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Sunday, July 5, 2015

It's in the books: New librarian emphasizes serving public

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rita Allen is the new director of the Argie Cooper Library.
(T-G Photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
Rita Allen is no stranger to libraries.

The new director of Argie Cooper Public Library has worked in such institutions all her life. She spent 35 years at her first library, Flathead County Library in Kalispell, Mont.

Raised in Montana, Allen received her bachelor's degree from Montana State University and her master's degree from the University of Washington.

Visit equals love

It's a long way from Montana, so how did she end up in Shelbyville?

Allen retired from Flathead in 2005. She moved to California and got married. Her husband, Larry, retired six months later as a firefighter at China Lake Naval Base. Larry is a native of Smyrna.

While visiting Middle Tennessee in 2006, Allen said she fell in love with the area. The couple moved to Normandy in 2007.

She especially loves Tennessee's milder climate (even the recent weather does not bother her).

'Vacation weather'

"I feel like this is vacation weather most of the year," she said, recalling when in 1992, her home was buried under 14 feet of snow.

Allen took herself out of retirement and went to work at the library in Woodbury in 2009, where she worked up until the end of January.

In addition to finishing the new library building, Allen said her priorities include offering excellent customer service.

Legal 'robbery'

"I'm always interested in what the public wants their library to offer and being customer-driven," she said. "We do work for the taxpayers and the public. It should be everybody's library."

The public part of public library has been the most rewarding part of her career, Allen said.

"It's the equality," she said. "It belongs to everybody, and everybody can use it. It's like a big, free bank you can raid for all the goodies. Vocation-wise, it's the people part ... getting to teach people how to rob the bank."

Librarian's faves

What are some books that a library director enjoys?

Allen said it is very hard to pick a favorite. However, two memorable books are "The Eight" by Katherine Neville, since it is a complicated, historical novel, and "Alone," by Rear Adm. Richard Byrd Jr., detailing his adventures in the Antarctic.

"That was a real page-turner," she said.