News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 2, 2013

Vigo County Public Library begins next chapter with arrival of new director

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County Public Library is turning a new page with the arrival of Kristi Howe, the first new library director of the 21st century.

“It’s really exciting,” Howe said Friday morning, her first day on the job. “I’m just glad to finally be here.”

The VCPL board of directors chose Howe from a group of 25 applicants late last year after a nationwide search. She comes to the job from Beloit, Wis., where she has been the public library director since mid-2010. Before that, she was head of youth services at the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, Ill.

Howe replaces Nancy Dowell, who is retiring to launch a new career after 13 years as director and nearly 30 years employed by the VCPL.

“It’s a great professional opportunity to work at a library like this,” Howe said in an earlier interview with the Tribune-Star.

The new director is walking into a changing world at the library, where a new, self-checkout system is being readied for use. The automated system, something relatively new in the library business, is part of a larger, $200,000, renovation of the downtown branch.

Howe also takes the reins at a time of continued uncertainty about the library’s West Terre Haute branch. The library board has been wrestling with the future of the facility for months. They’ve considered several new locations and even discussed closing the branch.

In 2009, the VCPL closed three branches for budget reasons. The board chose to keep the West Terre Haute branch open because the building was owned by the library and therefore did not present a lease cost.

Howe said she has no immediate changes planned for the VCPL but rather needs to first get a good understanding of how the long-time institution operates.

“Before I can implement a plan, I have to be familiar with what’s here,” she said.

The library profession has been evolving since the computer age and Howe said she views the librarian’s role as that of an educator more than simply a keeper of information. Libraries can help people understand new technology, such as e-readers. They can also assist displaced workers, people with language barriers and those who need improved computer skills.

“It’s a lot of assistance in an educational vein,” she said.

Howe has family roots in the Wabash Valley. She was raised in Casey, Ill., where she graduated from Casey-Westfield High School in 1996. Family members still live in the area, she said.

Howe becomes the 10th director in the library’s history, which dates back to 1882. Dowell became director in 1999.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.