The joyful Laura Poe began her career at the Athens-Limestone Public Library (ALPL) in Athens, AL, working as the cleaning person. Since that first role, her willingness to take on any position and responsibility at ALPL, her contagious smile and the inspiring pleasure she takes in the library, and her work with people make her a model for everyone there. Her ability and willingness to work, study, and parent—all full-time jobs—are exemplary. The testimony to Laura Poe’s achievements by her colleagues at ALPL signify her as the obvious winner of the LJ Paralibrarian of the Year award for 2013, sponsored by Demco, Inc.
Poe began working at ALPL in 2006, and even then, during her off hours from her cleaning duties, she would volunteer to shelve books and perform other tasks that ALPL director Paula S.W. Laurita calls “vital to the library.”
“She shines for the library through her enthusiasm, her real love of not only the library but serving the public, and her joy. She shares the pleasure of the experience of coming to the library. It makes a difference not only with our patrons, but it is catching on with the staff,” says Laurita.
All the nominees for the 2013 Paralibrarian of the Year were awe-inspiring, but the following two were outstanding:
HEATHER CUNNINGHAM Library Associate, Durham County Library, NC
ERICA PERRY Children’s Librarian, Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, WV
The Paralibrarian of the Year Award is sponsored by DEMCO, Inc., of Madison, WI, which underwrites the $1,500 cash prize and a reception to honor the winner at the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago this June. The award recognizes the essential role of paralibrarians in providing excellent library service.
When Laurita was named director of ALPL in 2009, one of the first things she did was hire Poe as a part-time aide, and soon Poe was brought on as a full-time paralibrarian.
“Laura is an essential member of our staff, encouraging, teaching, and engaging the staff and community in how the library is a partner in education and outreach to all demographic groups. Some of the programs she initiated are now staples of our service,” says Laurita.
Poe was among the first in Athens to own a Kindle, and she shared it at ALPL with anyone interested. That morphed into ereader classes in which Poe teaches patrons of all ages and skill levels how to download books from the library’s collections.
Poe created the new Mystery Book Club and leads themed discussions that also include snacks and activities. For example, the club just finished reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and enriched their discussion of the feats of Sherlock Holmes with tea and scones.
Poe organized an ALPL collaboration with World Book Night and distributed books. To highlight the library’s role as a partner in service with other agencies, she set up a booth at the annual Hospice Chili Challenge. Poe established ALPL’s olive oil tasting booth at the annual Athens Grease Festival to demonstrate the library’s entertaining and educational role in town.
“Without Laura, our library would not have participated in many of these events. She constantly finds new ways to expand the library’s reach and reputation,” writes Kelli McLemore, ALPL’s head of youth services.
After she completed a Power Searching with Google course, Poe shared her new skills and knowledge to help other staff initially intimidated by the online arena to become power searchers.
As if that array of tasks were not enough, Poe coordinates and promotes the use of ALPL display cases for a variety of exhibits.
“The people who come in are my favorite part of library work. You get to know about them and to see them in a different light,” Poe says. “I love it when a mother comes in to ask us to recommend a book to get her child to read. This is a wonderful experience for me. I’m eager to learn. I get most of what I need for [my college courses] from our library, and our director helps by letting me accommodate classes. I am grateful.”
Taking on more jobs
When a staff member left ALPL, Poe took on the responsibilities as volunteer coordinator, and she now trains and schedules more than a dozen regular volunteers and special volunteer groups from local churches and organizations.
Poe arranges public relations for ALPL’s At-Your-Doorstep program, delivering books-by-mail to the homebound. She acts as liaison to local businesses and the Limestone Council on Aging to advertise and support the service. This outreach won the Library Leadership and Management Association’s Best of Show Award at the American Library Association conference in 2012.
“Laura is a joy to work with, not only for us but for our patrons. Many of them know her by name and seek her out whenever they come to the library. She accomplishes all of this even while raising her three children and going back to school for her bachelor’s degree,” says Whitney Poarch, head of circulation services at ALPL. “She impresses me every day. She is inspiring and innovative and reflects the best in library service. The impact she has had on us is truly amazing!” Poarch adds.
Urged on to education
The 82,000 people who live in Limestone County are served by ALPL. About 22,000 of them live right in Athens. Several times a year there is an influx of individuals who come to work in the local nuclear power plant for three to four months at a time. “We are very generous about library cards,” says Laurita. If you live or work in the county, you can get one.
Athens State University, where Poe is about to complete her studies, is a two-year commuter college with programs aimed at junior and senior college students.
Urged on and encouraged by her ALPL colleagues, Poe plans to go on to LIS studies in the program at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Thanks to Laurita’s management style, Poe’s schedule is adjusted to allow her to plan her studies in her very full life, which includes five full days working at ALPL and parenting three children, ages seven, 13, and 15.
“I don’t think I’m there yet. There is always more to learn,” says Poe, when asked about her library aspirations. “I hope to enroll to get my MLS in fall 2013. I want to know the answers about the library and the field. I’m excited about that,” she adds.
“Laura’s love of libraries is so wonderful, it would be silly not to nurture it in any way I can,” says Laurita. “I believe in nurturing people. The more knowledgeable our staff, the better it is for our library service.” Laurita goes on to sum up Poe’s impact:
“When we find people with that love and that [enthusiasm], we truly benefit. Laura’s gentle guidance is the hallmark of her approach. Whether it is teaching an older librarian how to help patrons with their ereaders, assisting and encouraging dyslexic patrons so that the library is now a favorite destination, talking to local business owners about new partnerships, or welcoming a new patron, Laura Poe exhibits her love of libraries. Her joy shows; it is catching. She encourages us all to be better and do better in library service.”