May 27, 2004: Headlines: COS - Saint Lucia: Libraries: Palm Beach Post: Sid Patchett was packed off to St. Lucia, West Indies, where he was installed as a librarian

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Saint Lucia: Peace Corps Saint Lucia : The Peace Corps in Saint Lucia: May 27, 2004: Headlines: COS - Saint Lucia: Libraries: Palm Beach Post: Sid Patchett was packed off to St. Lucia, West Indies, where he was installed as a librarian

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Sid Patchett was packed off to St. Lucia, West Indies, where he was installed as a librarian

Sid Patchett was packed off to St. Lucia, West Indies, where he was installed as a librarian

Sid Patchett was packed off to St. Lucia, West Indies, where he was installed as a librarian

Globe-trotting librarian calls for fresh crew

By Ron Wiggins, Palm Beach Post Staff Columnist
Thursday, May 27, 2004

If all societies imploded in an orgy of suicide bombings and full-contact nihilism, leaving only public libraries intact, then you could be sure that civilization would rebuild, and that librarians would still be sinfully underpaid.

And that works fine for tax-supported public libraries, but when today's Baby Boomers start retiring, there will be a dry sucking sound as libraries scramble to hire from a shrinking talent pool.

Lantana city librarian Sid Patchett, 60, predicts that in five or 10 years "there will be only three people to replace five leaving."

With wages bid ever higher, free labor will be the only kind that tax-strapped municipalities can afford.

Patchett and Lantana are comfortably ahead of the curve. Since 1996, when the city took over the library from the Lantana Women's Club and moved into a foreclosed bank building, there have been only three paid staff working with up to 19 volunteers.

It's not about stinginess. Every dollar the city saves in salaries is a buck freed to buy books and magazines. For the past four years, Lantana has spent $26,000 to $31,000 on collections, vastly more than could be done without free labor.

Tomorrow's volunteer will be a different breed of cat, Patchett warns -- today's Boomers when they retire.

"We've grown up to expect things the way we like them," he smiles ruefully. "A bit spoiled."

Patchett is a paradigm of volunteerism with a self-indulgent half-twist. He is, one might say, at risk of injuring a metaphor, a Peace-Corps-volunteer-turned-swashbuckling-librarian. How else do you describe a man who has headed libraries in the West Indies, New Guinea and central Africa before settling into his Lantana job? Low pay? What's low pay when you work in one exotic paradise after another with cheap housing, lush surroundings and all the social life a dedicated bachelor could wish?

Patchett grew up a Navy brat in Guantanamo and on the East Coast. While earning a degree in Latin American history at the University of Miami, he worked as a page in the Miami Public Library, shelving books. He liked the work and took a master's degree in library science at Florida State University. In 1969, he volunteered for the Peace Corps.

"I thought I'd be building outhouses in India or Pakistan."

Instead he was packed off to St. Lucia, West Indies, where he was installed as a librarian. After his three-year tour, he was promptly hired to do the same job for another three years. It was like eating lotus.

"It was so terrific that I knew that if I didn't get out, I'd marry a local girl and be there until I was 60."

In self-defense, he looked for a library job somewhere really awful and was promptly hired to run a teachers college library in Papua New Guinea. Again he found himself working in a place of unending beauty "for a great two years in the highlands."

Then an administrative library job in coastal Port Moresby opened up, and it was almost more satisfaction than a fellow could stand. "I became an administrator, and believe me, administration beats working all hollow."

His allergy to contentment persisted, and eight months later, he applied to be librarian for the University of Malawi in Central Africa. "At 37, I was the youngest university librarian in the British Commonwealth."

While there, he squired visitors from London on a Land Rover trip to explore Lake Malawi. Among them, the beauteous Trina, a hostess on a Channel hovercraft. They lived together for eight years, until one day the beauteous Trina said: "You know, Sid, I've been kissing you for eight years and you're still a frog."

They married, and in 1986, after serving out yet another eight-year stint in New Guinea, the couple moved to Coconut Grove south of Miami, where Patchett enrolled in law school to specialize in the law of the sea. He thrived in law school, got his doctor of jurisprudence and promptly chucked it.

"My whole career was institution building. I learned enough about the law to not want to be a lawyer."

Lantana was looking for a librarian to build a library up from bare metal.

"I applied. I saw the challenge. I knew this was something I could do for the next 15 years."

The challenge, Patchett says, was taking an infant library from a collection of mostly romantic fiction donated by the Lantana Women's Club and making it a full-service library.

"Most libraries have a librarian and a full-time, non-professional staff. I wasn't sure it would work. We had one librarian, two paid assistants and up to 19 volunteers. Our system works because I do what the volunteers tell me."

Obviously there was a lot more to it than that. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated six computers, enabling a switch to a computerized card catalog. Volunteers with no computer experience learned the system and taught others. If motivated volunteers are to remain the heart and soul of tomorrow's Lantana Public Library, Patchett knows he is going into the marketplace without a purse.

But not unarmed. Here is an ad he has composed for The Palm Beach Post classifieds:




Tired of sending your résumé without response? Send it to us. We'll actually read it and try to talk you into joining us. Yes, the Lantana Public Library wants good volunteers. No pay, but we offer good company, a chance to design with us a role suited to your professional experience, and the satisfaction of building a unique institution. Work with us and fill a void in your résumé. Interested? Send your résumé to Sid Patchett, director, Lantana Public Library, 208 W. Ocean Ave., Lantana, FL 33463.

"Volunteering," Patchett said, "is a good strategy for somebody having trouble finding work. When they do get an interview, it fills the gap in their résumé. It shows that somebody wanted them -- and we do want them."

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Story Source: Palm Beach Post

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