Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | September 1, 2010

I love my librarians at Fairfield Library, part one

I’ve visited Fairfield Library dozens of times since I moved to my home three years ago.  I vote there; I attend HOA meetings there; I check out stacks of books that I keep too long.  It is my local library, and I thought I knew the library and the librarians (at least by sight), until last week when I met them again.  I realized how much I have to learn and discovered—pardon the cliché—I love my librarians.

After meeting Mike Hatchett, Sharon Crenshaw, Robert Christopher, Karam Hwang, and Martha Dowd, being a librarian doesn’t seem like just a job, more a calling fulfilled with gusto.  They also seem a little saucy (saucy in a good way, an enjoyable sense of humor way, a way that makes me want to pour some coffee and get to know them).  Talking with them revealed opportunities I didn’t know were, almost literally, in my backyard: GRE prep, jazz recommendations, computer classes, book clubs, resume builders, friendships, research aids, and free entertainment.  I learned how the staff at Fairfield Library facilitates a positive visitor experience, inspires a love of reading, and assists with gathering knowledge and skills.

A positive visitor experience

In my introductory post, I gushed about what made me love libraries.  As a child, resources and circulation counts didn’t matter.  It was the environment that turned me into a life-long library devotee, and it still matters to me as an adult.  And it seems to matter to other Fairfield patrons; their feedback is sprinkled throughout the post in block quotes.

Many people comment on the soft jazz played at the information desk.  Fairfield began playing music around eight years ago at the winter holidays.  It was so popular they decided to try it year-round, and the response was huge.  They play instrumental smooth jazz that staff brings from their personal collections, and library users come up to the information desk to ask about what they’re playing.  Instead of causing a din, the music reduced the noise inside the library.

“I love the jazz music.  Thanks for providing it.”

“I have really enjoyed the music that is played here.  I find it very pleasant to my ears and spirit.  Thank you.  Very enjoyable!  Keep it up.”

Murals by Steven S. Walker cover the walls in the children’s section.  A native Richmonder, Steven worked as a Fairfield library assistant and painted the mural while he studied for his Bachelors in Fine Arts at VCU.  Since finishing the program and the mural, he’s worked as a children’s book illustrator, adjunct professor at VCU, and freelanced for Boy Scouts of America, Highlights for Children, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and many others.  His fine art has been featured in the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and galleries across the east coast.

Steven began on the right wall as you enter, and his style evolves as paintings of children, storybook characters, and animals wrap around the room.  Muted scenes of children reading cover the right wall.  Bright blues, reds, and oranges jump off the rear and left.  He incorporated the librarians’ names into the mural along book spines and across the back of a boy’s jersey that reads “Crenshaw 82” for librarian Sharon Crenshaw, who’s worked at Fairfield since 1982.  The face of one girl on the right wall belonged to a librarian’s niece.

Art by untrained but equally enthusiastic hands covers the windows in the rear corner.  Once looking out over a HVAC unit, the windows now show a mountain scene and night sky, a project completed by the YA Teen Advisory Board and Jennifer St. Clare, who was the YA librarian at that time.

The soothing sensory experience isn’t as influential as the intangible steps librarians take to make the visitor’s experience positive.  Mike explained the staff’s goal of generally “exhibiting kindness and compassion, thoughtfulness, respect, and saying ‘yes’ as much as possible.”

They take an interest in the books and authors you’re looking for and discuss unrelated topics that draw a smile.  While I was there, Mike discussed a mango salsa recipe with a patron.

“We try to learn people’s names,” Mike said.  “It shows we are part of the community.”  And Mike, Sharon, and other librarians have been a part of the community for years, including living in the district they serve.

“I don’t think any changes should be made, because Fairfield is the best library ever.”

“My experience at the Fairfield Branch has always been positive, and I appreciate the patience of the staff under trying conditions at times.  They live up to the expectations of good public service.”

There is no shortage of character anywhere in the library.  The public doesn’t see into the staff offices, but if they did, they’d see “Greetings from Johny Quest Isle” and “Humpty Dumpty was Pushed” among the notes and artwork pinned to the walls.  Sparkly pipe cleaner sculptures dangle from the ceiling by monofilament.  Kermit and the Hulk are on the walls with their own versions of the difficulty of being green.  Though not appreciated by the public, these off-limits spaces are crucial for a positive visitor experience, because they provide a haven for a busy librarian to recharge.  Each bit of paper, including the Club House, Keep Out sign, is placed to draw a smile, a benefit you and I enjoy.

A love for reading

Fairfield Library strives to introduce as many young people as possible to a love for reading.  They have a vibrant children’s program that reaches young children through young adult.  A whopping 379 children participated in their Summer Reading Club, some through online registration and, as Sharon said, they read books from the comfort of home or the beach.   Daycares also made up a large number of the Summer Reading Club.  Parents and guardians still bring their children into Fairfield, but librarians also reach out to local day cares.  Older youth enjoy Pizza and Pages, a teen reading group that meets to discuss a book, eat, and socialize.

Inspiring a love to read isn’t just about preschoolers and pizza, it’s about themed projects, too.  Henrico Public Library and Henrico County Public Schools sponsor the All Henrico Reads program to introduce the county to new authors and get people reading and discussing literature.  At the end of each reading year, the author is invited into a local library to meet with readers and discuss the book.  To promote 2009’s young adult selection of M. T. Anderson’s Feed, a novel in which characters have a “feed” implanted into their brains (and features a prominent bald head on the cover), libraries around the county received Styrofoam heads to decorate.  Older children, young adults, and staff painted, drew, and pierced heads to interpret the book.  The Lady Liberty head designed by Fairfield librarian Robert Christopher was one selected for display at the author event.  The craft was such a success they’re doing it again for Melissa Marr’s October 21st visit to Henrico to discuss Wicked Lovely.

A great library celebrates the digital age of books.  Instead of bemoaning the changing format, Fairfield librarians enthusiastically directed me to their eBook loans and introduced me to their Play Away audio books, which are small MP3 players loaded with individual books.  Patrons only supply the battery and ear buds to use the devices that are smaller than a deck of playing cards.  I have to try this new method for getting books into the minds of our increasingly on-the-go and plugged-in culture.

If you prefer old-fashioned paper pulp to an iPad, Fairfield still has a lot of that, too.  Despite the recession, there has been little impact on the number of books they’ve acquired, a testament to the county and Friends of the Library.  And you can gather to discuss the books face-to-face instead of over social media or Skype.  In addition to the YA book groups mentioned above, the Black Authors book group and the Women of Character book group meet regularly and occasionally host local authors.

An abundance of resources

Need assistance with a project, finding information, or learning a new skill?  Start here, before you even bother googling it.  I’m a fairly library-savvy individual, but I never realized the plethora of non-book resources waiting at Fairfield.

The most striking electronic resource is the quantity of databases, 45 at this time, all accessible in the library and anywhere with a library card and an internet connection via the Henrico Public Library websiteSharon suggests the Learning Express Library database, which has practice tests for academic and licensing exams (including SAT, GRE, GED, law enforcement, military, nursing, teaching), U.S. naturalization preparation, and computer skills tutorials.  She also strongly suggests Optimal Resume’s resume builder, skills assessment, interview prep, and cover letter templates.  They even show you how to do a video resume and build a website.

There is also the tangible resource of Richmond Times Dispatch microfilm.  Drawers along end caps and walls are filled with the small boxes of history.  There isn’t a continuous run, but it puts most copies from 1903 to the present at the your fingertips.

It’s never too late or too soon to take a class.  The library offers a variety of classes on how to use software prevalent in the office, such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher.  The courses also aid job searches, a topic I’ll address Friday.  This month’s Get Your Craft On, a series of fun classes offered on Wednesday evenings, show you how to make beaded bracelets and earrings.

“Mike served me in such a rich way.  I need to know how to say something  in French.  Not only did he give me the info from various [books], he also gave it to me in several languages.  This was superb.”

Of course, the best resource is the people.  The librarians and library assistants have years of experience and genuinely care about answering questions and telling you about aids you might not have dreamt existed.  Take a few minutes to stop by the information desk and talk.  Introduce yourself and tell them your interests.  Listen as they tell you theirs.  You might find out you’re building a friendship while you’re gaining access to a world of resources.

There is more to Fairfield Library than can fit in a mere thousand words.  On Friday, I’ll share how Fairfield Library makes a difference in the community and improves my quality of life.

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  1. Thanks for this spectacular write up! Everyone at Fairfield is awesome. I work behind them at HQ.

    • I didn’t mean to be anonymous. My name is Matt and I’m the Emerging Technologies Librarian. I thought I was signed in.

  2. Nothing makes my heart happier than an ode to librarians, especially those who can accurately be described as “saucy.” Thanks for a fabulous post!

  3. Thank you for a wonderful description of my colleagues and friends. We truly love our patrons and the opportunity to serve.

    • Annie, thank you. Your love and dedication can be seen by anyone who comes into the library.

  4. As a former library worker and patron of Fairfield (I went there ALL the time as a kid), I’m glad to see this post:-)

  5. Thank you all! The staff certainly made it easy to gush!

  6. […] Read Week 2010 Theatre makeup, a masquerade, movies, styrofoam heads: all ways to celebrate this year’s Teen Read Week (October 17-23).  Teen Read Week, a […]

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