AS ALWAYS, it’s been a busy summer at the Bull Street Library.
The formidable white building hosted hundreds of kids participating in the annual Summer Reading Program and provided thousands of free lunches courtesy of a partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank.
Countless adults came in to escape the heat and use the free internet. Others browsed the shelves and logged on to 100 Good Books, the virtual book club created to celebrate the library’s 100th anniversary.
Yet it’s hardly been business as usual at the library, which serves as the administrative headquarters for the Live Oak Public Libraries system that includes 19 libraries spanning Chatham, Liberty and Effingham counties. Following the departure of LOPL director Christian Kruse in April, several more longtime staff members also resigned, leaving major gaps in an organization with more than 210 employees and a $10 million budget.
The board of directors—comprising members from each of LOPL’s three county boards—voted on June 21 to form a search committee to find a new director from within its bank of qualified employees. The board is still working on the job description, and the position has not yet been posted.
In the meantime, interim director Jason Broughton has been charged with keeping the books—in more ways than one. Along with overseeing the daily operations of 18 libraries (the Ola Wyeth branch on Factors Walk has been shuttered since the ceiling caved in February), Broughton is also responsible for the human resources department and that hefty budget.
He wanted to streamline both after Kruse’s 14 year tenure, and in May he contacted Georgia Public Library Service to arrange for a forensic audit of LOPL’s finances along with a thorough examination of all its departments.
The results of those audits—currently underway by consultant Steve Shaefer and expected to wrap up the first week of September—will inform the board’s description for its new director. While they seem dramatic, GPLS maintains that the assessments are standard procedure after a change in leadership.
“There has to be transparency in order to create a cooperative state within the organization,” says Broughton, who was hired as assistant director for public services in January before stepping into the interim position.
The Lowcountry native came to LOPL from South Carolina State Library, where he was hired in 2010 as a workforce development trainer, helping the unemployed to find jobs, brush up on skills and pursue GEDs using library resources.
A former biology teacher, Broughton received his Masters in Library Science from the University of South Carolina in tandem with a Masters in Public Administration, which he says might give him a different perspective than a typical librarian.
“It’s not just about the books,” he says, tapping the table inside LOPL’s sunny second story offices. “There is a huge stake here in what a library can do for the citizens of a community.”
During his time at SCSL, Broughton worked with regional library directors to develop programming that met the needs of its users, whether that meant holding career counseling events for ex-offenders or hosting public art installations.
While libraries will always be refuges for quiet solitude, Broughton believes they can offer much more.
“Libraries should be exciting! They are a space and a place,” he says, waving away the image of musty, dusty stacks. “They should have an intellectual pulse.”
Since taking the reins in April, he has continued along the steady course of LOPL’s current programming and existing plans, including the ribbon cutting of the new Hinesville branch last Friday. He has also implemented some new ideas, like offsite story time readings at Whole Foods and Panera Bread and a creative partnership with SCAD, which concentrates its liberal arts curriculum next door at Arnold Hall.
Broughton says he’d like to become LOPL’s permanent director and will certainly apply for the job, though right now his main objective is to ensure transparency and stability for whomever fills the position.
“My goal is to prepare the whole system to hand off to a new director and make sure everything is in place, as well as provide access and services for all people who come into our libraries,” he says.
“I don’t want to see a ball dropped or a step missed.”
While he acknowledges that he’s more likely to join in on a conversation with a patron than shush them for being too loud, Broughton promises he has a librarian’s heart. (Actually, he points outs, these days they’re called “information professionals” or “information curators.”)
He loves books, mostly a combination of contemporary fiction and classic non-fiction like Howard Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, with a few cookbooks throw in from time to time. (He’s also known for baking cakes for his coworkers.)
But even though he’s surrounded by inviting bindings, he acknowledges with a rueful laugh that he’s been too busy to crack one open lately.
“There’s too much to do around here. I can’t get caught reading on the job!”