I Love My Librarian Award Winner Roosevelt Weeks: Taking the Library to the Community

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by Steve Zalusky

Roosevelt Weeks, deputy director of the Houston (Texas) Public Library System (HPL) is one librarian who is willing to go the extra mile.

Rachel Stout, a trainer with the HPL’s Community Engagement Team said Weeks has on many occasions taken time out of his day to drive the Mobile Express when a driver was needed.  That commitment earned him one of the 2016 I Love My Librarian Awards.

 

She said, “He’s always willing to step in and help out at any level of our organization, and will do just about anything to ensure a successful project or implement a new service.”  My’Tesha Tates, manager of HPL’s Community Engagement Team, who nominated Weeks for the award, said Weeks taught her that libraries are about more than books and walls.  “He has pushed our organization to think outside the box, and made it an indispensable thread in the fabric of Houston,” she said.

For Weeks, community involvement is a high priority. He has partnered with local organizations to spread literacy and the love of reading throughout Houston.  This is shown in his work with the Houston Center for Literacy and the Eastside Village Learning Center. These programs help residents of lower income areas develop the literacy skills they need to enrich their lives.

Weeks also volunteers at Holman Street Baptist Church, where he teaches Sunday School, and volunteers at KIPP Academy, a prominent Houston charter school, as well as at various Houston area schools, as part of the Real Men Read program.

His ascent to deputy director and chief of staff at HPL began when he served as chief technology officer and head of the IT department, providing the tools for patrons to access and edit their files from any computer connected to the internet.  Tates said this was a boon to many who did not have a computer at home, especially in the days before Google Drive and Dropbox.

She said Weeks’s passion for the library was so great that “even after becoming Deputy Director, he chose to go back to school and earn his MLIS, all while administering the seventh largest public library system in the country and parenting six kids.”

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.

Sign up here to be notified about future I Love My Librarian Award activity.

Weeks has transformed his library since taking over as deputy director. Any resident of Houston can now use the library to prepare to become a citizen, get their passport, or hold a wedding or special event.

He has fostered a wide array of partnerships, ranging from public bodies such as the Houston Independent School District to local businesses such as HEB, a Texas grocery chain. The latter has led to an innovative story time program at the grocery store.

Weeks is passionate about bringing libraries and library services to people where they are, Tates said. An example is the HPL Express project, which placed libraries inside pre-existing buildings, such as office buildings, multi-service centers and parks. It also includes a mobile technology lab.

Weeks’ involvement with the community was especially key when Houston was hit by its last major hurricane. He spearheaded the library’s effort to provide relief to the most affected areas, sending out the Mobile Express to help fill out FEMA and other government assistance forms, as well as working hard to reopen closed libraries as quickly as possible to provide access to power, communications, and air conditioning in stricken neighborhoods. He also acted to ease the burden on library employees, working with staff to turn the Central Library’s Children’s and Teen Rooms into a daycare for employees’ children, with the Children’s and Teen Room staff providing fun activities for everyone.

He was also helpful during the April 2016 floods, reaching out to one of the local schools that had been turned into a shelter and providing resources and staff to help displaced residents apply for assistance and file claims.

In addition, he suggested that HPL partner with the city’s Public Works and Engineering department to take the library’s Mobile Express into damaged neighborhoods to provide on-the-spot service for contractors needing to acquire permits for repairs.

Weeks’ innovative approach led to establishment of the Community Engagement Team, which takes library services into the community to provide access to technology, provide school support and workforce development, as well as literacy services.

During 2016, the team served more than 43,000 people at 950 events and issued more than 2,100 library cards, using the Mobile Express mobile technology lab, two mini-labs and a variety of technology and other resources.

During an interview on his receiving the award, Weeks said the favorite part of his job is interacting with his staff.  “You have so many talented people with great ideas. I just love hearing those ideas and working with them,” he said.

Weeks said libraries empower communities. “They let them know that they have a voice, they have a place where they can share their ideas openly without fear of any repercussion whatsoever. We allow them to come in and tell us what they want, instead of us telling them what they need.”

On receiving the award, he said, “I have been on Cloud Nine since I was notified. I came from the private sector into public libraries, and for me it’s like validation that I’m actually doing something right. It’s a passion of mine. When I changed careers and got into this field, it felt right, and this award just solidified that, that the change was right.”

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