Help Janet win over $5,000 for her library!
READ THE AWARD NOMINATION BELOW
Nomination for Janet Eldred, Director, Hollidaysburg Area Public Library
by Keith Eldred, Hollidaysburg, PA
How much do I love my librarian? I love my librarian sooo much …
… that I retired early to help her toward her heart’s desire, which is to give her library more money than she and I have saved during 30 years of marriage. The librarian who I love—and who inspires and motivates me—is my wife Janet, who just marked 16 years as director of Hollidaysburg Area Public Library (HAPL) in Pennsylvania, where she leads a staff of three full-time and six part-time employees, plus dozens of volunteers.
There is special urgency behind Janet’s desire to do even more for HAPL than she already has. In 2012, Janet was diagnosed with early-stage dementia that has ravaged her memory. She also started to experience occasional seizures and bouts of syncope (loss of consciousness). Yet eight years later she continues to serve effectively, with the full support of the HAPL board of directors and generous assistance from her staff. They love her, too.
How can Janet still function as an executive? She’s simply found a way. Believe me, she and I have had our doubts. Her memory and reasoning are definitely impaired—I’ve observed every abysmal cognitive test that she’s taken since her initial diagnosis, and I see her malfunctions daily. Within weeks, she forgets major happenings such as trips, births, weddings, and deaths. Aside from immediate family and everyday contacts, she no longer recognizes longtime acquaintances. As I write this, she and I are discussing ending her family check-writing privileges, because she can’t recall the purpose of particular checks nor remember to complete the memo line.
Excerpts from Janet’s medical reports
Still, Janet remains supremely functional on the job, largely without sign that anything is wrong. I’m fond of saying that she excels even after being reduced to a fraction of her capacity because she started with so much. People have ways of adapting, especially someone as resilient as she.
We did not grasp this early in her cognitive slide. By spring of 2017, we could not conceive of her continuing to work, so she offered her resignation, and the HAPL board reluctantly accepted. But as Janet resolved to do her best during the search for her replacement, she found that she remained able to do her job, simply because she saw herself, day by day, still doing it. The board was delighted to retain her after all, and she’s still at it three years later.
This reshaping of our own understanding—seeing firsthand the capability of a dementia patient—led Janet and me to be transparent about her condition, never withholding mention of it. We realized that her situation could be educational and even comforting and inspiring to fellow dementia patients and their loved ones. Janet is now a living part of her own library’s collection—a surprising and eye-opening story in the flesh. We have come to view these circumstances as a blessing.
At the same time, Janet and I know that she might enter rapid decline at any time. We reviewed our bucket lists and in 2018 made a Romantic, Extreme Decision: I would retire early from my 29-year corporate job to write bestsellers, aiming to raise $1 million for HAPL. To reach this total we would also welcome direct donations and cash prizes for being a lovable librarian. (Just saying!) This is our moonshot goal.
We titled our project “This is RED” for many reasons. RED is the color of passion such as Janet and I share for libraries. RED is also the title of one of my books, the last half of our last name, and an acronym for phrases such as Romantic, Extreme Decision. (Hence my capitalizing those words above.) Another favorite acronym comes from something core to public libraries: Reading Every Day. I now produce and illustrate another such acronym every weekday for our social media @thisisdotred. Our website is www.thisis.red.
Examples of the Daily RED acronyms
This effort has drawn Janet and me closer than ever. It’s a way to not only elevate this medical dilemma but actually find joy in it.
Janet has excelled as the face of This is RED. She is a lively participant in our project videos and a wonderful photo subject. As I was drafting this narrative, I showed her a photo that I plan to include in this submission, in which she wears one of our signature non-red This is RED shirts. She was delighted with the picture, having forgotten that I took it last year. She was also pleased then.
All of our materials trumpet Janet’s condition as our project’s inspiration, so she has invited the world into that part of her business. This is brave, since she is as shy as the stereotype of her profession. She’s a trouper for the cause
Meet America’s new middle-aged sweetheart
Last year (as she also does not recall), she received a standing ovation for a speech that she delivered after being recognized as one of our county’s exemplary leaders. As always, she was forthright about her symptoms. Here is an excerpt from her remarks: “You’ve often heard it said: No one is promised tomorrow, because life is fragile. I have learned that applies to the past as well as the future: No one is promised yesterday, either. The one thing you can grasp is this moment. This is the moment you can choose what to do and who to be.”
I am proud of my wife and her story, both present and past. Her response to her condition shows the same spirit that let her ace graduate school in her late forties, earning her Master’s in Library & Information Science in the earliest wave of online students at the University of Pittsburgh (also with some time on campus). Then she went on to build our new public library building.
I say that with only slight exaggeration. When Janet became director of HAPL, it occupied a 36-year-old building with limited accessibility and no room to grow. The children’s room was in the basement, safe and clean but windowless. Under Janet’s leadership, circulation increased by 35%, program participation by 33% and public computer use by 161%. This maxed out the capacity of that site and led to a capital campaign lasting ten years. Finally the Library moved to a beautiful new $2.8 million facility with 80% more space, over double the parking, and complete accessibility—on time, under budget and mortgage-free. Not to take away from the active board and campaign chair, but all day-to-day matters for the campaign flowed through Janet, including every grant application and fundraising mailing. She put in more hours than anyone else to build the facility. She is a hero.
Previous and current library buildings
My favorite detail in the finished building is the placement of the interior signs. Janet delegated this to me, and I set them at her height of 5 foot 1, rather than the standard 5 feet. The signs are one Janet high because in that library, she literally was and is (wait for it) the ruler.
But she is a benevolent ruler and down to earth. I also mean “down to earth” literally: When the job demands it, Janet gets dirty sweeping, shoveling, or lugging books. In the library booth at outdoor festivals, she sticks it out rain, shine or cold. Her hardiness and devotion, on top of her impaired-but-still-formidable competence, are why the HAPL board treasures her.
These are good days. Not easy, but good. Now that I’m retired, money is tight, but that’s not all bad. We have ice cream less but enjoy it more. Please note: Tight budget or not, Janet and I will give any award money to her library. It would fit nicely on top of the $6,329 raised so far.
Our progress has been slow. As so many have found, promotion is challenging. I’m still learning how to bring attention to our project and the books that I’m producing for it. The writing and publishing are going fine. I set a goal of producing 20 books in 2020 (partly by using past unpublished writing), and that is on track. Seventeen of the books are on Amazon, and the remaining three are drafted. I’m chipping away at understanding things like Facebook and Amazon ads, cooperative promotions, and building email lists.
17 of the 20 books that we’re publishing in 2020 to benefit our public library
Hard work is good. When you ache to make progress before it’s too late, everything you do matters. Our life could not be more full of meaning.
Before our Romantic Extreme Decision, I fit Janet around my work. Now I work around her, for her, and with her. I see her ever so much more, and that makes life better, because I just love my librarian. I know I’m biased, but I find her a most deserving candidate for this award. Thank you for considering her.
SUMMARY OF HOW THE NOMINEE MEETS AWARD CRITERIA
How has the nominee improved your life or the lives of others in your community?
Janet is an inspiring example of the capability of an impaired person. She motivated me to pursue my artistic ambitions and join her in our moonshot fundraising project for her library.
In what ways does the nominee go above and beyond in her role as librarian?
Janet has always served as one of her library’s chief volunteers, including completing the most humble of caretaking and cleaning tasks. And now she has opened up her private medical situation in the hopes of drawing attention to her library and attracting donations.
How does the nominee make her community a better place?
Janet is the key champion of our public library. Besides overseeing its operation for over 16 years, she was the hub of the campaign that built the new library facility. Now her mission is to gather $1 million in support to bolster library operations for a generation or more.
What makes the nominee a leader in her community?
Janet is a role model for groups including shy country girls aiming for impactful careers, medically-impaired employees, and leaders of public institutions who want to relate to the full range of their constituents.