Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. My name is Adrienne Miles Holderbaum and I’m one of the co-producers of the podcast.
Mark Santoro: my name is Mark Santoro. I’m the other co-producer of Library Matters.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And today we’re flipping the script, we’re going to interview the hosts. We’re going to talk about working in libraries and also find out a little bit more about each of them. So we’ll begin. David, why don’t you introduce yourselves officially or personally to our listeners?
David Watts: My name is David Watts. I’m a circulation supervisor with Montgomery County Public Libraries. I’m currently stationed at Silver Spring Library.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how long have you been with MCPL?
David Watts: 17 years.
Alessandro Russo: My name is Alessandro Russo. I am the senior librarian at the Rockville Memorial Library. I’ve been with Montgomery County Public Libraries for two and a half years.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how long have you worked in libraries, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: Since 2010 – back up. 2009, I started volunteering in libraries and then in 2010, I had my first library paid position.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Did you have any professional experience before you came to libraries?
Alessandro Russo: So I was raised working in the restaurant and so I dipped into a lot of everything from washing dishes to cooking, to managing a few of my family’s restaurants, so – especially my current position, I use a lot of that – those skills just like personnel organization and working in a very fast-paced environment.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, David? Have you always worked the libraries?
David Watts: No, I haven’t. I worked in the Washington D.C. school system for 18 years. So the library is like a second career for me.
Mark Santoro: And how did you both make the transition from restaurant work or being a public school teacher to working in libraries? Did you have to get more education or certificate or how did you make the transition from one to the other?
David Watts: Well, I sort of burned out, so I came to the libraries to sort of get away from the whole experience of the school system. And I came to a library and started as the bookmobile driver and did that for about a year and then I was promoted to one of the branches at Quince Orchard and I worked as a library assistant too for a year, and then I was promoted again to circulation supervisor, and I worked at Wheaton Library for six years. And then sort of a rollercoaster ride since then. I’ve worked at eight different branches in the same capacity. So, no, I didn’t have specialized education coming in.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro, making change from restaurant work to working libraries, what did you have to do formally to make that happen?
Alessandro Russo: Right. My story began, well, when I graduated high school and I thought I was just going to run the family business, you know. So high school wasn’t my best years as far as, you know, I didn’t try very hard and then I received a scholarship because of a certain status that I had and that allowed me to go to Community College where I discovered anthropology, which is my undergrad, which is my background. And so – and then I went into International Studies. And so I had this glorious idea that I was going to go work for United Nations when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and then reality hit me and I realized that it’s very, very difficult if you don’t have an in at the United Nations. And so, meanwhile, I’m working at my family’s restaurants and, you know, just picking up the trade and then I decide I want to be involved in my community, so I started volunteering at my local library.
It was a very small library in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. And I did that for a few months. And when the library director at the time approached me and said, “If you like this, you could make a career out of this.” And that’s when I kind of never thought me that I would go to graduate school, like I didn’t see myself, you know, getting a master’s degree. And so when I looked further into the program, I looked at the requirements and, hey, you had to take a test, I took the tests and qualified, and I began working on my master’s of library science degree all while I was working at this local library and I picked up a few other positions at other various libraries nearby.
Mark Santoro: So you started working for the library before you were a librarian?
Alessandro Russo: Correct.
Mark Santoro: What were you doing at first?
Alessandro Russo: So at Adamstown, we – we’re a very small staff. There was about four of us and I was including the director. So I was kind of doing librarian stuff at that time as well. I was answering questions. And what was great is I was getting live experience because at the same time I was working on my master’s degree, so I was kind of – as I was building my education, I was able to use what I was learning in the classroom and using it in my job.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: David, what skills from your previous jobs or careers with – specifically with – in D.C. Public Library – oh, sorry, D.C. Public Schools do you use in your current job in the library?
David Watts: Well, all of them. In a previous life, you know, related to kids at a very basic level, helping them to understand what their duties and responsibilities were as students and helping to get materials in their hands and helping them to progress towards whatever their life’s calling was. In the libraries, it’s a little different but somewhat the same. People come in and they’re seeking information. And so we’re their first point of access when they come into the library. We try to guide them to the different collections. We try to help them to receive materials that they have ordered, or we try to help them when they’ve made catalogue selections to actually receive the materials in the way that they would like to receive that. So it correlates in a – in a direct fashion but it is just about helping people. And, you know, many professions provide the same thing but in libraries, we just try to connect with our customers and help them to realize whatever it is that they desire to learn and grow.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So we heard a little bit about how Alessandro became interested in working in libraries and how he started working in libraries, what about you? Did you always want to work in the library?
David Watts: Well, I’m a big library user in that – I grew up in the local area and I grew up in an area that had a small kiosk sized library. So I would walk over to the library every day and read. Well, it just sort of carried on as I went to college. I went to the University of Maryland and I hung out in the under – what used to be the undergrad library and hung out in the McKeldin Library. And, of course, you guys know there’s a library school there. I didn’t go to library school but I always had this love of hanging out in libraries, reading, doing whatever I could to grow my information base.
As I became an adult, I found myself just enthralled with the idea of reading more and more books. I had this – I had this habit of frequenting the bookstores, the large retail bookstores that were in the area. At that time Borders, Barnes & Noble, and I’d spent maybe about $200, $250 a month on materials. I consumed books in a volume fashion. I read about 40 to 50 books a year and it doesn’t include the audiobooks that I consumed. So I’m a heavy volume library user. I love books. I love the idea of books. I love authors. I love the back stories. So working in the library is sort of a dream come true because it allows me to get paid for doing what I love.
Mark Santoro: This question is for both you. Did you have any preconceived notions about libraries before you started working in one that turned out to be wrong?
David Watts: Yeah. And it’s interesting that I was just telling the story to one of my employees. When I was in college at the University of Maryland, my best friend was dating someone who was in the library school. And, you know, the guys in the fraternity, we sort of teased him all the time about dating this librarian, you know, because we “sort of” bought into the stereotype of librarians being staid and shy and, you know, reluctant to engage, so we just really gave him the business so to speak. When I started working in libraries, I found out that that stereotype was totally untrue, and I feel kind of bad that, you know, that I’d given him such a hard time. So it was a preconceived notion about people and it turned out to be absolutely librarians come in all different kinds of personalities and all different kinds of flavors.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Yes, we do.
David Watts: And they’re just like normal people, yeah, exactly.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: So I was very fortunate to have a parent that loved libraries and would take me as a young child. And I still have memories, you know, sitting there in picture book area just flipping through endless amounts of books. And so I kind of took this concept that libraries and books, you know. And once I started working in libraries and being able to see, like, kind of behind the scenes, it is beyond books and like – it’s so much more because, now, being on the information side of it and understanding and receiving all these questions, I always felt like as librarians or library people, we are knowledge managers. Yeah, there’s all this information out there and someone needs to know how to search it, and that’s what librarians do. They know to search it, dissect it, and give it back as responses to public.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So, Alessandro, what was the most surprising aspect of working in the library and/or how they operate?
Alessandro Russo: So it’s not just as simple as “Here’s a book, I’m checking it out, it’s due on this day.” There’s a lot that goes in a library. There’s so much that the public does not see. There’s – working in this library system, you know, it’s such a nice organization as far as we have a very professional circulation staff that knows what they’re doing and takes care of all the circulation items and the behind the scenes, the processings of the book. Meanwhile, it allows the information side to collect resources to answer all these questions, to know the services of the library, to provide like various programming to make connections – community connections particularly and getting people into the branch and getting them to engage, you know. It’s more than just a book comes in, put this – being put on the shelf, and then if someone takes that book out, checks it out and leaves the library. There are just – it’s – there’s just so much – there’s so much to offer and so much to collect here.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: You can be a podcast host.
Alessandro Russo: Correct. I would not – I did not see that coming.
Mark Santoro: How about you, David, were there any surprises when you started working for the library?
David Watts: Well, I guess the biggest surprise is just the volume of work. If you – if you buy into stereotypes as I described previously, i.e., had bought into, you sort of think of working in the library is just sitting behind a desk reading all day. And, you know, my typical day is anything but that. And, you know, you’re constantly in motion and you’re trying to help people and you’re trying to engage people. And sometimes people can be irascible and not willing to be helped even though they’re asking you to help them. So there’s challenges all around. And, you know, I think from the outside looking in, the public perceives that we have an easy job but it’s really not an easy job.
Mark Santoro: Speaking of challenges, what are some of the most challenging or satisfying parts of your job?
David Watts: Well, certainly the most satisfying aspect of my job is seeing new materials come in, become organized, go out on the shelf, and actually see people excited to get that material in their hands. There’s nothing that I love more than a good book or nothing that I love more than reading something new that I’ve been interested in finding. And when people come in and they find these things there’s a certain gleam in their eye, there’s some satisfaction in their voice at being able to obtain this material. And to me, that’s exciting and it’s heartwarming. And then the other aspect that’s helpful is how we have linkages with the community. We see young people come in usually at an early age, preschool, when they come in for our story times. And having done this for 17 years, I’ve watched more than a few young people come in and they’ve now grown up in the library and I’ve watched them at ages and stages, and I’ve watched their reading interest change and all the while, I’ve watched them grow and develop as people. So that’s a rewarding aspect as well.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And how about you, Alessandro, what’s the most challenging part of the job and what’s the most satisfying?
Alessandro Russo: Challenging, I really dislike when I have to ask someone to leave the library, disruptive library users. I mean, you just have to follow the rules. If you follow the rules, then you could stay, but one of – it’s discipline. I’ve really – I’ve really never enjoyed being a disciplinary but it’s a part of the job, so I’ve learned to deal with it and learn to accept it. But what kind of outshines that is the most lasting part of my job is even though if – for example, if you’re helping someone and you provide them with information or you’re searching and you – and it’s just not the right answer they’re looking for, if they leave with a smile or know that you did everything you possibly could to help them, you know that that person is satisfied and they’ll walk out and they’ll remember that service. And it just makes my job a hundred times better when, you know, you tried your best and they’ll come back for another day, and maybe the next time will be much better.
Mark Santoro: What advice would you give to someone considering working in a library?
David Watts: Well, I would say to them as I say to anyone who’s considering a career, don’t think of it in the short-term, think of it across the whole span of a career. I have two 17-year old daughters who just graduated from high school and –
Mark Santoro: Congratulations.
David Watts: And they’re going off into their chosen fields of life. One wants to be a veterinarian and the other one wants to go into the Army. So what I’ve said to both of them is, “Okay, at the beginning, do you see yourself in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years, are you thinking through all of those things?” I think having had a career in government when I – when I first began, I did not see myself where I am now and I did not see halfway in the middle of a career deciding I don’t want to do this anymore. So I would say to anybody that wants to be a librarian, think about whether or not you really wanted to do this and you’re in it for the long haul. And that’s the advice that, you know, I think would be helpful because you guys would have to admit that being a librarian is changing now at such a rapid pace. What will it really be like in 20 years? Well, what you’re signing on for now, in fact, be the career that you chose 20 years before.
Mark Santoro: So, Alessandro, what advice would you give to someone who is considering a job or a career in libraries?
Alessandro Russo: Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. I was told to volunteer on the day I graduated, and it was the greatest advice that I have ever received in professional and career-wise because as a volunteer, you can go into an organization, work at the organization, and you’re always committed but you’re not committed in the level that you’re stuck. You volunteer. You’re feeling around, you’re making sure this is what I want to do. And the other side of volunteering is a lot of times it will get you into the door. The unfortunate thing is volunteering doesn’t pay but you – even if it’s only a few hours a week, you know, you’re still getting exposed to what that organization is and you build your – you’re building an interest and you’re kind of building an idea of asking yourself, is this what I want to do?
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: So how have libraries changed since you began your career? So, Alessandro, you began in 2009?
Alessandro Russo: Uh-hmm.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: David, you began in 17 years ago.
David Watts: 2000.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: I’d like to know, from each of you, how they changed.
David Watts: In 2000 when I came in, we did not have the technological advances that we currently see. The libraries had public access on computers, but they functioned on a very basic level. I can’t remember what our time limit was originally or even if we had a time limit when I first came, but the basics of having books and materials is pretty much the same. Now, the platforms have changed since I’ve been here. We’ve got eBooks and now we have magazines that are available online. We have received playways. All of these are advances that I’ve seen take place in South Cove [Phonetic] [0:22:38].
Alessandro Russo: So there’s two that kind of stuck with me and, obviously, I haven’t been in the library world as long as David, but the one is, I guess, when I was starting in libraries, it was the digitization of content. And Library of Congress was just starting their Library of Congress catalog two movement, which they were merging and migrating a lot of their records and a lot of their content. And kind of what – libraries kind of follow what the Library of Congress was doing. And so the libraries that I worked at, they were trying to figure out a way to digitize a lot of their collections, especially their historical collection. The one library I worked at has – had the one of the greatest collections for the Johnstown Flood that happened in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
And they were – you know, this was on old newspaper that we’re showing and they needed to find a way to digitize this content. And, you know, Library of Congress was doing it so, you know, they were trying to get on the – get on – trying to, you know, buy the equipment and figuring out how do we budget to digitize this collection, you know. And the second thing is I remember e-readers were the – were the thing. And, you know, every other month some new edition of an e-reader was coming out and, you know, even in library school, there’s articles “Is this the Death of Print?” And now, if you kind of fast forward, we see e-readers are kind of, you know, phasing out and eBooks are going to stick around, but the e-reader devices, I think, you know, they kind of were a phase and people aren’t investing because they – I think they’ve realized how much they misprint, you know.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Right. And they can also read on their phone.
Alessandro Russo: Correct.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: And on tablets that multitask and not just being books and they offer more things than just books, they offer a lot of e-resources and – as podcast.
David Watts: And if I could piggyback on what you’re saying, that’s probably the biggest change that we’ve seen in loggers is that the cellphone technology has changed tremendously since 2000 when I came in and the cell phone has become an integral part of what we do in our digital world. And to piggyback on what Alessandro was saying, I worked at a branch in 2000 that still had a microfiche reader. We had two branches that had microfiche readers and they were heavily used. But our administration had the foresight to understand that that was going to be a dying technology and move on. So what you’re saying the impetus that the Library of Congress gave all libraries was to move forward and think about in digital – digitizing their collections. And now, we have 3D printers. I shouldn’t leave that out. When I first started, we had dot matrix printers and we now have 3D printer.
Alessandro Russo: I remember the single – I worked at one library, it’s when I was working in the interlibrary loan office, it was the one copier page, you put a sheet of paper and it just made you one copy.
Mark Santoro: How can people apply to work at the library?
David Watts: They can go to the county’s website, click on careers and search the listings to see if there’s something of interest available and then they can actually apply online and receive responses about the status of their application, all online.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: You can look at our show notes to find out how to apply for a job with Montgomery County Public Libraries. We’ll include a link and instructions. So here’s another question for you guys to learn a little bit more about you. What’s a fun fact the people may not know about you? Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: So, I am a Cicerone certified beer server. Basically, it says I have knowledge in beer in general and how to make beer, different styles of beer. And I kind of – I’m a nerd, a beer nerd.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: What about you, David?
David Watts: I’m a licensed and ordained Baptist minister. I pastored a church for 20 years. I’ve married probably, let’s say, a hundred couples in 25 years of ministry accordingly, and probably buried a couple hundred people or performed eulogies for. I always think that’s interesting. People don’t necessarily look at me and know that.
Mark Santoro: Besides Library Matters, of course, what are your favorite podcasts?
David Watts: I’m currently consuming something called Two Pods A Day, which is a podcast that features independent podcasters, so it gives you a wide range of topics. A lot of it is comedy or satire, but there’s also a lot of content that is nonfiction and relating to things that are happening in the news. So it’s interesting because you sometimes get stale if you just listen to one podcast, and I like it. I’m also dedicated Tony Kornheiser podcast listener. He wrote for Washington Post for 20-plus years and he has a show on ESPN along with Michael Wilbon called Pardon the Interruption. So, he’s well-known throughout the country. And he speaks not only on sports but a range of topics in the news in the particular day. And his podcast style is somewhat acerbic which, for podcasters, is unusual because usually they’re trying to grow and connect with their audience and he’s trying to do just the opposite.
Alessandro Russo: It is true.
David Watts: Sort of being the grouchy old man who says get off my lawn, so it works for him.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, Alessandro?
Alessandro Russo: I’m really into the Nerdist right now, which is a great podcast that talks about everything from gaming to what’s the newest hero trailer and so – and they have great guests all the time, and it’s one of those podcasts where you don’t have to listen the whole time, you could kind of fall in fall out of it. Other podcasts I’ve been listening to lately are just a few other ones like Paranormal. The paranormal, investigation ones, or there’s a few ones that are focused on like beer styles and once called the Beard Nerdist, and it’s basically everything you want to know about beer.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Alessandro, what’s your favorite book or what’s on your nightstand? So those are two questions I wanted to ask.
Alessandro Russo: So, I always have a lot of books on my nightstand. But one of my favorite books is Baudolino by Umberto Eco. It’s a book that has adventure and you have the imagination. And I was kind of happy that we have a new library system because I always share it to others so.
Mark Santoro: And how about you, David?
David Watts: My favorite all-time book is Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Simply because it’s – there are so many major themes in the book; there’s revenge, there’s love, there’s betrayal, there are so many themes in the book. I think he does an excellent job of marrying all those themes together and holding your interest for what would be considered an epic book just for the length of it. What’s currently on my nightstand and it just keeps coming back to my nightstand is David and Goliath and that’s by –
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Malcolm Gladwell.
David Watts: Malcolm Gladwell, thank you for helping with that. I love his tone. He narrates his own eBooks, which is what I consume at night at bedtime. So I love his tone. I love his subject matter. He makes technical issues very, very plain and simple, and I enjoy listening to him.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Well, thank you David and thank you, Alessandro, for being guests today.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you. It’s nice to be on the other side sometimes.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Listeners keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We’d love to hear what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you soon.
Recording Date: June 13, 2017
Episode Summary: Learn more about the hosts of Library Matters, Alessandro Russo and David Watts. Alessandro and David talk about how they established their careers with MCPL and what it's like to work in a public library.
Guests: Alessandro Russo and David Watts
Guest Hosts: Adrienne Miles Holderbaum and Mark Santoro, co-producers of Library Matters.
MCPL Resources and Services Mentioned During this Episode:
3D Printing - Create a variety of objects both fun and functional with MCPL's 3D printers.
Books and Podcasts Mentioned During this Episode:
Baudolino by Umberto Eco. A lighthearted tale of an upwardly mobile peasant, Baudolino, who, in the early 1200s, rises through medieval society and sets out to meet the legendary Prester John
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Dumas' classic tale of a falsely imprisoned man who seeks vengeance against those who betrayed him.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell reveals the unexpected relationships and balance between the weak and the strong.
The Nerdist. Host Chris Hardwick and his two nerdy friends Jonah Ray and Matt Mira talk about stuff, "usually with someone more famous" than they are.
Paranormal. Jim Harold interviews experts on the supernatural.
Two Pods a Day. A campaign to introduce listeners to 2 independent podcasts each day, from May 15 - June 13, 2017.
Other Items of Interest:
Guidelines Governing the Use of Public Libraries - These library use guidelines, based on the principles of mutual respect and courtesy, are meant to foster a welcoming environment in all MCPL branches.
Applying for a job with MCPL - Once at the jobs search page, type the word library into the Keywords field to bring up jobs available in MCPL. For specific instructions on becoming a library page, please visit the Library Page Positions site.
Adrienne Miles-Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello, and welcome to Library Matters. I’m Alessandro Russo.
Lennea Bower: And I’m Lennea Bower, Manager of Digital Strategies, the division in-charge of Library Matters. I’ll be filling in today for the vacationing David Watts for this episode.
Alessandro Russo: Parker Hamilton will be retiring this month after 12 successful years as Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries. Parker began her career with MCPL 37 years ago and during this time, she has seen immense change in the library system. Parker was a guest in our first Library Matters episode when we discussed libraries in a time of change. Today, Parker is here for a retrospective of her career in librarianship and with MCPL.
Welcome back to library Matters, Parker. Thank you for coming.
Parker Hamilton: It’s good to be back.
Alessandro Russo: So, tell us about your career with MCPL. Was MCPL the first library system you worked for? What positions have you worked in at MCPL and which was your favorite?
Parker Hamilton: I began my career as a librarian in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was the first credentialed librarian at the Douglass Center Library. It was a project funded by Urbana Free Library and Champaign Public Library serving the predominantly African-American community of the Champaign-Urbana area. We called it the North Side. And so, it was my first job and it was really exciting because it was in a recreation center. And so there was a door that separated the library from the recreation center and it’s a one-stop shop for the community.
So I had the opportunity to be a community activist but also be a credentialed librarian. I can remember having programs with Bobby Seale from the Black Panthers being our guest but also helping children and their parents find books to use in order to do homework assignment. So it was really an exciting time for librarianship in that particular area, and exciting for me to be a part of changing and impacting the community.
Lennea Bower: How many positions have you worked in at MCPL leading up to being the director now for the past 12 years?
Parker Hamilton: Oh, well, I started out as a Librarian I. That’s the entry level for librarians and that was at the Long Branch Library, and basically went up the classification scale – Librarian I, Librarian II, Librarian III. Then I became an agency manager at Long Branch Library and agency manager at Davis. And then I entered administration and I did human resources work, strategic planning work, and management of branches. And then I left the library system for a while and was assistant chief administrative officer for the county and then came back as acting director and then named permanent director.
Lennea Bower: And why did you choose librarianship? I mean you mentioned some of the things that you liked about it but why did you choose that as a career?
Parker Hamilton: Not because I love reading, but because it was an opportunity to connect with learning and knowledge. I was introduced to that wealth of information when I was working at the Commerce Library at the University of Illinois. And I just saw all the information and just felt that I wanted to be a part of connecting people to those options and those opportunities. So it was the content of the book and – rather than for the love of the book.
Alessandro Russo: So when you started working in libraries, did you have a specific career goal?
Parker Hamilton: No, I basically wanted to serve people. I wanted to connect people. I never had on my bucket list to be director of a library system. It just happened.
Lennea Bower: Do you have any advice that you would give your younger self, back when you were starting at MCPL?
Parker Hamilton: Think about career goals. I’m not sure I would tell myself that because I think that you need, honestly, to be open to possibilities. I think sometimes we get so obsessed with saying what we’re going to do that we don’t recognize the packet when it falls in front of us because it doesn’t look the way that we want it to look. And so, I think I would probably just do it the way I did it, just, you know, look for the opportunities and prepare myself and make sure that if a door opens, I have the credentials to walk through it.
Alessandro Russo: What are some of your favorite memories working with the public?
Parker Hamilton: I remember when we did a mini renovation at the Long Branch Library and we put in new carpets and we upholstered chairs and paint the building, and everything. And one day after school, you know, the kids come in, and they’re teenagers, they’re supposed to be teenagers, and this kid put his foot on the chair and one of the other kids went over there. “Mrs. Hamilton just fixed this place up for us. Take your foot off of that chair.” And I was like, “Yes.” You know, it was just a sense of pride of this is our library. This is special. And the fact that I didn’t have to do it and it was just, you know, just right on the money. And so that was really good.
My other experience that I really liked in the county probably is not in libraries. It was when I was assistant chief administrative officer. I did a lot of work with the community and I could remember working to bring Prince George’s County officials together with Montgomery County officials to work on common issues, and one was gangs in our area. And so, that experience and just acknowledging that we have gangs in Montgomery County, because you don’t have gangs in Montgomery County, was a good memory because I had a role in listening to the community, understanding the reputation of Montgomery County as this affluent, white, middle class community but knowing that it was the right thing to do.
And working with people who saw that and understood that made me really realize it’s all about the people. It’s all about the residents. And so, there was that growth, that true commitment in serving the residents of this county and wanting to do the right thing on their behalf.
Lennea Bower: So what are some of the greatest challenges that you faced during your career?
Parker Hamilton: Greatest challenges faced during my career? I like to repeat questions. I guess it gives me time to think here. I think the greatest challenge is trying to make informed decisions for 1 million people when they all want different things, and limited resources, and just trying to figure that out especially when not everyone agrees with what the response should be. And so, that was very challenging, continues to be very challenging.
And it was almost easier when we were going through the recession because you had limited resources and you had to prioritize. You had to make those informed decision. People understood that. But now that our budget is over $40 million, the expectation is, “Well, why can’t you do this for me?”
And so, it’s been challenging and not everyone understands the role of technology. We have people who want us to have more technology, but we can’t afford to spend all of our money on technology because we still have a huge population who want prep material.
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: And so, you have to do the best you can with the information that you have and I pride myself of being flexible because I can make a decision today and if I get new information and that decision is no longer reasonable or viable, I do make new decision.
Alessandro Russo: Were there barriers or setbacks that you faced in your career either on non-library or library setting?
Parker Hamilton: Barriers or setback. Well, I’m an African-American female. I’m 69 years old. I have experienced discrimination. I have had people who wanted my voice to be silenced. I have been disrespected. I can remember working at Long Branch Library and the person wanted the supervisor. I walked out. I want the supervisor. I am the supervisor. I am the manager of this branch.
And there are times that people walked out because they did not want to talk to or believe that a person who looked like me is truly the manager of this branch and that happened in Montgomery County, Maryland. So, that was a surprise to me. It was something I did not expect because when we lived in Evanston, Illinois and we researched areas to where we might want to live, we decided to live in Montgomery County, Maryland because its reputation was one of tolerance, being progressive and to face racism was very hard – was very hard.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. I can imagine. That’s not what you’re looking for when you go into work in the morning. So, what’s the proudest moment of your career?
Parker Hamilton: I think when people especially people who look like me come up and say, “You made a difference in my life. Because of the programs and services that MCPL offers, I’ve been able to get a job” or "My child actually got an A on that exam that they were studying really hard for.”
And so, I think it’s knowing that what we do as librarians, as staff of MCPL makes a difference in the lives of people. We’re just not this romantic vision of public libraries. We actually change lives. We transform lives and that makes me feel really proud of the work that we do.
Alessandro Russo: So, why do you think it’s important for customers to see themselves reflected in library staff, the programs, and the collection especially and our resources?
Parker Hamilton: I think it’s important because, first of all, they’re taxpayers and if they’re taxpayers, they should be able to come into our public libraries and find the books and materials that they want to read. And so, I think that for them to know that we know, that they live in Montgomery County and that they use our public libraries shows respect and there’s nothing more important for an individual from my perspective and to know that they are respected.
Lennea Bower: So, you’ve spent 12 years as the director of the MCPL system. What pleases you most about this time under your leadership?
Parker Hamilton: We just started a new pilot where we’re going to – we’re not charging fines for children’s materials that are not returned on time. That was a hard fight for the library system to get approval to do that, but we finally got approval. And it’s important to me because, again, it goes back to respect. Can you imagine a child with a hand load of books in their hand and would like to check those books out and a caregiver or mommy or daddy goes to the checkout counter and we tell them that you have fines on your account and it has been blocked.
And that child is told by mommy or daddy or someone, “You have to put those books back.” Because of this pilot program, that will not happen. And so, we will open the doors to learning, we’ll open the doors to reading and we’ll do it with respect and dignity.
Lennea Bower: That’s a great pilot.
Parker Hamilton: It’s a great pilot. It’s a long time coming. It is the right thing to do because at the end of the day, we want kids to read, right, and we want them to get the information that they need to be excellent student. I’m excited to follow it and see where we end up.
Alessandro Russo: What are some of the greatest advancements you’ve seen or witnessed in your career in libraries?
Parker Hamilton: Greatest advancement, of course, its technology. I think our digital strategies unit is awesome.
Lennea Bower: Thank you.
Parker Hamilton: You’re welcome. And in terms of what we do – I remember – remember this, Lennea, but I can’t remember what the word is now, but I would always ask you guys about our influence on Twitter and whether or not we were influencing the conversation. Because for me, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about influence.
I think the influence conversation in Montgomery County but also conversations in the library world, our library system is known as a leader in the library world, especially in the urban libraries world and that’s because of, you know, the advances we have taken with technology in our system. I think we’re probably on every social media platform, if we’re not on it, we will soon be on every social media platform.
I think the fact that we have robust Wi-Fi in our branches, our digital media labs, our leadership in the area of STEM, the Go! Kits that we have, have put together for our kids and their caregivers and then the workforce development opportunities that we have, the fact that people who do not have a high school diploma can come to the library system and get a high school diploma because not everyone learn the same way and schools, as much as we would like to think, school is not for everyone.
And not everyone can excel in that environment. So to give an option for them to get that high school diploma, to get that promotion, to go to college, that’s what we do. And so, I think those advances are really good.
I love the fact that our profession is attracting a diverse group of people – young people, old people, male, female. We look like Montgomery County. And I think that that’s huge. And I – you know, I probably shouldn’t say this, but the fact that young people want to be librarians, awesome, right?
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: It is awesome.
Parker Hamilton: That’s awesome, right? You know that.
Alessandro Russo: It is awesome. Yeah, very awesome.
Parker Hamilton: You know, and I think people want to do it because we want to make a difference. And we do make that difference. That’s pretty cool.
Lennea Bower: I think you stole my next question which is –
Parker Hamilton: Uh-oh.
Lennea Bower: – how we get the next generation interested in librarianship, and I think you talked about they are, but what more can we do to kind of keep that moving forward with getting people interested and involved and –?
Parker Hamilton: I think being out in the community, going to the schools, and I think just being who we are, because I think if we’re nice, if we’re kind and we set that model of respect and dignity, folks are going to say, “Oh, they’re pretty cool people. I want to do what they’re doing. I want to make that difference that they’re making.”
I can remember one time I thought about being a teacher and I thought about being a teacher because of my teacher. And so I think folks will think about coming to our profession because of us. And so, we’ve got this huge, you know, job to not only deliver outstanding customer service, but always recognize that whenever we’re out there, we’re a role model. And so, we just need to do our best. And we do. And we do.
Lennea Bower: And then to turn that around, for those young people that are interested in it, what advice would you give them? You said you wouldn’t – you said that you felt like you found the things you needed when you need them, but what advice would you give to young people who are interested in pursuing librarianship?
Parker Hamilton: Librarianship?
Lennea Bower: Mm-hmm.
Parker Hamilton: Of course you have to study hard because in order to work in the State of Maryland as a librarian, you need a master’s degree in library science. We have another program, but you also need a bachelor’s degree for that. And so, I think, you know, you need to study hard. I don’t think that you want to say, “I want to be a librarian,” I think you need to be curious about the world, curious about information because it’s that curiosity, I think, that makes the best librarian. You know, just wanting to know and then wanting to help connect what you know to that person standing in front of you.
Alessandro Russo: Do you see librarianship changing in the future or have you noticed changes in librarianship?
Parker Hamilton: I think we have changed. I think that we do not hire people just because they love books. I think we hire people because we want that connection to the folks who are coming into the library. We hire people because of their attitude. We hire people because of the recognition that all people should be respected. I think we hire people who are into humans, who are into people.
And so, I think that we have changed because when I was looking for a job here in Montgomery County, the only thing they asked me about was what books do I read. And now, when you interview for Montgomery County, you are asked that but you’re also asked about technology. You’re also asked about just general knowledge. You know, we’ve got this thing going on now called fake news.
Lennea Bower: Mm-hmm.
Parker Hamilton: You know, we are the ones who help people decipher whether what they’re reading is fake or not. And in order to do that, we have to be up on it. We have to be curious. We have to know what’s happening in the world.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. And we’ve got a series on fake news that –
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
Lennea Bower: – we’ve started under your leadership, so.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: And what about for people of color, I mean I know in our county we try – in our system, we try very hard to hire a diverse group. As we’ve already said, that looks like Montgomery County, but I know in the library world in general, attracting people of color to the profession has been a big push over the last several years. Are there certain things that you think can be even stepped up more to bring those – raise interest for young people, especially if maybe they live in an area where they don’t go into the library and see themselves in the current staff?
Parker Hamilton: I think we need to do different type of programs. I think we need to stop calling a book a good book. I think we need to do a better job of selecting books. I think that a book is good if someone reads it. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a book that’s written in African-American English. I think that’s a good thing. But I do know that some people would not select that book with African-American English because that’s not what we speak. And African-American English is a language.
Lennea Bower: Right.
Parker Hamilton: Filipino English is a language. And so I think the publishers need to step up and publish more books that people can relate to. And then once that happens, I think we, as librarians, need to select those books. And then we need to connect the people to those books. And so, I think that white people should read books in African-American English and vice-versa. White people should read books that have black characters just like African-American read books with white characters.
And I just think we just need to come together. I would love to see poetry slam with rap music. I mean, rap is poetry, right?
Alessandro Russo: Mm-hmm.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. Just like Hamilton.
Parker Hamilton: There you go. There you go. Some people might think it’s lowering our standards. I think it’s meeting people where they are. And that’s what we do as librarians. We connect with people where they are. And so, we just need to continue to do that.
And I also think we need to ask more. I think we, as librarians, sometimes think that we have all the answers. And if we just ask the question, we might learn something, and then you’ve got a lifelong learner in someone who might want to become a librarian.
Alessandro Russo: So, enough about libraries. What are you looking forward to most in retirement?
Parker Hamilton: Being with my grandkids and my kids. I’m from the south. I’m from a little place called Red Top, South Carolina, and so I look forward to going back to the south. I look forward to eating peaches and strawberries and collard greens and okra and just have it fresh. And so, I look forward to that. I’m just looking forward to just being for a while, just be – just to lean into whatever it is. Then, in a couple of years or maybe a year, I’ll see where I end up.
But I do want to do some public service work. I’m going to be living about 20 minutes from Tuskegee, Alabama and I think that I might be able to make a difference there in the lives of some people. So I want to do that.
I also love historically about colleges the marching bands.
Lennea Bower: Oh yeah.
Parker Hamilton: And so Tuskegee University has outstanding marching band. So I’m looking forward to go in football games.
Lennea Bower: Just to watch the marching band?
Parker Hamilton: Just to watch the marching band. I don’t care who they’re playing, I just want to go and watch the marching band.
Lennea Bower: So who are the marching band competitions, you know, are you going to watch?
Parker Hamilton: I know drum, drum, I know. So I am looking forward to that. I understand that there is an organization called the Eastern Alabama Performing Arts that’s supposed to be really great, bringing great programs and everything. So I will do that. But that mainly I’m just looking to spend time with the grand kids and the kids and to just be for a while.
Lennea Bower: Do you have a library card for your new system down there yet?
Parker Hamilton: Not yet. But I will get one as soon as I get down there. Well, I’m looking forward to it because, you know, I want to read the new James Blake book with Grace or something like that where he writes about the activism of athletes. And so I don’t know why but I am fascinated by that. I heard him on NPR.
Lennea Bower: I think I heard that in [indiscernible] [0:27:47].
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. And so I want to read that and so that might be the first book that I’ll try to check out for my new public library.
Alessandro Russo: So if you had a favorite podcast, what would it be?
Parker Hamilton: Of course. What is this podcast called? It’s Library Matters, right?
Lennea Bower: Yes, that’s correct.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: All right. Well then, of course, this is my favorite one of all. That’s not – that’s a no brainer.
Lennea Bower: Any other podcasts? Were there ones that you didn’t bring into being and –
Parker Hamilton: I don’t know whether to call them podcast or not, but I have just become an NPR junkie. I listen to them on Saturdays, you know. I visited a car show, you know, the brothers from – the brothers from Boston.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah, yeah.
Lennea Bower: Oh yeah, from Boston.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. I even listen to that on Saturdays. So I just turn the radio on and listen to whatever comes up. But I was telling someone the other day, I’m looking forward to having space in my brain to actually remember some of those things that I listen to because right now, I have all the library stuff in my brain and focus on that. And so other things kind of go out because there’s no space. So I’m looking forward to have more space in that brain.
Lennea Bower: A lot of those NPR shows, they have some of those hosts that have podcasts that they are too separate from the shows, you can dive even deeper into some of those –
Parker Hamilton: All right.
Lennea Bower: – topics per –
Parker Hamilton: Okay. So you got to have to share those with me and we have to look for it because you’re a big podcast listener.
Lennea Bower: I am a big – well, I think Alessandro and I both are. I’m a big in a lot of news and that’s how I consume a lot of my news is through podcast.
Parker Hamilton: Right. All right. All right.
Alessandro Russo: I think I’m more of the diverse kind of podcast. I love like the haunted stories and like the ghost stories, the ghost hunter ones. There’s one that it’s all about Kurt Vonnegut Publication.
Lennea Bower: Kurt Vonnegut.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah. And it’s amazing because you read those stories and then you get these guy’s new perspectives and you’re just like blown away.
Parker Hamilton: Wow.
Alessandro Russo: That they just take another light – just another light into the book.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, there’s just so much out there you know, you have to prioritize a little, but I think other than that, you’re up all day and up all night.
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Parker Hamilton: And – but I think that radio is fascinating. And, you know, I don’t watch television that much anymore except for a few things. You know, I love House of Cards and NCIS. I watched it on channel 9 but I also watched it on WUSA. So – and so I’m, oh, I’ve seen that one before but I still watch it.
Lennea Bower: Do you watch all the spinoffs too or just the originals?
Parker Hamilton: I watch all the spinoffs and I also watch the one that was Michael Weatherly, Bull.
Lennea Bower: Weatherly.
Parker Hamilton: I watch that as well.
Lennea Bower: I used to watch Michael Weatherly on Dark Angel, which is what he was on before he was on NCIS.
Parker Hamilton: Oh well, yeah, I think he’s a very good actor. I like him. I was worried when he left NCIS, but he’s doing a great job.
Lennea Bower: So do you have a favorite library app? So now we’re going – we’re moving from podcast apps –
Parker Hamilton: Actually, I do not. What was the answer?
Lennea Bower: I don’t know the answer. I’m just asking, do you use any of our apps? Do you use any of our – I mean obviously you know what our electronic services are but do you use them outside of the library?
Parker Hamilton: I follow you guys on Facebook.
Lennea Bower: Through you.
Parker Hamilton: I follow us on Facebook. I follow us on Instagram. I follow us on Twitter. I do not follow us on Pinterest.
Lennea Bower: You don't want to pin books with us?
Parker Hamilton: I am. I do not do that. I look at our website all the time. I love the spotlight section on it. I love our shout out blogs. I absolutely love the shout out blogs. I learned so much about our collection. And I learned so much about the staff member that’s writing it. And I go and I follow them. So I remember Anita Vassallo who’s going to be the acting director for Montgomery County Public Libraries. She did a shout out blog on apps and as a result of that, I had our student campaign on apps that was called Get Appy.
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: But I did it as a result of reading her shout out blog.
Lennea Bower: I knew about that campaign, but I did not know about the shout out blog, why they seem to – that was right –
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
Lennea Bower: – during MCPL, but –
Parker Hamilton: Yeah, it was like, oh wow, everyone needs to know this. Let’s do this. And so I love the shout out blog.
Lennea Bower: Well, shout out to our podcast producer, Mark, who is the editor of the shout out blog.
Parker Hamilton: Way to go, Mark.
Lennea Bower: As well as the producer of the podcast.
Parker Hamilton: Of the podcast.
Lennea Bower: So –
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. So I do like that a lot.
Alessandro Russo: Is there a book out there that you can say has inspired or changed you the most?
Parker Hamilton: There’s a book out there that I go back and read at different stages in my life. It’s Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Gift from the Sea or the gift of the sea. I think it’s Gift from the Sea. It’s a small book but if I go back and read it at different stages in my life and it always comforts me. It makes me feel like I’m not alone with what I’m dealing with. So I guess it would be that book. But I couldn’t get even the title right. Is it Gift from the Sea or gift of the – do you know?
Alessandro Russo: I think it was Gift from the Sea.
Parker Hamilton: Gift from the Sea.
Lennea Bower: We’ll definitely get it right in the notes, go to app or so.
Parker Hamilton: I think it’s Gift from the Sea.
Lennea Bower: Which is probably something we should say to everyone with the podcast, we always put the titles that are mentioned in here in the office and the notes, so people are listening and can’t write fast enough.
Parker Hamilton: Can’t write fast enough, so get it right for – get it right for me. But it’s a book that I’ve gone back to over the years. When we were living in Evanston, Illinois and we were getting ready to leave, this is 1980, one of my friends gifted it to me.
Alessandro Russo: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest and remember, everyone, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.
Recording Date: July 11, 2017
Episode Summary: Alessandro Russo and guest host Lennea Bower* interview retiring MCPL Director Parker Hamilton about her career in librarianship, her 37 years with Montgomery County government, and her work as director of MCPL.
*Lennea Bower is the manager of Digital Strategies, the MCPL division responsible for the Library Matters podcast.
Guest: MCPL Director Parker Hamilton. Director Hamilton has led MCPL since 2005. She is retiring July 31, 2017.
Notable Quote: Director Hamilton on why she because a librarian “because it was an opportunity to connect with learning and knowledge.”
MCPL Resources and Services Mentioned During This Episode
Apps: MCPL offers a variety of apps that connect customers to library resource, including Bookmyne, a mobile version of our catalog, Freegal, a free music app, several e-book apps, and more.
Career Online High School (COHS): COHS is an accredited, online high school diploma and career certificate program for adults 19 and older.
Digital Media Labs: Our Long Branch and Silver Spring libraries offer computer labs where teens can learn and practice digital photography, video production, graphic design, computer programming, and more.
Fake News: This library program offers strategies for evaluating news stories and other information sources.
Go! Kits: Little Explorer and Young Voyager Go! Kits are backpacks that contain a Playaway Launchpad or Android tablet as well as STEM related books, tools, and apps. Their purpose is to get children excited about science and math.
Books, and Podcasts Shows Mentioned During This Episode
Car Talk: Humorous NPR talk show that ran from 1977 - 2012 featuring two brothers from Boston who helped, or tried to help, members of the audience who called in with their car troubles.
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Collection of meditations on the changes women experience in relationships, marriage, and life as they move through life's stages.
Kurt Vonneguys: Podcast of two guys discussing Kurt Vonnegut's books.
National Public Radio (NPR) Podcasts: NPR offers a large variety of podcasts, some of which serve as online archives of NPR radio shows, including Fresh Air, Car Talk, and StoryCorps.
Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together by James Blake: A collection of stories about acts of kindness in the world of sports that bridged cultural and racial divides. The author was interviewed on NPR about this book.
Other Items of Interest
Bobby Seale: Political activist and co-founder of the Black Panther Party. He spoke at the Douglas Center Library in Illinois while Parker Hamilton worked there.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. This is part 2 of our two-part episode on reading aloud to children. In part 1, we discussed the benefits of reading aloud to children with MCPL’s children’s librarians, Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino.
In this second part of our episode, we’ll hear samples of story time readings from both of our guests. The librarians will demonstrate how to bring a story to life and discuss what made their sample stories good for reading aloud.
Our guests will also answer questions that they have heard from parents over the years about reading aloud to children.
Welcome to the podcast, Jane and Lauren.
Jane Dorfman: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So we have a special treat on today’s podcast. We’re actually going to get some samples of story time. And our first title is –
Jane Dorfman: Bark, George, which is about a mother dog and her little puppy, George. It’s by Jules Feiffer.
And one day, George’s mother said, “Bark, George.” And George went, “Meow.” “No, George,” said George's mother. “Cat’s go meow, dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And George went, “Quack-quack.” “No, George,” said George’s mother. “Ducks go quack-quack, dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And George went, “Oink.” And after he went, “Moo,” she took him to the vet.
And the vet said, “I’ll soon get to the bottom of this. Please bark, George.” And George went, “Meow.” The vet reached deep down inside of George and pulled out a cat.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Quack-quack.” And the vet reached deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a duck.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Oink.” And the vet reached deep, deep, deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a pig.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Moo.” The vet put on his longest latex glove and he reached deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a cow. And in the illustration, George’s mother has fainted away.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Arf.” George’s mother was so thrilled. She kissed the vet, and the cat, and the duck, and the pig, and the cow. And all the way home she wanted to show George off to everyone on the street. So she said, “Bark, George.” And George went, “Hello.” And that’s the end.
I really love this book. I’ve never seen it fail on kids. The pacing is just perfect. It has very few words. Everybody knows, I mean, a preschooler knows a dog doesn’t say meow, or quack, or moo. And I think they even get the end when he says, “Hello.” And you wonder what’s in there now. And I – and it always gets a laugh and it’s the very last page of the book and the expressions on the mother dog.
So I try to convey some of the expressions. Like, she’s getting a little put out with all these animal noises. “No, George,” she’s trying to be, you know, patient. “No, George. Ducks go quack-quack. Dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And he continues to make animal noises.
But I think the first time the child hears this book, they have no idea that these things are all inside of George and they’re pulling them out one by one. And I don’t think they even think about, “Oh, no, a cow would never fit inside of a puppy.” And the vet is very funny and he’s very matter – you know, he puts on his longest latex glove and it’s just a great story. And I think it’s perfectly paced, very few words and great illustrations. But I think, you know, it kind of works without even seeing the pictures.
Lauren Martino: I like using Story Time just because if I have a big group of different ages it works for little kids. It’s one of the very few books that work for little kids because they can jump in with the animal noises and even the grownups enjoy it like it doesn’t matter how old the kid is, they’re going to enjoy this book.
Jane Dorfman: I think they especially like the mother passing out.
David Watts: Well, as an observer, it had a good beat. It was easy to dance to. I think from ‘87, they might, you know, go over a lot of our listeners heads but, you know, from a band stand perspective, your cadence was good and you – the way you delivered it showed –
Jane Dorfman: I have read it a lot.
David Watts: – that you understand the nuances of it.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: All right. I have a book called The Monster at the End of This Book: Staring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin and I like to introduce the author and the illustrator whenever I read a book because kind of – it’s part of that being aware of what a book is. Let’s see and I just I have known – I wouldn’t choose just any random book dealing with a licensed character because there are a lot – you know, they vary widely in quality. Some of them are not – don’t make such good read alouds but this one, I listened to this one when I was a kid. It stood the test of time.
So we have Grover on the parenthesis. This is a very dull page. What is on the next page? What did that say? On the first page, what did that say? Did that say there will be a Monster at the end of this book? It Did? Oh, I am so scared of Monsters!!! I’m turning the page. This is important. Shhhh Listen, I have an idea. If you do not turn any pages, we will never get to the end of this book. And that is good because there is a Monster at the end of this book. So please do not turn the page. What do think? Should I turn the page?
Jane Dorfman: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Should I turn the page? Okay. You turned the page. I’m going to turn the page again. Maybe you do not understand. You see, turning pages will bring us to the end of this book and there is a Monster at the end of this book. But this will stop you from turning pages. See? I am tying the pages together so you cannot – what do you think? Should I try it? I’m going to do it. Okay. Okay. Now, these pages are tied together so I’m going to go snap. You turned another page. You do not know what you are doing to me. Now stop turning pages. There. I, Grover, am nailing this page to the next ones so you will not be able to turn it and we will not get any closer to the Monster at the end of this book.
And this page is nailed together. You think I can do it? You think I can do it? All right. All right. All right. Do you know every time you turn another page, you not only get us closer to the monster at the end of this book but you make a terrible mess? Okay, so I’ll stop right there. But you can there’s a lot of opportunity here. It’s kind of hard to read this book without a kid present to be honest because you really want their input. You really want them egging you on. They get really into that. But, yeah, it’s very participatory. You can’t read this book without a back and forth exchange. But, yeah, and it’s also fun to ham up. You’re making it really hard to turn the pages.
Now, if you have the kid do the pages, you know, they’re just going to turn it and then you can – you know, make a big deal about how strong it is and, again, it’s fun to get the kids involved, too, doing that. Yeah, and turning pages is a skill. It’s not easy.
Jane Dorfman: As witness, both you and my book have patched up tear – torn pages.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yes. These are well-loved books.
Jane Dorfman: Library books, yeah. That’s what’s supposed to happen to them.
Lauren Martino: I think we picked good ones. Should I tell them the end of the book? The monster at the end is Grover himself, so, you know, it’s really not a – there are some kids – you know, I think the first time I read this to my daughter, she’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to hear – I don’t want to see this monster either.” But once they’re in on the joke, it’s like, “Yeah, this is a fun book to read.”
Alessandro Russo: So we have a few questions from parents and caregivers. First question, what should you do if your baby is more interested in eating the book than reading it? Should you wait until they’re older to start reading?
Lauren Martino: Well, the earlier you start, the better. And, you know, it’s understandable you’re going to feel a little strange reading to a child that can’t respond to you that, you know, is barely looking at you. But it’s a really good time to start because they’re captive audience. They’re not going to move away from you. They don’t have much of a choice. And it’s okay if the baby chews on the book. I mean if it’s a library book, we’d rather them not, quite frankly, but that’s why you have books –
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, those board books will take a lot.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: They’ll take a lot.
Lauren Martino: Go from that.
Jane Dorfman: You can give them a book to hold and play with and you can read some totally different book and have them so they can see the pictures.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yeah. That’s a good one.
Jane Dorfman: And I notice that I avoided this pun. You should take it in small bites. But, yeah, read – you know, you can read a few minutes and – a bright colored picture and if they need something to hold, you know, they can have a board book to chew on.
Lauren Martino: And that’s how babies learn about the world at that point. Put everything in their mouth.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And it’s – you know, if you find you can’t read them to them on the floor, there’s always the car seat or the bathtub or the high chair. Like there is always a point at which they, you know, can’t get away from you.
And with tiny, tiny little babies, you can almost read anything to them because really it’s just exposing them to a language of – I guess that brings up another point. I don’t know if it’s on here but, you know, people have their different personalities reading. Like I tend to be very animated and Jane tends to be a lot more low-key and subdued but there’s value in that. Like I’ve got – you know, people I trained to do story time under me and some of them are like, “I can never be as bouncy and huge and loud as you are.” Well, I’ve made babies cry, reading the way I do. So, there’s value in a lot of expression and value in more toned down, so you just work with your personality.
David Watts: What could I read to my baby or toddler that would not put me to sleep?
Lauren Martino: Well, there’s a few authors that tend to be a little bit more adult-friendly. Sandra Boynton tends to go over well with adults. I don’t know that we have the board books with these but there’s a series by Dav Pilkey called Big Dog and Little Dog. There’s always some crazy punch line at the end. I personally enjoy them. I don’t think we have the board books but we do have the easy readers that are based on the board books. So if you have a baby that’s not necessarily going to crunch up the pages, that might be a good way to go.
But with babies, it’s not even necessarily about reading exactly the text. You get into the pictures, you can talk about, you know, it’s the cat like the one we saw yesterday on the neighbor’s porch. You don’t have to limit yourself to the text if it’s boring. You can find something interesting in the book even if it’s, you know, an interesting pattern on somebody’s shirt.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, I think it is great to talk about the pictures. But there’s a whole wealth of board books. I think the parent who found this boring just needs to look a little bit more.
Lauren Martino: Ask your librarian.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, ask your librarian –
Lauren Martino: We’ll help you out.
Jane Dorfman: – for any good suggestions, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: My second grader still wants me to read to him. What about reading out loud to older kids? Does that tamper their ability to read on their own? So basically, is there an age –
Jane Dorfman: Cutoff?
Alessandro Russo: – cutoff?
Jane Dorfman: No. I think I would read to my kids. In fact, I did read to my kids as long as they would still listen. And that was way past the time when they could read for themselves. I think they like that. They like the parent involvement, you sharing a really good story with them. You know, a long chapter book that you read a little bit every night is just wonderful. It’s good for everybody. And I think it probably only helps their ability to read if they’re constantly exposed to these wonderful books.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I tend to think of reading aloud to older kids is sort of advertising it for reading beyond the early readers because, you know, when you’re learning to read, you’re reading – you know, about Dick and Jane or whatever, the modern equivalent is – they’re not – you know, that they’re only so interesting. There’s only so much you can – they do a lot to make them interesting but it’s good to let kids know there’s something beyond that. And if they keep going through the effort, they’re going to get –
Jane Dorfman: Get to that book, yeah. I think so, too.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. And also, you’ve got the vocabulary again. Kids’ listening vocabulary is usually way ahead of what they can read. So if you’re exposing them to more words, more words, more words that they’re listening to and they’re getting what it means, then ultimately when they begin reading them, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to decode. That’s why audio books are good for kids, too. Anytime in the car, when they have to do chores, it makes life a lot more pleasant and also keeps exposing them to those good books and the vocabulary.
Alessandro Russo: I know I valued – I remember in elementary school, we had – all my teachers read us chapter books –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: – and I remember particularly our fifth grade teacher, he loves The Great Brain series by Fitzgerald and we couldn’t wait until he finished one book and we went for the – and he was going to say, “Oh, tomorrow we’re going to start the new Great Brain book.” And it got me, you know, to like books.
Lauren Martino: I think we’ve all got memories like that, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
David Watts: My child wants me to read the same book every night. How can I introduce new books to her?
Jane Dorfman: You might do a compromise. Read the same book and then read a new one. I think children find a lot of comfort especially if it’s bed time book, that repetition of the book, they know what – and no surprises, there’s nothing scary. It’s like a visit with a friend, you know. We went through that with my kids with Bread and Jam for Frances, a book I just adore but I did get a little tired of it, over and over and over. But, you know, it’s not worth fighting about. You should just read the book, same one, and slip in a new one every now and again.
Lauren Martino: Also, repetition is also is really important to the way kids learn. It’s like you’re sick to death of it. You don’t want to read it again. But your child is actually – there’s a good chance your child is getting something different out of it every time you read that. I mean even as an older kid, I remember I read books over and over and over again. Like in third, fourth, fifth grade, I would take the same book and I would get something out of it every time. It drove my mother crazy that I kept having the same book around. People made fun of me at school. But I was – I, you know, could tackle in much harder book that way and then get a grip on it.
You can also look, too, for books that are similar. If you need a break from bear stories on, you can try one of the other bear books by Karma Wilson and ask a librarian. Again, we can – we can help you find something similar, something based on something else your child is passionate about.
Alessandro Russo: My child wants me to read books to them that are not written in my first language. I’m afraid I mispronounced too many words. Is it still beneficial to read out loud to them from books written in another language?
Jane Dorfman: Mispronunciation, you know, I think it’s good for kids to see you trying hard to do something. This is – it is very hard to learn English. And you – if the parents is really working on that and reading aloud and maybe the child will even correct you if they’ve picked up, you know, English faster, it’s cool.
Lauren Martino: Kids love that.
Jane Dorfman: They love to do that.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Well, I think just the active reading aloud and working hard at something is good. But to read aloud or tell stories in your first language I think is really also beneficial. Not only do they get exposed to another language, but, you know, they get exposed to your culture in the stories that you remember.
And the library can help you with a lot – we have books in Spanish and French and Farsi and Russian and Chinese and probably I am skipping a couple, but lots of different languages. Maybe not every branch, but if it’s in the catalogue, we can get it sent to whatever branch is convenient for you. And we have, you know, children’s books in those languages.
Lauren Martino: And we can point you to resources, too, like the International Children’s Digital Library. And if we don’t have it in the library system, we can get books from other library systems.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: We go all over the country for books for people. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to teach your child a language besides the one they encounter in their environment every day. And the more you expose children the language when they’re young, no matter what language it is, the more they’re going to benefit from it. So absolutely read, tell stories in whatever language you’re comfortable in. Just keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it. And don’t forget, too, about wordless picture books. We’ve got a number of picture books that don’t have any words at all and you can take them and tell them in whatever language you speak, that’s the same. Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: My preschooler chooses picture books that are much too long to read in one setting. What suggestions would you make on how I could break up the story?
Jane Dorfman: Well, I’m afraid my suggestion would be to make a longer sitting, but if your child doesn’t want to do that, you know, decorated beautiful bookmark together and say, “This is where we’re going to get to tonight and we’ll hear the rest of it tomorrow night.
I do think it’s nice to let children choose books even if it looks perfectly random when they run into the library and they just start pulling things off the shelf for home, you have to take these home and read them.
But I think it gives the child some validation that, “Oh, you picked a good book. You picked a really interesting one. And it’s really long, we’re going to read half tonight and half tomorrow night.”
Lauren Martino: We’ve got a four-book limit at bed time in my house and that’s four chapters if it’s a longer book. And some of the books we – you know, dad will read it and I’ll read it, you know. And, you know, we can start wherever we happen to be. But we end up reading it so many times that, you know, we can dip in and out. It’s good to get it linear at some point, but you can always kind of recap, oh, I remember this happened in the beginning and so this is kind of where we’re at.
Jane Dorfman: And that would be good for your child to recap too, telling –
Lauren Martino: Oh, absolutely.
Jane Dorfman: – what happened last night? What do you remember before you fell asleep or whatever.
Lauren Martino: Why is he here? How did he get here? Oh yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Are there good books to encourage my preschooler to use their imagination or to read to me?
Jane Dorfman: I think that Lauren mentioned some of the wordless picture books. We can really get the pace of those. They can think what’s happening. They can read you the pictures. So many books for preschoolers. I think they’re just imagining themselves in the book anyway or they have kind of limited real life experience and when they read about the bear hibernating or the child sailing a ship off to where the wild things are. I think almost any good book is going to help them use their imagination.
Lauren Martino: And you can also just invite your child to tell you a story and write down what they say and have an illustrator or you can illustrate it and it would be really fun to see later on what your child comes up with.
David Watts: Help us to know how we can change our read aloud style as your child grows older and you’re trying to connect. Do you read the same way to a newborn as you would to an elementary school age child?
Lauren Martino: With very small babies, again, you read it – any language is good language. You can have a conversation about the book. You’re obviously not going to get a whole lot of –
Jane Dorfman: Interaction.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. Yeah. Your interaction is going to be limited. But as the child gets a little bit older, if you pause – if I pause and say, “Should I turn the page and wait,” and you wait longer than you think you have to because that child’s going to take a while. Pretty soon, you know, even if they’re grunting in response or, you know, making any kind of noise looking at you, that’s a response.
So you’re practicing having this conversation around the book that’s teaching this back and forth needed for a conversation. It’s one of those important language skills.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And again, toddlers, you’re going to – you can start asking them to point to things, to label things, to get them involved. You know, they’re not going to be able to answer – you can ask them, you know, what do you think he’s going to do, just to model that you should be thinking about it. They’re not going to answer you, you know, exactly how you would answer it as an older kid. But you can start asking those questions.
Preschoolers, you’re going to ask longer, more complicated questions. They’re going to comment on stuff they remember from their lives that relate to the book. And when you get to the second grader, the third grader that you’re asking, you can – what would you do in this situation, things like do you agree with what he did. You get into the really kind of deep nitty-gritty questions that are going to be asked on essays when they get in fifth grade. But, you know, in a fun sort of non-judgmental sort of environment where it’s just you and your child interacting.
Jane Dorfman: I think the pace will change, too. You do want to wait slowly to the babies and then to –
Lauren Martino: Slower than you think.
Jane Dorfman: Slower than you think.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Because you hear sometimes people reading aloud, they’re just whipping through that book and like, you know, the child really does need a little time to consider and to let that soak in. But by the time, you know, that you’re still reading to your second and third graders, you can pretty much read as you would read to an adult.
Lauren Martino: And they can take over some of the reading, too, if they want.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, that’s – and I think you need to – one thing I think, older kids are afraid you’re going to stop reading to them when they learn to read it themselves. And I remember somebody saying that her kid won’t read aloud to her and I think that was a fear. Okay, if I show you how well I read, you’re going to not read to me anymore and I’m going to miss that. So assure them that that’s not going to happen.
Alessandro Russo: Should I only read books that are on my child’s reading level?
Lauren Martino: I don’t read books that are only on my reading level.
Jane Dorfman: No. I think you can read way beyond your child’s reading level and I think that’s part of the joy of reading aloud. It would be very tedious if they could only read beginning readers and that’s all you could read.
Lauren Martino: And at the same time, if they show – I hear it all the time, it’s like, “Oh, that’s a baby book. We’re not reading that book.” It’s like –
Jane Dorfman: Oh yeah, I hate that.
Lauren Martino: But if your child’s interested in it, there might be a reason for it or, you know, even if it’s, you know, not as complicated as you might think it would be and there’s still things in that book you can discuss –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm. Or parents will say, “You’re too old for those from that section.” Oh, I hate that.
Lauren Martino: Oh. I mean, there are picture books for really, like, elementary school kids and up that – they have picture books in the grownup section –
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Lauren Martino: – right, that would not be appropriate for kids. So, you know, you can’t judge a book by the genre. There’s always something in there for a child that’s interested in it.
And it may surprise you, again, with what they’re interested in. I have this memory of wanting to read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I was probably in second grade and that was completely inappropriate. My media specialist let me know it. They would not let me check out that book.
But if your child shows interest in it, you could always give it a shot. I mean, my three-and-a-half-year-old just glommed on to this series from the ‘30s about Betsy from like Carolyn Haywood that my mom really loved and I read them as a kid. And there’s just something in there that she was able to grasp even as a very young child. So, lower or higher, your kid surprises you.
David Watts: We like to ask all of our guests if you have a favorite book or what’s on your nightstand now.
Jane Dorfman: I have lots of favorite books. I’m re-reading a book by Ann Patchett called The Magician’s Assistant which I just love that book. It’s got a little magic – it’s an adult book. It’s got a little magic, a realism, it always carries me away. And I think I’m somewhat like kids that if I don’t have something really pressing to read, I’ll go back to these old favorites and read them again. I know exactly what happens. But it’s a comforting thing to do, yeah.
Lauren Martino: My childhood favorite is a Wrinkle in Time. My adult favorite book is called Redshirts and it’s by John Scalzi who – actually, he wrote science fiction TV. And so it’s like parody of Star Trek and yet very, very clever, witty, hilarious if you know it or if you don’t. But toward the end, there’s like this separate section kind of based on the fall out from everything else and it just – it blows your mind. It gets really thought-provoking. I love books like that, that are super entertaining and also just open up new horizons. It’ nice to know that authors can do both.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you, Jane and Lauren, for sharing your stories, experience and enthusiasm with us. Let’s remember this is part 2 of 2. If you missed part 1, make sure to check it out. There’s a lot of great content about reading aloud to children. Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Recording Date: June 13, 2017
Episode Summary: MCPL children's librarians Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino continue their discussion on reading aloud to children. In this portion, part 2 of 2, Jane and Lauren read sample stories, explain why these stories are good read-alouds, and note some of the techniques they used to bring these stories to life. Our guests also answer questions that they have heard from parents over the years about reading aloud to children.
NOTE; This recording is part 2 of 2 of the Reading Aloud to a Child epsiode. We had such an interesting discussion that our recording for this episode was over 45 minutes. We've split the discussion up into 2 parts to make it easier for our listeners to absorb.
Guests: Jane Dorfman, MCPL Children's Librarian, and Lauren Martino, MCPL Children's Librarian
Books read during this episode:
Bark George by Jules Feiffer. Read by Jane Dorfman. A mother dog is concerned because her puppy doesn't bark.
The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone. Read by Lauren Martino. Grover becomes concerned when he learns there's monster waiting at the end of his book.
MCPL resources and services mentioned during this episode:
Wordless books: These are books, often picture books, that have only pictures and no words.
World Languages Collection: Numerous MCPL branches offer adult and children's books (and some periodicals) in Amharic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
Authors mentioned during this episode:
Books mentioned during this episode:
B Is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. Betsy is nervous about going to first grade, but learns it's a great place where she has lots of fun.
Big Dog Little Dog series by Dav Pilkey. Big Dog and Little Dog are best friends who can be a bit mischievous and silly.
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. Frances declares she will only eat bread and jam. To her surprise, her parents agree.
The Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald. The Great Brain is a boy growing up in the early 1900s with a silver tongue and a knack for making a profit.
*Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett. A magician's assistant travels to Nebraska in search of her late magician's secret past.
*Redshirts by John Scalzi. An ensign on the flagship of the interstellar navy learns that life on a starship is a lot more complicated, and deadly, than he realized.
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. The children of a black family living in Depression era Mississippi do not understand the prejudice and discrimination they face.
*A Wrinkle in Time by Madelein L'Engle. A brother, sister, and their friends search for the sibling's father, who has disappeared after working on a secret project for the government.
*Mentioned by our guests as their favorite books.
Other items of interest:
International Children's Digital Library. A digital library of full-text books from around the world.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Today’s episode is about reading aloud to children. Our discussion on the topic was so interesting that we went over our usual recording time so we decided to break it up into two parts.
Today, we’ll be discussing part one of two. In this first part of our reading aloud episode, we’ll discuss the benefits of reading out loud to children, how to make reading aloud fun and engaging, and how to select the best books to read out loud.
Our guest for both parts of this episode are children’s librarians Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino.
Welcome to the podcast, Jane and Lauren.
Jane Dorfman: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So tell us a little about yourselves, how long have you work for MCPL, your positions?
Lauren Martino: See, I’m head of children services at the Silver Spring Library. I work for MCPL for three years starting three years ago in September. I worked at the Noyes Library for Young Children for a couple of months and then went from these smallest oldest libraries in the system to the newest and biggest one, which has been a lot of fun.
Jane Dorfman: I’m Jane Dorfman. I worked for 21 years in the system and I’ve been in various different branches, and presently at Davis, which was just remodeled, and I am the head of children’s there.
David Watts Speaker: Jane, Lauren, why should we read aloud to children? What are the benefits of it?
Lauren Martino: Well, research continues to show that children who read aloud, who have – the parents read aloud to them do better in school, they show up to school prepared. They get exposed to a lot more vocabulary than you normally would. You’ve got to think of not only the words they encounter on the day-to-day basis but also the quality of words.
You and I, we’re using words that we use all the time, every day. They’re going to get words like “is” and “hi” and, you know, all the comments stuff. It’s the unusual words like latex and veterinarian, Jane will use later, that you come across in books. That’s a really important part about it.
Jane Dorfman: I also think it’s a pleasure. I think children’s books are just wonderful and the bonding that you do with your child when you read to them, when you’re sharing something together, you both loving this book, I think that’s as good a reason as the improved school, you’re better ACT scores, you know, I think, the closeness you get with your children when you read to them is you can’t substitute anything for that.
Lauren Martino: And it’s an easy closeness, isn’t it?
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Like my daughter always want to play princess with her and I’m just, “I’m too old for that.” I can’t figure it out. But you have a book in front of you. It’s easy. You just – you follow the book and you follow the prompts and it makes easier to relate to someone younger than you, I think.
Alessandro Russo: So one of MCPL’s strategic goals is literate Montgomery. And one of the objectives of this goal is early literacy. How does reading out loud to your children contribute to early literacy?
Jane Dorfman: I think the vocabulary that Lauren mentioned, the increased vocabulary, the thousands of extra words they’re going to hear, I think they’re going to know what a book is and the awareness of the print and the letters besides the pleasure in reading. I think they’re going to get the idea that reading is a fun activity, something that they want to do rather than something, “Oh you have to read five books. Your teacher says so.” I think they’re going to really enjoy it more.
Lauren Martino: When you talk about early literacy, a lot of people get the idea that it’s, you know, teaching kids how to read at a really young age. Well, I think we – you know, you hear stories about kids that learn to read at two and the, I mean, the fact of the matter is not all kids need to learn to read at two. And my husband learned to read at two and it’s great for him. But unless you’re really – you have a proclivity for that, you know, it’s okay, kids are going to be fine.
But early literacy talks a lot about what’s – what they need to know to read before they actually read, so things like Jane mentioned, what a book is, the fact that you read at left to right, you read starting at the top and going down, what a book looks like right side up and upside down. It’s all part of early literacy.
Alessandro Russo: It’s kind of like just building the foundations of literacy?
Lauren Martino: Exactly. Also things like phonemic awareness, how you can break words apart into different sounds. You get a lot of books that rhyme, and rhyming is a very important factor that you’re getting language that, again, you don’t normally hear that highlights different parts of the word. That’s going to help kids read later on.
David Watts: So tell us how we can make reading aloud to children fun and engaging? Could you give us some tips so that we could understand it better?
Lauren Martino: One of the first things, I think, any librarian learns about story time, and I think it applies to parents reading to their kids as well, is picking books you enjoy because your enthusiasm is contagious. If you enjoy the book, then your child is going to pick up on that and they’re going to enjoy it more too.
Let’s see it’s fun to use different voices for the characters, not only because it’s fun. I mean, who wants to talk like a pirate? I want to talk like a pirate. I don’t know. Give yourself permission to talk like a pirate. But also because it highlights the different characters and actually helps them understand what’s going on.
And also if you involve your children, you ask them questions. You make them – give them a way to participate in the book. That helps a lot. It’s also going to help with comprehension and really add to their – what they’re getting out of the book.
Jane Dorfman: And I think a lot of picture books have things happening in them and you can ask the child, “Do you think that’s a good idea?” And they’ll answer, “No.”
Lauren Martino: Yes.
Jane Dorfman: And then asking them to predict what happens next and to draw attention to something in the pictures and often in picture books, you know, some of the information which is hard to do on the radio, but is conveyed in the illustrations and you can show the child and they can point out those little things. And I think –
Lauren Martino: The side plots.
Jane Dorfman: The side plots.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: And read in an expressive voice and put some energy into it.
Alessandro Russo: So getting them involved seems to be –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: – a very good.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah.
Lauren Martino: And there are books that really lend themselves to this, you got books with flaps, books with – you know, you don’t have to rely solely on this. But if you have a kid that’s really having trouble getting into this whole reading thing, you can start with stuff like that.
And also, no. Just – it’s okay to shorten a book if it’s just a little bit too much. It’s okay to cut the book short like. There’s a wonderful non-fiction books that have special – you know, they’ve got the big words that you can give for younger kids and the, you know, sort of smaller words that you can get into as they get older. So, just knos, you don’t have to limit yourself to exactly what the book says.
Alessandro Russo: So is there – does a good read out loud book, is there such thing? And if there is, how can we help our listeners find one? Is it kind of like a trial and error kind of –?
Jane Dorfman: I think it’s a lot of trial and error and I think it’s also very subjective. I mean, there are going to be some books that we love but every book is not for every child or every parent, and you need to find things that you like. And like Lauren said, your enthusiasm is going to carry over to the child.
You certainly need to know how long a book your little one is going to listen to. You don’t need to read 20 minutes. You can read three that is as much time as they want. You can go back and finish the book later or put it aside if it’s just – you know, I certainly had some books in story time where I really can’t put them aside, but I went, “Boy, this isn’t done. I will never read this book again.” You know, so have the parents look at them and read them and really take a cue from their child. Let them take the lead.
Lauren Martino: And paying attention to your – on what your child is interested in really helps. I mean there are books that, you know, they can be really way longer than you ever thought your child would pay attention to, but if it’s on the right subject matter, or it’s just something that sparks interest in your child, they’re going to listen to it and totally surprise you.
Jane Dorfman: And on how to find it, ask the librarians. So many people will wander the library; they never come up to the desk. That’s what we’re there for and that’s what we’re paid to do. That’s what we’re waiting to do.
Lauren Martino: And they feel so guilty when they talk to you.
Jane Dorfman: Yes. I hate to interrupt you, but, you know, but yeah, ask because the librarians read a lot and we know these books by and large and –.
Lauren Martino: We could answer these questions.
Jane Dorfman: – yeah, this is what makes our day.
Lauren Martino: And let’s see just another note about – and then again the pictures we mentioned, it’s a – you know, the read – a good read-aloud book is dependent on your child but there are some that just have so much richness in what’s going on in the pictures that you can really just get into those or – I wouldn’t say the only books you should read aloud but they make for really good read-alouds.
David Watts: Help us to understand what we as parents or guardians could do to build interest in reading in our children?
Jane Dorfman: I think you need to just to read, to read a lot, and be enthusiastic about it. Find things that you love and read those – read everything. You know, this is such a broad range of things. And you may not – I never knew what a backhoe trencher was until my son at about two became really interested in backhoe trenching.
Lauren Martino: A bunch of trucks.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. You know, if that’s their interest, you need to follow it with a little bit of books about everything. And pick up from your daily life. If you see a bug outside, we can find you a book about that bug, you can read about the eggs and larva stages and just these all kinds of stuff to build an interest in reading.
Lauren Martino: Yes, that it is really important for your kids to see you reading. It’s kind of hard to expect them to get really into it unless you are setting that example. And I mean we have a summer reading program going on this summer and it goes everywhere from birth to – and there’s an adult component because we really want the adults reading in front of the kids.
Let’s see – and then just having books around.
Jane Dorfman: I think that’s good too.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, because, you know, bringing home lots of books from the library is great too, but just having ones that, you know, just sit on your shelf and then the child sees it every day until one day, they’re like, “Oh, let me pick this up and see what it is.”
Also sometimes – something that gets neglected a little bit about reading at home is, you know, you don’t have to read books all the time. Cereal boxes are great to read.
Jane Dorfman: Comic pages in the newspaper.
Lauren Martino: Absolutely. My daughter asks me to read them every Sunday, and some of them, I’m like, “There’s no way you’re going to know – like I can’t read Doonsbury to you, it will go over your head, but okay.” Or even – you know, my daughter loves stop signs when she was a baby.
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmmm.
Lauren Martino: We went – and every time we saw a stop sign, we’d say, “Look, it’s a stop sign. S-T-O-P, stop.” And so, you know, she can’t spell many words that much but she can spell stop.
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm.
Alessandro Russo: What are the elements of story times that are held at the library? Is it just reading out loud or there’s more activities involved?
Jane Dorfman: Well, there are a lot of finger plays. There are a lot of opportunities to move around because we do things to music. There are fun boards, which are taken from a book but it’s a bigger visual that the whole group can see it once and point to and there’s also that sort of pacing of putting up the final pieces one at a time.
And, you know, different librarians do different things but I don’t think you can expect infants and twos and even five to six year old to sit and listen to book after book for half an hour. It’s just not going to happen.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, a lot of parents would come up and they’re like, “Oh, my child can never do that.” And it’s like they don’t understand. It’s like, “No, we don’t make them sit and be perfectly quiet the entire time because that’s not realistic.”
Yeah, we sit – we really like to stress reading, writing, talking, singing and playing in all of our story times. I mean, down to like, you know, how do you write in story time? Well, we do little finger plays that work on small motor movements which are kind of precursors to writing, you know, big motor movements. And I found that my story time for toddlers go a whole lot better when I just reserve several minutes at the end to shake our sillies out and do big jumpy sort of songs and just everyone is happier that way.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: You know, I admire you guys for what you’re doing. And dealing with large groups of little children sort of frightens me, so maybe you can help the listeners understand the tricks of the trade? What are the secret recipes that you use that you could pass on to caregivers and teachers and other librarians who have to conduct story time on a regular basis?
Lauren Martino: One of the most useful things is to have something up my sleeves to get everyone’s attention when the grownups are talking and the kids are talking. My supervisor, Cindy Gil, taught me that – she likes to countdown the story times like, “We’re going to start story time in five, four, three, two, one.” And then, “We’re all excited to start story time.”
I’ve also resorted to it. I’ve got a little bunny puppet and sometimes I’ll be like, “I have a friend. My friend wants to come out and my friend is very shy. I really need everyone to be very quiet so my friend can come out.” And once everybody is quiet, then the little bunny comes out and waves and whispers in my ear all their expectations for story time. And I mean there are songs that you can put out there – you know.
I’ve never – every elementary school kid ever will respond to [MAKES NOISE]. They know what to do there.
Alessandro Russo: I remember that from elementary school.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I did it at school visits like yesterday. It worked like a charm.
So just have a way of bringing them back because sometimes you lose them. Also, just that big – like we said, building in the wiggle time like I tend to – you know, my formula is like a book, a song, a book, a song, and, you know, sometimes if you got older kids or kids that are going to be able to sit still a little longer, you can stretch it to two books but, you know, just understand that’s – you know, it’s not always going to work out.
And also just remembering the text to picture ratio and just making it appropriate for the kids that you have, it’s a good way of thinking about it. Like babies, you know, it’s like one sentence per page is plenty. You can, you know, work up to a couple of sentences for preschoolers, but I don’t know – depending – you got to know your audience. And I found that, you know, you get ambitious sometimes, you try something a little harder. You got to have an exit route if you do that.
Sometimes, just remembering kind of your lowest common denominator or the kid that’s going to have the hardest time sitting still. You can cater to that kid. Sometimes it works out a little better.
Jane Dorfman: I do think you have to break up the activities. You have two keep – have them just sit and read, do some finger plays, do a stretch. I also want the parents involved. And I say that, you know, in the beginning, this is the kind of story time that works best if you participate with your child. And then I will look hard at those people who are already on their cellphones, they have just sat down. And then sometimes I find it hard after we’ve done jumped around, move to – done some music. Then we’ll all take a big breath and sit down kind of like a flower. And just that feeling of taking in the air and letting it all out is just a naturally calming feeling.
Lauren Martino: That’s nice.
Jane Dorfman: But I think that you can’t expect children to act like adults. If they’re twos, they’re going to act like twos and, you know, you just have to expect that. And especially if you have a really large group – you know, sometimes you can’t get through all them and show – you got together, you can’t get through all the books.
Lauren Martino: It’s better to have more.
Jane Dorfman: It’s better to have more and some – fresh new things.
Lauren Martino: So you can adjust to new things.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And at any time you find a book is not working, sometimes if you can just work a little bit more participation in there, like get the group doing something, that helps a lot like Caps for Sale is a really long book, it’s hard to do for a lot of groups, but if you can work in the part where they all stand up and act like monkeys, then it works a lot better.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: What do you do with a precocious child who likes to ask a hundred questions, one after another after another?
Lauren Martino: That’s a good question.
Jane Dorfman: I’ll answer a couple, and then I would say, you know, we’re going to ask the rest of those questions at the end, we’ll talk about it then.
Lauren Martino: Because you don’t want to shut them down.
Jane Dorfman: No, you don’t want to shut them down.
Lauren Martino: Use your good instinct, and you model for the parents, you do answer the questions.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. But you can’t – I mean – if you ask the kids a question, you know, that’s always a dangerous thing to do, you know, because you’re asking – you see the dog – I have a dog at home, do you know what he did last week? And it just – we just gets –
David Watts: You open the door.
Jane Dorfman: The group gets away from it. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And you want that one on one, you really want that one on one, but with 50 kids, it’s –
Jane Dorfman: Yeah –
Lauren Martino: It’s a different ball game.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Maybe a good additional story time policy would be no phones for parents –
Lauren Martino: We have cellphone song in my library.
Alessandro Russo: Nice.
Lauren Martino: I put my cellphone up high, I put my cellphone down low, I wave my cellphone around in the air and then I silence it and I put it away.
Jane Dorfman: It doesn’t rhyme.
Lauren Martino: It’s okay, they laugh, they do it.
David Watts: Go back to tot tot titi tot.
Lauren Martino: There you go. It’s also helpful to think about the size of your group. If you’ve got five kids in front of you, there’s a lot more books, you can look at books with more intricate pictures that you can get right up on top of rows. If you have a big group, either – if you have big books, so much the better, if you can project your book on a screen, so much the better. Otherwise, you got to think about books that – very clean lines that are easy to see from far away.
I really like Jan Thomas’s books for that reason, the really thick lines, and very bright colors, and you can see them from, you know, they’re not that big, but you can see them from a mile away.
Jane Dorfman: The library has a lot of big books which are like 3 feet tall, but I think a good test is to put your book up front and go stand where that child is going to see. And you’d be surprised how little you can see. And children’s vision isn’t even 20 – especially with the infants and toddlers, it’s not 20-20 for a long time.
So you’re waving this tiny book up there, and they’re just not seeing it.
Alessandro Russo: Is there any online resources that listeners can use to find read-out loud books?
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, our website has lots of lists that are age-appropriate for preschools, and toddlers, we have some electronic sites. I would rather the parents read, but that will read to a child, you know, you can log on to our websites, we have a lot of lists. And there’s a nice service, what do I check out next, and we don’t get a whole lot of questions for kids, but it’s available.
You can say, my child likes this, this and this, they’re 5 years old, and somebody will give you a list of suggestions, and there’s Beanstack which is the summer reading software that will send you a weekly book for your child.
Lauren Martino: If you want to get really in-depth and you have a particular subject and you need to find a book on that subject, we have something called, Novelist, I think, it’s a K-12 –
Jane Dorfman: There is a K to 12.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. And for your slightly older kids, but you know, you can – we use it a lot when we’ve got the random question – I knew a book about a bunny, and a duck, and I can’t remember the name. But you can get really specific on the kind of topics you want in there too.
David Watts: Well, just off the top of your head, who are the famous authors that a parent could look to?
Jane Dorfman: They could look to I think Mo Willems.
Lauren Martino: Oh, Mo Willems.
Jane Dorfman: I like – some on the class – because some of these things like Madeline, children should just know that, you know, and it’s a longer book, that little picture, it looks a little old fashioned, but kids still love it, and the words rhyme.
And I really wish they would do some of the basic folk tales. It’s another cultural legacy, especially for parents who – this is not their native land, and this is not their first language. The Little Red Hen, Three Bears, Three Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, you know, and some of the folk tales for the folk tale collection, this should be kind of in everybody’s –
David Watts: My kids love Clifford, anything that had Clifford, they were good to go.
Lauren Martino: I like Bill Martin Jr., and I think a lot of people – he’s got a lot of classics, but people tend to associate it as books with the illustrators.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: So you know, that’s where you’re going to find, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and a lot of really well-known things.
Jane Dorfman: That have really good rhythm, and nice – they have great pictures, but they sound good too.
Lauren Martino: I like the one called – an author called Susan Middleton Elya for books that kind of – she incorporates Spanish words in this sort of rhyming ways. So if you have any interest in exposing your children to different languages, like when the line ends with a Spanish word, it’s a lot easier to remember. I was amazed reading like [Spanish Language] [0:20:20] and you know, it’s like my daughter suddenly remembers the Spanish word at the end because it comes to mind.
But there are so many of them, it’s kind of hard to limit it to one. I like Carmel Wilcox too, just for the rhyming, Ashley Scott – Bears Snores On, and Hilda Must Be Dancing.
Jane Dorfman: That’s a sweet book.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I think I memorized that one at some point.
David Watts: So do you have a go to favorite?
Lauren Martino: Of an author?
David Watts: That’s sitting on your desk that you constantly just grab and go with?
Lauren Martino: Oh, gosh, I really like Trashy Town. It’s one of those of very participatory because there’s so much repetition that at some point, the kids just catch on to the – damp it in, smash it down, drive around the trashy town. Is the trash truck full yet? And you look at them, and they all go, “No!” And Mr. Giley drives on.
Alessandro Russo: I remember my go-to book was, Where the Wild Things Were.
Jane Dorfman: Still well-loved.
Alessandro Russo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Actually, I asked my daughter this morning, what her favorite book was, and she’s like, yeah, Where the Wild Things Are – and – but to – it’s Cinderella, okay.
And I think they did a survey a while back of like, all the children’s librarians, and picked the top 100 children’s picture books, and Where the Wild Things Are, was number one.
Alessandro Russo: Nice.
Lauren Martino: It’s a masterpiece. And I don’t know, it’s a little less well-known, but there’s a Japanese Illustrator called Komako Sakai, I really like. Her books were really, really quiet, but they’re just – you can just tell that she’s watched kids. And there’s just little details in there that you know, you would only know if you’ve sat and watched kids and just very into their lives, like she’s got a whole book about this little girl that gets a balloon.
David Watts: Say her name one more time?
Lauren Martino: Komako Sakai.
David Watts: Okay.
Lauren Martino: Every kid has that experience and every kid can relate to it, especially, you know, under 2, around 2 years old, that’s an important thing to remember as you know, you introduce books that they – measure their experience because they get really into that, they know it, and they can relate to it.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you Jane, and Lauren, for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm about reading aloud to children.
Listeners, remember this is Part 1 of 2. To continue to listen in on this discussion about reading out loud to children, make sure you tune in to Part 2. We will have two story time sample readings, as well as questions relating to reading and children, answered by our guests.
Keep the conversation going, by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes, we love to know what you think. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
Recording Date: June 13, 2017
Episode Summary: Our guests this episode are Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino. Both are children's librarians in MCPL branches who have conducted many storytimes for children of different ages. In part 1 of this episode, they discuss the benefits of reading aloud to children, how to choose the best books, and how to keep a child engaged with the book or story.
NOTE: We had such a lively, interactive discussion that our recording was over 45 minutes. We've split the discussion up into 2 parts to make it easier for our listeners to absorb. This recording is part 1 of 2.
Guests: Jane Dorfman, Children's Librarian, and Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian
MCPL resources and services mentioned during this episode:
MCPL 2017 Reading Challenge: Expand your reading horizons. Over the course of 2017, read one book from each of 12 categories.
NoveList K-8 Plus: This kid-friendly database has recommended reading lists, read alikes, award winners, and other tools for find children's fiction and non-fiction books.
Storytimes at MCPL: MCPL offers storytime programs for children of different ages, as well as special themed and bilingual storytimes.
Summer Read and Learn: This program offers exciting activities for children, teens, and adults to encourage reading and learning all summer long.
What Do I Check Out Next?: Tell us what you like to read and we'll e-mail you a personalized list of 3 to 5 books that our readers' advisory experts have chosen for just you.
TumbleBooks (described in the episode as books that read to a child): An online collection of animated, talking picture books. Includes story books, chapter books, nonfiction, videos, and more. Also includes e-books in French and Spanish.
Authors mentioned during this episode:
Susan Middleton Elya. This picture book author is known for her rhyming stories written in a mix of English and Spanish.
Komako Sakai. Author mentioned by Lauren Martino as a writer of more quiet books for children.
Jan Thomas. Picture books with big, clean, lines.
Mo Willems. Author of beloved picture book series including Elephant & Piggie, Knuffle Bunny, and The Pigeon.
Books, and other media mentioned during this episode:
Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin, Jr. Readers see a variety of animals, each one a different color.
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. Mischievous monkeys steal all of a peddler's caps.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. What happens when the whole alphabet tries to climb a coconut tree?
Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell. Tales of Clifford, the giant red dog, and his owner, Emily Elizabeth.
Little Red Hen. No animals want to help the hen bake, but they all want some of the fruits of her labor.
The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Classic tale about goats that trick a troll living under a bridge.
The Three Little Pigs. The classic tale of 3 little pigs and the wolf who tries to make each pig his next meal.
Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha. Mr. Gillie, the trash man, rides through town, picking up the trash. Our guest Lauren Martino noted this book as one of her go to favorites for storytime reading.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. A naughty boy sent to bed without supper sails off to an island inhabited by fantastic beasts and becomes their king.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Libraries' podcast.
David Watts: Hello, and welcome to Library Matters. Are you ready for summer reading? This episode is all about MCPL Summer Read and Learn program. To teach us more about Summer Read and Learn, we have librarians, Christine Freeman and Susan Moritz, as our special guests today. Welcome to Library Matters.
Susan Moritz: Thank you. Thanks for having us. We're really excited to be here.
David Watts: Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Susan Moritz: Sure, certainly. My name is Susan Moritz, and I have been with MCPL for about 11 years now. Currently, I am a program manager with Virtual Services. We work on all sorts of different things, but just a few quick things are the website, social media, digital technologies, but previous to that, I've also been a children's librarian and a reference librarian. And I'm really excited to be on the Summer Read and Learn Committee this year with Christine.
Christine Freeman: Delighted to be here. My name is Christine Freeman. I am the early literacy program manager here at Central. Previous to that, I worked at Noyes Library for young children and owned a library, and I've been with MCPL two years next month.
Alessandro Russo: So, what is Summer Read and Learn program? What's the learn part about? What are some goals of the program?
Christine Freeman: Well, the real purpose of Summer Read and Learn is to keep our youth engaged during the summer and to prevent summer slide. We know that children learn in different ways. The learning tracks will encourage children to learn by seeing, doing, and participating. The tracks also encourage family engagement. So, there are many activities they can go and they can do together.
The great thing about the program is it's flexible, and it fulfills the needs of all of our children with its flexibility. Children who like to read can read more books. And we have our reluctant readers. They can focus on activities without reading as much. And of course with summer reading, we want to remember our real purpose, which is instilling a lifelong love for books in libraries.
David Watts: When does the program begin and end?
Susan Moritz: So, the program begins June 10th, and it's running this year through September 10th. And two of the things we're sort of excited about, actually I should say we're really excited about is that the - that kids can sign-up. There's no cutoff for the sign-up, a sign-up this year. So kids can sign-up and complete the program all the way through September 10th. And we're also excited, because they are a little bit of later ending to schools I believe from Montgomery County are starting after Labor Day this year. So that gives everybody who's coming back from their summer reading camps or their travels or vacation, it gives them an extra week to come complete the program and pick up their prices at the branches.
Alessandro Russo: What ages is the program for and who can participate?
Christine Freeman: We really have something for everyone. For our littlest ones, we have early literacy game board. And that's for ages zero to five; even newborns can participate because we want parents to read to the babies right when they're young. We have a elementary school game board for ages 6 to 12. And we do have teen book of views for teenagers to participate. For adults, we have the reading challenge, and that will let them explore our collection and expand their reading.
David Watts: So, tell me how does the program work and how would one sign-up for it?
Christine Freeman: It's really easy to participate. You can either go online and sign-up from home, or if you just happen to be close to your nearest branch, you can pop in there. We have our staff who is ready to sign you up. They'll give you all the details and tell you how to participate. We have delightful game boards that the children keep track of their activities and their reading. It's going to be a lot of fun. The teens can do book reviews like I said earlier, and the adults can do the reading challenge.
Susan Moritz: I think they will be very excited about it this year.
Christine Freeman: And it really is something for everyone. Everybody is going to have a lot of fun this year.
Alessandro Russo: And the program years is Beanstack. Can you tell us about Beanstack?
Susan Moritz: Sure, sure. I like to think of Beanstack as being sort of an online portal for fun. But what we do, it's a great way to read and learn. What we do inside of Beanstack is we create our own MCPL reading challenges. We've got a reading challenge going on right now, which is for all ages, it has like 12 different reading challenges like we had a book that the cover is green or read a book that's been on your mental to read list for over a year or read a book that's like over 100 years older than you are. So we've got that going on right now.
And of course the other great read and learn program that we're going to be having, starting June 10 is Summer Read and Learn. So starting June 10, people can sign-up for that program. And besides that, going on all year throughout Beanstack, it's a great service to be able to like log your reading if you want to keep track of like, "Oh, I've read all these books." I mean, it's a great way to keep track of it online. You can get personalized reading recommendations for all ages, just tell them, inside Beanstack, tell them what you like to read and I'll give you reading recommendations. You can write book reviews. So, there is a lot of great things inside Beanstack.
And one of the other wonderful things is as a parent, you can just sign-up for your account and then you can just add your kids underneath there as reader. So you only have to remember one login, one password, and then once you're inside and you've logged up and you've created your account in Beanstack, you can then sign-up for as many of our reading programs as you like in there.
Alessandro Russo: Beanstack is accessible through the library website?
Susan Moritz: Yes, exactly, through the library website. And of course, you know, once June 10th hits, we're going to see Summer Read and Learn all over the place. So you'll be able to quickly find it.
Christine Freeman: What I really like about Beanstack is they send you emails that will give you readers advisory for your children. I sent it for my son, and said every once in a while, get readers' advisory for him. It's really nice to be able to know what books to go to library and check out that way.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely.
Alessandro Russo: It's a good helpful tool to have for parents to just scratch their head and say, "What do I get my child to read next?"
Christine Freeman: Uh-huh, yeah.
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely. And what I also love about that is like if you're a parent who likes those emails to come directly to you, hey, you've got them right there. There's reading recommendations, but if you're like, "Ah, you've got too much email, it's too much," you can still even with your account just log-in and see what's being recommended to you. So either way for whatever works, if you prefer email, the email can come to you with the reading recommendations, if not, you can just log into Beanstack and see what they're recommending.
David Watts: Could you explain the different tracks to us? How many there are and whether or not participants have to complete all of them?
Susan Moritz: Sure, sure. Well, I like to think of tracks as being sort of a list of exciting and engaging activities that gets the kids excited, it gets them learning, it gets them reading. And I think also with - so we've got five tracks for each of the age groups this year. So we've got babies through preschool. And there are five tracks of read, sing, play, write, and talk, so, working on our early literacy skills.
And we also have, for the older kids, for elementary school ages from 6 to 12, we have - our theme this year is Build a Better World. And so, each of our tracks are with that theme, so we've got build it our earth, recycle our world and community and there - so like I said, there is five tracks, but you only have to complete two activities, and your choice of whichever one you want to complete, you only have to complete two activities in each track to complete the track. And if you complete all five tracks, you complete the program.
Alessandro Russo: Can you give us some examples of learning activities?
Susan Moritz: Sure. Christine?
Christine Freeman: Yeah. So I am really excited about our theme this year. It's Build a Better World, and I think what's so great about the activities is it's not just in the library, they're exploring outside in our communities. So, for our little ones, activities like listening to a book about animals or attend a library program and sing along; elementary children might attend a science program at a library where they might look at a map or a globe and maybe talk to some about what they learned. They might even be exploring out at a park and making a picture of what they see, do a lot of great activities in there. And I think having community, diversity, recycling on our planet are all themes of the - overall theme of Build a Better World that's really nice about this program.
Alessandro Russo: That sounds like a great addition to the reading part, but you're also getting kids out and inside and involved and kind of interested in their community?
Christine Freeman: It's really important, because kids learn in different ways. Not all kids can sit and just read. Some kids need to explore. They need to use their hands, they need to listen. So I think that really helps with the children that learn in different ways to participate.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. It definitely encourages those reluctant readers who learn by doing.
David Watts: Could you tell us how Summer Read and Learn integrates with our MCPL strategic plan.
Susan Moritz: Sure. I love how it - how it does support our strategic plan, and I sort of think of it as supporting in two major ways. One is our Literate Montgomery. Our Literate Montgomery, one of the pieces of Literate Montgomery is early literacy, and early literacy is sometimes I think of it's just a fancy way to explain about, it's the skills that kids need, especially our babies through preschoolers, to make sure that they are reading ready and they are ready to learn, and those things need to be in place before the kids learn to read. So, in our Summer Read and Learn program, our tracks are based on those early literacy areas. So the read, sing, play, write, and talk, and we have activities within those that are great encouragements for parents and sort of modeling for parents what things they should be doing to be able to get their - get their kids ready and excited to learn and get those skills in place.
And what I also love about that is our story times, and I know both Christine and I have done story times in MCPL. And if you haven't done, if you're a parent or a caregiver who hasn't brought your kid to story time, you should bring your kid to story time. They're wonderfully fun, exciting, learning environments and the librarians are actually modeling these kinds of things that you can do at home or wherever you are in order to encourage those early literacy skills, and so your kids can gain them, so they can be successful. And one of the ones that I like to pick on is sing, and something we do a lot in our baby programs is sing. And so for instance, if I say the word "Happiness," you just hear happiness, but if I sing, "Haa-ppi-ness," kids are hearing those little phonological sounds, there is like smaller sounds in the words and that's how they're going to be sounding out words when they go to read. So I think that's - so our librarians are such a great model of what you can be doing and like I would tell the parents, "You know, you are your child's first and best teacher," and we want to - we want to get that information to our parents and caregivers so that their kids can be a success. So I think between our read and learn activities and our story times that really supports that Literate Montgomery.
And the other one that I really think is great is of course the light of Montgomery. I think everyone's going to be really delighted just with the activities and the reading that go along with the Summer Read and Learn, just with everything, the online component, our game boards, the activities they can do, our STEM programs, you've got great learning, programs that are coming that encourage those kids to engage young minds and to get them curious and ask, "Why," and answer those science questions. And we're also going to be having a lot more story times in our branches than I think a lot of our customers have seen in years past during summer time. I think we'll have a lot more of those. So I think I'm excited about it as you can see.
Christine Freeman: I think there's nothing more exciting than seeing the children coming with the parents and they finish summer reading, because the sense of accomplishment that the parents and the child has is just really great, big smiles, everybody is happy. It's really a lot of fun to see.
Susan Moritz: Uh-huh. And I think one of the great things that Christine did at Noyes Library, I think, did you have like a little announcement or something?
Christine Freeman: We did.
Susan Moritz: When kids were to complete the program which I think was exciting.
Christine Freeman: We had a bell, and actually when somebody finished summer reading, we would ring the bell and then we will make an announcement and it was like, "Christine has finished summer reading program, let's give her a big round of applause," and everybody will clap their hands and the child gets all excited and really did that when the child wanted us to. If they were really shy of course, we did a quiet celebration.
Susan Moritz: There you go.
Christine Freeman: A celebration nonetheless, right.
Alessandro Russo: So, Montgomery County, as you know, is a very diverse county, how do you think residents will see themselves with the - in the Summer Read and Learn program?
Christine Freeman: Yeah. The Kids is designed to be appealing to our diverse communities. We have tracks like read a folk tale from another country or you can listen to music from another country. And I think that will encourage sharing and celebrating differences. We all took community-based activities, such as visit a park and draw a picture of what you see, which I mentioned earlier, and read a book about Maryland, DC, Virginia or Delaware, and that kind of shows us that we're all one world, which is in going with the theme.
Susan Moritz: Uh-huh, definitely. And I think our book lists also this year I believe are very - they've got very diverse titles and very diverse authors. So, I think a lot of kids are going to be excited to see these - their book list based on grades, so if you're a parent, you're like, "Ah, what should my third-grader read," we've got a book list for third grade, we've got a book list for second grade, that sort of runs in the gamut, and I think not only will our very diverse community be able to see themselves in the book titles that are being suggested this year. I think they're also being excited about exploring other cultures and learning about other people that are in our community.
Christine Freeman: I don't think keeping on the book list, she was really looking at mirrors and windows, and I think that's really important, even our tracks I think reflect that we really do keep in mind that our Montgomery County is a diverse community.
Susan Moritz: I love that phrase, "Mirrors and windows." Yeah. That's a wonderful phrase.
David Watts: I know you've touched on it briefly, but I'm going to ask you if you would underscore the importance of the summer reading program, and how it fits into the local school's effort to keep learning alive during the whole summer?
Susan Moritz: Definitely. I can't emphasize enough how important the Summer Read and Learn program is. I mean, we're basically open when the schools are closed, and we're very attuned to and very excited about trying to prevent summer slide. And I think we've touched a little bit on summer slide, which is if you haven't heard of it before, it's basically how kids start to lose that that achievement gains that they gained throughout the year. They - and we want to help prevent that as much as possible by keeping them engaged and learning with, you know, between the books and the learning activities and just everything. So - and we're I mean in general, we are open when the schools are after school, and we're open on the weekends, and we're open on the evenings and we're excited to have - to be able to help keep kids engaged and turn them into lifelong learners because we're - you learn at every stage, and so, stop - helping prevent summer slide is definitely one of the keys.
The other thing that we are super-excited about to be partners with Montgomery County Public Schools is our Library Link program, and the best way to describe it is we want to get a free library card in every kid's hand in Montgomery County Public Schools, because that library card is the key to everything. It is the key to our collection, our books, our databases, our homework help; just everything that keeps them engaged and learning and excited about STEM and just everything. So we're super-excited to have that to be doing that, you know, to be partners with the schools and to be doing that.
And the other way that we interact with schools since we're talking about Summer Read and Learn of course, is our school visits, which we are super-excited about, our librarians have started to be going to the schools, and they are visiting the classrooms and the all the local schools in their area, and they are getting the kids excited about Summer Read and Learn to get them excited and ready to sign-up. And they also a lot of times do books talks as well, and I know, I think Christine and I both have been on school visits before, and let me tell you there's nothing like the feeling like you go in a little bit nervous because especially if sometimes, you know, you're in that room, in that auditorium room, you know, sometimes with like half the school or the whole school and - but then you just get so excited by talking to the kids. They are just like, "How many of you signed up for the Summer Read and Learn before?" And they're raising their hands, and you just sort of feel of their excitement about Summer Read and Learn. And of course there's nothing like that feeling about also being back at the branch when the kids come in, "You came to my school," or you know, "Sign me up, I'm ready to sign-up," or you know, which the other one that my heart just melts is when kids would be - would say, "I want to check out that book you talked about when you came to my school." And that's - there's nothing more heart-melting than that. So we're really excited that the local schools allow us access to come in and talk to the kids and get them, because we're all in it together to help kids prevent summer slide, so get them excited about learning and engagement.
Christine Freeman: I have to tell you that I went last year to an assembly up in Olney, two assemblies actually back to back, and one little boy, he always talking and he said, "I know libraries are so cool." And I had to stop - I had to stop and I was like, "What did you say?" And I made him say it really loud, so everybody could hear. And it was fun, because after he came up to me, he was like, "What is that music thing you were talking about?" And I'm like, oh, Freegal, do want me to tell you about it. So I got it in my phone, I was showing him, I'm surprised his teacher didn't notice he was kind of straggling behind. He was really excited.
Susan Moritz: For a good reason, he was straggling behind, yes.
Christine Freeman: Yeah. And it's really fun to see all the kids get excited summer reading.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And free also, wonderful - you can download free music, I think up to five songs a week I want to say now.
Christine Freeman: Uh-huh.
Susan Moritz: So yeah, definitely.
Christine Freeman: And I've to tell you, I bought Adele's album, and then I went to Freegal and I was like, "Ah," like I could have gotten the songs from there! Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely. And I have got a long wish list in there, so that I can keep track of which ones I want to come back if I can't get them all, you know, the whole album downloaded that week there, so…
Alessandro Russo: So, part of the Summer Read and Learn program involves some great performances and events that are happening throughout the county. Can you highlight some of those events?
Christine Freeman: I am so super-excited about this, because I've booked the programs that was sponsored through Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, so, we have some great stuff coming there of storytellers, we have inspirational speakers, we have a wide variety of musicians from all over the place. And I did see when a performer named Chris Fascione and he's at Chicago and he's a storyteller; fabulous. He takes folktales, and he does all the parts. So he's like running around doing all these different characters, and he's just - it's great, it will be in a couple of our libraries. We also have Under the Sea that is out of Glen Echo Park Aquarium. And they bring live animals, and it's great because it's educational, it's fun, it's interactive, the parents loved it, so they will also be at some of our libraries. We have so many programs throughout the system that this is a great opportunity to go visit a library that you've never seen before. So, on checking out our online calendar, you'll see everything there that we have.
Susan Moritz: Okay, I'm excited about the Under the Sea because I know Christine raved about it before about how wonderful they were at Noyes, when they came to visit. So yeah, so I'm excited about the - yeah, they all sound great. I want to go to see everything.
Christine Freeman: We had some great music of the didgeri, digeridoo?
Susan Moritz: Yes didgeridoo, right?
Christine Freeman: They were like awesome. We have some percussionists coming in, they were going to bring drums and that was - it's like a kind of like a Latin sound. That will be fun. 1,2,3 Con Andreas, who does a bilingual program; lots of great stuff coming in.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I can't wait.
David Watts: The Great Fines Read Off program runs year round, but it is particularly popular during the summer. Please tell us about Great Fines Read Off and how it would work?
Susan Moritz: Sure, Great Fines Read Off is super-simple, easy, and like you said, popular. So for kids 17, ages 17 and younger, they can earn a "Library Buck," and make them a little air quotes; for every half-hour they read in the library, so it's super-simple, they just come into the library, and they've got library fines on their card, go to sign-up at the information desk or whatever branch they're at, they go and read while they're in the library and they can read whatever they want to, they can read books, e-magazines, e-books, you know, websites, whatever they want to read. And then they go and then at the end they just check back in that they're finished with their reading, they clipped whatever library books they earn and take it to the checkout desk and get those fines off their card. And like you said, it is so super-popular; even I had an adult one time who was a little bit bummed that she could not take part in the program, she said she would love to read off her credit card bill, and you know, I too would also love to read. I know I wish everybody did this, right, you could just read off your bills at the library; sounds awesome to me, so - but unfortunately it is just for kids 17 years and younger, but it would be like you said it goes on all year long.
Christine Freeman: And parents can read off for the little kids who can't read yet, right?
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely, definitely. and yes, have you - siblings too, if you've got an older sibling that reads, you know, and you both earn, the reader and the readee, both can earn there, so just they both have to check-in and check-in at the branch when they come in. Great program definitely.
Christine Freeman: Definitely.
Alessandro Russo: So, if you're an adult and you want to participate in Summer Read and Learn, but you have no clue what to read; what are some resources that we have that can help that?
Susan Moritz: Perfect, well, they've come to the right place. So, yes, we are a great place to find exciting titles to read. So, one of the ways is of course through our reading challenge that I spoke about, and they can sign-up for an account with Beanstack if they don't have it already and join that. And like I said, they've got 12 reading challenges like the end of the cover the book is green or read a sci-fi or fantasy book or read - I mean, just so there's 12 different reading challenges. So, that's one way to sort of like - or I like to call it read like a librarian, because we read so much and so many different things to help - because you never know what customer is coming up. Customer maybe coming up that loves Westerns, or you know, teen dystopias, so you never quite know. So I'd say it's like a read like a librarian, having that nice challenge there. So that's definitely one way.
We've got another way that if you don't know what to read is we got a great online service called What Do I Check Out Next? And what people can do is they can fill in our form online and they can say sort of what types of books either they like to read or they are in the mood to read, what kind of genres, and then we can email them back a - we email them back three to five reading suggestions. So that's like a personalized reading list that we've got. And another one, which I completely also need to of course to mention, is in Beanstack you can also get personalized recommendations through them. So through that online service you can say they've got like four pathways or four doorways, you can say like, "I love plot-driven novels," or you know, whatever it is that you love. And they will of course either email you their personalized reading suggestion, and or you can if you get too much emails, like I do sometimes, you can just log-in to your Beanstack account and see what's recommended to you. But I love that - what I love about Beanstack and What Do I Take Out Next especially are the personalized, it's you know finding that the right book for the right person at the right time. So, I love that.
Christine Freeman: And if you happen to be in a library, take advantage of your librarian. So, librarians love to give readers advisory advice. Walk up to the info desk, and they'll be happy to show you some of their favorites or some that they think you might like.
Susan Moritz: Definitely. I remember before I started to work at MCPL, I was like, "Ah, what should I read? What should I read?" And I'm like, had I known I could just walk up to the desk and ask them like - that's just sort of - that would have blown my mind at the time.
Christine Freeman: And I feel the children's librarian and I look for her, like I would find her when I was little and she would take me and help me to find the books that I wanted.
Susan Moritz: I love that, I love that…
Christine Freeman: It is great, excited to be a librarian when I had that children's librarian's help, I must have been like eight.
Susan Moritz: Definitely. That's fabulous, because you definitely do remember those like reading suggestions you do get from your librarian. I mean, I do remember my school librarian reading text like Make Way for Ducklings, and it's like you know these stories they're just like ah, you know, you just think back so fondly of them, and like you said, make it your favorites librarians, and so - for more recommendations.
Christine Freeman: I know they're waiting.
Susan Moritz: Yes. That's what they call it now, but come on in…
David Watts: How has the Summer Read and Learn program grown and developed over the years?
Christine Freeman: So, in the past, we've had children log the books that they've read, and as we know not all children like to read. So, the great thing about Summer Read and Learn program is that the kids who don't like to read so much can participate by doing learning activities. Now the kids that love to read, they don't have do any activities, they can just keep reading books, and they can do that. It really helps for children that are not strong readers, and that's why we now have a reading program that everyone will be able to enjoy. Of course, we are always looking for feedback from our customers, and we'll continue to evolve our summer reading program to meet the needs of our community.
Alessandro Russo: So, traditionally we ask our guest if they have a favorite book, or if they want to share what book is currently on their desk ready to read?
Susan Moritz: Sure. So, the two that I read that I really liked recently were The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, and I was really excited - for some reason I get sucked into those stories where there's sort of like a locked room kind of mysteries, you know, so there's a journalist, she gets a chance to go on this maiden voyage of this like rich - it's like a cruise line, where it is very limited, I think there is like 10 cabins. And so, like, this rich person is like taking out these very wealthy people, but also invite some journalists for good publicity for their new cruise line. And of course, that evening, she had - well, earlier in the day, she had spoken to this woman who was in the cabin next door in cabin 10, and then of course that evening she hears a woman scream and a splash, and you know, and of course the woman is gone, she can't find her, and of course no one on the ship says, "Oh, that cabin was supposed to be empty. There's nobody in there." So yes, so of course you got to read the book to find out - did the woman really exist, is it all in her mind? So I love that. That was a great one that I really read recently.
And another one was An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I love that one, it's a teen dystopia as Romanesque, and it's like the Romanesque empire is sort of taken over the lid and sort of subjugated these people call the scholars. And of course Laia, her - she's a scholar, and her parents have since been killed by them, and her grandparents, she witnesses her grandparents being killed. But when they stormed sort of into her home and her brother is taken prisoner and is escorted off presumably to die, and she of course wants to find the resistance and save her brother and all sorts of exciting thing. It's a great audio book because the alternate voice has got two different narrators. So I love that.
And next up, which I haven't read much about, the Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, I'm going to be - that's next on my to-read list. So, what exciting books have you been reading, Christine?
Christine Freeman: Let's see. I think, well, I think my favorite book of one year that came out was Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. It's great. It's set in San Francisco, where I'm from. And it's a terrorist event occurs and these really smart teenagers happen to be cosplaying there. And so, they kind of like figure out what's really going on and kind of save the day, I like that. I'm also a big fan of YA, other YA dystopian books. I just got to Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, not very long ago, if you like Queen of the Tearling, you'll love the Red Queen. It kind of combines dystopian and fantasy, which I like. That's great. And of course anything by Rick Riordan, I'm a huge fan.
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely.
Christine Freeman: Huge fan.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I know, I was thinking fondly of the Rick Riordan books, because I had a kid who came in - he was actually visiting our branch while he was visiting his grandparents, so he's out from Florida. And he was like, I've got - he wanted to recommend books to me. So he's like pulling off from the shelf one of which was The Lightning Thief, you know, the first Percy Jackson book, so I was like I've got to read this book there, so…
Christine Freeman: I have to say they are only books I buy…
Susan Moritz: Oh, that's great. That's great. That's great.
Christine Freeman: Everything else from the library, but I buy Rick Riordan…
Susan Moritz: Definitely, definitely. And I'm excited about the Victoria - Aveyard?
Christine Freeman: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: I haven't read that one there, that sounds good but I have read Little Brother and that is an exciting - that's a very - I truly understood water boarding, after that I was sort of liking that, so it was just like - but yeah, was really like - it was like tense and exciting and you didn't know what was going to happen next. Yeah, that was a really good book.
Christine Freeman: Yeah…
Susan Moritz: Yeah, definitely.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank both of you for joining us today. We've enjoyed our conversation. But let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and wherever you get your podcast. Also please review and read us on iTunes. We'd love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to the conversation today. See you next time.
Recording Date: May 3, 2017
Guests: Christine Freeman, Early Literacy and Children's Services Manager, and Susan Moritz, Program Manager, Virtual Services.
Episode Summary: Our guests discuss MCPL's upcoming Summer Read and Learn program. MCPL's Summer Read and Learn program promotes reading and learning all summer long through a variety of reading and activity based learning tracks.
MCPL resources and services mentioned during this episode:
Summer Read and Learn: This program runs from June 10 through September 10, 2017. There will be activities for children, teens, and adults.
Four Doorways to Reading: Legendary librarian Nancy Pearl identified 4 reasons people fall in love with books. They are plot, people, place, and prose. Sign up through Beanstack for reading recommendations based on your preferences among these 4 doorways to literature.
Freegal: Download up to 5 song each week for free. Choose from over 3,000,000 recordings.
Library Link: A partnership between MCPL and Montgomery County Public Schools to ensure every child enrolled in a county public school receives a library card.
MCPL 2017 Reading Challenge: Over the course of 2017, read one book from each of twelve different categories. The categories include items such as a book set in your home state or country, a book with a viewpoint different from your own, and a book with a cover that is green.
MCPL's Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) programs.
MCPL Strategic Plan: To provide access to services, resources, and programs so that everyone can participate in making a more Literate Montgomery, Connected Montgomery, Strong and Vibrant Montgomery, and Delighted Montgomery.
What Do I Check Out Next?: Tell us what you like to read and we'll e-mail you a personalized list of 3 to 5 books that our readers' advisory experts have chosen for you.
Books and other media mentioned during this episode:
Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Laia goes undercover at the empire's military academy in order to save her brother from execution.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Marcus uses his hacking skills to resist an out of control Department of Homeland Security.
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen: Princess Kelsea returns home to ascend the throne amidst political intrigue and personal peril.
The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard: A commoner with rare power, Mare risks everything to help a growing rebellion.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See: Two sisters leave Shanghai to begin new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware: A journalist suspects the murder of a passenger no else believes was ever on board their cruise ship.
Rick Riordan: Bestselling author of children's book series such as The Heroes of Olympus, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and The Kane Chronicles.