Kennett Library staff member Ivy Noelle Weir honored as 'Emerging Leader'
● By Richard Gaw
Weir has none of the stereotypical traits that have defined librarians for generations. Her wardrobe seems selected from the racks of a funky shop on South Street, and her hair color trends are like the colors of the rainbow. She is more likely to be found working with teenagers than telling them to keep quiet. In fact, she may be the librarian voted "Least Likely to Shhh a Library Visitor."
At the age of 26, however, Weir is revolutionizing the definition of what a modern library means, and in the process, she's connecting local teens to a world beyond their homes, schools and families.
Now she's being recognized for it. Weir has been selected by the American Library Association (ALA) to participate in its 2015 class of Emerging Leaders, a program designed to enable library staff and information workers to participate in project planning work groups, network with peers, gain an inside look into ALA structure, and serve the profession in a leadership capacity early in their careers.
Weir was one of 50 library professionals selected for the program from across the country. The Emerging Leaders program involves online learning and networking, culminating in a poster session at the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, where the participants will showcase the results of their planning work.
"This very successful program has enabled a number of very talented new professionals to assume leadership positions in ALA at an early career stage," said ALA past president and program facilitator Maureen Sullivan. "These individuals have brought fresh ideas, new approaches and significant energy to the association."
"Ivy, quite simply, is the future of libraries," said Donna Murray, the Kennett Library director. "She has created a new environment here, with creative programming for all ages, but especially for teens. She is tireless, thoughtful and creative in all her ideas. She is also a savvy marketer and does all of our social media."
When the Pennsylvania Library Association let Weir know that she'd been selected as an Emerging Leader, she was quite surprised. Given her young age and her unconventional career path, she's still fairly new to libraries.
After high school, the Kennett Square native attended the famed Parsons School of Design in New York City to study photography. While pursuing her degree, she began showing her work to galleries around the country, and worked as a gallery assistant in the Chelsea section of New York. Disillusioned by the competitiveness of the art world, she moved to Portland, Ore., where she worked for a fine arts magazine, and also a fine arts library.
Meanwhile, she was no stranger to the Kennett Public Library, having spent a lot of time there as a teen, working part time during her college summers. When she moved back to Kennett Square in 2012, she called Murray, who hired her. Immediately, the creativity she cultivated in her past experiences dovetailed with her love of the library.
"It felt that I was making a productive change in the environment around me, and not being part of a larger, super-capitalist machine like the New York art world," Weir said.
Working in collaboration with Dan Pennacchia, an instructional aide at The Greenwood Elementary School, Weir created several programs at the library that are directly tailored to local teens, including book clubs and graphic novel reading groups. Last year, she and Pennacchia started a video gaming club, targeted toward a population in the Kennett Square area whose families couldn't afford the systems.
"Before every club meeting, Dan would drive to 20 houses from here to West Chester, borrow the systems, and then afterward, drive them all back," Weir said. "But it was all worth it. These teens were so happy. One kid came up to us last summer and said, 'You know that this is like a dream for us, right?'
"Dan and I set up the club hoping that the outcome would be to engage these young people in other parts of the library," Weir said. "They began to feel an ownership of the space. They began to check out books. And now they come here after school."
She launched an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign for the library's video game club and more than tripled the goal of $800 to more than $2,500 to help purchase gaming systems for the library. She also invites comic creators to make appearances at library events and send signed copies of their graphic novels to teens who participate in these programs.
Weir spoke about the importance of building diverse graphic novel collections at the national library mid-winter conference in Chicago earlier this year. She’s also been selected for two ALA committees – the Committee on Professional Ethics and the Young Adult Services Committee for Marketing and Member Outreach. She is a frequent panelist at University Geek Week events, including Rutgers University and UCLA, speaking about women in "nerd" careers and the issues they can face.
For a lot of teenagers in the area who frequent the Kennett Public Library, Weir said that the library has become what she calls, "A third place.'
"It's not home. It's not school," she said. "They don't have the limitations put on them here that they have on them at school. It's not what they perceive as authoritarian. It's a place where they don't need to spend any money. They don't have to have a reason to be here. What we've been trying to establish is that it is very safe to be here. Moving forward, being that third place is going to be really important for libraries.
"I want to give these teens the kind of programs, clubs, and classes I wanted at their age," she added. "It makes me unbelievably happy to see our program participants engaging with their library and eager to come in as much as possible."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.