New director sees permanent place for libraries

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gina Gail Milburn, the new director of the Barry-Lawrence Regional Library, has enjoyed her first month on the job, becoming acquainted with the local library system. Milburn comes at a time when libraries are looking ahead to significant technology changes.

"[Retired director] Jean Berg and I share a love of collection development," Milburn said. "You don't want things that are outdated, like old medical books, in your collection. You want to make sure what you're providing matches the needs of the community."

At her last assignment with the Memphis Public Library, Milburn saw some of the changes inherent in the library world at the present time. A lot of the library traffic was for pleasure reading of popular novels that people were not going to buy on their own. Fewer customers come to the library to do research.

"I've been working in libraries since 1979," Milburn said. "I started in high school shelving books. I've been hearing libraries are on the decline and books are about to die that whole time. Personally, I'm not worried. Libraries are the keepers of information. That's not going to change. That's the power of the library."

In the future, Milburn anticipates seeing more of the electronic readers, like Kindles and Book Nooks, coming onto the scene. Classic books in particular can be downloaded. Still, Milburn does not see the new technology stripping the old favorites off the shelves.

"We have to figure out how we fit in that picture as our budget allows. It's hard to let go of a book when its really loved, especially a children's book," Milburn said. "That's when you buy a new copy, and it gets loved a lot.

"I do see that one of the greatest applications of electronic books is in textbooks," Milburn continued. "There are not many printed, and they are often updated. I think the ability to check out books electronically at the same time as someone else will be a great advantage. We'll see what price the publishers will charge."

Libraries have done exceptionally well stretching budget dollars, according to Milburn. In meeting the needs of local communities as the first priority, Milburn said a rising challenge will be to satisfy those who still want to hold a physical book with demands for electronic versions. In other media, the challenge becomes more expensive, as the library has DVDs, recorded books on cassettes and videos and must maintain the technology to run the different versions.

"We've had inter-library loan available for years," Milburn said. "The electronic database helps you find it quicker. There's a lot more in the database than used to be in book form."

The day-to-day use of the library is still going to hinge on basics, Milburn said.

"How you keep your collections tells what you think of our customers," Milburn said. "If you have a well kept collection, you will have higher circulation. People see if you value your collection."

Milburn said she is not rushing to make any decisions about new innovations or directions for the Barry-Lawrence system. She said a half-million circulation of items in a year's time is impressive, especially for a rural community.

Milburn spent the last month with Berg learning the mechanics of how the library system works. She hopes to visit the various branches in the coming months and become better acquainted with library patrons.

"I think Jean did some wonderful things," Milburn said. "It's easy to come in and take over a well-run system than step into a sticky wicket. There's a lot to accomplish, including a new building for Monett. People I've talked to have been very supportive and very encouraging. I just want to become part of the community. Then I'll know better what direction to take."

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