Five Questions with Sasha Dowdy, Program Specialist, Young Readers Center

This post is by Sasha Dowdy of the Library of Congress.

Sasha Dowdy, program specialist at the Young Readers Center, May 23, 2018. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress.

My job at the Young Readers Center allows me to be curious, ask a lot of questions, and find new ways to help children and teens connect with the Library of Congress and deepen their love of reading and learning. I work in the three rooms of the Young Readers Center, but also in the many reading rooms of the Library of Congress and online with millions of primary sources at loc.gov.

I coordinate programming for our young visitors, collaborate with internal and external partners to develop programming, manage the interns and volunteers, and spread the word that the Library of Congress is for everyone.

What is your favorite item from the Library’s online collections?

Panorama with the Ob’ River; in foreground, main rail line on right (east) bank of the Ob’, Novosibirsk, Russia. William Craft Brumfield, 1999

I have a favorite search term: Novosibirsk, the name of my homeland, a city in Siberia, Russia. I didn’t think that my cultural heritage would be represented in the Library of Congress, but the Library’s collections represent more than 470 languages, and most collection items are not in English! I found photographs of my home town in the digital collections, including photographs of President Nixon seeing ballet in my city. My story and my experience, as well as stories and experiences of millions of other people, are valued by the largest library in the world. I know there is an item that speaks to everyone, and I hope to hear stories of how other Library of Congress users found a personal connection with the Library’s collections.

Share a time when an item from the Library’s collections sparked your curiosity.

Equipt (sic) for the Trenches

This photograph of a sergeant and his dog, both wearing gas masks on the front line, is my favorite example of the wide representation of perspectives in the Library’s digital collections. I don’t enjoy learning about war, so it was challenging for me to find personal connections to the events of World War I, the theme of a major exhibition in the Library. This photograph shows the hardship of war beyond the suffering of humans and helped me empathize with the dog and his caretaker.

This image inspired me to do more research into the role that dogs have played in our lives as service, therapy, and companion animals. Our team put together a program for students learning about this global conflict, and I loved learning with the students!

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a Library visitor.

I love encounters with visitors that let me share the many different formats in the Library’s amazingly rich collections! One of my favorite programs was hosting a musical story time with Erin Durham, a University of Maryland Information School intern and violin virtuoso. She and I did a reading of the book Mole Music by David McPhail for our weekly story time for babies and toddlers. I read the story, and Erin played music. The room, full of rambunctious children under the age of 3, went silent. This mix of live music and a live book reading, new to this audience, mesmerized them. It’s amazing, the power of literacy presented in different shapes and sizes.

Erin and I presented this story time again during the Educational Outreach Arts Symposium. The attendees of the symposium learned about the ways the Library supports arts education through its collections. I always remember the amazing engagement of our youngest readers as we explore more ways of diversifying childhood literacy in the Young Readers Center.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the Library?

The Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the stories that represent the diverse voices in this country. The Library is many things: part museum, part research library, part a place to learn hands-on, and always a place to belong. The Library does amazing work in increasing accessibility in every sense of the word. It welcomes everyone who was ever curious, and it continually evolves the ways it empowers Library of Congress users to find the answers they seek.

We invite teachers, families, and everyone who loves children’s and teen literature to visit the Young Readers Center and explore our collections, participate in our programs, and enjoy a great book in a cozy place!

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