Volume 58, Number 2
by Connie Gilman
A quote caught my eye when I read “How the World Sees Us” in the November/December 2011 issue of American Libraries Magazine. Author Monty Joynes wrote “And here is where I most respect the high office of the librarian. Above the restrictions of budgets and the frustrations of hierarchical administrations, the librarian has the possibility of changing lives. Like great teachers, great librarians meet needful individuals at the precious moment of choice. The right book at the right time is often a nexus to individual destiny. The great librarian listens, senses the need, and has the reading experience to recommend what is crucially appropriate to that reader.” I underscored “the librarian has the possibility of changing lives” thinking what a wonderful charge this is to librarians.
I soon found myself reflecting on my past experiences as a school, public, and special librarian. How had I possibly changed the lives of students, patrons, or my clients when my services involved:
How many budding Steve Jobs do we encourage by our work?
- Building a chicken wire stegosaurus and having children make paper mache to cover the huge 6-foot-long creature. They had lots of fun shredding newspaper, mixing flour and water to the correct thickness before coating the form. Then a week later we had our young patrons painting “Steggie” so he could dry before displaying him in the children’s area. I know a lot more dinosaur books were checked out during that time period, but how many of those children were inspired to become paleontologists or other kinds of scientists?
- Answering a reference question with information that allowed a caller from California to find his siblings in Northern Virginia. He and his newfound sisters visited me at my branch when they came east for the family reunion. I know I opened up a wonderful new life of possibilities for that grateful man and his family.
- Using the Civil War as the theme to teach Missouri students library skills, each lesson centering on places and people of that long bloody war. Did I possibly awaken some life long passions for history or simply the desire to visit Civil War battlefields?
- Encouraging children to become comfortable with a personal computer back in the early 80s by developing a project where they were asked to enter their own book reviews. All of that information was then printed into booklets to be proudly shared with other students. Was it possible that I empowered someone to become a writer, or did the book reviews encourage more reading among the students? Most likely I offered them an awareness of the possibilities of using personal computers in their lives. How many budding Steve Jobs do we encourage by our work?
- Securing a grant that brought the ALA/New York Historical Society’s commemorative exhibit, Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America, to our branch. What possibilities did I provide for the many citizens who viewed the exhibit or attended the programs on different aspects of Hamilton’s life as a military leader, his relationship with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, or the impact he left on our financial system?
- Empowering staff through workshops and challenging assignments that stretched them so they could realize the possibilities that were there to be taken, seized, and used. How many of them became better researchers or programmers, enabling them to introduce worlds of possibilities to their patrons? As library managers our responsibility is not only to serve our patrons but also to motivate our colleagues, whose good work multiplies the library’s impact on our communities.
- Honoring an avid library user by working with her family to purchase a granite memorial bench for the front of the branch. A bench that provides another space for readers on beautiful days while encouraging patrons to think of other innovative ways to support their library.
- Supporting the staff in their programming ideas by providing resources so they can offer a variety of programs to demonstrate the new role of the library for all ages.
- Reviewing new journals and sending articles to the appropriate staff in the union offices, keeping them abreast of new approaches which could be of possible use. They were delighted when I was able to show them the world of research and how it could support their work interests.
- Archiving the cataloging ledgers, articles, documents, and photos in the union’s storage area, providing researchers and editors with many possibilities by accessing important materials that previously were unavailable.
So often we go about our daily routine helping people, but not giving much thought to the impact we may have on others with the information we share, the book we recommend, or the smile or kind word we offer to a child, a teen, mother in a hurry, or elderly person who lives alone. We need to remember that as librarians we help people start the story of their lives. We provide possibilities as we open up new worlds for others. We help transform people’s lives, we give people hope, we give them a future, we help create possibilities and we help people succeed.
I know I am sharing possibilities in my daily encounters, are you? VL