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On the Job: She's at Home Among the Books

Penny Taylor, who once dreamed of becoming a librarian, took a roundabout route to becoming one.

Tucked back in her office, Penny Taylor is sitting at her desk and explaining how she became a librarian.

It wasn’t a direct route, a straight line through the stacks to the magazines on the back wall.

For Taylor, it was more of a meandering journey, going from A to B via W, X, Y and maybe even Z.

It was a decades-long journey to become branch manager of the .

“Librarianship is kind of a second career I’d say, but that would be lying,” she says, pausing to laugh. “It’s a change of life among many careers.”

True, as a young girl growing up on a farm in Indiana, Taylor often thought about becoming a librarian. For her, going to the library each week was a treat.  She felt at home among the books and the infinite titles. It was a happy place.

“Once a week, I could get all the books I wanted,” she recalls. “It was just a lovely thing.”

What could be better than working in a quiet sanctuary of books?

But by the time she was accepted to Indiana University, she’d had a change of heart. She was going to major in business and go off and do big things. Being a librarian, she remembers thinking, “was ridiculous.”

So, off she went. She did social work, worked as grants writer, a consultant, an administrator and in the arts, for both the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, among others. She says having a degree in business administration gave her the option of working in almost any field.

“I never had a career path,” she says.

But as the years went on, Taylor felt the need to make yet another change, and that “ridiculous” idea about being a librarian was still in her head.

“So when I was considering a career for the end of my working life, I figured I would go back to that,” she says.

Among the books

She’s been a librarian in the San Diego County system now for close to six years, having completed her master’s in library science from San Jose State after temporarily ejecting from the working world, where she was .

“Fund-raising is hard,” she says. “It can get you down if you don’t keep things rolling. I had a great run, it was lots of fun and I was pretty darn successful, but it was time for a change.”

Since being hired by the county, Taylor has been at the Santee branch. After starting as youth librarian, she’s moved up to branch manager and oversees an operation that includes Marisa Lowe, assistant branch manager and the youth services librarian, five and a half other staff positions and 10 to 12 volunteers.

The library, located in the shopping center at the junction of Carlton Hills and Carlton Oaks boulevards, near , is a busy spot, servicing about 18,000 people and 40,000 items checked out per month.

For Taylor, the transition has worked. She’s found she enjoys working with people and “doing some good” in a public-service position. She’s also found that her childhood vision of a librarian’s job was a bit naïve.

Librarians don’t sit around reading all day.

With the facility open seven days a week and a constant schedule of special programs, her job is a busy one and one that involves constant public service. As one poster on her office wall says: “Librarians are heroes every day.”

As branch manager, she works with Lowe to make schedules, works shifts at the information desk and has her hand in youth, teen and adult programs, including the book club, a lecture series and the “” program. There’s also maintenance of the collection: bringing in new material, culling old, little-used items, trading with other branches and doing anything necessary to help keep the operation running.

“It’s a great team,” says Taylor, who says she feels lucky to have landed in Santee. “A great staff.”

Among the things she enjoys best about the job is being involved with the “” and book club, children’s story times and seeing the number of children who come through the doors and make a beeline to the kids’ area.

“It’s just great to see kids being excited to be coming to the library and grabbing books and jumping around in the kids’ section,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Most of the time, dealing with the public is one of her favorite parts of the job. There are, however, exceptions.

Not every person is “as kind and generous in asking for help” as might be expected, she says, or as quiet and considerate as librarians would like.

While “more than 90 percent, even higher” are wonderful people to deal with, an occasional “thorn” can make the day difficult. And, sometimes, she’ll have to shoo somebody out. But, she takes it as it comes, just part of the job.

“It’s only an occasional problem,” she says.  “We’re lucky. Most people are very nice.”

The changing times

In the short time since Taylor has been a librarian, she’s seen changes that have affected library use today and will impact the future of libraries.

As she sees it, libraries are very much a part of the future – even as the decline of has been well documented.

With the bad economy, she’s found some people have begun to appreciate libraries again.

She notes that a few years ago, people who wanted a new book – and she counts herself among them – would simply go to the nearest big chain book store and buy whatever they wanted.

“A lot of us were like that at certain times,” she says. “Then there’s a point you look around and say, ‘What am I going to do with all these books, except dust them?’ And ‘Why am I spending all this money?’ ”

And, with advances in technology, libraries have made things easier. People can sit at home, browse collections, check out a book online, pick it up and renew it without having to come back in.

Electronic books and technology may help, not hinder, libraries. She sees people coming in every day to use the library’s and Wi-Fi.

“I think there will always probably be some form of libraries,” she says. “We buy eBooks and from our website you can borrow them. Think of this technology: After three weeks, you can’t get into it anymore. You download it into your own device, but you still don’t own it. I think that’s amazing. I didn’t believe that at first. ‘No, no, it’s on my MP3. There’s no way anybody can take it away.’ But they can.”

Always an avid reader

In some ways, Penny Taylor is much the same as that young girl growing up in Indiana. She’s still an avid reader, always immersed in a book.

Or, to be more accurate, books.

She needs to read at least five books per month -- two for the book club and three for “Breakfast and Books” -- but she’d love to read more.

Too many books, not enough time.

“If I hear about a really good-sounding book that somebody else talked about, I can’t go read it because I don’t have time,” says Taylor, who lives in San Diego with her husband, Lyneer Turner. “But I always have an audio book in my car, I always have a book at my bedside, I almost always have a book here for lunch time. So I’m usually reading three things at once. But that seems really normal to me.”

As does spending her days surrounded by books.

acegranny August 24, 2011 at 05:08 PM
Sorry you got the location wrong. It is in the shopping mall at the corner of Carlton Hills and Carlton Oaks, not mast. It is by Mast Park though. Easy mistake to make. Nice article. Even with my e-reader I still love to roam the shelves of the Library and the Santee one is a very nice library.
Steven Bartholow (Editor) August 24, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Thanks for catching that, edit made. Glad you enjoy the article and the library!

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