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Sep 18 / Christine Illichmann

Alumni interview with Crystal Jolly – A Chat about Children’s Librarianship, Advice for Diversity GSAs, and more!

Crystal Jolly (MLIS ’12) is a former SIS Diversity Graduate Student Assistant. She is now is the Children’s Librarian at the Parkman Branch of the Detroit Public Library. She was interviewed recently by current SIS Diversity Graduate Student Assistant Allia McCoy.

Can you tell us about your professional journey since you graduated, what type of positions have you held? Have you had to relocate?

My journey has taken me all over the state of Michigan working in various librarian positions.  I worked at Plymouth District Library as an intern while pursuing my MLIS and upon my graduation I became a substitute librarian there.  It was at this library I gained valuable work experience such as providing reference and reader’s advisory services and executing youth and young adult programming.  I also started working at Rochester Hills Public Library as a part-time children’s librarian. I was fortunate to have robust resources to take risks and try new programs such as a music story time during which I brought in my own guitar and played a song I made for families and opened a story time lab where kids used the My Story Maker by Carnegie Library of Pittsburg to make their own story to print and take home.  I worked at Plymouth and Rochester Hills for a year and then was offered a full-time position as a children’s librarian at Lincoln Township Public Library on the west side of Michigan.  I was responsible for everything related to children such as programs, youth collections, creating booklists and planning for the renovation of the children’s area.  Although, I enjoyed my work, I desired to be closer to my family and moved back to Detroit and worked for a short period of time as a teacher until I was able to find work as a librarian.   I then became a librarian at Hazel Park District Library working on various projects as needed such as developing the youth series collection.  After about a year I was hired as a full-time children’s librarian for the Detroit Public Library at Parkman Branch and was recently promoted to the Assistant Manager. I am honored to be working in the city in which I was born and raised.

When you graduated did you find it challenging to find a position at DPL? What motivated you then? What motivates you now?

It was challenging to gain a position at DPL upon my graduation.  At the time I graduated, there weren’t any DPL librarian positions open. However, I felt I needed to gain more work experience before I could successfully take on the role of a children’s librarian at DPL. I committed myself to gaining as much librarian experience working at 5 libraries in various positions and volunteering at 2 schools to revive their libraries. What motivates me to continue doing the work I do are the children and the impact I believe I am making on their lives.  There are challenging moments but I remind myself why I do the work I do—to make sure children in Detroit gain more meaningful learning experiences and use what they learn to improve their lives.

Do you have tips for success for students who feel called to work in public libraries especially Urban areas?

This is great a question because I spent most of professional library life working in suburban or affluent communities until 2 years ago when I started working for DPL.  I quickly realized when I started working at DPL the importance of building relationships with patrons, being resourceful to meet patron needs and flexible with programs and services.  For example, many families with children in the Parkman community have inconsistent work schedules meaning offering story times at the same time and day might not work for them. However, story times are important because they help foster the love of reading in children while helping them practice reading readiness skills. I decided to informally read to children when I noticed them in the children area, talk with parents about the value of them reading, talking etc. with their children and visit schools to do story time and promote library programs.

How have the recent changes in Detroit had an affect on your job in the library?

The city is constantly changing but I believe my role remains the same.  It is my job to connect our children to information by making it more accessible to them so they feel empowered to make their own future.

 Are there any unique programs, services or features at your library that you’d like to share?

Wash and Learn- is a pop-up learning space for families at a local laundromat.  Families gain access to technology and literacy resources while washing their clothes.

MSU University Outreach and Engagement Office- provides free transportation for Parkman families to participate in their events.  So far about 70 patrons have benefited from this partnership.

Reading Teacher in the Library-certified reading specialists provide reading support to children during the summer to optimize the development of their literacy skills and combat summer learning loss. What makes this program unique is the commitment the library, teachers, and the children and their families demonstrated throughout program. Children received instruction four days per week for six weeks by the same instructor.  There was a noticeable difference in the literacy skills of 6 six children by the end of the program.

What is your favorite memory from your time as Diversity Graduate Student assistant?

My most favorable time as the Diversity Graduate Student Assistant was speaking at a SLIS orientation to incoming students. I talked about why librarians are important and the need for increased representation of people of color in the profession.  Recently a SLIS graduate who is an African-American woman listened to me speak during her orientation several years ago and reached out to me through LinkedIN to thank me for inspiring her move forward with pursuing her degree when she started to question if she should.  It is a humbling experience to know that a speech I gave several years ago made a positive difference in someone else’s life

 What advice do you have for current and future Diversity Graduate Student assistants?

If may be difficult to see the immediate impact of your work but know the work you do has impact goes beyond the time you serve in the position.  Also take advantage of networking with students, faculty, and professionals you meet in the position.  Don’t try do this work alone, someone else’s expertise can help you encourage someone to pursue a degree in this wonderful field or add a new perspective to the conversation of recruiting and maintaining a diverse field.

What common questions do you get from the youth patrons you serve?

The most common question I get from my youth patrons is “Do I have to?”

At Parkman we offer a lot of youth programs and we have developed relationships with parents of children who visit the library everyday it is open.  Parents recognize the value in their children participating in educational and entertaining programs and give us permission to encourage their children to participate.  The children may not want to participate initially but most of the time they are happy they did.

The second common question is “When is Roblox Play?”

Roblox is a very popular online game platform.  Children across the country are playing Roblox games in libraries.  In response to its popularity, the Detroit Public Library offered a Roblox tournament in March for kids to play in private game rooms together and compete for prizes. Over 400 participants participated during the tournament.  At some point, I hope to offer a Roblox game development program for children to build their own games.