In two decades (plus one year) she has moved from work with the very young, through young adults, to dynamically serving seniors at the Hickory Public Library (HPL), NC. Tamara Faulkner Kraus’s passion for providing library service to people in need more than sustains her energy and creativity. That unsinkable spirit is now being acknowledged with the 2015 LJ Paralibrarian of the Year Award, sponsored by DEMCO.
“Her work significantly enhances the library’s visibility in the community and makes a positive difference in many lives,” says HPL director Louise Humphrey, who nominated Kraus.
What seniors need
As a one-person department, Kraus manages a program that brings library materials and programs to 14 senior residences and centers and many private homes. The number of facilities served continues to grow, reaching some 1,700 people in 2014.
“I take large-print books, DVDs, and books on CD to sites all over the Hickory area including assisted living and senior independent homes and a couple of nursing homes,” says Kraus.
Kraus calls ahead, and when she arrives many residents come out to greet her. They discuss books and ask Kraus to bring a specific disc or title for next time, such as “the next James Patterson.” “I give them whatever they ask for. Genealogy and history are big, but their interests run the gamut,” says Kraus. Movies are popular, as are audiobooks. “[They are] a lifeline for a lot of them [who may have failing eyesight].”
Kraus also coordinates activities in the library that give mobile seniors many opportunities to connect.
Additionally, she works with overall senior services in Hickory beyond the library. Already active in the new Senior Information Resources Inc. (SIR), which was formed three years ago, Kraus has forged another bond between the library and senior citizens. SIR administration recruited her for a leadership role, beginning with the first Media & Promotion Committee, which put together Prime of Life magazine, a resource guide for seniors and caregivers.
This year she chaired the committee that developed a new edition. She gathered volunteers, worked with the local newspaper to coordinate submissions and editing, and wrote several thoughtful pieces on library services. The magazine was distributed at the third annual Prime of Life Senior Expo, at which Kraus coordinated the setup and staffing of the library booth. The event attracted more than 3,000 visitors. Kraus received the City of Hickory Recognition of Excellence Award for her efforts.
Through the ages
Kraus began her career at HPL as a library assistant in the children’s department at the Patrick Beaver Memorial Library (PBML), the Main Library of HPL. The position was a big step up from a job she hated, working as a cashier and on the service desk at a Kmart store.
At PBML she worked for Hannah Owens, at that time the children’s librarian, now retired, who became her mentor.
“She taught me everything I know. She’s retired now, but she still comes to the library a lot. Hannah taught me how to do story times, she kept me in line. I still remember my first story time. I was terrified, and I was terrible. As time went on I got more comfortable,” says Kraus.
“We started a new program called Baby Time. Moms and a few dads would bring very young children, birth to about age two. We did a lot with music. Babies cry and dogs howl, and when I sing it is similar. We did rhythm exercises with little bells and shakers…. It was a very sweet program, and I loved doing it,” Kraus remembers.
During one period, Kraus and a coworker were the only people in HPL children’s services, waiting for the appearance of a new children’s librarian. They split the duties, with Kraus handling young adults and programming.
“I always enjoyed YA literature, and I got to meet teens, a very different demographic. They weren’t quite as scary as I expected,” Kraus says. She later moved from children’s services to the other end of the spectrum as senior outreach coordinator to focus on the town’s growing population of senior citizens.
It turned out that work with every age group seems to sustain her energy and enthusiasm.
“I arrive at the library in a grumpy mood, and by the time I’m finished I’m happy as a clam. Right now the old folks do it for me,” she says.
All the nominees for the 2015 Paralibrarian of the Year were impressive, but the following pair were outstanding:
MARY BAKER Reference Associate at Brunswick Library, Medina County District Library, OH
TANGELA McKIBBENS Branch Manager, Fortson Public Library, Henry County Library System, GA
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 San Francisco this June. The award recognizes the essential role of paralibrarians in providing excellent library service.
In addition to delivering library service outside the physical building, Kraus represents the library to the broader community by participating in civic enterprises. “She is an exceptionally effective advocate for library services,” Humphrey says, citing Kraus’s volunteer appearances on local radio and television stations, her column for the Hickory Daily Record, her work on the library’s social media channels, and her service on the city’s communication and planning teams as well as chairing a 2014 fundraising walk to fight Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Humphrey concludes, “Her outgoing personality, sense of fun, compassion, and unending enthusiasm make her a special addition to any team effort.”
As well as serving her own town, Kraus is active in the larger library community as a longtime member and leader in the North Carolina Library Association’s Paraprofessional Association (NCPA). At the 2013 biennial conference she served on a panel that discussed service to homebound residents. She was also recognized as an Outstanding Library Paraprofessional at that meeting. She is currently secretary of NCPA, which has grown and attracted many of the hundreds of paralibrarians in the state. She works to make more of them aware of NCPA.
One kind of advocacy for paralibrarians, though, isn’t something Kraus feels she’s needs to adopt. “Nobody really thinks about that in my library,” Kraus says when asked about the nature of interactions between librarians and paralibrarians.
“We all are treated as equals, and many of us are close friends. We hang out together outside of the library. The feeling here, even when I go to conferences and other events, is that we’re all in it together.”
“I used to wonder when I read the LJ articles about this award how the winners did so much,” says Kraus. “I don’t think like that anymore. I love my work. It is not a job; it’s an adventure.”