Vernon Joseph, known simply as Vernon J, is everywhere. If you haven’t seen him on the bus, at the library, or around town, you’ve most likely seen him on social media. He’s 124,000 tweets strong on Twitter, often tweeting from one of various Omaha Public Library (OPL) locations on making “a reservation,” a “pit stop” for books, or returning them. He has 22,000 check-ins on Foursquare, with an impressive amount of those at various OPL locations. In fact, he’s mayor of Benson and A.V. Sorensen branches. (He’s on Instagram, too.)
We’re often curious about our patrons—where they come from, what their stories are, why they love reading and the Library. We asked, and Vernon J answered.
Ten years ago, Michigan-born and raised Vernon J set out in search of broader horizons and a new journey outside the Upper Peninsula. He selected five cities at random that he hadn’t visited. “Omaha was a stop on Amtrak. I came out in September 2004 and stayed for about three weeks,” he recalled. “The people of Omaha were amazing, hospitable, and I fell in love with it.” The following month he moved here.
Since then he has led a life of library support and advocacy, and community involvement. Vernon J lives life with a “glass half full” perspective. “I grew up in foster care from age 15 and was given the opportunity to be with different and wonderful guardians. No matter what the circumstances, if there is a moment where something good can be presented in your life to make a change for a better, it is worth it. Without Clyde and Lola Woods I wouldn’t be living this life in Omaha.”
Vernon J is a loyal library patron. He lists featured speakers, meeting rooms, and access to historical and genealogy collections and resources as perks of being a library cardholder. He visits and borrows books at a delightfully high rate. How does one find time to read so much, so often? The answer is surprisingly simple. “I commute to work and other places via Metro and that is prime reading time for individuals. I was also lucky enough over the past year to have a position at work that allowed me to read during downtime.”
Reading has been an integral, if not necessary, part of his life. “Reading was something that I could always do, no matter where I am [or] what I’m doing. Reading is an adventure that you can learn and enjoy. Reading fiction lets you take an inexpensive journey that is free. [Conversely], reading non-fiction allows you to have those small tidbits of trivia you can bring out in social settings.”
Vernon J, a man with a smile always on his face, assures us that reading is essential to life. “Books are connections to people and places, and they can connect you to people in the most unlikely places.”
He also believes in giving. “JFK said it best,” he said. “‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ I like to think of what I can do at the neighborhood, Omaha, and state levels. My second parents gave their time, effort, and love, and in having a job, health, ability, and time, I am in a position to serve. Working in the nonprofit industry at The Salvation Army and Food Bank for the Heartland, I’ve seen the need in the community. Volunteering can be done by anyone [or] some can give money. Anything and everything can make our little piece of the world better.”