Emily Harkins

Emily Harkins caught the “travel bug” when she was young and spent a year in Columbia teaching after college.

If you are a patron of the Waunakee Public Library, chances are Emily Harkins has been able to recommend a great book for you to read. Knowledgeable in all things library-related, Harkins loves sharing her passion for reading with those who visit the library.

“That is probably my favorite thing to do – talk books with people,” she said.

She has worked at the library for 11 years and is currently the circulation manager. In addition to managing adult services circulation staff and library pages, some of her other responsibilities include organizing volunteers, collection development, and deciding upon the items for the adult “Lucky Day” display (popular books and DVDs that are available for check-out for walk-in patrons.)

An avid reader, she keeps track of the books she has read over the years through Goodreads. Last year alone, she read over 150 books. She noted that this includes audiobooks, graphic novels, short stories, and novellas, but regardless, that is an impressive number. She writes reviews for most of them on Goodreads, which helps her remember important aspects of the books to help with patron recommendations.

Harkins grew up in Black River Falls, graduating from high school in 1987. She later graduated from Milligan College, a Christian liberal arts school in Tennessee, in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in English, a minor in sociology, and a teaching certificate.

She met her husband, Bill Harkins, while attending college, and two years after graduation, they moved to Colombia to teach English at the Centro Colombo Americano school in Bogota. Not only was she able to teach, but it also fulfilled her love of travel. She said that while a teenager she had been “bitten by the travel bug.” Her father, a pastor, had encouraged Harkins to pursue service work through mission trips in places such as the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Guatemala. Those trips were great experiences for her.

“I fell in love with learning about other cultures, and traveling, and speaking Spanish,” she said.

She worked in Colombia almost a year and made lifelong friends. She loved her students, salsa dancing, and the warm ways of their culture — people greet one another with a kiss. Continuing her love of travel, she and Bill would later complete the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, hiking 60 miles in France and an additional 500 miles in Spain.

Upon returning to the United States in 1996, she was hired for a temp position with Borders Book Store in Eau Claire, and within a few years, she became a traveling trainer, working and opening stores in different parts of the country. After stints out west with Borders, she ultimately moved back to a store in Madison. But in 2008, she began to notice layoffs and figured it was time to look elsewhere for a job; the timing was perfect because the library was looking to hire.

On top of working full time, she is also pursuing a master’s degree part-time in the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at UW-Madison. She has joined the Jail Library Group, comprised of volunteers who supply reading materials to inmates. It is something she and her husband can do together as it is not necessary to be a student to do so. For several years, Harkins wrote freelance articles for the Waunakee Tribune and was inspired by those who did amazing volunteer work. Being a part of the Jail Library Group is a rewarding way to give back.

Harkins and Bill live just north of Lodi on Lake Wisconsin with their dog, Duke. It is a peaceful haven being so close to all the wildlife and water.

“It just does my heart good,” she said.

She understands the value that libraries bring to communities and loves the recently built library in Waunakee with the additional meeting space and natural light.

“It’s a beautiful space and has so much to offer to the community. I love working there. What makes this job truly special to me is the friendships I’ve found, both with co-workers and library patrons,” she said.

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