Greta Southard

The library gets a new chief

Greta Southard, photography by Neal Bruns

Greta Southard, the new director of the Allen County Public Library, acknowledges she has some pretty big shoes to fill in replacing retired head Jeff Krull. But, she says, “I have my own size shoes.” The former head of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association, Southard has extensive experience in the issues facing libraries. Find out which author she’d like to have lunch with and why she’s commuting – every day – from South Bend as we play 20 Questions.

1. The Indiana State Library’s funding has been under threat. What protects ACPL from those threats?
Our funding is directly from the taxpayers. Because we receive dollars that are a portion of your property taxes, … we are potentially as vulnerable as any other library in the state.

2. What’s the coolest thing you’ve discovered about the library?
We have a fabulous library system, and we’re very fortunate to have the breadth and depth of the collection that we have. It’s just totally amazing. The genealogy center is incredible. It is a huge draw and benefit not only for the people of this community (but) it’s also an economic engine.

3. What happens to all the books in the library?
There’s a number of different paths material can take. We have what we consider our more active collection, then we have books in storage. Here, we tend to keep things for a long time. We tend to keep “last copies” of things. If there are duplicates we may make them available to the Friends of the Library for the book sale. Sometimes materials go to the Internet archive for digitizing. If something’s in bad, bad condition, those materials are discarded.

4. How important is early literacy?
It’s really, really, really important. Early literacy is the keystone, the foundation of all your learning that sets all the building blocks in place for your future success. If you don’t have the skills for an employer to hire you, what are you going to do? In so many of the jobs today, literacy is so important. You have to be able to understand how to operate that machinery, read the instructions (or) read someone’s work order of what needs to be done. It’s in everything we do. Early literacy is the cornerstone of all learning.

5. How can the library help parents teach their kids to read?
We’ve got a great staff, people who are well trained in early literacy. We try to incorporate it and teach parents how they can do some simple everyday activities that can foster that early literacy. It all starts (when children are) teeny tiny.

6. What would the library’s role be in improving literacy in the area?
We’re trying to broaden our umbrella and look for ways that we can partner with other agencies and other groups within the community so that we can leverage each other’s work. That’s a hard thing to do, because you (only) have so much staff and so much time.

7. Is it OK to stop reading a book you’re not enjoying?
Absolutely! If you don’t like it, put it down. Not every book is for everybody.

8. What is your favorite memory?
Walking along the beach in Maine with my husband and oldest child. He was young, maybe 18 months, and it was his first exposure to the ocean. He thought it was a huge bathtub!

9. What can’t you live without?
I would say coffee.

10. What have been your impressions of Fort Wayne?
I’ve been really impressed. It’s a really friendly community. I’ve been impressed by how they fold you in.

11. How has the library’s digital collection grown?
It is growing at a tremendous rate. The use is growing exponentially. More and more people are figuring out I can use my phone to download and listen, or read it on my tablet. I was hesitant about reading on a device, … but I must tell you I have started reading books on my newest phone because it’s bigger and not as tedious as it used to be. I read in the real physical form, I read on my device or listen in my car. I’ve got a lot of words coming my way.

12. Which do you prefer: reading a bound book or reading on a digital device?
I prefer reading on paper. I like to be able to go back and double check things.

13. What do you think about the news that Harper Lee has a new book?
I’m sure we’ll order a lot. It will be interesting to see what this book is like, to see if it lives up to what one expects from Harper Lee. Everyone has a preconceived notion of what this book should be.

14. What volunteer roles do you anticipate taking?
At this point in time I’m a commuter. I’m staying with my mother-in-law in South Bend. My house hasn’t sold yet! So I don’t have much time available.

15. With which author would you like to have lunch?
I would love to eat lunch with Agatha Christie. I read mysteries, and hers I can come back and read again and again and again.

16. Who are your heroes?
My parents, Orville and Margaretha Southard. I look through the trials and tribulations they went through, and they did it with grace and courage.

17. If you could have any superpower, what would you want?
Superhuman strength might be nice. To bend people’s will!

18. What three adjectives would your family and friends use to describe you?
Funny, irreverent and loyal.

19. What excites you?
I’m excited when I see people making connections. When I see them enjoying the library, finding something they haven’t discovered before.

20. Describe your perfect day.
Starting off with a cup of coffee, preferably in bed, but that wouldn’t happen – someone has to make it! A slow run or a fast walk outside in the neighborhood, coming back inside and just sitting on the couch reading all day long. That would be a perfect day.

First appeared in the March 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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