New director hopes to shape multiyear mission

Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt will watch over the new Bartholomew County Public Library director.

Oversized portraits of the three notable presidents grace one wall of Jason Hatton’s office, from where he will direct a facility that serves 50,000 area readers, listeners and viewers starting Monday. The 35-year-old Columbus native has enough to worry about without overly concerning himself with early critiques of his assignment overseeing a community resource with a $4 million budget.

“You obviously want to do things right, but you’re going to make mistakes,” Hatton said.

As the current associate director learns the details of his new responsibilities, he will lean on the wisdom of a classic Roosevelt quote included on one of those presidential pictures: “Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”

The man who originally planned to be a history teacher would offer a heartfelt Teddyesque “Bully!” for such a scrappy attitude — one he acknowledges he will need as the facility once known for a multitude of hardbound volumes adjusts and morphs in a society of electronically downloadable everything.

“The library at its core hasn’t changed,” Hatton said, referring to its role as a widespread repository and resource. “But how we do what we do certainly has changed.”

So Hatton’s first order of business will be to work with the library staff and board to form diverse focus groups and seek other ways for the public to offer wide-ranging input and feedback on what they want from the people and the structure at 536 Fifth St. Columbus, where books and bricks meet.

From that information, he ideally wants to compile a community report and shape a multiyear mission for the library’s future direction — all by year’s end, if possible. The singer with the area’s Chordlighters Barbershop Chorus aims to keep a harmony between the traditional and technological.

Yes, he said plenty of books will remain on shelves. And yes, newer elements such as the library’s Digital Underground video editing and techno-toyland probably will increase.

“I love the thinking that libraries should be the kitchens of creativity,” said the big fan of the Food Network.

The idea? Books and articles and other physical resources can teach activities such as video editing. But the library’s newest, cutting-edge space allows users to actually do what they’ve read.

He also wants the library’s resources, from books to movies to music, to more adequately reflect the county’s growing ethnic population, from Indian to Asian. U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2013 show the county’s Asian population to be 5 percent. Those figures also show that the Asian population here is growing at a rate among the fastest in the state.

“We haven’t been as good as we should have responding to all that diversity as we should be,” he said.

He mentioned that the facility features “a fantastic Chinese collection” of materials purchased and donated by the Columbus Chinese Association.

“But that’s part of this (future work) — developing relationships with those kind of groups and entities, and to know exactly what it is they want and need,” Hatton said.

As much as Hatton faces plenty to keep him busy at his desk, he already is brainstorming ways to make sure he and his staff are in front of the library’s cardholders more often. He acknowledged that could include focused interaction at festivals and other gatherings.

“We can’t be confined to these four walls,” he said.

He smiled at that. Hatton claims to be an introvert at heart but grows animated and passionate when discussing anything from the Civil War to effective leadership.

“It’s a little bit outside my zone to be such a strong people person (with the public),” he said. “But that’s what’s needed.”

Michelle Williams, the library’s assistant business manager, lauded Hatton for his keen focus on the future and on all pockets of the community.

“He’s extremely organized and has such a vision for where he wants the library to go,” Williams said. “He truly wants us to be a library for everybody. He definitely doesn’t want people to think that maybe if they’re not into (physical) books, or if they don’t have a computer, or if they don’t download anything, then they have no reason to come here.”

Which is why he’s excited about the increased free presentations in the Red Room under veteran director Beth Booth Poor.

The offerings organized by the adult programming coordinator Mary Clare Speckner range from a recent Elvis impersonator concert that drew a near-capacity audience of more than 100 people to programs on quilting, exercise, jazz, laughter and other topics.

Mike Wilkerson, library board president, said Hatton is a good fit for a community resource bent on expanding horizons.

“We’ve got to keep growing, especially since libraries really are ever-changing,” Wilkerson said.

“We’ve been so fortunate that Beth allowed us to do so much of that with keeping us up to date with new technology. “I feel Jason’s going to take all that and just run with it.”

About Jason Hatton

Age: 35.

Position: New director of the Bartholomew County Public Library. Earlier roles: Library services manager, 2008-2011; assistant director, 2011-2015.

Before coming back to Columbus: On staff at the LaPorte County Public Library.

Hometown: Columbus.

Family: Wife Heather; children Jonathan, 5, Hope, 2.

Education: Undergraduate degree in history from Bethel College in Mishawaka with a sociology minor; master’s in library science from Indiana University.

Community involvement: United Way of Bartholomew County board member; board member of the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives; past adjunct faculty member of Ivy Tech Community College, where he taught online courses in library science; Indiana representative council member on the American Library Association.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.