Jeff Scott is the new director of the Washoe County Library System. He comes to Reno from Berkeley and, before that, Tulare County.
How much have you seen of the system? How long have you been on the job?
I’ve been here since Dec. 14. I’ve toured all of the branches except Incline, Verdi and Gerlach, because of the snow.
What made you choose this library system?
Well, it matches a lot of the things I’ve done in the past, and I like the combination of services it provides. You have the urban as well as the rural areas, and so I like that mix. It’s very similar to the work I did in Tulare County, and I’ve always been kind of attracted to that kind of work, both kinds of services.
Given what you’ve seen so far, what do you think the needs of the system are?
Still doing that assessment. Still doing that assessment to see what the needs are. I’m going to start talking to community members, talking to the staff and still getting a better feel for what the needs are.
What’s it like to be a librarian in an age when people think books are going out of style?
It’s surprising how much they’re needed. I think that surprises people a lot, and you can see in the publishing industry that print books are back on the rise. The libraries have always been about service, to me, so books are one aspect of how we serve the public. There’s many different aspects to that. The governor’s initiative, Read by Three, getting kids ready to read—books are an aspect of that. The public service that goes with it, provide [for] kids who are in need of books and materials, and reaching out to them. So the service thing is a key. As long as libraries and books are a service to the community, then libraries will be here for a long time.
When UNR built a new library, they called it a knowledge center instead of a library, thinking that people wouldn’t understand that it’s more than just books. Is that really a problem?
No, not really. The university and some of the schools have different names for it. I know some of the—like, school libraries will be called media centers, and a media specialist instead of calling him a librarian. Because it’s more than just books. But it’s never really been tied to that, for the most part. So it’s an evolving profession. And I think that getting away from that confuses people because media or knowledge is very generic. The library, people kind of know what that is.
What’s the last book that you read?
Right now I’m reading Strangers Drowning [by Larissa MacFarquhar]. But it’s about philanthropy around the world—like, would you save a close family member versus two strangers that were drowning? It talks about it’s important to help people and help the community but [be] aware of the personal cost to that. It’s interesting. I recently finished The Hunt for Vulcan [by Thomas Levenson] and that was about how people believed there was another planet between Mercury and the Sun … because they were trying to explain Newtonian gravity. So for Mercury’s rotation around the sun, it had this weird thing when it went close to the sun. Why did it do that? “Well, there must be a planet drawing it close to the sun.” “Well, no,” Einstein said, “There’s no planet there. That’s just how gravity works.” We just didn’t understand it before. I try to read 80 to 100 books a year.
Do you read on Tablets?
I read on my phone. I read on print books. I listen to audio books. I’m all over the place.
A longer version of this interview can be read on our Newsview blog.