Strong programs and great community support are some of the things that work together to make a good library, according to Boyle County Public Library Director Karl Benson. On May 31, Benson will retire from the library, after 35 years.
His career as a librarian began in Congo when he was teaching an English course. He had ventured there after teaching English and Spanish at Boyle County High School for two years.
In Congo, Benson worked at a school of about 600 students with a modest-sized library. The librarian had to leave in the middle of the year, and “as an English teacher, they asked me to take over the library,” he explained. “That’s when I first started thinking about libraries, as a school librarian in the Congo.”
After that experience, he decided to get his library degree at the University of Kentucky. Initially, Benson wanted to work at a school library but soon realized that would be a difficult position to secure and changed his focus to public libraries.
“I’ve really been so happy ever since,” he said.
He accepted a position at Mercer County Public Library, but a year later, in 1978, he made the transition to Boyle County Public Library where a position had opened up.
Over the past 35 years, the Boyle library had seen “incredible expansion,” especially in the growth of various media.
“That’s what was enjoyable, being able to build a collection over these 35 years. I’ve seen a big growth in the library, moving on from books to records, LP or albums, then to tapes and then to CDs and, now on to streaming ... incredible expansion of the kinds of materials we call a library collection,” he said.
“Started out, a library collection was just books and magazines ... now, there’s just so many different kinds of media that are all part of a library collection.”
Computers are one of the biggest changes. The library’s card catalogues were moved to computers in 1992.
The library has expanded in the physical sense, as well, first in 1988, when it increased from 7,000 square feet to 17,000; then again in 2008, when it increased to 44,000 square feet, officially opening in 2010.
During the expansions, library officials sought to incorporate architectural details of the existing buildings.
The point of expansion was to better serve the community, which has worked to support the library over the years, Benson said. With the new spaces, the library is able to offer more programs for everyone and continue to expand the resources available.
“The library has grown because the community has been so supportive. We, here, have really been fortunate compared to other counties, that there’s always been a good support from the community,” Benson said, explaining that almost $3 million in private funds had been raised for the last expansion.
“I think that’s why we have such an extra special library, because of all this extra support from donors and the community,” Benson said. “Been like that over 35 years.”
As for his pending departure, Benson’s plans include traveling, starting with a mission trip to Mexico this summer.