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.