You may have spotted Interim Branch Manager David Payne at Hamilton, but here’s your chance to learn about his background, the challenges of the last 18 months, and his vision for the Hamilton Branch. Our thanks to Board Member Deborah Mason who sat down with the man behind the book-print mask and authored this profile.
The instant Interim Branch Manager David Payne starts to speak you know he’s not from around here. The London native has lived in the United States for thirty years but has held onto his accent. After falling in love with a woman from Cleveland, Ohio, David moved there and earned his MLS. After that, he worked in libraries in Cleveland, Florida, Philadelphia, Frederick County, and Montgomery County. Eventually, attracted by Pratt’s nationwide reputation for excellence, he arrived in Baltimore to be a Division Group Supervisor overseeing seven branches (Clifton, Reisterstown, Southeast Anchor, Govans, Light Street, Herring Run, and Hamilton).
David didn’t intend to go into library management. He enjoyed working directly with the public and thought his career would continue in that direction. It was Philadelphia, where he held his first job as branch manager, that changed his mind. There, he had just about every experience that a Branch manager could expect: The Great Recession. A centennial celebration. Budget battles and political networking. A reputation for having the best library programming in the city. After Philly, David continued working in library management, mentoring branch managers and overseeing community programs.
By the time he came to Baltimore to be Group Supervisor for Pratt’s Library Services Division, David must have thought he had seen it all. If he did, man, was he wrong.
Almost immediately after arriving in Baltimore, the pandemic hit. Then, the previous Branch manager at Hamilton left, leaving a leadership hole at one of his branches during a hiring freeze. All this meant that he had to supervise seven branches of diverse size, population, and location, as well as step into the role of branch manager at one of them, while working within the very narrow confines of COVID restrictions. Yet, what might have been a disaster turned out to be a time of opportunity and optimism.
David points out that the Enoch Pratt Free Library is a leader in the world of public libraries, and it stepped up to its leadership role by establishing the policies and procedures necessary to safely reopen the libraries. This effort went way beyond wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing, however. Staff across the system came up with creative ideas to continue connecting with the community even if they could not enter the library buildings. WiFi hotspots, curbside delivery, lending Chromebooks, enlarged eBook offerings, Take-and-Make craft kits for kids, ensured that the community had access to the library. At Hamilton Branch in particular, David oversaw the creation of the mural and the much-needed renovations to the courtyard, creating external connections between the library and the neighborhood.
Pratt’s response to COVID both mirrored and molded David’s view of the three most important roles of a public library. First, the library serves as a community anchor, a cultural beacon to the neighborhood. By offering classes, computers, meeting space, and study space, the library acts as a third space: a community gathering space in a neutral building. The pandemic forced Pratt to expand this idea to include virtual space, but in doing so, it came face-to-face with the realities of digital inequity. Digital inequity wasn’t caused by COVID, but it did become more apparent. To continue being a community anchor, David believes, the library will have to sustain and expand its battle against digital inequity. This folds in neatly with the second role: to be a source of accurate and trustworthy information to the community. David pointed out that libraries are staffed by information specialists, and their skills are essential both now and as we move on from COVID. The third role was one that David realized as he worked on the mural and courtyard. These projects brought home to him the importance of the library’s exterior to its mission by providing both a visual link to the community and extra program space. Finally, David thanked the Friends for their support over the past year, especially for helping to get the word out about the mural and courtyard. There are plans in place for more programs, especially for teens. The branch, he assures us, will get back to business, in the safest way possible. However, now that the hiring freeze has been lifted, we are likely to have a new branch manager soon, and David will start his new role as Deputy Chief of Neighborhood Services. We have been extremely lucky to have had such a caring, knowledgeable, and effective interim branch manager, and we wish him every success in the future.