Open house booked to mark library director change

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 Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick

Cathy Allen (left) and Sharon Shrum love to be surrounded by books. Allen is taking over for Shrum, who is retiring as director of Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library in West Jefferson. An open house is slated for Jan. 26.

The ceremonial changing of the guard will take place between 1 and 3 p.m. Jan. 26. The former keeper of the books will say her goodbyes; the new keeper of the books will introduce herself to the community.

It all will take place at Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library, from which Director Sharon Shrum is retiring after 14 years. Her replacement, Cathy Allen, will attend the open house, as will her predecessor, Madeline Quinn. The public is invited to the party.

Shrum’s stint as Hurt-Battelle’s direc-tor is part of a 40-year career in libraries that began when she was a 16-year-old page at the Grove City Library.

“It’s still in my blood. Every time I go down an aisle of books, I have to straighten them. I can’t help it,” she said.

Before taking the helm in West Jefferson, Shrum worked all over the Southwest Public Libraries system, from jobs at the main library to running the Harrisburg, Westland Area and Franklin branches.

The path to the West Jefferson library opened one Saturday while Shrum was watching one of her son’s junior varsity football games. She and her husband, Jack, were building a home on Taylor Blair Road and had enrolled their son in Jefferson Local Schools.

“I was in the stands, getting to know one of the other mothers, when Linda Collins, who was on the library board, overheard me talking about finishing my library degree at Kent State,” Shrum recalled. “She came up to me and asked if I knew that the West Jefferson director was leaving.”

Shrum took up where Madeline Quinn left off. Her first order of business was to discard Hurt-Battelle’s paper-slip library cards and date-stamped book cards in favor of computer automation. The library has since signed up 10,000 different patrons.

Another major highlight of Shrum’s time at West Jefferson was completion of a building addition in 2001, which included expansion of the library’s community room.

“I’ve watched the library become a real community center. A lot of civic and business organizations, like the West Jefferson Community Association, the West Jefferson Business Council and the new Lions Club, meet here. They use the library as a hub,” she said.

When asked what she will miss most about the job, Shrum said “everything.” The patrons and her co-workers have become like family over the last 14 years.

“I’ve seen so many changes in the town and in the library. I hope I’ve been part of some of the good ones,” she said.

Shrum will start her retirement with knee surgery, after which she plans to get to the business of craftwork, travel, spending more time with her mother and grandchildren, and, of course, reading. She also plans to return to the library as a volunteer. She said she is confident the library is in good hands with Cathy Allen on board.

New Director

Hurt-Battelle’s board of trustees began their search for Shrum’s replacement in September. Steve Johnston, who headed up the process, said the board was surprised by the interest the job posting generated.

“Nineteen people expressed interest, and they weren’t all from Ohio. We received resumes from Florida, Michigan, Louisiana and Virginia. We were quite surprised to get that many,” he said.

The policy and personnel committee narrowed the field to nine, then picked four candidates to interview.

“We felt Cathy Allen was the best candidate of the group—actually, the best one of all 19 applicants,” Johnston said.

Allen’s work experience, in libraries and beyond, was the main attribute that appealed to the selection committee. She not only worked as a branch manager for Worthington Libraries, which was named the best library system in the country last year, but also was a captain in the U.S. Army and worked in customer service for Ford Motor Co.

“We’re looking forward to having Cathy with us as our new director,” Johnston said.

When she initially saw the job posting, Allen said she had to find West Jefferson on a map. The fact that it wasn’t far from her home in Dublin was the first good sign.

“I drove out the very next day. When I drove down Main Street, I really liked the feel of the town. I felt an instant connection,” she said.

That feeling persisted when Allen entered Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library and read the Groucho Marx quote posted in big block letters on the wall: “Outside of a dog,  a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

“I liked the sense of humor and knew this was the place for me,” she said.

Allen earned her master degree in library science in 1992 and has since worked in libraries in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. She began as a young-adult librarian and worked her way up through adult services. Most recently, she was a branch manager for Worthington Libraries.

The director’s job in West Jefferson was attractive, she said, because it offers her the chance to direct a library as a whole and make it what the community wants it to be. She said she looks forward to working with the West Jefferson schools and village agencies.

Allen and her husband plan to move from Dublin to West Jefferson, so that they can become part of the community the library serves.

Allen’s first day on the job was Jan. 14. Shrum’s last official day is Jan. 31.

Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library is located at 270 Lilly Chapel Road, West Jefferson, and online at www.hbmlibrary.org. Call 614-879-8448 for details.

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