TADL Staff Spotlight: Alison Ernst

Introducing Alison Ernst, our new Assistant Director for Public Service as of April 2, 2018.

Alison Ernst, Assistant Director for Public Service
Traverse Area District Library, Main


What is your role as the Assistant Director for Public Service for TADL?
My primary work is to facilitate the best library service possible for the TADL Community. I serve as a resource and support for the Library Director. I supervise and work with department heads and staff in Sight & Sound, Adult, Teen, and Youth Services, as well as the branch libraries (East Bay and Kingsley.) I’m a liaison with and resource for our member library directors (in Fife Lake, Interlochen, Peninsula). I also have responsibilities overseeing some behind-the-scenes parts of library operations. This includes working with the folks who order, process, and catalog the books, movies, music and other great resources patrons enjoy.

I’ve worked as a library professional for over a quarter of a century. I’ve come to see the role of a librarian as facilitator and connector. I’m committed to the TADL mission statement, which is essentially about connecting people with what they want and need in their “lifelong search for intellectual, recreational or vocational information and enrichment.” I also believe that libraries have an important role as a promoters and teachers of information literacy skills — the ability to find, verify  and think critically about information from credible sources

I would describe my leadership style as principle-centered. I think it’s important to extend “good customer service” to co-workers and colleagues, as well as our public patrons I believe in management from the middle; meaning that while I can help others based on my knowledge and experiences, I also learn from those at every level in the organization.

Bottom line, my main focus is promoting exceptional library service for our community.

Why did you choose librarianship as a career?
My mother read to me a lot when I was a child and I was an early independent reader. The neighborhood library was located only a few blocks away from my house, you could say that I pretty much lived at the library! I experienced the public library as a welcoming and safe place. I was a voracious reader, and when Summer Reading Club came around I was one of the kids with gold stars filling the space next to my name and running off the page.

In college I was interested in a wide variety of subjects and spent a lot of time in  the academic libraries. As when I was a child, I found the libraries to be a safe place where I could work on my own but still be around other people. When it came time for me to think about graduate school, I was drawn to librarianship in part due to the intellectual “Jack(s) of all trades” aspect of the profession, which I found very appealing. Also, the opportunity for adventure by helping others as a facilitator for discovery was enticing.

How has your professional experience prepared you for coming to TADL?  
When I first started as a librarian right after a graduate program in the early 1990s, the job market was tight! I got many first and second-round job interviews, but was ultimately passed over for others with more professional experience. I wanted to work at a library so badly, that I screwed up my courage and began applying for Library Director jobs. Well, be careful what you wish and apply for, my first job as a librarian was as the Director of Graves Memorial Library in Sunderland, Massachusetts! It was a small library, serving a town of 6,000. Becoming a director of a small public library is an apprenticeship of sorts. I learned so very much on-the-job because I was responsible for everything, from budget management to preschool story time! The library had an excellent Board of Trustees, and it’s from them that I learned how a public library, at its best, can be the heart of a community.

Later in my career I worked as the Director of Academic Resources at a New England boarding school and as a consultant as well as a library director for several independent preparatory schools. These schools were well-resourced and provided professional development and engagement opportunities at the national and international level which strengthened my library management and administration skills.

And now I’m very excited to bring all of that experience back to the public service of a community library system, which has a much broader constituency than a school library!

I’m most energized by helping others to do their best work. Librarianship is a service profession. Librarians at their best are service-oriented people, intellectual problem solvers, welcoming to all, and a positive presence in the world.

What excites you the most about the future of public libraries?
I’m amazed by how services to children and their families keep getting better and more interesting. The role of a public library in helping to raise healthy and literate children, as well as serving as a resource for parents and caregivers is more important than ever before. Public libraries in general, and TADL in particular, create and foster a community network for young parents of pre-school children.

The other role that excites me is the civic role of information literacy. There’s nothing more essential to our democracy than providing access to information and helping to authenticate those sources.   

What’s one thing that people may be interested to know about you?
I’m an unapologetic library tourist. Wherever I travel, I visit the local library! I’ve visited libraries in China, South Africa, the British Isles, and all over this country. Once when visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, I went to the public library and re-read their copy of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, because Edinburgh was his birthplace.

My husband is an architect who specializes in library design. So, I also get the chance to visit the libraries that he is working on. It’s always fun for me to see the transition from early design creation through the construction process and up through completion. What can I say? I love libraries!