Branch Out

Fairfax County, Virginia

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Erin Julius,
Editor, Branch Out

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Our Library, Our Stories: Mike Siriwardena

 

Learn about the many facets and faces of FCPL and our community — one story at a time.

In this Branch Out series, you’ll find interviews with, personal narratives from, and articles about FCPL staff and users. With a county and a library system as large as ours, it’s especially important to highlight the individual experiences, unique backgrounds, and many diverse voices within them. So, we’re putting the spotlight on one person’s story about life and the library in each issue with the hope that it helps us all get to know and connect with each other just a little bit better. Our story this quarter comes to us from Reston Regional Library Branch Manager, Mike Siriwardena.

We want to share your stories, too! Click here for questions to prompt your story and instructions for how to submit to us. 

Our Library, Our Stories: Mike Siriwardena

Mike Siriwardena

Branch Manager | Reston Regional Library

 

Q. How long have you worked at FCPL, and how would you summarize what you do? What enticed you to apply for a position at FCPL?

A. I have been part of FCPL for about a year and a half. I think one of the best parts of my job is that I get to do a little bit of everything. A short version is I make sure everything is in place to keep the branch running every day. I get to work with the community in so many great ways from helping community members on the services desks to planning out new partnerships to provide great events for everyone to enjoy.

Q. Tell us about your background: where you grew up, went to school, what you studied.

A. Before coming to FCPL I spent 20 years in Tallahassee, Florida. While in Tallahassee I attended Florida State University (FSU)where I studied education and philosophy for my undergraduate career and continued to earn a master’s degree in library science.

Q. Did you have experience with the library or library staff when you were growing up? What attracted you to library work? (What inspires you? What do you look forward to at work [special events, activities with coworkers, the friendly atmosphere, certain patrons’ visits, etc.]?)

A. When I was growing up, I didn’t go into libraries all too often. Libraries became a large part of my life when I was in college. I found myself spending a lot of time in the libraries both to study and for my part-time job shelving books. That experience really made me realize that I could see libraries as part of my career. I loved being surrounded by so much information, tackling space problems and working with people who were dedicated to connecting people with so many sources of knowledge.

Q. Tell us about your career journey. Where did you work prior to FCPL and how did it ultimately lead you here? How does your current job compare with previous jobs you’ve had?

A. Before working for FCPL I was part of FSU Libraries for 16years. I started with FSU Libraries as a student assistant in the Collections Access department shelving books and moving the collection between libraries. I ultimately became the Director of Access Services and Delivery, overseeing the 3.5 million book collection, four libraries and all the service desks for FSU Libraries. I was also a professor for the Information School teaching graduate level library leadership classes. While in Florida, I was also a Lieutenant of Midway Fire Rescue. With Midway I was responsible to the Rescue Squad specializing in HAZMAT, technical rescue and urban search and rescue.

Q.Is there a particular moment or memory from your time with FCPL that stands out for you? (A best day at work, a recent project you worked on, a nice encounter you had with a coworker, etc.)

A. I think one of the moments that really sticks out in my head was when Reston hosted a Lunar New Year program. On that day we had over 200 people attend the event and had so many amazing people present our community with facets of Chinese culture from traditional music to lion dance in the branch. When I started at FCPL, the branch was closed because of the pandemic so I had only heard stories of how active the branch was pre-COVID. This was my first time seeing the branch bursting with activity and seeing our local community fully enjoying the library.

Q. What are your favorite genres to read or to help library users explore? Why? Tell us a few all-time favorite books (childhood books count, too!).

A. I really enjoy sci-fi/fantasy. It is so fun getting lost in the epic adventures and thinking about how our world could be if we had powers, crazy technology or strange epic beasts thrown into the mix! I’m also a big fan of odd history books. Our past has so many weird stories that seem too strange to be real and it is always fun uncovering these histories!

Q. How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, causes you support, etc.?

A. In my free time I enjoy fitness. I’m one of those crazy people who are in the gym training seven days a week for two hours or more. I also enjoy serving our community, I was a volunteer firefighter for so many years and I’m looking forward to getting back into firefighting with our local volunteer fire house.

Q. You’re hosting a dinner party. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite, and why?

A. This is a hard one....there are so many!

George Washington – he led such a fascinating life and I think it would be intriguing to see what his thoughts would be about where we have come as a country! I’m sure he could never have imagined the world we live now, but would it be one that followed his vision of the country?

Ray Downey – Ray is considered the father of rescue tactics for the FDNY and is credited for the creation of Rescue Squads. He made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11. He had a wicked sense of humor, was well read and I would love to trade rescue stories with him!

Jimmy Buffett – This is the old Florida pirate in me! Jimmy is a person that not only embodies all the craziness that is Florida but also is dedicated to so many wonderful environmental causes. Jimmy has traveled around the world, had an incredible music career and is an accomplished writer. He has a wonderful habit of always looking at the bright side of things and his stories never get old!

Q. Tell us something you are proud of and why. (Is there an achievement, contribution or other part of your personal or professional story that you are most proud of?)

A. I am very proud of the time I spent as a firefighter. It was so amazing getting the opportunity to work with a group of people that were willing to put their lives on the line for complete strangers. That experience was humbling and a constant reminder of the great things that can be accomplished with a few dedicated people.

Q. Can you tell us about a specific library visitor who has been impacted by/benefitted from an FCPL program, service or resource?

A. Recently we had a family who recently immigrated to the U.S. The lady’s son was with her attempting to find a job in the local area. One of our staff members took the time to work with them to find jobs, helped them use the computer and looked over her grammar for the application. We found out that because of the help she received, she was able to find a job with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)and is also taking English classes through our free English Language Learner (ELL) programs offered at Reston. The ELL programs are one of my favorite. I have seen so many of our community members served through this program, and we are able to provide such top-notch instruction because of a dedicated and highly-skilled volunteer base.

Q. Have you had an encounter with someone from a different culture, background or orientation that has influenced you? This person may be a mentor, mentee, friend, manager, employee, patron, partner or otherwise. Has that experience altered your style of library service or your general outlook in life in any way?

A. In college I had the pleasure of working with a truly amazing person who went by T. T is a 6’5, 300 lbs. (all muscle), Haitian American who identified as being gender-fluid. Not only is T an impressive size, they also had a personality to match! T is one of the sassiest, outspoken, passionate and intelligent people I have ever met. T was one of the first people to show me that being different should be something that we celebrate both personally and as a community. T commanded respect for the person they are, but also gave the same level of respect to everyone they met and always celebrated the unique qualities that make us all different.

Q. How conscious are you of inclusiveness when providing library programming and services? Have you reached out of your comfort zone to nurture and guide library users or co-workers?

A. I love learning about all the different cultures that make up our community and I think that really shows when we are developing programming. In our meetings, the staff see me get excited about all the different programs we are planning to highlight all our communities. I like to think that excitement helps push the staff to explore and learn about all the parts of our community and find such creative ways to celebrate the local community. I lead from the front, so I am always out in the branch meeting people where they are and learning from them! Every day I get to learn new things from our staff and community members through our services and programs, it is a driving force when I think about improving services and developing new programs.

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