In the foreword to the book “In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians,” Michael Cart wrote, “All I knew was that to me the library represented something much more powerfully and emotionally immediate: it represented escape, shelter, sanctuary, the only place where I felt comfortable, where I felt I belonged. It represented home.”
The theme of library being home, being a safe place, echoes in the words of two local librarians. Essy Day is director of library services for the Waco-McLennan County Library. Waynette Ditto is director of the Hewitt Public Library. They both discovered libraries as children and found within those walls a place where they could escape reality with a pile of books, a place where they were treated with respect, a place where they could take a book home and read it and learn from it. They both say that being a librarian is more than just a job: It’s a calling. One they take seriously and about which they are passionate.
Day has been with the Waco library since March 2015. Previously, she worked in a library in Kentucky, and before that, she worked in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia and California. This is her third library directorship. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Drexel University.
Ditto has been director of the Hewitt Public Library for eight years. For the 18 previous years, she was an intermediate and middle school librarian in the China Spring Independent School District. She’s a native of Hillsboro and is the immediate past president of the Texas Municipal Library Directors Association. She earned an associate degree in education at McLennan Community College, a bachelor’s from Tarleton State University and her master’s in library science at Texas Woman’s University.
Last year was a big one for both directors as the East Waco Library and Hewitt Public Library reopened to the public after undergoing renovations and a move, respectively. The East Waco Library has a fresh, new look and now houses a computer lab, as well as spaces designated specifically for children and teens. The Hewitt Public Library has increased space, most importantly, so it can now host all its programs onsite, and it has also added advanced technology to meet the needs of patrons.
Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley recently met with Day and Ditto at their respective libraries to talk about how technology has changed the role of the library, whether Google is good or evil and how the library, as Cart wrote, is home.
WACOAN: What brought you to Waco?
Day: The job.
My son graduated from basic training at the air force base in San Antonio. We were driving down through Texas and loved the area and loved Texas. My husband was in the military, and everybody in the military he met who said they were from Texas said it with such pride.
We did a vacation in Texas and loved it. We went back to Kentucky, and he said, ‘I’m ready to retire now. What do you think about retiring to Texas?’ I said, ‘Let me look for a job.’ It was a win-win. Perfect timing.
WACOAN: So how do you like Waco?
Day: I love it. I really like Waco. It’s on an upward momentum. It’s getting more progressive. Our city manager has a goal to move forward. City council and city management and my supervisor have all been so incredibly supportive of the libraries. That was really important to me because I want to live in a city that values libraries. They’ve been supportive of policy changes, budget changes. I just have to give them credit because they’ve been so supportive of the libraries.
WACOAN: You oversee all the branches of the library, correct?
Day: Yes. I’m director of the Waco-McLennan County Library, and I’m the director of the four Waco libraries. We also have an interlocal agreement with the county libraries that we provide services to them, and in return, they give us some money for running the library. We do delivery to Hewitt, McGregor, Mart and West. So anyone who lives outside the city limits is able to go on our catalog or go to their library and order materials, and we have a delivery van that drives it to their libraries once a week.
WACOAN: All of the libraries have undergone renovations recently. Is the East Waco branch the last one to be completed?
Day: Yes. We just opened September 17.
WACOAN: What kind of renovations took place there?
Day: Oh, a lot. We increased the square footage by 40 percent. The building is pretty big, but only a fraction of it was being used for the library. We were using some of it for storage, and the police had an outreach outpost in there.
We gutted the whole entire library. There’s new HVAC, and everything is brand-new inside. We wanted to keep the building because of the mural on the outside — the community had done such a fabulous job with it. Now the library takes up the entire space, about 13,000 square feet.
It has a computer lab, which I personally love. None of the other libraries have that.
It’s a separate room where you can close the doors and have classes if we need to. It’s just quiet for people to come in and use the computers. [At] the other branches, [the computers] are in the middle of the floor, and sometimes it gets a little loud.
There’s a dedicated teen space and a dedicated children’s space and a huge meeting room with audio-visual equipment for the public to use. They’ve just done a magnificent job.
WACOAN: With all the libraries now renovated, is there a next big project on the horizon?
Day: I think we’re looking toward maybe perhaps providing some services to the China Spring area because that’s growing. This is just pie in the sky, what if [thinking]. I think that’s the area that people would be most interested in seeing expand.
WACOAN: I’ve read that you’ve wanted to implement other programs as well. What types of programs?
Day: The libraries have never provided a lot of adult programs or teen programs. When I came, we hired a teen librarian, and he started going to all four branches and offering programs. We hadn’t done that [previously]. That’s an area near and dear to my heart because I love that age group. I love to work with teenagers.
And also [provide programs] for the adults. A lot of people assume libraries provide education for children. We do a great job [with children’s programming]. I can’t improve anything. But we don’t really do anything for adults. If you think about it, libraries are the only place where people can go for quote-unquote education once they get out of school. And a lot of people don’t think of libraries as a place for adults. We do encourage lifelong learning. Once people graduate from college, where do they go? That’s where the library steps in. We want to do more adult programming.
WACOAN: The West Waco branch has a genealogy center. What all does that entail?
Day: Have you ever gone into the center? It’s behind closed doors, [which can seem] kinda scary. The staff over there is so awesome. If you go in, just walk up to the desk, and they’ll immediately help you. They’re fabulous.
They’ve started doing brown bag programs once a month, where people bring their lunches and they provide coffee and some snacks. They do a different subject every month. One month they did DNA testing. One month they had the assistant city attorney come over and do a program about records at the county courthouse. And they do this massive genealogy lock-in once a year. I think it’s the 18th year for that.
They get requests from all over the country. People will write or call and say, ‘I’m looking for a relative. I know they went through Waco. Can you help me out?’ The staff does some really deep digging to help them.
WACOAN: Kind of a big question, but with all the information that is available online, how do libraries stay relevant?
Day: Oh, everybody asks that question. I think we stay relevant by remembering what our true mission is. I’ve worked in libraries for over 20 years. I started out part time and worked my up to the directorship. I’ve had every job in a library. Small. Rural. Urban. City. Massive, down in Baltimore. I’ve worked all over the country, in small to big, urban to rural. And I think libraries — sometime — get away from their true mission, which is to provide resources and access to information for everybody. Regardless of your race, your age, your religion, your socio-economic status, your gender, everybody walks into the library, and it’s our job to provide information.
I think we sometimes forget that because we get so excited about the new and the latest and greatest that we want to jump on that, and we need to remain focused on what our true mission is, [which is] providing that information. And I think there will always be a need for that.
I think the way that people access that information is changing. You might have had a print book. Now you can get an e-book or an audiobook. Audiobooks used to be on cassette tapes. Then you went to CDs, and now they’re downloadable on your computer. So libraries still have a role in providing the access to the information; we’re just providing it in different formats.
And a lot of people have access to the internet, but are they literate with the internet? We really need to help people understand that some websites might not be accurate information. Just because it’s on the internet, it’s not [necessarily] true. We can provide that and hopefully provide the knowledge to help people disseminate the information that’s out there.
We’re always going to be relevant.
WACOAN: How are libraries used as public spaces and study spaces, in addition to being a resource for materials?
Day: Well here in Waco, I’m really happy that every branch has meeting rooms, conference rooms and study rooms. The library I just came from in Kentucky did not have that. And that was a big complaint.
In all the branches [in Waco], we have a large meeting room with audio-visual equipment that people can use, and it’s free to the public. If you’re non-profit or not-for-profit — not commercial — you can use any of our spaces for free. You just have to reserve the room. And then we have conference rooms, which a lot of people use for their monthly meetings. This morning, the Waco Foundation is going to be downstairs in the conference room. Then we also have a large study room, which seats six to eight people. And then we have smaller study rooms for two to four, or even four to eight people.
We do get a lot of kids from Baylor, believe it or not. Baylor has magnificent libraries. I’ve been in them. But the study rooms get taken and [students] have nowhere to study. So come finals time, we are swamped. Study rooms are just full. We have a lot of home-schooling families who use our rooms to do some instruction in small-group settings. People are using the libraries for those reasons too. Book clubs meet here. We have a knitting group that meets here twice a month.
People are using them so much so that the library staff is now coming to me saying, ‘Essy, we want to do a program, but we can’t because our rooms are always being used.’ So we’re looking at a way to address that issue, because we want to be able to have programs too.
WACOAN: You said you’ve worked in libraries for 20 years. How has technology changed your job from when you started?
Day: Oh my gosh, I’m old enough to remember the old-fashioned card catalog. When I started working in one, that was the first job I had, organizing the cards. That’s about the time in the ’80s that computers came out, and they said, ‘Hey, Essy. Do you know how to use a computer?’
It was interesting because we had the old DOS-based system where you had to the colon, backslash, backslash, run for everything. Once we got the card catalog into the computer, I can’t even describe the feeling when you say, ‘Oh. It’s all here on the computer.’ It’s just amazing going from a card catalog to the computer.
I don’t know where we’re going to go next. I’m going to leave that up to the tech wizards like Bill Gates and the crowd. Whatever they invent, I’ll use.
WACOAN: Going from the card catalog to the computer, how much easier did that make your job and how much easier was it for your clients? Clients? Patrons? What word do you use?
Day: I tend to use the word customer because it helps me remember that I’m here for them. A lot of people use the word patron, but I just had previous jobs before libraries in the customer service field, so I think of them as customers. I’m here to serve them.
But I think it made searching a thousand times easier. Before, you’d have to know how to spell the title, and you’d have to look through the cards. And what if somebody typed the card wrong? Then you couldn’t find it. Or you would have to know the author. Now, you start to type in an author’s name, and it auto-populates and just gives you a list [of names from which to choose]. It’s so much easier, and faster too.
And I love Google. As a librarian, I probably shouldn’t say that, but I absolutely love Google. I think that Google revolutionized how we search for information. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using it. I just think instead of telling people not to use it, we need to tell them how to use it and how to determine if the information is correct or not.
You have to be able to parse out the information, and that’s where we’re information experts. That’s where we come in.
WACOAN: What’s the best part about your job?
Day: I love everything about my job. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.
Everything in my day is different. Every time I come to work, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m a really high-energy, pretty hyper person. I can get bored pretty easily, so I like to keep moving. I love that everything’s different, and I love, love that I get to share my passion for the library with the staff and the public.
I love libraries. I think libraries save lives. The library saved my life.
I’m so passionate about the mission of libraries and what we do that I want everybody who walks through the doors to have that experience that I had in a library. I love that I get to do that. I love working with staff, motivating and mentoring our managers and just sharing that love and hopefully seeing that spark in their eyes, where they get, ‘Oh, this isn’t just a 9-to-5 job.’
My daughter said, ‘Mom, it’s not a career for you. It’s a calling.’ That’s how deeply and passionately I believe in libraries.
WACOAN: You said that libraries saved your life. What’s the story there?
Day: I grew up in an inner city and lived about a mile from the library —
WACOAN: Inner city where?
Day: York County, Pennsylvania. I was young, and back then — I’m 52 years old — back in the day, we could walk around downtown. I did not have a charmed life at home, so I would go to the library and I would hide in the stacks with a pile of books. And the little old lady librarian would say, ‘It’s time to go home now,’ so I would go home.
And what I learned is that the library is a safe place. Physically, it’s a safe place. And as I grew older and started to read more books in my teenage years, I would still go to the library all the time. I learned in books that there’s a way out. That not everybody lives like this. And that there’s hope and a different way to do things and this is how you do it. I learned that you do it through book and literature. Just changed my entire life from what I learned in books. That is why I say libraries saved my life. I learned and became the person I am today through books I got at a library.
Also, I have two children, a 30-year-old daughter and a 28-year-old son, and my daughter just got her Ph.D., and my son got his bachelor’s degree and just got out of the Air Force. They’re very successful. They’re very well-rounded children. When my daughter graduated, we were at the University of Pennsylvania meeting all the professors and everybody. And they said, ‘Oh, aren’t your proud of your daughter with her Ph.D.?’ Of course I am.
They asked her to what she owed her success. I’m thinking she’s going to say, ‘My mom. She was fabulous.’ She said, ‘My parents,’ and then she said, ‘Libraries. Growing up in a library. My mom always took us to the library, and she instilled in us the value of reading and education. My parents instilled in my brother and I how important reading was and how what you learned from reading from books you got from the library, for free, could change your life.’ So that meant the world to me that both of my children see that to this day.
WACOAN: You said in York County there were the little old lady librarians who would shush children. Are there any librarian stereotypes that are still true?
Day: I don’t know. I work really hard to dispel them. I don’t really like the stereotype of the little old ladies with the glasses and the ‘Sh.’ At all my libraries, I have an anti-shush rule. Don’t shush people.
We want people — especially kids — we want them to want to come to the library. I want kids to say, ‘Mommy, let’s go to the library,’ instead of, ‘Mommy, I have to go the library for school projects.’ We want them to want to come.
I know from my standpoint — because I’m pretty hyper [and] loud, and I was one of those crazy kids — I didn’t like that we had to be real quiet. So I thought, ‘I’m not going to make kids be quiet in the library.’ I want kids to have fun in the library. I want it to be a welcoming place.
Something that we started doing here at the Waco libraries — that everybody thought was bizarre — is that we greet everybody who walks through the door.
When I told staff we were going to start doing this, they looked at me like I was crazy. I said, ‘Let’s just try it. Give me one month. Let’s see what happens.’ And they started getting so many compliments from the public: ‘That is so friendly. That is so nice.’
It’s to say, ‘Thank you for coming into the library. Welcome. We welcome you.’ That’s foreign in a lot of libraries. Libraries don’t do that. It’s kind of like ‘Cheers’ — ‘Norm!’ — where everybody knows your name. We have quite a few staff members who know people’s names, and they greet them. You should see their faces light up.
I was over at the West Waco branch the other day, and one of the young ladies there, she greeted just about everybody. ‘How are you, Mr. So-and-So? How are you, Mrs. So-and-So?’ And I said, ‘Good golly, how do you remember their names?’ She said, ‘I try really hard because it’s so important to make that connection.’ I just wanted to hug her because she got it.
Whenever we do staff training, I try to help the staff understand that we’re not in the business of just checking out books as we are in the business of building relationships. You build that relationship, you make that connection, people will come back. That’s why we are here.
WACOAN: In your role as director of libraries, do you get to spend much time working with the public, or is it administrative duties all the time?
Day: Just about every day I’ll go out and work at the circulation desk and check books in and out. I’ll put books on the shelves. I’ll go to a program. If somebody has a craft program, I’ll drop in and talk to the people, and I’ll do a little craft with them. Even on a Saturday, I’ll come in to a program and show support for the staff, [show] that I believe in what they’re doing, and to show the public that the library truly cares.
It’s my job to set the vision and the mission for the library. That sign [behind my desk] sums it up. ‘A boss is someone who sits behind a desk. A leader is somebody who gets in the front.’ That’s how I try to manage and lead the staff, by getting out there and doing it. I still have to do that administrative stuff. They will tell you that I complain. I don’t like doing it. I have to do it so I can do the fun stuff.
WACOAN: How many people does the library system serve?
Day: We have about 100,000 card holders. We are in the process of weeding out the old ones. We have about 300,000 items in our collection. Last year, we had about 430,000 library visits. Our total circulation was about 700,000 items circulated. About 80,000 people came to use the computers. This was from 2015.
WACOAN: Is there a typical library patron?
Day: No. We have everybody, from newborn babies and mamas coming in to do the story time. We have senior citizens who are coming in for large print books or books on CD because their eyesight’s failing and they like to listen to books. We have middle-age men who travel and get the audiobooks and can listen to them in their cars. I don’t think there’s one typical customer. We have the homeless people. We have the mayor. We have everybody.
WACOAN: What is there in the library’s collection that is fascinating to you?
Day: Some of the books downstairs in our local history collection, I think, are interesting because I don’t know Waco. Whenever they tell me something they’ve uncovered about Waco, I think that’s really interesting. I also think it’s interesting that people who were born and raised in Waco and lived here their whole lives — their families never left Waco — they don’t know it either. And I say, ‘Ha! I’m a newbie, and I know something you don’t.’ I like to tease them.
I read a lot of the young adult novels, the books written for teenagers, because that’s the age group I like to work with. So I read a lot of their books.
WACOAN: Have you read anything good lately?
Day: Right now I’m reading [“The Rainbow Comes and Goes”] by Anderson Cooper. He wrote a book about the relationship he has with his mother. She’s 90-something years old, and they started this email correspondence. He asks her a question and she replies, and they go back and forth. He’s finding out stuff about his mother that he never, ever knew.
I heard him speak at the Public Library Association conference a year ago, and he was talking about this book. And my kids live in different states — my son’s in New York City, my daughter is in Los Angeles, and I’m in Waco. I found the whole idea fascinating that he could still have that relationship and get to know your parents on a different level. That was interesting to me.
And I read a lot of cookbooks. I like to cook, so I read a lot of cookbooks.
WACOAN: When did you decide to become a librarian?
Day: I never thought I would be a librarian when I grew up. I got out of high school, and I got married and had kids. I started working at the age of 14. I worked in a pizza place. I’ve had like a hundred jobs. I worked in a gas station, a pizza place, a couple of restaurants. I worked in retail. They were just minimum wage jobs, here and there. Then I was a stay-at-home mom, and that was when I started volunteering at the local library.
My daughter was in second grade, and she didn’t like where we were living. She said, ‘How do I get away from this place?’ We were in the country. She knew she didn’t want to stay in the country. My husband and I grew up in the city, and we moved to the country so our kids wouldn’t grow up in the city, then they end up back in the city. I told her, ‘You go to school. You get really good grades. Get a good scholarship to a good college, and then you can do whatever you want to do.’ And that’s exactly what she did.
She wanted to go to college away from home. The thought of her leaving terrified me. Then when she was in junior high, she said, ‘Mom, for real. I’m going to college away from here.’ And she went to the University of Chicago at the age of 16.
WACOAN: I have a 12-year-old daughter, and I can’t imagine her moving anywhere without us in four years.
Day: It was hard. It was so hard. I needed to do something [after she moved], I would have been catatonic. She got a magnificent scholarship. I couldn’t say no. She went practically for free. That’s when she said, ‘Mom, maybe you can work in the library.’ I said, ‘I’m not smart enough. I don’t have a college degree. I won’t be able to do that.’ So I got the job [after volunteering] because I knew how to use a computer and the little old ladies didn’t.
WACOAN: How much do the Friends of the Waco-McLennan County Library help the libraries?
Day: They’re huge. They support us so much. Every year they have that massive book sale. It fills the Extraco Events Center. I’d never seen a book sale so large. All my other libraries have one little book sale a year. This is massive.
All year long, they go to the West Waco library where we have a sorting room. All the donations go there. This group of such dedicated women — there are a couple of men — sort through all the donations, box them up, organize them and put them on pallets. Come October, that room is so full of boxes and pallets getting ready for the November sale.
They finance a lot of our programs. In the past they’ve given the library money for books. They fund our children’s summer reading program. They pay for the performers to come. They’re wonderful. I’m amazed at the work they do, and they don’t get paid.
WACOAN: The book sale is one of the highlights of our year. My family loves that sale.
Day: When I first saw it, I was amazed at how large it was, then I was sad that it was so big. ‘Does that mean people aren’t using the library? They’re buying books.’ People said they do both. As long as they’re doing both, I’m happy.
Waynette Ditto, Hewitt Public Library
WACOAN: When did the Hewitt Public Library move into its new building? It still smells new.
Ditto: We moved here in April. We are very proud of it and take good care of it.
WACOAN: How long was the library in its previous location, on Zuni Drive behind Little Caesars?
Ditto: This is the 34th year the library has been in existence. Prior to that, it was at several locations. It had been in the Zuni location right about 10 years.
WACOAN: So what does this library have that the previous one didn’t?
Ditto: It has a lot of space. We were kind of co-oping out into different buildings to meet our needs for our programming.
For example, we didn’t have a place for story time because our attendance had grown so much. We were having to use the community center for that. A lot of the book clubs were in residences here in Hewitt because we didn’t have meeting spaces for them. We have a culinary club that would go out in the community and sometimes use one of the church fellowship halls.
We didn’t really start any new programming here. We just now have space for all of the programming, space for them to be under one roof.
WACOAN: The previous library was closer to central Hewitt, I believe. Did everyone follow you out to the new location here on Patriot Court?
Ditto: Participation has more than doubled since April. One of our summer events that we held for the kids, we had over 750 kids in attendance.
WACOAN: What was the event?
Ditto: It was a literacy program and a magic show.
WACOAN: What other types of programs do you offer?
Ditto: Well, we have all different types of literacy. We have baby and toddler literacy. We have book clubs. We have story times. We have crafts. We have a crafternoon. We have teen programming. We have a culinary club. We have arts and crafts for adults.
Then we have a lot of opportunities for technology. We have 3-D printing. We have an animation station that is coming. My dream for that is for the people who are writers, they’ll be able to write a story. Then we’ll teach them how to actually create their characters on our 3-D printer and print them. And then they’ll be able to take those to our animation station and make a movie.
In essence, a person can write a story, make their own characters and make a movie out of it from start to finish.
WACOAN: That’s pretty impressive. How long have you had a 3-D printer?
Ditto: When we moved into the building. That was one of the things that we had planned for. The technology in our building far supersedes most libraries. When we started planning the library, we wanted to make sure we met the technology needs of our community.
Five years ago, when somebody would walk into the library, they would have to manually connect to our Wi-Fi. As smartphones and tablets became more advanced, the programs would then search out for the free Wi-Fi___33. Now, whenever a person enters the library, we plan on them having between three and five devices that are automatically seeking out free connectivity. You’ve got a phone. You’ve got a watch. You’ve got a tablet. A lot of people bring their laptops. Some Bluetooth devices search out that connectivity.
We started with technology and built our programming and the infrastructure around that.
WACOAN: What kinds of things have you seen printed on your 3-D printer?
Ditto: We can print anything, like a replacement of a car knob — if you can find the mechanical drawings — things like that, if it’s not copyrighted. We don’t infringe on any rights. We had somebody come in, and their glasses had broken. They found [the plans for] that piece and were able to 3-D print that piece.
Just recently at a library in Houston, there was a child who needed a prosthetic device for her hand. As children grow, those prosthetic devices are very, very expensive. With the help of the librarian and another child, they were able to actually print a prosthetic hand for this child, and it works.
WACOAN: So when people of my generation think of a library, they think of the big building with all the books. But libraries have gone so far beyond that.
Ditto: It has. Books are still very important. Several years ago when the Kindles and the Nooks and the electronic readers came out, the scuttlebutt was, ‘Oh, they’re going to do away with libraries. They’re going to put libraries out of business.’ Actually, it did the opposite. People were calling us saying, ‘I got this thing, and I don’t know how to use it. Can you teach me how to use it?’ So we became a technology center to help people learn how to use their technology devices.
At that same time, in 2009 when the economy took a downturn, there were a lot of people who had been in the skilled labor force who didn’t know how to use a computer. They were coming to libraries — because now you don’t fill out a paper application, you fill out an electronic one. And some of these people who had been in their jobs for 20 or 25 years had no idea what a mouse was. Libraries had to rise up and help people with their technology needs to find the jobs, to learn how to connect to people.
We had a gentleman come in who had Parkinson’s disease. His hand shook, and he couldn’t hold a mouse. We were able to find him an adaptive technology mouse that he could hold in his hand and double-click.
We do a lot of different things that don’t make the headlines. Technology really drives where libraries are now.
WACOAN: How are libraries used as public spaces and study spaces, in addition to being a resource for materials?
Ditto: We have a computer lab, and the computer lab is used by anybody who has a library card. You don’t have to be a Hewitt resident to have a library card. You just have to show proof of Texas residency.
We have small businesses that might not have computers for all of their workforce. They might need to see a webinar together. They can check out our computer lab — free of charge — connect with good, reliable equipment and get that development. The city just did a round of staff development for every city employee in Hewitt, and they used our computer lab for that. We have people connecting with their family members overseas who might be in the service, might need to Skype with them. It’s used for play and for fun, but also for real-life applications.
WACOAN: What’s the best part about your job?
Ditto: I really believe that libraries change lives. You never know what the need of the person walking in the door is. What I feel like we are good at in Hewitt is meeting that person who walks in and then finding out what they need and being respectful of that need.
We’ve had women coming in seeking resources because they’re in a domestic violence situation and they don’t know how to get out. We can direct them to those resources. There might be a family struggling to find food resources and don’t qualify for food stamps. We’re able to direct them to local people to help them with that. There might be a mother or somebody who is new to the community who is lonely and just needs other people to connect to. They can connect to one of our story times.
We have a new group called Mix and Mingle for Millenials. It’s for ages 22 to 32. They can meet people and learn and become part of society.
We all want to belong, and I do believe that the Hewitt Public Library provides a place where everybody can belong, no matter what your socio-economic background is or what your hopes and dreams and desires are. We’re that place that people can come and feel safe and wanted and valued.
WACOAN: What’s your earliest memory of being in a library?
Ditto: Libraries are much different now than when I grew up. I remember my mom letting me off at this very stately library to go in and get a book in Hillsboro. I remember walking up these stairs and just thinking how magical it was because it was a place where I could go. We came from very meager means. They would let me take [a book] home and use it and learn what I needed to learn and bring it back without being charged.
The way that I was treated by the ladies inside the library really shaped my view of what a library was.
WACOAN: And how did those ladies treat you?
Ditto: With respect. Even though I was a little kid, they listened to me and helped me find what I needed to find. I don’t know that I knew what I needed to find, and that’s now what we call a reference interview. They did that very well.
WACOAN: I remember as a kid going to the library and looking through the card catalog. So with that gone and everything computerized, how has that changed your job and the role of the library?
Ditto: I was librarian at China Spring when the automation of catalogs became popular. It was a very tedious job to take all of those cards and type them in and make an electronic record of them. The good thing about that now is that most libraries in the state of Texas — including school libraries — are electronic, and we don’t use the paper card anymore.
The difference between using a library and real databases and credible sources versus Google is just that. If you really need to know something and you need to make life decisions about it, you don’t need to go to Google. You need to go to a credible research source, such as a database. We’ve seen in just this last election period that fake news is very prevalent. That is a great learning tool that we’re using here to direct people to our databases and our credible sources and not go onto the fake sites.
WACOAN: How many items do you have in the library?
Ditto: We have over 80,000 books and materials and magazines.
WACOAN: What in the Hewitt Public Library is the most fascinating to you?
Ditto: The most fascinating thing that we have in the library is the people who use it. We actually attract thousands and thousands of people to our library every month. Our programs are very, very well-attended.
Just this past weekend, we had a Christmas tree lighting here in the library. We had chamber music. We had crafts for kids. The Marines Toys for Tots was here, and we had Santa Claus. And probably 2,000 kids showed up. They were mainly Hewitt residents. Some of them had never been to the library before. We stayed open late and made a lot of new [library] cards.
I have to say my staff is by far the best asset we have. They are kind-hearted. They are patient, and I truly believe they are the reason people come back. If somebody comes in and can’t find something, they just stay with it until they make it happen.
We had a gentleman at the old library come in, and he brought in a remote control to his TV and said it wouldn’t work. One of the ladies checked the batteries, and the batteries worked. She spent about 35 minutes with this gentleman trying to figure out what his need was with this remote control. He didn’t know how to sync it. She printed out the instructions. She highlighted them and sent them home with him, and he synced his remote control. And that’s the level of customer service that we provide. We have questions like that every day.
WACOAN: As director, how much of your time is administrative and how much time do you get to spend out on the floor of the library?
Ditto: I feel like for me to do administrative work well, I have to know my community. I spend a lot of time out on the floor — not necessarily checking out books, though I did yesterday — just talking to people. I’m connected to the Hewitt Chamber [of Commerce] and the city, and just hearing and listening to maybe a trend that may be coming up that I might need staff development on. There might be somebody in the library who is interested in stepping up to that challenge. I do a lot of listening.
WACOAN: What kinds of trends have you heard about that you might be able to implement or help with?
Ditto: The most recent one that I feel has had a great impact has been our computer lab. The lab met a need with small businesses, for them to have a place to go and train their staff. That has been very important. But listening to moms talk about, ‘Oh, I wish this,’ or, ‘Oh, I wish that.’ That gives me the fuel to go back and think, ‘What can I do to make that happen?’
We’re always changing and evolving into what the community wants and needs.
WACOAN: What’s a librarian stereotype that’s not true?
Ditto: We are not quiet. We are very loud. The louder the better.
WACOAN: Why is that?
Ditto: Because that means engagement. That means people are talking, people are interacting. That means something exciting is going on. Now we have a quiet reading room for people who really need to be focused and don’t want to hear all the busyness of what’s going on in the library. But we’re not a shush library at all.
WACOAN: Even though you just opened in April, is there anything you wished you had, or a project on the horizon?
Ditto: I am very blessed. I have a city council that understands libraries and supports libraries. I have a city manager who gets what a library should be. As far as dreams, this is my dream. I could not have done it without the support of my city council and my city manager.
WACOAN: You said they get what a library should be. In your mind, what should a library be?
Ditto: It should be a very vibrant, active place that meets the community’s needs. We should always have books, and have books available to kids. It should always have some type of activity, but it should reflect the community.
For example, my library probably wouldn’t fit in other locations. Hewitt is very tech-savvy. There are a lot of young families that depend on technology every day. They know what to do with a 3-D printer. They’re going to know that they need the high internet speed when they get here when they’re studying or taking online classes or Skyping with a parent who lives in a different community. If you go to another community, that might not be their needs. Their needs might be a book. They might need the books. I feel like we’ve done a really good job of listening to what our community wants and providing that.
As far as looking into the future, and I’ve already put this out and my city manager laughs at me all the time. I want a technology-mobile. We do a lot of things in the summer in the parks. We have [Hewitt Dog Days of Summer]. We have Hewitt Hero Days. Those are all run by the library. We had a concert series last year. We partnered with Midway theater and had a play at our amphitheater. I would like some type of a mobile bookmobile but with technology, to where I can take all of the newest gadgets with me when we go out in the community and teach and show people what the trends are, what’s coming up. That’s what I want.
WACOAN: Have you read anything good lately?
Ditto: A lot of the things I read are self-improvement and self-development books. Right now, I’m reading a couple of books on business etiquette: “The Essentials of Business Etiquette,” “Business Etiquette for Dummies,” and “’Tis the Season to be Felt-y.”
WACOAN: I assume that’s an arts and crafts book.
Ditto: It is. I love it. We have a lot of fun around here.
WACOAN: Why the emphasis on business etiquette?
Ditto: I think in today’s world a lot of people forget about the standards that I grew up with. You look people in the eye when you talk to them. You shake their hand. You address them as Mr. or Mrs. Just those little niceties of life.
I feel like my staff does a really good job, but they’re only as good as I am. Maybe I can improve in the way I treat or view [people] or address a letterhead. It’s some of those things that we forget about sometimes. If I’m always learning and bettering myself, then my staff will continue to learn and better themselves.
WACOAN: In a book I’m currently reading, the author said that when he discovered the library, it felt like home. Does that resonate with you?
Ditto: Yes. I think it’s the environment you do create, where people feel like they do belong. That’s kind of our motto. The Hewitt Public Library is a place where you belong. We don’t judge people. We do treat people with kindness and respect. Some people come here to escape home. It’s a quiet, safe place. People come to better themselves, to learn a new language.
We have a group that has just started. It’s called Sip and Speak. It’s for people who want to learn English better. We have a growing community in McLennan County of people who are moving here from other countries and don’t know English. They’re educated people who feel like they have something to contribute, but their English isn’t really up to spot. We created a group. It’s growing very fast, and they’re from all over the world. They’re learning and connecting with each other. A lot of them have said they’re lonely. They’re away from home. They don’t know the language very well. This group allows them to meet other people who are having the same struggles they are. It’s just a place where people belong.
WACOAN: What else do I need to know?
Ditto: A long time ago, whenever I decided to make the move from public education to this, a lot of my friends asked me why. Why are you doing this? And I really felt called to be here. I felt that I had a greater calling, and I really didn’t know what that calling was. I knew that I liked people and I liked to put people together to become stronger.
With the help of the city manager and the city council, they have funded the library. They have given me the extra staff. We all feel the same way. All of us who work in the library feel like we’re here for the greater good, and it’s our calling to help people and have some fun and have some fun programming. But when it comes right down to it, we’re here to help.
I guess if you want to know anything about me, it’s that I have a servant’s heart. I’m here to help and put programs and people in places to make those connections.