Meet Your Librarian Series: África García-Fariña
The Library’s Community Outreach Department is like the valiant rhinoceros beetle, a unique animal that can carry up to eight-hundred-fifty times its own weight. For perspective, that’s the equivalent of a human carrying 65 giraffes. This remarkable beetle is not unlike our small but mighty Outreach team who works tirelessly to connect underserved populations in Northern Colorado to the Library’s resources and services.
Though some Outreach activities are open to the general public, like our annual Día de Muertos celebrations, many are more focused to maximize enrichment for segments of the Fort Collins community that may not have the opportunity to come to Library buildings or access Library resources. Making up an integral piece of the Outreach department is our Adult Services Outreach Librarian, África García-Fariña.
From Ceuta to Colorado
África grew up in Ceuta, Spain, one of the two autonomous Spanish cities situated on the tip of Morocco looking over the strait of Gibraltar. Ceuta is a small town of about 85,000 people, nestled snuggly on the tip of Northern Africa. It was first established as a Spanish territory five centuries ago.
She later attended the University of Málaga on the coast of mainland Spain. During her senior year in 2013, she packed up her things for a semester abroad in Wisconsin and has been in the United States ever since. “It’s not like I had a plan and it wasn’t established. I usually let life do its thing and see what happens,” África says.
A semester abroad turned into nearly a decade in the U.S. Most people can name a formative teacher who touched their lives. Among those in África’s life are a few college professors in Wisconsin who went the extra mile to keep her in the U.S.
“There were multiple times when I was here when it was like this is it, I’m moving back, but after my study abroad year my professors there encouraged me to stay and get my Master’s here. They helped me look at universities and assistance so I could pay for it and that’s how I moved to Fort Collins and attended CSU for my Master’s.”
Love: The Interrupter
After completing her dual Master’s Degree in teaching English as a second language and Spanish literature, África made her second plan to return home, nearly five years after she had first come to the U.S. Fortunately, love got in the way. África met her husband Nick on the dating app Bumble shortly after graduating which kept her in Fort Collins.
Following school, África’s visa expired making it impossible for her to continue teaching classes at CSU post-graduation. She reapplied for her visa and with the eight to nine months it took to renew it, she spent much of her time volunteering.
“It was an opportunity to start from scratch in thinking about what I what to do next. Teaching at CSU was draining and I was ready for a change…the way I approached that time between jobs was not asking myself what do you want to do, but what is a place you’d like to see yourself at? That’s when I thought of libraries in general.”
Quelling the Pandemic Storm
After surfing the Library’s website, she applied and was hired for a Bilingual Library Assistant job focused on children’s programming in the Outreach department. África began her new role with the Library on March 20, 2020, during a time of pre-pandemic paradise just as the clouds of COVID-19 were beginning to roll in.
“I had five days in the office before the Library closed its buildings and we were sent home. As a team, it didn’t matter anymore who was doing what (children’s/adults) so I was never just fully focused on children’s programming and instead focused on what needed to be done.”
During the pandemic, the Outreach team restructured and África became a full-time Outreach Librarian dedicating most of her time to adult services.
“In Outreach, we have very specific target audiences. We serve everyone, though we’re very intentional in focusing on those communities that are underserved and people who don’t have access to the libraries in person. That’s what I always try to keep in mind when I’m designing programs. Thinking about what we can do is not always about what I’d like to do but what the people we serve need from us.”
Conversations that África has with community members are inspiring a new frontier in Outreach programming. África’s focus for the future is on older adults and adults with disabilities. In early 2023, we will debut our new Outreach van, an electric vehicle designed to provide services to underserved communities. The van will spend approximately twenty percent of its time on the road serving the needs of older adults.
To build trust with the communities that África focuses on, she’s spent the last two years forming connections with other nonprofit groups, networking within specific communities, and promoting the rich resources of the Library. Now with two years of trust under her belt, África gets questions about a range of topics in and out of the Library’s wheelhouse.
“In a lot of cases, these questions are very personal and they deal with very sensitive topics like an immigration form or something for the courts, and they’re trusting you with that very personal private information. You’ve earned their trust to a point that they’re ok with you knowing that.”
Impact to Last a Lifetime
África leads U.S. citizenship classes for the Library in partnership with Alianza NORCO, a local nonprofit focused on immigration rights in the Northern Colorado community. These classes are one of the most rewarding parts of her job.
“After some of our classes, I get an email or text from a participant that they applied and got approved and are now a citizen. The fact that these people take the time to let you know and thank you is amazing. It’s one of our programs that touches lives and has a huge impact. It’s a huge deal to become a citizen and it’s beautiful to see.”
Citizenship classes are just one piece of the massive puzzle when it comes to our Outreach department and libraries in general. Our resources extend far beyond books.
Breaking the Librarian Mold
“The biggest stereotype is that all we do is put books on shelves and ask people to ‘shhhh!’ Honestly, in movies and TV shows that’s what you see librarians doing. That’s definitely not it and especially not with Outreach. We’re a hub for the community for resources and knowledge and education, and I love trying to find the balance between giving people what they need and what they want.”
Last Thanksgiving, África’s nail tech asked her what she does for a living to which she replied that she was a librarian. The nail tech responded that África’s new nail design will make it appear as if she’s not a boring librarian.
Her job, the communities she serves, and the programs she organizes are far from boring. Beyond providing resources that someone may need to complete their citizenship process (one that requires monumental time and effort), she also finds space to lead programs that bring people together through fun activities.
Among her virtual programs created in 2021 was a multi-session art class for Día de Muertos creating cartonerías (a traditional Mexican paper mâché medium) and a series of virtual baking classes called Panes del Mundo with Mexican baker Eliceo Lara. Both were offered in Spanish and English, bringing together members of the community that may not cross paths otherwise.
Recently, África has been staying caught up with the television shows Stranger Things and The Boys. She’s also reading the picks for her two upcoming book clubs this month including El olvido que seremos by Héctor Abad Faciolince (for her book club, Café de Olla) and The Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old by Steven Petrow (for her book club with the Health District of Larimer County, Book Club and More for Mortals).
Outside of the Outreach department and her excellent taste in television, África loves spending time with her two dogs, Lou and Mika. She also volunteers with a local animal shelter. The communities of the animal shelter and the Library often overlap.
“I got a call once from someone on my work phone – one of the things I do (at the animal shelter) is help with Spanish-speaking clients who need to make an appointment for a vaccine or neuter. The person was confused about what my actual job was…they were looking for a veterinarian named África. I relayed that I’m not a veterinarian but I can get you that number.”
Whether she’s volunteering her time at a local animal shelter or providing services to underserved groups with our Outreach Department, África serves the community with grace, grit, and style.