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Mastering the Library

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

For the 23rd year the Friends of the OPL is providing scholarships to OPL employees pursuing their Master of Library and Information Science degrees. Congratulations to Adolfo Gomez-Delgado (Melrose Branch), Chantra Tham (Asian Branch) and Jennifer Agarwal (Rockridge Branch), who each received $1,500!

The Friends of OPL scholarship program supports OPL staff enrolled in an accredited MLIS program. Award recipients are selected by the OPL Staff Scholarship Committee in a competitive process.

Below is a deep dive with them to hear about their background and studies enhancing the OPL experience.

Chantra Tham

Q. What do you aim to learn or are learning in the coursework that could enhance your Oakland Public Library work? Jennifer: A significant focus of our MLIS coursework is on enhancing the user experience of library patrons. How can we facilitate individual patrons' finding resources on our shelves and in our digital archives? How can we design outreach and programming that meets their needs? How can technology aid us? We're also exploring strategies for reaching out to specialized "information communities" such as "tree lovers" or "fantasy baseball fans." How can we best serve these unique groups? Right now the major focus is on welcoming all kinds of patrons into the library family in new and creative ways. It's an exciting and engaging time to be an MLIS student and I'm grateful to be part of the OPL real-life laboratory!

Chantra: I aim to enhance my skills to better serve Oakland's diverse communities but also address social issues that continue to impact the wellness of our communities.

Adolfo: This semester I am taking a young adult (YA) materials course. I will be spending the next several months consuming a lot of YA content: graphic novels, manga, music, movies, audiobooks and books. This class has already served me well at work: the material I am reviewing is helping me with teen reader’s advisory. I am also taking a course about reference services and another on utilizing online resources.

Q. Why are you interested in becoming a Librarian? Jennifer: I have been a part of the Library Family since 2010. Previously, I served a nine-year tenure at Glen Ridge Public Library/BCCLS in NJ as a library assistant/YA coordinator. Recently faced with a new job search, I could not imagine a better place to set down my roots and grow new branches than in a library setting...and happily OPL did not disappoint me! I am interested in becoming a librarian because I deeply value the welcoming and non-judgmental environment of the library space, no matter where you are in the world! This is a rare find!

Chantra: The library has been a huge part of my life growing up back when floppy disks were fading out and USB flash drives were highly preferred, and catalog cards were still present in my high school. I turned to Melrose Branch that was just 2 blocks down from my high school for my printing needs. I learned to navigate information through the library and became self-sufficient. There was no exact plan to want to become a librarian. What ultimately pushed me forward to this decision was when I mentored youth in Oakland and some of the kids who were Cambodian American were so excited that a Cambodian person works in the library. Initially they asked if I was a librarian which was a huge deal to them. At the time, I was a temporary part-time library aide, volunteering to bring books to kids. The library is a place where our language and culture can be protected and a place where our younger generations can seek themselves and complete their story. Long story short, I was a teen patron at OPL, turned volunteer at OPL, and now turned staff at OPL inspired to serve Oakland's diverse community.

Adolfo: I want to become a youth librarian to empower my community and encourage lifelong learning by connecting patrons to the resources they need. Access to information and resources has always been a challenge for the underserved youth in East Oakland, a challenge that was greatly exacerbated by the pandemic and the resulting school closures. I strive to foster a safe space for patrons to socialize with their diverse community and to bridge any digital divides by ensuring that all generations are familiar with and have access to the newest library technology.

Q. What impact are you looking to make in the future? Jennifer: In the future, I hope to be part of OPL outreach in children’s/YA programs and potentially Adult Literacy/ESL initiatives. I am functionally bilingual in Spanish and hold a BA (Romance Languages/Education) from Colorado College and an MS (Linguistics/Sociolinguistics) from Georgetown University. Of course, you never know what the future holds so I am open to seeing what opportunities present themselves along the way!

Chantra: I want help my own community to heal and to thrive as much as I can.

Adolfo: Growing up in East Oakland is not easy; I know this from experience. I also know Oakland is resilient. I want to become a librarian so that I can more efficiently connect patrons to the resources they need. I want to help increase literacy rates, and I want to create a space that encourages lifelong learning.

Q. What do you love about the OPL? Jennifer: During the pandemic, OPL has done disaster service work to address needs of underserved populations (ie, distributing free meals). It has kept many library services open “curbside” so that patrons could access our resources even during lockdown. It reopened computer stations for those without Wifi in their home environments. I admire this commitment to the community. I love OPL because it is a vibrant library system with an incredibly rich, diverse population of readers, community partners, and welcoming staff! Chantra: Meeting people from all walks of life and the work families that you can form has been the reason I enjoy working here. Mostly when helping patrons gain a sort of light bulb moment is gratifying. You really cannot measure the impact you can have on someone's life in that moment.

Adolfo: I love that OPL places patrons’ information needs above everything else and strives to meet people where they are. I love OPL’s ability to foster community through its various programs and outreach events. And I love how, despite a pandemic changing all the rules, OPL adapted, pushed through, and continued to serve its community.


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