April 20, 2018

Eric S. Riley | Movers & Shakers 2010 – Innovators

Library Journal March 15, 2010: Eric S. Riley, Mover & Shaker

Minding the Store

For a little over four years after receiving his MLIS, Eric Riley worked as a cataloger in the Federal Depository Library Program in Washington, DC. “I knew I needed to get out of isolation, to work with people, and to make a difference here in the city,” he says. At the time, District of Columbia chief librarian Ginnie Cooper was overseeing the construction and opening of four new public branches in the DC Public Library. “Each needed staff to work in these experimental environments,” says Riley. He jumped on board.

Getting out of isolation was the springboard to wildly creative public programming that’s bringing in the crowds. As branch manager at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Interim Library, a 4000 square foot space that Roger Gilbertson, a local senior, calls “the general store,” Riley and his staff of four and a half full-timers plus two teen aides dream up and “crank out” 40–50 cool public programs monthly, from coed, co-age knitting for patrons age eight to 80 (male teen knitters were inspired by Michael Del Vecchio’s Knitting with Balls) to intergenerational Wii to a workshop in Pysanky (Ukrainian painted eggs). While waiting for a new, 20,000 plus square foot facility for Watha to be completed this spring, featuring 32 computers and some 88,000 items, Riley and his staff preside over other low-tech projects at the interim space—building catapults from popsicle sticks, for instance (“Every teenage boy came running to the craft table”).

There’s plenty of standards, too, “like lap time for Mother Goose on the Loose, book discussions, and computer training,” says Cooper. “It’s just part of the daily rhythm of the neighborhood library.”

Riley credits his fearless, can-do outlook to his involvement in the Radical Faeries, a queer spiritual community. “Teaching teens how to use spray paint [for the Pimp My BookCart contest] is pretty daring, but compared to covering my entire body in red clown paint and wearing nothing but horns and a loincloth in the Capital Pride Parade, it was really no big deal.”

How will the shift from general store to department store affect what Riley does? His staff of ten to 14 will have to “roam a lot more” in the new, three-story facility, but he hopes the community spirit will remain. “I see the kids when I go shopping. Parents say hello to me on the street. That’s what working in the library really means to me—being part of the community, a good neighbor, and a friend.”


Eric Riley, Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Interim Library, Washington, DC


DEGREE MLIS, University of Washington Information School, 2002

EXTRACURRICULAR Circle Keeper, DC Radical Faeries