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K.C. Williams on Library Management, Programming, and Grant Writing

Classes taught: Grant writing, Adult Services, Rural Library ManagementKC Williams

Lecturer: K.C. Williams

Location: Lives in Knoxville, works in Maryville, Tennessee as director of the Blount County Public Library.

Academic/Work Background: I didn’t know I’d be a public librarian, it looked like the hardest type of librarian job.

I went to school to be a medical librarian in the early ‘80s, graduated in ’84 from the University of Southern Mississippi. The year I graduated college is the same year that medical librarians were no longer mandatory, so there were no jobs. So I got a job in Dallas as a commercial real estate librarian doing records management for a large firm and stayed there for almost four years. Then I went back home to Gulfport, Mississippi. My other degree is in dance – I have a minor in it, but almost enough hours to have another bachelor’s degree. So I took over a dance studio for five years and worked part-time in a college library. I’m pretty sure at that time I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Around the same time, I took the National Teachers Exam (NTE) on a dare from my husband, passed it, put my certification in a drawer and didn’t think much of it. The state of Mississippi had just made it mandatory to have certified librarians in all schools, and I got a call shortly after passing the NTE from a principal and he said, “You’re on a list, you live nearby, do you want a job?” So I became a school media specialist for five years. I got my master’s in information sciences while working in public schools, also from the University of Southern Mississippi.

I then became director of a community college library, followed by a three year stint as the curriculum and development instructor for a large educational consortium consisting of 18 school districts in south Mississippi. My job was to teach teachers how to integrate technology into the classroom. I did this for three years and loved every minute of it.

By this time, I was married to my second husband and I was never going to leave home. But he brought me here, and I accepted the director’s position at the Sevier County Library. I promised the library board that I would stay on until they built a new main library, and I stayed until they built the King Family Library.

Almost on a whim, I applied for a job in the Cayman Islands, a two-year expatriate contracts as the director of public library services. I thought I might want to go live on an island and never come back, but that wasn’t the case. After living there, I thought that the country’s information resources should be in the hands of a Caymanian. I did get to write a draft of a new public library law, and did a lot of policy work while I was there.

How did you become a lecturer at SIS?

When I came back from the Caymans, I was just going to teach. I had become a lecturer the very first summer after I had moved to the Caymans, I was teaching Rural Library Management as part of the Information Technology Rural Librarian program.

I wasn’t going to be a public library director, I was done. Then I got a call about the Blount County Public Library position, which I really did not want. My husband pushed me to apply for it after the job was posted, and I did. All through the interview process, I did not want it. Up until the very end, after the last interview – and that’s when I thought, “This library isn’t broken. It has great community support. What would it be like to work at a library that already has a great foundation?” And so I took the job when they offered it, and I’m glad I did – I started in January 2014.

What classes do you teach at SIS?

Right now, I’m teaching Grant Writing, that one is new for me. I have a great class, they’re energetic and engaged and I’m enjoying it a lot.

I’ve been teaching Adult Services, and will be teaching that in the fall. It’s a mixture of adult literature as well as developing, implementing and evaluating adult services. It’s about understanding adults and andragogy – what they read, why the read it, how they learn, and a little bit of adult analysis in the community and how to identify needs.

What have you done since you started as director of the Blount County Public Library?

I’ve created a new staffing structure and increased the number of degreed librarians (masters of information sciences or library sciences).

I launched the Southern Appalachian Studies Center, which includes “Foothills Voices,” a reading and writing project. It’s original source research that goes into our anthology.

I also have done work the Recovery Court, which is a life skills class that runs 15 months long with participants going through two complete cycles.

We also built the Learning Lab @ BPCL, which is where Recovery Court and the Arconic Foundation Manufacturing Internship project hold classes. The Arctic Internship is a paid internship that provides soft skills training for three weeks, and then the interns work at one of 16 manufacturing firms that serve as our program partners. Then interns then come back and get resumes ready for a job fair. This is followed by a graduation ceremony. I would venture to say that 70% of participants have gone on to school to get a certification, or have been hired at a job at one of the manufacturing firms.

We also revamped our Youth Services Program, so it’s truly a “ready to read,” starting with lap children. We also have a sensory story time.

What do you think has helped make your time as director of BCPL successful?

I’m walking proof that you can have no life plan and still come out okay, through serendipitous events. My staff are the creative minds behind a lot of our programming. Recovery Court was mine, the Southern Appalachian Studies was mine, but it’s so big now it has a book club, a quilting bee, a lecture series and a writer-in-residence, and I couldn’t have done that without my staff. I have all these wonderfully talented, creative people and they make me look good.

Also, the community here is amazing and gives us so much support. The Friends of the Library funds all our programs and the support they give us, along with the library board, the library foundation, the local governments and the staff here, are what make the Blount County Public Library the heart of the community.