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Interview With Trustee Philip Harrison
Columbia Library District Board Secretary & Warrant Officer
Each trustee serves on his or her own district board as well as on the regional library board, which is the governing body responsible for policy-making and fiscal oversight.
Phil and his family have called Columbia home for over four decades. He is retired from the University of Missouri system, where he worked for ten years as assistant to the president. Now he fills his time with volunteer activities (for the City, his church and an organization called CASA), reading and foreign travel. He and his wife have three daughters, an actor, a dancer and a speech pathologist, living in New York and Chicago.
Why do you think libraries are important?
Three institutions are central to the transmission of human culture: universities, libraries and organized religion. Sorry, that’s pretty ponderous. OK, libraries are just fun. Really, how many things can you say that about? There’s no other place you can go for books (paper and digital), magazines, newspapers, music, movies and events for adults and kids—all free (except for a few tax dollars). Try that at your favorite big-box store.
What made you apply to be on the library board?
I applied to the board hoping to play a small role in sustaining, perhaps even improving, one of the most successful enterprises in Mid-Missouri—our public library system. We can’t take our libraries for granted. If they were to disappear, what would we replace them with?
What is the role of the district board as you see it?
The role of the district board is, first, to support our director and the excellent staff she has assembled and, second, to help build support for our libraries in the communities they serve. Board members are temporary stewards of an irreplaceable resource.
What makes DBRL special?
DBRL’s staff in Columbia, Fulton and Ashland are never content with the status quo. There is an ethos within the library system of constantly seeking ways to improve. Our facilities and collections are terrific. And there are no late fees. (You do have to bring things back, though.)
What are you most proud of regarding the district board?
Members of the board really believe in libraries. We take very seriously our fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Columbia and Boone and Callaway counties, and we believe that every tax dollar should count. Finally, we give our full support to the library staff in the management of our three libraries, which they do very, very well.
What challenges does DBRL face in the coming year or years?
All organizations, but particularly libraries, face the challenge of keeping up with technological change. We have to be able to evaluate, sometimes even anticipate, new technologies and determine how to implement those our patrons will want and need.
Do you have a favorite memory or story about libraries from your youth?
When I was a 4-year-old in Syracuse, Missouri, my grandmother stayed with me a year while my father superintended and my mother taught in Otterville. My most exciting times that year, other than when Grandma set the pasture on fire (which, unfortunately, she did only once), were the bi-weekly visits of the bookmobile. It stopped at the end of our lane just for us. It was my year of stories with Grandma, the year I learned to read. Grandma, who wasn’t very practical, didn’t teach me to tie my shoelaces; I had to be taught that in school.