The United States citizenship class has been held at Boulder Public Library since 1996. Ghana Elturk, the former Outreach Librarian, was looking for help when she was becoming a citizen. She could not find any, so realized this was a need in our community. She started the class at this time. I started teaching the class when I retired from the library in 2005. I have done informational sessions periodically with BoulderReads tutors since some people in the adult literacy program are interested in becoming citizens, as well as other groups.
It has been an incredible experience for me. There have been people originally from almost 80 different countries who have attended the class. Some have become close friends.
The citizenship class is held every Monday from 6-7:30 in the Arapahoe Room. Since the library sponsors the class in this way I do not have to rent a room and can offer it with no charge. The library also allows me to make copies I need for the class. Some people attend class every week for a year or so, and others cannot attend every week for various reasons. Some people are not eligible to apply for citizenship and just come for some information. More than 500 people have taken the class since I started teaching it, and all but a handful have become citizens.
There is no registration for the class. I teach the class in a cycle, starting with Native Americans to the early explorers and settlers, up to the present history, and then start over again. I do not allow any politics in the class, but if students ask questions, I answer them as factually as I understand them. There are some very hard and sensitive subjects I have to cover in our history, and having people from all over the globe, I sometimes open it to how their countries may tell the same story.
I spend a lot of time in class going over the process and what to expect during their interview. My ultimate goal in teaching the class is to help each person feel confident as they go to the interview because of what we have gone over in class - and just maybe - not be too nervous.
One of the things I see in class is how some of the people attending become friends and can even overcome historical events when their two countries have been enemies in the past.
There is an immigration lawyer in town who volunteers her time to speak with any student who has a question about the process. This is a huge help to me because there are so many legal questions I am not qualified to answer.
I take a training from USCIS (United States Customs and Immigration Service) in Denver about every two years. I have gotten to know some of the people in the Denver office which has been helpful when I have questions about the process or a problem a student might have. There are many details to the process of becoming a citizen and each person has their own unique story.
People from the USCIS office in Denver come to BPL for a swearing-in ceremony each year. This year we have two dates set for this ceremony to take place. About 35-45 people will become citizens at these ceremonies. These are very emotional times and it means so much to those who are sworn-in as citizens and the family members who are able to attend to have it in Boulder. Two swearing-in ceremonies will take place at the library this year, on May 27 and August 26 at 1pm in the Canyon Theater.
For more information about the citizenship class, email me at [email protected].
I can remember the phases of my life by the books I have read.
I started with alphabet books and The Berenstein Bears; then I grew to Amelia Bedelia and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona. With the tween years came The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High, which morphed to the angst of a very young teenager and V.C. Andrews.
There was a time when all I read was fantasy - Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time - next it was the classics - Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice, The Count of Monte Cristo. Then, once in graduate school, there was little choice or time or energy to read anything other than notes and textbooks.
Now I feel like I have opened up and so have my choices about what I read. Now I have no favorite author or genre. I tend to gravitate toward nonfiction - memoir, psychology, commentary - but some good fiction still sneaks in - Cutting for Stone, Alias Grace.
And it mostly still comes from the library.
My reading life started for me at the local public library, which was a haven for my single mother of four. It was a place that was safe and free and kid-friendly, and that she could be assured would be interesting for all of us at all our various ages.
We went there a lot.
I remember it as colorful bulletin boards and bright lights, and as clean and cool in the summertime. I loved the calm and the quiet. And I really loved leaving there with my freshly selected stack of books.
I also remember the summer reading program and how signing up every year was an exciting time of possibility. The program was mine. I could read the titles I wanted and as many or as few as I chose as I worked toward prizes like free ice cream at Lyon’s.
As I got older, still well before Google, the library became the place where knowledge lived. When my mom answered with, “I don’t know, go look it up,” or if I needed something for school beyond our home set of World Book encyclopedias, I could find it at the library.
I have always thought of the library as where I came from.
I often hear the message today that libraries sort of need to re-brand themselves as being more than just about books. That there’s a need to keep them relevant as ebooks take over print, and online searches have replaced the traditional role of the librarian.
It feels like almost an urgency to point out that they are hubs of connection and community engagement; that they are places of gathering and innovation and inclusion.
But for those of us who grew up at the library, we already know that’s true.
While the library is absolutely the place where my love of reading books was nurtured, it was also a place where I shared with other kids and started to develop my sense of self. It was a place where I felt empowered by my choices and learned about achievement and goals and self-sufficiency.
It was a gift to my mom and the backdrop of my childhood. And even now as an adult, many years later and many miles away, everywhere I’ve moved I’ve sought out the public library. It’s how I feel like I live in a place. It’s how it feels like home.
I’ve walked through its doors and signed up for a card and become a local library patron. I've kept up with its calendar of events and attended book readings and lectures and concerts. I've used it as a quiet place to work and read and write. I've met friends and taken advantage of free meeting rooms. I've shared it with family who've come to visit. I've volunteered.
Oh yeah, and I've also checked out some books.
Dedication. Great co-workers. Excellent customer service, so your customers will want to come back. Dealing with adversity, and with change. Contributing to making Boulder Public Library (BPL) an enjoyable community center, a repository of materials and information, and a fun place to work. These are a few things that come to mind as I think about my being a BPL employee for 16 years.
I started work, part-time, at BPL in 1999, and retired (from the City of Boulder and from BPL) when I was 66, on December 1, 2015. I'd completed a Ph.D. in English literature at CU-Boulder, way back in 1986, couldn't land a teaching job in academia anywhere in the U.S.A., and so I had to start over. I worked several retail jobs (for a whopping salary of $6-$8/hour) for 60-70 hours per week, and then continued working retail AND at BPL. After years, I was finally making enough of a salary at BPL that I could quit retail work altogether, and just work 40 hours per week at BPL.
I was extremely relieved by this, and thus was also extremely motivated to do the best I could at BPL.
I started working in Circulation. The check-out desks were two glass-wall-separated areas located by the windows on the first-floor south side of BPL and at an angle to the staircase leading up to the second floor. We faced a row of public computers, and the Children's area, which was open and always very noisy. When a patron arrived, he/she would walk through a room with public computers along both walls, and then into an area with even more computers and with no books visible and with children yelling. It was not a little daunting and confusing.
There was also a large aquarium, there, right by the entranceway to Children's. People of all ages stopped to look at the aquarium, especially because there were live trout, inside. I once heard a patron tell his friend, "I want to take one of those trout out of there, and take it home and cook it for dinner."
At the Circ desks, we had huge, ungainly computers, hard-to-read white screens with blue letters, and we had to grip items and slide them back and forth on "desensitizing" blocks, so items wouldn't beep when the patron walked past two "detectors" on his/her way out. Those constant gripping and sliding motions led to carpal and tendinitis issues.
After a time, and because I had a background in music and movies as well as in English, I was hired for an additional 10 hours per week at the Reader's Advisory Desk, near the CDs and movies (VHS, then) areas, where the ramp now leads up to the Children's department and then the Seeds Café. And later, I gained another 10 hours per week in Tech Services, way over by the Canyon Theatre, the duties in Tech Services being processing all incoming materials for shelving, and creating a computer item record (NOT complete cataloging) for each item. I was now finally up to 40 hours per week--and I had THREE different supervisors. I had to fill out three timesheets for each pay period!
But I also got to do fun things, such as set up music-CD displays for all incoming patrons to pass by as they arrived (it was very successful, with patrons grabbing CDs from a "Great Jazz" or "Classical-Music Favorites" or etc. display), and to be on the collections committee that selected music CDs for the entire BPL CD collection. And in August, 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, BPL showed the movie WOODSTOCK, and the Library Director let me send a slang-filled "hippie" e-mail to all the staff, inviting them to bring the friends and families and see WOODSTOCK at BPL. Far OUT, man!
Over the years, there were a lot of changes at BPL. VHS-format movies bit the dust. In fact, BPL held a VHS-sale, in order to clear the shelves for new DVDs. In 2013, a huge Materials Handling machine was installed in the basement, at Main. We called the machine "the monster," because it made weird noises as it sorted returned items on a conveyor belt and then pushed them by category (novels, non-fiction, DVDs, CDs, etc.) into bins. In 2014, BPL implemented placing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags (small squares or circles) in EVERY item in the entire BPL collection. And we in Tech Services got to do a LOT of RFID tag-placing.
And then there were those incredible six days of hard, heavy rain, in 2013 with severe flooding. BPL Main spans Boulder Creek, and the creek looked like a raging Mississippi River filled with debris. I thought the whole building might float away. But BPL stayed open, and in fact served as a communications center during the rains and floods.
There was also the $4.5 million total renovation of BPL Main, that was completed in April of 2015. The Fiction section and Children's were "reversed" (Fiction now where Children's was; Children's now in an enclosed space where Fiction was), all the public computers were moved upstairs to the second floor, a lot of open-visibility space was created, and the café space was made (no new café, yet, at that point). It was truly a mess even getting into the building and working there, for quite a while, but when it was all completed, BPL Main was extraordinarily improved.
There were also controversies, such as about questionable art exhibits, and the placement of American flags inside and outside of BPL Main. As part of our duties, we in Circ handled the phone switchboard, and frequently had to deal with the public deluging BPL with phone calls about some controversy.
I was also fortunate to be President of the Boulder Municipal Employees Association (BMEA), from 2011-2014. I was part of a BMEA team that negotiated a contract (salaries, health care, many benefits) for 450 (of 1300 total City of Boulder employees) BMEA employees, including up to 50 BPL-BMEA workers. It was quite a challenge to be BMEA President, the BMEA rep for BPL, AND a BPL employee.
And lastly there was a job structure change-up at BPL Main in 2014, and I spent my concluding year prior to retiring working as a shelver--er, as a Materials Handler--at BPL. So over my 16 years at BPL, I had the opportunity to work in FOUR different departments.
But through all of the above, during my 16 years at BPL, I recognized that I was privileged to be working with some dedicated, great co-workers. Everyone offered first-rate customer service, and yes, our customers DID come back. I and my co-workers dealt with adversity and change, and I hope I contributed to making BPL an enjoyable and successful community center, an excellent repository of materials and information, AND a fun place to work.
It was a memorable 16 years. And BPL was, and still is, "the place to be."
It once was the case that the public library was the place you visited only to check out books. You selected them, showed the librarian your library card, a record was kept, and a due-date was hand-stamped on a card in that little "pocket" on the inside cover of each book. It was all done on a relatively small scale. But that procedure has changed, as has Boulder Public Library (BPL).
First the stats. Between 2014-2018, visits to BPL increased by 8%; new cardholders were up by 20%; check-outs were up by 32%; program attendance was up by 63%; and amazingly, participation in the BPL Summer Reading Program was up by 598%!
In 2016, BPL was selected by the Colorado Association of Libraries as THE Library of the Year for the entire state of Colorado. During 2017, there were just under ONE MILLION in-person visits to all branches of BPL. This is an average of 2,800 visits per day; only OSMP and the Pearl Street Mall have more.
In that same year, 12,000 new library cards were issued; patrons checked out 1,500,000 items, in all formats; and BPL offered 3,100 programs, for over 80,000 participants.
How else has BPL changed? According to the 2018 Mater Plan, during 2017:
The Homebound Delivery Program assisted 90 seniors in the Boulder community.
BoulderReads! served 140 children and adult learners.
The BPL art gallery hosted 11 art exhibits and 1,500 people attended movies shown as part of the BPL Film Program.
More than 7,500 people attend concerts, music workshops, lectures, and other events in the Canyon Theatre.
770 volunteers contributed over 18,000 hours of work to assist with BPL's many programs. This is the equivalent of nine full-time employees and accounts for 12% of BPL's annual work hours at the equivalent of $475,770 salary.
Other features and updates of note include:
An official Teen Space, dedicated to teenagers, plus many children's programs.
Technology programs, including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and Computer Science and Education (CSEd) week.
Seeds Café spanning Boulder Creek, and a fully-equipped MakerSpace called BLDG 61, which has hosted 45,000 participants and is booked for months in advance.
Shelvers became known as Material Handlers, and a new Automatic Materials Handling System located in the basement at BPL Main began in 2013; its goal is to have all returned items back on the shelf within 24 hours.
A 2012 taxpayer-approved $4.5 million renovation of BPL Main was completed in April of 2015. The renovation consisted of a complete remake of the interior, moving some departments to different locations, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags placed in EVERY BPL item, and the creation of six meeting rooms.
As you can see, this is all a long way from visiting your local public library just to check out some books! The public library, with all its offerings and programs, has become a vital, popular, and successful community center. BPL has established partnerships with various organizations in Boulder, and it offers opportunities for literacy, lifelong learning, business and social meetings, cultural experiences, creativity, job-seeking, and open free access to all library materials.
In other words, the role of a public library is to improve and enhance the quality of life in the community it serves. And with all of the above, BPL has been very successful in achieving this important and cherished goal.