Many feet below the earth’s surface, the teenage girl journeyed through the underworld with the sound of thousands of pounds of steel machines rumbling back and forth overhead – their drivers focused on their own quests, unaware of her progress to the other side.
Ok… So there’s no River Styx or scary Greek gods to get past in this scenario for 14-year-old Manvi Bhargava. Apologies to fantasy fiction writer, Rick Riordan (one of Manvi’s favorites)! The freshman used the new tunnel from Jackson High School to walk under the rapidly moving traffic on Fulton Drive to reach North Park and one of her favorite places, the Jackson Community Branch.
The book-loving Manvi is a kid in a candy store here. She volunteers a couple of times a month, straightening some of her favorite titles – the aforementioned Rick Riordan’s, plus series like Harry Potter and Keeper of Lost Cities. She also cuts scrap paper, cleans toys, and helps at events like the outdoor summer reading kickoff, filled with fun as kids played water games.
“Everyone here is super nice,” says Manvi, seated in a comfy chair outside a windowed study room, a popular place for kids to work on school projects. “It’s peaceful. They usually have what I want. I don’t think I’ve ever had to put a hold on anything.”
Rewind a little over ten years and you’d find adult librarian Lindsay Miraglia in Manvi’s shoes. Lindsay found a welcoming home and purpose here, as a teenage volunteer and shelver. After earning her Master’s in Library Science, she was hired for her dream job, managing the adults’ collection and programs, like her book club, where today they are animatedly discussing the thriller, The Paris Apartment.
“She’s wonderful!” a chorus of 11 women collectively shout when asked about Lindsay.
“I come here because I don’t have anywhere else to go to dive deeper into the story,” says Dianna Marken, her eyes twinkling with a smile under her red hat.
Loran McEvoy is a new member. “I came here to meet people. I love to read, usually a book a week. Everyone is so welcoming.”
The open space with its natural light and park views is calming, even as the Library bustles with all ages. Branch manager, Sarah Bowen, loves seeing little ones learning and laughing at storytimes, parents chatting as their kids play in the children’s section, and a growing number of people coming for one-on-one help with technology.
“People are surprised that we’ll help them with their smartphones, installing Library apps, basic computer skills, whatever they need. We even help people apply for jobs online.”
Several members of Lindsay’s book club are now huddled over the winter edition of this Explore Guide, picking out events to attend together. Some have been coming here for more than eight years.
“It’s easy to make friends here,” says Anna Marie Eberts.
Even during the darkest days of the pandemic, they met outside in the park to talk about books – and receive something deeper from each other that continues to flourish – a strong friendship born at the Library.
It’s the Jackson Community Branch staff’s power of forging connections, whether it’s chatting over a book, training one-on-one, researching, or assisting in any multitude of ways that makes this Library a welcoming home away from home for all ages.