Check Her Out

RED OAK, TX — It’s her favorite time of year and a great time to settle down with a good book, according to Red Oak Library Director Theresa McNutt. When not busy with library programming, Theresa loves to read, completing 125 titles last year. “I’m very cliché. I was a huge bookworm as a kid and still read a lot in my free time. My father had boxes in our attic full of old Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazines, and I found them and read them all, which is probably responsible for my continuing love of sci-fi/fantasy books,” Theresa said.

Born and reared in New York, Theresa earned a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics with a minor in Japanese from State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. “As an undergraduate student, I worked for the computer, information and technology department, first as a cybrary assistant, then as a troubleshooting computer consultant, and finally as cybrary supervisor for our largest undergraduate library on campus,” Theresa recalled.

But library work was not Theresa’s original career goal. “I wanted to teach English as a Second Language (ESL), so I joined the JET [Japanese Exchange & Teaching] Program, an initiative

funded by the Japanese government to bring native English speakers to Japan as cultural ambassadors and teachers,” she explained.

Theresa lived in a small town in Japan, Hokkaido, for one
year before returning to the U.S. “During that amazing year, I discovered that I really didn’t like being so far away from family and friends, as most ESL jobs require. So I came home, moved to Texas, and started looking for a different career that suited me better,” she said.

Shortly after moving to Dallas, Theresa began library work
in Fort Worth and Hurst. “I loved the work and decided to
begin my master’s degree in the summer of 2009,” she said.
In December 2010, Theresa graduated from the University of North Texas with a Master of Science in information science. She came to Red Oak after applying to work for Library Systems & Services Inc. in Farmers Branch. “As these things tend to work out, I didn’t get the position I originally applied for but was encouraged to apply for the position of Red Oak library director, and here I am!” she said.

Today, Theresa busies herself with the ever-advancing work of library programming. “Libraries are not just about books anymore. We have a great diversity of services — public computing/printing; circulating audio books, CDs, DVDs; computer classes and assistance; programming for children, teens and adults,” Theresa said. We “also [have] digital libraries and scholarly reference databases, downloadable e-books and media, community meeting spaces … oh yes, and print books, magazines, newspapers and those reference materials that you cannot access for free online!”

Because they provide free access to large quantities of information that a single individual cannot afford to match, Theresa noted librarians possess training and experience necessary to retrieve information quickly and efficiently, with a depth of specificity and access to the deep web that free online searching doesn’t provide.

“We help people of all ages, need levels and personalities, and a huge part of the job is just knowing how to personalize your interactions and service to meet individual needs,” Theresa noted. “Something I’ve found others are surprised by is the fact that most librarians do have a degree in either library or information science. There is also a lot of stress in the library field, which surprises those who think we work in the quiet, reading books all day.”

As director, very little of Theresa’s job has to do with books.

“I do order new materials, but apart from that, most of my day is spent on budgeting, programming, public relations and special projects.” Theresa also works to address the challenges facing local libraries today.

“The biggest challenge facing public libraries is overcoming an outdated and antiquated image. I have seen so many journal articles and comments online about how libraries are the last remnants of a bygone era, usually from people who haven’t stepped into a library in 30

years!” Theresa said. “I would like to emphatically state that there is a pressing need for libraries in today’s society.”

Nonetheless, proposed cuts to state grant funding for libraries continue to impact what services and upgrades libraries offer. For Red Oak Library, lack of space is another continued concern. “We occupy a 1,200-square-foot room, restricting the size of our collection, the number of computers we can fit and seating space for those who want to read or study in the library,” Theresa said. “We are investigating grant funding to reduce the cost of eventual expansion and hope to work with the city to create a solution that is adequate for our growing population’s present and future needs.”

Theresa’s other goals include growing the library’s community presence, upgrading to faster Internet and newer public PCs and increasing programming for all ages. “We are starting a Teen Club this fall and beginning to introduce new technologies such as e-book lending, QR codes, RFID, and mobile apps that will help people access the information they want more efficiently,” she said.

While Theresa doesn’t own an electronic reader herself — “I’m surrounded everyday by just about any book I could want to read!” she said — the library does offer e-book lending through NetLibrary, a database available through the Texas State Library. “We would love to invest in a vendor to be able to lend the most popular e-books and audio books. At the moment, we are researching our pricing options and trying to fit that into our future budget,” she said.

In the meantime, Theresa looks forward to meeting as many library patron needs as possible. “If you have a program you would like to run — a book club, story time, teen activity, hobby club, etc. — come to us, and we can work together to make it happen! We already have great volunteers who lead library programs, but we would love to have more. We are also seeking to start a Friends of the Library group.”

When not in library mode, Theresa enjoys twice-a-month potluck dinners with friends, charity work, video games and a unique new hobby: “My friend recently convinced me to take a belly dancing class, and it’s fun!” But, Theresa is most excited about making things happen at the library.

“I think the citizens of Red Oak take great pride in their city and have very firm ideas about what they want to see happen over the next few years,” Theresa said. “That passion is amazing, and I want to encourage people to approach the library with their ideas.”

Written by Angel Morris.