Library association president Joe Thompson talks new projects

Library association president Joe Thompson talks new projects
Joe Thompson

For the next year, a Carroll library director will help oversee programming and training for libraries across the state as Maryland Library Association (MLA).

Joe Thompson, director of Public Services at Carroll County Public Library, will take the volunteer position on top of his regular duties until June of 2019.


The Times caught up with Thompson to talk about libraries as high-tech spaces and fishing poles available for check-out.

Q: Is this an additional role on top of Director of Public Services at Carroll County Public Library or is this a full-time position?

A: This kind of professional work is done as a volunteer in support of MLA and the broader Maryland library community, which means a lot of finding time on evenings and weekends to respond to emails, plan for meetings, write columns, etc. Those of us who serve in this kind of role do it out of the love of our profession. MLA is very lucky to have an experienced non-profit manager in Margaret Carty, who serves as the association’s Executive Director. She’s there to handle day-to-day operations.

Q: Is there a typical day as MLA President?

A: The responsibilities for Maryland Library Association are pretty diverse, since we have membership across Maryland and representing very different kinds of libraries, including public libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries. We also have strong relationships with other library associations, including the Maryland Association of School Librarians (MASL). MLA also functions as a chapter of the larger American Library Association.

Q: What are some of the things you focus on?

A: We’re focusing on a few particular items in our MLA Strategic Plan this year, which includes member recruitment and retention. While our membership is very strong and stable, we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that especially new staff across Maryland libraries know about how much membership can benefit them.

Our divisions, committees, and our conference committee are also so good at recognizing where there are needs for training across our libraries and developing programs that give the staff at all levels the skills they need. For example, MLA has a great working relationship with our Maryland State Library, which has allowed us to offer dedicated leadership training for the next generation of library leaders.

Q: Are there any projects you have coming up that you’re especially excited about?

A: Here at Carroll County Public Library I’m really looking forward to seeing how the plans for our new Makerspace, Culinary Center, and Meeting Space takes shape. This will all be on the ground floor of the Westminster Library. Once it opens in 2020, the community will be able to make use of the latest technologies and equipment to develop their great ideas.

It’s going to be an incredible opportunity for anyone, especially budding entrepreneurs, to learn skills and immediately put them into action. So, as you hear about Exploration Commons at 50 East, this is that project.

More information is available at

Q: Looking back, what inspired you to study library science and go into this field?

A: First of all, I was really lucky to work with supervisors at Baltimore County Public Library who mentored and encouraged me after I started working there as an hourly book shelver in my teens. I’ve always loved helping people and enjoy connecting individuals to the authoritative information and resources that they need to accomplish their homework, find a job, start a business … really whatever they need to succeed.


While I was getting my degree at College Park I found that there were so many other people across the broader library community that share this enthusiasm and eagerness to make this kind of difference. Now I get the chance to help make connections between people across Maryland libraries, which is incredible.

Q: Is there anything about your job that people might misunderstand or that not a lot of people know?

A: Hmmm … I suppose that there might still be a perception in places that libraries are only about books. Well, of course we do support our community’s love of reading, but it’s truly so much more. I regularly see packed meeting rooms for our storytimes, where the youngest children are already learning early literacy skills that will help them succeed when they get to school. Our librarians are trained to model behaviors that families can also practice at home, which encourages the development of reading and writing skills — often formed through play.

I’d say technology as well. Libraries are truly high-tech spaces that are introducing devices and experiences to individuals who might not have an opportunity to engage with them elsewhere. Augmented reality, virtual reality, drones, robots, etc. These programs are especially popular with teens and millennials. Libraries are vibrant places and vital to their communities, and these are all experiences readily available at our Carroll County libraries.

Q: Are you reading anything interesting right now?

A: I recently had the awesome opportunity to meet historian Doris Kearns Goodwin at a book signing and got an advanced readers copy of her new book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times.” It’s due out in September.

I’ve only just started it, but I’m really looking forward to learning about how the early failures of Lincoln, TR, FDR, and LBJ were integral to their experiences and served as the foundation for the development of their own leadership skills.

Q: When you’re not working, what are some of your favorite things to do in Carroll?

A: I love to get outside and walk or hike, including on the trails at Bear Branch and Liberty Reservoir. Though I haven’t done it yet, I should probably check out the fishing rods that the library now has available for checkout and go fishing one weekend.