Kevin Barron to assume library director position
The Mississippi County Library System is proud to announce that Kevin Barron will become its new director.
"Mr. Barron has done a wonderful job at the Osceola Library and as assistant director," Sandra Kennett, president of the Mississippi County Library Board of Trustees, said. "He is very well prepared to step up and become our new county librarian. Our board voted unanimously to make him the new director. Mr. Barron has some wonderful ideas for our libraries in the future and I can't wait to see what he does as our new director."
"I met Kevin when he got here and again at the library," Rogers Ford, Mississippi County Library System Board of Trustees member, said. "We became friends and I know he will do a good job as our new director. I like the positive way he thinks, his technology skills and his personal skills. I'm looking forward to working with him for the rest of my time on the board."
Mississippi County Library System director Jay Ziolko agrees, saying Barron has been an essential part of the county's library system. Ziolko says the library system is in great hands with Barron.
"We are fortunate we have had Mr. Barron with us for the last 15 years and that he is going to be our new director," Ziolko said. "Mr. Barron has a passion for customer service and libraries as well as an excellent grasp of technology. He has been a central figure in the many technology upgrades, especially in the last five years. He was essential in the automation of our card catalog, has worked hard to obtain grants for us and he took care of getting ebooks for our county libraries."
Barron has been a part of the library system since 1999 when he became librarian for Osceola Public Library. In 2003, he was promoted to assistant director of the Mississippi County Library System, a position he has held for the past 11 years. Barron and his wife Carol are not natives to this area, he is from a small town of 12,000 in north Missouri called Moberly and she is from Covington, Tenn. Although the two are not from the area, in the past 15 years Mississippi County has become their home.
"We like it here," Barron said. "Mississippi County is our home. There are a lot of good things about this area. It's that southern culture where people are accepting, friendly and good to work with. There's a lot of pluses. Although we live in Osceola, I will be based in Blytheville when I become director. It is the population center of the county. I have a lot of friends in Osceola and I have many friends in Blytheville and I'm looking forward to making some new ones."
Barron's love of libraries started as child. He loved to read and says he grew up in the library, going there several times a week. Barron often participated in the summer program at his local library in Moberly. Throughout the years he has worked in academic, public and school libraries. That love of reading and libraries is what led Barron to go back to school in 1996 to get his master's degree in library science. During his years as a college student, he worked for the Cincinnati Public Library. The big metropolitan library was Barron's introduction to how libraries function. He explained that the Cincinnati Public Library had lots of organization and departments with specialized people.
"It really was more like running a business," Barron explained. "There is just so much that goes into running an operation like that. I was a student at the time and worked in the shelving department. Students usually started out as shelvers or custodians. Being in the shelving department I got to see all the books as they came in and many of the books would be in closed stacks where the public couldn't go, so we would retrieve the books the public wanted. It was a good way of getting an understanding of the different subjects and classifications. They used the Dewey decimal system, which is what we use here in Mississippi County. So it really gave me a great grounding in that. A lot of times someone will ask for a certain subject of book and I know where to go to find it just because of my memory of the Dewey decimal system."
As Barron was getting ready to graduate from library school in Columbia, Mo., he and his wife Carol knew they wanted to be somewhere that was between both of their families. Barron sent out resumes accordingly to libraries in Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee. He ended up coming to Mississippi County, which is located in between his and his wife's family making it a great location.
Technology is definitely one area that Barron has worked with a lot since he came to Mississippi County Library System. When he started, the Osceola Public Library had four computers and was using a fast form of dial up Internet service. The Bill Gates Foundation made it possible for the Mississippi County Library System to get computers and Internet service to all of its locations in the county. Barron explained at that time the Internet was just beginning to become popular.
"Computers really changed how we did things because they weren't just for typing papers and that kind of thing," Barron said. "It opened up the Internet to the people here. Still today I would say the majority of our county has access to the Internet primarily through libraries. At the time we started offering Internet the percentage was higher, but according to Connect Arkansas, over half of the residents of our county do not have high-speed Internet access at home. We see many of the people who do not have Internet access come to the libraries for Internet use.
"The computers we got in 1998 through the Bill Gates Foundation were great machines and they were used extensively, especially in Blytheville and Osceola where we are open seven days a week. So in 2006, the Gates Foundation helped us out again and we had the opportunity to once again receive computers. The ones we had were eight years old and still going which was really miraculous. The Gates Foundation gave us in excess of $100,000 to go around to all the libraries and replace all of the computers allowing us to once again update our technology. Now we are once again pushing that envelope to where we need to do some upgrading and go through and replace."
Barron said he doesn't know if that funding will once again come from the Gates Foundation or some other source but keeping technology up to date is something he will be working on. He said not only do all the libraries offer free Internet access, free WiFi is also available at all seven public library locations in the county. Barron explained that, besides many county residents, people from out of state and on occasion out of the country often stop in at the libraries with their iPads, tablets, smartphones or other devices to use the free WiFi. He said other than a few restaurants and hotels there really aren't many places in Mississippi County that offer that service to the public.
"We have ebooks now," Barron continued. "We are getting those ramped up and getting the word out about them. Those are books you can checkout and read using your iPad, Kindle, Nook, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Like it or not, technology is here to stay. I'm young enough that I feel like I have incorporated computers and technology into how I do business. It is just a natural extension of how we live. It has certainly changed library operations. We automated a lot of things that we used to do with pen and paper. The card catalog was the big one. You can go to any of our libraries and the drawers with the cards are gone. That was a huge undertaking with a lot of sleepless nights and long days but is was worth it. We needed to do it and it was time."
Barron also works a lot with grants. He explained the library receives sales tax revenue and funds from the state library, but grants help provide additional services that the county libraries couldn't have gotten otherwise. Another area Barron has been deeply involved with is the library's summer reading program. The program is offered to the children of Mississippi County for free and brings programs to each of the county's seven libraries during the months kids are out of school for summer vacation.
"Studies show that kids that take a break from school for two to three months and do nothing but watch television see a decline in brain function and start experiencing memory loss," Barron said. "The studies I've seen state that for the first month or two back to school the teachers are basically bringing them back up to the level they were at in May or June when they were sent home for the summer. That is hard on our teachers and kids if they spend the first couple of months of school getting the brain working again. That cuts out a couple of months they could be learning the things they need to learn for that grade. After a while that really starts to accumulate and we get kids in middle school and high school that are really struggling because they have just gotten behind and can't catch up. The library cannot correct all of this on our own, but we want to do our part. So with the summer programs I look for programs and performers that are fun but also look for ones that are educational. If we can put those things together I feel like we have done our job."
Something also very important to Barron is serving in both local and state organizations to better understand the needs of not only Mississippi County but Arkansas. By doing this he is able to gain helpful contacts and learn about the issues that affect the citizens of the county. Barron is involved in the Arkansas Library Association, a regular attendee of the Arkansas State Library Children's Workshop, which is one place Barron gets ideas for the summer program, and is a graduate of the regional leadership program sponsored by Arkansas State University. He is also a graduate of both the Blytheville and Osceola leadership programs, which helped him get to know Mississippi County and Northeast Arkansas better. Barron is president of the board of the Mississippi County Literacy Council, president of the Mississippi County Interagency Council, vice president/president elect of the Osceola South Mississippi County Chamber of Commerce, serves on the board of the South Mississippi County United Way and is a member of the Osceola Rotary Club. One organization he is very excited to be a part of is LeadAR, which is sponsored by the University of Arkansas. It is a program that meets for three days every other month throughout the state.
"It has really helped introduce me to other parts of Arkansas," Barron said. "I have been here 15 years and, because of LeadAR, I've gotten to go to towns I've never been to in my life. Part of each program is that we hear from local people about the things going on locally. We get to hear and see what impacts our state. Instead of just reading an article we have someone face to face telling us about it and we can ask questions. It is a lot of give and take. One example is a couple of meetings ago we had the woman that is responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas on our program. We got to listen to her talk and we got to ask her our questions. So she wasn't just this person I had read about, she was there to talk to us in person. That has been real beneficial to me as I think about our library system in this county and how to promote it to the state when I think about funding issues and putting in for grants. Dave Freeze, formerly our Cooperative Extension agent, introduced me to this program."
It's that dedication to leadership and learning that made him a great choice to be the Mississippi County Library System's new director. Barron said among his future goals are to build on the things that Jay Ziolko has done. He said Ziolko put the library system on the course to modern times.
"That is impressive," Barron said. "This is someone who came way across the county as a Yankee, as he sometimes still refers to himself. He really did a lot to lead our library system into the 21st century and that is a big accomplishment. I've met some librarians that are stuck in the early to mid 20th century. Some of that is economic but much of it is mind set and views. When Jay came in he had to shake things up. He really did put us on the track to modern times, and I intend to build on that. We are in the 21st century and technology use is only going to continue to grow. I can either sit back and say I don't like it or do what I can to help the library make use of it to help better serve the needs of Mississippi County. We have to be flexible. That is a heritage I have from seeing how Jay ran the library and I want to continue to build on it."
Barron said the Mississippi County Library System will also be customer focused. He said the libraries are the information source of the county and want to continue to be that for years to come.
"The way we do that is by serving our patrons and providing the services they need," Barron said. "We work for the people of Mississippi County. They are our customers. I would like to say my door is open. I want people to let us know how we can best serve them. I have ideas as to what we can do and how, but I want to hear from the people. If you don't think you are being heard please come to me and we will do what we can to serve you. That is what we are here for. We work for you."