Librarian Confidential: Polli Kenn
Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Everyone!
Polli Kenn is the Readers’ Services Coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library. In her past life she saved the world at several non-profits, but now she does her saving through stories. Her favorite things to read are historical romances, urban farming, women’s health, sociology, books about how or why, wit and wordplay, and things with twisty plots. [Featured image: yes, that’s a detail of Ms. Kenn’s tattoo.]
What’s your earliest library memory?
That would have to be thrilling to the sheer number of books available in the stacks at my elementary school and then finding a bean bag to transport me outside of myself. I don’t remember the particulars, but my school would let you visit the library during recess, which was a blessing for this uber-nerd who never quite cut it with the tetherball crowd. I also remember hanging out at our public library (alone!) and creeping over into the nonfiction area of the adult side. Between that and Stephen King, I was all prepared for adulthood when it finally came.
When did you decide to become a librarian? What was the process?
Like many librarians, I came to it later in life. I already had a master’s in sociology and had been working in non-profit administration for a long time. A friend was getting her MLS and I remember thinking… Wait, you can go to library school? I don’t know WHY I didn’t realize this before. (Side note: library schools need to do a better marketing job to undergrads everywhere!) It was an online/weekend intensive program, which was all I could manage with a demanding full-time job and three kids and dogs and chickens and a husband who liked to see my face occasionally. The thing that was different about me was that I’d never worked in a library. I couldn’t even do an internship or anything due to work. So I had my MLS, but no practical library experience. I luckily started off in programming (in which I’d had a ton of experience) and it all came right in the end. Now I’m in charge of readers’ advisory and it is my complete and total jam. I even have a Nancy Pearl shrine in my office. That’s not creepy, right?
Who’s your favorite fictional librarian?
It might have to be Tammy from Parks and Recreation. She’s an awful human, but she blows every librarian stereotype right out your tailpipe. And she gets to make out with Ron Swanson.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a librarian?
I’d be sex educator and run a feminist health collective. Or the person who chooses the music to go with NPR stories. Or a goat rancher.
What’s your favorite section in the library (aside from your own)?
I’m in the fiction department and I believe in the power of story, but I’m a nonfiction reader from way back. I have this insatiable need to Know All The Things. I want the why and how of things, from multiple angles.
If you had infinite space (and budget) what would you add to your library?
Unlimited tables and seating so that you could stay in the library all day long and read or work. And, of course, bean bags. Possibly free Bose noise-cancelling headphones for everyone, because little kids love to test the acoustics and not everyone derives as much joy from their joy as I do. Headphones make everyone happy!
What do you love about your library?
I work with just the BEST people. They are energetic, compassionate, exciting, creative, and thoughtful and they love the community we serve. We just opened this library in 2014 and it is gorgeous—soaring windows, beautiful wood, clean lines. Plus, we have a recording studio, people! So cool.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened in your library?
Once, when I first started as a librarian, a guy ran in and grabbed the hand sanitizer off the desk. He ran into the men’s bathroom and chugged it, then promptly required a trip to the ER. That’s when I realized I would always have good stories to tell at parties.
Who’s your favorite regular, and why?
There’s a guy who comes in he can’t wait to tell me what he’s reading and give me recommendations. He introduced me to All the Light We Cannot See before it took off. He does for me what I want to do for all my patrons and I love to see him come through the door. I wish every patron wanted to gush to me about what they were reading. We’re working on making that our culture here, slowly but surely.
What are people without current library cards missing out on?
In the words of my teenagers, if you don’t have a library card, “What even is life?” Aside from the standard issue books, which are our bread and butter, you can check out Kindles, eBooks, audiobooks, music, video games, movies, magazines. If we don’t have it, we’ll find it from another library for you or buy it. You can access crazy free databases—practice for exams, learn a language, research your medical condition, find your great-great-grandma, start a business, learn how to code… the list is endless! You have access to computers and printers and a fancy Mac with all the editing software. Book Club in a Bag kits. When you have a library card, the entire world is in your wallet.