Tapping Your Team Talents

Elizabeth Koenig, Adult Services Librarian, Everett Public Library /

Elizabeth Koenig and the team at Everett Public Library (Everett, Washington) are passionate about bringing fun, creative programming to their community. Many of their best ideas come from tapping into their own team’s special talents and hobbies. We asked Elizabeth and her team to tell us how they do it—and how sharing their personal skills with their community has made this team feel even more excited and connected to their work at the library. We hope it sparks creative ideas for you and your team!

Everett Public Library (EPL) has a long history of its team tapping into their talents. Beloved historian David Dilgard, who worked at the library for 40 years and had a background in theatre, sometimes put on theatrical performances in addition to providing hundreds of local history programs throughout the years.

I get to share my passion, too. Along with Library Page JoAnna Thomas, we’ve put on three and a half years of monthly arts and crafts programs for adults. You can check out the WebJunction article here. It’s so rewarding we even have branched out and volunteer in the community putting on more creative workshops for adults! I can truly say I love my job, and I think it’s directly related to being able to be creative once a month for Create @ the Library.

Currently we have several staff members utilizing their non-library degrees, experiences, hobbies, and passions, to create regular, original programs and podcasts. I really embrace this idea and feel that it’s good for the staff as well as the library, when we can share what we love and know with our patrons. As one of these lucky folks, I wanted to see what my coworkers, who also get to tap into their talents, have to say about how they started, what it takes, and how they feel about sharing their unique skills with library users.

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Cameron demonstrating the podcast software.
Photo provided by Everett Public Library

Cameron Johnson: Podcast Pro

Adult Services Librarian Cameron Johnson began his career with the library in 1985, but it wasn’t until 2009 that he became heavily involved with the library’s podcasts, including his own, The Lone Reader.

How did you get started with the podcast team? 
The former Adult Services head asked a former reference librarian to organize starting up podcasting. That person soon corralled me into helping out with it, and we were both named to the original Podcast Team, along with David Dilgard, Mindy van Wingen, and Doug Oakes.

What previous training, schooling, or hobbies are you are tapping into for programs, podcasts, etc.?
I received a BA in Journalism and actually worked as a journo for a couple of years in Chapel Hill and Durham, NC. I assisted my wife Laura in producing a public affairs program on local radio station KSER in Everett. For that effort I did reporting, narrating, and some audio editing; that’s where I started working with Adobe Audition, which we use to edit the podcasts today.

Please tell us some of the podcasts that you’ve done that use these skills/knowledge/passions. 
I have, with the assistance of Podcast Team members and various staff, completed over 300 podcasts for the library in the past ten years. I wrote a story for Alki: The Washington Library Association Journal back in July 2018 about our success in creating podcasts and about the process of creation. It features sidebars by Alan and Ron. I think it turned out great. In case anyone is interested, here is a link to the issue. The piece begins on p. 28.

How has being able to share this skills/knowledge/passions through programs, etc. helped with your job satisfaction?
Being able to create podcasts for the library has meant a lot to me. It is a challenge to complete something from scratch, and every podcast starts there. Also, it has been great fun to bring in other staff members to write podcasts, contribute research, perform, or read parts. Lots of people have helped with these things over the years and I’ve enjoyed their creativity and willingness.

Anything else you’d like to share on the subject?
If you get a chance to use skills from your past life, jump on it! The team structure here in the library gives possibilities for exercising your creative muscles.

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Linda showing off her special mermaid tail lounger.
Photo provided by Everett Public Library

Linda Stover: Sharing Knitting Knowledge

Library Technician Linda Stover has worked at EPL since 1997, and has provided bi-monthly Crochet and Knit Club programs for 11 years, as well as children’s summer craft programs.

How did you get started with the knit and crochet programs?
I had previously taught crochet for Mukilteo Community Schools, and when they lost their funding I thought doing it at the library would be fun. People are always saying they wish they could learn, and I seem to have a knack for teaching! I have helped many people through the years—I love all things crafty!

Please tell us some of the programs that you’ve done that use these skills/knowledge/passions.
Besides the Crochet & Knit club, I have helped at the library with summer arts and craft programs with kids, and a special lanyard making class for teens. We also presented a midnight Harry Potter Book release party and had some crafts for adults! I also enter my items at the fair, and demonstrate there to show people how easy it really is.

How has being able to share this skills/knowledge/passions through programs, etc. helped with your job satisfaction?
I love seeing people enjoying the craft as I do! Better yet, I love hearing my students tell me how excited their families and friends are when they give them the homemade items and the pride they show off as they wear or use these items. “My Grandma made this for me!”

Anything else you’d like to share on the subject?
Now there is Knit in Public Day, (crocheters welcome!) and we make a big celebration out of it at the library. People have already asked me when it is this year! Everyone thinks it is so hard to do either knit or crochet, but once someone “slows down” the process and shows you how to do it, most people can pick it up quite easily.

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Van at one of the Street Tunes pianos in front of the library.
Photo provided by Everett Public Library.

Van Ramsey: Musician and Voice Actor

Main Library Caretaker Van Ramsey has been with the City for 14 years. A musician and former radio host, he has performed at library events and helped out with podcasts.

How did you get started with the podcast team? 
Cameron approached me about reading part of the script for one of the podcasts. I don't remember what my first one was. Also, some music from a band I was in, The Wild Snohomians, has been used as theme music for the Smokestack Soundbites series.

What previous training, schooling, or hobbies are you tapping into for programs, podcasts, etc.?
I have a degree in music. I switched from being a jazz trumpet player to a rock keyboardist/singer/songwriter. I have a little experience speaking in front of an audience, and about 10 years’ experience as a DJ at KSER in Everett, so I've learned a lot about speaking clearly into a microphone. I'm also a born ham, so I've really enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the library's podcasts.

Please tell us some of the programs, etc. that you’ve done that use these skills/knowledge/passions.
Cameron gave me the role of Silas, sort of a commentator, for the podcast about Buffalo Bill bringing his Wild West Show to Everett in 1908. He gave me free reign with the character, and Silas evolved from being a young copy boy at the Everett Herald, to a hard-drinking failed novelist from New Orleans, now reduced to writing captions for the Herald's rotogravure page. I had a ball with that one.

I'm most proud of the work I did for the John Patric podcast. I was given the task of reading editorial quotes from John Patric's one-page newspaper, the Snohomish Free Press. We could not find a recording of his voice anywhere, but I knew that he was irritable, angry, and impatient in his later years, so I tried to come from that place. The voice was kind of a mixture of George C. Scott and Ned Sparks. It seemed to work; I got a lot of positive feedback.

I also co-wrote and sang a song for that one. David Dilgard gave me some lyrics and asked me to see what I could do with them. His verses naturally lent themselves to a mournful, 3/4 time bar-room style song, and in no time we had written and recorded Eccentric But Justified, The Ballad of John Patric. David is sorely missed. He was a sweet human being, and a walking encyclopedia of local history.

I've performed at the library with The Wild Snohomians, and with a band we put together with some library staff members for a fundraising event

How has being able to share this skills/knowledge/passions through programs, etc. helped with your job satisfaction?
Since I am part of the city's Facilities Department, not the library staff, contributing to the podcasts is way out of my job description, and I'm grateful and honored to participate in the library's podcasts. It doesn't interfere with my regular duties, it's a lot of fun, and I think we've done some very good work that I'm proud to have been a part of. I'm looking forward to more such opportunities.

Anything else you’d like to share on the subject? 
Wherever you live, visit your local library! There are a lot of great things happening there!

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Ron in the music stacks at EPL.
Photo provided by Everett Public Library.

Ron Averill: Mr. Neutron's Record Closet

Senior Library Technician Ron Averill began working at EPL in 2007 and now writes about music for the library’s blog, A Reading Life, and has a regular podcast show called Mr. Neutron’s Record Closet.

How did you get started with the blog and podcasts?
I was approached by the head of the Audiovisual Committee asking if I wanted to do a music podcast. The library already had a couple other regular podcasts, but nothing on music or film. I jumped at the chance. While it began as simply a podcast about music, Mr. Neutron’s Record Closet has become a vehicle to expose listeners to music from the Pacific Northwest.

What previous training, schooling, or hobbies that you are tapping into for programs, podcasts, etc.
I have a doctorate in music composition (DMUS) from the University of Washington. I’ve taught music at the college level, directed choir, performed (and continue to perform) in bands, and I research local music for our local music collection

Please tell us some of the programs, etc. that you’ve done that use these skills/knowledge/passions.
So far I’ve had one music program but I’m planning to continue with an ongoing series. The program I did in October 2018 focused on Pacific Northwest music from about 1960 to the present. I talked about bands, history, trends, and played excerpts to demonstrate certain aspects of music that I wanted to talk about. At the end of my talk, a local band, Oliver Elf Army, played live for 30 minutes.

How has being able to share this skills/knowledge/passions through programs, etc. helped with your job satisfaction?
Being able to spend some of my time working on music, which is truly my passion, increases my job satisfaction tremendously.

Anything else you’d like to share on the subject?
Besides the musical aspects of my job creating interest for me, our patrons enjoy having a musical “expert” to learn from. My program was highly attended and received a lot of feedback.

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Alan in the podcast room.
Photo provided by Everett Public Library.

Alan Jacobson: Film Discussion Series

Branch Manager Alan Jacobson has been with the library since 2012. In his current role with EPL he created the Evergreen Film Society and has been showing monthly films with lively discussions for years. Alan is also is a regular contributor to the podcast, with his series called “The Treatment Film Reviews,” and contributes regularly to the blog.

How did you get started with the film series and podcast?
At my first-ever librarian job, I suggested doing a film discussion series. I’d just come off teaching at Facets Film School in Chicago and thought the “intro with pertinent artistic & historic tidbits + FULL screening + guided discussion” format I used there would work well in a public library setting, for free. It did. Along the way, I continued presenting sometimes two films/month while taking detours to teach film history at Triton College and teach courses on film at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Washington. I also presented at the American Library Association annual conference on how to do a film discussion from research to presentation (from an article I’d written for American Libraries.) And here I am many years later doing practically the same thing. But better (I hope). As for the podcast, I have a long history in media that also includes DJing and recording several podcasts I’d written on current and classic film as well as on “roots” artists such as Big Star. I’ve always loved film as an art form and my undergraduate degree is in Film, with an emphasis on History and Theory.

How has being able to share this skills/knowledge/passions through programs, etc. helped with your job satisfaction?
When I have a slow moment (which is not often), I always have something to work on that I happen to love. This passion also makes me the “movie guy,” so patrons occasionally seek me out for this reason.

Anything else you’d like to share on the subject?
As a manager, I think it’s critical to retain good people. Retaining good people comes from job satisfaction. Allowing people to tap their passions and really make a difference, whether it’s, say, social justice or creative expression, does just this. Libraries attract such diverse, interesting people. Ask your staff what they would like to do. It may surprise you, and delight your patrons.

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