From getting his first library card at George Latimer Central Library to working at Rondo Library for more than a decade, Edmond Ngeh, Library Associate at Rice Street, has both witnessed and participated in the evolution of libraries into modern, community-centered hubs where people connect and grow. We sat down to learn more about his library background and how he sees libraries continuing to show up for Saint Paul residents.
What brought you to libraries?
The truth is that I never thought I would still be working at libraries 15+ years later when I started straight out of Saint Paul Central Senior High School in 2007. In hindsight, I am glad that I made the decision to stay longer to serve the community I grew up in and contributed to the Library’s transformation over the years. Before transferring to Rice Street Library, I spent almost 15 years working at the Rondo Community Library. But before that even, throughout middle school and high school, my home library was the Hamline Midway Library. I also used to sometimes stop by the former Lexington Library (now Rondo Community Library) walking home from school. In high school, I was told about the Youth Job Corp program through my Admission Possible (College Possible) coach. The Youth Job Corp program brought me to the libraries and to where I am today.
What excites you about working at the library?
What excites me about working at the library is the seeing familiar faces from the community I grew up in and hearing them mentioning how helpful and patient I was to them. It excites me to empower the community with the knowledge I have and to help them get to their next major life opportunity: jobs, university applications, scholarship applications, troubleshooting devices, and networking opportunities.
I also get the opportunity to see kids that were once in strollers now attending high school and even volunteering with the library. I’ve witnessed the library transform through several leadership changes (mayors, directors, public service managers, branch managers, and supervisors) and reinvent itself to meet the changing community needs. The biggest transformation occurred during the pandemic, which challenged the traditional ways the Library once delivered services and the digital divide became more visible. New programs were introduced to provide community access to digital literacy and the library became more involved in democracy through action, not only words.
Most recently, I had the exciting opportunity to be a member of the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Committee for distributing Chromebooks and Hotspots to Saint Paul library users. Based on the Techpak program with Ramsey County that launched during the pandemic, we knew there was a community need and so I was excited to help bridge the digital divide and meet community needs.
How do you see libraries growing or adapting to meet community needs in the next 10 years?
I’ve always been a science fiction nerd since I was in middle school. What excites me about science fiction is the endless possibilities of how the world will look in the next 10, 20, 50, 100, 1000 years from now. It always amazes me to read books and watch films of what people from 50 or 70 years ago thought the future would look like. I see the libraries growing or adapting to meet community needs in the next 10 years by focusing on ways to bridge the digital divide and educating the community on how to become better stewards of the environment. During the pandemic, there were glimpse of the libraries beginning the conversation around the environment and climate change, and I’m excited to see how that progresses in the future.
How do you think libraries improve communities?
I believe libraries improve communities by being spaces where all are welcomed whether children, infants, teens, families, or adults without kids. Libraries have traditionally been the default space for democracy. All libraries ask from community members is for equity in sharing spaces and services with others in the community. For example, during the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections, SPPL stepped up to provide an alternative trusted ballot drop-off service through partnership with the Ramsey County Elections Office. Community members safely, securely, and privately drop-off their ballots at a few selected library locations. I think this speaks to the trust people have in libraries and how powerful it is that libraries are able to adapt quickly and provide solutions for community members.
Curious to know more about Edmond? Check out his recent cameo on Out of the Box!