Not many people can say they’re 100 percent happy with where they are in life. Jenni Gaisbauer, 42, seems to be the exception to the rule. Her career has spanned from the Levine Museum of the New South to her current post as executive director of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation, and she loves what she does. More than her professional contentment, Gaisbauer recently became engaged to her longtime partner, Ashley Hudler. Things are looking pretty good for the happy couple, but they’ve fought hard to get where they are. Gaisbauer describes coming out to her boss and her journey to find her place in a challenging world.
What are the best aspects of your current job?
I am one of the lucky ones. I really enjoy my job and profession because it’s all about people and relationships. I work with a dedicated and kind team and always surrounded by individuals that care about our community and give their time and financial resources to ensure our libraries, the great equalizers, have the necessary resources to serve our community. I am reminded on a daily basis how good humanity can be.
During your career in fundraising, what were the biggest challenges?
The financial crisis of 2008-2010 was pretty tough. I was at Levine Museum at the time, and like most companies and non-profits, we had to let go of talented and dedicated staff to survive.
When you worked at the Levine Museum of the New South, what was your favorite exhibit?
The first one that comes to mind was the first one I was responsible raising money for, “Purses, Platforms and Power: How Women changed Charlotte in the ’70s.” Not only was it a fun and inspirational exhibit, but it was one of my favorite projects to raise money for because more than 100 female leaders supported and joined the host committee. I would be remiss not to mention the museum’s core exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers.” To really understand our city and our shared history, you need to visit this exhibit.
During your extensive education, which were the hardest lessons to learn for you?
When I first started out in my career, I hid my sexuality from my co-workers. I remember feeling like half a person. After being at my job for a year, I finally found the courage to go into my boss’s office and tell her I was gay…I was shaking…my boss looked at me, smiled and said she knew the moment I walked in for my job interview. She made me feel my difference added value to the team. It’s amazing how much we flourish as human beings when we are around people who value our contributions and individuality. Lessons learned for me were never underestimate people and that to be successful in life, you have to be true to yourself.
Why are libraries important to the community at large and to the LGBTQ community?
Libraries are the great equalizer. They are welcoming to everyone, no matter where you are in your life. They serve the young, old, gay, straight, homeless, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans and everything in between. During a time of “fake news,” librarians are trained and trusted to help our community decipher fact from fiction, navigate through instant and constant information overload. Our library system serves more people today than ever before through early childhood literacy programming, computer use, job help center, books/digital materials and so much more.
One of my favorite quotes is by the late broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”
How would you describe your “happy place”?
My happy place is with Ashley, our two dogs (Bella, 16-year-old collie mix; and Amos, 5-year-old pit bull), in bed, binge watching British series on Netflix or Amazon.
Where do you dream of traveling?
Ireland! I’ve always wanted to go and we are going next summer for our honeymoon.
How did you get engaged?
I asked Ashley. I was waiting for her to ask me, but she was taking too long so I took matters into my own hands. Right before Christmas I came home, she had the fireplace on, was sitting in our living room and I decided, this is the time. I bought the ring a week before and I could hardly wait (I am terrible with surprises) so I popped the question. Thank God she said yes. On a scale of 1-10 for romance, it was a 5. I could’ve done better but she loves me all the same.