Why He’s interesting: Over the last 11 years, Thomas presided over the Cleveland Public Library. Last year, Thomas celebrated the institution’s 150th anniversary with a street-wide festival and announced a $100 million makeover of all 27 library branches.
Fine-Free: In July 2019, for the first time in Cleveland’s history, Thomas cut late fees from CPL’s registrar, primarily in an effort to further bridge the city’s “digital divide.” Hosting revamped Maker Faires and anticipating improved tech-friendly spaces also isn’t without a sense of social equity. “Fifty-one percent of our children are living in poverty. I’m thinking then, How do we make it easier for people to come in our doors? Not harder.”
Literary Bunch: The oldest of seven, Thomas grew up in segregated West Las Vegas, dodging gang violence by taking refuge in a library. He took his first job at 13, as a page, a literary start that would lead to library and information science school in Honolulu. “My brothers and sisters saw my path as a way out, as well. Five of us ended up working in libraries at some point in our lives.”
Drum Major: Thomas wasn’t always sold on a librarian’s lifestyle. A lifelong lover of sports (he has a cap for every Cleveland franchise), he once tossed around the idea of becoming a sports psychologist. During his teenage years, he was an on-and-off rock drummer. “I was really into punk-metal at the time. Even now, friends always tell me, ‘You should get a drum set and start playing!’ ”
Big Move: Save for his two-year master’s at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Thomas spent about 42 years of his life in his hometown. Uprooting his life in late 2008 came with a more 180-degree change than just the weather. “Moving your family across the country is more of an overwhelming challenge than you can predict.”
Words Of Inspiration: In 2017, nearly 70% of Cuyahoga County residents voted for a tax levy that would increase CPL’s funding to roughly $8.1 million, money that will go to the system’s capital improvement plan. As for why the levy passed effortlessly, Thomas says the positive feedback he receives personally from patrons is undeniably the root cause. “One man talked about how the staff had helped him find a job after his divorce. He started crying. I owe that all to my staff.”
Thomas has read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye every year since he was 16.
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