New Atlanta-Fulton library director invites you to stop by — and let children around you see you readGayle Holloman, executive director, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. Credit: Maggie Lee
Gayle Holloman wants Atlanta-Fulton libraries to be “destinations” for patrons, a stop as regular as the beauty shop or the pharmacy. The new library system executive director expects virtual circulation to keep climbing, but she also points out that physical libraries are fundamental, offering things from resume-writing assistance to the irreplaceable feel — and even smell — of physical books.
Holloman spoke to SaportaReport at the Auburn Avenue research library about the future of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, why children need to see adults read, and who she’s reading now.
She’s worked at AFPL since 1994, and has degrees from Georgia State University and Clark Atlanta University.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
SaportaReport: You’ve just come on as the executive director of the library system. And the system is just finishing up the capital plan, everything should be finished up this year. When it’s all done, what are the changes people are going to notice? How’s their library experience going to be different?
Gayle Holloman: The main thing I think they’re going to notice is going to be the technology. The fact that we’ve got all these self-check machines, they put 10 books or more on the pad and check them … all out at once … I think they’re going to see the fact that we’ve got study rooms, multiple study rooms in most cases, at least two … I think they’re going to realize that we’ve got a lot more meeting room spaces and even some conference spaces that they can operate out of.
I think they also are going to realize that our staff is able to be a lot more involved and interact with them a whole lot more. Because we’ve changed the size of our big desk, the circulation desk. So the idea is the staff comes out, they meet, they greet the people, they talk about the library, they ask them if they need to have some assistance of any type.
And then they also can solicit feedback: “What would you like to see that we don’t have? What programs would you readily attend for yourself or for your family members?”
So I think they’re going to see a different way of offering service, a different way of enhancing the customer experience. And I think that we’re going all be better for it.
SR: So now you’re the director of a library system in a city-county combination of about a million people. What are your patrons’ biggest needs and wants? What are you hearing from them?
GH: I think our patrons really want quality programs. I think they want them to operate consistently. I also think that they want the technology to work, to not just be there but to work. That’s their expectation.
I also think that they really want to have things that are challenging for their children. And I know that all ages need some sort of format, some sort of direction regarding literacy. And that’s not just learning to read and learning to read with comprehension. It’s also life skills, resources being made available to them so that they can come and get that that information about how to go online and sign up for some sort of service that they may need. And the library is able to do that, resume-writing assistance, we do all of that type of thing.
So I think that that’s what they’re going to expect. And they just expect us to be cutting-edge, which I think we are now. By the time all these libraries come to fruition with the renovation project, we will be state of the art.
SR: What’s next for the library system once this is all digested, what are your big plans for maybe the next five years, the medium-term?
GH: Wow, three weeks on the job! I think that the challenge for us is to stay relevant and to tell our stories.
I think that’s part of the whole library conundrum — we need to be able to let people know just what’s available and find really new and and wonderful ways to do that. There are a lot of ways to do it: we’re going to continue to expand our technology, we’re also going to expand our marketing opportunities. And outreach. I think the outreach is a component because you go out, you meet people where they are. And you tell them about the library and they will come.
But I think we have to realize that it’s beyond our walls and our building facades, we’ve got to be out there. A lot of that has been done over the last three-and-a-half to four years, a lot more than what we had given credence to in the past. So I think that people see us, they see us out and about, they see our vans out, we have two new techmobiles, and they’re going to be out on the street, they’re out there, riding around, and people can see that, that’s an opportunity for us to market the library but it’s also an opportunity to meet people where they are, at festivals and other assemblies that people have all around the city. There’s something going on all the time.
So we’re able to be there and be a part of it. And I think that makes a difference, we’re able to show the technology, we’re able to show how to get a library card, to get a library card, by using these techmobiles and other resources.
SR: So far, I don’t think we’ve even said the word “book.” [Editor’s Note, Holloman did mention books above.] It’s, technology computers, learning, human development, literacy programs. There have been a lot of changes in libraries since I was a kid, is this change going to keep happening at the same speed, are there more changes on the horizon for libraries?
GH: Well I think there are more changes on the horizon, but the book is always there. The books are very important.
We have a lot of e-book users. Virtual circulation has really consistently gone up over the years, so we know that’s going to continue because, as we all learn differently, people want to use the library resources differently with regard to casual reading ,or even educational needs or library resources. So the book is still important.
I myself love to sit with a real book, the book itself. I’ve got a Kindle Fire; I download things on that. [But] I’m not real big on not being with that book sitting in front of me. The problem with that is being able have time to do it right.
The freedom of an audio book allows you to walk around the room or cook while you’re listening to it. You can’t do that if you’re holding a book. So, I understand why people gravitate to that and it’s a good thing.
But for me, it’s sitting with the book, and I think a lot of people still feel that way. A lot of children still love to sit with the book, that’s a first introduction to the tactile side of all that, just touching it, feeling it. And if it’s a little bit older, smelling it. It’s all-sensory perception and I think that’s very much important even to this day.
SR: What would be your message to library patrons, or to maybe even people in Atlanta-Fulton who aren’t library patrons yet? What would you tell people about your system?
GH: If they’re not library patrons yet, come in and see. Come in and see what we have to offer. We want our libraries to be destination places, just like you go and make your hair appointment, you go to the pharmacy and pick up things on the weekend or whatever. During the week you run by this place or that place.
Run by the library. Check out 25 books with your library card that’s in good standing, and then bring them back and check out 25 more …
And I think the important thing is for the public to understand that we need more children to see adults read. I think that’s very critical. They may not be your own children, but just children that you might have an influence with, that they can see you read.
Particularly men reading … being able to see that it is not uncool. It is cool, it’s not it’s not something you can’t do. It isn’t something that’s not manly.
Men read, women read, everybody ought to read. So I think that that’s the type of thing we want to get across, and that’s what I’m hoping over the next five years, we’re going to push more and more, so that we become a real reading community, a real literate community. And then to have other life skills resource materials, so that people can come in and get information that will help them in their daily lives.
SR: So, at the library folks can get books, movies, music, audio books, all kinds of media. What author, or artist do you recommend?
GH: Well, right now, I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Talking to Strangers.” I love the way he thinks. I love the way he writes and puts things together and the fact that he does so much incredible research. He’s famous for that phrase that everybody’s using now ‘the tipping point,’ because he wrote that book years ago. I’ve read everything he has written.
As far as music goes, I’m a jazz person so I’m always listening to new artists and I really love that. And we have all that in the library, you can come check out music, books on tape, CDs, movies.
I’m an action movie person, I just love anything that has got shoot-em-up and bang bang for some reason. I don’t know what that’s about [laughs.] So I gravitate to a lot of The Fast and the Furious-type movies. And then then I’ve gotten to where I like a lot of biographies and autobiographies and documentaries. So, I love the documentaries that we have with the Discovery Channel. We have some of those materials in our library. So those are just a few.