Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Barbara Wheeler Farewell Interview, Part 1

When I heard that Barbara Wheeler, longtime director of Watertown's Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, was retiring (and moving away!), I think my initial reaction was to throw my pen and deny I'd heard the announcement.  My experience as an intern at Flower Library was what cemented my decision to go back to school and get my MLS, and Barbara has always been a great support and mentor. I didn't want to believe she was going.

However, I'm really bad at denial, so quickly I picked up my pen and asked her for a farewell interview. Here it is, in installments:

Angela: This first one is a two-part question: Before you came to Northern New York, you also lived in Colorado, Alaska, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Alabama. First, how did library service vary among those locations (if at all) and, more importantly, who had the worst winters?

Barbara: Good question!  I lived and worked in libraries in those states, so I will speak to the question as a librarian. As you read my employment history, please don’t think I couldn’t hold a job!  My husband’s work took us to many different parts of the country, so I managed to find library work in most of them.  In Alaska, I worked as a Circulation Department paraprofessional in the Fairbanks North Star Borough Library.  This was a wonderful library for employees and patrons.  In the early 80’s, the Fairbanks community benefited financially from the recent installation of the Alaskan pipeline.  The Library in Fairbanks was new and beautifully designed, the staff was large and the money for materials seemed limitless!  The first winter I was there, the temperature was a constant twenty degrees below zero for a solid three weeks!  Yet I loved living in Alaska – and it was definitely the coldest of all the states I’ve lived in.

My first job as a professional librarian after I got my MLS at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) was in a small library in Monroeville, Alabama (birthplace of Harper Lee—who still lives there part of the year).  I was hired as the library director, fresh out of library school.  There were 2 full-time staff members and one part-time.  They handled the circulation desk, Interlibrary Loan and Reference.  I purchased materials, processed them, enter the data in the computer, did children’s and adult programming as well as outreach.  It was a good introduction to the library world.

I went on to become the Library Director another county library in Wadesboro, North Carolina.  The Anson County Public Library was a bigger library with more staff (6 full-time) and it also had a bookmobile.  I know New Yorkers cannot imagine having access to just one library in the whole county because almost every community in our state has a library.  But parts of the South are quite rural and poor and it is a struggle to fund the libraries they have.

Then it was on to Wisconsin, where I got a job as the director of New London Public Library.  This time, I actually had another professional on staff who was the children’s librarian.  I loved being a librarian in Wisconsin because people really support their libraries and believe they are an important part of the community.

Our next move was to Colorado, where I work for a year in a temporary position as a reference librarian at Regis University in Denver.  I went through the selection process and was offered the job on a permanent basis but decided instead, to take a job as a high school librarian in the Elizabeth Colorado School District.  I did this because it was much closer to where I lived and not the nearly one hour commute that the university job involved.  I worked there for almost two years but left because I knew it was not for me.  I love being a librarian but I did not love it in a school setting.  I went back to the public library setting when I accepted a job at the Highlands Ranch Public Library in the town of the same name.  I co-supervised a staff of 16 librarians in the reference department.  The Library was only 6 years old when I started there and since the tax base was very wealthy, we could afford a wonderful collection and a every kind of service imaginable.

We then made a move back to the state where we grew up, though I had never been to Watertown before.  I became the director of the Flower Memorial Library in 2004.  It is definitely the most beautiful of the libraries where  I have worked. 

Stay tuned for more of Barbara Wheeler's Farewell Interview here at The Frozen Librarian!

View from the second floor of the beautiful Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library in Watertown, NY.

No comments:

Post a Comment