November 24, 2017

Valerie Bell | Movers & Shakers 2006

Culture Connector

2006_Valerie_Bell

Valerie Bell was once the only African American librarian in the Ocean County Library (OCL) System. Characteristically, says her friend Rose Dawson, Bell saw that not as a problem but an opportunity.

Dawson calls Bell ‘an organizer extraordinaire,’ who founded and cochaired Ocean County Library’s Diversity Initiative in 1997 when ‘many people failed to see the need for such an initiative since less than seven percent of the community was nonwhite. Not only did she sell the initiative to the staff, but the community became real supporters as well.’

Bell began by providing numerous opportunities for staff to learn about each targeted community with regular cultural awareness seminars and book and film discussions, often featuring guest speakers from that community. She convinced her staff that ‘diversity is no longer a side dish – it’s fast becoming the main course! How well we interact with ‘historically’ underrepresented groups of people is vital to our successful future.’

The initiative, ‘Connecting People…Building Community,’ focuses on three traditionally underserved groups: Hispanics, African Americans, and the GLBT community. In the first year of each project, she built relationships within the targeted communities as well as a collection to serve their expressed needs and interests. In the second year, the project went public with well-publicized programs and new collections. For Libros Y Mas para Todas!, for example, the library partnered with three community groups to present a half-day fiesta that featured dance, food, resources, bilingual story hours, and bilingual tours of the library.

Bell also developed a steering committee to coordinate activities of the separate Friends groups within the Ocean County Library System. She created an Ocean County Library Friends web site (oceancounty.lib.nj.us/Friends/friends_default.htm), developed a new slogan, logo, stationery, and application form for all OCL Friends groups, organized a countywide membership drive that increased membership by ten percent, and established a biannual Friends Information Exchange.

Bell sees her two major initiatives as going hand in hand: when the library supports the community, the community will support the library. Diversity, she explains, creates ‘a welcoming, inclusive, nonjudgmental, even understanding environment for all residents to use our facilities and resources.’

Vitals

 

Current Position Chief of Branch Services, Ocean County Library System, Toms River, NJ
Degrees MLS, St. John’s University (Queens), 1986
Who knew Her diversity initiative placed first in the American Library Association’s 7th Annual Diversity Fair

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