Magic Wands

Testimony to the Montgomery County Council

26 September 2001

by Paulette Dickerson

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."--Jorge Luis Borges

Hello, my name is Paulette Dickerson. I'm just leaving the Library Board after two full terms. You'd think that would rate a vacation but the reasons I joined the Board in the first place are still with us, so here I am--testifying again.

Magic wands--I'd like to talk about magic wands.

When I was on the Board, we'd often ask people what they would wish for if they could wave a magic wand and make it happen. Besides world peace, harmony between the races, the earth a paradise and lower taxes/more public services/less government--besides those things a remarkably large number of people would wish for more or better services for education--for things like schools and libraries.

Knowledge, information, technical innovation, wisdom, these are all gifts that people in the past give to the people of the future; these are gifts that each generation's people are stewards of. We add to that body of human experience and we pass it on. If we do it right, the people after us have an easier time living useful, rewarding, productive lives. Just as our lives are richer than the kings of olde could imagine so will our children's lives be richer. If we do it right. This is where our support of schools and libraries is essential. In our culture, they are the institutions that propel knowledge into the future.

Talent, intelligence, drive and creativity are spread though the human species like yeast in the air. Many of us fail to achieve anything near our potential unless we are born of the lucky few that have resources to use, access to information and time to think.

Since we do not have magic wands, we can't transport every kid into a place like that...Or can we? Maybe we already have that place--many places, in fact, just like that. We have libraries.

Libraries are like a magic wand for their patrons. There is access to the internet-- strange, wonderful, uneven though it may be. There is access to the classics--to books that have been guiding people to knowledge and wisdom, some of them, for thousands of years. There is access to the librarians themselves--people who are trained to help us find whatever material we need or want.

The magic wand I would wave would increase access to those libraries. There would be longer hours, Sunday service year round. There would be more efficient automation so the librarians could spend more time face-to-face with patrons and less time on the circulation desk. There would be more buildings so libraries would better serve those among us who are carless, work two jobs and have kids to raise. There would be more librarians whose specialties were for preschoolers, elementary schoolers, tweeners and adolescents. There would be special service for troubled teens and more bookmobiles for troubled communities.

If I had a magic wand, the libraries in Montgomery County would be just like they are now--only better.

The first of this year, the Library Board asked LACs (Library Advisory Committees) to give us their wish lists. I've included them in this handout along with some accounts of how access to books and libraries made a difference in a few people's lives.

Thank you for your time.

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The development of cheap ways to make paper in the nineteenth century planted the seeds for a revolution in modes of thought, literacy and access to information. Before this time, books were few and for the wealthy. Even the wealthy accumulated them slowly over generations and the libraries they willed to their children were neither balanced nor extensive.

The industrial revolution changed all that. It made universal literacy possible because it put cheap, portable libraries into the hands of the middle classes and then, through increasing numbers of communities with free public libraries, it put the knowledge and entertainment of books within reach of the poor.

This brings us to the primary reason that we should constantly expand library service. When we provide a place for the talented of each generation to educate themselves, even if they should fall through the cracks of public school, we provide an extra boost to innovation, progress and wisdom.

So, to quote Gilbert and Sullivan, "I've made a little list."

This list isn't scientific in any sense of the word. It is neither complete, nor comprehensive, nor representative, nor ethnically or politically balanced. The people on it are simply a group that I find interesting, some of whose accomplishments have impacted us all.

None of these people came from the middle class.

Many of them never got college degrees. Some of them never finished high school. All of them did or have done significant things with their lives because of access to books. Borrowed books, cheap books, used books, library books.

Abraham Lincoln--borrowed books of his neighbors, studied at night. Lucked out when a barrel he bought at auction for a dollar contained "Blackstone's Commentaries", a set of law books that he never could have bought otherwise.

Malcolm X--pimp, hoodlum, agitator, intellectual. Once said, " My alma mater was books...I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity."

Thomas Sowell--the first person in his family to even go to college, Sowell rose to prominence as an economist and academician during Ronald Reagan's first term of office.

James Baldwin--in "Go Tell it on the Mountain" he wrote "He loved this street, not for the people or the shops but for the stone lions that guarded the great main building of the Public Library, a building filled with books and unimaginably vast..."

Linus Pauling--a Nobel Prize winner who was bored and distracted in high school; who quit high school, studied on his own then went on to college without ever getting a high school diploma

Sandra Cisneros--a Latina writer who has won awards from the National Endowment of the Arts and elsewhere who has said "I always tell people that I became a writer not because I went to school but because my mother took me to the library."

Thomas Alva Edison--studied borrowed books while he worked for the railroad.

One who is slightly different:
Barbara Tuchman--self-made historian who wrote "To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse."

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All branches are not represented here and since these lists were made up in February, 2001, some of the wishes have "come true."

1. An additional $737,000 needs to be appropriated to fund the library's renovation.
2. Interim services while the library is closed for renovation (about one year), in the form of a bookmobile and community education programs and an adequate number of personnel to provide these services.
3. A lighted, durable bulletin board to keep the public informed of times and places of the community programs and the operation of the bookmobile.
4. A large, after-hours book-return for the bookmobile.

Chevy Chase:
1. Extended hours on Thursday evening, Sunday afternoon.
2. Community Bulletin Board/Book Display Case--a place where the community that visits the library could find out more about what is offered by the library and the groups that meet in the building.

Children's Resource Center:
1. Laptop with wireless access to the internet and a projector for it. This would allow training with child care providers and other professionals to take place in many settings including many that do not have internet access.
2. Previewing TV/VCR. This is needed for the CRC collection so that professionals can preview videos before checking them out.
3. Funds to purchase informational brochures that cannot be purchased with regular budget funds.

Design money of $600,000 for expansion of the Children's room at the library. If this is not possible, $70,000 for moving walls to convert adult reference space into the children's corner. The principal reason is the fearful crowding of the children and their elders in the current, tiny space.

Build the new Germantown Library to open in 2003, not 2006.

Kensington Park Library:
1. Hours:
Sunday hours from perhaps noon to 5, the community needs to have the library open during that time period. Considering the large number of 2 working parent families in this neighborhood and the sports activities on Saturdays, there are many patrons that have trouble getting to the library at all. Thursday evening hours would be helpful. Having the library open in the evenings from Monday through Wednesday only is confusing.
2. Senior Citizens:
For many seniors that grew up with the card catalogue, the computer information systems are intimidating, from the new "card catalogues" to the self check system to the internet. Senior citizens should have the opportunity to get training on all the new computer systems that the library is Integrating Into the branches. Staff time and computer availability are limited, but it is an area that needs to be addressed
3. Speed Bumps:
As trivial as this seems, the speed bumps need repainting with reflective paint. There is a speed bump that catches people unawares at night in the driveway between the back lot and the front lot.

Little Falls:
1. Long range--remodel library to house a computer lab, a Friends of the Library downcounty office, provide a second meeting room, better staff offices and to improve safety and efficiency of service.
2. Add one new staff member for adult services and one for the children's room.
3. Add a computer training lab with a projector. This would allow the instructor to work with several students simultaneously. Many Little Falls Library patrons are retirees who use the library frequently but need instruction on the computers.
4. CDRom drive connected to a dedicated printer. This would allow Little Falls patrons to use many important reference materials in that format-- including the OED and Encyclopedia Britannica.
5. Additional materials: books on tape and CD; more large print books, magazine and newspapers; the Grove Dictionary of Art and Artists.
6. Additional comfortable chairs.
7. Consider extending hours based on a community needs assessment.
8. Water cooler and water service for staff.
9. Renovate restrooms used by patrons.
10. New water fountain for the public.

The LAC believes that the present size and location of the building are inadequate for safety and accessibility.
1. Building size: Due to the high use rate and the projected increase in population, the current space is not sufficient. A larger total collection for both adult and children is needed. The computers are in the main reading area. A designated computer space for internet access is recommended. In the present building, there is no available free space.
2. Building location: The present building is located near the intersection of Maryland Rte. 108 and Georgia Ave. This is a very busy intersection with heavy traffic that frequently backs up to block access to the library. There is only one way in and out of the library parking lot, which makes entrance and exit difficult and unsafe especially during peak traffic. The number of parking spaces is inadequate for normal patron use and impossible during special programs.

1. Additional morning hours.
2. More materials--especially books on tape, summer reading list books, and reference materials.

Quince Orchard:
1. Increased staff to deal with current demand.
2. Increased staff over and above that needed to deal with current demand would allow extended hours to include Wednesday mornings and Sundays. This library has made a significant contribution to a sense of community in the area served. Many activities are held in the library's community rooms and they are often required to end early because of the library's hours.
3. Procurement and maintenance of equipment (e.g. fax and photocopy machines and phone lines). The library does not receive sufficient support from the county in the acquisition and maintenance of technical equipment needed to provide and publicize services.

Rockville LAC has a single focus:
The LAC would like to be assured that the Rockville Regional Library project will move forward on schedule.
THAT: the Parking Garage Issue will be addressed by the County Council and pushed forward, and
THAT: the rumored delay of the District Court House will not impact the scheduled opening of the new Library in 2003.

1. We would like more night hours.
2. We would like to have Sunday hours at Twinbrook so that entire families could come to the library together.
3. Jan Baird-Adams said that since the renovation we have 15%-20% less shelving than before the renovation. We would like this shelving space given back as well as the books.

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Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
Private Citizen / Library Advocate

Comic Book ESP
Montgomery County Family
August Wilson
Free To All
Founding Fathers
Magic Wands
Chronic Library Users
Libraries! 24/7!
Book People
Urban Libraries
Library Questions
Neighborhood Libraries
Library Heaven
Friendly Libraries
Tight Times
Budget Cuts
Children's Library

Send comments or suggestions to:
E-Mail: "pdickerson (at)"
Paper Mail: Paulette Dickerson, P.O.Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA

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