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Last updated: Thu. Jul. 31, 2014 - 07:30 am EDT

After 28 years in charge, retiring leader Krull reflects on the library's future

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Board to meet on new director

Three candidates to replace Jeffrey Krull as director of the Allen County public library came to Fort Wayne last week for interviews, Krull said. The board of library trustees is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Friday, first in executive, then regular session, to approve the next director of the library, Krull said.

Open house for Krull

A retirement open house to honor director Jeffrey Krull is scheduled 3-7 p.m. Aug. 22 in meeting room ABC of the Main Library, 900 Library Plaza.

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In 1986, when he visited the main Allen County Public Library to interview for the job of library director, Jeffrey Krull was awed by the size and scope of the library.

As he approached the library, he remembered, he thought, “This place seems to be out of scale for this city. This is a major operation.”

So it was, and even more so now, after 28 years of his leadership. When Krull retires as director Sept. 1, he will leave an institution with an even larger role in the community.

His replacement as director will have Krull, in large measure, to thank for the condition of the library system in Allen County. During his nearly three decades in charge, the library has:

*Added large branches in Aboite Township and along Dupont Road.

*Persuaded Allen County property owners to back an $84 million.

construction program that renovated and expanded the main library and 11 of its 13 branches.

*Grown the assets of its foundation to $12.9 million, as of June 2013.

*Secured custody of the printed and written materials and photograph collection of the former Lincoln Museum.

*When caps on property taxes reduced revenue for local governments, including libraries, he oversaw automation and changes such as a limit on how many items a patron could place on hold. The result? Through not filling open positions as employees have left, he's slowly reduced the staff by about 10 percent.

The library's expansive definition of its mission was plain to Krull when he took the job. Its genealogy collection was (and remains) one of the city's top tourist attractions. The studios and production expertise it provides for local-access television continues helping people bring their experiences and ideas to a wider audience. It has the kind of rare-book collection that would fit well in a large university. And it maintains a vast collection in its regular stacks and deep in storage.

“The library had a great grounding in very traditional stuff … and we went beyond it. The genealogy collection blew me away,” he said.

The genealogy collection is a great example of how dramatically the library has changed with the growth of material available online expands and access to the internet is so widespread.

The strategy is simple: Make the library's material widely available online. Not only does that provide more information to more people -- the heart of a library's work -- but it also draws more people to Fort Wayne to research family history on their own. Typically, more than 100,000 visitors use the genealogy collection in a year.

“You can't fight the trend of technology,” Krull said. “When we make our resources available to the world, it enhances our reputation.”

It's reasonable to ask whether providing all the material online undercuts the efforts of the library (and other local officials) to draw people here, he acknowledged. But Krull said he finds that many people who download megabytes of data about their ancestors still benefit from trips to the genealogy department.

“What's our biggest resource? It's our people,” he said. Many among the genealogy staff at the library delve into one-on-one consultations with visitors, helping them untangle the welter of information they've found online.

The situation in genealogy mirrors the larger questions about whether the relevance of libraries is eroding.

As libraries work to make the most of digital technology, they offer downloadable books, audiobooks and music. It gets information and entertainment to more people, but it doesn't draw them to the library.

As Krull puts it, “We're giving people more and more reasons not to go to the physical libraries.”

But the main library and branches in Allen County are securing their future by integrating themselves into the community in different ways, he said.

First, they're meeting places. “Libraries are pretty well-positioned to have their neighborhood meetings and candidate forums,” he said. They provide a “third place,” besides work and home, where people can meet.

Second, even as the number of bookstores dwindle, libraries continue to offer access to thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of books.

“You have access to physical books,” he said. “I think we're going to be the last place where you can do that.”

Third, libraries can be a refuge. Even as libraries try to welcome people and not intimidate them with excessive rules, librarians want to strike a balance that keeps quiet places, too.

“There are still a lot of people who want to find a place of peace and quiet. … There need to be some areas where people can read and reflect,” Krull said.

Krull, who will turn 66 on Aug. 29, his last day of work, intends to do his own reading, reflecting and retiring here in Fort Wayne, where he and his wife, Alice, have lived since he became director after running the public library in Mansfield-Richland County, Ohio. A daughter and a grandson also live in Fort Wayne, and he anticipates more travel, particularly to see more of a granddaughter in Florida, he said.

“We don't have a master plan,” Krull said. “We really feel like Fort Wayne is home.”

bcaylor@news-sentinel.com


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