In the Sept. 19, 2010, issue of The News-Gazette, Anne Phillips wrote an article titled "Urbana Free Library losing a key asset," which discussed the retirement of longtime employee John Dunkelberger.
Now, almost three years later, the library is once again losing a key asset. After 21 years of wonderful service to the community, Phillips, director of adult services, has retired.
During her years at the library, Phillips developed and strengthened the library collection, including the science fiction and fantasy genres, the travel, cooking and gardening sections, and the ever-popular CD collection. She helped patrons find books that fit their interests — and made it a personal mission to always find the answers patrons were seeking, no matter how grand or small the question.
Many of you might remember Phillips through her contributions to this column, which she passed on to Kasia Hopkins and me.
Others might remember her diligence in fulfilling the library's mission of providing "unusually friendly service" to all patrons.
I worked under her leadership for the better part of two years in the adult services department. To give some back story, I graduated from library school in May 2011 and was hired at the library in September 2011. So when I started working there, I was a very green librarian, to say the least.
I sometimes regard my first year at the library similar to the first year of owning a puppy. Sure, the puppy is happy and eager to please, but it's also a bundle of energy that doesn't understand house rules and has to be trained repeatedly. I was definitely the new puppy, to every extent that the metaphor can be extended.
Yet despite having not one but three new librarians in the span of three months (on top of her regular responsibilities and managing five staff overall), Phillips offered each of us her supervision, guidance and advice — and most importantly, friendship.
I count myself fortunate to have worked under her direction, and I can't fully express how greatly she will be missed by her staff. Since I lack the words to adequately describe how awesome she was to work with, I asked some of my co-workers to describe in a few sentences what it was like. Here's how they responded:
— "Anne Phillips gave so much to the Urbana Free Library, helping build an amazing music and book collection, and working with patrons in such a helpful and respectful way. The last few years, she has been especially important as a mentor and support for her staff. We will really miss her!"
— "Because of Anne's interest in local music, the library has a strong collection of Champaign-Urbana musicians. Because of her exotic travels with her brother and other friends, the library has books on the Boundary Waters, Greenland, the Antarctic, Spitsbergen and Svalbard, not to mention volumes celebrating penguins and polar bears! Because of her commitment to literacy, the library has a well-used adult reader collection and a variety of ESL materials. Awesome librarian skills, indeed!"
— "I already miss working with Anne on a daily basis. She's been a strong team leader, possessing remarkable skills and a witty sense of humor. We share memories gathered over the last 21 years — working behind the scenes in the early 1990s when our library was closed for six weeks after an electrical fire, having Roger Ebert praise our DVD collection and getting to know many unique patrons. Anne has left a permanent mark on our library's collection."
— "Anne was a great boss and a fabulous librarian, and I feel incredibly lucky to consider her a mentor. It was obvious at all times that she cared deeply for the Urbana Free Library, our patrons, and her fellow library employees. I learned a lot from her commitment to public service and her vast knowledge of our collection. On top of it all, she is also hilarious and a lot of fun to have around the office. I can't express how much I will miss working with her."
Regardless of the circumstances in which we each have known Phillips, it's safe to say we all can agree: She helped to make the library, as Ebert fondly called it, "the Urbana Free — and wonderful — Library."
Amber Castens is an adult and teen services librarian at the Urbana Free Library, where she also is the technology volunteer program coordinator.