by Ashley Mancill, Senior Assistant, INALJ Alabama
Opening a Library, the Future of Librarianship, and Teaching—Interview with Tracy Hall
Tracy Hall is the library director for Spanish Fort Public Library, a long-awaited addition to the small Alabama community set to open in Spring 2015. Tracy previously served the staff and student body at Virginia Tech as the Information Literacy Instruction Coordinator. She is a graduate of Hollins College and received her library degree from Louisiana State University in 2009.
Please describe your educational background.
After high school, I did not go to college right away. I worked and tried to figure out exactly what it was that I wanted to do. I wanted to be really sure. So I took a few years off and worked and then attended Hollins University in Roanoke, which is right down the road from Blacksburg. And I continued to work while I was in school. It was while I was at Hollins that someone mentioned library science. We were all talking about maybe pursuing master’s degrees and what we would do. At Hollins, I received a B.A. in Art History, which I loved it—loved the research component of that—but I thought “Really, am I going to pursue a Ph.D. in Art History? Probably not. So what am I going to do?” And that didn’t dawn on me until my senior year. That’s when library science came up.
So I really started investigating and looking into library science degrees. Unfortunately, no school in the state of Virginia had a program, so I was going to have to maybe do an online program. University of Tennessee at Knoxville had one, and I looked into that. University of Florida also had an online program, but at that point, I was really going to be able to leave the area. I kind of felt that I really wanted to immerse myself in something and travel. So I applied to several places, and LSU ended up being where I decided to go. A big part of that was because I have family and friends in Baton Rouge, and I really kind of wanted to have family and connections in the area, too.
You have an academic library background. How would you describe the transition to public librarianship?
That’s been really different. For the most part, it has been different working with a city government. That has been very unique and different—working with a library board and city council and the bureaucracy and making sure everything is by the book. And that was in place in academia, but you seem to have bit more freedom [laugh] to be creative and collaborate and innovate and brainstorm—at least on the level that I was on. It was very creative and hands-on. And I miss that, but the structure with the government is nice. You set those policies in place and you have that structure to fall back on. It’s also really cool that since this is brand new, we get to create everything from scratch. We have examples that we look to, like the folks at the [Baldwin County] Cooperative, but everything is brand new. We get to build that policy and make those rules, and I never had that opportunity in academia.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced since starting your job as a library director?
Definitely working in a very [small] environment has been a challenge. Obviously we do not have space. Donations have come in, and there really was not a plan in place as to what we were going to do with these boxes of books. So that’s been a huge challenge. One of the challenges that I still see and that I will hopefully get a grip on is really reaching out to the community and finding out what their needs are. This is a library for the community, so I do not want to make it out of just my vision or the library board’s or city council’s vision. I want it to be the vision of the community. So figuring out the platform to get in touch with them. Surveys are kind of overdone. Do people even have time to do surveys? So I am trying to think of an innovative and unique way to really hear their voices.
What do you think is the future of librarianship? That is, where do you see the field going?
Definitely, as I mentioned earlier, the community aspect is so key. Every community is going to be different, and so really understanding what the needs are is huge, particularly with public libraries. And that’s going to be different for me, coming from an academic library background.
As for where it’s going, I know technology is absolutely huge and so is making sure that libraries today have the resources to provide exposure. We get in these ruts and think that everyone has a laptop and that everyone has Internet access. That is not true. There are families that can’t afford it, do not have access to it or it’s slow, or have older machines and equipment, and the library can really be a unique way to expose you to technology.
What is one thing you wished someone had told you before you entered the field?
Maybe a little more about the teaching side of things. When I went to graduate school, I was drawn toward academic. But the teaching—I was never told ever that there would be a teaching side. But it absolutely makes sense! You’re teaching, you are working with people, but that was never said in so many words. So I think the teaching angle. Public speaking, also. Getting up in front of people, for me, for a long time was very—I was just “Ew, I don’t want to do that. I want to be in the back.” I just wanted to be over here doing it and then help with everything, but I didn’t want to be in the front. And since 2007, I’ve had to be in the front. And I should have known that, but no one said it in so many words. I think that would have helped me a little bit more going into graduate school. We took one class in that, and I was doing that everyday. I could have done a whole other graduate study just on teaching and preparing lesson plans. One class in one semester in two years is hardly enough to even scratch the surface. So I learned a lot on the job.
Do you have any advice for aspiring librarians?
Definitely take advantage of the information interview and be open minded to growth and change—that’s only going to help our field. Opportunities at graduate school definitely will allow for things like that, but that’s only going to help us push pass this stereotype, if we are even in it. I think we’ve moved on from it, but it is convincing the community that it is not real.