Meet our Featured Library Employees for the Missouri Library Association, the Mid-Continent Public Library’s HR Team!
What is your name, your library, and your role at the library?
Jennifer Ridley, HR Director
Dionne Wheeler, Associate HR Director
Rochelle Farmer, HR Specialist
Courtney Meyer, Employment Specialist
Talishia Robins, Leave and Accommodation Specialist
Bonnie Witt, Wellness Coordinator
What originally got you interested in working at a library?
Bonnie – It’s a funny story how I started working for the library. A friend called me out of the blue and said that she knew of a Wellness Coordinator position that would be a great fit. Honestly, I wasn’t even looking for a job at the time. Turns out that she had been offered the position and turned it down to take a school nurse job. She recommended me and I was hired. So, I guess I was the 2nd choice, but I think I landed right where I was supposed to. That was nearly nine years ago. I am still amazed by the people I work with, both closely and at branches via email (now it’s all via Teams and email). There’s a level of caring here that I’ve not seen at other places. At the end of the day, I really like the people I work with!
Jennifer – My siblings and I like to joke that libraries are our “family business.” My brother is a public librarian and my sister has been a public and school librarian. I started at MCPL in Interlibrary Loan in 2003 and an opportunity came up the following year to use my HR experience at the library. I couldn’t pass it up even though I had no idea where it would lead.
What keeps you coming back every day?
Talishia – Firstly, I work with an amazing team of HR professionals who are some of the most dedicated, committed, and knowledgeable people I have ever worked with. It is extremely refreshing to work with people who have similar work missions and drive and who deeply care to do the right thing for our staff. Though we have designated specialties and different personalities, we truly work as a cohesive unit. Secondly, working for an organization that genuinely supports its staff and knowing the Senior Leadership Team actively exhibits that effort daily…it starts from the top, down. I am grateful to have found this organization and to be able to contribute a small part to that process.
Courtney – Organizations can’t run and thrive without the people that get up and come to work each day. So, having a chance to change these people’s life by offering them a job or knowing the feeling they must have when they find out they were just promoted is what keeps me coming back each day. Knowing that I have the chance, through our people to make MCPL the best library system in North America is a great feeling!
What’s challenging about your work?
Dionne – One of the biggest challenges we have in our department is balancing all the things we “want” to do with those things we “must” do. We talk about capacity a lot amongst our team, and we have so many great ideas, but carving out the time to plan and execute our ideas is a challenge.
Rochelle – Each employee’s path at MCPL is different, and we want each experience to be a positive one. Whether it’s making sure a new employee receives great training and feels included, communicating to a mid-career employee additional benefits they may not have needed previously, or helping a long-tenured employee move through the steps of retirement, any given day can present unique challenges. Being prepared for this requires staying on top of changing guidance and guidelines to represent and protect the interests of MCPL employees.
Has your work made you either curious, or passionate, or awestruck about something?
Dionne – I am awestruck by how much the people I work with who are purpose- driven. It gives me great satisfaction to work around people whose values aren’t tied to money and material things. I think it has made me a better person.
Courtney – Working in HR for larger organizations has made me more passionate about streamlining communication and engagement of employees. When you have a diverse workforce, you must diversify your communication and engagement styles to meet individual needs, which can prove challenging. At the library we have multiple generations and people from all backgrounds working alongside each other, we also have people working multiple shifts throughout the day and different levels of the organization getting the same message. In HR a lot of our messages need to get to each person in our organization, and we have to ensure everyone understands. So, finding and creating new innovative ways to communicate and keep our employees engaged in their work is something I am very passionate about.
Who is one of your mentors?
Dionne – I know this sounds corny, but my mother has been my greatest mentor my entire life. The best parts of me come from my mom.
Jennifer – Don Bridgforth, our retired HR Director, invited me to have a seat at the table at every opportunity and let me soak up everything I could. He always treated me like a collaborator rather than a subordinate. And, we always found a way to laugh even when things were bleak. I think about how valuable that camaraderie was when I am leading this team.
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.
Bonnie – I’ve been listening to Christmas music on the radio, even with all the advertisement interruptions. Growing up, my Mother had all of the Firestone Christmas record albums and she played them all season long. These were the classic songs by Julie Andrews, Barbara Streisand, Andy Williams, and others. So every few songs, I hear one of those classics and I’m happily transported back to a magical holiday time in my life. Those memories come back clearly; the smells, sounds, tastes and the feelings. Music is good for our souls.
Rochelle – Check out Joe Rogan’s podcast. He is a smart and well-read guy who can talk to you about anything from MMA to aliens. He often features guests who are controversial in mainstream media, offering them a platform to dive deep into a variety of topics.
Jennifer – 2020 was redeemed by the triumphant return of Allie Brosh with “Solutions and Other Problems” which I recommend to anyone with mental illness who also embraces silliness to carve a way through the struggle. Also, I just finished watching “Fleabag” and “Killing Eve.” I became an instant fan of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s cleverness and dark humor.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Dionne – I tell people all the time that I love my job, and I mean it. It is easy for me to show up every day, and not everyone can say that.
Jennifer – We hear every day that 2020 has been a rough year for all of us, and that includes librarians and the people who support them. I am grateful to be on this unbelievable team of pros who have spent every day of this year working on improving the harmony between work and life for all MCPL team members. It has not been easy for anyone, but we are driven by witnessing the important and innovative work of the MCPL team in the communities we serve.
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!