Have you read a good book lately? Have you?
Nowadays, we expect information at our fingertips. Were busy, and entertainment comes packaged in pleasing forms to entice us. With so many modes of ready information from cable TV to newspapers and glossy magazines to high-speed Internet access to websites updated by the minute are books at risk of becoming obsolete?
Two library administrators, Pat Hofmann of Calvert and Marion Frances of Anne Arundel, talked about books in their lives: Whats new? What are their favorites? What should informed adults be reading these days? Why its not your grandmothers library anymore.
Pat Hofmann has worked in the Calvert library system for 17 years, moving up from reference coordinator to branch manager and assistant director before, seven years ago, becoming executive director. She compares her job to running a business, as she manages four libraries, a staff of 45 adults and 10 student pages, administers a $2.2 million budget and plans for the future. Customer satisfaction is her top priority.
Hofmann came to Calvert County from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, where she was director of the Mill Memorial Library. She lives in Huntingtown with her husband John and her two cats. When not reading, she enjoys traveling, organic vegetable gardening and her granddaughter.
Marion Francis is a recent transplant from Jackson, Mississippi. Shes worked in public libraries for 24 years, beginning as youth services librarian in Jackson, then moving to the Memphis/Shelby County library system as head librarian before returning to Jackson in 1994, where she served as executive director. She moved to Annapolis last October to become director of the 17-branch county library system and is enjoying her new home.
Francis says she was hired to oversee the operations of the library system, ensuring that it operates smoothly according to the policy that its board sets. Beyond everyday operations, she says, a director needs to be in touch with local officials and business people, schools and community colleges indeed, with all the community that uses library services. And thats everybody, she says.
A director needs to be aware of all the issues that come into play among those people who make our budget. We cant do what we do unless we have adequate funding, and we have to have a good relationship with the people who fund us.
For Francis, defining your grandmothers library has real significance because it is her grandmother to whom she credits her love of books.
I spoke with Hofmann on a spring-like February day in her office in the Calvert library in Prince Frederick and with Francis on a snowy March day in her office in Annapolis. They told me how they came to know books, how to get our kids interested in libraries, what adults do for fun at the library and how technology is changing libraries.
Bay Weekly: How did you get to know books?
Marion Francis: My grandmother lived with us when I was a very young child. She had her doctorate in English, so my earliest bedtime stories were Shakespeare plays. As a four- or five-year-old, I was hearing about Macbeth and Hamlet, and they were some of the finest fairy-tale characters youve ever seen. Children nowadays learn about witches from Halloween; my witches were bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. My grandmother also quoted poetry beautifully. So I was exposed to a lot of things most small children arent, including drama, which came to life to me very early.
When I started school, I learned to read books that all normal children read, but the classics I had learned about early in life. My grandmother would talk about Jane Eyre and Dickens when I was just a little girl. Those were characters who were very much a part of my life.
Pat Hofmann: I grew up in the public library in my town. Are you familiar with author Tomie DePaola? Its his town, too. Meridan, Connecticut. If you look in one of his childrens books [26 Fairmount Avenue, Here We All Are, Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs], you will see my library. I had very early experiences with books and have loved books my whole life.
Bay Weekly: Whos the most interesting person youve met through a book?
Pat Hofmann: Thats very difficult because I read a lot. I certainly do like mysteries, and one of the most interesting fictional people Ive met is Jim Qwilleran, a newspaper columnist from The Cat Who
mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun.
Marion Francis: I always liked the female heroines: someone like Jane Eyre, a strong female who was a career woman, a governess and who survived all of that horror that went on in Mr. Rochesters attic. I have to say that Scarlett OHara was one of my favorite characters as well, for obvious reasons. She may have been a little devious by some standards, but she was spunky and strong, and she survived the Civil War even if she had to eat a turnip. When you think about it, she had guts. That type of female character impresses me a great deal.
Bay Weekly: With all of the distractions that children have these days, like TV, computer and video games, how do we get a new generation of children interested in the library?
Pat Hofmann: The first thing we have to do is make them feel welcome. We have to go out of the library to do special events for children, like our Childrens Day on the Farm, when we go to Jefferson Patterson Park to tell the kids about the library. We show them were interested in them, that we want them there. We meet children at the county fair, and if we havent seen these children in the library then its our job to make them feel like they want to come here.
Once they get here, we always want to make children feel special. Any child who comes in gets the same treatment that an adult gets. Theyll get eye contact, theyll be met with a nice friendly greeting, their requests will be taken seriously, and hopefully theyll leave with what they were looking for. Then they will want to come back.
Marion Francis: The visual and performing arts are not a bad thing for children. That was every bit as important to me as books were. So I would not want children to not have that exposure if it is a good positive experience in the fine arts. Computer games occupy children and work on their mental faculties and help them to use their mental and motor skills. But compared to the reading experience, I hate computers to take precedence over exposure to fine literature.
It has to start with the parents, and it starts at a very young age. If a child grows up in a house where parents are not interested in reading, they are never exposed. As soon a child can sit up in a lap, I think they can start with board books and picture books so that by the time they get to four years old they are ready to start absorbing education and reading. But if you have parents who do not have the time to stay home with their child or when they get home from work theyre too tired to sit down and read with their child, they do come to the first grade with a serious handicap.
Bay Weekly: How does that translate to library programs?
Pat Hofmann: We start off when children are really, really young with storytime. We start with newborns, which is a fairly recent program. Kids come to the library for storytime, and theyre so excited because we use books and songs, finger plays and flannel boards. Theyre having a wonderful time here.
We also have a two-and three-year-olds program, a four-and five-year-olds program and a family program where families can bring children of different ages. Because of research thats been done with brain development and emergent literacy, we really take seriously our role in helping children become prepared to enter school ready to learn.
After theyre finished with storytime, we do the six-to-12-year-old programs to keep them coming back. We love those programs. We have a lot of activity going on while theyre here. The kids love it, and their parents love it, and its wonderful. We had a Harry Potter party last year. Every year we do gingerbread houses. And we suggest wonderful books for them to read.
Then when theyre teenagers, we have to keep doing stuff for them, too. So for the past couple of years weve been doing programs for teens here at the library. We have a teen movie night we call Teen Fright Night around Halloween. We do teen game nights. They come here, play board games and eat pizza. We do poetry workshops. Theres always something going on.
Bay Weekly: As well as young people, our libraries serve us all. What do you see as the purpose of the library in the broader community? Do you target programs and offerings to reach other populations?
Pat Hofmann: Sure. We didnt even talk yet about our collections of materials and some of the basic reasons why people come to the library. We still have books. We have videos, DVDs, audios books on tape and books on CD and we have music on CD. So we have a variety of materials for any adult or child.
For folks who cant get out of their homes, we have an outreach van. We bring them books and audiotapes. We go to nursing homes, adult daycare centers and the senior center. So we take our show on the road as much as we can, too.
Our outreach van also goes to licensed daycare centers with storytime and books. So parents who cant get here during the day still have opportunities for storytime for their children.
Marion Francis: Our primary focus for adults is their informational needs and the fact that weve introduced technology. With the advent of the Internet, we do computer training for adults, and of course that has been a wonderful thing.
Bay Weekly: How do books bring people together?
Pat Hofmann: Thats really a great question. We see this happening with our book discussions. We have 28 people registered to attend this program, so theres definitely an interest in our community for people to get together and to talk about books.
Another monthly program, Calvert Conversations, features a columnist who comes in to guide a conversation on whats hot in the news. Its a way for people just to get out of their houses and talk about whats going on. Its so popular that sometimes the people who come to it bake a cake or bring goodies. They have a good time.
Bay Weekly: Besides books, how else should our county libraries serve us? Should the library offer entertainment, education, Internet connections? What else?
Pat Hofmann: We try to give people the things theyre interested in. Thats why youre seeing more DVDs and movies. Our video collection and our DVD collection was practically all checked out when we had the big snowstorm and people knew what was coming. Thats a great service that we can provide. At the same time, the demand for books has always been there. It has not gone down.
Weve had an on-line catalog for a number of years now, but we keep enhancing it. One of the things that we have available is the library catalog on the Internet, so you can check your own record from home or from wherever you have an Internet-access computer, and you can renew books yourself or reserve them yourself and then come to the library and pick them up. Its an ease-of-service adaptation, which I think is important because everyone is busy and the more time we can save people the better that is.
Weve enhanced our catalogs by providing informational databases. We do this in cooperation with Charles and St. Marys counties, and were able to bring a really good number of databases to the public. We also get a couple of these through our connections with the state.
Do you remember using Readers Guide to Periodical Literature? Well, now all of thats on-line. So you get the full text of the magazine article right there at your fingertips and what a wonderful, easy way to do research that is.
All the databases that we provide in the library are also licensed so people can use them from home with a library card. The Internet is wonderful and there truly is a lot of great information there, but sometimes its too much information or its too hard to find. So if you go to these databases, you know that the information is reliable and authoritative right off the bat.
All of the libraries in the state are providing a program called tutor.com of live homework help. Its a service the state has purchased for a year as a trial to see what kind of use it will get. It serves children in fourth grade to 12th grade with a free 15-minute tutoring session with a certified tutor in English, social studies, science or math. If your child is doing homework and has a problem with a math question and you cant help, you can go on-line and get help right there with a tutor and its all free. The tutors can be anywhere in the country, and theyre all certified. Thats a whole new world, I think, way outside your grandmothers library.
Another thing we just started is a service called virtual reference, a statewide cooperative project. All the librarians in the state provide a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week on-call service. So if its 10 oclock at night, all the libraries are closed and you have a reference question, you can get on our website, ask the question and get a live librarian via a chat room to help you get your answer.
By Weekly: What do you think about the library blocking access to certain websites and chat rooms?
Marion Francis: The Internet provides a phenomenal amount of information. It is so vast it is beyond the scope of anything we ever had when we were just confined to offering information through books.
Of course we are continually faced with the fact that there is both good and bad information out there. There are inappropriate sites and there are pornographic sites that we do not want children to be exposed to. For the most part, we have the computers where they can be monitored by the staff. We have a policy that says viewing pornography is unacceptable. However, its there because we dont have it filtered. So that means that an adult can come in and sit down and get to it. We have privacy screens on terminals in all of our branches for the people who choose to do that.
The board is always interested in protecting First Amendment rights, and filtering the Internet filters out pertinent information, too. If the federal government says everybody is required by law to filter the Internet, well do whatever we have to do to comply, but thats not what the law currently says. Its a very difficult issue.
Bay Weekly: What about the Patriot Act, which gives the FBI the ability to track patrons library records?
Marion Francis: Thats a two-edged sword, too. The American Library Association has always been very careful to protect the privacy of the library patron. What a person comes in and looks at and gets information and access to is a private matter.
Yet we know that since 9/11 our security is in danger. We had someone come into the Crofton library and access espionage information; he also went to Fairfax County, Virginia, and to Prince Georges County. The FBI caught him.
What I think that libraries are most concerned about if this Patriot Act goes through is that things that have always been confidential, like personnel records, will be able to be accessed. Weve got to have some degree of confidentiality. The American Library Association is opposing the Patriot Act, but its hard to know exactly where you draw the line in the interest of protecting homeland security.
Pat Hofmann: If the FBI or law enforcement comes to the library with properly executed court orders or search warrants, well give them what theyre asking for. My concern is if someone comes to the library without that. I dont know if we will have a situation in Calvert where the FBI would come in and say were taking your computers today. That would be pretty scary.
What I do feel it is important to do is prepare the staff so they know what the Patriot Act is and how to respond to such requests for information.
Bay Weekly: Weve been talking about the Internet, privacy issues, on-line access to library accounts and databases and virtual librarians. So much has changed about how libraries provide information. How has the role of the public library changed in your tenure? Where is it headed?
Marion Francis: Technology has driven the change. When I first got into library work as a childrens librarian, the focus was doing programs for children and providing information and popular books for people of all ages. But now that technology has come into play, you have access to more than just the resources of that particular library where you are. You can access the holdings of the entire system through the librarys public access catalog. You could request books, but now you can see where they are, and thats been an amazing change.
We can renew books from home, we can place reserves from home, pay fines and find out what you owe. All of that you can access on your home computer. You can get on-line information from home.
One issue we face is whether patrons will continue coming to the library to get the information versus staying home in front of their own home computers and getting a high percentage of what theyre looking for. How is that going to affect libraries and what they do? I think thats an interesting issue.
There are such things as computerized books, e-books, but to sit in front of a computer all day and try to read a novel doesnt seem to me to be a very comfortable experience. So I think that people will always want libraries, and I think libraries will always be there to provide entertainment and information. But youre going to get your most up-to-date information through on-line resources. Thats expanded the extent of what people can learn and get their hands on.
Pat Hofmann: When I got to Calvert County, we did everything with library cards. While Ive been here, Ive seen our first computer system and our second computer system and this year well be working on our third computer system. That in and of itself is huge. Having the Internet and training the public on how to use computers has been a wonderful change.
What do we see in the future? I think we have to stay abreast of all the things that are happening and try to bring the public things that interest them. Sometimes I look at our library system and I think were doing great. Were doing so well that its hard to say what could be next, because there are libraries in the country that arent as advanced as we are.
Bay Weekly: What is your budget and how do you spend it?
Marion Francis: The Anne Arundel County Public Library operating budget is $16.3 million. Books and materials will always be our priority. After that our technological resources. The largest part of our budget is still in materials: books, video, audiovisual and on-line resources. Then we make sure our facilities are in good working order and attractive and comfortable. We put a lot of emphasis on that here in Anne Arundel. When I toured the branches, I thought, what a nice-looking, attractive library system.
Pat Hofmann: I administer a $2.2 million budget. Staff is certainly a first priority because you cant run a library without a staff. That is a good percentage of the budget. We try to buy as many materials as we can, so that is our second priority. We try to be very frugal with everything else in order to put as much money as we can into materials, books and, to a lesser extent, audiovisuals.
Yes, books are still really important. I have a theory about that. Its been said that with the advent of the Internet, people wont need books anymore, but its not true. What I have found is that people who are on the Internet and are computer-literate get some information that way. Then they want more, so they come in and get books. Because it still is a lot easier finding information in books and perusing a book than it is perusing website after website.
Bay Weekly: Theres something very satisfying about holding books.
Pat Hofmann: I certainly feel that way. Im not sure our youngest generation growing up will feel that way. I hope they do because there is really something to love about a book.
Bay Weekly: Now we need your enlightened advice. How do we find time for reading? What should the average American be reading to be informed in contemporary society?
Pat Hofmann: At least one national newspaper a day you should at least flip through it as well as the local papers. So for me thats three minimum local papers and our regional paper, Bay Weekly. I think its really important to stay tuned in to whats going on in your own community as well as the world.
Then youd want to get in a Time or a Newsweek each week, People magazine, absolutely. And then after all those things, how do you read for pleasure? People have different priorities, I guess. Sometimes theyve had it with the news and they just need to read something light.
Marion Francis: How do they find time? I dont know unless they can set aside a special time maybe not in their daily lives but maybe weekly.
As to what we should be reading, I think different people like different things. A lot of people like paperback novels. There are others who like to read the classics and always have and always will. There are people like me who really enjoy biographies. Fiction is entertaining. I just happen to like to read biographies, so I think it is a matter of taste.
I think as long as youre reading, thats what is most important because you have other technological pieces of equipment in your house that are going to tell you more than you want to know about the war in Iraq. CNN is always there, and I dont think youll miss much.
Programs at Calvert Library
check your local branch for dates and times
- For Adults:
Books & More book discussions
Calvert Conversations with Anne Whisman
Poetry Open Mike
Lets Talk About It book discussions
- For Kids and Teens
Cuddle Up and Read (infant-24 months with adult)
Storytime (ages 2-6)
Super Sleuth Mystery Adventure (ages 6-12)
Summer Reading Program
Special Events for all ages
Programs at Anne Arundel Libraries
check your local branch for dates and times
- For Children
- Babies in Bloom (infant-24 months with adult)
- Signing with Kids (6-24 months)
Storytime (ages 2-6)
Special Events for all ages
For more information about special events, to contact a librarian, access the catalog and visit online databases:
- In Anne Arundel www.aacpl.net
- In Calvert County: www.calvert.lib.md.us
- Live Homework Help at tutor.com