Originally Published: February 7, 2016 6:04 a.m.
Chino Valley Library Director Scott Bruner had a full-time job as a print manager in Tempe when a letter arrived from the Mesa library offering him a part-time job there.
The thing was, he never applied. He soon learned his wife had filled out the application and signed his name.
She told him, "The happiest I ever saw you was in the library."
Bruner couldn't disagree - so he added nights and weekends at the library to his already full work schedule. Then another letter arrived in the mail, this one from the University of Arizona. It welcomed him to graduate school and told him to take the GRE.
Again, it was his wife's doing. He said she told him, "I think it's your calling, you just don't know it."
He knows it now.
"I never meant to do this," he said. "But every day's a good day in the library."
Prescott Valley Library Director Stuart Mattson plucked Bruner out of graduate school. After five years in PV, during which he became that library's first reference librarian, the Chino Valley library directorship opened upon the death of director Allen Rothlisberg, who also served as director of parks and recreation.
"They hired me here and I've been here ever since," he said.
That's 17 years at the library's helm. In that time, Bruner has directed Chino Valley's move from card catalogs to radio frequency ID tags and scanning pads. He has overseen three expansions, including last year's project doubling the library's size from 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet.
In recognition of his work, the Arizona Library Association recently honored Bruner with its Librarian of the Year Leadership Award. Factors considered for the award include promoting libraries, service, legislative activity, mentoring, staff development and special projects.
Darlene Westcott, children's librarian/library manager, nominated him for the honor.
"I was here when he started," said Westcott, who marked 20 years at the CV library in December. "When he first started here, the library really needed what he did to it."
She singled him out "because I think he really deserves it. And I'm very happy that he got it."
The library closed so the whole staff could go to Phoenix for the award ceremony, where former Chino Valley Mayor Karen Fann presented him with the plaque.
"It was that important to all of us," she said.
Bruner called the recognition "career-defining" and compared it to a lifetime achievement award: "There's no higher honor than to be recognized by your peers," he said.
He said he used to look at the Librarian of the Year recipient and think "I'll never ascend to that throne." But he did - "and in Chino Valley, no less."
"It doesn't matter where you're at, it's the impact you make in the community," he said.
Chino Valley's library is making quite the impact. It sees an average of 6,200 visitors a month, with 118,565 items checked out.
"That's a lot of foot traffic for this little library," he said.
Bruner credits the library's success to staff and volunteers, particularly Friends of the Chino Valley Library.
"I've had a lot of help," he said.
Westcott agreed, saying Bruner works great with the public, employees and volunteers.
"We sure couldn't run the library without the volunteers," she said.
Other help came in the form of Bruner's mentors, Mattson and Santa Bicca. When he met Bicca in graduate school, Bicca told him, "I've been looking for you my whole life." Bicca, now deceased, wanted someone raw to polish and turn into a librarian - and he made Bruner promise to do the same for someone else.
He chose Shelly Gilliam, who's now the manager of public services and instruction at Yavapai College.
"I was the lucky girl," Gilliam said.
When she walked into the library with no experience, he offered her a part-time job. And every week for seven years, he asked her when she was going to sign up for library school.
"He saw my potential when I didn't see it," she said. "He checked in with me throughout the entire program just to see how I was doing."
Gilliam said Bruner is generous to give so readily of his time, advice, expertise and encouragement.
"He really loves what he does," she said. "That spills into everybody else."
The award may be a defining moment in Bruner's career, but it has only encouraged him to do more.
"It reaffirms what you do and you want to do more," he said. "It also reinforces the belief that you're helping the community out - but they're helping you because they believe in what you do."
He enjoys seeing how community members support the library. One patron built a custom card catalog; another donated a sculpture for the entrance. The Friends of the Library are a lifeline - he can't run the library without their support - and volunteers help keep the doors open. The patrons are also a source of encouragement.
"They're here because they want to be here," he said.
Sometimes folks bring in veggies from their garden or baked goods from their kitchens - and when they do, Bruner is there to say "hi."
"I try to greet everybody in this library on a first-name basis," he said. "It's all good. I've got the best job in the world."
Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2036, or 928-830-2928.