As Lake Oswego Public Library Director Bill Baars prepares to step down from his post on Oct. 1, Melissa Kelly is making her own final preparations.
Kelly, who has served as manager of the library's circulation division since 2015, was named last week as Baars' successor. She'll begin her new role on Monday.
"I am thrilled that Melissa will be the Lake Oswego Public Library's next director! No one knows more than I what a wonderful community this is, and I know that the library will thrive under her leadership," Baars said. "She is smart, dedicated, enthusiastic and she has well demonstrated her abilities to run a library efficiently and smoothly. I am as excited for Melissa as I am for our library community. She will be terrific!"
Before she joined the staff in Lake Oswego, Kelly was director of the Canby Public Library for a year. She has worked in library services since her days as a student at Willamette University. She holds a B.A. in English from Willamette and a Master's of Library and Information Services from San Jose State University.
This week, Kelly sat down with The Review to talk about her new role. She says she's excited about assuming the role of director and leading the library as it continues to adapt to meet the needs of the community.
Q: This isn't the first director position you've held. Are you excited to take on that role again?
Kelly: I am excited. This is the first time I've applied for a director position. Before I just kind of ended up in that role. I've been working with Bill for three years, and I feel ready now.
Q: What would you like to focus on in the immediate future?
Kelly: Bottom line, I want the library to be indispensable to the community. I think in a lot of ways we already are. We're very well supported and well received, but the world is always changing and libraries need to change constantly as well to continue providing the best services we can. That's my focus: the community and what the community needs from the library and to constantly adapt to what's happening in the world.
Q: This facility really has a special relationship with the people who use it. How do you plan to continue fostering that relationship?
Kelly: It's such a balancing act. There are people who come to the library and want it to be a quiet study space, and we want to provide that for people. But there are also people that want to collaborate and want it to be the community gathering place, a living room where they're chatting with friends. I think a lot of the challenge around that has to do with the space we currently have. We love our building, the community loves this building, but it was designed at a time when libraries were different. We used to have study cubicles and there were signs saying you could only do quiet study by yourself, you can't move the furniture. That's not the library we have today, but that's the use it was built for. One of the challenges is adding different types of spaces so folks can do a whole myriad of things they want to do here.
Q: How did you get into this field? What attracted you to working in library services?
Kelly: I started at Willamette University. That was my first paid library position. I started as a student in college doing the very basics, shelving materials, helping other students and faculty check out books. That was in 2001. Upon graduating in 2005, I took a full-time supervisor position, and that's when the world of libraries really opened up to me. As a student I did the work, but I didn't understand the bigger picture. So once I got into planning library services and making the library more usable for people, I think that's where my real passion is.
Q: What's the biggest change you've seen since you began in this field?
Kelly: I think a lot of it has been reworking library spaces to allow for more collaborative work and to allow for more programming. It's a community gathering place, not just a place to come get books. Certainly collection formats have expanded in that time, so we're seeing high usage of audio books, DVDs and things beyond the traditional book. Also a lot of online resources I think are really valuable. In all the libraries i've worked in, that's been one of the challenges is letting the community know everything available online through the library. The word "database" sounds intimidating to your average person, so I don't think those resources are being used to their fullest extent. So I'm interested in getting the word out and making it more accessible to people as well.
Q: Bill Baars is a very public figure, and he has a unique relationship with the community. How do you see your role in the community?
Kelly: He's been so successful, and I do want to follow him in that way, but i think it will take time to find my place.
Q: How do you view your place in the community?
Kelly: Well, certainly leading the library staff. I do want to be out in the community too, not only to find out what people want from the library, but also to let them know about these resources we have. We have a database that if you're looking for your next author to read similar to books you've liked in the past, we can help. We have this database called Novelist where you go in and say which authors you like and it will suggest what you should read next. That's just one example of having opportunities of letting people know how the library can make their lives better through information or coming to an event of some kind. We have classes on everything from art to building your resume online, website design and coding. There are so many things we offer that I don't think everyone knows about, and people need those services. We want people to know that they can come here and get that information or education for free.
Q: What are you most excited for about this new role?
Kelly: There is a lot I'm excited about, but I think working with the people. The staff here is amazing. Everyone is so smart and so excited about what the library does for the community. Supporting that and helping staff to do their best work for the citizens of Lake Oswego is important. I'm excited to have that role. We all have a vision of what else we could be doing or how we could be doing it better, so I look at myself as being a facilitator and supporter of that. I'm not a top-down management type of person, I want it to be a collaborative approach where all of the staff feel empowered to suggest a new idea, solution or program.
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