The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System Board of Trustees has completed its search for a permanent library director.
Laura Simon, the library supervisor for the Artesia Public Library in Artesia, New Mexico, accepted the position Friday, according to board member Michael Gunter.
Simon was one of two finalists for the position who interviewed with the board in person on Monday.
She will replace Michael Sawyer, who served as library director for four years before the board fired him in December 2015. Taylor Eubank served as interim director until Stevan Dalrymple succeeded him in November.
Simon has served in her current position since March 2013, according to her LinkedIn.com resume. She previously managed libraries from 2009-2013 at St. Luke’s College and a public school library in Iowa, where she obtained her teaching certificate. She also managed a public library in South Sioux City, Nebraska, from 2005-2009.
She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a master’s degree in Information Science and Learning Technologies with emphasis in Library Science.
Pine Bluff voters on Nov. 8 approved a $14 million tax to pay for a new library. Simon said she helped oversee the construction of a new library that opened in 2014 in Artesia, and was attracted by the opportunity to do the same in Pine Bluff.
“It’s also super exciting and really fulfilling and gratifying to get through a project like that… and see the impact that it has on the community,” Simon said. “The new library here [in New Mexico] has had a phenomenal impact. We roughly doubled the square footage of the former library. It let us offer more programs and just have a more welcoming space. It doubled our circulation. The numbers just went through the roof after the new library was completed.”
Simon said she has agreed to a start date of Jan. 23 in Pine Bluff.
Regarding construction of the new library, Simon said she emphasized to the board the importance of building a library “that’s flexible. Flexible in space that can be moved around over time as needs change. [Flexible as] technology advances and we can keep up.”
Such flexibility could include leaving space available for new wiring and putting plug-ins throughout the building.
“If you have plugs everywhere, you can move your technology around,” she said. “Whereas if you put your technology in one [area of the building], you’re limiting yourself. It’s much more expensive to go in and add than if you do it from the beginning.”
Gunter said Simon impressed the board with her experience and her presence.
“Of all the people we talked to, she was probably the most mature in a library setting, and had been director in a major library,” Gunter said. “I guess one of the other things you look for in a librarian is a natural leader who can field questions. Believe it or not, there are some controversies in the library world” such as which books to keep and which to discard, he said.
Leadership will be an important trait in the next year as preparations for the construction of a new library get underway, he said. Simon agreed, saying it was important for a library director to be out in the community, meeting with different groups and learning what the local needs are.
“That’s been a large part of my position here with the new library and I’m assuming [it will be with] the new library there as well,” Simon said. “Here I’ve been really focused on partnerships. All kinds of civic groups, businesses, anything you can think of.”
Gunter said he would like for Simon to attend the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Pine Bluff program. Members of the program meet monthly with experts from local organizations to learn about the social, political and economic aspects of the community, in an effort to create strong community leaders.
While libraries have traditionally been considered an archive for books, their role has evolved as technology has accelerated. Simon said libraries increasingly serve as community centers, where citizens go for cultural and educational enrichment.
“There are lots of people who can’t afford to go to concerts, so [in Artesia] we provide [entertainment] like classical guitarists where people can come in and be exposed to things they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to,” she said. “We also offer educational programs, everything from writing a resume, to computer classes, parenting classes, cooking.”
Libraries also play a very large role in bridging the increasing divide between people who have access to technology and those who don’t, she said.
“If you don’t have a computer at home, you’re really stuck, without a public library,” she said.