With all the hiring excitement going on at the Free Library recently, there’s a mix of both new and familiar faces in all of the branches, and you might be wondering what some of these folks do. "Faces of the Free Library" is an interview series intended to introduce library staff to the public and highlight the important work they do every day.
Before she became a Librarian in Philadelphia, Grace studied education and history at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She student-taught history at a high school and enjoyed the subject matter and her students, but didn't enjoy the grading and standardized testing aspect of the role. After graduation, she worked as a nanny and taught preschool for a few years at Harvard. Then, Grace obtained her Library and Information Science degree at Simmons University and became certified as a K-12 School Librarian.
Grace began working at the Free Library in the summer of 2021 as a Summer Camp Reading Outreach Specialist. It wasn't long before she got hired full-time for the Free Library's Youth Services and Programs, where she worked on the Literacy in Early Learning Spaces grant, Read Baby Read, and Summer of Wonder programs. Her experience and passion for children's education and literacy make her a perfect fit for her current role.
What is your role with the Free Library of Philadelphia?
I am the Children’s Librarian at the Falls of Schuylkill Library.
What is the most rewarding aspect of the work you do?
I really liked being a teacher and working with students of all ages; this job takes my absolute favorite parts of working within the education system and allows me to be creative and have a lot of fun. I love to read, do crafts, and sit around chatting with people — particularly children. It can be easy to overlook kids and to see their interests, problems, and dreams as small and unimportant. As a Children’s Librarian, I get the opportunity to interact with each child who comes in as an individual living a full and complex life and support them in finding resources that deepen and further their interests!
What are your favorite library resources, services, or programs that you think more people should know about?
I frequently browse the Events Calendar and there are always so many awesome programs going on I wish I could attend! I want the public to know how much we love it when people who have never been to our branch show up for a program. No one should feel nervous about bringing a sweater they started knitting three years ago to a fiber arts group or showing up to a video game meet-up. When I was between jobs in Boston, I would take the subway to branches all over the city and go to a flower-arranging workshop or drop in on a cookbook club. The library staff and regular attendees were happy to show me around and I always felt welcome.
What do you believe is the most significant role that libraries play in our community?
Libraries are one of the last free public spaces. They are a refuge from the heat or the cold, and a place to access the internet, as well as major repositories of books and other materials. Libraries in Philly specifically also fill an incredible need for children and caregivers to access books and literacy learning resources. Almost no public schools in Philadelphia have functioning libraries staffed by certified School Librarians. Children have a right to read, and the lack of library educators creates a snowball effect that negatively impacts all parts of the city and beyond.
What are your favorite genres of books to read?
I read mainly sci-fi and fantasy, but I will get hooked by any good storyline!
What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down?
The last book I couldn’t stop reading was Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. It is described as a re-telling of the King Arthur legend, which is true, but it’s so much more than that! It is in the teen category, which some adults think means it’s not a book for them, but they’re missing out on incredible literature. Legendborn is both a story about a teenage girl discovering hidden magical abilities and a story reckoning with deep racism, sexism, and the inherited trauma that can be passed down for generations.
Do you have any tips or advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in library services?
There are a lot of part-time, seasonal, or volunteer positions that people can apply for if they are interested in "feeling out" if public service in a library is for them. Going right out to get your Master’s is great if you can swing it, but you don’t have to make that commitment before getting involved.
What do you love most about living in Philly?
I have only lived in Philly for two-and-a-half years. My mom grew up here but left when she graduated high school and, until I moved here, she hadn’t been back since she was a teenager. She’s visited me a lot in the past few years and it’s been really special to tromp around West Philly and hear about her childhood. We even got invited in for a tour of one of her childhood homes while we were peering into the garden!