"You'll never hit a home run if you don't swing the bat, I say." - John Helling
John Helling and his father William (Bill) Helling both graduated with SLIS degrees. Both are successful in their careers, and we thought it would be fun to do SLIS News stories featuring some aspects of their jobs. In email interviews, they both responded to questions. John Helling (MLS'06) answers are below. Bill Helling's profile can be found at Hot Jobs! Systems Librarian and Webmaster.
from John Helling, Associate Director for Systemwide Services,
Johnson County Library, Overland Park, Kansas
My main duties are to supervise the branches of our library system that are responsible for our outreach services. We have specific branches that focus on service to the Latino population, senior citizens, the incarcerated, and early literacy outreach. I've always enjoyed outreach; talking to people and getting out from behind the desk is, in my opinion, the most challenging and rewarding aspect of public librarianship. It takes initiative and creative thinking to push service beyond the library walls to people who can't, for whatever reason, make it to the physical library.
Of course, there are also "other duties as assigned," which can be pretty wide-ranging when you work with creative and industrious people. In the six months since I've been here I've helped to streamline the monthly reports that all managers write, figured out new ways to gather and represent the data that we collect, and scheduled a pig to be butchered in the library.
Yes, I'm absolutely serious. We're going to butcher a pig (already dead) in the library. The butcher, who owns and operates a local butcher shop, is going to talk about where he sources his meat, how he prepares it, which cuts come from which parts of the animal, and why the consumer should be aware of all of these things. We're also going to have the local farmer who provided the pig on hand to discuss why it's important to know how the food you eat was raised. The butcher and the farmer are both going to provide us with reading lists beforehand, stuff they would recommend to aspiring foodies, so that we can put it on display during the program for patrons to check out. Tasty snacks, specialties from the butcher's shop like Thai peanut sausages and maple/jalapeno bacon, will be available. We hope this event will generate some buzz for us and draw some non-users into the library.
There are two pieces of advice that I would offer to current students. The first is to treat library school a bit like your first year of undergrad — take a wide variety of classes and experiment. I entered library school with radically different goals than when I left. The second is to always hustle. Don't let your thinking stop at traditional services, or things that have been done before. Just like a public library's collection should have something that challenges everyone, a good librarian should have ideas that challenge his or her bosses, coworkers, patrons, and even the library community in general.
You never know until you ask whether or not your boss will let you slice up a pig in the stacks, or sponsor a demolition derby car (another real, actual thing we are doing). You'll never hit a home run if you don't swing the bat, I say.
Another really cool place that librarianship took me was Helsinki, where I spent six months on a mid-career professional Fulbright grant researching Finland's national public library policy. It was an incredible experience and I was able to use the resulting research in my book, Public Libraries and their National Policies. It was intellectually invigorating and the chance of a lifetime, and I wouldn't have been able to get there without my experience as a librarian."
Posted October 02, 2012