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.
Recording Date: April 25, 2017
Guest: Rita Gale, Public Services Administrator for Space Management, ADA, and Collections
Summary: Guest Rita Gale discusses MCPL's innovative refresh project initiative, which allows MCPL branches to be updated to meet customers' changing needs while minimizing the time a branch is closed.
MCPL resources and services mentioned during this episode:
Branch Refresh Project: A “refresh” project is a new Capital Improvement Program process approved by Montgomery County Council and the County Executive to allow library buildings to get significant and timely updates without having to close for the lengthy time it takes for a full renovation. The Library Refurbishment CIP funds programmatic, cosmetic, and service impact updates to two to three libraries every year.
Charging Stations: Free, lockable charging stations for charging phones, tablets, or laptops. Available at every branch except Noyes.
Collaboration Rooms: Sometimes called group study or tutor rooms, these rooms fit 2 to 8 people and can be reserved, for free, from the MCPL website.
Loanable Laptops: Laptops can be borrowed for in branch use at select locations. Laptops checkouts are for three hours or until closing time.
Design Excellence Award for Silver Spring Library: The Montgomery County Planning Department awarded their 2nd Annual Design Excellence Award to Silver Spring Library for the building's dynamic design and commitment to public transportation (the library was built to accommodate a planned light rail station.)
Wheaton Library Renovation: In contrast to a refresh, which is limited to the interior of a library, the Wheaton branch has been torn down and will be replaced by a completely new building.
Books and other media mentioned during this episode:
Fodor's 2015 Alaska by Teeka Ballas, et al.
Fodor's the Complete Guide to Alaska Cruises by Teeka Ballas, et al.
The Wicked series - A series of four adult books reinterpreting the story and characters from the Wizard of Oz.
Other items of interest:
NACo Award - In 2016, MCPL received an award from the National Association of Counties for quickly adapting to the changing needs of Montgomery County residents in a cost effective manner through the branch refresh initiative.
Top Innovators Award 2016 - Organizational Change and Strategic Management - Urban Libraries Council: In fall of 2016, MCPL received this prestigious award from the Urban Libraries Council for its branch refresh initiative, which "implements improvements to library construction and enhances information services and technologies based on changing community needs."
Funding sources for MCPL's Branch Refresh projects include the Library Refurbishment Level of Effort and the 21st Century Library Enhancements Level of Effort.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the 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.
Alessandro Russo: On today's episode we will be discussing what books prompted you to make a big or small lifestyle or habit change. There are many books that have helped change us in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. I can think of a few titles myself such as Norman Vincent Peale's the Power of Positive Thinking. A few others that come to mind include The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz or even Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Today, we are fortunate to be joined by MCPL staff members, Teresa Kolacek and Carol Reddan. Teresa and Carol please introduce yourselves to our listeners.
Teresa Kolacek: Hi am Teresa Kolacek and I have been working with MCPL since 1998, first as a Children's Library Associate at the Damascus branch and then later at Gaithersburg Library and I am now an Adult Library Associate Two at the Davis branch, which will be reopening on April 8th.
Carol Reddan: Hi, I am Carol Reddan and I am a library associate at Olney branch. I also am a Olney resident. I started in 1999 as a substitute because my children were small. So that was great, it gave me a chance to go to every branch in the county so I know the county well but I am happy to be settled in Olney as the team librarian.
Alessandro Russo: What books prompted you to make a big or small lifestyle change or habit change.
Teresa Kolacek: Well, there were many books because I read mostly nonfiction for pleasure but one of the ones that really stands out is the book by Nina Planck, author's last name P-L-A-N-C-K called real food, what to eat and why. This is a book that came out in the mid 2000s and talks about eating the way our grandparents or great grandparents ate, food that was not raised in conventional factory farms, grass-fed meats, pasture raised chicken, butter, you know fresh from the farm, were basically unadultered food and how it can increase your health and actually be much healthier than all of the "health food" that is out there in the local supermarkets.
Carol Reddan: That book that prompted me was Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott who like many people spent a year abroad during college and she lived with her French family and took home many valuable lessons that she uses to this day in her daily life, and its – its mostly about paying attention to daily life and how we eat, how we dress, how we interact with one another.
Alessandro Russo: So did you read these books in attempting to make a change or was it kind of just go with the flow and see where it goes?
Teresa Kolacek: For me I've had a long interest in food, in cooking and eating well and healthy living and so when I saw this book, Real Food and it basically gave me an authoritative source for the things that I had been picking up literally organically and here was somebody who grew up in Virginia on a farm, moved to London to open a farmer's market there, then ended up working in New York City at a farmer's market so she was instrumental in actually bringing the farm movement, the farmer's market movement to the United States and to the DC area. In fact, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market is one of the – the best markets on East Coast and she was among other people instrumental in – in starting that movement. So for me it was a source that I could point to when I was eating butter and things that other people considered not healthy, I could refer them to this book.
Carol Reddan: When I came about this book, I was actually working at the return desk and a woman was returning lot of books and this just caught my eye and was asking about it and I was just intrigued because she told me she is a Professor at Montgomery College and every summer she picks a subject to devote herself to while she is off work and this particular summer she was sort of devouring all the French books, there are so – so many books about idealizing French culture and this was one of them, so I thought "hmmm" so I took a look at it and I liked a lot of what it said in the book and some things I take issue with but overall, I think there is a lot to be said. I don’t want to over-idealize French culture but she makes some good points about how they approach their food, fresh food, diet. Jennifer Scott the author was a college student used to a very American lifestyle of supercasual snacking and it – going to France was just the antithesis of all that and it just turned her around and for years now she is trying to maintain these French habits.
Alessandro Russo: I guess the question that begs asking is did you incorporate any of this into your own lifestyles and did it change your families and how you connected with the world?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, my husband definitely appreciates this because he loves eating as much as I do. We basically go to the Farmer's Market at Dupont Circle on Sundays, pick up most of our food there and then I cook over the weekend and he loves it because he gets to eat homemade farm-fresh food, mostly organic that is – that tastes like real food. If you taste meat that is raised without hormones and all these other additives and literally conventionally factory-farm meats are fed things like candy wrappers and – and literally garbage so you are eating that stuff as well. When you eat those items it’s just – its why you European cooking also is. If you go to Europe, if you go to other cultures and you eat their food and even people who were born aboard and come here they say the food tastes different. I have met staff members who work in MCPL and said they had to get adjusted to the food in America once they came here because it didn’t have flavor.
Alessandro Russo: Well the saying is you are what you eat so…
Teresa Kolacek: Definitely.
Alessandro Russo: It holds true in your case.
Teresa Kolacek: And I have to also add that I have read this Madame Chic book and I also read in that area.
Carol Reddan: It’s an overlap.
Teresa Kolacek: Yes I totally agree with everything Carol just said…
Carol Reddan: Good habits are good habits.
Teresa Kolacek: Because so much of that is not just French per se but –
Carol Reddan: Right.
Teresa Kolacek: A different, maybe a more European lifestyle where food is important. In America, food is considered an afterthought to eat while you are watching television, while you are driving to work. Most Europeans of whatever culture would not eat that way so food is something to be shared with family and friends.
Carol Reddan: Yes.
Teresa Kolacek: It is time to relax and to enjoy. It’s a pleasurable activity, whereas in America you are made to feel guilty if you enjoy eating what some people consider bad food.
Alessandro Russo: Here is an Italian saying [Foreign language] means where there is a kitchen there is family. So it's kind of the European of, that’s the center of their world. The -- the kitchen is where you talk, kitchen is where you are sharing, you know, and that’s why I relate very close to what they are talking about European food style, lifestyle versus American lifestyle.
David Watts: So you spoke a little bit about the impact on – on your husband but how about your family at large?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, we don’t have any children and both, my husband and I have family who live either overseas or other state so, it doesn’t really impact the other family members. But one thing that it did impact was when my husband went, and he has always been healthy but he went to get his physical one year and I forget what his cholesterol numbers were but then he went back the next year and his HDL good numbers increased by like 20 or 30 points and his doctor said "What are you doing?" He said "Well I eat three eggs every morning for breakfast, buttered toast," you know whole – we buy whole grain bread from the farmer's market and basically it is much healthier because he is eating literally real food instead of manufactured food.
Carol Reddan: I do try to institute these changes in my life and I have success and I will trail off and then I'll come back to it again. I follow Jennifer Scott's weekly vlog which helps keep me sort of in that philosophy so and I – there is a lot of overlap with some of, you know, the things that you are talking about with paying attention to food, not eating on the go, when you eat you sit down to eat and just kind of celebrating daily life. I've tried to do that, pay attention to that. Like she notes that when she lived with this French family, the woman, the mother of the family likes doing her daily household chores, like she didn’t mind cleaning, it was sort of a celebration of the home, you know, it's not a chore, not something to be looked down on but something to celebrate and she makes a lot of her own home cleaning products which I've done, the daily shopping is just like a nice daily ritual to you know, get what you are going to bring home to eat for dinner. Its daily patterns of life that you should celebrate be into not look it as a burden or you know, so. Yeah and I have, my family did notice like you know, you keep making that household cleaner. The house – why does the house smell like vinegar? I am like that’s a good smell, that’s a good smell.
David Watts: So you had a hit on the idea that these books have impacted your lives but in general, do you feel happier, do you feel richer in the sense of just more positiveness in yourself?
Teresa Kolacek: I definitely feel happier, more content in the sense that I am not worrying about what I am going to eat because I don’t have to worry about counting calories, counting carbs, measuring this, measuring that. I eat the way human beings have eaten for millennium which is to eat good food, fresh, you know, wholesome food. I cook it the way I like to prepare it, mostly Mediterranean style but also I use lard in the wintertime to make my soups that I get directly from the farmer's market. There is another wonderful book out there that is more scientific than real food, it's called The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and this woman actually went back and got a degree in either biology or biochemistry so she could read the original scientific studies going back to Ancel Keys from the 1950s and what she found was that what the scientific studies actually showed when you dug into them was not with the information they were putting out to the public and in the summaries. So, Ancel Keys cherry picked his data to support his hypothesis as opposed to giving all of the results and what she is documenting in this pretty hefty tom is that saturated fat is not bad for you, that you should be eating again, the grass-fed and pasture products that this whole focus on low fat, no fat diet has been what's caused the diabetes and obesity epidemics to occur.
David Watts: Is there a way to make organic living affordable?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, one thing you can do is if you have a windowsill or a little patch of land, you can grow some of your own food like tomatoes, lettuce, some things that would be more expensive like organic tomatoes per pound are going to – and because they are heavy and I like to eat a lot of tomatoes, that costs more than say buying organic lettuce. The other thing you should consider is at least buying some, if not all of your meats or dairy because the toxins of the animal meat get concentrated, the higher up the food chain it goes. So it's actually more important, if you can, to at least eat some organic meats and dairy and the other thing is if you look around and you cut out the junk food that you eat and – and this is – it will have to be a gradual transition but if you start weaning yourself away from all the junk food that is sold in the regular grocery stores and start spending that money on fruits, vegetables, good meats, dairy or whatever you'll find that you can at least help out budget wise by money you save on the junk food you can put towards good food and there are all kinds of list. If you just Google search like the – the worst pesticide laden fruits and vegetables so you don’t have to eat everything like bananas, you peel those, so that’s not as important to have an organic banana as it would be say something like lettuce that you know is harder to clean.
Carol Reddan: One tangible aspect that this book helped me to implement is kind of an approach to minimalism in your lifestyle and she really goes over how her French family had very, very few clothing. Their closets were very tiny. They actually – they lived in a fairly tiny apartment and each person had about 10 items of clothing and they would just wear their clothing over and over again and at first she was – didn’t think that that was possible but then she did that when she came back to America and now she has a whole thing where she has given Ted talks about having 10 items in your wardrobe and I can’t say that I've gotten down to 10 items but it – I have reduced my closet by about like 30 to 35% and that makes you feel like you have so much more. My closet used to just be like packed like that with articles of clothing that I mostly ignored and you just have to look at it and take out what you don’t wear and now I just have things in there where there is space and it just feels like I have so much more and it is just really gratifying every time I look in my closet and I have a feeling of accomplishment. I got rid of all those things I wasn’t using, give them away to charity and it just – I get a nice gratifying feeling every time I look at my closet now. And I have cut down a lot on the amount of take out like eating on the go, so that feels really gratifying too like planning ahead a little bit like on Wednesday nights I work till 9 o'clock so I try to plan ahead, get something in the morning, a whole bagel or something that I can come home and just toast as opposed to stopping by a fast food place. So, I have instituted little changes like that and its – it's really gratifying and – and gives you a really good feeling when you feel successful that you are carrying them out.
David Watts: Sounds like less is more.
Carol Reddan: Less is always more, right? Right. Right.
Teresa Kolacek: I'd just like to say since I've also read that book I think she said that its like 10 pieces of clothing per season so it's not like you have to live summer and winter –
Carol Reddan: Yes, yes.
David Watts: Right.
Teresa Kolacek: With the same 10 pieces.
Carol Reddan: Ummhmm.
Teresa Kolacek: So that does and you change your clothes seasonally so you have, you know a [indiscernible] [0:16:15] wardrobe.
Carol Reddan: And she always places quality above quantity, 10 really well-made good pieces are worth so much more than 20 cheaper pieces of clothing that are going to last. Like don’t buy something just because it's on sale, buy it because you really, really like it and you want to have it for a very long time.
David Watts: Tell me how both of you have detailed how these books have brought about lifestyle changes for you but relate that from our customer's experience, how – how do you deal with that information question and how do you refer people to something that might help bring about a lifestyle change for them?
Teresa Kolacek: Well, when people come to the Davis branch especially and they – they do a lot of reader's advisory so they are looking for things to read and when somebody comes in and asks me a question about, you know, diet and lifestyle they are not quite sure what they want, they don’t have a specific book in mind, I always, this is the very first book I recommend, The Real Food. I also now recommend The Big Fat Surprise that’s why I've had to have this book reordered at our branch just because it gets checked out so much. So it is something that I and also even colleagues. There was a colleague I worked with at Kensington who was so thrilled when I recommended this book to her and she has made lifestyle changes based on this book.
Carol Reddan: I recommend this book to people who just are looking for something to read, it’s a quick read, it's very easy to read, its well written and broken down in neat little concise chapters but I also want to take – make a point although that not that everything Jennifer says I totally agree with, some I do take issue with some of her advice. Like she – she places a lot of emphasis on dressing up every day. She is real big on never wear extra size clothing, always dress your best. She wears a lot of dresses and I am not totally on board with that, I see nothing, maybe I am just too American but I see nothing wrong with wearing extra size clothing out and about.
David Watts: Or T-Shirt –
Carol Reddan: Or I yeah, yeah. I mean to me its about, yeah, you want to be presentable and clean but she – she – it seemed to me she seems to place more emphasis on appearance than comfort.
Alessandro Russo: Is there is a conversation with yourself that you kind of try to keep yourself motivated to you know, you've made these lifestyles already, but what's your – what's your kind of – your own advice to yourself to say this is worth it.
Teresa Kolacek: Its second nature, I don’t even have to think about it. I've been doing this for so many years now that its – it's very easy for me to pass up the junk food that people into work when if – if somebody brings in say a cake to celebrate something and I look at the ingredients on the package and it's you know, 5 inches long paragraph, I don’t need that, I don’t feel well. When you start eating this way and then you would eat something that has all of these chemicals and additives, it sometimes gives me an upset stomach so it's an easy way to – to just ignore and as far as what Carol has been talking about the Madame Chic, I've also tried to incorporate some of those things and I basically went through my wardrobe and although I have way more than 10 articles of clothing, I've minimized it so I have mostly neutrals and a few basic colors that work with anything so I don’t have to think in the morning. Whatever pair of pants I put on goes with whatever top I want to throw on and it – it's more dictated by the weather how I dress than anything else.
Carol Reddan: What's your usual dinner? What's dinner?
Teresa Kolacek: Actually my main meal of the day is more – is lunch because, again –
Carol Reddan: Okay.
Teresa Kolacek: That’s a more European so I cook enough on the weekends that I have a couple of days' worth like I just made lamb osso bucco with all kinds of vegetables and cannellini beans. I made a big pot of that so I have that for lunch, the next time it is my lunch – two days is my limit for the leftover so I am having the second leftover lunch today.
Carol Reddan: Do you eat out a lot?
Teresa Kolacek: No rarely.
Carol Reddan: You don’t eat out?
Teresa Kolacek: Rarely special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries because if we go out to eat it is going to be a place that serves really good high-quality food and that’s expensive and we couldn’t afford to eat out that way. So we never eat out fast casual or fast food but my husband has found that there is a – a chain that’s starting up, it's in Marshall, Virginia and it's called Gentle Harvest and they have grass-fed burgers for $5.00 so if we want to eat fast food we may have to drive over there. Farther afield for it.
Carol Reddan: Okay, like keeping in mind a lot of places like Chipotle, their meat is all organic and –
Teresa Kolacek: Yes but when you take the whole experience –
Carol Reddan: Right right.
Teresa Kolacek: Again its still not as healthy as making it yourself and –
Carol Reddan: Sure.
Teresa Kolacek: And my bottom line is if its something I can cook better at home, I am not going to go out and pay money for it to eat somebody's else food. If I go out to eat and I cook – and I eat something that I don’t make then that’s – that’s different or on special occasions.
Carol Reddan: So well I have to plead guilty to being work in progress and trying to implement this. We eat out a lot but, you know, I do try – but I – I feel that restaurants and places are responding to this and consumers are demanding better quality food and I think it is happening. I don’t – I don’t stop through fast food places a lot but we do eat at sort of high-casual places a lot and I think a lot of them are responding like you can get some really decent pizza or -- and I love ethnic food and I just cannot recreate it to that degree at home, so I – you know, I try to implement these changes with varying degrees of success and I find I always sort of have to re-read the book every couple of months to sort of get back in that zone. Watching her vlog every week helps but I do tend to – I don’t know what is about American lifestyle but it seems hurried and quick and I don’t know, you know, I think about it like she has a whole culture sort of supporting that sort of lifestyle, we don’t. Her culture and her workplace supports stopping in the middle of the day and just chilling out or I think their culture supports placing lifestyle above work and I think they have a better balance but I actually don’t live there so I have to work with what I have and --
Alessandro Russo: Your environment has such an impact on how you live --
Carol Reddan: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: And the outside influences, you know –
Carol Reddan: There are temptations.
Alessandro Russo: Their temptations.
Carol Reddan: There are temptations almost more than influences because as well I tried to keep the wardrobe down, emailed coupons and incentives all the time and yeah so –
Teresa Kolacek: That’s what is spam folder for.
Carol Reddan: Right right.
David Watts: Just in for stimulation –
Carol Reddan: Yeah.
David Watts: Of commercialism which is very part of our culture.
Teresa Kolacek: It's very hard to ignore that and for me maybe it's easier because I don’t have children.
Carol Reddan: Right.
Teresa Kolacek: So it's not like I am taking kids to a soccer practice and need to stop and get –
Carol Reddan: And I am just coming out of that part of lifestyle that is just, yeah, it's so scheduled and crazy and you really have to pay attention and make a concerted effort to not fall back in those habits.
David Watts: I think the truth is, a lot of listeners they – same situation there are families and one kid is doing soccer practice, the other kid has piano lessons. We have 10 minutes to grab food, what do we do you know.
Carol Reddan: What do you do?
Teresa Kolacek: And I think the – the difference between that and European culture is that in Europe the family is the most important unit, it is not dictated by the children's schedule. In the United States, you have so many opportunities for your children's enrichment that you want to take advantage of everything and so that has a tendency to dictate your schedule whereas in Europe you – you may not have other than your child may be playing a sport after school its – it’s a different focus and it's very hard in this country to implement some of these things.
Carol Reddan: I was almost doubting that some of the things she says in the book but I mean I do believe the French family she lived with, the mother woke up every morning at 5 and made a homemade breakfast and then lunch was usually taken out but every evening they made a three or four course homemade dinner. Now I was sort of doubting that but I – its true. They somehow manage to accomplish that and the mother worked, the father worked. I mean they maintained, you know, outside jobs but it's just a different approach that you have to be very mindful too, it's just as easy to stop buy and get some cheese and some fruit in between things as it is to stop by fast food, its making it the priority.
Teresa Kolacek: But the other thing difference is with Europe many people don’t have long commutes like you do in this Washington area. So, if you are 15 minutes away from home it's very easy to stop at the market on the way, buy whatever you need fresh to make dinner that night and as far as cook breakfast, I mean I couldn’t survive without a breakfast. So, I am not one of these yoghurt and granola people, I make eggs every morning and toast and I couldn’t function if I didn’t have that.
David Watts: Who would you recommend the book to and who wouldn’t you recommend this book to?
Teresa Kolacek: Well I recommended and I have to everybody who is interested in food, and the one person I would recommend it to because I think it is just such a basic way to live that I think people should reconnect with the way food used to be and if they do that as much as they can, they may be can't do everything but even if you only implement 20% of the things in the book, you will improve your health by that measure so it's worth it from that aspect.
Carol Reddan: I would agree. I am fully in favor of anybody reading anything. So I would recommend it to anybody and everybody, people can read. There is no book, no one person shouldn’t read. Everybody should read everything. So I would recommend it to absolutely anyone.
David Watts: So have these books now become your favorite book or do you always – or do you have a favorite book?
Teresa Kolacek: I read so much and there are so many things I love that I can't pick just one, and I, as much as I love nonfiction, I do read fiction as well and so a recent title that I read that I would like to recommend is Sirius, a novel about the little dog who almost changed history. It's by Jonathan Crown and it is about a Jewish family that has to escape Berlin during Hitler's rise to power, they end up in Hollywood, courtesy of the actor Peter Lorre and Sirius, a little dog becomes a big star. Eventually, he becomes separated from his family and winds up back in Berlin ironically adopted by Hitler while he is working for underground resistance movement. So this book obviously has an element of a fairytale and it is wonderfully written and the underpinnings of the story are true. So, Hitler did actually have a Wire Fox Terrier that was with him in the bunker near the end and – and some other things so it's – it’s a delightful little book, a quick read and if you are looking for a little escape, I highly recommend it.
Carol Reddan: I have many, many favorite books and genres. I am mystery fan and tend to like the classics, the British, Agatha Christie type and I also like real-life mysteries. I like true crime. I recently read Tinseltown by William Mann, which goes back and looks at the unsolved murder of the movie director William Desmond Taylor in the early 1920s, that remains unsolved but he went back and looked through all types of materials and he really thinks he – he solved it there. He was a famous silent film director, it was the huge Hollywood scandal of the day and he was found murdered in his apartment and other starlets were suspects and other directors and they could never solve it but this gentleman thinks he solved it by finding out some secrets the director had.
David Watts: Well thank you to both of you for sharing your insights and to the lifestyle change and also sharing with us about the book interests that you all have. Thank you for being our guests today.
Teresa Kolacek: Thank you.
Carol Reddan: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So remember to keep the conversation going by following us on our social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, Pinterest and providing feedback. You can download the episodes through iTunes, podcast republic and Stitcher, and remember to rate each episode.
David Watts: Thank you listeners. We will see you next time.
Recording Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Guests: Theresa Kolacek and Carol Reddan, both Library Associates who assist customers at MCPL branch information desks.
Note: Our guests spoke of their personal nutrition and health journeys. Listeners looking for professional nutrition or health advice should seek the guidance of a nutritionist or other health professional.
Books and other media mentioned during this episode –
Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck. This is the book Theresa Kolacek noted as having inspired her on her healthy eating journey.
Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris by Jennifer L. Scott. This is the book Carol Reddan said prompted her to try to slow down her hectic life and celebrate ordinary moments of the day.
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz
Sirius: a Novel About the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History by Jonathan Crown. Theresa Kolacek identified this novel as her latest read. This tragicomic novel follows the life of Sirius, a dog, who helps a Jewish family escape Nazi Germany, becomes a Hollywood star, and eventually contributes to the downfall of Hitler.
Tinseltown by William Mann. This was Carol Reddan’s current favorite. It is a true crime book about the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor, a famous silent film director.
Daily Connnoisseur – This author Jennifer Scott’s video blog, about the “fine art of living,” that Carol Reddan mentions several times during the episode.
Notable Quote -
"Dove' la cucina, ce' famiglia" – "Where there’s a kitchen, there’s family.” This is the Italian quote that host Alessandro Russo mentions.
Other items of interest mentioned during this episode –
Ancel Keys - He was an American physiologist known for his hypothesis that saturated fat causes heart disease and should be avoided. His hypothesis has been questioned by some in recent years.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Library's podcast.
Alexander Russo: “Library Matters” is Montgomery County Public Library’s new podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology and learning. I am Alexander Russo, a librarian at MCPL’s Kensington Park branch.
David Watts: And I am David Watts, the circulation supervisor at Silver Spring Library. We hope you’ll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.
Alexander Russo: The library goes beyond the walls of our branches. One of the ways in which we do that is with our award-winning Outreach team which was formed in 2012. Today, we have Julie and Febe from the Outreach team here to share their experiences with us.
David Watts: Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a part of this Outreach team.
Julie: Hi, my name is Julie and I can tell you that my journey actually began a long time ago at the branch at Sliver Spring Library, and I enjoyed working at the library. However, when I graduated from college, I left to go work at the senate. I truly loved working at the library that even when my kids would come visit, they would always say, "when are you going back to your real job?" which was the library. So, I eventually talked to – I still kept in contact with the people at the library and I saw that a position with Information Department was actually – they were recruiting a list and I came back to the library, and once again, years passed by, I figured, okay, now my kids are older, I would want fulltime. So I spoke with Carol who used to be a PSA here with the library; I miss you Carol, and I talked to her about getting fulltime and she said, you know, at that time, there really wasn’t any fulltime for my position. So she said she will go brainstorm, you know, with other folks, she did, and she came back saying, “well, you know what, with your personality and since you are always out and you love talking to people, how about the Outreach team? I didn’t even let her finish and I said, “yes”. So that has been my journey – I truly love going out there to meet people. I love the branch as well, but this is more of me. So that has been my journey and it still continues.
David Watts: Very good. Febe?
Febe: Hi, my name is Febe and I joined the library system in 2015. I was originally at a desk – behind the desk with HHS. So I was already in the county, but I saw this opportunity and it was, I guess, a chance to literally come out of the physical walls and go out to the community and it helped that I know the Long Branch area well because that’s where I was assigned to originally at the Long Branch library, and I am also bilingual, I speak Spanish, so that was a plus. In the community, I speak a little bit of their language, and so far I have really enjoyed Outreach the most. When I started, I had to split my time, you know, half – half of the time in the branch and half of the other time in Outreach, but as of August of last year, we have been doing Outreach fulltime and I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened to our team because we could really dedicate ourselves to just Outreach, have more time to focus and like be more strategic about the people we are reaching out to and what we want to do with them, so.
Alexander Russo: So, just for the listeners out there, can you describe to us what Outreach is and what’s their role in the library?
Julie: I would say Outreach – actually the Outreach Department to me, I would say, is actually the face and the voice of MCPL. We are the ones who go out there to events, we go to the schools, we go to organizations that ordinarily would not come out to us otherwise. So, I feel we are a very important part of the library and it was an excellent idea that they brought this, you know, they created this team in 2012 because we have come across a lot of people who would be in awe to find out about services that we provide and if we weren’t out there to meet them, they typically wouldn’t walk through our doors at the branch level.
Febe: Yeah, I agree with Julie. People see us and, you know, what we present is what they expect when they come to our branch. So, like she said, there is always – every time I go to either an information table, I do a presentation to a school, just everywhere I go, there is always one or two – three people that are surprised about something that we have, whether it’s digital services, downloading free music or the magazines or just the Homework Help; I mean there are so many things that people don’t know they can have access to right from their sofa, like you don’t have to go out. You can, you know, read a book from your home through our website, so.
David Watts: What are people most surprised to find out about MCPL, I mean when you are out interacting with the public, outside the walls of the library, what is it that they ask you the most about?
Julie: One thing that’s consistent that they are very surprised about is that pretty much all our services are free. So, when they enquire about getting a library card and we tell them information on how they can get one, they ask us how much it costs. So even while we are saying it’s free, they are still asking what’s the minimal fee. They are very surprised about that. They are also very surprised that we have – we have so many resources that are easily accessible to, you know, residents, to people who are not even living in the United States, but have, you know, a Montgomery County Public Library card. Imagine being in Spain and wanting to learn how to speak French, but because you have our library card, you have access to our Mango Languages and you could start learning that way. So you don’t even have to be, you know, physically in Montgomery County, however, you are using our resource. So, there is still, I would say mostly our database, the fact that we provide a lot of this free, they are surprised about that.
Febe: I tried to reach out a lot to new Americans, and so I do a lot of presentations to people who – their first language is not English. So I really promote our language learning tools, Mango Languages and – and most – our newest one, Rosetta Stone, so they are always surprised that we have that, and the most surprising thing is that, you know, Mango comes with an app and you can download it and so you can pretty much learn, practice, you know, if you are taking ESOL, you know, you can on-the-go while you are cooking or while you are driving, you know, you can practice and it’s free. You don’t have to pay for it, you know, people ask, “how much do I pay?’, and I said, “it’s free”. “How much do I pay for a library card”, you know, there are some people who, you know, that don’t – you know, they are not from United States, they come from various parts of the world, then oftentimes where they came from, if there was a library it was so remotely far away. And so they don’t have that library experience and then here, you know, they are hearing about all these library services, but they don’t really know how it works. So, you know, sometimes I have people asking, “oh, is the library card free?” and I am like, “yes, it’s free”, you know, it’s free to get one and it’s free to get all of the – you know, access all of our services. So, that’s – that’s always a surprise for people that we have free programs and free services.
David Watts: So you are teaching our mission statement just by being out in the community; they are learning about the fact that we are free and equal and there is equal access for various diverse populations that are here in Montgomery County. So, tell me a little bit about your experience day-to-day when you are going out into the community?
Julie: So, I can say it all varies, day by day, week by week and depending on the season, it varies. So, for example, in the summer, we do a lot of table events at festivals because that’s when most people have their Community Day. We do some concert series, which is also mostly in the summer. In the winter, we do more of back-to-school nights, reading – you know reading nights. We do school presentations; we do – we go to organizations that might have like a fair, where we would set up a table, I mean, who would not want to know about our Gale courses. That makes you better professionally as well as personally. So it varies for me and I am sure – with Febe as well, it varies depending on what we have got, what season it is, what activities are going on, and what’s out there for us and for them.
Febe: Kind of the same thing – since we both are part of the team, I just – I guess I could add that we are also bringing programs like Storytime.
David Watts: Um-hmm.
Febe: So, you know, during the winter we do a lot of presentations; we are not, you know, doing informational tables unless it’s like an event, you know, inside a building, obviously, but yes, we are doing a lot of presentations. Lately, we have been doing library-linked presentations because we are delivering, you know, the library cards to the public schools, and so we are also telling the kids what, you know, what the library link is and what they can do. So there is definitely a lot of presentations during the winter and summer, you know, we also promote summer reading – our summer reading program, and other branch summer programs that happen during that time as well.
David Watts: I have even seen you at the Silver Spring – downtown Silver Spring marketplace.
Julie: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Tell me about that experience.
Febe: I – it has been, I guess it depends where we are stationed, if I can say. It helps that we are visible; I haven’t been to – I went to the Sliver Spring Market at least once or twice, but I did a couple of farmer’s market in Takoma Park-Langley area, but what I can say is, you know, I bring books. I think with Liberta Tsai, another team member, we did the Silver Spring farmer’s market and we brought cooking books, you know, from all kinds, you know, Asian cooking, you know, recipes and what not to not only, you know, have people look at like our fliers and like our programs, but to also, you know, if they wanted to check out a book, you know, we would also bring pop-up – we will have a pop-up library.
Alexander Russo: So being part of this Outreach team, could you say you’ve learned something may – maybe personal or even professionally?
Julie: I would say actually joining the Outreach team is such a blessing, like for me to come to work and enjoy working, you know, like that – that’s priceless to me. So if I wasn’t in the Outreach team – I also love working at the branch, but being with the Outreach team, I get to go outside of the walls of the building to see what else is out there because what I see at the branch is pretty much consistent – the same thing. If I wasn’t with the Outreach team, I would not be at say, the German Festival – I am not going – I mean I may go to the German aisle to the find a German book, but I am not going to be able to talk to people to ask them how – what kind of food is this, you know. Do you know we have cooking books? If you go to the branch, or I can show you right now, you know, on our website that you can also easily access to get information about different cultures. So, I would say I – I am so appreciative of it and this is the best thing ever.
Febe: I am grateful as well because I do like what I do. Slowly, I learned that I enjoy doing Storytime like, I – I didn’t think that was something that – you know, when we started we – Storytime wasn’t even something in our minds, but towards the end of last year, you know, they started to, you know, point that out that we would eventually bring Storytime to other organizations. So I have really enjoyed that, and you know, I compare myself from like my presentation to now, and you know, you do presentations like every week and very slowly you start to lose – I mean you are always nervous and it’s natural, but very slowly, you start to become better and – and you want to make things better too, you want to perfect, you know, your presentations and the materials that you bring, you want to make sure that it’s like, you know, en pointe, you know, so, yes, we have – there is so much to learn in the Outreach team and it’s a fun team to be part of.
David Watts: So tell us how a public organization could reach out to you all for a visit?
Julie: So, other than seeing us on the street and tapping on us – to ask us how you can get us to your organization, you can actually go on our website and on the tabs across the website, there is one "Contact Us." When you click on “Contact Us” on the left, it says, “invite MCPL to your program or events”, you want to click on that and it will ask you, you know, basic questions, how many people do you think will attend? What kind of event is this going to be, pretty much so we know how to prepare if we are bringing in, what materials to bring or how to prepare for the presentation, so that’s one way. But if you can’t remember any of that, you can call any of your branches, go there or call them and ask them how can you get the award winning Outreach team?
David Watts: The NACo award-winning MCPL Outreach team.
Julie: How can you get them out there and we would come right in.
Alexander Russo: Is there one event that you were stationed at that comes to mind that kind of left an impact?
Julie: I have to think about – there are so many of them, they are too many, I mean how long is the program?
Febe: I would say, because I – I am – I am a music lover, I think there was a – when I – this is when I first started like a month after I had started, there was a Caribbean something at the Strathmore – Discover Caribbean or something like that and they had lots of performers from different parts of the world like African performers from Brazil, even a youth band that was there, you know, and we had an informational table. So, it was – it was all there for us to see and they also had like a live Jamaican cooking class, and there was a lady there and she had her cooking station, and you know, telling people what to do and things. So that was a pretty neat – I was working but I was enjoying – I was enjoying the music and performers.
David Watts: Well, we ask all of our guests what their favorite book is, if you have one, or what you are reading currently, what’s on your nightstand?
Julie: One of my favorite books is actually a children’s book and it’s because I have read it over and over when my kids were little, and I still read it to my nieces and my nephew and it’s by Margaret Wise Brown and it’s entitled “Goodnight Moon."
Febe: I have several too. My new favorite would probably be the “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton. She, you know, talks about, you know, her experience in the music industry and her battle through bankruptcy and, you know, illness, and kind of how she, you know, fought her way through and she also reveals some painful secrets there, you know, in the book. So that was a nice book. I also have two favorite children's books and I didn’t have any because I don’t have kids yet, but because I am doing Storytime, you know, I learned that you have to read something that you love, that you enjoy, and the books that I have – I always take are the “Brief Thief” and “The Farting Dog.” Kids go crazy – they go crazy over it. So, those are my favorite for now.
Alexander Russo: We would want to thank our guests for this episode and keep the conversation going by following us on our social media. You follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Subscribe to our podcast via itunes. And don't forget to rate the podcast and to provide us with feedback.
David Watts: Thank you listeners, we will see you next time.
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Library’s podcast.
David Watts: Hi, I’m David Watts.
Alessandro Russo: And I’m Alessandro Russo. On each episode of Library Matters, we explore the world of books, libraries, technology and learning.
David Watts: MCPL is dedicated to expanding our services outside our walls. One of the ways in which we do that is through our What Do I Check Out Next service. Customers looking for reading suggestions use our online form to tell us about the types of books they’re looking for. Our MCPL librarians then use their expertise and experience to come up with a list of three to five books that match the customer’s reading interest.
Alessandro Russo: Today, we have Susan Moritz from Virtual Service Team and Librarian Lisa Navidi to talk with us about the What Do I Check Out service. So tell us about yourselves, how long have you been with MCPL and just your role in MCPL.
Susan Moritz: My name is Susan Moritz and I work as a program manager in Virtual Services. I have been with MCPL for a little over 10 years now. I started out as a children’s librarian actually at Wheaton Library and then was also a children’s librarian in Rockville Memorial. And I went to – I also worked as a reference librarian for Ask a Librarian. And then currently, I am here as a program manager in Virtual Services and it’s really exciting. We do a lot of stuff with social media, the website, and new technologies. And I’ve actually worked with Lisa before at Rockville Memorial.
Lisa Navidi: Yes. We’re old friends.
Susan Moritz: So it’s great to get together again.
Lisa Navidi: I began my life in MCPL in January of 1986 at the Bookmobile Service where I got my best training for Readers’ Advisory service. Agnes Griffen who was the former director of MCPL has always said that working on the Bookmobile is the most personalized Readers’ Advisory service you can get. I’m now head of Adult Services at Davis Library where it’s all about the book. But I’m currently deployed at Bethesda Library during our refresh. I was part of the founding members of the Readers’ Cafe, a Readers’ Advisory link from our website. Readers’ Advisory is basically someone comes up to you and says, “I read this book or I read – I like chick lit. Can you suggest other books?” And that’s what I do.
Susan Moritz: Yes. I think that was a good phrase. It was like connecting the right reader to the right book at the right time.
Lisa Navidi: Reader to the right book at the right time.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Alessandro Russo: What is What Do I Check Out Next? How Does it work?
Susan Moritz: So check – so What Do I Check Out Next, it’s an online Readers’ Advisory service there. So what customers do is they go online to the Readers’ Cafe and then they fill out our What Do I Check Out Next form. And it basically ask them, you know, their name, their email address, what types of books do you like to read or what are you in the mood to read. Maybe it’s a – you know, maybe you love mysteries, but you’re looking for a light beat read, you know. So what are you in the mood to read, what authors you don’t like. We have a selection for you. You can pick out the genres you like. You can tell us like all about what – the type of book you’re looking for. And then –.
Lisa Navidi: And the format as well.
Susan Moritz: And the format.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Exactly, what format. You know, sometimes people only want to read audio books because they’re on public transportation and that’s the main way they read, or they want e-books. You know, whatever format also that they’re looking for. And also what audience are looking for. Maybe they are a mother who is looking for books for their children. So what kind of formats they’re looking for as well. Maybe they’re an adult like me who also loves teen books. That could also be as well there. So what kind of audience are you looking for for your books?
And you fill all that out and it comes to our reading experts, our librarians who are passionate and so well-read. Again, I can’t say enough about them. They are awesome. And they get the question and they send an email back to the customer in about three to five business days, so Monday through Friday, not including holidays. And they send it back to them with three to five book recommendations that match exactly what they – the book they are looking for.
David Watts: How did this all start, this concept of What Do I Check out Next?
Susan Moritz: Sure. It actually – it started with a question I guess I should say. I always want to say an idea, but it actually starts with a question. And we’re sort of – we are wondering, how can we connect with our readers who are not inside the branches? Because a lot of our librarians they’re at the desk, the customer comes in, they see them, you know, “I’m looking for, you know, this mystery. You know, what do you recommend?” Or, “I’m looking for, you know, a book to, you know, take on the road. You know, what do you recommend?”
But we wanted to connect with those readers who might not be physically coming inside our library. They might be having their library card, using our online databases, using our resources outside of our walls. And how can we connect our expert readers who are so passionate – and so they’ve got so many great ideas – with people who are looking to read and inspire them to be passionate and find the books that they want to read? So it sort of started as a question, how are we going to connect, and that sort of evolved out of that.
Alessandro Russo: How many questions do you get?
Susan Moritz: We get, I would say, about 20 to 40 a month. It definitely spikes at different time. So during the summer when I think a lot of people are on vacation, it’s very – it’s sort of on the higher end of that 20 to 40 questions a month. But then it was funny because this past November, we actually had a huge spike in our numbers. And what I’m wondering is if people were like, “Hey, what do I want as gifts or what do I want to give as gifts,” you know, because, you know, it’s not – you can’t – it doesn’t have to just be about yourself. You could be looking for book for somebody.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. Or going away on vacation –
Susan Moritz: Yeah, that’s –.
Lisa Navidi: – during the holidays and you want to take something.
Susan Moritz: Definitely.
Lisa Navidi: Something that will be absorbing.
Susan Moritz: So I agree, Lisa, yeah. I think that’s when we sort of see our highest numbers. Or when people are going to be traveling, they’ve got a little bit more downtime. So I think that’s when we see our numbers spike.
David Watts: So would you say that these suggestions, are you doing more research for these suggestions or this kind of – do you have just the bank of books in your head already lined up to say, “Hey, these are some great titles?”
Susan Moritz: I totally wish. Lisa?
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. Actually, I do have a bank of books in my head for a lot of genres, different genres. But there are genres that I’m not familiar with. I know that’s the next question. But I tend to advice about different book – about the same kind of books that I like and I figure it’s one person, one book, and they won’t be talking to the next person.
Susan Moritz: But it’s hard when you’re passionate about a book.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: It’s like you want to share it with everybody.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: It’s like, “Oh, this is a great book. You’ve got to read this book,” you know?
Lisa Navidi: Yes, exactly.
Susan Moritz: So that does – I wish I did have a cadre – I do keep a reading list of my own books from starting out in the public libraries, you know, working actually in the branches. And I actually have my own like a Google Doc of, you know, for children’s books, teens’ book and adult books and then broken down to the subjects we normally get asked a lot about, you know, about, you know, mystery or science fiction, different multi-cultural.
Lisa Navidi: You’re a lot more organized.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. I try. Luckily, I just have the authors and the titles. If I was that organized, I’ve actually have the summaries too, a little line summary as well there. So I think that’s sort of like my first go-to when I’m trying to think of things. But if I don’t have a list of books, one of the other things that we were talking about was a NoveList Plus. That’s another resource we have in the library that’s on Readers’ Cafe. And you can say, you know, what types of books you’re interested in and it will give you some suggestions.
And then from that data, so you can link in to the catalogue. And even cooler, when you’re searching the catalogue, when you search for say Harry Potter, which is of course a series that I love, you can scroll down in the catalogue, open up the tab and it actually has other suggestions right there. They’re actually – it’s actually embedded right in the catalogue too as well. So when you’re using our catalogue, you can get some other ideas of books that are similar to the ones that you’re excited about.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, very helpful.
David Watts: Had it influenced to read genres you’ve generically had never been attracted to?
Susan Moritz: Working in the libraries has so opened my mind up to genres, you know. I sort of found myself reading more like very classic or historical fiction and I really have been like, you’re right, I want to help this customer. It just really expanded my mind. And I’ve read the Intro to – I’m also a George R. R. Martin from Games of Thrones. And one of the things I read was his – he was introducing one of this – a collection of short stories. And he said about the – I don’t know if you’ll remember, but the spinner rack. And he was in a small town that didn’t have a lot of bookstores or libraries and he would go into the drugstore and they would have like the spinner rack, you know, with the books there.
And he would just get so many – read so many books. Whatever happen to happen to be in that drugstore in that day and he said he read so many different genres and it helped him to become a writer. And even though, you know, he’s writing Game of Thrones and fantasy, he bought – he brought so much of historical like political royal intrigue into his fantasy novels. And I think that just reading – I just think it’s such a great thing. It just expands, you know, my reading and my connection and just it opened yourself up to other genres which I think is just wonderful. It makes you a better person, you know, more well-rounded I guess is what I was saying.
Lisa Navidi: For me, I’ve run several book discussion groups and we try – especially in the Davis one, we try to hit different genres and short stories and nonfiction and literary fiction. And I try always to, you know, open them up. And that’s what makes me – has made me read different genres and different kinds of books.
David Watts: I’m sure that knowledge has helped you with the What Do I Check Out Next.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And vice versa. It goes back and forth. Then I can say, “Oh, this is a book I recommended. You know, would you guys like to read it?”
Susan Moritz: Yeah, I know. That’s a great idea with – about the book clubs because I also belong to my personal book club. And as my sister said who’s also in it, “You know, I read books that I never would have picked up myself. I never would have, you know.”
Susan Moritz: Yeah. And it’s – and someone said just like, wow, that was – like the last one we read, I was like, “Wow, I never heard of this book. What a great book. I really enjoyed it.” It was The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. I mean, I never would have picked this up and it reminded of like another book I love, Where’d You Go Bernadette. And we have, you know, like Lisa says, you know, book discussion groups at the library. It was a great way to connect. And like you said like read books that you wouldn’t necessarily read.
Lisa Navidi: That’s what I tell them. Yeah.
Susan Moritz: And you’re – and you find these gems that you never knew existed if you’re just in this one genre.
Lisa Navidi: And they listen. They go, “Why are we picking that book?” Well, if you all love it, then there would be nothing to discuss.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. That’s true. That’s true.
Alessandro Russo: What’s the most interesting book you ever read?
Lisa Navidi: It’s about President Garfield and the murder. It’s called – oh, I get this. It’s going to –.
Susan Moritz: Well, if you tell us enough about it, maybe it will come back to me.
Lisa Navidi: Destiny of the Republic. And it’s murder and mayhem and medical stuff and it’s all about the social climate around the assassination of President Garfield. And that’s a book I recommend a lot. It’s just fascinating and I just sort of picked it up and started reading it and –.
Alessandro Russo: What’s the most interesting question that you’ve gotten from a query?
Lisa Navidi: Strange that you should answer that question and that you should ask that question. I have one here that I picked. I’m looking for suggestions for my teenage son. We have a tradition of reading out loud before bed, but he has outgrown the new Newbery type books and some of the deeper classics are hard to get into for only 10 to 15 minutes a night. And then he talks about the books that he has read, the classics. But lately he’s asked for mysteries, crime novels, spy novel. And the last – I’m afraid I’m in a lost for authors. So I thought that was very – and so I told – I answered it, “Thanks so much for bringing this interesting question to our librarian’s group. This has actually sparked a conversation among our Readers’ Advisory librarians.” And it did. There were four of us and we were discussing what books and that’s the kind of things that we recommended.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: Or not from me, but from all of us.
Susan Moritz: And what I thought what’s so wonderful about that is only reading aloud at any age, you know, like, you know, because here it was a teenage son you just think of like, “Oh, the story times and they’re young,”, but like keeping that passion alive, you know, when they get older, you know, and you know, if they’re reluctant readers. So keeping that exciting.
And then also the – like I think we were talking about what if you’re not very familiar with the genre. And my colleagues, you get to know your colleagues and you’re like, “Oh, wait, so and so loves historical fiction,” or, “I know they love graphic novels.” And you know there was people you can tap to. And like Lisa was saying with this answer, they all – you know, her colleagues, you know, on the What Do I Check Out Next because I call them a team because they are a team.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: And they came together to be like, “Hey, this is the best, you know, that our brains came up with, you know, to help, you know, carry on this great tradition with your child as the child’s getting older.”
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
David Watts: Do you receive, as far as questions go, and then you respond, do you receive a lot of positive feedback from your suggestions?
Lisa Navidi: No.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: They could have sent it up into the ether and occasionally we’ll get. But I have not – I’ve received one, one or two I think.
Susan Moritz: I was going to say the stuff that I have seen has been enthusiastically positive. And I think some – but sometimes I think that comes right at the question itself sometimes. Sometimes it’s in response back about it. But sometimes it’s – right in the front end when they’re submitting the form, they say, you know, “I love this. I can’t wait to read.” And I think what I was – what’s great about it is Lisa and I were talking about earlier was the diversity and like the customers and the questions and how like excited they are to have this. There was one comment about the, “I was looking for a book matching service and I Googled and I found this service.” And I was like – I was just blown away. I was like, “Wait, you Googled and you found our What Do I Check Out Next?”
Lisa Navidi: Wow, that is –.
Susan Moritz: You know, I’m just – you know, now we’ve made it right.
Lisa Navidi: It’s great.
Susan Moritz: But it’s just so exciting about just the, like I said, the diversity and the – but they’re all bringing that passion for reading. They’re excited to read. They want to read some of the things we’ve gotten, mothers who, “I’m so busy, but I’m looking for some good books to read,” or, “I’m looking for – you know, I’m a busy parent, I’m looking for books for my kids”. We had one that was a teacher who not only loved to read books themselves, but were looking for thought-provoking books for his classroom. So lots of different diversity and somebody who is retired who, “Now, I’ve got this time to read.” Somebody who definitely only wanted fiction titles because they read too much nonfiction at work.
Lisa Navidi: Right.
Susan Moritz: So I just love the diversity of the customers and the questions a they’re all super enthusiastic. You know, I think when I hear back from them.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. I think this is a really different kind of service we’re providing because if you go online and go to different sites, you’ll get a computer matching kind of thing. And this is actually people.
Alessandro Russo: A person.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: A person.
Susan Moritz: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. And I think that’s what – I think Lisa hit on something that that was very important to us when we were launching this service because we – when we were thinking about it, we looked at two different library systems who – the one will definitely nameless. We looked at them and I tested out as a customer. I went on, I filled out their form, I sent it back. And one, it was just sort of a wrote – look the like the response, it just looked somebody copied and pasted, you know, a review and sent it to me.
The other one which I believe was Seattle Public Library was just awesome. They sent me back. I told them I love everything which is true, from Jane Austen to like George R. R. Martin, you know, wide range of stuff because I read a wide range of stuff. But it was just so personal, so upbeat, so positive. It was just like I had my own personal librarian who was as excited about reading as I was and was trying to match with exactly what I had said I was looking for to read with some other books that I had not read before that I was excited about. And that was definitely the model I was going for, was definitely that personalized, friendly, upbeat, you know, connecting, you know, sort of readers to their own sort of personal librarian.
Alessandro Russo: It sounds like even though let’s say you’re providing this answer to the suggestion, even though you may not get a response saying thank you, it’s just they came to you as a service and they receive that service and you’re just putting that positivity out in universe. You know, like, “Here’s our suggestions. Take them, run with them, do what you need to with that.”
Susan Moritz: Definitely. And one of the things I was thinking of was that a lot of times, it takes that time to read. So, you know, we’re giving – we’re sending three to five book recommendations.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: So it takes some time to read from them to be like – but we definitely have had repeat customers who was like, “Hey, you said I could come back when I’ve got – when I need some more reading suggestions. I read the book.”
Lisa Navidi: I feel like –.
Susan Moritz: So we had somebody who came back with that. And when I was looking through comments, one of the other one was somebody who said, “I’m just so tired of like reading this review because a lot of stuff sometimes is fluff.” You know, you always hear about sometimes about those people are who are paid on Amazon to write reviews, you know.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, yeah.
Susan Moritz: And being disappointed. You know, these – you know, “Oh, everyone love this book so I, you know, picked it up but, you know.” And then being disappointed. But they actually have a personal recommendation based on what you said that you like and not just sort of – it’s not as much hit and miss out there in the online universe with trying to find book – good books to read.
David Watts: I think it’s a great service. Personally, I read a lot of books and I also take a lot of time previewing what’s next. I tend to read a specific author and read everything they have to offer because I kind of know what I’m going to get. So what you’re service offers is the opportunity to have a resource where I can find out about a book without actually having ever read that anything that that author has done. And I think that’s a great service to the community, and a great service that our department offers.
Susan Moritz: Thank you. And yeah, like you, I definitely – when I find a good author, it’s like you want to read everything by them.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, yes.
Susan Moritz: And I just recently discovered Jon Krakauer Into the – Into Thin Air, Into the Wild.
Lisa Navidi: Oh, right, yes. Yes.
Susan Moritz: And I think that’s also been something that’s been great for me. It’s like nonfiction. I used to seem like when I was growing, nonfiction was so boring. And now, not that nonfictions I read like novels and I’m just like, “What’s going to happen next?”
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: And exactly like that, like you find that great author.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: And it’s a great thing too. It might be for the customer an author they have never heard of that now they are excited about. And, hey, maybe they like us. We’ll read through everything that they can find by that author.
Alessandro Russo: So traditionally, we ask the question, what’s your favorite book you have owned?
David Watts: And what’s on your night stand?
Lisa Navidi: Oh, okay.
Susan Moritz: That’s pretty big. How long do we have here?
Lisa Navidi: Well, right now, what’s on my nightstand is Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place. She’s an Irish author and I just like the way she writes about women a lot. But in this book, she writes about a couple and she takes – she narrates it from the woman’s point of view and then she narrates it from the man’s point of view. And it keeps me going back. That’s how I know if I like it, because if I don’t like it, then I’ll find excuses to read something else.
David Watts: I think the best reads are where you can imagine the voice of the author –
Susan Moritz: Oh, definitely, definitely.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, yes.
David Watts: – and when they are speaking on your wavelength.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. Yeah.
David Watts: And you tune in and you say, “I really like how they’re speaking to me. Yeah.
Lisa Navidi: But what my favorite books is, it depends.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. I was – I feel like it’s the favorite book that I’m reading right now that I’m so like loving.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, exactly.
Susan Moritz: That’s the – yeah.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: There’s too many to choose from.
Lisa Navidi: This year, I discovered, or last year, Fredrik Backman who wrote A Man Called Ove, and all the other books, Brit-Marie Came Home or Brit-Marie something. And I – oh, I read all his books so far.
Susan Moritz: Oh, that’s great.
Lisa Navidi: And he’s coming out with a new one. And it’s just a fresh new – yeah.
Susan Moritz: Well, that got me excited. I think I picked up one that was Tell Me I’m Sorry or Tell Me Your Sorry.
Lisa Navidi: Yes, yes. So it’s –.
Susan Moritz: I can’t remember what it was, but it’s something by him.
Lisa Navidi: That’s his, yeah, second one.
Susan Moritz: So I’m excited to read that.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, that is fast.
Susan Moritz: Oh, good, good.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah.
Susan Moritz: Awesome.
Lisa Navidi: Really goes into a lot of different genres, plus fairytale stuff.
Susan Moritz: That sounds great, merging all the great genres into one.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah, yes.
Susan Moritz: Fabulous. Let’s see. I’m trying to – for myself. So right now, I’m going to admit it, I’m feeling the force so I’m reading Rogue One, the novelization, so hashtag Star Wars. So –.
Lisa Navidi: I just thought of that.
Susan Moritz: Yes, very good, very good. So I’m reading that. I’m listening – enjoying that. And I don’t know. There’s just something about – I love seeing the movie, but then I want to know what they were thinking.
David Watts: Yes, yes.
Susan Moritz: So that’s my –.
David Watts: The backstory.
Susan Moritz: The backstory, exactly.
David Watts: Yeah, yes.
Susan Moritz: So that’s my reason for reading Rogue One. But – yes, I’m reading that, enjoying that. And then I also listening to The Case of the Missing Servant by I think it’s Tarquin Hall, which has been really good. It’s a mystery set in Delhi. It just sort of reminds me sort of like a bit of a cozy mystery. I just finished, you know, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.
David Watts: Wow.
Susan Moritz: Very, very good, awesome. It’s – it goes through his life. As soon as he climbed out the window and disappears, he’s 100 years old. And then it also goes through his backstory when he was born. And it peruses the chapters, you know, what happened when he was – and he basically almost hits every single political person. President Truman, he winds up in Los Alamos. Stalin, Russia, he winds up in a gulag. I mean, he just run – you know, like Forrest Gump runs into all these different things.
And next up also, it was very good. I highly recommend it. That was a pick from my book club. And the other ones that are on my nightstand that come up, As You Wish, you know, literature. It what brings us together today. So it was great. I can’t wait to read that one, As You Wish, the making of the Princess Bride.
Lisa Navidi: I’ve read that.
Susan Moritz: If I wouldn’t got the little joke. And, so yeah, I can’t wait to read that. I’ve heard good things. I also was so excited to read, I think it’s called The Summer Before the War. It’s on my nightstand.
Lisa Navidi: I read that. Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yes. I loved –.
Lisa Navidi: That’s a good one to recommend to people who are – who love Downton Abbey.
Susan Moritz: That’s I’m about to say because I’m missing Downton Abbey, so.
Lisa Navidi: Yeah. Yes.
Susan Moritz: And I loved her other book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Awesome, awesome book.
Lisa Navidi: Yes.
Susan Moritz: Yeah. So that was a great book. So I can’t wait to read her, speaking of, you know, you want to carry on with the author. You know, it’s like I like this book. And yeah, yeah, I just see the piles and piles of books that are surrounding me that are waiting to be read. So – but that was a few of the highlights that are coming up next.
David Watts: You’re in good company. You work at the right place.
Susan Moritz: Yes, definitely, definitely. Yes. And also in the right place to pick up all my family members’ hold. So, yes, you know, sharing the reading love. Definitely.
David Watts: I got a text while we’re doing this interview to bring a book home.
Susan Moritz: Oh, there you go.
David Watts: We can all relate.
Alessandro Russo: I want to thank our guests today, Susan and Lisa. And we want to thank our listeners. And make sure join us next time and to follow us on montgomerycountymd.gov/libraries and to make sure you check out or social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Thank you.
Recording Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Guests: Susan Moritz, Program Manager for Virtual Services and Lisa Navidi, Librarian at Davis Library
Items of interest mentioned during this episode -
NovelistPlus - Online tool for discovering new books. Includes adult and children's books.
Readers Cafe - MCPL website for discovering you next favorite book.
What Do I Check Out Next? - Personalized book suggestions based your preferences.
Notable Quote: Reader's advisory is "connecting the right reader to the right book at the right time.
Books, movies and television shows mentioned during this episode -
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall. Librarian Susan Mortiz referred to this book as a "cozy mystery." Cozy mysteries tend to downplay sex and violence, and the stories often take place in a small, interconnected community.
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
Downton Abbey (DVD)
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Rogue One (in theaters)
Rogue One (the novelization) by Alexander Freed
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries new podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. I’m Alessandro Russo, a librarian at MCPL’s Kensington Park Branch.
David Watts: And I’m David Watts, the Circulation Supervisor at Silver Spring Library. We hope you’ll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve.
Alessandro Russo: For our first episode, we have MCPL Director Parker Hamilton with us to discuss the role of libraries and MCPL in particular in a time of change. What is your role as MCPL director?
Parker Hamilton: I’m the director of public libraries for Montgomery County, Maryland. And in that role, I get to serve the residents of Montgomery County, Maryland. We’re a County of about 1 million people, we’re very diverse. I came to the county in 1980 from Evanston, Illinois and settled in the county because of the diversity that it promised us in 1980. If I’m to be true, that diversity did not exist but it does today. And so in my role, I am charged, I am honored to provide library services to the residents of Montgomery County.
Alessandro Russo: It sounds like a big job.
Parker Hamilton: It’s a big job. But you know what’s so cool about it? I have so many people help me do it. Not only do I have an outstanding staff of people but I have community support, the funders support us, and we have national organizations that help tell the story of public libraries. So, it’s a big job but it’s not one that I do by myself.
David Watts: Parker, the role of libraries in our country is in flux. Where do you see or how do you see leverage changing in Montgomery County in the next five to 10 years and even in the far distant future?
Parker Hamilton: You know what? I believe, and I think we see it in Montgomery County, our residents determine what a library would look like and what public libraries can do. As you look back how Montgomery County has changed over the years, we were a white affluent community. And the services and programs that we offered during that time served the needs of that community.
David Watts: Absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: Now, today, we are minority, majority community. We have young people, we have people who speak different languages, we have people who are looking for jobs who cannot afford to go to a college, we are the university of those people, and so that informs us and helps us as librarians and administrators decide what to offer because we can sit in our offices or in our branches and even go out and say, “Oh, I am going to do this. If it does not have an impact, if it does not draw in the community why are we doing it? So I think it’s the community. It’s the residents that will help us determine how we’re going to look in the next five years.
David Watts: Well, I think you’ve done an excellent job in being forward-thinking. I work at Silver Spring as you know and we are not a drive-up branch. So, when you talk about how libraries have changed in this county, most of our branches are drive-up branches, family can just drive up, but Silver Spring was designed specifically for walk-up clientele. That took a lot of guts because I’m sure there was a lot of pushback when that was on the drawing board. But I think you would admit it’s been successful.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, Silver Spring is it’s really, really successful. We just had this huge event there last Saturday. My staff is this really funny. We have lots of really great ideas in this library department and the folks come to me and say, “Parker, I have this idea and I think we should do this comic convention.” They expected me to say no and I said, “Come on.” So I think I’m a good listener and I listen to understand. And I think if someone is bold enough to come up with an idea and want to share it with me, then I want to say yes. It may not look exactly the way they think it should look by the time we get through tweaking it, but I do want to say yes because I do believe that that experience helps us as an organization. And if only administrators are doing it, then we’re not going to grow as an organization. I really believe that we can lead from any position. So a frontline staff person can help lead this organization.
Alessandro Russo: And you did mention the few – the changes that you’ve seen being within MCPL. And I think a good point you just brought up is kind of this concept of it’s not a administration making decision its trickle-down system, it’s kind of tell us what you want within the staff ladder and then we’ll all work together to try to make it happen.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly, because we’re a system and we’re a team. And you guys hear from people that I never get to talk to, but I also hear from people that you never get to talk to, and I also have bosses, and so, with all of that information, then jointly, together, we serve the residents of this county. We did our strategic plan recently.
David Watts: That’s just what I was about to ask you about.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
David Watts: If you could help us to understand the new strategic plan, where it came from, what was the impetus for it, and how did we arrive at the decisions that we should take?
Parker Hamilton: Well, you touched earlier, David, about the library of the future. So our county executive held a summit, it was The Library Summit of the Future, and then he got a second one. And, you know, may I take the opportunity?
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: So if you’re going to have a summit with Mr. Leggett, our strategic plan is coming to the close. Let’s use that opportunity to talk to our residents and gather information to help us create a new strategic plan. And so, we took that opportunity to talk to over a thousand residents. It happened in the branches. Our outreach team went out and talked to folks in the community. Mr. Leggett did a online chat and we asked questions and we listened and we allowed people to build off of each other. And so by visibly sharing what folks are hearing and say, “This is what Mrs. Brown thinks. This is what Mr. Bran – Mr. Jones said, what do you think?” you know. And I really believe that it’s important that people see themselves in our libraries. And so, if you walk into our library, David, as an African-American male, I want you to find information, programs, and services that you can use that will make an impact in your life. And I want that for every residents whether, they’re 16 years old, whether they’re 80 years old, whether it’s a mother or a father, or a caregiver pushing them in their stroller, you should be able to walk away with something to take home or either use in our library in order to enrich your life.
So the strategic plan came about as a result of Mr. Leggett’s second summit. And Mr. Leggett is a great supporter of library services he has a great vision for what he wants to have happen in this county. And he knows where to go and say, “I want this done.” So one of the things that he said to me at that summit was, “Parker, I want libraries to do more in the area of workforce development. So you’ll see in our strategic plan, an emphasis on workforce development. You also see in our strategic plan an emphasis on delighting the customers that became very critical because, as I said, earlier this county is a minority-majority county, and try as we might in all of our branches we don’t have staff that reflects the community. And so it became important that we train our staff in order to understand the demographics of this county and what that really means. We like to think that we live in a colorblind society, but I believe that color matters because we are who we are because of our background. I am who I am because I’m an African-American female, 68 years old from the South. The life that I’ve lived has brought –
David Watts: Reflects that.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly. And that is for everyone. And so, if you don’t understand what it means to talk to a child who may have lived in El Salvador or Africa, how are you going to provide library services that’s going to delight them.
David Watts: Absolutely, absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: And so that delighting, our customers became – let’s delight our customers but let’s take care of our staff, let’s train our staff, let’s develop our staff in order for success to take place on both sides of that desk.
David Watts: So in that, customer-based decision making is one component. That’s allowing a customer to feel that they’re involved in how the service is delivered to them and helping them to also understand where we have to draw a line sometimes.
Parker Hamilton: Right, right.
David Watts: And that’s about being conversational with our customer.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
David Watts: Even though they come from these various diverse backgrounds, it’s saying to them, “I want your input. I want you to be involved. I want us to be partners. It all helps fulfill our mission statement, which as you know is to help everyone to learn and grow.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly, exactly.
David Watts: So some of the programming that we’re doing is getting broad and going in that direction. What, in terms of programming, are we doing to grow and develop?
Parker Hamilton: I think – I just want to go back one more step and talk about the strategic plan as a commitment. I think it’s my commitment to the staff that this is the work that we’re going to do, but I’m going to ensure that you have the resources to do the work.
David Watts: Absolutely. And Mr. Leggett – not to cut you off – has been instrumental in us getting the level of funding that we need to be successful.
Parker Hamilton: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.
David Watts: Yeah.
Parker Hamilton: And then it’s our commitment to our residents that we’re going to provide the best services possible within our resources. I believe that we’re public servants and I believe that the taxpayers are our bosses. And I think when you have that that philosophy of service, it helps with that conversation that you want to have. It helps with the respect that we want to have. And so, we’ve been working really hard, trying to develop different types of programs. We’re working with the public schools. We’re working with the workforce development organizations, we’re working with the colleges, and we’re trying to see how not to present programs that conflict with each other with programs that complement in each other, and forms on a continuum.
David Watts: Absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: So if a certain subject is being taught in the school – for example, STEM – then libraries, I think, should help with that, and that is why you say that we’re doing a lot of programs in STEM, we’re doing coding, we’re doing a lot of programs for our young adults. And people are living longer. Mr. Leggett has an emphasis on seniors, so we’re doing lots of program on seniors. And because seniors are living longer, they’re having two, three career opportunities. And because the world is changing, they have to develop new skills as they go to search for jobs when they’re 60 years old versus 20 years old. And so that’s why we’re doing technology programs for teens and seniors. And I just think that the conversation you talked about gets us there.
David Watts: Absolutely.
Parker Hamilton: And so, we will do different type programs next year because we’re going to hear from our customers this worked, what about this. And then we’re going to hear from our staff and see. You know, I went to a program at Barnes & Noble or I went to a program in another library system and this is what they’re doing and this is the impact, let’s give it a try here. And here’s why I think it would make a difference in the lives of the people who live in Montgomery County.
David Watts: One thing that I did want to touch on, Parker, because I – when you were talking about new programs, I know you’re excited about this new initiative library link and it must have been tremendously rewarding to be a part of that and to see that in the branches.
Parker Hamilton: I’m just going to tell all my staff. Usually, when we sign a memorandum of understanding with another agency, that is signed by someone directly in Mr. Leggett’s office, either the chief administrative officer or either the assistant chief administrative officer or even Mr. Leggett. So we finally got the agreement ready for signature. I went to my day-to-day boss Tim Firestine, the chief administrative officer. And I said, “I want my name to be on this document because I’ve been in this system almost 36 years and we have been trying to formulate a formal arrangement with library administration and the administration of Montgomery County Public Schools and we neither have one. And so to achieve that, I really wanted my name on it and, yes, I did jump up on them.
Alessandro Russo: I mean, that’s a very large bridge to construct and have in place, but one thing I think that the most positive impact it’s going to have it’s going to open other doors between the public libraries and even the school media specialists, you know.
Parker Hamilton: Absolutely. That’s just the first step and, you know, because a library card is a library card. It’s really important to have a library card to use our databases, to check up materials. But even more important, I think, is that relationship that’s going to occur between librarians like you and staff. And because at the end of the day, their students are our students, and we want to ensure success, you know. One of our missions is to prepare children ready to learn.
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: So how do you prepare children ready to learn? You need to know what’s going to happen when they go to kindergarten. You need to know what’s going to happen in first grade.
Alessandro Russo: That’s sharing of curriculum.
Parker Hamilton: Exactly.
Alessandro Russo: What they have on their shelf we can kind of use it as inspiration for programming and events.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
David Watts: And just to touch upon it since we’re surrounded by it, the library Go! Kits have been –
Parker Hamilton: Oh, absolutely, look at those.
David Watts: That was really successful.
Parker Hamilton: Yes.
David Watts: And it’s growing. I know that it was an initiative that you helped bring in with funding from the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County.
Parker Hamilton: Yes.
David Watts: So you’re continuing in your legacy trailblazing.
Parker Hamilton: Well, you know, that’s very kind. But as I said earlier, you just don’t do it by yourself. You don’t do it by yourself. And you make sound selections about the people that you bring into the system and you give them an opportunity to grow. You’ve been on the young adult programs, you’ve – you helped with the – at the comic conference, you served on my director’s advisory committee.
David Watts: I drove the book mobile.
Parker Hamilton: There you go. And so just the experience and opportunity and, you know – and I believe in stretching.
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: And I also believe that I want to prepare staff to walk the doors. Sometimes you walk through a door and it’s cracked and you got to push it a little bit. And then, you know, you go through it. And then sometimes, there’s a wall on that side of the door and it pushes you back, but that shouldn’t stop you. And so, that development, that training, that talking is just critical for us as a system to improve, to grow, to do our very best in serving the residents of this county.
David Watts: Well it hasn’t all been roses. I mean, I’m sure there’s been some challenges along the way. Would you like to talk about what your greatest challenge was as director?
Parker Hamilton: My greatest challenge as a director was when we went to the last recession.
David Watts: Yes.
Parker Hamilton: The last recession was really hard on public libraries. Our budget, by the end of the recession, had been cut by 30% and our customers, our users still had the same expectation. But the greatest pain was telling staff that their position was eliminated. No, we did not – the county government found ways to place people, but they were no longer MCPL staff.
David Watts: Right, right, yes, yes.
Parker Hamilton: And they were the people that we selected, that we trained, that we formed relationships with. We knew the impact of going from a part-time job – I’m sorry – for a full-time job to a part-time job, you know.
David Watts: To work. Yes.
Parker Hamilton: We get to become family. And so, we know that Mary was the breadwinner because Joe was someplace else.
David Watts: Yes, yes.
Parker Hamilton: And so that was really, really hard.
David Watts: But you shepherded us through. It was tough. Now, we’re back to pre-recession funding levels. What’s next on your table for the libraries?
Parker Hamilton: What’s next on my table? I was telling some folks the other day it’s, “I want to continue the networking that we’ve done with nonprofit organizations with other county departments to ensure that we’re stronger as a county. And so what I want to do is have a thank you in that working party, you’re just planning it. I want to bring everyone in the room and have the different organizations who have helped us deliver programs and services like the folks who work at comic convention and just introduce them to each other and thank them for helping us, you know, move forward when we needed help, and we needed help because we weren’t able to do it. Now, we want to give back to them and we want them to continue to work with each other, you know, serving our county. I think that we need to do more marketing of our programs and services. I think we’ve got great events going on, great ideas, and we don’t do the best that we can in that area. So that, there’s the area of gap that we need to do, and I think this podcast is a good way to start. I’m excited about the next programs that you guys have lined up. And so I think that’s going to be really –
Alessandro Russo: We’re hoping it goes well, so.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. Well, listen, you know, you - both you guys are great, so I just think it’s going to be a great opportunity to showcase MCPL.
David Watts: Well, we’re excited about starting this venture and we’re excited about the opportunities that you’ve given us. But just, if we can as we prepare to close out – obviously you became a librarian because you love books. Not true?
Parker Hamilton: Actually, no. I do not love books.
David Watts: You do not love –
Parker Hamilton: I do not love books. I love – I love learning.
David Watts: That’s a shock. Okay.
Parker Hamilton: I love learning.
David Watts: Okay, okay.
Parker Hamilton: I became a librarian because when I went to the University of Illinois, I did – I was a financial aid and I worked in a library at night in order to supplement our income. We were on food stamps, you know, we were poor. As I said earlier, I grew up in the South. And when I walked into that library and I saw those tools, I was like, “Oh, my gosh. If I had been exposed to this, I would have really been a sharp student.” So, yes, I love books but I love learning.
David Watts: Okay.
Parker Hamilton: So I see, you know, libraries as a learning place, and a product that we have are books. And I know not everyone feels that way, but I think I’m a unique director because I did not plan to become a director. I was, you know, I was asked and it was, I guess, it was timing. And so having worked on the second floor, I took this job aside as a business. And so, okay, so what do I need to do to ensure that the products that we have that the tools that we have ends up in the impact that we want to have. And that’s why when I think about a library before, I think about books, I think about learning.
David Watts: Okay.
Alessandro Russo: So would you say you have a favorite book?
Parker Hamilton: I did not have a favorite book, but I do love Southern writers. I like Eudora Welty. I love the Eudora Welty. And I also like those English literature – what’s the guy’s name? Was it Henry Fielding? James Fielding? Henry Fielding? Henry Fielding, I think. Piers Plowman, that was an old book written along with the Chaucer’s Tale – Canterbury Tales.
Alessandro Russo: Canterbury Tales.
David Watts: Canterbury Tales.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah. So, I like reading that type of literature. But I find myself drawn to two books written by female southern authors.
David Watts: Okay.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah.
David Watts: What are you reading now?
Parker Hamilton: What am I reading now? I’m not reading anything now. But last week, I have a guilty pleasure. I just admire Taraji Henson.
David Watts: Okay.
Parker Hamilton: So I borrowed her biography from the Rockville Memorial Library and read it in one day.
David Watts: Wow.
Parker Hamilton: I’m a binge reader, you know. If I want to read it I’m going to read it. And so, I got it on a Friday evening and went and got my hair down on a Saturday morning back home. And from 10:00 o’clock to probably around 7:00 o’clock at night, I was enjoying Taraji Henson.
David Watts: Yeah, she’s from the D.C. area.
Parker Hamilton: Yeah, in the D.C. area. She’s just an amazing person.
David Watts: Okay. So we want to thank you for being our first guest and our greatest guest today.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, today. Bring me back after the end of the series and then –
David Watts: We absolutely would –
Parker Hamilton: Then we’ll see what you say.
David Watts: We absolutely will. It has been delightful to chat with you, Parker.
Parker Hamilton: Oh, I’ve enjoyed this.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you, Parker.
Parker Hamilton: Nice getting to know.
Alessandro Russo: Yes.
David Watts: You’ve brought a lot of insight to us relative to libraries and the strategic plan and we’re looking forward to having future conversations with you about other aspects of the libraries.
Parker Hamilton: Okay, sounds good. I look forward to it. Well, congratulations.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you. And we want to thank our listeners. And make sure to join us next time and do follow us on montgomerycountymd.gov/library. And make sure you check out our social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Thank you.
Montgomery County Public Libraries
Recording Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Guest: Parker Hamilton, Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries
Books and authors mentioned during this episode -
Around the Way Girl: a Memoir by Taraji P. Henson. Henson is an American actress, singer, and author.
Eudora Welty – 20th century American known for her short stories and novels about the American South.
Henry Fielding – 18th century English novelist known his humor and biting satire.
Piers Plowman – A 14th century Middle English narrative poem by William Langland.
Other items of interest mentioned during this episode -
The comic con, MoComCon, mentioned in this episode took place at Silver Spring Library on Saturday, January 21, 2017.
Library Link - Library Link is a partnership between Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). This initiative is part of a national program to ensure every child enrolled in school receives a library card.
When Director Hamilton mentions "having worked on the 2nd floor," she is referring to the County Executive's offices, where she served as an Assistant Chief Administrative Officer.