Elaina Norlin has a confession. As a young, creative marketing representative for a cable company, she took some liberties with the truth.
Wanting to serve, Norlin began to search for a more meaningful path. Heeding the advice of her then in-laws, who were library directors, Norlin decided to apply her marketing skills to a career in library services, though she was somewhat hesitant.
“I kept thinking, ‘There’s no career in libraries; there’s no career path,” she told the South Florida Times. “But, they explained to me that it just wasn’t public libraries or universities, but that there was a variety of things I could do. So I said, ‘OK, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just go back to school.”’
Although public library work is part of Norlin’s fate, it took a number of years and several detours before she made her way to Broward County, where she recently took the helm as director of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC) near Fort Lauderdale.
“She is an eternal optimist. She thinks of everything as positive,” said Julie Hunter, associate director of the Broward County Library System, who acted as the AARLCC director for two years after the previous director was fired. “She sees problems as an opportunity for challenge, and I think that is wonderful for us in this day and at this junction, especially when we are faced with so many things to do, to solve, to be.”
Growing up in inner-city Chicago in a single-mother household where music filled the air, Norlin said, she learned the lessons her mother, Lottie Carroll, a schoolteacher at the time, would bring home with her.
Those lessons enabled Norlin, a straight-A student who loved to read, to be scholastically ahead of her peers.
“When I first sent her off to college, she was going to be an engineer, as she had good math and science skills,” Carroll said. “When she turned around to be a librarian, I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ But, I’m very proud of her, and she’s taken it to a very high level.”
On Oct. 5, Norlin, 38, became the fourth director of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center since it opened its doors in 2002. The library held a welcome reception for Norlin on Dec. 5.
The young and soft-spoken librarian, lecturer, author and consultant, said she hopes to keep alive Sam Morrison’s vision of a library that documents and celebrates the rich history of African Americans, by providing numerous cultural, literary, youth and educational programs, exhibits and seminars. She is hoping to accomplish this amid budget slashes that forced the library to cut hours, security, programs and irreplaceable staff.
“I don’t see this as a barrier. I just see it as something I need to think through and work around,” said Norlin. “I also think it will take some time as I navigate through it, but my goal is get us as many resources as possible so we can still do our work.”
Norlin’s resume shows that she is a well-seasoned librarian. She began her journey in library services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Upon graduation, Norlin joined the faculty of the University of Arizona Library in Tucson, Arizona, as an associate librarian. There, she honed her interpersonal skills as every project was done in teams—a minute detail that played a huge role in her getting the job at the AARLCC.
Candidates for the AARLCC position were given a likely scenario of dealing with different personalities, a problem that seemingly challenged the last director, Alicia Antone, Hunter said.
“Elaina Norlin was the one who came up with not having a ready answer,” said Hunter. “She wanted to work with people, even those who were above her as well as below, and the way she handled the problems [we presented] we thought we needed to have her here.”
Antone made notable improvements at the library during her two-year tenure. She transformed the Special Collections display room into a museum, and wrote a staff-training proposal in the field of research, preservation and conservation, Hunter said.
Hunter declined further comment on Antone’s firing in 2007.
Antone was ousted from the position without explanation. Amid community outrage, she was later rehired at another library in the system. She is currently a director in the library system at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Shortly before Norlin’s arrival in Broward County, where she is currently looking for a new home, she wrapped up several workshops on the effectiveness and user satisfaction of websites—a skill she developed at the University of Arizona.
Feeling the need for “a broader perspective of librarianship,” Norlin said she left the university in 2003 and advanced her career as the senior program officer at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), where she assisted in providing funding for museums and libraries. While she was there, Norlin said, she interacted with diverse librarians. That gave her the perspective she sought.
Always “open to whatever opportunity God has for her,” Norlin later took on a role as new initiatives and outreach manager for the Online Computer Library Center Eastern (OCLC). As a consultant there, she was responsible for developing new programs in the areas of digital and preservation services, managing the member outreach activities through professional collaborations, and implementing new services.
It was perhaps by chance that someone told Norlin about the position at the AARLCC and about Sam Morrison, the retired Broward library system director who is responsible for AARLCC’s construction. Norlin bested 20 other applicants, and left the OCLC to undertake the daunting task of operating a public library, research library, cultural center and museum under one umbrella.
“I think what she will do is bring an outside perspective, knowing that she has been in so many different environments and has had to surmount so many obstacles,” said Gordon Rogers, an Alexandria, Virginia immigration lawyer who is a longtime friend of Norlin. “She’s very cognizant of the recession and budget constraints, and she will be able to bring growth and adaptation in these tough economic times.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/ SFT Staff/ Elaina Norlin