Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | September 3, 2010

I love my librarians at Fairfield Library, part two

Librarian on the Front Line care package

I’ve decided that even two posts cannot capture all I love about my library, but it will have to suffice for now.  On Wednesday, I shared how Fairfield Library creates a positive visitor experience, promotes a love of books, and provides an abudance of resourcesToday I’ll round out the I LOVE MY LIBRARIAN nomination list by telling you a bit about how the librarians make a difference in the community, improve my quality of life, and build a better library.

A difference in the community

“We really are a community library,” librarian Mike Hatchett said in our first meeting.  Sharon Crenshaw echoed those words and added, “It is designed to meet the needs of the community.”  Since the economic downturn, the need for job searches has become more pronounced.  January through March, the librarians present resume-in-an-hour courses multiple times a day.  Resume building and job applications now require computer skills that weren’t needed twenty or thirty years ago when some residents began their careers.  Now middle-aged with work experience that didn’t include computers, these residents come to the library for training.  When Virginia Employment Commission’s Metro North Workforce Center relocated to Mechanicsville, more people came to the library.  The library has also partnered with Henrico County and the Greater Richmond Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition to offer free tax preparation and electronic-filling from late January through March each year.  Fairfield Library works with the Adult Education Center on Nine Mile Road and the Capital Area Training Consortium, an organization to provide free workforce services to adults, dislocated workers, and employers.

In addition, the librarians are passionate about offering books to all people in the community, especially those who are isolated due to mobility—children in daycare, adults in retirement communities, nursing homes, and subsidized housing.  Mike, who worked with the Henrico County Public Library Bookmobile thirteen years before coming to Fairfield, asks, “When do you get to go to the library?”  If residents can rarely get to the library, Henrico County brings the library to them.  “When the bookmobile is tailored to the needs of the community, it will always be relevant,” Mike said.

An improved quality of life

When I read the ALA’s question about an improved quality of life, I paused.  Quality of life isn’t accurately measured by statistics, and programs do not necessarily enhance living.  I think an improved quality of life is seen over time and revealed through the stories people tell, criteria that show Fairfield has improved life for generations of people in eastern Henrico.

Sharon started at Fairfield in 1982 and got to know parents and their children; now those children are adults and have children of their own, a third generation whose lives she’s touching.  Years ago, a young boy, eight or nine years old, came into Fairfield with an armful of toy trucks and asked if he could put them in the front window display.  Sharon took him over and they put his trucks in.  That boy came back as a man, graduated from college and headed for military service in Iraq, to say hello and ask if she remembered him and his toy trucks.  She did, of course.  Sharon has also received graduation invitations, and a young man she knew since his early years returned to the library so she could meet his fiancé.

Bringing people of different generations together improves the lives of all involved, and Mike reminded me that the library is one of the few multigenerational institutions left, “You see the whole gamut.  Society is getting more stratified.  Here you see people interacting, and it’s a good thing.”

Any time someone promotes the arts among the next generation, especially since school art programs are squeezed or discontinued, they enhance the quality of life for everyone in the community.  Fairfield and Twin Hickory Libraries work with area teenagers to produce the Teen Literary Review, a collection of short stories and essays by teens published in booklet form.

Mike reading whenever and wherever he can

A better library

A better library is built by taking the essence of the library outside the walls and into the lives of its users, even when those readers travel around the world.  From 2006 until 2008, Mike served an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq.  Instead of losing track of a beloved librarian, Fairfield began its Librarian on the Front Line communications.  Mike sent photographs and updates to staff back home, which the librarians posted for patrons to follow.  Book recommendations passed between library users at home and Mike in the field.  The library community loaded care packages with books to ship to Mike, connecting readers over half the globe.

Mike at Fairfield Library beside photo of him in Iraq

Everyone at Fairfield pours hours of energy into making the library a great place to fall in love with books and learning, and we can help them make the library a better place. We can promote its events, and we can attend, volunteer, or donate books for the fall library book sale.  We can join the Friends of the Library, which is crucial to the library’s programs, especially those for children and young adults.  Or, most importantly, we can use the library.  “The library is a resource that is here, and we want people to use it,” Mike said.  “If people haven’t been in a while, we’d like for them to come in and rediscover it…Libraries are built of and for ideas.  Bring them out.”

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