On his first day on the job, Spencer Watts settled into a chair in his office and pronounced himself pleased with what he had seen so far.
“It’s a good system,” the new East Baton Rouge Parish Library director said of the 1.9-million-item, 540-employee system he took over on Monday. “It’s not perfect, there are always things we can do better.”
Watts, who spent the morning at the city-parish Human Resources department filling out forms and completing a drug and alcohol screen, said he was ready to get to work.
“We have major construction projects,” he said first when asked about his priorities. “I want to make sure those stay on track.”
Watts, who left the top job at the Mobile public library system in Alabama, was hired partly on the basis of his experience in overseeing library construction.
The East Baton Rouge Parish library system has four branches under construction or in the design phase: the Fairwood Branch Library on Old Hammond Highway, a new main library on Goodwood, the Rouzan branch library on Perkins, and the River Center Branch Library downtown.
The latter two have both engendered their share of controversy — Rouzan because of its association with developer Tommy Spinosa and the $21 million River Center branch library, which critics, including some on the Metro Council, have decried as excessively expensive.
Watts said he is scheduled to meet with some council members next week.
Watts also said he plans to “work hard” to rebuild any broken relations from the departure of former Director David Farrar, who resigned in December 2011 after information became public about a 15-year-old Alabama criminal case in which he was accused of sexual abuse and impersonating a police officer.
“I am a totally different individual,” Watts said. “This is a new chapter.”
Watts said he plans to focus on becoming familiar with the parish’s library system, with its approximately 542 budgeted employees and $44 million budget, both more than double what he oversaw in Mobile.
“It’s a process,” Watts said. “It will be weeks before I have a good handle on it like I want to.”
Since he accepted the job, Watts said, East Baton Rouge Parish Library staff have sent him the minutes and video recordings of the Library Board of Control meetings so that he could begin to familiarize himself with the system.
Watts said his initial impression of the library system has been positive.
He said he has been impressed by a staff that is “focused on customers.”
He added, “A lot of the fundamentals are very sound, but there is plenty to work on.”
One of the first non-construction projects Watts will oversee is the installation of a Radio-Frequency Identity tag system.
Watts, who oversaw the installation of a similar system in Mobile, said the system will save time on check-in and check-out, because items will not have to be individually scanned.
The system will also make it far easier to locate lost items, he said.
The library system has budgeted $1.2 million for the project, which will be split between equipment costs and paying a contractor to physically tag each of the library’s inventory 1.9 million items, said Assistant Library Director Mary Stein, who championed the RFID project last year, said.
Watts, who with his wife has been in Baton Rouge less than two weeks, said he had a positive initial impression of the city.
“The city is a bit more urban and cosmopolitan than Mobile,” he said.
Watts, 60, also said he wasn’t looking to retire anytime soon.
“I plan to be here for a decade, maybe more,” he said.