For Gina Sheridan, growing up, reading and learning were definitely an escape, as they are for many people who experience a less-than-ideal childhood. “Not only could I escape into a story, but I knew I could use knowledge and education to better my circumstances.” Sheridan, a UA SLIS graduate, is now the manager of the Mid-County Branch of the St. Louis County Library. While figuring out what career path to follow, she waited five years after graduating high school to go to college as she worked full time and saved money for community college. “One day, when I was at the public library, I looked around and it hit me: this is where I wanted to be! So I looked into library careers and decided to pursue an English Literature degree and then go on to library school.”
While some programs are more restrictive, limiting how many classes you can take at one time or requiring a specific curricular path, Sheridan notes that UA SLIS offered her the flexibility and support she needed to complete the MLIS program in as little as one year. “UA SLIS is an intimate program with tons of flexibility. You’re able to take some or all of your classes online. You know your professors and they become career-long mentors.”
Sheridan advises new LIS students to be willing to move and be willing to take a lower level position in order to get a foot in the door. “Model positivity. Don’t vent about work online. Stand up for people. Be better tomorrow than you are today. Be open to new partnerships, ideas, displays. If you find that you are unhappy at work, make a change. Life is too short to settle.”
After graduation, Sheridan began her career as a Young Adult Services Librarian at a large regional public library in Fresno, CA. She planned and implemented programs for teenagers, participated in collection development, helped manage the library’s social media pages, and worked with the general public on a daily basis. After a short time in the position, Sheridan started a personal Tumblr blog page called “I Work at a Public Library,” where she could share funny moments, heartwarming tales, and photos of oddities found in the library. “The strange little things that happen in life have always intrigued and delighted me, and the blog was a way for me to collect these moments,” Sheridan says. Soon other librarians took notice and started sending Sheridan their own library stories. In 2013, a literary agent contacted Sheridan via Twitter and because of that surprise encounter, the project morphed into a book – I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks (2014).
By the time the book came out in 2014, Sheridan was already working as a branch manager at a library in her hometown of St. Louis, MO where she now leads a team of 17 people. Soon after, the publisher asked for more, and in 2015, Sheridan released her personal stash of favorite stories in a book of recommendations called, Check These Out: One Librarian’s Catalog of the 200 Coolest, Best, and Most Important Books You’ll Ever Read.
When asked about the current role of libraries, Sheridan says, “Today’s library is the most democratic institution in the community: a place where everyone belongs, regardless of who you are or what you want to accomplish. There is no expectation that you have to buy anything, check in with anyone, have an agenda, or show ID. Librarians aren’t hiding in an office behind closed doors with a receptionist as a buffer. We don’t give patrons 1-2 minutes of our time or charge them by the hour like so many other professionals. We are here, we are open, and we are welcoming. There aren’t many places like that anymore.”
Gina Sheridan uses her MLIS everyday to impact the lives of those in her library service community. Since her urban neighborhood lacked a nearby public library, she started a Little Free Library book exchange for neighbors of all ages. After that was built, she and some of the kids in the library organized a reading club, where they meet one evening per week and practice reading aloud and have time for silent reading. She says, “The skills I use at the library help me in all parts of my life. Every day library interactions have taught me to be a voice of compassion, to advocate for people who need support, to spread the power of literacy far and wide, to question and challenge the status quo.”
Sheridan has also earned a local reputation as a representative of her library in her community. “My littlest neighbors have started to recognize me as the Library Lady because I have a trunk full of books, and I know which kid likes Junie B. Jones and which kid likes Pete the Cat. The very best thing is when a child runs up to me on the street to show me their report card or to brag about what book they read in school. The relationships that have germinated from encounters involving books have been priceless. I truly am a librarian inside and outside of work.”
By Jessica Ross