By Steve Zalusky
Andrea Bernard will go out of her way to serve her library patrons. Just ask Stephen Ferguson, her nominator for a 2016 I Love My Librarian Award. Ferguson said he lives alone on a dirt road in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. After undergoing major spinal surgery, he was housebound for four months.
“Throughout the winter, in all kinds of weather, my librarian, Andrea Bernard, brought me an endless supply of books, driving her personal vehicle after library hours. Because Andrea takes a personal interest in all of her patrons, she knew just what books to bring me.”
Ferguson said Bernard, librarian at Tyler Memorial Library in Charlemont, Massachusetts, has renewed his love of libraries. He said she has tailored her book suggestions to his literary tastes.
He said one often hears her say something along the lines of, “Can I suggest a series you might like? Of course, choose some other books, too.” “Slowly but surely, my reading interests began to expand,” he said.
Ferguson’s experience is just one example of how Bernard connects with the community served by the library, which includes Charlemont and the neighboring town of Hawley. “Under Andrea's tutelage, the library has been transformed into a vibrant center for not just learning but, also, social interaction,” Ferguson said.
In 2014, Bernard started the Sunday Series so that adults would have access to programs focused on the arts, health and wellness. Since neither Charlemont nor Hawley have a community center, the Sundays at the library filled the gap, not only staving off cabin fever during the winter months, but also offering a diverse array of programs exploring such areas as flower arranging, 3D needle felting and even a ukulele workshop.
Ferguson said, “I never enjoyed a library as much as I did the Sunday afternoon of the ukelele workshop. It was a wonderful interaction between people of all ages. Retired people were helping young children with finger placement. Younger adults were offering their seats to older folks.”
Seeing that many areas served by the library lacked access to high-speed internet, in 2015, she purchased new public access computers and proceeded to automate the library.
Ferguson said the changes he has seen since Bernard became librarian are dramatic.
“The only computer on the premises was a discard from someone's home. I had never attended an adult program at the library. Andrea has changed all of that. Under her guidance, the library is now connected to a fiber-optic internet system, while most of the town has DSL or dial-up. This high-speed internet access has been a godsend to children and adults alike.”
Now, for many adults and students, the library provides their only access to the internet. Her assistance to patrons extends to helping people access government services on line and helping foster a love of literature in children.
In 2016, she started Tyler Tech so that school age children would have access to programs focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) during the summer. Summer programs included “Small Animals and the Practice of Science,” in which children K-3 worked as scientists in a live animal lab, made observations and recorded them through drawing and writing.
A program for grades 4-6, “Busy Beavers: An Engineering Design Challenge,” focuses on the adaptations of “nature’s engineers” and involves children in a dam building challenge.
For children in grades 2 and up, the library offered “3-D Printing with Makerspace Workshop,” teaching children how to design and print 3-D objects.
The library also hosted the digital services librarian at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who offered guidance to students in organizing research projects, collaborating with other students and generating citations and bibliographies.
In an interview shortly after she received her award, Bernard said, “I love matching people up with things that are available either in our library or through interlibrary loan.”
She also said she loves library programming. “I love bringing people in to try out new things, whether that is related to the arts or health and wellness or new technology.
She mentioned the value of community building at the library. “Patrons can learn from each other and build relationships,” she said. She also said the library opens up new vistas for her patrons.
Bernard said that in Western Massachusetts, “We don’t have internet access for everyone and we don’t have TV access for everyone, so it’s a way for people to come in and access the world.”
When asked what winning the award meant to her, she said, “I think there are thousands of ‘mes’ out there, doing their thing, so it’s just a tremendous honor to represent all of the people all around the country who are working in libraries to make things happen for their patrons.”
The I Love My Librarian Award is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, The New York Times, and the New York Public Library. The award is administered by the American Library Association.
Read more about the award and other 2016 winners at www.ilovelibraries.org/lovemylibrarian.
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