When people hear the word “library” a few things typically come to mind; namely Librarians and books. But the Library is run by people working in many different roles. They’re all helping community members with much more than book recommendations. Our series Spend a Day with a Library Worker takes you inside the lives of Library staff in different roles and follows them on a typical workday.
Branch Manager Sondra Presley didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a Librarian. In fact, it wasn’t until she applied by chance for a role as a part-time Library Services Assistant at the Walnut Hills Branch Library that she stumbled into her calling. “I was just looking for a job to supplement our income while I worked at CVG airport,” says Sondra. “At that point in my life, my husband became an Air Force Veteran and we decided to move back home to Cincinnati with our two children. Within months of working for the Library, I fell in love with Library services and the stability provided to me after years of military relocation and switching jobs. I just couldn’t believe I was getting paid to help people!”
While she was working in Walnut Hills, Sondra’s manager encouraged her to apply to graduate school to earn her Master of Library Science (MLS) degree. “Initially I thought, no, I can’t be a Librarian, I don’t even like to read!” she laughs. But Sondra’s manager was adamant and continuously reminded her that Librarians don’t read for a living, they help people. And helping people has always been where she excels.
“When I was promoted to be a part-time Library Services Assistant at the Greenhills Branch Library and then a Senior Library Services Assistant, again, my manager and the Children’s Librarian encouraged me to apply,” she says. “So I did and to my surprise, I was accepted! Having the support of Library professionals was what truly led me to my career and I even developed a deep love of reading along the way!” Fueled by her passion for helping others and the encouragement of her co-workers, Sondra completed her MLS degree and took on a role as Children’s Librarian.
Today, she is a Branch Manager, which has turned out to be yet another career shift. “I’m not as focused on early learning literacy, youth programming, or youth publishing trends as I was in my role as a Children’s Librarian,” Sondra notes. “Now, not only do I continuously have the opportunity to help customers, but I also have many opportunities to encourage and support my staff. I love that I’m able to coach my staff and assist them with finding opportunities that will allow them to bring their thoughts to life. I’m very grateful for the amazing managers and mentors who believed in me and continuously pushed me to be better. I strive to provide this and more for my employees.”
When it comes to being a Branch Manager, every day looks different for Sondra. There’s no such thing as “typical day” because she just accepted a new role as the Branch Manager for the Price Hill Branch Library, and is currently splitting her time between there and the West End Branch Library.
“Some days I’m working at the West End Branch Library, others I’m in Price Hill, and there are even days that I work at both branch libraries if I’m needed,” she says. “I also continuously meet with community partners, my mentors, and my staff to ensure we all have everything we need. I also continue to attend trainings, provide programming, and do community outreach in both locations. On any given day you might find me and my staff making displays, requesting materials for teacher collections, or sitting on the floor to play LEGOs or board games with kids who might be dealing with behavioral challenges. While to most this may sound stressful or tiring, it’s nothing that a mother of four can’t handle, I actually enjoy staying busy!”
One of Sondra’s favorite things about her job is that every day she learns something new. “Engaging in conversations with customers of all ages has taught me so much,” she says. “I also love community engagement and outreach. We often see many customers day after day, but I know that we are merely scratching the surface so getting out into the community and bringing the Library to customers is how we can make a bigger impact. I just love being the person who brightens someone’s day because I found the correct movie, book, or resources for them; or even helped them learn something new on their phone, our computers, or even out in the community at an event or meeting. Our ultimate goal is for our customers to leave the Branch feeling like their needs were met and that someone cared to take the time to assist them.”
Between January and July of 2019, Sondra’s West End Branch Library had 97,733 visitors and hosted 175 events with 3,862 attendees who came out to enjoy the fun. “None of this would have been possible without the help of my team, Librarians from other branches, and our wonderful volunteers,” says Sondra. “The most challenging part of my job is that there is never enough time in a day to finish all the good I want to carry out within the community I serve. But, I’ve learned that there is always tomorrow and I have a team that I can truly rely on to assist me with reaching all of those goals. The first half of 2019 was just proof that we, as a team, could do more.”
Sondra’s role as Branch Manager extends far beyond the Library’s walls, stretches out into the community, and goes right into her own home. “Every role I’ve held in the Library I’ve been able to take home what I learned to teach my family,” she says. “Whether it was the art of storytelling, homework resources, resume writing, and even interview tips; my family members of all ages have benefited from it.”
Whenever someone new learns that she’s a Librarian, she’s always able to give that person a resource, book, or movie recommendation, or link them with a community resource that she’s learned about on the job.
Her presence as Librarian and Branch Manager also provides important representation for youth in the communities she serves. “When people find out that I’m a Librarian they are always surprised because they haven’t seen or interacted with many Librarians of color,” says Sondra. “That’s why I make it a point to be visible and vocal. I do this by talking to many strangers and posting things on social media that highlight the positivity of the urban community I serve and highlight anything I’m doing in the Library that people can benefit from. The resources and services we have to offer are all free which is one of the best things about the Library. The Library is truly is a beacon of the community and I’m so proud to work for an organization that’s always trying to find out ways that they can provide resources to help the community thrive. It makes every day worth coming to work.”