Redondo Beach library director Susan Anderson takes the reins
Susan Anderson isn’t who you might picture as a library director.
Anderson is a Houston native who honed her library craft at the University of Texas at Austin. She traveled to Botswana as a librarian for the Peace Corps and, most recently, she worked for six years at the West Hollywood Public Library. She is young, vibrant and hip.
Last week was Anderson’s first week as Redondo Beach Library Director, and, though she has been busy with introductions, receptions and city meetings, the new head has no shortage of ideas for what she wants to bring to Redondo.
“I had a great reception with the Friends of the Library, the Library Foundation and the Library Commission,” said Anderson. “They all seem excited to work together on the future of the library. There is so much potential. We have this great new north branch, and there is a lot more that can be done with the main library to tailor it to the future of library services.”
At the center of Anderson’s library ethos is creating what she calls a “third place.” The term was coined by Ray Oldenburg, author of “The Great Good Place,” to describe any location that people go to outside of work, school and home to find a deeper connection to their community.
“People need a third place that is non-commercial,” Anderson said. “We opened a beautiful new facility in West Hollywood and people came. When you build a great space, people come. There is the thought that folks don’t use libraries anymore and that is just not true. They need a space to study, to read, to connect.”
Anderson moved back to Texas for a year after her tenure in West Hollywood. When she learned of the open position of library director in Redondo Beach, she considered moving back to California.
“If I was going to leave Texas, I knew wanted to come back to L.A.,” she said. “With my network here and the relationships with non-profits and literary organizations I formed, I have strong ties to the larger community to draw on. And I really liked what I read about this community and its diverse mix of residents.”
Coming from more urban experiences in Austin and West Hollywood, Anderson is looking forward to working within a smaller district.
“I think there seems to be a strong sense of community here,” she said. “That was harder to find in the heart of L.A. I like that. I feel like things feel a bit more relaxed down here, laid back. And I love being by the water.”
Though Anderson was a strong candidate for the library director position, her appointment almost didn’t happen. Last June, the City of Redondo considered de-authorizing the position of library director and shuffling the library staff structure under Parks and Recreation in order to save money. City Manager Bill Workman drafted the measure.
Workman’s proposal suggested assigning the library director’s duties to the director of recreation, transit, and community services and hiring a consultant to draft a mid-term strategic plan for the library in order to handle what he called “challenges to library relevancy.”
The community fought back. Opponents of the measure like Alice Taylor of the Library Foundation addressed the Redondo Beach City Council about the importance of the library director position. The proposal was defeated during a budget vote on June 18.
“The community really wanted to have a person in charge of their libraries,” Anderson said. “It’s a very important role. It’s all about looking at future direction of library service, building a role in the community, finding grants and other funding opportunities, working with support groups to check out funding, spending time on the circulation floor and setting policy based on it. You need to be a presence in the community to get the word out about the services you offer. You attend professional development workshops and collaborate with other library directors to try to effect legislation regarding library funding.”
As far as specific goals for the Redondo Beach libraries, Anderson is looking forward to forging relationships with a multitude of community organizations to foster computer, language, art and healthy living initiatives.
“We are going to have the Power of Art program come have an art show at the library,” said Anderson. “I’d love to have makers’ groups meet here, to have more author events, and do some programming with the Beach Cities Health District and Blue Zones. I hope to have more collaborations with cultural groups and perhaps even hold a meditation class.”
Anderson’s experience and passion are as strong as her ambitions for the Redondo Beach libraries. She is formulating a plan to enhance the use and relevancy of the public libraries and she has only been on the job for five days. She says it is a challenge to hit the ground running with big plans while also learning the basics of her new job.
“There is so much potential here, and I am so excited, but first I have to learn how to use my phone,” Anderson said, laughing.