Storybook career

County system has come long way


After 32 years in the local library system, 17 as the director of the downtown library, Ann Williams is retiring in May and hopes to travel the country with her husband.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 1:06 a.m.

When Ann Williams took over as director of the Alachua County Library District 17 years ago, the system had just four locations and patrons were still flipping through index-card catalogs to find books.

When Williams retires on May 7 - she announced her retirement plans to the library board of trustees on Wednesday night - she will leave behind a library system transformed by growth and technology.

Patrons now have 10 library branches from which to choose when they want to use computers and the Internet to search for books and information in the libraries and throughout the world.

"We've almost quadrupled the collection," Williams says with obvious pride. "We now handle more than 2 million items in a year."

In fact, Alachua County leads all Florida counties in the number of books, videos, CDs and other collection items per resident, at 4.2. It is also first in items checked out per resident per year, at 11.5. Second only to Broward County, 76 percent of Alachua County's residents have library cards.

Part of that, said Beverly Bartlett, chairwoman of the Alachua County Library District board of trustees, is that Gainesville is a literate community. Another big part, she said, "is a reflection that the libraries are such good quality they are used."

"Ann has taken the library to the highest standards achievable in the state of Florida," Bartlett said. "All across the state, people look at us enviously and say, 'Oh, I wish our libraries were like yours.' "

Williams, who is 57 and has worked for the library for 32 years, remembers a time when the library system wasn't such a jewel.

A special citizen-initiated library taxing district implemented at the time Williams was selected as director in 1987 has provided a reliable source of funding that made expansion possible, she said.

Before the taxing district, the library had one location in Gainesville and one small branch each in Hawthorne, Micanopy and High Springs. Originally run as a city department that contracted with Alachua County to run the three smaller branches, Williams said the library was "a very complicated, not well-funded and not really well-governed system."

It's now overseen by a library board of trustees and a library governing board.

Now there are 10 branches, including the original four, two new Gainesville branches at Millhopper and Tower Road; and four more in the smaller cities of Archer, Waldo, Alachua and Newberry.

Now that the libraries are "in a holding pattern" as far as future expansion, Williams said it seemed like a good time to retire.

"It's a good time for the library district, and it's a good time for me personally," Williams said.

A national search will be launched to find a successor, which Bartlett said may not happen before May 7.

She and the board of trustees have recommended that the library governing board appoint library Assistant Director Sharon Jackson as interim director.

Bartlett is optimistic the search will be successful.

Thanks to the Alachua County library district's extraordinary reputation and Gainesville's high quality of life, "we'll have no trouble filling the position with someone who is really excellent."

Which is not to say Williams will be easy to replace.

"She's just so extremely respected among the other librarians in the state," Bartlett said.

"She's such a quality person; it's with great regret we're losing her."

Carrie Miller can be reached at 338-3103 and millerc@gvillesun.com

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