My Job: Katie Klenkel, Connecting Visitors to the World’s Largest Library

Katie Klenkel, smiling in a color portrait photo, wearding a suit coat.

Katie Klenkel. Photo: Shawn Miller.

Describe your work at the Library.

I’m the chief of the Visitor Engagement Office. I oversee a team of people — both staff and volunteers — who welcome thousands of visitors to the Library’s public spaces and exhibitions each day.

In addition to acting as front-line customer service, we also help visitors connect to the Library on a personal level and become lifelong users of our services and resources. Sometimes that connection is made through a guided experience or a public program, but more often it’s through a one-on-one interaction with a volunteer.

I also support special projects, such as expanding our evening hours, recruiting and training volunteers, updating wayfinding signage and building resources as well as hundreds of other tasks designed to improve every visitor’s experience.

How did you prepare for your position?

I traveled a bit of a winding road to get here. I started my career in building and event management and visitor services in higher education, with roles at the University of Maryland, the Catholic University of America and George Mason University.

I transitioned to the Library in 2015 as the public programs manager and, after four years in event and program operations, moved to program administration for the Center for Learning, Literacy and Engagement.CLLE. I became chief of Visitor Engagement in December 2020, just as we were ramping up plans to reopen to the general public. I think a lot of the qualities needed to succeed in a higher-education space (enthusiasm, flexibility, a positive attitude) translated well to visitor engagement.

What are some of your standout projects?

I will never forget the effort and dedication it took for our team to reopen the Library to the general public after the March 13, 2020, COVID-19 closure. We came back in July 2021 with timed-entry passes, capacity restrictions, virtual volunteering and masking requirements. I’m extremely proud of the way we slowly and steadily restored operations without having to drastically alter or roll back our plans.

The project involved dozens of staff members from across the Library, including leadership from the director of our center. We could not have successfully reopened without the support of the Health Services Directorate, the Security and Emergency Preparedness team and so many others. We safely restored on-site volunteering in December 2021, which was a huge milestone for us — it doesn’t feel like the Library without our dedicated volunteers.

What have been your most memorable experiences at the Library?

Some of my favorite memories have been one-on-one interactions with our incredible visitors. I’ll never forget the father-daughter duo that drove all the way from Indiana for her 16th birthday so she could get her Library of Congress researcher card and study in one of our reading rooms. I also remember a lovely couple that flew in from Atlanta for their 40th anniversary to see the Library, because the woman was a lifelong public librarian and had always wanted to visit.

And even small moments, like when I manage the line outside of the building and there are young kids bouncing with excitement because they can’t wait to see the “biggest library ever.” It’s a daily reminder to appreciate how special this place really is.

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