Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
Julie Dina: Welcome to Montgomery County Public Libraries’ Library Matters podcast. I’m Julie Dina, one of the new hosts along with Lauren Martino and David Payne. In this episode, Lauren and David enjoy a lively discussion about Game of Thrones with two staff members who are fans of the books and show. We have a bonus feature at the end. A brief talk with Acting Director, Anita Vassallo, another Game of Thrones fan who couldn't make the main recording, but didn't want to be left out of the fun.
David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with your host Lauren Martino.
Lauren Martino: Hello.
David Payne: And myself David Payne. Today we’ll be talking about a fantasy epic that has become a cultural phenomenon since it first appeared in print over two decades ago taking place in settings where magic joints and dragons exist. You may be forgiven for thinking we are referring to Harry Potter. It is in fact Game of Thrones that we will be discussing a world that began with the publication of George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series in the mid 1990s and has continued with his subsequent adaptation into a fantasy drama series on television, which has attracted record viewing figures all over the world.
Here to tell us all about the intriguing world of Game of Thrones, I'm very pleased to welcome two MCPL staff members who come to claused as Game of Thrones devotees Susan Moritz and Angelica Rengifo. Before we go any further however, as we delve deeply into the Game of Thrones world, please note there will be spoilers in this conversation. If you're not up-to-date on Game of Thrones and wish to avoid spoilers, do come back to us after you’ve caught up to the most recent Game of Thrones episodes. So welcome Susan and Angelica.
Susan Moritz: Hello.
Angelica Rengifo: Hello, thank you.
Lauren Martino: So David and I have never seen any Game of Thrones shows or read any of the books. So how would you describe this world and why should we be interested?
Susan Moritz: Well, it’s sort of hard to – it’s so such a vast and exciting world that’s hard to break it down into one little – [Multiple Speakers].
Lauren Martino: Come on in 30 seconds.
Susan Moritz: In 30 seconds what can I say? So I guess I want to say that it was that it’s like a medieval fantasy and its set in the fictional land of Westeros and there are seven kingdoms that are ruled by one king, exactly.
Lauren Martino: One king to rule them all.
Susan Moritz: One king to rule them all, exactly, exactly very much like Lord of the Rings-esc. And it’s sort of what happens when the king is accidently killed during a boar hunting accident, but he is really murdered of course.
Lauren Martino: Freak boar hunting accident.
Susan Moritz: Freak boar hunting accident, exactly, exactly. How would that have ever happened? You know, so of course, it sends this fragile piece that sort of kept these seven sort of separate kingdoms together basically falls apart. And vast chaos and everyone decides that they want to be king and who wants to sit in the iron throne, do you think that’s right Angelica, are there other things that I missed?
Angelica Rengifo: I’ll say that definitely it looks very medieval.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Angelica Rengifo: It’s fantasy. We have dragons, we have magic, we have dead people that come back to life.
Susan Moritz: Yes, White Walkers exactly.
Angelica Rengifo: No, and also like for example the Dondarrion that is brought back to life by Thoros of Myr. We also have a lot of sex, a lot of backstabbing, we had a politics and a lot of complicatid family ties.
David Payne: Sounds like you’re ever things is there.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Downton Abbey?
Susan Moritz: Well, I think it was funny like I watching the show until like the very last I think it was the very last episode or the second to last episode of the season I sort of didn't realize it had this sort of fantasy element to it. And it just sort of looked I mean, even though it was set in a fictional fantasy world it sort of just looked very medieval, very King Arthur-esc kind of time period.
Angelica Rengifo: And the big bull have happened.
Susan Moritz: But then these dragons get hatched.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes,
Susan Moritz: And there was like wait, there is dragons here. So then I was like, wait, I think this is a little bit more even more fantasy, magic kind of stuff that I was thinking it would be as.
David Payne: So do you think one has to have a sense of or appreciation of history to enjoy the series or does it not matter?
Susan Moritz: I don’t think it matters, I mean, I –.
Angelica Rengifo: No, we can say – I can say from personal experience I have never been into fantasy. I have never been into Harry Potter or anything like that until I started watching and reading A Song of Ice and Fire.
Susan Moritz: Well, this is perfect because I have been a fan of you know historically fiction and history and fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. So I think this is great. It shows that you can like and no matter you feel like this if your thing or not.
Angelica Rengifo: I’m definitely into history and I love my favorite movies have like Trilogy have been the Lord of the Rings, but I’d never like Harry Potter. And this show, even the TV show, it's really great and the production is so great.
Lauren Martino: Why do you think it has attracted such a wide fan base? What makes it appealing to fans of so many different completely different people that all like the same thing?
Susan Moritz: I would say that sort of my two criteria for any like great TV show or movie or books is it’s got to have a good plot and it has a great plot. It has these twists and these turns and I remember even after that I was hooked by the very first episode, some marginal TV show that takes you while to get into, but I was like this whole like plot twist at the end where you find out that the Queen is sleeping with her twin brother.
Lauren Martino: What?
Susan Moritz: And yes, exactly, exactly. And where the beloved Starks because I love the Stark family, you know, accidently one of the kids sees them and it’s like and her brothers like “the things I do for love” and pushes him out of the tower you think to his death. He winds up surviving, but you’re like, but it ends with him like falling out of the tower and you’re like, oh, my god, what’s going to happen next. So I think it’s got a great plot with these surprising twists and it just has great characters like you really like with the Starks you really love them.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Susan Moritz: You’re just so invested what is going to happen and what’s going to happen next. Are they going to get justice? Are they going to get back together, they’re going as a unit as a family unit. And the other thing is there is characters that you hate so badly that you hope that something horrible, horrible, horrible happens to them.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yes, you hope that something horrible happen to them. And the one of the thing that I have to say about the characters too is just because you sometimes think you know them like there is definitely characters I love and characters I hate. But there is ones that you feel like that change like Jamie Lannister, I think we had talked about that about how starts off he is the one the brother of the Queen who pushes his kid. You think this is the most horrible guy ever. He is sleeping with his twin sister. He has pushed this little boy.
Angelica Rengifo: And he is full of himself. He is – he thinks he is entitled to everything, and he doesn’t care. He has no care for anybody besides his sister not even his father I mean, he is afraid of his father in some way or another. But I want to bring up the point that you said that you got hooked on the first episode of the show. I didn't.
Susan Moritz: Oh, you didn’t?
Angelica Rengifo: No.
Susan Moritz: Oh, how funny. How funny. I was totally hooked of that first episode.
Angelica Rengifo: No, it took me a while. I tried to watch the first episode three times and I couldn't get pass I don’t know it was too much.
David Payne: So what make you go back?
Angelica Rengifo: Just the fact that it was history and everybody was talking about it. And like yeah, it has a history and then I got into the books and also I didn’t know it like it was always present in my mind that I have to watch this, I have to watch this. And that’s what I tell everybody because that's what I experience when I get friends to like try to watch it I tell them, don't give up on the first and second episodes.
Lauren Martino: And that’s hard you have to stick with it.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, push through because like that’s what happened to me. I had to push through and like actually sit down and say, I'm going to finish this first episode. I’m going to finish this second episode.
Susan Moritz: Well, there is definitely payoffs. There is definitely payoffs for sticking with the series like, these are like the characters like change like with Jamie like you hate him in the very beginning. The Queen’s brother like he is this horrible guy. And then he like he himself suffers a tragedy he is like in order to help out Brienne I mean his swordhand gets cut off. And he basically has to relearn how to like so of course this is very important, but you know, he totally got to be good and he has got these good qualities. And you've just totally in the first episode of written him off as this horrible murderer, that’s a horrible guy.
Angelica Rengifo: Because he has to learn to be him without being a fighter. That was his personality and his worth was that he was able – he was the best sword man in the kingdom. And when that his hand gets cut off he cannot put value on himself and does what he like almost dies when he was being brought to the, what was it?, back to south, yeah.
David Payne: So, you talked about the TV series. How would you compare it to the books I mean, having read the books and seen the show, which one do you, do you both prefer?
Susan Moritz: I like both, would you say that you like both too?
Angelica Rengifo: I like both because I like the books because he goes, George R. R. Martin, goes into so much detail describing the landscape, describing people, describing the thoughts of the characters. And also I like the show because you can put a face to the characters that you have been reading about. And the other thing is that like after season five they go on a different like a different direction than the books do.
Lauren Martino: Really so they diverge.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes. And there are a lot of plots like side plots that do not get the attention or not even mention on the TV show that you find on the books. Like for example, the Dorn plot with the sand, snakes, and the daughter of the King of Dorn it's a really great plot in the books. And on the TV show it’s a side plot is a – we are losing time watching this because it doesn't go anywhere.
Susan Moritz: I would totally agree with that and that’s exact same thing I was thinking about like there is this Kingdom of Dorn, one of the kingdoms. And then in the TV show it was like, oh, we’re going to include it and then it was like oh, no, wait, we've got so much, so much we got to go.
Lauren Martino: Back up.
Susan Moritz: We’ve got a range that. And exactly pack up exactly, exactly. And I like the way that I started with it too like I watched the first season. So they’re having – and then I read the books and I read all the way through. And so I was thinking that you know, it's like I already have these images in my head, this is this character, this is this. And you already had that sort of intro to it so you’re not like overwhelmed by detail or stuff with the books like who is this and what’s this again and you’re already sort of ready to jump on. But now since George R. R. Martin is not writing fast enough the show has gone past the books. So basically the show is now all we have now that you’re going to write all the books like that’s – that’s all you got left now.
David Payne: Has it become too complicated?
Angelica Rengifo: No, I like it. So like even the reading and the books are great, yeah.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I don’t think it’s become too complicated, but I think it’s probably become too complicated for George R. R. Martin to write.
Lauren Martino: And one person is not enough anymore
Susan Moritz: Definitely, and it was like with his thing apparently he doesn’t, unlike I think JK Rowling, does not outline anything. So he just like, so his got it like 1000 page books. And so he just sort of like has this huge world with all these characters and it’s like then he used to write, write, write.
Angelica Rengifo: And he writes chapters. So each chapter is a character and it’s the point of view of the character. But I’ve heard I don't know if it's true that he has hired someone to get whatever he see his mind in draft.
Susan Moritz: Oh, my goodness. I love that.
David Payne: Well, I have to ask Game of Thrones was described to me as "Shakespeare's history plays with dragons”. Now I don’t know how familiar you are with Shakespeare’s history plays, but any thoughts on the comparison?
Angelica Rengifo: I do not agree with that.
Susan Moritz: You don’t.
Angelica Rengifo: I don’t.
Susan Moritz: I would totally say that I would agree. Yeah, do you want to do the con and then I’ll do the pro.
Angelica Rengifo: So I don't agree with that even though Shakespeare has written about Richard III and The Wars of the Roses it's still a play. He doesn't develop something new. He doesn't develop the characters. We don't know the depth of the characters. So I feel like he is about comparison and he is not fair to George R. R. Martin, because again we can go back to the fact that two of the plays by Shakespeare are based on kings that went through or where became kings after The Wars of the Roses. And A Song of Ice and Fire is based on The Wars of the Roses. And so, but it has more depth. You can definitely take sides.
Susan Moritz: Oh, definitely.
Angelica Rengifo: You cannot do that on a play. So I feel like no, I do not agree with that. I think that’s great.
Susan Moritz: Well, I didn't realize about The Wars of the Roses that does bring an interesting element into it. And I guess what I thinking of that Shakespeare like history of plays I was thinking of sort of the characters and sort of like sort of similarities kind of thing. And I was thinking in Henry V like one of my – one of the great lines as I and I’m pretty sure hope everything and hope I’ve got all my Shakespeare all coordinated my brain. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. And I feel about –.
Angelica Rengifo: You think.
Susan Moritz: Yes, yes and then in this show it has been uneasy for every single person even the king who was the King Robert Baratheon you know when the show starts the kings before them that his king –.
Lauren Martino: Before the freak boar hunting accident.
Susan Moritz: Before yeah, yeah, when there was the mad king before him that was burning people a lot. No, I mean, it’s been since then and anybody else who has come in it’s been very uneasy.
Angelica Rengifo: Very dead.
Susan Moritz: Yes and so I see, yes. So I see that I definitely see that. I also see with sort of Henry V that sort of like band of brothers, everybody together, I sort of see that and sort of in Jon Snow and Dany sort of the inspiration the people who follow them they're just so inspired by them and they’re really dedicated to sort of how Henry V was with that. I just see different things with different ones. On Henry IV, you know, overtook the throne from I think it was Richard II and about how like, it was the whole like divine right of kings, and this is this and even in this.
Angelica Rengifo: But in plays that you don’t get developed.
Susan Moritz: Well, that’s true.
Angelica Rengifo: That’s what I feel, but it’s not similar. They’re not similar because the characters do not get developed. You don't feel like they have personality. Everything that we know about the characters in Shakespeare plays is what we know from history. What we have read in other things, not from Shakespeare himself.
Susan Moritz: There is only so much room to expand to change what’s there.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Whereas George R. R. Martin has been whatever he wants to do.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Right, yeah they definitely doesn’t have the depth I would say you’re writing the characters and then with Shakespeare he was probably writing for Queen Elizabeth II. I want to make sure that everybody sort of hey, that’s her that came out looking pretty good and Richard III of course was not going to look good at all. Although, I hear conflicting reports about that how he was in the real life there so.
David Payne: It sounds like you both know your Shakespeare.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, well that’s good, yes.
David Payne: So a quick aside for initiated like Lauren and myself. What is the thought of Game of Thrones, what does that allude to?
Susan Moritz: I think it’s the Game of Thrones. I just think of the line that Cersei Lannister whose the Queen says to Ned Stark it’s like “when you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.” So basically when you're trying to gain the throne you either going to win and you’re going to get on that, you’re going to get to on the iron throne. They got this iron throne with that’s basically melted of swords right from I think the people who they call bend the knee, you’re pledging your oath to you know your allegiance to this person. So they’ve got this like iron throne that you sit on which obviously looks very uncomfortable.
Angelica Rengifo: It was on parks and rec.
Susan Moritz: Oh, well, why is this, that’s right, that’s right.
Lauren Martino: She gave Ben his own Iron Throne. It was this big, that was the best present he ever got in the whole world that is also I’ve tried.
Susan Moritz: No, no, no and that’s I totally forgot about that and you totally reminded me of about I think I heard that the Queen, the current Queen actually got to visit the set and of course they were like oh, do you want to go sit on. And she is like oh, no, no. And I was like smart lady, I can do imagine –.
Lauren Martino: Don’t allow yourself with that.
Susan Moritz: Exactly, exactly.
Angelica Rengifo: And also now that you bring up the throne prequels books that came before song of Ice and Fire there is a King, a Targaryen, that used to sit on the throne and he will get cut because again it’s made of real swords. It’s not just like not swords that are not going to cut your or whatever.
Susan Moritz: So it’s uneasy the bum that sits on the iron throne, not just head with the crown there so.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. So now, you’ve peaked my interest MCPL has all of these items I can go back to my branch and I can either order the season one or I can order the audio book or I can order the print book
Angelica Rengifo: or download the audiobook.
Lauren Martino: Or download the electronic audiobook. So which would you recommend, what should I go do?
Angelica Rengifo: Oh, I prefer you to read.
Lauren Martino: To read the actual book.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Do the book and not the TV show and not the audio book.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah, I’ll prefer the story maybe for someone who does not have an idea of it like Susan said, watch the show so you know who are the characters and you have an idea of who is who and where they are and where they come from and you can put a face when you.
Lauren Martino: Quick introduction.
Angelica Rengifo: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, and I think it’s great too if you’re not too much into like the sex and the violence and stuff. Having watched the first season and then read through all the books I was prepared for like seasons two through I guess five about anything bad that was coming up. So I sort of knew I was like okay, I’m going to go this scene is coming up in the show. I’m going to go to the kitchen. I’m going back and I’ll be little back right here. So that to me was very helpful knowing it was coming down the pike there. One of the funniest things I think about it is like there is a huge character death. I mean, when you first see it, you’re just like oh, Ned Stark. He is this Sean Bean because I love Lord of the Rings and Sean Bean was in there.
Lauren Martino: Oh Sean Bean.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Sean Bean dies?
Angelica Regifo: Yes and like in every movie.
Lauren Martino: Yes, I know, I know.
Susan Moritz: Because it was like the second to last episodes of season one. And I was like oh, no, at the last minute no, no, no.
Angelica Rengifo: So and then this is the third season, second season when Catelyn Stark dies and Robb Stark and you’re like.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, The Big Red Wedding. And what I loved about that was like so I knew it was coming.
Lauren Martino: The Big Red Wedding.
Angelica Rengifo: No, it’s The Red Wedding.
Lauren Martino: Because everyone dies?
Susan Martino: Two of the main characters you love die. And you think they're all okay, because there is just the guest rights. You come in. You’ve eaten from, if I’ve come to your home and you fed me some food that I'm okay, but it didn't and they turned on them and went up killing them. And if you need a laugh they have YouTube videos of people who knew what was coming and videotape the people around them who are watching.
Angelica Rengifo: Yes, I’ve watched those on YouTube. It’s really how people like cry.
Susan Moritz: Yeah, and it was one of those things like especially starting with Ned Stark’s death like you had said like you brought these books so long ago. Not long ago 90s wasn’t that long ago right, but because he wrote them so long ago that now that people had been getting into it through the series. They’ve been watching like what, you’ve killed off this character. And so you know he is like I wrote that so long ago. And he got like I think stuff that that he upset, fans were upset back then. But now it’s like this whole resurgence of people who are like what?
Lauren Martino: What did you do this for?
Susan Moritz: Exactly, exactly.
David Payne: So we determine that a lot of people are dying.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
David Payne: And a show that has a reputation for gratuitous violence, is that reputation merited do you think? What makes it essential for the story it’s telling?
Susan Moritz: I sort of think it feels like it feels essential in the sense that and I'm not a fan of torture and other things that have happened. But if the characters that either do it or they do it themselves or either the actors or that they are the ones that order something to be done you just hate them and despise them so much that you’re just compelled that justice must be served. And something horrible must happen to these people and that’s how I feel about and there is like you know.
Angelica Rengifo: I want to just say about it and I wanted to bring up the fact that good people also get torture.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Angelica Regifo: And good people get killed. The good ones die, the bad ones die and you’re sad. But then you’re happy because the bad ones die. And one of the best things ever is when Joffrey died.
Lauren Martino: Jeffrey?
Angelica Rengifo: Joffrey
Susan Moritz: And Ramsay Bolton? Oh, those I feel like the two are like the worst people. Although Petyr Baelish also but.
Angelica Rengifo: Oh, yes, Baelish was also gratifying to see him die.
David Payne: So it’s like a whole cast of characters.
Susan Moritz: And I think that’s why this season, the last season has been just so gratifying is that finally the tables you feel have turned and we’re like finding the characters you love or getting some justice and getting some vengeance. It has been like oh –.
Angelica Rengifo: The Starks are back together.
Susan Moritz: Yes.
Angelica Rengifo: And the pack is to together and pack together.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Angelica Rengifo: They’re going to survive, hopefully all of them.
Susan Moritz: Yes, definitely. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives when winter comes.
Lauren Martino: So if you have seen all the TV shows, and you have read all of the books and there you’ve got so much free time on your hands now that you're all done with everything and waiting for the next season or waiting for the next book, what do you suggest like is there anything that's also good along the same lines that can fill the void in your life until the next thing comes out?
Susan Moritz: No.
Angelica Rengifo: Yet I will say watch them again, rate them again, read other George R. R. Martin books. Because he writes in such a way that I haven't seen somebody else write. He is so much. I mean, I'm into a lot of detail so I’d like that about him and I like his books because of it. So I will say read the books again, watch the TV show again.
Susan Moritz: And like you get those from the libraries and I love when the library started to get the TV shows in the catalog and yeah, I can finally binge watch all these shows that I want to watch. But some good ones, I would suggest that we have in our collection that people can like place holds on and check out on The Borgias that was really good. I like that TV series. The Tudors, I mean that sort of gets that sort of medieval kind of element. Supernatural.
I’ve mean to watch Empire that's very like backstabbing like who's on top you know, kind of thing power grabbing. I’m trying to think what and there are some other things. And one of the Philippa Gregory writes a lot of you know historical fiction, the Shakespeare plays, Shakespeare movies and there was something as oh, but I love that Angelica mentioned that some people might not know that he has written these sort of like little short prequel novellas, George R. R. Martin.
Lauren Martino: Oh!
Susan Moritz: So you can get like sort of these little like sort of prequel stories. And he has them hidden in these super thick short story compilations. So you can and I’ve definitely I’ve checked them out of the librar before. And so yes you can get those. Other things I think we’ve got like the Wit of Tyrion Lannister, Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister. So we’ve got these all other, these other Game of Thrones books that if you’ve read the books, but we got these other companion kind of books that are cool too.
David Payne: So there is life after Game of Thrones.
Susan Moritz: Yes, yes, yes, we hope so. I have one more season and then we hope there is.
David Payne: On MCPL we’re happy to find those resources for you. Well, Susan and Angelica thank you both very much indeed.
Julie Dina: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Febe Huezo: Looking for your next favorite book, MCPL can help. Fill out or what do I check out next online form and tell us what you like to read. You can find the link to the service on our homepage. We will email you a list of three to five books that our librarians have chosen just for you. Happy reading.
Julie Dina: Hi, I'm Julie Dina, one of the new hosts for Library Matters. And here with me is Anita Vassallo, our new Acting Director. Anita couldn't make the main recording for our Game of Thrones episode, but knowing that she is such a great fan we are making this special segment just to have her here on this show. So here we are. Welcome Anita and thanks for being here with us.
Anita Vassallo: Thank you Julie. I am a big Game of Thrones fans so I'm really excited that I was invited to be here with this little extra piece for the Game of Thrones podcast.
Julie Dina: So why don’t you just tell us, what is compelling about Game of Thrones?
Anita Vassallo: So I think for both the books and the TV show in the past seasons the most compelling part is the intricacy of the plot and the slow and careful development of all of the characters. You currently dive way into this world then the people had inhabited. And then of course there is the anyone can die at any time philosophy. So Game of Thrones is famous for chopping the heads off of major characters in a most unexpected fashion and just moving on from there.
So although I really love the TV show and have watched every single episodes since the day it premiered I do miss now the pacing from the first seasons like maybe the first four or five seasons where it was very careful of how they were developing everything. And now because we just finished the second to last season and there are only six episodes left everything has really speeded up and sometimes you're wondering how did they get from there to that, but you just have to kind of forget about that part.
Julie Dina: You mentioned something about characters. So what particular character would you say your most like?
Anita Vassallo: Well, I'm not sure I’m really most like any of them, but the one I admired the most is Lady Olenna Tyrell. And since you haven’t watched this show you don’t know who she is.
Julie Dina: I don’t.
Anita Vassallo: But she is the matriarch of the Tyrell family who lives at Highgarden that's their seat so she is my idol. She is very funny and sarcastic. She is kind of like the grandmother in Downton Abbey. So she can toss off these quips and cut people down to size. And this past season she was basically executed, but she was still throwing off the quips right before her death. And after she drank poison that was given to her by Jaime Lannister she still managed to twist the knife into him one more time. So she is great, great gosh.
Julie Dina: Well, since you talk so much about her, if you could invite one particular character to a dinner or if you can invite them and take them somewhere who amongst all these characters that you love would you be?
Anita Vassallo: Well, I did think about this because I knew this was a question and it comes up to a choice between Tyrion Lannister and Tyrion would be great to take out because he would have a lot to say about all of the behind-the-scenes double-dealing and his crazy family. And he would also probably be a lot of fun because he likes to drink and have a good time. So for Tyrion we’d have to go out to a really nice wine bar because he loves his wine. But the other person that I think will be really interesting to take would be Maester Aemon. And Maester Aemon is the 100-year-old blind Maester of the Night's Watch. Look at Julie looking at me. But in reality he was a Targaryen prince. He was the son or the uncle of I think of the Mad King, Aerys if I have that right. And if I don't have it right we’ll find out about it in half minute. So he refused the crown and he has been with the Night's Watch for many, many years and think of all the stories that he could tell.
Julie Dina: So Anita I can see the glow in your eyes when you talk about all these different characters and you’re talking about this show. Can you tell me one most surprising thing about Game of Thrones?
Anita Vassallo: Yes, so I think the most surprising thing about Game of Thrones both George R.R. Martin books and the television show is how people who really don't love fantasy and have probably never read a fantasy book or so enthralled with it now even if they came to through in TV show they go back and read the books or they listen to the books on audio so they don’t really know anything about fantasy. They don't know about Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books, but they just love this and they get so obsessed and maybe it's the sex and violence.
Julie Dina: It could be, it could be that gets a lot of people. So I do know that you’re a great fan of horses and you do own a couple of them.
Anita Vassallo: Yes, we have horses at home so you know if you’re a fan I guess that's one way of putting it. But I know that horses are really important in Game of Thrones because the nearest Targaryen of course is the Khaleesi of the Dothraki. Look at Julie’s face.
Julie Dina: Yes, and all these things.
Anita Vassallo: And they are basically the horse lords, the lords of the grass, the sea. So horses are extremely important in their culture. Their main God is the Great Stallion and when the nearest Targaryen becomes pregnant of course she has to eat a Stallion's heart and that's a very graphic scene shown on this show. So yeah, I mean and it’s fun to watch all the beautiful horses and the second to last or third to last episode this season was a great battle scene with all these horse warriors attacking some infantry and they came roaring in on their horses and they stood up on their backs with their bows and arrows and it was really cool.
Julie Dina: Well, I’ve got to say thank you so much Anita for joining us for this segment. Let’s keep this conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcast from. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you're thinking. Once again, I want to thank all our listeners for joining on to this conversation today and see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
David Watts: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Today, we’re going to talk about Montgomery County Public Library resources and services for people with disabilities. From our monthly Talking Book Club at Rockville Memorial Library to the assistive technologies available in each branch, today we’ll discuss it all with Elizabeth Lang, Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager for MCPL. Welcome to the podcast, Elizabeth Lang.
Elizabeth Lang: I’m glad to be here.
David Watts: Take a moment and tell us a bit about yourself, what’s your background, and how did you become interested in library services for people with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, my background is in social work, as well as in bookstores and libraries. In my past life, I was a social worker at a domestic violence shelter. And I found that to be very emotionally difficult and shifted over to working in bookstores.
When I was a manager in retail bookstores for, I want to say, about a decade, I was working in a Barnes & Noble, and saw a position posted for Talking Book & Braille Library. And I wound up working as a librarian and as the Assistant Director for Public Services at the Talking Book & Braille Library in Missouri for about a decade.
That service provided library materials to people who are blind or visually impaired or who had other print disabilities and couldn’t use standard printed materials from their local public library. I had never intended to go into the field of library services for people who have disabilities; I just kind of wound up there. And then moved to DC to take a position as a Branch Manager in 2013. And I worked for them until I came here last November. And with DC, I was both the Branch Manager and I managed their Center for Accessibility, which was one department at the Martin Luther King main branch. And the Center for Accessibility provided library services to patrons who had a wide range of disabilities.
In Missouri, I had been providing library service to people who had print disabilities, but at MLK and the Center for Accessibility was providing library service to any person who had any sort of disability that prevented them from using the standard services and materials available throughout the library. And I’ve just sort of been here ever since.
David Watts: Tell us about your new role at MCPL.
Elizabeth Lang: Okay. As you said, I am the Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager. That’s kind of a mouthful, and what it means is I spend about half of my time working on facilities issues, including our refresh projects where we’re renovating our branches, and then about half of my time is focused on providing services, library services to people who have disabilities.
So far as I know, it’s a unique position. I have not encountered any other library system or library that has a position that is really focused that uniquely on providing library services to people who have disabilities systemwide.
David Watts: Can you give us a brief description of the Americans with Disabilities Act, otherwise known as ADA, and how it impacts MCPL specifically?
Elizabeth Lang: Sure. The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The law prohibits discrimination, and guarantees that people who have disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else has in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
The main part of the ADA that impacts MCPL is called the Title II Regulations. So those apply to state and local governments, specially. Title II protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities that we provide. It also requires that newly constructed or altered government facilities be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
So that means we have a responsibility to design all of our collections, our services, our programs and our facilities in a way that includes everyone. So nationally, about 12% of the population has some form of a disability, and, in Montgomery County, that number is roughly about 82,000 people.
So for those 82,000 folks, I would like to believe they all use the library. They’re the folks we’re concernin ourselves with and that I focus on making sure we’re doing a good job of serving.
David Watts: What traditional library resources and services does MCPL offer for people who have disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: We have a pretty wide range of services and materials. So we have large print books, which most people have heard of, that can be used by folks who have visual impairments. We also have books on CD. We also do have a small selection of Braille Books at some of our libraries. We have a listing of local resources on our library services for People with Disabilities webpage. We have a Talking Book Group that meets every month that our Rockville location for people who love audiobooks. Two of our branches also have an accessibility center with work stations and resources that are dedicated to people who have disabilities.
David Watts: What are some of the new or innovative resources and services MCPL offers to residents with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, every one of our branches now has an assistive technology workstation. One of our customers has called it the Cadillac of Assistive Technology workstations. It has screen reading software that’s called JAWS as well as enlarging software that’s called MAGic. Both of those are for use by people who have low vision and/or who are blind. It assists them in using the computer. So the workstation has a large monitor as well for somebody who has a visual impairment and needs the screen enlarged. It can get pretty big. That’s very nice.
It also, that workstation, contains something called the ClearView+ Speech desktop magnifier. Some people know this piece of equipment by the name CCTV, closed-circuit television is what it had been called in the past. But the one that we just put in is more than the sort of old-fashioned closed-circuit TV that would just show you an image of what you had laid on a tray. This when you lay your material on the tray, it can show that image on the screen. It has a very large screen. It also offers the option of reading aloud. So it will take – basically it takes a photograph of the item that you’ve placed on the tray, it will show it to you on the screen and then if you tap the screen, it will start reading the defined text areas that it has located out loud to you. It cannot be used by somebody who has no usable vision, but for someone who has a visual impairment or is legally blind, it can help them read much more easily than, you know, struggling with just using glasses, particularly for something that has very small print.
David Watts: What is the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, what resources and services does it offer that are different from what’s available in MCPL?
Elizabeth Lang: Good questions. The Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a state resource. It’s a library for people who have print disabilities. I was talking about the library where I had worked in Missouri, the Talking Book & Braille Library there, that was Missouri’s Talking Book & Braille Library. The Maryland State Library is the same thing. So every state has one.
David Watts: Right.
Elizabeth Lang: So the one that serves Maryland is based in Baltimore. And they are supported by the National Library Service, which is a division of the Library of Congress. So they provide audio books and audio book players to people who can’t use standard print materials. They mail it all out through the post office and it’s no charge to the patrons.
So to use that library, people have to be certified as having a disability that prevents them from using print. So they serve sort of a subset of perhaps the folks that we serve. But they do serve everybody throughout the state.
We, you know, we’re focused on Montgomery County and we will serve any customer within Montgomery County who is interested. So some of our patrons are probably the same people who are being served by the library in Baltimore. They can certainly take advantage of both libraries at the same time. And there was a little bit of overlap, as I’ve said, we do have some books on CD. That’s a slightly different format than the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides to their customers. But they can use both of them.
David Watts: Tell us what happens of MCPL needs to make a change to be in compliance with ADA requirements but can’t make that change for some reason.
Elizabeth Lang: Sure. Well, it does happen occasionally that we will discover that some aspects of our buildings or our services are not in compliance with ADA regulations or requirements.
Sometimes it’s something that I or a staff person will discover and sometimes it’s something that’s brought to our attention by one of our customers. An example that comes to mind is I think it’s our Long Branch facility has a very steep road just outside. And the sidewalk there is very steep as well. And we’ve had the county’s ADA Compliance Office staff out there taking a look to see what can be done when we refresh that branch to bring us into compliance in all areas with ADA requirements.
Well, we can’t recut the road or redesign that sidewalk to the extent that would be required to bring it into line with the slope that is required for someone who’s using a wheelchair. It’s just a very steep street and sidewalk.
So the ADA does recognize that there are going to be instances like that where we simply can’t. We cannot cut into somebody else’s property. If something were going to be prohibitively expensive, if we had to, you know, raise a building and rebuild it completely, but we didn’t have the funding. Let’s say if the building had been built so long ago that nothing was in compliance, it recognizes that’s probably not possible.
So there’s some wording that it says that if something would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service program or activity or in an undue financial or administrative burden, then we can’t be bunched to do whatever it is that’s been requested.
David Watts: How has MCPL incorporated ADA requirements, universal design, and the state of concerns of people with disabilities into the refresh of its branches? What are some specific examples?
Elizabeth Lang: The main focus of my position actually is to sort of pay attention to the intersection of all these things. So that’s a large question.
And I will sort of start with universal design. The idea behind universal design is that things can be designed to be usable by everyone, regardless of whether a person has a disability or not. There’s generally a way to set the built environment up to make it easy to use for everybody, including children.
So ADA requirements are sort of a piece of universal design. And the law does get pretty detailed about what you can and can’t do with regards to the size of your doorways and the width of your pathways and those sorts of things. But that’s sort of like a bare minimum expectation really of what will be done that will create an environment that is just—at its most basic level—usable by everyone.
Universal design takes that a step past that, obviously, and trying to design something that’s usable for everybody. So when we’re refreshing out branches, I pay attention to sort of all of those things. We have to make sure that we’re designing to the basic level of the ADA standards that are countertop to the right height that if we’re putting in a catalog computer for people to look books up on, that we don’t put it on a standing workstation only that’s really just usable by people who are literally standing. So if you’re using a walker or a wheelchair, then you wouldn’t reach it.
So we have whole range of things that I pay attention to with the refreshes. And how we know what the stated concerns are with regards to our customers with disabilities, I speak with folks who have disabilities almost every day about their library services and what they want.
We have several mechanisms for feedback on our website as well. And we have an advisory committee that is focused specifically on accessibility. And they meet I believe that it is quarterly, and talk with us about the existing branches, what they see, what they sort of have on their wishlist of ideally this is what this library would be like. And they have been walking the branches whose refreshes are coming up. They’ve been walking through those with us to point out very specific things like the slope on the sidewalk outside Long Branch that is too steep or a door where the pushbutton for the handicap entrance, you know, somebody using a wheelchair without that push button can’t get in. So they point those things out and make sure that we’re aware of them. We make a nice big list, and then when we go into design for that building, we incorporate as much of that as we can.
David Watts: There are a wide variety of disabilities from vision impairments to mobility challenges. How does MCPL address or accommodate them all?
Elizabeth Lang: There are a very wide variety of disabilities and we try to accommodate everyone. We want everyone to come to the library and be delighted. What we do is take a case-by-case basis, specifically when we have someone who has a concern, we will address that with the particular branch or staff person who has brought it to our attention.
There will be instances where people who have disabilities will have needs that conflict. One example that seems kind of outrageous but kind of made the rounds online as a “Did you know this actually happened?” Somebody who used seeing eye-dog, a guide dog, was attending an event, I honestly don’t remember which library, not in this area, and there was a person with a very, very, very severe asthma-related response to dogs and they both wanted to be in the same place and it became a point of great discussion whether the person with the guide dog was allowed to stay because that person is sort of impinging on another person’s ability to breath, which is no small issue, right?
David Watts: That’s a pretty severe disability.
Elizabeth Lang: It is.
David Watts: Yeah.
Elizabeth Lang: It is. So that’s an extreme example, but I have had people asked me, “What happens if person A wants something and that interferes with what person B needs?” So it does happen. Thankfully I’ve not encountered anything in our system yet. But again, we just take our customer’s needs on a case-by-case basis where we’re made aware that there’s something needed.
David Watts: How do you get input about what Montgomery County residents who have disabilities want and need from MCPL?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, I touched on this a little earlier. We, in addition to our online feedback and the feedback that we get from our branches directly from customers, again, we have our advisory committee. And in addition to the feedback that I get from them at our meetings, our formal meetings, I am in touch with them regularly to just bounce things off of them to ask their opinions, to get their guidance and their feedback on the things that we’re thinking about implementing or changing. And then we also – I have fairly close relationship with the ADA Compliance Office, the Montgomery County ADA Compliance Office. And they hear a lot more than we do directly from Montgomery County residents who have disabilities and specifically what they need. And that’s sort of a two-way feedback street with them as well.
David Watts: How does ADA influence architectural design in public spaces? How do you believe it will impact libraries of the future?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, as I’ve said, the ADA regulations do have sort of a basic set of kind of bare-bones guidelines as I think of them with regards to how physical spaces have to be designed to be accessible. Things like designs you’ve probably seen that have the wording and then the Braille underneath them perhaps next to a meeting room door, those kinds of guidelines.
They specify things like if you have something that protrudes from the wall, say a monitor, maybe a computer monitor or a display screen that if it’s more than four inches up from the wall, it has to be either over a certain height, I believe 70 inches or below 28, so that if I’m using a cane, I’m not caught unawares by something that’s sticking out from the wall. I might run into that with my shoulder or my head if that’s the only thing there. So ADA requires that if something is sticking out more than four inches and it’s within those 28 to 70 inches, I have to have something permanent underneath it, like a bench or a cabinet that someone who’s using a cane would be able to feel with the cane before they hit the protruding object.
So there are a lot of very small detailed requirements like that that influence the architecture of a building.
In the future, again, I think we’re going to move toward a more universal design as people become more and more aware of what is good for everyone. It’s really relatively easy to build to those things when you’re building a new facility. Older facilities are harder to sometimes sort of bring up to speed. But we haven’t encountered anything yet where there wasn’t something that we could do to make it better.
David Watts: How does the increase in the number of older Americans impact ADA services and resources?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, as you might guess, as our population ages, our ADA related services and resources will be in greater demand. I was looking at some information from the Pew Research Center this morning that was talking about this very thing. And it was seeing that as people age, they do become disabled. And that our largest group of people with disabilities nationwide are those who I believe it was 75 and older.
So of folks who have disabilities, about 25% of them never go online. You know, we talked a lot about how everybody is connected 24/7, but there are very large group of people who are not connected in that way. People with disabilities are also 20% less likely than somebody without disabilities to own a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone.
So again, we’re maybe looking at the need to increase more basic resources, print books, print magazines, print newspapers, or providing the technology for our customers to use because they don’t own it themselves. You know, helping them learn what those things are and connecting them in that way will be ever more important.
David Watts: How can we find out more about MCPL’s resources for people with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, we have some good information on our website. We do have what’s called a LibGuide that is specifically filled with information about our services for people who have disabilities, and not only our services at the library but some countywide, I believe there are also statewide resources there for people to use on a variety of topics. They can always contact one of our branches and the librarians there can help them with any information needs that they have. It’s kind of what we specialize in or they can contact me directly. I’m at 240-777-0039. I’m happy to talk to anyone about their concerns, their needs, or any topic related to library services about people with disabilities.
David Watts: Elizabeth, we have this habit of asking our guest to tell us what they’re currently reading and is on their nightstand or what your favorite book is.
Elizabeth Lang: I could never pick a favorite book. So I’ll tell you what I’m reading right now. On my mother’s recommendation, I’m reading the A is for Alibi series which I had always been sort of aware of. A lot of people really love Sue Grafton’s writing. I had just never picked it up. But I just finished F is for Fugitive. And tonight, yeah, I will be starting G is for Gumshoe. It’s really great series, mystery, kind of –.
David Watts: It draws you.
Elizabeth Lang: It does. It does. They character is a great character. The main character Kinsey Millhone is the investigator. She is a private investigator who started as a policy officer and she is very quirky and kind of lovable in the end. I’m loving it. It’s fantastic. My mom made a great recommendation.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest today on Library Matters.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you for having me.
David Watts: And for our audience, we want to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes; we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today, and we’ll see you next time.
[Audio Ends] [0:24:44]
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
David Watts: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Chances are if you’re a parent or maybe thinking of becoming one, you’ve read a parenting book or two. If you’re a father you may find it slightly challenging to find and connect to modern parenting books. If so, you’re in luck.
Today we have two guests, Fred Akuffo, the Library Assistant Supervisor at Long Branch Library, and Tom Palmer a library associate at Silver Spring Library. Welcome to the podcast Fred and Tom.
Tom Palmer: Thank you.
Fred Akuffo: Thanks for having us.
David Watts: Tell us a little bit about yourself, how old are your kids and what is your parenting style?
Fred Akuffo: Okay. My kids are 13 and 10. I’ll say my parenting style is a daily discovery. That’s what I like to call it. I like to see what new I can find out to make things great for my kids.
David Watts: Okay, Tom.
Tom Palmer: So my son Theo was born just about three months ago, so I’m very new to the whole parenting thing. So I’m not sure I have a style honestly. I’m on the lookout for one. But I would say, for my wife and I, just trying to do as much as we can as a team. You know, we each have our own roles during the day but when we’re home together you know, there’s a crying baby you know, trying to share the load you know, because we’re in this together and that’s – I think that’s the only approach that will keep us staying in this early part.
David Watts: What parenting books for dads have either of you read?
Tom Palmer: So I’m pretty early on in the game. So with a pregnant wife the last year and then a newborn, I’ve not been reading a ton. But one book I’ve been – I did read was The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin which is just so much information, almost overwhelmingly. But you know, I’m sure we’ll talk more about it, but it was very helpful to sort of go through – have someone go through the whole process, what might happen in different scenarios. So I did enjoy that one.
Fred Akuffo: For myself, I don’t really read a lot of the new books. I’m more of a parenting style off of more ancient reading. I use the Bible a lot at my home and I also use Aesop’s Fables. So I like using Aesop’s Fables because it deals with a lot of character issues and I think for growing kids, one thing we want to do is make sure that character is developed. I get a lot of input from that book. And then for the Bible, Bible gives us hope. So that’s another thing I like to make sure that my kids have instilled in their character is a sense of hope in life, because it goes this way, that way, it’s a rollercoaster sometimes, but if we have hope then we can maneuver.
But in case people hearing want some reading that’s newer. There’s suggested books like the Dad’s Playbook which is a coach telling about methods he used for his kids by Tom Limbert, Be Prepared by Gary Greenberg, Better Dads, Stronger Sons by Rick Johnson, and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker. Also another book that I constantly read is the Boy Scout Handbook. It shows a lot of things that you can do with your kids to encourage them to be hard workers, encourage them to be creative, encourage them to be prepared. So I’d add that to the other two.
David Watts: Why did you guys pick those parenting books? Was it a gift or did you choose it on your own, or did someone suggest it to you?
Fred Akuffo: You know, for me, the Aesop’s Fable was a gift that at a very early age my mother gave it to me as a boy. And I’ve always been interested in what I’m going to do as a dad, even as a boy. So I’ve kind of been reading parenting books like all my life because I’ve always wanted to be a dad, you know. You know, I love my dad. My dad was – he didn’t speak much, he’s a tough guy but you know, he loved us, he worked hard for us. And so I always wanted to be in that position. But I wanted to maybe do a couple of things differently than he did. So I was always looking around to see what that would be, what I would change, what I would keep, and I use that to continue to look for different things and raise my own kids.
David Watts: Tom?
Tom Palmer: So for me, once I found out my wife was pregnant, it was sort of like, “Oh, my gosh, I need to learn everything I can about the whole process.” And actually our doula, the woman who taught us our birth class, she suggested The Birth Partner because she knew you know, and I wouldn’t say I was scared but I was you know, nervous a little bit about you know, when someone you love is going through a big thing, it’s scary. And she recommended this, just because it goes through all the scenarios, what might happen, and that was – I mean it’s overwhelming when you look at the amount of parenting books there are. So I kind of asked her and she suggested it and you know, it wasn’t a ton of time to read, but it did help and it made me feel a little bit more in control of the situation. First situation is by nature not – there’s not too much control over it.
David Watts: In your own experience what have you found to be the difference between the general parenting books and books geared specifically for dads?
Fred Akuffo: I’d say the length. Dad books seemed to be shorter, that I noticed, which is good for me because I tend to lose track if things get too long and if things get too wordy. I like advice to be short and concise. So when they’re too long, it can kind of take away from the reading for me.
Tom Palmer: And I would say the general difference I’ve noticed is it just goes in to you know, there are aspects of parenting unique to women and there are aspects unique to dads, or partners, or fathers. So you know, there is – for me, at least, there’s sort of that obvious bond with a mom and a child, you know, physically that she carries them for months at a time.
And so the books I was reading was helping me sort of you know, talk about you know, any problems, or not even problems, just bonding with the new child, you assume it happens instantly and it you know, doesn’t always work that way. So I think for books geared towards dads, it just sort of highlights a little bit more things that are unique to being a dad.
David Watts: What changes have you made after reading the particular books that you’ve spoken up?
Fred Akuffo: I think that call to response is something that I paid more attention to. As you read, you start to see that the things you do your children respond to. When they respond, they don’t always tell you what is going on inside you know, that you can see what’s happening to their emotions physically by looking at how their face is responding. And sometimes we need to pay attention to that I think and act, whereas, my dad wasn’t a touchy-feely guy. That’s something I think I had to learn through reading that.
When I see what I’ve said has upset my son, I can’t just keep talking and bearing down on just getting the information I want to get across. If he is getting upset in the midst of my talking to him, I might have to stop, give him a hug, let him know he is the coolest kid in the world to me and then see how we move forward you know, from there.
Tom Palmer: Again, it’s been three months for me so I’m not sure, you know? And I’m not really sure I’ve even thought about change. I’ve just been sort of doing what we can to get through the day.
But I would say in the books I’ve read, it always encourages sort of emotional honestly, just communicating with my wife. It’s always important, but especially with something that changes your life just drastically.
I was lucky enough to have a dad who is like that, but like you said with your father, even so if he was a little bit more stern than me. So I’ve tried to take it to the next level to sort of just you know, I don’t want to bug my wife everyday, but just to make sure we’re checking in with each other, everything okay you know. And that was stressed a lot in some of the books that I’ve read and that it makes sense and that’s how we’ve always sort of have you know, been in our relationship.
David Watts: What are some of the changes that you’ve seen in your spouses or even in your children in response to you and how you’re being led by these materials that you’re reading?
Tom Palmer: You know, it’s hard to say for me. But you know, in my family, we talked about everything all the time growing up, my wife not so much. So this whole, what I was just talking about, the emotion or you know, talking to each other, making sure we’re on the same page, it has come forth naturally to me than to her. But I think she has really embraced it, especially since our son has been born. And you know, I think I’ve you know, got myself a pad on the back. I’ve done a good job encouraging her to express herself because you know, it’s just – it’s a crazy time, lots of emotions. So yeah, I would say she has changed in that respect a little bit.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I think for me it’s – we will see kind of thing right now. We made changes. They react to different changes. But I think I’m finding out what those changes means sometimes.
One day I got a note that was written by my daughter and she wrote down that you know, “I love my dad,” and one of the questions on this paper works, “What do you like about him?” And she said, “He makes changes,” or something like that, “even when he is in bad mood. As to say, even when he doesn’t want to do something, he’ll do something nice for you,” you know. So I found out you know, that they’re watching all the time, you know.
David Watts: All the time. All the time. Yeah, yeah.
Fred Akuffo: And they’re watching to see what my response is going to be. Are they going to see that you know, I’m stubbornly going to stand firm? Or are they going to see that you know, yeah, I might be firm but if the time calls for it, I might go ahead and make a decision to bend here and there if needed? So I thought that was good. One day when I saw that, they were encouraged by them.
David Watts: Do you find that you’re turning to parenting books to help you as they go through ages and stages? Tom, in your case, the newborn. Fred, in your case you know, adolescence, in tween, teen years.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: I find with the tween and teens, I’m turning more towards people who’ve gone through it, because I like to ask my peers, elders, people I look up to, people I respect, what they’ve gone through, and actually even people that have made terrible mistakes, I ask them too what they’ve gone through, and what they wished they have done differently. Or I listen sometimes when I hear people telling stories about what they think they’ve done well and what worked out well.
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: A lot of times I listen to people’s children also talk about their parents. And I wish – I hear their children say, “I wish I had done this. I wish I had done that.” So I listen to that too. So I’m always looking for something more; I’m always looking to discover something. So my reading has gone down in terms of the parenting books. I definitely keep trying to glean from others.
Tom Palmer: And I would agree with you in that. There’s no one source you know, I go to for advice or you know, information. I think when parenting books can be helpful is you know, at least when my wife is pregnant, certain terms I just never heard of, I’m looking that up.
But then like you said, I go to my family for advice you know, ask friends, anyone. I’m no expert; I’m open to advice. And then you know, we take, my wife and I take that information and we make the decision we think is best if there is a decision to be made. But yeah, I would say a combination of books, internet, and then just asking my parents, my in-laws, my sisters who have all been parents much longer than me.
David Watts: In each of your books, certainly there was that that you found that you agreed with, but were there any concepts or things discussed that you didn’t agree with? And what did you do with that information?
Tom Palmer: I don’t know if I so much disagreed with things so much as I think I got to the point where there is a little bit of information overload. You know, for some people planning for a birth or a newborn, they want to make a meticulous plan and that was one of the things that the author suggested. After a few chapters, I realized I was maybe kind of start skimming the book a little and going to chapters I thought was interesting or helpful because at least with my personality I started thinking like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of this happening before. I hope this won’t like happen to my wife.”
So I think it was just worrying about things that weren’t necessarily likely to happen, but that’s not necessarily something to disagree with. It’s just the way I approach the book versus other people.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And with older readings, sometimes you got to be careful, because things don’t work like they used to at times. There’s a story in Aesop’s Fable about a guy who went to prison and his mom came to visit him and he bit his mom’s ear off. So I’m not advocating that kind of thing.
But the core lesson was the gentleman felt like his mom didn’t discipline him when he was younger and if she had just done that, could have saved him his grief. So yeah, there’s aspects you disagree with, but you’re looking for the core lesson that’s going to be positive, so.
David Watts: So from your experience, Fred, how would you relate what you’ve learned in the book to a new parent like Tom? How would you relate your experience in what he should be mindful of as he reads these books?
Fred Akuffo: Actually I think Tom said it best. You take what you think you need, what you think you don’t need, you don’t exactly incorporate, ask advice from the people you love around you, and work with your wife on making it all work out.
David Watts: Do the parenting books, you have both read, acknowledge that there are norms that should be followed and are those norms applicable even in other cultures?
Tom Palmer: Yeah, I would say the books I read, although I’m not you know, terribly right at this point, but it did touch on some you know, cultural aspect, but it was tended to be from a reaction of a western standpoint. So it did touch in them, but not as much as might be even helpful or interesting to me. But it’s an interesting question that hadn’t really occurred to me before this, because certain things like birth you know, might be universal. But once the baby comes out, different cultures have very different ideas of whether it’s a group mentality or the parents, and the uncles, and the grandparents all raised them, or it’s a typical modern couple where they’re sort of on their own in a new city. And it would be interesting to read a book that was more or so focused on that idea, that difference in cultures in parenting.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I find the books lately that I’ve read don’t embrace at culture as much. They don’t encourage the young wives to talk to the older women who have been through it to get tips and tricks of how to be a mom and how to make things work, you know? I find that sometimes upon reading to even suggest that those ways are the old ways. And to me, I don’t know, to me, that’s a little bit of a lost, because I think if somebody has been through something, they can give you some input and feedback to protect you, to warn you, to give you heads up to make things easier on you.
So sometimes I think the cultural aspect is lacking in the current parenting books I’ve seen. And again, just like Tom was saying, I’m reading them from a more western point of view. And I could recognize that because I’m from a family where it’s mixed. My father is from Ghana. My mother is from America. So that presents another dynamic. You know, he was from a patriarchal society, so the mindset of a dad is a little bit different from my observation and point of view and upbringing.
Tom Palmer: Going off of that, I would say I wish there was – the books I’ve read had more – would show that it’s normal to really rely on family and friends, especially early in the baby’s life. I think that some of the books touched on that, but you might need help from a family member. But I know for my wife and I, we – I don’t know if I could take that without my mom and mother-in-law staying over some nights and helping out. And I can’t speak to it you know, exactly. But I think that’s a fairly universal idea that it’s hard with the new baby and you will need help and that it’s not a sign of weakness to need help. I wish that have been stressed a bit more in the books I’ve read.
David Watts: So you disagree with the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way and looking back sometimes judgment is laid upon older methods. And what you’re saying is you do need some of that former generation’s experience to help you navigate through what you’re going through in terms of its impact in your family, right?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely. Just in something like you know, it seems like from what I’ve read, every few years, the consensus about how to position a baby when they’re sleeping changes.
David Watts: Yes.
Tom Palmer: Whether it’s in your stomach or the back. And so I finally asked my mom because I don’t – I keep seeing different things I don’t know. And it just helps to hear like you know, “We did this and you were fine.” Not that we’ll necessary exactly follow what my mom says, but it just helps to have past generation’s input and you know, they’re saying, “Don’t do this. But we did this with you and it was okay.” So it’s just another perspective that can be helpful.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And actually I’m not saying I disagree, but I am agreeing with Tom. These books don’t push you to go to your folks and urge you to do that. And I think that’s – to me, that seems like a loss to me. The people who care most about you I would think, would be the first people you wanted to get major, major input on. These folks know you, they know what you’re going to go through more than you do, because a new dad is a new dad every time. So you can’t do enough reading to prepare yourself.
David Watts: So let’s stay with that, okay? Let’s see if we can contrast with Tom.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: Given the positions that you now find yourselves in, he is the new dad, you are the more experienced dad.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: What changed over your course of parenting your child that differs from what you’ve read when you first got into the game? In other words, he is reading a lot of stuff and he wants to put it in the test lab and see if it works. But you’ve already been in the test labs. So tell us how your views changed over these 13-plus years that you’ve been a dad, or not.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I mean my views are always changing.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So it’s a hard question to answer, because I’ve tried to look at it on a daily discovery basis. So whereas I thought I needed to be hardline in one area, five years ago, I changed my mind and said, “Well, I’m going to not soften up, but I’m going to be flexible in that area.”
David Watts: Yeah. So that’s good advice.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: So like, okay, I just didn’t know how to word it.
David Watts: Don’t take such a hard position because you may end up talking –.
Fred Akuffo: On certain things. Yes, on certain things. On other things, I had to – I started off not really being – I started off being indifferent. And now I’m intense you know, when it comes to certain things. So my –.
Fred Akuffo: For example, let’s say social media.
David Watts: So what would you tell him as it relates to social media? He has got a blank slate. You are in the midst of the storm right now, okay? Devices, no devices, what was your experience?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I went with – at first, I was no devices, then I found my family giving gifts that were devices without asking me. So now, they have a device. But with that, I found that there’s more in their mind than I know seeing what they are interested in, seeing what they’re reading, seeing what they’re typing or texting. So now, I have more of an inside window. So it’s not the evil device, but it is engagement to me. So my advice to Tom would be see what they are saying, you know –
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: – when it comes to a device you know.
David Watts: And in fact it added a perspective. From a little further up road –
Fred Akuffo: Absolutely.
David Watts: – is balanced. It’s always about balance, you know? My kids have devices and they’re on their devices, but I make them trade device time for reading time. So you know, if I’m going to keep this in sync with Library Matters, my kids probably read more than the average kid because they know in order to get device time, they’ve got to put in to reading. So the device sort of gets taken and the candle gets handed to them and then they’ve got to put that time in. And you know, the device tells me how much they’ve read, which is a good feature of device. So that’s all I would say to you guys, is strike a balance and, you know –
Fred Akuffo: That’s good. That’s good.
David Watts: – try to keep everything on a level plane.
Tom Palmer: And I would say that’s how my parents were. I’m, I would say, lucky enough to sort of, social media wasn’t around when I was younger but you know, like video games, stuff like that where my mom’s deal was, “You want a video game, great, you can save up for it and wait until Christmas. But any book you want, I’ll buy you.” And so that encouraged me to read and if I hadn’t read early, it just – I’m not sure I would be a librarian or the reader I am today.
So – but she was by no means you know, “No video games,” which would have you know, made me turn me away from books. So I agree that at least from my perspective of as a child, that balance was always really important.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, this is interesting, what you are talking about with the time, we call a social media time share, you know? I would like to think about that more. So that’s something that – and that’s what good. That’s why it’s good to hear how people have gone through things, have done things you know, because you can really get some powerful tools that you might not have exactly thought about at that time.
David Watts: We like to always ask our guest what they’re reading on their nightstand or whatever it is that they are consuming, maybe you’re consuming electronically. But what are you reading now or what is your favorite read?
Tom Palmer: Right now, I’m reading sort of a throwback foundation by Isaac Asimov on the young adult library at Silver Spring. So I’m always trying to keep abreast of young adult literature, but sometimes I just need to nerd out and have some fantasy or some science fiction. And so yeah, it’s good so far.
Fred Akuffo: I’m reading The Truth about Money. It’s good to know. I like to tell my son about money and how it really works. He was interested in buying more things. I don’t really give him money. So the only way he gets this is if he works. But I talk to him about, if you make money, you might want to save the money. And he is wondering why and how. So The Truth About Money is a good read. I think so.
David Watts: Would you read that to him?
Fred Akuffo: We read it together. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Awesome.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Let me also ask you, how often do you guys read to your children?
Fred Akuffo: I don’t read as much as I should or would like to. What I did a lot with my kids is have them listen to books on tape, books on audio CD, and they listened to a lot of stories from a series called Adventures in Odyssey, they listened to that like every night.
David Watts: I can remember, Tom, when my kids were smaller, there was a show in PBS called Reading Rainbow.
Tom Palmer: Oh, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah, yeah. And I would get the book and you know, get into the role and read to them. Do you see yourself doing something like that with Theo?
Tom Palmer: I can’t wait. He is so young right now. When he was in utero, we read the books to him –
David Watts: Wow.
Tom Palmer: – because we’ve read that that is helpful. I’m not convinced. But everyone says like it helps develop their brains. It could – but you know, I don’t know if that did anything. And we are not reading – well, there’s these books for instance, Black on White. I think it’s by Tana Hoban I think is the author. And it’s just sort of everyday objects with a white background in dark black, and it’s just about the – supposed to be good film, their vision, like the contrast of the black versus white. So that’s sort of where we’re limited to right now.
But of course we do the goofy voices with him. It feels like I rarely talk in my own voice at home anymore. But I’m very excited. That was a huge part of my childhood. It was my parent reading to me. And so as soon as I get the feeling he is actually going to get something from it, we’ll start doing some real books.
Fred Akuffo: And the reading part, I don’t do as much, but I make up a lot of stories. So my kids love hearing stories about what I call Clarence Boddicker. And Clarence Boddicker is a guy who – all the Clarence Boddicker stories are stories where I made stupid mistakes, but they don’t know it’s me. So the “me” is the Clarence –.
David Watts: So they come soliciting these stories from you?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, they love Clarence Boddicker.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: And they can’t wait to see what happens.
David Watts: How does that make you feel?
Fred Akuffo: It’s good. It’s good, because something positive can finally come out of it. The stories are vivid. They’re compelling, because they’re real, you know? And Clarence Boddicker has to make a decision in the story and he messes up, he messes up all the time. But these are things that they can be prepared for ahead of time so they don’t do the same thing that I did when I was little, so.
Tom Palmer: Did your dad read to you?
Fred Akuffo: No, my dad told me stories.
David Watts: Okay, so you’ll continue.
Fred Akuffo: So I guess I’m – yeah, yeah.
Tom Palmer: I’d have to steal that idea from you.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. But because, see, my father is West African, so his stories dealt with a lot of walking and talking animals.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So – and those are stories you know, I’m sure you’ve heard the Anansi type stories.
David Watts: Yes.
Fred Akuffo: They’re very, very similar to that and –.
David Watts: And did that impact your reading?
Fred Akuffo: Definitely, definitely. In fact, that’s probably why I like Aesop’s Fable so much, because you know, they’re walking talking animals, too, and have life lessons stories and character building and all that kind of thing. So maybe that’s why I don’t like modern-day parenting looks because there’s no animals in them, you know? But yeah, I think entertaining your kids are you parent them is something that –
David Watts: Is important.
Fred Akuffo: – you want to keep in mind, too you know. It’s not just about lessons, but you got to search to entertain them, you got to be creative.
In fact, the creativity is probably the most important part because it just – it gives them color in their brains. And I don’t know. That’s probably a sorry way to describe it. But that’s the only way I can think. You’re painting a picture and they get a chance to do that with you. So yeah, the entertainment part is big in our family you know. We definitely laugh a lot and talk about what we’ve laughed about later, so yeah.
David Watts: How about you, Tom, did your dad read to you as a child and you feel it’s important to keep that going?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely, and I would say my dad actually is sort of more of a storyteller, and my mom was more of the reader. But I’m very, very grateful to them for instilling that in me. And I don’t remember ever being forced to read. They somehow were able to get me interested, and that’s one of those fears I have as a parent is what if my son doesn’t want to read one day and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But it’s just – it’s so important to me. It developed my imagination, critical thinking, helped me as a writer. So that’s – it’s a huge, huge deal for me and it’s something that I want to instill in my son definitely.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, if you ever come across that, not wanting to read, have them read, choose your own adventure.
Tom Palmer: Oh yeah.
Fred Akuffo: That will help them.
Tom Palmer: All right, point taken.
David Watts: I want to thank both of you for being our guest today on Library Matters. And for our listeners, we’re going to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. Also please review and rate us on iTunes; we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. I’m Alessandro Russo.
Mark Santoro: And I’m Mark Santoro, the Library Matters’ Co-producer, filling in today for David Watts.
Alessandro Russo: Are you an adult who reads teen fiction, or do you see teen books as just for teenagers? Today’s teen books also called YA or young adult books are more than broken hearts, dystopia and mystical creatures. Today, we talk to two librarians who enjoy teen literature and can give you book recommendations for you to take a second look at YA literature. Please welcome Agency Manager of Potomac Library, Tina Rawhouser.
Tina Rawhouser: Hello.
Alessandro Russo: And librarian at Marilyn Praisner, Annie Seiler.
Annie Seiler: Howdy.
Alessandro Russo: Thanks for being here, Tina and Annie. You’re both adults, why are you reading teen books? What do you like about teen books?
Annie Seiler: Go ahead Tina take it away.
Tina Rawhouser: Okay. So for me I started reading every little bit of everything anyway, but I started reading more teen fiction when I started working more in teen services here in the library system. So for about the last seven years or so, I’ve tried to read more teen fiction. So I know what I’m talking about when I’m talking to teens so that when I’m helping them and when we’re having book discussions, I know what they are reading. And I found that I like it too. There are plenty of interesting books that adults can enjoy that are considered teen or young adult literature.
Annie Seiler: And I read them because I think that they are a lot of fun. And as the teen librarian over at Praisner Library, I get a lot of questions from people of all ages asking what books to read. And so – and oftentimes, if there’s an adult fiction book that’s not quite there that they want to read and I turn people over and say, “Well, have you ever read young adult fiction?” And they really just have a certain positivity about them. Maybe some of the books are – take place in dystopian societies and stuff where the world is ending, but they expect to be better at the end. You expect a happy ending.
Tina Rawhouser: There’s still hope.
Annie Seiler: Yes, yes, exactly. Whereas a lot of – some – not a lot of adult fiction but enough adult fiction does tend to have so much heavy weight of life just dragging down the narrative and family drama and years of regrets that’s just not there in the teen fiction.
Alessandro Russo: Kind of too much for teens in the sense to hold the emotions and tags along with those adult fiction books.
Tina Rawhouser: Well, I think too with adult fiction the themes in adult fiction and teen fiction are similar, you know, world ending, drama and tragedy, life, love, romance, sex, violence, all that in teen books as well as adult books. But I think in adult books, it tends to get long-winded sometimes. There’s a lot more description. It’s more literary in some ways in some of the books. And it’s just written for adults who want to read these lengthy things. And the teens aren’t as interested in that, so we do have the same themes but in a slightly different perspective really. And that’s one of the things I appreciate about it. I don’t particularly enjoy too much literary fiction but I will read more literary teen books versus adult books. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but–.
Mark Santoro: Would you say that teen books are more optimistic or positive than adult books or is that going too far?
Annie Seiler: I think it depends.
Tina Rawhouser: Okay.
Annie Seiler: I really think that it depends on the point of view of the author. And I find that you do have a lot of literary authors who have that weight. And a lot of the teen writers, they are still – maybe it’s just the authors are just silly, or not silly, they’re still positive people.
Tina Rawhouser: I think too it’s when as a teen, teens still have a lot of life ahead of them. So even though they’ve undergone something, you know, in a book that is –
Annie Seiler: Traumatic.
Tina Rawhouser: – traumatic, tremendously traumatic, you know, death, grief, there’s still a little bit of hope at the end because there’s life ahead of them and they’re looking forward to that. I think in adult books, we tend to be a little bit more cynical. You know, there’s not as much life left ahead of us as there is for teen. Hopefully there’s still a lot of life left ahead for most of us. But I think in adult books, there is a lot more ambiguous and heavy endings, whereas teens as Annie said, the ending can be more optimistic because there’s a future. Even if the future is uncertain, the future is there, we’re looking forward to it, we’re going to do something good, is what I get from teen books.
Annie Seiler: And I think also in teen books, they’ve enjoyed telling us – the authors enjoy telling a story. Sometimes there are more literary teens books that really draw you in in a way that you have similar lines with adult literary fiction. But overall, they’re out to tell a good story.
Mark Santoro: I have heard that teen books are more pros-oriented, more plot-oriented. Does that seem right?
Annie Seiler: Sometimes. There have been teen books that I have read that really are solely character driven. One of them that I know – that I will reference in particular is Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: That one is entirely character driven because the story exists in two places. But those two places are both in the main character’s head.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: The premise of this story is you’re following this boy’s descent into schizophrenia.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And he is in high school. And one thread of the story, he is on a boat sailing to the Marianas Trench to go dive down. And that’s how the schizophrenia is talking. And the other thread of the story, it’s what is actually happening in reality. So that is an example of a story that is fantastically literary because you are taken with the main character who I cannot remember the name of, but it’s entirely character-focused. So it truly depends on the book itself as it would for any other type of fiction that really is how the author choose to weave their story together.
Tina Rawhouser: Right. I agree. And I’m thinking along the lines of literary fiction for people who do enjoy that. One of my favorite teen books is really one that I think has crossover appeal for adults which is Code Name Verity.
Annie Seiler: Oh, yes.
Tina Rawhouser: And I had a really hard time getting into this book. But about halfway through, there is a narrative switch. And once that switch happened, it just completely sucked me in and I could not put the book down. I put it down many times over six months trying to get through the first half. Once I got to that midpoint where the change happened in narration, I could not put it down. And I stayed until 3 o’clock in the morning to finish the book.
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Because it was just – it blew my mind. I mean it just really grabbed hold of me. And it was very, very well-written and not – you know, it’s plot-driven but it’s also got all the intricate twist and turns that I think many adult novels have that not so many teen books do. That one I think is definitely on a higher level.
Annie Seiler: Well, and perhaps that expectation is that teen books don’t have this when in reality not all adult fiction may have that. I think it really depends on the type of book that you want to pick up. And, yes, there are the really teen romance books that they’re like, “When am I going to get my next boyfriend? Oh my goodness.” But then they’re starting to – then you have others that are really, really intense.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: And so many of them tap into a lot of current social angst, not even of the current age group that you are working with the teens or going through with finishing high school and going into college, coming into their own bodies, and all of the crazy, messy stuff that comes with that. But then you have – then you throw in the social drama of – for example black lives matter, are being an undocumented – finding out that you’re an undocumented resident. And what happens then? What happens when your entire world gets turned upside down?
Mark Santoro: What books did you read as a teen? And are those still around?
Annie Seiler: Okay.
Mark Santoro: What’s the shelf life of teen books?
Annie Seiler: I think that it really depends on – and this is a theme that you’re going to keep hearing me say. I think it really depends on the book itself. The books that I loved reading as teens, I read classics. I loved Little Women.
Tina Rawhouser: I read a lot of classics too. Yeah.
Annie Seiler: I was all about The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I loved my fantasy novels.
Tina Rawhouser: I maybe showing my age, but they’re still around. I read a lot of Harlequin Romance novels when I was a teen because that’s what my mother read. And they were short, they were easy to get through. And by the age of 20, I had read so many of them that I was a romantic cynic thinking, “Why are all these 18-year-old girls, the stars of these romance novels falling in love with 36-year-old man?” As an 18-year-old, that was just bizarre to me. But that’s what was around the house and that’s what I read.
And my father read a lot of high fantasy, Hobbit, books by David Brooks. And so I read a lot of that too. I mean it was kind of two different ends of the spectrum. And I remember reading a lot of classics. I can’t remember any particularly teen books, books written for teens that would have been considered teen fiction back then in the olden days.
Annie Seiler: And you also had I think one of the first teen series that went I guess more mainstream that people now remember is Sweet Valley High.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And my mom would not let me read those because she thought they were too grown up. But then –.
Tina Rawhouser: Oh my goodness.
Annie Seiler: I was maybe 11 or 12.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Annie Seiler: And she didn’t like the covers. But I would read anything I can get my hands on. And wait, I didn’t have the access to the Harlequin Romance and stuff. So I real – I went to the library and just as much as I could, Michael Crichton, the classics. Like I think I already mentioned, Little Women, fantasies. And that’s really where I prefer to be whenever I would go to bookstores and stuff. I would go to the high fantasies because it was just the total escapism of versus growing up in rural America. You didn’t have a lot of choice for – other than what was at the library then you get to go to the big city and get – go to the bookstore. And – I mean, and this is also pre-Amazon, pre-Kindles.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Annie Seiler: It was the half price books.
Tina Rawhouser: The genre, teen literature has really developed and grown over the last probably 10 to 15 years, which is I was not a teen 15 years ago. So, you know, it’s developed since after my teen years. But I think it’s kind of funny that I read a lot of teen books now not just because I work with teens anymore, I’m not as involved in teen services, but because I’ve come to enjoy a lot of the books that I find in that genre.
Alessandro Russo: Has young adult fiction been around as long as adult fiction, or – and there was never a kind of tag on what’s teen and what’s adult?
Tina Rawhouser: Yes. Yes. And I think – I read an article from I think it was The Guardian about this that prior to these books being separated out when teens became sort of a marketing phenomenon, prior to that, the teen books were in with adult books and they had, you know, what is a – why do we consider something teen literature versus adult. And it’s usually because there is a teen protagonist. So when you think about things like Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, those are all books with teen protagonist but they were never in a section. They were never in the children’s section. There wasn’t a teen section. And they were with adult books. And a lot of adults consider them adult classics. But they’re kind of teen classics really.
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Annie Seiler: I would agree with that that teens have been – the young adult literature has always been around. It just never had the name young adult literature. And that is a modern invention, a modern marketing invention because the publishers and the book sellers realized, “Hey, there is a huge market that these young people can drive that if we provide books to them, they are going to go to their parents and say, “Buy this for me.”
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And so, it has become so much flashier and mainstream because as a marketing cohort, teens are incredibly powerful.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes, they are.
Annie Seiler: As with – even though they’d have no direct purchasing power, if there’s good fiction out there for them to read, their parents typically will pony up the money. And so that’s why young adult literature as a major genre of the publishing industry has really just exploded.
Tina Rawhouser: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: And it’s awesome. I love it.
Tina Rawhouser: And I think too that teens do have more purchasing – direct purchasing power now than they did in the past. More of them have jobs. They – teens have more disposable income. My stepdaughters have more disposable income than I ever had as a teen because they’re, you know, getting money from family, they’re getting money for chores and things like that. And until I went out and got a job as a teenager, I didn’t have that disposable income. And, you know, I think it’s a different teen world in terms of book marketing and, you know, the cohort as Annie mentioned for targeting them as consumers is very different than it was 15 to 20 years ago.
Annie Seiler: And as an author, not – I’m not speaking as author because I am not, but I know people who are, that they are incredibly excited to be writing for teens because that is the type of story that they want to tell. So many of my friends who are writers that’s where their passion is. They want – as much as we love reading stories in and around teens, they love writing them because maybe it’s harking back to a heyday that they had where things were awesome. And again, there’s that inherent optimism where they want to write a story that is imbued with hope.
And their – as – because they are such a strong marketing force that young adults have, they are given the opportunity to get their work published and put out there. And so it’s just growing and it’s just a huge snowball and it’s fantastic for all involved because you have amazing works of literature coming out into the genre marketed specifically for teens that are great reads. And I think the adults who read teen literature are really some of the largest side beneficiaries of this great boom because we get to – we also get to read these books too. And we’re not being ashamed for it.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Alessandro Russo: Plus, we have the excuse of being librarian, so we can go, “Oh, we’re reading it for Readers’ Advisory.”
Tina Rawhouser: Of course, absolutely.
Annie Seiler: Right.
Tina Rawhouser: That’s what I tell my husband. I have this stack of teen fiction romances for high – for summer romances because I have to read it for Readers’ Advisory. Of course baby.
Alessandro Russo: So teen fiction or just teen YA books come in all different varieties. How do you think that impacts teen literature, having so many different genres within the teen fiction?
Tina Rawhouser: Same way it affects adult literature. I mean, it’s something for everyone. And I think, you know, we kind of talked before about the differences between adult and teen stuff. And I think we talked about character-driven, maybe they’re not as literary. But I think a lot of teen fiction is also very issue-driven. It’s tackling something big that teens are maybe encountering in their lives for the first time. Whereas in adult fiction, we don’t see as much of the – it’s not as common to have issue-driven stories as it is with the teen literature. But I think the variety and scope is very similar between adult and YA these days. I don’t honestly see much of a difference.
Annie Seiler: I believe that the different genres within teen fiction and young adult fiction, it is – it reflects the readership, it reflects the authorship. There are people who want to write the sci-fi books with the teen protagonist. And those have been around for decades. Look at Orson Scott Card writing Ender’s Game. That’s another young protagonist. And whenever you look up these books in the Montgomery County system, those are within the adult section. And same as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Those are in the adult fiction. I think that it was the time point and as when they were published. That’s what moves them into the young adult area.
Alessandro Russo: Do you find yourself turning to teen books in a specific genre, like let’s say teen science fiction, but then when you started reading adult literature, you’re going to mysteries? Or do you kind of just mix it all up.
Tina Rawhouser: I mix it all up.
Annie Seiler: I don’t really go to teen nonfiction as much because if I’m going to read a nonfiction book, I want a big meaty nonfiction book. And so much of the teen nonfiction is great for school assignments and reading and – but me personally, I love like the big doorstop nonfiction books. But give me teen fantasy and adventure books all day long because those are my hearts, totally my hearts. I love me some Sabaa Tahir and I can just read her all day long.
Tina Rawhouser: I think I go to teen books when I’m in a certain mood to – I listen to a lot of audio books. And sometimes too many thrillers in a row make me paranoid in life.
Annie Seiler: Tina, there’s someone behind you.
Tina Rawhouser: And so, I need something a little bit lighter to carry me through that. And I will, you know, pick up a teen novel, not because it – you know, they still have issues, they still have problems but it’s – there’s a certain lightheartedness to some of it. Right now, I’m listening to The Selection by Kiera Cass.
Annie Seiler: I love those books.
Tina Rawhouser: And, you know, I’ve been wanting to read this or listen to it for a while. And I’m enjoying it because it’s, you know, still interesting, but it gives me a break from some of the really heavy things that I may read or listen to more often.
Annie Seiler: It’s like watching an episode of Frontline, Frontline, Frontline, then going to listening to MPR on your car and then saying, “You know what, I need a break. I’m going to watch The Bachelor.”
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Sometimes you have to have that little bit of fictional candy.
Alessandro Russo: So is there a teen book for everyone out there?
Annie Seiler: There is. We just need to find it for you.
Tina Rawhouser: Absolutely. Yes, go and ask us and we will – tell us what you like because the more we – the more you know what you like to read, we can give you similar suggestions.
Annie Seiler: Yes. We’re kind of good at that as librarians.
Mark Santoro: How do you think an adult’s reading experience of teen book is different from a teen’s experience reading that same book? Do they experience the same book differently?
Tina Rawhouser: I think everybody experiences the same book differently no matter what your age is. But I do think that age can make a difference because teens have less variety in life experience for the most part than most adults do. So when I’m reading a teen book, you know, I’m looking at it through the lens of being older and wiser we hope. But, you know, teens, this may be something new that they’ve not experienced before and it is, you know, a window or mirror onto something that they haven’t experienced that they can take some sort of guidance from or learn something from so that when they encounter it in real life, they – there is a framework for understanding it. Whereas as an adult, I’ve already got that framework. And I think – you know, I’ve got two teen stepdaughters and what they read and the way they read and understand things is definitely different from my own perspective when we read the same things.
Annie Seiler: I think it’s really important to go back and as an adult read teen fiction because it brings you back into that mindset of, “I remember how I felt whenever I was going through my first high school crush.” This – I remember what this feels like because I’m so far beyond that point in my life. And especially if you are a parent of teens, you’ve gone through the whole process of when they were a baby, when they were a kid and growing up. You’ve spent so long in the mindset of parent, it’s always good to go back and remember what it was like whenever you were that age, especially whenever it comes to struggles that they may be going through. And I think that it’s a good window to the past of your own teenage years. And – but absolutely, adults experience teen books differently. I’ve gone through reading teen books that I want to reach through the pages and shake this kid and say, “Don’t worry about the boy.”
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: You can – you’ll go to college and you’ll meet others.
Tina Rawhouser: I agree with Annie that the window back into being a teen is important sometimes for adults to see especially if you’re parenting teens, there is a lot of drama in teen lives. There’s a lot of drama in teen books sometimes, unnecessary drama, created drama because when that crush turns out not to like you anymore or goes out with your best friend –
Annie Seiler: Or turns into a zombie.
Tina Rawhouser: – it’s devastating to a teen. But as an adult, you know that times goes on and you will get over it, you’ll fall in love again, you’ll hardly get your heart broken again, and you still go on, you know, and find happiness eventually. But I agree with Annie that there are times when I went to reach though the pages and shake the character and say, “What are you thinking? Why are you doing this?”
Alessandro Russo: I mean, it sounds like a fascinating social experiment to like have an adult book discussion group read a team novel and then have that group, a teen group read that same novel and then compare their answers and then flip it.
Annie Seiler: Oh, that can be very fun.
Alessandro Russo: That would be a good social –.
Mark Santoro: New library program.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Annie Seiler: Yeah. I think that should –.
Alessandro Russo: Teens read adult or adults read teens kind of –.
Tina Rawhouser: So book groups that are out there could have a mother-daughter or mother-child session of the book group where you all read a teen book and invite your children to the book group and discuss.
Annie Seiler: Or father.
Tina Rawhouser: Or father. Any – yes. Parent and child I should say.
Annie Seiler: Yes, there we go.
Alessandro Russo: I kind of did that unofficially with the book The Lovely Bones because we have so many different age groups, you know, so curious, different perspectives from a single mom, someone who’s lost a child, from a teen, from – and I kind of accomplished this and it was just fascinating responses, like –.
Annie Seiler: Right. That’s an intense –.
Alessandro Russo: And I read it many years ago when I was single and I still felt for each character even though I never ever had their experiences, you know, so.
Annie Seiler: Which is a mark of an amazing book. Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: How has growing emphasis on diverse books affected teen literature?
Annie Seiler: I think it has been amazing because I feel that from what the – it’s a study in how to do it right. We’re providing an avenue for writers, authors of color, with characters of color, with – from different backgrounds, different sexual orientation, immigrants’ backgrounds to come in, have a push to get these books published and out there in the hands of people who want to read them. It’s incredible. And I am absolutely loving the richness of stories that have come out of these movements. It’s better for everyone involved. Again, with the mirrors. It provides more mirrors for the readers because when I was growing up, it was the Sweet Valley High, those two little white girls on the book covers which looked a lot like me. But now, I am gravitating more and more to characters of color because their experience is so different from what I grew up with, and I want to know what the world is like for them because those are – that’s the population that I serve with in my particular branch. They are customers of color who are coming in, and they want to read these amazing books too. And they deserve to have characters and authors that look like them, that they see themselves in these pages.
Tina Rawhouser: It reflects their world. And I think something in the recent workshop we attended here at the system said this diversity exists in the world. We may not see it in our lives because, you know, as Annie said as a white women, I grew up in a very conservative nearly white area. And now I live in one of the most diverse counties in the county, and I love every minute of it. And I never realized what life is like for anyone who wasn’t like me because that just didn’t exist when I grew up.
So now being able to look at it and being in this area watching my stepdaughters grow up in a much more diverse world than I ever experienced, they need to see these books that reflect what their life is like. They’ve got – you know, in their classroom of 30 kids there are kids from six different countries speaking six different languages with English as a second language. Their backgrounds are all different. Their skin colors are all different. And that’s not something I ever experienced. And I think it’s just amazing that we can offer this now to so many more teens and children than we have ever been able to before.
Annie Seiler: It is so incredible valuable and I think that’s the proudest thing that I feel about being a teen librarian is that we’re able to promote and get excited and say, look at these amazing books that truly are becoming so much more reflective of the world around us. And I think it’s again a study in how to – maybe not a complete study in how do it right. But – because nothing is ever perfect. But it’s a great start.
Tina Rawhouser: Right.
Alessandro Russo: So now that we’re all energized about this teen book, if you’re a customer, you come in to Montgomery County Library, how do you find them? Where are these teen books?
Annie Seiler: They are in the young adult sections. And which ever bridge you want to come into, you can come and ask the information desk and we will let you know. We will guide you to the really amazing ones that are out there. We also have some great list on our website. If you are a fun of a particular genre, like if you like the mystery books, if you like fantasy books, if you like LGBT books, we have great curated lists of books that have come out in the past 10 years or so that count or within this genre.
Tina Rawhouser: You can also take advantage of What Do I Read Next.
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: Our online readers’ advisory service. And our catalogue, searching in the catalogue and narrow things down to young adult or teen materials.
Annie Seiler: Specific to your branch if you’d like it. And if you have – if there is a book that is – that you want to read that has been on your radar and it is not currently available to your branch, ask a librarian to put it on hold for you, and we will send it to your branch to pick up and then you can join us on any of our social media platforms and just rave about how awesome this young adult book was. Let yourself be surprised by the amazing writing that’s out there.
Alessandro Russo: So if an adult approaches the information desk and they have no clue what they want to read and a YA book just pops in your head, how do you kind of convince I guess that adult to kind of test out this YA book?
Tina Rawhouser: This is one of my favorite things to do to adults who come in and ask about things because I’ve read so much teen fiction and literature that in some genres I have a better knowledge of what’s in the teen section than I do of what’s in the adult section. And if we’ve gone through a list where an adult customer is looking for five different books and we don’t have any of them on hand and they want something in their hand today to take home with them, I will – you know, something comes in to my head that’s young adult, I will say, you know, “Would you consider reading a young adult book?” You know? And depending on the expression on their face when I ask that question, sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s harder to guide them in that direction. But I love recommending things like Code name Verity type – not much in several time. Things like The Book Thief too is a really good crossover –
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: – for people who, you know, think teen fiction can’t be literary. It can be very literary and very interesting. Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow which we mentioned at some point during this before by Orson Scott Card. Those are great for sci-fi fans. Books by Terry Pratchett, there are a lot of them in the adult section. But there is a young adult series that’s never shelved in the adult section that I think is my favorite subseries of his. And he is one of my favorite authors. And the first book is the Wee Free Men. And it’s just tremendously fun. So for people who are looking for something a little offbeat, I will take in that direction too. You know, I think as long as an adult has an open mind about it and they’re willing to give it a try, then they will find they enjoy some of these things that are a kind of crossovers between young adult and adult fiction.
Annie Seiler: Usually whenever I approach that question, if a – if I’m recommending a murder mystery to a patron and they’re kind of a little bit tired in David Baldacci, there’s not a Scott Turow available for them, there is a couple of particular books that I would recommend within the young adult section if they really like those types of mysteries. This is Our Story, by Ashley Elston. That is a great murder mystery and a fantastic who’ve done it that’s written with teen protagonists and antagonists.
It’s really easy to find books that are written in – as for historical fiction and fantasy books within the teen section for adult readers. The books by Ruta Sepetys, The Salt to the Sea and Between Shades to Gray. Those will have you bawling. But they’re such amazing stories that if you’re a fan of historical fiction at all especially World war II fiction and survivors, you have to read these. And there is really no difference between those that you would – those two books. And ones written by Kristin Hannah are Tatiana de Rosnay as far as that amazing time period.
And there are – if you’re – if you prefer reading more grown up romances, there are absolutely some of those. There are two that that have less of the, “Oh, he’s my crush,” struggle but true romance in these books. Sarah J. Maas is one of those writers that if you enjoy high fantasy fairies but a good strong female main character as she grows into her romances, it’s fantastic.
Alessandro Russo: Our favorite question on the show is to ask what’s your favorite, in this case, teen book or what is currently in your nightstand?
Annie Seiler: Currently, my favorite teen books, again, they’re with – they’re fantasy fairytale retellings. That’s just my favorite go-to for a fantastic read. But the ones – the books by Leigh Bardugo. You have The Grisha Trilogy. Those are really good action stories with the fantasy background. But it feels like you’re reading in a fantasy Russia. And then she has some – a couple of great spin-off books that really if you like your antiheroes, Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom. Those are such fun books to read. And if you’re going on a plane ride, they’re nice big thick books too. So that will last you a while.
And I’m also a huge graphic novel nerd. So one of my other gateway to graphic novels which also for teen fiction, you have a great selection. But my favorite through there is Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. It’s hilarious. It’s wonderfully drawn. And it’s a great struggle between who truly is the hero and who are villains of the story, and what does it mean to be a monster.
Tina Rawhouser: For me, I tend to – the first thing that came in my mind were along the fantasy line also because that’s one of my favorite genres. And while I think it’s really cruel to ask librarians what your favorite book is because we read way too much and we have too many of them –
Annie Seiler: Yes.
Tina Rawhouser: – what I came up with was the Cress series by Marissa Meyer.
Annie Seiler: Marissa Meyer.
Tina Rawhouser: The first one was just Cinder.
Annie Seiler: Cinder.
Tina Rawhouser: It was tremendously fun to read. It’s a modern retelling, a steam punk retelling of Cinderella. And –.
Annie Seiler: Cinderella is a cyborg in this series and she’s awesome.
Tina Rawhouser: She is awesome. But I’m – as I also mentioned, I’m reading The Selection by Kiera Cass. I love the Terry Pratchett series, The Wee Free Men series by Terry Pratchett. I loved Code Name Verity.
Annie Seiler: There are way too many.
Tina Rawhouser: They are too many. It was really hard to come up with any answer for that question.
Annie Seiler: There is also so many really good realistic fictions out there. One of the books that I keep looking on our shelves to pick it up but it’s been checked out ever since it was released was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes. That’s on my to read list also.
Annie Seiler: Yes. I’ll arm wrestle you for it whenever it comes into the branches. We’ll go check on the shelves and see and we’ll have an arm wresting contest for it. But that – that is a book that falls within the – we need diverse reads that follows the story of what happens when you have what witness to a police shooting of an unarmed man. And it’s – I cannot wait to read it because it’s just been getting so many great reviews.
Tina Rawhouser: Yes.
Annie Seiler: And so those types of realistic fiction books within the teen – within the young adult new books. If you see it, pick it up because it’s going to be off the shelf the next hour. They go like hot cakes.
Alessandro Russo: So we want to thank both of out guest, Tina and Annie. And remember keep the conversations going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Annie Seiler: Bye.
Tina Rawhouser: Bye.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Libraries' Podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries' Podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. I am Alessandro Russo…
David Watts: And I am David Watts. We hope you'll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve. In an effort to keep our library branch locations in optimum operating condition, Montgomery County has invested money for upgrades to the aesthetics and functionality of some branch locations. So that we may better understand this important process, we are joined today by our Public Services Administrator for Facilities, Rita Gale. Welcome to Library Matters, Rita.
Rita Gale: Thank you very much for inviting me.
David Watts: Please introduce yourself to our listeners and tell them what your background is and how you've been with MCPL.
Rita Gale: Okay. I am currently the public services administrator for space management, ADA, and collection management. I have been with Montgomery County Public Library since 1986. I joined the library system as a Branch Manager at the Potomac Library. And have moved up, became an agency manager at Rockville. And then when the public services administrator position which at that time was called library regional administrator position became vacant for the different area because we've been - the public service administrators had been various things in my career. We had areas at that time when the Gaithersburg area became vacant, I took that position. And I have been a variation of a public services administrator ever since 1988.
David Watts: Rita, if you wouldn't mind, could you explain to our listeners what the refresh process is properly defined as and how that occurs naturally?
Rita Gale: Okay, so basically in the library department previously we did our projects what we called through renovations. They were full scale often times teardowns of the buildings. The concept was that it was taking about 20 to 30 years to actually get through all of our libraries since we have 21 of them. And in library land, changes and modernization happens much faster than 20 year. So, we were not seeing that our facilities were current in 21st century by going through that process. Plus, it was very slow and very expensive.
So when we did our facilities plan in FY'13, the concept of refresh came through as a way that we could cycle through each of our facilities in a seven-year period and make changes to them, not on the grand scale that a renovation did, but in a very efficient and quick methodology to both refresh them from the perspective of having new paint and carpeting, but also modernizing them, so that they included elements of services that libraries throughout the country were offering. For example, collaboration spaces, also technology, the latest and greatest in technology.
For example, we offered charging stations for mobile devices. We had just put those and added those at Kensington Park and Twinbrook when we reopened them. So the refresh concept is relatively new for libraries. Definitely, new for the county and is just a better and a faster way of actually modernizing and refreshing our facilities.
Alessandro Russo: How are branches determined like which branches are selected for a refresh, how is that determined?
Rita Gale: Okay. So we have 21 facilities and we intend to refresh them all. The way that we determine the order of doing those refreshes was basically looking at the condition of the facilities. And so, we as I mentioned actually defined a scope of work. And in looking at that scope of work for all of our facilities and what feedback we had received from the community about what new things or what improvements needed to be made, input that we received from our funders about what they think we should we doing in our facilities. And then looking at the actual condition of our facilities, we made the decision in FY 15 which was the first year that we did refresh projects to modernize the Kensington Park and Twinbrook libraries. Those were libraries that we felt needed the most attention immediately.
As we have now gone through the process and done three libraries for FY 16 and are about – are in construction for the FY 17 projects, we've added some input that we've received which is the proximity of the libraries we choose to each other and the proximity of impact libraries for those projects as elements that we consider, but primarily we're looking at what the condition of the facilities are.
Alessandro Russo: Just to clarify, impact libraries meaning when a branch closes that means naturally there is going to be more people traffic at that specific branch.
Rita Gale: Well, and also the concept is that when we close a facility, we expect that the people – that our customers who use that facility are going to go some else hopefully to continue to have service while we're actually closed in the refresh branches. And so, the facilities that we expect those customers to go to are what we call our impact facilities.
David Watts: What are the advantages of a refresh as opposed to a renovation?
Rita Gale: I think probably the biggest advantage is that we get around to every single one of our facilities faster. We're actually able to touch every one of the 21 facilities as I said in a seven-year period. Previously when we were doing full scale renovations, it was taking us 20 years to get to maybe one, at the most two facilities. So, it was a really lengthy process. The other advantage is that our intent with the refresh projects is that they will be only closed 4 to 6 months. One of the things that we heard from the community when we did our full renovations was that it was taking a year-and-a-half to two years to complete the work in those facilities. We are blessed with customers who love us and who actually want their libraries all the time. And they were not very happy that they did not have library service in that two-year period. So, we felt that in addition to being able to improve our facilities that we were going to be able to also do that with less impact on the customers, not that there still isn't, but definitely less impact. And those are two things that we hope really are helping to sell the concept of refresh.
Alessandro Russo: What are the budgetary limits for refresh projects?
Rita Gale: So with all of the construction projects in the county, there is a budget called the capital improvement program budget, which is funded by the county. And it provides the primary means of paying for construction and improvements in county facilities. So, when we introduced the concept with the FY'13 to '15 – FY'13 to '16 facilities plan, we had the concept, but we really didn't have the funding in place. So we spent the first year actually talking with the county executive, with the office of management and budget, with the council about the advantages of this program and how we would like to have it funded on a continuous basis as opposed to having to go every year to solicit funding.
So, we were fortunate enough to receive what's called level of effort funding through the capital improvement program budget. And that means that for the six years of that capital improvement program budget, there is an amount allocated per year for these refresh projects to take place. Now in addition to that, we also wanted to incorporate where we could improvements that were needed in the facilities related to Americans for Disabilities Act. And the county has a separate division, the ADA compliance unit that has funding. And so we wanted to make sure that if there were improvements that needed to be made that we would do that at the same time.
And so, that unit actually funds some of the improvements that are made. And then, the division of facilities management who maintains our facilities has also level of effort funding for special projects like roof replacements, striping parking lots, replacing HVAC equipment. And we felt that if while we were doing the programmatic things in a refresh; there was building things that needed to happen like roofs and parking lots that we would try to coordinate that with the facilities management division. So when we do our projects, we try to do that.
And then funding for those elements comes from those budgets. And then, the final piece is that the Maryland State – the State of Maryland has funding called capital grants, which are strictly for capital improvements. They are meant for the 22 public library systems in the state. And we have to apply each year. And we have to compete. And we have been fortunate for all the years that we've been competing to receive funding from the state, which actually helps to contribute as well.
David Watts: If you wouldn't mind, Rita, could you give us a status update on your current projects which are in process? And perhaps, some of the upcoming plans for projects?
Rita Gale: Certainly. So as I mentioned, we have completed two projects, the FY'15 projects at Kensington Park and Twinbrook, both opened last year and are fully operational. We are currently completing construction on the Aspen Hill and Little Falls libraries. And they were two of three libraries in FY'16. The Davis Library was the third. And we just opened the Davis Library on April 8th. We are very excited. We've gotten great feedbacks so far about the improvements we made there. We don't have dates yet for Aspen Hill or Little Falls, but we're hoping within the next month – two months that we'll be opening those facilities.
We are also in preparation for the FY'17 refresh projects which are Quince Orchard, White Oak, and Bethesda. And both White Oak and Quince Orchard have closed for the beginnings of their refresh projects. Construction will start on Quince Orchard actually hopefully next week, and at White Oak, in a couple of weeks. And then, we have decided to hold off on Bethesda in terms of closing it because remember I mentioned that word impact before, well, one of the impact branches for Little Falls was Bethesda.
And so, we felt that if we closed Bethesda at this stage without having both Davis and the Little Falls open that we would probably hear from the customers telling us that that was a bad decision on our part. An so, our director made the decision that we would hold off opening – I am sorry, closing of Bethesda until we opened to Little Falls.
And then, we are going to go into design in July for the FY'18 projects which will be Marilyn Praisner, Poolesville, and Long Branch. Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: You mentioned earlier that different libraries are older than others and they kind of need specific projects for those. But just in general, how do - the refresh projects between branch is differ and how are they similar?
Rita Gale: So I would say that the similarities are that generally we work on bathrooms for all of the projects. Modernizing them and in many cases making ADA improvements. We usually carpet or put new flooring in and we usually paint. So, those are primarily the things that we carry over from project to project. The variations come in when we start putting in programmatic things that relate to the demographics of the community.
So, one of the things that we are trying very hard to do in all of our facilities, not so much from demographics, but because of the way that our public uses libraries now is what we call collaboration spaces. And our collaboration spaces are in closed rooms that will house between two and six individuals, who can be in that space for whatever collaborative efforts they're looking for. So it could be students who're working on a project, who need a space where they can talk and spread out papers, and maybe work on a computer, or it could be businessmen in the community who need a space to meet with somebody to talk about a business plan.
So, collaboration spaces are spaces that we'd like to put in, but we don't necessarily always have the room to put them in. An example of a demographic space that we look at, for example, we have never really build out our facilities to have dedicated space for teens, most of our facilities have an adult reading room and a children's reading room, but we haven't called out teens, and in many of our communities the demographic is that there are enough teens that we really feel like we should have spaces dedicated to them. So, that those are the kinds of things that vary from place-to-place. If we had a demographic that was heavily senior-related, we might create spaces that were a little different and at seniors. So, those are the more programmatic improvements that are related to what the community is about.
Alessandro Russo: You have to customize those localized communities.
Rita Gale: That's correct, yes.
David Watts: Rita, tell us about where staff is assigned while the branches are closed for refresh?
Rita Gale: So, the first couple of weeks, we keep the staff in the facility and they help us shut it down. In other words, get it ready for the construction company to come in. That usually involves going through storage cabinet, supply cabinets, reading out things that may have accumulated over years, so that we're trim and fit when we open up. If we're going to move collections, reorganize the space, we try to do that during those first two weeks. So pretty much by the time this staff leave after the first two weeks, we've got the building in a place where it is as organized as it can be and as reorganized spatially as it's going to be. The staff then go, again, to those impact branches that I mentioned before, we actually check with our staff to see where they would like to go with the impact branches that we identify. And then we also often times identify branches that need some additional staffing because they can seize another reasons. So, our staff generally then spend the next four months in those libraries helping the staff in those libraries to provide service to the customers, who hopefully they are seeing coming to those impact branches to receive service.
Alessandro Russo: And it also helps from the patron side to kind of if they never went to that library just an extra level of comfort to, you know - to familiar library face.
Rita Gale: Having another human being there that they actually have seen before who can help maybe introduce them to the services to have that particular library is laid out, maybe explain certain policies, yes, that's part of the reason why we feel it's important for them to be located in places where we expect that the customers from the closed branch are going to go.
Alessandro Russo: As far as from the public side has there any comments specific comments as far as they love the collaboration spaces, they love the paint jobs and anything that kinds of sticks out to you?
Rita Gale: Well we see positive input again we've opened Kensington Park and Twinbrook at those two libraries one of the things that we did, we made a conscious decision to move the children rooms in both those locations which were spaces that were open and we move them into closed spaces and the spaces that from what I understand the feedback that the branches have – those two branches have received, that they received very positive feedback from parents, caregivers, people generally about those spaces and how they were designed, I mentioned that we just opened the Davis Library on April 8 and I understand that one of the things that people have said about Davis is that even though we didn't do lighting improvements in the aspect of replacing light fixtures, we actually changed out the light bulbs, put all new bulbs in and fit it out the ones that perhaps were lit and people have commented about how much brighter the branch is which was an unintended consequence for us. We've also heard that the collaboration spaces at Kensington and Twinbrook are very well used and we're starting to see that at Davis where we also have collaboration spaces.
David Watts: You preciously stated that all the branches will eventually be refreshed, what are the next steps when that has occurred, when all the branches have been completed?
Rita Gale: Well as I mentioned we have a six-year capital improvement program budget and we expect that within seven years we'll get through all 21 facilities and because we really feel that this model is working well for us, we believe it's working well for our public that we expect to yes that we're going to ask for that capital improvement program to be extended for another seven years and our full expectation is that we will start all over again, now we may not start in the same order because we have learned some lessons, but again remember what I said is that part of the reason we're doing it is not just to refresh the building, but to modernize the building and even in seven years, we probably will have had many changes occur in library land that we will want to see implemented in these facilities.
So we fully expect that we will have different changes to make, but that in seven years when we start over again, we'll have we may paint again, we may carpet, but we will have other programmatic and service related things that we can implement and again the piece about the funding is that we may not necessarily always be able to fund everything the first go around, so the other piece about having funding to go back again a second time is that we may be doing things that we haven't done the first time. So for example, we haven't been able to spend a lot of time and effort and work on our staff areas and so on the second round we may actually make improvements to our staff areas in addition to our program, our public areas.
Alessandro Russo: Are there any current trends you see in the current library refresh projects like as far as the charging stations I know we're kind of a big one is there anything?
Rita Gale: Well, one of the things that we're technologically one of things that we're working on doing is making our meeting rooms and where we can space wise with our collaboration spaces what we call smart rooms and by that I mean that we're trying to put equipment into those rooms that the public can use to do, to help them with that piece that I described about collaboration.
So, that if the person brings a laptop and wants to show the other people in the room something that they've designed perhaps or they want to do a mini presentation that instead of having glass walls which we have in many of our collaboration spaces which don't do well for projection. That we will have equipment that is inherent on the table that they can actually do, so we're looking at that for example in our collaboration spaces. In our meeting rooms instead of having what, what's called LCD projectors and I'm not sure what that abbreviation stands for, but we had projectors mounted on the ceiling that we then would project on to a screen.
We're actually putting in TV's, so we actually have TV monitors, TV screens that on which the customers will plug in to do their presentations and show them on a nice large screen. We've also introduced laptops and we at some point in time are going to look at putting iPads or tablets not necessarily iPads, but tablets for customers to use in the branch because while we have workstations with actual equipment PCs.
We also have all of these this furniture that part of the refreshes to put electric near every piece of furniture, because everybody brings in a device that needs to be plugged into something and so, what we want to do is take advantage of that electric and say okay instead of putting PC's in our locations what will do is will loan the customers laptops to plug into or loan them a tablet to use, so that we can maximize the space again.
David Watts: Rita, have you developed any favorite features in the Refresh process?
Rita Gale: Well, I would say that my favorite piece about the Refresh projects is, is the fact that in four months we can actually improve them so, that they look all of our facilities look different that they, they don't that they're not as tired looking, that they're modernized and that people are energized by coming into these buildings and seeing that we can actually make improvements and we don't have to close them down for two years. So, I don't have a specific individual thing, but I am energized by the concept that we can actually make visible improvements to those facilities that will make them hopefully better for the, our customer base and also more modern for our customer base.
David Watts: And maybe just give you a victory lap here great project in Silver Spring. Recently awarded as Design EX award for urban libraries I believe. I know that was a great collaboration for you with the planning office and with the project manager. Now you've got Wheaton that's about ready to start, you want to add anything about that?
Rita Gale: Well, definitely Silver Spring is a new construction it was a project that was designed to move out of a about 14,000 square foot facility into a 70,000 square foot facility so a much larger facility of a very well use base, very loved library in terms of the community and how much they're using at end and all of the services.
And you are correct that the other new construction that has just begun is with the Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center, our first project where we will actually physically be collocated in the same building with a recreation of the Community Recreation Center. We currently on the same campus at Marilyn Praisner with a Community Recreation Center, but that's a campus location not a building location. So, the demolition of the Wheaton Library occurred a few weeks ago and construction is underway.
Alessandro Russo: It's our tradition here on Library Matters to ask our guest what their favorite book is or also is there any is there a book waiting to be read on your nightstand.
Rita Gale: So, I like to travel. So, what I have on my nightstand right now are Fodor's guides for Alaska, because I'm going to be taking a Cruise this summer to Alaska. And so, I'm reading up I also have things that I would love to read that I just don't have that, have not had a chance and there are two series that I'm interested in reading one is the wicked series a play that I saw at the Kennedy Center that just loved one of my very favorite ones by Gregory Maguire. And I'm also a big fan of an A&E Program that has gone over to Netflix called Longmire and Greg Johnson has written a whole series of books and I would love to be able to actually get around to reading those as well.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest today; certainly we wish we could go in there Alaska Cruise with you. But we do hope that you have an enjoyable time and we do congratulate you on all your success as a Public Administrator.
Rita Gale: Great, thank you so much for inviting me.
Alessandro Russo: And then for listeners, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to describe to the podcast on iTunes Stitcher or whatever, wherever you get your podcast from. Also please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you think. Thank you, and see you next time.