403,597 to be exact. That’s how many items you can check out from a public library in Forsyth County, most of which have some of the highest circulation rates in Georgia. Incoming library director Anna Lyle is about to put that all on her plate, with some financial and administrative management reading between the lines.
Anna Lyle is probably the only librarian in the world who doesn’t have a favorite book.
Maybe we can’t accurately say that without acknowledging the potential for exaggeration, but they’re her words.
“The funny thing is librarians pride themselves on being able to pick out books for people, but I’m apparently really hard to do that for,” Lyle said.
She knew the what’s-your-favorite-book question was going to be asked, and said she didn’t know whether to just make something up.
“I know what I don’t like. I’m not a big dragons and magic person,” she said as she sat in the office she has occupied for the past 11 years as the Forsyth County Public Library’s assistant director for support services.
“I like magazines. And novels, but I really only read those when I have a lot of time, like on vacations ... I love to read fiction unless I want to know something. Like I’m not going to read a gardening book unless I need to learn how to do something.”
The north Fulton native’s office is about to move down the hall. Poised to step into the directorial position for the library system in December, she will succeed Jon McDaniel, who has been in the role for the last 20 years, since the system came to be.
She may not have a favorite book because she has simply read so many of them.
“Growing up, I just didn’t know people who were going to college. It was not part of my family’s socio-economic situation. My parents worked very, very hard and gave up so many things. When I look at what my parents did right, besides teaching us to eat vegetables, they took us to the library,” said the woman whose background in business management and art history oozes higher education.
“So I read and I read and I read and I read, and it opened up all these worlds … My worldview was different because I read about other experiences, other people, other cultures, other worlds.
“It’s not just non-fiction that can make people smart.”
Lyle recalled how her third-grade teacher — who attended the library’s recent Forsyth Reads Together event with “The Help” author Kathryn
Stockett — had a great time telling her mother that she came to school so mad one day because she only let her check out 10 books at a time.
The Shakerag property Lyle grew up on has since transformed from “worthless swamp land” to a gated community. Lyle’s older brother attended Georgia Tech to become the first college graduate in the family.
Lyle has since earned an undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and a master’s from Emory University in art history. Though Furman didn’t have minors when she attended, she took enough business management courses to get one.
She interned at a library in Duluth during high school, was hired as an information specialist in Gwinnett County as she completed her master’s thesis and has been in library human resources and finance ever since.
She was the first full-time human resources employee for Forsyth County once it split from Gwinnett in 1999, and was brought on to hire the staff for the system’s second branch, Sharon Forks.
“Because I had all this HR experience I still thought I would go into the private sector,” Lyle said, “but I just kept loving my job.”
“People needed our resources”
The recession hit most businesses hard. Not libraries in Forsyth County.
It was still difficult, but statistics actually increased during the recession.
“The we-need-money part for Hampton Park was right at the beginning. We opened in 2010 with absolutely no additional staff, and we actually had to cut hours. But we’ve since gotten those back to regular hours,” Lyle said.
No additional staff and less hours and Forsyth commissioners — about 85 percent of the library system’s $5.8 million budget comes from the county — had to cut about $100,000 from the library budget the year Hampton Park opened.
“That was one of the things that really made me want to say, ‘I want to be a library director,’” she said. “We knew Jon wasn’t going to be here forever. And libraries became even more important during that time because people needed our resources more.”
Free public libraries shifted from an amenity to a need.
“Commissioners agreed we have to keep all county services open, but [residents] aren’t necessarily using the tag office more. But they’re using us more. Maybe they’re canceling their high-speed Internet at home and are coming in to do school work. It was people who lost their jobs and kind of making it their offices,” Lyle said.
Residents used the library for all resources, not just to check out the next bestseller. Staff members showed them how to do resumes or send an email attachment.
The system started its volunteer program during the recession. People wanted to help because they were appreciative the service remained opened, Lyle said. Or they had lost their jobs and wanted to keep something on their resume.
In order for Lyle to eventually become a library director, she needed to add to her resume.
“I went back to what we call library school for my master’s in library and information science, which you do have to have in Georgia to become a library director,” she said.
She would have gone back to get the degree “many years before,” but at the time no accredited school in the state offered one. Valdosta State University does now.
She and her husband also would have had to take out loans for tuition had her father-in-law not helped.
With his support and the spirit of hard work learned from her parents, Lyle studied for her second master’s degree remotely with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee while working a full-time job that involved opening a new library during a recession.
“What I’ve been passionate about”
Since Lyle has been part of the system since before its split from Gwinnett, she has an idea of how to run it and what makes it so successful.
“If we had an outdated, boring collection with things people didn’t want to read, we would have declining numbers, but we don’t have declining numbers. Generally the trend is that libraries are declining in use, but here they were higher last year than the population growth,” she said.
Materials, combined with clean and welcoming facilities, accessible technology and a competent staff. Applicants must take a skills test to work in a Forsyth County library.
“We have an education-focused community. I think we’d really hear about it if we had a bad collection,” she said.
With leadership turnover, however, comes change. Though don’t expect anything drastic here.
“Jon is very team-based in his management, so the people who have wanted to, we’ve already been able to do a lot. It’s not like I’m being hired to come in and be a change agent to fix a failing system,” Lyle said. “I think the library board wants a continuation of what we’ve been doing, which is fine because I’ve been able to do what I’ve been passionate about, and I have ownership of that.
“On the other hand, I’m not Jon. And there will be things that are different.”
Like keeping up with technology, for example. Or finding someone to replace herself.
“Jon was very into succession planning, so he has backed off for the last few years,” Lyle said. “If I had to be out for a month because I was sick or something, the place wouldn’t fall apart.”
Lyle was out of the state for a week at the end of September, the week the library board voted her in as the next director.
She was in Wisconsin for her father-in-law’s funeral. It was bittersweet, she said.
“He knew, pretty much, I was going to get the job because I had been announced as sole finalist [in August],” she said, “but it was just … He was so supportive … It was just weird knowing the meeting was going on while we were en route.”