ILLIOPOLIS — Parked outside the Illiopolis/Niantic Public Library is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle fondly dubbed “Rayce.” The proud owner is librarian Shelley Hopkins.
“I put 14,000 miles on her last year," Hopkins said. "I love her."
Rayce (pronounced ray-see) is one of the reasons Hopkins, who celebrated her 25th anniversary as librarian on Dec. 4, said she is not a stereotypical librarian.
“Librarians are quiet,” Hopkins said. She jokingly says her voice and her laugh are loud, and that's part of what makes her different from the image people have of librarians, and then there's the bike and her tattoos.
Hopkins said she didn't want this job at first. She'd been staying home with her son and wanted to get out of the house for some “adult interaction.” She had been working in Springfield and didn't like such a long drive to get to work.
“I grew up just a block away from this library, with three brothers, and this was my escape to get away from my home life,” Hopkins said. “They had yearbooks. They had movies on Saturday. I grew up in this library.”
The librarian, Lorain Sheets, was “always on” Hopkins when she was a child because, Hopkins said, she was “ornery.”
“I remember when she was interviewing me, I was like, 'I do not want this job,' but it was for 20 hours a week, and I remember I was making $3.25 (an hour). I don't make much more now,” she said, laughing. “I thought, I'm just going to work with a bunch of old people. I also drive a school bus, which I've been doing for 18 years, and this job, not one day have I ever dreaded coming to work.”
Hopkins does not have a library science degree, so she shadowed Sheets until she learned the job, she said.
“This has been the best job I've ever had,” Hopkins said. “My previous jobs only lasted like nine months. I had two boys, and it gave me the flexibility to go on all their fields trips and to their class parties.
"Both my boys had asthma and when they were little, I was able to be there for them," she added. "If I was in the corporate world, that wouldn't have been the case, so this is the best job ever.”
Hopkins is assisted by three part-time library clerks. They cover when she leaves for her school bus route, and they juggle their hours around each other's schedules and work well together, Hopkins said.
“I like to hire people who use the library and who love the library,” Hopkins said.
An avid reader who especially enjoys magazines, Hopkins said her goal is to spread the word about libraries. With so many people turning to e-readers and online sources for their news and entertainment, she wants to remind people that the library with its physical books is still there and open to all. She especially loves seeing the kids visit.
“I love kids, that's why I drive a school bus,” Hopkins said.
The village offers a summer recreation program that includes free lunch and daily activities, said Terri Fleck, one of the library clerks, and because the program is right across the street from the library, kids often come to the library, too, and enroll in the summer reading program.
“If I could have anything here at the library, I would love to have a bookmobile,” Hopkins said. “I do home deliveries for those who are housebound and would love to have wheels to reach kids who live too far away from the library and have to rely on their parents for transportation.
"Since we service Niantic also, that would be amazing to reach those children who have no means to get here on their own."