Library Staff Spotlight

Sarah White, Adult Literacy

Librarian Sarah White sports a Library Freedom Institute t-shirt while holding a George Orwell book at the Eugene Public Library.

Can you explain your role at the library?

I do a lot of things. One thing that I do is manage certain areas of the nonfiction collection: books for learning English or learning to read better, foreign languages, social sciences, the sciences, health and fitness. I also manage half of the library assistants in our department and coordinate the Talk Time program, which next year will expand to include GED, citizenship, and literacy assistance. I plan programs that are targeted toward young adults, finding cool things to bring them into the library. We recently did a Harry and the Potters concert. We had everyone there from little kids to adults in full costume. It was really cool, and everyone was just having fun. I used to do more computer classes, and I still like doing that, but only do it occasionally now.

Right now I’m also planning a series of programs that happen the hour before the library opens. There are a lot of people relaxing in Novella Cafe or waiting in front, so we thought it’d be great to engage with them and provide programming at that time. It’s also a way to engage with people experiencing homelessness and offer interesting programs. Programs will include yoga, some craft activities, and game days. We also plan to talk to people and figure out what they might want to see.

We’re all excited about the new adult literacy program. Can you share any updates?

The program will start in the fall. So far we’ve focused on training volunteers on how adults learn to read, different strategies, and materials we have to work with. About seven community volunteers have finished the online training, but some tutors will come from Lane Community College’s (LCC) tutoring center. We’ve partnered with LCC across the street because they provide classes at the downtown center. It’s really exciting that we’re working with LCC. It’s good to partner and make connections with other organizations in the community–it makes the program a lot stronger.

Librarian Sarah White dressed in a Harry Potter-themed outfit for a recent Harry and the Potters concert at the Eugene Public Library.

I talked with librarians at Multnomah County and Seattle. We’re using the same model where people can drop in and get the training they need. Some people might come every week, and others might come for a short time. The classes at LCC are great for longer term, but our program will be more flexible.

It’s great to work with volunteers and see how passionate they are. We have many dedicated volunteers in this library. We couldn’t provide as many services as we do without them. I’m always blown away by how much people want to give of their time to support the community.

Last year you were part of the first cohort to participate in the Library Freedom Institute, a six-month digital privacy program for librarians. Can you explain more about that program and what you took away from it?

That was a program focused on helping librarians become digital privacy and security advocates. It was really fun because they had new speakers every week. Many were from the library world, but it was interesting to hear from a Slate reporter and someone from the Intercept talking about the steps they take to secure information from their sources. We talked a lot about how to educate community members about online security and we learned a lot of privacy tools. For example, we installed Tails on a thumb drive; that’s a thumb drive that has an operating system on it. It’s a way to go online anonymously.

People used to come to the library to get most of their information. An important value for librarians is intellectual freedom. Libraries are careful to protect people’s privacy because privacy is an essential part of intellectual freedom: the idea that you may be watched or tracked limits your freedom to read. Now that people are migrating to get their information directly online, to continue to protect intellectual freedom we need to educate people on privacy issues online. After participating in the Library Freedom Institute, I presented at the Oregon Library Association and the Support Staff Divisions Conference to talk to other librarians and support staff about different information they can teach patrons. I’ve also taught some classes in our computer lab here to get people thinking about how to protect themselves online and browse more securely.

What’s one piece of advice you would share with people related to online security?

Every password should be long, random, and unique. That makes it more difficult for bad guys to get your information. Also, if advertisers and privacy is something you think about, Mozilla Firefox is easy to use and offers more privacy features than some other popular browsers.

You’re also on the board of REFORMA Oregon, which is a professional organization for librarians and library staff who serve the Spanish-speaking and Latino communities. How does your involvement in REFORMA influence your work at Eugene Public Library?

REFORMA Oregon is really dedicated to going to different places in the state so that we include rural and urban libraries. EPL currently offers the Talk Time program for conversational English, and a good chunk of the people it serves are Spanish speakers. In the past we had Food for Lane County come and present a nutrition program in Spanish. I also worked with someone from NEDCO who did a housing program in Spanish. We’re always looking for ways to listen to what that community needs and grow those services.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of the job–I actually really like buying books. I like buying books in my personal life too, so I’m like, “I get to buy books for a living?” I really like shopping, so I like shopping for work. If there are new titles we don’t have or titles people are asking for, I go and read a bunch of reviews. I usually decide based on reading reviews at Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. I also might read reviews on the websites of related professional associations. For example, if I’m looking at books on cancer, I’d want to look at the American Cancer Society. If they’re a really popular series, like the For Dummies series, we’ll buy those, too.

Do you have a favorite memory from working at Eugene Public Library?

Last year, we had the Talk Time program: conversation practice for immigrants. We get a really fun cross-section of people from different countries and different English levels, so it’s interesting to get to meet all these people. We had a guy who just arrived from Guatemala, and he didn’t know much about Eugene yet. I showed him around the building and the Maker Space. He also got his library card and met some people at Talk Time. It’s nice to be a resource for people when they first come to town and feel disconnected. People get so much from the library, because there are opportunities for social connection, but they can also talk to librarians to learn about different programs, services, or businesses in town. They can get all these resources and get started. We help them get oriented to a new place.

What’s one program or service that you wish more people knew was available at the library?

I wish more people knew about our basic computer classes, because I think a lot of people are intimidated by starting to use the computer and think everyone already knows how. We have classes like Introduction to the Internet or Introduction to Word. We meet people where they’re at–I’ve shown people how to use a mouse, how to open a browser. It would be great to have people know about those classes and not be embarrassed about just starting out.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a collection of vampire short stories called The Vampire Archives. It’s really big and comprehensive. It goes from vampire stories in Victorian times all the way through modern stories. I’m still in the Victorian ones, and I love how flowery the language is, and how very dramatic the vampires are. I just checked out My Sister, the Serial Killer but I haven’t started it yet. It was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019.

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