It's no secret: we love the Cambridge Public Library staff! From circulation to admin, facilities to youth services - the enthusiasm, warmth, and dedication of the library’s team makes Cambridge an amazing place to live, learn and explore.
The Cambridge Public Library Foundation is taking you on a virtual tour of the library and introducing some of the library’s superstar staff. Our next stop is the Central Square Branch.
This week we’re excited to introduce you to Philecia Harris! Philecia works in the Central Square Branch and oversees the six branches in the Cambridge Public Library system. Philecia loves each branch for their unique programs and tight knit communities, and has nothing but praise for branch librarians who go above and beyond to forge meaningful relationships with patrons.
What’s your role at the library?
I recently joined the Cambridge Public Library as the Manager of the Central Square Branch and the Manager of Branch Services. I worked as the interim Branch Manager for the Central Square Branch about 25 years ago, so things are coming full circle! I used to live a ten-minute walk from Central Square when I was growing up. It is nice to be back in my old neighborhood and to see old familiar faces at the library.
My background includes being a children’s librarian, a library media specialist, a Library Directory and entrepreneur. I was the Director of Library Media Services for public schools in Washington D.C. and owned and operated Coffy Café in D.C for five years!
Could you please tell me more about your role?
I do a lot! My role as Manager of the Central Square Branch involves programming, outreach, hiring, overseeing a tech and literacy center and more. As the Manager of Branch Services, I work with an Assistant Manager to oversee the same activities and take on goals and policy work as well.
What do you love about the Central Square Branch? What makes it unique?
Central Square is the largest branch in the Cambridge Public Library system [editor note: other than the Main Library!] and it is busy. This location has always been a gateway for new immigrants and has been newly dubbed the Art Corridor. Central Square Branch serves university students, businesspeople, children, elderly, the unhoused and longtime residents. People come to the Central Square branch to learn new skills, practice their English, write resumes and look-up which shelters have openings. You are assisting people acquiring vital skills or filling out important documents so you really get to know them and start to develop real connections with them. The development of rich relationships with our community is one of the reasons that staff members love working here. We are truly a neighborhood library.
Are there any exciting programs that are unique to Central Square?
In addition to the Main Library, Central Square is the only branch with a Tech Center and our computers get a lot of use. Barely forty percent of African Americans have broad band internet, elders often need tech assistance and many, many people without home own technology find themselves forced to fill-out paperwork online. The Tech Center closed during the pandemic and will reopen when the branch is fully staffed. We currently have computers and take-home laptops available, but people are excited about the tech center reopening.
We host the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. event at the Central Square Branch. January of 2022 we held an amazing virtual program for the 47th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day lecture with Clint Smith, author of the New York Times best-seller, How the World Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. It was a powerful, well attended event. We’re currently developing an emerging Black Voices collection that’s starting in the new fiscal year (July 2022) and will encompass black literature, arts, history, Black Lives Matter and the African diaspora in general.
Another big program at the Central Square Branch is the Cambridge Youth Poetry Contest. On April 30th we closed the submission for our 23rd Annual Youth Poetry Contest for K-8 students who live or attend school in Cambridge. We got over 1,000 submissions this year! Poems will be judged for interesting content and creativity as well as consistent and imaginative style. This year there will be an extra prize for winning poems about trees. Winners will be notified in early May, and prizes will be awarded at a ceremony and reading on Thursday, May 26, at 6 p.m. This is my first year working at the library during the poetry contest and I am so excited to read the poems!
The Central Square Branch also does an “On the Wall Gallery,” which is a way for local artists to display their work. Applications are accepted up to 12 months in advance and priority is given to Cambridge residents. In the past we’ve had all kinds of two-dimensional work, including paintings, drawings, photographs, tapestries, fabric art, needle arts, etc. If you’re interested in showing your work, please come to the Central Square Library or call (617) 349-4010.
Why do you like working at the library?
For me, being a librarian is an identity. Whether or I’m at work, I’m connecting people to resources, finding and giving books to kids and helping people or community centers create their own libraries. It is a very fulfilling profession, you are able to watch people grow and discover new things—It allows you to feel like you are making a difference.
Being a children’s librarian is my first love! Sometimes you come across a child that says they don’t like to read. I love the special challenge of getting an “oooh, oooh, I want this book!” It's great when you can show them that it's not that they don’t like to read, it's just that they haven’t found the right book yet.
The public library is the number one way for people without internet access at home to have access to the internet and computers. We’re thinking about digital equity a lot here in the City of Cambridge, so having open access to computers is important for all members of the community.
What's your favorite book?
Oh… my all-time favorite children’s book recently changed. It was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. But now it's the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. It is an amazingly imaginative trio of books with many dimensions and concepts. I am someone who only read the first book of a series because I love the new unique concepts, characters, worlds and ideas. The second book always loses its mystery. That being said, the first book in His Dark Materials hooked me and I had to read the whole series. It’s a lot like the Harry Potter series in terms of imagination and then amazing on many other levels.
My new favorite book for adults is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I think one of the things I love about Branch Services is that each community in Cambridge is unique and the branches reflect that. Cambridge is also special in that the libraries are so accessible - there is a main library and six library branches in a city that is only two by three miles! That means every community has a library that is within walking distance.
I also want patrons to know that the library is here for you. The librarians at each branch are eager to answer your questions, help you find materials, and forge relationships.
The Cambridge Public Library Foundation is dedicated to supporting the Cambridge Public Library and its programs that educate, inspire and respond to the needs of our diverse community.