Member Spotlight - Gwendolyn Harrison

August 21, 2023

This week's member spotlight is on Gwendolyn Harrison. Gwendolyn is the library program specialist at the Illinois State Library. She was a member of the ILA Awards Committee in 2022-2023, and now serves on the ILA Executive Board. 

We asked Gwendolyn to tell us a little about herself and answer a few professional and amusing questions. Continue reading to find out more about Gwendolyn.

A little background on Gwendolyn

As I was growing up, one would find me reading at any moment’s notice. It was therapeutic. I realize that now. It gave me a great escape. I would look for opportunities to steal away and simply read. My siblings, of which I am the oldest, would often complain, “Mom, there she goes again, using those big words!” Reading opened my world and enlarged me in ways that were unimaginable.

Fast forward, professionally speaking – I love what I do. No two days are ever the same. When you work in this profession from a statewide view, it gives you a different but important perspective regarding the tasks set before us daily. Personally speaking, I must admit that I also look forward to Zumba, spinning, smooth jazz, loving my family, in particular my grandchildren and long walks. Oops, I forgot to mention reading of which I must be intentional about making room for at this point in time. I am a busy person, always on the move!

How did you get your start in libraries?

My first library job was at Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois. At sixteen years of age, my hire was considered experimental. Never before had a Page been hired specifically to work the Circulation Desk. My passion for great customer service was ignited as well as my deep interest in Harlequin Romance novels. This job set me on the course to librarianship.

Best advice you've received since starting your career in libraries?

Never get too comfortable in your career, change is inevitable. There are many forces that come to bear in this field and in the workplace. You must be able to pivot at any time.

Any advice to newcomers working in libraries?

This field is wide open. Make it what you want! You define your position whatever it may be. Approach whatever you decide to do in this field with a spirit of excellence and remember to network. Do not do this stuff in a vacuum and know your community, regardless of what aspect of this field you endeavor.

When and why did you become a member of ILA?

I have been dibbling and dabbling in ILA since 2011 according to their records. Joining the Illinois Library Association was highly encouraged at the Illinois State University, during my coursework there. If Valarie Wilford said so, then it is so! I realize I just dated myself. 

How has being a member of ILA helped you professionally? 

Committee work has been challenging at times. My comfort zone within the confines of committee work has been stretched. Although it sounds weird, I believe it did come with great gain personally and professionally. Also, my circle of library colleagues has increased as a result of involvement with ILA. Knowing who's who has definitely been a benefit in my current position at the Illinois State Library.

What is your proudest professional achievement to date?

Continuing education as provided by the Illinois State Library are experiences that have provided overall satisfaction as I have observed the leaps and bounds many attendees have gone on to personally accomplish in this field. I would like to think that the continuing education events served as the spark to catapult their personal and professional lives and careers. Many attendees are now leading libraries, authoring books, instructing at higher education institutions, serving on library and community boards, engaging students and teachers, impacting communities with amazing services and programs, and the list goes on.

Hardcover, paperback, e-reader, audiobook, or all?

Regarding reading material, I enjoy all formats.   

Favorite author?

One of my favorite authors is Orson Scott Card. I thoroughly enjoy science fiction/fantasy. 

Cat or Dog?

My siblings and I grew up with both cats and dogs. I like both! But now as adults, we have opted to not own animals due to the busyness of our lives. Pets deserve owners that have the time to take with them.

Favorite film, podcast, or television show?

Right now, two of my favorite game shows are Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud! They are a great diversion after a day of work. 

One person you would like to meet, dead or alive why?

My favorite songstress is Anita Baker. I am determined to make a concert before she stops touring. I love to sing along with her songs.They are relatable and most importantly, she can SANG!

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