In her eight years running the school’s library, Overton, 40, has learned a lot about dealing with teenagers growing up in one of the poorest urban areas of the country. She is a small woman – so short that she can barely be seen behind the counter in the library. She wears her blond hair cropped short and her mouth is lined at the corners, forming what looks like a permanent smirk. Her language is casual; even strangers are often called sometimes called “dude.” But her approach to her work is serious. She reads the books that students check out the most, thin ones with big letters written for young adults and describes her favorites as “cool.” If there’s a book that Overton really likes, she talks about it without stopping for breath. And she can be critical of popular work that she feels has little value, like the vampire trend in young adult literature, which she considers just plain “boring.”
On Overton’s right wrist is a colorful tattoo that could be easily mistaken for a bracelet. The tattoo was inspired by the children’s novel “The Little Prince.” It depicts in cartoon, on one side of her wrist, what looks to be a hat. Only when she shows her palm can one see that it is actually an elephant, swallowed whole by a boa constrictor. Overton said the dual images, hidden on one side and exposed on the other, were used by a character in the book to determine whether those around him had the imagination of a child or the pragmatism of an adult.
Principal Anna Hall encouraged Overton to apply to be the school’s librarian eight years ago when Hall was still a teacher. “We stole Kelly from the public library,” said Hall. “In our very first year, she came to present at a book talk. She was working at the Mott Haven library not very far away and she was so good that I left my classroom to talk to the [then] principal and said ‘You need to hire that woman’.” The decision turned out to be critical to the future of the school.