This guest blog was authored by Nick McCarty-Daniels, Library Director at Burlington Library, recipient of the inaugural Colorado State Library travel reimbursement for the annual REFORMA Colorado Chapter’s conference. Find Burlington Library at their website or on Facebook.
Tucked away at the edge of the City of Denver sits Denver University; DU for short, home to future lawyers, senators, and some of the best young hockey players in the world. While the mountains loom blue and snowcapped in the distance, and the trees begin to shed their summer greens for their crisp autumn golds and reds; while the lawyers of tomorrow put off their dreams of skiing and snowboarding to prepare for midterms a small group of people gathered to worry not about the lawyers and senators of tomorrow, but instead about the lawyers and senators of the future.
The air hums with anticipation, an almost visible electricity, as REFORMA Colorado gathered for their eleventh annual summit. Dedicated to reaching Spanish speaking youth and helping the libraries of Colorado connect with a vastly underserved population: those who don’t speak English.
My first session, Outreach from Scratch sought to answer how a library even starts trying to connect with a group of people who don’t share a language, don’t share a culture, and may not even know how to use a library. Turns out Lilian Bucio representing Longmont Library and originally from Mexico, had the simple answer we all needed but weren’t sure how to put into words. People need the same thing no matter where they are from; they need kindness and gentleness. All they want is someone to be authentic with them, and to show them they care. Smile, get out from behind your table, put down your cell phone and smile at them, show them you are happy to see them. Lilian’s bubbly personality and infectious positivity had us all wanting to visit the Longmont Library and wanting to make connections within our own library.
Once we get these new patrons into the library, my next two sessions (split by a delightful lunch) were all about how we keep them. First, let me start by saying I want to spend my next birthday in Lafayette Library’s makerspace room. Lafayette does remarkable work with their Custom Embroidery machines, 3D printers, Laser Engravers, a Direct to Film Printer, and a Carvey Machine. While the kids wait to use the machines, they are encouraged to play board games, play a video game, or build toothbrush robots (I’m not even sure what that is and I want one). This place sounds more fun than Santa’s Workshop, and what a wonderful opportunity for patrons to learn, grow, and discover something they probably won’t have access to at home. By connecting with their patrons, offering these machines concurrently with family programs, and having bilingual staff and sign up forms the room stays busy and kids keep learning.
Going a step further was Jefferson County’s arts and crafts presentation. We can use arts and crafts time to teach about other cultures. This is a wonderful opportunity for our kids to share their culture, or for other kids to learn about a culture they probably haven’t had much exposure to. Understanding one another is the first step to acceptance and appreciating what everyone can bring to the table and share.
The only problem with the conference was that I found myself in a super minority. Longmont boasted a 35% Hispanic population, Lafayette claimed small town status at only 31,000 people, and Jefferson County had two staff members whose job was to create crafts for other staff members to hold programs. In fact, the front range was the only group I found represented. It seemed like half the attendees were from the Denver Public Library alone.
I represented the smallest town, only 3,500 people, quite possibly the largest split, nearly 50% Hispanic, and my entire staff force is two people. One of the speakers seemed to think she had traveled a great distance by going to Colfax . . . all of five miles away. I drove for three hours just to get there that morning.
I was encouraged when during the final session a representative from the Colorado State Library told the group that most libraries, and most Spanish speakers, are not on the front range. It seemed to surprise most attendees that Colorado does not begin and end at Denver’s borders.
These are small concerns compared to the vast wealth of information shared. REFORMA continues to grow, continues to advertise to smaller libraries, and it is up to us smaller library directors to prioritize these underserved populations and find the time to make these events.
I drove out of that parking lot and hit I-25 with the electricity no longer in the air, but in my head. The reds and golds of fall lost to the early evening of the sun dipping below those snow tipped mountains. I buzzed with all the ideas and plans with which I had gladly absconded; plans to find a way to get out from behind my table, plans to smile more, and be sincere with people. I thought of grants to pay for my own Makerspace room, and how I could start learning and teaching about cultures to help us all connect with each other a little better. My library’s future was suddenly just as bright as those DU students who had shared their home with us.
Colorado State Library has committed to fostering equitable opportunities for professional development and service among libraries of different sizes, locations, service area populations, and needs in the service of their communities. The purpose of the 2023 Travel and Conference Reimbursement for REFORMA Colorado’s “POP 2023: Partnerships, Outreach, and Programming” conference was to encourage attendees from areas outside of the Denver Metro and/or Front Range areas in which most library conferences and other in-person professional development opportunities are held.
- Certification Opportunity: Brain Fitness with Aging Grace - December 4, 2023
- Adventures in Summer Programming - December 1, 2023
- Program Spotlight: La Vista Correctional Facility Library’s Ukulele in Visiting - November 15, 2023