Director: Libraries must work to stay relevant

Published 8:10 am Friday, June 19, 2009

COURTLAND—Personal computers and the Internet may have changed the way people use libraries, but technology hasn’t made them obsolete, according to Yvonne Hilliard-Bradley, the new director of the Blackwater Regional Library.

Hilliard-Bradley, who has served as the acting director of the library since Patricia Ward retired earlier this year, officially had the “acting” removed from her title Wednesday when the library’s board of trustees ratified her permanent appointment to the post after a national search.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I fell in love with this library system the first day I walked in the door.”

Hilliard-Bradley, who came to the library in October 2006 after retiring from her post as the assistant library director in Norfolk, said that although the Blackwater Regional and Norfolk library systems have a similar number of branches, that is where the similarities end.

“We’ve got almost 1,700 square miles of area that we try to offer library service to, compared to a fairly similar sized system all within one city, which is what I was used to in Norfolk,” she said.

Hilliard-Bradley sees her more than 30 years of experience working in libraries as very useful in her new position — especially the supervisory aspect.

“I’ve done everything in libraries from the ground up,” she said. “I think that people trust you more when they know that you’ve actually done the things that they’re doing.”

As library director, Hilliard-Bradley will oversee a staff of about 55 full and part-time employees and manage a budget of about $1.8 million for the system, which operates nine branches in four counties and one city in the region as well as a bookmobile.

The library has been successful thus far because of its dedicated employees, according to Hilliard-Bradley.

“The main strength of this library system is its staff,” she said. “It’s just amazing to me how hard everyone works.”

Hilliard-Bradley, who commutes to the library’s headquarters in Courtland from her home in Norfolk daily, said that the popularity of Web tools and the internet in general has placed libraries in a peculiar position — on one hand they’re losing consumers who now stay home and do research on the Internet, but they’re also providing people in rural areas, who may lack Internet access, a place to use the Web.

“The library is absolutely essential for leveling the playing field for people who can’t afford to get their own computer or to subscribe to the Internet,” she said.

Despite the popularity of online tools, book circulation numbers have actually been rising nationally, according to Hilliard-Bradley. Librarians are also helpful sources for deciphering the “information overload” that often accompanies Internet research.

Early literacy is one area in which Hilliard-Bradley thinks that libraries have an advantage. They’re able to reach children before they start school, while important brain development is taking place.

The Blackwater Regional Library hasn’t been shielded from the economic downturn. The library depends on funding from the jurisdictions it operates in, as well as grants.

“Counties are finding it more and more difficult to ante up their share,” she said. “The economic situation is grim for everyone.”

While its role in the community may be changing, Hilliard-Bradley said that the library will continue to play an important part in the lives of residents of the region.

“It’s had an amazing past, but I think it has an even more amazing future,” she said.