Welcome to our new monthly story series that shares the unique perspectives of the people that make up Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL). Libraries are places of connection – to information, books, resources, and to people. Follow along as we uncover our staff and community members’ connections to libraries and how they see our libraries as public spaces for connection to each other, curiosity and creation, and so much more.
Our first story features Xenia Hernández, a community services coordinator and an interim public services manager, whose work at SPPL started in 2014 but support for libraries began in middle school handing out summer reading booklets. We sat down with her to learn more about her perspectives on libraries now and what they might look like in the future:
Q: What brought you to libraries?
All throughout middle school, high school, and college, I was involved in community work and events. I also did a lot of volunteering including at the library. Back then I almost forgot to use the library myself because I was always volunteering there, so I never did things like summer reading programs because I was helping pass out the booklets and things like that. Anyhow, my community work included organizing children's literacy programs, and that got me interested in some literacy positions that I was finding online, and there happened to be one for the Phoenix Public Library. It was really cool opening at the time, and it took a while to go through the hiring process, but eventually I was hired. The position was more adult-focused and it was really amazing. I learned that I really enjoyed working with adults, teaching classes, and doing archival projects.
I worked for the Phoenix Public Library for a couple of years, and then moved to Saint Paul and started working for Saint Paul Public Library at the Arlington Hills location. I also drove the Bookmobile for a little bit and then worked at George Latimer Central Library in the Innovation Lab. Now, I am currently working as library community services coordinator and really focused on pushing forward economic initiatives like workforce support, small business and entrepreneurship support, and digital literacy skills for adults. I am also an acting public services manager, filling in temporarily and helping support a couple of branches including Rondo Community and Rice Street libraries and then two of our divisions: Community Services and our library on wheels, the Bookmobile.
Q: What excites you about working at the library?
It's such a cliche answer, but what excites me is that every day is different. And more than that, it's that every season is different. I have the opportunity to work on big projects and also handle everyday work at a desk. Sometimes I get to support team members who are doing a wide variety of work. I get to help coach and mentor them, which is a new area for me, and I really enjoy that. There's a lot of flexibility in library work because it's responsive to community needs and community changes, so I like that the work is always changing along with what people need.
Q: How do you think libraries improve communities?
We're such a big access and connection point for so many people and absolutely focused on deepening literacy in different directions. Libraries have such a huge impact by helping children build literacy skills and adults build digitals digital literacy skills. Information literacy in general is so important, and it impacts so many areas of life from social connection to getting a degree or purchasing a house or finding a job. All of those things are impactful and there aren't many spaces that are available to our community members anymore. Especially since the pandemic, many places that used to be open to the public are closed or limited to their members or residents. We have a really important role even just by keeping our doors open.
Q: How do you see libraries growing or adapting to meet community needs in the next 10 years?
One big thing that SPPL has been working on is hiring staff that reflects the community, and I think with that comes so much more opportunity to explore things we can't just imagine on our own. So, in the next 10 years, I see libraries growing by connecting to all sorts of new people and really welcoming people to bring in their own ideas. For example, if literacy looks different in the community, how can we support that and make that more readily available? Or improve communities’ ability to create more of their own things by providing the space that we have available and continuing to support what's already here?
Q: What's one thing you'd like us to know?
I would love people to know that we have a lot of cool people who work in libraries, and if you want to work in a library, we'd love to have you, too! We have really incredible minds, artists, archivists, community organizers...I mean, there's just such a diversity in experience of the people that work in our library spaces, and with that comes a lot of unique presentations and programs. So, I'd love people to give us a chance. Come on in!
Curious to know where Xenia recommends you grab a bite to eat near George Latimer Central library or what she thinks a library will look like in 100 years? Check out her recent cameo on Out of the Box!