Retiring Warren brought changes to system
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Plain Dealer Reporter
Lakewood- Lakewood’s top librarian is stepping down, after outlasting his crosstown rival.
Kenneth Warren will retire next July, nearly a year after Stephen Wood ended a somewhat parallel career in a somewhat parallel suburb, Cleveland Heights.
The short, formal, outspoken Warren admits to competing with the big, spontaneous, outspoken Wood since coming to Lakewood in 1984.
“Cleveland Heights Public Library had the reputation of being the best public library in Ohio,” says Warren. “I wanted to do better.”
Does he think he pulled it off?
“I do,” Warren says with a small smile. “I’ll say it simply on the hours of access.”
Warren keeps his main branch open a rare 80 hours per week, including all seven evenings to 9 p.m.
Both Warren and Wood automated their libraries and made them bustling multipurpose centers. Both have remade their main branches in recent years and stayed two years longer to shake them down.
“You need to deploy,” Warren says. “You need to occupy.”
Both librarians drew fire at times from constituents. The free-spirited Wood spanned Heights’ main drag with a skywalk and hid public computers behind privacy screens. The vigilant Warren has deployed staffers to oversee patrons’ screens and, at least once, from a remote computer.
Warren, 55, does everything with energy, method and purpose. He usually wears suits. He keeps no decorations in his office. He speaks in full, round sentences dotted with obscure words like “meme,” which means an idea or behavior that others can learn or imitate.
Warren does things Warren’s way. While most libraries integrate media, he keeps computers and books in separate rooms so they don’t distract from each other. He gives troublesome young patrons “individual library plans” with goals like “honor silence.”
Warren has hosted everything at the library from variety shows to food distributions to an event called “Night of the Living First Novelist.” He also paid for the definitive Lakewood demographic analysis, often used by other officials.
On the side, Warren is a respected poet, critic and editor. He helped found and lead many civic organizations, such as the Lakewood Observer and Lakewood Earth and Food Community. He has run the Lakewood Christian Service Center, the Lakewood Kiwanis and the Ohioana Library Association.
Locals say Warren’s strong style clicks in Lakewood.
“He has strong opinions that seem to match the community’s,” says Linda Murray of the Ohio Library Association, who will help Lakewood search for a new director.
“Some people think he runs too tight of a ship, but he’s doing that partly because he has seen a slow decay in civilized society,” says Mayor Ed FitzGerald. “It’s hard to argue with his results.”
Even Warren’s arch rival compliments him. Woods, retired from 31 years in the Heights, says, “His style works for him. Both communities are heavy users of their libraries and love what they have.”
Warren comes from Queens, N.Y., and got a master’s degree in library science from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
To broaden his horizons, he worked in a children’s department in Waco, Texas. Then he ran two libraries in New Jersey. In 1984, Ohio’s reputation for great libraries helped lure him to Lakewood.
Like most contemporary librarians, Warren added CDs, DVDs, talking books and more. He persuaded voters to pass all his tax measures. He created a foundation to pay for extras.
Warren may be most remembered for the main library’s $16 million remake. He doubled the space and made the new place look more traditional than ever, with tall columns and high ceilings.
“It’s about giving a sense of elevation and Carnegie ideals,” Warren says, invoking that generous patron, Andrew Carnegie.
The library doesn’t lack for fun, though. It sports big windows, a section called “Wild Ideas,” and a children’s area called “Lakewood Libranium.”
Warren plans never to hold a steady job again. And he vows never to leave Lakewood, where he and his wife, Suzanne, raised two sons, both writers.
He will keep editing the literary journal, “House Organ.” He plans to write “The Emperor’s New Code, ” a “psycho-poetic” study of two rival poets from Gloucester, Mass. He already has co-edited one of those poets’ collections.
Warren says he’s retiring young to live his “unlived life.”
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