Carol Inskeep loves living and working in Urbana. She never wants to leave. I sat down with her at the Urbana Free Library to talk about why this community is so special to her.
Smile Politely: What does an inclusive community mean to you?
Carol Inskeep: Everyone’s needs are being met and they are also able to thrive. We wouldn’t have homeless people or people being harrassed for who they are. There will also be a lot of creative spaces.
Smile Politely: What is your role at The Urbana Free Library?
Inskeep: I’m a librarian and get to work within specialty programs at the library. Sometimes those programs involve music, or authors visiting, craft programs, and more. Some of my favorite ones have been Cat & Snack, Drag Queen Story Hour, and programs for the CU Folk and Roots Festival.
Smile Politely: Tell me a little bit about the Urbana Library. What’s the mission?
Inskeep: The Urbana Free Library does a lot of different things for a lot of different people. We have books, movies and more to check out, but we do a lot more than that. We have programs for people of all ages. We have telescopes, sewing machines, and musical instruments to check out. And we have some really fun youth programs like the Fairy Tale Ball. But I think most importantly, everybody is welcome at the library. Whether you’re rich or poor, speak English or don’t speak English, no matter what your age is, whether you’re educated or not very educated; everyone is welcome. There is something fun and educational for everyone one.
Smile Politely: What’s your favorite part about working at the library?
Inskeep: I really, really love Urbana. Working at the Urbana Free Library means I get to be in the middle of a lot of the wonderful things about Urbana. I get to meet interesting people, hear great music, be around books and learning. Hopefully I get to contribute something with the programs I do and the help I give to patrons. I also have a lot of wonderful co-workers. I love my co-workers!
Smile Politely: What are some challenges in your job?
Inskeep: Sometimes you see people in our community who are really struggling and I wish we could do more for them. Maybe it’s someone who’s poor, or parents who work really hard without any support, or teenagers who don’t have the opportunities they need. It’s sad to see and I wish our society did more.
Smile Politely: What are some successes you’ve had?
Inskeep: I get one of my favorite feelings in the world when I stand in the back of a program like Project Read or other tutoring programs here at the library. I stand in the back and watch tutors work with students and I’m able to fully see all that is happening during those programs. It’s a great feeling to help people apply for a job and then they come back and say they got that job.
Smile Politely: How can people get involved with library activities?
Inskeep: Anybody can come. We want people to come! Look on our website to learn what’s happening, or stop by the library and pick up a calendar. You can also volunteer at the library and help with the work we’re doing.
Smile Politely: What’s the next skill you want to learn?
Inskeep: I am always trying to be more organized and productive. My job has a lot of interruptions and things that come up. Staying focused and getting things done is a challenge.
Smile Politely: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become more involved in building a better C-U community?
Inskeep: Show up — with your talent and your time and your money — for the things you believe in. The good things in our community are there because people have fought for them.
Smile Politely: How would you describe yourself?
Inskeep: Big-hearted. Curious. I’m a worrier for sure. Idealistic.
Smile Politely: Do you have a personal role model who inspires you?
Inskeep: I really admire people who are fighting for justice. These days I especially look up to the people in our town who work so hard for immigrant and refugee rights. My heart really breaks for the racism and injustice that immigrants face and I admire people who give themselves to fighting for their rights and well-being.
Smile Politely: What are your greatest stresses in life?
Inskeep: Worrying a lot when I read about bad things happening in the world, like war or people being mistreated, or things happening to our planet. Sometimes I get down on myself and think I should be better at things.
Smile Politely: Where do you get the most joy?
Inskeep: I have some people in my life I love. I have a partner who I’ve been with for 35 years and we have two sons together. I love him very much and my sons are great people. One of the best parts of my day is being at Meadowbrook Park. Almost every day I’m there walking with Matt, my partner, or with my friends.
Smile Politely: What is your favorite movie?
Inskeep: I really like documentaries. One of my favorites is James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro.
Smile Politely: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Inskeep: I like almost every kind of music. I see a lot of live music at the Rose Bowl and Iron Post. I like Jazz, Folk, and enjoy a lot of African music. I also play piano and sing a little.
Smile Politely: What is your favorite book?
Inskeep: I love to read biographies. I never get tired of reading stories of people’s lives, especially people in history.
Smile Politely: What’s your favorite restaurant in Champaign-Urbana?
Inskeep: Common Ground Food Co-op is in between my house and my job. I stop by and get soup or something from the deli most days. They have healthy, local food and I love the people who work there, too.
Smile Politely: What do you do in your free time?
Inskeep: I love to go to the gym. I love to read. I try to be more politically active. I go to protests and try to speak out on issues I care about. I play the piano and walk around Meadowbrook Park.
Smile Politely: What are your passions in life?
Inskeep: I want the world to be a better place — kinder and more fair, more beautiful, natural and safe. That is one of the things I really wish for. I’m also very devoted to my family and friends.
Smile Politely: What makes you laugh?
Inskeep: You are making me laugh today. Your smile and your fun way. You are making me smile in this interview. I love when I meet someone new who has this natural, friendly way.
Smile Politely: Are you from C-U? If not, where were you born? Where have you lived?
Inskeep: I was born in upstate New York in a little town. When I was growing up, we moved all the time. I’ve lived in a lot of little towns. For me, living in Urbana has been the best thing. There’s a lot going on, I like the people, and there’s a lot to do. And I never want to move again.
Smile Politely: Was there a defining moment that made you choose the career path you chose?
Inskeep: In my first career, I was a social worker. After I had my kids, I got a part-time job at the Urbana Library and I loved it! I loved the people I met and I loved being around the books and resources. So I went to library school and become a librarian.
Smile Politely: Is there anything else you want people to know about you personally or professionally?
Inskeep: It’s an honor to be interviewed. Thank you so much for taking the time. It means a lot to me.
Top image: Carol Inskeep is sitting on the left. She has short brown hair and glasses, and is wearing a black blouse and cardigan. Gillian Dabrowksi is sitting on the right. She is wearing a pink t-shirt, blue-green stocking cap, and glasses. In the background is a computer on a stand, library shelves, and a display case.