When Tom Adkins was hired as the director of the Garnet A. Wilson Public Library in 1996, music cassettes, VHS tapes, and encyclopedias and paper magazines lined the shelves and the internet was not available to patrons. On Friday, Nov. 22, Adkins will retire from his position at the library after 24 years. Adkins says much has changed in that time, and many services have been added to benefit Pike County’s library patrons.
“I started on Jan. 1, 1996, and we have done so many things in those 24 years,” said Adkins. “Of course, the advent of the internet was a big deal, and it was amazing to see OPLIN, the Ohio Public Library’s information network that brought high-speed data lines to all the libraries in Ohio, grow into the monster that it is today. At the time, I was suspicious and didn’t think OPLIN would catch on, but I was very wrong about that and we now have it on our phones and computers, and our healthcare and everything is tied to the internet now. That was probably the biggest innovation that came while I was here. The other big change was establishing the three branch libraries in the county.”
In 1996, patrons from all over Pike County had to travel to Waverly for library services, as that was the only library in existence at the time, said Adkins.
“When I started, the library had contracted with an architect to design the Piketon library, but the bids hadn’t been sent out to contractors yet,” he said. “One of the first things I did after becoming director was to handle the construction of the Piketon library. Then after that came the Eastern library, then Western, then the addition at Eastern, and a few renovation projects here in Waverly as well.”
Library services have changed a lot in time, too, says Adkins.
“Back then, we did have an automated card catalog and all of our old-fashioned card catalogs were gone, but we had what we called ‘dumb terminals’, and every time we had an update when we added items to the collection, we had to go to each computer and add the collection to it, which took a long time,” he said. “We had a telephone line on the second floor we used for ordering books electronically. We would enter the order on the computer and turn the phone line on to send the order to the vendor who would then send the books to us. There was no public internet station then and none of the offices had internet, just stand-alone computers with Word Processing files and accounting information on them.”
A collection that has decreased over time is the reference section, said Adkins.
“Our reference room is now much smaller than it used to be because so many things are now available online. Also, our newspaper and magazine collection has been largely replaced by online reading, especially the magazines,” said Adkins. “Music cassettes, LP albums, and VHS tapes have all gone by the wayside, as everything is now in a digital format. Students also used to come into the library to use the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature to search for magazine articles and they would copy them out of old magazines. Now they just look things up on the internet. Page’s Ohio Revised Code was also here at the time and it is now online and we don’t have a hard copy of that anymore. It was a different world.”
Adkins says the time was right for him to retire, not just from a financial standpoint, but also due to a feeling of accomplishment in his career.
“When I was hired in 1995 to start in 1996, one of the things the board wanted was to have branch libraries established in the rural areas of the county so people wouldn’t have to travel into Waverly for library service, and we were able to get that accomplished,” he said. “I’m ready to do things for myself like traveling, and it is time for someone else with fresh, new ideas to come in and keep the library going in the direction it is going now. The core idea of a library is to help people, but maybe a new director can bring some new programs and services that we haven’t been doing.”
Adkins plans to spend more time on his property now that he is retired.
“I bought a piece of property out in the country, and I have a couple of acres to take care of, and that property came with a feral cat community. They have all been spayed and neutered, but they do require some care,” said Adkins, who adds that spending time on his front porch is on the itinerary in the future. “The difficulty in being a library director is that we get the literature to select books, but there are always way more books I want to read than I have time to read, so, over the years, I have compiled a long list of books and authors. One thing I want to do is sit on my porch and read the books I’ve missed over these 24 years.”
Volunteerism is also in his future plans.
“I do a lot of volunteer work with historical societies and other non-profit groups, and I plan to continue to expand on some of those opportunities, in particular with Sierra’s Haven Animal Shelter in Scioto County,” he said. “I’ve been volunteering there and hope to do some things like that in the future.”
While Adkins will no longer serve on the library board, he will continue to serve on the Foundation which formed the library’s capital campaign to build a new library.
“During last week’s meeting, the Foundation Board appointed me to a seat, and that will keep me involved, from a fundraising standpoint, to get money to build a new library, but I won’t be the ghost in the hallway hanging out and haunting the new library director when she takes over,” he said. “I have formed a lot of connections with donors and supporters of the library, so to be able to keep that face going, from a contributor standpoint, will be very helpful. We have raised $1.3 million, and we have two large grants we are waiting to hear back from in December. If we are successful at getting both of those grants, we will hopefully be able to break ground in a year or two. One of the grants is a challenge grant, meaning we have to raise more money in order to get money. I think this will encourage a lot of businesses and individuals who would have an interest in providing some of the last dollars for the project to step up and donate.”
Through the years, the public’s support has been crucial to the library’s survival, said Adkins.
“I have proudly served the patrons of the library and the people of Pike County, and I have been very proud of Pike County and have been happy to see the library grow and expand over the past 24 years,” he said. “I want to thank everyone for their support. When our state funding was cut 10 years ago, the people of Pike County stepped up and voted in favor of our operating levy, which has been vital to the libraries, keeping them open six days per week, and keeping us fully staffed and our shelves full of the newest books and the materials people want. I want to thank the people of Pike County for their continued support of the levy, which has already renewed.”
Adkins says he looks forward to continuing to see familiar faces out and about in the community.
“Certainly, I’ll still be in the community and will see people at the grocery store and the bank and places where people interact, but I’ll miss seeing the people I’ve come to know and be friends with here at the library, including co-workers and patrons,” Adkins said. “I’ll miss seeing the regulars who come into the library. This has been a very rewarding career. We give people information and help them find things, and we don’t charge them for it. What better career can there be than one of public service?”