Shhh! That is the sound of the librarian when you are caught talking. Before my walkabout with Prudence, that was my stereotype of librarians. The label I gave librarians was quiet, demure people who loved books. It is true that Prudence loves books. It is also true that she speaks quietly. But she is passionate about literacy and learning and being responsive to customers. The bias I had that all librarians are demure was about to be changed. Let me take you on our walkabout from the new Unity Park in Greenville, SC to Falls Park (also in Greenville) and back.
History of Greenville, SC Parks
In 1907, Harlan Kelsey was commissioned by the City of Greenville to recommend improvements and projects that would beautify the city. He came up with a report that identified a series of potential parks along the Reedy River. The first park, Cleveland Park was completed 20 years later. Falls Park on the Reedy was built 100 years after Mr. Kelsey’s report. The third park, originally called Mayberry Park, was first commissioned as a segregated park for the children that could not play on the other ball fields in Greenville.
In 2002, The Reedy River Master Plan called for the construction of a new park in the area of Mayberry Park along the area that was to become the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The Swamp Rabbit Trail opened in 2010, as a rails to trails project. After extensive restoration of the banks of the Reedy River the new park, Unity Park was opened in 2022 on part of the same land as the original Mayberry Park.
What I learned about librarians
Prudence and Lucy, her Cavalier King Charles pup, picked me up around 10:00. I had met Prudence a couple of times, but we never really had a chance to talk and get to know each other, so I was looking forward to our walk.
Prudence retired as the Executive Director of the Library in Greenwood, SC about 2 years ago. My label of the “librarian” was about to be upended as I got to know Prudence.
She began her career in Athens, GA as a children’s librarian. The Director there tasked her with getting children’s classics for her branch. As she got to know the children, she learned that what they wanted to read were Nancy Drew books, Hardy Boys books and Amelia Bedelia books. Prudence’s desire was to have children reading, so she ordered multiple copies of these books. When her director found out about these purchases, she was not happy and “wrote her up” for insubordination. As a young librarian, Prudence was upset about being written up. In fact, she said this was the only time she actually cried at work. Her co-workers staged an “intervention” to let Prudence know that they supported what she had done and offered her encouragement. Thus began her career as a librarian who spoke her mind and provided learning opportunities to the community.
Eventually, Prudence was recruited to be the Director of the Greenwood County, SC Library, where she worked for 23 years before her retirement as Executive Director. Part of her work there was the building of a new library. She had to work with the county council and raise funds for the new building. It opened in 2010.
As the Executive Director of the Greenwood County Library, she was in charge of the programming. She brought in speakers, experiential activities, and movies, all designed to grow attendance at the library and to provide educational activities for the community. Prudence was able to get grants to provide additional educational materials for the library. One time she got a grant to present an exhibit about the Muslim religion and culture. This exhibit was met with some protest and resistance in Greenwood. She held firm in presenting the materials and many people did come to visit and learn.
She also told me about a “wild” library convention she once attended. This story will really challenge your idea of the quiet, demure librarian. At the end of the first day, many of the librarians went out to dinner and clubs. One group got pretty rowdy and was asked to leave a particular club! The next night, Prudence and a few other librarians happened upon the same club. The owner stopped them at the door. “Are you librarians?” he asked. When they told him they were, he did not want to let them in. They assured him they were a different group and would not cause any trouble.
Labels are a funny thing, aren’t they? We have an image of professions like librarians or engineers or scientists or performers. But the people in these professions are just people, with a particular interest. That does not mean they all have the same demeanor or beliefs. Labels limit what we see.
Prudence loves to travel. She has taken part in a photo safari in Kenya, and she is now on a trip to Italy, Austria and Switzerland. She spent time caring for both of her parents.
Literacy is Prudence’s passion in retirement. She is now working with adults working to get their GED’s through the Greenville Literacy Association. She is finding her sense of community in Greenville through the Rotary Club she joined and the church she joined.
Thanks to Prudence and Lucy for good conversation and a nice walkabout.