Interview with Corinne Hill
Executive Director of the Chattanooga Public Library
Corinne Hill has been in the library business for 17 years. During this time she has managed public services, technical services, library technology, and is currently the Executive Director at Chattanooga Public Library. Her professional interests include the management of library operations, fiscal management and responsibility, and identifying and implementing library trends doesnsuch as benchmarking and the use of new technology. In 2009 Corinne started the Texas Library Association's Lariat Award which calls attention to outstanding fiction published during the year. In Dallas in 2011, she started removing reference desks and making her staff mobile using handheld technology, and in 2012, under her leadership, Chattanooga Public Library is one of the first gig libraries in the country.
Editor's Note: Chattanooga provides gigabit-per-second Internet service, making it a "gig city."
What is your vision for the Chattanooga Public Library?
I want to see the Chattanooga Public Library completely re-define what a public library can do for its community. I want the public library to be the cultural hub of the city, but I also want it to be a place where the community can build content, not just consume content.
What are some of the new initiatives at the Chattanooga Public Library?
The Chattanooga Public Library is a gig library in a gig city and we are planning to put a tech incubator in our library in a project headed up by Nate Hill, Assistant Director for Technology and Digital Initiatives.
Fortunately for book-lovers who cherish peace and quiet, the incubator will be in the unused fourth floor of the library.
Fortunate for the people in the incubator, too, who will probably like to turn the volume up every now and then, if they're like incubatees everywhere else.
This is an interesting twist... instead of being a place where content is consumed, Chattanooga's library will also be a place where it's created.
How do electronic books fit into the collection development policy at the Chattanooga Public Library
Our Collection Development Policy is currently under revision, but electronic books are an important format for us as we move forward. We are consciously working to develop that part of our collection. We are also embracing platforms beyond Overdrive. We will soon be offering e-books through 3M and Baker & Taylor.
Do you feel that libraries should check out e-book readers and/or tablet computers?
I am not a big fan of checking out equipment. It has always seemed to me to be more trouble than it was worth. Now with that said, I have managed projects where we have checked out e-book readers and they were well received by the community; but, they seemed to have a short life span in that interest quickly waned. I have seen success in checking out laptops for in-house use. My bottom line is that we provide the services that our communities want and need, and if that includes checking out e-book readers and laptops, then that’s what we do.
Do you read books on an e-book reader or tablet yourself?
Yes. I have a Kindle and I use it all the time. But I have to confess that I did not go willingly. My husband and I take a beach vacation each Christmas and I typically carry 10-14 books with me. Last year he really felt strongly that he didn’t want us dragging all of that weight in our luggage and that I needed to explore a digital solution. I was actually talked into it by a woman in her 80’s who travelled all the time. She convinced me that I could use a reader for travel and that I didn’t have to give up the paper. So I did it, but I have given up paper books—something I never thought would happen.
Do you feel that we will see the demise of the printed book within 25 years? What about printed magazines?
I don’t think the book will die anytime soon. I do think there will be a new business model for publishing—more self-publishing and on-demand print. As for magazines, they have been dying a slow death for awhile now. I will be surprised to see them survive much longer. I haven’t bought a People magazine since I got an iPhone and downloaded the People App. And, we are experimenting with Zinio here in Chattanooga. I want to put iPads (or some kind of tablet) in our libraries for magazine reading and see how it goes.
Do you anticipate having someone on the staff who will offer technological advice/classes to library patrons? Do you offer computer classes?
Yes and yes. Helping the public maneuver through technology is a significant service available at the public library. We are partnering with UT-Chattanooga to provide free computer classes. The classes are popular and also a significant service that we provide.
How do you recommend motivating staff? Do you have a staff development policy?
We do not have a staff development policy, but I believe quite strongly in staff development. We have partnered with a corporate trainer here in Chattanooga called Sandler Training. They are working with all staff on customer service delivery and we began seeing results almost immediately. Sandler is also working with our supervisory staff to develop management and supervisory skills. We sent two of our top performers to PLA’s Boot Camp leadership and planning workshop just a couple of weeks ago. They were gone for a week and came back energized, excited, and filled with new ideas. There is nothing more motivating than having someone invest in you, and that’s what we do when we help staff grow through training and experience.
What do you enjoy most about library work?
I really like people, and getting out into the community is at the top of my list. Right now, I love that I am in this business during such a critical period in our industry’s history. We are truly at a tipping point where we know that we cannot sustain the current business model and we have to rethink and redefine who we are. Being a part of that process is amazing.
How do you deal with unruly patrons in a public library?
You have to have a code of conduct and you have to enforce that code. Staff needs to be trained to manage difficult people and they need to be confident that they will be supported when they manage conflict.
Do you have anything else that you would like to add?
I just came back from the IFLA conference in Helsinki and have to say that it was a terrific development opportunity (and special thanks to our Friends group who helped with travel costs!). Hands down, the best thing was the networking opportunities. I met some amazing library people who are doing some pretty amazing work. The folks I talked with are putting libraries in unexpected places like subway stations. They are assessing services, facilities and skill sets to meet library needs as we move forward and asking where technology fits into the big picture. It was a thought provoking week.