Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Library's podcast.
Alexander Russo: “Library Matters” is Montgomery County Public Library’s new podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology and learning. I am Alexander Russo, a librarian at MCPL’s Kensington Park branch.
David Watts: And I am David Watts, the circulation supervisor at Silver Spring Library. We hope you’ll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.
Alexander Russo: The library goes beyond the walls of our branches. One of the ways in which we do that is with our award-winning Outreach team which was formed in 2012. Today, we have Julie and Febe from the Outreach team here to share their experiences with us.
David Watts: Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a part of this Outreach team.
Julie: Hi, my name is Julie and I can tell you that my journey actually began a long time ago at the branch at Sliver Spring Library, and I enjoyed working at the library. However, when I graduated from college, I left to go work at the senate. I truly loved working at the library that even when my kids would come visit, they would always say, "when are you going back to your real job?" which was the library. So, I eventually talked to – I still kept in contact with the people at the library and I saw that a position with Information Department was actually – they were recruiting a list and I came back to the library, and once again, years passed by, I figured, okay, now my kids are older, I would want fulltime. So I spoke with Carol who used to be a PSA here with the library; I miss you Carol, and I talked to her about getting fulltime and she said, you know, at that time, there really wasn’t any fulltime for my position. So she said she will go brainstorm, you know, with other folks, she did, and she came back saying, “well, you know what, with your personality and since you are always out and you love talking to people, how about the Outreach team? I didn’t even let her finish and I said, “yes”. So that has been my journey – I truly love going out there to meet people. I love the branch as well, but this is more of me. So that has been my journey and it still continues.
David Watts: Very good. Febe?
Febe: Hi, my name is Febe and I joined the library system in 2015. I was originally at a desk – behind the desk with HHS. So I was already in the county, but I saw this opportunity and it was, I guess, a chance to literally come out of the physical walls and go out to the community and it helped that I know the Long Branch area well because that’s where I was assigned to originally at the Long Branch library, and I am also bilingual, I speak Spanish, so that was a plus. In the community, I speak a little bit of their language, and so far I have really enjoyed Outreach the most. When I started, I had to split my time, you know, half – half of the time in the branch and half of the other time in Outreach, but as of August of last year, we have been doing Outreach fulltime and I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened to our team because we could really dedicate ourselves to just Outreach, have more time to focus and like be more strategic about the people we are reaching out to and what we want to do with them, so.
Alexander Russo: So, just for the listeners out there, can you describe to us what Outreach is and what’s their role in the library?
Julie: I would say Outreach – actually the Outreach Department to me, I would say, is actually the face and the voice of MCPL. We are the ones who go out there to events, we go to the schools, we go to organizations that ordinarily would not come out to us otherwise. So, I feel we are a very important part of the library and it was an excellent idea that they brought this, you know, they created this team in 2012 because we have come across a lot of people who would be in awe to find out about services that we provide and if we weren’t out there to meet them, they typically wouldn’t walk through our doors at the branch level.
Febe: Yeah, I agree with Julie. People see us and, you know, what we present is what they expect when they come to our branch. So, like she said, there is always – every time I go to either an information table, I do a presentation to a school, just everywhere I go, there is always one or two – three people that are surprised about something that we have, whether it’s digital services, downloading free music or the magazines or just the Homework Help; I mean there are so many things that people don’t know they can have access to right from their sofa, like you don’t have to go out. You can, you know, read a book from your home through our website, so.
David Watts: What are people most surprised to find out about MCPL, I mean when you are out interacting with the public, outside the walls of the library, what is it that they ask you the most about?
Julie: One thing that’s consistent that they are very surprised about is that pretty much all our services are free. So, when they enquire about getting a library card and we tell them information on how they can get one, they ask us how much it costs. So even while we are saying it’s free, they are still asking what’s the minimal fee. They are very surprised about that. They are also very surprised that we have – we have so many resources that are easily accessible to, you know, residents, to people who are not even living in the United States, but have, you know, a Montgomery County Public Library card. Imagine being in Spain and wanting to learn how to speak French, but because you have our library card, you have access to our Mango Languages and you could start learning that way. So you don’t even have to be, you know, physically in Montgomery County, however, you are using our resource. So, there is still, I would say mostly our database, the fact that we provide a lot of this free, they are surprised about that.
Febe: I tried to reach out a lot to new Americans, and so I do a lot of presentations to people who – their first language is not English. So I really promote our language learning tools, Mango Languages and – and most – our newest one, Rosetta Stone, so they are always surprised that we have that, and the most surprising thing is that, you know, Mango comes with an app and you can download it and so you can pretty much learn, practice, you know, if you are taking ESOL, you know, you can on-the-go while you are cooking or while you are driving, you know, you can practice and it’s free. You don’t have to pay for it, you know, people ask, “how much do I pay?’, and I said, “it’s free”. “How much do I pay for a library card”, you know, there are some people who, you know, that don’t – you know, they are not from United States, they come from various parts of the world, then oftentimes where they came from, if there was a library it was so remotely far away. And so they don’t have that library experience and then here, you know, they are hearing about all these library services, but they don’t really know how it works. So, you know, sometimes I have people asking, “oh, is the library card free?” and I am like, “yes, it’s free”, you know, it’s free to get one and it’s free to get all of the – you know, access all of our services. So, that’s – that’s always a surprise for people that we have free programs and free services.
David Watts: So you are teaching our mission statement just by being out in the community; they are learning about the fact that we are free and equal and there is equal access for various diverse populations that are here in Montgomery County. So, tell me a little bit about your experience day-to-day when you are going out into the community?
Julie: So, I can say it all varies, day by day, week by week and depending on the season, it varies. So, for example, in the summer, we do a lot of table events at festivals because that’s when most people have their Community Day. We do some concert series, which is also mostly in the summer. In the winter, we do more of back-to-school nights, reading – you know reading nights. We do school presentations; we do – we go to organizations that might have like a fair, where we would set up a table, I mean, who would not want to know about our Gale courses. That makes you better professionally as well as personally. So it varies for me and I am sure – with Febe as well, it varies depending on what we have got, what season it is, what activities are going on, and what’s out there for us and for them.
Febe: Kind of the same thing – since we both are part of the team, I just – I guess I could add that we are also bringing programs like Storytime.
David Watts: Um-hmm.
Febe: So, you know, during the winter we do a lot of presentations; we are not, you know, doing informational tables unless it’s like an event, you know, inside a building, obviously, but yes, we are doing a lot of presentations. Lately, we have been doing library-linked presentations because we are delivering, you know, the library cards to the public schools, and so we are also telling the kids what, you know, what the library link is and what they can do. So there is definitely a lot of presentations during the winter and summer, you know, we also promote summer reading – our summer reading program, and other branch summer programs that happen during that time as well.
David Watts: I have even seen you at the Silver Spring – downtown Silver Spring marketplace.
Julie: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Tell me about that experience.
Febe: I – it has been, I guess it depends where we are stationed, if I can say. It helps that we are visible; I haven’t been to – I went to the Sliver Spring Market at least once or twice, but I did a couple of farmer’s market in Takoma Park-Langley area, but what I can say is, you know, I bring books. I think with Liberta Tsai, another team member, we did the Silver Spring farmer’s market and we brought cooking books, you know, from all kinds, you know, Asian cooking, you know, recipes and what not to not only, you know, have people look at like our fliers and like our programs, but to also, you know, if they wanted to check out a book, you know, we would also bring pop-up – we will have a pop-up library.
Alexander Russo: So being part of this Outreach team, could you say you’ve learned something may – maybe personal or even professionally?
Julie: I would say actually joining the Outreach team is such a blessing, like for me to come to work and enjoy working, you know, like that – that’s priceless to me. So if I wasn’t in the Outreach team – I also love working at the branch, but being with the Outreach team, I get to go outside of the walls of the building to see what else is out there because what I see at the branch is pretty much consistent – the same thing. If I wasn’t with the Outreach team, I would not be at say, the German Festival – I am not going – I mean I may go to the German aisle to the find a German book, but I am not going to be able to talk to people to ask them how – what kind of food is this, you know. Do you know we have cooking books? If you go to the branch, or I can show you right now, you know, on our website that you can also easily access to get information about different cultures. So, I would say I – I am so appreciative of it and this is the best thing ever.
Febe: I am grateful as well because I do like what I do. Slowly, I learned that I enjoy doing Storytime like, I – I didn’t think that was something that – you know, when we started we – Storytime wasn’t even something in our minds, but towards the end of last year, you know, they started to, you know, point that out that we would eventually bring Storytime to other organizations. So I have really enjoyed that, and you know, I compare myself from like my presentation to now, and you know, you do presentations like every week and very slowly you start to lose – I mean you are always nervous and it’s natural, but very slowly, you start to become better and – and you want to make things better too, you want to perfect, you know, your presentations and the materials that you bring, you want to make sure that it’s like, you know, en pointe, you know, so, yes, we have – there is so much to learn in the Outreach team and it’s a fun team to be part of.
David Watts: So tell us how a public organization could reach out to you all for a visit?
Julie: So, other than seeing us on the street and tapping on us – to ask us how you can get us to your organization, you can actually go on our website and on the tabs across the website, there is one "Contact Us." When you click on “Contact Us” on the left, it says, “invite MCPL to your program or events”, you want to click on that and it will ask you, you know, basic questions, how many people do you think will attend? What kind of event is this going to be, pretty much so we know how to prepare if we are bringing in, what materials to bring or how to prepare for the presentation, so that’s one way. But if you can’t remember any of that, you can call any of your branches, go there or call them and ask them how can you get the award winning Outreach team?
David Watts: The NACo award-winning MCPL Outreach team.
Julie: How can you get them out there and we would come right in.
Alexander Russo: Is there one event that you were stationed at that comes to mind that kind of left an impact?
Julie: I have to think about – there are so many of them, they are too many, I mean how long is the program?
Febe: I would say, because I – I am – I am a music lover, I think there was a – when I – this is when I first started like a month after I had started, there was a Caribbean something at the Strathmore – Discover Caribbean or something like that and they had lots of performers from different parts of the world like African performers from Brazil, even a youth band that was there, you know, and we had an informational table. So, it was – it was all there for us to see and they also had like a live Jamaican cooking class, and there was a lady there and she had her cooking station, and you know, telling people what to do and things. So that was a pretty neat – I was working but I was enjoying – I was enjoying the music and performers.
David Watts: Well, we ask all of our guests what their favorite book is, if you have one, or what you are reading currently, what’s on your nightstand?
Julie: One of my favorite books is actually a children’s book and it’s because I have read it over and over when my kids were little, and I still read it to my nieces and my nephew and it’s by Margaret Wise Brown and it’s entitled “Goodnight Moon."
Febe: I have several too. My new favorite would probably be the “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton. She, you know, talks about, you know, her experience in the music industry and her battle through bankruptcy and, you know, illness, and kind of how she, you know, fought her way through and she also reveals some painful secrets there, you know, in the book. So that was a nice book. I also have two favorite children's books and I didn’t have any because I don’t have kids yet, but because I am doing Storytime, you know, I learned that you have to read something that you love, that you enjoy, and the books that I have – I always take are the “Brief Thief” and “The Farting Dog.” Kids go crazy – they go crazy over it. So, those are my favorite for now.
Alexander Russo: We would want to thank our guests for this episode and keep the conversation going by following us on our social media. You follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Subscribe to our podcast via itunes. And don't forget to rate the podcast and to provide us with feedback.
David Watts: Thank you listeners, we will see you next time.