Community Engagement/Outreach Librarian
Palo Alto City Library, CA
MLIS, San Jose State University, 2006
Photo ©2014 Michael Pilla
Last year, Cheryl Lee produced 131 programs with 14,465 attendees (in a city of about 64,000) at the Palo Alto City Library (PACL) and attended 26 outreach events. She has fostered over 33 partnerships with local organizations, nonprofits, schools, and other departments.
As a “roving librarian with no physical desk,” Lee rotates among the city’s five branches daily. “Her car is loaded with promotional materials, and she is ready to attend any event,” says Kathy Shields, senior librarian at PACL and one of some 20 nominators. Lee struggled with reading comprehension as a child and has focused in part on “nonliterary programs to draw reluctant readers into our library program and the library itself,” she says, from a Reverse American Idol—“where we search for the worst singer in Palo Alto”—to a Library’s Got Talent event and a citywide library “Pop-Up Storytime” that takes place anywhere from a dentist’s office to a bank, among other locales.
A partnership with Gordon Biersch Brewers yielded over $5,000 in donations as well as Brew University, a beer education program with 205 graduates. Using a $5,000 Eureka! Leadership Program Grant, Lee, a children’s librarian for eight years, developed parenting programs that have drawn 500-plus participants. One of these, “Keeping Calm and Carrying On,” inspired by the Boston Marathon bombing, focused on “how to explain complex adult problems to kids,” including death and illness. The program has become a model for other libraries.
Mindful of repurposing and recycling—the National Renewable Energy Laboratory named Palo Alto the nation’s number one green city in 2010—Lee started a popular back-to-school swap in which the members of this affluent community donated gently used school materials that found new homes. During a Halloween Costume Swap, 180 kids received costumes otherwise destined for “Goodwill or the garbage,” says Lee. Her ultimate goal: “be everywhere our customers are and provide customer-driven programming.”