Over 20 years ago I was new to America. Everything was new. I left behind my family and friends in India. I was fortunate that even before I learned to drive, I was introduced to the Public Library. I was not used to Public Libraries as we do not have them in India. I was used to school, college and university libraries, circulating libraries run out of garages or special libraries to which we had to purchase membership.
I was amazed at all the books, magazines, DVDs and CDs that I was able to check out for free with my library card. I could use the internet and computer at the library. The librarians were welcoming, friendly and helpful. I learned to navigate my way through the library.
It was mind boggling to learn that most communities in the United States had a Public Library. They supported new Americans with services like learning English and community connections and provided a safe space for discovery and learning. You can read as many books as you like without having to buy them. Libraries are a fun environment for children to explore and find resources. All the programs offered by the library were free. I was very impressed to learn that the summer reading programs are an amazing and fun way to keep up the reading skills of children during summer vacations.
What I understood and imagined about America from family, friends and books was very different from my actual experience here. Living here, meeting people, making friends and most of all reading books, helped me understand this country. Historical Fiction in the Children’s Department became my favorite genre. Every book I read was an Aha! moment for me.
I am ever thankful for the connections, hope, friendships, books, authors and illustrators that I discovered at Lisle Library District in Lisle, Illinois They all helped me create a new home with friends and connections in a new land. Even though I wanted to blend in, my accent, skin color and mannerisms were a dead giveaway that I was new. This did not intimidate the librarians, it only seemed to act as a catalyst for them to want to reach out and be of assistance.
My love for Public Libraries, what they stand for and what they mean for their communities made me take steps to explore a career in libraries. I wanted to be part of this marvelous institution that makes a difference in the life of each and every person who enter the doors.
My journey towards this career started at College of Dupage in Wheaton, Illinois. Then I went to Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois to get my MLIS degree. I enjoyed my classes and soaked up all the new information taught. In my professional journey I have had many mentors and friends that rooted for me and guided me. I am eternally grateful to all of them.
I do not know if I can call myself a new American any more. After all these years my desire to blend in and not be seen has not gone away. I am learning to accept and embrace courageously that I will I stand out due to my skin color, accent and mannerism. Even though I work at a Public Library, I regularly use resources at my local Public Library. You will catch me telling friends and family to visit their public library and use the resources.
I enjoy working with children, doing storytimes, and sharing the power of reading and stories with them. Many parents tell me I am a star to their children, when I hear that my first instinct is to look over my shoulder for someone else. Then I let it sink in that they are talking about me, I feel grateful and hope I am giving back to the community all that I received and much more.
Today’s blog post was written by Uma Nori, Head of Youth Services at Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, IL, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group; II. Reference and User Services.