By Gordon T. Davis
When I visited the Worcester Public Library branch location in Great Brook Valley (GBV), I did not know exactly what to expect. The trip there has made me more of an optimist about the human condition.
Going up Tacoma Street, I noticed right away the relatively new outdoor stairways of the Curtis Apartments that took the edge off of the more severe look they have. I also noticed how clean the complex’s streets were and how well-kept the landscape was. The grass was still green! So impressed were we that my wife and I passed right by the sign for the Worcester Public Library branch, located at 89 Tacoma St., and we had to turn around.
The library is located in a row of apartments, the construction of which reminded me of the barracks that military families used to live in during the 1950s and 1960s. When I saw them previously, they had an ugliness about them. Nonetheless the apartments were functional and efficient. With the recent faux gabled roofs the row apartments are better looking, almost like town houses.
On the way into the library, its apartment unit was about 20 yards from the street, I waited outside and talked to passerbys about their public library branch. People were friendly and talked freely.
The first person I spoke with was Carol. She told me she uses the branch library, taking out books and going on the computers located there. Xavier, a fifteen year old young man who lived most of his life in GBV, said that he knew of the branch library but he did not have any incentive to go inside. He said he did not understand its draw. He did say that he might check it out eventually.
A teenage young lady and her friend stopped and talked. Angelique said that the library was a good place and she uses it often, but they did not go in. Because of my low vision I asked Angelique to show me which door was the entrance to the library. She seemed surprised. She pointed to the brown door immediately to my right and there was a small green sign on the door that read Worcester Public Library. The best I can say about the door and the sign is that they were unpretentious and plain. They certainly were not eye catching. Opening the door a wonderful sight revealed itself, a warmly lit room full of children and some adults reading, using the computer, and doing homework.
I was greeted by the staff at the library: Sheila, Marilyn and Polly. Polly is the Head Librarian and she was manifestly proud of the library and its services. The library is open weekdays from 2 PM to 5 PM and to a large extent it is an after-school venue for children. There seemed to be about 40 people in the library while I was there. Polly said that was 40 people is a daily average. Most of the patrons were using the computers or waiting to use the computers.
Almost all of the people using the GBV library were, when I was there, Black or Latino, reflecting the population of GBV. The staff is mostly White. The air of family and friendliness made me forget about the problems outside of the library. It was a refuge that made me want to stay until closing. There was a nostalgia for the branch library in Philadelphia which I used as a kid.
Among the children, there seemed to be a cooperative educational process going on, as a child computer user would ask his peers about how to accomplish certain computer function. When they ran into a very difficult problem, they would then seek the library staff’s aid. These children were eager to learn and to help each other. I am sure it made the staff happy to help in this process.
The staff also had a Story Time program in which books were read aloud. Two computers had educational program software; one for younger children and another for older kids. I imagine it would be the dream of any elementary school teacher to work there. The role of librarians in the education of children is something that deserves addition print.
Having low vision I wrote in very large letters and Polly noticed. She began to describe the services the main Worcester Library has for blind people. At first I thought she was speaking about the children, then I realized she was speaking directly to me about my handicap. She said that she finds it satisfying to help people. It was satisfying to interview this kind person. I told her that I would take her advice and look at the services for the blind found in the main library.
The staff said that children also borrowed many books and they pointed to the shelves of books that they were setting up. There was a computer terminal near the shelves that allowed the quick referencing of books. It was all impressive and a delight to see these things in GBV.
The Head Librarian, Polly, spoke of how books could be ordered region wide from the inter library lending system. The book most often borrowed contemporaneously is a fiction book which is popular among pre-teens. Polly said that the library does not promote the books, per se, but helps the library users to borrow from the main library or a library in the region. She said that she was not entirely sure how a book becomes popular, but she suspected word of mouth at schools.
Adults also use the library and its computers. A lady, Ada, seemed to be doing research when I asked her if I could take her picture. She said yes, but with a condition. I had to mail her a copy of the picture via the library. I agreed. All users of the library computers are limited to 30 minutes at a time and it is first come first served. Like all library services, the GBV Branch is open to the public.
The library has a good rapport with the Worcester Housing Authority which not only provides the space, but also maintains the property. It performs repairs such as maintaining the water and heating systems. I interviewed Worcester Housing Authority Director, Raymond Mariano, about his support for the GBV Branch Library. He said, as he always does, that he grew up in Great Brook Valley. He felt that the mobile book truck was inadequate for the residents. The truck only came once a week and it did not have the programs or services that a stationary library branch could offer. It seems that the residents of GBV are being well served by Mr. Mariano’s support of the GBV Branch Library.
The new Head Librarian at the Main Library on Salem Street did not get an opportunity to return my call, but I am sure she was busy learning her new duties and solving other problems. I was able to talk with Messrs. William Coleman and William Belcher, both of whom are on the Worcester Library board of directors. Mr. Coleman and Mr. Belcher gave glowing praise about how the Worcester Public Library is reaching out to the diverse communities of Worcester and about the GBV Branch in particular. Mr. Belcher added that he supports the good job being done with the book mobiles.
At the NAACP Housing Discrimination meeting on November 19, 2014, Michael Ortiz from the Housing Development Office of the City of Worcester, spoke about how the City of Worcester is developing additional housing for its residents. During his talk he mentioned he grew up in Great Brook Valley, like Mr. Mariano. Mr. Ortiz said that Great Brook Valley is like a gated community. He meant this in a positive way. Like gated communities GBV has just one main entrance. It has its own health clinic, store, day care, and library.
The gem in that gated community is the Worcester Public branch library!