Over the last few years I have been inspired and impressed by all the fabulous programs I read about or heard about at conferences where libraries had “Makers in Residence,” “Artists in Residence,” etc. It never dawned on me until now that my place of work has had its own “Pilot in Residence” for over a year now.
When the time came to expand our idea lab concept to a second branch in 2015, our director was looking for something innovative and fun that would fit our community and asked us to research the feasibility of a flight simulator. George Seaman was a natural for the task because of his love of aeronautics and personal experience with simulators.
George came to our library by way of information technology 17 years ago, and he loves that the library is a place of constant challenges and innovations. He is officially our graphic design specialist, but we have come to know him as our go-to-get-things-done-interested-in-everything guy. He had his first visit in a cockpit at the age of five, and while reading his aeronautic encyclopedia, later dreamed of flying. At the age of 10, his flight dreams were grounded due to colorblindness but that didn’t stop his love for airplanes—identifying planes with binoculars while sitting out by JFK as he grew up in New York. He joined the Air Force at 17 where he performed structural repairs on airplanes, and then he worked in the aircraft industry for years until repetitive stress injuries led him to a second career in computer support.
At our library, staff members are encouraged to spend 5% of their time on a creative work project that may not be related to their regular duties and responsibilities, but that they feel passionate about. George made the flight simulator his 5% project and has not looked back since. After helping select the right products and set up the actual simulator, George developed instructions and remained involved with support and training. He now has appointments for one-on-one flight lessons every Friday.
It didn’t take long for interest to take off (pun intended). George is now our official flight instructor and his 34 students range from age 7 to 84 years old. They have accumulated more than 2400 landings over the past 16 months. They come for all kinds of reasons: some have flying on their bucket list and some just got curious after seeing the equipment in the library. All have shown enthusiasm and a sustained interest to acquire all the skills required to operate the simulator. For each student’s first lesson, George brings in a small model plane that is identical to the one they are flying.
I asked George if he considered himself a technology instructor and his response was quick and unwavering: “Not really. What I do is teach people to fly!” His curriculum is thorough and fun. There are eight lessons: the first one covers the basics, and if the new pilot gets hooked, the following seven sessions cover all the sophisticated elements of flying a plane. They learn about the plane, the instruments, the physics of flight, etc. George reports that some experienced pilots commented that it is harder than flying a real plane.
Far from limiting himself to training, George has also ventured into event planning. His Troop Carrier Air Crews of D-Day program gathered curious people of all ages who related to the event in many wonderful ways. It was multi-screen, multi-generation, multi-platform, multi-purpose programming at its best.
This is truly what we mean by our tagline of “Inform, Inspire, Connect.” This year, George and his volunteers have had cross country trips and a navigating lesson event where George taught communication and advanced simulator skills by using compass headings as ways for students to find their favorite pizzas, which were placed throughout the room.
Patrons of all ages keep raving about this innovative program, and mothers comment on how much confidence and excitement it gives their kids. We look toward the future with anticipation considering all the potential this has and the possibilities to integrate with virtual reality tools. We are even considering the possibility of taking the entire library team on a virtual trip during our next staff day.
Recently, a wise librarian told me that one of the keys to doing great work was to cultivate passions outside our profession because that helped us all connect on the human level. George is a great example of that. It explains his success. He carried his love of flying into his work, and his work became more meaningful because of it. It works so well. His passion comes through and creates a space in our libraries where our community learns and people connect with each other. Kids get mad skills and new dreams too.
Officially registered as an alien since 1991, Sylvie’s home planet is Quebec, an independently minded, French-speaking, greatly innovative province of Canada. She dove head first into library systems 20 years ago where she discovered a passion for training and a taste for stretching the will of the software towards the needs of the users and the energy of the users towards the software’s potential. She lives in Jensen Beach Florida with her American husband and their super-dog and is currently employed as the Public Services Manager of the Martin County Library System. She can also be found on Twitter.