Lesley Mason | Movers & Shakers 2020–Community Builders

In 2019 Lesley Mason, then library director at Caldwell County Public Library, NC, wanted a Black History Month program that would resonate with the county’s largely white rural farming community. Post-recession, many families had turned to gardening, so she reached out to the local chapter of the NAACP and the State Extension’s Master Gardeners to bring in Rev. Richard Joyner, whose community garden at the Conetoe Family Life Center, NC, helped transform his town. The library also hosted an exhibit of photography by John Francis Ficara, titled Distant Echoes—Black Farmers in America, from the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, MD. More than 50 people attended Joyner’s talk and another 500 viewed him on a Facebook live stream. Circulation jumped up by 3,000 items that month, Mason says.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Library Director, Carteret County Public Library, NC

DEGREE

MLS, Clarion University, PA, 2008; MA, Publications Design & Creative Writing, University of Baltimore, 2003

FOLLOW

bookshakalaka.tumblr.com; goodreads.com/bookshakalaka

Photo by Bob Schatz

 

Partnership-Ready

In 2019 Lesley Mason, then library director at Caldwell County Public Library, NC, wanted a Black History Month program that would resonate with the county’s largely white rural farming community. Post-recession, many families had turned to gardening, so she reached out to the local chapter of the NAACP and the State Extension’s Master Gardeners to bring in Rev. Richard Joyner, whose community garden at the Conetoe Family Life Center, NC, helped transform his town. The library also hosted an exhibit of photography by John Francis Ficara, titled Distant Echoes—Black Farmers in America, from the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, MD. More than 50 people attended Joyner’s talk and another 500 viewed him on a Facebook live stream. Circulation jumped up by 3,000 items that month, Mason says.

Whether offering powerful programs or expanding circulation to include bicycles, Wi-Fi, hotspots, and Chromebooks, Mason considers the community she serves and looks for organizations with whom to partner.

During her three years at Caldwell County library, Mason brought in more than $50,000 in grants to transform library service, plus a substantial Google grant to the Friends group for a pilot program, which checked out 50 Chromebooks and internet hotspots. With 25 percent of county residents lacking broadband at home, the program averaged 100 checkouts per month since September 2019, Mason says.

Community interests and circulation trends guided Mason to add urban fiction, urban Christian fiction, video games, cake pans, and LaunchPads for creating and mixing music. High circulation of regional LGBTQ authors prompted Mason to seek community support for a Pride event.

A documented need for free exercise options and the library’s proximity to trails led to a $2,500 grant for six bicycles. "We were just listening to the needs of our community," Mason says.

Mason builds relationships by learning about community groups and working with organizations whose missions overlap with the library’s. "I make sure that partnering with the library is easy," she says.

Laying this groundwork means the library can respond quickly. For example, when the only candidate forum in the county was canceled, the library and local NAACP stepped in to offer one. Seventy-five people attended. "It seemed unfathomable to have an election with no opportunity for the community to [meet] the candidates," Mason says.

Now, as the new director of the Carteret County Public Library, NC, she is heading the library’s move from regional system to county agency. "It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am humbled to take on this challenge," Mason says. 

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