Strawberry Mansion: Widener Library Branch Manager Reflects on Searching for Work in His Field for Seven Years

Tim Horras sits at his desk at the Widener Library during a day of work.

Tim Horras is the branch manager at Widener Library in Strawberry Mansion. The Springfield, Missouri native started his position at the library in 2019, a couple of months before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Horras always wanted to work in a city environment, which led to his decision to leave Missouri after he graduated from Missouri State University with an undergraduate degree in English literature in 2006. 

However, Horras was still unsure what he exactly wanted to do with his degree, but he always knew he loved being around books. Horras then went on to apply to graduate school for library science programs and when he got into Rutgers New Brunswick, Horras picked up his things and moved to the East Coast. 

When Horras graduated with his master’s degree in 2008, it was during the recession and left him looking for work in his field for seven years — now the branch manager is grateful for the opportunity to do what he loves every day full time. 

Horras started as a children’s librarian at the Kensington Library in 2015 before being welcomed into the Strawberry Mansion community. 

What was your interest as a kid growing up in Springfield?

We had a neighborhood library (Schweitzer Brentwood Branch Library) that I would go to as a kid and eventually when I was a teenager, one of my first jobs was shelving books at the neighborhood library. I just enjoyed it, I liked reading, I like being around books, and I always put that in the back of my head that I could potentially have a career doing that kind of work.

Was there a certain moment in undergraduate school, when you realized you wanted to go into library sciences?

In college, I worked at the university library on campus. I worked in the microforms department and I would reference stuff, which is helping people do research and that sort of thing. So, I ended up applying to grad school, and I wanted to work in a neighborhood that needed the library and the value of that service because it meant a lot to me. So, I knew I wanted to work in the urban library setting, before even going into graduate school.

What was the transition like from Missouri to New Jersey?

When I first moved to New Jersey, I didn’t know anybody, so that was kind of daunting, but after a couple of months, I started meeting people. I met people through my classes and people on campus built a life for myself out here. There was a brief period, it was kind of tough, but then I kind of settled in. I wish I lived closer to my family. But as I said, I built a life for myself, and certainly, in the years since then, I have a family now, kids and stuff.

I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. The toughest part for me was really after I graduated, I graduated in 2008 and it was when the recession started the Great Recession. I put out maybe hundreds of job applications and didn’t get anywhere for many years and that was tough, so I was grateful to get the opportunity to work in the city of Philadelphia.

Did you have to work other jobs during that time frame, while looking for other jobs in your field?

I worked in a variety of positions. I worked at Sherwin Williams mixing paints, I worked as a barista at a coffee shop, I worked at Panera Bread. I just took any position I could get. I also worked a couple of part-time jobs at various libraries as well. My life kind of improved as time went on, in some ways, but it was still really tough not having full-time work for about seven years.

What did it mean to you when you got offered a position for the Kensington Library in 2015? 

They had a hiring freeze and they started hiring again in 2015, so I was like the second batch of new hires for the library. I was grateful to get started, I was excited. I was very lucky. Whenever I got assigned to a branch, it was very close to where I lived at the time, within walking distance, so it was a really good spot for me to be.

What did you do in your position as a children’s librarian at the Kensington Library?

We do story time for preschool and elementary ages. We did various programs there. I ran a Dungeons and Dragons club, which is like a tabletop role-playing game that was very popular. We played a lot of Nintendo. I enjoyed it, but I wanted to move into a branch, you know, to manage the branch and kind of have my own branch that I run. 

The library provides a safe space for kids to hang out instead of sitting around in the street. A lot of the programs we did there we snuck in reading and math. For instance, in the Dungeons and Dragons game, you roll dice, and you got to do that to play the game. So even just having kids do simple math was kind of a way to sneak it in and make it fun.

I really like the neighborhood over in Kensington and I definitely like working with the kids, but I also really like it in Strawberry Mansion. I feel like we’re providing a real public service in this way.

What goes into your daily operations as a branch manager?

The pandemic was occurring almost as soon as I got here. The pandemic started probably within a year of me being in this position and we had to pivot to the pandemic world. 

What we did at the Widener branch, which I’m proud of this, we volunteered to be a school Access Center, which meant that since the school district was closed for in-person classes for the school year and kids are doing remote learning, but not every household has access to Wi-Fi or high-speed internet, so the library opened their doors. And we were providing space for kids to come in and do their remote learning, 

In the summer of 2021, we reopened and we’re still navigating things. But as soon as we reopened, we had people coming back in. They would fill out unemployment, look for jobs, print out resumes or other legal documents.

How would you describe your connection with the community as a branch manager?

Well, people love the library. People really love the library when we were closed for COVID and during the school Access Center. People would always call or see people in the street who ask when we’re going to open up again, so I know that it’s something that people expect to have the library service in their community.

Do you have any certain goals in mind or anything you hope you can change or accomplish in this role?

I’m hoping that once we get through the pandemic, we can kind of start bringing more people in. We used to have kids and teens come in every day after school then we’re closed for a long period, we only have the kids in the school Access Center, so I’m hoping that we can start at some point having kids and teens coming back in every day after school with homework help.

How do you hope to impact the community in your role?

We want the library to be a bridge to opportunity, so this is one of the number one places people looking for a job are going to come to print resumes out, look for openings online, and even do a basic sort of tech help. Sometimes people have trouble, like opening an email account or they need to have a template for their resume. We do all that kind of stuff. 

As an example, a woman came in a couple of times, a few weeks ago, and she never graduated high school, she’s probably in her 50s, and she decided that she wanted to get her GED. So, she was able to sign up through Temple. They have an adult learning course and I helped her navigate that process to sign up. She was excited to be able to have that opportunity to finish her education. And I think as long as we’re doing that kind of stuff for the community, then we’re going to have an important place in what’s going on.