Salt Lake County libraries could write the book on how to make a helpful, happy workplace

“Second family” • Staffers respected for “who they are,” not just their jobs, manager says.

West Jordan • On a recent Thursday afternoon, Susanne Jones led a dozen Salt Lake County Library System employees dressed partly in pink on a walk against cancer that ended with a drawing for prizes.

A couple of guys won pink visors, others took home small pink footballs, all came away with uplifted spirits after the activity, one of eight that would take place for the public and staff that day in the Viridian Library's lobby in West Jordan.

"They call me the 'sunshine committee,' " joked Jones, a career employee who has risen through the ranks, starting "in the stacks," restocking books before moving into the administrative offices, where she's basically the person who organizes most everything, like the anti-cancer walk.

"These things help" create a friendly work space, she said. After all, "you're with people at work longer than you're with your family. So you have to have fun together."

The county library system's 500-plus employees have embraced that spirit of camaraderie. For the third straight year, they ranked the library as one of Utah's best workplaces in terms of happiness and satisfaction.

This year, the library ranked 15th among large operations (more than 400 employees) — the only government institution to make the list based on an in-depth survey conducted by Pennsylvania-based WorkplaceDynamics.

"We are honored to receive the recognition and even more honored that so many amazing people continue to choose Salt Lake County Library as their career," said Director Jim Cooper.

"We promote an environment that encourages employees to do their best every day, to take pride in their work and focus on our customers' experiences," he added. "We are a place of learning and development — whether you are a patron or an employee — and provide a workplace in which our employees feel trusted, supported and valued."

That approach appeals to employees, whose occupational choice suggests that they're inclined to help people and do so in an environment that welcomes all comers.

"I have a job I love to do — and get paid to do it," joked Alexis Alires, 44, who has been with the library system for 25 years. He started as a shelver, became a customer-service clerk and worked the reference and checkout desks before becoming a circulation supervisor in 2000.

During that journey, he has learned that "we really make a difference in people's lives. I've seen patrons who have come in with their little kids who've grown up here and now are bringing in kids of their own."

That's something worth seeing on a daily basis.

So is watching the impact that working at the library has had on West Jordan resident Meisha Kehl, one of a half-dozen Jordan School District special-needs students employed at Viridian.

For her, surrounded by books, it's a dream job.

"I love books so much," Kehl said, preparing a cart of volumes to return to the shelves. "The library is a great place, where you can come and learn, with all of this information in one place. It's just a nice place to come and learn and immerse yourself."

What makes it even better, she added, is that Viridian Library is "really open, bright and very welcoming. It gives you an idea of belonging and is an inclusive place to relax."

Part of the reason for that, said human resources manager Pamela Park, is that so many employees have held so many library positions that "we respect people for who they are, and not just their current job."

Paula Burgon said the library attracts "hardworking people who want to make a difference" and then gives them the chance to do just that.

"It's all about trying to get people what they need," she added, "people from age 0 to 99."

Job satisfaction is reflected in numerous comments from the survey.

"I feel appreciated and needed."

"My fellow co-workers are great. Just like having a second family."

"I get to solve challenging problems every day."

"My [hours are] flexible so I may handle my personal life as well."

Little wonder then that Liz Sollis believes she has one of the best jobs in the county's library system. She's in marketing, charged with letting the public know about all the entertaining and enlightening goings-on at the nearly 20 branches.

"I get to connect the public to the amazing resources we have, which are free, and we provide access to everybody and help them to enhance their outcomes in life," she said. "Who wouldn't want to visit a county library, right?"


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