Profiles of Kim Charlson and James Gleason: Mentor and Mentee in Library Sciences
Kim Charlson, Director
Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library
I have been listed on the CareerConnect database for several years as a mentor in the field of library and information science. When I was in library school in the mid-1980s, I had no mentors who were blind that I could turn to for guidance since I was one of the first totally blind individuals to enter librarianship as a career. I selected the field because I believed strongly that all people, including people with disabilities, had the right to have access to reading materials and information. It is my belief that reading and access to information provides people with empowerment. Whether it comes from a desire to read novels and be entertained or a need to read and learn to finish school or get a job, access to information facilitates personal growth and lifelong learning, and equals empowerment and independence.
Through supportive supervisors at both the Oregon State Library and the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library, I had opportunities to learn and grow — get my master’s degree in library science and learn to manage staff and library operations. In 2001, I became the director of the Braille & Talking Book Library at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts — the Library of Congress/National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped cooperating library. One of my pledges to myself as my career became more established was that I would make myself available to other blind or visually impaired students interested in the library field as a career, helping them, as much as I possibly could from a distance, with advice and direction to make their chosen career path successful for them. Through CareerConnect, I have talked with many students in library school, giving them advice and guidance on courses to take to strengthen their skill sets and areas where I felt they could have an advantage over other applicants with the right combination of knowledge, experience, and skills.
After many years of talking on the phone or emailing students interested in guidance, I had an opportunity to meet a Massachusetts resident who had contacted me previously through CareerConnect. James Gleason initially contacted me when he was nearing completion of his Master’s degree program at Simmons College in Boston. He wanted to learn more about the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library and visited the Library on a student exchange career day. At that time, we didn’t have any openings, but I told James that if he would like to be notified if any positions should become available, I would keep his name on file.
In March 2006, an opening became available as a Reader Advisor, the staff position that works directly with library borrowers, assisting them in selecting their reading materials and providing a wide range of information and technical support services. James’ interview revealed that he had the right combination of skills, knowledge, personality, work ethic, foreign language ability, and familiarity with assistive technology — all of the skills I was looking for — and I was very pleased to be able to offer him the position.
James Gleason, Reader Advisor
Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library
CareerConnect Mentee and User
I began my work in libraries when I was an undergraduate as a circulation assistant in the University of Massachusetts-Lowell campus arts and humanities library. Working with the professional staff I started to learn about the field of library science, the multiple career options available and the different ways that libraries were beginning to reach out to minority communities, including people with disabilities and those people who speak English as a second language. It took me approximately three years to complete my master’s degree in library science and get into the field.
While job hunting I found the CareerConnect website. I quickly found my way to the mentor section and was excited to find that I could be connected with a mentor right in my home state of Massachusetts. I sent an email and very soon after got a reply. I corresponded with Kim Charlson a few times, and then one day she told me about how the Simmons College Special Library Association student chapter was visiting the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library for a “Day on the Job” mentoring experience. I attended the daylong event and met the staff and saw the facilities for the first time.
In my case the mentoring process bore much more fruit than I expected. It proves how important it is to be willing to think outside the box, to approach situations from a new angle — otherwise you might miss an exciting opportunity. The CareerConnect program brought me into direct contact with people who are making a difference in the lives of thousands of people who are unable to read regular print due to a disability.
Now, I am working as a Reader Advisor at the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library. The library provides patrons in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine with Braille and Talking Book library services.
I was brought on board at the Perkins Library in part due to my ability to serve patrons who speak languages other than English. Toward that end I have taken responsibility for the provision of foreign language services for our non-English-speaking borrowers from the Perkins collection as well as materials available through interlibrary loan. If a patron calls who speaks Spanish, French, Italian, or German, I am able to assist them with identifying materials and resources they need.
The Perkins Library serves borrowers of all ages, reading abilities, and diverse cultural backgrounds. Staff work in an environment where every day new challenges are faced and solutions are brought to bear that can effect positive change in the lives of both patrons and staff.
Having low vision and working at a library that focuses on providing services to people with disabilities also has its advantages. I use ZoomText screen magnification software every day on my computer, and it was not even discussed “if” I would be able to get this accommodation (in point of fact the software was installed before my first day on the job).
My story is more of one where my being mentored continues, every day, here on the job. I observe the day-to-day goings on of library administration but moreover the way in which Kim Charlson, my mentor, advocates not only for her patrons, staff, and community, but also for the other staff to be self-actualized and become resources for others. I have found myself wondering what will come next after this first stage in my career. Not so much what can be done to improve the situation for me and my family but, truly, what opportunities are yet to be realized in places that I have not yet thought to look for them?