Riverside County Libraries
Dual Branch Mgr. Nancy Reiter Promotes Inspiration, Comfort and Joy
By Don Ray
When I was a kid, the only time our public library reached out to me was when one of the books I had checked out was criminally past due.
“Hey Mom, I’m goin’ to the library to study” was a little white lie.
If I’d been truthful six decades ago, I would’ve said, “I’m goin’ to the library to hang out with my hoodlum friends — that is until the librarian gets sick of ‘SHUSHING’ us and kicks us out.”
Years later as a journalist, I would go to libraries to look up old newspaper articles on even older microfilm viewers. Or I would use their reverse telephone directories to turn phone numbers into names — and turn addresses into phone numbers.
Reference librarians became my heroines and heroes They were the only government employees I knew of who, for their entire careers, do what they love to do most —doggedly dig for answers to people’s most perplexing questions.
I walked into Home Gardens Branch Library recently, one of Riverside County Library System’s 35 branches, in search of one of those doggedly digging reference librarians.
I addressed the four employees working behind the desk.
“I’m a reporter and I want to write about one of your heroes!”
Branch Manager Nancy Reiter’s hand instantly shot up.
“Heroes?” she said smiling. “I’ve got some heroes for you!”
Instead of naming one of her own reference librarians, she put me in touch with two remarkable college kids — kids who, since they were young, had used her library’s resources and programs to discover their passions and to influence their life goals.
And along the way, “Miss Nancy,” as one of the two still calls her, would enlighten me to the countless ways that libraries are serving even the most challenged neighborhoods, as they assist 1.4 million patrons over 7,300 square miles countywide.
Indeed, Nancy Reiter is the heroine of this story — a realio, trulio “Ray of Light.”
Emi Rose Barnett, 20, and Brandon Flexman, 21, credit Nancy Reiter with helping them discover or refine their horizons.
“She’s one of the most ambitious people that I’ve ever met, Emi Rose says. “And she’s so creative. She has so many ideas for libraries and the programs she’s in charge of. She truly connects with the people that she works with — the librarians and the patrons.
“She’s an inspiration to work with, and I’ve been so honored to know her for as long as I have.”
Emi Rose was only eight when she begged Nancy to let her become a volunteer – after all, Emi said, she had regularly attended all the classes and workshops the library offered to children.
“We really don’t take volunteers until you’re twelve,” Nancy recalls telling Emi Rose.
But she made an exception for Emi Rose and allowed her to volunteer when she turned ten — but Emi Rose’s mother also would have to be there the whole time.
“And that’s how I got to know Emi Rose,” Nancy said. “She started out just helping us by cutting simple shapes before Storytime. And then from there, she got more responsibility as she matured.
“Anytime she would come, we would be like, ‘Here, here’s some books. You know where to shelve them.’ We didn’t need to check her work. What’s amazing was that even while she was in college, she was still coming to volunteer.
Brandon Flexman’s first contact with “Miss Nancy” was when he was 12. His home-schoolteacher/mother had alerted him to an upcoming workshop at the El Cerrito Branch Library. It was hosting the first of a traveling, county-wide 3D printing demonstration and class.
“I was able to work with Miss Nancy directly,” he said. “And she was able to do a lot of projects with 3D printers. The one that the library had at the time was a little bit finicky. She was trying to find a solution so they could continue with the workshop.”
Brandon says he was able to help her debug the printer over several weekly meetings they had held.
“And it was there that our kind-of-like mentor-mentee relationship really kicked off,” he said.
“She really helped me get ideas going, and we were able to work on a lot more — especially on S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects for the library beyond that.”
He says he remembers Miss Nancy as very enthusiastic with a bubbly personality — very kind and wonderful.
“She’s a very go-getter person,” he said. “She had a lot of visions and ideas for what she wanted to do. She was also very encouraging and was very open to ideas — especially from someone like me who was so young at the time. It was really nice to hear from her and be able to feel like I was being listened to.”
Nancy agrees — Brandon clearly loved the experience.
“He wanted to buy his own 3D printer,” she said. “His family had a few orange trees, so he would sell oranges to raise the money he needed.”
“After he bought it,” Nancy recalls, “I said, ‘Why don’t you teach the kids how to do 3D printing?’”
He did just that, she said.
“He loved it so much, and he wanted to share his knowledge.”
It was great for him, Brandon says, to have someone who could help and coach him through some of the ideas he had. They could work on their own ideas together and “build things up.” He was “building up” a fondness for all things technical, he said, especially when he worked with younger kids during the many workshops the library offered.
While Nancy was talking about Brandon, she wheeled her office chair around and picked up a 3D project he had later taken on just for her — a miniature, toy version of a book-return drop-off box, replete with a handful of tiny books that fit into slots in it.
“The books even have titles on them,” she pointed out.
Nancy reveals that she and her family emigrated to the United States from Southern China in 1970 when she was 10. They were sponsored by an aunt, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and took up residence in the Highland Park neighborhood north of L.A.’s civic center.
“We were like poor kids,” she said. “We had no money.”
Though her father had been a high school math teacher in China, schools here didn’t recognize his college degree. He would end up working as a cook.
Nancy says she discovered that going to the local library enabled her to learn English better — and to look up words and phrases she didn’t understand.
“For example,” she said, “I had no idea what a credit card is. And you know, you read the books, and they say, ‘Oh, just pay with a credit card.’ I’m like, ‘What the heck is this? I need to get one of those.’ My parents never had a credit card.”
After high school, she attended UC Santa Cruz and graduated with a degree in economics. She married, became a university financial counselor, then an academic counselor, moving from Los Angeles to Corona.
“Then I had kids and then I gave up my career to be a full-time mother until they were like, first grade and second grade.”
When visiting the El Cerrito Branch Library to research finding a part time job, she learned the library itself was in need of a branch manager.
“So that’s how I got this job.”
A few years later, Nancy added responsibilities as branch manager at the nearby Home Gardens Branch Library – and has been managing both branches ever since.
She soon realized, that in the unincorporated areas such as Home Gardens, public services are stretched further than in the bigger cities.
“Now, you know, we’re more of a community center.”
The Home Gardens Branch Library and the neighboring YMCA offer programs and services to the elderly, English as a Second Language programs, food services, health classes and more. Nancy is determined, she says, to do even more for the community.
“This is not the library your parents visited,” she says. “It’s not just about books. Now it’s more about the community.
“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing people giving back to the community.”
Emi Rose and Brandon clearly have absorbed Nancy’s encouraging philosophy and energy.
Emi Rose will be transferring from Young Americans College of Performing Arts in Corona at the end of next semester to a four-year university.
I want to get my bachelor’s first in either English or English literature,” she said. “And after I get my bachelor’s, I want to get my master’s in library science.”
Emi says that her desire to have a career in libraries was not one of those what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up dreams — but the more she volunteered at the libraries, the more the idea started to grow within her.
Brandon is a computer engineering student at Brigham Young University in Utah.
“My goal is to develop integrated circuits with a mind for cybersecurity.”
Brandon and Emi Rose say that Miss Nancy inspired them to choose career paths in which they could, even indirectly, contribute to a better life for others — just as Nancy Reiter did for them.
I guess you could say that they’ll be paying it forward, and who knows, maybe even wear a hero’s cape.
A proud Vietnam Veteran, Don Ray is also a six-decade veteran multimedia reporter, writer, editor and producer for scores of print and visual media outlets. He as reported from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and trained journalists in emerging nations across Africa and Europe. You can reach him at email@example.com.
For More Ray of Light Stories visit www.zapinin.com/ray-of-light.