Sterling Library, Loudoun County
Public Library, VA
Just two years after she immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, Patricia Pacheco landed a library assistant position as the first bilingual staff member at the Sterling Branch of the Loudoun County Public Library system in Virginia. She had been a kindergarten teacher for nearly 20 years and had dealt with children of all ages in her home country. Early on in her time in the States, she volunteered part time in the Ashburn Library of Loudoun County. So when the Sterling branch announced that it sought a bilingual staff member, Pacheco applied and was hired. That was back in May 2015.
“At the library system, we had been emphasizing the need for bicultural bilingual staff members to serve our increasingly diverse community. We added ‘Spanish language preferred’ in all our job announcements,” explains Chang Liu, director of the Loudoun County Public Library, who nominated Pacheco as the 2017 Paralibrarian of the Year, sponsored by DEMCO, Inc. Pacheco, the first full-time bicultural bilingual staff member in the system since Liu became director, is, Liu says, “a shining example of why we want to bring more staff members like this to the libraries.”
“Patricia has seized opportunities to build relationships, encouraged reading and literacy, and developed a sense of community pride in the library. Through Patricia’s work, the library has helped improve the quality of life for individuals and families,” writes Liu.
Challenges in the suburbs
The Loudoun County Public Library is well supported financially, almost entirely by a budget allocated from county property taxes. The county, in northern Virginia, is comprised of more than 530 square miles of an affluent suburban area surrounding the District of Columbia. About 360,000 people are county residents, and the library circulates about six million items annually.
Sterling Park, the community served by Pacheco’s branch, is quite different from the rest of the county. The community’s challenges include lower levels of educational attainment, a high number of residents below the poverty line, and a much larger percentage of new immigrants and individuals for whom English is a second language.
According to Liu, Pacheco “has made a tremendous difference in the quality and quantity of the programs and services we offer to the community and all the connections we have made to organizations and individuals.”
A few examples illustrate Pacheco’s achievement. Her Musical Story Times, to which children of varied ages bring their own instruments, feature a lot of singing, rhyming, and dancing. They are featured systemwide.
It is also part of Pacheco’s job to help all Loudoun County branches become more bilingual. “I added a little to make [the library] bilingual, so now most of the songs we sing and the books we read are in Spanish. It has been great,” Pacheco says.
The weeklong El día de los niños commemoration is common in most Spanish-speaking countries. Known as Día, it is a celebration of children, families, and reading that culminates yearly on April 30. The observance emphasizes the importance of literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
“It is almost bigger than Christmas in many places. About 20 years ago, ALA [the American Library Association] started celebrating it as a day to recognize Hispanic children,” says Pacheco.
The branch manager at Sterling already observed Día, and Pacheco continued and embellished it when she arrived. The weeklong festivities honors the Hispanic heritage, with children receiving books as gifts from the library. There are reading programs and many other activities. Special guests, such as Hispanic authors or musical performers, entertain, and the entire event is multicultural and bilingual.
While many of these programs are aimed at children, Pacheco explains that these children are the gateway to serving the entire family.
“At Sterling, we focus on the whole family. Because they go to school, the children are more familiar with libraries. Public libraries are a very American cultural phenomenon. We don’t have easy access to them in most Hispanic countries. That means that with the help of the children, we are teaching families to come in and use library resources. At first, parents don’t understand about the libraries, so when the children ask to go to the library, the parents don’t realize they can get free books and [attend] programs, even just to have fun, [in addition to] the other resources. They can even find someone to help with other issues, to help them fill out job applications,” Pacheco explains.
Working collaboratively with the library system’s Programming Division as well as community groups (including the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Loudoun Workforce Resource Center), Pacheco took charge of and coordinated Sterling’s “How I Made It” series, which links members of the Hispanic community with business, employment, and job-seeking resources. She successfully worked one-on-one with a family who attended the event and found the inspiration to start their own now-successful new enterprise.
Pacheco has developed productive relationships across the library system, breaking down barriers among staff members. She actively participates in systemwide initiatives, including the Summer Reading Program group, a task force exploring possible “pop-up libraries,” and a Spanish-language training collective.
Pacheco seeks continuing education opportunities at Public Library Association conferences and meetings and shares her own expertise with librarians in and out of Loudoun County. Pacheco presented on “incorporating bilingual story times when you don’t speak Spanish” at a regional youth services staff retreat to librarians from other library systems. Last spring, she represented the library at a job fair in the Sterling Park area, helping to reach out to more potential bilingual staff.
A new library and location and longer hours will help. In April, the Sterling Library will move to a new site in a shopping center just a few blocks away. It will be a very modern library, and at 15,600 square feet, it will be three times the size of the current facility. Because it will be open seven days a week and be much more visible, it is expected that use will increase dramatically.
All the nominees for the 2017 Paralibrarian of the Year were impressive, but one stood out from the rest:
ELIZABETH GRANZOW: Library Associate, New OrleansPublic Library
The Paralibrarian of the Year Award is sponsored by DEMCO, Inc., of Madison, WI, which underwrites the $1,500 cash prize
and a reception to honor the winner at
the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, this June.
The award recognizes the essential role
of paralibrarians in providing excellent
A supportive culture
Heather Ketron, who was named a 2016 LJ Mover & Shaker, hired Pacheco and served as a very important mentor for her. The now-retired manager of the Sterling Library, Ketron collaborated with INMED Partnerships for Children, a local nonprofit. The library assisted at weekly parent education workshops that focus on literacy and life skills, and she began conducting similar family programs at the library. Pacheco has continued that joint effort, leading an Early Literacy Workshop at INMED’s Family & Youth Opportunity Center and presenting a family literacy workshop in Spanish.
“I’m standing on Heather’s shoulders. She started many of the things I do. I try to live up to the standard of service she set. She was the perfect mentor,” says Pacheco.
Nor was Ketron Pacheco’s only inspiration; she is deeply impressed by the library’s culture as a whole.
“The whole library staff is committed. The administration here is a motivator,” says Pacheco, explaining how new ideas and engagement are encouraged and supported by Director Liu and the Loudoun Public Library administration in general.
“[Patricia] is an enthusiastic and effective advocate for the library as a resource that changes lives. By sharing her own skills and experiences, she builds bridges among staff and improves the entire [Loudoun County Public Library], writes Director Liu. “Patricia’s work is particularly timely, as the library undertakes relocation and expansion.” Her considerable achievements and performance might be described as the hallmarks of a Paralibrarian of the Year.