Bronx Narratives presents our Day in the Life Series. A collection of interviews and essay featuring individuals who are a part of our community and everyday landscape.
In part with the Bronx Narratives Day in the Life Series, I was honored when fellow staff writer Herbert Norat, introduced me to Dawn Holloway. Dawn is both an empowering figure and role model from the Bronx, dedicating over thirty years of public service by working for the New York Public Library. In this interview, I talk with Dawn about her lifelong dedication to public service, her plan to revolutionize reading in the Bronx and we get to know her personal side and funny side too.
RICHARD: Dawn, I want to thank you for your willingness to be a part of the Bronx Narratives Day in the Life Series. In this interview I want to discuss who Dawn is, the Bronx Book Box project, and what inspires you. First can you tell me a little about yourself?
DAWN: I grew up in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx and I’m the middle child of three. My parents were Irish/Italian, working class. My dad was a proud Union worker with the phone company and my mom did factory work and was a supervisor there too. I went to Holy Family School in Castle Hill and Herbert H. Lehman high school on East Tremont. While in high school I was in the Co-Operative Education program, where I worked one week and went to school one week throughout my Junior and Senior year. Upon graduation, Irving Trust Bank offered me a full-time job which I turned down. I then attended Borough of Manhattan Community College for a couple of years seeking a degree in Business Management. While in college, I applied to the NYPL for a page position. Since I already had typing skills, they hired me for a part-time clerical vacancy in the Adult Services department at the Mid-Manhattan Branch.
Over the course of thirty-one years I became full-time in the clerical pool and left Mid-Manhattan in the pursuit of branch life at the Parkchester Library—from there I worked in many branches in the Bronx. In 2006, I came to Morris Park Library to assume the duties of Clerical Supervisor. From there I moved to Throgs Neck Library and then was promoted to Library Manager at the Melrose Branch in 2010. After a couple of years I came back home to the Morris Park Library to fill the role as the Library Manager. I often think public service is who I am, and the library is where I belong. I even have the library logo tattooed on my wrist! During my thirty-one year career at the library, I’ve raised two kids as a single mother, provided a Catholic School education and private college for my son who is twenty-four and living on his own in Queens and works in the field of Social work. My daughter is twenty years old and has Neurofibromatosis, which entails multiple health and educational needs. She is currently attending Cooke School in Manhattan and will be transitioning out of school in June; we are actively working on a plan for her.
RICHARD: What does a day in the life at the library look like for you?
DAWN: Well, my day always starts off with a 20 oz coffee with 1 sugar and half ‘n half; this will guarantee that anything and everything throughout my day can and will get done! So, I manage the day to day operations of the branch including information, circulation, outreach and programming services. One really interesting part of my job is that I get to play an interactive role in the overall functionality of my branch. I’m responsible for the appearance and layout of the branch, including developing and implementing strategies to enhance the onsite user experience. I am able to do this by using statistics and metrics in order to tailor services to meet local community needs and drive circulation and attendance. I also get to build partnerships with local businesses, community organizations, elected officials and community leaders to try and further strengthen the branch relationship with the diverse community that we serve. My job truly allows me to integrate the community with the library.
RICHARD: I think most millennials today probably have not been to a library, at least not of their own free will. What could you tell our younger generation about the library that they might not know? How could we educate them on the benefits of having a community library?
DAWN: This is tricky because I believe with the atmosphere that we provide and the programs we offer, we actually have a strong millennial presence here at my location. The one big takeaway is everything is FREE! Did you know if you're a card holder you can read over 300,000 ebooks for free? All you have to do is login to culturepass.nyc and visit over 40 cultural institutions throughout the city to obtain your free passes. You can even learn a new language by visiting nypl.org/mango. Learn a million and one things on Lynda.com by visiting nypl.org/lynda. The options are endless, take citizenship classes, ESL classes, literacy classes and so much more. How about watch 10 movies free on Kanopy with the simple use of your library card? Check out up to 50 books & 10 dvds at select Hub libraries and so much more!
RICHARD: I spoke with Herbert not too long ago and he mentioned something called the Bronx Book Box project. What is that exactly?
DAWN: Herbert and I came together to create NYPL Book Boxes which is being funded through an Innovation Project grant. The book box will serve an access point for members of the community to have books, as well as drop books off as a donation. Books will be available to anyone who wants one. We found three community organizations (Elected Officials and a Community Center) who will act as hosts of a NYPL Book Box. Books and program materials will be sent to these offices and their teams will make sure the boxes are clean and stocked with books in various languages to meet the needs of the communities they are located in. In addition, there may be more boxes purchased to meet the needs of the communities if their local library will be closed for a significant amount of time to meet facilities needs and renovations.
RICHARD: What inspired you to start this project?
DAWN: During my travels I kept seeing these “Little Free Libraries” all over the place. I wanted to bring this project to life to meet the needs of underserved communities and bring awareness to the wealth of information and services that the NYPL provides. While working at Clason’s Point library, I chatted with Herbert many times about the little free libraries and came up with the initial plan to pitch our idea with the help of something called the Innovation Project. Launched in 2014 by the NYPL, the Innovation Project is a program that supports and funds the ideas of its staff members who propose concepts that would promote a positive change in culture in the community.
RICHARD: Did you face any pushback or negativity?
DAWN: Not at all; I mean staff all over the library voted us winners! The only issue we are encountering now is there is little to no publicity for these projects. We want to make sure that we can create a hashtag or Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account with the permission of the Library; this way we can do some self-promotion and create a buzz. Granted we haven’t delivered any Book Boxes yet because we’re currently focused on getting inventory and creating book plate labels translated into multiple languages.
RICHARD: What is your overall goal with the book box?
DAWN: My goal is creating a judgment free zone as simple as bringing the books to communities who are vastly underserved and have limited opportunity for self-development. Getting books and information into the hands of ALL people who aren’t likely to visit their neighborhood library, whether it’s due to illiteracy, displacement, or not knowing that there is a library in their community.
RICHARD: What do you love the most about the Bronx?
DAWN: You’re going to laugh. My favorite place on earth is “The Bronx Riviera - Orchard Beach”. I’ve been going there every summer for over 40 years. If anyone ever needs to find me, even on cloudy Sundays they can catch me at section 7 on the left side of the blue wheelchair mat as close to the water’s edge as possible! My second favorite place, Yankee Stadium; I’m a diehard Yankee Fan! Annually I get to about 12-18 games and if you ask my kids where I want to be buried, they’d say, “Well Mom wants to be cremated, half goes to Orchard Beach the other half Yankee Stadium.”
RICHARD: What was your favorite street pastime as a kid? Did you play manhunt, stickball, or just hang with friends?
DAWN: All of the above! We also played skelzy, we thought we were masters of weighing our caps down with just the right number of melted crayons. I was a bit of a tomboy, always hanging out with the boys. My mom had a collection of Time Life books that we would use to plan and build these hang out huts in the back yard or open lots around the neighborhood. They were made so well that sometimes we’d sleep in them overnight. Boy, times really have changed…stupid video games! I’m sort of glad I grew up working poor; we’d crumple up newspapers to make a ball when the Wiffle ball got roofed.
RICHARD: What are you most proud of, and it can be from your prospective as a Bronxite, an inspiring woman, or just as Dawn Holloway?
DAWN: I’m a proud Daughter, Sister, Mother, Friend, Colleague and Leader. I think all the hats I wear create who Dawn Holloway is. I still have hope that one day we will all live in harmony regardless of race, creed, color or finance. I’m proud to say that every day, I give it my all to be nice, to smile, and acknowledge and be kind.
RICHARD: Is there something that you can tell us about yourself that you want people to know?
DAWN: Shameless plug goes here--I’m a bit of a comedian. I am recognized in the City of New York as an ordained minister; I am authorized to perform marriage ceremonies, baptisms and funerals. I also make bachelorette cakes (naughty ones). I love 80’s and 90’s music, hip hop and R&B are my favorites, and I really love to dance and be social. Yankee Fan until I die.
RICHARD: I wanted to thank you again Dawn for allowing me to conduct this interview and to get to know the real you. I am speechless and taken aback by your dedication and selflessness to such a wonderful cause. Your commitment to seeing the Bronx Book Box from initial idea all the way to launch, is something to be marveled by. You have honestly inspired me to continue to put others before myself and to be the best neighbor that I can be; also, your comments about having half of cremated remains going to Yankee Stadium made me laugh out loud. I truly hope that everything continues to move forward with this project and that you’re able to accomplish your goals. Knowing what I know about you now, I’m sure that you’ll have no trouble at all in being successful. Thank you Dawn for all that you do by making the Bronx a better place one book box at a time. You really are an inspiration.
DAWN: Richard, I want to thank you and Bronx Narratives for showing an interest in Dawn Holloway and the NYPL Book Box Project. I'll see you at Orchard Beach starting in May 2019!