Meet Your Librarian Series: Adult Librarian, Meg Schiel
From traveling across the country with New Belgium’s national Tour de Fat crew to teaching English in Zambia to managing the reference desk at Poudre Libraries, Meg Schiel has been fostering a passion for community her entire life.
Originally from Lakewood, Colorado, Meg arrived in Fort Collins 20 years ago in 2002 to study at Colorado State University. “I didn’t think that Fort Collins would be my permanent home but it kind of makes sense because Lakewood is right along the Rockies. One of my favorite places to be is at the base of the mountains.”
Throughout her time in school, Meg fostered a passion for traveling. She took a semester off to stay with a friend in Australia and hitchhike across the land down under. “Don’t tell my mom,” Meg said cheekily, recounting her travels. Another trip she took in the early 2000s was a bike and barge tour of Northern France.
Tour de Nation
Between her travels, Meg always returned to Fort Collins. In 2007, she met her husband and had her first child. Raising her son and working part-time around town, she began to form connections with different facets of the community. “I loved being in the service industry. People will still stop me around town and ask, ‘didn’t you work at Lucille’s?’”
Her husband’s volunteer-run bookstore, Wolverine Farm, which began as a small shop in Bean Cycle Coffee Roasters, fostered even more community connections. Wolverine Farm eventually became the literary arm of the traveling Tour de Fat crew and is now a standalone non-profit bookstore in Fort Collins.
“We had a yurt we would set up for each event that had literary carnival games. We also sold books and just went around with them on Tour de Fat. We had a lot of fun doing that,” Meg explains. Her son, Leo, visited over 20 states with them during their Tour de Fat days.
Meg had her second child in 2009 at which time she returned to school, earning a general Associate’s degree at Front Range Community College and finishing her bachelor’s in Liberal Arts at Colorado State University in 2013.
Liberal Arts at the Library
Meg ties her education to her everyday work at Poudre Libraries. “With that diverse Liberal Arts background, I graduated and applied for a job at Council Tree Library in 2014. I had the history with storytimes and bookstores, and I’ve been with the District ever since.”
Meg worked as a library assistant at both Council Tree Library and Old Town Library over the course of eight years and last October was promoted to her current position of Adult Information Services Librarian.
“At the end of the day, it’s about that work you get to do with people and coordinating services for those who need them. I think about the free legal clinic we have once a month or Outreach Fort Collins coming to the Library to provide services. They’re very quiet things that the Library does that people don’t know about, but those are life-changing services that we as a Library can offer for free.”
Among Meg’s other favorite programs include our Know Your City program. “There’s a lot of highly engaged people in Fort Collins who want to know more about their city or government, so I connected with nine different city departments to highlight their services. On YouTube, some of those programs now have over 300 views.”
She also created an Old Town Book Club on Zoom after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This book club became a strong group of about 20 regulars. “I’ve seen people make connections that way and especially during COVID it was a special thing to see.”
Challenges Beget Rewards
Meg also had a pivotal life-changing experience when she took time off while working at the Library to teach English in Zambia in 2019 with one of her favorite college professors. “It made me a lot tougher. You’re walking into a classroom of 50 nine-year-olds who already know two or three languages. We’re coming in as American teachers who can only speak English and trying to hold their attention is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.”
At the time, Meg was applying for a job at Old Town Library in the center of Downtown Fort Collins. She connected her experience in Zambia to the hardships she witnesses people going through at Old Town Library. “Drawing on that experience prepared me to face some of the harder situations and finding the beauty in that – whether they’re in crisis or going through a hard time, you can help them and it’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”
Just Five Minutes
Beyond programs are the everyday moments and interactions Meg has with library customers. A recent interaction featured an older gentleman who came in with an irregular request. Meg could tell he was somewhat shy and uncomfortable asking for help writing an anniversary card to his daughter and his son-in-law.
He admitted he had terrible handwriting and asked Meg if she could write the card for him.
“I asked, are you sure you want me to write this? And he replied that he wanted her to be able to read it. He had written it out in English and Spanish and I was writing out a copy of it. It turns out, his wife had always written the cards and she had recently passed away. He had asked multiple people in coffee shops and been turned down and it was just this five-minute instance in the Library.
Although that’s not usually my job, at the same time it is. Just from five minutes you get a glimpse of someone’s life story.”
Meg also drew upon her seven and a half years doing storytimes and seeing storytime families around town. “Storytimes are probably one of the fundamental joys of librarianship.”
A common theme throughout all of our Meet Your Librarian interviews, is the strength of the Library staff community. “I love my co-workers. When we’re trading off desks there’s a five-minute window where you talk about what’s happened throughout the day or a program you’re planning together and it’s the most fun.”
The Great Equalizer
One of the cornerstones of librarianship is of course, literature. Meg is currently reading How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu. “This book was so brilliant and short and every chapter features different characters but there’s a little thread that’s moves through them that references other characters.”
Beyond her ongoing reads, one special snapshot she painted in our interview was a moment indicative of everyday at the Library.
A father and his children were searching for clues in a Library scavenger hunt, a business man was exiting one of our meeting rooms, and a regular customer who is currently experiencing homelessness were all crossing paths in front of the upstairs reference desk.
“This is the joy of the Library. It’s an equalizer. They’re all here for something whether it’s a safe place to be, an interaction, or for free resources. I have a snapshot in my brain of that moment. There are so much more than books here and while that is one of the deep joys and the draws to the Library, it goes beyond that into a human experience.”