From the Stacks
By Carol Ann Robb, PPL Reference Librarian
There are days I feel like I could do my job in my sleep. Or at least on autopilot (and I suspect I have on more than a few occasions). That happens when you’ve been at the same job for oh so many years—many days feel repetitious.
But that wasn’t always the case. It took time and training for me to get to this place. My first position at PPL was Circulation, i.e., checking books in and out, and then shelving them. In 1992, there was no “Reference Department.” In fact, there wasn’t even a director when I was hired. However, by January 1993, Dottie Thomas from West Virginia had taken over the reins and that’s pretty much when my career path was set.
I knew books and how to research, but Dottie introduced the world of library reference to me. Between working with her and attending workshops and conferences, I learned what was needed to find answers to patrons’ questions (and this was in those pre-computer days). She also introduced the concept of holding programs in the library, even though we didn’t have an actual meeting room. PPL was one of the first libraries in the area to hold programs, including our long-running book discussion group. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model—Dottie showed me how to be a public librarian.
Then came the building project. Dottie’s attention turned to working with the Board and architects to come up with a proposal to put to the voters. When it was approved, her job changed significantly. She had to give up the enjoyable parts of her job in order to don a hardhat. And that is how I inherited the collection development and programming parts of her job as she dealt with the literal nuts and bolts of preparing for an addition and renovation of the original Carnegie building. I got to do the fun things while she sat in construction meetings.
Then came Dottie’s dream job—going back to her hometown to take over the directorship of the Wheeling library. She was happy, me less so since she bequeathed the building project to me. Fortunately, I had very able architects to walk me through it yet made many, many phone calls to Dottie for advice. And since she was no longer my boss, we were able to become friends.
We kept in touch and I made it back to see her one summer. Naturally, she was successful in her job, she even got to oversee a building project to its end. After 25 years as director, she announced her retirement in December 2021. If anyone deserved a long, happy retirement, it was Dottie. She had been treated for cancer several years earlier but had a recurrence in 2021. Though infrequent, her emails let me know that her latest treatments weren’t working but in her last message in late summer, she said she’d be better at keeping in touch.
When I didn’t hear from her at Christmas, I became apprehensive and two weeks ago, I put my reference skills to work and learned she died in late August. Although not surprised, I was still incredibly saddened to learn that the woman most responsible for my sitting in this gorgeous office was gone. She mentored other librarians far longer than she did me—one followed her as the director in Wheeling—so her knowledge lives on in the library world. Her achievements far outweighed mine but I’m forever grateful for the opportunities she gave me.
Read in peace, Dottie.