A fixture in the Southern Oklahoma Library System will start a new chapter soon.
Friends, family, colleagues and coworkers gathered to celebrate the career of SOLS Executive Director Lynn McIntosh during her retirement last week by sharing stories, well-wishes and a few tears. McIntosh has been serving as the director for 23 years, and will continue to do so until the board selects a new director. She said in her time with SOLS the libraries themselves have changed dramatically, but the library’s role in its community has remained fundamentally the same.
“It’s the community center, in most places,” McIntosh said. “People come for books and movies, we have public access computers, all kinds of programming for kids and adults. We’re a support system for many activities and most of our citizens.”
Originally from the Norman area, she lived in several different states before moving back to Oklahoma in 1996 for the director position. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma and began working at a library in Sherman, Texas.
“I decided when I got out of undergraduate school that I was interested in a career in libraries,” McIntosh said. “I worked in the library in college a bit, and I admired the directors and people I worked with.”
McIntosh eventually left the field for several years. It
wasn’t until her mother saw an ad for the director position in the Tulsa World that she considered returning.
“She called me one afternoon and said ‘Lynn Ann, I found the perfect job for you,’” McIntosh said. “My response was ‘Mom, I haven’t worked in the library world for a number of years, and things have changed.’ She said ‘I found the perfect job for you.’ Here I am, 23 years later, and it has been a wonderful career.”
Even in 1996, she said, libraries had changed significantly since she’d worked in Sherman. There was more technology integrated into them and, over the years, it only became more pervasive. Within a year of working at SOLS, they began offering public computer access for the first time.
“It’s spiraled and it continues to spiral,” McIntosh said. “We have four 3D printers now. It’s been fast, but we’ve embraced it.”
Technology has become ubiquitous, and library offerings have become more diverse, expanding to DVDs during a time when movie rental chains were in decline.
“Even when I first started, some of our people never would have thought of providing popular movies,” McIntosh said.
During her time as director, she’s overseen the building of libraries in Davis, Tishomingo and Sulphur. She said many SOLS libraries were initially housed in city buildings, in small, out of the way spaces. For example, Davis Public Library was originally housed in a former jail - a small, cramped space with outdated restrooms.
“Our branch manager at the time found a few snakes,” McIntosh said. “That was a little scary.”
She said the Friends of the Davis Public Library were already fundraising for a new building when she was hired, and the site and architect had been selected. The second, the Johnston County library in Tishomingo, was also housed in a small space. While the bathrooms lacked snakes, the Friends of the Library fundraised to build a larger building.
“They had luncheons and dinners where people would bring their favorite foods, or foreign foods, that kind of thing,” McIntosh said. “And thank goodness they did, because the building turned out to be a lot more expensive than initially planned.”
The lot required extra work before construction could begin, but she said the Tishomingo library is one of her personal favorites. The third, the Mary E. Parker Memorial Library in Sulphur, was originally housed in the oldest building of any of the libraries. What initially began as an addition to the building quickly become a full-scale renovation. The Sulphur staff had to move out of the building and continue offering library services out of their bookmobile for more than a year.
“We had one or two public access computers on the bookmobile and everything else was in storage,” she said. “Thank goodness the people in Sulphur and Murray County were very patient. It worked out, and we love that building.”
The staff worked closely together, literally and figuratively, years later when Champion Public Library in Ardmore was extensively renovated. They packed away or gave away books, and continued offering services from a single room in the library. Bookshelves, computers desks and people made for a cramped environment, but McIntosh said she was proud of how well they pulled it off.
“We were really only closed about a week and a half,” she said. “Staff worked very, very hard.”
Today, Southern Oklahoma Library System has eight libraries in five counties.
“Our libraries are really community centers, and technology has made a huge difference,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh also served as president of the Oklahoma Library Association — which many staff members are active in — for one year. OLA oversees workshops and professional development for library employees, as well as national events and conferences.
She said overseeing the association is an all-consuming responsibility that actually spans three years. Presidents spend one year assisting and learning from the current president, one year serving as president, and their third training the new president-elect, helping them adjust to the role and filling in for them at meetings they can’t attend.
“It’s challenging, and honestly, without the staff I have I could not have done it, particularly that year,” McIntosh said. “It’s all-consuming, and you just have to have a staff you can rely on to take care of things, and I was fortunate that I had that. It was truly wonderful and challenging.”
McIntosh said she’s learned dedication to projects big and small, and commitment and enthusiasm are key to good leadership.
“Leadership varies for everybody,” McIntosh said. “Some people can have good leadership in one area, but not others. You do have to have that dedication, and that trust factor.”
She said creating an environment of trust is key as well, but trust goes both ways.
“Not only do they have to have trust in you, but you have to have trust in them,” McIntosh said. “Not everybody sees things from the same perspective, so you have to be somewhat innovative and trust other people’s innovative instincts too.”
Until the board chooses the next library director, McIntosh will do what she’s always done. She’ll continue working closely with the staff she trusts to keep things running smoothly, always ready to jump in and help however she can.