Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ode to Jane


This is the most difficult blog I have ever written.  One of Mississippi’s greatest library presences passed away on Tuesday, January 26.  I’m proud to call her my friend and former boss.  You know, sometimes you have that one person who is your mentor, friend, and boss all rolled into one.  Jane Smith was that person for me.  While many people can separate the professional from the personal, I can’t; so, I’m going to talk about who she was as a professional as well try to capture her essence as a person.

As a professional librarian, Jane’s achievements and contributions to Mississippi libraries are unrivaled.  This blog would be over 20 pages long if I tried to name them all, so I’ll just stick the ones I know she was most proud of.  First, her legacy will forever be left behind in the Mississippi Code.  She had a brilliant legal mind and wrote most of the public library law.  She also was the one to read all of the Legislative bills each year and interpret how they would affect public libraries.

Second, she served twice as acting director of the Mississippi Library Commission, the state library.  During one of her tenures as director, she approached the State Legislature about acquiring ten million dollars in bond funds to new library construction and/or renovations of our public libraries.  She worked tirelessly with the public library directors and the Legislature to have the bond resolution pass.  While it passed the Legislature, the governor vetoed it.  Many people would give up, but NOT Jane!  She worked even harder to organize an override of the Governor’s veto.  Not many could accomplish this, but Jane Smith did—by THREE votes!  And Mississippi’s public libraries are the better for it! 

She also laid the groundwork in acquiring additional bond funds for the new Mississippi Library Commission building.  Without Jane, MLC may not have their beautiful building. 

Finally, Jane was instrumental in the conception of MAGNOLIA, the collection of databases available at no cost to public, school, community college, and university libraries.  She approached then Senator Grey Ferris about funding a collection of databases for public libraries.  Senator Ferris realized that all libraries could benefit from such a vast amount of resources and secured funding for it.  Jane realized that MLC did not have the “server power” to host the databases, so she worked with Mississippi State and they agreed to host it on their server.  The steel magnolia played a vital role in giving the citizens of Mississippi free access to resources that would cost any one library over $1,000,000 to fund.

As I said, these are just some of her accomplishments.  However, you would never find Jane boastful about her accomplishments.  She would prefer to remain in the background and did not mind others being in the spotlight.  She was one of the few people I know who was always truly happy for another’s successes.  As a boss, Jane did not sweat the small stuff.  While she expected and demanded the best we had to give and accepted nothing less than quality services to our patrons, she did not worry about things like coming in five-minutes late or laughing, joking, and having fun at work.  She once told me that she didn’t care if we took an hour or an hour-and-a-half for lunch.  What she cared about was the quality and professionalism of our work.  If we produced or did less than our best, though, you can be sure that we would hear about it! That was Jane!

Jane had three gradations of smart aleckness.  For minor sarcastic remarks, you were called a smartie.  For slightly elevated levels of sarcasm, it was smart aleck.  For the brass ring, all out sarcastic remark to beat all sarcastic remarks, she would call you “that other word.” We all worked hard to earn “that other word” from Jane.  I can think of three crowning moments when we (the consultants) achieved this.  First, was when we told her that couldn’t decide what to get her for Bosses Day, but decided on food because we had NEVER seen her turn down food.  The second was when bought her a Maxine figurine that said something to the effect of “If you’re looking for the person who will make you feel all warm and fuzzy, you’ve come to the wrong office” and left it in her office while she was at lunch.  The third was when one of the other consultants (looking at you, Mac) and I performed a puppet show of a children’s story over her office wall.  Jane wasn’t a children’s programming kind of person!  It was all in good fun and we loved it.  I’d give anything to hear her call me “that other word” one more time.

She was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had the pleasure to work under.  She would give guidance when needed, but also knew when to step back and let you fly.  She was honest to a fault and would tell you in a heartbeat if you messed up, but then she would help you fix it.  She would celebrate your accomplishments with her usual wry wit.  When I got my PhD, I called to tell her and her response, “See, I told you you could do it. I had more faith in you than you did.”  You always did, Jane.  You always did.

I have two particular lessons from Jane that I will use for the rest of my life.  The first is to “choose the ditch you’re going to die in.”  I used to want to take on every issue, great or small.  Jane taught me to look at the big picture, decide which battles were worth fighting and to fight those battles, but let the other stuff go.  As a result, I’ve been a much better professional and a much better person.  The second is that “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.”  Rather than beat myself up over mistakes, she taught me to embrace them, learn from them, and move on.

In your work, choose something you are passionate about.  Find a mentor who is equally passionate about the field.  Find one who is both tough and supportive and will push you to achieve things you never thought you could.  Find one who will celebrate your achievements and help you fix your missteps. He/she will teach you so much that you will use for the rest of your life.  Ode to Jane—with all of my love and respect.



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