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Wednesday, October 19,2011

Booked up

Maureen Hirten was the Capital Area District Library interim director; now, she’s got the job long term

by Bill Castanier
The new Capital Area District Library director, Maureen
Hirten, is as comfortable talking about books as she is about budgets.
Both are great characteristics in this era of shrinking budgets and
e-book platforms.

For Okemos resident Hirten the literary cliché “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is especially fitting.


The best of times is her recent appointment to director. Hirten, 60,  has
been with CADL for nine years, starting as a public service librarian
in Okemos. Most recently, she served as the associate director of
public services and then as assistant director, overseeing the
operations of the library’s 13 branches which serve more than 20 local
municipalities. For the past six months, she was the interim director. 


Now, for the worst of times. Hirten said the biggest
challenge to the library system is budgeting in an era of dropping
taxable value of property. (Libraries are primarily funded by a tax or
millage on property value. The millage is on a four-year cycle and is
up for renewal by voters in 2014.)


“We are trimming everywhere we can and building a rainy-day fund,” she said.


“Our revenue has dropped and we are being very creative in the way we look at services.”


The new director said she is committed to finding ways to save money that patrons won’t notice.


She said that due to the lag time in figuring property
tax assessments that she expects the next couple years to be “even
worse.” Although next year’s budget is only preliminary, it is expected
to hover at $11 million — down from this year’s $12.4 million. The
library system employs 240 workers.


Hirten said she has three priorities for the coming year:
defining core services, building the number of card holders and
focusing on establishing more community partnerships. “We need to
define the core services of the library and put our energy in them,”
she said. 


She added that the library is looking at instituting fines on late books: “We have come to that conclusion.”


The library assesses fines for late videos and for book replacement or damage, but has not collected fees on overdue books.


Hirten said she loves her job. “It was one of those things I wanted to be as a child. I really thought it would be a great job.”


She received her library sciences degree from the
University of Maryland. She moved to Lansing with her husband, Mickey
Hirten, executive editor of the Lansing State Journal.


Hirten said people’s perception of “the dusty old
library, with old stuff” is a thing of the past. Library cardholders
are just as likely to visit the library to use computers; they can also
download e-books.


Hirten said she recently downloaded the latest “Maise
Dobbs” mystery, a moody World War I whodunit, to her Nook. But she also
has a stack of traditional books on her bedside table.

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