Linda Allen retires after 22 years
By Kyle LoJacono
In 1987 Pasco County had no library system. The following year Linda Allen came to the area and changed that forever.
Allen, 63, moved to Pasco to become the assistant library director of support services after a referendum was passed in 1986 to create the first county library system. Now, 24 years later she is retiring as library director. Her last day is Feb. 4.
“I’ve seen it go from nothing to a dynamic, community-oriented library system,” Allen said. “I really hate leaving it, but I think I’ve been doing this long enough and it’s time for someone with new ideas to step in.”
Current Pasco commission chairwoman Anna Hildebrand was on the commission when the referendum was passed to create the library system.
“We picked the right person to help make our libraries,” Hildebrand said of Allen.
When the library system started, it had about 10 employees and everyone had to help construct the fledgling department — literally.
“We built the library system,” Allen said. “I installed some of the wires for the computers myself. There was no library and we made it. That’s an amazing thing because very few people can say that they helped create a system out of nothing.”
The system opened with three libraries, one in Dade City, Land O’ Lakes and Holiday, with about 50,000 books. That number has grown to seven sites with almost 200 workers and 250,000 items in circulation.
Allen’s love for books started back when she was an elementary student in her hometown of Nashville. She said she remembers riding the bus with her class downtown to the public library to check out books.
“We had to be really quiet there,” Allen said. “It was a very traditional library, but it was so cool because they let you take all the books you wanted. It was always a treat to go to the library to find a new book to read.”
She worked in her high school library during free periods as a book shelfer.
“Ms. (Mildred) Allen was the person in charge of the library and I loved everything about working there,” Allen said. “It’s just very funny we had the same last name and were both librarians.”
Allen got her master’s degree in library sciences from George Peabody College, which has since become part of Vanderbilt University. She worked in various libraries in Kentucky and Florida before coming to Pasco.
The county’s library system is more than just a place to check out books and other educational items. Allen has helped create many fun programs for kids as young as babies to teenagers and educational classes for adults of any age.
Pasco libraries were given the 2008 Florida Library of the Year award from the Florida Library Association. In the same year, Allen had the honor of being named one of 10 people in the United States to receive the “I Love My Librarian” award.
Dan Johnson, assistant county administrator, has worked with Allen for a number of years and said Allen deflects all credit for such awards.
“When anyone comments to Linda about different awards or recognition the department has received, her first comment has always been that the success is due to the work and effort of her staff,” Johnson said. “She credits the entire staff, working as a team, with the success of the libraries.
“Additionally, many of the awards are also due to the great support from the Friends of the Library that Linda has worked so well with, and they have been inspired by her infectious enthusiasm,” Johnson continued. “It has been the Friends groups that have provided the funding for some of the wonderful additional programs over the years as a result of Linda’s efforts to work so closely with them.”
Allen and her department have had to do more with less in recent years because of budget cuts. She said the budget peaked in the 2006-07 fiscal year at $8.25 million. That has been cut to $5.99 million in the current budget, forcing the system to lose 20 percent of its staff and 30 percent of its operating hours.
“It’s been rough to see people using our services more while we offer them less hours,” Allen said. “We’ll see about 2 million items checked out this year now and that’s 13 percent more than last year.”
On the brighter side, Allen said she will now have more time to do things she likes, such as spend more time reading, gardening and crafting. She said she will also volunteer more, including at the library.
Johnson said they hope to have a replacement for Allen soon, but did not have a candidate by press time. Allen did not know anyone who has applied for the job, but said she knows an easy way to find out who it might be.
“Just go somewhere that isn’t a library and ask a question out loud,” Allen said. “Anyone who’s a good librarian will try to answer it as soon as you ask. That’s what a librarian does.”
Linda Allen’s favorite books
–Beach Music by Pat Conroy. “His writing is lyrical and his story lines always have an unexpected twist.”
–When You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. “It’s a picture book for children and makes me giggle.”
–Arthurian Chronicles by Jack Whyte. “I’m re-reading it right now. It is a multi-volume series about the Camelot legend. Escapism at it’s best.”
–“I love anything by Anne Rivers Siddons. She is pure Southern with lovely stories that lull you, then slam you with a surprise.”