Christopher Platt is Mono County’s new head librarian
Christopher Platt was hired last year as the new Mono County Head Librarian. He comes from a prestigious background in New York City.
Platt was working with the New York Public Library system since 1995, and for the last two years he was the Chief Branch Library Officer. In that role, he oversaw all 88 libraries in the largest public library system in the United States. Now he oversees the seven libraries of the Mono County system.
Why leave such a high powered role? Why Mono County?
The first reason is that Platt was raised here. He grew up in Bishop. His father was a UPS driver.
He left for college in the late ‘80s, and now he says that he is reacquainting himself with the Eastern Sierra.
“Mammoth is certainly a lot bigger than it was when I was a kid,” Platt said. He says that he appreciates the growth. “It makes it a really vibrant place to live and work.”
He has also noticed a culture shift in Bishop.
“Growing up in Bishop climbing was not a big thing, nowadays it is a major tourist industry.” Platt is encouraged by seeing Bishop develop this year-round outdoor attraction that stimulates the local economy.
He also likes the new Mountain Rambler brew-pub.
“You can usually find me there having lunch at least once a week,” Platt said.
The second reason for the move is that he craved the adventure.
Platt said that he and his partner had a house in the Catskills that they would visit to get out of NYC. They prefer the country, and fantasized about getting out of the city for good.
“We wanted to make a change and have a new adventure before we got too old,” Platt said. Now he says living here is like being on a perpetual vacation.
“We get out and explore, traipse around the country and woods and boulders,” Platt said.
“Living here will add years back to my life after having them shaved off in New York City.”
The third reason he came back is that there was a job for him here. When Platt started seriously looking for jobs with rural libraries the Mono County job opened up.
“It was like a sign from God,” Platt said.
Platt got the job and he and his partner packed up and moved to Bishop in October.
He said that he has already been impressed with the amount of community engagement he has seen in the Mono County Library system.
“There’s a diverse community here. They are well educated. They really appreciate libraries, the outdoors, the environment, all the stuff that syncs up with me.”
The Friends of Mono County Library group has especially impressed him with their zeal.
“They are really really dedicated to what a public library can be for its community.”
Platt said that the approach to running a rural library is completely different from an urban one, and it is a muscle that he wants to flex. For instance, many of the branches of the Mono County system can only afford to employ one part-time librarian. When the Benton librarian couldn’t come to to work for a few days in December, Platt filled in for her.
“It has been years since I’d actually worked in a library,” Platt said. “Thank God it wasn’t too busy.”
This experience gave Platt an new appreciation for how intimately familiar this librarian is with her community and her collection.
As access to information through technology has spread, the role of the public library has come under question. Platt said that libraries have constantly been adapting to continue to be a resource for their communities.
Platt used the “Maker Space” in the Mammoth Lakes Branch as an example of adaptation. The “Maker Space” is essentially an arts and crafts room, but Platt says that it serves a high purpose for the development of young minds.
“We have a project going on right now where we are making mini quilts to give to the county animal shelters,” Platt explained. “But from my perspective those are kids learning how to create a pattern, and how to use a machine to put that pattern together, and all the steps it takes to get from point A to point Z to end up with a finished product.”
Platt said that tax-prep, story-times, early literacy outreach, and events are just a few of the programs that the library offers.
This evolution does not imply that the books the library has historically offered are now irrelevant. Platt said that the number of people who read books has not changed demonstrably in the last decade. Around 75% of Americans have read a book in the last year, according to Pew Research. The number of people publishing books and buying books has gone up in recent years. In the 1990s around 100,000 books were published per year, now it sits at around 1,000,000 books, and bookstores are thriving, according to Platt.
E-Books have failed to kill the printed book as some anticipated, though the library lends E-Books as well as hard copies.
Platt said that the future of libraries looks bright. The Millennial generation uses libraries more than any other adult generation, 53% of Millennials have used a library in the last year compared to 45% of Gen-X and 43% of Baby Boomers. This is because Millennials are the most well-educated generation in American history, and educated people like libraries. It is also because millennials were raised using libraries and are more likely to bring their kids to library events.
Platt said that his first objective in this new role is to build out youth programming. Early literacy, according to Platt, is key. Studies have shown that if a student is not reading at a third grade level by the time she exits third grade then her chances of success through high school are vastly diminished. Platt is happy with the amount of outreach that library performs with children under five, but he wants to see greater influence on children over five.
“Coming from New York, three o’clock in the afternoon you do not want to be near the doors of any of those libraries because kids are just slamming into the building… There are not as many kids coming here in the afternoon as I think could be,” Platt said.
The library has the potential to make society better, according to Platt, but “If books aren’t getting used, then what’s the point?”