By the time Spokane’s new library director finishes story time with his kids, he rarely has time for pleasure reading.
He has four kids, after all.
Andrew Chanse, who started work as the new director of the Spokane Public Library on May 13, spent the first 18 years of his life in a small town in upstate New York. He earned degrees at Arizona State University, then the University of Arizona, and stayed in Arizona where he began his career as a librarian. Before being selected to lead Spokane’s library, he was the innovations and strategies administrator for the Maricopa County Library District near Phoenix.
Only two weeks on the job, Chanse, who will turn 36 next week, has embraced the move to the Northwest.
The shorter commute, moderate temperatures, real summer camp options for the kids, lovely parks – it all makes for an improved standard of living, he says.
He sat down this week to talk about the library and his experiences and his new life in Spokane.
Q.Could someone who knew you in high school guess that you would become a librarian?
A.I was pretty studious in school. So, if you were to take it from there, then yes. But I wasn’t a big reader in school and usually you’re associating reading with librarianship. I was academically well-rounded, but I really didn’t discover books until college.
Q.What turned you on to books?
A.It was a love of having conversation about writing with friends. It was a way for me to connect with people. I was turned on to a lot of the beat writing in college and it grew from there.
Q.Were you eager to leave small-town New York?
A.Yes. I was eager to see what else was out there. I guess I picked a pretty extreme choice of 3,000 miles away and a completely different climate. But I did miss the small-town cohesiveness and community as I grew older. That’s part of the reason for moving here.
Q.What are your initial impressions of the Spokane Public Library?
A.It’s a really dedicated staff that have really invested in providing great library services to the community, and I hope to continue that and adapt to changing societies and changing role of libraries and move forward as much as we can.
Q.What needs improvement?
A.Sustainable funding is going to be the big challenge. We had great support from the community with the passing of the library levy. As we move forward we’re going to continue to engage the community as far as what their needs are.
Q.Is your relatively young age a challenge in leading a large institution like this?
A.Librarianship, by and large, there’s a lot of older folks that have those jobs. It’s a situation that I’m familiar with. It’s a situation that I’ve been successful with in the past. So it’s not really a concern to me.
Q.Late last year City Councilman Mike Fagan questioned the need for library programs such as story time, genealogy and the presentation of films. Do you think libraries should provide story time?
A.It is an essential service that libraries offer. Early literacy is essential for the development of a child. That’s one of those things that story time provides. It provides a place where parents can see model behavior of interacting with a child with a book, plain and simple.
Q.You have four kids. How do you balance family life with work?
A.It’s always a work in progress. My wife doesn’t work, so she stays at home with the kids. We do home-school, so they do get a lot of parent interaction. When I come home, it’s father-son time and it’s play time and that’s what I can turn to to recharge. I think I have a pretty good balance with that. At the same time, you’ve got to take time for yourself, so I run at least three or four times a week, listen to music and clear my head, whenever I feel that’s necessary. But it is difficult.
Q.Do you have a favorite author?
A.I have a lot of favorite authors.
Q.Name a few on your favorite list.
A.Michael Burkard, he’s an American poet. Robert Creeley, again, an American poet. As far as fiction goes, I would have to say Jonathan Lethem is a favorite of mine, just because he tends to change things up a bit. … I was reading somewhere that engineers and scientists, if they get into reading for pleasure, a lot of them will tend to read poetry because it can turn out to be a puzzle that you have to interpret. It’s a challenge. That’s what I like about it.
Q.Do you read every night before you go to bed?
A.With the kids, yes.
Q.How about yourself?
A.By the end of the day, I’m usually drained. It’s hard to fit in that pleasure reading. For me to recharge at this point, maybe when we settle down that will change – I get more out of running at this point.
Q.How do you manage bedtime story time with your kids?
A.With the youngest, who’s 2, we’ll read to him. All the kids kind of get involved in it and if there’s any acting out with the board books they’ll get into it. They get a kick out of making him laugh and encouraging him. After he goes to bed, my wife or I will generally go down and read a chapter book with the two middle boys. Right now we’re reading Stuart Little.
Q.With a month of Spokane under your belt, what are your favorite places?
A.We’ve been enjoying the Atticus coffee shop. We really like the Steelhead restaurant. We’ve really been enjoying the parks. The parks here are quite different than what we’re used to in the Phoenix area. You can get lost in them. They’re lush and expansive. We’re used to really small, neighborhood parks where you’ve got a swing set and a patch of grass and some sort of man-made turf for the kids to run around on.
Q.Do you see a need for brick and mortar libraries well into the future?
A.If the most important thing that a library does is provide physical books, then, yes, brick and mortar is not going to be as important unless we invest in it as a community space.
Q.Do you feel it is it important to maintain libraries as a ‘community space?’
A.I do. I think it’s an important outlet to maintain because people are becoming … more connected with technology. There aren’t as many places where you can have a place to gather and talk and engage with people in your community.
Q.How do you feel about creating Sunday hours in the library?
A.Traditionally, you can really meet a public need on Sundays. It can be difficult to staff because usually you’re staffing a half day. Generally a library would be open 12 to 5 or 1 to 5 with Sunday hours, which can present some scheduling problems. I’m certainly not opposed to Sunday hours, but I don’t think we’re necessarily funded to do that here.
Q.How did you end up in Arizona?
A.I had originally thought I would go for journalism and they had the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism there at Arizona State, a really good school. It was financially cheaper at the time for me to go out-of-state at Arizona State than it was to go in-state at one of the state universities in New York. I just made a conscientious financial decision to pack up.
Q.Was there a particular class in college that turned you on to beat writers?
A.That was through the conversations with friends and then I took off with creative writing poetry.
Q.Is the heat part of the reason you wanted to leave Arizona?
A.Yeah. Summers are going to different here. Summer camps seem to be such a huge part of the culture up here for the kids. That’s not something that I grew up with, but it’s something that my wife grew up with and she’s excited to pass that on to the kids. It will definitely be different.
Q.What are your kids’ favorite books?
A.They love Eric Carle, any of his books. They’ve always liked those pictures books. Of course, Harry Potter with the older boy. I’m getting into the Spiderwick Chronicles with my 7-year-old. They’re pretty easy going. They like the variety. They like going to the library and picking out new stuff, that rotating collection.
Q.Have you read any Spokane authors, Jess Walter or Sherman Alexie, for instance?
A.Sherman Alexie I read years ago. I saw him at a bookstore that I used to work at back in Tempe Ariz. And I really enjoyed his stuff. Jess Walter I have not read yet, but he is on the list.
Q.Are libraries too stodgy?
A.They can be. It depends on the organization of the library. I’ve seen libraries where people order pizzas and it’s perfectly alright with them and their community and others where it’s not OK with the customers. That’s a fine line where you have tow. You have to adapt and change to your public.
Q.How about having a coffee in the library here?
A.Here, as long as it’s lidded I think it’s OK. That’s more of a maintenance concern. It can get, especially in a building of this size, to be an issue of chasing people around with their Fritos. It’s an added cost and it’s just not something that we’re willing to incur at this point.
Q.Anything surprised you about the transition?
A.I have a much shorter commute here. I’m looking at a 10 minute commute to work, versus a 50 to 55 minute commute to work. I listened to a lot of audio books and a lot of music at that time. It’s a huge change. So just quality of life, with not having to sit in the car, and having more free time is definitely a benefit. I couldn’t move back to an LA or Phoenix-area.
Q.You’ve already decided two weeks in that you wouldn’t move back to Phoenix?
A.That traffic is just horrendous. That’s a big chunk of time. That’s family time. That’s personal time.