Grove City, Westland: Meredith Wickham excited to join Southwest Public Libraries

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Meredith Wickham, pictured Feb. 17 at the Westland Area Library, is the new director of Southwest Public Libraries, succeeding Mark Shaw, who retired.

An oncoming snowstorm was on Meredith Wickham's mind Feb. 15.

Southwest Public Libraries' new director, who grew up in South Carolina and previously worked at library systems in her home state and in Mississippi, said she was wondering what driving through several inches of snow would be like.

But the winter weather was giving her no second thoughts about her decision to accept her new job and move north.

"Southwest Public Libraries have such an incredible reputation within the librarian community," Wickham said. "If you participate in the library world, you quickly learn that midwestern library systems and those in Ohio in particular are recognized as being the créme de la créme.

"I adore libraries. They are my passion," she said. "This is an opportunity to work at one of the best."

Wickham began her new position Jan. 25, replacing Mark Shaw, who retired at the end of the January after a 35-year career at SPL and serving as director since 2002.

More:Off the Shelf: Farewell from Southwest Public Libraries director Mark Shaw

She previously served as director of First Regional Library, a five-county public library cooperative with 14 branches in northern Mississippi.

"It's a library system that covers 3,000 square miles, with a large portion in the metropolitan Memphis area, but if you go further west, it's in the delta, with a more rural and spread-out population, and it also includes the university town of Oxford," Wickham said. 

Her own experience in the library field also has been diverse.

She previously served as a circulation assistant, young-adult librarian, branch manager and system director at libraries in South Carolina and Mississippi.

"I have a passion for youth services, which is an important part of the mission for SPL," Wickham said. "I think we have to make sure a library and its services and resources are accessible and available to the greatest number of people in the community and that we are listening to what people are saying about what resources and services they are looking for from their library.

"Librarians are a lot more than just guardians of books," Wickham said. "The library is a community center."

Wickham stood out among a roster of 29 candidates who had applied for the director position, said Donna Carter, president of the libraries' board of trustees.

"We had a large number of outstanding candidates from a number of different states," she said. "Meredith quickly emerged as the obvious choice.

"She's a seasoned professional and the right choice to lead our libraries into the future," Carter said. "She is committed to and passionate about youth services, staff development and equity. Meredith's experience in a variety of library roles has allowed her to hit the ground running."

Shaw's last week coincided with Wickham's first week, allowing for a seamless transition, she said.

"Mark has meant so much to our libraries and our community," Carter said. "And we couldn't be happier with having Meredith as his replacement."

It helped having the opportunity to work with Shaw during her first week, Wickham said. 

"I couldn't have felt more welcomed," she said.

Wickham, 47, entered the library field a decade ago. She was operating her own court-transcription business in 2010 in Seneca, South Carolina, while her husband, Florin Lung, was working on a Ph. D.

"I was feeling a little down because my business was not doing very well, and a friend suggested I volunteer at a library," Wickham said. "I think she thought it would be a way to rally me and cheer me up.

"I had always liked going to the library, and my father would take me to the library regularly when I was growing up, but I never thought of being a librarian as being a career," she said. "I guess I always thought of librarians as being volunteers."

When she started volunteering at her local library, it opened a new chapter in her life written in all caps, Wickham said.

"It grabbed me right away," she said. "I realized this was what I had been waiting for my whole life, and I wondered what took me so long to find it."

Wickham has a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and German from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The American Library Association named her an Emerging Leader, and the Mississippi Library Association granted her its Peggy May Award, which recognizes individuals for their achievement in library development and/or recruitment of personnel in the library field.

What spurs her passion is how libraries can affect people's lives in so many ways, Wickham said.

"It may be helping a senior learn how to use technology or providing resources to someone looking for a job," she said. "It's helping a child learn to read. It's a library's ability to touch so many lives."

As she begins her new position, Wickham said, her first priority is to work with SPL staff and the board to plan for the reopening of the Grove City and Westland Area libraries.

"We have to make sure we're able to ensure the safety of our patrons and our staff," she said. "We won't be able to return fully to normal at first, but we're hoping we may be able to be open for people to search the stacks and use our computers sometime in March."

SPL staff, like all librarians, can't wait to see patrons in their buildings, Wickham said.

"It just hasn't been the same without them," she said. "They're why we're here."

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