GREENVILLE — Greenville Public Library director John Vehre is set to retire Monday, after 27 years.
“One way or another I’ve worked in libraries since I was 18 years old,” Vehre said.
After getting his degree in library science from Kent State University, Vehre worked as assistant director of the Ashland Public Library before taking the position in Greenville in 1991.
“I was interested in moving up to director, and my parents heard about the position down here before they actually even posted it,” Vehre said. “I came down, they interviewed me, and I guess they must’ve liked me because they offered me the job! I’m not sure they even interviewed anyone else, actually.”
A lot of things have changed since he first started working at the library, according to Vehre.
“When I started, we were still using the old card catalogue system,” Vehre said. “Everything was done by hand at that time, and each book had probably three or four different cards –title, author, subject. Then, about five years later, they automated everything.”
Part of that process involved equipping the library with computers, another big change that has revolutionized the industry.
“We probably have about 50 computers in the building now: 24 for the patrons and one for just about everybody on the staff,” Vehre said. “When I started we had two or three.”
In addition to making the process of looking up information and checking out books easier, this also involved creating programs to help the library’s patrons keep pace with the changing times.
“We started offering basic computer classes to help with the transition,” Vehre said. “I’ve personally taught more than a thousand people how to use our system. And of course the computers themselves change over time. I remember teaching people to use the old DOS system; now it’s mostly gadgets like phones, tablets and so on.”
Other changes include the library facility itself, which underwent major renovations over a decade after Vehre took over.
“The library is physically bigger now, of course,” Vehre said. “We expanded back in 2007 or ‘08 and doubled the size.”
Programs offered by the library have changed drastically as well, according to Vehre.
“When I first started, we just had children’s programs,” Vehre said. “But we’ve added quite a few adult and young adult programs over the years. Part of that was just having the space to present those programs, which we didn’t have before the expansion. And part is you have to have the staff that are willing, and have the creativity, to do those sorts of programs.”
Now that he’s about to retire, Vehre looks forward to catching up with some old hobbies, including his love of chess. At one time, Vehre said, he was one of the best correspondence chess players in the country and was actively involved in the Dayton Chess Club.
“I haven’t been there in a number of years – they meet on Fridays, and after a week of work, the last thing you feel like doing sometimes is driving to Dayton,” Vehre said.
He plans on taking the hobby back up again, however, as well as possibly writing a book about his experiences as a correspondence player, engaging in slow-motion matches with players around the world that would sometimes take years to complete, with opponents sending cards to each other through the mail specifying each move.
Vehre also plans on taking a trip with his wife to Hawaii, the place where the couple had their honeymoon. In the meantime, he said, being a librarian for 37 years has been a wonderful experience.
“It’s just a great place to work,” Vehre said. “Being around all the books and being able to help people. It’s not enough to love to read; you have to really love working with people.”