The Alternative Voices Feature is brought to you by the NMRT’s Membership, Diversity, Promotion, and Recruitment committee. It is meant to give platform to the voices of librarians from underrepresented communities in the library field. The format of the feature is a journalistic question and answer format. It provides information that the librarian wants people to know about them, plus their thoughts on the current state of the field of librarianship.
Name – Thomas Maxheimer
Contact Information – Thomas.Maxheimer@QueensLibrary.org
City & State – New York, NY
Position Title – Supervising Librarian, Assistant Community Library Manager
Length of time in the library field – Almost four years
What drew you to a career as a librarian and what is your current role?
Librarianship is my third career and brings together my love for information, technology, and helping people.
What groups or roundtables are you involved in with ALA?
I’m on the News Committee of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBT-RT).
Do you have any advice for new graduates applying to jobs?
Carefully prepare, promote, and manage your band. Get experience working in customer-intensive atmospheres. Think carefully about the message you’re sending if you submit a resume that is not customized to the position you’re applying to AND/OR you do not take the time to craft a meaningful cover letter. Celebrate your diversity and make it part of your daily work.
Do you feel that you experience microaggressions or microinvalidations in the workplace (whether from colleagues or patrons) and how do you respond to them?
Absolutely, I have experienced what I feel were intentional and inadvertent microaggressions from colleagues as well as patrons. However, I am emotionally experienced enough to refuse to be someone else’s victim. I have had difficult conversations with the intention of improving relationships, with some success. One such conversation came after we changed all single-use restrooms to gender neutral signage. A patron came to me and said “What am I supposed to tell my children!?” to which I replied simply, “This is where people go to pee.” It was not my intention to be rude, but I was intentionally blunt. During our follow-up conversation, it was my feeling that this person just had not thought of it in terms as simple as this.
How well do you think that the library (or system) you currently work in reflects the needs of its community?
Of course, there is always room for improvement, but I am exceedingly proud of Queens Library’s “Queens Library is for Everyone” campaign (http://qleveryone.org/) that is a direct response to the current political climate. Staff at every level mobilize to create a range of activities and programs including keeping branches open for 30+ hours, highlighting courageous immigrants, homeless resources, promoting stories about immigrant entrepreneurs, telling LGBTQ stories (selfish promotion http://qleveryone.org/1781). I was never prouder of Queens Library than during this campaign of rapid mobilization to help people live better lives. Call me an idealist, but simply put, libraries make the world a better place.
What suggestions do you have to help other librarians make sure that their library is open and accessible to everyone?
Empathy. Know your customers and know how the environment you are creating for them makes them feel. They may not remember each specific program or book they check out from your library, but they will remember how you make them feel while they are in your library. In my opinion, there is no more important a responsibility as this.
What trends are most impacting the field right now?
This certainly depends on the type of library and where it is located, but most institutions are learning to deal with the impact of new and changing technologies. In addition, many libraries are on the front line in dealing with massive and complex social issues such as the opioid crisis, homelessness, lack of affordable physical and emotional healthcare, lack of affordable housing, and citizenship issues.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned on the job?
The level of empathy that hindered me in other fields has the opposite effect in the public library setting.
If you had to attribute your success to one skill or trait, what would it be?
I cannot narrow this to one, but my top four are 1) [Almost] boundless ability to maintain a positive attitude, 2) Patience, 3) Empathy, 4) Ability to not react emotionally to difficult situations with customers and staff.
What book do you find yourself pushing onto patrons the most?
We live in difficult times, so I’ve often suggested The subtle art of not giving a f*ck by by Mark Manson.