By Aila Boyd
Botetourt County recently announced that Julie Phillips has been hired to serve as the county’s new library director.
For the past few months, the county’s library system has been without a director following the retirement of Steve Vest in February. Vest served as the library director for 33 years. Phillips said of her predecessor, “Steve did a great job and had a great staff.”
Her vision for the library system is “to fuel a curious, creative community by making it easy for people to find and share ideas.”
Phillips’ first day on the job was last Monday. She is based out of the Blue Ridge Library.
Before accepting her new position, Phillips worked as the branch manager for the Greenville County Library System’s largest and busiest branch in South Carolina. Prior to that post, she managed three other branches and served as a library assistant.
She received a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois. Additionally, she holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in History from Bob Jones University.
Phillips explained that the Roanoke Valley had been on her radar for a little over a year before applying for the job because of a trip she made. As a result of the trip, she “fell in love with the whole area.” One thing that stood out to her from her very first visit, she said, was just how welcoming the local population was.
Originally from Vermont, Phillips said that Botetourt County reminds her of home because of its urban and rural composition.
“When I saw that the position was open, I knew that this was somewhere that I would actually consider moving to,” she said. “I feel like the area is a good match because I grew up on a dairy farm, but have lived in a larger city for the past two decades.”
As a child, Phillips said, she didn’t use libraries despite the fact that she was a fastidious reader. Having grown up in a rural area, she was first exposed to a library as a teenager when she took a class trip to a university.
“I’ve always been someone who has a lot of questions in my head. I love to learn. I loved reading all of the books that we had at home. When I walked into the library and listened to the librarian tell us what they had and how to use it, I was just floored. I thought that it was the answer to all of my questions,” Phillips explained.
Shortly thereafter, she said, she had an epiphany after going to her local library and reading a book that listed a large variety of different jobs that getting to spend hours upon hours surrounded by books was an actual career option.
“I didn’t realize that it could be a career before,” she said.
After deciding that she wanted to be a librarian, she started volunteering at the small library at her school.
Phillips originally thought that she would become a research librarian, but was dissuaded from doing so because of the joy that she got out of interacting with the public.
“I found that I actually enjoyed the people far more than I did the research aspect, so I decided to pursue that track further,” she said.
One of the things that still excites her to this day is the variety of people that set foot in libraries. Scholars who are conducting in-depth research, kids who just want an engaging book to read, and individuals who don’t have Internet at home and need a way to check their email accounts all utilize the resources that libraries have to offer, she said.
“It’s exciting to get to see the impact that libraries have on people’s lives,” she said.
Going forward, Phillips said that her door is always open and that she welcomes the opportunity to discuss the future of the library system with members of the community.
“From meeting with people, I can tell that they’re invested in the libraries. That encourages me,” Phillips said.
When not tending to the running of the library system, Phillips said that she can probably be found in the nonfiction section of the library, where she will be perusing business, psychology, and sustainable agriculture books.
“I am excited to welcome Julie to the Botetourt County family,” David Moorman, deputy county administrator, said. “More citizens and visitors engage with our libraries on a daily basis than almost any other department in local government. As a result, we needed a leader who could build up our libraries into the community hubs that they are meant to be. That leader is Julie.”
According to a press release sent out by the county, “She stood out among the candidates for her vision, imagination, and demonstrated collaborative leadership that she will bring to the county.” The release also said that Phillips has “exceptional educational, operational, and management qualifications for the position.”
The interview panel that Phillips went in front of before being offered the position consisted of Board of Supervisors member Steve Clinton, Gary Larrowe, county administrator, David Moorman, deputy county administrator, Mary Blackburn, director of human resources, Scot Finley, president of the Library Board, and Shari Henry, director of Roanoke County Libraries.
The library system is comprised of four branches and approximately 30 employees.