Yolanda Botello visited libraries only occasionally as a child. But the 29-year-old El Paso native fondly remembers a time as a little girl when she attended story time and did a creative project afterward.
“I still remember making a spider out of pipe cleaners and doing itsy bitsy spider,” she said.
Botello, who goes by Yolie, is hoping to instill a similar love of creativity and learning in today’s children as the new youth services librarian for the Mansfield Public Library. But it’s not an easy task. She has big, card-catalog-sized shoes to fill. Botello, who started in September, replaced the recently-retired Annette Weber. Botello’s predecessor worked in Mansfield for more than a decade, starting the library’s story time and devising many successful programs for young people.
Still, Botello welcomed the challenge.
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“A youth position opened up here, and I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” she said.
The timing was also ideal to come to Mansfield from her former position at Lake Cities Library in Lake Dallas, near Denton. There she served as assistant director, a jack-of-all-trades kind of position that entailed adult and youth programming.
“Just being able to focus on youth services, that appealed to me,” said Botello, who lives in Fort Worth with her husband and 6-year-old stepson. “And we were going through budget cuts at the other library, so it was time to move on.”
Botello, who as an undergraduate degree in education from the University of Texas at El Paso and a master’s in library science from the University of North Texas, wanted to work with children but not in the comparatively rigid structure of a school classroom.
“This is awesome,” Botello said. “I get to have my time with kids, and I get to be so creative with it.”
Steve Standefer, Mansfield’s city librarian, said he’s impressed with what his new librarian has accomplished in a short time on the job.
“She came in and just sat down and got to work,” Standefer said. “She’s a good fit with the staff, a good fit with the patrons. We’re just really glad she’s here.”
One of Botello’s early initiatives has been to incorporate a sign language program into the story times for tots (babies up to 3-year-old toddlers) and listeners (little ones age 3 to 7). For those children, signing is basically a second mode of expressing themselves, Botello said.
But in the new year, Botello plans to start a third story time for infants up to 18 months old that would heavily incorporate baby sign language as a way for the babies to get their needs across to their parents and caretakers.
“You teach them sign language to sign what they want to their parents or caregivers without just crying because they can’t communicate,” Botello said.
Rachel Rodriguez brought her daughter, Isabella, 4, to her first story time in a long time on Dec. 4. Mom and daughter were impressed with Botello’s multi-faceted approach to teaching kids. Rodriguez said she’ll definitely bring Isabella back to story time again.
“I like the sign language thing,” Rodriguez said. “It’s really good.”
Rodriguez, who lives in the Arlington city limits within the Mansfield school district, would also like to take her daughter to the library’s bilingual story time program. As Rodriguez helped Isabella with an artistic endeavor, Botello was chatting with parents and overseeing kids’ craft work.
“She’s really good with kids,” Rodriguez said.
Botello’s also planning new ways to engage with teens. She’d like to implement so-called maker spaces that would be a place for older youths to come outside of school and explore their creativity using a variety of tools and supplies. Rather than an afternoon spent making a particular item, the teens could do a long-term project that takes a month or so to complete.
“That one requires more time because we’d have to get more tools than just a glue gun,” Botello said.
Standefer’s happy to supply Botello with what she needs to bring innovative concepts to life.
“She has ideas. She understands Mansfield’s rapid growth. She’s got a vision for the future for it,” Standefer said. “It’s just what we need.”
Overall, Botello said her main job is to develop in children a love of libraries that carries through to adulthood, and then they bring their own kids to the library some day.
“It’s something that builds, and it stays with you,” she said. “The challenge is getting kids to learn that reading isn’t just a chore and getting it to stay with them.”
Judging by how many of those kids drag their parents and grandparents into the library on the weekends, Botello’s work is paying off.
“We have a lot of kids who have their parents or grandparents take them here on the weekend,” Botello said. “It’s where they want to go.”