Finding Eric Riley

Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Library

Finding Eric Riley

Staff As Resource - Part 1 Eric Riley

Oh, yes, he is the manager of the Watha T. Daniel Library.  And, yes, the Library Journal selected him for the Movers and Shakers Award for 2010.

Eric Riley in OfficeBut who is Eric Riley?  What kind of a resource is he in the District of Columbia Library System? I learn something new about Eric every day. All I knew of him before joining the Watha T.Daniel/Shaw staff was that Eric was the graphic novels expert. He certainly is that. He was hooked on Neil Geiman’s The Sandman Series while an impressionable 16-year-old, and a friend simultaneously introduced him to a Japanese movie, Akira, a science-fiction epic about a kid exposed to evolutionary DNA that transforms him into pure energy. “It totally freaked me out,” says Eric. The beauty of Eastern aesthetics and epic Western storytelling enthrall him even to this day. He actively engages and promotes the the understanding and appreciation of this genre. He attends the annual conference on Anime and Manga - The ICv2 Comics and Digital Conference, the Otakon and the New York Comic Con (NYCCON). Eric is responsible for developing and maintaining this genre’s collection for the entire library system. He presents workshops and lectures on Graphic Novels for the DC library system and started the Anime movie nights at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw branch. I see Eric frequently engaged in animated dialogs with children, teens and adults – either sharing his passion for these books with them, or luring them into this genre. It works most of time.

Eric is also a published writer. His mother, a writer herself, encouraged Eric to write at an early age. As an English major, he dabbled in writing plays, poetry, short stories, science fiction, fantasy…. When blogging came into being, it served as the means to reach out from the isolation of cataloging, to friends and family, letting them know where he was in his life. For a while, he was involved with LiveJournal, enjoying autobiographical writing, exploring “religious and philosophical ideas knocking around in my head.” 

Eric is fond of the NANOWRIMO project (November Novel Writing Month) and enthusiastically participates in this every year, trying to dash off a 50,000-word novel in 30 days! He’s held novel-writing workshops at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library and other places. He actively promotes writing workshops of all genres.

Music is in Eric’s DNA. He comes from a family steeped in music. His father owned a  bus for his band, and the family garage was turned into a recording studio. Eric played in the school band as well. After a hectic day, he loves to unwind with his guitar, playing random pieces of music he picks off the Internet. He is keen to provide space in the library for people to create and collaborate in making music – initiating a music appreciation series, talking to people about rights-free music, being a spark that will disturb many a “clod” and perchance create another Beethoven or Mozart.

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that Eric is at ease with technologies of all kinds. He was instrumental in introducing and promoting 2.0 technologies in the neighborhood libraries. The Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library was one of the first neighborhood libraries to create its own pages for Blogging, YouTube, FaceBook and MySpace. He is on the panel for the District of Columbia Library Association Group for Emerging Technologies. This panel meets every month to discuss the role of emerging technologies in all agencies, both federal and local, in D.C.

His favorite passion (no, make that ONE of his favorite passions!) is arts and crafts.  He loves knitting and crochet. He’s dabbled in jewelry-making, spending a whole summer designing, creating and selling  his own jewelry. He is good at embroidery. He learned to make latch-hook rugs while convalescing through a childhood illness. He is very proud of his 10'x10' “cosmic” quilt that was 10 years in the making. On one side are wheels within wheels depicting: time, nature, the zodiac, 360 degrees, the seasons. The other side is a mandala, made of several interlocking diamond shapes. Designing costumes is what Eric finds most relaxing. He is proud of having created Renaissance costumes. He also sews for friends and  enjoys "hanging out with them, watching fashion shows, figuring out how to create some of the works on display.” He hopes to start “The House of Watha,” a fashion design workshop that will culminate in a fashion show.

All these talents might lead you to ask – why the library?  What inspired him to choose the world of libraries?  What quickens his spirit is helping people navigate through knowledge systems. Working in a local pharmacy in a small town while still very young, Eric enjoyed helping people find what they were looking for. But it was in his first job as an undergrad at The University of Cincinnati Classics Department that Eric found his niche in life. Working in the Burnam Classics Library, one of the world’s most comprehensive libraries for advanced research in Classics (currently ca. 234,000 volumes), Eric realized what he enjoyed doing best – helping people (including visiting scholars from all over the world) navigate through the vast, closed, collections of this “most active centers for the study of Bronze Age and Classical antiquity in the United States.” 

Starting out in this job without knowing what “Classics” encompassed, Eric, with his phenomenal memory, fell in love with this branch of knowledge, and has a minor in Classics. At the same time, he also worked at the Cincinnati Art Museum as a docent for many years, long after he graduated from college. He tried his hand as a cataloger in the federal government in DC, but the isolation drove him out to seek a position where he could interact with people again. He joined the District of Columbia Public Library System in 2007. Within three years here, the Library Journal recognized his enthusiasm and contributions, and awarded him The Movers and Shakers Award for 2010.Eric Program

Eric wears many hats here at the library. Never having had any experience with children, his story hour for toddlers-to-2-year-olds – Mother Goose on the Loose, now draws more than 100 people. The children (and adult care-givers) keep coming back to enjoy his drama and enthusiasm and passion.  I am sure many of these children will carry the memory of these wonderful story hours with them long into their futures.  

Image Vision - Discuss-Inspire-Create-PerformEric admires people who have a vision and work to realize it.  “Because I am a little like that myself,” he confesses. So what is his vision for the library? He believes that libraries will be both traditional and innovative for the foreseeable future: Traditional in bringing the world’s body of knowledge to the public, innovative in giving people the place and the means to create, interact with, and contribute, to the world’s body of knowledge. Eric believes in his paradigm for the library of the future where people can discuss, inspire, create and perform, and in the process, contribute to the world’s body of knowledge. Eric has a vision, and “miles to go.”  Check out this expert-in-many-fields at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, and feel free to invite him to present workshops / lectures in your branch.

Stay tuned as we feature the staff at the Watha T. Daniel / Shaw Library : Anina Ertel, Elaine Pelton, Ellen Hungate, Eric Riley, Jamilla Coleman, Jayanthi Sambasivan, Nicholas Hirsch, Paul Sweeney, Towanda Gravitt