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From Georgia — with a love for books

Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin | For The Vidette Elma Timberland Library’s new manager, Allison Grubbs, shows how to shelve books in her library’s expanded adult collection.
Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin | For The Vidette Elma Timberland Library’s new manager, Allison Grubbs, shows how to shelve books in her library’s expanded adult collection.

ELMA — Allison Grubbs came a long way to become Elma Timberland Library’s manager. And she’s thankful she did.

The Cobb County, Ga., native and lifelong resident was given the reins of the Elma library last June 17. But Grubbs, 28, and her husband, Carl, weren’t “flying blind” when they headed to the Northwest.

“Everybody we knew who had ever come out here just had wonderful things to say” about the area, Grubbs says. So deciding to check it out themselves, the couple drove from Portland to Seattle two years ago while vacationing. “We were here for about a week, and we just fell in love with the area,” she says.

They came again while celebrating their third wedding anniversary in July 2012 “and just fell even more in love with it,” she adds.

“So we started researching different library systems,” says Grubbs, who’d earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from North Georgia College & State University, where she also minored in computer science, and holds a master of library and information science degree from Valdosta (Georgia) State University.

She looked into the five-county Timberland Regional Library system, Grubbs says, because she was “very impressed with the direction that they are moving. They really are patron-focused, and they don’t mind taking a risk.”

For example, she says, Timberland is testing a 3-D printer to see “if that’s really something that the community can use,” especially with schools now emphasizing science and technology. Timberland seems “really focused to helping people achieve their goals in life,” she says.

It’s also “very exciting to see ‘makerspaces’ being developed, which can be anything from sitting around the table knitting, because you are making something in that space, to a 3-D printer,” she says. “I see a lot of libraries moving towards being a community space … everything from just having a place to go to read the newspaper with your buddies and play chess, catch up on life events, to … learning how to have (a) backyard composting building. And if that is what people are interested in, then don’t we as a library have an obligation to meet them there?”

Grubbs says libraries are looking at how they can help schools meet their goals, as well as individual patrons. “It doesn’t have to be spending a million dollars on a lot of technology,” she’s quick to add. “It can be very low tech. It’s people coming together to make something. And that, again, ties into the library as community.”

A panel of four at Timberland interviewed Grubbs by phone last March, including the system’s new director, Cheryl Heywood; Kristine Tardiff, public services manager; circulation manager, Ryan Williams, and Chris Peck, longtime Aberdeen Timberland Library manager.

One of their questions caused Grubbs to pause. She says they asked how she was fun.

“I froze for a second,” she says. Mulling it with her head down, she says, she realized she was looking at her feet. “I like to wear fun socks,” she told the panel. She also said she likes to take her dog on walks, “and then she gets muddy and that gets me muddy and I try to bathe her and it’s really a mud-wrestling contest …”

In May, Grubbs met with the four and was hired a week or so later.

Her husband is working online toward a master’s degree in information systems, so when Grubbs was offered the position, the two quickly began packing for their long-distance move.

From more than 2,600 miles away, it was easiest to find housing in Olympia, Grubbs says. They’ve signed a six-month lease in West Olympia. Then, in the future, they’ll have more options.

Grubbs was born in Marietta, about 25 minutes northwest of downtown Atlanta. Her family moved to Powder Springs, a town then “very similar to Elma” about 40 minutes from Atlanta, when she was in second grade. She notes that Powder Springs had one traffic light and lots of rural farming areas. But “it’s so much bigger now than it was.”

She graduated from Powder Springs’ John McEachern High School, a former agricultural and mechanical college campus. She recalls feeling “claustrophobic” at one-building schools she traveled to with her violin as part of the school orchestra.

Grubbs first considered being a nurse, then a physician assistant. But, realizing that people who are suffering from an injury or illness usually aren’t in “the best of moods,” she decided she didn’t want to “work around grumpy people all my life.”

Considering other options, Grubbs says, she recalled feeling “my best in history classes.” Her advisor suggested she see the dean in the history department, whom Grubbs asked what could be done with a history degree. She learned it could open doors to a career as an attorney, or as a docent in a museum, or could be a springboard to a wide variety of other careers. “And,” Grubbs says the dean told her, “you can use it to become a librarian.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Grubbs has held two positions with county library systems in Georgia. She was a circulation clerk for the Hall County Library System from 2007-10, then a public services librarian for the Gwinnett County Public Library System until joining Timberland.

“I love my job,” she says. “I really feel blessed. There are not a lot of people in the world who get to do what they love, and the fact that I do get to do what I love is really a blessing.”

Grubbs welcomes folks to email her at agrubbs@TRL.org with ideas on additional ways the Elma Library might serve its patrons. She also welcomes everyone to stop by and check out some new things at her library, including an expanded adult collection.