Sean Casserley is unlike any head librarian Johnson County has ever known.
His accent is the first sign. Then there is his story of growing up poor in New Zealand, making his way to the United States to end up working in concessions in Glacier Park before he made good.
Casserley, 46, takes over the Johnson County Library system May 7 at a time when it faces difficult financial troubles and a state of transition because of the digital revolution.
But change is one thing that is no stranger to Casserley, and he advises Johnson Countians that it will be necessary to meet the challenges head on.
“Change seems to be happening to us all at an accelerating rate,” said Casserley in a telephone interview Monday. “Let’s be active and engage in that change. It’s not a time to stick your head in the sand. It’s a time to look at the horizon and be change active.”
Casserley already has captivated leaders in Johnson County.
“He is extremely personable,” said Kasey Riley, library communications manager. “He is extremely good at his work. And his accent is really charming.”
Casserley was born in Champaign, Ill., where his father was studying literature in college. Both parents were from New Zealand. But when Casserley was 2, they divorced and his mother returned to New Zealand, living first in Wellington and then Paraparaumu, off the Tasman Sea.
She remarried and his adoptive father was a manager of a fabric store.
But times were hard.
“We were quite poor,” Casserley said. “My mother had a $12-a-week food allowance.”
Sometimes his dad would get a free meal from work. Instead of eating it, he would bring it home and split it among the family members.
Casserley wore uniforms to school but when he was invited to classmates’ parties, his mother struggled to get him long pants and lace-up shoes.
“I have a greater appreciation for my parents,” he said.
Casserley said he was studying math in New Zealand when he decided to visit friends in Montana. He was 20, and after arriving in the United States he decided to stay.
He took a job in concessions at Lake McDonald in Glacier Park. But then he met a girl from Indiana and followed her there. But they broke up.
He met his wife at Purdue University and has been married for 22 years.
After getting his undergraduate degree, he got a graduate degree in library science from Indiana University.
He has been working for the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne since 1994, the last three as the bibliographic and information technology manager, overseeing 79 employees.
Casserley says Johnson County Library’s financial woes aren’t that much different from what other libraries are experiencing across the country, including in Fort Wayne, and they won’t be solved overnight, but he is optimistic they will be.
The competition between libraries, book stores like Barnes and Noble and electronic books are stiff.
But libraries are more than a book store, Casserley said. That’s because they are community centers that can assist people in an age of too much information. That information overload can be seen through YouTube, where every minute of every day, 60 hours of content is uploaded.
But Casserley says librarians should be able to assist people in finding information they might desperately need for a job, for unemployment, or for a medical diagnosis.
“You can find out more about your condition and then have a more meaningful conversation with your doctor or your caregiver,” Casserley said.
A literate community is a strong one, he said.
Casserley enjoys a wide variety of activities, including swimming, surfing, cartooning, creating small movies and videos and playing the guitar. He and his wife also ran an aikido club for several years.
Casserley, who will make $129,000 a year, will oversee the library’s 12 branches and the Central Resource Library, which has 310 employees and has a budget of $23.1 million.
To reach Karen Dillon, call 816-234-4430 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.