Reference Associate, Volusia County Public Library, FL
The first person you meet when you go into the library in New Smyrna Beach, FL, is likely to be Linda Dahlquist. It was her idea to be there, near the entrance, with a laptop on her cart to make sure library users could take advantage of the “roving reference” she initiated and delivers there.
“I take reference to the people! Some are a bit too intimidated to approach the reference desk, so I hang out by the front entrance to catch them as they come in the door,” she says.
That is only a tiny sample of the attention customers get from Dahlquist. Her supervisor, Melissa Reynolds, who manages the regional library in New Smyrna Beach and branches in Edgewater and Oak Hill, puts it this way: “When it comes to customer service, there isn’t anyone who comes closer to the ideal than Linda.”
A 17-year veteran with the Volusia County Public Library (VCPL), Dahlquist was promoted through every paraprofessional classification in just over three years. She is now a library associate, and her work is so respected that her fellow staffers, including the librarians, named her VCPL’s “Unsung Hero” and presented her with their Customer Service Award as well.
Because of the range of her duties, her creative initiatives to improve library service, her teamwork, and her model efforts to help library users, Linda Dahlquist is LJ’s 2012 Paralibrarian of the Year, an award sponsored by DEMCO, Inc.
All the nominees for 2012 were exceptional, and among them the following two were outstanding:
SUSAN BALLA Head of Circulation, Fairfield Public Library, CT
CONNIE HARR Library Assistant, Holly Springs Library, Wake County Public Library, NC
The Paralibrarian of the Year Award is sponsored by DEMCO, Inc., of Madison, WI, which underwrites the $1500 cash prize and a reception to honor the winner at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim, CA, this June. The award recognizes the essential role of paralibrarians in providing excellent library service.
Moving up the ranks
Dahlquist began her career at VCPL as a part-time Library Assistant I in 1995. By 1998, she was a library associate, serving as head of circulation in the New Smyrna Beach Regional Library (NSBRL). Everyone who works in the VCPL branches is a “frontline representative.” That is part of VCPL’s support system for its six regionals and 14 branches, one of which is virtual. Lucinda Colee, who directs VCPL from her office in Daytona Beach, urged Reynolds to nominate Dahlquist. Reynolds was more than willing.
“If I could model Linda, I would share that model with anyone…. She has a natural grace, poise, and a calm demeanor. It begins from the moment she starts her day, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it goes home with her. You never know if and when she is having a bad day,” Reynolds says.
Dahlquist moves to the other two branches in the region when needed. At the Oak Hill library, a one-room facility 20 miles from NSBRL, she serves as a branch head when the permanent branch head is absent, managing day-to-day operations.
“Linda transcends library classifications. When I serve with her on the desk or with citizens, I find myself stepping up my game. Other staff emulate her. She is very well respected,” Reynolds adds.
Playing many roles
In addition to her work as a reference assistant alongside five librarians, Dahlquist assists with children’s services. What she likes best, however, is the roving reference work that she instigated. She also develops displays, maintains a Job Search Information Center, serves as the NSBRL meeting room coordinator, is a member of several VCPL committees, and is the NSBRL representative to VCPL’s IT department.
Dahlquist also participates in VCPL public strategic planning sessions, which include citizens, librarians, paralibrarians, and county and VCPL administrators.
A few months ago she convinced a colleague to go with her to these meetings in order to find ways for the libraries to aid in workforce recovery in the county. The Project Compass team that resulted has a strong presence on the VCPL website and has partnered with other workforce recovery agencies.
The team has developed forms, brochures, and other materials to help people initiate job searches. Dahlquist set up that Job Search Information Center at NSBRL, an effort that has sparked the creation of job search and small business development materials including e-gov bookmarks and the beginnings of unified VCPL programming. She is the NSBRL representative on the VCPL committee to explore these new options.
Dahlquist created colorful, inventive, and relevant displays to merchandise effectively library resources on sustainability, vegetarianism, health, exercise, and more to citizens.
She has also shaped relationships within VCPL and in the community. Programs resulted from a partnership she created with the Humane Society. The library established programs with a local farmer’s market to offer food preparation tutorials.
Drawing on bookstore experience
Some of Dahlquist’s service skills and attitudes come from her background as the proprietor of a local independent bookstore in New Smyrna Beach with her husband, Roger.
“Once you have your own customer service business you become obsessed with customer service,” Dahlquist says of the experience.
The bookstore survived the decade 1985–95, when “big box bookstores moved in on us.” Many VCPL librarians were customers and had developed a rapport with Dahlquist. When the store closed in March 1995, they encouraged her to apply for a library position. She went to work in the library that August. “It was a natural transition for me,” she says.
Asked if she is comfortable working next to librarians with the MLS, Dahlquist is surprised.
“I don’t feel any distinction between the librarians and me. I don’t feel any division, I’m one of the team,” she says. In her view, there are as many librarians as paralibrarians at VCPL. Dahlquist took some courses but decided she prefers working directly with library users.
“I have been a supervisor and once had eight staff and several students working for me. I’ve done that. I don’t want to do that now. I want to help people, especially the less fortunate. The elderly and those looking for jobs are the largest groups we serve,” she says. “I pretend I’m speaking to my dad when an older person asks for help.”
The support she gets from regional librarian Reynolds and assistant regional librarian Michael Nelson has made it much easier for Dahlquist to accomplish all that she does at NSBRL. She also gives credit to her coworkers, saying, “It takes a village to make VCPL so important to the community.”
VCPL director Colee, who has known Dahlquist for 20 years, is unequivocal: “Linda is highly respected by patrons. She doesn’t hesitate to try a new idea or to help someone. When you need to put together a team, you always ask Linda Dahlquist.”