Library Staff Spotlight

Mia Cariaga, Interim Library Services Director

In March 2018, following Connie Bennett’s retirement, Mia Cariaga was named Interim Library Services Director (a 9-12 month appointment). A national search will soon be underway to identify the next director. In the meantime, EPLF wanted to get to know our interim director a bit more.

Are you a native Oregonian?

I am – I grew up in Klamath Falls and moved to Eugene in 1994 to go to the University of Oregon. I studied history there, met my husband, and never left!

You’ve been working as the Division Manager for the City Manager’s office for the last four years, with many years of prior experience with the city – public works, engineering, and finance to name just a few. How does your role differ from these previous positions?

With the library, it’s about working with the people who come to you, even though there are obviously people here who do outreach as well. The primary difference is that when I worked in the capacity of the City Manager’s office, the work was policy related, whereas this is more person-to-person interaction. We’re really delivering quality of life services – literacy is one of those basic needs, of course, but in addition we offer so many cool opportunities for people to take classes, try new technologies, etc. In my current role, I feel such community support for the library in ways I never understood or saw before. There’s a lot of community appreciation for what we do — lots of younger kids, older kids, older adults. Until I came here, I didn’t fully understand how many services we provide. For example, over and above the changes on the first floor, the Teen Center is amazing; so many students come to the library to take advantage of our programs, meet friends, and learn. I also had no idea that “Book a Librarian” was a thing.

How does your experience with city government translate into your work with the Library?

I believe strongly that the city’s organization shapes Eugene. I have a strong understanding of our community values–bringing services that people of this community want and need. I believe we have influence and can help people and represent sections of the communities in ways that not everybody can. I will do anything that the city organization needs, and ultimately the community. I’ve never been in this work for myself – it’s always been about public service.

Did you always know you wanted to work for the city?

It’s funny because my first job with the city was actually watering trees! It was a summer job during college…not very glamorous but it sure gave me lot of exposure to customer service! Everyone comes up to talk to you! People asked me all kinds of things, from “Why did the Mayor vote on this?” to “Where do I get my permit for this?” After graduation, I considered law school, worked for a non-profit for a bit, and eventually ended up working for the city again. Over the years, I worked in the divisions of public works and engineering, intergovernmental relations, sustainability, human rights and neighborhood involvement, spay and neuter, community engagement/communications and Mayor and City Council support. I eventually became Assistant Finance Director, managing the city’s budget, and for the last four years I’ve worked in the City Manager’s office. I’ve always done a lot of policy work – I love policy work!

What’s a day-in-the-life look like for the Interim Library Services Director?

I spend a lot of time supporting staff and connecting them to larger organizational values and also helping them understand community values. So much goes on in the library, and I don’t think it has always been as connected to the city organizations or departments as it could have been. It’s important because the library could offer so much to the city! For example, the research our reference librarians do could help people doing policy work, or developing new programs. The librarians are superheroes—and this is true of everyone in library – there are so many smart, talented people working here who are so kind and inclusive and really meet people where they’re at. They really can do anything…they’re just awesome. So, part of it is wanting the community to understand that, and the city to know that as well. That is something I will be working on for the next several months.

What do you like best about the job?

The people. The staff are super in touch with the profession.  I really do think the world of them. They’re really in tune with the community, and bring really strong educational backgrounds…pretty much everyone in the system has a Masters in Library Science. And again, the customer service is phenomenal – their values of equity and inclusion are evident in every interaction. The library is killing it. Plus, I love working with Renee Grube, Executive Director of Library Recreation and Cultural Services.

What’s the view from your office?

St. Mary’s Church – it’s really beautiful.

We’d love to know more about you personally, anything in particular you’d like to share?

I’m a people person. I love talking to people, meeting people, that’s really what gives me energy. I think that my son [Gino, 9, a student at Charlemagne] has picked that up from me. He has a curiosity about people. My family is everything to me.

What books do you read with your son?

We just finished Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – that was really fun. We read the entire Wimpy Kid series. Our favorite book was Roller Girl, a 2018-19 OBOB book, written by Victoria Jamieson. Gino read it himself first and then we read it together. Its messages about friendship and accepting yourself are great!

You have a unique first name…

My first name is Italian and last name is Filipino. My Mom is Italian and my Dad was Filipino.

So if you had to make a choice between pasta al pomodoro or chicken adobo?

Pasta!

Have you been to Italy?

Several times, including to Lucca [in Tuscany] where my grandfather was from. My favorite city is Venice though. I love it: water and no cars.

Do you have a favorite place to hang out in Eugene?

The Cuthbert.

What are the books on your bedside table?

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and my most recent book was The Blind Spot, which dealt with implicit bias.

Any final thoughts?

I believe the library is trying to find its connection to downtown. As downtown changes, we have a responsibility to understand where we contribute to that—especially at the corner at 10th and Olive.  We’re definitely connected to the larger, citywide efforts to see what downtown needs. The city is already making sure people feel safe downtown and creating spaces to facilitate that. EUGfun is a big part of that – a series of concerts, dodgeball tournaments, people coming downtown for positive activity. We had 800 people in the library on May 4 (May the Fourth Be With You Day), which was great!

The library has been awesome. Prior to working here, my son described my job as “going to meetings” and now he has a lot more pride in what I do—because it’s relatable. He’s actually excited to come to the office with me on the weekend!

Keith Brown, Library Assistant

Keith Brown has been a Library Assistant at the Eugene Public Library since 2006. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Keith came to the University of Oregon to pursue a degree in aquatic veterinary medicine. He has lived in Eugene since 1996. We were delighted to catch up with Keith recently and discuss his life and interests.

Can you tell us about your growing up, schooling, and how you got to be where you are now?

I lived in the same house all my life (my grandmother lived next door to us for much of that time) until I moved to Oregon.  I grew up with both parents in the home and 5 other siblings, one of whom is my twin brother.  My secondary education was completed at San Pedro Senior High School as a student in the Magnet program focusing on Marine Biology.  Having a love of animals, I wanted my college education to focus on freshwater smaller fish as they were under-served by medical science.

During my time at the university, I met Nichole and decided that starting a family was more important to me than continuing my educational goals.  We were married in 2000, and in June 2002 I graduated with a BS in General Science (emphasis: Chemistry and Biology) with a minor in Business Administration. Our first child was born in July and the library moved to its current location in December.  Nichole and I decided that we wanted our son to have a stay-at-home-parent, so between 2003 and 2006, I focused on raising our son and periodically working part-time night jobs while Nichole worked for DHS as a social worker. Nichole and I will celebrate 18 years in August and we’re raising two boys ages 15 and 12.

How did libraries and/or books affect your childhood years?

My earliest memories of reading were the Little Golden Books that my parents purchased for us.  Later on, I read adventure stories.  My favorites included My Side of the Mountain (I still have my original copy though the front cover is missing and it’s on loan to a nephew), Where the Red Fern Grows, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I was blessed growing up in Los Angeles where there was both a City and County library system, and we had access to California State University’s library where my mother was pursuing her degree.  Now, I’m a serial hobbyist, so I’m always researching for one project or another.

What is your best memory of your time working in the Eugene Public Library?

EPL has been a part of many of the major milestones in my adult life. I turned 21, lost my father, graduated college, got married, and my first child was born while employed here. Many of my coworkers celebrated or endured with me during those times. Coworkers became friends and we spend time together outside of work.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

So many things! Going to church; fly fishing; fly tying; fishing in general; lure making; singing; playing keyboards; teaching myself acoustic and electric guitar and bass; watching my sons play their favorite sports including basketball, soccer, ultimate Frisbee, and running track. I’ve been an exhibition fly tyer and a vendor at several shows in Oregon and Washington, and I have French and American tinsels for fly tying that date back to the early 1900s. The list could go on and on.

What do you see as the importance of libraries in today’s world?

Eugene Public Library’s mission statement sums it up: The…Library supports an informed community, lifelong learning and the love of reading by providing access…to the universe of ideas and information.

Jay Cooper, Library Assistant

Jay Cooper has been a library assistant at the Eugene Public Library for 15 years. He calls it his “dream job.” We sat down with Jay recently to find out more about this friendly and familiar face in the children’s section of the library.

Can you tell us something about where you grew up? Was there a library and did you access it as a child?

I grew up in the country outside of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Although my father was a nuclear reactor engineer, we were surrounded by farmers and ranchers. It was a very rural existence. My elementary school had horse stables and an outhouse. We often visited the library in town, and I made use of school libraries too. I have always been an avid reader, even winning a silver dollar in a fourth-grade reading contest.

When and how did you know that you wanted to be a children’s librarian?

I came late to library work. I was a respiratory therapist for the first 20 years of my professional life. When my family relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1997, I took the opportunity to try something new. I noticed a help wanted sign in the window of a branch library, so I walked in and applied. I got the job, and have been with libraries ever since, first for four years at Swanson Branch Library in Omaha, then with Youth Services at Eugene Public Library.

What is your favorite part of your job?

While I enjoy every aspect of library work, my favorite part of the job is dealing with children, either one-on-one at the service desk, or in programs I host. It’s all about the kids. In a typical day I work the service desk for 3 or 4 hours, interacting with patrons of all ages. I help with reader’s advice and field informational questions of all kinds. I love chatting with patrons. Many of the kids and their parents are frequent library visitors and well known to me. I’ve been here long enough to have seen a generation of kids grow to adulthood. Behind the scenes I help support Youth Services technical hardware and software, tend to damaged materials, and assist librarians with maintaining the collections. I specialize in juvenile nonfiction and produce a Nonfiction Great Reads booklist.

I also host various children’s programs. An exciting new program I’m hosting is Minecraft Monday, when kids use the Children’s Center internet computers to play for an hour in a special Minecraft world created just for this program. Kids work on cooperative builds and are issued challenges each week. It is gratifying to see real world bonds form among kids engrossed in a digital world. I hosted Baby Storytime downtown for about 10 years. This is a program designed primarily to inform parents on how to select books and materials for the very youngest children, in order to introduce them to the world of literacy at the earliest possible age. The 10 years I spent doing this program are the most rewarding years of my career.

What is your favorite moment or memory in your work as a children’s librarian?

My favorite moment at EPL was the time I blew a girl’s mind by speaking to her in Chinese.

I studied Chinese for years in college, including a semester in Beijing, and can still speak passable Mandarin. A six-year-old girl was sitting with her parents at our crafting table putting together a paper bag reindeer for a holiday display. I was acquainted with her parents, recent immigrants from China, and I knew the girl was perfectly bilingual. I picked up her reindeer and said in Chinese, “Wow, that’s really great! What is it? What is this thing?”  She looked at me, clearly confused, and mouthed the words “I don’t know” in Chinese.  I continued on with, “You don’t know? I don’t know what it is either, but I like it!”  I handed it back to her, and as I was walking away she exclaimed to her mother (in Chinese) with great excitement, “Mommy! Mommy! He’s American and he was speaking Chinese!” It occurred to me that she had not only never heard an American speak Chinese, it had probably never occurred to her that an American could speak Chinese. I was happy all day thinking I might have expanded her horizons a bit. Lifelong learning at your public library!

Can you address the importance of libraries for children in this time?

Libraries have always been a place for quiet immersion in a good book. That will never change, and a high percentage of our young patrons still love books and consume them prodigiously. But a new exciting trend in libraries is to circulate nontraditional items, such as our cultural passes, telescopes, learning kits, and ukuleles. (We don’t actually circulate ukuleles yet, but I’m working on it.) Another exciting happening is our Maker Hub on the third floor. Here patrons can access hardware and software that might be too expensive or impractical for home use, such as recording software and musical instruments, sewing machines, button makers and such. Libraries will always have books, but the library of the future will be much more than just books. They will be centers of community creative experience. It’s a great time to be a librarian.

Connie Bennett, Library Services Director

Connie Bennett has spent her life connecting people to information. Her journey has come full circle, starting with early memories of living in University of Oregon married student housing, where her father completed his Ph.D. in physics; to Washington State, Africa, California, Texas, Costa Rica, Colorado, and finally “home” again as Director of the Eugene Public Library.

Her family moved from Eugene to Walla Walla when she was starting elementary school. She vividly remembers the sleepy town in the days before the vineyards, and the scent of stinky pea pods headed to the Birds Eye Foods cannery. How green it was, she says, an oasis in dry eastern Washington. And, it’s possible the first inklings of her a future career were sown in sixth grade, when she was appointed class librarian.

When Connie was in her early teens, her dad accepted a position with a UNESCO team sent to train secondary science teachers in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. So instead of eighth grade in the States, Connie donned a school uniform and joined Form 3 at the Queen Elizabeth School for Girls.

Unrest, apartheid, and a UN embargo ended her father’s job in Rhodesia about a year later. The family moved to Zambia, where her father worked at the country’s newly established University. Connie took her O level exams, and about six months before her father’s contract ended, started classes at the University of Zambia. She was 15, and one of six white students in a class of 300.

Next stop was Ellensburg, Washington, where Connie transferred, at 16, to Central Washington University. She started out as a chemistry major with a math minor, and ended up a philosophy major with double minors in math and theater. She wrote theses on the  UN and modern politics, on continental drift, and she wrote her first play.

Connie describes herself as shy when she was young, not interested in following the family tradition of careers in medicine and teaching. For a lifelong reader who used to haunt the stacks at the USO libraries in Africa, working in a library sounded about right.

She completed post-graduate studies in library science at the University of Washington, and was awarded a year-long internship at the UCLA biomedical library where she trained in all of the library’s departments. The experience was transformative. She was exposed to the new and rapidly growing field of library technology, and learned how all parts of a library services are interconnected.

The next few years brought a cascade of changes: a job at Texas Medical Center in Houston, a job at the University of Washington Health Sciences, marriage, two daughters, a move back to Ellensburg where her husband was Department Chair at Central Washington. When her husband received a Fulbright to study in Costa Rica, they packed up their girls and moved to San Jose for a year, where Connie worked at the Biblioteca Mark Twain in the bi-national cultural center.

When the family returned to Ellensburg, Connie became Children’s librarian at the local public library. Three years later, she was offered a position at Mesa County Library District in Grand Junction, Colorado. Her husband agreed to retire early so she could accept. Her career continued its upward trajectory when she became Director of the Silver Falls Library District in Silverton, Oregon, and oversaw the building of their new library. She was also active in the Oregon Library Association and was running for president (she won) when she learned of an opening for the Directorship in Eugene.

At the time, the Eugene library was in transition. Construction had just begun on the new building. Director Carol Hildebrand was overseeing building and fundraising and an interim supervisor was running day-to-day operations. Connie applied and was offered the job.

Directors who come to the Eugene Public Library tend to stay. In fact, in its 113-year history there have only been six directors, Connie being the sixth. Her earlier positions were about five years each. She’s been here for sixteen, and counting.

She appreciates the full circle of her life, from her years in Edison kindergarten to Eugene again. She remembers visiting the “new” library on 13th Street as a child, amazed at the sunlight streaming through the windows in the children’s section. (Carnegie libraries usually located kids in the basement.) She was a real bookworm as a child, and fondly remembers a few of her favorite childhood books, Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away series, the color books of fairy tales, classics such as Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Connie continues to feed her lifelong passion for literature. She reads “whatever my book group tells me to,” reviews books by Northwest authors for KLCC, enjoys “comfort” books like The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, loves mysteries, fantasy, teen literature, poetry. She’s a playwright, and has taught classes to WordCrafters students. She helped found and co-produces the Northwest Festival of Ten Minute Plays, with performances at the Oregon Contemporary Theater, an event now in its 10th year.

Her favorite thing about the library? “Anyone can come with whatever need they have. We try to meet that need, be it to help sell a house, start a business, help with child rearing, learn tech support tips, talk about dying, or even to get a book recommendation.” People who come to the library, she says, are not a captive audience. They come because they want to be there, and many because they love the library as much as she does.

We’re fortunate, she says, that we live in a community where most people believe in and support libraries and literacy. Still, it takes constant advocacy and an informed electorate to keep libraries strong and vibrant. She finds herself working to strengthen connections, and thinking about ways to encourage radical kindness. When we act out of disconnection and fear, she says, we are in trouble. It is critical that people know, believe, and trust the library is a safe place to explore ideas, without fear of people looking over their shoulder.

The national debate about privacy has touched the library. Every 3-4 years Connie is asked to release records to law enforcement. Usually these requests require a court order, and she takes full protection of the law. She remembers an instance when city police wanted information on a person whose library card was found at crime scene. She said no, and ended up meeting with the chief of police and city manager, hoping to avoid a court scene. In the end, the information she could legally release — the age of the card holder — was enough to prove the cardholder wasn’t the person they were interested in.

Connie is deeply grateful for the support of the community, and especially the library Foundation, which makes it possible for so many to get the information they need, connect locally and with people in distant places, try new skills, learn, and play. For a deeper perspective on the library’s offerings and the Foundation’s impact, she encourages donors to take advantage of behind-the-scenes tours. (Contact Monica Wilton for more information on tours!)

Traci Glass, Teen Services Librarian

Traci Glass comes from a family of librarians and “big readers”. Her mother and sister were school librarians, and Traci remembers storytimes from her local childhood libraries in both Oklahoma and Mesa, Arizona. Glass notes, “Mesa Public Library had a huge teen space even in the 1990s, which was unheard of back then. I spent a lot of time there.”

Having achieved a Masters in Information Resources and Library Science from the University of Arizona, she has spent over 20 years in library services at the Mesa Public Library, Southeast Regional Library, and here in Eugene.

Glass is also active in the Young Adult Library Services (YALSA), part of the American Library Association, and this year she is reading almost 500 young adult books as a judge for the Michael L. Printz Award: “I’ve been on award committees for four years. I even get up early to read… All I do is read!”

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King, stands out as a favorite across the years, and Young Adult fiction has boomed as a genre in the last decade. Glass remembers, “When I was younger I read everything from Sweet Valley High to Jane Austen to Sylvia Plath” she says, but the teen section is now full of more young adult titles, which many adults enjoy too.

When asked what a ‘day in the life’ looks like, Glass mentions myriad responsibilities from developing the teen collections and book lists; creating library web pages for teens; providing reference and research help; running craft clubs, book groups and volunteering programs; to forming special relationships with young library patrons.

Indeed, as the Foundation’s Booked for the Evening event ramps up to support services for teens this year, Glass reflects on our library’s central role for teens in the community. In addition to services like homework and tutoring help, “we also have a lot of unintended impact. They trust me, so I’m also part-counselor, part-friend.

Public support for teen services is high, and funds raised through Booked for the Evening are set to make a huge difference to the teen space, as well as its services. “I’d love to make it somewhere teens can congregate and share books, film and music – a space just for them.”

Glass describes the teen center as a crucial safe space for many teens in the community: “So many teens feel like they’re only noticed when they do something wrong. It’s nice to be an adult in their lives where they feel they can be open – they won’t get in trouble or be looked down on.” Resources like Brainfuse Live Homework Help also let teens contact librarians with queries from home.

What is Traci’s favorite part of the work? “Connecting teens with books that will change their lives – and proving both resources and an escape from all the things they have to deal with.” Glass notes that books are a natural stimulus for talking about the toughest issues, and is grateful for the library and Foundation’s support in “working together to provide this sense of community for our teens.”

Thank you, Traci and colleagues, for all your service to the library!


Nancy Horner, Adult Services Manager

This year Nancy Horner celebrates her 10th year as the Adult Services Manager, where she
oversees personnel, programming, and budgets. She’s one of the silent hands guiding book
acquisitions as well as the other collections the library offers, including audio books, DVDs, Blu-
ray, electronic, and online resources—for the main library and the branch libraries. She also
helped lead the development of the library’s new Maker Hub, where patrons have access to
craft supplies, tools, electronic and sound recording equipment, and a 3-D printer.

Horner comes from a military family, and grew up in California, Washington, Texas, and Germany before moving to Oregon at 17 for college. She earned her Master’s degree in Library Science and a teaching certificates in English and Psychology. In addition to her work with libraries, she put her degrees to good use teaching in-person and online community college classes in Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, and History of Western Civilization.

Horner received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which allowed her to spend a summer in London studying Virginia Woolf. The following year she presented a paper to the International Virginia Woolf Society Conference, held that summer in Wales, and enjoyed travels to see the Book of Kells, and to search for Nessie on Loch Ness.

Libraries have been central to Horner’s career. She started out as children’s librarian in a small
public library, and as a cataloger in a public library, and worked her way up to a school librarian,
to head of 25 libraries in Lawrence, Kansas, and fortunately for us, to her current role at
the Eugene Public Library. Nancy’s many interests have included dance and acting. She’s won
awards in archery, obtained a black belt in karate (long out of practice, or so she says), and enjoys painting and writing.

Her favorite undertaking this year at the Eugene Library: hands down, the Big Read, centered
on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The library, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Midwest Arts, and support from the Eugene Public Library Foundation, partnered with the Springfield Public Library, Oregon Contemporary Theatre, Eugene School District 4-J, Bethel School District, Springfield Public Schools, Bijou Art Cinemas, Radio Redux, and Friends of Eugene Public Library to host a rich array of performances, concerts, films and lectures. At least 30 book groups participated. “This year’s Big Read was exceptionally popular,” she says.

Among the biggest challenges Horner foresees for the library is maintaining support at a time
when more people than ever need it. She describes libraries as scaffolding supporting growth
and creativity. “We welcome everyone, try to connect them with resources they need to be
healthy, productive, happy, safe. We take away barriers. No one is excluded. We preserve and
make available records of thousands of years of human achievement, science, art. We protect
the past and help build for the future.”

Many thanks to Nancy and the dedicated staff that make our library a community treasure.


 

Scott Herron, Adult Services Librarian

Say you want to start a business or nonprofit, find a job, evaluate local business opportunities, do research on social media for businesses, or a score of other related pursuits. You turn to the Eugene Public Library for help. Chances are you have had the pleasure of meeting Scott Herron, the Adult Services Librarian.scott-herron-pic

I fell in love with the profession.

Scott grew up in Bellflower, California, a suburb outside of Los Angeles. When he chose a college, Scott was attracted to the opposite of urban sprawl—the University of Oregon. As a work-study student at the Knight Library, Scott observed first-hand how libraries enhance learning. After graduation, he pursued a master’s degree in Library and Information Science and worked as a librarian in Kentucky. Then a position opened up at the Eugene Public Library, and Scott jumped at the chance. For the past 19 years, Scott has served the Eugene public in a job he loves—being a librarian.

I like helping people find jobs.

Scott tells the story of Anthony, a library patron who recently came to the library interested in starting an Italian restaurant. But he had no idea of how to begin. With the help of Scott and library staff, Anthony is learning to evaluate risk and go through a process that will help his business succeed.

I am not an island.

Scott is quick to acknowledge the collaboration that enables him to do his job, starting with the exceptional adult services team with which he works. He thanks the Eugene Public Library Foundation for keeping our library “humming with innovation, community spirit, and endless lifelong learning opportunities.”

Scott enjoys spending time with his wife and his Labrador retriever. He is a private pilot of single-engine planes. He has been playing the banjo for about 30 years and enjoys jamming bluegrass-style with the old-timers, which, he notes with a smile, “I am quickly becoming one of.”

Thank you for your important work, Scott. Eugene is lucky to have you!

Eugene Public Library Foundation, 100 West 10th Ave., Suite 317, Eugene, Oregon 97401 | (541) 338-7018
The EPLF is a registered 501 (c)(3) – EIN: 93-0873279. Gifts to the Foundation are fully tax deductible as allowed by law.

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