Big changes are happening at the EPL this spring! We would like to introduce you to Will O’Hearn, our new Library Director as of March. Will comes to us from Springfield, Illinois as former director of the Lincoln Library. Will is a talented, fun-loving guy who, when not at the library, can be found watching basketball, or walking his dog with his family.
You’ve been on the job for a couple months. How’s it going?
It’s been great. People have been very kind. I’m really impressed with the community engagement. This was notable when I went through the interview process—that the community was very supportive of the library. I just love seeing all the people using the library every day.
What’s it been like to set up a new life in Eugene?
You always have an idea what a place would be like. Both the job and the community have exceeded my expectations. I’d say it’s mostly what I thought it would be; where it’s different than expectations, it’s better different. I’ve already started to feel a lot more comfortable here. I love the walkability and bikeability of the city.
What’s been fun to explore?
Around town, we really like the Party on Friendly inside the Friendly Street Market—I live down the block from there. We walk down there every weekend and really enjoy ourselves. That’s one thing about Oregon I’ve really noticed—people take time to enjoy themselves. I like to work hard, but I also like to relax hard.
I’m also really enjoying the food trucks. That’s a little bit new for me. You really have to go search them out in Illinois, where here there seems to be one on every corner. Last weekend we visited three—creole food, pizza, and Japanese ramen. I really love the food in town generally.
I feel like every meal I just had was the best meal of my life. Last weekend we went to The Davis and I had this Ahi Tuna encrusted with sesame—kind of a new thing for me. I lived in California once but now that I’m older I can really appreciate the seafood quality here. I’ve gone to Fisherman’s Market and Fisherman’s Grotto, which are both great.
Turning a bit to your new role. The EPL has over 100,000 cardholders who check out three million items each year, a $14 million annual budget and 105 full-time equivalent employees. Do you have a guiding philosophy in how you prioritize stewardship of the many services and resources of the organization?
I think of the community—any community—as a puzzle where there’s always a few pieces missing. I see the Library’s mission to fill in those missing pieces. For some communities that might be ESL, in others it’s helping people getting their GED, or a billion different things. Our role is to figure out that. One of the library’s best resources is the facility itself. That’s very meaningful to me. I’m looking at what kinds of new things we can do—delivering more for less; I know that it’s kind of cliché but it’s true. Every library is part is a unique community and I’m still trying to get a real handle on that.
I’m thinking of a recent comment made by author Ta-Nehisi Coates who recalled that, growing up, “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”
Most libraries do a good job in breadth … if you were trapped in the library for the rest of your life I don’t think you could utilize all the resources it contains or read all the books it holds. There’s something really beautiful about that, there’s something more to learn and discover. Where in a classroom, people might feel limited by topics they’re looking at, libraries have no boundaries—really the only boundaries are the ones you set. Being that place—that we serve a community from 0–100 and beyond, that’s a very special thing that I don’t overlook.
Being trapped in a library…that reminds me of a new film, The Public. Did you see it? Its take on the social justice mission of the library seems very timely.
I had a ticket and planned to see it last month but an unexpected family issue arose and I couldn’t make it to the Broadway Metro Cinema. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the movie though. There are many people thinking about resources for the unsheltered, and I’ve heard the movie does a good job of being true to the profession of librarian—and not being too “Hollywood”—while still appealing to a general audience.
You’ve come to Eugene from the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois, and when we met at the Foundation’s After Hours event in early April, you shared a humorous story about how it was often confused with the Presidential Library. Can you recount that briefly again for our readers?
Sure! People would come into the Springfield Public Library all the time with cameras and they’d look around kind of confused. Then, almost before they’d even ask, we’d say, “Four blocks north and one block west.” They were of course looking for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. But it was always really nice to get people who were just visiting the city stop by our library as tourists! We’d also get important Lincoln historical papers delivered to us sometimes—addressed to the wrong library, so we’d pass those on to the Presidential library of course. There was even a town called Lincoln north of Springfield…it was really funny.
That’s a perfect segue to my next question. I noticed an unusual credential on your LinkedIn page which leads me to ask you: What’s the role of humor in the workplace?
For better or worse, one of the most important characteristics of leadership is having a sense of humor, not taking yourself too seriously, having a bit of humility about the situation. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s important to approach things with a sense of humor even as you take your work very seriously. It’s called work for a reason, of course, but humor is very important. I even took a class called “Humor in the Workplace” once. It probably made the employees kind of mad because I went around making a lot of jokes afterwards. But I’ve thought about the things humor gives you. Improv comedy, for instance, can teach you a lot about saying “Yes and…” as well as staying in the moment. I saw a great comedy show at Sam Bond’s when I first moved here, and really enjoyed seeing the community engage with that. This conversation is inspiring me to maybe consider doing some sketch comedy.
I’d like to turn to some of your influences. What’s one thing from your past that brought you to where you are today?
My mom is an avid book reader; she’d read 3–5 books a week. Sometimes she’d even read one a day! Growing up, we used to go to the library every Friday afternoon, followed by a trip to the mall, where I played the arcade games like NBA Jam. And I was always trying to rush through the library part to get to the mall! But when I got to the weekend, sure enough I’d spend all of my time looking through the books. I looked at “stats” books and knew every player in the NBA and that’s what opened me up to loving basketball. That’s what is so great: you can find yourself in the library—it’s always giving people opportunities to figure out who they are. Low opportunity cost; high reward.
What books are on your bedside table?
Too many. But the ones that I’m actually reading are The Trust Factor and The Power Paradox, professional development books. I did just finish a book which was fascinating. So we closed on our house [in Eugene] on a Friday night, and the next morning I was at the library getting my library card. I was doing some browsing and came across Japanese Zen poetry because I particularly like Asian poetry. But serendipitously—because of the Dewey Decimal system—next to that was an entry on the History of Japanese Death Poetry called Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death. Well, this really caught my eye. I’ve now learned that it’s pretty traditional in Japanese culture to write a poem before you pass away, like a haiku. It was so insightful to see what people wrote. I mean, you can only write one. (Well, some people thought they were dying but they actually weren’t so they wrote two!) Anyway, this led me to want to read more about death rituals in other cultures. So now I’m transfixed about something else. I’m always finding new things that I’m interested in—anyone can—at the library.
Sara Tripodi, Library Assistant Level 4
Sara Tripodi has filled many roles at EPL over the years. Currently, as a Library Assistant 4, her primary duty is as the chief scheduler for the twenty staff in Adult Services. She’s an invaluable asset to her coworkers and to library patrons, some of whom she has known for a quarter century. She has also been a key player in the Maker Hub as well as the Maker Van program which brings maker equipment to community events and to folks without easy library access.
What inspired you to begin working in libraries?
I can’t remember a time when libraries weren’t a part of my life. When I was a kid back in the ‘70s in California, the bookmobile stopped right across the street from my house. For my sisters and me, this was heaven! Of the many branch libraries in the area, our favorite was the Santa Maria Library because you could check out framed prints to take home – Degas, Renoir, etc. That library was 18 miles away AND in another county, but it didn’t matter because our cards were good at all the public libraries in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. When I moved to Eugene in 1991, I walked into the old library on 13th Avenue and asked where the branches were. I was told, “We don’t have any!” Happily, in the last 25 years we have added Bethel and Sheldon. Maybe in the next 25 we will add a couple more.
What path did you take to get to your current role at EPL?
I didn’t actually think of libraries as a place to work until later in my life. I went off to college expecting to do something else, but ultimately dropped out and spent a semester in London. While there, I spent time at a little library run by nuns, which was where I first started thinking about libraries as a place to work.
My first library job was in 1989 at a community college library, filing card catalog cards and cuing up VHS and Betamax tapes for the viewing stations. As a student at the UO, I worked at the Knight Library in Current Periodicals – a section that doesn’t exist anymore. In my spare time I volunteered at the Eugene Public Library, shelf reading in the 641s. In 1993, I was hired at EPL as a Reference Assistant in the Periodicals section (also now defunct). I’ve been the chief scheduler in Adult Services for a number of years. At this point, there are only a handful of people who have been here longer than me!
You’ve played an important role in keeping EPL’s Maker Hub running smoothly. How did you get involved?
I wasn’t involved with the original inception or planning. I was brought in because they needed someone to help unpack and organize all of the hundreds of boxes of things. Also, I have a pretty good relationship with machines, so they thought my skills might come in handy. We have a great crew of folks on the Maker Team (not to mention many amazing volunteers!) and everyone pitches in to keep this complex and rewarding enterprise going.
I have functioned as a sort of specialist of the Maker Hub – restocking filament, unjamming button makers, regluing Little Bits, cutting scraps of fabric for the embroidery machine, cleaning goo off the steam iron, vacuuming up messes. If the sewing machine isn’t working, you can call me, I’ll fix it.
Do you have any favorite projects you’ve seen come out of the Maker Hub?
It’s always interesting to see what people come up with during our popular Restyle & Repurpose T-Shirts program (figure 1). Twice I helped teach the Line Following Robot class (figure 2). This is not something that I ever thought I’d be doing at work. It has certainly stretched my brain!
Personally, I’m proud of the handled sandbags that I sewed as weights for the tripods that hold up the green screen. We were headed for the Booked for the Evening event, and it was essential that the screen not topple over onto our donors. I used a commercially available design to make six sandbags that kept the green screen safe and stable.
Is there anything you wish more people knew about the Maker Hub?
People don’t know about–or don’t know how to take advantage of–the electronics, programming and game development resources that we have – the Arduinos, Raspberry Pi’s, Bloxels and Pico 8. Few people come in to tinker around with these. We need to do a better job of guiding people in that direction.
I understand you drive the Maker Van. What has been your favorite part of being involved with that program?
I love bringing maker equipment and projects to senior citizens. The 3D printer is always a hit. The embroidery machine is also a source of many oohs and aahs. Once we brought the green screen to Olive Plaza, and a man brought in his coat so he could take his photo “on Everest.”
At several locations, we have made Light-Up Cards (figure 3). You draw a picture on a piece of paper, fold it into a card and add a circuit made of copper tape, a battery and a strategically placed LED. The project in figure 4 is Gyotaku fish prints. The fact that we can bring these experiences to people who are reluctant to–or can’t–visit the library is great. (Figure 3)
What’s your vision for the EPL Maker Hub in the next five years?
I would love to see increased hours for the Open Labs. I would love to be able to circulate some of the equipment so that people can create things at home. I would love to have more space!
What books are on your bedside table right now?
I’ve found the perfect book to fall asleep with: Field Guide to Insects of North America. It’s really well written; you can turn to any page, read a captivating snippet and marvel at the awesome diversity of life.
Also on my nightstand I have Lonely Planet Amsterdam, since I’m planning a trip to that city. Have I already scoped out the central library? You bet. It appears that they have free secure underground bicycle parking and … a maker space.
Lynda Simons, Assistant Circulation Manager
I came to Oregon from Colorado, where I was born and raised. I began at Columbine Public Library in 1986 where I started out as a substitute in the branches. I kind of fell into libraries since I could schedule work around my children’s school hours. As they got older, I eventually applied for a regular position, Circulation Assistant, there.
I began working at the [old] Eugene Public Library on Nov 10, 2002 – about two weeks before we closed at 13th and Olive. There was no reason to settle in and I had to hit the ground running. I was hired as the Assistant Circulation Manager to support staff that were on the front lines registering patrons, checking out materials, and helping with oversight with the machines in the back.
What was your first impression of the library at such a pivotal moment in its history?
The thing that struck with me most was the incredible support I got from the library assistants and how everyone pulled together as a team.
One of my first duties was unpacking boxes and getting the books back on the shelf after the move. I remember how we moved the physical collection – loaded the collection on carts and trucked them over. I think the library closed around Thanksgiving and reopened the day after Christmas. We had three weeks to get everything on the shelves, plus learn how to work with a brand-new sorting machine.
Is the sorting machine noisy?
When we first moved into the new library, the machine ran by air, with lots and lots of moving parts, and lots of noise—you’d get to the point where you had to just block it out. Over the years, we’ve done upgrades and the machine is now electric; we don’t have all the moving parts, so you don’t hear much of anything unless something goes wrong.
When did you realize that the new library would be a game changer for the community?
When we took a tour. We walked into the workroom and it seemed like it was as big as the old library.
Also knowing that the collection was going to triple, if not quadruple. The collection had to be large enough to fill so much space—large print, children’s center, audio, etc. Those collections were at the old library but they were so small there. The library had purchased the materials beforehand to have them ready and on the shelf when we opened in our new building.
What do you remember most about the first day that the new library opened?
That was a sight to behold – 10,000 people coming through the doors.
Walk us through what happens after we return an item.
Say a book comes in from the alley [return slot]. From there it goes up a very steep incline on a long conveyor belt and travels across our work area and then comes down another incline and merges onto a belt where the other drops [from inside the library] are also coming in. It gets checked in automatically (there’s an id tag that identifies what collection it belongs to – fiction, non-fiction, children’s collection, audio, etc.). It will travel down some more, and get offloaded into a bin. There, staff will pick it up and fine sort it (put it in order) by spine label (i.e., author or title order depending on collection). We also have volunteers who shelf read the collection to make sure it stays in order.
People are amazed at how fine-tuned machine circulation is. If they’re curious, they can come take a tour of the library and see for themselves!
Please explain the role of circulation staff in our library?
When I look at circulation I see the heart and soul of any library; it’s almost like the blood in our arteries. There is never a time in circulation when something or someone isn’t moving. Circulation is the lifeblood of the building. We touch every floor of the building. To work with a staff that is so committed and wants to do the best for their community makes it very easy to work here.
Sometimes it helps to describe what we do by the numbers. These really shine a light on the incredible circulation staff and the number of items they’re dealing with on a daily basis:
October 1-24, 2018
Total holds processed: 19,318
Average holds per day: 804
Highest day holds: 1409
Total items checked in: 107,840
Items checked in per hour: 194
Highest daily total check in: 5744
What do you wish more patrons knew about the collection?
There are some phenomenal art books that often get overlooked. (They’re on the bottom shelves because they’re so heavy.)
What would a patron be surprised to learn about how items circulate?
The work behind the scenes in getting the collection back out on the shelves is all done by staff. That, and our turnaround time. The volume of materials that come in (feeding in from three sites) is enormous but most items are back on the shelf the same day they come in. The only exceptions to this are when the school year winds down, or after the summer (we get lots of audio books checked out over summer). We’ll see an uptick before Christmas, too; parents don’t want checked out items getting mixed up with wrapping.
Do you look differently at library books now, knowing the journey each makes?
I still see a book as a book but what has changed is knowing that it has had a life of its own before it gets to me to read. You just know how much they travel. We have some books that have circulated 500-600 times – a lot of their lifespan depends on how well they’re made.
What’s it like to see a book come back in a different condition than the one in which it went out?
Depending on time of year we see a lot of books with water damage. It’s difficult to see those coming in—you know most likely that the book won’t be circulated again. If mold starts in a book and you don’t catch it, it can affect every book around it. That being said, I’ll usually look at a damaged book and feel that it wasn’t the patron’s intent to harm it.
I must say that our patrons are very good about bringing a damaged item to the desk whether they’ve damaged it themselves or noticed damage after bringing it home.
What do most people not know about circulation?
A lot of people don’t understand that every single book that gets checked out is touched by a staff member when it comes back in. I also don’t think a lot of people understand how talented all of the library staff are, and the circulation staff in particular. They don’t just put books back on the shelf. They’re people with a wide range of interests and talents (for example, we have a licensed vet and a published author among us) who have chosen to work in a library because they have this love and passion for what a library means.
How would you describe your experience working at the library these past 16 years?
In Eugene, the commitment to the library is like nothing I’ve ever seen. How involved the community is…that we have so many volumes, staff who care so much, levy after levy that is supported, everything. The community really owns the library and has a lot of pride in it and you can see that in the people who come through the doors. We are able to serve so many—people in transition, kids, teens, adults; so many community members use our resources…that’s been a real eye-opener.
The library is lucky to have you but I understand you may be circulating soon yourself.
I’m shooting for March 2019 retirement. My daughter is here, with her daughter. My son lives in Colorado, with 5 children. I’m a very fortunate Nana.
In March 2018, following Connie Bennett’s retirement, Mia Cariaga was named Interim Library Services Director (a 9-12 month appointment). A national search will soon be underway to identify the next director. In the meantime, EPLF wanted to get to know our interim director a bit more.
Are you a native Oregonian?
I am – I grew up in Klamath Falls and moved to Eugene in 1994 to go to the University of Oregon. I studied history there, met my husband, and never left!
You’ve been working as the Division Manager for the City Manager’s office for the last four years, with many years of prior experience with the city – public works, engineering, and finance to name just a few. How does your role differ from these previous positions?
With the library, it’s about working with the people who come to you, even though there are obviously people here who do outreach as well. The primary difference is that when I worked in the capacity of the City Manager’s office, the work was policy related, whereas this is more person-to-person interaction. We’re really delivering quality of life services – literacy is one of those basic needs, of course, but in addition we offer so many cool opportunities for people to take classes, try new technologies, etc. In my current role, I feel such community support for the library in ways I never understood or saw before. There’s a lot of community appreciation for what we do — lots of younger kids, older kids, older adults. Until I came here, I didn’t fully understand how many services we provide. For example, over and above the changes on the first floor, the Teen Center is amazing; so many students come to the library to take advantage of our programs, meet friends, and learn. I also had no idea that “Book a Librarian” was a thing.
How does your experience with city government translate into your work with the Library?
I believe strongly that the city’s organization shapes Eugene. I have a strong understanding of our community values–bringing services that people of this community want and need. I believe we have influence and can help people and represent sections of the communities in ways that not everybody can. I will do anything that the city organization needs, and ultimately the community. I’ve never been in this work for myself – it’s always been about public service.
Did you always know you wanted to work for the city?
It’s funny because my first job with the city was actually watering trees! It was a summer job during college…not very glamorous but it sure gave me lot of exposure to customer service! Everyone comes up to talk to you! People asked me all kinds of things, from “Why did the Mayor vote on this?” to “Where do I get my permit for this?” After graduation, I considered law school, worked for a non-profit for a bit, and eventually ended up working for the city again. Over the years, I worked in the divisions of public works and engineering, intergovernmental relations, sustainability, human rights and neighborhood involvement, spay and neuter, community engagement/communications and Mayor and City Council support. I eventually became Assistant Finance Director, managing the city’s budget, and for the last four years I’ve worked in the City Manager’s office. I’ve always done a lot of policy work – I love policy work!
What’s a day-in-the-life look like for the Interim Library Services Director?
I spend a lot of time supporting staff and connecting them to larger organizational values and also helping them understand community values. So much goes on in the library, and I don’t think it has always been as connected to the city organizations or departments as it could have been. It’s important because the library could offer so much to the city! For example, the research our reference librarians do could help people doing policy work, or developing new programs. The librarians are superheroes—and this is true of everyone in library – there are so many smart, talented people working here who are so kind and inclusive and really meet people where they’re at. They really can do anything…they’re just awesome. So, part of it is wanting the community to understand that, and the city to know that as well. That is something I will be working on for the next several months.
What do you like best about the job?
The people. The staff are super in touch with the profession. I really do think the world of them. They’re really in tune with the community, and bring really strong educational backgrounds…pretty much everyone in the system has a Masters in Library Science. And again, the customer service is phenomenal – their values of equity and inclusion are evident in every interaction. The library is killing it. Plus, I love working with Renee Grube, Executive Director of Library Recreation and Cultural Services.
What’s the view from your office?
St. Mary’s Church – it’s really beautiful.
We’d love to know more about you personally, anything in particular you’d like to share?
I’m a people person. I love talking to people, meeting people, that’s really what gives me energy. I think that my son [Gino, 9, a student at Charlemagne] has picked that up from me. He has a curiosity about people. My family is everything to me.
What books do you read with your son?
We just finished Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – that was really fun. We read the entire Wimpy Kid series. Our favorite book was Roller Girl, a 2018-19 OBOB book, written by Victoria Jamieson. Gino read it himself first and then we read it together. Its messages about friendship and accepting yourself are great!
You have a unique first name…
My first name is Italian and last name is Filipino. My Mom is Italian and my Dad was Filipino.
So if you had to make a choice between pasta al pomodoro or chicken adobo?
Have you been to Italy?
Several times, including to Lucca [in Tuscany] where my grandfather was from. My favorite city is Venice though. I love it: water and no cars.
Do you have a favorite place to hang out in Eugene?
What are the books on your bedside table?
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and my most recent book was The Blind Spot, which dealt with implicit bias.
Any final thoughts?
I believe the library is trying to find its connection to downtown. As downtown changes, we have a responsibility to understand where we contribute to that—especially at the corner at 10th and Olive. We’re definitely connected to the larger, citywide efforts to see what downtown needs. The city is already making sure people feel safe downtown and creating spaces to facilitate that. EUGfun is a big part of that – a series of concerts, dodgeball tournaments, people coming downtown for positive activity. We had 800 people in the library on May 4 (May the Fourth Be With You Day), which was great!
The library has been awesome. Prior to working here, my son described my job as “going to meetings” and now he has a lot more pride in what I do—because it’s relatable. He’s actually excited to come to the office with me on the weekend!
Keith Brown, Library Assistant
Keith Brown has been a Library Assistant at the Eugene Public Library since 2006. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Keith came to the University of Oregon to pursue a degree in aquatic veterinary medicine. He has lived in Eugene since 1996. We were delighted to catch up with Keith recently and discuss his life and interests.
Can you tell us about your growing up, schooling, and how you got to be where you are now?
I lived in the same house all my life (my grandmother lived next door to us for much of that time) until I moved to Oregon. I grew up with both parents in the home and 5 other siblings, one of whom is my twin brother. My secondary education was completed at San Pedro Senior High School as a student in the Magnet program focusing on Marine Biology. Having a love of animals, I wanted my college education to focus on freshwater smaller fish as they were under-served by medical science.
During my time at the university, I met Nichole and decided that starting a family was more important to me than continuing my educational goals. We were married in 2000, and in June 2002 I graduated with a BS in General Science (emphasis: Chemistry and Biology) with a minor in Business Administration. Our first child was born in July and the library moved to its current location in December. Nichole and I decided that we wanted our son to have a stay-at-home-parent, so between 2003 and 2006, I focused on raising our son and periodically working part-time night jobs while Nichole worked for DHS as a social worker. Nichole and I will celebrate 18 years in August and we’re raising two boys ages 15 and 12.
How did libraries and/or books affect your childhood years?
My earliest memories of reading were the Little Golden Books that my parents purchased for us. Later on, I read adventure stories. My favorites included My Side of the Mountain (I still have my original copy though the front cover is missing and it’s on loan to a nephew), Where the Red Fern Grows, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I was blessed growing up in Los Angeles where there was both a City and County library system, and we had access to California State University’s library where my mother was pursuing her degree. Now, I’m a serial hobbyist, so I’m always researching for one project or another.
What is your best memory of your time working in the Eugene Public Library?
EPL has been a part of many of the major milestones in my adult life. I turned 21, lost my father, graduated college, got married, and my first child was born while employed here. Many of my coworkers celebrated or endured with me during those times. Coworkers became friends and we spend time together outside of work.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
So many things! Going to church; fly fishing; fly tying; fishing in general; lure making; singing; playing keyboards; teaching myself acoustic and electric guitar and bass; watching my sons play their favorite sports including basketball, soccer, ultimate Frisbee, and running track. I’ve been an exhibition fly tyer and a vendor at several shows in Oregon and Washington, and I have French and American tinsels for fly tying that date back to the early 1900s. The list could go on and on.
What do you see as the importance of libraries in today’s world?
Eugene Public Library’s mission statement sums it up: The…Library supports an informed community, lifelong learning and the love of reading by providing access…to the universe of ideas and information.
Jay Cooper, Library Assistant
Jay Cooper has been a library assistant at the Eugene Public Library for 15 years. He calls it his “dream job.” We sat down with Jay recently to find out more about this friendly and familiar face in the children’s section of the library.
Can you tell us something about where you grew up? Was there a library and did you access it as a child?
I grew up in the country outside of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Although my father was a nuclear reactor engineer, we were surrounded by farmers and ranchers. It was a very rural existence. My elementary school had horse stables and an outhouse. We often visited the library in town, and I made use of school libraries too. I have always been an avid reader, even winning a silver dollar in a fourth-grade reading contest.
When and how did you know that you wanted to be a children’s librarian?
I came late to library work. I was a respiratory therapist for the first 20 years of my professional life. When my family relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1997, I took the opportunity to try something new. I noticed a help wanted sign in the window of a branch library, so I walked in and applied. I got the job, and have been with libraries ever since, first for four years at Swanson Branch Library in Omaha, then with Youth Services at Eugene Public Library.
What is your favorite part of your job?
While I enjoy every aspect of library work, my favorite part of the job is dealing with children, either one-on-one at the service desk, or in programs I host. It’s all about the kids. In a typical day I work the service desk for 3 or 4 hours, interacting with patrons of all ages. I help with reader’s advice and field informational questions of all kinds. I love chatting with patrons. Many of the kids and their parents are frequent library visitors and well known to me. I’ve been here long enough to have seen a generation of kids grow to adulthood. Behind the scenes I help support Youth Services technical hardware and software, tend to damaged materials, and assist librarians with maintaining the collections. I specialize in juvenile nonfiction and produce a Nonfiction Great Reads booklist.
I also host various children’s programs. An exciting new program I’m hosting is Minecraft Monday, when kids use the Children’s Center internet computers to play for an hour in a special Minecraft world created just for this program. Kids work on cooperative builds and are issued challenges each week. It is gratifying to see real world bonds form among kids engrossed in a digital world. I hosted Baby Storytime downtown for about 10 years. This is a program designed primarily to inform parents on how to select books and materials for the very youngest children, in order to introduce them to the world of literacy at the earliest possible age. The 10 years I spent doing this program are the most rewarding years of my career.
What is your favorite moment or memory in your work as a children’s librarian?
My favorite moment at EPL was the time I blew a girl’s mind by speaking to her in Chinese.
I studied Chinese for years in college, including a semester in Beijing, and can still speak passable Mandarin. A six-year-old girl was sitting with her parents at our crafting table putting together a paper bag reindeer for a holiday display. I was acquainted with her parents, recent immigrants from China, and I knew the girl was perfectly bilingual. I picked up her reindeer and said in Chinese, “Wow, that’s really great! What is it? What is this thing?” She looked at me, clearly confused, and mouthed the words “I don’t know” in Chinese. I continued on with, “You don’t know? I don’t know what it is either, but I like it!” I handed it back to her, and as I was walking away she exclaimed to her mother (in Chinese) with great excitement, “Mommy! Mommy! He’s American and he was speaking Chinese!” It occurred to me that she had not only never heard an American speak Chinese, it had probably never occurred to her that an American could speak Chinese. I was happy all day thinking I might have expanded her horizons a bit. Lifelong learning at your public library!
Can you address the importance of libraries for children in this time?
Libraries have always been a place for quiet immersion in a good book. That will never change, and a high percentage of our young patrons still love books and consume them prodigiously. But a new exciting trend in libraries is to circulate nontraditional items, such as our cultural passes, telescopes, learning kits, and ukuleles. (We don’t actually circulate ukuleles yet, but I’m working on it.) Another exciting happening is our Maker Hub on the third floor. Here patrons can access hardware and software that might be too expensive or impractical for home use, such as recording software and musical instruments, sewing machines, button makers and such. Libraries will always have books, but the library of the future will be much more than just books. They will be centers of community creative experience. It’s a great time to be a librarian.
Connie Bennett, Library Services Director
Connie Bennett has spent her life connecting people to information. Her journey has come full circle, starting with early memories of living in University of Oregon married student housing, where her father completed his Ph.D. in physics; to Washington State, Africa, California, Texas, Costa Rica, Colorado, and finally “home” again as Director of the Eugene Public Library.
Her family moved from Eugene to Walla Walla when she was starting elementary school. She vividly remembers the sleepy town in the days before the vineyards, and the scent of stinky pea pods headed to the Birds Eye Foods cannery. How green it was, she says, an oasis in dry eastern Washington. And, it’s possible the first inklings of her a future career were sown in sixth grade, when she was appointed class librarian.
When Connie was in her early teens, her dad accepted a position with a UNESCO team sent to train secondary science teachers in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. So instead of eighth grade in the States, Connie donned a school uniform and joined Form 3 at the Queen Elizabeth School for Girls.
Unrest, apartheid, and a UN embargo ended her father’s job in Rhodesia about a year later. The family moved to Zambia, where her father worked at the country’s newly established University. Connie took her O level exams, and about six months before her father’s contract ended, started classes at the University of Zambia. She was 15, and one of six white students in a class of 300.
Next stop was Ellensburg, Washington, where Connie transferred, at 16, to Central Washington University. She started out as a chemistry major with a math minor, and ended up a philosophy major with double minors in math and theater. She wrote theses on the UN and modern politics, on continental drift, and she wrote her first play.
Connie describes herself as shy when she was young, not interested in following the family tradition of careers in medicine and teaching. For a lifelong reader who used to haunt the stacks at the USO libraries in Africa, working in a library sounded about right.
She completed post-graduate studies in library science at the University of Washington, and was awarded a year-long internship at the UCLA biomedical library where she trained in all of the library’s departments. The experience was transformative. She was exposed to the new and rapidly growing field of library technology, and learned how all parts of a library services are interconnected.
The next few years brought a cascade of changes: a job at Texas Medical Center in Houston, a job at the University of Washington Health Sciences, marriage, two daughters, a move back to Ellensburg where her husband was Department Chair at Central Washington. When her husband received a Fulbright to study in Costa Rica, they packed up their girls and moved to San Jose for a year, where Connie worked at the Biblioteca Mark Twain in the bi-national cultural center.
When the family returned to Ellensburg, Connie became Children’s librarian at the local public library. Three years later, she was offered a position at Mesa County Library District in Grand Junction, Colorado. Her husband agreed to retire early so she could accept. Her career continued its upward trajectory when she became Director of the Silver Falls Library District in Silverton, Oregon, and oversaw the building of their new library. She was also active in the Oregon Library Association and was running for president (she won) when she learned of an opening for the Directorship in Eugene.
At the time, the Eugene library was in transition. Construction had just begun on the new building. Director Carol Hildebrand was overseeing building and fundraising and an interim supervisor was running day-to-day operations. Connie applied and was offered the job.
Directors who come to the Eugene Public Library tend to stay. In fact, in its 113-year history there have only been six directors, Connie being the sixth. Her earlier positions were about five years each. She’s been here for sixteen, and counting.
She appreciates the full circle of her life, from her years in Edison kindergarten to Eugene again. She remembers visiting the “new” library on 13th Street as a child, amazed at the sunlight streaming through the windows in the children’s section. (Carnegie libraries usually located kids in the basement.) She was a real bookworm as a child, and fondly remembers a few of her favorite childhood books, Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away series, the color books of fairy tales, classics such as Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
Connie continues to feed her lifelong passion for literature. She reads “whatever my book group tells me to,” reviews books by Northwest authors for KLCC, enjoys “comfort” books like The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, loves mysteries, fantasy, teen literature, poetry. She’s a playwright, and has taught classes to WordCrafters students. She helped found and co-produces the Northwest Festival of Ten Minute Plays, with performances at the Oregon Contemporary Theater, an event now in its 10th year.
Her favorite thing about the library? “Anyone can come with whatever need they have. We try to meet that need, be it to help sell a house, start a business, help with child rearing, learn tech support tips, talk about dying, or even to get a book recommendation.” People who come to the library, she says, are not a captive audience. They come because they want to be there, and many because they love the library as much as she does.
We’re fortunate, she says, that we live in a community where most people believe in and support libraries and literacy. Still, it takes constant advocacy and an informed electorate to keep libraries strong and vibrant. She finds herself working to strengthen connections, and thinking about ways to encourage radical kindness. When we act out of disconnection and fear, she says, we are in trouble. It is critical that people know, believe, and trust the library is a safe place to explore ideas, without fear of people looking over their shoulder.
The national debate about privacy has touched the library. Every 3-4 years Connie is asked to release records to law enforcement. Usually these requests require a court order, and she takes full protection of the law. She remembers an instance when city police wanted information on a person whose library card was found at crime scene. She said no, and ended up meeting with the chief of police and city manager, hoping to avoid a court scene. In the end, the information she could legally release — the age of the card holder — was enough to prove the cardholder wasn’t the person they were interested in.
Connie is deeply grateful for the support of the community, and especially the library Foundation, which makes it possible for so many to get the information they need, connect locally and with people in distant places, try new skills, learn, and play. For a deeper perspective on the library’s offerings and the Foundation’s impact, she encourages donors to take advantage of behind-the-scenes tours. (Contact Monica Wilton for more information on tours!)
Traci Glass, Teen Services Librarian
Traci Glass comes from a family of librarians and “big readers”. Her mother and sister were school librarians, and Traci remembers storytimes from her local childhood libraries in both Oklahoma and Mesa, Arizona. Glass notes, “Mesa Public Library had a huge teen space even in the 1990s, which was unheard of back then. I spent a lot of time there.”
Having achieved a Masters in Information Resources and Library Science from the University of Arizona, she has spent over 20 years in library services at the Mesa Public Library, Southeast Regional Library, and here in Eugene.
Glass is also active in the Young Adult Library Services (YALSA), part of the American Library Association, and this year she is reading almost 500 young adult books as a judge for the Michael L. Printz Award: “I’ve been on award committees for four years. I even get up early to read… All I do is read!”
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King, stands out as a favorite across the years, and Young Adult fiction has boomed as a genre in the last decade. Glass remembers, “When I was younger I read everything from Sweet Valley High to Jane Austen to Sylvia Plath” she says, but the teen section is now full of more young adult titles, which many adults enjoy too.
When asked what a ‘day in the life’ looks like, Glass mentions myriad responsibilities from developing the teen collections and book lists; creating library web pages for teens; providing reference and research help; running craft clubs, book groups and volunteering programs; to forming special relationships with young library patrons.
Indeed, as the Foundation’s Booked for the Evening event ramps up to support services for teens this year, Glass reflects on our library’s central role for teens in the community. In addition to services like homework and tutoring help, “we also have a lot of unintended impact. They trust me, so I’m also part-counselor, part-friend.”
Public support for teen services is high, and funds raised through Booked for the Evening are set to make a huge difference to the teen space, as well as its services. “I’d love to make it somewhere teens can congregate and share books, film and music – a space just for them.”
Glass describes the teen center as a crucial safe space for many teens in the community: “So many teens feel like they’re only noticed when they do something wrong. It’s nice to be an adult in their lives where they feel they can be open – they won’t get in trouble or be looked down on.” Resources like Brainfuse Live Homework Help also let teens contact librarians with queries from home.
What is Traci’s favorite part of the work? “Connecting teens with books that will change their lives – and proving both resources and an escape from all the things they have to deal with.” Glass notes that books are a natural stimulus for talking about the toughest issues, and is grateful for the library and Foundation’s support in “working together to provide this sense of community for our teens.”
Thank you, Traci and colleagues, for all your service to the library!
Nancy Horner, Adult Services Manager
This year Nancy Horner celebrates her 10th year as the Adult Services Manager, where she
oversees personnel, programming, and budgets. She’s one of the silent hands guiding book
acquisitions as well as the other collections the library offers, including audio books, DVDs, Blu-
ray, electronic, and online resources—for the main library and the branch libraries. She also
helped lead the development of the library’s new Maker Hub, where patrons have access to
craft supplies, tools, electronic and sound recording equipment, and a 3-D printer.
Horner comes from a military family, and grew up in California, Washington, Texas, and Germany before moving to Oregon at 17 for college. She earned her Master’s degree in Library Science and a teaching certificates in English and Psychology. In addition to her work with libraries, she put her degrees to good use teaching in-person and online community college classes in Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, and History of Western Civilization.
Horner received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which allowed her to spend a summer in London studying Virginia Woolf. The following year she presented a paper to the International Virginia Woolf Society Conference, held that summer in Wales, and enjoyed travels to see the Book of Kells, and to search for Nessie on Loch Ness.
Libraries have been central to Horner’s career. She started out as children’s librarian in a small
public library, and as a cataloger in a public library, and worked her way up to a school librarian,
to head of 25 libraries in Lawrence, Kansas, and fortunately for us, to her current role at
the Eugene Public Library. Nancy’s many interests have included dance and acting. She’s won
awards in archery, obtained a black belt in karate (long out of practice, or so she says), and enjoys painting and writing.
Her favorite undertaking this year at the Eugene Library: hands down, the Big Read, centered
on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The library, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Midwest Arts, and support from the Eugene Public Library Foundation, partnered with the Springfield Public Library, Oregon Contemporary Theatre, Eugene School District 4-J, Bethel School District, Springfield Public Schools, Bijou Art Cinemas, Radio Redux, and Friends of Eugene Public Library to host a rich array of performances, concerts, films and lectures. At least 30 book groups participated. “This year’s Big Read was exceptionally popular,” she says.
Among the biggest challenges Horner foresees for the library is maintaining support at a time
when more people than ever need it. She describes libraries as scaffolding supporting growth
and creativity. “We welcome everyone, try to connect them with resources they need to be
healthy, productive, happy, safe. We take away barriers. No one is excluded. We preserve and
make available records of thousands of years of human achievement, science, art. We protect
the past and help build for the future.”
Many thanks to Nancy and the dedicated staff that make our library a community treasure.
Scott Herron, Adult Services Librarian
Say you want to start a business or nonprofit, find a job, evaluate local business opportunities, do research on social media for businesses, or a score of other related pursuits. You turn to the Eugene Public Library for help. Chances are you have had the pleasure of meeting Scott Herron, the Adult Services Librarian.
I fell in love with the profession.
Scott grew up in Bellflower, California, a suburb outside of Los Angeles. When he chose a college, Scott was attracted to the opposite of urban sprawl—the University of Oregon. As a work-study student at the Knight Library, Scott observed first-hand how libraries enhance learning. After graduation, he pursued a master’s degree in Library and Information Science and worked as a librarian in Kentucky. Then a position opened up at the Eugene Public Library, and Scott jumped at the chance. For the past 19 years, Scott has served the Eugene public in a job he loves—being a librarian.
I like helping people find jobs.
Scott tells the story of Anthony, a library patron who recently came to the library interested in starting an Italian restaurant. But he had no idea of how to begin. With the help of Scott and library staff, Anthony is learning to evaluate risk and go through a process that will help his business succeed.
I am not an island.
Scott is quick to acknowledge the collaboration that enables him to do his job, starting with the exceptional adult services team with which he works. He thanks the Eugene Public Library Foundation for keeping our library “humming with innovation, community spirit, and endless lifelong learning opportunities.”
Scott enjoys spending time with his wife and his Labrador retriever. He is a private pilot of single-engine planes. He has been playing the banjo for about 30 years and enjoys jamming bluegrass-style with the old-timers, which, he notes with a smile, “I am quickly becoming one of.”
Thank you for your important work, Scott. Eugene is lucky to have you!