Library reference department adds a familiar face

Published 6:21 pm Friday, December 13, 2019



The mission of the Boyle County Public Library is to engage the community by promoting life-long literacy and learning, to connect people to information and technologies, and to contribute to local cultural life. One of the ways the library accomplishes this mission is through the reference department, which offers a variety of research help.

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The reference department is located in the original section of the library. Patrons looking for a window into local history may find what they are searching for in the Kentucky Room, which has genealogical information on Boyle County and many of the surrounding counties, including Lincoln and Mercer — the “mother” counties from which Boyle County was formed in 1842. The department has a consistent collection of The Danville-Advocate Messenger on microfilm from 1900-2008, and some local newspapers dating back to 1820. It boasts a large microfilm collection dating back to the 1800s, and Kentucky Census information dating back to the late 1700s. The reference department also has various historical, geological surveys and topical maps of the local area, as a well as a variety of national and international atlases. 

The reference department staff is made up of Reference Librarian Jamie Helle and Steve Ellis, the newly hired reference associate. 

“One of our specialties is genealogy (family history),” says Helle. “We take the information you know and see how far back you can find. Certain website commercials, make it look easy. They say you can just click on a link and it sends you on the right path — this is not always the case. Names were misspelled, people moved, and ages were not accurately transcribed.” 

Reference librarians also help students and adults with research questions, and can find the exact correct answers that won’t turn up in a general search engine request. Helle says that she enjoys getting an unusual question and finding the answer. 

“It is hard for me to give up once a task is presented,” says Helle. If finding the answer takes additional time and resources, the reference department librarians will refer patrons doing family research to a professional genealogist, a person who focuses solely on genealogy research as their specialty as opposed to reference librarians who have many duties and services.

The library recently hired Ellis to serve in the reference department alongside Helle, but patrons might recognize him from his previous role. He is a familiar face to library patrons, as he has worked at the Circulation Desk for the past six years. 

Ellis was born in El Paso, TX, but was moved all over the country due to his father’s work, eventually landing in California. In 1986, after spending nearly 20 years in the Golden State, Ellis found his way to Danville, where he worked in the local print industry. Eventually he decided he needed to make a career change,  and that change would involve going to school for additional training. He earned a certificate in Information Technology on a library track, and in 2013 he joined the library staff working the circulation desk on weekends. 

“That means that for six years and two weeks I had no weekends,” says Ellis. “Stay there long enough and you can see almost all of Danville come in.” He has helped in the reference department on numerous occasions over the years and the transition from one department to the other was a natural fit. 

A typical day for Ellis now involves scanning the Charles Thomas photograph collection. “We are only one quarter of the way through the collection,” says Ellis. “This is like traveling back in time to Danville. He documented everything – I mean everything.” In addition to scanning, Ellis answers historical or genealogical questions, shelves material, and answers reference questions. While he still may be getting up to speed learning every aspect of his new position, his friendly demeanor and willingness to serve is already a proven asset to the library and its patrons.

Ellis is an avid collector of fountain pens, which he admits is an expensive hobby. “One of my prized pens is a 1934 W.A.S.P. (William A. Sheaffer Pen). I bought it for $10.00 at the 127 yard sale at a farm just north of Harrodsburg,” said Ellis. “There was no nib and the piston was stuck, but the body was perfect. I couldn’t fix it, so I shipped it off to Ron Zorn and $300 later I have a great pen. It originally sold for $3.00 in 1934.” He is also a collector of leather bound first edition books, is an Eagle Scout and enjoys cooking, traveling and genealogy. 

Between Helle and Ellis, there is usually someone in the reference department who can help  patrons with nearly any question. As the needs of patrons expand, the scope of reference services will expand to meet them. The library is currently working on uploading its digital files to an online database which will eventually be accessible from the library’s website. “This is a huge undertaking, due to the sheer volume of files, and it may take a few years to complete,” says Helle. “We have already scanned more than 10,000 images, and still about have 75% left to do.” The images provide a historical perspective of Danville that will be preserved for future generations.

One reference-related service that is a recent addition to the library is the Memory Lab, a grant-funded program that enables people to digitize and preserve their histories. Community members can schedule time to transfer their analog materials (VHS, vinyl records, film negatives, etc.) into a longer lasting digital format. The first step to using the lab is to take a 30-minute training session to learn how to use the equipment, which can be scheduled through the library’s website or by calling the library. After successfully completing the training, they will then be able to reserve time in the lab. Reference services, including use of the Memory Lab, are free for library patrons. 

Additional information about reference services and online genealogy resources can be found in the Family Historians section on the library’s website,