January 13, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Sacramento’s Summer Reading Standout: Up Close with Christy Aguirre

Librarian Christy Aguirre—supervisor of the Southgate branch of the Sacramento Public Library (CA),  2013 Library Journal  Mover & Shaker, and noteworthy neighborhood networker—knows how to stop the summer slide. Her literacy outreach efforts have helped triple the branch’s summer reading program to more than 2,000 participants.

“Having a successful summer reading program requires passion and organization skills. When you have these two things, the rest seems to fall in place,” Aguirre tells School Library Journal. “My staff can verify that I am ecstatic this time of year. This is my holiday season!”

In this tenth of a dozen planned interviews with the youth librarians named as Movers & Shakers this year, we catch up with Aguirre to learn more about her inspirations and passions, the ways in which she collaborates with her community, and her thoughts on the future of public library youth services.

How did you know library science was the right choice for you?
When I did my first storytime, I realized I had a special connection with children and an extreme compassion for their teachers, parents, and caregivers. I am one of two people in my family to go to college. (My niece just got accepted to Notre Dame. I’ve been sending her books since she was born!)  I know what it is like to struggle with learning to read at a young age and my heart is dedicated to serving the needs of the reluctant reader.

Can you tell us more about Southgate’s summer reading program?
Summer reading is a big deal! I make sure my team starts planning six months in advance and we always know what funds we have to work with. It is most important to know your community. I regularly attend meetings and constantly look for ways to partner with local organizations. I listen to what our neighbors want and need from their library. We are fortunate to have such amazing community partners. Coordinating and overseeing all that happens at our little branch takes an enormous amount of effort; I am nothing without my team. I take teamwork seriously and we must serve each other with the same dedication as we do our [patrons]. If we are not excited about summer reading, we can’t expect the public to care. I believe our neighbors view our library as their own living room—a place to relax, to accomplish tasks, or to gather with others to build community.

What books are on your all-time top lists for summer reading?
There are so many but here’s what comes to mind: anything written by Mo Willems, all of the “Fancy Nancy” books, Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, anything written by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (hands down, one of my best adult book Club discussions ever. I’ve also recommended this book for parent/teen book clubs).

What are you reading right now for yourself? What new books are your favorites?
Becoming Marie Antoinette: A Novel by Juliet Grey (for our second Saturday book club), Doll Bones by Holly Black, P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, Feel Good Food: Wholefood Recipes for Happy, Healthy Living by Tony Chiodo, Don’t Let the Republican Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (recently given to me as a gift), Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen, and any cookbooks by Gordon Ramsey.

What were your programming goals when you got started at your library?
I was determined to start at least three annual programs a year. Since then, we have established annual programs for Read for the Record, Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros, Free Comic Book Day, Read Across America for Dr. Seuss’s birthday, Star Wars Reads Day, and next year we will include May the 4th Be With You.  My goal is to double attendance for all programs on an annual basis. Our Summer Reading Program is probably more elaborate than previous years and we will hold a big National Night Out party in the library parking lot for the second year running.

What are you most proud at Southgate?
My staff!

What’s it like to hear back from kids who participated in your programming?
Kids are constantly saying, ‘hey I know you, you came to my school/class/baseball summer camp.’  I always answer, ‘oh yeah, I remember you’ (with a wink of course). The goal is to make a personal connection with children. This is their library and I’m one of their local librarians. The biggest compliment is when kids come back and report how much they enjoyed a program. When they ask, ‘can we do this every week?’ we know we are successful.

Last year, the teen librarian and I hosted a mother/daughter sleepover. Their favorite part of the night was discussing Hunger Games (they all received a free copy beforehand) and playing Marco-Polo Mom in the library. When we gave them Catching Fire and Mockingjay to take home, they couldn’t believe it. Leticia told me, ‘This is better than Christmas.’

What was your reaction to being named a Mover & Shaker?
I was super shocked. This seems like an extension of the Outstanding Librarian in Literacy Award 2012 from CLA—one award lead to another for various reasons. Our branch outreach efforts have proven successful and it is a huge compliment to be recognized by my colleagues. It is a really good feeling.

You were pegged as a “Community Builder.” Is that how you view yourself, too?
This is exactly me! Community building is a way of life, not just a job. I’ve come to realize that it is our community neighbors that teach me, not the other way around. It is the public that makes me better at what I do. The most important thing is to pay attention to the needs of those that you serve. To be with each other in a nurturing and compassionate library environment is a gift.

What do you think are the biggest issues and challenges for youth library services?
The biggest challenge seems to be centered around the need to keep our youth engaged in reading. They have so many distractions: cell phones, TV, social networking, etc. We need to constantly be ready to grab their attention whenever possible.

What do you think youth services should look like going forward?
I think we need to electronically be where our youth are. Two of my librarians tweet for our library branch and it is amazing how many teens we have show up for DIY crafts. For the younger kids, I believe we need to reach the whole family whenever possible.

Youth services needs to be a strong network of community support. My goal is to have kids hear about the library from multiple sources: school, parks and recreation, summer camps, church, bus stops, festivals, entertainment parks, the bookmobile, and after-school hang-outs like parks, fast food places, or local coffee shops. We work hard at being visible within our community.

What’s your advice for librarians seeking to improve community outreach?

Start by creating a community map listing: health and human service agencies, schools and school-based programs, local government, local media, social clubs and neighborhood organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and other. I learned from Family Place training. Once you have something to look at, you can strategically start meeting people to build partnerships. It may seem overwhelming, but I focus on everything within a five mile radius first. I know that we serve 5000 kids under the age of five within [that] radius. This helps prioritize our outreach efforts. Every library community varies and you can adjust your plan accordingly.

What are the best professional development experiences that you have ever had?
Learning from my fellow staff at the Sacramento Public Library, the San Jose Public Library and the Los Gatos Public Library. I have been extremely fortunate to work with such awesome people.  From janitors to shelvers to facilities, IT, library services assistants, friends of the library, volunteers, security, acquisitions, librarians, admin and those pesky library directors (you know who you are), I always try to absorb knowledge from the experts around me. They are my best teachers!

As far as being professionally re-charged, inspired, and continually challenged, the ALA New Orleans 2011 and CLA San Jose 2012 conferences have proven invaluable. Hearing Joan Fry Williams speak at the San Francisco Public Library was also a big turning point for me.  Finally, Dr. Fisher’s library management class at San Jose State University has helped my thinking process throughout my career.  Seriously, ‘thank you’ seems somehow inadequate in expressing my gratitude.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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