Today we introduce you to the woman behind the Jefferson County Library Cooperative, Pat Ryan. With more than 35 years of public library experience, Pat has won numerous honors for her tireless work to coordinate services and resource-sharing among the public libraries in Jefferson County. Most recently, she was named The University of Alabama Beta Phi Mu Librarian of the Year for 2014. As director for the cooperative, a nonprofit organization, Pat works with 22 library directors and staff countywide to coordinate and administer funding for the cooperative services that link our 40 local libraries with one card for everyone in the county. So the next time you request that a book be placed on hold or transferred to your local library branch, you can thank Pat!
What brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up in Hamilton, AL, a small town in Northwest Alabama. I went to college at The University of Alabama, and I majored in home economics with a concentration in interior design. (That was a huge asset later when I was working on the building projects at the Hoover Public Library.) I came to Birmingham after college to find a job.
I can’t believe it never occurred to me to pursue librarianship as a path in college! I saw a newspaper ad for a job at the Birmingham Public Library; I applied and worked in the circulation department for three years. I then honed my storytelling skills when I was offered a position as a professional storyteller — traveling and telling stories at libraries, day care centers and nursing homes. After doing that for two years, I knew that children’s librarianship was what I was most interested in. I began taking classes at The University of Alabama and The University of Alabama-Birmingham toward a master’s in library services.
How long have you been involved with the Jefferson County Library Cooperative?
Leaving the Hoover Public Library was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. But by 1997 I was ready for a new challenge, and I got one immediately! The moment I began with JCLC, the state of Alabama was selected as the first recipient for the Gates Library Foundation technology initiative. At that time, libraries were just beginning to plug into the computer era. We were on the cusp and set the tone for this initiative for the rest of the nation. I worked with all the libraries in Jefferson County to help coordinate our grant and IT efforts in every library countywide. Each library received computers, which catapulted our libraries into the computer age full steam ahead. The rest is history. We now have close to 1,500 PCs for public and staff use in 40 libraries. Of course, now technology plays a major role in our operation to link all 40 libraries countywide, which is the role I play with the cooperative and working with our 22 library directors.
Did you have a mentor?
Many, many mentors! One of my first mentors was George Stewart, former director of the Birmingham Public Library. Even though I was a new employee, Mr. Stewart took the time to stop and ask me how I was doing. He was the one who most encouraged me to work on my master’s in library services, now called master of library and information studies. Another mentor was Linda Andrews, director of Hoover Public Library, whom I worked under for 14 years. Linda was a visionary with her ideas for the state-of-the-art HPL library theater and café area. My area of expertise was helping to plan the children’s area. Linda’s vision extended into a better display and guided us to locate books by category. This was part of the 1980s/1990s bookstore model that libraries began following. I know many of her managerial methods, and hopefully her visionary leadership rubbed off on me.
What valuable advice have you received?
Don’t ever ask an employee to do a task you will not do yourself.
Tell us about the JCLC’s recent campaign, The Great Give.
Due to extreme funding cuts from Jefferson County (due to the loss of the occupational tax) over the past four years, the Jefferson County Library Cooperative is using the campaign for continued assistance to keep the “40 Libraries. 1 County. 1 Card.” cooperative system alive. The Jefferson County Library Cooperative works behind the scenes to coordinate the services that link our 40 libraries with one card for everyone in the county. The core services made available to all county residents are:
- Nearly 2 million items in 40 libraries countywide
- In-person or online holds on items at any library in the county
- Delivery service — the items residents want, where they want to pick them up
- 24/7 catalog, which includes 20,614 downloadable eBooks and eAudiobooks
- Internet access — including free WiFi, available in 40 libraries
- Books-By-Mail for the homebound
The Great Give fundraising campaign assisted the library cooperative in its efforts to continue linking our 40 libraries with Jefferson County residents.
If people missed out on The Great Give, but would still like to help, how can they go about doing that?
Anyone can still visit the website www.razoo.com/story/TheGreatGive or visit our website PublicLibrariesInJC.org anytime to donate. Any amount is appreciated. All donations will be tax-deductible, as the Jefferson County Library Cooperative Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) organization.
Is there a recent meal at a local restaurant that has wowed you?
My husband and I love Bistro 218. Each time we dine there, everything on the menu is outstanding. It has become “our place” — fine dining in an intimate space with a superb chef and staff.
Is there an event that you are looking forward to attending?
Light Dreams II at ASC; I waited too late to get tickets for Steve Martin and his band.
What books are on your bedside table?
What is the Bible? by Henri Daniel-Rops and Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe (about a children’s book illustrator) by Alma M. Gilbert.
Do you have any hobbies?
Cooking and gardening are my therapy. Also, I have just discovered a new hobby that I hope to pursue more when I retire: making handmade books. I attended a workshop at Camp McDowell last year and spent three days learning how to craft a book. It was great therapy, and I hope to continue this project. Bookmaking is enjoying a resurrection at the moment; most people don’t know that we have a fine master of book arts program at The University of Alabama. Maybe I will pursue another degree upon retirement! But who knows when that will be? My husband says I have a new retirement project every month.
Do you have any personality quirks or irrational fears?
I hate bugs. Spiders, especially.
If your house was on fire, what’s the one nonliving thing you would grab?
My wedding ring and family photos. Everything else is replaceable.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding friends, family and faith.
Books, of course! I always have an audio book on my iPhone (downloaded free from the JCLC website collection) for walking or for riding my bike or in my car. I love historical fiction with a mystery/suspense twist. I learn so much history in the car, and it makes driving so much more fun!
Cookbooks. Not just for cooking, but for reading, too. I love cookbooks that tell stories, such as Savannah Seasons. This book is about award-winning chef Elizabeth Terry, owner of of Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah. I heard about this restaurant at the Hoover Library’s Southern Voices conference when Pat Conroy was a guest author. It was one of his favorite places, and I agree after dining there while on a visit to Savannah. I have to say I read more than I cook from my collection, but I do love to cook, also!
Alabama Public Television. My favorite show at the moment is “Call the Midwife.” I have just requested that it be sent to Birmingham Public Library for me to pick up.
Thanks for sharing, Pat!
And thank you to Alisha Crossley for today’s fabulous photos! www.alishacrossleyphotography.com.