Thoughts on the Fishers Library and Its Leadership

This is clearly an opinion piece

Do you use the Fishers or Noblesville public libraries? These two libraries are the Hamilton East Public Library (HEPL) system and are available for Fishers and Noblesville residents to freely use. My family and I are avid users of our libraries and have been for a long, long time. If you follow my writings and social media posts, then this is likely already obvious because I mention the libraries quite often – specifically I often mention the great things happening there.

There has been a lot of national attention on public libraries in the media. Locally, in recent months there has been a lot of focus on the HEPL board; however, the library board is not the purpose of this post. I’ll save that for a different post or two. Rather, my focus here is on the libraries themselves and the libraries’ leadership.

For those of you that don’t know, the library director and CEO is Edra Waterman. She has been overseeing the library for around eleven years. She joined our library back in 2012. Her leadership has guided not only the major construction changes that have been happening, but also has led to the multitude of unique and interesting programs within the library.

HEPL Serves the Everyone – The Public

HEPL is a public library as its name, Hamilton East Public Library, implies. Being a public library, it serves the entire community, not just my family, and not just yours. It serves republicans, democrats, libertarians, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, atheist, toddlers, tweens, teens, adults, and any other categorization you care to give people. They even serve people who don’t know how to read. As such, there is a variety of offerings to meet each of those groups.

When an organization is required to support a varied audience with many differing viewpoints, it can be a challenge. While there is a lot of features of the library that each of the various groups like, there are also likely a variety of offerings each of the various groups might not appreciate. For example, the atheists might find the Christian materials offered to be offensive. Even so, the library staff work to make sure everyone is served. The library staff also works to use industry standard for libraries to organize and shelve books. Most of these standards are around age based on ratings given by the American Library Association (ALA) and publishers.

Evolving Libraries

With Mrs. Waterman’s leadership, the library has evolved tremendously over the years.

If you are not a regular user of libraries, then when you hear “library” you likely think of books. The reality is that the world of libraries has evolved beyond books. While books – both physical and electronic – are still core to a library, they are by far not the only thing our libraries are about. Rather, Mrs. Waterman and her team have evolved our library to a place where people can come together and borrow or use things they might not otherwise have at home.

Media such as DVDs and periodicals are still to be a part of our libraries, but the libraries provide a lot more. For example, our libraries also have a multitude of board games that can be borrowed. These are not just common family games like Scrabble or Monopoly, but also include many of the more modern, trendy games. It is not surprising to find some of the hyped games from Gen Con at the library, which includes many games not found at your local Target or Walmart stores. Such offerings serve the community and are nice. As a family, you can try out a game without having to buy it.

One area where Ms. Waterman and her team shine brightly is with what is offered within the Ignite Studio area of the libraries. It is in this area that the library leadership has really raised the bar. Some of the things offered in Ignite for the community include:

  • Standard tools. Need a hammer or saw, but don’t have one? Yes, the library does, and you can borrow it.
  • Sewing machines. Like to sew or want to learn how? The library has sewing machines you can use at the library. Why buy one if you aren’t sure you’ll like sewing. Start by using the one at the library. They also have books and educational material to help you out.
  • Kits. This is a big one. The library has created numerous kits you can use at the library to do a multitude of things. Many of these are crafts such as jewelry making, painting, sculpting, and more. The kits have all the tools needed, instructions, and even supplies. There are also kids for other things such as 3D scanning, using electronic components, and more.
  • 3D Printing. The library has 3D printers the public can use. You can create your own 3D models and print them, or find a plethora of models online to print. The library charges for the filament (“plastic ink”) you use, but otherwise, the use of the printers is a library service. You do need to take an online course to learn to use the printer (or to verify you know how to use them). The library has everything you need otherwise.
  • T-Shirt creation. The library has a press and other materials to help in the creation of tshirts.
  • Vinyl cutting. The library has both Cricut machines and a more professional large size vinyl cutting machine. These are also available for the library members to use. (Note for the large-scale machine, you have to take an online course to show you know how to use it).
  • Laser cutter. This is a feature I use regularly. The library also has a laser cutter that can cut plexiglass, wood, cardboard, and more. It can also engrave. Again, this requires taking an online course to show you know how to use it, but the results are a professional level tool that you can use at no cost. The library can also sell you supplies (wood, plastic, etc.) or you can bring your own.
  • Crafting supplies. In addition to the kids, the library also offers a variety of crafting supplies that can be used. They also often do programs for kids and adults that focus on specific crafting skills. A monthly “take home” crafting project has also been done at the library.
  • Computers. The library also offers computers you can use at the library.
  • Seeds. The library does a “seed library” each spring and early summer. This is the sharing of seeds you can take and plant in your garden.

These are just some of the things offered by the library. There are also regular programs offered including reading clubs and reading programs. There are also areas such as a media room that can be used to record podcasts, and study rooms.

If you look around the country at other libraries, you are unlikely to find too many things that they offer that are not at HEPL as well. This is a result of Edna’s leadership and her team.

If you call the library out because we don’t have a book mobile, then you are right. That is something others have that HEPL doesn’t… yet. Mrs. Waterman and her team have already developed specifications for a book mobile and the process is already rolling with the board members to acquire it. This means many of the things our library does will be even more extensible outside the library building walls! 

The Library’s Leadership

A librarian has to balance the national ratings and directives given for shelving books with that of their communities. They also have to deal with the systems for cataloging those books should they make changes. In a contentious world where there are disagreements on where a book should be shelved, a librarian is stuck in the middle. When a librarian is given a directive to change the shelving rules from what is considered industry standard, it requires not only identifying which books need to be moved, but also changing the tracking systems that indicate where the book gets shelved. Default values for books are suddenly no longer defaulted.

Additionally, when there are lots of opinions, and when the directives are not clear, the challenges are huge for librarians.

For those watching what is happening in our local libraries, you know that the collection policy, which defines where books get shelved, has been changed this year. While many are screaming “porn”, the changes go way, way beyond porn to include violence, profanity, racism, and more. While there are a dozen books that are often quoted and shared in school board meetings and on social media, there are thousands more being questioned. Many don’t have anything sexual within them.

Our library staff under Ms. Waterman’s leadership has not only done a fantastic job keeping the library operating on a daily and evolving with the multitude of programs mentioned over time, all while construction is happening, but they have also stepped up to the challenge of trying to address conflicting instructions on reshelving books in a manner that goes against the way virtually every other library in the country shelves books.

While there are some books that are easily determined to shift within the library, there are others that are not so clear. The HEPL board provided a new shelving policy that literally impacts thousands of books. It moves them from where most libraries shelve them, to the adult section. As mentioned, while it is easy to identify the dozen or so books that are in the media, books such as Flamer, it is not so easy to identify many others. For example, the new policy states that extreme violence should be removed from the kid section.

Mrs. Waterman has been leading the library team through the review process and adjusting the shelving according to the new policy presented by the library board and its lead advisors. To date they have reviewed thousands of books and shifted well over 1,385 from the teen section.

While some, such as board member Ray Maddalone, might say this shift is not happening fast enough, others, such as board member Tiffanie Ditlevson have stated that they expect the process to take time because it is new. The reality is that the library team has clearly stated many times that it could take more than a year to review the teen section alone. This is a review that is expected to result in thousands of books being moved. To date, Mrs. Waterman’s team has identified 1,385 books that are being moved.

The HEPL Libraries are Gems to be Treasured

The library staff led by Mrs. Waterman has kept our libraries at the forefront of what libraries can be. While the construction makes it hard to see everything at our libraries, if you look closely when you are in the buildings you will find that our libraries are something to be proud of and treasured. This is a direct result of the leadership and insights that Mrs. Waterman has brought.

Mrs. Waterman’s leadership has been seen in many of the library board meetings. Even when undeservingly criticized and questioned, she has remained calm and composed and addressed the issues raised by individual board members. She has remained professional and steadfast in doing what is best for the libraries and its patrons. She has brought her professional training and experience as a librarian to help explain and provide what is considered best for the community.

Mrs. Waterman’s leadership has also created a team that is quick to respond and happy to serve. The librarians – both staff and volunteers are happy to answer questions, help you find a book, or lead you to a resource. If there is something the library doesn’t have – such as a specific book – they will work to help you find it or will often be happy to have the library order it.

The library seems to be constantly looking for ways to serve the community through its charter. As a result of its offerings and services, the Fishers Public Library is one of the core gems that make the City of Fishers what Fishers is – a recognized Top City in the United States.

I’ll say it again, if you’ve not been in the libraries, I suggest you stop by and take a tour. You should also check out the reading and other programs, which can be found online or within materials provided at the libraries. The main construction should be completed in a few months. Going along with the construct is a new web site that will be coming. Take a look for it in the near future as well.

And when you stop by the library, say hello to Edra and her team. Thank them for the great services they are providing!

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Free Man Mistake photo and picture

Article updated to correctly my horrific misspelling of Mrs. Waterman’s name.

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