When you know someone actually cares about their job, I mean really cares, it makes all the difference.
It’s been nearly six years since I was hired as a Librarian Assistant at the Madawaska Valley Public Library. I’m a little embarrassed to say that despite being 46 years old, it is the longest I’ve ever held a job.
It’s ok, I’m a writer. I’m supposed to toil until my 40s. Then I had Karen Filipkowski as a boss (she hates being called a boss), and she spoiled my toiling.
And I will forever be grateful.
Karen retired last month after over a decade at the helm, but the lessons I learned from being her subordinate (happily so) will remain for the rest of my life. I know, that sounds like an overstatement, but I am a Toronto import, and when I got here I was admittedly naïve as it pertained to the importance of libraries.
Karen had something I think every effective CEO needs to have in order to foster a substantive working environment; she genuinely cares about the community and how a good library can help that community. Seniors, young kids, special needs individuals, students, newcomers – all of these smaller groups rely on having a robust, reliable library.
Karen helped everyone feel welcome, and I watched as an already-vibrant little library improved year after year.
When the pandemic hit, Karen made the adjustments to make sure that books remained accessible for the community. She helped the library not just stay connected to its patrons, but created the conditions so that despite being closed to the public, patrons could still rely on us.
And then there was the way Karen was towards her staff. She was positive and encouraged us to think of new ways we could serve our patrons, either through creative programs for kids, or going above and beyond for certain seniors who were avid readers but could no longer make the trip into the library itself.
I used to joke with her that I didn’t know why she kept me around, a testament to her patience with me as I would navigate all the different processes at the library. To her credit, she not only kept me around, but she made me a better employee. Hell, she made me want to come to work.
If I’m being honest, working with Karen over the past six years almost certainly made me a better person, too.
It’s the end of an era, but the positive impact Karen had on not just our library, but the countless members of our community who rely on that library, will be felt for years to come.
Happy retirement, Karen. And thank you.
At top: Karen Filipkowski. Photo James Di Fiore