New librarian

New Chanute Public Library director Kara Hale, left, and retiring director Susan Willis look over a new addition to the collection. A retirement party for Willis will be held 4-6 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

GREG LOWER

The Chanute librarian is checking out.

Chanute Public Library Director Susan Willis will retire at the end of January, and her replacement, Kara Hale, has started at the library.

Willis is retiring after 33 years as of the start of the year. She said she is not sure about her future plans.

“I have all kinds of ideas,” she said. “We’ll see what we actually wind up doing.”

Hale said she will spend her first year learning the job. The fact that the staff has a lot of experience will be a big benefit, she said.

Hale had worked at Neosho County Community College since 2006, after obtaining an Associate of Science degree from there. She grew up in Savonburg and was a student-employee at NCCC. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Friends University in Wichita, and most recently was Director of Finance at NCCC. She also worked previously as the bookstore manager and in the financial aid office.

Willis was born and raised in Chanute. She sold real estate for 10 years before she became librarian, and started with an undergraduate degree in merchandising.

Willis later obtained a Master’s degree in library science from Emporia State University, the only Kansas institution that offers the program. Hale said she will be starting there on her own Master’s of library science degree.

The library will host a retirement party for Willis from 4 to 6 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 28. She said she will be available through February to help Hale or answer any questions.

A major highlight of Willis’ career was the relocation of the library to the former Santa Fe depot in 1993 from what is now the Judicial Center. She said she told the library board that if they didn’t like the new location, she would resign.

“I wasn’t going to move it again,” Willis said, recalling that the move had been quite an ordeal.

“It was worth it,” she said.

The library now has five full-time and four part-time employees. Before, it had four full-time and three part-time, was open fewer hours, and sometimes did not staff the children’s room in the evenings.

The internet has greatly changed library service during Willis’ time. She said students can now find information far beyond what is on the shelves,

The Hoopla program allows patrons to download electronic books, videos and audios to borrow. Willis said it started a year ago and has been successful, so she expects it to grow.

Hale said she is setting goals after her first week on the job.

“I have a handful of ideas,” she said, noting that it is hard to forecast how technology will change in the next few years.

“We will do our best to stay up with them,” she said.

Willis said there is a continuing debate on whether online texts will replace printed books. She said her top achievement is keeping the library relevant.

“That’s part of what we’re never going to change,” Hale said.

She said she plans to continue the many partnerships between the library and community.

Willis said the hardest part of leaving is that she will not be able to see on a regular basis the friends she has made at the library.

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