By William P. Thompson
Denise Burnett, director of the Portales Public Library, walked into the library 20 years ago and found a home. She started out in the children’s section and by 1991 she was in charge of the entire library.
”When I first walked into the library and noticed all those books and the smell of the books, I knew I was home,” Burnett said. “I remember in school when we got new textbooks. I just loved the smell of the new books.”
Burnett said it was her grandfather who got her hooked on reading by reciting poetry to her when she was little, on a blanket under the stars.
“We didn’t depend on television when I was growing up,” Burnett said. “I’m very grateful that I learned to live in a world that didn’t depend on television.”
Burnett said she realizes that people nowadays want their information from a variety of sources, not just books.
“Libraries are about information; that’s what we’re about. Not all information is going to come out of books,” she said, “but the future of books is secure. Books are needed as much as any other information tool, and that’s going to continue.”
Burnett’s reading career began with “Readers Digest Condensed Books” delivered to her home as a child. Her reading career took off during high school when she read a book about the Russian czars Nicholas and Alexander.
”That book made me realize how small my world was,” she said. “I never had any real desire to travel. I guess I did my traveling through books.”
Burnett’s latest read is a mystery by James Patterson, “The Fifth Horseman.”
“I read a lot of non-fiction about early childhood development, and I usually read mysteries in the bedroom,” she said.
Burnett said she believes a public library should contain books that appeal to most every conceivable point of view. She said some books the Portales Public Library carries have been challenged by customers based on the books’ views of evolution or the books’ subject matter.
Burnett cited the vampire novels of Anne Rice as one example in which someone has walked into the library and asked that certain books be removed from the shelves. Burnett hasn’t removed any “controversial” books yet.
“I haven’t been formally challenged yet,” Burnett said. “If we have a book that someone finds offensive, then we offer books that have opposing points of view.”
Burnett said her education as a librarian included advice on the variety of books a librarian should stock on the shelves.
“Thirty percent of the materials I purchase for the library, I wouldn’t read myself,” Burnett said. That what we were taught. Ten percent of those books I should find offensive, and that’s probably true.”
Starting out in the children’s section of the library, Burnett has ensured over the years that the library keeps up with the latest in children’s books, and she takes pride in keeping the library’s collection of medical books up to date.
“There is nothing over five years old in the medical collection or in the computer books section,” Burnett said. “Children’s books are much more beautifully illustrated these days. There is probably less violence in children’s books these days and they include more social issues and more diversity.”
Burnett said a public library should be a place of activity.
“Academic libraries would be quiet,” she said, “but a public library is a place for neighbors to meet and chat. We have study rooms with sound-proof walls for those who need quiet.”
Burnett is also the City of Portales’ chief information officer, responsible for the city’s computer licensing agreements and managing the city’s telephone systems. She also is responsible for programming on the Portales community cable TV channel.
With all those duties, she still finds time to spend with her 8-year-old adopted son Kersey.
“We’re both learning to play the piano,” Burnett said. “Imagine learning to play piano at my age. “We also play soccer. He (Kersey) is currently reading C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.”