Ms. Angela Fisher Hall is the 2020 recipient of the SLIS Outstanding Alumna award. She graduated from SLIS in December 1986 with a concentration in public libraries. After completing her degree, her first job was in a public library where she worked part time in a reference department. “The work was so engaging – searching for an answer to the most obscure questions… After working in this environment for several months, I knew that a career in libraries was right for me.”
Angela currently works as the Regional Librarian for the Alabama Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (BPH), a division of the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS). As head of the BPH, she provides leadership and support for planning, development, and improvement of statewide library services for citizens of Alabama who are blind, have visual impairments, or have a disability and cannot read or hold standard print. Supervision and coordination are critical in her position, as she ensures all specialized services comply with both APLS and the National Library Service (NLS)/ Library of Congress rules and regulations. “Currently, I supervise a staff of seven who are all engaged in providing our library patrons with the best in braille and audio books, as well as magazines. We serve patrons in 64 of Alabama’s 67 counties. BPH is part of the NLS network of 55 regional libraries serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. BPH provides books in braille or audio, delivered to an individual’s door, or downloaded instantly. Best of all, there are no subscriptions, overdue fines, or service fees—it is a free service for eligible borrowers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a brief, yet substantial impact on the services provided at Ms. Fisher Hall’s institution. “All items in our collection are mailed directly to a patron’s home address.” The agency was closed for seven weeks, beginning in March 2020, and the staff worked from home while contacting patrons via phone. Her staff was able to mail audiobooks to patrons, but not close to the number of items they were sending out pre-COVID. The BPH had a recorded message for their phones during the time they were not in the building, explaining that staff were not in the building due to the heightened concerns over the coronavirus. One patron left a voicemail stating, “I don’t know what this COVID has to do with me getting my books, but I need more books.” Angela and her staff had to find a way to continue providing patrons with books.
If she could come back and take any class at UA, Angela would like to take a course on digital preservation. “As organizations grow and individuals leave or retire, it will be vitally important to store records and photographs in a format that does not require floor space or more shelving. Having items stored digitally is extremely important when it comes to preserving information, making that information accessible, and storing the information in a safe format.”
Ms. Fisher Hall’s advice for current and prospective students is to make certain you can be flexible in your environment and learn to grow. “Libraries are great places to work and to grow as an individual. Whether you are in public, academic, school, or special libraries, you will encounter people, questions, and experiences that will expand your world and knowledge exponentially… My advice for current and prospective students is to make certain that you can be flexible—not only in your way of thinking but also in your willingness to have varied experiences.”
The American Library Association (ALA) Core Value that most inspires the work Angela does is access. “When I was in the graduate program at UA, the buzzword at that time was “information superhighway.” The expression focused on a future where computers and other telecommunication devices would be used to access information with the tap of a key. Today, I feel as though access is still elusive to so many. In working with individuals who have physical disabilities, I am reminded daily that simply printing an item or distributing it by email does not give everyone access. Instead, in order for that access to be equitable, I have to make certain the document is available in a readable text that can be read using a speech synthesizer (narration software); available in braille, and in audio formats where possible. Only then will all of my patrons have access at the same time to a wealth of great information.”
We are grateful to Ms. Fisher Hall for granting us time to learn more about her and the wonderful work she has been doing and continues to do as a SLIS graduate. Congratulations on being named the SLIS 2020 Outstanding Alumna and we wish you continued success in your work!