his mom didn’t discipline him when he was younger and if she had just done that, could have saved him his grief. So yeah, there’s aspects you disagree with, but you’re looking for the core lesson that’s going to be positive, so.
David Watts: So from your experience, Fred, how would you relate what you’ve learned in the book to a new parent like Tom? How would you relate your experience in what he should be mindful of as he reads these books?
Fred Akuffo: Actually I think Tom said it best. You take what you think you need, what you think you don’t need, you don’t exactly incorporate, ask advice from the people you love around you, and work with your wife on making it all work out.
David Watts: Do the parenting books, you have both read, acknowledge that there are norms that should be followed and are those norms applicable even in other cultures?
Tom Palmer: Yeah, I would say the books I read, although I’m not you know, terribly right at this point, but it did touch on some you know, cultural aspect, but it was tended to be from a reaction of a western standpoint. So it did touch in them, but not as much as might be even helpful or interesting to me. But it’s an interesting question that hadn’t really occurred to me before this, because certain things like birth you know, might be universal. But once the baby comes out, different cultures have very different ideas of whether it’s a group mentality or the parents, and the uncles, and the grandparents all raised them, or it’s a typical modern couple where they’re sort of on their own in a new city. And it would be interesting to read a book that was more or so focused on that idea, that difference in cultures in parenting.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I find the books lately that I’ve read don’t embrace at culture as much. They don’t encourage the young wives to talk to the older women who have been through it to get tips and tricks of how to be a mom and how to make things work, you know? I find that sometimes upon reading to even suggest that those ways are the old ways. And to me, I don’t know, to me, that’s a little bit of a lost, because I think if somebody has been through something, they can give you some input and feedback to protect you, to warn you, to give you heads up to make things easier on you.
So sometimes I think the cultural aspect is lacking in the current parenting books I’ve seen. And again, just like Tom was saying, I’m reading them from a more western point of view. And I could recognize that because I’m from a family where it’s mixed. My father is from Ghana. My mother is from America. So that presents another dynamic. You know, he was from a patriarchal society, so the mindset of a dad is a little bit different from my observation and point of view and upbringing.
Tom Palmer: Going off of that, I would say I wish there was – the books I’ve read had more – would show that it’s normal to really rely on family and friends, especially early in the baby’s life. I think that some of the books touched on that, but you might need help from a family member. But I know for my wife and I, we – I don’t know if I could take that without my mom and mother-in-law staying over some nights and helping out. And I can’t speak to it you know, exactly. But I think that’s a fairly universal idea that it’s hard with the new baby and you will need help and that it’s not a sign of weakness to need help. I wish that have been stressed a bit more in the books I’ve read.
David Watts: So you disagree with the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way and looking back sometimes judgment is laid upon older methods. And what you’re saying is you do need some of that former generation’s experience to help you navigate through what you’re going through in terms of its impact in your family, right?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely. Just in something like you know, it seems like from what I’ve read, every few years, the consensus about how to position a baby when they’re sleeping changes.
David Watts: Yes.
Tom Palmer: Whether it’s in your stomach or the back. And so I finally asked my mom because I don’t – I keep seeing different things I don’t know. And it just helps to hear like you know, “We did this and you were fine.” Not that we’ll necessary exactly follow what my mom says, but it just helps to have past generation’s input and you know, they’re saying, “Don’t do this. But we did this with you and it was okay.” So it’s just another perspective that can be helpful.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And actually I’m not saying I disagree, but I am agreeing with Tom. These books don’t push you to go to your folks and urge you to do that. And I think that’s – to me, that seems like a loss to me. The people who care most about you I would think, would be the first people you wanted to get major, major input on. These folks know you, they know what you’re going to go through more than you do, because a new dad is a new dad every time. So you can’t do enough reading to prepare yourself.
David Watts: So let’s stay with that, okay? Let’s see if we can contrast with Tom.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: Given the positions that you now find yourselves in, he is the new dad, you are the more experienced dad.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: What changed over your course of parenting your child that differs from what you’ve read when you first got into the game? In other words, he is reading a lot of stuff and he wants to put it in the test lab and see if it works. But you’ve already been in the test labs. So tell us how your views changed over these 13-plus years that you’ve been a dad, or not.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I mean my views are always changing.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So it’s a hard question to answer, because I’ve tried to look at it on a daily discovery basis. So whereas I thought I needed to be hardline in one area, five years ago, I changed my mind and said, “Well, I’m going to not soften up, but I’m going to be flexible in that area.”
David Watts: Yeah. So that’s good advice.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: So like, okay, I just didn’t know how to word it.
David Watts: Don’t take such a hard position because you may end up talking –.
Fred Akuffo: On certain things. Yes, on certain things. On other things, I had to – I started off not really being – I started off being indifferent. And now I’m intense you know, when it comes to certain things. So my –.
Fred Akuffo: For example, let’s say social media.
David Watts: So what would you tell him as it relates to social media? He has got a blank slate. You are in the midst of the storm right now, okay? Devices, no devices, what was your experience?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I went with – at first, I was no devices, then I found my family giving gifts that were devices without asking me. So now, they have a device. But with that, I found that there’s more in their mind than I know seeing what they are interested in, seeing what they’re reading, seeing what they’re typing or texting. So now, I have more of an inside window. So it’s not the evil device, but it is engagement to me. So my advice to Tom would be see what they are saying, you know –
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: – when it comes to a device you know.
David Watts: And in fact it added a perspective. From a little further up road –
Fred Akuffo: Absolutely.
David Watts: – is balanced. It’s always about balance, you know? My kids have devices and they’re on their devices, but I make them trade device time for reading time. So you know, if I’m going to keep this in sync with Library Matters, my kids probably read more than the average kid because they know in order to get device time, they’ve got to put in to reading. So the device sort of gets taken and the candle gets handed to them and then they’ve got to put that time in. And you know, the device tells me how much they’ve read, which is a good feature of device. So that’s all I would say to you guys, is strike a balance and, you know –
Fred Akuffo: That’s good. That’s good.
David Watts: – try to keep everything on a level plane.
Tom Palmer: And I would say that’s how my parents were. I’m, I would say, lucky enough to sort of, social media wasn’t around when I was younger but you know, like video games, stuff like that where my mom’s deal was, “You want a video game, great, you can save up for it and wait until Christmas. But any book you want, I’ll buy you.” And so that encouraged me to read and if I hadn’t read early, it just – I’m not sure I would be a librarian or the reader I am today.
So – but she was by no means you know, “No video games,” which would have you know, made me turn me away from books. So I agree that at least from my perspective of as a child, that balance was always really important.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, this is interesting, what you are talking about with the time, we call a social media time share, you know? I would like to think about that more. So that’s something that – and that’s what good. That’s why it’s good to hear how people have gone through things, have done things you know, because you can really get some powerful tools that you might not have exactly thought about at that time.
David Watts: We like to always ask our guest what they’re reading on their nightstand or whatever it is that they are consuming, maybe you’re consuming electronically. But what are you reading now or what is your favorite read?
Tom Palmer: Right now, I’m reading sort of a throwback foundation by Isaac Asimov on the young adult library at Silver Spring. So I’m always trying to keep abreast of young adult literature, but sometimes I just need to nerd out and have some fantasy or some science fiction. And so yeah, it’s good so far.
Fred Akuffo: I’m reading The Truth about Money. It’s good to know. I like to tell my son about money and how it really works. He was interested in buying more things. I don’t really give him money. So the only way he gets this is if he works. But I talk to him about, if you make money, you might want to save the money. And he is wondering why and how. So The Truth About Money is a good read. I think so.
David Watts: Would you read that to him?
Fred Akuffo: We read it together. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Awesome.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Let me also ask you, how often do you guys read to your children?
Fred Akuffo: I don’t read as much as I should or would like to. What I did a lot with my kids is have them listen to books on tape, books on audio CD, and they listened to a lot of stories from a series called Adventures in Odyssey, they listened to that like every night.
David Watts: I can remember, Tom, when my kids were smaller, there was a show in PBS called Reading Rainbow.
Tom Palmer: Oh, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah, yeah. And I would get the book and you know, get into the role and read to them. Do you see yourself doing something like that with Theo?
Tom Palmer: I can’t wait. He is so young right now. When he was in utero, we read the books to him –
David Watts: Wow.
Tom Palmer: – because we’ve read that that is helpful. I’m not convinced. But everyone says like it helps develop their brains. It could – but you know, I don’t know if that did anything. And we are not reading – well, there’s these books for instance, Black on White. I think it’s by Tana Hoban I think is the author. And it’s just sort of everyday objects with a white background in dark black, and it’s just about the – supposed to be good film, their vision, like the contrast of the black versus white. So that’s sort of where we’re limited to right now.
But of course we do the goofy voices with him. It feels like I rarely talk in my own voice at home anymore. But I’m very excited. That was a huge part of my childhood. It was my parent reading to me. And so as soon as I get the feeling he is actually going to get something from it, we’ll start doing some real books.
Fred Akuffo: And the reading part, I don’t do as much, but I make up a lot of stories. So my kids love hearing stories about what I call Clarence Boddicker. And Clarence Boddicker is a guy who – all the Clarence Boddicker stories are stories where I made stupid mistakes, but they don’t know it’s me. So the “me” is the Clarence –.
David Watts: So they come soliciting these stories from you?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, they love Clarence Boddicker.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: And they can’t wait to see what happens.
David Watts: How does that make you feel?
Fred Akuffo: It’s good. It’s good, because something positive can finally come out of it. The stories are vivid. They’re compelling, because they’re real, you know? And Clarence Boddicker has to make a decision in the story and he messes up, he messes up all the time. But these are things that they can be prepared for ahead of time so they don’t do the same thing that I did when I was little, so.
Tom Palmer: Did your dad read to you?
Fred Akuffo: No, my dad told me stories.
David Watts: Okay, so you’ll continue.
Fred Akuffo: So I guess I’m – yeah, yeah.
Tom Palmer: I’d have to steal that idea from you.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. But because, see, my father is West African, so his stories dealt with a lot of walking and talking animals.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So – and those are stories you know, I’m sure you’ve heard the Anansi type stories.
David Watts: Yes.
Fred Akuffo: They’re very, very similar to that and –.
David Watts: And did that impact your reading?
Fred Akuffo: Definitely, definitely. In fact, that’s probably why I like Aesop’s Fable so much, because you know, they’re walking talking animals, too, and have life lessons stories and character building and all that kind of thing. So maybe that’s why I don’t like modern-day parenting looks because there’s no animals in them, you know? But yeah, I think entertaining your kids are you parent them is something that –
David Watts: Is important.
Fred Akuffo: – you want to keep in mind, too you know. It’s not just about lessons, but you got to search to entertain them, you got to be creative.
In fact, the creativity is probably the most important part because it just – it gives them color in their brains. And I don’t know. That’s probably a sorry way to describe it. But that’s the only way I can think. You’re painting a picture and they get a chance to do that with you. So yeah, the entertainment part is big in our family you know. We definitely laugh a lot and talk about what we’ve laughed about later, so yeah.
David Watts: How about you, Tom, did your dad read to you as a child and you feel it’s important to keep that going?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely, and I would say my dad actually is sort of more of a storyteller, and my mom was more of the reader. But I’m very, very grateful to them for instilling that in me. And I don’t remember ever being forced to read. They somehow were able to get me interested, and that’s one of those fears I have as a parent is what if my son doesn’t want to read one day and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But it’s just – it’s so important to me. It developed my imagination, critical thinking, helped me as a writer. So that’s – it’s a huge, huge deal for me and it’s something that I want to instill in my son definitely.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, if you ever come across that, not wanting to read, have them read, choose your own adventure.
Tom Palmer: Oh yeah.
Fred Akuffo: That will help them.
Tom Palmer: All right, point taken.
David Watts: I want to thank both of you for being our guest today on Library Matters. And for our listeners, we’re going to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. Also please review and rate us on iTunes; we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Recording Date: Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Episode Summary: Two MCPL dads discuss books for both new and experienced fathers.
Notable Quote: “I’m not sure I have a [parenting] style, honestly. I’m on the lookout for one.”
Books, Movies, Television Shows, and Audio Mentioned During this Episode:
Adventures in Odyssey online Christian audio drama
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin
Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
Dad’s Playbook by Tom Limbert
Be Prepared by Gary Greenberg
Betters Dads, Stronger Sons by Rick Johnson
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker
Boy Scout Handbook from Boy Scouts of America
Black on White by Tana Hoban
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Reading Rainbow Television show
The Truth About Money by Ric Edelman
Books and other resources not owned by MCPL may be available through our Marina & interlibrary loan services.
Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode:
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. I’m Alessandro Russo.
Mark Santoro: And I’m Mark Santoro, the Library Matters’ Co-producer, filling in today for David Watts.
Alessandro Russo: Are you an adult who reads teen fiction, or do you see teen books as just for teenagers? Today’s teen books also called YA or young adult books are more than broken hearts, dystopia and mystical creatures. Today, we talk to two librarians who enjoy teen literature and can give you book recommendations for you to take a second look at YA literature. Please welcome Agency Manager of Potomac Library, Tina Rawhouser.
Tina Rawhouser: Hello.
Alessandro Russo: And librarian at Marilyn Praisner, Annie Seiler.
Annie Seiler: Howdy.
Alessandro Russo: Thanks for being here, Tina and Annie. You’re both adults, why are you reading teen books? What do you like about teen books?
Annie Seiler: Go ahead Tina take it away.
Tina Rawhouser: Okay. So for me I started reading every little bit of everything anyway, but I started reading more teen fiction when I started working more in teen services here in the library system. So for about the last seven years or so, I’ve tried to read more teen fiction. So I know what I’m talking about when I’m talking to teens so that when I’m helping them and when we’re having book discussions, I know what they are reading. And I found that I like it too. There are plenty of interesting books that adults can enjoy that are considered teen or young adult literature.
Annie Seiler: And I read them because I think that they are a lot of fun. And as the teen librarian over at Praisner Library, I get a lot of questions from people of all ages asking what books to read. And so – and oftentimes, if there’s an adult fiction book that’s not quite there that they want to read and I turn people over and say, “Well, have you ever read young adult fiction?” And they really just have a certain positivity about them. Maybe some of the books are – take place in dystopian societies and stuff where the world is ending, but they expect to be better at the end. You expect a happy ending.
Tina Rawhouser: There’s still hope.
Annie Seiler: Yes, yes, exactly. Whereas a lot of – some – not a lot of adult fiction but enough adult fiction does tend to have so much heavy weight of life just dragging down the narrative and family drama and years of regrets that’s just not there in the teen fiction.
Alessandro Russo: Kind of too much for teens in the sense to hold the emotions and tags along with those adult fiction books.
Tina Rawhouser: Well, I think too with adult fiction the themes in adult fiction and teen fiction are similar, you know, world ending, drama and tragedy, life, love, romance, sex, violence, all that in teen books as well as adult books. But I think in adult books, it tends to get long-winded sometimes. There’s a lot more description. It’s more literary in some ways in some of the books. And it’s just written for adults who want to read these lengthy things. And the teens aren’t as interested in that, so we do have the same themes but in a slightly different perspective really. And that’s one of the things I appreciate about it. I don’t particularly enjoy too much literary fiction but I will read more literary teen books versus adult books. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but–.
Mark Santoro: Would you say that teen books are more optimistic or positive than adult books or is that going too far?
Annie Seiler: I think it depends.
Tina Rawhouser: Okay.
Annie Seiler: I really think that it depends on the point of view of the author. And I find that you do have a lot of literary authors who have that weight. And a lot of the teen writers, they are still – maybe it’s just the authors are just silly, or not silly, they’re still positive people.
Tina Rawhouser: I think too it’s when as a teen, teens still have a lot of life ahead of them. So even though they’ve undergone something, you know, in a book that is –
Annie Seiler: Traumatic.
Tina Rawhouser: – traumatic, tremendously traumatic, you know, death, grief, there’s still a little bit of hope at the end because there’s life ahead of them and they’re looking forward to that. I think in adult books, we tend to be a little bit more cynical. You know, there’s not as much life left ahead of us as there is for teen. Hopefully there’s still a lot of life left ahead for most of us. But I think in adult books, there is a lot more ambiguous and heavy endings, whereas teens as Annie said, the ending can be more optimistic because there’s a future. Even if the future is uncertain, the future is there, we’re looking forward to it, we’re going to do something good, is what I get from teen books.
Annie Seiler: And I think also in teen books, they’ve enjoyed telling us – the authors enjoy telling a story. Sometimes there are more literary teens books that really draw you in in a way that you have similar lines with adult literary fiction. But overall, they’re out to tell a good story.
Mark Santoro: I have heard that teen books are more pros-oriented, more plot-oriented. Does that seem right?
Annie Seiler: Sometimes. There have been teen books that I have read that really are solely character driven. One of them that I know – that I will reference in particular is Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: That one is entirely character driven because the story exists in two places. But those two places are both in the main character’s head.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: The premise of this story is you’re following this boy’s descent into schizophrenia.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And he is in high school. And one thread of the story, he is on a boat sailing to the Marianas Trench to go dive down. And that’s how the schizophrenia is talking. And the other thread of the story, it’s what is actually happening in reality. So that is an example of a story that is fantastically literary because you are taken with the main character who I cannot remember the name of, but it’s entirely character-focused. So it truly depends on the book itself as it would for any other type of fiction that really is how the author choose to weave their story together.
Tina Rawhouser: Right. I agree. And I’m thinking along the lines of literary fiction for people who do enjoy that. One of my favorite teen books is really one that I think has crossover appeal for adults which is Code Name Verity.
Annie Seiler: Oh, yes.
Tina Rawhouser: And I had a really hard time getting into this book. But about halfway through, there is a narrative switch. And once that switch happened, it just completely sucked me in and I could not put the book down. I put it down many times over six months trying to get through the first half. Once I got to that midpoint where the change happened in narration, I could not put it down. And I stayed until 3 o’clock in the morning to finish the book.
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Because it was just – it blew my mind. I mean it just really grabbed hold of me. And it was very, very well-written and not – you know, it’s plot-driven but it’s also got all the intricate twist and turns that I think many adult novels have that not so many teen books do. That one I think is definitely on a higher level.
Annie Seiler: Well, and perhaps that expectation is that teen books don’t have this when in reality not all adult fiction may have that. I think it really depends on the type of book that you want to pick up. And, yes, there are the really teen romance books that they’re like, “When am I going to get my next boyfriend? Oh my goodness.” But then they’re starting to – then you have others that are really, really intense.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: And so many of them tap into a lot of current social angst, not even of the current age group that you are working with the teens or going through with finishing high school and going into college, coming into their own bodies, and all of the crazy, messy stuff that comes with that. But then you have – then you throw in the social drama of – for example black lives matter, are being an undocumented – finding out that you’re an undocumented resident. And what happens then? What happens when your entire world gets turned upside down?
Mark Santoro: What books did you read as a teen? And are those still around?
Annie Seiler: Okay.
Mark Santoro: What’s the shelf life of teen books?
Annie Seiler: I think that it really depends on – and this is a theme that you’re going to keep hearing me say. I think it really depends on the book itself. The books that I loved reading as teens, I read classics. I loved Little Women.
Tina Rawhouser: I read a lot of classics too. Yeah.
Annie Seiler: I was all about The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I loved my fantasy novels.
Tina Rawhouser: I maybe showing my age, but they’re still around. I read a lot of Harlequin Romance novels when I was a teen because that’s what my mother read. And they were short, they were easy to get through. And by the age of 20, I had read so many of them that I was a romantic cynic thinking, “Why are all these 18-year-old girls, the stars of these romance novels falling in love with 36-year-old man?” As an 18-year-old, that was just bizarre to me. But that’s what was around the house and that’s what I read.
And my father read a lot of high fantasy, Hobbit, books by David Brooks. And so I read a lot of that too. I mean it was kind of two different ends of the spectrum. And I remember reading a lot of classics. I can’t remember any particularly teen books, books written for teens that would have been considered teen fiction back then in the olden days.
Annie Seiler: And you also had I think one of the first teen series that went I guess more mainstream that people now remember is Sweet Valley High.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And my mom would not let me read those because she thought they were too grown up. But then –.
Tina Rawhouser: Oh my goodness.
Annie Seiler: I was maybe 11 or 12.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Annie Seiler: And she didn’t like the covers. But I would read anything I can get my hands on. And wait, I didn’t have the access to the Harlequin Romance and stuff. So I real – I went to the library and just as much as I could, Michael Crichton, the classics. Like I think I already mentioned, Little Women, fantasies. And that’s really where I prefer to be whenever I would go to bookstores and stuff. I would go to the high fantasies because it was just the total escapism of versus growing up in rural America. You didn’t have a lot of choice for – other than what was at the library then you get to go to the big city and get – go to the bookstore. And – I mean, and this is also pre-Amazon, pre-Kindles.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Annie Seiler: It was the half price books.
Tina Rawhouser: The genre, teen literature has really developed and grown over the last probably 10 to 15 years, which is I was not a teen 15 years ago. So, you know, it’s developed since after my teen years. But I think it’s kind of funny that I read a lot of teen books now not just because I work with teens anymore, I’m not as involved in teen services, but because I’ve come to enjoy a lot of the books that I find in that genre.
Alessandro Russo: Has young adult fiction been around as long as adult fiction, or – and there was never a kind of tag on what’s teen and what’s adult?
Tina Rawhouser: Yes. Yes. And I think – I read an article from I think it was The Guardian about this that prior to these books being separated out when teens became sort of a marketing phenomenon, prior to that, the teen books were in with adult books and they had, you know, what is a – why do we consider something teen literature versus adult. And it’s usually because there is a teen protagonist. So when you think about things like Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, those are all books with teen protagonist but they were never in a section. They were never in the children’s section. There wasn’t a teen section. And they were with adult books. And a lot of adults consider them adult classics. But they’re kind of teen classics really.
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Annie Seiler: I would agree with that that teens have been – the young adult literature has always been around. It just never had the name young adult literature. And that is a modern invention, a modern marketing invention because the publishers and the book sellers realized, “Hey, there is a huge market that these young people can drive that if we provide books to them, they are going to go to their parents and say, “Buy this for me.”
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And so, it has become so much flashier and mainstream because as a marketing cohort, teens are incredibly powerful.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes, they are.
Annie Seiler: As with – even though they’d have no direct purchasing power, if there’s good fiction out there for them to read, their parents typically will pony up the money. And so that’s why young adult literature as a major genre of the publishing industry has really just exploded.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: And it’s awesome. I love it.
Tina Rawhouser: And I think too that teens do have more purchasing – direct purchasing power now than they did in the past. More of them have jobs. They – teens have more disposable income. My stepdaughters have more disposable income than I ever had as a teen because they’re, you know, getting money from family, they’re getting money for chores and things like that. And until I went out and got a job as a teenager, I didn’t have that disposable income. And, you know, I think it’s a different teen world in terms of book marketing and, you know, the cohort as Annie mentioned for targeting them as consumers is very different than it was 15 to 20 years ago.
Annie Seiler: And as an author, not – I’m not speaking as author because I am not, but I know people who are, that they are incredibly excited to be writing for teens because that is the type of story that they want to tell. So many of my friends who are writers that’s where their passion is. They want – as much as we love reading stories in and around teens, they love writing them because maybe it’s harking back to a heyday that they had where things were awesome. And again, there’s that inherent optimism where they want to write a story that is imbued with hope.
And their – as – because they are such a strong marketing force that young adults have, they are given the opportunity to get their work published and put out there. And so it’s just growing and it’s just a huge snowball and it’s fantastic for all involved because you have amazing works of literature coming out into the genre marketed specifically for teens that are great reads. And I think the adults who read teen literature are really some of the largest side beneficiaries of this great boom because we get to – we also get to read these books too. And we’re not being ashamed for it.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Alessandro Russo: Plus, we have the excuse of being librarian, so we can go, “Oh, we’re reading it for Readers’ Advisory.”
Tina Rawhouser: Of course, absolutely.
Annie Seiler: Right.
Tina Rawhouser: That’s what I tell my husband. I have this stack of teen fiction romances for high – for summer romances because I have to read it for Readers’ Advisory. Of course baby.
Alessandro Russo: So teen fiction or just teen YA books come in all different varieties. How do you think that impacts teen literature, having so many different genres within the teen fiction?
Tina Rawhouser: Same way it affects adult literature. I mean, it’s something for everyone. And I think, you know, we kind of talked before about the differences between adult and teen stuff. And I think we talked about character-driven, maybe they’re not as literary. But I think a lot of teen fiction is also very issue-driven. It’s tackling something big that teens are maybe encountering in their lives for the first time. Whereas in adult fiction, we don’t see as much of the – it’s not as common to have issue-driven stories as it is with the teen literature. But I think the variety and scope is very similar between adult and YA these days. I don’t honestly see much of a difference.
Annie Seiler: I believe that the different genres within teen fiction and young adult fiction, it is – it reflects the readership, it reflects the authorship. There are people who want to write the sci-fi books with the teen protagonist. And those have been around for decades. Look at Orson Scott Card writing Ender’s Game. That’s another young protagonist. And whenever you look up these books in the Montgomery County system, those are within the adult section. And same as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Those are in the adult fiction. I think that it was the time point and as when they were published. That’s what moves them into the young adult area.
Alessandro Russo: Do you find yourself turning to teen books in a specific genre, like let’s say teen science fiction, but then when you started reading adult literature, you’re going to mysteries? Or do you kind of just mix it all up.
Tina Rawhouser: I mix it all up.
Annie Seiler: I don’t really go to teen nonfiction as much because if I’m going to read a nonfiction book, I want a big meaty nonfiction book. And so much of the teen nonfiction is great for school assignments and reading and – but me personally, I love like the big doorstop nonfiction books. But give me teen fantasy and adventure books all day long because those are my hearts, totally my hearts. I love me some Sabaa Tahir and I can just read her all day long.
Tina Rawhouser: I think I go to teen books when I’m in a certain mood to – I listen to a lot of audio books. And sometimes too many thrillers in a row make me paranoid in life.
Annie Seiler: Tina, there’s someone behind you.
Tina Rawhouser: And so, I need something a little bit lighter to carry me through that. And I will, you know, pick up a teen novel, not because it – you know, they still have issues, they still have problems but it’s – there’s a certain lightheartedness to some of it. Right now, I’m listening to The Selection by Kiera Cass.
Annie Seiler: I love those books.
Tina Rawhouser: And, you know, I’ve been wanting to read this or listen to it for a while. And I’m enjoying it because it’s, you know, still interesting, but it gives me a break from some of the really heavy things that I may read or listen to more often.
Annie Seiler: It’s like watching an episode of Frontline, Frontline, Frontline, then going to listening to MPR on your car and then saying, “You know what, I need a break. I’m going to watch The Bachelor.”
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Sometimes you have to have that little bit of fictional candy.
Alessandro Russo: So is there a teen book for everyone out there?
Annie Seiler: There is. We just need to find it for you.
Tina Rawhouser: Absolutely. Yes, go and ask us and we will – tell us what you like because the more we – the more you know what you like to read, we can give you similar suggestions.
Annie Seiler: Yes. We’re kind of good at that as librarians.
Mark Santoro: How do you think an adult’s reading experience of teen book is different from a teen’s experience reading that same book? Do they experience the same book differently?
Tina Rawhouser: I think everybody experiences the same book differently no matter what your age is. But I do think that age can make a difference because teens have less variety in life experience for the most part than most adults do. So when I’m reading a teen book, you know, I’m looking at it through the lens of being older and wiser we hope. But, you know, teens, this may be something new that they’ve not experienced before and it is, you know, a window or mirror onto something that they haven’t experienced that they can take some sort of guidance from or learn something from so that when they encounter it in real life, they – there is a framework for understanding it. Whereas as an adult, I’ve already got that framework. And I think – you know, I’ve got two teen stepdaughters and what they read and the way they read and understand things is definitely different from my own perspective when we read the same things.
Annie Seiler: I think it’s really important to go back and as an adult read teen fiction because it brings you back into that mindset of, “I remember how I felt whenever I was going through my first high school crush.” This – I remember what this feels like because I’m so far beyond that point in my life. And especially if you are a parent of teens, you’ve gone through the whole process of when they were a baby, when they were a kid and growing up. You’ve spent so long in the mindset of parent, it’s always good to go back and remember what it was like whenever you were that age, especially whenever it comes to struggles that they may be going through. And I think that it’s a good window to the past of your own teenage years. And – but absolutely, adults experience teen books differently. I’ve gone through reading teen books that I want to reach through the pages and shake this kid and say, “Don’t worry about the boy.”
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: You can – you’ll go to college and you’ll meet others.
Tina Rawhouser: I agree with Annie that the window back into being a teen is important sometimes for adults to see especially if you’re parenting teens, there is a lot of drama in teen lives. There’s a lot of drama in teen books sometimes, unnecessary drama, created drama because when that crush turns out not to like you anymore or goes out with your best friend –
Annie Seiler: Or turns into a zombie.
Tina Rawhouser: – it’s devastating to a teen. But as an adult, you know that times goes on and you will get over it, you’ll fall in love again, you’ll hardly get your heart broken again, and you still go on, you know, and find happiness eventually. But I agree with Annie that there are times when I went to reach though the pages and shake the character and say, “What are you thinking? Why are you doing this?”
Alessandro Russo: I mean, it sounds like a fascinating social experiment to like have an adult book discussion group read a team novel and then have that group, a teen group read that same novel and then compare their answers and then flip it.
Annie Seiler: Oh, that can be very fun.
Alessandro Russo: That would be a good social –.
Mark Santoro: New library program.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: Yeah. I think that should –.
Alessandro Russo: Teens read adult or adults read teens kind of –.
Tina Rawhouser: So book groups that are out there could have a mother-daughter or mother-child session of the book group where you all read a teen book and invite your children to the book group and discuss.
Annie Seiler: Or father.
Tina Rawhouser: Or father. Any – yes. Parent and child I should say.
Annie Seiler: Yes, there we go.
Alessandro Russo: I kind of did that unofficially with the book The Lovely Bones because we have so many different age groups, you know, so curious, different perspectives from a single mom, someone who’s lost a child, from a teen, from – and I kind of accomplished this and it was just fascinating responses, like –.
Annie Seiler: Right. That’s an intense –.
Alessandro Russo: And I read it many years ago when I was single and I still felt for each character even though I never ever had their experiences, you know, so.
Annie Seiler: Which is a mark of an amazing book. Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: How has growing emphasis on diverse books affected teen literature?
Annie Seiler: I think it has been amazing because I feel that from what the – it’s a study in how to do it right. We’re providing an avenue for writers, authors of color, with characters of color, with – from different backgrounds, different sexual orientation, immigrants’ backgrounds to come in, have a push to get these books published and out there in the hands of people who want to read them. It’s incredible. And I am absolutely loving the richness of stories that have come out of these movements. It’s better for everyone involved. Again, with the mirrors. It provides more mirrors for the readers because when I was growing up, it was the Sweet Valley High, those two little white girls on the book covers which looked a lot like me. But now, I am gravitating more and more to characters of color because their experience is so different from what I grew up with, and I want to know what the world is like for them because those are – that’s the population that I serve with in my particular branch. They are customers of color who are coming in, and they want to read these amazing books too. And they deserve to have characters and authors that look like them, that they see themselves in these pages.
Tina Rawhouser: It reflects their world. And I think something in the recent workshop we attended here at the system said this diversity exists in the world. We may not see it in our lives because, you know, as Annie said as a white women, I grew up in a very conservative nearly white area. And now I live in one of the most diverse counties in the county, and I love every minute of it. And I never realized what life is like for anyone who wasn’t like me because that just didn’t exist when I grew up.
So now being able to look at it and being in this area watching my stepdaughters grow up in a much more diverse world than I ever experienced, they need to see these books that reflect what their life is like. They’ve got – you know, in their classroom of 30 kids there are kids from six different countries speaking six different languages with English as a second language. Their backgrounds are all different. Their skin colors are all different. And that’s not something I ever experienced. And I think it’s just amazing that we can offer this now to so many more teens and children than we have ever been able to before.
Annie Seiler: It is so incredible valuable and I think that’s the proudest thing that I feel about being a teen librarian is that we’re able to promote and get excited and say, look at these amazing books that truly are becoming so much more reflective of the world around us. And I think it’s again a study in how to – maybe not a complete study in how do it right. But – because nothing is ever perfect. But it’s a great start.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Alessandro Russo: So now that we’re all energized about this teen book, if you’re a customer, you come in to Montgomery County Library, how do you find them? Where are these teen books?
Annie Seiler: They are in the young adult sections. And which ever bridge you want to come into, you can come and ask the information desk and we will let you know. We will guide you to the really amazing ones that are out there. We also have some great list on our website. If you are a fun of a particular genre, like if you like the mystery books, if you like fantasy books, if you like LGBT books, we have great curated lists of books that have come out in the past 10 years or so that count or within this genre.
Tina Rawhouser: You can also take advantage of What Do I Read Next.
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Our online readers’ advisory service. And our catalogue, searching in the catalogue and narrow things down to young adult or teen materials.
Annie Seiler: Specific to your branch if you’d like it. And if you have – if there is a book that is – that you want to read that has been on your radar and it is not currently available to your branch, ask a librarian to put it on hold for you, and we will send it to your branch to pick up and then you can join us on any of our social media platforms and just rave about how awesome this young adult book was. Let yourself be surprised by the amazing writing that’s out there.
Alessandro Russo: So if an adult approaches the information desk and they have no clue what they want to read and a YA book just pops in your head, how do you kind of convince I guess that adult to kind of test out this YA book?
Tina Rawhouser: This is one of my favorite things to do to adults who come in and ask about things because I’ve read so much teen fiction and literature that in some genres I have a better knowledge of what’s in the teen section than I do of what’s in the adult section. And if we’ve gone through a list where an adult customer is looking for five different books and we don’t have any of them on hand and they want something in their hand today to take home with them, I will – you know, something comes in to my head that’s young adult, I will say, you know, “Would you consider reading a young adult book?” You know? And depending on the expression on their face when I ask that question, sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s harder to guide them in that direction. But I love recommending things like Code name Verity type – not much in several time. Things like The Book Thief too is a really good crossover –
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: – for people who, you know, think teen fiction can’t be literary. It can be very literary and very interesting. Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow which we mentioned at some point during this before by Orson Scott Card. Those are great for sci-fi fans. Books by Terry Pratchett, there are a lot of them in the adult section. But there is a young adult series that’s never shelved in the adult section that I think is my favorite subseries of his. And he is one of my favorite authors. And the first book is the Wee Free Men. And it’s just tremendously fun. So for people who are looking for something a little offbeat, I will take in that direction too. You know, I think as long as an adult has an open mind about it and they’re willing to give it a try, then they will find they enjoy some of these things that are a kind of crossovers between young adult and adult fiction.
Annie Seiler: Usually whenever I approach that question, if a – if I’m recommending a murder mystery to a patron and they’re kind of a little bit tired in David Baldacci, there’s not a Scott Turow available for them, there is a couple of particular books that I would recommend within the young adult section if they really like those types of mysteries. This is Our Story, by Ashley Elston. That is a great murder mystery and a fantastic who’ve done it that’s written with teen protagonists and antagonists.
It’s really easy to find books that are written in – as for historical fiction and fantasy books within the teen section for adult readers. The books by Ruta Sepetys, The Salt to the Sea and Between Shades to Gray. Those will have you bawling. But they’re such amazing stories that if you’re a fan of historical fiction at all especially World war II fiction and survivors, you have to read these. And there is really no difference between those that you would – those two books. And ones written by Kristin Hannah are Tatiana de Rosnay as far as that amazing time period.
And there are – if you’re – if you prefer reading more grown up romances, there are absolutely some of those. There are two that that have less of the, “Oh, he’s my crush,” struggle but true romance in these books. Sarah J. Maas is one of those writers that if you enjoy high fantasy fairies but a good strong female main character as she grows into her romances, it’s fantastic.
Alessandro Russo: Our favorite question on the show is to ask what’s your favorite, in this case, teen book or what is currently in your nightstand?
Annie Seiler: Currently, my favorite teen books, again, they’re with – they’re fantasy fairytale retellings. That’s just my favorite go-to for a fantastic read. But the ones – the books by Leigh Bardugo. You have The Grisha Trilogy. Those are really good action stories with the fantasy background. But it feels like you’re reading in a fantasy Russia. And then she has some – a couple of great spin-off books that really if you like your antiheroes, Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom. Those are such fun books to read. And if you’re going on a plane ride, they’re nice big thick books too. So that will last you a while.
And I’m also a huge graphic novel nerd. So one of my other gateway to graphic novels which also for teen fiction, you have a great selection. But my favorite through there is Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. It’s hilarious. It’s wonderfully drawn. And it’s a great struggle between who truly is the hero and who are villains of the story, and what does it mean to be a monster.
Tina Rawhouser: For me, I tend to – the first thing that came in my mind were along the fantasy line also because that’s one of my favorite genres. And while I think it’s really cruel to ask librarians what your favorite book is because we read way too much and we have too many of them –
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: – what I came up with was the Cress series by Marissa Meyer.
Annie Seiler: Marissa Meyer.
Tina Rawhouser: The first one was just Cinder.
Annie Seiler: Cinder.
Tina Rawhouser: It was tremendously fun to read. It’s a modern retelling, a steam punk retelling of Cinderella. And –.
Annie Seiler: Cinderella is a cyborg in this series and she’s awesome.
Tina Rawhouser: She is awesome. But I’m – as I also mentioned, I’m reading The Selection by Kiera Cass. I love the Terry Pratchett series, The Wee Free Men series by Terry Pratchett. I loved Code Name Verity.
Annie Seiler: There are way too many.
Tina Rawhouser: They are too many. It was really hard to come up with any answer for that question.
Annie Seiler: There is also so many really good realistic fictions out there. One of the books that I keep looking on our shelves to pick it up but it’s been checked out ever since it was released was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes. That’s on my to read list also.
Annie Seiler: Yes. I’ll arm wrestle you for it whenever it comes into the branches. We’ll go check on the shelves and see and we’ll have an arm wresting contest for it. But that – that is a book that falls within the – we need diverse reads that follows the story of what happens when you have what witness to a police shooting of an unarmed man. And it’s – I cannot wait to read it because it’s just been getting so many great reviews.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And so those types of realistic fiction books within the teen – within the young adult new books. If you see it, pick it up because it’s going to be off the shelf the next hour. They go like hot cakes.
Alessandro Russo: So we want to thank both of out guest, Tina and Annie. And remember keep the conversations going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Annie Seiler: Bye.
Tina Rawhouser: Bye.
Recording Date: July 11, 2017
Episode Summary: Today's teen books are more than broken hearts and vampires. Two of our librarians discuss what teen books have to offer readers of all ages.
MCPL Resources and Services Mentioned During this Episode:
Teen Reading Lists: MCPL offers suggested readings lists by topic/genre for teens. Includes action/adventure, humor, mystery, and more. MCPL also offers reading lists by age, for middle schoolers and high schoolers.
Teensite: This portion of our website just for teens offers reading suggestions, library events for teens, college admissions info, and more.
What Do I Check Out Next?: Use our online form to tell us what you like to read. We'll e-mail you a list of 3-5 books that our readers' advisory experts have chosen for you.
Books and Authors Mentioned During this Episode:
Leigh Bardugo: One of Annie's favorite authors. Bardugo's teen fantasy books include the Grisha triology, about a teenage orphan who harnesses an unexpected power. The first book in the series is Shadow and Bone.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: It's 1941, and 15 year old Lithuanian girl Lina and her family are sent to Siberia, where she secretly documents their struggle to survive.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Liesel, a young German girl, boosts the spirits of her neighbors and the Jewish man her family is hiding from the Nazis with her storytelling and recitation of books she's stolen. This book was made into a film.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman: One of Tina Rawhouser's favorite books, Challenger Deep is the story of Caden Bosch, whose descent into schizophrenia splits his world into one of a high school student and the other of a sea captain on his way to Challenger Deep, the ocean's deepest trench.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Starr Carter lives in two worlds, her poor neighborhood and the fancy prep school she attends. Those worlds collide when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend at the hands of a police officer.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: The classic fantasy tale of a small, reluctant traveler who is pressured to join a group of dwarfs on a quest to retrieve their treasure from a dragon.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Recounts the joys and sorrows of the 4 March sisters as they grow up in the latter half of the 19th century.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: The epic trilogy recounting the quest of Frodo Baggins and his companions to destroy the One Ring before its creator retrieves it and conquers Middle Earth. The books in this series are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.
Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: 14 year old Susie Salmon watches from heaven as her family adjusts to the tragedy of her disappearance and death.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer: One of Tina Rawhouser's favorites, the Lunar Chronicles is a sci fi series reinterpreting Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and other fairy tales. The story is set in a future of moon colonies, androids, and cyborgs.
Sarah J. Maas: Author of the Throne of Glass series, a retelling of Cinderella, and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Librarian Annie Seiler likes these books for their strong female characters.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson: A favorite of Librarian Annie Seiler, this graphic novel recounts the adventures of Nimona, the sidekick to supervillain Lord Blackheart, who's attempting to unmask the evil deeds of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Living in a bleak near future, Wade Watts dreams of finding the 3 keys supposedly hidden in the virtual reality world OASIS. Rumor has it that whoever finds all 3 will inherit a fortune.
Salt to the Sea: A historical fiction novel about a group refugees in East Prussia seeking to flee the final ravages of World War II.
The Selection by Kiera Cass: First book in a series about a competition to win the prince's hand and become a princess.
Sweet Valley High: Book series about the lives of identical twins, Jessica and Elizabeth, and their experiences at Sweet Valley High School.
This Is Our Story: Five boys go hunting, only four return. The boys say it was an accident, but suspicions mount.
Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. A young witch joins a group of 6 inch tall blue men to rescue her baby brother and save Fairyland.
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.
Recording Date: June 13, 2017
Episode Summary: Learn more about the hosts of Library Matters, Alessandro Russo and David Watts. Alessandro and David talk about how they established their careers with MCPL and what it's like to work in a public library.
Guests: Alessandro Russo and David Watts
Guest Hosts: Adrienne Miles Holderbaum and Mark Santoro, co-producers of Library Matters.
MCPL Resources and Services Mentioned During this Episode:
3D Printing - Create a variety of objects both fun and functional with MCPL's 3D printers.
Books and Podcasts Mentioned During this Episode:
Baudolino by Umberto Eco. A lighthearted tale of an upwardly mobile peasant, Baudolino, who, in the early 1200s, rises through medieval society and sets out to meet the legendary Prester John
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Dumas' classic tale of a falsely imprisoned man who seeks vengeance against those who betrayed him.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell reveals the unexpected relationships and balance between the weak and the strong.
The Nerdist. Host Chris Hardwick and his two nerdy friends Jonah Ray and Matt Mira talk about stuff, "usually with someone more famous" than they are.
Paranormal. Jim Harold interviews experts on the supernatural.
Two Pods a Day. A campaign to introduce listeners to 2 independent podcasts each day, from May 15 - June 13, 2017.
Other Items of Interest:
Guidelines Governing the Use of Public Libraries - These library use guidelines, based on the principles of mutual respect and courtesy, are meant to foster a welcoming environment in all MCPL branches.
Applying for a job with MCPL - Once at the jobs search page, type the word library into the Keywords field to bring up jobs available in MCPL. For specific instructions on becoming a library page, please visit the Library Page Positions site.