Connie Bennett, Director of Eugene Public Library
Connie Bennett has spent her life connecting people to information.
Her journey has come full circle, starting with early memories of living in University of Oregon student housing, where her father completed his Ph.D. in physics; to Washington State, Africa, California, Texas, Costa Rica, Colorado, and finally “home” again as Director of the Eugene Public Library.
Her family moved from Eugene to Walla Walla when she was starting elementary school. Connie vividly remembers the sleepy town in the days before the vineyards, and the scent of stinky pea pods headed to the Birds Eye Foods cannery. How green it was, she says, an oasis in dry eastern Washington. And, it’s possible the first inklings of her future career were sown in sixth grade, when she was appointed class librarian.
When Connie was in her early teens, her dad accepted a position with a UNESCO team sent to train secondary science teachers in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. So instead of eighth grade in the States, Connie donned a school uniform and joined Form 3 at the Queen Elizabeth School for Girls.
Unrest, apartheid, and a UN embargo ended her father’s job in Rhodesia about a year later. The family moved to Zambia, where her father worked at the country’s newly established university. Connie took her O level exams, and about six months before her father’s contract ended, started classes at the University of Zambia. She was 15, and one of six white students in a class of 300.
Next stop was Ellensburg, Washington, where Connie transferred, at 16, to Central Washington University. She started out as a chemistry major with a math minor, and ended up a philosophy major with double minors in math and theater. She wrote theses on the UN and modern politics, on continental drift, and she wrote her first play.
Connie describes herself as shy when she was young, not interested in following the family tradition of careers in medicine and teaching. For a lifelong reader who used to haunt the stacks at the USO libraries in Africa, working in a library sounded about right.
She completed post-graduate studies in library science at the University of Washington, and was awarded a year-long internship at the UCLA biomedical library where she trained in all of the library’s departments. The experience was transformative. She was exposed to the new and rapidly growing field of library technology, and learned how all parts of a library services are interconnected.
The next few years brought a cascade of changes: a job at Texas Medical Center in Houston, a job at the University of Washington Health Sciences, marriage, two daughters, and a move back to Ellensburg where her husband was a department chair at Central Washington. When her husband received a Fulbright to study in Costa Rica, they packed up their girls and moved to San Jose for a year, where Connie worked at the Biblioteca Mark Twain in the bi-national cultural center.
When the family returned to Ellensburg, Connie became Children’s librarian at the local public library. Three years later, she was offered a position at Mesa County Library District in Grand Junction, Colorado. Her husband agreed to retire early so she could accept. Her career continued its upward trajectory when she became Director of the Silver Falls Library District in Silverton, Oregon, and oversaw the building of their new library. She was also active in the Oregon Library Association and was running for president (she won) when she learned of an opening for the Directorship in Eugene.
At the time, the Eugene library was in transition. Construction had just begun on the new building. Director Carol Hildebrand was overseeing building and fundraising and an interim supervisor was running day-to-day operations. Connie applied and was offered the job.
Directors who come to the Eugene Public Library tend to stay. In fact, in its 113-year history there have only been six directors, Connie being the sixth. Her earlier positions were about five years each. She’s been here for sixteen, and counting.
Connie appreciates the full circle of her life, from her years in Edison kindergarten to Eugene again. She remembers visiting the “new” library on 13th Street as a child, amazed at the sunlight streaming through the windows in the children’s section. (Carnegie libraries usually located kids in the basement.) She was a real bookworm as a child, and fondly remembers a few of her favorite childhood books, Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away series, the color books of fairy tales, classics such as Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
Connie continues to feed her lifelong passion for literature. She reads “whatever my book group tells me to,” reviews books by Northwest authors for KLCC, enjoys “comfort” books like The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, loves mysteries, fantasy, teen literature, and poetry. She’s a playwright, and has taught classes to WordCrafters students. She helped found and co-produces the Northwest Festival of Ten Minute Plays, with performances at the Oregon Contemporary Theater, an event now in its 10th year.
Her favorite thing about the library? “Anyone can come with whatever need they have. We try to meet that need, be it to help sell a house, start a business, help with child rearing, learn tech support tips, talk about dying, or even to get a book recommendation.” People who come to the library, she says, are not a captive audience. They come because they want to be there, and often because they love the library as much as she does.
We’re fortunate, she says, that we live in a community where most people believe in and support libraries and literacy. Still, it takes constant advocacy and an informed electorate to keep libraries strong and vibrant. She finds herself working to strengthen connections, and thinking about ways to encourage radical kindness. When we act out of disconnection and fear, she says, we are in trouble. It is critical that people know, believe, and trust the library is a safe place to explore new ideas, without fear of people looking over their shoulder.
The national debate about privacy has touched the library. Every 3-4 years Connie is asked to release records to law enforcement. Usually these requests require a court order, and she takes full protection of the law. She remembers an instance when city police wanted information on a person whose library card was found at crime scene. She said no, and ended up meeting with the chief of police and city manager, hoping to avoid a court scene. In the end, the information she could legally release — the age of the card holder — was enough to prove the cardholder wasn’t the person they were interested in.
Connie is deeply grateful for the support of the community, and especially the Eugene Public Library Foundation, which makes it possible for so many to get the information they need, connect locally and with people in distant places, try new skills, learn, and play. For a deeper perspective on the library’s offerings and the Foundation’s impact, she encourages donors to take advantage of behind-the-scenes tours. (Contact EPLF for more information on tours!)
Traci Glass, Teen Services Librarian
Traci Glass comes from a family of librarians and “big readers”. Her mother and sister were school librarians, and Traci remembers storytimes from her local childhood libraries in both Oklahoma and Mesa, Arizona. Glass notes, “Mesa Public Library had a huge teen space even in the 1990s, which was unheard of back then. I spent a lot of time there.”
Having achieved a Masters in Information Resources and Library Science from the University of Arizona, she has spent over 20 years in library services at the Mesa Public Library, Southeast Regional Library, and here in Eugene.
Glass is also active in the Young Adult Library Services (YALSA), part of the American Library Association, and this year she is reading almost 500 young adult books as a judge for the Michael L. Printz Award: “I’ve been on award committees for four years. I even get up early to read… All I do is read!”
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King, stands out as a favorite across the years, and Young Adult fiction has boomed as a genre in the last decade. Glass remembers, “When I was younger I read everything from Sweet Valley High to Jane Austen to Sylvia Plath” she says, but the teen section is now full of more young adult titles, which many adults enjoy too.
When asked what a ‘day in the life’ looks like, Glass mentions myriad responsibilities from developing the teen collections and book lists; creating library web pages for teens; providing reference and research help; running craft clubs, book groups and volunteering programs; to forming special relationships with young library patrons.
Indeed, as the Foundation’s Booked for the Evening event ramps up to support services for teens this year, Glass reflects on our library’s central role for teens in the community. In addition to services like homework and tutoring help, “we also have a lot of unintended impact. They trust me, so I’m also part-counselor, part-friend.”
Public support for teen services is high, and funds raised through Booked for the Evening are set to make a huge difference to the teen space, as well as its services. “I’d love to make it somewhere teens can congregate and share books, film and music – a space just for them.”
Glass describes the teen center as a crucial safe space for many teens in the community: “So many teens feel like they’re only noticed when they do something wrong. It’s nice to be an adult in their lives where they feel they can be open – they won’t get in trouble or be looked down on.” Resources like Brainfuse Live Homework Help also let teens contact librarians with queries from home.
What is Traci’s favorite part of the work? “Connecting teens with books that will change their lives – and proving both resources and an escape from all the things they have to deal with.” Glass notes that books are a natural stimulus for talking about the toughest issues, and is grateful for the library and Foundation’s support in “working together to provide this sense of community for our teens.”
Thank you, Traci and colleagues, for all your service to the library!
Nancy Horner, Adult Services Manager
This year Nancy Horner celebrates her 10th year as the Adult Services Manager, where she
oversees personnel, programming, and budgets. She’s one of the silent hands guiding book
acquisitions as well as the other collections the library offers, including audio books, DVDs, Blu-
ray, electronic, and online resources—for the main library and the branch libraries. She also
helped lead the development of the library’s new Maker Hub, where patrons have access to
craft supplies, tools, electronic and sound recording equipment, and a 3-D printer.
Horner comes from a military family, and grew up in California, Washington, Texas, and Germany before moving to Oregon at 17 for college. She earned her Master’s degree in Library Science and a teaching certificates in English and Psychology. In addition to her work with libraries, she put her degrees to good use teaching in-person and online community college classes in Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, and History of Western Civilization.
Horner received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which allowed her to spend a summer in London studying Virginia Woolf. The following year she presented a paper to the International Virginia Woolf Society Conference, held that summer in Wales, and enjoyed travels to see the Book of Kells, and to search for Nessie on Loch Ness.
Libraries have been central to Horner’s career. She started out as children’s librarian in a small
public library, and as a cataloger in a public library, and worked her way up to a school librarian,
to head of 25 libraries in Lawrence, Kansas, and fortunately for us, to her current role at
the Eugene Public Library. Nancy’s many interests have included dance and acting. She’s won
awards in archery, obtained a black belt in karate (long out of practice, or so she says), and enjoys painting and writing.
Her favorite undertaking this year at the Eugene Library: hands down, the Big Read, centered
on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The library, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Midwest Arts, and support from the Eugene Public Library Foundation, partnered with the Springfield Public Library, Oregon Contemporary Theatre, Eugene School District 4-J, Bethel School District, Springfield Public Schools, Bijou Art Cinemas, Radio Redux, and Friends of Eugene Public Library to host a rich array of performances, concerts, films and lectures. At least 30 book groups participated. “This year’s Big Read was exceptionally popular,” she says.
Among the biggest challenges Horner foresees for the library is maintaining support at a time
when more people than ever need it. She describes libraries as scaffolding supporting growth
and creativity. “We welcome everyone, try to connect them with resources they need to be
healthy, productive, happy, safe. We take away barriers. No one is excluded. We preserve and
make available records of thousands of years of human achievement, science, art. We protect
the past and help build for the future.”
Many thanks to Nancy and the dedicated staff that make our library a community treasure.
Scott Herron, Adult Services Librarian
Say you want to start a business or nonprofit, find a job, evaluate local business opportunities, do research on social media for businesses, or a score of other related pursuits. You turn to the Eugene Public Library for help. Chances are you have had the pleasure of meeting Scott Herron, the Adult Services Librarian.
I fell in love with the profession.
Scott grew up in Bellflower, California, a suburb outside of Los Angeles. When he chose a college, Scott was attracted to the opposite of urban sprawl—the University of Oregon. As a work-study student at the Knight Library, Scott observed first-hand how libraries enhance learning. After graduation, he pursued a master’s degree in Library and Information Science and worked as a librarian in Kentucky. Then a position opened up at the Eugene Public Library, and Scott jumped at the chance. For the past 19 years, Scott has served the Eugene public in a job he loves—being a librarian.
I like helping people find jobs.
Scott tells the story of Anthony, a library patron who recently came to the library interested in starting an Italian restaurant. But he had no idea of how to begin. With the help of Scott and library staff, Anthony is learning to evaluate risk and go through a process that will help his business succeed.
I am not an island.
Scott is quick to acknowledge the collaboration that enables him to do his job, starting with the exceptional adult services team with which he works. He thanks the Eugene Public Library Foundation for keeping our library “humming with innovation, community spirit, and endless lifelong learning opportunities.”
Scott enjoys spending time with his wife and his Labrador retriever. He is a private pilot of single-engine planes. He has been playing the banjo for about 30 years and enjoys jamming bluegrass-style with the old-timers, which, he notes with a smile, “I am quickly becoming one of.”
Thank you for your important work, Scott. Eugene is lucky to have you!