February 17, 2018

Sandra Sajonas | Movers & Shakers 2010 – Change Agents

Library Journal March 15, 2010: Sandra Sajonas, Mover & Shaker

Hooked on Books

How do you help 50 17- to 24-year-olds who read below sixth-grade level select books that will be meaningful to them? If you’re Sandra Sajonas, the only full-time young adult literacy librarian in New York City, it’s no problem, and it happens to be her job. Sajonas works as part of a pilot program funded by the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity to improve the literacy and job readiness of the city’s quarter-million “disconnected youth”—those 17- to 24-year-olds who are neither in school nor working and struggle to read. While getting these YAs hooked on books, Sajonas also develops GED readiness programs and workshops to help them set educational and employment goals.

The library is an “ideal” place for this kind of initiative, says Sajonas, because many of her students feel more at home in this “nonjudgmental, neutral, and accepting” atmosphere than in schools or adult education programs. Sajonas, whose family emigrated from the Philippines when she was four, settling in Callicoon, NY, knows about some of these struggles. “Growing up in an all-white town, I really grew to appreciate books and literature. My lack of English held me back a grade, but I read constantly, and I think that made all the difference,” she says.

Now, Sajonas is determined to make a difference to other youths every day. She takes to the streets, visiting community meetings, handing out the notices she designed to look like club flyers and leaving them on buses and subways. Last summer, she and a student stood on a subway platform and handed out 150 of them.

While many of the YAs she teaches are “incredibly tech-savvy” and have computer access, Sajonas says they lack basics like word processing. Her success stories speak for themselves. “Even reading a public transportation map is a skill,” she observes—and a struggle to those who can’t read well. “We’ve had students too afraid to take public transportation” become confident moving around the city. More important, “Every time a former student calls to tell us they are taking the GED, we know we’ve been successful.”


Sandra Sajonas, Brooklyn Public Library, NY

CURRENT POSITION Young Adult Literacy Librarian

DEGREE MLIS, Pratt Institute, 2008

BORN TO BE A LIBRARIAN “I was the kid who used to read books wearing latex gloves so as not to leave fingerprints”