GETTING TO KNOW – No two days look the same for Chinasa Seyse, the children’s programming coordinator at Schenectady County Public Library’s Youth Services Department.
And she’s okay with that.
“It’s a very fast-paced environment,” Seyse said.
The Los Angeles native grew up spending time at her local library with her brother and sister. Her family eventually moved to Georgia where she attended Rabun-Gap-Nacoochee, a private high school. She went on to study English writing at St. Lawrence University before serving in the AmeriCorps VISTA program in Syracuse. After moving to the Capital Region and working as a committee assistant in the NYS Assembly, she enrolled in SUNY Albany’s library science program and has worked at several libraries in the area since graduating, including in Albany and Bethlehem.
Seyse started working in the Schenectady County Public Library system in 2017, helping with the Bridges Out of Poverty program. Last year, she was named the children’s programming coordinator and she is one of the few Black librarians and paraprofessional employees at the library.
Previously, she was selected to be on the Caldecott Award Selection Committee, helping to decide the most distinguished American picture book of the year.
She lives in Glenville with her husband Eric and their daughters Chizaram and Amara. The Gazette recently caught up with Seyse about the rewards and challenges of her job.
Q: What led you to library work?
A: I did English writing in undergrad and was thinking of doing publishing but my internship my senior year fell through. I had to pivot and do AmeriCorps VISTA [in Syracuse]. I did my year of service there [and] that was the time where I was like, I think I want to go into libraries.
I had very fond memories of going to my library as a child. My parents are Nigerian. They immigrated in the 1970s and so I’m first generation here. They brought us to the library back in the 1980s and 1990s. [I went] with my siblings and we’d have our lunch and I’d just sit in the beanbag and I’d read my “Boxcar Children” and my “Baby-Sitters Club.”
Q: When you started in the Schenectady library system, what sort of work were you doing?
A: When I came over here they were just working off a partnership with their local departments like social services, the housing, the temporary housing, they called it Bridges Out of Poverty, where people come in, and they’re in crisis, and they need referrals and there’s only so much you can do at the library. [I was] one of the referral points.
The patrons there were struggling with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They don’t have food, they don’t have housing, [they have] low reading levels.
Now that I am not there – because I got a promotion, I oversee all the programs that are happening across the nine locations – my position is vacant. There’s no qualified candidates on the Civil Service list right now. There’s actually an exodus in the profession. We’re trying to figure out what’s driving people away.
Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges of coordinating all the children’s programs?
A: We have a great team and they are hardworking and they have great ideas. They don’t need any input from me, except when they have a conflict. I try to support my staff’s strengths and I try to provide the safety net for when it’s a weak skill that they have, while I also try to encourage them to develop it.
We have a lot of internal systems that we’re trying to convert because things that we had before the pandemic or even during the pandemic don’t really translate now. So I’m trying to create [new] systems.
Before, it was very hands-off in organizing what programs were being offered. So to help us know what other librarians are doing, I now create a shared document.
But change comes slowly and I like to have buy-in. My first year I spent a lot of time talking to [staff] first [about] any systematic change I was thinking of. I wanted to say “How does that sound to you? What are your concerns?” and address it that way.
Q: What have been some of the most rewarding parts of being the children’s programming coordinator?
A: When I interviewed for the position they told me, “Are you going to be okay taking a back seat from [leading] programs?” And I was like, I think I am.
I’m putting on another hat being on a managerial level rather than being the teacher. I have to evaluate whether the program is successful or whether it was worth the money and I have to say that there haven’t been very many programs where there was no attendance.
There are programs that I continue to encourage my staff to offer, like story times [and] when we have resource specialists come in and cover all sorts of topics like nutrition for parents. I love being part of the team that gets to advocate for my staff and promote what they’re offering.
Q: Can you tell me about being on the committee that picks Caldecott Award-winning books?
A: It’s a whole year of service and it requires attending two midwinter conferences and two summer conferences.
They have a whole rubric you have to go through and 15 people on this committee. That’s a lot of different opinions that you have to [reach a] consensus with to award the authors and illustrators. Some of them were in publishing realms, some were at the system level and [others were] academic librarians from all across the nation.
It was such a growing and worthwhile experience that I hope I get to repeat. Over 500 picture books were sent to all of us to read and critique. It had to be catchy, appeal to a wider universe, not just to a certain sub-group.
Q: What hobbies do you have outside of library work?
A: I like making greeting cards. I cross-country ski with my family.
I’ve been teaching myself how to cook my native food from Nigeria because my mom didn’t teach us. So now I have YouTube to watch and Pinterest to find out actual measurements when I’m not calling my aunt as I’m [cooking]. I’ve done pretty well. It still doesn’t taste like Mom’s.
My goal is to teach myself how to code so I can do the kids’ coding classes here because it’s one of those programs that they ask for a lot.
“Getting To Know …” is a weekly feature spotlighting people making a difference in the lives of others. If there’s someone you think we should feature, let us know by emailing us at [email protected].