This article originally appeared in the Fall, 2020 issue of the Library’s print newsletter, Transformations.
Reflections from Lee Keesler, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO:
I was waiting at a red light one morning recently on the way to work, when I noticed a Library ad on the back of the CATS bus in front of me. “I CAN connect with my community” it proclaimed, and memories of what compelled me to respond to the Library CEO search in 2012 came flooding back.
Since 2012, I’ve learned just how many ways our Library connects with this community. It connects through literacy of every type, from traditional reading to digital, financial, civic, health and more. Through programs for the young, the young at heart, and everyone in between. It brings outreach services to schools, churches, parks, hospitals, jails and barber shops in every corner of the County. The Library provides places to gather in person and places to plug in with computers, Wi-Fi, and virtual programs and services. It’s our community’s scrapbook and record of its origins, people and story. Talented, caring staff solve problems, improve lives and build a stronger community.
The ways libraries gather, preserve and connect people with information will continue to evolve, and staff will continue to expand their expertise to include new technologies and the changing needs of a growing and increasingly diverse population. But the constant will be community – how we serve, unite, and sustain it. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s vision is to be “the essential connector of a thriving community of readers, leaders and learners.” It is and will remain the public commons for our community.
I will retire this spring to make way for the Library’s next leader. I’m not a big fan of looking backward, but it is satisfying to know that over the last eight-plus years we’ve become more relevant, engaged, accessible, digital and sustainable (READS). The credit for transforming an organization badly wounded by the Great Recession of 2009-2011 goes to our staff, who weathered that storm and grew from it; our Board of Trustees who are so effectively engaged in our work; our Library Foundation and the support it provides (financial and other) and the wonderful way it tells the Library’s story; our primary funder, Mecklenburg County; and our customers, friends and donors. Library is a team sport, and I cherish the opportunity to have been a part of ours.
That red light where I encountered the bus sits 100 yards from the Myers Park Library, formerly known as the South Branch Library. There, a future Library CEO and his brothers regularly accompanied their mother to borrow books – each time leaving more educated, inspired, entertained and empowered. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has survived over a century of social, cultural, economic and technological change because it has been connected, and is a connector. Like the sign on the bus says, “We CAN connect with our community.” We can. We do. And we will.