February 16, 2018

Paraprofessional of the Year 2007: Jackie Cornette

Western Branch of the Watauga County Library, Sugar Grove, NC

By John N. Berry III — Library Journal, 03/01/2007

If you find you’re on a hayride to a pumpkin patch or you’re a senior citizen line dancing with your granddaughter and you’re near Sugar Grove, NC, it is a safe bet that Jackie Cornette had a hand in creating the event. Cornette is manager of the Western Branch of the Watauga County Library (WCL). WCL is one of three county library systems that comprise the Appalachian Regional Library (ARL), headquartered in North Wilkesboro. (The other two are the Ashe County Library and Wilkes County Library.)

“Jackie Cornette has been a shining star in ARL since 1988,” says Louise Humphrey, ARL director. “Jackie is a leader, a risk taker, and an explorer of uncharted waters.”

It is that set of qualities and attitudes, and the really great work she’s done with them, that made Jackie Cornette the LJ Paraprofessional of the Year for 2007.

Building services

Cornette also instituted a Teen Reader program that brought dozens of hard-to-reach adolescents to the library. That program is still growing, and Cornette constantly thinks up new ways to attract the teens and others in Watauga County.

Without asking, Cornette decided her branch would be the first library in ARL to lend laptop computers so students and seniors alike can use them anywhere they want for a few days. The Western Branch is still the only one of the five ARL libraries to lend laptops. The CD burners on those laptops attract more teens to the branch.

Jackie also brought gaming to the library and presides over a flourishing circulation in both Play Station games and hardware so gamers can play there, too. “We also do programs teens would like,” says Cornette, “field trips, parties featuring local bands. I try different things.”

The library offers classes on information literacy along with one-on-one instruction. Cornette believes in what she calls “intergenerational services” and concentrates on teaching technology to senior citizens in addition to all the programs for teens. Since the Western Branch is housed in a community center, many of its programs include lunch or dinner for seniors and others. Story times and a number of reading clubs fill the gaps. People come from other parts of North Carolina and even from out of state to this library.

On the road

One day a week, Cornette takes the library van and hits the road. She visits daycare centers, schools, nursing homes, and homebound folks all over the county. On those trips, she shows movies, tells stories, and leaves books at her stops along the way. She even performs an occasional puppet show for kids and adults.

“I came from branches and understand how they work,” says John Blake, describing accompanying Cornette on her “rounds” when he began his job as WCL director two years ago. Blake had managed a library branch in Durham, NC.

“Jackie is a great branch librarian. Going with her opened my eyes to a fabulous service. We’d drive up to a home when no one was there. She’d go in the open back door and drop off a crate of books. After going to lots of homes way up in the hills, we’d come into town to a couple of nursing homes….” Once there, Cornette enhances deposit collections and visits people in their rooms, bringing materials to the residents.

“What is really wonderful about Jackie,” Blake continues, “is that even after all the years she’s been at it, she still has tremendous energy and enthusiasm. The spirit is still there.”

A fundraising natural

Cornette’s creativity is not hampered by lack of funds. She is a natural fundraiser and has an incredible talent for acquiring what the library needs when it’s needed.

She organized a Friends of the Library group in 1991, and it is still going strong, providing terrific support for the Western Branch. She acquired Internet access by securing a DSL line free for the first year. She applied for and got grants to purchase computers and to get JAWS (Jobs Access with Speech) software for local users with vision problems and other physical needs. In addition to the usual library book sales, Cornette goes to local businesses, foundations, her Friends group, and just about anyone she can to finance new library services and collections.

Cornette is working now to find money to add more laptops, games to lend, and new programs. “I love working to build services at the branch,” she says. “I work at finding money to create them. I enjoy working up the grants.”

Cornette gives help to anyone who wants it so they can get grants. She has built a grant center in the library with special materials and technology to work with others on fundraising. The library offers both one-on-one training in grant development and some classes.

Credentials are worth the effort

One phone call from the chair got Cornette involved with the North Carolina Library Paraprofessional Association (NCLPA), part of the North Carolina Library Association (NCLA). She moved from regional director to vice chair and finally to chair of the group. It is a vital part of NCLA. At ARL, only eight of 60 employees hold the MLS, although several others are working toward the degree. “I encourage all to join NCLPA, which has impact now and will have more,” says Cornette.

Because certification was not offered in North Carolina, Cornette pursued and received certification as a specialist in administration and management from the New York State Department of Education. She reports that it was a difficult program but well worth the year it took her to earn it for the recognition it brought to her. An avid advocate for state certification, she hopes it will come to North Carolina. “I believe paraprofessionals should pursue credentials, and certification is a good one,” Cornette says.

She recognizes a division between paraprofessionals and librarians who have the MLS and feels that it is legitimate, up to a point. “The question is how far to take the difference,” Cornette says. “Some library systems are rigid about the division; at ARL, we are more open. We work together. We all use our abilities. We pull strengths from each other.”

Every library is unique

Cornette believes each library has unique challenges. “Everyone serves differently to meet the special needs of their population,” Cornette says. “I have learned a lot on the job. The biggest surprise was how fast use grew when we met patron needs. Now we take care of a wide variety of people with all kinds of services.”

Cornette likes best what she calls “stepping out beyond my bounds” and that includes finding money to pursue her agenda. “They allow me to do that. I can get the games, the laptops, the outreach programs. I can even ride my Harley to work when I want to,” she reports. “I am fortunate to work for a library system that gives me the freedom to go beyond just your basic library,” she says. “I am very grateful for that. There is a lot in this library that people don’t expect.”

Three To Watch

A spirited competition brought some 30 excellent nominees to our attention for the Paraprofessional of the Year Award. From that group, these three candidates stood out as people to watch. Special thanks to external judge Carolyn Tate (retired), Boatwright Library, University of Richmond, VA.

Linda Janok Library Assistant, San Mateo Public Library, CA

In charge of two dynamic and thriving branches, Janok was praised for her leadership in retagging the entire system’s collection for RFID, as well as staff training on new technology and her work renovating her two branches. “She built a strong, cohesive, and highly productive team,” notes colleague and nominator Danijela Brakalo. “She leads by example.”

Vergie Savage-Branch Serials Clerk, Weill Cornell Medical Library, New York

Referred to as a motivator, this 22-year veteran in collection development has been a leader through many technological changes during her tenure, most recently the move to e-journals. She’s also been dedicated to staff development, as the “inspirational force” behind Library Assistants, Support Staff, and Associates Special Interest Group of the Metropolitan New York Library Council and through involvement in the New York State Library Assistants Association.

Jey Wann Oregon State Library Documents Coordinator, Oregon State Library

“Passionate about providing permanent public access to government information,” Wann has striven to reinforce the state’s Documents Depository Program, most recently through her work advocating for and leadership in establishing the Oregon Documents Repository, an online home for Oregon documents. This on top of her efforts to fill the gaps left by open librarian spots and her part in the creation of the Support Services Division of the Oregon Library Association.

The Paraprofessional of the Year Award is sponsored by BRODART LIBRARY SUPPLIES & FURNISHINGS, McElhattan, PA, which underwrites the $1500 cash prize and a reception to honor the winner at the American Library Association conference in June. The award recognizes the essential role of paraprofessionals in providing excellent library service.

Author Information
John N. Berry III is Editor-at-Large, LJ