“All people have a right to information,” says Brandon Cruz, Public Services Librarian at the Cascade Park Branch of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. On a recent tour of the library I saw exactly what he meant.
The library is open and inviting. There are sections for all ages and abilities, from the play-inviting children’s section to the large print section for the visually impaired. You can settle in and read a magazine, do research at a computer or hang out in the all-teens section with a comic book. It is a library for all people, and as my guide, Brandon was set on illustrating that.
Brandon grew up in a family that valued information and education. When someone in the family had a question, they would turn to his mother’s father for the answer. “Grandpa was our own personal reference librarian . . . if he didn’t know the answer he’d go find out and bring back the information,” recalled Brandon. He also remembers his first experience with libraries. His mother would do errands in downtown Vancouver, and he would spend time exploring the main library. “Reading wasn’t easy for me at first. I was slower than the other kids. But things really took off when I read an adaptation of the Robin Williams movie, Hook.”
From then on, Brandon devoured series after series of books, “because I really got to know the characters,” he said. “Reading became a part of me.” He spent countless hours in the downtown Vancouver library, so it is not a surprise that he found himself in the profession.
As we toured the library, Brandon pointed out ways people could access information even if they might not find the printed word easy. Audio books, DVDs and magazines are available for checkout.
As we turned the corner to the Teen Section, complete with red pendant lights over a counter creating a coffee shop vibe, Brandon showed me the comic books. Comic books! I wasn’t allowed to buy them as a child. But Brandon’s eyes lit up as he began to talk about them. We headed over to a special section of illustrated books and he explained that, “all reading is good.”
“Comics, as a medium,” he explained, “always have been a lot freer . . . they can tell a story that is not being told by mainstream authors or tell it in a way that makes the information accessible.” He is a fan and showed me a beautifully illustrated book by his favorite creator, Kelly Sue DeConnick, a Portland comic book writer and editor and English–language adapter of manga. She writes from a feminist perspective, something that Brandon finds intriguing.
As we walked to the children’s section Brandon noted that the shelves were pretty bare. With the summer reading program going on, young readers were taking armloads of books home with them. As a Public Services Librarian, Brandon gets involved with programs for all ages. He shared with me that it is not all serious. There are prizes involved in the summer programs, and adults have their own competition going on with drawings. The grand prize is two nights at Skamania Lodge. Brandon explained that the library’s collection is “floating,” meaning you can access books and media at all libraries. If you order a book at this branch, you can pick it up, read it, and when you return the book, it will stay there.
We wandered through the World Languages section, which I found fascinating . . . a Chinese language newspaper, a fashion magazine in Spanish and books in Russian were all available. And that just represented what was offered at the Cascade Park Branch. Brandon shared that the top three languages the public wants are Russian, Chinese and Spanish.
Brandon truly enjoys interacting with the public and providing a valuable service as he helps people access information. “It’s all about building relationships,” he says. He did not come by this public contact job directly. He first started out in Communications and then decided on a Master’s in Library Science for his advanced degree. He spent most of the coursework in preparation for a career in academic libraries. It was only at the end that he realized he wanted to help the general public and switched to prepare for the role of Public Services Librarian. He has been out of college for three years and is thriving in this role.
When asked what is in the future for libraries, Brandon said he had just returned from the American Library Association conference which he thoroughly enjoyed. “Libraries are becoming a cultural place where people come together with varied ideas and viewpoints.” The Cascade Park Branch offers discussion groups such as the “Meaningful Movies” group and author presentations.
Brandon finished our tour by stressing the importance of access to free information . He believes, and it was confirmed at conference discussions, that the Internet may be going to a subscription basis at some point. Libraries will become increasingly important in guaranteeing access to information in a variety of ways and providing a diverse range of viewpoints.
“I’m in my dream profession,” said Brandon. “My job is not about knowing everything but to figure out how to access information for people.” Brandon’s creativity and enthusiasm are contagious. After our conversation I filled out the paperwork for my library card, something I had meant to do for some time.
If you have not been to your local library lately, check it out. It is a vibrant, interesting place with opportunities to interact with others, reserve a meeting room, relax with a magazine or check out a movie. With 13 libraries, two Library Express locations, two bookmobiles, internet access and electronic services, Fort Vancouver Regional Library District provides information resources, services and community and cultural events for a population spread out across more than 4,200 square miles.