Kevin Booe 

When Kevin Booe took a part-time job at the Boise Public Library while in college, he never expected to still be there 26 years later. Now, as library director, a position he took on March 1, he finds himself leading the organization into a new era, as the first two of four planned branch libraries near construction.

It will be the first time the library has offered a full range of services from beyond its home in downtown Boise, a place visited by an average of 3,300 people each day. While plans are ramping up, Booe took some time to tell BW what's in store for the library.

How did you get started at the Library?

I started as a shelver, shelving books while I was in college. And after I graduated college, my supervisor said, "You really belong at the library, so why don't you just stay here?" So they found me a full-time job as a library assistant, and I started in the children's room, and I did story times, and I did the reference desk, and I was promoted to librarian—I was in the children's room for 17 of those 26 years. About 10 years ago, I was promoted to head of our acquisitions and cataloging department. I had a dual role. I was manager of acquisitions, technical services and was assistant library director.

How did you end up at the library as a career?

I really believe in the mission of the library, and I've always been a reader. That's part of the reason I wanted a part-time job here in college, because I loved books, and I loved being around books, and I love to read. As time when on ... I got more involved in helping people find information and getting people excited, especially kids—and I really was working with kids at the time. I just thought, "This is a good place to be." And it's a really important service to the public. Not only does it enhance our education system, but it gives folks a place to find out their life information. I call it life information, how to tuneup your car, how to garden, planning a vacation, planning your estate, planning financial information, health-care information, you can get it all at the library, and it's free.

What did you enjoy about working in the children's room?

It's just the whole concept. When they start figuring out what reading is, and they figure out the power in stories, and the power in books, and the power of the printed word, their intellectual power—I worked primarily with 2- and 3-year-olds, and you could see the light bulbs come on. That's the greatest thing; inspiring them to read, inspiring them to spend their lives learning new things.

How do you keep a library relevant in a changing city?

It is a big challenge for 21st-century libraries. There are a lot of folks who say, "You have Internet, you have bookstores, we don't need a library." The simple truth of the matter is, most people don't think the library is irrelevant and don't think that books are irrelevant. There's another percentage that say they use the library for Internet access. There's an awful lot of information that is only available on the Internet, including government information.

What did you say to critics who said the library was irrelevant during last year's bond campaign?

I would often get out the statistics and say, "Well, that's interesting that you would say libraries are irrelevant or obsolete because in the last six years, our users have increased 29 percent, our circulation has increased 15 to 16 percent, our program attendance has increased 20 percent." So, obviously, there's a group of people out there that's growing, who think the library is an important place.

Are you excited about the two new branch libraries about to open?

We're the only city our size in the United States without a branch library system. We have one little tiny pick-up spot at [Boise] Town Square Mall, and it's just a popular-reading library, it's not a full-service library. That's going to change this fall. We're going to open two neighborhood branch libraries. We're going to reinvent this library. And it's an exciting time because this staff and the library board and the City Council and mayor, we're reinventing library service in Boise. And that's going to be the first little step to that, is opening neighborhood services. And folks are going to be able to go to their neighborhood libraries and get reference assistance, access databases, access the Internet, go to a children's program, attend a gardening program, sit and read, have coffee. I think that really is going to help us become the heart of the community.

Will the branches be full service?

The branches will be full service. There won't be the scope of the collection, a smaller periodicals section. We won't have all of the reference materials that we have at the main library, the Idaho collection, for instance, or genealogy or newspapers on microfilm. But all of those things you can still get at the main library, and we'll probably have a fax service or a courier service so you can get it at your neighborhood library.

Where will the new branches be?

The ones opening this fall are Collister shopping center and the Hillcrest shopping center.

What are the plans for a new main library?

Right now, we're in the process of looking at the feasibility of raising funds to help construct a new main library, around 144,000 square feet—which basically doubles the size of this library—give us room to get a larger collection, and come up to those national standards.

What are you looking forward to most for the library?

I'm really excited about the reinvention of this library system. We've been below national average for a long, long time, and I'm really excited to reinvent the Boise Public Library so that it turns into a world-class library system fitting for this city. Libraries build strong communities, and a strong library builds a stronger community, so I'm looking forward to making this library stronger and making a difference.

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