In Celebration of Librarians

ALA presidential panel highlights what libraries do for their communities

January 21, 2024

From left, Sherry Scheline, Eboni M. Henry, Emily Drabinski, and Nicole T. Bryan
From left: Sherry Scheline, director of Donnelly (Idaho) Public Library District; Eboni M. Henry, school media specialist at District of Columbia Public Schools; ALA President Emily Drabinski; and Nicole T. Bryan, Macon Library branch manager, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library, after the Main Stage Panel at ALA's 2024 LibLearnX conference in Baltimore on January 21. Photo: EPNAC

American Library Association (ALA) President Emily Drabinski is certainly aware of the major political and personal challenges facing libraries and librarians. However, when planning a presidential program for ALA’s 2024 LibLearnX conference in Baltimore, she chose to focus on the good that libraries do. “I really want to have an opportunity to celebrate the things that are important to us, rather than the things that seem to matter to some other people,” she said.

In her Main Stage Panel on January 21, titled “It’s All Happening at the Library!” Drabinski spoke with three other librarians about the ways their libraries serve as community connectors.

Eboni M. Henry, school media specialist for District of Columbia Public Schools, said that finding out who makes up her library’s broad community is as easy as finding the school’s statistics. “But each classroom is its own community,” she said. “Some classes have more girls or more boys, some classes have all white students and some have two.” She is careful to pay attention to student and adult needs through surveys and conversations and by paying attention to the many groups that use the library for meetings. When those groups meet, “I text my kids and let them know I’m going to be late because I’m going to be nosy, I mean, informed.”

Nicole T. Bryan, branch manager of Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) Macon Library, spoke about BPL’s biggest program of the year, its Jay-Z exhibit. “We saw so many different patrons and community members come out,” she said. “Nontraditional library users walked in and said, ‘I didn’t know you did ESL classes. I didn’t know you did adult learning.’”

Bryan also shared background on another of her branch’s successful programs. A staff member, Krishna Paul, conceived of an idea to support and show love to mothers in the community. Eight years later, the annual Mom-a-Thon remains a vibrant program, drawing support from local businesses who provide cupcakes, massages, catering, and more.

Sherry Scheline, director of Donnelly (Idaho) Public Library District, took inspiration from the Mom-a-Thon but adapted it to her community’s needs. “We had a growing number of single dads post-COVID,” she explained. “A lot of moms literally woke up one day and left.” To support those newly single fathers, Scheline hosted the library’s first Single Dads’ Night Out in December. The event was a success, which she attributes to keeping a “pulse” on her community and noticing what was needed.

Donnelly is a rural community two hours from a Walmart, McDonald’s, or hospital. “We’re small but mighty,” Scheline said. The library serves as a community center and the only public place where residents can use Wi-Fi to apply for unemployment or food stamps, or to get immigration or passport services. The library also operates Camp Library, a summer program that runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, offering children everything from STEAM learning opportunities to food they can take home for the weekend.

Amid this celebration of what libraries are doing, the disconnect with what some critics say they do inevitably arose. Scheline shared that one local woman posted on Facebook yesterday about the “hardcore porn” supposedly available at the library. “You’re over here acting like I’m handing out pornography,” she said. “I am worried about children starving over the weekend.”

In this environment, the panelists agreed on the need for self-care and not expecting to be able to do everything. “I have to show up every day as my best self for my team,” Bryan said. That includes learning to delegate tasks to colleagues and even volunteers.

“I used to say, ‘no, I’m not tired,’” Bryan said. “But it’s okay to say, ‘I’m tired today.’ Self-care is not selfish.”


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