BY JILLIAN PETROSKI
In the Harry Potter series, the good guys always emerge victorious.
Though the Boy Who Lived may be fictional, there are plenty of real good guys who work their magic each day. And outside of Platform 9 3/4, a world away in the Midvalley, there is one Ravenclaw with a whole lot of heart.
Kristen Wallo of Archbald works as programming librarian at Valley Community Library, Peckville, where she runs countless free activities and events. The library, which opened 15 years ago, is almost like a second home to Wallo, a place that hasn’t seen her grow up but, rather, has grown up with her.
As a child, Wallo, now 25, and her sister spent their summers scouring the shelves of the former Interboro United Districts Library for new books.
“My mom always encouraged me to read,” Wallo said. “And I always loved the library. I loved coming here and walking up and down the aisles, finding new books.”
Later, when she was a student at St. Mary’s Visitation Parish School, the doors of the Interboro Library shuttered and Valley Community Library stood shiny and new across the street. A chain of children, Wallo among them, passed books from one building to another, her hands touching the stories that would shape her life in the years to come.
As she spent her adolescence exploring the library, she developed a love for reading through Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts, with its fantastical excitement and important messages of acceptance and perseverance, which she said continues to inspire her and her life to this day. But where Harry struggled at home, Wallo’s childhood was filled with love, care and giving back.
“My grandparents fostered over 130 children, adopting six, along with their own four biological ones,” she said. “I was constantly surrounded by tons of other kids throughout my childhood. My grandparents and my mom were always helping others and giving back to the community. It made me want to do the same.”
Wallo did just that as she attended Holy Cross High School, joining the service club, through which she helped run drives and collections for local charities. She also belonged to the Fiction Fanatics, a club geared toward book lovers.
Despite her love for books and the library, she didn’t plan on establishing a career there, instead majoring in communications and photography at Keystone College. But sometimes, much like a Hogwarts acceptance letter, the best opportunities come by surprise.
“I was always a patron here,” Wallo said of the Valley library. “And I just came in here one day and heard about an opening for a job here at the library. A job? At the library? It was perfect. I immediately applied.”
Wallo began working as a part-time clerk, but it soon became evident to her coworkers that her wit and fervor were one-of-a-kind. The library’s director at the time encouraged Wallo to go back to school and get a master’s degree in library sciences.
Wallo took on the challenge, continuing to work at the library while completing her master’s in two and a half years from Clarion University’s online program and graduating in December. With her new degree, she became programming librarian and immersed herself in the lesser-known resources and free programs the library offers.
“So many people don’t know all we have here,” Wallo said. “I want people to know that it’s not just a place to sit quietly and read. It’s not just for books. We offer free digital media classes, free Wi-Fi, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks and so many different programs and clubs for kids, teenagers and adults. There’s something for everyone.”
These free programs, open to all ages, include a cookbook club, an adult crafting series, a veterans group, a kids summer reading program, appearances by local authors and the Lackawanna Astronomical Society, educational classes, PAST (Parents A Second Time, a support group for grandparents and great-grandparents raising their grandchildren that is run in partnership with Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging), and a knitting and crocheting club which makes items for local charities.
“There aren’t many free programs for adults in the area,” Wallo said. “We want this to be a place where people can come, get involved and meet people. We have everyone from little kids to people in their 80s come. I see people making friends through the library and even hanging out outside of here. It’s nice to see. I love it.”
For Wallo, this is just the beginning of her time at the library — and the capacity of what it can offer.
“ I just want to improve it any way I can, with more programs, more volunteers and more people coming in, especially men, since our patrons are mostly women,” she said. “I also hope to do more fundraisers, like book sales and book drives, because we do require fundraising and donations to stay open.”
Like her grandparents before her, Wallo has opened her home — and her heart — by becoming a foster parent. For her, it’s not about the thanks or the praise, but rather “about being there for them,” she said. “I’ve always loved kids, and I want to be able to offer them a good, loving home.”
When she’s not working, giving back to the community, crocheting or re-reading Harry Potter (something she tries to do at least three times a year), Wallo often still finds herself talking about the library.
“I’m thinking about the library all the time, always doing my elevator speech that it’s not just for books, that there’s so much more,” she said. “I just want to promote literacy as much as I can. It’s all about making the library as accessible as possible.”
Meet Kristen Wallo
- At home: Lives in Archbald
- At work: Programming librarian at Valley Community Library, Peckville
- Inspirations: Her family and her mom
- Aspirations: Getting more adults to see the library and learn about the resources and free programs it provides
- Diversions: Crocheting, reading, listening to audiobooks, crafting
- Aversion: Texting abbreviations
- Quotes: “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” — J.K. Rowling