An Interview with Austin's Library Director, Brenda Branch

No one is more excited than the staff at The Austin Review about the new central library being built in downtown Austin. It will serve as a centerpiece for arts and culture and propel us further along the path of becoming a world-class literary city. To learn more about the library, and other exciting plans, we decided to chat with Library Director Brenda Branch. We thank her and her entire team for all the great work they are doing for our city.   

The Interview

The Austin Review: You are Austin's fourth Library Director. What does a Library Director do day-to-day?

Brenda Branch: Serving as Austin Public Library Director is the best job on earth. I get to combine my passion for literacy and my love of books to help library users connect with the materials and information they need to improve their lives.

My day is spent dealing with administrative responsibilities like forecasting library budget needs, developing policies and procedures, continuously looking for ways to improve customer service/service delivery, meeting with staff at all levels to get their ideas and suggestions, talking to the community about their ideas and suggestions, and working with the City and APL Project Managers to plan Austin’s new central library.

TAR: We’ve read about the modern and open design of the new central library downtown. What else about the new space do you think would excite the Austin literary community?

BB: Austin’s new central library is being designed to be an iconic destination that will serve as a gathering place for the community. A Special Events Center will seat 350, and a rooftop butterfly garden will also be available for special events. Eleven meeting rooms of varying sizes will accommodate 6-18 people for studying or meetings. A cooking demo area with amphitheater style seating could be used for a number of events including author readings. An outdoor amphitheater will also serve a variety of purposes. A “Create” Lab will house a 3-D printer and displays with interactive touch. Two reading porches will enable visitors to relax with a spectacular view of the natural beauty of the area.  A special area will celebrate Austin music, film, and cuisine. Of particular interest to Austin’s literary community will be the public bookbinding, self-publishing machine.

TAR: The Austin Public Library also has taken an interest in providing digital content. Tell us what we may not know about the virtual library.

BB: We continue to develop and enhance access to electronic and digital materials. In addition to our existing electronic databases, our latest acquisition is OverDrive’s streaming video and music and Freegal music.  Freegal music can be listened to for 3 hours a day and 3 items may be downloaded a week. Video, e-books, and audiobooks are checked out similarly to the physical items except there are no fines. The materials may be renewed or otherwise will be automatically removed from the device. We also provide online access to magazines, which may be viewed and printed from a device through Zinio.

TAR: The Austin Review is honored to be available at the library. Has the demand for literary journals changed since you became the director?

BB: Austin is a city that loves to read! The circulation of electronic materials has exploded to 43,000 per month, and our hardcopy materials continue to steadily circulate at 360,000-400,000 per month. In the same vein, Austin citizens continue to enjoy reading literary journals. In fiscal year 2014, we added 5 print literary journals for a total of 16. It is difficult to track usage because literary journals are used in the library, but anecdotal information from reference staff is that library users ask for literary journals regularly. It is easier to track electronic usage and in calendar year 2013, our online literary journals (through subscription databases) had 7,000 full-text article retrievals.

TAR: We're looking forward to the Fifth Annual New Fiction Confab on April 19. What can we expect?

BB: I am looking forward to this year’s event. One of the fun aspects of my position as Library Director is that people ask me all the time for ideas about what to read. The New Fiction Confab is a great way to listen to authors talk about the writing experience and discover new books to read. This year, the APL Friends Foundation has included 7 intriguing, renowned, and award-winning authors.

TAR: Soon after the Confab is the Mayor's Book Club. Does the Mayor really select the book for the annual Mayor's Book Club?

BB: Each year a committee composed of Library employees, APL Friends Foundation Staff, and the Mayor’s Office begin the selection process by determining a theme and then considering 20–25 books that follow that theme. The selection process is dynamic; some titles are vetoed, and others are added along the way. Eventually the committee narrows the selection down to 2 or 3 titles, which are presented to the Mayor. The Mayor may provide input on all the titles or select one. Many factors go into selecting a title. One of the most important factors is the availability of the author to make a personal appearance. Watch for the announcement in early May of this year’s Mayor’s Book Club title.

TAR: What's the best thing you've read lately?

BB: A book titled When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles’ Rise To the Top by Larry Kane. It is full of fascinating information about the Fab Four and the people who surrounded them.