Librarians learn from another desk

Denise Bigham moved out of her Chambersburg quarters for a temporary assignment in Greencastle. Working from a smaller library was eye-opening, she said, but a positive experience.

People may have noticed an unfamiliar face in Laura Bailie’s office at Besore Memorial Library. Denise Bigham was the woman at the desk belonging to Greencastle’s library director. She had been there since mid-February, and just finished her tenure.

Bailie was not missing in action, but instead was an unfamiliar face at Coyle Free Library in downtown Chambersburg.

The two participated in a job swap. The cross training was part of the strategic plan for Franklin County Library System. Bigham is served as acting director of Besore, but also continued with some of her duties as Coyle’s director, as FCLS assistant director of library services, and as state consultant for Chambersburg District Public Libraries.

“In one day I could be wearing any of those hats,” she said.

The idea surfaced during talks with FCLS executive director Bernice Crouse and business manager Amy Wertz, and Bailie was brought in for comment. They agreed it would be beneficial for the librarians to learn about the operation of each other’s branch, and broader interactions could lead to positive changes.

Bigham and Bailie remained in control of their own collection management, so that they ordered the materials they knew their patrons wanted and needed. The job switch included staff supervision and making day to day operational decisions. They conferred with each other on any long-term decisions or costly purchases.

“The staff here has been wonderful and gracious, quick to adjust and accepting of the swap,” Bigham said. “I give them great kudos.”

Bailie found the same reception. She noticed, though, different personalities in the staff and the patrons. And the larger branch had more to offer in terms of number of computers, amount of policies, and specialized departments such as children’s, reference and circulation.

“At Besore, we handle everything from the desk,” she said. “The ladies do a little bit of everything.”

Bigham noticed that the smaller town lended itself to a more laid back library, with a quieter atmosphere than Coyle, and different daily priorities. She watched patrons come in the new back entry and file past her glass-walled office. There weren’t as many visitors as she was used to. She liked the fact that so many teenagers come in, due to the proximity to the secondary schools.

“Coyle has lots of walkers, and more lower income people,” she noted. “There are some interesting characters, and you don’t always know what’s going to happen.”

Bigham now supervised only 10 employees, while Bailie had her 20. And the Coyle office was off the beaten track, on the second floor of the building, so the director was somewhat isolated from daily activities. She got called down if issues arose.

The two learned a thing or two during the experience. Bigham stated she always interpreted FCLS library discussions from the Coyle perspective, but now saw things from another point of view. She expected that would help create more uniformity with all of the branches, including Grove Family Library in Chambersburg, Saint Thomas Library, Fort Loudon Community Library and Blue Ridge Summit Free Library.

Bailie said that, whether good or bad, Besore has stood on its own for a long time and Chambersburg seemed to exist as its own entity. The swap closed the distance somewhat, in the library associations within the county.

“Morale will be better if we can build our identification as a library system,” she said. “We’re part of a team. The staff at each don’t know each other well. This helps those relationships and understanding each other.”

Bigham and Bailie noticed small things they may bring back to their own libraries, but didn’t see the need to make any big changes.

And while variety was good, Bailie admitted, “I enjoy it, but I miss Greencastle.”