Matt MacKellar, Community Engagement Librarian
February 20, 2019
For many people in Skokie, Matt MacKellar is a familiar face. His time at Skokie Public Library began in 2005 when he worked as a building security guard. For the past 10 years he’s been on the bookmobile. Being out in the neighborhoods among so many familiar faces gave him a special sense of community. Matt estimates that 95 percent of the people he saw on the bookmobile were returning patrons. “It’s always really nice to think you know the patrons and they know you and it just makes a different kind of relationship,” says Matt. “You can help them better ‘cause you know what their reading interests are—you know their family—they know you—that helps because you have a certain amount of credibility.”
This sense of familiarity and community is something Matt hopes to continue working toward in his new role as a community engagement librarian. This past fall, with a recently completed master's degree in library science, Matt made the transition to serving Skokie’s senior population. In addition to providing essential information and guidance about things like Medicare and issues surrounding aging, he hopes to use recurring programming like Savvy Skokie Seniors and other events as a way to make seniors feel more welcome and integrated into the library culture.
“I’m seeing their deep need for social connection,” Matt says of the seniors he works with. “I think the library can be a lot of things, and one of the things it can be is a part of that social structure for people—a place where they are known and they belong, and they connect with people, and they can connect with new experiences and new information and have positive things going on in their lives. I feel like the mentality I try to develop is not, ‘I’m going in to help them’—it’s more, ‘I’m going in to help support them by developing the structures and the programs and the places that enable good interactions to happen.’ And I have as much as or more to learn from them as they do from me, and so a lot of it is opening up spaces for us to learn from each other and just to have these social connections when people talk to each other to build a sense of belonging and community that many lack.”
Opportunities for creating these social platforms include the Talking Books book discussion, which attracts many low-vision patrons and is open to all. "Like any good book discussion, it’s 40 percent about the book and 60 percent about each other and our lives, and so that’s a great place to forge those connections,” says Matt.
In addition to working with seniors and helping to coordinate the homebound delivery program, Matt is looking forward to expanding his work to reach other populations in Skokie. “The other part of my goal for the future is to develop specific awareness and programming and resources for other vulnerable populations, which is basically a way of thinking about, ‘who are we missing, who are we overlooking’—maybe it’s informal leaders out in the community or whatever it might be, and how do we reach out to those folks and build connections and partnerships and those kind of things.”
When not leading events or out in the community, Matt regularly works at the library’s public service desks, so there’s a good chance you will see him in the building. “I’ve always been on different committees and groups, but now I’m a little more integrated into the work of the library and I think a big piece of that is I work some of the public desks here,” says Matt who works shifts on the Information Desk, the Reader Services Desk, and the AV Desk. “That helps me feel more connected to other parts of the library and other staff—particularly the other librarians who work those desks. Now I work more closely with them, so I have a different relationship with them.”
After 13 years at Skokie Public Library, Matt feels grateful to still be forging new relationships and building on his previous experiences. “I feel like I know the library and the history of the library and some of its staff, so I feel really happy to be able to stay here and I feel like I’m building on what I’ve done before and the connections I’ve made. That allows me to go deeper in my work, rather than starting from scratch someplace else. So I’m really happy and excited it worked out this way, and it’s given me new opportunities and new challenges, but also in continuity with things I’ve done before, which I feel is a perfect combination.”