“Once I started working in libraries, I just fell in love with them and realized that I could reach more people and help individuals through this profession,” says Anita Jennings, library director of Newport News Public Libraries (NNPL).
Jennings obtained her degree in counseling from the University of Central Texas, which then led to her decision to gain her master’s degree in library science at Texas Woman’s University. She began in the business area of the library system before her role as the director of Newport News libraries. She worked for 22 years as a business owner in training and development.
When Jennings started working with NNPL, she took part in opening the libraries’ computer labs. This position was funded by Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. Doing this work, she realized how much she loved the potential career within the libraries. Jennings says, “One of the things that I really like about the libraries is you see the impact of what libraries can mean to the community.”
Jennings says she first began this position helping people learn about basic computers, setting up an email and even how to use a mouse. This is how the computer and technology classes began at the libraries. The programs with these classes change monthly and are announced in the library newsletter. Programs are geared toward adults as well as targeted toward children.
Jennings also shares her experience teaching patrons how to use 3D printers. She explains a story where she taught a worker at Newport News Shipyard how to print 3D, which made her applicable for promotion. “That was very exciting to me, to see how the libraries can help so many people in so many different ways,” she says.
The libraries offer options for people with disabilities, such as an e-audio collection that includes audiobooks, videos and ambient books. There are also opportunities for the visionally impaired, working alongside the Library of Virginia. This pairing allows individuals to request specific resources to fit their needs.
Resources were established this year geared toward the Spanish-speaking population. The libraries offer Spanish language story times for children as well as having most of their promotional materials translated into Spanish.
The Newport News Public Libraries have scheduled a summer reading program from June 19–July 31. Kickoff events are planned to include farm animals, face painters, balloon artists, popcorn stands, snow cones, DJ, basketball and cornhole.
The libraries’ Mayor’s Book Club offers an opportunity for volunteers to read to preschoolers. Students can take some books home, enabling them to begin their individual library. Another exciting program is the partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, permitting parents of children up to age five who reside in Newport News to register and receive a book for their child each month to help develop their literacy skills.
And the “Bookmobile” returns with the summer reading program as an outreach van delivers books to areas of the city that are underserved and for residents who may have difficulty getting to the library.
Outside of her occupation, Jennings loves to travel and garden. She specifically enjoys working with the community to share her resources and help liven the area.
Jennings speaks about the many goals the libraries are striving for. “The main goal is to get the outreach vehicle going on top of continuing to plan for the next five years,” says Jennings. She appreciates the opportunities that have allowed her to pursue the career she loves so dearly. She says, “I love everything about my work, and being able to see how much the libraries make a difference in our community makes me feel great.”