The Library is the Great Equalizer

Ailen Arreaza reads to her two sons as Charlotte Mecklenburg Library cardholders and aficionados.

It’s no secret children love the Library. From their first Storytime experience to attending puppet shows, participating in science demonstrations or meeting their favorite book illustrator, these are highlights they’re eager to share with friends and family. Perhaps what most excites children these days is taking an armful of books to the self-checkout stand, placing the stack on the mat and watching as the books automatically register with their RFID tags into their library card account.

Then what happens is children’s use of the library changes. It evolves to checking out chapter books, then young adult books, to using tutoring or study programs and then, eventually, to finding a quiet space to cram for finals or write a term paper.

As children grow into adults, it’s a common trend that Library use diminishes. College, career and maybe even that need to explore something outside the familiar takes over. However, everything comes full circle when adults start a family and return to the Library with their children to attend storytimes, checkout picture books and maybe even find respite in a quiet corner while their children are pre-occupied.

This is almost the same pattern Ailen Arreaza found herself following. A Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Board of Trustee member, Ailen emigrated from Cuba with her family when she was a child. When they settled in Charlotte, the Library was the first welcoming place she found. Ailen immediately loved the Library and spent most of her time at the University City Regional Library. Not only was it a safe space, it also provided her a place where she could feel independent, explore new worlds through her love of reading and also spend time with her younger brother.

Now married with children, Ailen wants her children, ten-year-old Lucas and seven-year-old Paulo, to have the same experiences she did. She wants them to discover all there is to explore, learn and do at the Library.

“We’ve spent a lot of time at ImaginOn when my boys were younger,” Ailen says. “The exhibits, programs and toys kept us entertained. Now that they’re older, our use has changed and their love for the Library has moved from storytimes and expanded into reading.” The family calls the Sugar Creek Library their home branch.

This past summer, Ailen’s family took an extended vacation overseas. Before departing, her sons loaded up their electronic devices with e-books. “Lucas puts in his own requests for items on hold and downloaded his books by himself. He has a ONE Access card through Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and knows his ID number by heart. This allowed him to access more materials and the digital resources remotely while we were outside the States,” says Ailen. (ONE Access™ is a program that provides students the ability to check out books to take home for schoolwork and to read for pleasure using their student ID as their Library card number. All CMS students are automatically enrolled in this program and additional charter schools and colleges also participate. See cmlibrary.org/oneaccess for more information).

Ailen’s children aren’t the only ones thankful for their Library card. Aileen’s husband, Tony, learned that by having a Library card he could rent a hotspot for a nominal fee to use for his business, Carlotan Talents. In 2018, he signed up for his first Library card. Using the hotspot allowed him to support his business activities with online financial transactions at remote locations. “I didn’t even know the Library offered this resource, so this was a great discovery. And it seems like every day we find out more and more of what the Library offers. I’m so amazed by it all,” says Ailen.

Ailen is not nearly finished exploring the Library, though. She has a list of what she wants to do next:

  1. Visit the IdeaBox, the Makerspace at Main Library with its 3-D printer
  2. Explore teen opportunities, especially since Lucas is only a few years away from this age group
  3. Research Charlotte’s history in the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room at Main Library
  4. Attend a program hosted by Dr. Tom Hanchett, the Library’s first Historian-in-Residence

Even though she already commits up to 12 hours a month serving on the Library’s governing board, Ailen is a staunch advocate whenever she can be. Recently she took a family, that emigrated from Venezuela, to the Library where she knew there would be a large collection of books in Spanish they could use. Additionally, she’s going to tell them about the Mango Languages resource – a free language-learning software with over 70 world language courses and over 17 ESL/ELL courses. Mango is user-friendly and features an engaging user interface, voice comparison, fresh design, foreign language films and cultural anecdotes.

“The Library is truly a great equalizer,” says Ailen. “This is the connecting place where the community can come together. Everyone should have a Library card and discover all the possibilities.”

Ailen Arreaza is the North Carolina Program Director for ParentsTogether, a national nonprofit that provides resources and community to help all kids and families thrive. Before joining the ParentsTogether team, she spent nearly a decade working on issues of equity and access for the City of Charlotte. In that role, she investigated allegations of housing discrimination and led city-wide campaigns to educate Charlotteans, particularly Latino immigrants, about their fair housing rights. Ailen regularly writes about issues related to social justice. She is originally from Cuba and a graduate of The George Washington University. She lives in NoDa with her husband and two rambunctious sons.

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