Richard H. Azar was the Library Director of the Arthur Johnson Memorial Library from 1993 - 1998. He began working at the library at the age of 15. At that time the library was located in Ripley Park and named the Carnegie Library. Richard worked at the library off and on for decades, both before and after its relocation to the present location, and took the Director's position in 1993 when Librarian Betty Lloyd retired.
While working under Mrs. Lloyd, Richard brought the first public computers into the library and the community. Under his guidance and computer expertise the library moved from checking books out by hand to an automated system. The Arthur Johnson Memorial Library was the first library in the state to have Internet access. The Friends of the Library purchased the first public access computer and Richard constructed the library's computer network which grew from one check out computer and one public access computer to a system that expanded as the community's needs grew.
During his tenure as Library Director, Richard expanded the usable space in the library in 1995-1996 through the use of the Library Building Fund and an LSTA Grant. Before renovation, the entire check out collection with the exception of the back issues of magazines and the basement collection was housed entirely on the first floor. After the renovation, a full second floor, a periodical room, a microfilm/computer room, a meeting room, an elevator, a new staircase, the revelation of architectural features and the repainting of the first and second floors provided Raton with a special, spacious library to use. Most librarians would have closed the library during this time of reconstruction. Richard surprised everyone by providing library services during the entire period. Staff met patrons at the doors, took their books, brought them new books and materials, and conducted reference work in the midst of construction while the patrons waited in safely in the tiny front vestibule. Staff wore hard hats and dust masks provided by their director, and the library served the public regardless of noise; ladders and tools everywhere; windows, ceilings, walls and floors removed; dirt; the smell of paint; and moving every shelf, book, piece of furniture and all the equipment a full four times before the job was done.
Richard began hiring teenagers as part time employees in the early 1990s. The first two hired, Aimee Maldonado Feldman and Angie Manfredi, are professional librarians today. This teen employee program lasted until it was no longer possible to hire them due to lack of funds. As as result, some truly excellent young employees got their first on-the-job experience at the library because of the program instituted by Richard Azar.
If there was any one thing Richard's staff believed, it was that he knew just about everything. Need a certain book? Need to know how to locate a certain fact? Need trained on the computer or any aspect of library work? He was the repository of knowledge and expertise that everyone leaned on and learned from. I personally owe him a debt of gratitude for providing me with a career in library service. He hired me, trained me and provided me with the ability to do a job that I have enjoyed for almost two decades.
Even though he resigned in 1998, he still worked for the library as a computer consultant, most often on a volunteer basis. More than that, he helped individuals and businesses as well. His generosity with his time and expertise in many areas was a clear sign of his character. His honesty, intelligence, fearlessness, and kindness will not be forgotten.
Thayla Wright, Library Director