Even after the Shrewsbury Public Library was forced in 2009 to cut her hours to part-time, Priya Rathnam put her community first. She created the English Conversation Circle to help immigrants learn English. She sought grants, sponsorships, and volunteers to expand the program. “I decided to turn adversity into opportunity,” says Rathnam, a reference librarian.
When Rathnam moved from children’s services to adult in early 2010, she immediately noticed the large number of non-English speakers using language resources, says Shrewsbury library director Ellen M. Dolan. “Priya saw a need, stayed focused on how to meet that need despite her own challenges, and created a program out of nothing,” says Dolan. The program, now four sessions per week, serves a city with almost 11 percent foreign-born residents. During 2010, Rathnam returned to full-time status.
Rathnam says she realized that it made sense to convene a multicultural advisory committee to plan activities that encourage understanding of other cultures. The well-attended multicultural events draw newcomers to the library and bring various cultures together, says George C. Brown, the library’s assistant director.
And following the model of her conversation circles, Rathnam launched two additional low-cost, high-yield programs, the Job Seeker’s Network and Spanish-language instruction classes. “Priya never gives up!” Brown says.