Today I was in Uptown Charlotte for a meeting, when I remembered that Charlotte’s Main Library is closing for good tomorrow. Realizing that it was my last chance to say “goodbye,” I decided to walk over before my meeting. As I walked the familiar streets, memories came flooding back. I spent fifteen years working at Main Library, first from 2000-2006, and then from 2008-2018. I was there so long that most of my major adult milestones took place while I worked there. Here are just a few memories that came to me today.
I met many famous authors while working for the Library, including Alice Sebold, Neil Gaiman, Norman Mailer, David Sedaris, Kathy Reichs and Pat Conroy – to name just a few. I helped create exhibits, put on events, and drive important people around – including once taking Jack Hannah for a massage after the WordPlay Saturday festival.
I had all three of my children while working at the Library, and they all grew up knowing their mom was a “library lady.” I also met my longtime partner, Hyong Yi, at the Library, along with many friends I still have to this day. I learned most of what I know about PR, marketing, strategic planning, budgeting and managing at the library, skills that I still use to this day as part of my consulting work. I did TV interviews – some good, some bad – and helped answer difficult questions. I occasionally worked library service desks, meeting and chatting with the people who relied on our many branches. Once, while working a desk, I was hit on while visibly quite pregnant with my second child. Twice!
I remember the day I was hired for the first time by the library. I thought I had won the lottery! Like many people who come to work for libraries, I had romantic visions that it would be all about books, reading and being surrounded by like-minded intellectuals. I quickly learned that yes, it was that, but it was also many, many other things.
I was at the Library through good times and bad. I was at work on 9/11, and I remember huddling around the TV in the basement break room surrounded by my coworkers, our mouths open in disbelief. I remember times when we were hiring and opening branches, and times when we were laying people off and closing branches. I saw the library decimated by budget cuts. I had patrons yell at me on the phone because their branches were closing. I saw it bounce back stronger than ever. I visited all the branches, borrowed books, went to programs, and saw people of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances benefitting from the library’s services.
Sometimes doing marketing and PR for the Library was frustrating. It seemed like we were always trying to “get the word out,” always working to raise awareness, but still so many people either didn’t know what we offered or thought we were irrelevant. I used to joke that I would have to personally knock on every door in the county, and personally tell every single resident about the library’s services, to get the level of awareness I felt we deserved.
As much as I saw myself as working for the library system, my office was always in Main Library. I saw many things within those walls, good and bad. I remember the distinct smell – that of books, old building materials and human bodies. I experienced bomb threats and mentally rehearsed what I would do in an active shooter situation (thankfully we never had one). I had my favorite lunch spots, rode rental bikes (at my own peril) around Uptown, walked in Fourth Ward Park with coworkers, and came back to my office to continue working for the library.
Walking in today, after nearly three years away, I still remembered the names of the two staff members working the desks. I chatted and looked around, but most of the building was roped off. With much of it closed and empty, the building looked like it was getting ready for some well-deserved rest.
Sating goodbye to the Main Library today was bittersweet, but I am so excited to see the next chapter. The new building will be great, and I believe the excitement around it will go a long way in raising awareness and change people’s misconceptions. Which is not to say that the system’s many branches aren’t doing this already. Thanks to the innovative staff, and several new or renovated branches, the system is already showing us what the future of libraries looks like. I for one can’t wait to see more! https://www.cmlibrary.org/future-main-library