Students using the library during Finals week. (Photo: @pacewoodrufflibrary on Instagram)

Mr. Matt Ball has been working at Pace Academy as a librarian for 10 years, and is now the Director of Libraries, however, students may not know as much about Mr. Ball as other faculty members, as he doesn’t teach any classes. Although you may mostly see Mr. Ball putting up monthly displays and guess-it games for students, much of his work is behind the scenes, managing both the Woodruff Library in the Upper School and Soni Family Library in the Lower School. 

As Mr. Ball told students in one of his assembly appearances at the beginning of the year, he studied library sciences in college. What kind of science is involved in libraries? Well courses included “reference, research methods, collection management, administration, digital collections, accessibility, archival science, digital humanities, rare books” and more, Mr. Ball said. He has always loved reading and loved the opportunity to continue to be involved in books and libraries. Although he has worked in places like the University of Virginia and a Semester at Sea ship traveling the Mediterranean, he enjoys the small community of Pace. “In my previous work at university libraries, they were so big that most people specialize in one particular area,” he said. “But because our library is small and there are only three of us I get to do a lot of different things.” He spends time “testing out databases and other online resources, reviewing newly-published books for purchase, managing the budget, creating lesson plans for research instruction, managing our course guides, and cooking up guess-it games for students,” Mr. Ball said. 

Mr. Ball and Librarian Mr. Marty Hamburger also have a side project of  “creating a nascent archive in the library storage room.” The library has a large collection of papers, photographs, scrapbooks, back issues of The Knightly News, Knight Gallery books and yearbooks, but they are currently held in the attic of the castle, which is not climate controlled. The library staff hope to eventually create an archive to store them. 

Students mostly use the library as a place to print assignments, do homework, or hang out, but there are many unexpected tools the library has that are under-utilized by students. On the Pace Academy website the library provides “guides for citations, assessing the news, and evaluating the media,” Mr. Ball said, as well as free access to e-books and newspapers. In the physical library, there are such surprising items as “Amazon Kindles, telescopes, binoculars, a birding kit, video cameras, a piano keyboard, a guitar, a tire pump, a knitting kit” and more, he described.

Students may have also noticed the library has a special focus on mental health this year as part of Pace Academy’s strategic plan for 2022-2027, with the library providing books on mental health topics and journaling workshops, and even giving out apples to encourage students to eat healthier snacks. Mr. Ball also previews there will be “a slew of new tools to help with mindfulness and mental wellness that we’ll be unveiling soon.”

Of course, one of the main uses of the library is simply to check out books, and though reference books for school projects often are the most checked out books, fantasy and graphic novels also take many of the top spots. And since Mr. Ball has recently been adding a large manga collection, these books have grown more popular. “I’m a big believer in ‘reading is reading,’” Mr. Ball said. He doesn’t care what people are interested in reading as long as they’re reading and when he heard from other libraries that their manga collections were flying off the shelves he jumped at the opportunity to add some volumes to Woodruff library. And overall, “checkouts are up 11.4% over last year, and 30.3% over the year before, so students are definitely checking out more and more books.” 

But surprisingly, his top priority is not people reading as much as possible. “I hope people will read but they should read however much works for them.  Some people simply don’t have as much time to read as other people, and some people don’t enjoy reading as much as they enjoy doing other things,” he said, and that’s okay. However, Mr. Ball tries to make sure if students want a particular book he can get it and everyone knows what new books are available in the library. “I do hope that people, especially students, keep reading as an ongoing part of their lives no matter how much or how often they read,” he said.

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