Humans of Cranston is a recurring column funded by the Rhode Island Foundation that showcases the stories of Cranston residents’ community involvement, diversity and unique life perspectives. …
Humans of Cranston is a recurring column funded by the Rhode Island Foundation that showcases the stories of Cranston residents’ community involvement, diversity and unique life perspectives. This edition is reported by JB Fulbright. Want to nominate a Cranston resident to be featured? Email JB at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elena Rios is a first-generation Puerto Rican/Dominican librarian at Central Library.
Q: What has your experience been like working with Cranston youth?
A: “Working with kids is honestly a dream come true. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really like children, I had no problem with them, but it wasn’t until I stepped into this position that I was like, ‘oh, children are amazing, it’s adults that suck!’ Kids are absolutely incredible, and they actually are the future ... Being able to help them develop their literacy skills and help them explore their interests -- whether it be manga, comic books, videogames, literally anything -- it’s just such a wonderful opportunity. Whenever someone’s like, ‘oh, Miss Elena!’ I’m like, ahhh! When they’re like, ‘oh, say thank you to your librarian,’ I just like, lose my mind. Also, I feel like it’s important for kids to see reflections of themselves as working professionals, right? So, as the only Hispanic full-time librarian that we have here ... I think about my own childhood and how I perceive the library, and I think a lot of people find librarians and the library space to be intimidating … had I seen a librarian that looked in any way like me, had tattoos like me, like, literally anything, I would have felt comfortable to approach them and be like, ‘hey! I have a question,’ or, ‘hey! I refuse to return my library books; can you help me out with that?’ I hated returning my books because coming to the library was a privilege – it still is a privilege, because let’s be frank; our branches are not at accessible places, especially this one. You can’t even take a bus over here; it’s not accessible to any of our middle schools, or any of our high schools, which is a big problem. But, either way, not to be full of myself, but I feel like just me being here is already doing something, because less than 12 percent of librarians are Hispanic. Six to 8 percent are Black or African American, I think 13 to 15 percent are supposed to be Asian, and like, less than 2 percent are Indigenous or Native American. So, the numbers count.”
Q: What, if anything, would you like to see built or developed in Cranston that would positively affect your community?
A: “Oh my gosh! Maybe this is kind of generic, but just more community centers. As a librarian, it’s like, we would be partially a homeless shelter, we would have showers, we would have rooms for you to stay in, we would have massive computer labs open to the public, we would have massive study rooms; I just wish there had been more pop-ups like that that I could have gone to as a kid that would give me a space to still pursue after-school programs .… If we had stuff like that in more accessible locations, I think that would have been great. Because both my parents have always worked two to three jobs on top of their full-time jobs … I was always left home with my younger sibling, and we never had the opportunity to do clubs or sports or anything like that. So, yeah, having more of those community programs, again, in more accessible places, even at Doric Park, you know what I’m saying? I’ve always lived around that area, so being able to walk there with my younger sibling would have been phenomenal. And I mean, that’s obviously what we try to do here at the library, offering our free programs, but there’s only so far you can walk.”
Q: What makes you feel optimistic about the future of Cranston?
A: “Maybe just being here at the library, just because I get to see so many new faces every day, and I get to see a lot of ones that return -- especially after the pandemic. We lost a lot of our patrons, but I think a portion of them have returned and we also have so many new people that are like, ‘now we need the resources at the library! We didn’t realize they existed before.’ It’s me being here, it’s me being a librarian, reaching as many people as possible that makes me hopeful for the future of Cranston.”