Mark Shaw closing book on 35-year career with Southwest Public Libraries

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Mark Shaw, pictured Jan. 5 at the Grove City Library, is retiring as the Southwest Public Libraries director effective Jan. 29.

When Mark Shaw joined the Southwest Public Libraries staff in January 1986, his task as treasurer was to keep watch over the financial books.

Since 2002, Shaw also has served as director of the SPL, which includes the Grove City and Westland Area libraries.

Shaw, 59, will close the book on his 35-year tenure when he retires Jan. 29.

"My background was in accounting and finance. That's what I majored in at college. I was never planning a library career," Shaw said. "But as time went on, I grew more and more attached to the field. 

"I really love the idea that anybody, no matter who they are, can walk into a library and have access to a world of information and don't have to pay for it," he said. 

The role of libraries has changed over the past 35 years, Shaw said.

"When I came here in 1986, libraries were all about coming in, checking out books and leaving. You didn't really spend a lot of time at the library," he said. "Now the library is more like a community center where people can come, hang out and spend time with their friends, or at least it was before the pandemic hit."

It seems strange to retire at a time when people can't enter the library, he said.

"We've really missed seeing all our patrons," Shaw said. "They're why we're here. We still have curbside pickup, and we can provide print, fax and copy services and do things online, but it's just not the same without having people here."

Shaw said he first told the library board three years ago of his plan to retire at the end of 2020.

The accomplishment of two major tasks – the opening of a new Grove City Library building in 2016 and the passage of the library's second operating levy in May 2020 – helped guide that timeline, he said.

The new library building at 3959 Broadway is "the high point of my career," Shaw said. 

"We wanted the new library to be welcoming to people and have a real community-center vibe," he said. 

The new 48,000-square-foot building has nearly twice the space as the old library on Park Street and offers more study space, computers, larger meeting rooms and additional "hangout" space for youngsters, teens and adults, Shaw said.

During his tenure, the Westland Area library has been expanded from about 5,000 square feet to about 25,000 square feet, he said.

"We've been able to expand our space at both locations to better serve our patrons," Shaw said.

SPL's financial future was solidified when voters approved a 10-year renewal of its 1-mill levy in April 2020. The levy will continue to provide about $2.5 million, or about 37%, of the annual operating income for the two libraries.

The original levy voters had approved in 2010 was the libraries' first operating levy.

"We had some failed levies before, so getting that first levy approved was a big accomplishment," Shaw said.

His efforts have been noticed.

"I am unsure where the library would be today without Mark's financial acumen, keen ability to gather people in support of SPL and all the sheer hard work and determination he put into promoting SPL's value to the community," Michele Lowe, assistant director of the Westland Area branch, said in a Dec. 29 news release. "The work he has done here during his 35 years of service has had a major impact on the organization and will not be forgotten."

SPL's board of trustees in December chose Meredith Wickham to succeed Shaw.

Wickham, who is director of the First Regional Library based in Hernando, Mississippi, will begin as SPL director Jan. 25.

Shaw said he has had the opportunity to meet Wickham via a Zoom meeting.

"I think the board's made a great choice in hiring Meredith," he said. "The nice thing is that she will be here during my last week, so we will have some time to work together and ensure a smooth transition."

Shaw, who lives in Grove City, said he and his wife, Amy, plan to do some traveling once the pandemic is over.

And he expects to be a frequent visitor to the library, this time as a patron.

"I'm finally going to have time to do more reading," Shaw said. "People think people who work at a library had time all day to read, but we really don't. I'm really interested in history and the Civil War, so I'm looking forward to reading about those subjects."

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