A library employee poses for a photo in front of a colorful wall with a mural of words.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]kilah Nosakhere remembers joking about what she called “Magnet Muncie.” Growing up here, she saw people leave the community and in time find their way home.

Nosakhere didn’t expect she’d be pulled back. After completing her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Ball State, including six weeks in Sierra Leone, Nosakhere left town for what she thought would be forever.

Forever, it seems, isn’t as long as it used to be.

In January, after being away for more than 30 years, Nosakhere, ’83 MA ’84, returned home to become the new director of the Muncie Public Library (MPL). While she considered some personal reasons — her octogenarian mother being one — the professional opportunities, including the chance to partner with her alma mater on unique projects, were too tantalizing to ignore.

Avila Nokashere places library books on a shelf.

The role of libraries has expanded over time to providing technological and community services. However, books will always be part of its mission.

“Working in a library that shares my commitment to community service was just too good to pass up,” she said. “As director of the Muncie Public Library, I think we can provide meaningful education and social programming for Muncie, while maintaining the library’s tradition as an institution devoted to reading and lifelong learning goals for all age groups.”

Nosakhere earned her bachelor’s degree in teacher education curriculum and a master’s degree in history at Ball State. She continued her education, earning her master of library science in 1987 at Atlanta University (which merged with Clark Atlanta University soon after).  She has been working in libraries of various kinds ever since. Her most recent role was director of library services at New Mexico State University, where she was also tenured faculty.

She worked at MPL in the early 1980s, but coming back, she was impressed with the number of programs it offers. Nosakhere says MPL is making a concerted effort to collaborate with other nonprofit agencies in the community to provide events and experiences for the young and old alike.

Partnerships with alma mater

Two such community projects come from immersive learning classes at Ball State. Though started by her predecessor, Virginia Nilles, Nosakhere is enthusiastic about stepping in and seeing the projects to completion.

Students and faculty from the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) are working to expand the community garden right across the street from the library’s Maring-Hunt branch to create the Community Arts Pavilion.

Spearheaded by Pam Harwood, associate professor of architecture, the project will provide an Americans with Disabilities Act-certified accessible garden, a pavilion for library programs, outdoor reading spaces and even a spot for a food truck.

“We have enjoyed working with Akilah immensely,” said Ellie Flaherty, ’17, a current architecture student working on the project. “She is an incredible advocate for the entire community and promotes a safe, productive and inclusive atmosphere. She has been receptive and encouraging throughout the entirety of the project.”

Two library employees talk as they stand in front of design blueprints.

Nosakhere works closely with Mary Lou Gentis, AA ’85 BA ’85, on the renovation of the Maring-Hunt children’s area in collaboration with Ball State architecture students.

Another project is the redesign of the first-floor youth services area in Maring-Hunt, also a partnership with CAP. Nosakhere’s eyes light up when she describes some of the ideas presented, and her vision includes comfortable seating, collaborative spaces and giving young adults their own space.

Mary Lou Gentis, AA ’85 BA ’85, is the branch manager at Maring-Hunt and has a lot to do with overseeing this project as well. When asked about Nosakhere and her work so far, she described her as very energetic, and she has enjoyed getting to know her.

“She has fresh ideas and fresh eyes,” Gentis said.

And those ideas don’t stop with the community. Nosakhere wants to celebrate the work of the library staff as well and is eager to develop opportunities for them.

“They dedicate their careers to helping others in the community with after-school programs, Whitely Connection Corner and various tech projects,” Nosakhere said. “They need and deserve nice work areas and more professional development opportunities.”

Nosakhere believes there is nothing more important in life than serving others and will dedicate the rest of her career — and beyond — to do just that. She’s not worried anymore about Muncie being magnetic. Instead, she’s celebrating a chance to serve her community and is thankful for the magic that comes from doing something she loves.

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