Member Spotlight - Alissa T. Henkel

Awards Committee

March 27, 2023

This week's member spotlight is on Alissa T. Henkel. Alissa is the Head of Programs, Resources, and Services at Decatur Public Library. Currently, she serves on the ILA Awards Committee, and she was a member of the 2017 ILA Conference Program Committee and the ILA Reporter Advisory Committee.

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

A little background on Alissa

I have a “yearly memories” scrapbook that documented my “favorite” things for each year of school. For Kindergarten, there is a picture of a somber girl in front of a backdrop of book-filled shelves. Underneath, it says, “When I grow up, I want to be: A Librarian.”

I didn’t think about being a librarian again until I was about to graduate from college with a Liberal Arts degree. I visited a favorite professor for counseling. I didn’t know what I would do after college. He suggested becoming a librarian. I left his classroom and marched right over to GSLIS at UIUC and signed myself up.

Since then, I have been a medical/academic librarian, a corporate librarian, and now I have been a public librarian for nearly twenty years. I am currently Head of Programs, Resources and Services at Decatur Public Library. I am pleased to serve the community I was born and raised in.

How did you get your start in libraries?

I don’t have fond memories of libraries from my childhood. All of the librarians looked stern and unhappy. I hid in the stacks and tried to find what I wanted on my own. I collected my own books, mostly from Scholastic, for my own library. I read the hand me downs from parents and grandparents. As I got older, I continued to figure out the library on my own and steered clear of the angry looking staff. When my professor suggested becoming a librarian, I thought, “That’s right, then I will know everything and not have to rely on anybody!” HA!

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

There is a book for everyone and a person for every book. Even Harlequin Romances have their place.

Any advice to newcomers working in libraries?

In the event of a sudden drop in pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from above. Secure your own mask first before assisting others. (Take care of yourself!)

When and why did you become a member of ILA?

For the first twenty years of my career, I was not encouraged or supported to join, attend, or participate in ILA. I was finally provided the opportunity to join ILA and attend the ILA Annual Conference in 2016. I am grateful to Decatur Public Library’s City Librarian, Rick Meyer, for encouraging his staff to join, attend and participate. It makes a world of difference to know you are a part of something bigger than your local library.

How has being a member of ILA helped you professionally? 

Since joining ILA, I have only missed one conference. I served on the 2017 ILA Annual Conference Committee. I presented a program, a round table discussion and poster that year. I was BUSY. I’ve served on and chaired the ILA Reporter Advisory Committee and now I am on the ILA Awards Committee. I’ve met more librarians this way and discovered that not all of us are stern, unhappy, or angry-looking. We not only want to help our communities, but we want to help each other.

What is your proudest professional achievement to date?

If I have to choose one, I would say that it has to be creating READiculous with my best friend and partner in crime, Susan Bishop. The two of us put on a 20 to 45-minute program, depending upon audience age. Each show has 5-9 books that we read from and act out of. We’ve been performing for over 10 years. We’ve performed at every school in the Decatur district including private schools and preschools. When we perform at the library, we bring in around 300 people at our summer shows. It’s very rewarding to make kids laugh. And even more important to introduce the joy and fun of reading to them.

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

I typically buy paperbacks for myself, but I am not opposed to any format, as long as I can READ! There is nothing better than listening to a great book while you do your chores. I wouldn’t have a (somewhat) clean house otherwise.

Favorite author?

Frank Herbert. I’ve read his original 6 Dune books at least 4 times. That favorite professor who convinced me to become a librarian? He taught a sci-fi class that included Dune. That was my second reading. I discover something new each time.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what five books would you bring with you to pass the time until being rescued?

Dune, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune. I know that’s six, so… I removed my least favorite, but it kills me.

Cat or Dog?

Both. I have 1 dog – Melvin, and 4 cats – Joshua, Amos, Oliver & Olivia. Cats are just easier.

Favorite film, podcast, or television show?

I’m going to say Star Wars is my favorite film. Rogue One is my favorite of everything new in the franchise. And I finally got to watch the first season of Andor, and, WOW, am I impressed.

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

Father Richard Rohr from the Center for Action and Contemplation. I appreciate his wisdom. He’s so easy to listen to.

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