Q & A with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner

Marcellus Turner, or “MT” as he prefers, celebrated his first-year anniversary, last month as the new CEO and chief librarian of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system. He’s also a first-time resident of Charlotte. Turner is originally from the Jackson, Mississippi area. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi University for Women (a co-ed university) and later a master’s degree in library science from the University of Tennessee.

As his first-year milestone approached, we talked with Turner, an avid reader since childhood, to learn about his passion for helping libraries and communities thrive. We asked him about his momentous career and some of his goals to help Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries excel.

Q. When and how were you attracted to the field of library science?

MT: I started working in libraries in the fourth grade, so it probably started there; though I never thought of it as a profession at the time.

Q. When did you decide on it as a profession?

MT: I went to graduate school at the University of Tennessee to study speech pathology and audiology. I had a couple of housemates who were library science majors. I had the only car, so I ended up driving them to and from school from time to time. I started looking at what they were doing and realized I might want to do the same thing. So, I got my master’s degree in library science from the University of Tennessee in 1988.

Afterward,I worked in academic libraries for six years.I then switched to public libraries. It’s exciting work. I’ve really enjoyed it. Now, it has been about 34 years.

Q. During your career, you’ve worked in libraries across the United States. Beginning in 2011, you spent nearly 10 years as executive director and chief librarian of Seattle’s Public Library (SPL) system, and the SPL won a Public Library of the Year award in 2020. After such a major accomplishment, what inspired you to leave Seattle to come here?

MT: One, I wanted to live in a different place for a while. I like moving around geographically, and I hadn’t lived in the South in a long time. So, I wanted to do so again. Also, because Charlotte Mecklenburg Library was a leading library system many years ago. They were still doing great things, but I don’t think people realized that, so I was happy to come here and try to amplify some of the great work they are doing.

Q.  What are some of your plans for Charlotte’s libraries?

MT: We have several projects going on now. First, we’re opening a new main library in Uptown, and we’re turning the building around so the main entrance will be on Tryon, to make it more easily accessible. The project was well underway when I joined the system and is tentatively scheduled to open in fall 2025. Plus, we’re opening new libraries in Pineville and University City.

We’re also working to provide needed resources to the public by engaging more in our neighborhood communities and partnering with many organizations to deliver great services.

Q. What goals do you have to help the underserved, digitally destitute and those with limited transportation?

MT: One of our bigger goals for Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries is we’re going to do a lot more work in the area of reading proficiency for kids, for parents and caregivers. We’ve observed that many of our kids who can’t read have parents or caregivers who don’t read at a proficient level to be able to help their kids. So, we’re going to try to address that issue.

We have computers and digital hotspots that patrons can come in and freely use, and we’re adding much more technology in the new main Charlotte Library in Uptown; yet it’s still going to feel like a library.

The Public Library System also set a goal years ago that every resident would be within 15 minutes of a public library to relieve transportation concerns.

Q. How do you plan to draw people who are tech savvy and may think they no longer need to visit a library?

MT: We’re definitely bringing in more technology than before. There still will be places for independent study. There still will be books, other materials and staff, but we want to show the public that libraries are more than just books or just what you may remember growing up. I want to liberate people’s ideas of what a library can be.

And we’re going to do that by providing great program opportunities for patrons to engage with our business, educational, informational and recreational partners within their communities and Uptown. When you live in one of our neighborhood library communities, you rarely get to the main library. But we want Charlotte’s main library in Uptown to be a “must-visit destination” for all.

Q. That’s great! Finally, what is your most important, personal goal for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system?

MT: My job here is to ensure that the Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries make a difference in the lives of our users and the community. If patrons need to borrow books, need to use computers, or if they need assistance finding information—my goal is to make sure we’re doing that through programs and services that are accessible to everyone in our communities.