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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Memoriam: Gail Lofgren

Today we found out that the former library director of the Berwyn Public Library died at home.  That she died was not a shock.  Although she was not very old, I knew she was quite ill and would not be pulling through. But her death did make me think back to the mark she made on Berwyn, a mark that trickled out to the rest of the library world.

Let me explain.  Most of you have not heard of Gail. She was a powerhouse in Berwyn, running the library and serving on many community boards. But in terms of her reach into the larger library community, at first glance her reach seems very local.

However, Gail was always an independent thinker. Back in 2000, she knew the adults of Berwyn were not being served well when it came to their leisure reading needs.  She shook up the library, a library where most of the employees lived in the community, or if they lived outside the borders of Berwyn, they had roots and ties to Berwyn for decades.  She reached out and searched for people to run a new department that would only provide adult leisure reading help.  And she took a chance staring this new Readers Advisory Department hiring 2 librarians who hadn’t even finished their degrees yet, 2 librarians with roots far from Berwyn (NJ and NM), 2 librarians who had no track record, 2 librarians who shared her passion for service.

Those 2 librarians were me and Tammy.  Tammy is now our the BPL’s Director, and I am here.  I wasn’t even sure if RA was all I wanted to do when I went to Berwyn, but it was too good of an opportunity to turn down.  Gail gave us the room to make the RA Department what we wanted it to be.  She gave me a place to grow and learn to the point at which now I am writing the textbooks, leading the RA seminars, and writing an RA blog that is listed in textbooks. I went from not being sure, to an expert.

So, no Gail might not be mentioned as a force in the library community.  But she was.  She gave me a chance, my first chance.  She believed in me.  She believed in RA when very few libraries had a staff devoted solely to it.

I think of the hundreds of librarians I have trained to provide quality RA service.  I think of the thousands of patrons who have been better served because of the training I gave those people.  And I am proud to be one of the many people who loudly trumpets the RA horn throughout the library world.  

But where would RA be today without Gail starting this train in motion?  Even scarier, where would I be?  I am glad those are questions I don’t have to answer.  Thank you Gail.  Rest in peace.


John BPL RA said...

I, too, had the good fortune of working with Gail as part of my very first library job. Not only was she an excellent director, she was such a joy to work with. Gail always had a kind word to say. She had a level of professionalism that I related to and admired. Rest in peace Gail. I'll miss you.

Rebecca said...

What a lovely tribute! I didn't know her but it sure sounds like I would have liked her.

Anonymous said...

I go back many years with Gail. When she hired me in 1984, she had put the reference department at 16th Street together. I have many good memories. We would close down the library and weed, shift and dust the shelves.
We painted and cleaned and moved departments around with the help of Al and Bob. Also, painted YS lower level at 34th and moved departments at 34th and started the AV department there. She would have so many stories to tell about how she put this building together and moved two libraries into one. I will miss her deeply.
Diane Jepsen,Berwyn Public Library