Tuesday, October 21, 2014 · 1:58 a.m.
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On Tuesday, Library Journal announced that Chattanooga's own Corinne Hill had been named Librarian of the Year for 2014. 

In just a year as director, Hill has transformed The Public Library into a "vital hub of learning and experimentation," according to Library Journal Editor Rebecca T. Miller.

We caught up with Hill via phone to discuss the award, her team at the library and what 2014 has in store. 

Congratulations on the award! I’ve heard the Librarian of the Year Award from Library Journal is the equivalent of winning a Grammy in your industry. How do you feel?

It’s pretty amazing. I don’t really have a prepared speech, but it’s really phenomenal; it’s really cool. I’m thrilled that it happened while I was in Chattanooga. The community is so progressive, and I feel like we’ve all won because I couldn’t have done it without the support of the community, the support of the city, the mayor’s office, the support of my board. There’s no way you can do really cool things without a lot of support.

You’ve known for a while that you won this award. What was it like when you found out?

Actually, I was driving to my parents' for Thanksgiving, and they called while I was on the road. Then, they came and did a photo shoot and took a bunch of pictures, so that was kind of fun. It’s really hard to keep a secret. That’s what I learned. The CIA isn’t going to come looking for me anytime soon.

You became The Public Library’s director in 2012. What was it about Chattanooga that encouraged you to take the job?

I think the whole thing for me was when I came for the interview and met with the board and I had read that report that had been written. I like to fix things. And having something so broken was what really appealed to me. And knowing that I had the support of the board to be able to really fix it and not pretend to fix it, to change it completely. That was huge for me to have that kind of freedom, to be able to experiment and explore, to be given that kind of instruction to just "make it better." That was brilliant. I mean, it spoke to my soul. I remember leaving the interview and standing out on the plaza, and I called my husband and said, "Just get ready. If they offer me this job, I’m going." He said, "Whoa, we’ll talk when I get home," but I said, "No, THIS is my job."

Corinne Hill said her focus remains on a long-term vision bringing the community and the library together. (Photo: Contributed)

This is a personal award, but you’re accepting it on behalf of the whip-smart team of mad geniuses you’ve assembled at the library. Tell me about them.

It’s really creative. You know, too, the other thing is that I’ve got some folks who came with the place who were there whom I wish I could take credit for hiring because they’ve really embraced all of this. Having that mix of people from the outside and being able to build your own team but having that talent on-site is a really sweet little combination. And watching them blossom and grow has been really cool.

Like Cathy Royal, the #mynextread librarian …

Exactly. And there’s a bunch of Cathys who are in the trenches who are doing some really, really cool stuff they weren’t doing before, for whatever reason weren’t able to do it, who have embraced the idea of doing new things. And that’s super-cool. When you sit there and go, "Wow, I brought in some people to kind of freshen things up a little bit—really smart, creative people—but they’ve really nurtured, encouraged and brought along people who were already onboard." It’s a nice mix. It’s a real nice mix.

You know, when a musician wins a Grammy, they’re expected to follow up with something even better. Do you feel the need to think like that, or are you focused on a longer vision?

This has been really sweet, but it’s not going to slow me down or speed me up. I have a vision of what I want Chattanooga to be, and my focus this year is on youth services, specifically at the South Chattanooga branch. It’s in St. Elmo—less than 3,000 square feet—most people walk to it. It’s a real neighborhood library. When you run the numbers on it, most of the business there is youth. It’s mostly kids. You know, we get a lot of DVD checkouts and that sort of thing, but it’s mostly kids. So we’re flipping that. We’ll still serve adults, obviously, but we’re really going to focus on children’s services at that library. We’re working on designs for The 2nd Floor, ages 0 to 18. How do you create this learning playground where it’s fun for kids? You don’t want them to realize they’re learning. They should just be having fun—and the fact that they learn something from it, that’s a sweet little bonus. Our primary focus for this year is with the kids. We’re also doing some stuff with the mayor’s office with open code, open data and Code for America. That’s really exciting because, when you think about it, libraries and librarians created big, open datasets. That’s what we’ve done forever. Everybody acts like it’s this new thing, and we’re like, "We’ve been doing this for decades. Everybody calm down. We know what big datasets look like, and we actually know how to manage them." That’s really exciting, and I think that’s a new frontier and an exciting one. And I think offering people access for decision-making is huge. It’s what we do. That’s my mission. But we’ll just do it in a different way. I think that’s pretty exciting. So I just keep moving along.

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