Meet Gina Millsap, Director-at-Large
I’m the chief executive officer of the Topeka & Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library. I’ve worked in libraries for 40 years and received my Masters of Library Science from the University of Missouri, in the previous century. My degree may be an antique, but my outlook isn’t; I’m a Library Journal "Mover and Shaker" and past-president of the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA). I currently serve as chair of the ALA Committee on Library Advocacy and on the boards of Lyrasis, an organization that serves libraries and 712 Innovations, a community cowork/makerspace in Topeka. I am immediate past chair of Heartland Visioning, the strategic planning process for the Topeka and Shawnee County community and am currently serving as the co-chair of the Topeka and Shawnee County Community Broadband Planning Project. I also ran for (and lost) American Library Association president, so I’m not afraid to take risks and always think “no” means “for now.”
Why I wanted to serve on the PLA Board
I believe this is a golden age for public libraries in the U.S. The irony is that at a time when we've never been busier, stronger, and more involved in our communities, we also face significant challenges in how the public, the media, and decision-makers perceive us. PLA’s focus on leadership, advocacy, and strategic thinking and planning is aligned with the needs of local libraries and helps us position ourselves and our libraries as community assets. I am thrilled to be part of the PLA leadership team that is developing the vision for librarianship and public libraries and the tools and learning opportunities to get us there.
My vision for the future of public libraries
Forty years into my career, I believe public libraries can change the world. We can do that by facilitating real and large-scale change in our communities. We are the great conveners. People trust us and other organizations want to work with us on early childhood literacy, health, self-sufficiency, lifelong learning, and generally making our communities better places to live, work, play, and learn. Library education and toolkits for librarians and library administrators must change significantly so that we can be the community leaders we must be to fulfill those roles.
My favorite book
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I took four semesters of Shakespeare in college and several fiction courses, including 18th and 19th Century English Novel. There's pretty much not a plot or character that between them, they haven't covered. I love Jane's wit and the way she captured details about everyday life in early 19th century England. I'm clearly not alone, if you look at the number of adaptations and novels and stories that attempt to pick up where Jane left off with Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and the rest of her memorable characters. From Bridget Jones' Diary to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it has inspired creative, sometimes bizarre, storytelling. I challenge anyone to name another book that has inspired such love and with the influence and staying power of Pride and Prejudice!
Somewhere I love to frequent in my community
In addition to the library, I love our Topeka Civic Theatre. It's the oldest continuously operating community dinner theatre in the country. It's located in a lovely historic renovated elementary school and has some of the best productions you'll see anywhere. Like libraries, community theater builds community and helps the arts flourish. I introduced my grandchildren to live theater there and we've seen everything from The Wizard of Oz with real flying monkeys to Spamalot. And live theater accompanied by a glass of wine and a piece of cheesecake makes life worth living.
Photo: Selfie shot with Gina (bottom right) and her husband, Ried; grandson, Austin; and granddaughter, Allison at the Salinas Zoo in Kansas.