Bio: Sherry McElhannon has spent the last three and a half years as the Library/Instructional Technology Specialist at the Education Service Center, Region 12 in Waco, TX. Sherry holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University, where she majored in English (emphasis on British Literature) and minored in history. Since she didn't want to teach (what else do you do with a B.A. in English?), Sherry then moved to the frigid north, where she completed her Masters Degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
When not in the office, Sherry and her husband enjoy adventure. They love to travel and are always looking for the next destination. Sherry has her motorcycle license and her scuba diving certification, and she is quite proud of her most recent accomplishment - finishing a half-marathon and living to tell the tale. Two furry kiddos round out the McElhannon crew and make sure nothing scary gets into the back yard.
TxS&S: Can you share with us what you do, how you got started, and who or what inspires you?
SM: The short answer is "I provide professional development to educators in central Texas in the area of Library Services and Instructional Technology." The reality is that it varies from day to day, and that's what I love about this job! I get to read the latest in children's and YA lit, I get to talk to librarians and teachers about how to work together and get kids hooked on reading, I get to play with iPads and interactive whiteboards, I get to show up to work in costume - there's never a dull moment!
It's definitely not what I would have expected when I declared my intention to be a librarian in 4th grade. My early inspiration for my career choice was the librarian at our small-town branch library, June. She knew every patron by name, and she always knew what I needed to read next. For a kid that couldn't devour books fast enough, June was my hero and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. The library was in a double-wide trailer and probably didn't have more than 10 sets of shelves in the children's section, but I couldn't WAIT to volunteer there as soon as I turned 12, and I've worked in libraries ever since.
When I got to library school and realized that being a librarian was about more than just reading books, I fell more in love with this profession. It allows me to share my love for reading, but it also allows me to connect people with information, which is an incredibly exciting thing to do!
TxS&S: What has been one of your most rewarding surprises you’ve experienced since you got your start in the field?
SM: One of the most rewarding things about being in my field is being able to help shatter the librarian stereotypes. It seems like everyone has been shhh-ed by a grumpy old librarian with a bun and glasses. The looks I get when I tell people that I'm a librarian are priceless! Yes, I do knit, and I have owned a cat in the past, but I'm excited and full of ideas and only shh when absolutely necessary.
The most rewarding surprise, though, has been how normal authors are. Before I started library school, I'd never really met an author before but they always seemed so inaccessible, so aloof. Since I started in my current position, I've really enjoyed building relationships with local authors and discovering that they're a lot like me - they love to read and write and want to share that passion with others. (There is still a part of me that gets a little giddy when I meet the brilliant minds behind my favorite books, and I'm pretty sure that will never go away!)
TxS&S: As someone who has planned a successful conference, what words of wisdom would you offer?
SM: Start early and network like crazy! After the conference last week, I took a day off, and then started thinking about next year's conference. It takes time to come up with a clear picture of what I want the day to look like based on feedback from the previous year, things I've read in journals and on blogs, and other conferences I attend.
Even before I have the clear picture, I take every opportunity to ask people if they're interested in participating. At conferences, out in districts, even through comments on blogs - I'm shameless! The worst they can do is say no, right? And how many people say no to spending the day with a group of excited librarians and teachers. The first year was really hard, but I've gotten much better at networking and my connections have led to some really cool people coming to the Library Jubilee!
Last but not least, I would say to have fun! Yes, it can be stressful. You're not going to make everybody happy. But if you're having fun and are enthusiastic as the organizer of the conference, that will infuse the overall atmosphere of the conference with the same enthusiasm! Besides, if something is going to consume your life for the better part of a year, you might as well enjoy it!
TxS&S: What do you think libraries in the future will be like?
SM: The future of the library as a center for information is digital, and the future is not far off. I love being able to check out a book to read on my Kindle app at any time, and I LOVE that it will return itself when my two weeks are up (no late fees!). I love Google and online databases and I can't wait to see how technology is going to enhance the information experience even in the next few years!
The library as a physical space will never go away, but I think it will evolve to be more of a social or community center. We will always need a place to go and study, a place to meet friends, a place to borrow some free wifi. As digital information explodes, we’ll always need someone to guide us through the information overload!
I don't think physical books will ever go away as long as there are people like me that still enjoy that new book smell and the feeling of curling up with a paperback.
TxS&S: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or Scoundrel?
SM: The word "scoundrel" is one that doesn't get used often enough these days - it conjures up images of the great literary heroes and heroines challenging the status quo, questioning corrupt authority. As much as I would love be one, I think being a sweetheart comes with the profession. It's my job to make people happy and I love doing it! I'll go the extra mile to get you what you need and I'll love every minute of it.
TxS&S: Thank you for your time, dedication, and awesomeness, Sherry!