“We have an outstanding library system here,” says Tim McDonald—he speaks in hushed tones; eight years working in a library will do that to a person—“it’s a place to really enrich your life in a lot of ways.”
He mentions the art galleries, museums and theaters that make up a part of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District—all things I knew about. Then he tells me about things I wasn’t aware of: ESL and GED classes, citizenship classes to prepare immigrants for testing, and even adult basic reading classes—all for free.
After several years running the Children’s Department, McDonald was made the literacy services coordinator for the library’s CALL (Computer-Assisted Literacy in Libraries) program, where he oversees the above-mentioned courses—so now he’s working primarily with adults. “With kids you get that unconditional love. Adults are more of a challenge. You have to prove that you really are offering something that is going to benefit them.”
Proof is in the form of Julia Cordova, who began taking the library’s ESL classes in 2000. When her English was strong enough, she enrolled in the citizenship classes, too. Then, in 2005, she became a U.S. citizen, and the library hired her. Now, she works with McDonald as a full-time office assistant.
In this economy, McDonald says, there is a greater need for the library’s free services than ever before. “People need to get into libraries to use the computers to look for jobs, or type up résumés, or send e-mails.” (The library also offers free job-search courses.)
Ever-advancing technology means the library’s function is changing. Sure, there are still stacks and stacks of books (“Books aren’t going away,” McDonald says), but now the library also offers e-books as well. Students can even get online homework help from live tutors. “A lot of library use is happening online, 24/7, without people ever coming into the library,” he says.
When I ask the librarian how it is I didn’t know all of this, he explains that the marketing budget has suffered in the economic crisis. Still, he’s proud of the library district and that it continues to remain open seven days a week, even if hours are shorter; a lot of other libraries, in other cities, are not. “If you look at some other library districts throughout the nation, they’re in worse trouble than we are, for sure.” (He doesn’t have to look far; after Henderson voters rejected a modest revenue measure on the November ballot, the city’s library district closed two facilities.)
McDonald, 43, was born in Titusville, N.J., just north of where George Washington crossed the Delaware River—each Christmas the town reenacts the historical crossing—and graduated from Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College in 1991. He began his career with a regional theater company where he did some acting, but more teaching. This led him to pursue his master’s in education from DePaul University in Chicago. He went on to teach fifth grade in the Windy City for seven years before his partner’s work brought them and their now-17-year-old beagle, Calvin, to Las Vegas. While he was working his way through the many hoops required to obtain a Nevada teacher’s license, McDonald found work at the library—and he’s never looked back.
“My job now—I’m surrounded by people who are learning to read,” he says. “My goal is to get them to a spot where they’re reading to learn.”