With no public library in her small hometown of Manchester, Illinois, Claudia Schoonover found other resources to indulge her passion for reading.
"We had our classroom book collections, and my mom let me order books through the Scholastic Weekly Reader. I was probably their No. 1 buyer at my small school," she said with a laugh. "My school library was very important to me."
Even though she loved reading fiction and nonfiction, claiming Mark Twain as one of her favorites, Schoonover first decided to pursue teaching when attending Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. She fell in love with the atmosphere when she started working at the town's public library and decided to change career pursuits after talking with the library's director.
"I really liked working with all ages and people from all walks of life. The service aspect of the public library really appealed to me. There was so much variety there. I liked being able to read at story time, host a program, read a book," she said. "At my young age, I saw the value of libraries in a community, and I wanted to be a part of that."
She completed her undergraduate studies with a double major in English and communications. She then pursued a master's degree to specialize in library studies from the University of Missouri in Columbia, working for the Daniel Boone Public Library from 1994-96 while completing her higher education.
She secured a reference librarian position at the Missouri River Regional Library in 1996 and has worked in a handful of departments during her 21 years at the facility.
She also has served as circulation manager, collection development manager and assistant director of public services. The director position became available in 2014, and Schoonover decided it was time to apply.
"I realized I had the potential to make a greater impact in this community if I was in the director's position. At that point, I had worked here 18 years and I was on the administrative team. It seemed like the right time," she said.
Getting into the library field for job variety is certainly what Schoonover has experienced in her time at MRRL, serving as its director for the last three years. In any given day, she could lead a book discussion — such as the Fiction at Noon group, for which she is co-discussion leader — work the reference desk; conduct a media interview; hold staff meetings or community group meetings; meet with Friends of the Library or MRRL Foundation members; order books; handle facility issues or patron concerns; fill in for programs at the library's Osage County branch in Linn; and organize author visits, including the library's Capital READ program she helped start 11 years ago.
"I consider myself able to fill in at every desk, and I often do," she said. "The variety keeps me motivated and enhances my job in many ways."
Schoonover said diversity is what keeps an array of people coming back to the library. Genealogy programs, family and Friday adult movie nights, cultural concerts, the Capital READ program, Tech Time, and adult speaking programs that range from history to women's fashion through the decades are just some of the popular activities.
"The library's role in early childhood literacy and continuing education is near and dear to my heart. We have a good partnership with the schools and bring these authors in and meet with students. It brings those books to life for those kids. I have arranged a lot of author visits over the years, and they are one of my favorite library programs," she said. "MRRL's program offerings are distinctly rich in both these areas."
The children's and teen programs are favorites in the community, particularly the monthly Teen After Hours, where children can enjoy pizza, play games and socialize at the library, she said. Newer programs and resources at the library are also spurring patronage, including millennial programming that creates a hands-on, interactive experience such as an escape room, geocaching and virtual reality exploration.
Schoonover said the library's ability to be wherever someone is in this digital age is a huge change she's witnessed in her 20-plus years in the profession. Using MOBIUS consortium, MRRL is able to gain access to a variety of books and collections within days.
"Now the library can be wherever you are. You can download an e-book or audiobook as well as learn a new language or perform research for a term paper remotely 24/7," she said. "Technology has certainly allowed the library to continuously expand our reach."
Schoonover hopes to expand her personal outreach to the community in the near future, wanting to get involved with more local organizations. She has long been involved in the PTO at her 13-year-old daughter Lydia's and 15-year-old son Joel's school. She attends First Baptist Church and is a part of the Homelessness Task Force, formed in 2014 and composed of community members working to make housing for all people a reality. The library also participates in Project Homeless Connect.
"The library is there throughout one's lifespan, whether it is serving the early literacy role of a child, a place to use a computer or participating a book discussion, meet an author or learn a new life skill," she said. "The library is relevant in every stage in life, and one of my charges is to constantly communicate the value of the library to the community. That is a role I take very seriously."
Q. Who has invested in you and your career?
A. "This library and all my past managers who believed in me and provided me with opportunities and more responsibilities over the years. This library has always invested in my continuing education and that has been invaluable. I have been fortunate enough to attend many national and state conferences as well as local workshops in my time at the library. I was also a member of the chamber's Leadership Jefferson City in 2014."
Q: What choices have you made to invest in yourself and your own success?
A: Embracing life-long learning has been an essential part of investing in myself and my personal success. As a leader, it is important to understand your natural strengths and abilities as well as your weaknesses and be willing to continually work on both. The same goes for whatever business you work in ... educate yourself on trends, changes, and new developments ... Never stop learning. Making the time commitment to continuing education is challenging when there are so many different responsibilities to manage day-to day, but there are a lot of great resources available and I certainly work in the perfect place to find them and utilize them. I have also worked on my public speaking skills in order to better communicate the value of the library along with increasing my visibility within the community. My visibility directly increases the visibility of the library, which is my main goal.
Q. Of what professional achievement are you the most proud?
A. "Without a doubt, becoming the director of Missouri River Regional Library. I have spent my entire professional career here, and when I was chosen to lead this library I couldn't have been any happier or prouder. The library is a great place to work. I enjoy what I do, and the people I work with are like extended family."
Q. What do you see as the biggest issues facing women in the workplace?
A. "I can't speak for all women, but I do think a majority of women would say that finding a work-life balance can be challenging. When my children were younger, I did not have the level of responsibility that I have now, and I am glad I didn't. It's hard to juggle everything and not feel like someone or something is getting shortchanged. The library is a flexible place to work, and I have appreciated it and benefited from it. I have never missed my kids' activities because I could not leave work or take an afternoon off, and for that I am grateful. I believe if an employer can allow flexible work arrangements, it helps with staff retention and reduces absenteeism while increasing productivity and loyalty to the business."
Q. What drives you most in your career?
A. "Working in libraries as long as I have has strengthened my belief in the transformative power of libraries and their potential to reach people regardless of age. As the director of Missouri River Regional Library, it is important to me to build the kind of vibrant, innovative library we need in today's world — one that partners with our community in new and creative ways while providing the library services and technology people count on. Improving the patrons' library experience is something I am continuously striving for each day."
Q. What advice would you give to a woman entering the workforce?
A. "My advice to women in the workplace would be to ask good questions, work hard, be honest, be appreciative and learn as much as you can about your business. Knowledge is power! It is also important to be a person that others can count on. That alone will get you far in this world."
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