The Journey to Understanding Libraries: A Library Assistant’s Story

Sa-de Brown is a library assistant at Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library and a participant in Cohort 2 of the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries trainings.

"Life is a journey, not a destination." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Library Assistant Sa-de Brown
Library Assistant Sa-de Brown

Before I was a bright-eyed library assistant, I was a child who feared the library and the books it contained. My fear of reading words was rooted in my learning disability; dyslexia often made information harder for me to understand.

I was homeschooled, and in sixth grade my mom took me to the Nicetown-Tioga Library. Librarian Frank Bonifante took me on a literacy journey where he showed me unique ways to translate and comprehend information. He encouraged me and told me that reading backwards was OK and is a thing in Japan. He equipped me with knowledge and encouraged me to volunteer when I got older, which I did later, as a teen leadership assistant.

I went on to Moore College of Art and Design, where I was a student worker at the Connelly Library. I worked as a freelance artist, and when I had to move home to take care of my mom, I decided to volunteer at Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library teaching art to kids. With Jeanne Hamann’s encouragement, I became a seasonal employee at Overbrook Park Library and then a part-timer at Haddington Library.

If librarians could encourage, engage and equip someone like me, then I figured I could do the same. Now I am a full-time library assistant at Blackwell and a student at Drexel University. As a student at Drexel, I am exploring different facets of information science. My courses have covered access to services and resources, and utilizing and connecting resources, in an effort to engage communities. This foundation has led me to seek out the practices and trainings unique to libraries that promote knowledge, foster relationships, build community awareness through innovations and recognize the library as an established anchor within the community.

Along with my Drexel classes, the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Skills for Community-Centered Libraries trainings for staff are guiding my perspective about how libraries meet communities’ needs for information. The first workshop stressed the importance of everyone’s "library story" and the connections we, as library employees, have within the community.

We began the workshop by setting ground rules needed to make a safe environment for discussion. Setting ground rules for a discussion can help build connections within the workplace and can also be used during community meetings. 

To understand how we can meet any goal we put our minds to, we must first connect with our colleagues and build a team. We learned about how knowing your own strengths and others’ strengths allows a team of people to coordinate their efforts. We looked at Dr. Meredith Belbin’s Team Roles Model and how each team member fits within the model. This model is very flexible and allowed me to understand my own strengths. I am an Idea Maker and Team Worker, and my talents support these as my strengths. As library staff, we all share what Belbin calls the Specialist role, with the skills and knowledge to perform our daily work.

I am continuing my journey of exploring the role of libraries in the community through my Community-Centered Libraries project, in which I am working with another participant in my training cohort to create a Resource Look Book of community assets.

For more information about the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries initiative, contact Project Coordinator Cameron Voss at