Source: Erin Phelps
Rock Hill Public Library’s Community Spotlight series features outstanding people in our community. This month, give a warm welcome to our new Library Director Erin Phelps. Welcome aboard, Erin!
Question: What motivated you to pursue a career in libraries?
Answer: After college I worked in nonprofits for a while, and had landed in Memphis, Tennessee working on a project focused on early literacy. I attended a talk at Memphis Public Library about the Patriot Act and library patron privacy put on by the American Library Association – that gives you a hint to my age! – and got really excited about libraries and the work they do to protect a patron’s right to information. I applied to get my master’s in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois in pretty short order after that. To be surrounded by literature, quietly defending patrons’ freedom to read – I felt like I had found my place and people.
Q: What do you love most about working in libraries?
A: I love that libraries are truly for everyone, and that we continue to evolve as times change to adapt to community needs.
I also love the people who choose to work in libraries – we are an eccentric and creative bunch, and we are people that are really excited to help you. We are the kind of people who would love to talk to you about the book you just returned, but out of respect for your privacy, we’ll let you bring it up!
Q: Tell me about a book that changed your life.
A: Wow, that’s a big question! There are so many memorable ones over the years, but I’ll try to narrow it down.
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman. I’d seen the movie a million times before I was old enough to give the book a try, and when I finally read it discovered that the book and the movie actually made each other better. It proved to me that a total and perfect fairy tale was possible.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. I was pretty young when I read that, and growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. As I read it, I didn’t realize for a long time that it was set in the United States – and when it finally clicked, my mind was totally blown that life could be so relentlessly brutal.
Books are amazing for their ability to show you a world you didn’t know existed, and that makes us more empathetic to others.
Q: What’s your favorite way to unwind?
A: Reading, of course! And anything outside, for sure. My husband and I have a daughter who’s almost three, and we spend lots of our time visiting parks, riding bikes, going running, and tossing pebbles into rivers.
I also love the rhythm and routine of baking – it’s a little more chaotic now that I let the toddler help, but it’s a joy to make something delicious to share.
Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
A: Ha! Well, I’d love to be able to fly – just for the pure thrill of doing it, as well as the ability to go anywhere I wanted!
Q: Is there anything coming up at the library you’re excited about?
A: We just got a grant through Institute of Museum and Library Services and Library Service and Technology Act by way of the Missouri State Library for new public and staff computers, so I’m really excited for getting those in and set up!
I’m also really interested to meet more of the community and get feedback on what Rock Hill needs from their library. I can’t wait until we can be in-person more for story times and book clubs and other programs!
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in libraries?
A: I’d say, welcome! The field always needs energetic folks with new ideas. There are a ton of professional paths to explore in the library world, too – public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries (like medical or museum libraries), law libraries, school libraries – and within each of those there are unique paths as well. I once saw a job posting for a beer librarian!
You can work in a library with a variety of degrees, but most jobs with a “Librarian” in the title require a master’s degree in library and information science. With University of Illinois and University of Missouri, folks in this area have the benefit of having two schools with good library programs nearby.
If you’re interested in librarianship, I think the best thing to do is to try working or volunteering in one – that way you can see the inner workings and daily life of a library worker first-hand.
Thanks for chatting with us, Erin. We’re thrilled to have you at Rock Hill!