Meet Your Librarian Series: Elaine Burritt, Adult Services Librarian
There’s a name for the inconspicuous desks placed at the entryways of Libraries across the country – the beloved reference desk.
Each time a customer poses a question to Elaine Burritt at the reference desk at Harmony Library, she answers from a basin of knowledge formed over 35 years of working in libraries. The reference desks and reference questions are one of Elaine’s favorite parts of her job.
“What I enjoy about working on the public desk is finding those books and information and just the variety of questions that range from very simple to answer to unusual and complex.”
In June 2023, Elaine will reach a milestone 30 years of service at Poudre Libraries. Elaine is one of the few employees that has worked at Harmony Library since it opened in 1998 and has watched the Library District transform from a one-branch governmental Library system serving a community of about 95,000 people to a three branch District independently funded by property taxes serving a city of ~170,000.
Elaine spent the first 20 years of her life in New Jersey, growing up in a small town called Mine Hill. Libraries were first written into Elaine’s story by a volunteer job at her high school library. Then, she landed a job in a public library in a nearby town where she worked through her first two years of community college.
Her beginnings in community college threads into her everyday work with students on the Front Range Community College Larimer campus. “The college students are really fun to work with. They come in at the beginning of the semester and it’s great to let them know that we’re here to help.”
She formed an even deeper affinity for libraries after the Library Director at her job in New Jersey became her mentor while working in circulation. After noticing she was a fast learner, the director had Elaine take on extra responsibilities beyond shelving books, guiding her through various library processes. “He was such a nice guy and really good at his job, and I think he inspired me to continue to work in libraries.”
Elaine went on to finish her Bachelor’s Degree in English at the University of Arizona and went straight into library school, receiving her Master’s in Library Science in 1982.
125 Degree Desert Days to the Chilly Winds of the Foothills
After college, Elaine found a job at a public library in Yuma, Arizona where she worked for four years. “It was 125 degrees in the summer, so it was definitely hot.”
A couple of friends she had met working in Yuma moved to Riverside, California, where they worked in the libraries there. After visiting, Elaine packed up and moved to Riverside where she spent three years working at the main library branch.
There, Elaine met her husband Don who she has spent the last 33 years of her life with. Their relationship can, ironically, be traced back to a library, having met through a mutual friend that Elaine worked with in Riverside.
Eventually, she was promoted to be a branch manager in Palm Desert, California where she commuted an hour and a half each way. The high cost of houses in California prompted a move to Colorado where Elaine’s brother-in-law was settled. Her husband’s father attended Colorado State University and Elaine and Don decided to visit Fort Collins. They were so impressed with Horsetooth Reservoir and Old Town that they decided to move to Fort Collins.
There weren’t library job openings on her arrival so Elaine spent a short time working as a secretary at an engineer’s office and as a church secretary before she was hired as a Library Assistant at Old Town Library. “I stepped down a couple of notches from being a branch manager to a Library Assistant but that was ok and I was glad to be back in the library field. About a year later, there were a couple of Librarian positions open so I was lucky to become a Librarian once again which I’ve obviously enjoyed.”
From Adult Services to Nonprofits
Elaine has spent much of her time in the District working as an Adult Services Librarian in various capacities. However, she has spent the last two years serving as our Nonprofit Services Librarian.
With the storm of restrictions that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person programming was extremely difficult to manage, particularly with our buildings being closed to the public for some time. There was an opening for our Nonprofit Librarian so Elaine stepped in, drawing on her previous research skills and expertise.
“It was quite the learning curve to get to know all the nuts and bolts of being a nonprofit and starting a nonprofit. I delved into watching webinars online and reading about them and trying to connect with people.”
A cornerstone of Nonprofit Librarianship is how to find grants and information on becoming a start-up. “I’ve enjoyed particularly working with nonprofit clients one-on-one. Connecting with people and meeting in our nonprofit center is very rewarding.”
Nonprofit Librarianship obviously serves specific customers. The journeys and relationships that develop from guiding an individual through so many elements of the non-profit process are quite unique.
“One lady had the idea to start a nonprofit during COVID, and I emailed her a lot of resources and steps of exactly what to do… about a year later, the library had opened again and she contacted me looking for grants for the nonprofit she had started. I felt so proud, like she was one of my graduates and was really pleased that she had followed through and done a lot of groundwork.”
After two years of serving local non-profits, Elaine is now transitioning back to her Adult Services Librarian role.
Because of the Internet
In most industries, three decades spans remarkable change and libraries are no exception. With the dawn of the internet, digitization has drastically increased the capacity libraries have to serve their communities.
The internet transformed the way librarians like Elaine can research and assist customers. “When I started as a reference librarian long ago – we didn’t have Google so we found answers in the reference collection and reference books. So, we really had to rack our brains to find the appropriate information for people.”
Google is an empowering tool for a Librarian’s toolbox; however, nothing can replace an expert researcher. “Even though Google is great, it still doesn’t replace a librarian who has had advanced-level training to find information that is accurate and comes from good authority,” Elaine said of the digital age.
Elaine has touched so many parts of the Library District we are today through her career. “I’ve done a lot of things over the years. You know there’s always the line in your job description that says ‘other duties as assigned’ right?” she said, laughing as she reviewed accomplishments and projects at Poudre Libraries.
Have you ever checked something out through Prospector? Elaine was part of the collaborative in the library that made Prospector a reality for our customers. She was instrumental in training staff on how to use the system stating, “It was fun. Challenging, but fun, and I’m proud of my work on that.”
She previously maintained and updated the Fort Collins Organizations Directory, a print book of nonprofits in the area which has since been digitized and is now run and owned by United Way of Larimer County.
Elaine and another librarian, Currie Meyer (now the branch manager of Council Tree Library), were the co-founders of the library Learning Organization Team. Elaine spent about three years guiding this team, and it continues today. The Team coordinates the annual staff day of learning and other educational events for library staff throughout the year.
Elaine has also helped make selections for our collection including books in various subjects and music over the years. She also collaborated with Front Range Community College staff to continue the Harmony in the Round series – a beloved music-based program featuring a variety of concerts. “It was really fun to plan the concerts and get to meet the public that attended. We tried to offer a variety of music and everyone was happy to come and listen and left with a smile.”
Additionally, she oversees training for new hires at Harmony Library. “A big piece of my work that I enjoy is being a mentor to new staff. It’s fun to work one-on-one with someone and tell them all about Harmony Library and how being on campus factors in.” Her trainings and mentorship today for new staff reflects her own beginnings in New Jersey where a mentor greatly impacted her career path.
Avians and Adventures
When she’s not researching questions or performing ‘other duties as assigned’, Elaine is passionate about spoiling her cat, riding her e-bike, walking, being on a local lake on her jet ski, spending time in nature, and photography – in particular photography of birds in flight. Two of her photographs of airborne avian are currently featured in the staff art exhibit at Old Town Library. Elaine has particular affinity for bald eagles.
“I also love going to Rocky Mountain National Park and photographing baby moose, elk, deer, whatever I can find.”
She also loves the education, research, and planning that comes with traveling whether domestically or internationally. She’s visited France, Italy, and the Galapagos Islands which as a passionate bird photographer was a wonderful place to witness avian biodiversity.
Her favorite adventure was to Ireland where for a short time she and her brother
, spent time following the band, The Elders, a Celtic rock band originally from Kansas City. They first saw The Elders at summer festivals across Colorado where they learned about their Irish tour. Elaine and Joe joined the band tour as certified Elders groupies touring around the Irish countryside during the day. “Every night we would listen to our favorite band, follow them to the local pubs where they would also perform, drink Guiness, get home at 2AM, and do it all over again the next day. It was really fun.”
Back to Basics
Like most Librarians, Elaine also loves to read. Her most recent favorite genre is general fiction though she also has an affinity for romance. Nora Roberts is her favorite author of all time and more recently she has been reading books by Colleen Hoover. Of Hoover, Elaine said, “She creates great characters, has wonderful character development, and there are always some twists you don’t expect in the end.”
Despite the changes Elaine has witnessed over the years at Poudre Libraries, there are also the elemental parts of her job.
The favorite part of her day-to-day schedule is simply, “Interacting with people, whether its customers or my colleagues. Being friendly to our customers and making sure they feel happy and leave the library just the same or better as when they came in.”