Coordinator for Youth Services, Middle Country Public Library, Centereach, NY
MLS, Queens College, CUNY, 2001
Photo by Deborah Hempe
When it comes to creating innovative patron-centered programming, there seems to be nothing that Tracy LaStella can’t do. She joined the Middle Country Public Library (MCPL) team as a page in 1990 and, with the encouragement of coworkers such as children’s coordinator Sharon Breen, not only finished her BA but earned her MLS. “Sharon sat me down one day and told me to leave work and go sign up for classes at Stony Brook University,” says LaStella. “[T]hat turned a switch…and gave me the inspiration I needed to finish school.” Now, as coordinator for youth services, LaStella has become a beacon for the community.
In 2010, she spearheaded the development of the Nature Explorium, the first certified outdoor classroom in a public library setting. Open from April to October, it enables people of all ages to explore, discover, and learn about the natural world. Miniature shovels, dump trucks, and wheelbarrows are provided for children, and a group of Green Teens serve as volunteers to answer visitors’ questions. LaStella has hosted an impressive 600 programs at the Explorium in the past five years, with approximately 12,000 visits per year and counting. She also developed a training program (available on the Nature Explorium website) for other librarians to create their own nature-based activities.
LaStella says she became a librarian to provide opportunities for the community she grew up in, especially “fun, creative, and inspiring spaces, programs, and services.” She is doing all that and more. She oversees the Museum Corner, an evolving interactive exhibit for children and families. Her UMIGO (You Make It Go) program, a collaboration with the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, helps children develop and improve math literacy skills. The complementary Math Buddies matches teen volunteers with children in kindergarten through second grade.
Inspired by her own and the staff’s love of animals, LaStella launched a pet fair—a showcase of educational information about Long Island’s stray animals that featured exhibits from more than 25 local animal shelters. She has also partnered with the North Shore Animal League for MCPL to be a pilot site for Mutt-i-grees, a program developed by the Yale School of the 21st Century that showcases the desirability of Mutt-i-grees, or shelter pets.
“Tracy has enormous ability to inspire and engage staff, community, partners, and funders around new ideas that go beyond traditional library services,” says MCPL assistant director Kathleen Deerr. “She is always open to [what’s]new and unconventional.”