Over the last decade, public libraries have changed and evolved rapidly to meet patron demand. Directors must balance the budget, find new ways to use existing space and manage collections that include books and resources, both tangible and virtual. We talk with directors of three local systems about the role of the library in our modern communities.


  • Richard Reyes-Gavilan Executive Director, D.C. Public Library
  • Edwin S. "Sam" Clay, III Director, Fairfax County Public Library System
  • Parker Hamilton Director, Montgomery County Public Libraries

Five Cool D.C. Area Library Tools You Should Know About

With the rise of e-readers, video streaming and online research portals, the idea of the traditional public library might seem out of step with the digital age. But many regional libraries are adopting new technology and engaging with readers in unique and varied ways. From digital downloads to community meeting spaces, there are many ways to get lost in thought at a local library — and best of all, most of these services are entirely free.

Here are some of the coolest resources and tech initiatives available at the Washington region’s libraries.

  1. Montgomery County Public Library offers a free collection of 100 digital magazines, including “The Economist,” “Cosmopolitan” and “Rolling Stone.” Patrons can download current and back issues of popular magazines and read them on their web browser, all without holds, checkout periods or a limit on the number that can be downloaded.

  2. Readers in Fairfax County can use the system’s eLibrary to find transcripts and other primary source materials from radio and TV. For literature lovers, there’s the LitFinder tool. The online resource contains full-text poems, short stories, speeches and plays.

  3. Last year, D.C. Public Library added a 3-D printer and scanner to its Digital Commons. The library offers classes on the basics of 3-D printing and scanning. For a nominal fee and your library card, your 2-D file can come to life.

  4. Prince George’s County’s online library includes 24/7 tutoring help. Students can get homework help from expert tutors and live help with foreign language classes from the Language Lab. There’s also a resume service, writing assistance and test prep for adult learners.

  5. Every fourth Monday of the month, aspiring poets can share original poetry and exchange constructive criticism at Arlington County Public Library. The poetry workshop includes an online forum for questions and feedback, and the best poems are published on the library’s website.


  • 13:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Survey says, about two-thirds of Americans are active users of public libraries and the institutions, 16,000 of which dot the country, consistently rank as one of the most positively viewed public services. Even those who've never set foot in a public library are often described as distant admirers. But all the admiration in the world doesn't pay the bills. Buildings need renovating, collections need culling, and staffs grow and shrink along with budgets.

  • 13:07:29

    MR. KOJO NNAMDICombined, the three people sitting across from me today manage a total of 70 library locations across this region, spaces that have evolved into community hubs through which millions of books enter into circulation, where their staffs meet a growing demand for computer workshops and host countless hours of toddler story time. Here to talk about meeting patron needs while balancing the budget is Richard Reyes-Gavilan. He is director of the D.C. Public Library System where he oversees 26 locations. Richard Reyes-Gavilan, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:04


  • 13:08:05

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Parker Hamilton. She is the director of Montgomery County Public Libraries, which operates 21 locations. Parker Hamilton, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:15


  • 13:08:16

    NNAMDIAnd Edwin, or "Sam" Clay III is a Fairfax County Public Library director overseeing 23 locations. Sam Clay, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:25

    MR. EDWIN S. "SAM" CLAY IIIMy pleasure. Thank you for the invitation.

  • 13:08:27

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. You, too, are invited. Just call 800-433-8850. How do you use your local public library system, often? Tell us how you use it or why you don't. 800-433-8850. Or send us email to kojo@wamu.org. Starting with you, Parker Hamilton, give us a sense, if you will, of the size of the library system that you have and who the patrons you serve are.

  • 13:08:56

    HAMILTONMontgomery County, 1 million residents, about 600,000 of them have library cards. And so we believe that we serve a very diverse population of Montgomery County. We serve toddlers to seniors. We have a great focus on teens. We have new immigrants coming into our libraries asking for services. So I think we try to open the doors at the hours where the majority of the folks can come in, in order to use the services. So we try to be relevant, and we try to reach out as well as reach in, in order to serve the residents of Montgomery County.

  • 13:09:43


  • 13:09:44

    CLAYI would say we parallel to a great extent the size and the focus of the Montgomery Public Library. We're always looking at them, seeing what they're doing and vice versa, I suspect.

  • 13:09:53

    HAMILTONVice versa.

  • 13:09:54

    CLAYProbably the major change, though, for us is, as Parker has mentioned, is the new American and what that means for services, hours, collections, languages selected, et cetera, et cetera. So...

  • 13:10:06

    NNAMDIWell, Richard, you just got here. So let me tell you who your patrons are.

  • 13:10:08


  • 13:10:09

    NNAMDIThey're a bunch of reading, ramb -- no, you describe who your patrons are.

  • 13:10:11

    REYES-GAVILANI can guess. Yeah, so I guess my one caveat is that I'm entering my fourth week on the job, so I will profess to be an expert because I've been working in libraries for 20 years, but I still have a lot to learn. So the District's population is about 650,000 people, about half of whom I believe are registered library-card holders. Of course the District swells with population from surrounding area every single day. And in my limited time here, I see -- diversity might not be the right word -- it is an overwhelming diversity. You see the most vulnerable populations imaginable coming into the library for uses that you might not have expected.

  • 13:10:57

    REYES-GAVILANIn many cases, this is shelter or someplace warm in this unbelievably cold weather, and in other cases, you see people who look like they're doing quite well and they're coming in to pick up a hold or use a computer or just learn about an event or something like that. So you do see an incredibly wide array of people walking through the doors, at MLK at least.

  • 13:11:22

    NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because there's this idea of a third place in our cultures, a place that is not our home or our workplace, where we can comfortably, nevertheless, spend time. Many think of libraries that way, but others consider them an education space, first and foremost. How does one balance the two?

  • 13:11:41

    REYES-GAVILANYou know, people often now talk about libraries as community spaces, and so the hair on my neck kind of bristles a little bit when I hear that because they really are education spaces, first and foremost. Any activity that we profess to do in the library, I think, should have some learning component. So much of what we're doing around technology is more than just providing access but now doing more to bridge the skills divide that exists with people who have access to technology but not knowing what to do with it.

  • 13:12:15

    REYES-GAVILANSo, while it is a community gathering space, learning is such a crucial component of that. And that's what I think libraries are trying to do here, in the Capital District, but really everywhere across the country that people are doing innovative programs.

  • 13:12:30

    NNAMDIParker Hamilton, how do you balance the notion of community space versus education space -- and that's not necessarily versus.

  • 13:12:37

    HAMILTONYeah. I agree with Rich, we provide a learning space. And learning takes place in so many different formats. And so you can provide a space for folks to come in and do homework, a space for folks to come in and learn the computer or to bring their own laptop in order to use our electricity in order to plug in. And then you provide the programs that your staff put together in order to address early literacy, in order to address building a resume. And then you just provide the space for folks to come in, browse that magazine, use the computer, and the homeless just to spend the day in a warm place.

  • 13:13:25

    HAMILTONAnd so we do not judge people who come into our buildings. We want everyone to come into the building. And they do come in, and they help us define the many ways that we can deliver library services. So we do listen to the community quite a bit in terms of what the needs are, and that need sometimes contradict each other. So you have the print readers, and you have the folks where, you know, I want to come in here and how come you don't have a laptop for me to borrow? And so balancing that becomes an opportunity.

  • 13:14:02

    NNAMDISam Clay, you've been at the head of the Fairfax County Public Library System for some 31 years now, so you have seen this balance evolve, if you will.

  • 13:14:11


  • 13:14:11

    NNAMDIBut tell us a little bit about how you maintain that balance.

  • 13:14:15

    CLAYWell, I think first you have to know your customers. We have, as a system, four major assets: our buildings, our staff, our collection, but the number one asset is our customers. And so we spend a great deal of time talking with them, querying them, having surveys, et cetera, et cetera, so we really know who uses each of our branches, how they use them, why they use them, et cetera. And for us, our customers pretty much define our library. We certainly are an educational institution, but maybe I'm not as strongly -- think that it's totally an educational institution.

  • 13:14:47

    CLAYIt's also -- I guess it depends on how you define education. But, again, for us it's always a question of and, it's not or. So it's and, and and, and and. So we are always trying to decide which and can we shorten or can we lengthen, depending upon the reaction we get from our customers.

  • 13:15:07

    NNAMDIYou and Parker have both had quite a few branches either renovated or rebuilt completely recently. As you and your staffs consider these projects, what are the main goals for the spaces as you consider each space and how patrons will use it?

  • 13:15:23

    HAMILTONWhat we did in planning the new facilities, we went out and talked to the community. And we asked them what do you like in the current facility, and what do you want to see in the new facility? And then we look at the trends that are happening in the county and around library services, and we work with our department of general services, department of technology services, and then of course we talked to our county executive because he has a clear vision of what he wants to see in library services in Montgomery County. So we have charrettes, where we continuously keep the community involved.

  • 13:16:01

    HAMILTONWe -- our department of general services have their own priorities in terms of what they want in a building. And then we look at the programmatic issues that we want to address and put into that building, constantly talking to the community, constantly talking to the library board and to staff, and reading the literature and, as Sam said earlier, looking across the river to see what Fairfax and Arlington and other library systems are doing across the country.

  • 13:16:31


  • 13:16:32

    NNAMDIFor us, we have a very unique program coming up. We have four branches whose footprint have to remain the same, and so we're looking internally. And heretofore, for us, it was always the collection that drove the size and the shape and the way we maintained our building. That's changed. We're finding that our collection space is shrinking, and our space for individuals and groups to meet and to greet, et cetera, is increasing. And that's probably the major change for us. We also, as a system, strive to stay away from designating space with walls. So we try to keep our building as open as possible to allow us to rearrange when the time comes.

  • 13:17:11

    NNAMDII'm going to ask you all now to don your headphones, because I'm about to head to the telephones where Heather in Washington D.C. awaits us. Heather, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:17:21

    HEATHERFirst of all, I want to say that librarians are an amazing resource, and please do not think that replacing them with tech aides is a good idea. It might save you some money, but it is the librarians who choose the books and develop the programs, and they're a gift to the community. I...

  • 13:17:43

    NNAMDII have to agree with you, Heather, partially because I'm surrounded by three librarians. But go ahead, please.

  • 13:17:49

    HEATHERI've been using the libraries in D.C. for over 30 years, first with my daughter and now with my granddaughter. We go every Saturday and we go to different libraries. And we started in the music programs and in the reading programs when she was 18 months old. And that's an amazing resource for the community. And we now use books on tape and educational DVDs in addition to books. And she loves the library. And I want to thank Jack Evans and everyone on the City Council who funded libraries to be open seven days a week and at night.

  • 13:18:34

    HEATHERAnd I am very happy when I see that the libraries are access for the homeless. They use the bathrooms. They use the computers, and on the computers, they can get food stamps and...

  • 13:18:48

    NNAMDIIn other words, you're a really satisfied library patron, are you not?

  • 13:18:52

    HEATHERYes, that's a good way to describe me.

  • 13:18:54

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Richard certainly approves of that. But, Richard, you've walked into a cycle of renovation and rebuilding set in motion by your predecessor, the sainted Ginnie Cooper, the biggest of which, the renovation of the main branch, Martin Luther King Library, is taking shape just as you're getting started. How much of your work, thus far, has been getting up to speed on that project, and how are you feeling about it so far?

  • 13:19:20

    REYES-GAVILANQuite a bit of my time has been taken up with the MLK renovation. Frankly, it was the project that drew me to Washington D.C. I think that there is an opportunity to create the best central library in the United States, if not the world if we do this properly --a building that is deserving of the District and that belongs to the District as opposed to belonging to the nation's capital, if you can differentiate those two concepts. The existing structure that was famously designed by Mies van der Rohe in the late '60s and opened 1972, I think, really lends itself well to renovation and modernization. And it sorely, sorely needs it.

  • 13:20:17

    REYES-GAVILANYou walk into that building and a little bit of your spirit, quite frankly, gets crushed a little bit. It doesn't offer the dignity, the welcomeness, the feeling that you want to stay and interact and collaborate. That's not really there in that building, especially as you go up into the upper floors. So I am really excited about the process that we've got going thus far.

  • 13:20:45

    REYES-GAVILANWe've got a wonderful architectural team, Martinez and Johnson here based in D.C. and Mecanoo Architects. And they're based in the Netherlands. And it becomes a -- it's just a wonderful, wonderful process. And tonight I'll just do a quick plug, if you don't mind.

  • 13:21:00


  • 13:21:00

    REYES-GAVILANAt 6:00 pm we are having a meet-the-architect event in the great hall at MLK. We definitely need this program to be deliberative and one that involves a tremendous amount of community feedback because we feel that that ownership will ultimately resolve in a better program.

  • 13:21:22

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about public libraries in the Washington region. We're talking with librarians from Montgomery County, Fairfax County and the District of Columbia and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What would bring you into the library if you are not a regular patron? What role do you think public libraries and librarians play in our modern connected culture, 800-433-8850? You can send us a Tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:23:41

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about public libraries in this region and we're talking with Edwin or "Sam" Clay, III, Fairfax County Public Library director overseeing 23 locations. Richard Reyes Gavilan is director of the D.C. public library system where he oversees 26 locations. And Parker Hamilton is the director of Montgomery County Public Libraries which operates at 21 locations. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 13:24:10

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Kate in Herndon who writes "E-books are much more expensive for libraries than print books. E-books are not books at all but pieces of software that are leased for a limited number of borrowings. What is Mr. Clay in particular doing to ensure a budget for Fairfax County Public Library that will support both expanding e services as well as traditional print books?

  • 13:24:34

    CLAYWell, to a certain extent, the marketplace is defining what books or e-books or print. And so that's beyond our control.

  • 13:24:40

    NNAMDIPublishers are doing that.

  • 13:24:40

    CLAYRight. So like everything else we've used before, the issue's one of balance and trying to know your customers and the subjects and what they like and enjoy, etcetera. And so we have a very sophisticated system that looks at the decision-making process as to what to add, how many copies. To a certain extent a lot of it is really reflection of the reading patterns of the various branches in our system. So, again, it's not an or. It's and. So it's print books and large type and e-books and and and and.

  • 13:25:14

    CLAYSo my goal is to ensure that we have as many of those as possible to meet the needs of our customers.

  • 13:25:20

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Please don your headphones again because DJ in Washington, D.C., DJ, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:25:31

    DJHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to say what a wonderful job Parker and the team is doing. I've used the library system for a long time. And my daughter has always found the latest books in a particular series. So thank you so much for that. And I also wanted to point out a couple of things that I think were great.

  • 13:25:54

    DJYou know, the Gaithersburg library was closed for renovation but the library made sure that they opened a location in the mall, which was a really great decision on their part so that, you know, people don't lose access to the books. The type with Kindle and the Safari books online is really good and thank you so much for the librarians who always take the time to help out the people at the library. So please keep up the good work and thank you so much.

  • 13:26:27

    NNAMDIIt was all meant for you, Parker.

  • 13:26:28

    HAMILTONWell, thank you. I really appreciate that. I think the other thing about the Gaithersburg Library that I want to mention is that we have, in that location, a satellite office of the Gilchrist Center. And Gilchrist Center is the welcoming center for new Americans in Montgomery County. And you have that location upstairs on the second floor of the Gaithersburg Library that's just excellent in terms of providing questions -- sorry, answers to questions that the librarians cannot answer.

  • 13:27:05

    HAMILTONBefore we would refer them. Now we can say, let me walk you upstairs -- let me take you upstairs and have the experts answer the questions.

  • 13:27:15

    NNAMDIWe also got a Tweet from Jody who says, why is the e-book selection in libraries so limited with minimal copies available?"

  • 13:27:22

    HAMILTONIt goes back to the first question as a matter of cost and as a matter of balancing. A lot of folks believe that residents are no longer reading print. In Montgomery County 93 percent of our circulation is still print material. And so we need to look at how we find funding for e-books. Last year Mr. Leggett did infuse our budget with additional money for e-books because he knew the cost was high. And the council also helped as well.

  • 13:27:56

    HAMILTONAnd so local governments are trying to give more money but we really need to look at what is happening on the national level with publishers in terms of cost.

  • 13:28:07

    REYES-GAVILANMany publishers will not -- I say many -- some publishers will not even sell e-books to libraries. So it's a very difficult field.

  • 13:28:14

    NNAMDIHere's one for all of you but I'll start with you, Richard Reyes Gavilan. Kids of all ages are among the more frequent library goers. A recent New York Times op-ed highlighted the small percentage of books with minority characters, a problem seen as a barrier of entry to the world of reading. Where do you see libraries fitting into the bigger picture of making people of all backgrounds feel welcome through books and in your branches?

  • 13:28:39

    REYES-GAVILANWell, as someone who's really keenly focused on the power that libraries have to welcome recent immigrants, as I was when I was first introduced to libraries, or the son of recent immigrants, you know, it is important to keep in mind what good architecture does. And I was listening to a podcast of your show last week, Kojo, where this word delight kept on coming up and the power to delight. And I think first and foremost, our buildings have to take that responsibility for delighting and inviting people of all colors into our buildings.

  • 13:29:20

    REYES-GAVILANI mean, that's something that we as librarians and as library administrators can control. In terms of the gender or background of the characters in children's books, that's something that would be more difficult for us to address. Although to a point that was made earlier, our collection development staffs do respond to the needs of our readership as best we possibly can. But if there is -- and it was called that there is a dearth of characters of color in children's books, that's something that I think that the creative community has to address.

  • 13:30:03

    NNAMDIParker Hamilton, same question to you.

  • 13:30:05

    HAMILTONYeah, that was a very interesting article in the New York Times. And we talked about it last night on one of my branch visits. And the branch manager of White Oak Library came up to me. He said, Parker, you know, even though there's a limited amount being published, we think the Montgomery County, we do a really great job of selecting. And so I'll have to congratulate our collection development staff as well.

  • 13:30:30

    HAMILTONI think the other thing that we do in Montgomery County is when we're hiring people, we try to hire people who look like the community. I think it's very important when you walk into a library, you can see yourself. Not only in the staff but also in the collection and also in the colors that you put into your building.

  • 13:30:52


  • 13:30:53

    CLAYAnd almost kind of with me, too, it's an issue of selection. I think there's another step that we're all involved and that's community involvement. And that's to get ourselves our into the community to the daycare centers, to the recreation centers, to bring the library services outside the library to welcome folks to come into the library at some point.

  • 13:31:10

    NNAMDIAnd, you know, I wanted to underscore the point you made, Richard Reyes Gavilan because I read where you told Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post about going into one of the libraries in the city quoting here, "The dignity that I was afforded when I walked through the revolving doors of that building on Merrick Boulevard every Saturday morning was like nothing I ever experienced." Can you explain?

  • 13:31:31

    REYES-GAVILANSure. While -- so I grew up poor in Queens, New York to immigrant parents who just recently arrived in New York from Cuba. And, you know, we didn't have too many options when I was young. No one really paid a lot of attention to me. English wasn't my first language. It was upon discovering my library that I really began to feel a sense of importance.

  • 13:31:59

    REYES-GAVILANI had developed a love of libraries and I have kept it ever since because of -- and it really wasn't a particular staff member. It wasn't a particular book on the shelf. It was really the entire experience. You mentioned the third space, which is something that we talk about all the time. Absolutely and this is something that libraries have been doing forever. Before there was talk of libraries as education centers or community centers, they have always provided that sense of third space to people, at least -- you know, I'm 44 -- at least since I was a kid.

  • 13:32:31

    NNAMDIWhen I think of Queens I do think of Merrick Boulevard. Here is Michelle in Silver Spring, Md. Michelle -- don your headphones, please. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:32:41

    MICHELLEHi. I just wanted to mention that I'm a military brat. And the first thing we did after we registered for school was we went and got our library cards. And that's all over the country. But second of all, the most important thing I thought, no one has mentioned this, although I'm registered in Montgomery County, I can take books out from both D.C. and the northern Virginia libraries. So you might want to mention that that people can use the libraries with a library card from their own jurisdiction.

  • 13:33:08

    NNAMDIWell, you just mentioned it.

  • 13:33:12

    MICHELLEThank you and I enjoy -- like I said, the first thing we did was -- my best memories in high school was the old fashion library that had the grates -- with the heating grates. So you could go and watch what your fellow compatriots were doing downstairs if you went and hung over the heating grates.

  • 13:33:29

    NNAMDIMichelle, thank...

  • 13:33:29

    MICHELLEProbably don't have those anymore.

  • 13:33:30

    NNAMDI...thank you so very much for your call and reminding us of the ubiquity of the library card. Here is Laura in Washington, D.C. with a somewhat different point of view. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:33:42

    LAURAThanks. So I just wanted to point out, there's about four or five reasons why I don't use the library very often. And I don't know if this is something that you can address but I sure would love to use it more. The first is the hours. So for people who work fulltime like me, it's just too difficult to get there by the time they close. And my husband remarks that the hours are more suited to the employees than they do to the community at large.

  • 13:34:09


  • 13:34:10

    LAURAThe second is the customer service when you walk in the door. So it's far from a Whole Foods experience for us. We live near the Palisades Library. And the staff who help you look for books, they're terrific, the librarians. But the people who you check books out from are not very friendly. And, you know, they have old technology, would have to look things up and it just takes a long time.

  • 13:34:32

    LAURASo where I moved from in Seattle you could just put your books -- you did it, it was self checkout. You put your books all at once on a counter and push a button. So something like that would speed things up and make it faster. That's really the two main reasons why I don't really use the library.

  • 13:34:48


  • 13:34:48

    LAURAThe third -- you want to -- oh, the third reason I was going to say is, it's not Blockbuster video which got rid of its, you know, late fees. So you've always got to return the books by a certain date. It would be nice if people just returned them when they didn't need them and asked for them when they needed them. And then, you know, you had a couple of days to return it if you had it for a long period of time and someone wanted it or something. It'd be nice like that.

  • 13:35:11

    NNAMDIWell, what you are suggesting is that you should be allowed to keep the book indefinitely is what you're saying?

  • 13:35:15

    LAURAYeah -- no -- yeah, I think when you check it out you keep it until you don't need it anymore. And if somebody else needs it, they reserve it and then you get an email that says, you have a few days to return it. But that way you don't have to worry about well, I'm not going to -- I buy books because I'm worried, well, if I don't get them back in time, I'm just going to have fines so I might as well just buy them.

  • 13:35:31

    NNAMDIAllow me to get responses to all of your questions. The hours was the first question. We also got a Tweet from Ron who said, "How many branches are open on Sunday? They can close on Monday if they need the day." How do you deal with hours, first you, Parker Hamilton?

  • 13:35:45

    HAMILTONReally pleased to announce that Mr. Leggett's (unintelligible) is recommending adding hours back to 11 of our branches. And last year, he added hours back to, I think it was eight of our branches (unintelligible).

  • 13:36:03

    NNAMDISo what hours are you open now?

  • 13:36:04

    HAMILTONSome of our branches, we have Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 branches. Some are open 9 to 9. A majority of them close at either 6 pm or either 8 pm. And that is what Mr. Leggett wants to improve. We believe that access to library services is really important. So when we were cut Mr. Leggett pledged, you know, when I'm able to add hours back I'm going to do it. And this is what he's been doing over the last two or three years. And so the most significant will come in that 5-15.

  • 13:36:38

    NNAMDIAnd Mr. Leggett that Parker refers to is the county executive of Montgomery County, Isiah Leggett.

  • 13:36:42

    HAMILTONThat's correct, thank you. And in terms of customer service, I think that we try our best. There are sometimes when we fall down but we provide training. And it is one of the things that all of our staff members are committed to and talk about on a regular basis. Because we all want that user to have that positive library experience so that they can come back and be lifelong learners.

  • 13:37:10

    HAMILTONAnd I like, you know, the idea of keeping the books out until someone needs it. I don't know whether it's reality in that. But some of our best policies and procedures come from ideas that our customers put on the table for us. So if that were presented to us at Montgomery County, we would certainly talk about it and see whether or not it makes sense for the majority of our users. And if it did we would pilot it. But we love ideas in terms of how to improve library services.

  • 13:37:41

    REYES-GAVILANYeah, and the caller was calling about the Palisades branch which is in Washington, D.C. And just very quickly, I think that she's spot on in terms of the library needing to revisit its borrowing privileges. And that's something that I will commit to her that I will do. Customer service of course is a longer term process, not as quick a fix.

  • 13:38:00

    REYES-GAVILANAnd the hours are very important. I just have to thank the -- the mayor and the council have been outrageously supportive of the D.C. public library system in the past few years. And we are open seven days a week. To her point I think she would rather see more evening hours and more morning hours. And that's something that we're working for and we're looking to continually expand hours.

  • 13:38:21

    NNAMDIPalisades is open until 9:00 pm Monday through Thursday. Sam.

  • 13:38:26

    CLAYCertainly the issue of access is a number one priority with our board. And we are open seven days a week. Not all of our branches. Our regional libraries are open. And the ongoing issue of customer service is ongoing. I mean, we want every experience to be positive and efficient, etcetera. And sometimes we fall down. We don't quite do it -- we do it 99 percent as opposed to 100 percent.

  • 13:38:46

    NNAMDIOn to Kojo -- and Laura, thank you for your call -- on to Kojo in Mitchellville, Md. Kojo, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:53

    KOJOThank you very much for having this program. I am, as you would say, older than dirt, so I've been going to libraries for a long time. I'm well past 65. I consider libraries one of the last bastions of freedom in this country. And I'm very concerned about something. I have watched what we traditionally call record stores disappear and no one says anything. I have watched bookstores disappear in this country and no one is saying anything.

  • 13:39:24

    KOJOI'm wondering if we're being lulled asleep as the libraries slowly but surely disappear and become shrines or museums. Can someone shed some light on what they see in terms of what's happening to the physical book in the age of the internet and with reading in the age of the internet?

  • 13:39:46

    NNAMDIWell, Kojo, I do have to tell you that bookstores are not disappearing without anybody saying anything. There's been a whole lot said and a lot of it was said during editions of this broadcast over the past several years. But I don't know if our librarians will agree with you that books are disappearing at all. I'll start with you, Richard.

  • 13:40:05

    REYES-GAVILANBooks are not disappearing. But I think what's an important point that the caller has made, but those institutions, record stores and bookstores, are focused on containers, material objects. What we're focused on at the library really is the content within those containers and people.

  • 13:40:29

    REYES-GAVILANAnd we've been talking about it for the past half an hour, we're talking about spaces for learning, collaborative learning, meeting, whatever you call it. So I think we are insuring our relevance. We're not going to go the way of record stores because we're not fixated on a particular device on which you can get your information. So we'll leave it at that.

  • 13:40:43


  • 13:40:44

    HAMILTONI do not believe that we're going away. I think that we're growing. We are evolving. I think people are learning how to use us in different ways every day. We're learning how to provide services in different ways every day. As I said earlier, our print readership is up. People are reading. Adults are reading, teens are reading, children are reading. They're either reading a paper book, they're reading on their iTablet, on their Nook, no their Kindle, but they are reading.

  • 13:41:14


  • 13:41:15

    CLAYI'm back to my old routine. It's and.

  • 13:41:17


  • 13:41:18


  • 13:41:18

    NNAMDIIt's not or. We're not losing anything. People are simply using different devices. But, Kojo, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Robert, in Washington, D.C. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Robert. Are you there?

  • 13:41:35

    ROBERTYes, I'm there. Can you hear me?

  • 13:41:36

    NNAMDIGo right ahead, Robert. Yes, we can.

  • 13:41:38

    ROBERTOkay. I have a commendation, a couple of issues to bring up. The commendation is I think that for the -- first, I want to say congratulations to all of your esteemed guests and to you, Kojo, for the fine show. I'd also like to say that for the D.C. Library, you should definitely plug Digital Commons because it's a great idea and concept. My two issues, however, are, one, the library staff and their dealings with the homeless in that most of the homeless are I know are very well behaved, but there are a few who for whatever reasons are not so well behaved.

  • 13:42:14

    ROBERTAnd sense most of the staff is female, I think that brings a unique challenges. My other issue is that the training of the branch managers, which seems to vary. Some managers have desk schedules, are very communicative with the staffs, have some form of standard operating procedures and some don't. Is there some way to get everybody on par and going in the same direction? So those are my issues.

  • 13:42:42


  • 13:42:43

    REYES-GAVILANQuickly, the Digital Commons is a phenomenal space. I believe about 10,000 square feet and it's the sort of nucleus around which I think the library's digital strategy will revolve for years to come. Just last week there was a D.C. Tech Meet up in the space, over 500 people, innovators, entrepreneurs getting together to network, talk about new products, figure out what's next for them. So it's a phenomenal space that we need to replicate quite frankly in other spaces beyond MLK.

  • 13:43:16

    REYES-GAVILANIn terms of the homeless issue, this is something that I think libraries struggle with across the country. And it's probably a little bit harder in D.C. because of some logistical issues that we have downtown. But it's difficult. There's just nothing much else to say about it. You've got populations, especially those who've got other barriers to access, whether there's mental illness, where there's addictions of some sort.

  • 13:43:40

    REYES-GAVILANAnd, you know, we're not necessarily trained to deal with all the issues that many of our homeless customers have, but it's something that I am absolutely going to try and address. And his last comment was about training. A huge issue. A huge issues everywhere. So staff development is something that we're looking to increase our budget for, to standardize that experience.

  • 13:44:04

    NNAMDIAnd I suspect, over the 31 years that you have been in Fairfax County you have seen the kind of training that librarians need. Same, I guess, in your situation, Parker Hamilton, change evolve over the years.

  • 13:44:16


  • 13:44:17

    NNAMDIYou've got to be keeping up with changing trends.

  • 13:44:19

    CLAYMost people would not have any -- would have no idea of all the changes that the public library has gone through and, of course, the staff, having to respond to those changes. I mean every day is different.

  • 13:44:30

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation about libraries in this region. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850. How well do you think area library systems are serving the public? Tell us what you like and what you'd like to see changed. 800-433-8850 or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:46:38

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking public libraries in this region with Parker Hamilton. She's the director of Montgomery County Public Libraries, which operates 21 locations. Edwin, or Sam, Clay III is Fairfax County Public Library director, overseeing 23 locations. And Richard Reyes-Gavilan is director of the D.C. Public Library System, where he oversees 26 locations.

  • 13:47:01

    NNAMDIParker Hamilton, it's my understanding that there are few under-utilized service -- frankly, in any of your systems, because there's little room in the budget for programs or tools that patrons are not using. But there are items you can barely keep on the shelves, what, pray tell, is ACE?

  • 13:47:20

    HAMILTONACE is All Children Excel. It's our umbrella program for providing early literacy programs. And we have expanded that to include what we call work Go Kits. They're kits that we have developed for Little Voyagers and Explorers. And in those kits we have married technology with print. So you'll find an iPad with apps selected by our staff, age appropriate. And then you'll find books. And then you'll find an educational toy, a learning toy.

  • 13:48:01

    HAMILTONAnd then instructions for parents in terms of how to use it. And it's an effort for us to help the school system with the achievement gap. And so they're STEM related, science, technology, engineering and math. And we can't keep them on our shelves. We introduced them at the Gaithersburg Library, they're now at Olney Library and we will expand it to six other branches in the next couple of weeks.

  • 13:48:27

    NNAMDIGot a tweet from Jonathan, who says, "Please congratulate D.C. Public Libraries on the MLK Dream Lab, which is helping projects like Map Story. Are others considering efforts like this?" Sam?

  • 13:48:39

    CLAYWe're looking at the Makerspace, which is very popular issue these days. And we will probably be doing something in the next couple of months along those lines.

  • 13:48:48

    NNAMDIA Tweet from Nicole, "I frequently use the D.C. Library in the middle of the night in my pajamas. I love the digital collections. Thanks." TMI, Nicole. And Jessy emails, "A question for Sam Clay. I heard you will be retiring in the next 18 months or so. Is that true? And what is the plan for succession?"

  • 13:49:11

    CLAYYes. That's true. I don't know that I want to discuss my retirement plans though on your show.

  • 13:49:16

    NNAMDII was about to say we normally don't discuss rumors on the show, but this one turns out to be true.

  • 13:49:21

    CLAYExactly. And there's no relation my retirement and at the present time succession planning because the issue is solely with the library board in terms of how they want to deal with that. So that's really all I want to say about that.

  • 13:49:35

    NNAMDIWell, Nicole, now that you know -- I'm sorry, Jessy, now that you know that it's true, there's still time enough for you to try to get him to stop, to change his mind. Here is Chris, in Beltsville, Md. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Chris?

  • 13:49:50

    CHRISHello, all. I first just wanted to thank you. I don't use the library myself. That's pretty embarrassing. But my girlfriend cannot afford an internet connection at home. She does not have a computer at home, nor does she have a smartphone. And she uses the library quite a bit. She loves to read books. She goes to the Anne Arundel County Library. She loves to read and she uses the computer to look for work and everything there.

  • 13:50:14

    CHRISSo that's wonderful. My question is in regards to giving back to the library system, so many people have dozens or even hundreds of books in their house that are just sitting there. Is the library willing to accept massive quantities of donations of books and is there any way that the library could make money off of those books if they don't really have a place on their shelves or they just simply don't have the space for them, could they sell those books or even trade the books in for digital copies of those books?

  • 13:50:48

    NNAMDISam Clay?

  • 13:50:48

    CLAYWell, in our system, certainly our Friends have a very aggressive used book sales and all kinds of opportunities for the public to purchase books that are deemed to excess or whatever.

  • 13:51:03

    NNAMDIBut, Sam, one of the reasons I raised the question with you is because booklovers the world over might shudder at the very idea of a dumpster full of books, but last year Fairfax Library System felt the blowback from such a scenario. How are books selected for discarding and how are they disposed of?

  • 13:51:20

    CLAYSure. Great question. The discards process really begins with the branch. And they determine those titles that they wish to pull off the shelves and take out of the collection. And so when a book is discarded we look at it to see, can it go to any other branch. And if it cannot, then at that point it's deemed to be expendable and it is discarded. And discarded for us means it goes into a dumpster, which at some point goes to the County's purchasing department, that then will excess those books, will sell them to the public.

  • 13:51:49

    NNAMDIWhat kind of policies do you have in the District and in Montgomery County for donation of books to the library?

  • 13:51:56

    REYES-GAVILANA nuance that I think is difficult for a lot of folks to understand in terms of how libraries accession gifts is that it's typically more expensive for us to process a gift than it is…

  • 13:52:13


  • 13:52:13

    REYES-GAVILAN…to buy a new copy of something because of the deep discounts that we get, because we've got some pretty good purchasing power. So that being said, books that come to the library will often go through our partner. We work with a partner called Better World Books. And Better World Books will take the libraries discards and sell them online. A profit comes to the library, as well as Better World Books, and also some third world literacy partners.

  • 13:52:44

    REYES-GAVILANThere are a variety of ways that you can handle it. And I don't know enough, quite frankly -- I'll be honest with you -- about our own policies here. So I'll probably just leave it at that.

  • 13:52:54

    NNAMDIParker Hamilton?

  • 13:52:55

    HAMILTONYes. We accept donations at the majority of our branches the majority of the time, because there's sometimes that we just can't accept donations because we've received too many. Once the donations are received our librarians go through them and select books that we might want to add to our collection. If we do not want to add them to our collection we box them up and we send them to the Friends of the Library.

  • 13:53:19

    HAMILTONThat would either be the County Friends of the Library and they operate the Wheaton Bookstore for us and the Rockville store. Or either we have local chapters that receive donations and they sell books within that public library. Those funds go directly back to that local library, or to Friends of the Library of Montgomery County. They use their funds to help the system by putting up programs, helping us to celebrate our volunteers and things along those lines.

  • 13:53:51

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. Here's Hassan, in Alexandria, Va. Hassan, your turn.

  • 13:53:59

    HASSANThank you, Joko (sic). I live in Alexandria and I will say this, I thank everybody, the whole staff in public library. The public library is like my second home, whenever I'm bored in my home I go there. I go to the library probably once a month. And I have a habit to miss the date, return, and I never regretted to pay the penalty.

  • 13:54:27

    HASSANOne thing I would like to see in these public library, Arab books they are missing there. And if I can be helpful to bring Arab books from anywhere in the world, I will be happy to do so.

  • 13:54:41

    NNAMDIBooks in Arabic. I know that our public libraries, because of the diverse nature of the population in this region, are now providing books in a variety of languages, including Chinese and Vietnamese and Amharic and Farsi. Arabic, Parker Hamilton?

  • 13:55:00

    HAMILTONWe have not had that request in Montgomery County. We recently added Amharic at our Silver Spring Library. And we're looking to expand that to Gaithersburg and some other libraries. We have Farsi at Gaithersburg and Praisner. If we got that request we would look at our demographics. We would look at other requests coming in from customers and make an informed decision based on the demographics of that community.

  • 13:55:29

    NNAMDIOnto Mary, in Falls Church, Va. Mary, your turn.

  • 13:55:33

    MARYMine has to do with the budget of Fairfax County Public Libraries. Our budget is less than -- for the libraries is less than 1 percent of the revenues that are expended for schools or whatever, in the whole county. And one of the problems is that a board of trustees of the library is suggesting that $1 million be added for new materials and $1 million be added for technological and children's programs and things like that.

  • 13:56:10

    MARYAnd unfortunately, the supervisor is suggesting that really we don't need that. And they're suggesting that instead of a $1 million being added library materials, it's only $250,000. And they're also haven't filled about 40 positions that have been empty for, in some cases, almost a year. And our librarians are overworked and basically underpaid.

  • 13:56:41

    NNAMDII'm glad you brought that question up, even though we're running out of time right now, Mary. Because, Sam, in many libraries circulation and demand for hours are up, budgets are down, maybe stagnant at best. Following up on what Mary is saying, when you go into a meeting with the county executive or the county council to talk budget. Where they're looking at your work as a smaller piece of a much bigger puzzle, how do you make your case?

  • 13:57:06

    CLAYWell, Mary's not quite correct…

  • 13:57:07


  • 13:57:09

    CLAY…in terms of the issue with the budget. There have been -- the library board requested a consideration item for the Board of Supervisors in the amount of $1 million, which would be for materials. At a subsequent meeting they asked for -- recommended a second $1 million contribution, that would be for young adult materials, technology and etcetera.

  • 13:57:33

    CLAYNow, separate from that, the county executive recommended an increase of our budget in the amount of $250,000 a year for the next four years, to make a million dollars to be added to our materials budget. The county executive, however, had to come up with a $20 million cut list. And what he did with that, he put that $250,000 on the cut list. In addition, he took out $600,000 that would be for additional hours.

  • 13:57:59


  • 13:58:00

    CLAYSo he made that recommendation. The library board did not make that recommendation, nor did I.

  • 13:58:03

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we don't have very much more time. But it's just an indication of the kind of problems that public libraries face on an issue of -- at a time of cutting budgets. Sam Clay is Fairfax County Public Library director, Parker Hamilton is the director of Montgomery County Public Libraries and Richard Reyes-Gavilan is director of the D.C. Public Library system. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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