EAST ORANGE, NJ - As a community resource, libraries are invaluable. On April 11, The East Orange Public Library (EOPL) and The American Library Association invited the community of the City of East Orange to show their appreciation for a most valued resource—library workers—on “National Library Day” during the near 60-year-old event, National Library Week (April 9-15). The countrywide event aimed to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries, librarians, and promote library use and support. 

The East Orange Public Library (EOPL) nestled within the heart of the vibrant urban City of East Orange, NJ takes particular pride in its library staff for this event. In honor of their service to the library and community at large, the EOPL highlighted an integral contingent of its staff; its male workers of African descent. The current evolution of libraries continue to combat the stigmas of yesterday. Lively programs for all ages replace hushed open spaces. On demand online databases render archaic print card catalogs obsolete. Even the stereotyped persona of a librarian as a scowling, silence-driven enforcer has evolved into a friendly, inviting, customer-service driven member of the community. 

For Rashond Smith, a 20-year library veteran and one of the few African American librarians in the country, his duty as a reference librarian is a position of pride. “I enjoy helping people through providing accurate and relevant information,” said Smith. “Being in an environment with patrons’ minds actively studying and gathering significant information.” Smith affirms the library is “more than just books” as a stereotype perpetuates, but rather “a trending, vibrant hub that is about providing pertinent information and outstanding service.” As an active participant in community outreach, Smith tours the East Orange School District and its career day programs to promote literacy and inform students of the prospects of being a librarian.

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In its vision of outreach, the EOPL appointed it new Coordinator of Public Relations and Community Outreach, and alumni of the East Orange School District, Matthew Powell to help guide its image. “It is a privilege to return to East Orange in a professional capacity,” said Powell “It is interesting to see the advances the library has made since my days as a student.” With unique cultural programs and the immensely-popular annual comic/anime convention, TOSHO-Con, Powell remains eager to promote the library to the community. “There is something for everyone here whether it’s a program or a resource,” said Powell. “We are an all-inclusive entity with excellent customer service as our driving force.”

Profound customer service is paramount to a library garnering a strong relationship with its patrons and the key focus for dual 11-year staff members Library Assistant LaMar Clark and Library Associate Dwayne Holman. “Having patience and being able to relate to people,” said Clark regarding his strategy in his interactions with patrons for over a decade. In his time, Clark notes the diversity of programs as an influencer in bringing people into the library. For Holman, a resident of East Orange totaling 40 years, cites the technological advances of the library as a vital resource for the patrons he interacts with. “The growth of technology makes it more accessible for patrons looking for resources,” said Holman.  A personal approach to assisting patrons is especially rewarding for Holman. “I enjoy helping someone with their resume in order to get a job,” said Holman. 

The public utilizes EOPL’s abundant supply of over 70 computers to run the spectrum of tasks. From updating social media statuses to updating a resume, EOPL’s technological infrastructure is of huge importance to the community. For System Administrator, Chris Henry maintaining the virtual network for his hometown in nothing short of a privilege. “It’s exciting to work in the city I live in,” said Henry “I enjoy working with my people.” As an alumni of East Orange Campus High, the dutiful Henry cites the East Orange School District as a contributor in focusing his interest in information technology hopes to give back one day. “It would be a dream doing IT for [The East Orange School District],” said Henry.  

Another key influencer to maintaining the library’s IT infrastructure is EOPL’s Technical Assistant of six years, Kern Roberts. Roberts is an alumni of the historic East Orange High School’s final graduating class of 2002. His interest in information technology sparked in high school and as an adult he remained enthusiastic to share his expertise with the public library of his youth. “After graduating high school, I went to the military, [and following my duty] I came back here with no hesitation,” said Roberts. “Information technology is my passion.” Roberts firmly believes EOPL is a community center evidenced by the swarms of patrons utilizing various terminals to access and relay information daily. “People come here to socialize,” said Roberts. This does not come as a surprise with the current evolution of libraries coupled with the rich arts and music culture infusing East Orange for decades. In discussion of the future of libraries, Roberts reveals he would like to see a space designed for music enthusiasts to create and learn within his library. A centralized music hub could be a mutual investment between the library and the cultivation of artistic expression among the community’s youth and young adult contingents. “Your greatest resource are the people in the community,” said Roberts. “If you invest in them, they will invest in you.”

Most notably what these men have in common is their dedication to community service. With intimate knowledge of the community and its continued progression, these men continue to tirelessly work towards a future to inspire their community and the young men within.