This series made possible by:
Child’s Place for Children with Special Needs, Brooklyn Public Library
MLS, Queens College, CUNY, 1990
Sloan Public Service Award, 2010
Photo ©Sean McGinty Photography LLC
What skills, events, or other opportunities have you found most useful to your career?
I majored in government and psychology in college and both have proven very useful, although not necessarily in the ways I might have expected. Speaking another language has also been a major asset. Even though I speak Spanish and ASL imperfectly, being able to approach someone in their own language helps to bridge gaps in a way that nothing else can. It helps that I am always happy to be corrected. Perhaps the most unexpected “skill” that has been useful in my career is my learning disability. I have dyslexia and dysgraphia and the strategies I’ve used throughout my life to cope with them turn out to be useful in my job as a librarian. Laughing at my mistakes was a coping mechanism I used throughout my school career, and it turns out, a sense of humor is an essential skill for partnership building, among other things. I often take a non-traditional approach to problems, which I think comes from constantly having to devise work-arounds to difficult situations. And finally, when I talk about my own learning disabilities it makes it easier for other people, especially children, to talk about theirs. Though I must say, I never would have anticipated LD being as asset as I read countless report cards that said “doesn’t live up to her potential.”
Is there a colleague or mentor who has helped you in your career, and, if so, how did they help?
There have been many colleagues and mentors who have helped shape my career, but none formally. Betsy Blatz was the branch librarian at the library where I had my first children’s room. Her ability to negotiate a large library system, support innovative initiatives–like reaching out to children with HIV in the late 1980s–and treating each child as an individual was awesome. I learned how to use storytelling to make a point from Thelma Thomas. Ellen Loughran hired and trained me for my current job. She taught me a lot about the “workings” of Brooklyn Public Library, the history of the program I was taking over and the importance of attention to detail. But mostly I learned from her example of insisting that all children be served. She also encouraged me to try new things even if they had not worked before. Marti Goddard encouraged me to get active in the American Library Association and its Association for Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies division, thus opening up a world of continuing education and lifelong learning.
Do you feel that any of the equity gaps — generational, gender, racial, educational — in the library world have affected your career’s trajectory?
No, but not for lack of trying. I was told by an advisor in library school that people with learning disabilities cannot be librarians and that I should not be in library school. I believe I have since proved her wrong.
What do library schools have to do to better prepare graduates for the job market?
Library school students need to be exposed to the full range of diversity that they will encounter in their patrons, including people with disabilities. Between 10 and 12 percent of children have a special education classification. Approximately, one in four people will experience a disability over the course of their lifetime. We simply cannot continue to formally ignore this many potential patrons. And teaching a language would be nice, since knowing a second language can really open up doors and make people feel welcome.
Where would you like to be in five years professionally? What’s your dream job?
Actually, being in charge of the Child’s Place for Children with Special Needs is my dream job. In five years, I would like to still have it.
What was your biggest failure as a librarian and what did you learn from that experience that helped you grow?
Where to start? There was the Braille mentoring program that attracted no students after we recruited and trained the volunteers. Then there was the Spanish-language parenting workshop that one person attended, and another that nobody came to. There was a little boy who got very, very upset when I used a spider finger puppet in a program. He had arachnophobia. I had to “kill” the spider by stomping on it with my foot. I have learned three things from my failures: If you don’t fail once in a while you are not taking enough risks; communication and outreach are paramount; not everybody likes spiders.
Any words of wisdom for those coming into the field?
It’s our responsibility as librarians to offer our patrons what they want and need and not their responsibility to want what we offer. Everyone has something to teach you. And I hope you have a strong sense of the absurd.