uncle remus director retiring
Last Thursday, library director Steve Schaefer started saying his goodbyes to a job that he's been in for nearly 27 years. At their Thursday meeting, the Uncle Remus Regional Library board announced its unanimous vote to name Jeff Tomlinson as his successor after his retirement in August. "I will miss it," says Schaefer, who came to the job after a few years as an assistant director in Vidalia without even being sure where the Uncle Remus system was, he recalls with a laugh. "It was the second poorest library system in the state at the time." Those days are now gone, however, and Schaefer is proud to say that he'll be leaving the Uncle Remus system on firm financial ground. "I'm proud of the fact that I've taken a system from a budget of $125,000 to about $2.5 million," says Schaefer, but even though the finances are in much better shape, he'll tell you that they aren't the most important thing in his more than two-decade career with the system. It's the statewide library cooperation that Schaefer has helped foster in his time with the Uncle Remus system that he'll happily say are some of his proudest achievements on the job. He was the first chair of the Georgia PINES system, a statewide public library lending system that covers 270 libraries and 133 counties and the largest of its kind in the nation and helped implement a common accounting system, getting it at a cut-rate cost for participating library systems. He's spent his career lobbying for library cooperation and funding from state institutions and says he could never imagine moving to another library. "Really, I never considered going to another library," he says. "Madison became home very quickly." He and his wife Rita, the librarian at Morgan County Elementary School, met in library school at Florida State University and made their home in Madison over the last two decades where, as Schaefer, puts it, they've always been working full speed. That's why, he says, that he's looking forward to his retirement, which he says he plans to spend with his family and the books that have given him his career. "I'd like to read some of the 7,000-odd books I have in my house," he says, a smile passing over his bespectacled face. He speaks with passion about the big projects like PINES that have defined his career. "It's creativity at its best," he muses as he sits in his office, whose walls are lined with portraits of great leaders and literature, from Abraham Lincoln to the cover of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. "It's the way libraries like ours can compete with the big guys." Schaefer will tell you that the library system has changed during his tenure - from serving just book-readers to now providing internet services to a completely different population - but maintains that it's still as viable as ever. And he hopes that Tomlinson, his successor, will be able to see it through the changes that the future has in store. He'll stay on until August, transitioning out of the position and paving the way for Tomlinson to step in, because he knows that his successor will have challenges ahead. "If I'd had that [help] when I came here, it would have been wonderful," he says. But when he walks out of that office on August 29, he knows it will be with the satisfaction of a career well spent and a near-32-year service to the Georgia public library system. Tomlinson, who will start taking the reigns immediately, is no stranger to the system, as he is Uncle Remus' current assistant director. The other candidate vying for the position was Cheryl Rogers, the library's assistant senior librarian. Both candidates were interviewed by the library's executive board, where the decision was made unanimously and was then also unanimously ratified at the regional board meeting on Thursday. The Uncle Remus Regional Library System consists of seven libraries in six counties and is named for the collection of folktales told by the fictional Uncle Remus that were adapted and published in seven books by Atlanta journalist Joel Chandler Harris in the late 19th century.