What do you do with five pounds of plastic beads and a stack of paper bags? At Cornelius Public Library, librarians Maria Aguilar and Angelica Novoa De Cordeiro are there to figure it out alongside you.
“You can experiment,” said Angelica, the Cornelius Adult Services Librarian. “We are here to learn with you and find new ways of doing things.”
The library opened in its current location – a 15,000-square foot bright and colorful space on North Adair Street – in March 2019, almost exactly a year before the pandemic would close its doors again. The new space, about five times larger, provides much-needed room to offer additional and simultaneous programming. Its temporary closure has called on the creativity of Maria and Angelica – as well as librarians across Washington County – who are working harder than ever to provide materials and resources to residents across the spectrum of digital access.
“We are looking into how we can break that barrier,” Angelica said. “We are trying different things. We are trying some pop-up libraries. We are not giving up.”
Without being able to connect with people in person during the pandemic, outreach has been challenging. This January, the library is piloting a virtual English-Spanish conversational program for residents at any skill level. Recently, they started offering book bundles to help readers discover new titles without physically exploring the library.
Engaging children without access to the space is even more difficult. Maria, Cornelius’s Youth Services and Outreach Librarian, finds inspiration for new library activities everywhere, from her own daughter’s preschool to Pinterest.
“I’ve heard from parents – and as a parent myself – they don’t want something that’s going to be on the screen more than they already are,” she said.
Maria remembers walking to the Cornelius library as a young person herself, bringing cousins in to find books. At the time, the library was in a small space connected to the city administrative offices. It was challenging to navigate, with portions of materials sectioned off by tall, dark shelves. Children’s programs were limited. The Young Adult section, Maria, recalls, consisted of about 300 books with little variety or space for teens to relax. While her aunt taught computer classes, Maria became increasingly involved, beginning her career in the library as a volunteer.
“I was one of those people that thought libraries were just books as a young kid,” Maria said. “And I started to learn more about what the librarians did to make sure that the collection is as up-to-date as possible, that they were trying to represent the community and doing outreach. That’s when I started to really fall in love with libraries and everything that they offer.”
Today, there’s a dedicated Teen Room boasting nearly two thousand titles in a variety of genres from graphic novels to non-fiction.
Angelica, meanwhile, found local libraries to be a critical resource as an adult building her new life in Oregon.
“My passion for libraries came from being an immigrant,” Angelica said. “When I came here, the library is where I found my refuge. I was able to communicate with my family thanks to the libraries. I was able to read good books, which I was missing, and develop my English skills and start learning.”
Working three jobs, Angelica would spend time in the Canby library while waiting for her next shift to start. One day, grading papers for a class she was teaching, Angelica overheard that the library was looking to hire someone that was bilingual. She’d been saddened by the limited Spanish-language books available and felt she could contribute recommendations that would serve the library’s Latino audience. Now, Angelica’s career with regional libraries spans over a decade.
Both librarians emphasized the importance of knowing your community and developing personal relationships. According to the 2010 census, nearly 70% of Cornelius’ residents are of Hispanic or Latino background.
“There weren’t always bilingual programs. Growing up, I don’t think they even had bilingual staff,” Maria said. “Outreach is essential because there’s a misconception [in the Latino community] that libraries are going to charge you if you check out material or if you attend a program.”
A few years after Maria was hired as a part-time Library Aid at Cornelius, they received a grant to create a Latino Outreach Coordinator position. This made it possible for Maria to become full-time staff. It also helped increase the Spanish-language programming and book collection.
“Within the first few months of taking on that position, our circulation of Spanish-language materials increased about 300% from just being able to be out in the community, highlighting what we had, and bringing in more relevant materials,” Maria said.
Their hard work to engage residents has paid off. Despite the pandemic, more than 4,500 Spanish-language items were checked out from the Cornelius Library in 2020. Together, Maria and Angelica have created dozens of bilingual programs for children and adults. They work together to provide activities for children while parents attend separate learning programs. Instructions for crafts – among the library’s most popular offerings – are always provided in both English and Spanish.
“Oh, I don’t want a perfect end result. I want you to develop skills and be out there experimenting,” Angelica said. “Every person, even if I provide instructions, they will do whatever they want. And that’s great. That’s what we want.”
“Our own residents are discovering that there’s something for everyone here. Our volunteer base has, I think, almost doubled,” Maria said. “All of that has really brought to light that even though Cornelius may be considered small, we’re really thriving.”
What Maria and Angelica want people to know most is that the library is still open, and services are not limited to Cornelius residents. They want to hear from community members about what services would be beneficial. Maria emphasized that they are always willing to try new programs and fail together until they have something that works for everyone.
“We are here to serve the whole Washington County,” Angelica said. “That’s why we are a cooperative, and we are here to support each other.”
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Explore upcoming program offerings below and through the Cornelius Public Library by visiting their website, www.ci.cornelius.or.us/library. Find all Washington County library updates events by visiting WCCLs at www.wccls.org.
“Take and make on your own time” programs coming up:
Jan 11 – Yarn Thread Snowflake (Adults)
Jan 17 – Snowflakes (for kids)
Jan 25 – Snowman Card (for preschoolers)
Zoom bilingual programs coming up:
Every Saturday at 10am beginning January 9, Intercambio (language exchange program) no registration is needed (all ages)
Every Thursday at 10am beginning on January 7 English story time (no registration needed)
Every Thursday at 11am beginning on January 7 Spanish story time (no registration needed)
Jan. 27 – Art Glass Painting (Adults, registration required)
Every Tuesday – Knit-In via ZOOM/ Teje-En en línea (all ages)
Special thanks to Maria and Angelica for participating in an interview for this article. This is original TVC content written by Ashley Baker.