Chris Accardo loves books.
But don't ask him which is his favorite because he won't tell you. After all, he doesn't want to offend all of the other books in the Weatherford Public Library.
"We kind of work together, after all," he joked.
The 41-year-old bachelor is nearing completion of his first full year as director of library services. He served as an assistant to Dale Fleeger from 2005 until Fleeger retired in July of 2014. At that point, Accardo was named interim director, a label that was removed when he became permanent director in December.
While libraries are typically quiet places where folks often go to be alone and escape, Accardo took a moment to put himself in the spotlight for the Weatherford S-T:
WST: Where are you from? High school? College?
CA: I was born and raised in Beaumont and graduated as salutatorian from Central High School there. My undergraduate degree is a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and I have my Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of North Texas.
WST: Do you have any hobbies? Do you play any sports or did you in HS or college?
CA: Besides reading, of course, I love to play guitar. My dad and I like to get together and groove out on 50s doo-wop tunes and outlaw country like Johnny Cash, Willie and Waylon, Billy Joe Shaver, etc.
I do play sports, although I was the only child in my family not to letter in one in high school. I played tennis, but never for the varsity team. For the past seven years, I have been involved with the emerging sport of roller derby. I’ve played with the Dallas Deception and Oklahoma Derby Regime men’s teams, and also coached several women’s leagues in the area, including the Cowboy Capital Rollergirls in Stephenville and Granbury Roller Derby. I skate under the name ‘Dewey Decimator.’ A lot of non-library people don’t get that.
WST: Do you have any goals for the library? Anything you'd like to change? Add? Delete?
CA: Our ultimate goal for the library right now is expanding our physical space. We don’t have enough room to add anything at all to the collection, we’re running short on meeting room space, and we have no space for private study rooms or quiet reading areas. In addition, about half of the building, and the part with most of the plumbing, wiring, etc., was built in the mid-1970s. We need a building that is planned with the needs of today’s library users in mind: Internet wiring, electrical outlets, USB charging stations, study rooms and the like.
On the public services side, we have desperately needed more events and classes for adults for several years. Due to budget constraints, we have been holding a librarian position unfilled, and that was the position responsible for these things. When I became Director, I eliminated the assistant director position and redistributed those duties, which gave us funds to fill that librarian position.
We hired Kellie Boyd as our community and events librarian in June and she has really hit the ground running. I am very pleased to say the public will be seeing a lot more on the schedule for adults.
WST: What are your thoughts on the fight against censorship (or in some cases, such as down the road in Granbury, some are fighting for censorship)? How do you respond to those who would censor?
CA: First of all, let’s define censorship in a library context. There are several different kinds of censorship. Some censorship originates within the librarian. This is somewhat difficult to overcome, because we are naturally inclined to select books that agree with our own values and viewpoints. However, library education includes finding ways to get past that, and making sure that the library collection includes materials that appeal to ALL library users.
As I put it in a recent article, even if you are a die-hard Mac computer enthusiast, and you believe PCs should be wiped off the face of the planet, you still have to buy books about PCs, because there are taxpayers in your community who need them.
There is external censorship pressure during this time, too. The librarian looks at a book that might be controversial and doesn’t buy it because they know it will cause an uproar. They may reasonably fear personal reprimands or even physical threats. That can be alleviated by developing well-written and comprehensive selection policies that define what will or will not be in the collection, and having those policies approved by governing authorities, and then showing support for librarians who follow those policies.
Then there are the external, after-purchase censorship attempts, and those are the ones that people hear about in the media. There are three main types of censorship: banning items or removing them from the collection completely, moving items to different parts of the library or keeping them behind the staff desk, and labeling items with "warning" stickers.
From what I’ve seen, I think most people try to censor because they want to protect their children. Or children in general. I certainly respect a parent who wants to protect their child, and that is their right as well as obligation. However, the public library serves people of many different beliefs, faiths, and backgrounds. What is right for someone else’s child may not be right for your child, and it is not fair or reasonable for the most restrictive parent to control the reading of everyone else’s children. Neither is it fair or reasonable for one person’s viewpoints to dictate what is available for another person. This protects everyone from having material excluded that they would like to read, or share with their kids.
WST: Are folks still going to the library like they used to? How do you let them know of the world of wonders inside those walls?
CA: They are attending in FAR, FAR greater numbers than they ever have. In FY (fiscal year) 2004, there were 100,465 visitors to the library. In FY2014, there were 135,796. That is a 35 percent increase in just 10 years. That does not count the number of people who use our services, such as eBooks and eMagazines, online. We try to get the word out via several methods. Kellie has come up with some very fun and exciting promotional events that we will be rolling out in September, which is National Library Card Sign-up Month.
WST: What is the biggest challenge to libraries today? How do you battle that?
CA: I think the biggest challenge to libraries today is convincing funding authorities that libraries are more relevant than ever in a digital world. As far as I am concerned, the statistics speak for themselves. Library attendance and usage are up. The use of print books has not dropped despite the introduction of the Internet and digital materials. Our storytimes and other programs are packed. Overcoming this perception requires trumpeting those facts as loudly and as often, and of course in the direction of the right people, as often as we possibly can. It’s great to get a chance to do so in this article.