BY ANN SIOCK
Amber Cholish Normil cherishes the opportunity to open the door to lifelong learning for local children.
As branch manager of the Nancy Kay Holmes Library in Scranton’s Green Ridge neighborhood, she believes in the importance of every child’s experience and development, which influences her approach to the library’s programs.
“When I do my story time, I like to teach kids a story (where) there’s really more than what meets the eye, (that) they can do something really great in their lives even though they’re really little right now,” Normil said.
A lifelong learner herself, Normil began working in libraries as a student at West Scranton High School. She had to complete community service locally and chose to volunteer at Lackawanna County Children’s Library because she knew she wanted to work with children. The library then hired her the following year, in 2006.
Normil initially set out to follow her mother, a schoolteacher, into a career in education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Marywood University in 2009 and is certified to teach math and library up to the middle-school level.
While Normil enjoyed her undergraduate studies, she believed continuing her work at the library would be a better fit, and so she went on to earn a master’s degree in library science from Clarion University in 2014.
“My mother … inspired me to really want to work with kids,” Normil said. “Then just working with kids every day, they inspired me to really continue in my career path.”
Normal was hired as children’s librarian for the Holmes branch in 2013 and became branch manager in 2017.
“It was very exciting for me because it was a big promotion in my career,” Normil said. “It also meant I would be continuing what I was doing but in a different way. It was a nice challenge that I was ready for.”
Even with the new responsibilities the position placed on her, Normil remained committed to her work with the children attending the library’s programs.
“The part I like most about being a librarian is basically knowing that I play a role in developing the minds of children, and I’m able to share my love of learning with them and help them to be lifelong learners,” Normil said. “They really are the joy of my job.”
Normil’s close connection to the children who frequent the library doesn’t end at the door. When Normil married her husband, Dukenson Normil, in 2018, she extended wedding invitations to the kids. Normil had the invitations read, “This bride needs her library tribe,” and gave the information for the service at Embury United Methodist Church. Around 25 children and their families attended.
“It was amazing to see how much they cared about me to come to my wedding,” Normil said.
Also in 2018, Normil received the Best Practices Award from the Pennsylvania Library Association for her early elementary programming, which is individualized to the specific set of interests of the children in each group. The programs are geared to encourage learning throughout childhood and keep children involved with the library as they get older.
“Many of the kids I work with come as babies and meet their very first friends here,” Normil said. “We try to take them from birth and keep them moving through different programs as they get older.”
Normil noted that childhood outreach benefits not only the children but also the community. And her favorite part of being a librarian is being able to interact with the kids.
“A lot of times, I don’t think people really listen to kids,” Normil said. “And being a librarian really gives me the chance to hear them and listen to them and really make them feel like they have something to share.”
Normil’s favorite author to read at story times is Eric Carle because of his in-depth storytelling and his use of everyday objects, Normil said.
“For instance, the very hungry caterpillar is a great story for kids because it shows how you can be something very ordinary like a caterpillar and through time you can really blossom into a butterfly,” Normil said.
The children she sees at work and her own daughter, 8-month-old Emilia, continue to inspire her, and being a mom also has opened her eyes.
“I do like serving the public — you know, children, parents, teachers and learners of all ages,” Normil said. “But now that I have my own child, it makes me see life from the parent’s perspective and the teacher’s perspective.”
Normil aims to continue serving children, especially during a time of great change and challenge thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Children and parents really need help and support from librarians because a lot of schools have taken librarians out (of the classroom),” Normil said. “With so many kids going to school online or turning to homeschooling because of COVID, I don’t think a lot of people realize we’re here to support them in this time.”
The Holmes branch has offered online story time via Zoom links posted on the library’s Facebook page, free Chromebook tutorials and tutoring in addition to continuing to provide supplementary reading materials for students.
“Part of the reason I love the library is because you can come here and get help with anything that you need for free,” Normil said.
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