Meet Andrea Torres: Neighborhood Services Specialist at Elkhart Public Library

Andrea (she/her) sat down with Jade Kastel (she/her) of the Racial Justice & Inclusion Committee for this interview. 

Which library do you work at?

I work at the Elkhart Public Library (EPL) in Elkhart, IN. 

What’s your position at your library?

I am the Neighborhood Services Specialist. I’ve been in this position for almost a year now. My job as the Neighborhood Services Specialist is bringing what the library has internally and bringing it out to underserved communities. This can vary in responsibilities. I host story time in low-income housing, I recently purchased a Spanish literacy program for my Hispanic community to gain confidence in reading and writing Spanish, and we just had our first Hispanic Heritage kick off celebration at the library! Latinx is the second biggest population in my town, but also the most underserved, so I’ve been pulling strings to make the library a safe net for them. From recreational, educational, to informational, my job is to unlock my community’s potential!

A lot of people think that literacy means being able to read novels and that comics don’t count. We read picture books to children and we still consider that reading. Reading comics or manga as a teen/adult can continue to invest into a literate future!

Have you worked in other library positions or at other libraries? 

Yes! I began as a circulation clerk part-time. I did that for almost 3 years.

Tell us about your journey that led you to your job in a library?

Oh gosh, I always say it is a funny story. You know in elementary school when you had to do a project on what we wanted to be when we grew up? I chose to be a librarian. That dream came and went as soon as I grew up. I had a bad first year of college riddled with imposter syndrome being a first-generation American, first-born daughter of immigrants, AND first to go to college in my family. I failed my first year of college. Then, after taking a break (and paying back the ridiculous amount of money back to the private college I attended), I decided to go to school to do library work…as a joke. It began as something lighthearted and as a tribute to my childhood self. Little did I know that I would fall head over heels for library work. I got in as a clerk, but I wanted to do more. This position was created and it fit me like a glove. Now here I am!

What new and interesting things are happening at your library?

The fact that we’re fine free! And we have a free-bookmobile! We tend to stop around schools or public events and give out free books to feed minds! We also have our fall concerts coming up and we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month! On top of that we just printed out a Hispa

nic Community Resource Guide all in Spanish. Lots of good things happening lately.

What are your favorite sections of your library?

All of it! Every part of the library has its function for our community from the meeting rooms to the children’s room to reference!

Do you have any favorite library resources or materials?

I love hoopla, our manga section, our new Leamos: Spanish literacy online class, and LinkedIn Learning!

LinkedIn Learning is an excellent way to upskill! It is free with your library card and you can connect your LinkedIn account so potential employers can see your progress and that you want to learn new things! There’s not a skill you can’t improve or learn!  LinkedIn Learning does just that and prepares the working class for new opportunities.

Are there other libraries you love to visit?

Yes! I was born and raised in Goshen, IN, so I love to visit our sister library a lot (EPL has a consortium with them).

Are you a person who visits libraries when you're in a new place? If so, do you have any stories?

I would love to visit libraries, but I do not travel very often. I am excited to experience new libraries sometime soon!

Do you enjoy browsing in Little Free Libraries? Any unique finds?

Yes, someone had once left 3 of the Twilight novels and I remember thinking “this would have been taken so fast when I was a teen.” I left them in case any teens now would also like to have a cringe-worthy obsession with a fictional werewolf.

What’s your superpower at your library?

Building bridges and expanding minds. Living bi-culturally has raised me to see more than one viewpoint. This is useful in ob

serving my community and finding out what they need. I can connect my Latinx community with the resources we have and unlock their potential.

Anything else you'd like to share?

The library has always been a place that levels out the playing field for underserved communities. I applaud each POC (person of color) who has fought back racism, censorship, sexism, homophobia, and other illnesses associated with misinformation, hate, and propaganda. Libraries are the frontlines of change in communities. Thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do.