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PHL The Hathaway Group
The Role Libraries Have in Local Communities

In this week’s episode, we are sitting down with Matthew David of the Palm Harbor Library who shares their journey from discovering the joy of reading through garage sale books to finding a calling in the library field. They emphasize the importance of libraries adapting to new technologies while maintaining their core mission, and highlight initiatives such as the summer reading program and virtual author talks.

Listen to the podcast episode here!

Today we sat down with Matthew David. He is our Palm Harbor library director, and I was inspired by this conversation. Matthew’s passion for what he does and libraries in general is evident from the moment you sit down with him. 

He is a wonderful addition to the Palm Harbor community, and there are some really exciting things in the works for the Palm Harbor library now, in this episode, we talk about the importance or the impact of libraries for their communities, how Matthew got his start in the library community and some of the oldest libraries in our country that are still in the works today. 

So I hope you enjoy this conversation. Please leave us a review, share it with a friend, and let’s jump into it. So welcome Matthew. I am excited to have you on the podcast today. Thanks for being here.

Thank you very much. I appreciate the invitation.

So we met through the Palm Harbor library, and I’m excited that you’ve been the director of the Palm Harbor library for the last eight months. 

We were just talking about, now eight months. I had to do a little bit of math. I realized it was not seven, it was eight months.

Let’s go back to the beginning,  we were kind of just touching on but, how did you get your start in libraries?

I should put a qualifying statement saying We met through the library because you were dragged into participating in the Palm Harbor Library Endowment Foundation Board, and we thank you very much for giving up your time to do that. 

And so, I was just kind of telling you a little bit about how when I was young and very involved in a whole lot of things, and very passionate about writing music and writing plays, and went off to DePaul University in Chicago, one of the few sort of undergraduate conservatories that existed for that kind of thing. And my first day on campus, I think I was sized up by the work-study office at DePaul, and they said he belonged in the library and sent me over there. 

I never worked or volunteered in the library or anything. And most of, probably most of the reading that I did when I was a kid was from garage sale books that my parents would go buy things choose your adventure and that kind of thing. So I was always a little bit of a reader, but I didn’t, I only spent a little bit of time in public libraries, and nothing in academic libraries. Is my first time there at the college, so I went there, and over time. 

I kind of got wooed away from this life of arts and creating plays and eventually becoming a producer and forming a small nonprofit theater. theatre was doing that, I was working my way up through the DePaul library, and the people I met there were, as I was saying, kind of quirky and brilliant, but also very funny and had a very, kind of a wide mix of people, and just brought me in to see what amazing work goes into the creation of records and Collections and Services for, for for that was an academic library, but it has a strong crossover to public and it was, it was a calling. It was, it was beautiful. 

It showed me how methodology and meticulousness, but also a little bit of creativity mixed with hard work and collaboration. These words it wasn’t labeling at the time, but I was just taking it all in. Could make a big difference for a learner, or for somebody who is looking for some answers to something in their life.

So you’re going to college and you’re going to do, what were you going to study? What was your plan? 

I was studying playwriting okay, and I didn’t, I don’t sleep much, not because I have a hard time sleeping, but because I just sleep short amounts of time. So now I’ve worked my way up to about five or six hours a night, but back then I almost slept three hours a night. 

I just have always been wired that way. I don’t know why. And so at the time, I was working multiple jobs at the library and the theatre conservatory that I was in, and it just, bit by bit, the library just kind of took over. And so when I was sort of halfway through my degree, I learned, oh, if I get a full-time job here at the library, I can get my tuition paid for.  

I asked my Supervisors what did you get your graduate degree? And she goes, Oh, I got a nonprofit administration. I was, oh, that sounds good. So I went and just, in a year, a year and changed that. No, no, I got my theatre degree. And then I and then I went on to and got that. But then I was, so solidly in the library world and being fueled by it, that I was. 

Okay, well now I’m gonna go on for a library science degree. So not sleeping back then really paid off because otherwise there’s no way I could have made it working full time and trying to do that and figuring out life in Chicago, I just gotten me. Married to my my wife, who I met in Gainesville, Florida before all that happened. 

That’s where my dad, my father, had retired to after being 20 years in the Air Force and figuring out married life and running that theatre, theatre, that nonprofit theatre so I can’t look back. I’m, What the heck? I mean, how could that kid have done all that stuff? Well, I guess if you don’t sleep, that’s, that’s that’s, that’s the answer. 

You’ll have more time exactly, exactly, what was your first job in the library? What did you do? 

Well, so that was all behind the scenes at the library in Chicago, the DePaul University Library in Chicago, and so cataloging, acquisitions, collection development, serials, these are all the kinds of things that go into building a collection and some services for a library that nobody ever sees, nobody ever really knows about. 

And so when you think about cataloging, you’re talking about machine-readable records that have fields and subfields and some of them are based on the kind of accepted rules that are adopted through, sometimes internationally, but definitely in North America. And then occasionally you’ll do what’s called original cataloging, where you kind of have to make it up. And you do that sort of based on what you’ve learned so far and what things are out there. But sometimes just figuring out what people might be looking for. 

There’s a lot that goes into that, and people don’t realize, but it’s the reason you can find things and discover things when you still walk into a library and are looking at the shelves and realize, oh, and realize that that that was something I could I could learn about or study or read about.

It’s interesting. So growing up, you never really were or went to libraries or were involved in libraries at all. I mean, I’d go to my school library, I think, to check out books, and then occasionally to the public library, but usually my parents were just, oh, just go to the garage, a garage sale, and there’d all books there. 

People were always getting rid of their books. , we get so many donations at the Palm Harbor library. I cannot even tell you, you come, come by sometime, and you’ll just see,  the volumes and volumes and volumes of people that people are getting rid of, sometimes in pristine, actually, more often than not, in pristine condition, cool. But, once you’ve read it unless you’re planning on reading it again in a year and a few years to pass it along. 

Pay it forward, most of where I did my reading growing up was just those garage sale books choose you choose your adventure. And then I grew up Jewish, so there were certain authors I was drawn to because of that. And  Chaim Potok wrote The Chosen is his big, famous book, and my favourite book of all time. I had to kind of reread it a couple of years ago to see okay, is this still my favorite? 

Am I just telling people that it’s called My Name is Asher Lev, and it’s just an amazing book about this gifted painter who is at odds with his Orthodox Jewish upbringing?

Now I didn’t relate to painting because my artistry in that regard, is very, very terrible and I’m not I didn’t grow up Orthodox, and so I didn’t relate to that world. But, somehow, the story just was very engaging. I think it’s the idea of fitting in, and we all struggle with that, in finding out who are we in this world we to label ourselves, but not label ourselves, and, we want to connect with other people, but we also want to be our person. It’s, it’s a very that I found a very relatable, a relatable thing.  

Did you grow up reading a lot?

I would say, I think my wife puts me to shame, as a matter of fact, as a librarian for, for now about 25 years, she calls me her dealer, and she reads because I read, swell. ? I take it I take it all in and now that I’m reading, now, when I read, I kind of do a mix. I’ll pick up a print book occasionally, but oftentimes I’m on Libby, which is one of the ebook platforms at the library most libraries offer, including Palm Harbor, or I’ll do an audiobook or something that, or as we were talking about before.

 And occasionally because I listen to your podcast, I listen to other podcasts, but occasionally it’s nice just to have quiet time too. And so I’ll have a 3040, minute drive to work every day to and from and so sometimes I just, I don’t know how to meditate, but that’s sort of my version of medicine. 

Silence, there you go. That’s all you need. What’s the importance of so I guess, before I ask how long have you been involved in libraries now and in different states too? 

In different states? I was started in Chicago, Illinois, and I worked in multiple different jobs at DePaul and got involved at the Illinois State Library Association. And I also volunteered. That was my first time volunteering as an intern at the Harold Washington Library Center. If you ever go to Chicago, it’s worth it’s worth a visit. It’s this huge bit. Again the city blocks in Chicago are huge. So he takes the entire city block, and it’s five stories, and wow. And it’s a beautiful, 100-year-old building, and it’s sort of the central library for Chicago Public Libraries. 

Then I went to go intern there, and I met a woman named Margaret here, and she was one of, sort of the Chief Librarians there, and she said, Well, we only had interns. We don’t have an internship program. I said, Well, I’ll just, I’ll do a good job. I’ll just give you, I’ll give you 100 years 100 hours of free labor. I’ll learn, and I’ll help out, and occasionally, I’ll pleasantly surprise you. 

And she okay, sounds good. So she could kind of, on the spot, create this internship for me, and even though that was never my plan, was to kind of force my way in, or anything that, it was just an idea that I had that I thought. 

Oh, this makes a lot of sense to me, and it was a good lesson for me to say just because the thing doesn’t exist or the opportunity doesn’t exist doesn’t mean you can’t create it. Doesn’t mean you can’t explore it, or ask somebody to consider it, and that’s how things, that’s how things originate. ,

I love that. So what’s so this is what I wanted to ask you, was, what’s the importance of libraries for communities?

There’s a great book gonna forget the name of the author, but it’s called Palaces of the People, palaces for the People, and it’s, it probably does a better job of anything that I could say about, what impact libraries have. , but I can, I can cite one person that I think would demonstrate it. There’s a person named Todd Chavez. He’s the library dean or the director of libraries over at the University of South Florida. 

I went to go see him speak at the 50th anniversary of the University of South Florida library school anniversary, and he was talking about the organic relationship of libraries to their community, and that could be in any kind of library because there are a lot of different kinds. There’s public, obviously, that’s, that’s my world now, academic, meaning college and then there’s law and medical and corporate and other different kinds of special libraries. 

But there’s always a relationship there. And what makes libraries notoriously hard to describe and promote, is the fact that they do a lot. I can tell you my library, even though it’s not the biggest library in the area, does way more than I’ll ever be able to memorize even on a daily or weekly basis. And they change. They evolve, they again, that organic relationship with the community informs what kinds of things happen there. 

So becomes sort of a community space where people can, yes, of course, learn and recreationally read. We all know, okay story times for kids and that kind of thing. But there’s also things that we have with Palm Harbor,  the seed library the musical garden and the gaming center, and we have a genealogy center, and we have the Palm Harbor History Museum come to do lectures every month. And there’s, there’s an anime club for for for teens, and there’s the kind of list that goes on and on, and all of those things were not there at the start. 

They developed. They grew. They evolved out of this relationship. We have the community realizing, Oh, we’ve got this expertise. We have people who need this kind of thing and those that Venn diagram results in a library space or program or service. 

And so the impact is maybe sometimes hard to measure, but it has to do with filling gaps, what is missing in the community. If I have one vision for the library, it has to do with, getting to know, getting to a place where people understand if there’s something they need or want in their lives, that the library is one of the first things that they think of that would be my sort of ultimate vision for Palm Harbor Library.

Any library that I was, I was director of or a part of and may take us a while to get there, and maybe we’ll never get there, because, again, it’s hard to kind of describe this thing that does a whole bunch of things and, and maybe that thing will mean something to you, but it’s I was saying before, sometimes those opportunities are just waiting to be created, and we don’t even know what some of those are going to be yet.

It’’s funny, that you mentioned that because, but I think before I started the podcast and, and was looking for events or things happening in the Palm Harbor area,  my, my thoughts and visions of a library were just, was just bookend you go there and you read, or you take something out, take a copy of a book out, and, and. 

Then I learned about the Palm Harbor library, and,  you mentioned, all the different things that they provide for the community there is, there’s a ton for all different age groups. So it is interesting, how much the libraries can provide, and how much they can do for for a community. Have you? Is there a difference between and maybe it’s just between each library? 

So, the Palm Harbor library may be different than Clearwater or something, but is there any major difference between states that you’ve worked in and experienced libraries in?  

That’s a good question. When I worked in Illinois, I was just at the DePaul University Library, and then that internship I did at Harold Washington Library Center, and I would say I was a long time ago. And I think I think it’s hard for me to kind of connect those dots a little bit. There’s always this sort of common base of, there’s a collection and a development policy that goes into that collection, and there are certain kinds of services when people want to do research, whether or not, whether or not it’s, sort of serious academic heavy research, or if it’s just something they want to do to get an answer to a question. 

So I would say the differences from state to state probably have more to do with how they’re supported than how they function, and that support can mean funding. It can mean engagement from the community. It can have to do with the sort of makeup of the community because some are rural and some are more urban, and here in Florida, we have lots of both. 

I think that’s really what differs from state to state in terms of the balance of things. There’s some, Illinois is incredibly supportive of libraries when it comes to advocacy and making sure that, freedom to read, and certain principles that are important to librarianship are intact, and I think even to the point of kind of legally being protected in that way. 

And, that’s not always the case. Here in Florida, there are lots of issues that come up where, where there’s a disconnect, a disconnect between parts of the community, the library itself, local leaders or politicians and there that that disconnect sometimes can feel severe. But Florida is not the only place that happens. 

I bring it up because it’s a thing, and it’s, it’s happened. , happened quite a lot over time. But I should say also, as somebody who’s a leader in the library community, that it’s, it’s never from people looking in from the outside. 

This is not an overwhelming part of our lives. Some times become more challenging than others, but the sort of beacon that drives us all forward when it comes to giving people what it is that they’re looking for in all those different buckets of again, recreation and passion connection, connection, connecting with other people in the community, as well as the learning piece of it, that’s really what drives us, and is always the sort of guiding light for us

How have libraries changed over the years since you’ve been involved? Has there been any changes? And then how does the internet and the use of AI and stuff now how does that impact libraries in the future?

Definitely, no. I mean, Palm Harbor Library was in a small,  room in a small building when it first started in 1978, it was all volunteer-driven. , there are lots of changes, but certainly, technology has had an impact. One thing that I was very impressed by when I was first coming up in libraries and learning about them is how typically, libraries as a whole have embraced new technology, sometimes even been on the forefront of technology. 

So, when the Internet was booming, initially, we lost a lot of librarians to tech companies and companies who are who are behind,  the actual infrastructure of the Internet. And so there is that that sort of a. A keying in of of what is new and what might be helpful? Then there was, there was even talk back when microfilm and microfiche was, was here. 

What is this gonna mean for print materials,? And the same thing has happened with with internet and smartphones and all that kind of stuff. Libraries have been very good about adopting technology to make sure that that is an access point for people. Access is incredibly important to us. We want to make sure that people get what they want as quickly as they can and in the way that they are most comfortable having it. That’s why I mentioned my reading habits.  

I do print books, but I also have audiobooks and ebooks on my smartphone and they’re all technologies. Even a book is a technology. And so how has it changed? I would say the formats and the number of books in a library those kinds of things have changed, certainly, access to information electronically, through databases and ebook platforms. That’s new, but it’s not that new for us. , we were early adopters. 

And the nice thing about my field, the thing that I get a charge out of, and what I kind of used as my guideposts when I was going through library school, is that there always seems to be this healthy mix of traditional and current as well as forward-thinking when it comes to innovation. 

What we offer you mentioned about AI, and that’s making its way into the library world, just it is for everybody else. And because AI can be used in writing better policies and in format forming job descriptions, maybe if we’re struggling with how to create activities for a certain type of program, we can rely on these things. 

It always comes back to the person, because the person has to make the decisions about what to use from that and what not to. But it’s there where it’s definitely where, where libraries and librarians are at.

Do you see yourself, when I read a book I prefer reading a print copy, and I don’t know that, just because that’s what we grew up with. But with, but, do you see that ever going away? Or do you think there’s always going to be some people that just prefer to have the physical copy of a book, or does it become audio and or just on your phone?

Well, how long have we had treadmills? I don’t know, long time, though. 30, 40, years. People still run. So, no, I think it’ll be around people that. I mean, there is a, there’s almost a physiology to reading in that way. Because oftentimes you can.

I could probably think back to when I read Jurassic Park that book by Michael Crichton, and remember when a certain character I won’t spoil for anybody dies near the end of the book. What part of the page I was at?  what I mean? What? What side of the book and what part of the page did that happen? 

I still remember that, crazy. Why do I remember that? It’s kind of crazy. So you do take it in differently. I just do not have to carry around a bunch of books. That’s the advantage of doing, I these days when things get busy, and it’s a great privilege to be a director of a library because of how passionate I am about the field, but it’s busy.

And so I never know when I’m gonna be able to steal five minutes, maybe go out to our reading garden at the Palm Harbor library and do it there, or if I’m in my car and I have 20 minutes before an appointment or something that. 

So that’s, that’s the that’s the handy part of it. But I agree. I mean, there’s something very special about holding a book, and I don’t think that ever goes away especially picture books for kids, and they’ve done a very good job capturing some of that experience in the way that things are formatted, because they have to be adaptive. 

When it comes to ebook platforms, we don’t know what size or what type of device people are going to be using, but there’s still something about these picture books and I read incessantly to my girls when they were young. , one of your questions to me,  pre, sort of pre-interview questions was about failure.

What’s one of your failures? And I maybe glossed over that question a little bit, because there are too many to list, but one of them occurred to me today, which is about two, about two years ago or so, my daughter had just turned 10, my younger daughter just turned 10, and my older daughter was about to turn 13 or 12, I mean, and we were slowly moving away from me reading to them throughout the week or once a week, and it was time I read to them,  30 minutes a day, or 40 minutes a day, or something that. 

I finally kind of let that go, and I realized that feels like a failure to me, even though maybe. They would have pushed me out or edged me out of it at some point. I thought to myself, reason, gosh, I miss that so much. 

So, picture books, I think especially, will be around, and I think there will be a demand for the print book, also little insight for your listeners. And, ebooks and ebook platforms and databases, are expensive, and they go up every year, pretty much without fail, books are relatively cheap, And so we’re always being mindful of how we spend the taxpayers’ money. 

And so even if it was not still a need, if we didn’t still see good circulation from print books, we probably would still be having, at least a good number of them represented on the shelves. Because libraries don’t have tons of money. We’re not flush?

So, you were talking about, obviously, talking about a bunch of reading books and everything I know,  the, the Palm Harbor Library has a summer reading program that’s coming up, that’s, I want to touch on, I want to speak to that a little bit. And then also,  any other big programs, I know the library offers a ton, and people can visit the website to get a better idea of what opportunities and stuff you have there at the library. But maybe some other big programs the library offers that stick out to you. I was,

I almost took my badge off before we started today because I didn’t want it to rattle around. But I’ve got a little pin here. , that’s from the collaborative summer lead summer learning program is what it’s called. It sets the theme for summer reading every year, the theme this year is Adventure Begins at your library. And it’s kind of a nod to outdoor outdoor activities. And so we figure out different ways that we kind of incorporate that into the library for those two months, June and July, then this will be, I think, dropping after our summer reading registration day, which is on June 1 but there’ll still be plenty to register for.  

I want to emphasize, that for all ages. It’s very easy to think, oh, the library’s for kids because it is there are so many great kids things for libraries that are happening in our area, but we make great, great efforts to have for older kids, for teens, for what we might call new adults,  Jackson, who’s wise beyond his years when it comes to when it comes to ocean life and life in general. And then, of course, for, older adults as well, we try to run run the gamut when it comes to that, a few specifics where we’re going to be having a fundraiser on July 19. 

We did a fundraiser last year. We do. We only try to do a couple a year, but last year was Christmas in July, and said This year we thought we’d follow it up with summer wean, so it’s sort of a Halloween during the summertime.

So there’s for a small fee. I think it’s maybe 20 for adults and five for kids, and it’s a two-hour after-hours of doing more and more of these after-hours events. And there’s going to be just tons and tons and tons of activities going on for everybody, to come and take advantage of, and for, adults also looking for,  a sort of a partial night out, especially if their parents. I know that that’s a hard thing to find. 

Sometimes, there will be a limited number of free drink tickets that come with your they come with your admission so you can enjoy that as well. And there’ll be some live music and a costume contest for all ages and that kind of thing. And then we also have these virtual author talks. You’ve heard it. What is it? Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.  that, that adage, so we, we kind of stole this from the Dunedin Public Library, because they were doing it as well, using this library speakers consortium to bring in these huge authors to come in and, well, not come in. It’s a virtual it’s a virtual author talk? And so just coming up in let’s see. 

So June 13 is psychological thrillers with Frida McFadden, and skipping ahead a little bit to July to a kid’s author, Mercy Watson and Kate DiCamillo. Kate DiCamillo is a huge author in the children’s world. And that’s going to be on July 9. And that’s just two of several that we’re going to be having every month. 

And it’s just part of your library card experience. And you can just, even have to come in, you can just go online and register and get access, and the entire back catalogue is available for people and big authors. And one that keeps coming to the surface is, I’m going to forget his name. He played on that team. Remember that show, full house? 

Oh, I forget. I forget what his name is, that actor, but he did one pretty recently. Oh, cool. But. So there that’s a great way to kind of enjoy an author talk without actually having to leave you. Your bedroom or your living room.Circling back to the use of technology and stuff, and that’s, further enhancement of and I’ll throw a little tip out there. If y’all have not done a virtual program through the library before, and it’s something you want to try, and you want to make it more of an immersive experience. If you’ve not done this before. 

Try learning how to cast or mirror from your device. Let’s say you’re doing it from your laptop or your smartphone or your tablet, and you’re in the actual live session with the author, and you want to be able to see it on the big screen. You should have a way of connecting that to your Smart TV. If you have a smart TV or one of those boxes  Apple TV or Roku. 

So that’s it. That’s a good way to enjoy some of those, those library programs, which may May, May, kind of enhance the experience a little bit. And then if it’s if you are enjoying it live, you’ll be able to kind of chime in questions. And it’s any big author event. And maybe not all questions will get answered, but you might want to, you might be one of the lucky ones. 

And the only other thing I was going to mention is we have this other after-hours event called the Euphrates concert series. And so there’s going to be Beatles music being celebrated and played on Friday, June. Oh, that’s June 7, rats. That’s before we drop. Well, look for look, there’s going to be future ones of those as well. 

We’ll promote it in our newsletter and stuff too. Sounds great. So I want to, I have a couple of things, a couple of stats that I wrote down that I found interesting. Then I just want to get your feedback on, or just reaction to? 

So the first library opened in 1790 with books donated by Benjamin Franklin. So they’ve been around for a long time. On time pretty cool. And this one was, was pretty he was not the only founding father. 

Thomas Jefferson was largely responsible for what eventually became the Library of Congress and Adams as well. And so Andrew Carnegie donated 55 million in his time. Now they’re saying it’s where it would have been worth 1.6 billion in today’s dollars to open 22,509 libraries. That’s insane. It is insane. And, Carnegie is a good example, of giving what, what, what info, what legacy you can have. I’ve met. I’ve been fortunate. 

We’re very fortunate with the Palm Harbor library because we get private donations occasionally and need them. We need them. And that, Neil, we’ve been talking about the foundation and how we can kind of grow it, and I think it’s important to know, there’s always the nice thing about giving, but it’s nice to have your name on something, or to know that you’ve done something that will outlast you, and Carnegie got that. 

And I encourage you to look up and see, I don’t know where our closest Carnegie Library is here, but I’ve been to some of those Carnegie libraries. And, some of them have been well-kept, and some of them have not, but they’re always very interesting. And just the idea of being in this 100 and blank 110-year-old building, 120-year-old building that was given to the community because he felt it was an important thing to have, and it’s still standing. I mean, that’s, that’s pretty remarkable, that a lot of Florida homes that have not are not still standing?   

Jackson was talking about in the recent episode, about docks going away from the hurricanes. And, yes, houses are effective. And, it’s pretty remarkable. , but I didn’t know that stat, so I’m glad you shared that with me. 

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One of the closest Carnegie libraries is the West Tampa Branch Library.
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