Jeff Manes: Disability no roadblock for librarian
January 13, 2012 3:10PM
Barbara Weaver, 61, is regional library director at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest in Gary. Meningitis left her with 90 percent hearing loss at age 3. “My hearing loss was the only side effect; it could have been worse,” she said. | Provided phot
At a glance
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Updated: February 16, 2012 8:07AM
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
— Helen Keller
I trimmed my mustache just before interviewing Barbara Weaver. She has 90 percent hearing loss and relies heavily on reading lips.
Weaver, 61, is regional library director at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest. Our interview took place at the Gary campus.
“I grew up in Carroll County,” Weaver began. “I’m a farmer’s daughter; my maiden name is Minich. My parents are deceased, but they were very influential in my life.
“Dad met my mom after World War II at Grissom Air Force base near Logansport. My mother’s dad was a farmer; that’s how dad got into farming.
“Basically, we were just tenant farmers. Since my brother, David, has taken over the operation, we farm thousands of acres. Three or four years ago, he was named top producer in the United States.”
Did you attend a public school?
“Yes, Carroll High School in Flora. I had meningitis when I was 3; it was a very precarious situation. My hearing loss was the only side effect; it could have been worse. I was fitted with hearing aids by the time I was 5.”
Was your education affected?
“By the time I was 6, I was put in the mainstream school system. I worked closely with the teachers.
“Classes back then were very small. My teachers were very understanding; they made sure I had speech therapy in Chicago or at Purdue University in West Lafayette. Those early days of them doing that is why I didn’t have to go to a special school.”
“I went to Ball State University and earned my undergraduate degree in social work and a minor in history. I earned my master’s at Indiana University in library science.”
“At the age of 7, I decided I wanted to play piano because my friend was taking lessons. Dad said: ‘My little girl wants to play piano, we’ll buy her a piano.’
“I took piano lessons for eight years. I’ve played piano for churches, groups, worship bands ... . I can feel the music through my hands. My heart, my soul, sings.”
“My parents made sure I learned how to read at an early age. We didn’t have a public library where we lived; we were really out in the boonies. Mom would get books for me at the library in Kokomo.
“Reading enhances your writing abilities as well. I tend to look for the beauty in things rather than deal with concrete things like numbers.”
What were some of your favorite books as a kid?
“I loved reading Nancy Drew mystery stories. Every week, I’d get an allowance for doing chores around the house. Every Saturday, I’d buy another Nancy Drew story for a $1.25. I have quite a collection of them.”
What attracted you to that series?
“I loved how Nancy solved the mysteries. That must have carried over in later years, because I decided to become a reference librarian.”
You could solve other people’s questions through research.
“Exactly. My first two jobs were that of a reference librarian.”
“In 1976, I was hired at the Lake County Public Library. They were very supportive of my hearing loss. One of the ladies who hired me said that was one of the reasons they hired me.”
“She felt I’d have a sensitivity to people with disabilities. I worked there for about seven years. Then, there was an opening at the library in Crown Point, and I was hired as the first head of reference. I worked there 11 years; it was a wonderful experience.”
How long have you worked for Ivy Tech?
“Eighteen years; I love the freedom it gives me to organize, provide services and work with staff. It’s really a family environment here.
“If we can make our students feel at home and comfortable, that supports their future careers. We’re trying to make a difference in their lives.”
You’re a big Indianapolis 500 fan.
“Yes, our landlord would treat my parents, brother and me to a trip to the Indy 500 every year. We had great seats, right by the finish line. I really got into it.
“That was about the time Mario Andretti made a name for himself. He was just phenomenal. Instead of following Elvis Presley or the Beatles, I followed Mario; he was dominant.
“I have a huge scrapbook of newspaper clippings and program guides about him.”
Did you get his autograph?
“Yes, back in those days, you could get into Gasoline Alley. There was a race where he had car trouble or something. I slipped underneath the tunnel, and there was Mario. He signed a life-sized poster I had purchased.”
Hero worship rewarded.
“When I graduated high school, my dream was to be a journalist and cover the Indianapolis 500. I wanted to be a female sports reporter.
“I majored in journalism my first year at Ball State, but I guess reality set in. With my hearing loss, I realized I probably couldn’t catch everything.”
You recently won a very prestigious award.
“Yes, the Carnegie Corp. of New York-New York Times I Love My Librarian Award in New York City, about three blocks from Times Square.
“I give the person who nominated me, Becky Sacopulos, a lot of credit for believing I was worthy of it and taking the time to fill out all the paper work.
“I didn’t think there was a chance I’d win nationally; it was beyond my wildest imagination. There were 1,700 nominations. Caroline Kennedy was there.”
“I had to give a two-minute speech in front of more than 300 people. I’m not a very good speaker, but I told the audience that when I received the phone call I’d won, I felt like I was being crowned Miss Indiana.
“The crowd burst out laughing and that certainly broke the ice.”
You’re an amazing person. I know it hasn’t always been easy. Over the phone, you told me there’s been more than one occasion when people tried to deter you. Would you care to talk about that?
“After I had filled out an application, a lady from admissions questioned me. She said, ‘Do you really think you’ll be able to handle it in this profession, not being able to hear?’
“Jeff, I’m sorry ... (she starts crying). That’s not a pleasant memory.”
It’s OK; take your time.
“I told her: ‘Yes, I do. I’ve done well in school. I’m an avid reader who graduated sixth of 123 and was on the National Honor Society in high school. I had great role models. My parents loved me and I have a brother I look up to. I don’t see why I cannot achieve my dream of becoming a librarian.’ ”
Barb, read my lips; I’m speechless.
Weaver believes her involvement in Books to Bridge the Region, a reading initiative for all ages from Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke counties, was instrumental in her being chosen for the I Love My Librarian Award.
It’s been quite a journey from the cornfields of Carroll County to Times Square.
In my eyes, Barbara Weaver is Miss Indiana.