Welcome back to the Orlando Lady Boss podcast! We are almost through the first month of 2018. To finish the month strong, this week’s guests Cynthia Velasco and Erin Sullivan share how the Orange County Library System (OCLS) helps the community and makes an impact in education.

Cynthia Velasco, the Orlando Public Library’s media specialist in Downtown Orlando, manages the library’s social media accounts. You may have already spoken to her, unknowingly, since she is usually the person who responds to you on the library’s social media pages.

Erin Sullivan, the library’s public relations administrator, runs a few different operations. Erin leads community relations, distributes press releases, guides social media relations, and she oversees the bookstore, known as Friends of the Library. She also acts as the library’s spokesperson, speaking publicly on in-depth topics.


1) The library’s learning resources improve career opportunities.

OCLS serves residents in many creative ways. It’s not just all about books. It offers helpful programs in a spectrum of ways for all ages in topics like technology, career building, and creativity.

“One of our efforts this year is to let people know we change lives, because we do have the potential to change your life if you know what’s going on,” Erin said. “Our challenge is to take what people think of a library and expand it, and show them how they can come to the library and change their lives. We’re the starting point for a lot of people to change careers.”

Career Building

For adults who never received a high school diploma, the library can be an invaluable resource. It offers an online high school diploma program and job placement services.

If English is your second language, OCLS is also expanding English Language School programs (ELS) in 11 Orange County branches. Residents may expand their English-speaking skills to improve their career opportunities. With this service, they hope to help not only current residents but the influx of Puerto Ricans who have moved to Orlando because they’ve been displaced by the hurricane last year.

Technology

Another great library resource is the Melrose Center, located on the second floor of the downtown library. The Melrose Center teaches library patrons how to use different types of digital, audio, and visual media equipment.

Orange County residents may take advantage of media studio space free of charge, as well as computer editing and design software. This especially helps people who might not be able to access this software or studios outside the library.

Online Learning

The library staff understands everyone is busy. So you don’t have to visit downtown to use the library. There are 16 branches in Orange County, and each branch offers classes for county residents. Plus, with online learning opportunities, there are so many ways residents can take advantage of library services.

“If you can’t take a class in person, we have lynda.com so you can teach yourself at home,” Cynthia said. “It’s a real convenience for people who have busy lives, busy schedules, but want to move up in their career, start a small business, whatever that might be.”

2) The OCLS team implements creative classes for the community.

Erin and Cynthia lead all the marketing efforts for OCLS. While they are directly responsible for planning programs, they are trying to find new and innovative ways to share all the wonderful programs the library offers.

The two ladies recently started a digital series called “PowToons,” cartoons that explain different library services. This is to help educate people on how to use the library services.

Erin and Cynthia also worked with marketing agencies to create important campaigns. Last year, they completed a Free Yourself campaign. In the campaign, they educated people about activities to channel their creative freedom through art classes, sewing, and more. The idea behind the campaign is that the library is the key to freeing yourself in your life.

“People are going back to basics. So, the library can be a familiar, comfortable place to get information,” Erin said.

A common way people free themselves is through art: painting, drawing, sculpting, and building. The library appreciates the art community with displays throughout the location.

Erin says she loves the art gallery-quality walls they built at the library, and they use it to display local and regional artists’ work.

They also host art shows every month. Erin really wishes people would take a moment to recognize the quality of the artwork.

If you want to get involved in an art show, or just have general questions, email comrel@ocls.info, and someone from the library will follow up with you.

Because the library is funded by taxpayer dollars, Erin and Cynthia always ensure they offer quality programming and services for residents.

“Your taxes pay for the library; it is yours to use.” Erin said.

3) Feedback helps the library improve its programs and services.

Every library program contains a survey, asking residents to provide feedback about the services offered. This way, they can understand how someone benefits from the programs, or what areas need improvement. The surveys are then shared amongst people who are planning and hosting the program.

Another easy way to reach out is to talk to the staff on social media.

“We do quite a bit on social to get feedback from our patrons to gauge what they’re interested in, what people are responding to, and how they are responding to it,” Cynthia said.

“I try to use our channels to have that open dialogue, so they feel like they have a sense of community where they have a voice with the decisions that are being made here and where the resources are going.”

This feedback and these ideas allow the library to figure out how to budget for future programs and resources. Erin pointed out that, of course, there are some base-level services and programs the library needs to provide.

Another thing the library can do and should be doing in the community, is a bit of experimentation, taking chances. The Melrose Center is a perfect example of that. At first, it was just an idea they thought would work. However, they didn’t have metrics on how useful the center would be to residents, or what impact it would have. But they took the chance anyway in 2014.

“It was a gamble and a risk that really paid off, and has put this library in the position of being a front-runner in terms of technology, and being willing to put something state-of-the-art in front of people,” Erin said.

4) The library is the cornerstone of the community.

“We are here to be a service in the community,” Cynthia said. “Tell us what you want and how we can help affect change in your life and improve it. That gets to the heart of our mission and why we feel so strongly about what we do every day—to be a community.”

How do you keep the library system strong? Use it.

Erin says they provide services and products for people to try, and then they use metrics to see how people are taking advantage of these offerings.

If people aren’t using services, then the library might reevaluate those services and stop offering them. So, it’s really important to use the library so the team can continue offering quality services to residents.

Librarians do way more than just finding a book for you. They can:

  • Offer career search assistance.
  • Help you research topics you’re interested in.
  • Run programs for all ages.

The librarians also manage Orlando Memory, archival programs curated by residents about the history of Orlando.

Erin has been working at the library for a couple of years now, and one thing that she hears from friends and community members is that they don’t feel like they have time to go to the library, even to get a library card.

However, to use services at the library or even to get your library card, you don’t even have to go into a physical building. You can sign up for a library card online, and they will mail it right to your home.

“We’ve really made it easy to use the library,” Erin said.

5) You never even have to visit the library in person to use all the services it offers.

“People are getting a little more disconnected from their communities, so there is a little comfort of being able to go someplace, very low-pressure,” Erin said. “You can walk in the door and there is probably an event or activity happening that day. You can interact with people, you can get books. And you can get a sense of connection. The library becomes a third place.”

A third place is somewhere outside home and work where people build a community. You can find people who might have common interests and can build your own community. Naturally, the library is a great third place for those who need to get out of the house, even when you don’t have money to spend.

Libraries are one of the few public spaces you can visit without purpose. You can just visit to hang out, browse books, or sit and read. Then, you can leave whenever you want. In fact, the library offers a lot of passive programming specifically for that reason.

“It’s incredibly valuable to have those spaces and preserve them. And for people to use them. We want people to come to the library. We want people to walk through these doors and make this their space if they haven’t done it before,” Erin said. “The hardest part is walking through the door for the first time.”

Check out upcoming events at the Orlando Public Library in the next few weeks:

This weekend: OCLS Writers Conference, Jan 27th, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

African American Read-In: Where people in the community read African-American literature, Feb 11th, 2 – 4 p.m.

Learn more about the Melrose Center: The Melrose Creative Expo, Feb 17th, 1 – 4 p.m. This will be a combination of an open house and a vendor distribution hall.

For more events, visit the OCLS Facebook Events Page.


About Erin Sullivan

Erin Sullivan is the Public Relations Administrator for the Orange County Library System. She oversees the library’s Community Relations department, which handles the library system’s marketing efforts, public relations and external communications. Prior to joining the library system, she was the editor in chief of Orlando Weekly.

About Cynthia Velasco

Cynthia Velasco is the Media Specialist for the Orange County Library System. She is a transplanted New Yorker who has called Central Florida home for 13 years. She lives in East Orlando with her husband, three-year-old son, and French bulldog. Her hobbies include paper planning, reading, spending time with family, and eating her way around Central Florida. She has a passion for small business owners and works with them on social media marketing in her side hustle.

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