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SIS 2020 Alumni Innovator’s Award: Wendy Cornelisen

SIS alum Wendy Cornelisen (‘07) is a big picture, out-of-the-box kind of person. This mindset is why her career trajectory took her from a reference librarian position all the way to her current job as Georgia’s assistant state librarian for library innovation and collaboration – and it’s also why she is the recipient of the 2020 SIS Innovator’s Award.

“Honestly, the part of it that I love is every day at my job is different, there’s always a new challenge. There is the opportunity to look at the complexity involved and see how things are working and where to make changes to make things more efficient, to streamline the process,” she said.

There are definitely days where Cornelisen said she misses some of the everyday work of a reference librarian, but most days she revels in solving problems creatively. She said that being a librarian allows both her analytical and creative sides to mesh, and also allows her to make an impact on the world. In fact, that desire to be impactful is why she switched careers from history museums to librarianship – and if her career is any indication, she’s been successful in that endeavor.

Cornelisen was living in Nashville while she went through the SIS master’s program at that time. Right after she graduated she was hired on at Brentwood Library as a reference librarian, and that’s when her penchant for library innovation began.

“I really just dove right into learning how they ran the databases there, and streamlining the process for magazine renewals – which they were still doing manually by the little subscription renewal notice that would show up every once in a while. I just started making that whole process a lot smoother,” she said.

Her boss at the library, Chuck Sherrill, eventually became the state librarian, and it wasn’t long before he recruited Cornelisen to fill a position as the Tennessee Electronic Library coordinator. In that role, she managed a group of statewide databases that everyone in Tennessee can use.

“I so appreciated the chance to just really sink my teeth into that complex problem of: we have this set of databases that every library in the state can utilize. How do we promote them? How do we build awareness in the general public about the resources available? How do we get more librarians trained on how to use them, are there any new ones we could add?” she said.

After a few years of employing her visionary talents in that role, Cornelisen stepped into her current position in 2015. With the job came a new state, new rules, new challenges, and new opportunities to be innovative.

“As an intensely curious person it’s been fascinating for me to just go in and learn how things work, where the pressure points are, what the needs are for the public libraries across the states,” she said.

One of her first projects was to revise the outdated Georgia Public Library Service trustee manual, which was first distributed in 2006. She revamped it completely and distributed it statewide to public library board members.

Her second large, complex task was creating Georgia’s first statewide eBook program, eRead Kids, which launched in August 2019. While some of the state’s libraries had created a consortium to purchase eBooks, the majority of libraries were unable to join it and did not have an eBook program. So Cornelisen got to work and created eRead Kids, which is geared mostly toward kindergarten through fourth grade level readers. Its creation came just in the nick of time; when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and people were quarantined in their homes, usage of the program increased by 283 percent, she said.

Cornelisen said it’s been satisfying to see how she can use her skillset to make a difference in so many lives, and she looks forward to the next problem she gets to solve.

“At the end of the day, I really enjoy the opportunity to find new ways of doing things, and to be able to utilize creative thinking and my analytical nature to come up with new ways of doing things. I like trying to make things a little bit easier for everyone, whether that’s library patrons or for libraries themselves,” she said.