Interview with Jurate Burns, Director of the Destin Library

One of PLAN’s long-time supporters has announced her retirement. Jurate Burns, Director of the Destin Library will be retiring this Spring after 19 years as the Library Director in Destin. She is looking forward to her post-retirement plans that include spending more time with her grandchildren in South Carolina and travel to Lithuania where her parents were from. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jurate about her career in librarianship and her time at the Destin Library….

Why did you choose librarianship as a career?
I sort of fell into it. I was teaching 9th grade English while my husband was in law school at University of Alabama in the mid-1970s. Since I rarely saw him in the evenings, I started flipping through the University catalog looking for advanced degree programs and read about the MLS program, which sounded interesting.

When did you get your MLS degree?
I received my Masters of Library Service (MLS) from the University of Alabama in 1975, which was the year they received their ALA accreditation (making them the 50th ALA accredited program in North America). I was also selected by the faculty to receive the Dean Hoole award for excellence.

What was your first job in a library?
I volunteered throughout middle school and again as an adult. We moved to Destin in 1979 and I was asked to be Destin’s librarian in 1980. This was a volunteer position, as there were no paid staff until a few years later, and that was a paraprofessional position. I resigned when my youngest child was born as he needed my undivided attention. The City of Destin took the library on as a department in 1989, and it was not until 1999 that I came on board as the Library director.

What were the facilities, staffing, and services at the Destin Library like when you became its director?
With the exception of two paid staff (our cataloger and an administrative assistant) we still depended greatly on volunteers to run the front desk, shelve books, etc. The library was located on Stahlman Avenue in what is now the Destin Fishing and History Museum. Nothing was automated and there was a door connecting to a Thrift Shop which supplemented the library budget.

I immediately threw myself into straightening up and updating everything. I had marvelous staff and volunteers who made the transformation possible. We closed the thrift shop and expanded into the space with a reference section. We got internet access and some computers for the public to use. It was a steep learning curve for me, as I was a novice Windows 95 user at this time.

My first day as Library Director, April 27, 1999, I had to attend an evening City Council meeting, during which I persuaded the council to reverse themselves on their decision to not join the two year old library cooperative. Council had done so at the previous director’s request, as he was afraid all of our books would end up at other libraries and our shelves would be stripped bare. The Council readily saw the wisdom of shared collections and cash flowing into City coffers from the County in return for this cooperation.

Our next blessing arrived on the library’s doorstep one fine May morning in 1999 when Bill Conniff, the director of PLAN then, showed up offering to pay for our retrospective conversion. I was dumbfounded and accepted the offer. With lots of volunteer help, we wrote the ISBN numbers of 40,000 volumes onto their respective shelf list cards and shipped the whole shelf list to Autographics in California. Several months later our barcodes came in and were applied by enterprising staff and volunteers.

What is the library like now regarding facilities, staffing, and services?
We are always trying to keep abreast of trending emerging technologies and changing patron needs. We were able to use library impact fees to carve out space for two small study rooms and a digital media lab. Thanks to PLAN innovation grants, we have managed to equip our lab with state of the art equipment and software. For a fairly compact facility (13,327 square feet) we have utilized our space very efficiently. Staffing has remained steady at 7.25 FTE’s. This is adequate in terms of numbers, but it is time to consider some re-organization of job titles and duties.

What notable accomplishments during your years at the Destin library would you like to tell about?
Working with the architects at DAG in the design of this building was a most gratifying experience. I was able to choose colors, finishes, fabrics, etc. as well as having input into the space allocation. Even 15 years after we opened, the pleasant feeling of working in these environs has not worn off. The live oaks on our grounds add to the entire experience, as do the bronze statues purchased by our Friends Guild.

Tell us about mentoring and training your staff:
I come from a family which places value on education and culture above monetary gain, so I have always encouraged staff to attend PLAN workshops and webinars. OCPLC, our cooperative, also has annual continuing education days and scholarships to assist in conference attendance.

You have been a very effective advocate for your library over the years. How did you accomplish this? 
I have never hesitated to contact our local legislators in person and discuss the impact libraries have in our communities. There have been three legislators who know me and with whom I feel comfortable having very direct conversations, like:  Senator Charlie Clary, Senator Don Gaetz, and Representative Matt Gaetz. Now that Matt Gaetz is in Washington, I have asked him to make sure that IMLS is fully funded, so that we can get the trickle down money we Florida libraries depend on. I am also confident I helped the multi-type cooperatives maintain a decent level of funding in most fiscal years. This was based on mutual trust and my imparting key information to the legislators as well as inviting them to our PLAN Annual meetings.

How did you demonstrate the value of your library to your funding agencies?
By telling them what we are doing, what we can do for them before asking for more money.

What advice do you have for new/young library directors regarding…

…approaching government officials about funding for the library?
Everyone has a different style, so stay with a comfortable elevator speech, and be ready to answer tougher questions if asked.

…working with town/city officials?
Keep in mind that almost everyone has a warm and fuzzy memory of their childhood library and reading. Our job is to build on that feeling while informing them of what we really do in libraries nowadays.

…working with library boards and friends groups?
They are there to help, so use that good will, and thank them often for all they do.

How did you attract and keep good staff?
Keeping part time staff is difficult unless they have no need of benefits, and have another means of support. All too often part-time staff are looking at full-time positions. We use a team approach in hiring interviews that seems to work most of the time. If only we had a crystal ball…. I also try to assign non-routine tasks and projects to everyone so that they do not get bored and burn out.

How do you stay up to date, and keep your staff up to date, with new technology and trends in librarianship?
PLAN helps us more than any other single source. I also subscribe to (and read) Computers in Libraries, Library Journal, Public Library Journal, and American Libraries.

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