New library director Gary Shaffer hopes to realize community’s vision

It might not come as a surprise that Gary Shaffer, Glendale’s new director of library, arts and culture, describes himself as “bookish.”

“I grew up in the library. It’s where I discovered the world,” said Shaffer, who took the helm of the city’s library system on Oct. 1.

Shaffer, who was previously running a library-science master’s program at USC, takes over the reins from 37-year veteran Cindy Cleary.

As Shaffer settles into his new role, he said he’s launched a listening tour, of sorts, to get feedback from community members about their vision for the library before he starts making any major decisions.

“It’s important for a library to assist the community with all of its aspirations,” said Shaffer, an Orange County native who lived in Glendale in his 20s. That means identifying its unique needs and goals, he added.

A theme that’s emerged as he talks with stakeholders is a strong desire to celebrate the city’s diversity, he said.

One project that predates Shaffer’s hiring that he plans to realize is Mayor Zareh Sinanyan’s dream of turning Grandview Library into a children’s library.

In January, the library system will also be rolling out an online student-tutoring system, Shaffer said.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the Downtown Glendale Central Library, where Shaffer has his office, was bustling, with clusters of teenagers clacking away on Mac laptops, young children running around their designated reading room and individuals of all ages sitting — or reclining — on brightly colored, geometric furniture, reading books and magazines.

That’s how it is every day, Shaffer said.

The city’s eight libraries see 2,500-3,000 in-person visitors daily, in addition to an unknown number of online visitors, he said. A line to get in forms outside the downtown branch every morning.

There’s a misconception that because everything is on the Internet, people don’t use libraries, Shaffer said.

But there are many books, publications and services that are unavailable — or unavailable for free — online, Shaffer said, pointing to the example of a new bestseller that would have to be purchased.

“Reference questions haven’t gone away. They’ve just gotten more difficult,” he said.

Twenty years ago, someone might have come to a library to find out the capital of Uzbekistan. Now, they might want to find out how to get the necessary licenses to start a business, Shaffer added.

Armed with three master’s degrees and a doctorate degree, , Shaffer initially pursued a career in marketing and advertising.

Then he had an epiphany, “that I would rather sell you reading and literacy than things perhaps, maybe, you didn’t necessarily need.”

Although Shaffer still teaches one marketing class at USC, his world is mostly books.

He’s currently reading a biography of American pioneer writer Laura Ingalls Wilder; he published a book earlier this year on creating a sustainable public library; and he teaches another class at USC on partnerships and collaboration in libraries.

“That takes up most of my free time,” he said.

Twitter: @lila_seidman