Movers & Shakers

Todd Deck, Tehama County Library Director…

Todd Deck remembers his days in graduate school preparing for his master’s degree in library science at Emporia State University. Library Journal was standard reading and he’d delight in the annual issue featuring librarians considered Movers and Shakers; those, as editor-in-chief Meredith Schwartz writes in the intro to the 2021 awards, “who are moving the library field forward as a profession.”

Deck is among this year’s inductees, noted for their significance in persevering through a pandemic with “little choice but to embrace change and run with it.” While Deck says he’s still in shock to be taking his place among the ranks of lauded librarians, anyone paying attention to his work as director of the Tehama County Library saw this coming a while ago. With all of the new programs he’s developed, it’s no surprise he’s won in the Innovator category.

Deck has not only overseen the move of the Red Bluff library into a new and highly upgraded facility, but has brought creative programming to the libraries across Tehama County. “The thing I’m most proud of, from an innovation standpoint, is that we went fine-free,” he says. It’s about equity and inclusion, he says, to keep the library accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay fees. “We had great success getting grants and such, but a quarter of our patrons couldn’t access our services because they had fines. I can’t in good conscience bring these valuable things to our community knowing that a quarter of our people couldn’t afford them because of fines. If you have a library that is charging fines, you have an institution that is creating barriers to service.”

Another barrier to service Deck has addressed is access to the library itself, increasing service hours by 30 a week without adding staff time. A new self-service model allows patrons to access the building, use computers and bathrooms, and check out books without staff on site. Tehama County is one of the first 10 libraries in California to implement the technology that allows this, with the state being a leader in the nation.

“The opportunity presented itself right when COVID started,” says Deck. “If there was ever a time when we needed to innovate for self-service, this was it. The only time I’d get negative feedback was about my hours. This was an opportunity to fix that.” With self-service hours, patrons can access library services from 7am until 1pm. They can then benefit from librarian help from 1 until 6pm.

“One of my core values is this idea of assuming positive intent,” says Deck, noting that he hasn’t had any problems with the self-service model since it started. “It’s going wonderfully.” Patrons have to opt in to the service and sign a code of conduct for behavior and internet policy. “People really appreciate it and are respectful,” he adds, stating that the early hours are especially popular. “People want to go in and get their books and go about their day.”

Access to story hour for children is another area he’s addressed, partnering with the Tehama County Probation Department’s woodworking program to develop an outdoor story walk. A pathway with book pages in 12 kiosks leads children through a story walk outside the library, allowing story time anytime. Books rotate often and tell, as Deck says, “stories that haven’t been told at this library before. The Story Walk celebrates all kids, regardless of their family life.”

While the library has always had a popular and well-attended live story hour during the week, the Story Walk opens opportunities to youth whose families may not be able to access it because they work during the day. It’s common to see families in evenings walking together. “We’ll hear from families that got an ice cream and then did the Story Walk,” says Deck.

Looking forward, the library is developing an adult coloring book featuring hidden heroes and forgotten history of Tehama County, and Deck plans to offer coloring nights with patrons.

“I want as many people to access services in as many ways as we can and not be punitive,” says Deck. He notes his training with the Young Adult Library Services Association and connection with other rural librarians and mentors has conditioned him to put community engagement first. That comes down to the amount of space available to patrons in the new library. “The thing that I love and appreciate about it is that it is 85 percent public space and 15 percent staff area,”
he says. The previous library had a 50/50 ratio.

“From the library’s perspective, this is a national recognition for the work that we’re doing,” says Deck of his award. “But we wouldn’t be doing this if the community weren’t using it. Libraries are reflections of the communities they serve. Tehama County is a community of readers. I’m honored every day that I get to serve this community.”•

Tehama County Library
545 Diamond Ave., Red Bluff

About Melissa Mendonca

Melissa is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.

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