New leader talks about Urbana library

URBANA — The Urbana Free Library will have a new director come April 1 after a months-long search ended Friday.

Celeste Choate, currently the associate director at the Ann Arbor (Mich.) District Library, will take over the position vacated by Debra Lissak last year. Choate will bring more than 20 years of experience to Urbana, and the library board president believes she will be one who aims to please.

The details of her contract are expected to be finalized during a special library board meeting next week.

Choate holds a master's degree in library and information science from the University of Michigan, and has worked at the Ann Arbor district for the past six years. She previously worked at the Clinton-Macomb (Mich.) Public Library District and the Detroit Public Library, where she began her career in 1993.

Library Board President Chris Scherer said Choate's job interview made it clear that she is coming with the concerns of Urbana Free Library patrons in mind.

Choate will take the helm of the library after a major shake-up last summer, which resulted in Lissak and the rest of the library parting ways. Lissak left following a book "weeding" controversy, when library patrons complained that too many books were being removed from library stacks too quickly.

Some were concerned that the orders to furiously weed books from library shelves came from the top with too heavy a hand.

Those concerns weighed heavily on the minds of library board members going into the search for a new director, Scherer said.

"Weeding is a necessary process, but the guidelines were not followed," Scherer said. "I think this particular individual is very concerned about what the public wants and will try to please."

Choate told WDWS on Friday that weeding is a balancing act and "part of a deliberate process of running a library."

"There are different factors that libraries take into account when they look at their collections and weed them," Choate said. "And again, the library has policies in place that list the factors that they think are important to it, and you balance those things."

Scherer said Choate will have a lot on her plate when she arrives in Urbana.

"First thing, she's got some positions to fill," Scherer said. "Beyond that, I would say she will study — and I will say it will be in her timeframe — the strategic plan."

Scherer also thinks Choate will want to review existing policies to make sure they're in line with the library's goals.

"I'd say that's a pretty big chunk right there," Scherer said.

Choate chatted with The News-Gazette on Friday. Here's what she had to say.

NG: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

CC: I've been a public librarian for more than 20 years. I have a commitment to excellent public service. I think that going the extra mile for our taxpaying patrons and giving them wonderful experiences at the library is excellent public service.

NG: What interested you the most about the Urbana Free Library?

CC: This is a really beloved library in the community that has a wealth of opportunities. ... There's a lot to do in your community: Arts and culture and outdoor activities and the college, just to name a few. And to see all those activities available and residents still use the heck out the library is incredible.

NG: Where do you see libraries headed in the future?

CC: As libraries adapt to the changing needs of their communities, they will continue to remain relevant to the needs of their community. ... We're in a time currently in which the publishing industry is changing all around us. Being a place where people can use physical media still, as well as trying new technologies ... those are ways that the library is already adapting to the changing world around us.

NG: Are you ready to come to Illini country and abandon your ties to the University of Michigan?

CC: I can add orange to my vocabulary. I'll always be a fan of Michigan, but there's enough room in my heart for both.

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