Sometimes the biggest impact an academic librarian can have is with students not yet in post-secondary education. This outreach librarian describes the joys and struggles in connecting with kids before they even think about university, and the type of long-lasting inspiration it can bring.--Editor
To start my story about this particular outreach endeavor, I think it helps to know a little bit about me and where I came from. I grew up in a very small town in western Massachusetts, the youngest of five children. Although my parents wanted us to do well in school, it was not something that they strongly encouraged. My mother had finished high school, and my father had only completed the 7th grade. So the idea of continuing with school after graduation was never really brought up in my home. After high school, I spent a few years working in retail, during which time I became close friends with someone who was applying to college. Her parents were both teachers, and for her, continuing education beyond high school was not a question. At one point she started to encourage me to think about applying to college. Sometimes, she would even lure me out under false pretenses of fun, but instead we worked on my college essay. My mother's only concern was that I apply somewhere close to my home town, and in the end I only applied to one school. Fortunately, I was admitted to the University of Massachusetts (UMass), Amherst, where I earned my first degree. I would not know it until years later, but I was what we would now call a "first-generation, low income student," of which I am very proud.
Fast forward many years of work and schooling later, and I am the student success and outreach librarian at my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In my role I have many other duties "as assigned." One additional temporary duty was to cover for my supervisor on a faculty senate committee, the Undergraduate Education Council, while she was on leave. At one particular meeting, a newly hired member of campus was brought in to speak. She was hired as the assistant provost for diversity. One of the things she mentioned as she spoke was that she wanted to reach out to the local communities and work with area children to promote college or university as an option after high school. She was so passionate about this project, and it really resonated with me. After the meeting was over, I rushed over and introduced myself. I told her that I would love to help her in any way I could. I explained my background and how something like this may have helped me when I was younger.
About a month later, I was included in an e-mail from the director of marketing and community relations at the UMass Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. She had received my information from the assistant provost for diversity. The UMass Center is like a satellite campus...