Meet Katie Bova, the librarian who defies the stereotype. Friendly, cheerful and outgoing, Bova is ProLiteracy’s librarian and director of Life Links, their new digital literacy initiative.
ProLiteracy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing adult literacy and basic education, moved in May from its Jamesville Avenue location to 104 Marcellus St., on the Near West Side, close by the under-construction WCNY broadcasting empire. It will hold a formal grand opening on Friday, Sept. 7, and Saturday, Sept. 8, with most of the public programming to take place on Saturday, which marks International Literacy Day.
“As a librarian, I am passionate about information literacy, particularly when it comes to online information,” Bova said. “People really need to know how to evaluate information and make sure it’s the best information for their needs.”
The goal of Life Links is to help adults and older youth learn to use technology, with the help of up-to-date computers wired with high-speed broadband. ProLiteracy’s new building contains a computer lab with 18 terminals for public use, as well as 30 additional computers (referred to as the “mobile lab”) that can be taken out of the building to support other events and meetings in the community.
Life Links’ new headquarters also has a training room for sessions on basic computer and Internet skills. “It might be someone interested in financial literacy, it might be someone interested in fitness or health that comes in and uses this space,” Bova explained. “There is probably something I can learn from that person, and I can apply that to my work or to helping someone else.”
Part of Bova’s job is to manage ProLiteracy’s archives, which consists of 465 boxes of records. Yet she believes it is a librarian’s job to assess a community’s needs and then figure out how to meet them. Today’s librarian, according to Bova, must also be approachable and welcoming. “You can’t say ‘those are historical artifacts, don’t touch them,’” she said. “It’s ‘How can I take this historical artifact and make it accessible, even if it’s through pictures, a story or a video about it?’”
Bova attended the University of Rochester as an undergraduate to earn a degree in cognitive science with a psycholinguistic track. But her career path detoured when she got a job during her senior year at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. “I worked in the teeny-tiny little library that was for faculty, staff and researchers in the laboratory that has two of the largest lasers in the world,” she recalled. “I had at least three security clearances to go through before I could actually get to my desk.”
It was here she learned something very important: “I loved manipulating information, helping people figure out what they need and getting it for them. There’s just something really satisfying about that, it’s almost like a treasure hunt.”
Bova, who grew up in Liverpool, decided to attend Syracuse University for a master’s degree in library and information science. While at SU, she directed the program Web-Based Information Science Education program, or WISE. The program funded courses in library science at SU, and Bova administrated a course taught by several members of ProLiteracy. She stayed in touch with the members, and was hired as a project manager. When the ProLiteracy librarian retired a year later, Bova was offered the job. “I think what made me a good fit for my current role is that I am passionate about being in the community,” she said.
Bova also does volunteer work, logging spare time at the Samaritan Center, 310 Montgomery St. (“It’s one of the places I go to get back to reality and to get grounded.”) and the North Side Learning Center, which focuses on lifelong literacy. “My family is passionate about helping others; my mother’s a teacher and my sister is a nurse,” Bova said. “Everyone just has this understanding, this mentality, that if you can help out, you do it. It’s helpful to have people around you that are really supportive.”
In her limited downtime Bova likes to keep active with cycling (“There’s something about being out on the open road. It’s a good time to think.”) and often takes part in benefit road races and triathlons. “I cry at the end of every race, even when I’m not racing,” she admitted. “I like seeing people meet their goals, which is probably part of the reason why I like the work that we do. I see a lot of challenges, but I hope the work we’re doing here at least addresses some of them.”
ProLiteracy’s Saturday celebration of International Literacy Day includes digital literacy sessions, entertainment and a literacy fair. For more information, call 214-2580.