Andrew Gurthet, the new branch manager of the Bainbridge Public Library, found his first summer on the job busier than he expected — much busier, in fact.
“I’ve always worked in academic or corporate libraries or other government libraries and summers are just quiet,” he said. “Everyone’s on vacation, everyone’s gone. But here it seems like everybody takes their vacation at the library.”
Not that he’s complaining; far from it.
Gurthet, who replaced longtime branch manager Rebecca Judd (who, after nearly 10 years at the island branch accepted a promotion to be manager of the Kitsap Regional Library collections and technical services department) in March, said his first months on Bainbridge have so far been everything he was looking for in a career shakeup.
“I have a law degree and started out as a lawyer, and I actually didn’t really like it,” he said. “So I ended up going back to school and getting a master’s in library science and worked in a law library, which I absolutely loved doing.”
Gurthet thus spent his career, until now, working in law libraries in the San Fransisco Bay area, where he lived for 25 years.
“This is my first time in a public library,” Gurthet, who confessed he’d long been considering making the shift to the public side, said.
The worlds are more alike than different, he explained. Though the differences are key.
“The actual operation of a library is the same,” he said. “The budget, [human resources], stuff like that; coordinating, scheduling, things like that are exactly the same. But the patrons and what they’re interested in are very different.”
There are a lot more smiles at the Bainbridge branch, it would seem.
“Law libraries, people go there when they have a very specific problem with the law,” Gurthet said. “There are two patron bases. There are attorneys, who go in and they know exactly what they want and don’t interact at all with the staff because they’re used to that subject matter and know exactly what to do in there. And then you get the majority of the people coming in, which are the people that can’t afford a lawyer and they have a legal issue and they need help. So they just really want to get in, get the answer or solve their legal problem, and get out.
“People don’t go there just to hang out,” he laughed.
Whereas on Bainbridge there is browsing and discovering aplenty going on, something Gurthet said he’d been missing.
“This library is just so vibrant and it’s such a part of the community,” he said. “I’m just very excited to be part of this community. Nothing against the Bay area, but there just wasn’t such a sense of strong community that I’m feeling here.”
Especially exciting to him, Gurthet said, is the awesome children’s section at the Bainbridge branch.
“My daughter is now 12, going into eighth grade, and growing up I used to volunteer at her school library and I really loved working with the kids like that,” he said. “In a law library you don’t get children at all, and so to have an entire children’s library downstairs is just amazing. And I just love that families come in. Young kids, you get the tweens, you get the teenagers from the school here, all the things that I never experienced at my previous position.
“It really is essentially almost two libraries,” he added. “You’ve got the upper part here, and then the downstairs and even though it’s a little smaller downstairs, it’s not by much. There’s a lot of times when it’s more used downstairs than upstairs.”
Gurthet said he had no immediate plans to change or expand any library programs, instead intending to spend his first six or eight months observing and getting to know the community, staff and patrons alike.
When reaching for something to read, Bainbridge’s new book honcho said he prefers nonfiction titles — another fact that bodes well for his assimilation into island culture, apparently.
“From what I’ve been told … Bainbridge is a little bit unique from the other libraries in that we have more nonfiction checked out than fiction,” Gurthet said. “I think that’s just a sign that maybe the population here has an interest more in nonfiction issues and things, and current times.”