When Eric Lashley walks into a library, he can tell pretty quickly if it’s a good one or if it needs some work. Does it have multiple entrances? An eating area? Does it trust patrons or have security cameras and gates? Does it allow organizations to host meetings outside of normal operating hours? Is it welcoming to all kinds of people?
These are the keys to a successful, community-oriented public library, which Eric has learned during his 20 years as director of the Georgetown Public Library. Soon, he will pass on that wisdom to libraries across the state as the new executive director of the Central Texas Library System (CTLS), a nonprofit serving 218 member libraries across Texas. “People have really looked to Georgetown as a model and people have always called me and asked my advice,” Eric says. “I guess at this point in my career, I need to share that knowledge and philosophy of service to libraries across Texas and elevate libraries across Texas.”
But with the excitement over his new role comes a bit of apprehension. “The first three months will feel like a, ‘What have I done?’ I haven’t had a new job in 20 years.”
Over those last two decades, Eric has certainly put Georgetown on the map in the library universe, whether it’s through the National Medal for Museum and Library Service—pictured—or as Texas Librarian of the Year. Under his leadership, our library became a member of the Family Place Libraries national network, providing a welcoming environment with resources to help families nurture their children’s development. The library has regularly received Best-of-Georgetown awards for Best Place to Take Children, Best Meeting Venue, Best Place to View Art, and Best Place to Volunteer.
Having all that credibility inspired many other libraries to turn to Eric for advice, so his new position at CTLS is essentially a continuation of that role. It’s an opportunity that kept popping up as he served on the board of directors for CTLS and the interview panel to hire its new executive director. During the process, Eric grew excited about the prospect of sharing his library’s success model, which he will begin doing February 1. “It was the next step in my career that enables me to take what I learned from Georgetown and spread it across the state,” he says.
But he will miss leading the library, with its community connections, devoted patrons and noisy environment that combats the strictly silent library stereotype. “Just walking in and seeing children cry when they had to leave the library—that was my goal,” he says. “I wanted kids to love the library so much they’d be crying and screaming because they didn’t want to leave.”
As for his own departure, Eric assures that he’s not leaving the Georgetown community, and will find other ways to stay involved.
MORE THAN BOOKS
“Thank God you’re coming. We need your help.” That has been the cry of many libraries across Texas after hearing the news that Eric will be leading CTLS. He’s certainly ready for the challenge, bursting with ideas to uplift libraries, such as teaching them how to ignite collaborative and supportive Friends of the Library groups and increase circulation through bookmobiles and home delivery service. “What I would like to see libraries do is expand their capacity to serve the public,” Eric says, adding that many libraries put themselves in a box and think the only place to operate is out of a building.
He also plans to ensure CTLS is a source libraries can call on for advice and receive training, launching regional meetings for libraries to connect and inspire new ideas, and encouraging libraries to see their building as a public asset. While Eric made sure the Georgetown library allowed organizations like neighborhood associations and clubs to gather at the facility outside of operating hours, many libraries don’t have that goal. “They don’t understand their building is one of the best assets for their community,” he notes. “It’s not about books. We’re great at that, but we need to be better about serving our community. A building is a great means to serve a community.”
While Eric is excited about his new role at CTLS, his one regret is that he won’t be able to bike to work anymore once he starts officing out of Austin. He plans to make up for it after retiring, though, with a statewide bike tour of the more than 200 Texas libraries, gaining and sharing ideas as well as posting videos and a blog to increase awareness of public libraries.
As for the Georgetown library’s future, Eric expects it to focus on rebuilding after this year’s closure of programs, the beloved Red Poppy Café, and at the time of this article, the library itself. He remains hopeful that things will gradually return to normal with a new coffee shop and revitalized activities. He also hopes the new director will continue the great partnerships the library has with other organizations such as the Congregation Havurah Shalom, Georgetown Cultural Citizen Memorial Association, Native Plant Society, and Courageous Conversations.
It’s a tall order for the next director, and they will certainly have big shoes to fill. “I wish the new library director well,” Eric says. “That person will have a wonderful staff, volunteers, and community to work with and I’m sure he or she will do a great job.”