NMRT Member Profile: Carolyn Smallwood

By Kelly Depin

Most of us in the New Members Round Table would consider ourselves at the beginnings of what we hope will be long, fruitful careers. Therefore, it is always worth our time to take a moment and explore some of the long and successful careers of our fellow librarians. Meet Carol Smallwood, who has been active in the education and library services field since 1961. Carol graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a B.S. in 1961 and a M.A. in 1963. After working in the public schools in Michigan, she began her career as a school librarian in 1976, receiving her MLS from Western Michigan University. Carol had a long tenure with the Pellston Michigan School District from 1977 to 1997 serving as both a media director and English teacher. She has also served as a library consultant both during and after her tenure at the Pellston schools. While Carol claims she is currently retired, she continues to teach and inspire with her impressive publication resume. Carol is the author/editor of 24 books and numerous columns, articles, short stories and poetry dating from 1980 to the present, including five books for the American Library Association.

Carol also raised two children and has been very active in the Humane Society since the early 1970’s. Not only has she been instrumental in starting various chapters, she has also been writing monthly columns on pets and pet care for various newspapers. “My particular interest is spreading the message about spaying and neutering because there just isn't enough homes for pets--every day 11,000 unwanted cats and dogs are put down in the U.S.” Carol recently adopted a shelter cat after her other ‘greatly loved’ shelter cat died from old age.

How does one person do all that? Most of us are finding it hard just to get all of our work completed – as well as having lives, families and hobbies. While it would be easy to say that Carol was an exceptional librarian that we couldn’t possibly emulate, it would be a disservice to both her and us. Before we trot out the phrase, ‘wonder woman’ and declare that we can’t possibly do all that Carol does, let’s take a look at her secret – she loves what she’s doing. Her current schedule during her third career is to write first thing in the morning, go out for lunch and then come back to work until 6:00 p.m. However, Carol says, “Since I really like doing it, it isn't hard for me to focus on the work”. She encourages those librarians that are interested in writing to “find a topic you really like as you will be living with it for months. Be sure it is something worthwhile”. Carol’s advice is reflected in her bibliography. While she has recently published her first novel, Lily’s Odyssey and her first poetry compilation, On the Way to Wendy’s, Carol primarily works in non-fiction. Her earliest work was centered on practical issues that concerned both her and her fellow librarians. These ranged from guides to free resources for educators to collections of puzzles and games for curricular usage. Carol continues to instruct aspiring writers by serving as editor for one of ALA’s newest publications, Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook. This book is designed to help librarian-writers navigate the various challenges of working within the publishing world.

Having such a long and productive career allows Carol the opportunity to look back on both the challenges and rewards. Carol has won numerous awards for her writing. She won first prize for first chapter of a novel by Byline magazine and first place in the Northern Lights short story contest. Most recently she was a short listed finalist for the 2009 Eric Hoffer Award for Best New Writing and was the 2009 National Federation of State Poetry Societies award winner. Out of all of her awards, one of the highlights was education oriented. Carol was instrumental in the creation of a vital educational database for the state of Michigan. “I enjoyed compiling the 3rd ed. of Michigan Authors for the Michigan Association of Media in Education. It is now a database that keeps being added on to by the Library of Michigan and MAME”. With highlights however, come low points. One her greatest setbacks on a professional level was very disappointing. “My first anthology outside of librarianship that I co-edited never found a publisher and it was very sad that the fine contributors were not published. We had an agent but he was unable to find a publisher either. They say you learn more by your mistakes than successes though.” Perhaps, that’s another secret to Carol’s successes. One could understand if she decided to stop working in the writing and editing field, but undeterred, she continued to work in the field she enjoys. Carol is currently working on at least five new publications, including The Frugal Librarian: Thriving in Tough Economic Times. Some members may have recently seen calls on various lists for her other works, which includes Pre- and Post Retirement Tips for Librarians.

While most of us in the New Members Round Table have some time to go before we can think about retirement, it is obvious that retirement for librarians does not necessarily mean a retirement in the traditional sense. Carol’s activities should serve as motivation as to how we too can serve both our communities and ourselves, whether we are retired or not. Despite Carol’s busy schedule, she audits classes in not only English literature, but philosophy and sociology as well. With all of this wealth of experience and knowledge, she speaks with authority when she sees technology as one of challenges facing libraries and librarians. Not because technology is seen as a replacement of traditional library services, but because of the constant changing nature of the technology. Even Carol acknowledges that it can be hard to keep up with these changes.

While one cannot possibly encapsulate the lifetime work of one individual in just a few paragraphs, we can all draw encouragement from a life well lived – especially a life like Carol’s. By doing what we love, staying interested in all that is around us and by reaching out to the community to make it a better place, may we all be able to look back and see that we have been as inspirational to the next generation as Carol Smallwood.