Tom Smart, Deseret News
Elizabeth Elder, who took over as Salt Lake's library director in April, is impressed with the community.

The first thing you would probably notice about Elizabeth L. Elder, the new Salt Lake City Library director, is her impressive stature. At 6 feet tall, she has a commanding presence and viewpoint. But look deeper and you'll likely be affected by her enthusiasm, warm personality and vision.

Indeed, the Salt Lake Library's board of directors selected Elder because she is "the quintessential librarian whose vision and inspired leadership will vault us into the future," according to board president Helen Rollins.

"I have worked a lot in the area of looking at the future," Elder said. "I consider myself an independent thinker."

She supervises some 250 total part- and full-time employees, working at the main library, 210 E. 400 South, or one of five branches in the city.

"This place is amazing," she said, walking about the library. She's fond of the library's glass and windows, its rooftop gardens and mountain scenery, plus its "unprogrammed" open space — much more than most other libraries have.

"I'd like to ensure that everyone feels this library belongs to them."

The area residents have also impressed her.

"The community here sees the library as a center of urban life. It's very into that. That's something that's impressed me."

The former director of planning for the Denver Public Library, Elder spent 18 years there, previously serving as the director of public services. In the 1980s, she owned The Book Company, a wholesale bookseller that focused on children's books.

"I've worked with a lot of authors," she said, noting this portion of her background gives her strength in book collection development.

"I have very eclectic interests," Elder said of her personal book reading interests. "I really enjoy both fiction and nonfiction."

She earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood/human development from the University of Vermont and received her master's degree in library science from Emporia University (Kansas), where she was also an adjunct professor.

"I also have a strength in serving diverse communities," Elder said, believing that asset will help her serve Salt Lake City library patrons better.

Regarding the future of public libraries, Elder said many predicted the end of such libraries because of the Internet. However, she said online access has only made the public more aware of the vast resources a library has.

"It has created a great appetite and inspired creativity," she said.

The Salt Lake City Library is poised for the future, she believes, noting the City Creek project will create even stronger downtown connections for residents and also benefit the library system.

"We're always staying attuned for what new technologies are available, how they can help us," she said.

On tight government budgets these days, she said the library system is always looking at ways to be more efficient. But a paradox of great libraries, like Salt Lake City, is that they make people want more — longer hours and more services.

"There are opportunities for partnerships," she said, and finding them and collaborating is also a wise idea for libraries these days.

"Security issues are always a component of a very busy place," she said. "We have security here at all hours."

Her staff is being trained for a heightened awareness of security and patron safety — especially regarding children, but parents must do their part too.

"We always advise parents this is a very urban place, not unlike a shopping mall. It's important you keep an eye om your children here, like other places."

Elder is also not just keen on the main library, but its five branches, too. She visits them regularly. For example, she said the Day-Riverside Library Branch is in a beautiful location near the Jordan River, and the Sweet Library sometimes has deer roaming around its grounds.

She's also excited about the prospect of a sixth branch coming soon. The library has land in the Glendale area, near 1300 West and 1300 South. The land has been purchased and funding is available to build a library there. All that's needed is a commitment from the city for funds to keep the new branch operating after it is constructed.

Besides reading, Elder likes poetry and the outdoors — hiking, fly fishing, rafting and ocean kayaking.

"I also love to travel," she said. She's been to Spain, France and Mexico.

Elder replaced Nancy Tessman, who retired last year after 30 years of working for the city library system.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com