The following reports were presented at the Annual Meeting held on December 4, 2023:
This is the first year that the Friends has been operating under new bylaws, passed at last year’s Annual Meeting. They have given the Board flexibility on how and when to hold meetings, setting a schedule for regular board elections and making it easier to ensure that the Friends can fulfill their mission of supporting the Library. After outreach from a Nominating Committee to members and the general community, we held our first Board election online from November 25 through December 1, and are pleased to add two new members to the Board: Aviva Klugh and Lou Curran.
The Board has been focusing on increasing membership and attracting more volunteers. We have thirty new members (up from 56 in FY 22 to 86 in FY 23), and we have had significant support from new volunteers Sara Roberson, Sarah Weissman, Jane Backert, Donnell Kelly, Suzette Morgan, and Katie Murtaugh. We are especially grateful to Sara Roberson and Sarah Weissman for their work on the Nominating Committee. We still hope to establish a membership committee and a gardening committee in the near future.
The Board also focused on raising the Friends’ profile in the community. Board Treasurer Derek Simmonsen sold books at the Tuesday Farmers Market, organized the Friends’ table at the Lauraville Fair, and also attended several other school and neighborhood events on behalf of the Friends. We also held a very successful used book sale in the library meeting room in July, with help from volunteers Sara Roberson, Sarah Weissman, and Katie Murtaugh. And for Banned Book week, Derek, Deborah Mason, and Tween librarian Melissa Foley-King, read banned board books to young children. Everyone—readers, parents, and especially the kids—had a blast! Additionally, the Friends continue to support and advertise library programs via email and Facebook. Friends members have also put on programs. Bill Barry presented programs on the Irish connections to Frederick Douglass, the women of Sparrows Point, and the Red Scare in Maryland. Board President Malissa Ruffner introduced Rachel Swarns, author of The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church, and then gave a talk on the intricacies of researching the genealogy of enslaved people.
At each of these events, members of the Board collected the names and information of new members and people interested in supporting the branch. Our email list now consists of nearly 200 names.
In August, the Board sent a letter to the Board of Municipal & Zoning Appeals urging it to prioritize pedestrian safety in its consideration of the proposed Royal Farms gas station across the street from the Library. Board Secretary Deborah Mason was preparing to testify at the hearing on December 5 when it was abruptly postponed to February 2024.
We bid farewell to Branch Manager Gabby Miller and welcomed Renee Marks who took over that role. We look forward to working with Renee in the coming year.
After so many highlights, it’s sad to end on a low note. As you probably know, the library used to have four beautiful wooden planters built by the Department of Transportation, installed on July 6, and filled by the Friends with $325 worth of perennials on October 30. Nicole Hartig suggested the plants, and she and Michael Lachance, Rochelle Hayward, and John Odell planted them. And then, on the night of the 28th of November, a car plowed into them and totally destroyed them. While we can only be grateful that no one was injured (or worse), it is disheartening to see so much hard work obliterated. But, with the support of the membership, the Board is hopeful that we can come up with a new way to beautify our wonderful branch library.
Deborah Mason , Board Secretary
Click on the image below for full calendar of what's coming to the Hamilton Branch. You'll be amazed!
Click on the image below for the full list of library programs--for children and families, teens, and adults. Art, bubbles, movies and more!
Click on the image below for the full list of library programs--for children and families, teens, and adults. From quilling to sock puppets, opera to action movies. the Hamilton Branch has it covered.
By Deborah Mason
It has taken many years and many miles, but Melissa Foley-King, Hamilton’s Tween Librarian, is back home. Born in Hamilton, her father’s job took her family to Puerto Rico and then Harford County. After earning a BA in Creative Writing at the University of Baltimore, Melissa received an MLIS from Drexel University. She and her husband then moved to Harford County, where she worked in the public library system for ten years. After a three-year break from library work, Melissa returned to the city, moving to a house very close to her first home. In fact, when she applied for the position of the Pratt’s first-ever Tween Librarian, Melissa pointed out that her proximity was a plus: the branch would never have to close for inclement weather because she’d be able to walk over and open up!
The image of Melissa trudging in hip-high snow for half a mile to open the library rings true. It takes a very short time to realize that Melissa would do the impossible if it meant that the library would be open and ready to serve the community. Like many librarians, Melissa was an avid reader when she was young (she’s still a huge fan of The Babysitters’ Club series), but she never dreamed of being a librarian when she was little. Instead, she wanted to be a writer, and wrote short stories on her portable typewriter from a young age (Melissa is still pursuing this dream, currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at UB). As it happened, she had no idea how much she would love being a librarian until she became one. Only in a library can a member of the community come in, ask for help, and get it for free. Over the course of our interview, I was able to watch Melissa in action: someone needed help with the printer, another had questions about the homeowner’s tax credit. Each time, Melissa was warm and gracious, eager to help, and happy to do further research as new questions came up. Melissa derives energy from helping the community, but even she can sometimes suffer from “empathy fatigue.” She credits Branch Manager Gabby Miller and her colleagues for providing a supportive and creative environment that makes public service both possible and pleasurable.
But it’s in her role as Tween Librarian that Melissa provides her greatest community service. “Tweens” are students in the fourth through sixth grades—that difficult age between childhood and young adulthood. Thanks to its proximity to the Hamilton Elementary Middle School, Hamilton Branch has a very large and energetic tween population who regularly come to the library after school. Melissa makes sure that the library is a warm and safe environment for them, with plenty of activities that they can participate in. Even more important, she is a supportive adult presence in their lives, with no parental expectations or grades to hand out. She can help them navigate a critical transitional period of life, when they are children who are also dealing with crushes, more rigorous classes, and all the other ordeals of young adulthood. Making crafts, playing board games, talking about books— all provide opportunities for Melissa to gently guide the tweens, reminding them that they need to stick together and be kind to each other.
And they give back to Melissa, too. They are smart and funny, she says, mature in so many ways while still very young and innocent. They are fun and silly, and uninhibited about being cool—making them the absolute coolest. And they are ambitious—Melissa is even helping three girls set up a slime business. She would like to get the boys away from the computer games, so she’s invited Moving History, a group that teaches history through music, to come, and one of the sessions will be a drum session—which just might draw in the boys. But mostly, she gets her ideas from the kids themselves, listening to what they want to do that day, and then making it happen for them. So, one day they might be making friendship-bracelets, and another, they might be learning cursive writing. Not only are the tweens more engaged in an activity they chose, but, whether they realize it or not, they are participating in a small, but significant, form of community building.
She says all this with such affection, that all I can think is how lucky those kids are—and how lucky Melissa is to work with them.
President Malissa Ruffner opened the meeting by noting that this was the first in-person meeting in three years and then introduced guest speakers David Payne, Chief of Neighborhood Library Services (and former Interim Hamilton Branch Manager), and Gabby Miller, our current Branch Manager.
Gabby gave a comprehensive update of the branch’s programming, with a strong emphasis on the branch’s outreach to young library users. The branch is a significant afterschool resource for students, particularly middle school and older elementary students, and there can be anywhere from twenty to fifty enthusiastic students coming to the library after school. To accommodate their needs and those of other library users, Gabby and her team have focused on providing a safe, interesting, and responsive space. Rules concerning food and drink have been established (no eating in the library at all, and only drinks with flat lids are allowed), and the kids have responded well to the new policy. The branch has also hired Miss Melissa, Tween librarian (the first in the EPFL system), to focus on programming and resources for nine to twelve-year-old students--the largest population of students using the library. A new Young Adult librarian will join the staff in December, and Miss Carrie continues her excellent work with children under 8 years old, including story hours on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Gabby and her team are planning a wide variety of programs, but are also making sure that resources are available for more spontaneous group projects.
In addition to these in-library programs and services, Gabby has developed connections with area schools. She is in contact with the principals, and the schools have also been using the library as a resource for students. At a member’s suggestion, Gabby will also reach out to local pre-schools—she is a huge believer in partnerships, and is eager to build connections in the community.
Gabby is also the Adult Librarian, and is working on programs for adult users, including karaoke, crafts, and a book club. Book club meets on the third Thursday of the month; the January book is The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.
In response to members’ questions about social workers and tutors in the library, Gabby and David affirmed the branch’s commitment to meeting community needs and helping users are able to access relevant services easily and effectively. For example, David explained that currently there is one full-time Pratt staff member who coordinates the social worker interns (including a student who comes to Hamilton branch). He wants to expand those services for the branches in the New Year. He also wants to expand the lawyer in the library program, and he is currently in negotiation with UMD’s School of Nursing to have student nurses act as health counselors. The branch has partnered with Morgan State University to provide homework help, but that encountered a few obstacles (transportation being one, but one of the MSU participants has become very involved with the library, and helps with afterschool programming. David noted the possibility of partnering next year with Volunteer Maryland to coordinate volunteers and lead afterschool programs.
David provided a report on how the EPFL System and the branches are making the transition from Covid restrictions and raising their profiles. In a way, Covid provided new opportunities for the library to reflect on how best to fulfill its mission of community service. For example, all branches had to look at space and how it’s used, both inside and outside the building. The renovation of the courtyard at Hamilton was an excellent example of developing new space outdoors, and the system as a whole will be focusing on how to use outdoor space to meet users’ needs.
The pandemic also forced a closer examination of digital connections to patrons. As a result, the EPFL provided and enhanced its Wi-Fi services, and made them more accessible. The system also made laptops more available and is in the process of providing hundreds more laptops and hotspots available to library users. At the same time, use of library PCs has decreased, raising the question if so many are needed, and could the space they take up be put to better use (for example, providing space for laptop users and more outlets for charging phones and laptops).
The system is also looking at other ways to meet community needs. For example, in addition to talks with UMD about health counselors, David is also in discussions with the City about providing housing counselors. The System is also committed to enhancing branches, which are all aging and in need of varying degrees of renovation.
In response to members’ questions, David and Karen Brooks, Deputy Chief of Neighborhood Library Services, affirmed that there is software available through the EPFL website for learning English as a Second Language. He also reported that the library is working closely with City schools to support and develop services for adult and childhood literacy.
After thanking David and Gabby, and with a quorum of members of present, Malissa opened the business meeting. In her report, she outlined the Board’s goals to raise the Friends’ visibility, increase membership, and raise the branch’s profile. To reach these goals, the Friends held book sales at the Lauraville Fair and the Tuesday Farmers Markets. The Board also partnered with Snug Books to highlight Banned Books Week: we offered a $5 voucher to Snug for a $15 membership, and Snug donated 5% of their sales that week to the Friends. The largest amount of money spent was on the tree pits, which will help beautify the branch and make it more appealing. Now that Covid restrictions are over, the Board wants to plan more events to complement library activities. One member asked for information about volunteering; the Board agreed to communicate more directly about those needs. Finally, Malissa noted that the Board focused on drafting new Bylaws, and that Derek Simmonsen did a great job of leading this effort.
Derek then went over the proposed Bylaws, noting that they are straightforward, transparent, and designed to give the Board the flexibility to fulfill the Friends’ mission. In response to members’ questions and suggestions, Derek affirmed that there is sufficient flexibility in the Bylaws to allow the Board to create committees and name chairs, recruit a Youth member, and set January 1 as the date for renewal of dues, some of the suggestions brought forth. There was agreement that it would be a good idea to have a Membership Committee and a Gardening Committee in addition to the Nominating Committee.
After discussion ended, a motion to accept the Bylaws was made, seconded, and passed unanimously by a show of hands.
The meeting was adjourned.
Secretary, Friends of the Hamilton Branch Library
At our first in-person Annual Meeting in several years, The Board of the Friends of the Hamilton Branch Library presented the following narrative and fiscal information to those attending. Notes of the meeting will be posted in the coming weeks.
ANNUAL MEETING AGENDA
Monday, Dec. 5, 2022
6:30 pm In-person and via Google Meet:
Video call link: https://meet.google.com/sbc-frfd-xzf
Or dial: (US) +1 575-686-2133 PIN: 619 878 880#
6:00 Doors open, light refreshment
6:30 Conversation with David Payne, Chief of Neighborhood Services for Enoch Pratt Free Library, and Gabrielle Miller, Hamilton Branch Manager
7:15 Business Meeting: presentation of Annual Report and Vote on Proposed Bylaws
Contact us at email@example.com
FY 2022 Narrative Report
If there were a theme for the Friends of the Hamilton Branch this year, it might be “reawakening.” Covid presented enormous challenges to the entire Enoch Pratt Free Library, as every branch ensured user access to library services within the narrow and often harrowing context of a deadly pandemic. For its part, the Friends worked with library staff to raise public awareness of the branch’s efforts to ensure that the library remained a vital community resource even during a lockdown, while also looking to the future by supporting the courtyard renovation, celebrated at the beginning of this fiscal year, and gardening initiatives. This year, like the rest of us, the library has been emerging from Covid restrictions. This transition presents its own challenges, as each branch, including Hamilton, has to accommodate new and returning users, ensure that the physical space is both safe and welcoming, and provide access (both “real life” and virtual) to its services and programs. Consequently, during FY 2022, the Friends have focused on helping the branch’s transition as smooth as possible.
This support took many forms, from providing a holiday cookie platter last December to publishing profiles of new staff members for the Friends newsletter, introducing them and their priorities to the community. Those profiles are now part of a new page at our website: www.friendshamiltonbranch.org. We used our newsletter and Facebook page posts (also shared with the Harford Road Community Collective) to promote library events and programs. We included several library staff members as page administrators so they could publish to the community directly.
Friends members also worked to raise the profile of the Hamilton Branch by holding used book and CD sales at the Tuesday Farmers Market and the Lauraville Fair. While these events raised important funds for the Friends, they were also opportunities for Friends and staff members to let the public know about the many programs and services available at the Hamilton Branch. The also turned out to be terrific recruitment events!
Additionally, the Friends collaborated with local businesses on behalf of the library. During Banned Books Week, Snug Books welcome Friends members to read “subversive” picture books to their youngest customers; they also generously donated 5% of store sales that week to the Friends. We, in turn, offered $5 Snug gift cards to promote $15-level memberships. We hired Signature Landscapes, a local firm, to upgrade the tree pits on Harford Road and Glenmore Avenue, making a long-term investment in perennials, our largest financial outlay on behalf of the library.
Perhaps the most significant work the Friends undertook this year is the least glamorous. Thanks to the hard work of board member Derek Simmonsen, the Friends will be voting on new by-laws, which will provide greater clarity about Board roles and procedures. Hopefully, the by-laws will give the Board the flexibility to continue supporting Hamilton Branch as it continues to serve our community.
Respectfully submitted, Deborah Mason, Secretary, Friends of the Hamilton Branch Library
FINANCIAL REPORT FOR FISCAL YEAR: FY2022 (11/1/2021 – 10/31/2022)
BRANCH NAME & NUMBER: Hamilton Branch Library EIN NUMBER: 46-3895681
PREVIOUS BALANCE: (10/31/2021) $ 660.30
INCOMING FUNDS: (11/1/2021 – 10/31/2021)
A) DONATIONS : $ 1,100.00
B) FUNDRAISERS: $ 108.58
C) MEMBERSHIPS: $ 677.59
D) INTEREST EARNED $ .15
E) TOTAL $ 1,886.32
OUTGOING FUNDS: (11/1/2021 – 10/31/2022)
F) GIFTS TO BRANCH: $ 1,641.73
(Staff treats, Tree pit landscaping, garden hose,
G) ADMINISTRATION $ 232.88
H) OTHER EXPENDITURES (payment fees) $ 22.89
I) TOTAL $ 1,897.50
TOTAL FUNDS CURRENT ACCOUNTING PERIOD: $ (11.18)
NEW BALANCE (10/31/2022): $ 649.12
Prepared by: Malissa Ruffner Date: November 17, 2022
The Board of the Friends of the Hamilton Branch proposed the adoption of the following bylaws at the Annual Meeting. The purpose of the bylaws is to maximize flexibility of operations and publish a transparent process for selection of the Board and its officers. The bylaws were approved on December 5, 2023.
BYLAWS OF THE FRIENDS OF THE HAMILTON BRANCH LIBRARY, INC.
ARTICLE I – NAME AND LEGAL STRUCTURE
Section 1. The name of this organization shall be The Friends of the Hamilton Branch Library, Inc., hereinafter referred to as the FHBL.
Section 2. FHBL is a non-profit, non-stock corporation, incorporated in the state of Maryland. It is also a non-profit, tax-exempt charity as defined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3). This status is derived from FHBL’s status under an “IRS Group Exemption Letter” that is held by the Central Library’s “Friends of the Enoch Pratt Library, Inc.”
Section 3. FHBL is registered as a charity for purposes of fundraising with the Office of the Maryland Secretary of State.
Section 4. As a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation, FHBL is not subject to legal control or supervision by any employee or representative of the Enoch Pratt Free Library or its Hamilton Branch Library.
ARTICLE II – PURPOSE
Section 1. The purpose of the FHBL shall be to maintain a nonprofit organization of interested persons to advance and encourage appreciation, understanding, enjoyment, and public use of the educational and cultural facilities at the library, and to cooperate, when appropriate, with other groups to improve the cultural activities of the community.
Section 2. The FHBL shall work in conjunction with the officers and staff of the library to achieve these ends, to acquaint the community with the needs of the library, and to help improve their facilities.
Section 3. Specifically, the FHBL shall engage in the following activities:
a. Collect membership dues on annual basis, as established by the Board of Directors, for the purpose of spending funds on behalf of the Hamilton Branch to purchase materials for library programs, services, equipment, and related needs.
b. Promote local community awareness of, and participation in, programs of the Hamilton Branch Library and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
c. Encourage municipal and public support for free public libraries in Baltimore City.
d. Participate in any regional or state-wide association of “Friends of the Library” groups.
e. Engage in any other activities that are consistent with the mission of the FHBL.
ARTICLE III – MEMBERSHIP
Section 1. Any person or organization who supports the purposes of the FHBL may become a member by the payment of annual dues in effect at the time, subject to the limitations described in Section 4. Members are known as Friends.
Section 2. The dues schedule and amount shall be approved by the Board of Directors.
Section 3. Each Friend (a single member or organizational representative) shall be entitled to cast one vote on all matters presented by the Board of Directors to the general membership of the FHBL.
Section 4. The Hamilton Library Branch Manager shall be the official liaison between the library branch and FHBL. The Branch Manager nor other Branch employees, nor any Enoch Pratt Free Library system employees, may participate in any official voting by the FHBL membership.
ARTICLE IV – BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Section 1. The management of the FHBL shall be vested in a board of directors (“the board”) consisting of at least 3 but not more than 10 members, including the officers. An immediate past president continues to serve on the board an additional year in an ex officio capacity. All business of the FHBL shall be conducted by the board.
Section 2. The board at the time of the adoption of these bylaws consists of Malissa Ruffner, Deborah Mason, and Derek Simmonsen, with Ms. Ruffner serving as the board president. They shall serve for a one-year term upon the adoption of these bylaws, with an election to be held the following year at a regular meeting of the FHBL.
Section 3. Board members serve for a two-year term and may be re-elected to additional terms. The board president may appoint individuals to fill open board seats between elections.
Section 4. Nominating Committee. The president shall appoint a nominating committee chairperson in advance of the biannual election. The chairperson shall be either a board member or a Friend from the general membership. The chairperson shall appoint at least one other member to serve on the committee, and additional members as necessary. The committee shall recruit candidates and conduct the biannual election of the board, which may coincide with any meeting of the FHBL or be held electronically.
Section 5. Election. All Friends shall cast a single ballot to elect members of the board. If there are more candidates than available board seats, the individuals with the most votes shall become members of the board. Current members of the board and candidates for the board may vote in the election.
Section 6. After the new board has been elected, board members shall choose a president (by majority vote). The president must be a current board member. The president shall appoint other officers from the board as necessary.
Section 7. Removal procedure. A board member may be removed for cause by a vote of two-thirds of the board members present during any regularly scheduled meeting of the board.
ARTICLE V – DUTIES OF THE BOARD DIRECTORS
Section 1. The president presides at all meetings of the FHBL and the board; coordinates and oversees programming, fundraising, and other activities; ensures that the FHBL complies with all legal requirements; and manages the finances of the FHBL. Any check or disbursement must be signed by the president or any other board member authorized by the associated financial institution.
Section 2. The president may delegate any of these duties to other board members or create committees for that purpose. The president may also permit other board members to serve as president in the absence or disability of the president. In the event that the president is unable to perform their duties, the board shall elect (by majority vote) an acting president until such time as the president is able to resume the duties of the office.
Section 3. The president shall prepare an annual financial report, which shall be shared with the board, FHBL membership, the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and regulating bodies, as required.
ARTICLE VI – MEETINGS
Section 1. The FHBL shall hold a public meeting of the Friends at least once a year, at a time and place determined by the board. Meetings may be held virtually so long as links are made available to Friends in advance of the meeting.
Section 2. Twenty percent of the membership of the FHBL, at the time of any meeting, shall constitute a quorum. If no quorum is reached, the board shall reschedule the meeting. Any action requiring full approval of the FHBL shall be by majority vote, unless otherwise noted in these bylaws.
Section 3. The board may call additional meetings at any time. The FHBL shall provide notice of any meeting in a timely manner through as many means (email, social media, posting at the library) as practicable.
Section 4. In addition, the board shall hold regular board meetings, in-person or virtually, throughout the year as necessary, and can conduct business via email. Fifty percent of the board membership constitutes a quorum for purposes of these meetings. Motions shall be carried by a majority vote of those present. Board meetings are not open to the public
Section 5. The director of the Hamilton Branch Library and other staff members may be invited to attend board meetings.
Section 6. Any action of the board shall be by motion and majority vote. Parliamentary procedure is not otherwise required.
ARTICLE VII – FINANCES
Section 1. To coordinate FHBL finances with the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Library, Inc., the FHBL fiscal year will run from November 1 of each calendar year to October 31 of the following year.
Section 2. All funds received by the organization shall be deposited in a timely manner in a bank account maintained by the FHBL.
ARTICLE VIII – CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
No part of the net earnings of the organization shall inure to the benefit of, or be distributable to its members, directors, officers, or other private persons, except that the organization shall be authorized and empowered to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the purposes of the FHBL. Where conflict of interest may be thought to exist for a board member, the member shall inform the Board and abstain from any inappropriate participation in the matter.
ARTICLE IX – AMENDMENTS TO BYLAWS
Section 1. These bylaws take effect once voted on by a majority of the FHBL present at a regular meeting. They may be amended, in whole or in part, by a two-thirds vote of those present at any future meeting of the FHBL, or by majority vote of those submitting an electronic ballot.
Section 2. The adoption of these bylaws supersedes any prior bylaws of the organization.
ARTICLE X – DISSOLUTION
If the FHBL should dissolve, assets shall be distributed for tax exempt purposes within the meaning of section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or corresponding section of any future tax code, to the Hamilton Branch Library, or the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
by Deborah Mason
In a world full of ambiguity and doubt, there is one thing that you can know with absolute certainty: new Hamilton Branch Manager Gabby Miller loves her job. From discussing Pratt’s importance to the city to her plans for the Hamilton Branch, Gabby’s enthusiasm for the library is infectious and inspiring.
It isn’t surprising to learn that Gabby wanted to be a librarian ever since her childhood in a small town near Anaheim, California, setting up her own "play" library at home as a child and later volunteering at the real thing as a teen. Gabby eventually moved on to the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where she earned both her bachelor’s degree and her MILS. From there, she thought that she would end up in a university library. But that was before she went to an American Library Association conference and talked to the representatives from Enoch Pratt at the job fair. To make a long story short, Gabby got married, moved out of state, and began a new job as a team librarian at the Northwood branch within the space of four months. Her husband then joined her, and almost immediately found a fulltime job in his field. Everything happened so quickly and neatly that Gabby is convinced that she was destined to be where she is today. Over the past six years, Baltimore has become her home—she and her husband “are crab people now.”
Gabby’s career at the Pratt reflects her boundless energy and passion for public libraries. Programming is especially important to her, and she uses her creativity and research skills to create programs that are not only fun and interesting but have a lasting impact on the community. For example, when she was Assistant Manager at Northwood, Gabby partnered with Cylburn Arboretum to create a seed library that is going strong to this day. Library users can “borrow” seeds, and at the end of the growing season, they save their seeds and return a portion of them to the library. Gabby is also happy to go the extra mile for program participants. For example, after she was named Manager at Washington Village (or, as she likes to call it, the “small but mighty” Washington Village Branch), she started a “Grow Your Own Herb Garden” program. Gabby freely admits to not having a green thumb, but she researched how to grow herbs from seeds. She then spent February to April carefully planting seeds and caring for the seedlings so that everyone could have plants to start their own gardens.
If Gabby sounds like a perfect fit for Hamilton Branch, it might be because her mentor is someone very familiar with it: David Payne, the former Interim Branch Manager and now the Chief of Neighborhood Library Services. Like David, Gabby believes the library should be an anchor to the community and that it must ensure that it remains relevant and useful to its clients. She pointed out that to combat digital inequity, the Pratt continues to provide free Wi-Fi and lend hotspots, pads, and laptops—but it also provides classes (virtually and in person—including Wednesday morning sessions at Hamilton) to help people use these different tools more effectively.
Gabby knows that Hamilton has a great team in place, and the branch has been very successful in getting its community back to the library after it reopened its doors after the shutdown. She is eager to continue building on that success. For example, a new tween librarian will be joining the staff in a month. In the interim, Gabby and Miss Carrie have been working with the kids to build trust and to set standards, building upon the peer-generated norms for behavior they developed with Miss Alayna. One result is the implementation of a “no food” policy. Afterwards, she ordered outdoor tables for the sidewalk in front of the library, making it easier for the kids to comply with the new standard.
Finally, Gabby is very excited to work with the Friends. She would like to relaunch the book club next year, and perhaps a Friends volunteer could play some kind of leadership role. And, of course, Friends would be very welcome to join as members! There are so many ways we could work together, she said, to get big ideas off the ground.
And with Gabby’s leadership, organization, and enthusiasm, I’m certain she’s right.
By Deborah Mason
After two challenging years of COVID restrictions and precautions, the Hamilton Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library is fully open to the public, and new Branch Manager Joanne Helouvry is eager to welcome everyone back. Joanne came to EPFL as the new Branch Manager for the Brooklyn Branch just three weeks before Covid hit, and experienced firsthand the challenges of keeping the library accessible and responsive to the community, while protecting public health and safety.
But this was not her first job at EPFL. In many ways, Joanne has come full circle: her first job after getting her BA in French and MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was at the Pratt. She started in the Telephone Reference section (now Information Services) at the Pratt’s Central Branch, and then in the Social Sciences/History department. After that, she moved to the Loyola Notre Dame Library where eventually she became Head of Research and Instruction. She earned a post masters certificate in education from Notre Dame University of Maryland. In 2017, Joanne and her husband took their truck, small camper, and motorcycle for a six-month road trip across the States. While on the road, Joanne worked on-line as a chat reference librarian, answering questions from several universities simultaneously. She learned firsthand how difficult it is to get access to the internet: she used libraries, McDonald’s, coffee shops, anywhere she could go in and use their WiFi for free—or the cost of a cup of coffee.
All of these experiences prepared her for managing a branch in the middle of a pandemic: expertise in information services, experience in remote working, teaching, and learning, and a keen understanding that digital access is essential for work, study, and play. But the long period of remote service has made her eager to work with the public face-to-face again. So, after a reorganization at EPFL brought her to the Hamilton Branch last autumn, she has been happily welcoming library users—even using her fluent French to chat with members of Hamilton’s West African community.
And, as Joanne proudly points out, there is a lot going on now that things are back, well, not to normal, but to the new normal. The newly renovated courtyard is a popular spot for kids of all ages, providing a safe and friendly outdoor space to unwind, play a game, or just enjoy the garden. In-person programs for all ages have resumed, including story time, art classes, music, yoga, and talks with master gardeners arranged by Donna Ballard, Adult Librarian. “Take and Make” kits, first introduced during the pandemic, are still available, and STEAM activity kits can also be borrowed. Children’s Librarian Carrie Harnick is planning more on-site programs, and she and Alayna Baron, Teen Librarian, are working with Hamilton Elementary and City Neighbors Hamilton to provide library services to their students.
Joanne is also excited about the library as a social outreach center, providing a safe haven for children after school, while also helping patrons obtain the new necessities of life, including free COVID tests and face masks and even connecting with a social worker or a lawyer. EPFL is also expanding its Chromebook program for kids with a plan for over 1,000 laptops from Dell to be given away. The library is also collecting and distributing period/menstruation products for disadvantaged individuals, so keep an eye out for ways to contribute!
Finally, Joanne is grateful to the Friends for their work on the garden and their on-going support for the library. She encourages the Friends to come up with ideas for interesting programs for the community to engage in and enjoy.