A plethora of programming

Alicia Ford, left, and Mary Harrison are the new assistant director and director, respectively, of the Coloma Public Library.

COLOMA — Throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks is usually for artists and spaghetti.

But it’s also what the new director and assistant director of the Coloma Library are doing when it comes to new programming.

Mary Harrison, director, and Alicia Ford, assistant director, say since they took over July 1, they’ve been working on moving the library forward and expanding its footprint in the community.

“I feel like we both share a lot of the same similar perspectives about where we want the library to go,” Ford said. “And the staff has been great explaining why things are done certain ways and just embracing anything we can do to make things better or things we can add. ... We’re just trying a bigger variety of things to see what the community really responds to.”

Harrison and Ford replaced retiring director Charles Dickinson and outgoing assistant director Faith Wolbers.

“Faith left at the end of March and Chuck left at the end of June, so there was some overlap for some training,” Harrison sad. “Which turned out to be a wonderful thing.”

Harrison said what a lot of people don’t realize about the administration side of libraries is it’s not all about the programming and books.

“For example we have to know about the building, like HVAC systems,” she said. “That’s where the outgoing director was very helpful in teaching us about the building. Like what to do if a pipe breaks. I have a filing cabinet full of tools in my office.”

Programming at the library this summer has seen a little bit of everything, with the turnover.

“We’ve always had a children’s summer reading program, but this year we expanded it to teens and adults,” Ford said. “We’re keeping the adult one simple, but seeing how it might work in the future and if there is interest. There was.”

She said the library has also added online registration for the summer reading program, which has helped with organization and more accurate statistics on the participants’ ages.

Ford said since adults have never been involved before they needed adult programming, too. For that they teamed up with the North Berrien Historical Museum to welcome Associate Professor Timothy Evans for a lecture on his experience as part of NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog simulated space mission.

For teens, one of the favorites was a Nerf gun war.

For kids, they had a bilingual story time and dance, a pajama story time, a royal story time with the Coloma Blossomtime Court and kids yoga. They even made their own rockets one day.

Harrison said over the summer the library has collaborated with the schools on the migrant summer program in which about 60 students come once a week to check out books and do some special crafts.

Ford said they’re really working on outreach. 

“We’ve just been trying to get involved with whatever organizations contact us,” she said. “We’re doing the Backpacks for Good program in Watervliet on Saturday. And we really hope to be involved above and beyond with the schools in the future.”

The women behind the books

Harrison has been working at libraries for 34 years.

“I’m 48 years old, so that tells you something,” she said. “Sometimes when you start you never want to leave. I’m from Kalamazoo and I worked at the library there starting when I was 14 as a page. Eventually I went down to Georgia to get my master’s in information science and I stayed there for 20 years. After a while it was time to come home and I missed my family, so I’ve come home and this is where I landed.”

She and Ford both interviewed for the assistant director position when it came open early this year.

“I was looking for library jobs, and I had just came from an assistant director position and it’s a nice community, so I applied,” Harrison said. “They called me later that day after I interviewed and said, well the director decided he could retire and we’d like to offer you the directorship.”

She said she wasn’t expecting it because it wasn’t what she had applied for but she’s very happy to do it.

“Working in the biggest county’s library in Georgia, I feel very well prepared for this kind of responsibility,” Harrison said.

Ford’s experience in libraries stated when she got a job at the St. Joseph library a year after she graduated college.

“I worked there for about nine and a half years, then I left on maternity leave with my first and only child, my daughter who is almost 6, and thought I’d be back, but I decided to be a stay-at-home mom for a while,” she said.

When her daughter was about 3, she got some experience at the Benton Harbor St. Joseph YMCA working as a preschool teacher and at their summer camps.

Then she and her spouse bought a house in Coloma and she started looking for a full-time job.

“I graduated from Coloma High School. So coming back to that small town thing has been really nice. Since I’ve started at the library, I’ve been running into people who don’t remember me from 20 years ago, but I remember them,” Ford said. “It has been really cool and my daughter also getting to go through the school system is great.”

Harrison, though living in St. Joseph now, is looking to move to Coloma soon.

“I believe in living where you serve,” she said.

Harrison and Ford said when it comes to their favorite books, it’s hard to narrow it down when thinking about all the genres out there and how it often changes depending on what they’ve been reading.

Harrison said her ultimate favorite book is a children’s novel called “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. She said she is also an anime fanatic.

Ford said right now one of her favorites is called “This I Believe,” based on the National Public Radio series of the same name.

Ford and Harrison agreed that funding is the most difficult part of running a library.

“In recent years libraries have struggled to get adequate funding,” Harrison said. “It’s just tough to get what you need to meet the rising demand. Our printing costs are pretty high, for example, but the people need the access we provide for printing services.”

Ford said one of her favorite things about working at a library is that the job is such a variety of things.

“Helping people find books and helping them on the computer, it’s such a variety that you never get bored,” she said.

Harrison said her favorite part is the people.

“I love to read, but for me it’s all about giving people access to information, helping them connect to good literature, helping them to find whatever it is they need to find,” she said. “We make lives better and I fully believe that and I know Alicia does too. That’s our mission.”

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman