Filling Big Shoes
By Alex Haglund
“I was always a big library user,” said Linda Summers, “I loved the whole concept of a library. Growing up, the library was a great resource for us.”
After more than 20 years at the Nashville Public Library and 16 as its head librarian, Summers will be now be retiring. There will be an open house at the library on Saturday, August 1, from 12 to 2 p.m. in her honor.
Also present at this open house will be Dennis Gregory, who is taking over for Summers. Gregory is coming on at Nashville after becoming the director of the New Baden Library about seven years ago.
Both Summers and Gregory spoke with The Nashville News about what they do and about how library’s are as important as ever– maybe more, in the digital age.
Summers grew up in Boise, Idaho and moved to Nashville from Pennsylvania in 1993 when her husband, Will, took a job at Scott Air Force Base. They have three children: Sarah, Jay and Dan.
Summers began working as a part time librarian and began taking course in library science at the same time. She did the work to receive her LTA certification over three or four years and was named the library’s full-time director in July of 1999.
Gregory is a Navy veteran and has a bachelor’s degree in education. His wife Theresa and he have four children: Nycole, Erik, Stacy and Rachel.
Theresa is employed as an account manager with the St. Louis Arch Diocese. Gregory was a stay-at-home dad when he took a part-time job at the New Baden Library. About three months later, following a dispute between the then-director and the board, he was offered the director’s position.
Both Summers and Gregory can talk a lot of shop about library work and issues. Both of them were in charge of their respective libraries when the library system they were in, the Shawnee Library System, merged with three others to become the Illinois Heartland Library System, one of the largest in the nation, encompassing 28,141 square miles and 545 member libraries and serving a population of 2,248,634.
When asked if working at a library took love for the job, both said that it did, but maybe not in the way one would expect.
“The love part comes from serving the public,” said Gregory. “You have to help people with whatever they need or want.”
“You do have to be a people person,” seconded Summers, ”I have loved working in the library and I have loved working in this community.”
Gregory said that he is looking forward to working in Nashville, both for the community, and the greater resources and finances available in Nashville. Even as director, he was employed part time in New Baden.
While Summers said that Nashville’s resources may seem like a lot, “people get a lot or their dollar here in Nashville.” She stated that the library’s entire annual budget is about $111,000, covering everything, including salaries, books, building maintenance, technology and everything else.
Even with the changes to the library system, both Summers and Gregory have seen changes that may be even greater with the digital revolution of the last two decades.
“People have said to me, ‘don’t you think with everything going digital that you could find everything on the Internet? Don’t you think libraries are going to disappear?’” Summers said. “I think Dennis and I both agree on this: no, we do not think they’re going to disappear. If anything, they’re going to become more important.”
“Not everyone has umpteen-million dollars and can afford to buy the equipment latest computer and printer and copier. Libraries offer equal access to everyone,” Summers said. “Anyone can come in and use the library and we do have people use the library. And they do! We have people come in here and they have an appointment up the street or at the high school or something and they’ll come in and read a book or a magazine. We have tons of people come in and use the computers all the time because we don’t charge them except to print things. We’re a resource for the whole community.”
Gregory said that what exactly libraries place in the digital world would be has yet to be seen. Saying that publishers and content providers had tightened their grip on their properties which had made it difficult. Still, he said, “definitely, we’re going to always have a place.”
If people in this community, or any community value their library, Summers had some advice for them: “Use your library. If you value something, anything, in your community, then use it. Support it through your gifts and attendance.”
“People will always need a way to access things that they can’t afford or get,” said Gregory. “Funding over the next few years is going to continue to be critical. Keep contacting your congressman.”