Newport News public libraries circulate life-impacting opportunities for patrons
Her thirst for knowledge and adventure is unquenchable as she manages reservoirs filled with resources, technology and programming that connect patrons to the world and to its vast stories to explore. The passion and excitement that Sonia Alcantara-Antoine has for libraries, as places of discovery and advancement, exemplify that you can’t judge today’s library by an outdated cover.
Alcantara-Antoine is director of libraries and information services for the Newport News Public Library (NNPL). Since 2017, she has overseen a multi-million dollar budget with 90 staff members and five libraries located throughout the city. The libraries include four traditional libraries and one public law library. The branches include Virgil I. Grissom Library in Denbigh, Main Street Library near Hilton Village, Pearl Bailey Library in the Southeast Community, South Morrison Library in the South Morrison Family Education Center and the Public Law Library in downtown Newport News.
Alcantara-Antoine’s story on the evolution of libraries has a very familiar beginning. Her perspective is that once upon a time, libraries and librarians were gatekeepers who provided access to resources and information found amongst its massive rows of books. From fiction to nonfiction and beyond, patrons could find books of fact and fantasy by searching the card catalog or through the reference librarian, who could find answers to questions asked.
Says Alcantara-Antoine, “Nowadays, librarians are in the role of community facilitators because we are professionals who connect people in the community to resources they need to be successful in school, in work and in life.”
With today’s technology and Internet search engines, people have greater access to information. However, librarians now play a critical role in helping people interpret information and help determine if it is accurate and authoritative. “At the end of the day, we help level the playing field for people who need access to information to help them be successful in their lives,” says Alcantara-Antoine.
The interconnectivity of Hampton Roads communities and throughout Virginia means that people may live in one city and work in another. About a year ago, NNPL launched an e-card that takes a few minutes to register online and gives immediate access to all of its digital resources. Says Alcantara-Antoine, “If you are a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, we want you to have easy access to your public library.”
The library offers a wealth of programs for all ages that include everything from literacy skills, genealogy archives, video streaming, WI-Fi hotspots and even opportunities to earn a high school diploma online. Paws to Read, a program highlighted each month at the Main Street and Grissom libraries, recruits volunteers with their therapy dogs while parents listen to children, ages 6 –11, read to them.
Many youngsters discover a love for books and reading during their time spent at local libraries. Recalls Alcantara-Antoine, “My dad always read the funny papers to me and he fostered my love for reading and learning.” Her school library was her favorite place to visit and her first job was working as a page in her local public library. She remembers making lists with the goal of reading every book there. While she didn’t quite meet that goal, one of her favorite books was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.
Says Alcantara-Antoine, “I liked this book because I’m a first-generation American and my parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I have always been fascinated by stories that talk about the American experience, and I was fascinated by the main protagonist who had to straddle two different cultures as a first-generation American like me.”
During Alcantara-Antoine’s last semester as a senior English major at Florida Gulf Coast University, she decided to pursue the profession of librarianship. She earned a master’s degree in library science from Florida State University. She is currently working toward a second master’s degree in public administration from Old Dominion University.
As a lover of books, her own life story would have many contributing authors. “My story would include a chorus of people — my husband, my two closest friends and my mom because they all know me very well. They know different sides that would together make up the story of me.” And, with a smile full of life and personality, she laughs, “my book would be entitled Go Girl!”
As a brilliant and creative professional with several captivating chapters in her life story, Alcantara-Antoine’s continuous benchmark is to be the best library director for her staff, the community and for the City of Newport News. And, that’s exactly what she’s doing.
TO THE POINT:
Newport News Public Library Administrative Office
Address: 700 Town Center Dr. #300, Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Sonia Alcantara-Antoine, director of libraries and information services