The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, January 13, 2021 1:00 am


We're an open book

New director can appreciate our love of libraries

An open letter to Susan Baier, director of McCracken County Public Library in Paducah, Kentucky:

Congratulations on your appointment as executive director of the Allen County Public Library. We look forward to welcoming you to Fort Wayne in the weeks ahead.

As passionate supporters of our library, we are eager to hear what ideas you will bring to improve our facility. We know your experience in Kentucky, along with experience as an administrator with the Los Angeles County Public Library, make you a well-qualified director for our library system, which serves a diverse population, including downtown business owners; inner-city residents at the Little Turtle branch; and Amish readers in Grabill.

It's clear from your background you are willing to embrace ways to move public libraries into new technology and services. Writing and winning a $75,000 grant to bring a DJ lab to the Compton (California) Library demonstrates your enthusiasm for engaging young library patrons and serving an urban library audience.

Allen County Public Library patrons also are enthusiastic for new programs and services. The downtown library's Maker Lab has been a popular addition from its start. We have enthusiastic audiences for craft programs, dance lessons and children's programming of all types.

We're encouraged by your involvement with the Daughters of the American Revolution, a century-old genealogical society. We suspect our renowned Genealogy Center and priceless Lincoln Collection were intriguing features for someone with a clear appreciation of history and southern Illinois roots. The center, in particular, is a treasured part of our community and important contributor to its economic vitality.

It's important for you to know, also, the love our community has for books. We are a community of readers and writers, having been recognized at one time as the Best Read City in the U.S. by Places Rated Almanac. Public investment in a major renovation and addition to the downtown library in 2007 received broad support from taxpayers because they recognized the value of our library system.

Not surprisingly, many became alarmed in recent years when the library's focus seemed to be turning away from books, with claims of excessive weeding of the collection and, more alarmingly, evidence that fewer books were being added to our prized collection. Changes at the library appeared to be based on a survey that seemed to support the recommendations of consultants more than the preferences of library patrons.

Library trustees accepted the previous director's insistence that those changes were based on evolving needs and a sound strategic planning process, but many in the community were left unconvinced. Technology updates at the library have been cumbersome, with obstacles to accessing online services at the very time they are needed most.

A fresh approach is welcome in oversight of the library, but one with a strong appreciation for a treasured and unique collection of its branches and a main library that served as the catalyst for downtown revitalization.

When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, you'll see how much Allen County loves its libraries. Families flock to its children's collections and story times. Music lovers gather for summer concerts on the plaza. Patrons fill the auditorium to hear distinguished Lincoln scholars. Community groups gather in meeting rooms for convenience and accessibility.

But most of all, we come for the books. We look forward to once again browsing shelves filled with mysteries, history, biographies, business publications, fiction and fantasy. We miss the serendipitous experience of finding the perfect read and savoring every page, at home or from a comfortable perch in our favorite library.

Welcome – we look forward to seeing you among the shelves.


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