Meet our most recent Featured Library Employee for the Missouri Library Association, Whitney Gerwitz!
What is your name, your library, and your role at the library?
Whitney Gerwitz; St. Charles City-County Library; I am the Government Documents coordinator at the Middendorf-Kredell branch. I work with the Government Publishing Office to deliver current and relevant government information to the public. I teach classes on voter registration, how to research candidates and issues for the election, how to search and find Congressional and local bills, decipher fake news, and many other government-related classes. I love keeping people informed and making sure they have fun while learning!
I also work with another coworker on a series we created in 2017 called Current Conversations where we focus on current and somewhat controversial topics within our community such as racism, immigration, climate change, and prison reform. We bring in local professionals who are experts within a specific field in order to allow open and honest discussion between members of the community. After running it for a year, we contributed a chapter to a recent publication, Social Justice and Activism in Libraries, on how other libraries may implement a similar series at their own libraries based on our experiences. This year, we successfully applied for a grant from the Missouri Humanities Council to help fund the series, so that’s exciting!
What originally got you interested in working at a library?
I actually ended up at the library completely by accident. I spent most of my college life in a library instead of a sorority house or going to college parties (lame, I know). After I graduated college, I applied to the library near my house in order to work while I was in grad school, but little did I know that twelve years later, I’d still be here. When I started working for the library, it was right around the time the recession hit, and I realized how big of an impact the library has within the community. I never realized the extent to which public libraries go for its patrons and how much of a cornerstone it is to a free society.
What keeps you coming back every day?
Knowing that you are a part of the community and being able to fulfill any need within the community is what keeps me focused on my job. Being in Government Information, patrons approach me frequently regarding government and social services in hopes that I am able to help them enroll in social security, apply for disability, or help with taxes. I may not be able to offer direct assistance, but I guide people on where to go and how to get the information they desire. It also gives me ideas on what our community needs and can help plan programming accordingly, such as Medicare enrollment assistance or legal assistance with a non-profit legal organization, so those people can get help when they need it. It always amazes me the amount of trust people put in libraries and librarians. They will come to us for any and every need they have. Maybe I feel flattered that people put so much trust in me and the wonderful people I work with, but it’s a feeling that makes you want to keep coming back.
In light of recent events, it has become even more obvious how important libraries are to the community. Libraries from all over have been able to come together and adapt to the needs of their community whether it’s offering virtual programs, providing hotspots, using their buildings as emergency distribution centers, utilizing their 3D printers for face shields, and more. This took us all by surprise but the way libraries and their staff have adapted, it makes me proud to work in this profession. I look forward to being able to walk back into my building and see what the future holds for libraries.
What’s challenging about your work?
No one day is alike when you work at a library, so there are always different challenges you face whether it’s dealing with the public, staffing issues, or keeping yourself up to date with technology. I think the biggest challenge, however, is something every library faces and that’s trying to be resourceful while continuing to be creative and captivating when you have limited funding. While challenging, this can be done! Government Documents may not be the most exciting topic to some but when you build a photo booth from PVC pipe and equip it with an iPad, you can have people express why certain Amendments are important to them, give them patriotic photo booth props, or have them read famous speeches from history, and it will suddenly spark an interest in that topic.
Has your work made you either curious, or passionate, or awestruck about something?
It has certainly made me more passionate when it comes to information literacy and making sure people receive credible information. I love that I work in a Special Collection made up of primary sources. When someone asks me to find a book on a certain topic, specifically something they just heard in the news, there may not be a book published on the topic yet but I can almost guarantee I can find a Government Document on it! Being able to find documents that are obscure to spark other’s curiosity or documents that are applicable to current events is like Christmas for me. I love being able to share my passion with others!
Who is one of your mentors?
I have so many influencers in my career and personal life that it is really hard for me to pick a mentor. I will have to say we have a great and supportive Government Documents group in the St. Louis area that meets a few times a year to see what everyone is doing in their libraries. They are always available for questions and assistance when you need it and everyone works together so well. Our regional coordinator at the University of Missouri, Marie Concannon, is such a great advocate for open records and mentor!
What book, author, artist, show, or music are you engaging with this week, either personally or professionally? Persuade us in one or two sentences that we should pick this up, too.
I grew up in the 90s and am starting to feel really nostalgic lately so I have been listening to a lot of 90s music. This must be how my parents felt in the 90s when they wanted to listen to 60s music all the time. I don’t know how to persuade you on why you should pick this up, but just that listening to a little grunge and hip hop may make your work day a little better.
Would you like to nominate someone to be our next Featured Library Employee? Examples could be:
…a new employee you’d like to introduce
…someone with a unique job or on a unique career path
…an employee you find inspirational
…a coworker whose gifts you wish were more widely known
…someone who’s “an institution” full of interesting stories
…a role that has a new focus or is reaching a new audience
…someone you’d like to make more visible to potential employers
Submit name(s) and contact information, along with place of employment, to Shannon Mawhiney at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll do all the work of contacting; we just need you to connect us!