On Board with...Paula Kaufman

Paula Kaufman is a professor for the University Library at UIUC, where she was university librarian from 1999 to 2013. She joined the board for a second time in 2010. 

Describe the importance of public libraries.

In addition to the critically important function of protecting the right to read freely, public libraries offer unique opportunities for lifelong learning. My family and I have benefited greatly and in a variety of ways from access to our public library, for I am indeed a product of my local libraries. My grandfather emigrated from Eastern Europe to New Haven, Connecticut, in the 1890s. He read six or seven languages and quenched his thirst for great literature in the international collections available at the library’s main branch. Neither he nor my mom had any formal education beyond a high school degree, but when she was widowed at a young age, she used the public library to educate herself about money management and investing and to read voraciously about the political issues of the day. She made sure that my sister and I visited our local branch library at least weekly, despite its limited evening and weekend hours, and she fought the prevailing regulation that children under a certain age could check out only a small number of books at a time — and won, thus helping me quench my thirst to read. Although as university librarian of one of our country’s great research libraries, I have access to millions of books and other items, I’m a regular user of Champaign Public, often early on Saturday mornings. Without access to the holdings and services of public libraries, our population would be so much poorer and our democracy would not thrive.

Describe your background and what you bring to the board.

I’ve been a professional librarian for more than 40 years, in a number of types of libraries and in the Northeast and Southeast before moving to Champaign in 1999. Although most of my experience has been in academic research libraries, I’ve worked in a corporate library and I ran an early information industry business in the 1970s. My experience on boards of all types is quite extensive. I’m very pleased to be returning to the Champaign Public Library Board, of which I was a member from 2004 to 2007. I also served two three-year terms on the board of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System, and, from 2000 through June 2010, I was on the board of the Consortium of Academic Libraries in Illinois and its predecessor organization. Nationally, I’ve been on and chaired the boards of the Center for Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the Southeast Library Network (SOLINET).

Tell us a little bit about your family, pets, etc.

After living in New York City for 17 years, and in Knoxville, Tennessee, for 11 years, I’m very pleased to be here in Champaign, which has the best features of all the places in which I’ve lived and worked. If my job didn’t require so much travel, I’d be taking advantage of even more of the cultural offerings in our area. I love opera and classical music, but nearly every musical genre stirs my soul. I’m the proud grandmother of six — three boys and three girls — now all into their teens and twenties. I’m also very proud of my nephew, who manages web projects for a magazine publisher, and my niece, who is an accomplished fiber artist.

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately?

I recently finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which both delivers some important messages and is a good read. I’m a huge Joyce Carol Oates fan (I try to collect her first editions), but she’s so prolific that I’m usually a book or two behind her latest publications. Pink Martini’s CD Splendor in the Grass keeps my mind entertained while I walk. And, although I don’t watch much that’s on television, I’ll confess to watching Chopped pretty regularly. I think it’s because seeing professional chefs fail to perform perfectly makes my feeble attempts at cooking seem less embarrassing.

Paula Kaufman

Paula Kaufman