Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

A new chapter: Five questions with retiring Clearwater library director Barbara Pickell

BY PIPER CASTILLO

Times Staff Writer

CLEARWATER — Barbara Pickell, 67, has been the director of the Clearwater library system for 11 years, where she has juggled a $6 million annual budget and five branch locations. During her tenure, she led the library through the Great Recession, helped orchestrate the relocation of the Countryside branch (now next to the Countryside Recreation Center) as well as the installation of Clearwater Library's Maker Space (a multi-floor project for techies, crafters, history buffs and artists). However, this month, she is closing the book. Pickell, who came to Clearwater in 2005 from the Fairfield County District Library System in Ohio, is retiring.

"I've had great support in Clearwater. It's the community that makes a library great,'' said Pickell, who is planning to move this month with her wife, Kathie Dychkowski, to New Jersey.

Jennifer Obermaier, assistant director, has been chosen to fill Pickell's spot.

Can you recall what your first day as a librarian was like?

It was 40 years ago, and I sat at a reference desk and waited for someone to come and ask a question so I could help them find the information in a book. Now, although some libraries have gotten rid of reference desks, new librarians still typically start at a reference desk, but their time is mostly spent helping people find what they need on computers. So much of what we do now is helping people master the technology.

Your tenure has been tied up with the changeover from books to electronic devices. Are libraries able to continue serving the public through the change in mediums?

Absolutely. The mission of libraries has not changed. The basic tenet is that we mirror our community. A library's mission is to provide our public with what they want and need, and we will always do that in different ways, whether educational, recreational or by getting physical materials. ... We are still purchasing books. Some of our circulation has dropped. We see this more with our non-fiction. For example, if you are planning a trip, you're more apt to go find what you need on the Internet now instead of in book form.

What are you most proud of?

I think recently it's been Makerspace. It shows how libraries are becoming even more interactive and less passive. Instead of coming in and taking a book out for reading, (Makerspace) gives the public things from 3-D printers to a recording studio. It has really taken off, and it's still growing. I'm proud in general that I'm leaving the library strong and even better than when I came. I say that because it was already a very good library. It was brand new, but we went through the recession. We went through tough times and we had to figure out how to do things differently.

When it comes to running a public library where opinions are encouraged, has it been a challenge over the years?

We do encourage everyone to come in. We want everyone to feel comfortable here in our library without being discriminated against. We see people who have strong beliefs on one side or another. We want to be seen as the objective location in the community that has information people can trust. If we become too biased on one side or the other, people won't trust the library is going to give them truthful information any longer. As a librarian, I firmly believe every good collection has something to offend everyone.

We do go out of our way to create that space where you'll see both sides of different issues. ... For the presidential election, we had books on Trump. We had books on Clinton. ... We have a Scientology collection because Scientology is a part of our community we serve. We have things that support them and things that don't. We have a big collection of L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction books, which might not be what they want us to have, but we want to make sure we are representing everything. We don't want to support anyone's ability to censor what somebody else has said.

If you were to see a new library open up in Pinellas County, where would you like it to be?

It would be the Ridgecrest area (near Largo). It doesn't have its own community library. Because it's unincorporated, it's not claimed by any of the (city) libraries around it.

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