The Salt Lake County Library System has had three directors in its first half-century, all strong personalities who shaped the system in their image.

Those who have worked for the library see definite differences between Ruth Vine Tyler, Guy Schuurman and Eileen Longsworth. They also see some important similarities.All three were strong individualists and "showmen," effective at building support for the library system, said Terry Hogan, former library administrative fiscal manager.

Tyler, who became the first director in 1938, took several small independent libraries and school libraries and molded them into a system, said Yvonne Clement.

"She was kind of a law unto herself in many ways, and she ruled with an iron hand," said Clement, who was hired by Tyler in 1968 and retired in 1986 as associate director.

Work breaks were exactly 15 minutes. Library branches opened on time, no matter what. And "the only reason you could stay home was if you were dead."

"But the women had a great deal of loyalty to her," Clement said.

In addition to building several branches, Tyler started the first bookmobile system in the state, "and she went very heavily into audio-visual materials, which was very unusual in her time here in Utah."

Tyler created the county system and laid the base on which Schuurman could build when he took over in 1971.

"Visionary" and "motivator" were the words Clement chose to describe the second director. "I always said he could sell ice to an Eskimo."

Schuurman was an eclectic thinker, grabbing ideas wherever he found them and adapting them for library use, said Hogan.

At Whitmore Library and then at other branches, he offered patrons such innovative services as photo darkrooms, audio cassette duplicating machines and music practice rooms.

Schuurman moved so quickly from idea to idea that many were left in the dust, Hogan said, but some of his concepts have since been adopted by other library systems.

Schuurman's exuberant era ended with his retirement in 1987. By the end of his tenure the community was becoming more conservative and a new kind of director was needed, someone "very understanding of the need to work within a budget and keep costs down," said Hogan.

The person selected was Eileen Longsworth, who moved over from the Salt Lake City Library System.

Hogan said many managers talk about believing in team management, but Longsworth is the only person she's seen who really does. "Eileen . . . sent a letter to an employee praising him for disagreeing with her publicly."

Longsworth has restructured and decentralized the system, abandoning the concept of Whitmore Library as the "main" library and delegating more responsibility to branch staff.

Longsworth stresses the need to maintain a high profile for the library system in the community.

Her skill in doing that, Hogan said, is exemplified by her resolution of a touchy dispute with Sandy over that city's desire for a new library branch. When Longsworth came on, Sandy was ready to pull out of the county system. Now, Sandy is still in the system and an architect has been selected for that new branch.