Vida Veronica Baleckaitis, born and raised in Chicago, is the head clerk at the Garfield Ridge Branch of Chicago Public Library (CPL). Next month, she will not only continue to celebrate the 150th anniversary of CPL but her own 30 years of working with the library. Back in 1993, she started off as a part time page and has continued to work her way up the library ladder to her current position. She reflects on her years of public service and shares her future hopes for CPL.
Can you share a little bit about your background at CPL?
I first started on June 7, 1993. I started off as a part-time page at the Archer Heights Library and I actually heard about the library hiring from my boyfriend at the time. After that, I was hired for a part-time clerk position at the McKinley Park Library. Then I moved to Brighton Park Library as a full-time clerk. My final spot right now is head clerk at the Garfield Ridge Branch Library.
Looking back at the last 30 years, do you have any favorite or funny CPL memories that stand out?
You know, I do. Because I’ve been in this system for so many years, I am reunited with patrons that I have helped many years ago when I first started. They remember me. The patron comes in and they say things like, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you in so long and you haven’t changed” or “You gave me my first library card and I brought my child so you could give them their first library card!” The interaction, even if it is small to them, means a lot to me. It feels good to have people remember. I think those are my favorite moments working at CPL.
What do you think makes public libraries like CPL so important?
I think we’re important for the people and neighborhoods of Chicago. We are a place for people to go to, kids can come in after school for a place to study or to come in for our programs. We even offer programs for adults, like how to crochet or game day. Even when it’s too hot or too cold outside, we are definitely a safe haven for everybody to go to in the neighborhood. We offer resources to the public, whether that’s computer help or helping someone find the nearest post office. You can’t find resources in a lot of places unless you go to your alderman’s office, but at least we at the library can get the information right away and no one has to make an appointment. We always have a librarian on duty.
Are there any changes or improvements you’d like to see implemented at CPL before the next major anniversary?
I like to see more outreach programing. Outreach is things like visiting schools, senior centers, having tables set up in various places like a farmer’s market, or walking in parades. But I would also like more organizations getting involved with the library, like sports teams or music programs. Just even for us to be more involved with all the different events that Chicago offers, like the Taste of Chicago. Collaborating with other big Chicago events would be great to see. Now we have ten librarians at every location, which of course helps, but I wish we had a maker lab for the patrons. I’d also like to see a teacher in the library and cyber navigator at every location as well. I think when funds start getting better, since COVID took a toll, things will get better. The library is doing a really good job with handling all of that.
What do you enjoy most about working at CPL?
I would say the best part is being able to help people. I really do enjoy it, even if it’s just the simplest thing. It means a lot to feel like I made a difference in somebody’s day, even if it’s just a smile or small joke. Those types of interactions are the best part.
Is there any advice you would like to share with future workers or people just starting out at CPL?
I think that if you want to go further in CPL, you have to leave the branch you started at. You might end up really liking the location and the people you work with, but I think it’s a good thing to move around. I would say, be open to trying other branches and meeting new people. Sometimes it takes a few moves or spots to find your final branch. And it’s funny because things usually come back full circle, like you might end up working with the same people you started with. But I think when you first start, it’s good to move around and try different things and see what you like. You might end up finding your forever home like I did after all these years.
Do you have any book or movie recommendations for your patrons to go check out at the library?
There’s so many but I am a big horror fan, so Stephen King always comes to mind. But the author Colleen Hoover is very popular right now and she is a very good writer as well. Her books are always being checked out. Movies wise, I still like the cult classics like The Breakfast Club or 16 Candles or anything Chicago related. I always suggest those to our patrons.