Bookmobile librarian loves community outreach

Published 9:49 am Thursday, July 11, 2019

By Nacogdoches Miller

Winchester Sun

Wendy O’Connor has spent her life working in a place she has called home since she was 10-years-old, the library.

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“I get up every morning excited to come to work,” O’Connor said, and it shows.

When she’s not busy delivering knowledge in a non-traditional bookmobile, you can find her smiling face helping her community however she can at the Clark County Public Library.

O’Connor took a moment away from the job and people she loves to sit down with The Winchester Sun and talk about working her dream job and the importance of a library in the community.

Winchester Sun: Did you always want to work with the library?

Wendy O’Connor: “I did, and it got started when I was 10 because I used to volunteer at my local library during the summer time. It was a small town like Winchester … in Marian, Iowa… and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a librarian.”

WS: So, how did you end up in Winchester?

WO: “I went to the University of Kentucky for my master’s degree, and my parents are from Kentucky, so I decided after college to go to UK and then I stayed.”

WS: What did you study for your master’s?

WO: “Library and information science. I actually worked for the Louisville Free Public Library, the Lexington Public Library, the Nashville Public Library and then here.”

WS: What was it that made you know this is what you wanted to do?

WO: “I loved the people I worked with. I loved helping. I just loved everything about it. I was the feeling I got when I walked into the library — it just felt like home. It was my favorite place when I was a kid.”

WS: What all did your master’s degree entail?

WO: Basically, we learn a lot about cataloging books, we learn about searching. How to search is a big part and what types of resources are out there.

Of course, that’s changed. When I was in school it was mostly print. There was online, but it wasn’t like it is now where everything is online, and you have just a little bit of print for reference stuff. Google was just getting started when I was there and so was the World Wide Web.

And then we do a lot of reading, learning about how to program, different types of programs.

Technology is a big part now. When I worked the reference desk you do a lot of troubleshooting, too.

It’s basically just searching, what types of library materials there are and then how to run a library.

WS: What are some things you’ve learned over the years that someone unfamiliar with a library work might not know?

WO: One thing I didn’t know (was) just how important it is to get to know your community. I know my teachers and I know my preschoolers, and so when I’m pulling books, I’m like ‘yeah, this class is going to love this story,’ or have a pretty good idea of what the kids want. And just keeping on top of what is current out there and what the kids really want to read.

WS: What’s is most often checked in Winchester?

WO: I don’t know because we don’t have a traditional bookmobile. I take tubs of books to school-age (children in) elementary school, to the daycares, to the preschools and then I also deliver books to individual patrons and those books are based on their favorite, what they like to read. I do a little interview with them to say, ‘OK what do you like to read? What format do you like?’ because some need regular type, some need large type. As I get to know each patron, I have a pretty good idea when I go to the shelf of, ‘OK, this patron loves series.’ So, I try to make sure I always have a series for her, all the books in the series in order. I have another patron who likes romance and light mystery. So, I go to the shelf (and think), ‘She might like this one. She will like this one.’ I stick this one in just in case or I won’t pull this one because this is not quite what she likes to read.

And then as you get to know them, you have little conversations they share, ‘I love this book can you bring me more like it or I didn’t really like this book you don’t have to bring any more like this’ and so it’s just really getting to know my patrons.

And the preschoolers I get paid in hugs so, that’s my favorite part.

WS: What is outreach?

WO: Outreach is being the face of the library in the community. That’s where we do programs with the schools, at the senior center. And I don’t always do all the programs, but I know they are doing a program at Brooks Place, that’s off-site programing and the children’s department does some of it, reference does some of it just based on our skills.

My big thing is I do storytime for the daycare and preschoolers. Because I know these kids, their parents can’t bring them to the library I bring the storytime to them.

WS: How are you a non-traditional bookmobile?

WO: It’s a Scion xB.

A traditional bookmobile — and some people still ask for it and there is a lot of nostalgia for them — it’s like a big van or even like a bread truck or bigger version of a UPS truck where there are shelves built in the back and people can go on and check out books and then return their books.

The bookmobile would drive around the county and park at different locations. That was too expensive to maintain so they decided to do an outreach vehicle. And that’s where I take totes of books to the classes I’ve pre-selected based on their age.

They get to keep them for two weeks and then the teachers use them, read aloud, the school-age kids tell me, ‘Can you bring more of this or of that?’ Whatever their favorite is that summer. The teachers like them because it gives them something quiet to do, because all kids need time to just breath.

When there are fresh books in the reading area, the kids’ behavior is actually really good in that area because there is something new to keep them engaged.

It encourages the kids to read and I can tell when I take (books) that it’s been rifled through and it’s all topsy-turvy, so I know the kids have found books or when I walk in the room and their like, ‘Can I keep this I want to read it?’ And I’m like ‘Yes, of course you can keep it I want you to finish it.’

WS: What would you say your favorite thing working with the bookmobile is?

WO: “My favorite thing working with the bookmobile are the kids. I’ve seen kids from the time they were babies and now they are in elementary school. I go into the school and they are like, ‘Hi Miss Wendy, you read books to us,’ or I get funny looks from parents sometimes, the parents are like, ‘How do you know my kid?’ and it’s like I am the librarian, or the kids are like ‘Look mom that’s my librarian,’ and it’s just their faces.

And their reactions as I share stories with them and the ‘gasp, Miss Wendy’s here.’

I just love the kids and their love of books. Cause they really love them.

Or watching the school-age group as you read a fun book and all of a sudden they are like, ‘Did that just happen in the story?’ and you can just see their minds are just totally blown, then they have this discussion as they’re processing the story.

And that’s what reading is all about.

I love the staff and the community, but I love the kids.

WS: Why do you feel libraries are important to the community?

WO: Because they are open to everybody.

We can help you whether you just need a book to read, you need to get a job, you need a quiet place to sit and think, or you need a cool place or warm place to sit and think.

And we are free and open to the public.