Library Matters

Library Matters is a podcast by Montgomery County Public Libraries exploring the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.
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Library Matters is a podcast of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) in Montgomery County, MD. Each episode we explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. Library Matters is hosted by Julie Dina, Outreach Associate, Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian at our Silver Spring branch, and David Payne, Branch Manager of our Davis branch and Acting Branch Manager of our Potomac branch.  

Feb 8, 2017

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Adrienne Miles Holderbaum:  Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.


David Watts:  Hi, I’m David Watts.


Alessandro Russo:  And I’m Alessandro Russo.  On each episode of Library Matters, we explore the world of books, libraries, technology and learning.


David Watts:  MCPL is dedicated to expanding our services outside our walls.  One of the ways in which we do that is through our What Do I Check Out Next service.  Customers looking for reading suggestions use our online form to tell us about the types of books they’re looking for.  Our MCPL librarians then use their expertise and experience to come up with a list of three to five books that match the customer’s reading interest.


Alessandro Russo:  Today, we have Susan Moritz from Virtual Service Team and Librarian Lisa Navidi to talk with us about the What Do I Check Out service.  So tell us about yourselves, how long have you been with MCPL and just your role in MCPL.


Susan Moritz:  My name is Susan Moritz and I work as a program manager in Virtual Services.  I have been with MCPL for a little over 10 years now.  I started out as a children’s librarian actually at Wheaton Library and then was also a children’s librarian in Rockville Memorial.  And I went to – I also worked as a reference librarian for Ask a Librarian.  And then currently, I am here as a program manager in Virtual Services and it’s really exciting.  We do a lot of stuff with social media, the website, and new technologies.  And I’ve actually worked with Lisa before at Rockville Memorial.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.  We’re old friends.


Susan Moritz:  So it’s great to get together again.


Lisa Navidi:  I began my life in MCPL in January of 1986 at the Bookmobile Service where I got my best training for Readers’ Advisory service.  Agnes Griffen who was the former director of MCPL has always said that working on the Bookmobile is the most personalized Readers’ Advisory service you can get.  I’m now head of Adult Services at Davis Library where it’s all about the book.  But I’m currently deployed at Bethesda Library during our refresh.  I was part of the founding members of the Readers’ Cafe, a Readers’ Advisory link from our website.  Readers’ Advisory is basically someone comes up to you and says, “I read this book or I read – I like chick lit.  Can you suggest other books?”  And that’s what I do.


Susan Moritz:  Yes.  I think that was a good phrase.  It was like connecting the right reader to the right book at the right time.


Lisa Navidi:  Reader to the right book at the right time.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


Alessandro Russo:  What is What Do I Check Out Next?  How Does it work?


Susan Moritz:  So check – so What Do I Check Out Next, it’s an online Readers’ Advisory service there.  So what customers do is they go online to the Readers’ Cafe and then they fill out our What Do I Check Out Next form.  And it basically ask them, you know, their name, their email address, what types of books do you like to read or what are you in the mood to read.  Maybe it’s a – you know, maybe you love mysteries, but you’re looking for a light beat read, you know.  So what are you in the mood to read, what authors you don’t like.  We have a selection for you.  You can pick out the genres you like.  You can tell us like all about what – the type of book you’re looking for.  And then –.


Lisa Navidi:  And the format as well.


Susan Moritz:  And the format.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.


Susan Moritz:  Exactly, what format.  You know, sometimes people only want to read audio books because they’re on public transportation and that’s the main way they read, or they want e-books.  You know, whatever format also that they’re looking for.  And also what audience are looking for.  Maybe they are a mother who is looking for books for their children.  So what kind of formats they’re looking for as well.  Maybe they’re an adult like me who also loves teen books.  That could also be as well there.  So what kind of audience are you looking for for your books?


And you fill all that out and it comes to our reading experts, our librarians who are passionate and so well-read.  Again, I can’t say enough about them.  They are awesome.  And they get the question and they send an email back to the customer in about three to five business days, so Monday through Friday, not including holidays.  And they send it back to them with three to five book recommendations that match exactly what they – the book they are looking for.


David Watts:  How did this all start, this concept of What Do I Check out Next?


Susan Moritz:  Sure.  It actually – it started with a question I guess I should say.  I always want to say an idea, but it actually starts with a question.  And we’re sort of – we are wondering, how can we connect with our readers who are not inside the branches?  Because a lot of our librarians they’re at the desk, the customer comes in, they see them, you know, “I’m looking for, you know, this mystery.  You know, what do you recommend?”  Or, “I’m looking for, you know, a book to, you know, take on the road.  You know, what do you recommend?”


But we wanted to connect with those readers who might not be physically coming inside our library.  They might be having their library card, using our online databases, using our resources outside of our walls.  And how can we connect our expert readers who are so passionate – and so they’ve got so many great ideas – with people who are looking to read and inspire them to be passionate and find the books that they want to read?  So it sort of started as a question, how are we going to connect, and that sort of evolved out of that.


Alessandro Russo:  How many questions do you get?


Susan Moritz:  We get, I would say, about 20 to 40 a month.  It definitely spikes at different time.  So during the summer when I think a lot of people are on vacation, it’s very – it’s sort of on the higher end of that 20 to 40 questions a month.  But then it was funny because this past November, we actually had a huge spike in our numbers.  And what I’m wondering is if people were like, “Hey, what do I want as gifts or what do I want to give as gifts,” you know, because, you know, it’s not – you can’t – it doesn’t have to just be about yourself.  You could be looking for book for somebody.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.  Or going away on vacation –


Susan Moritz:  Yeah, that’s –.


Lisa Navidi:  – during the holidays and you want to take something.


Susan Moritz:  Definitely.


Lisa Navidi:  Something that will be absorbing.


Susan Moritz:  So I agree, Lisa, yeah.  I think that’s when we sort of see our highest numbers.  Or when people are going to be traveling, they’ve got a little bit more downtime.  So I think that’s when we see our numbers spike.


David Watts:  So would you say that these suggestions, are you doing more research for these suggestions or this kind of – do you have just the bank of books in your head already lined up to say, “Hey, these are some great titles?”


Susan Moritz:  I totally wish.  Lisa?


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.  Actually, I do have a bank of books in my head for a lot of genres, different genres.  But there are genres that I’m not familiar with.  I know that’s the next question.  But I tend to advice about different book – about the same kind of books that I like and I figure it’s one person, one book, and they won’t be talking to the next person.


Susan Moritz:  But it’s hard when you’re passionate about a book.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  It’s like you want to share it with everybody.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  It’s like, “Oh, this is a great book.  You’ve got to read this book,” you know?


Lisa Navidi:  Yes, exactly.


Susan Moritz:  So that does – I wish I did have a cadre – I do keep a reading list of my own books from starting out in the public libraries, you know, working actually in the branches.  And I actually have my own like a Google Doc of, you know, for children’s books, teens’ book and adult books and then broken down to the subjects we normally get asked a lot about, you know, about, you know, mystery or science fiction, different multi-cultural.


Lisa Navidi:  You’re a lot more organized.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.  I try.  Luckily, I just have the authors and the titles.  If I was that organized, I’ve actually have the summaries too, a little line summary as well there.  So I think that’s sort of like my first go-to when I’m trying to think of things.  But if I don’t have a list of books, one of the other things that we were talking about was a NoveList Plus.  That’s another resource we have in the library that’s on Readers’ Cafe.  And you can say, you know, what types of books you’re interested in and it will give you some suggestions.


And then from that data, so you can link in to the catalogue.  And even cooler, when you’re searching the catalogue, when you search for say Harry Potter, which is of course a series that I love, you can scroll down in the catalogue, open up the tab and it actually has other suggestions right there.  They’re actually – it’s actually embedded right in the catalogue too as well.  So when you’re using our catalogue, you can get some other ideas of books that are similar to the ones that you’re excited about.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah, very helpful.


David Watts:  Had it influenced to read genres you’ve generically had never been attracted to?


Susan Moritz:  Working in the libraries has so opened my mind up to genres, you know.  I sort of found myself reading more like very classic or historical fiction and I really have been like, you’re right, I want to help this customer.  It just really expanded my mind.  And I’ve read the Intro to – I’m also a George R. R. Martin from Games of Thrones.  And one of the things I read was his – he was introducing one of this – a collection of short stories.  And he said about the – I don’t know if you’ll remember, but the spinner rack.  And he was in a small town that didn’t have a lot of bookstores or libraries and he would go into the drugstore and they would have like the spinner rack, you know, with the books there.


And he would just get so many – read so many books.  Whatever happen to happen to be in that drugstore in that day and he said he read so many different genres and it helped him to become a writer.  And even though, you know, he’s writing Game of Thrones and fantasy, he bought – he brought so much of historical like political royal intrigue into his fantasy novels.  And I think that just reading – I just think it’s such a great thing.  It just expands, you know, my reading and my connection and just it opened yourself up to other genres which I think is just wonderful.  It makes you a better person, you know, more well-rounded I guess is what I was saying.


Lisa Navidi:  For me, I’ve run several book discussion groups and we try – especially in the Davis one, we try to hit different genres and short stories and nonfiction and literary fiction.  And I try always to, you know, open them up.  And that’s what makes me – has made me read different genres and different kinds of books.


David Watts:  I’m sure that knowledge has helped you with the What Do I Check Out Next.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  And vice versa.  It goes back and forth.  Then I can say, “Oh, this is a book I recommended.  You know, would you guys like to read it?”


Susan Moritz:  Yeah, I know.  That’s a great idea with – about the book clubs because I also belong to my personal book club.  And as my sister said who’s also in it, “You know, I read books that I never would have picked up myself.  I never would have, you know.”




Susan Moritz:  Yeah.  And it’s – and someone said just like, wow, that was – like the last one we read, I was like, “Wow, I never heard of this book.  What a great book.  I really enjoyed it.”  It was The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  I mean, I never would have picked this up and it reminded of like another book I love, Where’d You Go Bernadette.  And we have, you know, like Lisa says, you know, book discussion groups at the library.  It was a great way to connect.  And like you said like read books that you wouldn’t necessarily read.


Lisa Navidi:  That’s what I tell them.  Yeah.


Susan Moritz:  And you’re – and you find these gems that you never knew existed if you’re just in this one genre.




Lisa Navidi:  And they listen.  They go, “Why are we picking that book?”  Well, if you all love it, then there would be nothing to discuss.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.  That’s true.  That’s true.


Alessandro Russo:  What’s the most interesting book you ever read?


Lisa Navidi:  It’s about President Garfield and the murder.  It’s called – oh, I get this.  It’s going to –.


Susan Moritz:  Well, if you tell us enough about it, maybe it will come back to me.


Lisa Navidi:  Destiny of the Republic.  And it’s murder and mayhem and medical stuff and it’s all about the social climate around the assassination of President Garfield.  And that’s a book I recommend a lot.  It’s just fascinating and I just sort of picked it up and started reading it and –.


Alessandro Russo:  What’s the most interesting question that you’ve gotten from a query?


Lisa Navidi:  Strange that you should answer that question and that you should ask that question.  I have one here that I picked.  I’m looking for suggestions for my teenage son.  We have a tradition of reading out loud before bed, but he has outgrown the new Newbery type books and some of the deeper classics are hard to get into for only 10 to 15 minutes a night.  And then he talks about the books that he has read, the classics.  But lately he’s asked for mysteries, crime novels, spy novel.  And the last – I’m afraid I’m in a lost for authors.  So I thought that was very – and so I told – I answered it, “Thanks so much for bringing this interesting question to our librarian’s group.  This has actually sparked a conversation among our Readers’ Advisory librarians.”  And it did.  There were four of us and we were discussing what books and that’s the kind of things that we recommended.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.


Lisa Navidi:  Or not from me, but from all of us.


Susan Moritz:  And what I thought what’s so wonderful about that is only reading aloud at any age, you know, like, you know, because here it was a teenage son you just think of like, “Oh, the story times and they’re young,”, but like keeping that passion alive, you know, when they get older, you know, and you know, if they’re reluctant readers.  So keeping that exciting.


And then also the – like I think we were talking about what if you’re not very familiar with the genre.  And my colleagues, you get to know your colleagues and you’re like, “Oh, wait, so and so loves historical fiction,” or, “I know they love graphic novels.”  And you know there was people you can tap to.  And like Lisa was saying with this answer, they all – you know, her colleagues, you know, on the What Do I Check Out Next because I call them a team because they are a team.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.


Susan Moritz:  And they came together to be like, “Hey, this is the best, you know, that our brains came up with, you know, to help, you know, carry on this great tradition with your child as the child’s getting older.”


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


David Watts:  Do you receive, as far as questions go, and then you respond, do you receive a lot of positive feedback from your suggestions?


Lisa Navidi:  No.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.


Lisa Navidi:  They could have sent it up into the ether and occasionally we’ll get.  But I have not – I’ve received one, one or two I think.


Susan Moritz:  I was going to say the stuff that I have seen has been enthusiastically positive.  And I think some – but sometimes I think that comes right at the question itself sometimes.  Sometimes it’s in response back about it.  But sometimes it’s – right in the front end when they’re submitting the form, they say, you know, “I love this.  I can’t wait to read.”  And I think what I was – what’s great about it is Lisa and I were talking about earlier was the diversity and like the customers and the questions and how like excited they are to have this.  There was one comment about the, “I was looking for a book matching service and I Googled and I found this service.”  And I was like – I was just blown away.  I was like, “Wait, you Googled and you found our What Do I Check Out Next?”


Lisa Navidi:  Wow, that is –.


Susan Moritz:  You know, I’m just – you know, now we’ve made it right.


Lisa Navidi:  It’s great.


Susan Moritz:  But it’s just so exciting about just the, like I said, the diversity and the – but they’re all bringing that passion for reading.  They’re excited to read.  They want to read some of the things we’ve gotten, mothers who, “I’m so busy, but I’m looking for some good books to read,” or, “I’m looking for – you know, I’m a busy parent, I’m looking for books for my kids”.  We had one that was a teacher who not only loved to read books themselves, but were looking for thought-provoking books for his classroom.  So lots of different diversity and somebody who is retired who, “Now, I’ve got this time to read.”  Somebody who definitely only wanted fiction titles because they read too much nonfiction at work.


Lisa Navidi:  Right.


Susan Moritz:  So I just love the diversity of the customers and the questions a they’re all super enthusiastic.  You know, I think when I hear back from them.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.  I think this is a really different kind of service we’re providing because if you go online and go to different sites, you’ll get a computer matching kind of thing.  And this is actually people.


Alessandro Russo:  A person.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.


Lisa Navidi:  A person.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.


Alessandro Russo:  Yeah.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.  And I think that’s what – I think Lisa hit on something that that was very important to us when we were launching this service because we – when we were thinking about it, we looked at two different library systems who – the one will definitely nameless.  We looked at them and I tested out as a customer.  I went on, I filled out their form, I sent it back.  And one, it was just sort of a wrote – look the like the response, it just looked somebody copied and pasted, you know, a review and sent it to me.


The other one which I believe was Seattle Public Library was just awesome.  They sent me back.  I told them I love everything which is true, from Jane Austen to like George R. R. Martin, you know, wide range of stuff because I read a wide range of stuff.  But it was just so personal, so upbeat, so positive.  It was just like I had my own personal librarian who was as excited about reading as I was and was trying to match with exactly what I had said I was looking for to read with some other books that I had not read before that I was excited about.  And that was definitely the model I was going for, was definitely that personalized, friendly, upbeat, you know, connecting, you know, sort of readers to their own sort of personal librarian.


Alessandro Russo:  It sounds like even though let’s say you’re providing this answer to the suggestion, even though you may not get a response saying thank you, it’s just they came to you as a service and they receive that service and you’re just putting that positivity out in universe.  You know, like, “Here’s our suggestions.  Take them, run with them, do what you need to with that.”


Susan Moritz:  Definitely.  And one of the things I was thinking of was that a lot of times, it takes that time to read.  So, you know, we’re giving – we’re sending three to five book recommendations.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  So it takes some time to read from them to be like – but we definitely have had repeat customers who was like, “Hey, you said I could come back when I’ve got – when I need some more reading suggestions.  I read the book.”


Lisa Navidi:  I feel like –.


Susan Moritz:  So we had somebody who came back with that.  And when I was looking through comments, one of the other one was somebody who said, “I’m just so tired of like reading this review because a lot of stuff sometimes is fluff.”  You know, you always hear about sometimes about those people are who are paid on Amazon to write reviews, you know.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah, yeah.


Susan Moritz:  And being disappointed.  You know, these – you know, “Oh, everyone love this book so I, you know, picked it up but, you know.”  And then being disappointed.  But they actually have a personal recommendation based on what you said that you like and not just sort of – it’s not as much hit and miss out there in the online universe with trying to find book – good books to read.


David Watts:  I think it’s a great service.  Personally, I read a lot of books and I also take a lot of time previewing what’s next.  I tend to read a specific author and read everything they have to offer because I kind of know what I’m going to get.  So what you’re service offers is the opportunity to have a resource where I can find out about a book without actually having ever read that anything that that author has done.  And I think that’s a great service to the community, and a great service that our department offers.


Susan Moritz:  Thank you.  And yeah, like you, I definitely – when I find a good author, it’s like you want to read everything by them.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes, yes.


Susan Moritz:  And I just recently discovered Jon Krakauer Into the – Into Thin Air, Into the Wild.


Lisa Navidi:  Oh, right, yes.  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  And I think that’s also been something that’s been great for me.  It’s like nonfiction.  I used to seem like when I was growing, nonfiction was so boring.  And now, not that nonfictions I read like novels and I’m just like, “What’s going to happen next?”


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  And exactly like that, like you find that great author.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.


Susan Moritz:  And it’s a great thing too.  It might be for the customer an author they have never heard of that now they are excited about.  And, hey, maybe they like us.  We’ll read through everything that they can find by that author.


Alessandro Russo:  So traditionally, we ask the question, what’s your favorite book you have owned?


David Watts:  And what’s on your night stand?


Lisa Navidi:  Oh, okay.


Susan Moritz:  That’s pretty big.  How long do we have here?


Lisa Navidi:  Well, right now, what’s on my nightstand is Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place.  She’s an Irish author and I just like the way she writes about women a lot.  But in this book, she writes about a couple and she takes – she narrates it from the woman’s point of view and then she narrates it from the man’s point of view.  And it keeps me going back.  That’s how I know if I like it, because if I don’t like it, then I’ll find excuses to read something else.


David Watts:  I think the best reads are where you can imagine the voice of the author –


Susan Moritz:  Oh, definitely, definitely.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes, yes.


David Watts:  – and when they are speaking on your wavelength.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.  Yeah.


David Watts:  And you tune in and you say, “I really like how they’re speaking to me.  Yeah.


Lisa Navidi:  But what my favorite books is, it depends.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.  I was – I feel like it’s the favorite book that I’m reading right now that I’m so like loving.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes, exactly.


Susan Moritz:  That’s the – yeah.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.


Susan Moritz:  There’s too many to choose from.


Lisa Navidi:  This year, I discovered, or last year, Fredrik Backman who wrote A Man Called Ove, and all the other books, Brit-Marie Came Home or Brit-Marie something.  And I – oh, I read all his books so far.


Susan Moritz:  Oh, that’s great.


Lisa Navidi:  And he’s coming out with a new one.  And it’s just a fresh new – yeah.


Susan Moritz:  Well, that got me excited.  I think I picked up one that was Tell Me I’m Sorry or Tell Me Your Sorry.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes, yes.  So it’s –.


Susan Moritz:  I can’t remember what it was, but it’s something by him.


Lisa Navidi:  That’s his, yeah, second one.


Susan Moritz:  So I’m excited to read that.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah, that is fast.


Susan Moritz:  Oh, good, good.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.


Susan Moritz:  Awesome.


Lisa Navidi:  Really goes into a lot of different genres, plus fairytale stuff.


Susan Moritz:  That sounds great, merging all the great genres into one.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah, yes.


Susan Moritz:  Fabulous.  Let’s see.  I’m trying to – for myself.  So right now, I’m going to admit it, I’m feeling the force so I’m reading Rogue One, the novelization, so hashtag Star Wars.  So –.


Lisa Navidi:  I just thought of that.


Susan Moritz:  Yes, very good, very good.  So I’m reading that.  I’m listening – enjoying that.  And I don’t know.  There’s just something about – I love seeing the movie, but then I want to know what they were thinking.


David Watts:  Yes, yes.


Susan Moritz:  So that’s my –.


David Watts:  The backstory.


Susan Moritz:  The backstory, exactly.


David Watts:  Yeah, yes.


Susan Moritz:  So that’s my reason for reading Rogue One.  But – yes, I’m reading that, enjoying that.  And then I also listening to The Case of the Missing Servant by I think it’s Tarquin Hall, which has been really good.  It’s a mystery set in Delhi.  It just sort of reminds me sort of like a bit of a cozy mystery.  I just finished, you know, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.


David Watts:  Wow.


Susan Moritz:  Very, very good, awesome.  It’s – it goes through his life.  As soon as he climbed out the window and disappears, he’s 100 years old.  And then it also goes through his backstory when he was born.  And it peruses the chapters, you know, what happened when he was – and he basically almost hits every single political person.  President Truman, he winds up in Los Alamos.  Stalin, Russia, he winds up in a gulag.  I mean, he just run – you know, like Forrest Gump runs into all these different things.


And next up also, it was very good.  I highly recommend it.  That was a pick from my book club.  And the other ones that are on my nightstand that come up, As You Wish, you know, literature.  It what brings us together today.  So it was great.  I can’t wait to read that one, As You Wish, the making of the Princess Bride.


Lisa Navidi:  I’ve read that.


Susan Moritz:  If I wouldn’t got the little joke.  And, so yeah, I can’t wait to read that.  I’ve heard good things.  I also was so excited to read, I think it’s called The Summer Before the War.  It’s on my nightstand.


Lisa Navidi:  I read that.  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  Yes.  I loved –.


Lisa Navidi:  That’s a good one to recommend to people who are – who love Downton Abbey.


Susan Moritz:  That’s I’m about to say because I’m missing Downton Abbey, so.


Lisa Navidi:  Yeah.  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  And I loved her other book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.  Awesome, awesome book.


Lisa Navidi:  Yes.


Susan Moritz:  Yeah.  So that was a great book.  So I can’t wait to read her, speaking of, you know, you want to carry on with the author.  You know, it’s like I like this book.  And yeah, yeah, I just see the piles and piles of books that are surrounding me that are waiting to be read.  So – but that was a few of the highlights that are coming up next.


David Watts:  You’re in good company.  You work at the right place.


Susan Moritz:  Yes, definitely, definitely.  Yes.  And also in the right place to pick up all my family members’ hold.  So, yes, you know, sharing the reading love.  Definitely.


David Watts:  I got a text while we’re doing this interview to bring a book home.


Susan Moritz:  Oh, there you go.


David Watts:  We can all relate.


Alessandro Russo:  I want to thank our guests today, Susan and Lisa.  And we want to thank our listeners.  And make sure join us next time and to follow us on and to make sure you check out or social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Thank you.

Feb 7, 2017

Montgomery County Public Libraries

Recording Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Guests: Susan Moritz, Program Manager for Virtual Services and Lisa Navidi, Librarian at Davis Library

Items of interest mentioned during this episode - 

NovelistPlus - Online tool for discovering new books. Includes adult and children's books.   

Readers Cafe - MCPL website for discovering you next favorite book. 

What Do I Check Out Next? - Personalized book suggestions based your preferences.

Notable Quote: Reader's advisory is "connecting the right reader to the right book at the right time. 

Books, movies and television shows mentioned during this episode -

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall. Librarian Susan Mortiz referred to this book as a "cozy mystery." Cozy mysteries tend to downplay sex and violence, and the stories often take place in a small, interconnected community. 

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

Downton Abbey (DVD)

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer 

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Rogue One (in theaters)

Rogue One (the novelization) by Alexander Freed

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell

Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Read the full transcript

Feb 7, 2017

Listen to the audio

Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer):  Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.

Alessandro Russo:  Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries new podcast.  Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.  I’m Alessandro Russo, a librarian at MCPL’s Kensington Park Branch.

David Watts:  And I’m David Watts, the Circulation Supervisor at Silver Spring Library.  We hope you’ll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.

Alessandro Russo:  For our first episode, we have MCPL Director Parker Hamilton with us to discuss the role of libraries and MCPL in particular in a time of change.  What is your role as MCPL director?

Parker Hamilton:  I’m the director of public libraries for Montgomery County, Maryland.  And in that role, I get to serve the residents of Montgomery County, Maryland.  We’re a County of about 1 million people, we’re very diverse.  I came to the county in 1980 from Evanston, Illinois and settled in the county because of the diversity that it promised us in 1980.  If I’m to be true, that diversity did not exist but it does today.  And so in my role, I am charged, I am honored to provide library services to the residents of Montgomery County.

Alessandro Russo:  It sounds like a big job.

Parker Hamilton:  It’s a big job.  But you know what’s so cool about it?  I have so many people help me do it.  Not only do I have an outstanding staff of people but I have community support, the funders support us, and we have national organizations that help tell the story of public libraries.  So, it’s a big job but it’s not one that I do by myself.

David Watts:  Parker, the role of libraries in our country is in flux.  Where do you see or how do you see leverage changing in Montgomery County in the next five to 10 years and even in the far distant future?

Parker Hamilton:  You know what?  I believe, and I think we see it in Montgomery County, our residents determine what a library would look like and what public libraries can do.  As you look back how Montgomery County has changed over the years, we were a white affluent community.  And the services and programs that we offered during that time served the needs of that community.

David Watts:  Absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  Now, today, we are minority, majority community.  We have young people, we have people who speak different languages, we have people who are looking for jobs who cannot afford to go to a college, we are the university of those people, and so that informs us and helps us as librarians and administrators decide what to offer because we can sit in our offices or in our branches and even go out and say, “Oh, I am going to do this.  If it does not have an impact, if it does not draw in the community why are we doing it?  So I think it’s the community.  It’s the residents that will help us determine how we’re going to look in the next five years.

David Watts:  Well, I think you’ve done an excellent job in being forward-thinking.  I work at Silver Spring as you know and we are not a drive-up branch.  So, when you talk about how libraries have changed in this county, most of our branches are drive-up branches, family can just drive up, but Silver Spring was designed specifically for walk-up clientele.  That took a lot of guts because I’m sure there was a lot of pushback when that was on the drawing board.  But I think you would admit it’s been successful.

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, Silver Spring is it’s really, really successful.  We just had this huge event there last Saturday.  My staff is this really funny.  We have lots of really great ideas in this library department and the folks come to me and say, “Parker, I have this idea and I think we should do this comic convention.”  They expected me to say no and I said, “Come on.”  So I think I’m a good listener and I listen to understand.  And I think if someone is bold enough to come up with an idea and want to share it with me, then I want to say yes.  It may not look exactly the way they think it should look by the time we get through tweaking it, but I do want to say yes because I do believe that that experience helps us as an organization.  And if only administrators are doing it, then we’re not going to grow as an organization.  I really believe that we can lead from any position.  So a frontline staff person can help lead this organization.

Alessandro Russo:  And you did mention the few – the changes that you’ve seen being within MCPL.  And I think a good point you just brought up is kind of this concept of it’s not a administration making decision its trickle-down system, it’s kind of tell us what you want within the staff ladder and then we’ll all work together to try to make it happen.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly, because we’re a system and we’re a team.  And you guys hear from people that I never get to talk to, but I also hear from people that you never get to talk to, and I also have bosses, and so, with all of that information, then jointly, together, we serve the residents of this county.  We did our strategic plan recently.

David Watts:  That’s just what I was about to ask you about.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.

David Watts:  If you could help us to understand the new strategic plan, where it came from, what was the impetus for it, and how did we arrive at the decisions that we should take?

Parker Hamilton:  Well, you touched earlier, David, about the library of the future.  So our county executive held a summit, it was The Library Summit of the Future, and then he got a second one.  And, you know, may I take the opportunity?

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  So if you’re going to have a summit with Mr. Leggett, our strategic plan is coming to the close.  Let’s use that opportunity to talk to our residents and gather information to help us create a new strategic plan.  And so, we took that opportunity to talk to over a thousand residents.  It happened in the branches.  Our outreach team went out and talked to folks in the community.  Mr. Leggett did a online chat and we asked questions and we listened and we allowed people to build off of each other.  And so by visibly sharing what folks are hearing and say, “This is what Mrs. Brown thinks.  This is what Mr. Bran – Mr. Jones said, what do you think?” you know.  And I really believe that it’s important that people see themselves in our libraries.  And so, if you walk into our library, David, as an African-American male, I want you to find information, programs, and services that you can use that will make an impact in your life.  And I want that for every residents whether, they’re 16 years old, whether they’re 80 years old, whether it’s a mother or a father, or a caregiver pushing them in their stroller, you should be able to walk away with something to take home or either use in our library in order to enrich your life.

So the strategic plan came about as a result of Mr. Leggett’s second summit.  And Mr. Leggett is a great supporter of library services he has a great vision for what he wants to have happen in this county.  And he knows where to go and say, “I want this done.”  So one of the things that he said to me at that summit was, “Parker, I want libraries to do more in the area of workforce development.  So you’ll see in our strategic plan, an emphasis on workforce development.  You also see in our strategic plan an emphasis on delighting the customers that became very critical because, as I said, earlier this county is a minority-majority county, and try as we might in all of our branches we don’t have staff that reflects the community.  And so it became important that we train our staff in order to understand the demographics of this county and what that really means.  We like to think that we live in a colorblind society, but I believe that color matters because we are who we are because of our background.  I am who I am because I’m an African-American female, 68 years old from the South.  The life that I’ve lived has brought –

David Watts:  Reflects that.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly.  And that is for everyone.  And so, if you don’t understand what it means to talk to a child who may have lived in El Salvador or Africa, how are you going to provide library services that’s going to delight them.

David Watts:  Absolutely, absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  And so that delighting, our customers became – let’s delight our customers but let’s take care of our staff, let’s train our staff, let’s develop our staff in order for success to take place on both sides of that desk.

David Watts:  So in that, customer-based decision making is one component.  That’s allowing a customer to feel that they’re involved in how the service is delivered to them and helping them to also understand where we have to draw a line sometimes.

Parker Hamilton:  Right, right.

David Watts:  And that’s about being conversational with our customer.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly.

David Watts:  Even though they come from these various diverse backgrounds, it’s saying to them, “I want your input.  I want you to be involved.  I want us to be partners.  It all helps fulfill our mission statement, which as you know is to help everyone to learn and grow.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly, exactly.

David Watts:  So some of the programming that we’re doing is getting broad and going in that direction.  What, in terms of programming, are we doing to grow and develop?

Parker Hamilton:  I think – I just want to go back one more step and talk about the strategic plan as a commitment.  I think it’s my commitment to the staff that this is the work that we’re going to do, but I’m going to ensure that you have the resources to do the work.

David Watts:  Absolutely.  And Mr. Leggett – not to cut you off – has been instrumental in us getting the level of funding that we need to be successful.

Parker Hamilton:  Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.

David Watts:  Yeah.

Parker Hamilton:  And then it’s our commitment to our residents that we’re going to provide the best services possible within our resources.  I believe that we’re public servants and I believe that the taxpayers are our bosses.  And I think when you have that that philosophy of service, it helps with that conversation that you want to have.  It helps with the respect that we want to have.  And so, we’ve been working really hard, trying to develop different types of programs.  We’re working with the public schools.  We’re working with the workforce development organizations, we’re working with the colleges, and we’re trying to see how not to present programs that conflict with each other with programs that complement in each other, and forms on a continuum.

David Watts:  Absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  So if a certain subject is being taught in the school – for example, STEM – then libraries, I think, should help with that, and that is why you say that we’re doing a lot of programs in STEM, we’re doing coding, we’re doing a lot of programs for our young adults.  And people are living longer.  Mr. Leggett has an emphasis on seniors, so we’re doing lots of program on seniors.  And because seniors are living longer, they’re having two, three career opportunities.  And because the world is changing, they have to develop new skills as they go to search for jobs when they’re 60 years old versus 20 years old.  And so that’s why we’re doing technology programs for teens and seniors.  And I just think that the conversation you talked about gets us there.

David Watts:  Absolutely.

Parker Hamilton:  And so, we will do different type programs next year because we’re going to hear from our customers this worked, what about this.  And then we’re going to hear from our staff and see.  You know, I went to a program at Barnes & Noble or I went to a program in another library system and this is what they’re doing and this is the impact, let’s give it a try here.  And here’s why I think it would make a difference in the lives of the people who live in Montgomery County.

David Watts:  One thing that I did want to touch on, Parker, because I – when you were talking about new programs, I know you’re excited about this new initiative library link and it must have been tremendously rewarding to be a part of that and to see that in the branches.

Parker Hamilton:  I’m just going to tell all my staff.  Usually, when we sign a memorandum of understanding with another agency, that is signed by someone directly in Mr. Leggett’s office, either the chief administrative officer or either the assistant chief administrative officer or even Mr. Leggett.  So we finally got the agreement ready for signature.  I went to my day-to-day boss Tim Firestine, the chief administrative officer.  And I said, “I want my name to be on this document because I’ve been in this system almost 36 years and we have been trying to formulate a formal arrangement with library administration and the administration of Montgomery County Public Schools and we neither have one.  And so to achieve that, I really wanted my name on it and, yes, I did jump up on them.

Alessandro Russo:  I mean, that’s a very large bridge to construct and have in place, but one thing I think that the most positive impact it’s going to have it’s going to open other doors between the public libraries and even the school media specialists, you know.

Parker Hamilton:  Absolutely.  That’s just the first step and, you know, because a library card is a library card.  It’s really important to have a library card to use our databases, to check up materials.  But even more important, I think, is that relationship that’s going to occur between librarians like you and staff.  And because at the end of the day, their students are our students, and we want to ensure success, you know.  One of our missions is to prepare children ready to learn.

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  So how do you prepare children ready to learn?  You need to know what’s going to happen when they go to kindergarten.  You need to know what’s going to happen in first grade.

Alessandro Russo:  That’s sharing of curriculum.

Parker Hamilton:  Exactly.

Alessandro Russo:  What they have on their shelf we can kind of use it as inspiration for programming and events.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.

David Watts:  And just to touch upon it since we’re surrounded by it, the library Go! Kits have been –

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, absolutely, look at those.

David Watts:  That was really successful.

Parker Hamilton:  Yes.

David Watts:  And it’s growing.  I know that it was an initiative that you helped bring in with funding from the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County.

Parker Hamilton:  Yes.

David Watts:  So you’re continuing in your legacy trailblazing.

Parker Hamilton:  Well, you know, that’s very kind.  But as I said earlier, you just don’t do it by yourself.  You don’t do it by yourself.  And you make sound selections about the people that you bring into the system and you give them an opportunity to grow.  You’ve been on the young adult programs, you’ve – you helped with the – at the comic conference, you served on my director’s advisory committee.

David Watts:  I drove the book mobile.

Parker Hamilton:  There you go.  And so just the experience and opportunity and, you know – and I believe in stretching.

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  And I also believe that I want to prepare staff to walk the doors.  Sometimes you walk through a door and it’s cracked and you got to push it a little bit.  And then, you know, you go through it.  And then sometimes, there’s a wall on that side of the door and it pushes you back, but that shouldn’t stop you.  And so, that development, that training, that talking is just critical for us as a system to improve, to grow, to do our very best in serving the residents of this county.

David Watts:  Well it hasn’t all been roses.  I mean, I’m sure there’s been some challenges along the way.  Would you like to talk about what your greatest challenge was as director?

Parker Hamilton:  My greatest challenge as a director was when we went to the last recession.

David Watts:  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  The last recession was really hard on public libraries.  Our budget, by the end of the recession, had been cut by 30% and our customers, our users still had the same expectation.  But the greatest pain was telling staff that their position was eliminated.  No, we did not – the county government found ways to place people, but they were no longer MCPL staff.

David Watts:  Right, right, yes, yes.

Parker Hamilton:  And they were the people that we selected, that we trained, that we formed relationships with.  We knew the impact of going from a part-time job – I’m sorry – for a full-time job to a part-time job, you know.

David Watts:  To work.  Yes.

Parker Hamilton:  We get to become family.  And so, we know that Mary was the breadwinner because Joe was someplace else.

David Watts:  Yes, yes.

Parker Hamilton:  And so that was really, really hard.

David Watts:  But you shepherded us through.  It was tough.  Now, we’re back to pre-recession funding levels.  What’s next on your table for the libraries?

Parker Hamilton:  What’s next on my table?  I was telling some folks the other day it’s, “I want to continue the networking that we’ve done with nonprofit organizations with other county departments to ensure that we’re stronger as a county.  And so what I want to do is have a thank you in that working party, you’re just planning it.  I want to bring everyone in the room and have the different organizations who have helped us deliver programs and services like the folks who work at comic convention and just introduce them to each other and thank them for helping us, you know, move forward when we needed help, and we needed help because we weren’t able to do it.  Now, we want to give back to them and we want them to continue to work with each other, you know, serving our county.  I think that we need to do more marketing of our programs and services.  I think we’ve got great events going on, great ideas, and we don’t do the best that we can in that area.  So that, there’s the area of gap that we need to do, and I think this podcast is a good way to start.  I’m excited about the next programs that you guys have lined up.  And so I think that’s going to be really –

Alessandro Russo:  We’re hoping it goes well, so.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.  Well, listen, you know, you - both you guys are great, so I just think it’s going to be a great opportunity to showcase MCPL.

David Watts:  Well, we’re excited about starting this venture and we’re excited about the opportunities that you’ve given us.  But just, if we can as we prepare to close out – obviously you became a librarian because you love books.  Not true?

Parker Hamilton:  Actually, no.  I do not love books.

David Watts:  You do not love –

Parker Hamilton:  I do not love books.  I love – I love learning.

David Watts:  That’s a shock.  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  I love learning.

David Watts:  Okay, okay.

Parker Hamilton:  I became a librarian because when I went to the University of Illinois, I did – I was a financial aid and I worked in a library at night in order to supplement our income.  We were on food stamps, you know, we were poor.  As I said earlier, I grew up in the South.  And when I walked into that library and I saw those tools, I was like, “Oh, my gosh.  If I had been exposed to this, I would have really been a sharp student.”  So, yes, I love books but I love learning.

David Watts:  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  So I see, you know, libraries as a learning place, and a product that we have are books.  And I know not everyone feels that way, but I think I’m a unique director because I did not plan to become a director.  I was, you know, I was asked and it was, I guess, it was timing.  And so having worked on the second floor, I took this job aside as a business.  And so, okay, so what do I need to do to ensure that the products that we have that the tools that we have ends up in the impact that we want to have.  And that’s why when I think about a library before, I think about books, I think about learning.

David Watts:  Okay.

Alessandro Russo:  So would you say you have a favorite book?

Parker Hamilton:  I did not have a favorite book, but I do love Southern writers.  I like Eudora Welty.  I love the Eudora Welty.  And I also like those English literature – what’s the guy’s name?  Was it Henry Fielding?  James Fielding?  Henry Fielding?  Henry Fielding, I think.  Piers Plowman, that was an old book written along with the Chaucer’s Tale – Canterbury Tales.

Alessandro Russo:  Canterbury Tales.

David Watts:  Canterbury Tales.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.  So, I like reading that type of literature.  But I find myself drawn to two books written by female southern authors.

David Watts:  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah.

David Watts:  What are you reading now?

Parker Hamilton:  What am I reading now?  I’m not reading anything now.  But last week, I have a guilty pleasure.  I just admire Taraji Henson.

David Watts:  Okay.

Parker Hamilton:  So I borrowed her biography from the Rockville Memorial Library and read it in one day.

David Watts:  Wow.

Parker Hamilton:  I’m a binge reader, you know.  If I want to read it I’m going to read it.  And so, I got it on a Friday evening and went and got my hair down on a Saturday morning back home.  And from 10:00 o’clock to probably around 7:00 o’clock at night, I was enjoying Taraji Henson.

David Watts:  Yeah, she’s from the D.C. area.

Parker Hamilton:  Yeah, in the D.C. area.  She’s just an amazing person.

David Watts:  Okay.  So we want to thank you for being our first guest and our greatest guest today.

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, today.  Bring me back after the end of the series and then –

David Watts:  We absolutely would –

Parker Hamilton:  Then we’ll see what you say.

David Watts:  We absolutely will.  It has been delightful to chat with you, Parker.

Parker Hamilton:  Oh, I’ve enjoyed this.

Alessandro Russo:  Thank you, Parker.

Parker Hamilton:  Nice getting to know.

Alessandro Russo:  Yes.

David Watts:  You’ve brought a lot of insight to us relative to libraries and the strategic plan and we’re looking forward to having future conversations with you about other aspects of the libraries.

Parker Hamilton:  Okay, sounds good.  I look forward to it.  Well, congratulations.

Alessandro Russo:  Thank you.  And we want to thank our listeners.  And make sure to join us next time and do follow us on  And make sure you check out our social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Thank you.

Feb 6, 2017

Montgomery County Public Libraries

Recording Date
: Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Guest: Parker Hamilton, Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries

Books and authors mentioned during this episode -

Around the Way Girl: a Memoir by Taraji P. Henson. Henson is an American actress, singer, and author.

Eudora Welty – 20th century American known for her short stories and novels about the American South.

Henry Fielding – 18th century English novelist known his humor and biting satire.

Piers Plowman – A 14th century Middle English narrative poem by William Langland.

Other items of interest mentioned during this episode -

The comic con, MoComCon, mentioned in this episode took place at Silver Spring Library on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

Library Link - Library Link is a partnership between Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). This initiative is part of a national program to ensure every child enrolled in school receives a library card.

When Director Hamilton mentions "having worked on the 2nd floor," she is referring to the County Executive's offices, where she served as an Assistant Chief Administrative Officer. 

Read the full transcript