(3) Closing the Book at the Harrison Public Library

Working at the Harrison Public Library has been a fantastic experience, and I am very glad I had the opportunity to pursue it. I not only enjoyed my summer at the library, but also learned quite a bit about both working at a public social justice institution and simply working in general. I truly feel that the time I have spent here has been helpful both for my own personal growth and the organization as a whole.

I have been surprised by how my workload fluctuates from day to day. There are days when I find myself busy from the moment I begin working to the minute I leave, but there are other days when the phrase “hurry up and wait” comes to mind. I do wonder how much of that is because I am, at the end of the day, an intern, and as a result what I can actually provide help with is somewhat limited. It is also true that the nature of my position as a summer intern has made some things surprisingly difficult due to scheduling. For example, I will be finishing my internship a week before the finals of the Battle of the Books trivia competition.

Despite some minor difficulties, I do feel like I have proved helpful for the library. The area I have put the most work and time into this summer has been the aforementioned Battle of the Books trivia competition. It is hard to say how much my presence as a coach has helped the Harrison teams, but I have done what I can to make the experience fun and rewarding, and to set them up for success as much as possible. The younger team has so far gone undefeated, and I am hopeful they can win the whole thing.

Beyond that, a lot of what I have done is time-consuming work that nonetheless needs to get done. It can feel somewhat unglamorous alphabetizing shelves or ensuring that books are labeled correctly, but someone has to do it. I am happy to free up the time of the full librarians to focus on other important work.

I wish I had possessed more confidence at the start of my internship. It took me a few weeks to grow comfortable working with kids, and also in asking for help or more work when it seems like there is nothing for me to do.  It can be anxiety-inducing to take that initiative, especially when you have just started working and do not know your boss or colleagues well. Even so, once I began taking the initiative, I found a much wider variety of projects to sink my teeth into, and I developed a closer relationship with my coworkers.

For anyone looking to intern at or work at a library, I think it is important to consider what you want out of the experience. If you just want an excuse to spend time surrounded by books, I would recommend first volunteering to see how you enjoy it. While the main part of the job involves books, of course, I have found that a lot of the job is focused on community outreach. A library is a community center, after all. Still, if you enjoy books and want to really engage with a community, interning at a library can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

(2) Turning the Page at the Harrison Library

In my sophomore year at Brandeis (something very much recent in my memory, as I am currently a rising junior), I took part in a program called Splash. Splash is a one-day event in which students are Brandeis teach a course on something that interests them to a group of students from a local middle school or high school. I have always loved stories, so on a whim I decided to teach about what went in to building a setting for a novel. I did a lot of research and created what I hoped to be an engaging and fun lesson plan. When the day of the event arrived, however, I found that only one person had signed up for my class.

This was somewhat discouraging, of course, but I tried to take it in stride. Despite the low turnout, I found that the teaching itself was, at least for me, something I quite enjoyed. That realization helped drive me towards this internship. After all, a major role of a public library, especially during the summer, is to provide engaging and educational experiences for children.

The low turnout to my class stuck with me as well. I certainly could not take the low turnout in one class taught by a college pre-grad in the middle of the COVID epidemic as emblematic of anything larger. However, I am very well aware that most people do not love to read and write as much as I do. It can be hard to find time as an adult, and for children and teens one can’t exactly call sitting down with a good novel particularly “cool.” Even so, I know I find incredible joy in just that, and I believe others would as well. Encouraging the development of a love of reading, and helping someone sustain that love, is to me one of the most important things a library can do.

Harrison Children’s Library

I have a somewhat varied role within the Harrison Library. I primarily work to support the children’s librarian, but what that actually means can vary from day to day. I’ve done everything from writing trivia questions to designing flyers to ensuring the shelves remain alphabetized (which can be somewhat tedious, but remains a necessity). The thing I enjoy the most, however, is working with children. I have worked quite a bit with the Harrison Library Battle of the Books teams especially (I discussed BoB in my last blog post) where I have found myself in the role of essentially an assistant coach.

When I was in middle school, I actually participated in the first few Westchester Battle of the Books competitions. That participation, I believe, went a long way towards driving and encouraging my own love of reading. My hope is that by working with these teams, I can provide the kids with a fun summer experience and help keep reading fun and engaging for them. Of course, I do not think anyone would be on the team if they did not already enjoy reading, but that does not mean the joy can’t be nurtured into something that, hopefully, lasts a lifetime.

(1) Opening the Book at the Harrison Public Library

I have always loved the library. I have loved to read for as long as I can remember, and for me the library is a natural extension of that. Libraries serve many purposes, acting not just as repositories of books but as centers of communities that foster a love of reading in people of all ages. Before the pandemic, I regularly volunteered at my local library, but I always wanted to play a larger role than simply shelving books. Working as an intern at the Harrison Public Library, I am able to play a role in organizing and running library events I never could have as a volunteer.

The Harrison Public Library serves many functions, as I mentioned. As with any library, it loans out books for the people of Harrison, and indeed anyone who has a library card in the Westchester Library System. The library also organizes numerous community events for people of all ages. This includes but is not limited to Q&A sessions with authors, art receptions, and various workshops covering topics ranging from painting to resume writing. It also provides numerous opportunities to aid people learning English as a second language, including conversational hours and a book club. For children specifically, the library hosts a number of events, especially during the summer. This includes cooperation with the 4-H STEM program and Westchester Battle of the Books.

My workspace at the Harrison Library, with BoB books.

For my part, these first few weeks have seen me largely assisting in the training of the Battle of the Books teams and researching into The Human Library. Once the school year ends for most children, I will be spending more time helping to supervise various library events, but for now this has meant a lot of time reading books and doing research.

Battle of the Books is a kind of trivia competition for children from grades four to twelve. Each library involved in the Westchester Library System organizes teams, who read five pre-selected books in preparation to the event. There are different selections of books for teams from grades 4-6  and for grades 7+, and the Harrison Library has one team for each grade range. The Battle itself is a trivia competition, where teams compete to answer questions about the books chosen. My part in all this is helping the Children’s Librarian to write practice questions specifically for the 7+ team, and to help run practice sessions for both teams.

Human Library is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to confronting prejudice by creating spaces of open dialogue. It does this by organizing “books” (volunteers who have faced discrimination and are willing to tell their story) to attend public events where they will have one-on-one discussions with “readers,” giving a brief synopsis of their lives and then engaging in an extended Q&A session. The library will not be able to hold an event until after I return to college, but I will be doing much of the research and helping to recruit for and advertise the event.

My presence here frees up the time of the librarians to pursue other projects. Given the time it would have taken to organize a Human Library event, I am unclear if the Harrison Library would have really been able to get it started without me providing extra manpower. Ultimately, the goal is to get kids excited about reading, and in the case of Human Library, to help people confront their prejudices. I do not think I will be volunteering here long enough to really see the fruits of my labors, but I hope I will help in accomplishing those goals.