AA Library Director Retires & Looks Forward To An Innovative & Inspiring Future For The System
After nearly 22 years with the Ann Arbor District Library, director Josie Parker announced that she is retiring next February.
WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Parker about her decision as she looks back at several decades working in the Ann Arbor District Library system and what she sees moving forward.
Lisa Barry: After nearly 22 years with the Ann Arbor District Library, director Josie Parker announced that she's retiring next February. This is Lisa Barry, and she joins us now on 89 one WEMU to tell us more about her big announcement. Welcome, Josie Parker. And I really mean it when I ask this. How are you doing? That's a big life decision.
Josie Parker: Thank you, Lisa. I am doing fine. It is a big decision. I think it should be a big decision. And I know when I was much younger and I would hear about someone retiring, you know, I think you think about it. But now I realize I didn't I wasn't thinking fairly about their work or what their contributions were, because it is a big decision. And so, yes, I've been thinking about it for a while, and I've decided to retire February 28th next year.
Lisa Barry: Let's talk a bit about your work and your contributions to the Ann Arbor District Library system. What comes to mind first? What do you, I guess, most proud of?
Josie Parker: For me, it's how well-used the system is. And we've sustained that use over and over more than a decade now. That's what I'm proud of. It's that it's all the different ways people access the public library now and how much they do in Ann Arbor. That's something I'll always carry with me.
Lisa Barry: In case people don't realize it, it's about much more than just books at the Ann Arbor District Library. And I know I was surprised to hear about this tool collection that you have--an unusual tools collection. Was that your doing? Were you behind that?
Josie Parker: I'll be honest with you, it wasn't my idea, but I supported it completely and fully. But I think that the tools collection is an example of a direction the public libraries gone in that is very much based on the same loaning principle as print material, but very different in its format, but has grown and been used. And the suggestions for what we should circulate now generally come from our public, which is fantastic.
Lisa Barry: In this high-tech digital age 2021, I feel like people have access to books and all these things wherever they want. Yet, it seems like the Ann Arbor District library has remained very vibrant and necessary in the community.
Josie Parker: It's interesting. COVID--the experience of COVID--sort of pull the curtain back on that in Ann Arbor. While, yes, it's high-tech and, yes, you can stream video and recorded books or books to read. Still, there was high demand for the experience of the public library. So, within days of closing in March of '20, I think, I'm getting I have to get my years right--
Lisa Barry: Right. Yeah.
Josie Parker: We were online with storytimes right away, live storytimes online. And then we were filming them, so people go back and look at them again and children could see them if they weren't able to see them live.That hasn't changed. We're still doing that with COVID and the circulation of print material and items that people browse for on the shelves. So, it's now both. It will never, ever be one or the other. It's going to be both as long as both are available.
Lisa Barry: Did the pandemic have anything to do with your decision to retire?
Josie Parker: No, the pandemic did not have anything to do with my decision to retire. My granddaughters have everything to do with my decision to retire. I call them my E's. Their first names each began with a E. So they are my E's, and that's my play on words. And you and your listeners can figure that out. I am very much looking forward to spending a lot more time with my E's.
Lisa Barry: What would you like to see the future of the Ann Arbor District library system be or look like now that you're retiring?
Josie Parker: The library's in this really great place right now, because it proved itself to its community and to itself during COVID. All of the things that we put into place, all the directions we've taken doing things that are not typical for a public library, those are the things that we rested on most heavily during COVID in terms of service delivery and getting out information to people. I think that the library in Ann Arbor won't go backward. Whatever direction it goes in now will remain an innovative one and an interesting one. And I think that I can reassure the community who worry about the availability of print material that, for the public library in Ann Arbor, it's clear, as long as we can purchase material in print, we will. But the future of print isn't ours to decide. We'll just be here as long as we can do it. I think that programing, the community spaces, the actual spaces themselves, matter a lot to people, and access to those spaces matter a lot to people. We saw it with the power outages around town several weeks ago. We were full to the brim in our buildings that had power because people needed to be somewhere to be able to charge their devices, but also just to be somewhere where they could get out of the heat. And I think that our spaces provide that, and we know it. And as long as you need space utilization or development, the future is intentional in that way. The library will be doing its job.
Lisa Barry: Josie Parker announcing she is stepping down as executive director of the Ann Arbor District Library next February. We wish you much ease with your E's, if you get my words there.
Josie Parker: Thank you.
Lisa Barry: And best of luck, and thanks for talking to us here in 89 one WEMU.
Josie Parker: It's always a pleasure. Thank you.
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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org