David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with your host David Payne.
Julie Dina: And I'm Julie Dina.
David Payne: And today we’re going to take you outside in a matter of speaking to the garden. I think it's safe to say that spring is finally here. I hope it is and in spring it's always a time when many of us start thinking about our gardens. So what better than to invite one of our green thumb librarians, Beth Chandler, avid gardener to join us today and talk about her garden and her passion for gardening. So Beth, welcome.
Beth Chandler: Thank you, David. I’m glad to be here. And I've already gotten started on my garden with some cool season items such as spinach.
David Payne: Very good, very good I'm actually glad to see you back. Listeners may remember Beth from her previous appearance talking about sci-fi and I know you enjoyed it so much you’ve come back.
Beth Chandler: I have many interests and as one of the selectors I buy our garden books for the library and landscaping books.
David Payne: All right, that sounds like fun.
Beth Chandler: It is. I enjoy that.
Julie Dina: So Beth, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and actually what got you interested in gardening?
Beth Chandler: Well, I grew up on the outskirts of a small town and my dad had grown up on a farm so we had gardens growing up. I like to play in the dirt, including practical things like digging up the dirt and planting cucumber seeds, which were one of my favorites. And my grandmother had a truck farm so I got to see something more extensive operation when I visited her. And that's what got me interested and then as an adult I started getting interested in eating organic foods and I missed the fresh foods that I could get growing up.
David Payne: So Beth you obviously have a very great passion for gardening. What do you particularly enjoy about it?
Beth Chandler: There are many things. I find it – it makes me feel very serene. I love working in the Earth and with the Earth making things grow as satisfying. It's something that I can enjoy and that I and also my husband and anyone else I might share things with gets the bounty of everything from strawberries to lettuces and baby carrots. Also I like it because it gets me out of the house in relaxing and it more or less coincides with Formula One season which my husband will be watching on TV so he doesn't feel like a gardening widower and I don't feel like a Formula One widow.
David Payne: So you leave him in the house and you go out and do.
Beth Chandler: Yes, I do.
David Payne: Sounds like a good comprise.
Beth Chandler: Then I come in and say look fresh baby carrots for dinner.
David Payne: So Beth there are many different kinds of gardening activities we can do with flowers, with vegetables, with herbs, what do you most enjoy do you do a bit of everything or do you prefer specializing in one or the other?
Beth Chandler: I prefer everything. I grow fruit for flowers, vegetables, herbs we also had some wonderful plantings already in our yard when we moved into our home. So I do some pruning too.
David Payne: And are there any particular kind of herbs that you particularly enjoy?
Beth Chandler: I like some of the easier to grow herbs such as parsley and oregano. So my absolute favorite is lilacs and year after we moved in I was determined I was going to buy and plant a lilac tree and I did. Seem to have a bit of a problem with powdery mildew last year but I'm hopeful for this year and every year I get more of those wonderful fragrant blossoms.
David Payne: You almost smell the fragrance.
Beth Chandler: Oh, yes.
Julie Dina: Smelling it now.
Beth Chandler: Yes, they’re in leaf.
Julie Dina: One thing for sure is for the plants and the herbs for them to grow they need water. Thus, the popular phrase April showers brings May flowers. So can you share with us tips on how to get the best garden in the block.
Beth Chandler: Well, water as you said is very important and watering when we have dry seasons which we often do in the summer here in Maryland. Having good soil is important. You can buy pretty cheap pH test to see what the acid or base level of your garden soil is. If you have really bad soil which I did you might prefer to do container pots and fill them with materials you buy from a garden store, at least at the beginning. I've also done some composting and put compost in. You can also amend the soil which is another word for putting in fertilizer or digging in mulch or manure whatever your particular plant needs. But pay attention to what it says your plant needs on the little piece that’s stuck into the pot or if you buy seeds on the back of the seed packet it’s really helpful.
Julie Dina: I never knew that that’s the first thing I tossed out.
David Payne: Not anymore.
Julie Dina: No wonder they don’t live.
Beth Chandler: You need to be careful is it full sun, part sun, part shade or full shade.
Julie Dina: And you hear that folks.
David Payne: So do you have any particularly favorite flowers or plants?
Beth Chandler: Well I mentioned the lilacs.
David Payne: Yeah.
Beth Chandler: And I was also happy when we moved in to find out that we had beautiful pink climbing roses which are scented. They only bloom for a few weeks but I think they're worth it. And then of course I plant other things around them such as morning glories, which bloom later in the year. So that part of the garden is colorful for a good portion of the growing season.
David Payne: Let me just ask a follow-up to that. Do you obviously some people for perennial, some people for annuals, their advantages, disadvantages to both how do you feel about the perennial, annual question?
Beth Chandler: I love to have both. And since I grow vegetables and herbs many of them are annuals. Although there are some perennials, I'm convinced you just can't kill chives. And oregano is just as sturdy so I like to have some perennials but then I also can't resist annuals. I recently bought a geranium which I'm coddling indoors until it’s warm enough to put it out. And I love pansies here in Maryland we can keep them growing at least till November and if you're lucky they’ll come back in the spring.
Julie Dina: Now if you could grow anything in your garden that doesn't already grow on a plant such as money, candy what exactly would you pick to plant?
Beth Chandler: Well, money is always good because you can buy just about anything with which. But you know, already fully formed chocolates since I can’t really grow my own the cacao trees around here would be good. And of course there is books.
Julie Dina: Have you ever thought about doing any of those?
Beth Chandler: It is tempting. I just found a wonderful I love for Pinterest for Garden Ideas and I just found one which showed a little bookcase with books in it and I thought maybe my favorite garden needs some books in it.
Julie Dina: That will make it unique.
David Payne: So almost the business question since you’re a selector in our collection management department, what's new in gardening books that you’re really excited about?
Beth Chandler: Well, there has been contain in gardening things for a while and I've noticed recently there is real surge in the last couple of years in butterfly and be friendly plants to help keep our pollinators fed and healthy. Also I recently bought a new book on permaculture it just came into the branches, The Minimalist Gardener which is from England, but still has a lot of ideas that are relevant to our Mid-Atlantic climate here in Maryland.
Julie Dina: David, you should know about that particular book since you’re from England.
David Payne: I have to check it out, yeah.
Beth Chandler: And I should explain permaculture is something that will go on long-term. Usually it's also a very diverse sort of garden and the minimalist ideas that you plant things that are either native to the area or that can do with very little assistance in which since so many of us are very busy and stressed these days it is nice to plant a garden that you only have to do a little bit of work and doesn't require hours every weekend.
David Payne: Well, keeping with the books theme, are there any particular books that you have read that have really helped you or formed you as a gardener?
Beth Chandler: I've read more all across from things on the internet, you can't trust everything on the internet but you really can just about trust just about anything you get from a cooperative extension website, Maryland Cooperative Extension has some good things and does Maryland Master Gardeners. And also there is a book I referred to regularly it's called What's Wrong with My Plant by Deardorff and Wadsworth.
We do have several copies in the library. It's wonderful because it shows pictures of the various kinds of spots in the way bits and other things you might find on your plant leaves or stems or in the fruit. So it's very helpful for finding out what you need to do and it leans towards organic resources and it tells you that the safest and then going to conventional things when you need to kill off a really nasty pest.
David Payne: Sounds very useful.
Beth Chandler: Yeah.
Julie Dina: So Beth we do know there are lots of books that are actually in our library system for adults who enjoy gardening. Would you say we have plenty of books for children who are actually interested in gardening and would like to check any of these books out?
Beth Chandler: We do have a new series for children. The titles are Super Simple Butterfly Gardens and then other thing Super Simple I think there is Indoor Gardens and so on. So if you just type in super simple you should come up with a list and see what kind of a garden you and your child or children want to grow.
Julie Dina: And so what you're saying these books are really simple.
Beth Chandler: They're really easy, yes. And so they also might be good for adults who want to start from the very beginning or who decide it might be better if they have a child help them. Yeah, they can really help with the digging I'm sure a lot of children.
Julie Dina: That's the one I'll be checking out. Now to be successful in gardening do you really need the gift of the green thumb?
Beth Chandler: Not really. My mother, for example, has a rather black thumb. And she would be the first to admit herself and if you get plants that are fairly unkillable and just manage to water them and if you’re fortunate enough to either have good soil or to be able to buy some you can do fine. There are some very easy to grow plants marigolds are pretty easy and you can buy them just about anywhere, including off in the grocery store and just pop them in your yard. Cucumbers actually grow in really bad soil so they're pretty easy. And the aforementioned pansies are easy. It's just about impossible as I said to kill parsley or oregano or chives. So those are some I’d recommend for people who really feel they have a black thumb. And as long as you water them when it gets a bit dry outside you should do okay.
Julie Dina: I’m going to go out and purchase those.
David Payne: There you go. We’ll check back and see how you’re doing.
Julie Dina: Yeah, a successful gardener.
David Payne: So having said that what recommendations do you have for anybody who is just starting out in gardening and may be a bit overwhelmed or find it intimidating or has no experience. How would you get them started? What advice would you give or any particular books you might suggest for them?
Beth Chandler: I would say start with some of the herbs I mentioned that are easy to grow or maybe marigolds, pansies, zinnias are fairly easy to grow also. Our flower, state flower, the Blackeyed Susan is also very easy to grow and does well in our hot dry summers. One of the recent books we got would be pretty good. It's called The New Small Garden and since we do live in an area on the very edge of a major city a lot of people don't have much room. So that one again caught The New Small Garden would be helpful to most people. We also have a wonderful book Mid-Atlantic Getting Started Garden Guide. It's a few years old but it's specifically targeted at our area. So if you're doubtful about your ability to pick plants or to do the things that fit this climate that's where to go.
Julie Dina: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Lisa Navidi: Love to garden but have a brown thumb or a problem with a specific plant or a flower MCPL can help. Our dedicated Master Gardeners visit several Montgomery County branches from April through September and are there to answer your questions and calm your fears. You can find more information about our Master Gardener Program and are many other gardening resources in this episode show notes.
Julie Dina: Now back to our program. What would be your recommendation for those who say you know, I don't really have much time, I'm busy but I'll like to plant my own herbs or my own plants?
Beth Chandler: I would say you start with a window garden or just a couple of pots on your front or back porch. And herbs the seeds or seedlings are pretty cheap and you can get a lot of return for your money and you won’t have to run out to buy parsley if you want some for the dinner that you have planned.
Julie Dina: Any other ones?
Beth Chandler: We have all kinds of books. If you want to just try a little terrarium and you can build them so they are mostly self-sustaining and will go on with maybe a drop of water. There is also growing perfect vegetables, which I don't know how perfect one can actually get them but does give a lot of assistance. And there is one or two books on particularly growing things in the shade such as Glorious Shade.
So if you have a little shady backyard that might be a good book to pick up to find out what will grow well. And I can tell you again one of my favorites parsley does grow well in the shade, and so do salad greens if you want to stop buying those packaged salad greens all the time and spending all that money for the cost of one you could get maybe two packets of mixed greens to plant in your yard.
Julie Dina: And where will I get the seeds for those because I'm always buying packets of salads that would be me.
Beth Chandler: Home & Garden shop, some larger grocery stores, health food stores, garden and nursery shops, lot of different places.
David Payne: Now talking about vegetables I mean, I've always found it fairly easy to grow tomatoes well varying success. But amongst the different kinds of tomato are there ones that you suggest the easier perhaps to grow, perhaps with the new gardener you might just want to plunk them in there and keep watering or they both all about the same as far as the work involved in the maintenance.
Beth Chandler: Oh, I have a confession. I have no luck in growing tomatoes on my own. I don't know why. I would say that for cucumbers, which as I mentioned are easy and grow in soil that’s not very high quality. Straight Eight's brand comes up pretty well. They don't have those scary curves that make them hard to peel. And Spacemaster which is probably a brand name but any bush type cucumbers you could even grow in a large-size planter pot if you just have an apartment and no access to an actual plot of land.
Julie Dina: You've given us a lot of recommendations and I know there are people who would say you know I don't really have enough space. I only have a balcony or a windowsill that I will like to maximize its use. Do you have any recommendations for such people?
Beth Chandler: Again, definitely a little windowsill garden with herbs and it doesn't have to be windowsill, your sill might not be large enough. If you have a table reasonably near the sun you can put a few small pots or maybe even one or two. I have a friend who does that she always keeps catnip for her cats in one of the windowsill gardens.
Julie Dina: Any particular ones that grow easily?
Beth Chandler: The catnip and most mints aren't too bad and it’s the usual for. Also if you remember the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Thyme can be a little tricky, but the other three aren’t too bad.
Julie Dina: Okay, I'll give it some thyme.
Beth Chandler: Actually excuse me it’s rosemary that's a bit tricky.
Julie Dina: And rosemary too.
David Payne: I was waiting for a follow-up with that.
Julie Dina: Well, you got it.
Beth Chandler: But the parts parsley, the sage if anyone needs oregano you can come to my place. I always have more than I need that's how well it grows. I attempted to use it as a groundcover.
David Payne: Well, MCPL has a lot of resources for the gardener. Any particular resources that you can particularly recommend such as the Master Gardening Program?
Beth Chandler: Well, I notice that currently the Master Gardeners in the Davis area are holding plant workshops. You can bring your plant and find out how to take care of it or perhaps cure it. There are Master Gardeners all over and I fondly remember the ones at Aspen Hill who kept up the beautiful flowers at the entryway to Aspen Hill and actually identified one of the flowers that was doing particularly well in the middle of a hot summer so I’ll pass that on. Coreopsis is a perennial, you can buy it plant it once. And as long as you don't let it get totally waterless when we have a drought, it will pretty much keep on blooming for a couple of months at least.
But definitely the Master Gardeners since they pop up various places and the Master Gardeners, there is as I had mentioned there is a Maryland organization and they’re smaller chapters. There is usually at least one in every town, sometimes multiple ones. And if you go on your local email discussion list or patch and then of course for your library website you can get help from the Master Gardeners who are people who know a lot about plants and gardening and get together and learn even more about it.
Julie Dina: So since we’re still talking about the Master Gardeners I remember when I worked at the Wheaton branch we had a lot of customers who would come in Saturday morning because the Master Gardeners would have workshops at the Wheaton Library. Now do they offer these workshops at all of our branches or only specific ones?
Beth Chandler: Specific ones at different times. You can check our events section to find out who is offering it. Just put in the word gardening and you will find what they're doing.
Julie Dina: And does it cost anything?
Beth Chandler: No programs at the library are free so that would not cost anything. So if you want to learn to become a Master Gardener you don't need to already be good. You can just find out when they’re meeting and go to a meeting and often they use library meeting rooms.
Julie Dina: Do you know how often they offer that?
Beth Chandler: I think meetings are usually monthly but it depends on the group.
David Payne: Now being an expert with a green thumb do you plan on attending the Montgomery County GreenFest on May 5?
Beth Chandler: Well, I have to take a look because I think that might be the same weekend as something related to another one of my hobbies the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival since I’m a crocheter. So I could have a conflict of hobbies. [Multiple Speakers]
Julie Dina: Watch out the next episode.
David Payne: So Beth now that you’ve made gardeners out of all of us as you know from your previous appearance we usually end our podcast by asking you what you’re reading now. So anything that you have read recently or reading now that you care to tell us about.
Beth Chandler: As I mentioned before, I just started The Minimalist Gardener to find out how I can have a wonderful garden for less and hopefully take up more of the backyard, which means less mowing the lawn. And in other areas speaking of my crocheting and that I have other hobbies I am reading Crafting for Cat Ladies.
Julie Dina: Sounds good.
Beth Chandler: Yes.
Julie Dina: I guess you’re a cat lady then.
Beth Chandler: Oh, I’m a totally crazy cat lady. I have one cat and that's all it took. So I might even be making something in his colors, silver gray and jade green.
Julie Dina: Well, that's been very enlightening. Thank you so much Beth for joining us today. Let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple podcast app, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple podcast. We’ll love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.
Episode Summary: Gardening enthusiast Beth Chandler, a librarian in our Collection Management department, shares her joy of and experience with gardening while suggesting books that help novice and expert gardeners grow their knowledge.
Recording Date: April 11, 2018
Hosts: Julie Dina and David Payne
Guests: Beth Chandler, who was also a guest on our December 2017 science fiction episode.
Featured MCPL Resource: Master Gardener Plant Clinics. Bring your ailing plants or other gardening, lawn care, or landscaping questions to the experienced gardeners of the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension. This free walk-in service is available Saturdays, April through September, at MCPL branches throughout the county.
What Our Guest Is Reading:
The Minimalist Gardener by Patrick Whitefield
Crafting for Cat Ladies: 35 Purr-fect Feline Projects by Kat Roberts
Plants Mentioned During this Episode:
Books Mentioned During this Episode:
The Mid-Atlantic Getting Started Garden Guide by Andre Viette, Mark Viette, and Jacqueline Heriteau
The New Small Garden by Peter Loewer
What Wrong with My Plant (and How Do I Fix It?) by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth
Other Items of Interest:
Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, May 5 & 6, 2018: Celebrating all things sheep, from hoof to handwoven.
Master Gardener Program of the University of Maryland Extension: Master Gardeners are volunteers who combine their love of plants, people, and the environment to help residents in their communities solve problems and make environmentally-sound decisions.
Montgomery County GreenFest, May 5, 2018: GreenFest is the largest, annual environmental festival in Montgomery County, MD. A free event, GreenFest is a chance for residents, businesses, nonprofits and neighbors, to come together, share ideas and learn.
Lauren Martino: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. I'm Lauren Martino and I'm here with my co-host David Payne.
David Payne: Hello.
Lauren Martino: And today we are here with our Outreach and Programs Assistant Director, Mary Ellen Icaza. Welcome to the show Mary Ellen.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Thank you for having me.
Lauren Martino: And here with us as well, we’re welcoming Laura Sarantis, Library Associate at Gaithersburg.
Laura Sarantis: It’s great to be here. Thank you for having me too.
Lauren Martino: So could you Mary Ellen tell us a little bit about yourself. What got you interested in library programming, how did you get to where you are today?
Mary Ellen Icaza: Sure, well, I've worked for Montgomery County Libraries for a total of 14 years, but I had a break when I left the libraries and I went to work for Montgomery County Public Schools and a government consulting company. But my true love of libraries lured me back to Montgomery County Public Libraries. And my current position is the Assistant Director for Programs and Outreach as you mentioned. And I’ve always had an interest I think in library programming even when I was a new librarian at the Greenbelt Public Library in Prince George’s County. I was a librarian in a generalist branch. I did story times, I did book discussions for adults and children and I also taught basic computer classes, how to search the Internet.
And then even when I was working in the unit called Virtual Services, it's now called Digital Strategies, we were tasked with promoting library events and programs. So library programs and events have always been at the forefront of the work I've been doing at libraries. And we would cover the events on social media, on Twitter and on Facebook and always looking for ways that we could get the word out about library programs. So in my current position I'm working on programs in a different way, but I think I've always been passionate about library programs.
Lauren Martino: And Laura, tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you get into library programming like what makes you excited to be here talking about it today?
Laura Sarantis: Well, actually I was hired as a teen librarian 10 years ago. So it's actually part of my job description to do programming. I had no idea what I was doing when I started here a decade ago. This is actually a second career for me. My previous incarnation was as an online editor. I was a Database Editor for Congressional Quarterly in the 90s at a time when things were changing rapidly, and they were bringing their dial-up service to the World Wide Web. And then I was a web editor for the Humane Society in the United States and that I was sort of burnt out on. When you deal with animal protection, there is always something bad happening to an animal so we have a – something we call compassion fatigue where I kind of gotten sad and couldn't watch Animal Planet anymore.
Lauren Martino: That’s a problem.
Laura Sarantis: It is a problem. I was a page when I was in high school and in college. So I thought well, I’m going to just look at library jobs. So this was supposed to just be a sabbatical from online editing and I just loved it so much. The programming part of it, it took me a while to get on top of that. Early on, I just had no idea what I was doing, no idea how to get kids into the library. Now it's going really well and so it’s – we’re doing better with that now.
David Payne: So programming is one of the many hats that we as librarians work with – work in. Perhaps, Mary Ellen I could ask you to actually define what programming, what library programming is for the benefit of our listeners.
Lauren Martino: Because it doesn’t have anything to do with Java or Scratch or –.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Well, actually Lauren, it could if we're offering a library program on computer programming, right. So library programming are events that our library system or any library system around the country provides to our customers that support lifelong learning and connecting them to ideas and to resources for things that they can use in their daily lives. And an important thing to know is that all of the programs we offer at the library are free, which is incredible. Programs can be led by library staff, such as our story times that are led by professional librarians or library associates or we can work with partners to come in to do presentations and performances or authors that we might contract to do programs as well.
David Payne: So if someone was interested in presenting a program how should they approach the library to find out more information?
Mary Ellen Icaza: Well, there is a couple of different things they can do. If they are interested in working with a particular library branch for example, Laura, she works at the Gaithersburg library. They can connect with staff at that particular branch or if they're interested in doing a program that might involve several different branches they can work with my programming team and we have a form available on our website. If people want to submit a program proposal and we ask a lot of questions to make sure that it is in line with other programming that we’re doing. And if it's in line with our strategic plan and our mission and our vision and we can help coordinate amongst different branches that way.
David Payne: Great, thank you.
Lauren Martino: I find it interesting that both of you have these really strong technology backgrounds, right. Like I don’t see a storyteller, I don't see you know basket making, I see web editor and digital strategies, digital services. What do think that says about how library programming is changing – is evolving, but it looks like today versus what it look like in the past?
Mary Ellen Icaza: I think it says a lot about our changing society. I think the jobs that Laura and I both had I didn't know Laura was an online editor actually, so that's interesting I learned something new. But 30 years ago those jobs didn't exist and we at the library probably at that time were offering very traditional programs like story times and book discussions. And I think as society has changed and technology has grown and STEM, science, technology, engineering and math have become even more visible as career pathways for kids the library has responded to that with the programming that we’re offering.
So I don't think you know 20, 30 years ago you would've seen classes on computer programming or girls just want to code that kind of thing. And I think it says a lot about the library that we want to offer programs that appeal to our community so that we are offering things that are relevant to their lives. For instance, I don't think that there were yoga and meditation classes years ago, but now that's something that a lot of our library branches are offering. So I think as a whole libraries evolved with the times to meet the needs of our communities.
David Payne: The library is really more, really very much a community center.
Laura Sarantis: Yeah, I like to say people will be like, oh, it must be nice to work in the library. You can sit there and it's quiet and you can read. And I’m like the library is now a social service agency and that is that's a really important role for us to have in the community. It's more than just books you know we have to prepare young people to compete in an economy that's based – it's an information age economy. So sometimes we have seniors who come in and say, “Well, why do you have computers here instead of just books?” Well, you know, do you want your grandchild to be able to get a job when they get out of school? You know, they’re going to have to be very literate in computers.
Lauren Martino: It’s getting to be as important as like reading literacy, isn’t it?
Laura Sarantis: Right, but and there are also there are other I think educators have known for a long time that there is a lot of different ways that you can learn things besides just reading it in a book. And doing something – doing an activity is much more useful than reading about it. Like for example, we said seniors – we just had a senior tech series on Sundays where a volunteer came in and just sat down with a group of seniors to teach them how to use computers. And they could've read all the books in the library on using computers, but nothing is going to replace pushing a key and seeing what the machine does when you –. It's a two-way interaction that you have with technology that you can't really learn it just from a book. So in that respect, I think you know our services are, we've expanded our services so that we can meet that need in the community.
Mary Ellen Icaza: And I think it also takes into account that people learn in many different ways.
Laura Sarantis: Yes.
Mary Ellen Icaza: And that not all education has to happen in the traditional sense in a classroom. And many of our programs have become much more hands-on like Laura was saying you know kids are doing experiments in the STEM programs and the seniors are learning to use their devices and it acknowledges that learning can happen in a myriad of ways. And that learning can happen you know, in the library can happen at home, it can happen in the classroom. And not everybody learns the same way, so like I think that is one of the things that have been an area where libraries have really evolved so that we’re not just books like Laura says, and reading and all of that is still really, really core to what we do. But our role has definitely expanded into the types of areas where we’re offering programs.
David Payne: Well, Laura, Mary Ellen a bit earlier mentioned the very successful girls just want to compute program which you involve with. Tell us about the program, how it came about?
Laura Sarantis: Well, it came about – it was started by a Poolesville High School student a few years ago. She noticed that in school a lot of the computer clubs and engineering groups were sort of dominated by young men instead of girls. And she started meeting with a bunch of girls at the Germantown Library. It started out kind of as a coding club. She turned it into a curriculum and started inviting younger students in to teach them Python coding. So she graduated. She is now I believe a sophomore at Yale University, but the program went on. She had trained some younger high school students to continue teaching it – that's how we met Cindy who is one of the volunteers who has done other programming for us in Gaithersburg and it's very, very popular.
The girls just – the girls really enjoy it. The parents love it and it's a different feel when it's just girls, when it's just girls teaching girls. They definitely have a more cooperative learning style. When they’re problem solving it, they're not competing, they’re doing it together. So it offers something special just for girls who might feel that there, you know, they don't have the opportunity to do that at their school where they’re kind of being drowned out maybe by the boys sometimes.
Lauren Martino: That's such a great education and leadership I'm so impressed that your volunteer not only put together this amazing program, but was able to train people to do the same thing after her that's huge.
Laura Sarantis: Yes.
Lauren Martino: So you’re not only just offering the program for the people that are doing the program, I imagine the benefits are huge for the teen volunteers as well.
Laura Sarantis: Sometimes people wonder if we have any secrets or what's the secret to good programming or people have asked what do you know that you wish other librarians knew. And my secret weapon is that teenagers themselves, high school students can themselves initiate and run very compelling, wonderful, exciting library programs. And we've been very fortunate that we've had a few teens who have been doing this sort of thing at Gaithersburg.
But sometimes I wish another teen would come to me and say, well, you know, I just know something about astronomy and I have a good telescope and I just want to show some kids some constellations. It doesn't have to be, it doesn’t have to be really technical. It doesn't have to be advanced or sophisticated. It's kids leading other kids and that's a very viable form of programming. Sometimes we have a girls robotics class at Gaithersburg that's taught by Cindy who is one of the girls just want to compute teachers. And it's her and her sister and other high school students teaching girls who are between the ages of nine and 13. And sometimes I walk in the room and I can feel that the mood shift like oh, a grown up just walked in the room, yuk.
And they’re all on task, they're all focused, they’re all writing programs, they’re not goofing off where I’m coming into sort of break it up. It's just sort of a different vibe. The teenagers can connect with the younger girls in a way that adult librarians just can't. So that's something that I think is – that’s kind of our hidden weapon I guess at Gaithersburg for programming. But I really I’m going to look forward to trying to find other teens who can come into the library and who have certain skills and can share those with younger kids because nine times out of 10, they’re going to do a fantastic job with it.
David Payne: You’re absolutely right. We’ve really had some very dynamic program with teenagers.
Lauren Martino: Mary Ellen, can you tell us about the most memorable library program that you've been a part of?
Mary Ellen Icaza: I would have to say most recently the most memorable program to me was a speaker series that we implemented last year. It was our first speaker series and the title of it is contemporary conversations. And it's a program series where we invite authors and journalists and other well-known figures to come to the library to do a presentation and a Q&A session with the public. And we had some really terrific speakers last year and they were the first large-scale programs of this nature that we did. Our first speaker was Kojo Nnamdi from NPR.
Lauren Martino: I remember that, yeah.
Mary Ellen Icaza: And we had over 200 people.
Lauren Martino: That was amazing.
Mary Ellen Icaza: And we held it at the Gaithersburg library and that was totally cool that people came from all over the county to attend that program on a – it was a Saturday night. And it was just really great to see people coming from as far as Burtonsville, they came from Damascus, they came from all over the county. And then we went on to have conversations at a couple of other locations. Silver Spring was another one. We had Charles Lane from the Washington Post come. And he did a conversation with the County Executive Leggett and they had a dialog about a book that Charles Lane had written. And it was just so neat to see people interested in a particular topic and want to come together as a large group to discuss it. We are going to have this series continue on this spring and we are so fortunate that we are part of a grant that we've been awarded called The Big Read and we’re partnering with several different organizations.
The Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, Montgomery Community Media, Gaithersburg Book Festival and Montgomery History. And our theme is the immigrant experience. And the book that we've chosen for The Big Read is Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. And we’re doing programs all spring long on it, but The Big Read program will end in June on June 9th. We’re going to have a contemporary conversation with Dinaw Mengestu, the author who is going to come to speak to the community. So we’re so thrilled about that that we’re able to bring an author of his caliber to the community to talk with our community and do a Q&A and have a large event like that at Silver Spring.
David Payne: And Mary Ellen, where can listeners find out more information about The Big Read?
Mary Ellen Icaza: The Big Read, we have a section on our website and if people want to go to our homepage they'll see a big icon that says The Big Read.
Lauren Martino: Hard to miss.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Right, and not only are we having the author come in June but we’re having a slew of book discussions on his book. There will be an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. There will be panels on immigrating to Montgomery County. And there also will be events at various branches and locations throughout the spring.
Lauren Martino: Because this book actually part of it focuses on Montgomery County doesn't it?
Mary Ellen Icaza: It's, he was a local writer. Yes.
Lauren Martino: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Febe Huezo: Mom, I’m heading out for yoga.
Julie Dina: I thought you were going to the library.
Febe Huezo: I am.
Julie Dian: Uh?
Febe Huezo: Oh, mom, the library isn’t just a room full of books. It’s a place where people meet and learn. Did you know that the library offers tai chi classes, career workshops and even computer help?
Julie Dina: You should try it.
Febe Huezo: Mom.
Julie Dina: I am upstairs getting ready sweetheart.
Lauren Martino: For more information on Montgomery County Public Library’s Diverse programs and classes click on the link in this episode show notes.
Now back to our program.
David Payne: Can you give us some examples of some more unusual or perhaps nontraditional library programming that you’ve both been involved with to start with Mary Ellen?
Mary Ellen Icaza: Sure, I had to think about this one for a bit. But the one example that I came up with is the Read to a Dog program. I think it is pretty common in libraries, but whenever I tell somebody who doesn't work in a library they always are a little surprised that we do this program. But it's such a terrific program and as a mom of somebody who is a reluctant reader I think it's fantastic. We partner up with people who have trained therapy dogs and they bring in their pets and kids, reluctant readers often or kids who are little intimidated about practicing their reading can read one-on-one with the dog and it's a wildly successful program. We have them at many of our different branches and it’s not always the same dog, it's different dogs at different branches. But it's such a boost to the kids confidence to practice their reading and you know they also get to spend time with the cuddly dog too.
Lauren Martino: And we've had customers come in and it's not only an opportunity to practice reading it's my kids afraid of dogs.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Oh, okay. Another purpose.
Lauren Martino: Yes, this is your chance to get used to this nice tiny little dog that's perfectly well behaved in its owners lap and will not hurt you in a controlled environment.
Laura Sarantis: Very gentle, very sweet animals and that is I know a couple of people who have brought their kids and who they’ve been intimidated by big dogs and to make them a little bit less so.
Lauren Martino: Laura, do you have an unusual program you'd like to tell us about?
Laura Sarantis: Well, sometimes you find some wild stuff at the library. And it’s a step that you would never think to find but then it comes to you and you're like, well, why not. So we had a group last year called Harp Happy it’s a group of women who play harps together but they play music that you don't traditionally associate with harps. And they at the end of their program they do this thing called name that show, name that song where they’ll play like jingles from old television shows like The Jeffersons or MASH. And the audience has to guess what the song is or what the show is and it can be pretty hilarious, it was –.
Lauren Martino: I’m just trying to picture The Jeffersons played on the harp. [Multiple Speakers]
Laura Sarantis: I can't remember if that’s one that they played. For some reason that popped into my head and I know that they did the MASH theme song. And I'm pretty sure they did the theme from the Lone Ranger. We really haven't lived until you, until heard the William Tell overture played on the harp so.
David Payne: And another benefit of having a program like that because we had the Harp Happy group at the Davis Library. And I remember at the end of it that people actually come up and see the harp close up, touch it, cluck the strings, not the kind of opportunities that you always get so that was a great benefit.
Lauren Martino: You know, I’ll let the kids do that with my ukulele at the end of story times, sometimes but a harp man, that would be exciting.
David Payne: Exactly, yeah.
Mary Ellen Icaza: The ukulele is actually something that I would like to see us do more with.
Lauren Martino: Really.
Mary Ellen Icaza: I’ve heard of other library systems that in addition to incorporating into story times they’re also offering ukulele classes and ukulele lessons for their customers. And it just sounds so cool to me you know, to be able to learn how to play the ukulele at the library.
David Payne: It’s actually very interesting. You mentioned the ukulele because in the other podcast episode which we recorded – just recorded on retro technology the ukulele was brought up as a returning instrument, that’s making a comeback.
Lauren Martino: That's a good point and yeah, I never thought of, I mean, we've got like the ArtistWorks where you can do online classes on the ukulele. Thank goodness the ukulele is there, but yeah, group class that would be amazing.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Are you up for it?
Lauren Martino: I would go to Susan Modak first or Sissy Williams. Sissy Williams is amazing sorry, it’s okay shot out to Sissy. Go to her Story Time at Noyes but yeah, just that people have come through and customers that have come through Noyes and just leave like knowing a few chords and come back and say I’m still playing. I just was amazed. I mean, gosh, Sissy got me playing the ukulele. She got –.
Mary Ellen Icaza: I’ve seen groups of children's librarians at meetings you know they all bring out their ukuleles and start playing. So it’s really cool here that you’ve learned how to play from one of your colleagues.
Lauren Maritno: Yes.
Laura Sarantis: Oh, is there a definite ukulele subculture. I’m going to show new librarians in Montgomery County system.
Laruen Martino: Little known fact, yes. So besides ‘More Ukulele’ all right, gosh, that just like sounds like more cowbell, ‘More Ukulele.’ Besides ‘More Ukulele’ is there any other programs from other places you've seen that you just really love to bring the Montgomery County that hasn't then quite made it here yet?
Mary Ellen Icaza: Well, there is one that we do have in the works. I had read an article in Library Journal or something like that about the Harry Potter ball that they had. I think it was Salt Lake City and we did a very successful celebration last June of the publishing anniversary of Harry Potter.
Lauren Martino: Although his birthday was nearby if I was correct.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Exactly, yeah. So we did our celebration in June and I think his birthday is in July. So all of the branches each had a program, you know, celebrating Harry in some way. They did wand making, they might've had a trivia contest. And I love the idea because our comic our MoComCon has been so successful in the winter if we could do something in the summer. And I actually got the idea when I saw one of our partners at the MoComCon dressed as Hermione. I didn’t even recognize her.
Lauren Martino: Wow.
Mary Ellen Icaza: And I thought “Wow, people are really still into Harry.” You know, based on the success of the wand making I remember they ran out of wands last year at Davis and then seeing her dressed as Hermione. So what I'm hoping we can actually do this summer is to have an event to celebrate Harry Potter's birthday enjoy.
Lauren Martino: That would be exciting.
David Payne: That sounds great.
Mary Ellen Icaza: For adults and children.
Lauren Martino: Because yeah, why should it be limited to children.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Exactly.
David Payne: Yeah, now having watched the event that you mentioned the wand making at Davis where we saw parents and children engage them on making really a program for all the family.
Lauren Martino: We have a circulation member who has this like full out like Hogwarts, Hufflepuff uniform it is amazing.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Well, hopefully that person will participate in the event this summer.
David Payne: Well, you’ve both obviously been involved in a good many programs over the years. Are there any programs that you've tried that just haven't worked out for you if so, why?
Laura Sarantis: When I first started working for the county as a library associate in Kensington I did a couple of programs that were I thought were useful. One was on Internet safety. One was on using the library's website to do academic research and nobody showed up.
Lauren Martino: That's always disappointing.
Laura Sarantis: And I worked a lot, I worked hard on those programs. And so it took me a while to kind of figure out why that was. I think it's much harder to get older teens to come into the library, because they're getting their driver's licenses. They're getting a taste of independence and they're in school all day. And you know I think they just are resistant to having adults structure all their time for them. So it's a lot of the programming we’re doing is geared now towards younger high school kids and middle school kids. If we can get the older ones that's great, but I'm just I haven't figured out the key yet to that.
David Payne: Can’t get pizza?
Laura Sarantis: That works, actually that does work. And SSL hours like if you can get them to come in and participate in something where they’re actually achieving something, doing something and you can give them SSL credits for it.
Lauren Martino: Mary Ellen, do you have anything that?
Mary Ellen Icaza: You know to what Laura is saying that you can plan the program and put everything together and be ready to go and then have low attendance. So I have that experience once a few summers ago, we planned a kickoff event for the summer read and learn program. We thought it will be great to have this one event for the whole entire county. But we didn't take into account is that June is a really, really busy month for families before school lets out. So we did not have as high an attendance as we had hoped for, for the event.
And I think it was because of just the timing of things you know it was in the beginning of June, its graduation season, a lot of sports teams are finishing out their seasons. So as you know in this county families are really booked. And I think you know that really affected the success of that program. It was still a fantastic performance, but I just wish that we had been able to reach a larger audience. So something like that will make me rethink offering a kickoff like that again around that time of year.
David Payne: Programs are very interesting. I always remember one of the most successful programs I've ever done in my whole career with another library system was on all things beekeeping.
Mary Ellen Icaza: Beekeeping.
David Payne: Yes.
Mary Ellen Icaza: That’s fascinating.
David Payne: Yes, it’s true. Dozens and dozens of people on a Tuesday evening, and I can’t remember the month, time of the year, but of all topics. And I did it really just as a one-off thing because I thought well, I’m going to try it. But it was one of the most successful programs I’ve ever done.
Lauren Martino: Wow, I remember listening to a podcast and forgive me I don't remember which one, but yeah, some other librarian saying it, yeah, it’s canning and cheese making really doing in my life. It’s amazing what you can turn into a program.
David Payne: Absolutely, yes.
Mary Ellen Icaza: I think you can turn almost anything into a program though I really do. I mean, I have been trying to encourage some of my staff who are really into coupons to do a couponing program, because who doesn't want to save money at the grocery store. And I think that's how we develop some of our best ideas for programs is just you have a personal interest and you think other people would have an interest in it too and you never know where it's going to go. For instance, like the bullet journaling that is very popular now. I am not a bullet journaler, but I think it will be wildly popular with people because a lot of people want to learn how to do it.
And I think we could form a little community of bullet journalers and new programs that way. And I know at Rockefeller Library they used to host happy crafting, which is a program I always wanted to go to but it never lined up with my schedule. But they would do different craft projects every week and that generated out of someone’s, you know, personal hobby she is really into craft making with paper products.
Lauren Martino: Other there little known secret about librarians, we are an incredibly diverse bunch of interests and backgrounds like there is nothing that we have not – ultimately all of us have looked at it some point or another.
David Payne: Absolutely and a glance at calendar of events will show you the diverse array of programming that does go on across the whole system.
Lauren Martino: Absolutely.
Laura Sarantis: And I think it's a mistake to think that you have to have a curriculum or a well-developed presentation to do a good program because we know we have a bullet journaler among the librarians. And she could just show up and just show you her bullet journal and show some websites that show how to do it. And you really don't need that much preparation – I mean, it helps to have some preparation, but you don't necessarily have to have you know a huge amount of expertise in some area to give a good library program. Some of them are just, you know, very spontaneous kind of things where you know like knitters will get together or embroiders or – so there is quite a few of those.
Lauren Martino: And it’s all about community I think.
Laura Sarantis: Yes.
Mary Ellen Icaza: I think people are looking to have that third space where they can meet and share with other people and you know that the knitting and crocheting that’s something else I wish I could get to. But I know, you know, it’s nice to be able to take your hobby and do it with other people.
David Payne: Well, libraries have come a long way, particularly in recent years. Where do you see library programming over the next 20 years or so?
Mary Ellen Icaza: I think libraries will still be a force we’re not going to go away. And I think our programs will persist and you know, as I mentioned before, the library programs being free, that is huge. I think it's hard to project though what will be the hot thing in 20 years, you know. So it's kind of hard for me to project what we’ll be doing in programming, because who would've ever thought we would have 3D printers in the library or we would be doing maker spaces in our libraries. I think we’ll still be doing our traditional programs like story times that help kids get ready to read and offering book discussions and things to support materials or collection. But I think we can be anything we want to be you know in relation to what our community is interested in.
Laura Sarantis: Yeah, I agree. And we're an evolving institution. Montgomery County Libraries calls itself a learning organization and that is – you know, on so many different levels not only are we learning how to be better librarians, how to better serve the community as we go on but we’re also about learning. We’re about learning in myriad different ways like Mary Ellen said earlier. I think we are going to continue to be really essential in terms of bridging the digital divide in terms of giving folks access to technology that they might not otherwise have access to.
We still get a lot of library visits from folks who don't have Internet at home, who don't have computers at home, who need a librarians help to apply for a job, to learn some marketable skills for jobs, to learn English in Gaithersburg. Gaithersburg and Silver Spring are two of the most diverse communities in the entire country. Those are our constituents and so language learning is huge in Gaithersburg, so conversation clubs and that sort of thing. I think we’re going to just continue evolving to serve those needs in the community, because that's what we do.
Lauren Martino: We love to ask our guests on Library Matters Mary Ellen, is there something you're reading now that you would like to share with us?
Mary Ellen Icaza: I was looking forward to this question.
Lauren Martino: Of course you were.
Mary Ellen Icaza: And I've actually gotten some good reading recommendations from your other guests on the podcast. And I'm reading Pachinko right now by Min Jin Lee. And it’s I'm still about halfway through it, but it's the most beautiful book. The writing is just so lovely. It was nominated as a National Book Award finalist and its adult fiction and it’s about an immigrant family, a Korean family living in Japan. And it's a saga that spans several generations, but it's really, really good storytelling. And I like when you can have a good thick book just to get lost in and that definitely fits the criteria for this one.
Lauren Martino: Laura, do you have something you’d like to share with us.
Laura Sarantis: I just started a huge ton David McCullough’s The Path between the Seas.
David Payne: That will keep you busy for a while.
Laura Sarantis: That will keep me busy for a while but it's so right up my alley because I’m a former history major who is now getting interested in STEM and engineering and that sort of thing. So I love books that talk about technology in a way that I can understand it. And so this was like probably the biggest engineering project ever in the universe up until maybe Hoover Dam later on. I don't know whether anything is bigger than this. I think it was – this was 30 years in the making so. And I’m just really interested in visiting Central America at some point so I'm starting to read that. Another one that I when I learned that I loved popular nonfiction that could explain science to me was when I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. And I was tentative about going into that because I said I almost flunked high school biology. But that explained the science behind it to me in a way that I could understand. So hopefully that'll happen with McCullough and the engineering of the – yeah the canal.
David Payne: Well, Mary Ellen and Laura, thank you very much for joining us today and sharing with us your program insights and some of the very exciting programming we can look forward to in the future months at MCPL. Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple podcast at Stitcher or wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and write to us on Apple podcast. We love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Episode Summary: Reading to dogs, Python coding, yoga? While MCPL still provides many much-beloved storytimes, our programming has become a lot more diverse. Assistant Director Mary Ellen Icaza and Library Associate Laura Sarantis talk about the innovative events happening at an MCPL branch near you. And don't forget, all MCPL programs are free of charge!
Recording Date: March 7, 2018
Hosts: Lauren Martino and David Payne
Guests: Mary Ellen Icaza and Laura Sarantis
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Mary Ellen Icaza: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Library Programs Mentioned During this Episode:
The Big Read: MCPL and its partners will host a series of events: book discussions, author talks, exhibits, and cultural events centered around the immigrant experience in the DC area and Dinaw Mengestu's book The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.
Computer and Technology Classes, and One-On-One Instruction: MCPL's technology programs include downloading e-books, computer basics, and using tablets like the iPad.
Contemporary Conversations: Join MCPL for discussions about cultural and current issues with journalists, authors, and other speakers. Our next speaker is Dinaw Mengestu, author of the book The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.
Conversation Clubs: Practice speaking English in a friendly, informal environment. Available at branches throughout the County.
Girlhub: Python Programming: Teens, learn more about computer programming through fun lessons about Python, HTML, and MIT Scratch. Register up to June 30, 2018. Hosted by high school robotics team 5421 RM'd and Dangerous.
Girls in Engineering: Work with other students to build bridges, create robots, and more.
Girls Just Want to Compute: Learn how to code, create, and work with other students interested in coding.
Job and Career Programs and Resources: From resume writing and interviewing skills to career exploration, MCPL has programs and resources to help you get a job or advance your career.
Knitting and Crocheting Clubs: Beginners and experienced knitters come together at branches throughout MCPL to learn about and share their love for the craft.
Makerspace Programs: Amateur radio, blimps, origami - there are programs for all kinds of makers at MCPL.
Read to a Dog: School-aged children, especially beginner readers, can boost confidence in their reading skills by reading aloud to a friendly, certified therapy dog. Available at branches throughout the County.
STEM Programs: From Archimedes to architecture, MCPL has many programs to promote interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Other Items of Interest:
Program Suggestion Form: Interested in doing a program for MCPL? Please complete this form with details of your suggested program.