Hired in 1992 as manager of the tiny St. John Branch (SJB) of Washington State’s Whitman County Rural Library District (WCRLD), Clancy Pool worked to perform the miracle of bringing a new spirit and library to the town’s 525 residents, plus another 500 who live in the surrounding area.
When Pool took over, the St. John Branch—one of 14 libraries in the system, including 13 branches and the main library in Colfax—shared a small, rundown storefront with the town hall and government offices. It was like “a modest-sized living room filled with rows of bookshelves,” according to WCRLD director Kristie Kirkpatrick. “A small corner was reserved for children’s programs. On a good day, the space might hold five youngsters.”
Calling herself “the Queen of St. John,” with a laugh, Pool quickly began the expansion of library service, taking on new duties at WCRLD and pushing for bigger space in SJB. Her constant efforts and career growth for more than two decades have led to Pool, now branch services manager at WCRLD, being recognized as LJ’s 2014 Paralibrarian of the Year.
Bringing in the kids
Pool worked hard for that professional and personal growth and the growth in WCRLD. When she first started, the tiny and dilapidated branch saw little use. So Pool went up and down the street, to churches and the school, looking for parents and children and, of course, other library users. She even monitored local birth announcements and personally invited parents to bring their children to programs. Pool followed up if those who had been invited didn’t appear.
“I always look forward to times when the price of wheat goes up, because I know there will be a lot of new babies who will come to our story time in a couple of years,” she says. (Wheat is a major local industry.)
Working very closely with the school librarian, Pool became a part of the educational process, providing information for school assignments, books for reading lists, and online instruction to improve student research and database skills. Pool offered after-school programs to complement weekly preschool activities.
As a result of Pool’s efforts, “the tiny St. John Library began to burst at the seams,” says Kirkpatrick. It became impossible to squeeze in another body. Summer Reading attendance exploded, and 94 percent of the elementary school students participated. The townspeople started to take notice.
“When I began to get 60 or 70 kids for summer reading programs, I asked a local church to let me use its community space. It even let me decorate it for summer reading.”
Advocating for space
Once she had built the user base, Pool began to lobby for a new library to serve them. She issued hundreds of news releases, many with photos showing children packed into the library. Every St. John parent became an advocate for a new library. The then-mayor Larry Dickerson, whose grandchildren regularly attended library programs and told him about it, began to support the cause. Soon, people made donations and even left memorial gifts for a new library.
One individual donated an old building to provide the site for a new library. Penny-drives, a golf tournament, and other activities raised funds. Yet, there was a long way to go.
Finally, in 2005, 80 percent of the town’s voters passed a bond measure for a new library/city hall. The $500,000 it provided was a huge effort for a town of so few people. In spring 2008, Pool’s vision and hard work culminated in a human book-chain that moved the contents of the old library into its big, beautiful, new location.
All the nominees for the 2014 Paralibrarian of the Year were awe inspiring, but the following pair were outstanding:
RACHELE DEININGER Technical Services Specialist, Kitsap Regional Library, Bremerton, WA
BEHROOZ MADJDI Reference Associate, Pierce County Library System, Tacoma
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 Las Vegas this June. The award recognizes the essential role of paralibrarians in providing excellent library service.
Promoted for service
Ultimately, Pool was promoted to her current post as branch services manager at WCRLD. When Pool began at St. John, she worked about 12 hours each week; she now works full-time. Besides superb programs for children, Pool developed regular adult events, outreach to seniors, and a multitude of services that make St. John what Kirkpatrick calls “the jewel in the Whitman County Library crown.”
In the last four years, Pool’s district responsibilities have increased dramatically. “She tackles whatever task comes her way with skill and professionalism,” says Kirkpatrick. Because WCRLD is small, she carries a tremendous workload, handling adult acquisitions, requests, interlibrary loans, and a variety of grant and special projects like Transforming Life over 50 and the Microsoft IT Academy. Pool also works closely with school librarian Kay Riehle and city clerk Linda Hayes.
Most important, Pool teaches other paralibrarians to have the same kind of impact she has. While she is still managing in St. John, she also serves as the district’s branch coordinator.
“Clancy coaches 12 other small-town library managers to have [a similar impact] on their communities,” says Kirkpatrick.
Coming in from the cold
Pool applied for her first job at St. John partly because she wanted a place to be warm or cool while she waited for her twins to finish sports and other activities.
“Little did I know that I was [finding] a calling, not just getting a job,” she quips.
“When I applied for the job at St. John, I had very little library experience, except as a patron and in college. In the interview, I was asked, ‘How would you deal with an irate library patron?’ ”
“My answer was, ‘I worked my way through college as a bartender in a cowboy bar. I’m not afraid of an irate library patron.’ But later I thought that was the dumbest thing I ever said,” Pool remembers.
“Much later they told me that the response was one reason I landed the job,” she adds. “The library system was trying to develop a more customer service–oriented style.”
Still the queen
Pool credits branch assistant Kristin Bammes with helping her go above and beyond even when faced with competing responsibilities. Scheduled for one three-hour shift a week, Bammes regularly fills in for Pool on other days and for programs, often on short notice.
“I didn’t get to this award by myself,” Pool asserts. “Kristie hired me and supported me when I wanted to improve my skills and when I wanted to offer new services to St. John and the district. I have been mentored, encouraged, and assisted by more people than I could name from our library system, other library districts, and the Washington State Library,” Pool says.
But while it’s a team achievement, Kirkpatrick is not shy about giving Pool her share of the kudos. “We don’t giggle any more when Clancy Pool calls herself the Queen of St. John; in fact, we take a little bow,” Kirkpatrick concludes. “She has performed outstandingly. She truly deserves this recognition for her amazing efforts and achievement.”