The first thing that jumps off the page when you scan Ida Williams Thompson’s resumè is the copious list of awards she has won. Thompson, a 1977 MLIS alumna, selflessly served others for 39 years before retiring as director of instructional technology services for Richland School District One. “I never wanted to be a librarian — I was going to be a doctor,” Thompson says. “I fell into librarianship by taking some electives, and I got hooked. I was drawn to this career because it gave me a more immediate way to impact people. I had that opportunity to see immediately firsthand how I could make a difference helping someone.”
What do you feel like your biggest accomplishment has been in your career?
I remember the first day I went to work at the high school level. Students were entering the building, and I heard this young lady scream, “Hey everybody, this is the best librarian in the world!” She was one of my former elementary students, and she just ran up and hugged me. The fact that I've been able to help other people is the greatest reward and still has me engaged probably in too many things right now as a retiree.
How do you think that the MLIS program developed you into a good librarian and prepared
you to effectively serve students and teachers?
The program gave me the framework for understanding the role that the library program and the library professional plays in various settings: school, public or academic research. The program also gave me strong content about how to approach your learning community and how to understand and evaluate information tools and resources. All of that was critical to putting meat on the bones of my interest in libraries and to taking it a step further into professional aspects of strategic planning, goal setting, program development, evaluation and how to collaborate with your learning community.
Can you describe a day in the life working in Richland One?
Every day was a new opportunity. Early on in my career, I was on fire. I walked into a situation where the library was on life support. There was no program, so anything I did took it up a notch. Every day was different, and every minute was different, and every level was different. The common core, though, was how as a professional librarian and educator I could help my learning community to be more effective.
You mentioned that every day was kind of different — your tasks varied. What was your
favorite part of being a librarian?
Hands down being involved directly with students and teachers. There's just something energizing to me to be able to have a conversation with a student and bring them to a new area of learning or expose them to something they didn't know and see their excitement. The same thing with teachers — to help them say, “Oh, I didn't know that,” “Oh my God, you mean I can do this?” or “I have this available?” There’s nothing that beats that.
Tell me about the moment you found out you were awarded the ALA's Black Caucus 2021 Distinguished Service to the Library Profession Award?
I knew that two of my very favorite people wanted to submit my name for the nomination, and I am grateful to them. I was delighted they saw something in me they thought was worthy enough to bring to the attention of the awards committee. I was here at home and looking at my email and said, “Wow, this is pretty cool!” I couldn't wait to tell my husband and son the good news.
You’ve had the privilege of earning so many different awards. What does that mean
to you to have such a successful career and to be honored with all those accolades?
It’s very humbling. People who know me know that I'm not the glitz and glamor kind of person. I do things from my heart. I feel that when the Lord gives you gifts and talents, you have a responsibility to your fellow man. It’s nice for others to see what you do and understand why you do it. I'm thankful and I'm honored, but it just says that you are doing the right thing when you do things to support others.
Why do you think libraries are important in the community?
I think we should value what we do because through libraries, we give people opportunities. Libraries are the heart of the community. That is what is most powerful — that you can impact so many people by the things you do and the opportunities that you open to them. I think a community without a library is sick. It needs a library because not only are we helping people with those basic literacy skills, and that access to good information, but you are empowering them as citizens.
What does a career as a librarian mean to you?
My colleagues would introduce themselves and say, “Well, I'm just a librarian.” I always told them, “Don't you ever say that I'm just a librarian! You say, ‘I'm the librarian and I'm going to change your life!’” Being a librarian is about relationships. Bottom line. To me, that is so fulfilling because you have opportunities to really connect with people, to see them for what they are, and to help them along their journey.