This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions
by Ta-Shirè Tribbett, Assistant for INALJ DC
Meet LeoNard Thompson, Manager of Adult Information Services for DC Public Libraries
I first encountered LeoNard Thompson through a retweet on my Twitter page. When I realized he was a local DC librarian, I was eager to follow him and soak up all the information he drops on a consistent basis, be it about music, librarianship, and information. He is currently the manager of Adult Information Services for DC Public Libraries, where he manages the staff and departmental systems relating to customer service, reference and information advisory, outreach, events, and the adult circulating collection of the central library. Follow his handle, @Lee_Yo_Nard , for an informative, inspiring read.
- Please describe your educational background.
I earned my undergraduate degree in Mass Media Communications at Wilberforce University, located in southern Ohio, which I never hesitate to mention is the nation’s oldest historical black college or university (HBCU). While there I concentrated in print and broadcast journalism, writing for our campus newspaper, hosting concerts and campus events, as well as an afternoon radio show.
After years of life and work experience, and a few ‘aha’ moments, I went on to earn a Master’s of Science in Library Science (MSLS) as a proud member of Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural graduating class of online students. I believe we were one of the first accredited and respected online library science programs in the country tied to an actual university campus. I had the honor and privilege of learning under Dr. Bernard Vavrek, a legend in our field as it relates to rural and small libraries, as well as library outreach, many of those universal standards and tenets very applicable to the large, urban public libraries I work in today.
- Please describe your library-related work background (or any other jobs that contribute to your library-related skillset)
Unlike many who have entered our field from the inside as a shelver, technician, or volunteer, I did not have any specific hands on experience working in an actual library until my early twenties. My mixed bag of experience included working part-time as a freelance writer for local news publications, videography and production for a major amusement park, and managing an alternative education center for at risk youth. During my teaching, instructing, and supervising there I honed the basis of what would later become my style of management, more importantly, I learned who I was professionally and what I particualrly did not want to achieve, and how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. It was not until I landed the position of Media Specialist Technician for a suburban school district that a senior librarian planted the thought of librarianship as a career in my mind. She believed that I had the personality, passion and willingness to instruct and serve customers, and an uncommon blend of literary and technological knowledge that matched the trend that the library profession was just beginning to ride at that time. My goodness how correct she was about that trend!
- Did you have any work-related experience in libraries before you got your degree? If not, what made you get your MLS/MLIS?
School district, and local governments in general, were in financial straits, and the school’s libraries or media centers were usually one of the first places they looked to trim, thus I was given my pink slip (which was actually pink, the nerve). And not unlike so many library customers I have assisted through the years since, I spent the bulk of my days there revising my resume, researching for jobs, and checking out recreational reading and movies. It was while doing so that I came across an available part-time associate position in the Audio Visual department in the very library I was researching in. I applied, later interviewed, and was offered the job.
I sat at a two-foot wide, three-foot high desk, just large enough for the larger computer terminals prevalent then so prevalent in technology. It was adjacent to the CD and DVD collections, and I spent the busy hours of the day talking about movies and music to people who quickly became my ‘regulars’, placing holds, and offering suggestions.
Enthusiastic, intrigued, and available, I would fill in for any and everyone who needed assistance throughout the library system. Any department, any day, any shift. I began to realize that my job performance was the culmination of my love of reading, learning, instructing, and a passion for what I would come to know as public service. I made a positive impression with administration and coworkers, and was offered a full time position as an Adult Services Associate, with the support of the organization to return to school for a master’s degree in the field that I had fallen in love with. I often think back to that desk and my time there as a reminder of what a blessing this journey has been.
- Did your education prepare you for your job duties?
Because I was taking classes, doing projects and several practicum for school while employed in a public library, the opportunity to apply theory to authentic real work situations was invaluable. Many of my collegial cohorts who were taking the same courses held various positions in various types of libraries as well. Their perspectives, input, and collective experience enriched my education by one-hundred fold. By the time I graduated from the program, it was as if I had concluded both a work-study program, as well as earned a master’s degree.
- Do you have any education/professional regrets?
I recently had the opportunity to take the Gallup Organization’s StrengthsFinder assessment, and ‘Connectedness’ is one of my top five strengths. Among the description of attributes is that those with this strength contend that “everything happens for a reason.” While I do believe that choices and quality decision-making are crucial to a quality life, I also believe in what many label as destiny, and the energy spent in regretting could be redirected to resetting, be that resetting our values, our friends, our habits, etc. One must never walk backwards into the future, and regret is the distraction that causes us to do just that.
- Do you have any advice for those who want to be, or are already involved in the field?
My advice would be to come to know, accept, and appreciate, that at its core, librarianship is a service industry. Librarians are the stewards of said service, and the concierge of quality information. Whatever branch you belong, public, academic, or special, if the driving force behind why you want to be involved is not in due course to ultimately serve others, not only will you be unhappy and unfulfilled, but those around you will be unhappy and unfulfilled as well.