Stoop Stories: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn With Librarian Rita Meade

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Bensonhurst locals are a colorful bunch. It’s time someone took notice. This is us, taking notice.

It’s one thing to work or live in a community. It’s another to really be a part of it. Rita Meade, the children’s librarian at the New Utrecht Library at 1743 86th Street, doesn’t just occupy her daytime hours there; she really loves and gives to her branch and community.

She is a member of Community Board 10 and speaks at Board 10 meetings in order to secure support for the local libraries, plays in an all-librarian rock band and encourages our youth to read novels like War and Peace. All in all, she’s pretty cool.

Check out this week’s Stoop Stories and after, go and support your local libraries!

Bensonhurst Bean: Why did you become a children’s librarian?

Rita Meade: Well, it’s kind of a long story! I worked in the children’s room of my local library on Long Island all through high school and during the summers in college and I loved it. I didn’t realize that I actually wanted to become a librarian until after I learned that teaching high school English wasn’t for me. I knew that I wanted to work with kids, and I love books and reading, so I went back to grad school again and got my Master’s in Library Science. I worked as a children’s librarian trainee before getting a full-time job at Brooklyn Public Library and I can honestly say that I love my job. I really should have just become a librarian in the first place like my mother told me to, but it all worked out in the end!

BB: Tell us about what you do at the branch on any given day?

RM: Despite what some people may think, librarians don’t just sit around reading all day! Although, I definitely somtimes wish we could. The tasks of a day vary depending on what’s going on in the branch that day, so no two work days are alike. I usually have some type of program or school visit to facilitate in the morning. Then I am on the reference desk for a lot of the day, answering questions, helping people find books, and assisting with the computers. I also do collection maintenance, which means weeding out the old, worn books and making sure everything is in good order. I am in charge of an intern, so I have to do her schedule and time sheets, and I also have to record statistics for programs and class visits. Then, I take care of whatever else may pop up that day! It’s a busy job with not a lot of downtime, but it’s never boring.

BB: What are Bensonhurst kids reading?

RM: Bensonhurst kids are crazy about manga, graphic novels, and series books like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Dear Dumb Diary, The 39 Clues and many, many more! There are a lot of voracious readers in this community, which makes my job even more rewarding.

BB: Aren’t Bensonhurst kids just the best? Tell us about a recent interaction.

RM: They are! I encounter so many great kids who make me laugh and keep me on my toes. Yesterday an eighth grade girl came up to the reference desk and asked for a copy of War and Peace to read for fun. When I told her that the original version has over 1,400 pages, she paused and said ‘Oh. Well, do you have the unoriginal version?’ She actually did end up bravely checking out the book on her library card, and when I remarked that she’d have a lot to read over the summer, she said ‘Yes,’ which made me happy.

BB: What are some of the programs the branch runs for kids and families in the area?

RM: Right now we have Toddler Time on Mondays at 11 a.m. and we’ll be re-starting our Storyplay program on Wednesdays starting on July 11th at 1:30 p.m. We also have our Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program on Fridays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Once our summer teen volunteers start working in July, we hope to be able to offer more programs like Arts & Crafts, movies, and games! A special program for all ages with “Bubbles the Clown” will take place on Friday, July 20 at 2 p.m. And of course, the Summer Reading program is underway. Information for this about it can be found here. The Summer Reading closing party is on Wednesday, August 22. We’re having the “Erik ‘s Retpile Adventures” program that day at 4:30 p.m., which is a lot of creepy, slithery fun!

BB: How are proposed budget cuts affecting your job and the library as a whole?

RM: There are three separate library systems in New York City. Brooklyn Public Library alone faces a 32 percent loss in funding from the city, which would have a devastating impact on branch hours, resources, programs, and staffing levels. I think people in the community realize that we are doing the best we can with what we have, but if there are any more cuts, it’s going to be even more difficult and we won’t be able to serve the public in the way that we want to.

BB: What can locals do to support their community branches?

RM: There are several things that community members can do:

1) Go to our website and fill out the online petition. This will go directly to our local politicians and let them know that we need our libraries!

2) Call or text 311 and tell Mayor Bloomberg not to cut library funding!

3) Most important of all, use your library! Check out books, attend programs, and whatever else you use the library for. We are here to help you however we can.

BB: What are some of your extracurricular activities?

RM: I am involved in local politics and community matters by being a proud member of Community Board 10 in Bay Ridge. I also review children’s books for School Library Journal, and I sing in a librarian rock band called “Lost in the Stacks.” It seems that most of my hobbies seems to involve the library or books in some way!

BB: How have e-books and e-readers impacted the New Utrecht Library?

RM: While I don’t think that print books are going away for a long time, BPL has been embracing these great technological changes in how we can read materials. We offer digital books for Nooks, Kindles, iPad, and even digital audiobooks for iPods. We’re happy to help patrons figure out this process.

BB: What are some of your favorite books, children’s or adult?

RM: I read and love so many books, it’s very hard to pick a favorite. However, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith has always been one that I adore, ever since I was about 10 years old. It might have been a major reason I wanted to live in Brooklyn! I also love Roald Dahl’s books and recommend them a lot to kids. Also, Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt is a wonderful book for tweens and teens.

BB: Should books ever be banned?

RM: No, no, no! I have very strong feelings against book banning. It’s my belief that people can and should read, or not read, whatever they want. Topics in books that people find controversial are often life-saving to other people, especially young readers. I’m happy to help people of all ages find the books that they need and want to read. Libraries are for sharing information, not hiding it, in my personal opinion.