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by Gail Marsh
Beth Nicholson believes the function of a library can be summed up in a few words: connecting people with information.
"Most libraries have long mission statements, but those four words really say it all," she said.
Nicholson became the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library's director this month, filling the position left vacant by Ernest Kallay nearly 11 months ago. She left a similar position in Upshur County to take the new post.
"I had been the director at the Upshur County Public Library for 11 years. I loved what I did in Upshur County and loved the job, but I was ready for a new challenge," she said.
Nicholson said both her parents were originally from Upshur County, but she grew up in the beltway area of Maryland, where there were several libraries within walking distance of her neighborhood.
"My sister had to go to downtown Washington for allergy shots frequently, and it would give us the chance to go to the downtown library," she said.
Though she said she always loved reading, she didn't consider majoring in library science until late in her college career. She received her undergraduate degree in English from the University of Maryland in 1966 and received a master's degree in library science from Florida State University in 1982.
"During my last semester of college I ran into someone who was taking library science and I thought, 'Why didn't I do that?' Instead, I went on to obtain my master's in library science," she said.
After teaching high school English for one year in Maryland, she began to pursue a career in the library system. Except for a year when she served with the Army Special Services in Vietnam, Nicholson spent the rest of her time working in the library system in Florida. She said it was inevitable that she would return to the Mountain State.
"My family always kept a place here, and in my heart I'm a West Virginian. I need the mountains. I lived in the flatlands and I hated it and didn't really care for the ocean. I'm more of a mountain and woods person," she said.
Nicholson describes her new position at the Clarksburg facility as primarily administrative. She hopes to begin her work by focusing on the audio and video collections and increasing the circulation in those areas.
Nicholson said people now spend so much time in their cars or doing housework or performing routine tasks at work, and this leaves them free to listen to audio books.
"In Upshur County we checked out as many audio and video selections as we did books. I would like to see Clarksburg make a bigger commitment in those areas," she said.
Nicholson will also oversee the growth of the library's computer and technology capabilities. The local facility is a sub-hub library for the North Central West Virginia area, one of the seven sub-hubs in the state. This means all the libraries in the surrounding area can run off the Clarksburg computer system.
Morgantown and Fairmont are already hooked into the Clarksburg system, and Nicholson said she expects many of the area libraries to connect on in the coming months.
"Up until this time we have had stand-along micro-systems. But by hooking into one system, patrons will be able to see everything that is available to them in every library. And as long as they have a valid local card and are in the system, they can check out a book at any of those connected libraries," she said.
Nicholson said she expects the Clarksburg-Harrison Library to get a boost this fall when $5 million in Gates Foundation money will be distributed throughout the state to help equip public libraries with the latest in computer software and hardware.
"The details are a little sketchy yet, but we do know that we intend to increase the number of our computers for public use that have Internet access. And this is money that Clarksburg and Harrison County residents won't have to spend," she said.
Nicholson said she is still familiarizing herself with most of the library's services, but said she is already aware of the library's excellent reference collection and the popularity of the children's area.
Local high school students painted the children's area with colorful murals that depict events in West Virginia history.
Nicholson also commended the library board for helping to bring in the current display at the library called "Page after Page," a hand-carved, wooden interactive exhibit that showcases the works of West Virginia authors.
"We have a very involved and responsible board and I look forward to working with them. We're getting ready for the next century and so many changes have taken place since this library was built. I look forward to helping to meet those challenges," she said.