For those of you who have not visited the children’s department of your local library recently, the Portland District Library has a new children’s librarian on staff named Eilene Zimmerman. Now if you picture someone named Eilene, you probably are picturing a little, elderly, gray-haired lady. According to Library Director Cory Grimminck, that’s what she pictured when she called Zimmerman for an interview earlier this summer. As a matter of fact, Miss Zimmerman is not a senior citizen but in her twenties and a recent college graduate. Zimmerman, laughingly says that she gets that reaction to her name a lot. We recently sat down with Eilene for an interview to introduce her to the community. The following interview excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
Smith: Can you tell our readers a bit about your background? Where are you from originally?
Zimmerman: I’ve been in the Lansing area since I was about five years old. My family is actually originally from Germany. We immigrated here and I had to learn English. So my mother’s side of the family is German and the reason we ended up in Lansing, Michigan is that my dad is from Lansing so he wanted to come back because his family was here.
Smith: Ok, I’ve got to ask, how did they meet?
Zimmerman: My parent’s actually met in Spain. My mom was a travel agent and was on vacation in Spain. My dad after he graduated high school got a job teaching tennis lessons at a resort in Spain and that’s where they met. So I’m bilingual from a multicultural family.
Smith: So when you started school here in the US, you didn’t speak English? What was that like going to school not knowing the language?
Zimmerman: By the time I entered kindergarten I did [know the language]. The weird thing about how my brain worked though is that my dad would speak to me in English to me so I could respond to him in German knowing what he said. But I couldn’t speak English. So we have a lot of home videos where my dad is saying something in English and I’ll respond in German. So language learning has always been an interest of mine just because of my experience.
Smith: Is that experience what got you interested in a career promoting literacy as a librarian?
Zimmerman: I can’t say that it did, no. The reason I actually became interested in a career as a professional librarian is that in high school I got my first library job. I really loved the atmosphere and the purpose of a public library.
Smith: Where did you go to school?
Zimmerman: I graduated from Waverly High School in 2009 and then went on to Michigan State University. I got my bachelors in media, arts, and technology with a specialization in film, television and radio production. My masters is in library and information science.
Smith: What brought you to Portland?
Zimmerman: It’s very rare to find a full-time librarian position...I’d been working a lot of part-time library jobs but this was the first full-time position I qualified for. And Portland seems like a lovely area and it’s also close to Lansing, which is where I live.
Smith: When you're not working at the library, what are some of your other interests.
Zimmerman: I’m a big crafter; I like doing paper crafts like making birthday cards. I like to bake; I’m a big baker. I play video games a lot. Some of my favorites are the Sims and Ages of Empire. I also like to play tennis.
Smith: What is your favorite part about being a children’s librarian?
Zimmerman: Interacting with our patrons. I think it’s exciting when kids get excited about books. The fact that kids are coming to the library for books or resources, or to use the computers, games...so I just love that they come here and I get to help them.
Smith: You’ve been working here since the end of July so you’ve gotten to know the library. What would you say is the best-kept secret of the library? Something that perhaps people who are reading this perhaps don’t know about?
Zimmerman: I’d say, our collections of things like our STEM kids, puzzles, coloring books, art supplies, board games. This is something new that libraries are starting to get into. I’m really excited to promote more of these sort of things. Especially our STEM kits. Normally, we have like twenty of them and right now we are down to about five so clearly, they are popular and checked out. My favorite is...one where you actually get to design your own video game using little building blocks and you use an app to take pictures and animate it.
Smith: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about the library?
Zimmerman: We love suggestions! We as a library would not exist...if you as community members were not coming to us. So...if you feel like there is a need in our community that we can fill, let us know!