By Sara McAninch // Photography by Tony Vasquez
Erin Cataldi lives in the heart of downtown Franklin with John, her partner of five years, and their four cats. As the oldest of 12 kids, this Lake County area native loves porch sitting, all things books and talking with people, both at home and work.
“I thrive off human interaction. I love seeing people who come into the library every week,” she says.
Cataldi first came to the area to get her bachelor’s degree in history from Franklin College. She stayed through a master’s program in library science at IUPUI, and then she became a permanent resident.
“I came down to Franklin for college, and I never left,” she says.
As the teen and adult reference librarian at the Johnson County Public Library – Clark Pleasant Branch, Cataldi fell in love with the local library system.
“Even before I worked here, I walked from college and went to the branch,” she says.
After more than eight years of employment, her love of and enthusiasm for books hasn’t waned. If anything, it’s increased over the years as she’s taken on more active roles in other literature-based areas, such as writing book reviews for local magazines and editorials in the Daily Journal. She also maintains the “Erin at JCPL – Clark Pleasant Branch” blog on Facebook, where she shares literary memes, photos of displays and movie trailers, along with promoting different programs.
These activities and more keep Cataldi busy, but still the bibliophile finds time to share her passion with others. As a part-time adjunct professor of adult readers advisory in the IUPUI library science division, she’s spent the past six years teaching students how to recommend books, write reviews and start book clubs. She says the class helps her with her library job in that she’s able to make recommendations based on the knowledge she imparts and gains during the classes.
- What is your role as a librarian? What’s most rewarding about your work?
I get people all the time who come in and say, “It’s just books. Why do we need a library when we have Google?” In addition to books, our library system has a variety of programming and does a lot of community outreach. The scope is really impressive to me. We try to do a lot in the schools and community, like promoting summer reading in the local schools and participating in different fairs and festivals.
I love meeting the people who come in for a craft program or a book club. I love talking about what kinds of books they like and hearing about their kids and grandkids. I love the people who come in for the first time in like a decade, and they’re in awe. They sign up for programs, realize they can use our in-house sewing maker space and then borrow a machine for at-home use. They borrow DVDs because they can’t afford a streaming service, or they participate in our after-school program.
In partnership with AARP, the library offers annual tax preparation services. While I can’t legally advise anyone on their taxes, I can print the needed forms. I answer a lot of reference questions, like when a house was built; I like it when I get a harder question and I have to dig deeper to find an answer. I also give a lot of book recommendations.
The programs that I’m most proud of starting are the Local Author Book Fair and Stout Stories Book Club. The fair happens every spring, except in 2020 when we had to cancel because of the pandemic. It also launched our local author book collection. I can’t wait to have the event again because we get so many talented people of all ages and walks of life.
Stout Stories Book Club was a collaborative idea between me and Keeley Waters, the children’s librarian at the Johnson County Public Library – Trafalgar branch. A few years ago, we both independently approached our branch managers with the idea of putting the “pub” in public library.
Our book club meets on the first Monday of the month at Johnson County-based breweries and wineries. It is composed of men and women of various ages. Anyone 21 and over can join. There’s no residency requirement; you don’t even have to own a library card. We read books from all genres, and the group picks the theme. Because it’s hard to get enough copies of new books, we typically read ones that are at least 2 years old. I’ve developed friendships with so many of the attendees.
- You were one of the librarians featured in Kyle Cassidy’s 2017 book “This is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information.” How did you get involved with that book?
That was a right place, right time situation. In 2014, I was lucky enough to get chosen to go to the American Library Association conference in Las Vegas. I attended with other librarian friends.
Kyle Cassidy had done a Kickstarter about the book, and he was going to be at the conference to take photos. There were hundreds of librarians in line to get their photo taken, so I didn’t know right away that I was going in there, let alone be on the cover. It was a month later when I found out I was going to be in the book. I didn’t even see the cover until it hit the Amazon presale.
It’s a major published coffee table book, so it feels weird. It’s the closest to fame I’ll ever get.
The coolest moment of that experience was when Carla Hayden, the current librarian of Congress, was in the library holding the book. It was the most surreal moment to see it.
- For someone going into the library for the first time, where should they begin?
The first thing you should do is walk up to the front desk and let the person working there know you’ve never been there. Walk through the steps to get a library card and then ask for a tour.
When I have a first timer or a regular, I love showing him or her around. I love empowering people to learn how to find the books they want or how to make copies.
- Almost everything is digital nowadays, including books, so why should people still go to the library? Why are they important?
In addition to the previously mentioned programming and community outreach the library offers, information literacy, like spotting fake news and learning what material to trust online, is a big reason why libraries are still relevant, especially for students. There’s so much on the internet that it’s hard to find reliable sources. The library really shines in this area because it has resources that can be trusted and references to help people find the data they need.
A lot of e-books cost money, but the library has them to loan out. I don’t think print books are going anywhere, especially based on what I’ve seen over the past couple of years. There’s a market for both print and electronic books.
- What do you love about living and working on the southside?
Johnson County has changed so much, even from when I went to college here. There’s always new stuff opening and so much to do; it’s not called “festival county” for nothing. Other areas like Trafalgar and Bargersville are also growing. It’s exciting to see all the growth and improvement.
Since I live in Franklin, I’m more biased toward it. I love living downtown and walking down to the Artcraft Theatre, Ann’s Restaurant or Wild Geese Bookshop.
You can find out more about the Johnson County Public Library, including locations, how to apply for a library card online and volunteering, at pageafterpage.org. Connect with Cataldi through her Facebook page at facebook.com/erinatjcpl. To find out more about book club offerings, go to .pageafterpage.org/join-a-book-club.