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Oral History Interview with Library Director & CEO Mary Anne Hodel

All of the things in our society that are changing so very rapidly. How do we harness ourselves to those trends, and provide services that customers in our community would want, and need, and benefit from?  That’s very critical that the library meet and exceed the needs of the community. We always say we want Orange County to be the smartest and the most creative community in the country. And, I think, we’re well on our way… excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Anne Hodel, part III of III.

Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel is the recipient of the 2021 Florida Library Association Lifetime Achievement Award. The Orange County Library System is the Florida Library of the Year for 2021. We welcome you to listen to this oral history interview with her conducted on December 6, 2021.  Photo by OCLS photographer Amanda Murphy.

Part I of III Listen:  21:57 

 

My name is Mary Anne Hodel and I’m from Orlando, Florida.

Where were you born?

I was born in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Do you mind if I ask what your parents did for a living?

No. My mother was a teacher. She was a kindergarten teacher. And my father was a carpenter. And in later life, they were antique dealers. They loved antiques and so they opened up a little shop and sold antiques.  

Did you know your grandparents?

I knew both grandmothers. And both grandfathers I never had the opportunity to meet. They had both died before I was born. My grandmother on my mother’s side called herself Susie V. She was quite the character. She lived with us for a time and she was quite elderly when she passed away. But she was always giving advice whether you wanted it or not. It didn’t always go well with us when she offered us her advice. But she was saying it for our benefit. But, of course, sometimes those things you don’t want to hear. My other grandmother, I really only met twice, briefly. Once at a wedding, and then once she came to visit and stayed a day and a half. So I really don’t have much of a memory of her. She seemed on the stern side. She was not happy-go-lucky like Susie V. was.

Susie V.

Susie V. was – she always had a joke. And when people would give her a compliment she would say, “Well, you must be Irish because the Irish always give compliments”. And, she was Irish.

Were you allowed to call her Susie V.?

Yeah. But mostly, we called her Grandma. But she always introduced herself as Susie V. Susie Virginia was her name.

Do you remember who introduced you to reading? Was it your mom?

Oh, my mom did. She was a kindergarten teacher. So the alphabet and numbers and colors and everything, you know, we knew all that before we went to kindergarten.

Do you remember when you first got your library card? 

It was in grade school. A Book Mobile came around to the school. And so, I signed up for a library card; and I don’t think they had the parents sign. I don’t remember taking it home. But anyway, they gave me a library card. And the Book Mobile came once a month. So you had to bring your books to school and then we’d go on the Book Mobile class by class and we got to pick out two or three books. And then later on we moved and it ended up being closer to the public library. And then I could walk to the library and walk home.

Did you go to the library often?

Often. Very often. Especially in the summer because there wasn’t all that much to do. 

Ellery Queen

And my sister was reading Ellery Queen. And it was a really fat book. And I had never read anything so long before. And I started reading it and the time ran out. It had to be taken back. So, she and I went to the library and I said, “I want to take out that book.” And they said, “Well, no, that’s an adult book.” And I couldn’t take it out. So she returned it. And the next time I had her take it out for me and then I got to read it.

And did you get through it?

I did. Yeah, I liked it. I like the Mysteries. And ever since I’ve loved Mysteries.

Do you remember what the library was like? Were they strict?

Yeah, they were pretty strict. She didn’t want to let me have that book because it was an “Adult” book. And she said, “No, you have to pick something from the Children’s Area.” And I did, but I still wanted that book. Because I had started it and I wanted to see who did it.

Did you develop any sort of relationship with any of the librarians, mentor-type?

No, not really.

How did you decide to become a librarian? Was that part of your educational path?

I helped out in the high school library because I liked the Librarian. And I had a summer job at a library. And the gal who was the head of the library where I worked at that summer, she was a very sharp gal. Jamie Graham was her name. She went on to become the Librarian of Washington University in Saint Louis. And, my immediate supervisor was some man, who I can’t remember the name of, anyway, he did something wrong, and he got dressed down by Ms. Graham. And I had never seen a woman take charge and correct somebody who was a man. So, it was like, oh, well, this is interesting. And I said, “Oh, I like her.” So she was a good role model. And later on, I liked to travel, and I thought, okay, if you become a librarian you can go anywhere with that career. So it was either nursing or a librarian. So I said, “Okay, I like to read. I’m going to be the librarian.”

What did your mom think?

She liked the idea. She first wanted me to be a teacher. But I didn’t want to be a teacher. I liked the little kids, but you know kids in my class sometimes gave the teacher a hard time. It’s like no, I wouldn’t want those kids in my class if I were a teacher. So I said, “I don’t think I want to be a teacher.” 

Where were you educated?

I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison for my undergraduate degree. And I got my Library Science degree in Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

You know you mentioned that if you become a librarian you can go anywhere in the world. And you ended up actually going to another country to work. So can you tell us a little bit about your career path before starting with Orange County Library System?

Okay. Well, my first job was with a contractor who was doing an inventory project at the Department of the Interior, a federal agency. And the contract was not going well, and, in fact, the contractor and the agency could not agree on some things in the contract, so the contract was ended. 

And then the Interior Department hired me to do the same work for them. And in the same amount of time, I got married and my husband got transferred to a job in Germany working with the U.S. Air Force, but he wasn’t in the U.S. Air Force. And we went to Germany, and I worked for a time at the air base, Ramstein Air Base, which is in the news a lot now a days because all of the evacuees from Afghanistan, many were sent to that air base and treated for illnesses or different afflictions before coming to the United States.

What was it like working there? Was it fascinating?

It was interesting. The base library was like a public library. But all of your public were either in the Air Force or Air Force civilians. But it was in essence like a public library.

Georgetown Law Library: First Law Library in the Country to be Automated

And after we came back to the states, I went to work for Georgetown Law Library. And they wanted to automate the library and they had holdings in magazines and serial publications. And I had experience from the inventory project with a variety of different serials. Law books then had lots of different parts. The pocket parts and the supplements and things which is now all online. But you had to keep track of all those things. So I devised a system for doing that and we got a software to help us do that. And so, we automated that library. That was the first law library in the country to be automated.

That’s a major achievement.

It was fun. I enjoyed working there very much.

So after that, where did you work?

I went to Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Bal-more as they say there. And that was a public library. A big urban public library. And I was the head of the Main Library which they called  SLERC: The State Library Resource Center. Maryland does not have a State Library. The money that would have gone to a state library, the state legislature and the governor at the time designated the Pratt Library to be, to act like the State Library and provide statewide services. So I had jurisdiction over all of the state services that the library provided, as well as the departments in the Main Library. And so, I had two budgets, and two boards, and one staff. But half of the staff was paid for from state funds, and half of the staff was paid for with Baltimore funds. So it was a blended model if you will.

What did you think about that, in retrospect, about a blended model like that?

It wasn’t that difficult. You just had to make sure that you had the right budget when you were talking, and that you had money in the correct place because you couldn’t switch money from the city money to the state money and vice versa.

During that time the city had a very bad economic crisis and I had to lay off a number of employees, who were good employees, through no fault of their own. The City of Baltimore’s finances just collapsed, and they weren’t given any notice. And it was, that was a very dark day to have to tell, I think, it was 27 employees that they were no longer employed. And I vowed I was never going to be in a position like that again.

And you were able to do that, right? You’ve been successful at that.

Yes, I’ve never had to lay people off since. From there I went to Ann Arbor District Library. And that library, we separated from the school system. The court, the state court, the Supreme Court of Michigan said, “School systems could no longer collect money for public libraries.” So the school systems had to divest themselves from the public libraries. And the public libraries had to be either absorbed by the counties, which are very weak in Michigan, or they had to be set up as an independent taxing agency. And they had determined that it would be an independent taxing district before I was hired. But I was hired to make that process happen. So we had one year.

I was hired in August, but by June 30 of that year we would get no more money from the school district. But the school district also said, “We couldn’t hire anybody new because they were unionized, and they didn’t want anybody to bump back into the school system.” So we had regular public library departments like a Children’s Department, Adult Department, Reference. But we had no Finance Department, we had no HR, we had no technology. We had none of the infrastructure that you need in any organization to make it happen. We didn’t even have a bank account. 

So I had to choose a bank and the school system gave us money after the millage was passed. So we had to go out and advocate for the millage so people had to vote. They had to vote for the trustees and they had to vote yea or nay on the millage. So we got a 67% approval for the millage which was good. It had to be 51%; so that passed that threshold. It was very rocky at the beginning because there was nobody to do anything. They only had the public services and the school system agreed to issue paychecks for us until June 30. But as of July 1, we had to issue our own, but we didn’t have any money. So it was a thorny problem. And we had to go out and contract with different firms for purchasing, for accounting services, for HR services. It was quite, quite unique, and very, very frustrating because the schools really didn’t want to let us go, but they had to. So, the process was difficult at best.

How long did it take until you got the infrastructure in place?

Well, it had to be in place in some form or another by the first of July. But it was all sort of put together with bailing wire. Because none of the people were our employees because we didn’t have any money to pay them. All of the paychecks went through the school system. So July 1st they transferred our money to us. And so, now on July 1 we had money, but we didn’t have any employees. So then, we had to go out and hire employees. We didn’t have job descriptions. We didn’t have evaluations. We didn’t have any of those things that you take for granted in an organization. So we had to create them. I had to create them. Because I couldn’t hire anybody because they wouldn’t let me hire any one. So, a lot of long nights.

You did that, and then that Library System also during your leadership got the Gale Library of the Year Award.

[The Ann Arbor District Library received the 1997 Library Journal – Gale National Library of the Year Award with recognition to Mary Anne Hodel for introducing free internet, computer classes, expanded programming, and leading the Library from school district control to functioning as an independent entity.]

Right. Well, if we didn’t get the millage past we would be out of business. Because the election for the millage was held at the very tail end of June. And a couple of days later, we were divorced from the school system. So if it didn’t pass, everybody had to go elsewhere. They didn’t have jobs. So everyone in the Library was very nervous about keeping their jobs. So they did help a lot for advocating for the millage because they knew it was their job on the line, too. So it was fraught with danger.

It was really a stellar accomplishment to do that. To have to make that transition. But then also during your leadership for that same library system to get the Library of the Year Award.

I think it was because the lion was at the back door. We would sink or swim. And, I think, that’s why they gave us the award.

Well, Good Job!

The employees were very glad the millage past, and they did get a paycheck in July.

You’ve worked in both academic settings. You worked in the Air Force Library and then the public library. And in different geographic locations and cultures as well. Have there been different periods where there were historical events that effected your work?

I would say the divesture of the libraries from the schools in Michigan was very historic. The library was not much effected in Ramstein by all the political goings on. They were still under the Mark, the Deutsch Mark. They had not yet transitioned to the euro yet. There was talk about some kind of European currency, but that had not yet come to pass yet.

Part II of III Listen: 15:52

 

When did you first come to Orlando?

I came for my interview on my birthday, actually. I got here the 12th of August. That was 2001. They had the interviews and they showed me West Oaks Branch as a typical branch which had just opened that Friday or the Thursday before. And I noted that there weren’t very many books on the shelf. And I asked Craig Wilkins, “Why there weren’t more materials?” And he said, “Because they checked them all out yesterday when they had the opening day.” I said, “Oh, Wow! They checked out a lot.” He said, “Yeah, they were very pleased with the circulation count that day.”

 

West Oaks Branch interior photo showing displays of New & Popular Books, January 2021.

That was exciting!

That was exciting!

And was that your first visit to Orlando?

That was my first time ever in Orlando. I had never been to Orlando before.

Orlando Public Library entrance at 101 East Central Boulevard, April 1, 2019.

What did you think of the library system when you first came here?

Well, I had done a lot of research online about the library. And so, I had a lot of questions about why this and why that. I remember this building, because I stayed in Embassy Suites which is right catty-corner to this building. And I thought, wow, what an off putting building. It looks like a fortress. And I’m not a fan of this building. It’s built to hold the materials and keep the materials safe. And as Jeb Bush said when he came here he said, “If there’s ever a hurricane in Orlando, I’m coming to this building because it’s very safe,” which is true. But it doesn’t have a lot of windows to let people see what’s going on inside. And I think it’s important for a library to have lots of glass and windows so they can see what kinds of activities we have. It’s not about seeing the books. It’s about seeing the activities and the process of learning and creating that is important, not the physical books. Books are an early form of technology.

Orange County Library System Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel at the Orlando Public Library with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, seated right, and young readers in the Children’s Department, photo 2002.

Do you remember some of the early goals that you had maybe when you first started in your job here?

Well, I do. Actually, they’re on a little sign on my desk that I put there the first day. And one of them was: “To weave the Library into the fabric of the community.” And I think we have done that.

Library Director & CEO Mary Anne Hodel at the public announcement of The Institute of Museum and Library Services honoring the Orange County Library System with the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.

And we continue to strive to do that. That is one of those goals that is always pertinent to what a library should do. It’s a goal that you never really attain it a hundred percent. There’s always more to do. 

And you said that’s on your desk?

Yes, I taped it to the back of my nameplate on my desk. So I see it, but others don’t see it. But just to remind me of what’s important every day. 

And would I be correct in saying that’s been maybe a driving force for you in so many things that you’ve been able to accomplish during your tenure here?

Oh, yes! A library that’s not in tune with it’s community, that’s not relevant to the community, that’s not part of the warp and weft of the material, of the fabric of the community, they’re not going to be successful. It shouldn’t be side and separate from the community. All of the population should be using the library and the services should be designed for that particular population, and to service their needs. Whether it be literacy needs, computer needs, creativity needs, all of those things the library should be focused on, delivering those kinds of services. If you don’t you’re not going to be successful. 

Orlando Book Festival photo at the Orlando Public Library, Spring 2018.

And with that, have you noticed changes in the population here since the time that you’ve been here, and some of the demographics… in the downtown area? 

Oh, sure! Sure! Well, downtown – let’s see Carla Fountain picked me up from the airport and drove me around the downtown area – all four blocks of it. And she told me she was going to give me a tour through the downtown. So I was thinking, oh, I’ll sit back and relax. I’ll have an hour, hour and a half tour, you know. And, of course, three blocks we were finished in like four minutes, five minutes, and that was only because of the stoplights. Orlando has changed a lot. We have way more Hispanics in the area. We have a lot of Haitian Creoles. We’re getting a lot of people from Brazil who speak Portuguese. We get a lot of immigrants from Columbia and now Venezuela. And the downtown has really been transformed. There’s the Doctor Phillips Center, so many more restaurants. A lot of young people. A lot of people of substantial wealth. 

Orlando Public Library photo showing Modera Central across from the Library on Central Boulevard.

The Modera building across the street is quite pricey. But they have a beautiful view of downtown, and a view of Lake Eola. But all of that was not here. I remember the evening after my interview, I was walking around looking for a restaurant. And I walked all the way past the Bank of America building looking for a restaurant, and I couldn’t find an open restaurant. So I walked the other way, and I found a pizza place on Orange Avenue. So that’s what I had. But there were very few restaurants downtown. So it’s changed quite a bit, for the better.

What do you think of how the Library has continued to be a part of that? In other words, from the very early days like the Orlando Remembered Exhibit that’s downstairs to today, it is still an integral part of this community, particularly the Orlando Public Library.

Oh, I think, we’ve tried very hard to integrate ourselves into all parts of the community, and this building, especially. Reaching out to apartment dwellers when they move in to get a library card, and to come to use us. And to be part of the life of the community. We have partnerships with the History Center, and the Science Center that we did not have before. And the big partnership with the schools where we give out the digital library cards to every child registered in school. Those are big ways that we have reached out into the community and made connections with many, many residents. So all of those things have been very positive. But you have to go seek those partners. They don’t just fall into your lap.

Orange County Library System Virtual Library Card

There is one part of this building that I wanted to talk about because it came to be during your your time here, and during your hands-on leadership. And that is, the Melrose Center. This was actually before some of the tech activity took place that we have coming in to downtown now. Before it was even talked about. It wasn’t making news yet….

Yes, we predated all of that activity. Well, Mr. Melrose made a cold call to the Library. He got Questline and asked to speak to the Director. Well, I get quite a few calls from people I don’t know asking to speak to the Director. Many of them, Milinda will tell you, they don’t want to pay their late fines. So, that’s what she thought it was. But he talked with her and said, “You know he wanted to perhaps give the library some money.”

Milinda Neusanger

So she put me on right away. And I identified myself, and he said, “Well, if I gave the Library some money in honor of my mother, what would you do with it?”  And I said, “Well, it depended on what he wanted the money for, what strings he would attach to it.” And he said, “Well, he really didn’t have too many ideas on that, but he wanted to do something for the Library because his mother was interested in the Library. And she had been a member of the Friends. In fact, she had been the Treasurer for a couple of years for the Friends of the Library. And so,  he knew his mother liked the Library, and he wanted to honor his mother. So, as long as it had her name on it, he was pretty good with any idea that seemed reasonable. And so, I said, “Well, give us a little time to think of things. But, I have some ideas right now.” And he said, “Okay. Well, then I’m going to come down and speak with you.” So he said, “How about in a month?”

Ken Melrose Visits the Library

So he came about a month later, and we talked. And we told him that we wanted to do something with the digital arts, photography, and video, and audio. You know, maybe a kind of space where people could tinker and play around and create things. And we wanted to be able to teach people things like coding, and how to use all of this sophisticated equipment that would go with the audio, video, and photography.  And he really liked the idea.

One Million Dollars

But he said, “Well, he was thinking of giving us one million dollars.” Well, first he mentioned $500,000. And he says, “Or maybe a million.” So we just talked about a million dollars after that. I didn’t bring up the $500,000. again. And he seemed fine with that.  And so, we talked at length with some kinds of things that we could do. And he said, “Okay. Put these ideas on paper and get back to me. So we talked with some staff about things we could do. And we called up different people in the community who knew about these things and asked them for their ideas. We put together a one page sheet for him on what we had in mind.

Orlando Public Library in Downtown Orlando

And he said, “Well, where would you put it?” And we had given him a tour, and we suggested, first we suggested a branch. He did not want it to be in a branch. He wanted to be downtown because the branches didn’t really exist when he was here. He had no recollection of any branches. I think some were here, but he never used them. He always used this building.  So he wanted it in this building. So, we said, “Okay, we could give you a floor and move the materials off the floor. So he was intrigued by that. So we talked with some space planners and some more technology people. We gave him a rough layout of what we wanted to do. What we thought things might cost, but we could not pin down the costs exactly at that point. But we knew all of that video and audio equipment was quite expensive. So he approved and he said, “Go for it!”

The Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation, & Creativity

Then he gave us his million dollar check in a little ceremony with the President of the Board, Ted Maines, at that time. And so, we started creating the design, and we worked with a design firm. And got the contract with Skanska for the creation. And now we have the Melrose Center. And it’s changing all of the time.

Library Board President Ted Maines, Skanska Orlando Senior Vice President Matt Gilbert, Library Director & CEO Mary Anne Hodel, and Ken Melrose at the Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity First Nail Ceremony June 13, 2013. 

Mr. Melrose came back about two years later, and he was concerned that the Library would not have the funding to keep the Melrose Center current with all the technology. And we said, “No, we have every intention of keeping it current.” He said, “Well, intentions are good, but money talks.” So he pulled out a check from his checkbook in the pocket of his suit and gave us another million. So that was a total surprise. 

He did come to the opening of the Melrose Center with two of his three children, and they got to try out a lot of the equipment. The audio center and video center and the simulators….

The Orange County Library System was the first public library in the nation to offer audio, video, photography, simulation, graphic arts, maker fair instruction, and labs for library service at The Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation, and Creativity. 

A library customer navigating a Simulator in the Melrose Center at the Orlando Public Library, June 2018.

Part III of III  Listen: 15:00

 

We were talking about the Melrose Center and you mentioned the simulators and I was thinking how there is so much activity happening downtown now as far as the development of technology and fintech. We have a lot of entrepreneurs coming in to downtown. But the Melrose Center actually was in place before all of that, right?

Correct. We predated that.

Robotics Class in the Melrose Center Fab Lab, Summer Reading Program 2018.

Mary Anne Hodel received the 2018 Charlie Robinson Award, in national recognition for her leadership in providing innovative methods of learning technology at the Orange County Library System.

And it’s been very successful hasn’t it as far as you’ve had some of the film awards, that is very successful: Melrose Film Festival. And you have been able to continue updating the Center, keeping everything current as far as the technology. Do you see that as continuing?

Oh, most definitely. Technology has a life of its own. And there’s a beginning and an end to all technology, you know. We’ve lived through the 78, the 45 rpm discs, and we’ve lived through floppy discs, and eight track tape, and books on tape, and all of these old technologies. CD’s have gone by the wayside, and everything is digital now. And that technology will continue to be updated. I think it is imperative that we continue to update our technology to stay relevant with the time. We probably don’t have the budget to be at the cutting and bleeding edge of technology. But keeping up with our customers, and where they are, what their needs are, and the technology they are using is very important for us.

Library customers exploring Virtual Reality Technology at the Melrose Creative Expo in downtown Orlando, February 11, 2017.

I know some of our customers are on the lagging end of technology, and sometimes that poses problems for us because they can’t always adapt their equipment and their software to the latest versions that we have. But we can’t hold back. We have to keep innovating. We have to keep up with all of the new trends. We have to watch and listen to see where our community is going, what they’re interested in; develop services that fit our community, that will help advance our community.

WhizKids Coding Class in the Technology and Education Center at the Orlando Public Library, photo August 2019.

We have the simulation industry out by UCF. We have Electronic Arts here. We have so many creatives in our community. It was Richard Florida who talked about The Rise of the Creative Class.  Well, that’s what we have in downtown Orlando. A lot of very creative people. And we want to offer, and we do offer services that will help them. Full Sail University students come here because they can’t always get on to their computers in their labs at Full Sail. And they find a place here that has the equipment that can help them learn and grow, and eventually connect with their community.

A game designer at play in the Melrose Game Jam where designers take a game from concept to playable prototype in a short period of time, Melrose Center photo, November 2019.

And speaking of some of the changes that are taking place, Entrepreneurs seem to be striking out. We are one of the top areas now for entrepreneurship. And with the pandemic, people are rethinking some of the ways that they work, and some people are choosing to be entrepreneurs. You have the BizKids Program that actually started before the pandemic. And that’s for young people to learn how to be entrepreneurs, right?

Entrepreneurs at work in the BizKids 2019 Children’s Business Fair at the Orlando Public Library. OCLS received the Upstart Innovation Award in recognition for its BizKids program in 2018. The Upstart Innovation Award, presented by the Public Library Association, recognizes a public library’s innovative, cutting-edge, creative service to their community.

That’s right, Jane. We started that program and the Orange County government was generous enough to fund that program. Then March 13, along came Covid 19 and we all had to disband face to face meetings, face to face classes. And so, we had to revamp the program to be virtual. And some parts of the program had to be jettisoned in order to keep our customers safe and our staff. So we had to make changes, and it’s still been very, very successful. But if we ever finish with this pandemic, we’d like to go back and offer again those in person parts that were very important, and just had to be eliminated to keep people safe. Safety was the most important thing.

BizKids Club Virtual, June 2020

I am sure you must have received a lot of appreciation that the Library offered services throughout the pandemic. I read that the Orange County Library System reached 1.7 million ebook and audiobook checkouts in 2020. The Orange County Library System continued to offer classes online. This must have meaning for you as someone who was going to retire, but continued to lead during this difficult period for our community.

Well, actually, yes, we’ve had our challenges with the pandemic. But, we are opening. We opened back in May after being closed since March 13 last year. And now, we’re getting ready to open up our meeting rooms, and have in person classes, and public programs again in January 2022. So, the pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, but we’re looking forward to offering all of our services in person as well as virtual. 

Accessing OCLS Digital Resources at home, July 2020.

We’ve been lucky enough to have used virtual technology in order to extend our audiences. And we have found that many of our customers who didn’t use us so much in the past, like being connected with us virtually. And that’s very important. So we’ve grown an audience that we never had before. Thanks to the pandemic. So there’s one silver lining that we have gotten because of the pandemic. Along with all the grief, and sanitizing, and everything else, the masking, and everything else that goes along with it.

Well, thank you so much for your leadership! And I am sure the community thanks you for agreeing to continue. You were going to retire but you persevered and continued to lead the library system. That’s really a great gift for our community and for the staff here.

When you think of future advice for the next leader here, or future library leaders, what do you want to share with them?

Well, Think Big! As one of our authors and speakers from the past, Homer Hickman came, and he said, “Aim High!” His book was, Rocket Boys, but his motto of “Aiming High” fits all of us, I think, especially in this digital age. We can’t think just this fiscal year. We can’t just think this calendar year. We have to think out into the future, and where trends are going. Where artificial intelligence is going. All of the things in our society that are changing so very rapidly. How do we harness ourselves to those trends, and provide services that customers in our community would want, and need, and benefit from?  That’s very critical that the library meet and exceed the needs of the community. We always say we want Orange County to be the smartest and the most creative community in the country. And, I think, we’re well on our way.

The American Library Association/Information Today, Inc. awarded the Orange County Library System the Library of the Future Award in 2011.

Homer Hickham writes Aim High! at the Orlando Public Library One Book One Community reading of Rocket Boys, October 2002.The Orange County Library System received the Florida Library of the Year Award in 2021 and 2010.

So you see the future of this area as being positive?

Oh, absolutely. We’ve come such a long way. The theme parks, Disney, and Universal, and Sea World, they’ve made a huge difference in this area. But they have attracted this creative class that also has made tremendous strides in this community. And if you look around, the downtown has changed quite a bit. The housing availability in Orange County is dramatically different. Horizons West and the Lake Nona areas are growing geometrically as we speak. And, I think, all of that augers well for the future of Orange County.

Library photo of Lake Eola, February 2020.

What have you enjoyed about living here in Central Florida?

Oh, I love the warmth. I’m not a snow person. I’m definitely a summer person. I like the sunshine. I like the beaches. I like the long summer days, and the short nights. I like being able to do a lot of things outdoors without worrying about mittens and hats and heavy winter coats, long boots, just to keep ourselves warm. It makes me feel free and carefree. It makes me enjoy life that much more.

West Oaks Branch Story Walk, October 2021.

What do you plan to do for fun when your retire?

Well, I have two grandsons out in California, Sebastian and Lliam, and I intend to spend a lot of time with them. They’re growing up very fast, and I’d like to enjoy their company a lot more.

Thank you so much for all that you have accomplished for the Orange County Library System. You’ve really led this library to be one of the top libraries in the nation, if not the world. And it is your leadership that has done that. And I am sure this community is very grateful, and the future library users will remember you, and thank you.

Well, I have to differ with you on that, Jane. I think most of our customers don’t know me. But they do know our staff. Whether they’re walking through our physical doors, or coming in through our virtual portals, they know our staff who greet them, and ask them how they can help? And what they’re looking for? What they’re searching for? And the attentiveness of our staff to try and meet the needs of our customers makes this Library important in their lives.

 

Genevieve Traas greeting customers at the Edgewater Branch, July 2017.

Sara Gonzalez and Jessica Pinkowski welcoming customers to the Southwest Branch Anniversary Celebration, 2020.

And when they suggest other services that the Library has, and give them a warm farewell when they’re leaving. I think that means a lot to our customers. Because the staff that we have, the staff that we hire, are all people persons. They very much want to connect with our customers and please our customers. That is very important for our success.

Friends of the Library Volunteer Susie Finnell connects with customers in the Gifts & Greetings shop at the Orlando Public Library, January 2020.

And in turn, the customers realize that we try very hard to meet, and exceed their needs. So I think that’s the key to our future success.

Technology Trainer Valerie Dawson gives instruction virtually and in person at the Orange County Library System Technology & Education Center Sewing Lab, 2017 Summer Reading Program Photo.

So with that very articulate statement it sounds to me that the technology is vital, but you also very much see people, the people service as being equally vital to the future of the Library service.

Oh, must definitely. We are a people-centric organization. 

Fall Fiber Festival at the Orlando Public Library, September 2019.

We are focused on our community.

Library customers in the English for Families Program at the South Creek Branch, October 2019. The Orange County Library System received the 2021 Maria Chavez-Hernandez “Libraries Change Lives” Award for their English for Families and ESOL programs. 

We are focused on our customers, our taxpayers, and we want to provide services that will make their lives easier, richer, more productive, more creative.

Photo and Graphic Design class for teens in the Melrose Center, 2019 Summer Reading Program.

Thank you very much for your leadership, for your inspiration, and for all that you’ve accomplished in your dedicated path to doing the best for this Library System. Thank you so much, Mary Anne.

Well, thanks for the opportunity, Jane.

Orange County Library System Director & CEO Mary Anne Hodel at the Orlando Public Library, December 2020. Photo By OCLS Photographer Amanda Murphy.

Interview:  Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date:  December 6, 2021

Place:  Orlando Public Library

 

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Orange County Library System Honored with the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Services

Library Director & CEO Mary Anne Hodel at the public announcement of The Institute of Museum and Library Services honoring the Orange...

Robotics Class in the Melrose Fab Lab, 2018.

Mary Anne Hodel received the 2018 Charlie Robinson Award, in national recognition for her leadership in providing innovative methods of learning techn...

OCLS Staff Member Valerie Dawson at the Technology & Education Center Sewing Lab, 2017 Summer Reading Program Photo.

OCLS Staff Member Valerie Dawson gives instruction virtually and in person at the Technology & Education Center Sewing Lab. 2017 Summer Reading...

Friends of the Library Volunteer Susie Finnell connects with customers in the Gifts & Greetings shop at the Orlando Public Library, January 2020.

Friends of the Library Volunteer Susie Finnell connects with customers in the Gifts & Greetings shop at the Orlando Public Library, January...

Southwest Branch Anniversary, 2020

Sara Gonzalez and Jessica Pinkowski welcoming customers to the Southwest Branch Anniversary Celebration, 2020.

Genevieve Traas Welcoming Customers at Edgewater Branch, July 2017.

Genevieve Traas Welcoming Customers at Edgewater Branch, July 2017.

Photo and Graphic Design class for teens in the Melrose Center, 2019 Summer Reading Program.

Photo and Graphic Design class for teens in the Melrose Center, 2019 Summer Reading Program.

Library customers participating in the English for Families Program at the South Creek Branch, October 2019.

Library customers in the English for Families Program at the South Creek Branch, October 2019. The Orange County Library System received the...

West Oaks Branch Story Walk, October 2021.

West Oaks Branch Story Walk, October 2021.

Milinda Neusanger, Orange County Library System Administrative Assistant to the Director.

Milinda Neusanger, Orange County Library System Administrative Assistant to the Director.

Accessing OCLS Digital Resources at home, July 2020.

Accessing OCLS Digital Resources at home, July 2020.

WhizKids Coding Class, 2019

WhizKids Coding Class in the Technology and Education Center at the Orlando Public Library, photo August 2019.

OCLS Fall Fiber Festival 2020

OCLS Fall Fiber Festival 2020 at the Orlando Public Library.

BizKids Club Virtual, June 2020.

BizKids Club Virtual, June 2020.

Biz Kids 2019 Children's Business Fair

Entrepreneurs at work in the BizKids 2019 Children’s Business Fair at the Orlando Public Library. OCLS received the Upstart Innovation Award in...

Melrose Game Jam, 2019

A game designer at play in the Melrose Game Jam where designers take a game from concept to playable prototype in a...

Melrose Creative Expo, February 2017

Library customers exploring Virtual Reality Technology at the Melrose Creative Expo in downtown Orlando, February 11, 2017.

Flight Simulator at the Melrose Center

A library customer navigating a Simulator in the Melrose Center at the Orlando Public Library, June 2018.

Homer Hickam at Orlando Public Library

Homer Hickham writes Aim High! at the Orlando Public Library One Book One Community reading of Rocket Boys, October 2002.The Orange County...

Orange County Library System Virtual Library Card

Orange County Library System Virtual Library Card

Orlando Book Festival photo at Orlando Public Library, Spring 2018.

Orlando Book Festival photo at Orlando Public Library, Spring 2018.

Governor Jeb Bush Visits Orlando Public Library, 2002

Orange County Library System Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel at the Orlando Public Library with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, seated right,...

Orlando Public Library

Orlando Public Library entrance at 101 East Central Boulevard, April 1, 2019.

There are currently no video related to this memory.
Oral History Interview with Library CEO Mary Anne Hodel, Part I of III

Oral history interview with Orange County Library System CEO Mary Anne Hodel on December 6, 2021. Part I of III. 21:57.

Interview: Mary Anne Hodel
Interviewee: Jane Tracy
Date: December 6, 2021
Place: Orlando Public Library




Oral History Interview with Library CEO Mary Anne Hodel, Part II of III

Oral history interview with Orange County Library System CEO Mary Anne Hodel on December 6, 2021. Part II of III. 15:52.

Interview: Mary Anne Hodel
Interviewee: Jane Tracy
Date: December 6, 2021
Place: Orlando Public Library




Oral history interview with Orange County Library System CEO Mary Anne Hodel on December 6, 2021. Part III of III.

Oral history interview with Orange County Library System CEO Mary Anne Hodel on December 6, 2021. Part III of III. 15:00.

Interview: Mary Anne Hodel
Interviewee: Jane Tracy
Date: December 6, 2021
Place: Orlando Public Library




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