Terry Collins – Mentor & Recruiter

An informal survey taken on the “Emerging Leaders” blog (2/28/07) posed the question, “How did you become interested in the library profession?” Significantly, most of the 19 respondents mentioned volunteering or working in a library as a student.  My own enjoyable experience working as a library page during high school informed my decision to join the profession. As many of the survey respondents did, I, too, pursued different career choices early in my life, but I thankfully retraced my path to libraries; so did many of my library school colleagues.  There is enough anecdotal evidence in the profession to support the following assertion: the student assistants, pages, and volunteers who support our work in libraries today may become our librarians in the future.

Based on the above assertion, I believe that our interactions with our part-time support staff can make a difference in how library careers are perceived and whether they are pursued. I am very fortunate to work with a library staff member who fosters positive working relationships with his student assistants (and colleagues!). He rewards students who are interested in learning more than just their “job” by enthusiastically sharing his own professional skills. His name is Terrence (“Terry”) Collins.

Mr. Collins is a master craftsman in the field of bookbinding and book repair/conservation. He is motivated by the fact that the books he tends to “will outlast me by two centuries.” He is also the Technical Services Assistant at Salem College’s (NC) Gramley Library, a library resplendent with old, valuable books requiring his attention. His influence on the students with whom he works is apparent: one student assistant pursued a semester-long internship in the library; a second is currently being trained in book repair; a third is doing book repair at her job; yet another Salem student volunteered to learn book repair with Terry and went on to obtain her MLS degree.

Terry is proud of the students he trains in book repair, although he doesn’t recruit them for the work. Instead, he teaches them if they show interest, believing that, “if they’re a happy employee, then they’re a productive employee. It’s a win-win situation.”

Zuri Davenport is a rising senior at Salem, a library student assistant who is learning bookbinding from Terry Collins. Per email correspondence dated July 19, 2007, she says about bookbinding, “It was something so fresh to me but had so much history it just triggered my interest.” Terry gives her everything from musical scores to novels to work with. Zuri finds the work “a challenge,” she says, “because you want to get it perfect…but then I realized that it’s not supposed to look like a machine had repaired the things I had repaired. This was workmanship. It’s original.”

After graduating from Salem College, Lisa Lee obtained her MLS degree, with a specialization in digital preservation and a concentration in book repair. In an e-mail message sent to me on July 26, 2007, Lisa revealed how her work with Terry began. After she expressed interest in book repair as a student at Salem, she was encouraged to contact “this guy named Terry in the library that had a wonderful talent for repairing books.” Lisa did, sticking her head in the Dutch door of the Technical Services Department and asking Terry to teach her. She uses words like “shocked” and “dumbfounded” to describe his reaction. Terry describes their meeting this way: “After I got up off the floor, after falling out of my chair, I said, ‘Would you repeat that, please?’” She did, and they made formal training arrangements. According to Lisa, Terry told her that “he would teach me anything I wanted to know. And he did.”

Lisa praises Terry’s patience and generosity as a teacher: “He let me make mistakes and showed me how to fix them. He quizzed me, he left me alone, he included me in his experiments and in the tedious, everyday stuff.” Terry believes that students learn from their mistakes – the demand for perfection from novices hinders the learning process. Terry made Lisa feel at home in the library. She says, “Terry’s contribution had EVERYTHING to do with my decision to pursue a Master’s degree.”

Terry Collins proves the importance of mentoring our student assistants, pages and volunteers. Terry offers the following advice for supervisors, “Be patient with them. Students come in at different levels of maturity and it’s your job as a supervisor to figure out the best way that they work and the best way that they learn.” Following his advice is in the profession’s best interests since the relationships we cultivate with these part time workers may translate into a lifelong passion for libraries and library work.

Sarah Rothstein, M.A. is the Public Services Librarian at Gramley Library, Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C.