I probably shouldn’t admit this in print, especially knowing the director will read it, but there are days I feel like I could do my job in my sleep. Or at least on autopilot (and I suspect I have on more than a few occasions). That happens after three decades on the job — some days definitely feel like they are straight out of the movie “Groundhog Day” as I do the same tasks over and over again.
Of course, I didn’t always know how to do this job. My first position at PPL was circulation, i.e., checking books out and then back in, as well as shelving them. In 1992, there was no “Reference Department.” In fact, there wasn’t even a director when I was hired. But by January 1993, Dottie Thomas from West Virginia had taken over the reins and that’s pretty much when my career path was set.
I knew books from my book-selling days and had done plenty of research in college but Dottie introduced the world of library reference to me. Between working with her and attending workshops and conferences, I learned what was needed to find answers to patrons’ questions (and this was in those pre-computer days). She changed up things even more when she introduced the concept of holding programs in the library, even before we had a dedicated meeting room. PPL was one of the first libraries in the area to hold programs, including our long-running book discussion group. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model on how to be a public librarian.
Then came the building project and Dottie’s focus turned to that nearly full-time. Like everything else she did, she gave it her due diligence as she worked with the Board, architects, engineers, and designers to come up with a proposal to put to the voters and when it was approved, the real work began. And to be honest, it wasn’t what she wanted to do but she did it to the best of her ability although it meant she had to give up parts of her job that she really liked. For better or worse, I inherited the collection development and programming parts of her position as she dealt with the literal nuts and bolts of preparing for an addition and renovation of the original Carnegie building. So, I got to do the fun things while she sat in construction meetings.
And then came her dream job — going back to her hometown to take over the directorship of the Wheeling library. She was happy, me less so since she turned over the building project to me. Fortunately, I had very able architects to walk me through it yet made many, many phone calls to Dottie for advice. And since she was no longer my boss, we were able to become friends.
We kept in touch and I made it back to see her one summer. I was pleased when she announced her retirement in December of 2021. If anyone deserved a long, happy time for herself, it was Dottie. She had been diagnosed with cancer several years ago and had a reoccurrence earlier that year. Though infrequent, her emails let me know that her latest treatments weren’t showing the desired results but in her last message in late summer, she said she’d be better at keeping in touch.
When I didn’t hear from her at Christmas, I became apprehensive and two weeks ago I put my reference skills to work and learned she died late in August. Although not surprised, I was still incredibly saddened to learn that the woman most responsible for my sitting in this gorgeous office was gone. She mentored other librarians far longer than she did me — one followed her as the director in Wheeling — so her knowledge lives on in the library world. Her achievements far outweighed mine but I’m forever grateful for the opportunities she gave me.
Read in peace, Dottie.