Northeast Regional Coordinator Paula Newcom and I recently sat down and had a conversation about her first year working for the State Library. She and I have something in common – we both started working for the State Library last November. The following is an excerpt from our conversation.
RB: It has been almost a year now that you have been working for the Indiana State Library. Tell me about how the year has gone and what the biggest differences are between your current job and what you did as a librarian in the public libraries…
PN: I think that the last year has been very good! I’ve had a lot of new challenges and have learned a lot, but I enjoy the freedom of being able to work at home as well as travel to my different libraries and often drive to the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis to attend meetings.
I have 60 libraries in my region – the Northeast region – and I think I have gone to almost half of them since I have been hired. I have been very blown-away by what I have seen with the different libraries in my area from the smallest to the biggest. They all seem to be doing something unique in each place. And a lot of libraries have had building/renovating projects which has pleasantly surprised me.
RB: Could you give me an example of that?
PN: At the Nappanee Public Library they have a fabulous maker-space room dedicated to doing a variety of maker-space projects. They’ve got a sewing machine, a serger, 3D printers, VHS to DVD converter, Accucut dies and other items I can’t remember the name for – they have multiple maker-space tools that people from the community are welcome to use.
Eckhart Public Library has four different buildings on their campus. They have the public library, a genealogy center, an administrative annex (for technical services) plus they have a separate building just for teens. So, the teens can be teenagers, but it is open when the teens would use it, like after school or during the summer. They also have a community garden that the teens work with right outside that building.
RB: It seems to me that libraries are expanding beyond what the public would perceive as the ‘normal’ activities going on at a library. When I was a kid, you had books, newspapers, magazines and a few computers – that was about it.
PN: Yeah, some places are thinking ‘outside the box’ as to what kind of services they provide, they are becoming vital community centers.
RB: Would you say that libraries are trying to come up with ways to stay relevant in the digital age? Some people would say, “Why do we still need libraries?” What is your response to that?
PN: Libraries are re-making themselves into community centers and a gathering place for educational programs, craft programs, musical programs, etc.
RB: And it is all centered on learning, right? It isn’t just a hang-out?
PN: It can be a little of both. One library that I was in had a teen area where that is what the kids did, they hung out – they had their own computers and a video game room.
RB: What would you say is the biggest difference between what you were doing in the public libraries versus now?
PN: I will start with similarities. I am getting reference questions from librarians, that are similar to getting questions at a public desk, but I deal with them in a different time-frame. I might have to research a little more. But when I was at the public library desk, I felt like I was more on-call and interruptible answering patron’s questions, dealing with computer issues, copier issues, etc. Whereas what I’m doing now, I am teaching and developing library staff on different topics. I can focus more on the projects I am working on.
Another part of this that has been eye-opening is that when I am visiting a library and I see something they are doing, I can tell another library about it if they have a similar need or project. So, I’m making connections between the librarians as well, which has been really cool!
RB: Yeah, because a lot of times when you are in your own township or district, you don’t have the opportunity to see what other libraries are doing.
PN: Right, that is the major difference. When you are at your job at your library, you are focused on your area and you don’t necessarily have the time or ability to go out to see other libraries. But with my current job, I have the ability to go to all of these different libraries and am able to tell another library about what is going on somewhere else or know that this person is working on this project and make connections between the librarians.
RB: Have you seen libraries that you serve executing the programs and suggestions that the Professional Development Office (PDO) makes to them?
PN: That’s a hard thing to know because you do your presentations and it is up to them to run with it.
RB: Do you think you are having a bigger impact on libraries and patrons in your current job?
PN: I believe so. I have worked in libraries over 25 years, so I have seen a lot of different situations that hopefully I can use as teaching points.
RB: What would you say is your favorite part of what you are doing?
PN: Visiting the different libraries, traveling and meeting their staff.
RB: Your travel area covers where?
PN: My area covers Hamilton County, Tipton, Miami, Kosciusko all the way up to Elkhart, then to the Michigan border over to the Ohio border and then down to Jay County, Blackford County and Grant County.
RB: That’s a big area.
PN: Geographically the Southwest region is bigger; all of the regional coordinators have the same amount of libraries in each region.
RB: Did you say you live in Marion?
PN: I live in Marion, Indiana which is in Grant County. It seems to be a good location, because I’m an hour-and-a-half to Indy, and the far northern part is about two hours, so it is very doable.
RB: Describe some of the challenges you face in your new role…this sounds like a job interview, doesn’t it?
PN: Hmmm…it does, who made these questions? Sometimes I get a little nervous when giving presentations; I am working hard to overcome that. I have done solos in church but singing and talking are two different creatures.
RB: Do my socks look blue or black?
PN: Oh my gosh!?!? Are you going to put this in the interview?
PN: It depends on the light. To me they do look black, but…
RB: See, I woke up this morning thinking they were black, but then at my desk they almost look blue!
PN: Well, it’s hard to get a good match with black. It really is. At least you don’t have brown shoes.
Side note: Brown shoes don’t make it.
Another side note: Paula accidentally wore brown shoes with black pants once & changed when she went home for lunch!
RB: I don’t understand that, I see men wearing brown shoes with suits that you should not be wearing brown shoes.
RB: Are you a cat or dog lover?
PN: Dog. Am I the only one?
RB: No, you are not. The PDO office is breaking all kinds of stereotypes about librarians. There are more dog people than cat people in PDO. You would think that librarians would have cats.
PN: Well, I have more of an affinity with dogs, but growing up, I lived on a farm and we had about 20 cats at one time and 4 dogs. Also cows, pigs, goats, ponies, a mule, geese, guinea fowls, chickens, hamsters, a chameleon & a hermit crab.
RB: Yeah, but those are farm cats.
PN: Well…we tamed them. I was very sad when dad gave away my cats. He did that when I was away at college.
RB: What do you do for fun?
PN: I have two Yorkies that I spend a lot of time with and I play in our local community band – Mississinewa Valley Band. I play the cornet. I got my husband into it too, he also plays the cornet. I am last chair; I am just in it for fun. He is next to last chair, but I told him if he would join the band he wouldn’t have to be last chair because he is better than I am, but I am having fun. I joined a running group. I am on a trivia team at the Marion Public Library and used to play Euchre with them. Also, I am going to be in a musical/play of “A Christmas Carol” (Scrooge). My stepdaughter’s whole family is going to be in it, so I am going to be in it and sing with the chorus. I’m kind of busy. We like to renovate…well, not totally like. We have been doing renovations for years and we just built a shed in our backyard. So that’s what we’re doing for fun.
RB: Any children?
PN: Two step-children – Tylanna Jones who is the head of the Children’s department at the Marion Public Library and Stephen Newcom, also two Yorkies – Gigi &Ozzy. My Gigi is a certified therapy dog. I used to do that up in Lake County in the Read to the Dogs program, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet in Marion.
RB: I have seen people bring them into hospitals and nursing homes. I think the people there really enjoy it.
PN: Yeah, my mom is in a nursing home. When I take the dogs there I always get stopped by the residents who used to have dogs. I knew that Gigi would have a good temperament for that. But my other one Ozzy was scared; he didn’t like it at all.
RB: Anything else you would like to add to this interview?
PN: During my first two weeks working at the Indiana State Library, I got a little teary eyed a few times. The building is just gorgeous and awe inspiring and I felt overwhelmed to have a job that I am so excited about. It felt like I was back in college learning all sorts of new things! My Mom was a teacher and also the director of the Odon Winkelpleck Public Library back in the seventies and eighties. She’s been in a nursing home the past few years and I don’t think she is aware of what I’m doing now. So it’s a little bittersweet but I think she would be proud of me.
This blog post was written by ISL Communications Director Ryan Brown. For more information about the Indiana State Library, please visit http://in.gov/library/.