Michele Spatz, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, is retiring on September 30, 2022. Michele has spent her career in libraries in a variety of roles, and in the past few years, has been a valued part of the NNLM. In the week leading up to her retirement, I interviewed Michele about her career in libraries.
Emily: How did you become interested in library work? What was your first library job?
Michele: My first library job was as a “work-study” student assigned to the Biology Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana. I shelved books and journals and was often caught in the stacks by the Assistant Director reading rather than shelving them! Even so, when the University opened a new branch of its medical school on campus, the Assistant Director, Diana Northup, was promoted to be the Director of the new medical library and she invited me to come with her. Her foresight to ask me to join her fledgling staff inspired me to continue on to graduate school for my MLS as she became my role model of what a career as a medical librarian could be.
Emily: You’ve been deeply involved in health information work in libraries throughout your career and have written and edited books on the topic. When you think about the health information work you’ve done, what’s a project or program that stands out in your memory?
Michele: Hmmm….I think I’ll go back to my roots in consumer health which started in the early 1980’s when, as Director of the Library of the Health Sciences (LHS), University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, I led a community outreach project focused on consumer health information resources and reference work. This was in response to people coming into the LHS after their clinic visits to seek additional health information, which was sparse at the time. Meeting their needs became a passion of mine. That passion culminated in the fall of 1991, when I became the founding Director of the Planetree Health Resource Center in The Dalles, Oregon, which was affiliated with the local hospital but was located in the community’s downtown corridor. The Resource Center operated very much like a public library and it served the region’s health information needs. A little known secret is that while we worked directly with the public, we also had staff working directly with our hospital’s patients (inpatient and outpatient clinics) and our medical and clinical staff. When I founded the community Health Resource Center, there was scant information on how to create and operate such a space. I was fortunate to have the trust of the hospital Board and leadership to bring this important service to life and I spent 20 happy years leading the Health Resource Center.
Emily: We all learn and grow from others. What’s a piece of career advice or something you learned from someone in the profession along the way that’s stuck with you?
Michele: When I was at the Health Resource Center, someone once wrote an unkind letter to the editor about the hospital. The CEO, whom I reported to and was discussing what the hospital’s response should be, shared with me that there’s a time to fight for something and a time to let something roll off your back. He said you can fan the fire and fuel it or you can let the embers die and he felt this was a time to not respond. This point has stayed with me throughout my career as I learned restraint sometimes is the better form of valor.
Emily: As your colleague, I’ve long admired the connections you form with NNLM member organizations and other community partners. What tips do you have for building collaborative partnerships?
Michele: I wish I had a magic answer but here is what comes to mind: be genuine. Listen hard and look for meaningful ways to connect always seeking ways of providing support and having a service mind-set. Then act on what you learn or what you know to be true.
Emily: What are you looking forward to about retirement?
Michele: Oh boy! To begin, I think I will just enjoy having time. No schedules, no have-to-dos. Once I settle in, my list is long: more time with family and friends, relearning crafts and hobbies like knitting and sewing, taking my dog for long walks and possibly, writing for pleasure.
Please join me in wishing Michele all the best in her retirement!