After 10 years as a consultant for the Central Kansas Library System, Gail Santy became director of both CKLS and the Great Bend Public Library on Jan. 1. One morning in December, we met with Santy in the office she would soon occupy. Most of the books and photos that had filled the shelves during Director Harry Willems’ directorship had been removed, and Santy’s were yet to be unpacked. They shared the space together easily.
Ask her where she’s from, and like most who grew up with military parents, the answer is more a long list rather than a simple bullet point. She moved to Great Bend from Boulder City, Nev., minutes from Las Vegas. As a consultant, she has provided support for librarians all over North Central Kansas. Every day looked different. She organized several workshops and trainings so the rural librarians could stay current with upcoming trends.
When Gail was three, her favorite book was a Little Golden Book, “I Want to be a Librarian.”
“My mother said I had her check out that book again and again and again,” she said. “My mother was a great reader, and we went to the library every week.”
Growing up, her family moved a lot, attending 14 different schools in 12 years. The one constant was the library.
“Wherever we moved, as soon as we had the right documentation, we would trot off to the library and get our library card.”
As a teen, Gail realized she had a natural aptitude for languages. She took every language she could during high school. In her mind, each language is stored in its own separate card catalogue, she explained. This led to her first career as a German and Russian military translator working in Berlin, Germany during the Cold War.
“I really wanted to go on,” she said. “I did a lot of research as every good librarian would. I found that the best language school in the country was the Defense Language Institute at the Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California. You could only get there if you were in the military, so I joined the Army.”
After the Army, she was a stay-at-home mother for several years. It provided her an opportunity to volunteer, and that volunteer work helped her to decide the direction she wanted her life to take after her kids were grown. When her youngest was in high school, she finished her bachelor’s degree, and then went straight on to her master’s degree in Library Science. She was living in Alaska at the time. That’s when she learned the University of Texas was running a cohort out of Las Vegas, which spurred the move to Boulder City. She completed her schooling online through San Jose State University. While in school, she worked as a children’s librarian for the Air Force, and also as a medical librarian for a Veterans Administration Hospital in Las Vegas. She was also a library volunteer. This gave her a diverse library background which came in handy once her coursework was completed. That’s when she discovered the position in Great Bend with CKLS.
“In Kansas, I quickly realized the greatest asset is the people,” she said.
One topic Gail enjoys presenting at conferences throughout the region is “The Librarian as a Human.” Recently she presented a talk at a national conference on “Dealing with Burnout.” At CKLS, most of the librarians are solo librarians, which means they do everything from dealing with mail, cleaning and maintenance, ordering books, and keeping up with the paperwork of running a library. And they do it all alone.
Her new position will require her to spend roughly half of her time with just the Great Bend Library. This will be a change for her, but its one she’s looking forward to.
“(Jim) Swan (the previous director) and Mr. Willems laid an exceptional foundation,” she said. “I look forward to taking us to the next step of being a 21st Century library.”
Programming and becoming more embedded in the community are key to doing this. Given the constraints of space and budget, Great Bend’s library is right on track.
“A modern library isn’t your grandmother’s library, where it’s all quiet and sensible shoes and buns and a lot of shooshing. Anybody who comes into a library today is going to hear some noise,” she said, noting that she is a grandmother. “People are coming in, and doing things. The library becomes the center of the community. The goal is when people think of a need, the first things that comes to mind is to come to the library where they can get that, do that, or learn more about it.”
The modern library is a meeting space, thus seldom used reference spaces become places where groups can meet. Children work on crafts, but they are STEM in nature, where they are engaged and expanding their minds.
“The library already does amazing things, so it’s a fantastic opportunity for me to step in and see where we can go.”