Meet Jayne Walters: Branch Manager at Indianapolis Public Library

Jayne (she/her/hers) sat down with Jade Kastel (she/her/hers) of the Racial Justice & Inclusion Committee for this interview. 

What library do you work at?

West Indianapolis Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library system.

What’s your position and how long have you been there?

I’m the branch manager. I’ve worked for this library system for eight years.

Have you worked in other library positions or at other libraries? 

As a teenager, I was a Page for the Cholla branch library in Phoenix, Arizona for six years. I started with IndyPL as a Juvenile Public Service Associate at the Brightwood branch.

Tell us about your journey that led you to your job in a library?

I had worked costumer service for the majority of my life. I ended up being a bit artistic in a full-time position at a dental lab where I built crowns and bridges for local offices. It was like miniature sculpting. When there was a cut in staff, I was the bottom rung. That led me back into temp work. One of those temp jobs was at a company that makes panels for interior and exterior cladding for architectural purposes. That was short term and only until another position for a brand-new customer service call center opened. I was quickly put into handling customer complaints and on track to being a supervisor and trainer. Then … the tech bubble burst and the company lost their backers. It shut down and it was then that I was quickly scrambling to find a new job. To add urgency to it, my wife was now pregnant. I went back to the warehouse job, and, like many people, I ended up stuck there.

It was a miserable environment and toxic on so many levels. With no degree, there were no other options for the type of money I was making. I started to come home every day and tell our kids, “Do good in school. Get good grades, so you can get a degree and do something you love.” It became a mantra, and they would finish it. Then, one day, I realized that I wasn’t listening to my own advice. I had worked in that warehouse long enough for one of the owners’ sons to work summers there in high school, then during college, then after college got a position that I was more than qualified for. I had another moment of clarity… if HE can complete college, then I know I can.

I looked back at all the jobs I’d had throughout my life. If I was going back to school, it would be to do something I love. Customer service and the library. The perfect combination. Working in a library is customer service on so many levels and it actively helps communities in ways that many don’t even think about. More importantly, though, I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s what I still try my best to do every single day. My tiny little school in Arizona was no more and I couldn’t get my transcripts. After months of trying, I finally gave up and got my GED. I wasn’t going to let it stop me. I enrolled in Ivy Tech for their Library Technical Assistant (LTA) degree and was going full-time while also working 50-60 hours a week. I wanted more than my certificate. I wanted my associates degree, and I wasn’t planning on stopping there. I made sure that all my credits would transfer to IUPUI (Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis) because I didn’t want to have to retake courses.

Once I had finished my LTA degree, I began applying for positions. The problem was … nothing in the libraries pays what you can make in a warehouse that literally tears down your body and spirit. We sat down and figured out what the minimum amount that I could make and still support our family. While starting my bachelor's degree full-time, I continued to job hunt and also work those 50-60 hour weeks. Then, someone took a chance on me. After 13 years in a warehouse that was filed with misogyny, homophobia, and harassment that crushed my spirit, and a machine that literally crushed my hand when I was pulled into it … I was free.

To a point.

While working in that previous job, I kept everything about myself and my personal life locked up tight, because I had seen people let go for merely mentioning that they were bisexual. I didn’t have that fear in the library. The library was in the Pride Parade, and I even worked the booth at the Pride Festival my first year. I could freely admit to being bisexual without so much as a blink. But there was still one part of me that had remained buried and hidden from everyone for my entire life. Not even my wife knew that I was transgender.

A year into working for the library, I came out to her. Her reply, “Well, it’s a good thing I like girls, too.” There was just one big issue. At the time, there were no protections in the policy manual for transgender or gender diverse individuals. I knew people that had been fired or laid off for “other reasons” once they had come out at work in other organizations. So, there was a fear there. There was a fear of coming out as a transgender woman while being a children’s librarian. We both decided that it would be best if I waited a few years; just to be safe. So, I did.

The following year I went to watch the Pride Parade as my true self … but I wasn’t out at work. When it came time to go work the library booth, I slipped into a nearby store and changed clothes. During a day full of pride and people getting to express their truest self … I hid. I hid among my own community because I was afraid of the repercussions. It broke me. When I got home, my wife saw how much it broke me. She held me and told me, “I know we agreed to wait, but you need to say something.”

During this time, I had been working with my therapist and behind the scenes through other people to try and get protections in place. Eventually, the board passed protections, and I was able to come out to everyone. My manager, Rhonda Oliver, was the best. Ms. Rhonda could not have possibly done a better job with how she handled my coming out to her. The adaptation to the new me. The self-education that she did, and the additional outside training that she pulled in to help my coworkers learn how to, not just interact with me, but with the transgender patrons we were already seeing in our library.

I decided to stay where I was, to continue to be there for the kiddos. To be there for the neighborhood. To even be there for the LGBTQ+ community. Now, for all of them, they could see for themselves that we aren’t the boogieman that politicians try to make us out to be. We’re just people. Trying to live our lives, support our families, and support our communities. For some, I was the sounding board for things like, “How can I support my niece better, since my sister won’t accept her?” or even coworkers in the system, “What steps did you take to come out with HR? I need to,” or “I have a Page that just came out as trans to me, what do I do?”

Eventually, I got my degree and immediately applied to be a manager. I wanted to be able to do more of what I was doing ever since I came out. More conferences to educate, more talks, more webinars, more and more so that I could help others to create these safe and welcoming spaces, story times, displays, work environments, and more. To dismantle the stereotypes and dispel the myths.

I always make a point to say that I’m the first openly transgender employee, because the fact is… I’m not the first transgender employee that this library system has had. There are trans and gender diverse people in every library system throughout the world. There always have been. The difference is that not everyone feels safe enough to be out for many different reasons, like family not being accepting, or friends, but the library system should never be one of those reasons. I work every day to make sure that it’s not.

I do that by helping to create the LGBTQ+ Services Committee, doing Pop Up Libraries at IYG (Indiana Youth Group), being part of the DICE Alliance (Diversity, Inclusion, Culture and Equity), joining the Stonewall book awards committee, being on the board of directors for Indy Pride and a member of ACLU’s Transgender Advocacy and Education Program, and more than anything… being a mentor, lifting those up that come in behind me, and creating a better future for the younger transgenderation both inside and outside of libraries.  

What new and interesting things are happening at your library?

I’m currently working with the program development department at the library, Indy Pride, the LGBTQ+ Services Committee, Kidz Ink, and some local authors to plan an incredibly exciting panel around challenged and banned LGBTQ+ and BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) material, with a local author book signing in the first quarter of 2023.

What are your favorite sections of your library?

Young Adult, Graphic Novels (all ages), and picture books. Even though I don’t do story times anymore, I love picture books so much.

Do you have favorite library resources or materials?

  • GARE – “The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) is a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.” GARE is a fantastic resource for those that are looking to make sure that they are helping to create a work environment that is welcoming to all. They have regular online meetings and trainings that are spectacular.
  • United Against Book Bans – A wonderful toolkit for dealing with the ever-growing assault on books.
  • GLSEN – This is a valuable resource that can be used by both school and libraries for data points and many informative pieces. They work to help create safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ+ students. While the focus is on K-12 education, it is extremely helpful in libraries as well.

Are there other libraries you love to visit?

Any small-town library. The big ones always have amazing things because they have the money. The little libraries, what they don’t have in money, they make up with in heart and creativity.

Are you a person who visits libraries when you're in a new place? If so, do you have any stories?

I try to go to the library in any town or city that I visit. Visiting the Library of Congress and getting my library card there is probably one of my favorite things I’ve gotten to do. It only lasts for one year, but I highly recommend the experience to any librarian out there. The tour is incredible, but with your library card, you can go in and do research.

Do you enjoy browsing in Little Free Libraries? Any unique finds?

I love Little Free Libraries and I even partnered up with a local laundromat to create a Little Free Laundry Library in my branch’s neighborhood. It gets a lot of use, and the most unique and moving find was when people started using it as a mini food pantry for folks as well.

What’s your superpower at your library?

Does being tall count?

But seriously, I’d say I have two very different superpowers:

The first is making connections between community partners. The library talks to all of the community partners, but they rarely seem to talk to each other. I’m good at connecting the needs of one with the services or resources of another to build a stronger community as a whole.

The second is being crafty. I love to do displays and decorate the branch. I’m thankful that even though I’m not the one that runs the summer reading program for our branch, that I still get to help decorate. I’ve gotten to do some really fun things like making a stain glass looking mural to brighten up the Adult Non-Fiction area, replicated the house from UP out of card stock, birthday cake balloons, pencil, and ink, and most recently made a replica of an old Centipede arcade game, but turned it into a Very Hungry Caterpillar version of it.

Oh… and keeping the plants in our branch alive.

Anything else you'd like to share?

If anyone would like a clipping from Madam Pothos, our main plant in our branch, I’m happy to give one. I’d love to have a sort of plant exchange program, by exchanging clippings from every branch in my library system, but I’m happy to take some from other libraries as well.