Image by Andy Thompson

On Wednesday, December 7, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I took a drive to Ortonville, Michigan to meet with Paula Gauthier, Director of Brandon Township Library.

Why did I select this library? Well, first off, I grew up in Oxford, Michigan, a small suburban town in northern Oakland County. Brandon and Ortonville were practically in my backyard which constitutes my old “stomping” ground. Secondly, I wanted to mix in a few larger libraries to add depth and diversity to the 30Y.30L campaign. And third, the very same architect which designed the library that started it all for me, Oxford Public Library, created Brandon Township Library — a stunningly beautiful library with an impressive website to boot!

Brandon Township Library is nestled in the rural-suburban Village of Ortonville, Michigan which is located in northern Oakland County. From Purdy-Kresge Library, home of the School of Library and Information Science, Brandon Township Library is about 50 miles northwest of Wayne State University’s downtown Detroit campus. For me, however, the drive was a bit longer! For simplicity’s sake, BTL is about 80 miles, or 1.5 hours, southwest of Sandusky District Library which is my “home” library.

About My Visit 
Because of the library’s size, in comparison to the smaller rural libraries visited, I traveled from department to department meeting both public and technical services staff. The end result was amazing: I not only networked with some fabulous and innovative people, but ended up filling half of a brand new legal pad with anecdotes, ideas, and observations.

It’s safe to say that I was completely engrossed in my visit and interviews because four hours passed from the time I walked in the door and it dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten since the night before! Yet…I drove away completely energized and excited about my visit. Since I was down in the suburbs, I had a late lunch/early dinner with my mum at one of my favorite restaurants, CJ’s, in downtown Lake Orion.

From the library’s website:

The Library was established in 1926 by the Women’s Club of Ortonville, which raised money for a library by giving teas, shows, bridge benefits, and tag sales. By 1940 there was an average of 3600 books per year being checked out by cardholders.

Service Area, Size, and Operating Budget
As the name hints, Brandon Township Library serves only its namesake. In the recent past, the library had a contract to also serve Groveland Township which is now covered by Holly Township Library.

Like many libraries, BTL also serves out-of-area patrons, but for a fee which is completely understandable and justified in my opinion. (After all, people residing within the area are paying for library services by way of taxes. Why should someone like me, who pays taxes in Watertown Township, get free services in Brandon Township? I really need to write a blog post about the misconceptions surrounding library funding!) Any way, I digress…

The population in Brandon Township is about 15,200 giving BTL a Class 4 designation. According to the Library of Michigan, a Class 4 library serves a population of 12,000 to 25,999 and needs to:

  • Be open a minimum of 40 hours per week.
  • Employ (at least 35 hours per week) a director with at least a level 2 certificate. The director will complete the New Director’s workshop within one year of becoming a director and complete the Advanced Director’s workshop within two years of becoming a director.

(To read more about librarian certification, please visit my Eastpointe Memorial Library post.)

Statistics from 2010: BTL has  about 79,000 items in its collection and circulated about 159,000 materials.

Brandon Township Library employs 20 staff and currently (2011) operates with a budget of $905,149 which experienced a -12% change from just a year ago. Due to the current economic climate, the 2012 budget will experience a -16% change from 2010. As a result of the economy, the library has lost 9 staff due to a combination of lay-offs and retirements and will cut public service hours by closing the library on Fridays. By dropping Friday service hours, the agency will be just 1 hour above the minimum for a Class 4 designation.

About the Director
Like several directors interviewed for this project, Paula’s professional roots began in the education field. “You get back what you give,” said Paula. She wanted a career that was giving. Following that philosophy, her passion to help others and teach inspired her to pursue a MLS from the University of Michigan.

Paula has been in the LIS field for a total of 31 years. Of note, eleven of those years she was branch manager for the famous Kent District Library in the Grand Rapids area! To date, Paula has been with Brandon Township Library for just over 10 years with 6 of those in her current position as director.

Her favorite part of the job: “Building collaboration in the community.” Following that same train of thought, later in the conversation, Paula said, “You can’t be a successful library director if you stay in the building.” Her least favorite part of the job: “Keeping the library operating under the current fiscal conditions.”

Advice to the those entering the profession: “If you’re going to enter the profession, only do it if you are innovative and forward thinking.” She went on to add, “The digital age is upon us. Stay relevant in the 21st century. We need to embrace it.”

While Brandon Township Library is not currently hiring, Paula shared some thoughts on the type of candidate she would be looking for:

  • A big background in technology…a candidate that would meet the tech needs for the various patron populations;
  • experience with social media and the ability to appropriately manipulate it for the library;
  • experience in website development;
  • knowledgeable about providing 21st century services to the various patron populations; and,
  • a candidate that comes to an interview with three really great ideas in which they developed themselves. 

Intellectual Freedom
Last year, when I was required to visit several libraries for LIS 6010 with Dr. Maria Gonzalez, I began asking librarians how the Harry Potter series was received in the community. The series has experienced controversy over the years and has landed itself on the frequently challenged materials list compiled by the American Library Association.

As far as Brandon Township is concerned, it was received very well by the Brandon/Ortonville community. The library hosted a Harry Potter lock-in for one of the midnight releases. Kids were sorted into houses, made wands and developed their own spells using a Latin dictionary which staff would then translate and judge. 

Notes and Observations 

  • From the youth services 2010 annual report (compliments of Fran Hotchkiss and Robin Loughlin), BTL delivered “a total of 677 planned programs with a total of 14,067 in attendance. [They] had a total of 4,029 children use the computers for educational games, 3,395 reference questions, 2,412 readers’ advisory questions, 4,190 directional questions, and a total of 1,598 individuals used the story room for quiet reading.”
  • As mentioned above, BTL has a story and craft room that is attached to the children’s area. They even have a special bathroom with a miniature toilet just for kids! (See my slideshow.)
  • The children’s area has a circulation desk! 
  • BTL has a vending machine available to patrons in the library’s lobby. 
  • Paula made and donated the quilt that hangs in the board room. 
  • The library has a natural-gas fireplace. 
  • Beyond the geographical location, Oxford and Brandon are sister libraries — the same architect created both buildings. 
  • In the library’s lobby area, there are several displays setup that help promote the various elements of the collection. One of the displays was actually purchased from the now defunct Borders.
  • Jeanette Marks, teen librarian, gave me a tour of the teen and adult areas. I found out that her background was also in the human services/social work field prior to obtaining her MLIS from Wayne State University. There is a photo of the two of us featured in my slideshow. 
  • Through collaboration with MSU-Extension, Ortonville Downtown Development Authority, and the local 4-H group, the library was able to develop a unique and innovative program called Entrepreneur Explosion which is targeted at teens. After attending a lecture series, of sorts, interested teens will be challenged to develop a business plan. If their plan is selected, they’ll win office space rent for a year!
  • BTL has a local history collection that is housed in its own room. 
  • The library saw a need in the community and created a Business and Career Resource Center! Patrons can develop their resumes and build business plans. Colleen Stringer does the collection development for this section. The room also houses the library’s business periodicals and features a bulletin board for job leads and fairs.