By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Patrons of the Shrewsbury Public Library are already familiar with the new assistant director and head of adult services: Priya Rathnam, who joined the staff in 2006. Prior to her current position, she served as a volunteer, page, children's librarian and reference librarian. She was chosen to succeed George C. Brown, who retired in January.
After earning her master's and bachelor's degrees in English language and literature at the Madurai Kamaraj University in India, she received her master's degree in library and information studies from the University of Rhode Island.
Rathnam immediately felt comfortable at the library when she moved to Shrewsbury in 2004.
“I love the public libraries in this country,” she shared. “As soon as I moved to Shrewsbury, I started volunteering at the library and I knew I wanted to be a librarian.”
She recognized opportunities in libraries that weren's available in her homeland.
“A library is such a democratic institution,” she commented. “Anyone can get a free library card and use all the resources available. You appreciate it more if you come from a different country where there aren's all these facilities.”
Rathnam had taught English language and social studies in India and the U.S. for over 15 years. She believes her background in education has helped her transition as a librarian.
“As an educator I was teaching mainly young people, but it's lifelong learning at the public library,” she noted. “It's a great transition because I feel that I's helping everyone now.”
In the March 2013 issue of Library Journal, Rathnam was among 50 librarians nationwide featured as “Movers and Shakers.” She received the honor for launching programs including the English Conversation Circle to assist immigrants overcome the language barrier. Rathnam facilitated the first class consisting of four students in 2009.
“It became so popular that we needed to expand the program,” she said. “People from every continent have participated.”
Now, Rathnam supervises four facilitators and the program has helped hundreds of people practice speaking English. It's held four times weekly: Tuesdays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5 p.m.; and Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. Contact Rathnam for required registration at 508-842-0081 ext. 2 or email@example.com.
Rathnam sought grants and corporate sponsorships to cover the program's costs. Supporting the program from 2013 through 2014 is the Greater Worcester Community Foundation.
With more immigrants visiting the library, Rathnam decided to explore offering more diverse activities. She formed the Multicultural Advisory Team.
“It's nice for everyone to know that their culture is being acknowledged and celebrated at a public place like the library,” she said. “Longtime residents also love to learn about new cultures, so it's a win-win for everyone.”
A Multicultural Festival is held quarterly and has featured international music, dance and even food.
“Last year we did crepes from around the world and it was a huge success,” Rathnam said.
This spring's Multicultural Festival will serve dumplings from around the world. The festival is scheduled for Saturday, April 26, from noon to 3 p.m.
Responding to the needs of the recession's unemployed or underemployed library patrons, Rathnam introduced the Work Initiative Network. She organizes presentations by professional career coaches and employment experts, which are held the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
“It's not just attending the presentations, it's also networking with the other participants and getting leads,” she added.
While adding new responsibilities, Rathnam will continue overseeing the programs she initiated as reference librarian.
“The basic job of the librarian is to serve the community,” she said. “I's looking forward to helping more people.”