Monday, June 15, 1998

State’s new
top librarian comes
by job naturally

New York's Virginia Lowell
says her first priority is to
meet the local staff

By Craig Gima


Virginia Lowell's mother had an early inkling her daughter would grow up to work in a library.

"If you ask my mother, I was always going to be a librarian because I rearranged the cans of spices in alphabetical order in the pantry," Lowell said.

Lowell has now been given the task of getting Hawaii's public-library system in order.

The Board of Education voted unanimously over the weekend to pick Lowell over four local candidates to replace Bart Kane, fired as state librarian in February and whose last day is June 30.

The board's ad hoc search committee was to meet today to discuss performance expectations for both Lowell and for Paul LeMahieu, the new schools superintendent selected Friday, said Mitsugi Nakashima, the committee's head.

On Thursday, the board will meet to pick an interim state librarian and an interim schools superintendent. Lowell is unsure when she can return to start her new $85,000-a-year job, since her current job in New York calls for a 90-day notice.

LeMahieu -- who will succeed Herman Aizawa, stepping down June 30 -- currently is executive director of the Delaware Education Research and Development Center. He is eyeing August to start his new job here.

Lowell said her first priority will be to develop a relationship with library staff.

"I don't do this stuff alone," she said. "I feel veryil,22p,7p strongly about the fact that local libraries should have a measure of local autonomy."

Lowell today is back in Massapequa, N.Y., where she is director of the 54-library Nassau Library System. Unlike Hawaii's 50-library statewide system, the libraries in Nassau are independent and autonomous.

Lowell believes her job as a central administrator will be to set levels of achievement and standards of quality. Then, she believes, librarians must be trained to those standards and be given the support and authority to meet them.

Lowell spent most of yesterday reading real-estate ads and on her hotel room phone with media, board members, family, friends -- and even some local library staff.

She said she had hoped to visit public libraries on Thursday before her interview with the board, but her plane arrived late because of bad weather in Chicago.

Board of Education Chairwoman Karen Knudsen said she was most impressed by Lowell's depth of library and management experience.

Besides Nassau, Lowell was director of the 12-branch Jackson District Library in Michigan, technical services director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio, and has worked in community college and university libraries in Ohio.

Lowell said most of her expertise and training is in library computer systems. At Jackson she helped install the same system Hawaii uses.

Lowell wants to make Hawaii's library computers more efficient -- something the entire library system must become before asking for a bigger budget.

"You don't do that (ask for more money) until your own house is in order," she explained. "We have to be able to say we have made our infrastructure as efficient and cost-effective as possible."

Lowell is a divorced grandmother. Two sons, ages 28 and 26, spent a lot of time in libraries.

"They both have their book-binding (Boy Scout) merit badges," she joked.

She said she mostly reads professional and technical journals and what she calls airport books. "When you're getting on an airplane, you stop and pick up whatever is the latest paperback."

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