Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mentoring in Libraries

One more week of "formal" library work! Then I will be freed of the tyranny of an hourly schedule and the deadlines I make will be my own. As I've mentioned all over the web this week, I'll never stop being a librarian and I'll be able to continue to review literature for Library Journal. I hope I'll have more time to investigate ways to expand the reach of my voice. But this confident, competent woman who writes about life and literature each week was not always the girl you're reading now.

Twenty years ago I was at a very low ebb. Raised to believe, "you made your bed, you lie in it," I struggled for years trying to keep a bad marriage alive because I thought it was the right thing to do. Eventually I realized that, at some point, you have to save yourself. I doubt that anyone who's gone through a divorce, messy or not, can really understand how devastating it is to your self-image, how bowed one can feel by failure.

How many of us are fortunate enough to meet a mentor who can see beneath the fa├žade and drag out the real person, kicking and screaming if need be! For me, that man is the gentleman pictured here at my retirement party Thursday evening.
Pete Smith and his wife Laurie, who met, like Don and me, at a library, have been friends since the day I introduced myself to him at a bookmobile stop in my San Carlos Park neighborhood. I had only been with the library system for six months. I was going to school nights and weekends and mowing lawns for pin money and exercise - just barely getting by. The first promotion available to me was as a bookmobile driver/assistant. Terrified, I plunged ahead, applying for the job and being granted an interview.

The next two years were heaven on earth. Pete was the most easygoing person I'd ever met. He made a complicated job seem easy and he had much more faith in me than I had in myself. With his encouragement, I began to look in the mirror and be ok with who was looking back at me.

 My knowledge of all things literary expanded considerably as Pete was an eclectic reader and handed me all kinds of books that I wouldn't have chosen on my own. In retrospect, I realize that he had an agenda, as most of what I read over those two years were books about strong women, traveling on their own, pushing the envelope, daring what others before had not. He should have been a psychologist.

 Pete introduced me to the first woman to graduate from West Point, and Mary Morris who wrote of her experiences living alone in Mexico in Nothing to Declare. I discovered Audrey Schulman and her novel The Cage and so many others that I scarcely know where to begin. And all the time I was drawing closer to earning that masters' degree and moving on.

I'd worked in other jobs and organizations prior to this mid-life career change. I knew plenty of women who would step on your fingers as you tried to climb up the career ladder after them. In libraries that never happened. I've never met so many brilliant mentors, collaborators, and boosters as I have here in library world. From our former library director, Dorothy Schirtzinger, to Daria Parry who "stuck" me with the book discussions in her branch and put me in front of a TV camera doing it, to Randy Briggs and Linda Holland, who allowed me to stretch and innovate. And of course, Ann Clark, who teaches by example as the hardest working librarian in Lee County. Thank you all.

And here's to the future librarians. I know you're out there. You know who you are, Ellie!

1 comment:

Ann said...

Wow. What a wonderful post. I knew Pete was great. I didn't know he was your first mentor. Loved reading that.