Metairie — After roughly two weeks on the job, new Jefferson Parish Library Director Marylyn Haddican hasn’t had time to devise any elaborate plans for the parish’s 16-library system.
But, she does know two simple truths that will guide her as she takes over a department that she first started working in as a page 30 years ago. The first truth is that in an increasingly digital world, public libraries can no longer be static repositories of knowledge. In addition, Haddican believes that despite the plethora of information sources available at the click of button, public libraries remain an essential part of what makes Jefferson Parish work.
“To me, a public library is an equalizer. It levels the field,” Haddican said. “Before it was a building and you came here for information, and now that building is the world.”
Haddican takes over the library system at the culmination of an extensive rebuilding project following Hurricane Katrina by former director Lon Dickerson that should be finished in two weeks with the grand opening of the new Grand Isle library.
She was appointed after Parish President John Young’s first choice for the position backed out of a deal in October. Young initially sought to hire Todd Schouest, the Plaquemines Parish library director, for the job, but Schouest decided to remain in his current position after initially accepting Young’s offer.
Haddican was previously an Internet librarian who helped with the training of employees, grant applications and the library’s online system. In a letter announcing her hiring, Young touted her years of experience as a supervisor and her role in initiating wireless service at all parish branches as factors in his decision to appoint her. The appointment must still be approved by the parish council.
Sitting in her office at the East Bank Regional Library, Haddican said that when she started working at the library part time three decades ago, she never imagined managing the $21 million department. But, years of working her way through the system and returning to school to get a masters degree in library science, taught Haddican invaluable lessons about the system’s strengths and weaknesses. She says that gives her a unique perspective on how to move the parish’s libraries forward.
“My goal was not to be a director. My goal was to just do my job,” said Haddican, who admitted that when she applied for the job it was her first time ever considering working in a library. “It grew on me; that wasn’t my initial strategic plan.
But being a manager creates more opportunities for guiding the library’s policy, which is increasingly important as libraries across the country try to navigate a digital world, she said. That’s why the Jefferson Parish library has expanded its online offerings in recent years, and also offered classes to the public on how to use basic computer software. Although it has become easier to disseminate information, there is still a sizable portion of the public that cannot afford a personal computer or broadband access, Haddican noted. That means the library must become a community hub and offer everything from storytelling for children to meeting space for local organizations to resume-building classes.
One of the system’s strategic goals is expanding its ability to host video and audio streaming so that groups can hold teleconferences in their local branches, Haddican noted.
“I think books and technology can live together … I’ve seen people come in and take a computer class who didn’t even know what a mouse was,” she said. “We’re moving towards more like a community center.”
That means the library must be dedicated to staying abreast of all the current technology. However, it also remains important to relate well to the public, and to that end Haddican plans to conduct a patron survey in the upcoming months to better identify needs at each branch. She would like to add more computers at some branches where usage is particularly high and make cosmetic and design improvements to the East Bank Regional branch.
Haddican said that establishing clear expectations for library staff and then holding them accountable will be crucial to the vitality of the library. She pledged to listen closely to the ideas of her staff because they are the ones in the trenches dealing with the public daily. Ultimately, everyone in the system must keep the library’s mission in the forefront of their minds.
“We work for the citizens of Jefferson Parish,” Haddican said. “I’m going to try the very best I can. I’m going to be dedicated to the library.”