By Melinda Casilli
As a kid, I had a love-hate relationship with the library. I loved walking the stacks of books searching for the perfect read to take me away on a wild adventure. I hated the wall of little drawers with millions of cards and all their secret codes. I feared that tiny drawer would slip out of the slot, tumble to the floor, scattering cards and making a horrendous sound. That wall of drawers was very intimidating as a child, as was the librarian with her judging eyes and shushing lips.
Now as an adult, I have just a love relationship with the library. Those tiny little drawers and that judging librarian are, thankfully, gone.
I spoke to two of our (nice and welcoming) librarians about their jobs and the changes libraries have gone through over the years. They have seen a lot: both have been with the Prince William Public Library System (PWPLS) for a combined total of 44 years.
Jessie Scalph is the Branch Administrator at Haymarket Gainesville Community Library and Nancy Schleh is the Library Assistant Administrator at Haymarket Gainesville Community Library. Both have their Masters in Library Information Science.
Why did you decide to become a librarian?
Jessie: I love researching any subject and sharing ideas with patrons about a great read.
Nancy: I began working in libraries as a paraprofessional and I discovered that I really enjoyed helping people find what they were looking for. I enjoyed working at the public library so much, I changed my graduate degree work from elementary education to instead become a librarian.
How have libraries changed from when you first began your career to now?
Jessie: We had a card catalog that was not on a computer. One of my jobs entailed typing and filing catalog cards! I searched databases for a fee and, at one point, the internet was a “new thing,” and we had to “dial up” for access.
Nancy: One of the biggest changes had been the evolution of the library from a quiet place for books and reading, to a place where people gather to do all sorts of things. The library still provides quiet spaces for study, but it has become a much more active place over the past two decades.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Jessie: At a public library, there is never a dull moment. You get an interesting array of questions that are different every day.
Nancy: The most rewarding aspect of being a librarian is the knowledge that we are a force for good in the life of our communities. From supporting children’s growing literacy, to helping seniors navigate new technology, we are here to help.
What would surprise people most about your job?
Jessie: I have hardly any time to read on the job! Our job is about serving our public, researching technologies, running safe buildings, and offering other services such as free programming for all ages, absentee voting, and in the future, passport processing.
Nancy: Just how much effort is put in behind the scenes to make books ready for patrons to check out each day.
What is the craziest question a patron has asked you?
Jessie: Patron at the reference desk asked five minutes before closing: “This question shouldn’t be hard, please give me information on contrasting philosophies of European philosophers from 1400 to 1800 AD.”
Nancy: “Where do you keep the books on diapers?”
What do you wish more people knew about libraries or about librarians?
Jessie: I believe the library is the last true center of the community. As librarians, we offer a window into a world of information and we love to help people.
Nancy: Libraries are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of their customers, and the library of today is probably nothing like the library many people remember from their youth. I wish everyone would check us out, in person or online, to discover what we have to offer.
Why are libraries still so important?
Jessie: We are here to offer lifelong learning to our patrons. This involves early literacy for our youngest patrons to informative lectures and book clubs for our older patrons.
Nancy: Libraries are places of infinite possibility. We are here to provide educational and entertainment resources to people seeking relief from curiosity or boredom, looking for a place to be, or for any other reason they may have.
Visit your local Haymarket Gainesville Community Library today, or learn more about the PWPLS at www.pwcgov.org/library.
Melinda Casilli is a Library Services Technician at the Haymarket Gainesville Community Library. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Point Park University. Melinda is an avid reader and loves to cook. She lives in Gainesville with her husband and three girls.