New library director wants to 'make the best better’

Suzette Lowe
Carla Long, Jackson County Library acting director, looks forward to increasing programs, online services and collections at the Ripley and Ravenswood branches.

After seeing three library directors come and go since 2012, the Jackson County Library Board decided to look within its current staff for the next person to lead the public library.

It did not take the board of directors long to determine who that leader would be.

In March of this year, upon the departure of librarian John Faria, veteran employee Carla Long was promoted to interim director. At that time, the board considered it to be a temporary position. The first thought was to conduct a traditional search.

“When we saw the tremendous job Carla was doing in the position that wasn’t necessarily planned to be permanent,” said Suzy McGinley, board president, “we realized we didn’t need to look any further for our next director. So, in May we officially made Carla the acting director.”

The Ripley library is located on North Church Street.

Long, who holds an undergraduate degree in zoology from Marshall University, will earn her master’s degree in library science from the University of Kentucky. The library will pay two-thirds of the tuition cost for the online program, with Long paying one-third. Once she completes that, she will be the permanent library director.

“I feel so honored that the board has chosen me for the position,” said Long. “Their willingness to invest in my future with the library means the world to me.”

Hired in 2007 as a part-time library clerk, Long said she was soon moved to full-time and given more responsibility.

“I began doing a lot of the decorating and bulletin boards,” she said. “The entire staff was involved with summer reading, but my focus became the teens.”

Long said that a teen advisory board was formed at the time as well.

“The kids chose the name Taboo, which stood for ‘Teen Advisory Board Omnipresent Overlords,’” she said with a laugh. “They were fun then and continue to be fun now.”

The new director remembered getting her first job at Jackson County Library.

“I’ve always loved the library and I saw this part-time position available,” she said. “I had 36 hours to get my resume in. I was the first one interviewed that day. They ended up choosing me and the last person interviewed, Carol Groves.”

Over the years, Long said she has gained confidence in her abilities and what she can bring to the library.

“I’ve made suggestions that were accepted and, for the most part, I felt my input was valued,” she said. “My first boss would have great ideas and would look to me to find a way to make it happen. The catchphrase was “You know when I say ‘we,’ I really mean ‘you.’” Working with the other staff, we’ve accomplished a lot through the years.”

That creativity and ability to see a project through are two attributes Long says she brings to the job.

“When any new director takes on a library, there are always challenges,” she said. “In my case, it was having to deal with areas of the library that I haven’t ever had to address, such as finances and reports.”

Long says she has learned a lot in the few months she has been acting director.

“I’ve had to make many phone calls and I don’t hesitate to ask for help,” she said with a smile. “I’ve had to overcome my Appalachian attitude of expecting myself to take care of everything. But I have great support from the staff at both libraries, along with the board, and that helps tremendously.”

It does not take a lengthy conversation with Long to pick up on her passion for the public library.

“There is so much the library is to the community, but we can be even more,” she said. “I want us to provide opportunities for people to get to things they might not be able to afford or be able to access. Let’s level the playing field a little so that everyone can improve their lives.”

Reaching out to those who may not be traditional library users is a particular focus for Long.

She hopes to bring back the mini con that proved very popular in years past.

“That event attracted so many people,” she said. “It started out pretty small, but it didn’t take long for it to grow and become a major event for the area. We role play, go on quests, meet characters, tackle challenges and so much more. Everyone gets a chance to be a geek without embarrassment.”

Long is also a great proponent of story times for all ages.

“After I went to a West Virginia Library Association conference, I became enthused about a toddler story time which I did for many years,” she said. “We also started a story time for adults from the Jackson County Development Center. They come to the library three times a year. I used to do that but have now passed it on to Elizabeth Good.”

Becoming a bigger online presence is also a goal for Long.

“The library as a whole needs to improve in this area, although the Ravenswood branch does a nice job,” she said. “We just need to focus more on using technological resources, expanding our online services.”

The Ravenswood branch is located on Virginia Street.

One of the greatest challenges Long and her staff face is rebuilding after being shut down during the health pandemic.

“We are working to bring our patron base back and attract new users,” she said. “We will continue to expand our collection and offer more programs too.”

Hard work is not something that Long avoids.

“One other thing I learned when I was first hired is to not ask anyone to do what I wasn’t willing to do myself,” she said. “That is the mark of a good leader.”

Long is looking forward to implementing her vision for the library. She says she feels the library is “finally ours again and in the hands of those who know and are invested in its possibilities.”

Long says she takes to heart the motto of 4-H which she was involved with for many years.

“To make the best better,” she said, “is my goal for Jackson County Library.”

The county’s library system is primarily funded by the State Grants-in-Aid set by the West Virginia Legislature and administered by the West Virginia Library Commission, the county Library Excess Levy and endowment funds managed by the library board of trustees.

Suzette Lowe was the Jackson County Library director from 2002-2012.