January 9, 2018
Melissa Carr, presently the Director of the Danial Boone Regional Library, will retire next week after 46 years of service to our libraries, 21 years as director. Mid-Missouri was fortunate to have her all these years.
Melissa is an exemplary public servant whose likes we probably will not see again — not only in public libraries, but in education, social services and across many institutions of our society. Combined with the loss of local ownership of the Tribune, the sale of MBS, and rapid turnover of University of Missouri System and MU administrators, it feels like the passing of a generational torch.
Show me a leader in higher education, health care or public corporations who is likely to serve as the head of her organizations for the next 21 years. If Melissa had been a collegiate sports coach, we would name a sports facility after her.
It was my responsibility and pleasure to serve on the Daniel Boone Regional Library Board of Trustees from 2005-2013. From that vantage point, I observed Melissa through countless committee meetings, full board meetings, public functions and personal conversations. The board of trustees consisted of 19 appointed individuals with different personalities, familiarity with a public organization, verbal skills and inclinations to use them, and level of involvement in board decisions. Melissa could relate to all of them.
I served on the evaluation, finance and strategic planning committees watching Melissa interact with staff, other board members and the public. Melissa was always prepared, focused and patient. Over the years, I have heard many board members describe and comment about her integrity, her work habits, and her knowledge of library operations, library law, property tax levies and health care insurance.
Melissa, as everyone calls her, has a sixth sense for human relations. Several times I observed her gently nudging a stubborn, obstructionist board member along toward making a group decision. In one of my early years on the board, I met privately with her suggesting she take a stronger, quicker hand similar to what I observed by many public administrators. Her response was “David, I’ve tried it that way and it works out better if we take more time and let everybody be involved.” Repeatedly I found that Melissa could always give good reasons for her decisions.
Melissa was expert at keeping in touch with four different groups of people: her staff, the mid-Missouri public, local and state public officials and the national American library network. Professional positions at the local library did not become vacant very often. Melissa has a loyal and committed staff whose skills she uses and opinion she listens to. Melissa has won awards from local groups and the American Library Association. She always comes through.
Melissa was director of the library during an era of extraordinary change. Among these were re-opening of the Columbia library, building the Ashland branch, adding satellite lockers and drop boxes around two counties, and transitioning into the information technology age with ebooks and databases rather than just good ole books.
In the eight years I served on the library board, the trait that I kept noticing about Melissa was her openness to change in order to improve the library. Watching Melissa figuring out how to fund the Ashland branch and dealing with individual patron concerns was rather inspiring. The Daniel Boone Regional Library is an excellent organization devoted to improving library services to a diverse and changing population. Appropriately, one of her last achievements is the merging of the Boone County library district with the city of Columbia district. Few citizens will notice this legalistic change but it will streamline library governance, making library boundaries conform to the growing Columbia metro area. Melissa could have easily kicked this issue down the road, passing it on to a future library director.
Melissa faced, and survived, several library and family health challenges. When she became director in 1996, she not only succeeded two icons of local library service — Virginia Young and Gene Taylor — but faced several board members skeptical about her selection. A few years later a proposal to expand library facilities was defeated at the polls. Melissa led the library in taking a step back, conducting a deep survey of public preferences, and launching a strategic plan that expanded services using present resources.
About five years ago, Melissa spoke to my MU senior capstone class of students who were getting ready to graduate. A student asked what was the most important trait for new employees to develop. Melissa told them “be a team player — do your part and share the credit.” This is the best single description of Melissa’s approach.