Director of Community Engagement, Queens Library, Jamaica, NY
MLS, Queens College, CUNY, 2015
See You on the Outside was recognized with an Innovations award from Urban Libraries Council in 2016
Photo by Patrick Heagney
Recently named director of community engagement at the Queens Library (QL) and former outreach coordinator, Kim McNeil-Capers describes her role as “a human bridge of connectivity”—to customers, external and internal stakeholders, community organizations, government officials, and more. Her outreach programs have served over 10,000 people annually, including incarcerated patrons and those living in housing projects. “Kim’s impressive…accomplishments and how she made them happen read like a veritable ‘how-to-do-outreach’ master class include the often forgotten,” says then–QL COO Kelvin Watson (Watson recently became director of Florida’s Broward County Library).
Addressing the “often forgotten” is See You on the Outside, a partnership between the library and Queensboro Correctional Facility that “provides library literature, job readiness, and case management services to currently incarcerated individuals about to reenter society,” says McNeil-Capers. The program, named by inmates themselves, “was developed to address the need for inmates who have…not had the exposure to technology that will be essential for their transition [outside] prison,” she says. In addition to skill-building, participants create résumés and have access to library staff, who continue to help them after their release. The program reaches more than 1,000 inmates per year, all of whom get a library card, take at least one computer class, and complete a résumé.
In 2012, McNeil-Capers launched another signature program: Reach Rockaway. In just four months, she and her team “took outreach face-to-face, door-to-door, and street-to-street,” informing over 5,000 residents in the area’s housing projects, as well as many more in schools, community centers, and local businesses, about the services and support offered by the library. The result? Program attendance went up 46 percent at several community libraries, according to Watson.
Hip-hop programming has been a central theme in QL programming for the past decade, focusing on five core elements: MCing, DJing, breaking, graffiti, and cultural understanding. In 2014, McNeil-Capers “broke new ground” by leading a “31 Days of Nonstop Hip Hop” programming series, “which included a different hip-hop event every day,” says Watson. In 2015 the program series continued with another round of cultural programs centered on music history, photography, MC and DJ performances, and family days, bringing in 3,000-plus attendees. The huge success of McNeil-Capers’s work led to the creation of a hip-hop coordinator position at QL, complete with a budget allocation, now held by DJ, producer, and hip-hop pioneer Ralph McDaniels. In 2016, the library offered an entire year of hip-hop programming, with larger programs and venues, in about 30 branches, says McNeil-Capers. “The mission is to recognize, document, and celebrate the positive evolution of hip-hop culture,” she says.