Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Steve Bolton: The Farewell Interview

Friday was Stephen Bolton's last day behind the wheel as director of the North Country Library System, and he was gracious enough to chat with me during the week leading up to his retirement.

Angela: You've been at NCLS since 1979. What brought you to librarianship?

Steve: While I was a senior at SUNY Binghamton I began looking around for Masters program.  My BS in Anthropology with a minor in Political Science wasn’t going to get me deluged with job offers.  I landed on the Library world with the thought that I could be a reference subject specialist (in Anthropology) at a university.  I could then continue my education while working.  For reasons never disclosed, the school of Informations Studies at Syracuse University offered me a generous financial package so I jumped on it.  My time at SU was the best education experience I ever had.

Angela: What made it the best?

Steve: The professors at SU were enthusiastic and dedicated to librarianship.  They made time for their students, gave us their phone numbers, invited us into their homes and really made an effort to give us connections that would be useful in the future.  Also, I was always a generalist.  I enjoyed knowing and reading about many different topics.  They were the first people in the education world to tell me that it was OK to have that inclination.  Their passion for the information industry got me hooked and I gradually lost any desire to follow my original plan.

Angela: So, what was your new plan?

Steve: The new plan was to become a reference expert (remember – this was mid-seventies and reference was entirely print-based).  Focusing on reference would supposedly open more job opportunites, in both public andf academic libraries.

Angela: I'm noticing the word 'supposedly' right there.

Steve: Yup, it was pretty bleak after graduation.  The federal government had started a hiring freeze and of course that included all types of libraries, LOC, military and departmental.  This had quite an impact on the job market as people who would have normally moved to the federal jobs were taking other jobs.  I ended up back near home at the Carthage Free Library.  Talk about heaven for a generalist – I got to do everything.  The staff was me and one part-time person for the children’s room.  So I did agenda/minutes/budget for the Board meetings, interlibrary loans, the circ desk, weeding, reshelved books, reference, fund raising, along with fixing leaky pipes and taking out the garbage.  I got involved in the County funding grant and attended Town and Village Board meetings.

 Angela: Did you ever do storytime?

Steve: No.  My two great accomplishments were convincing the Board to not sandblast and put some 'preservative' gloop over the bricks, and to increase the hours for the person running the children’s room to full-time.

Angela: Full-time children's staff for the win! So, those were your great accomplishments at Carthage; what do you consider your greatest hits here at NCLS?

Steve: Oh boy, I knew this was going along too easily. Okay, here goes...

(At this point, Steve shifts to a bulleted list, which I think is Steve's almost-favorite format, second only to an Excel spreadsheet)
  • Started the first survey of member libraries to ask about NCLS services.
  • Reconfigured the professional staff to recognize that Consulting is a full-time job.  Eliminated the shared IT/Consultant and Tech Services/Consultant jobs and built a Consultant Services Dept.
  • $1M renovation of the NCLS Service Center.  New roof, flooring, windows, garage doors, ceilings, HVAC, bathrooms, expanded meeting room, new training lab, and improved office space
  • Included some fundraising with significant donations from Key Bank, Air Brake, NNYCF and others, along with substantial funds from Senator Jim Wright and Assemblyman Darrell Aubertine
  • After problems with a ballot (an “eliminate funding of the library” was placed on the school ballot) I worked with Legislators, Assembly and Senate staff in Albany, and NYLA to revise Education Law 259 to state that only library Boards could place referendums on a ballot initiative. 
  • Developed a method for library systems to contribute funds to support advocacy efforts at the NY Library Association.  Presented the idea to 23 public, 44 school and nine academic library systems.  Achieved consensus on amounts/procedure.  This became the Excelsior membership for NYS library systems, which supports the Director of Government Relations position and funds for a lobbyist 
  • Wrote an RFP and managed the selection of our first circulation system
  • Gates grant: installed or had installed network cabling in 39 libraries.  Managed installation of 160 PCs and 25 servers (I think – this is close) in 55 libraries
  • Encouraged, coaxed, nudged, pleaded, enticed, lured and sweet-talked libraries into getting on the ballot 
Angela: So, what will your bullet points for retirement look like?
  • Weeding!  The library type of weeding, not the garden, which is nonexistent.  Firing up my eBay moniker and sell or otherwise get rid of way too many books and records.
    Join the Y, get in better shape so I can revisit, less painfully,  the mountains I have climbed. 
  • Old house – the list never ends – next major project will be refinishing some original hardwood floors
  • Get to Brooklyn, a lot, to visit Milena (oh, and her parents Adam and Sena)
  • Get to Glens Falls, a lot, to visit Olivia (she has parents too – Zach and Nikki)
  • San Diego and France – best friend Jim and wife Renee want me to visit, so I will
  • England.  Stonehenge and surrounding henges.  Villages: Ross-on-Wye, Hay-on-Wye, pubs
  • Florida in March for baseball Spring training games
  • SU basketball whenever the weather allows
  • NYC jazz clubs – Small’s, Village Vanguard, Barbes, etc, etc, etc  
 Angela: That is an admirable list. And now, the lightning round:

Coke or Pepsi?
Coke, once or twice a year in the summer, with a lot of crushed ice. 

Chocolate or vanilla?
Vanilla – always

Beatles or Stones?
Arrrrrgh! Don’t do that to me.  The Beatles have the variety that never grows stale.  But the Stones introduced me to Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo, Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon...and their middle period LPs are killers – Beggars Banquet, Exile on Main St, Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed.    Don’t know – can Ying live without Yang?

Okay, how about Beatles or Elvis?
Beatles, no discussion.

Fiction or Non?
Fiction, with a side of non.

Mets or Yankees?
Been a Yankees fan literally ever since I can remember. 

Syracuse Orange or any other college team anywhere?
I’ve bled Orange since 1977.

Now I'm intrigued. What happened in 1977?
That’s when I started at SU, as did Jim Boeheim as Head Coach, and we both began down the road to fame and fortune.

Angela: And now I feel like we've come full circle, which means that this is a perfect place to end. Thanks so much for talking with the Frozen Librarian, and enjoy tackling that second list!

Steve: My pleasure entirely.

Steve Bolton retires from NCLS with 38 years of service. He was recently awarded the New York Library Association's Outstanding Service to Libraries Award, which recognizes and honors an individual who, or a group that, has made a significant, sustained contribution to the development, promulgation, growth, or extension of library/information services to the people of NYS or to residents within a designated service area within the State.