Pet People: OPL Executive Director Gary Wasdin

By on November 10, 2014

Gary Wasdin is from Jacksonville, Florida, and has taken on his hometown’s identity in a way. Jacksonville, having its own unique claims to fame, wasn’t “Florida” in the minds of many, so, eventually, Wasdin called “Southern Georgia” home. It’s the largest city (by measure of square miles) in the country. It’s not “Florida” in the sense that most think Florida as being (no white sand beach resorts, being a summertime “Paradise,” etc.), but it’s Florida. Wasdin, being diverse in his interests and not so easily labeled, can identify with his home town in that regard.

Though he’s in Omaha now, and has called many places his residence since leaving Jacksonville at age 19, it’s still “home.” His family lives there still. He’s the youngest of four. It’s a “decent place,” he says, and he comes from a very decent family if you’re asking this writer. His mother and father did noble work as a teacher and minister respectively. Omaha is different than his other homes, however, in that it’s landlocked. I suppose that doesn’t seem like a big deal to us Nebraskans, but for someone like Gary, it’s a change.

After leaving Jacksonville, he studied. Then, he studied some more. After that, he did some studying. Wasdin started his collegiate career at Jacksonville University, moved on to Augusta State, and finally finished up at Southern Connecticut State where he received a master’s degree in library science. Before the M.A., Wasdin received a degree in theatre. The initial degree took him ten years to complete. “My interests were so varied,” he says, “and I changed majors a lot.” Wasdin was and still is interested in many things. From technology to math, medicine to stage, Wasdin was all over the place trying to find a niche. Library science was his final destination as it let him satisfy the cravings for so many things. “I managed a furniture store, worked in a coffee shop…librarianship was my outlet to dabbling in all the areas of the world I was interested in,” he says.

He’s the current director of the Omaha Public Library system, but his travels took him all over the country before arriving in Omaha. He was the Assistant Dean of the Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama. From 2003 to 2009, he worked in New York as a library director and trainer in the New York Public Library System. He also worked as a librarian before the “Big O.” One thing that has remained constant is his love for literature.


Wasdin says he was “destined to do this job.” He was always a big library user. His mother recalls a memory of little Gary with a book in his hands; pretending to read, she thought he was so cute. “What she didn’t realize was that I was actually reading!” he says. He loved everything growing up- a true librarian at heart with his endless love for every aspect the world had to offer. “Librarianship was about the only practical answer to that question of ‘what are you going to do with your life,'” he says.

The theatre degree, you might think, was a waste, being a library’s director and all. You’d be wrong in that assessment. As a library director, Wasdin spends much of his time making appearances, being a hands-on administrator, dealing with the media and being an ambassador for the OPL system. “My theatre degree, believe it or not, has helped me with much of what I do on a daily basis. Interviews, public speaking and public relations; it all taps into what I learned when I studied theatre.” He remembers loving books as a child, but cites a specific American Novel class during his college career that catapulted his love for reading into a career in books.

He has two master’s degrees (library science and English), but he cites fate and serendipity as the reasons why he is where he is today.

As a library director, Wasdin says, no two days are alike. People think of librarians as being sedentary, quiet and lonesome at their desks. Not so. “On a daily basis, I’m out in the community, I’m representing the library,” he says. Most of the time, in fact, he’s outside of his library office. He’s out and about, talking with and building new community partners. He’s in meetings, visiting library branches, sitting in on programs and doing much more. As a leader is often doing, he’s answering emails, talking to the media and filling the public in on what he and the library system is doing. “I spend a lot of time talking about what the library does,” Wasdin says.

You might be asking, “What exactly does the library do?” Sure- it checks out books, directs researchers to resources and houses written documents. That’s what the library did through the 20th century. The library still does that, but it also does a bunch of other things you might not be aware of. The library is equipped to house electronic books. The library has a “Baby Reads” program that provides newborns with items that (hopefully) contribute to a life full of learning opportunities. The library holds seminars of genealogy, history, has book signings and author readings, provides kids a chance to read with therapy animals like Devon the dog… on and on. Check out the Omaha Public Library’s Web site for all of the things OPL does for the community. Wasdin has many things to boast about as his library system is more than a bunch of branches which house books.

Speaking of Devon the dog, the therapy pup who reads with kids each week, another of Wasdin’s interests is animals. When he moved to Omaha, Wasdin had two long-time cat pals. Unfortunately, his kitties died about three years ago. Wanting a pet, he and his partner, Luis, scanned the Nebraska Humane Society Web site for potential puppy pals. Upon seeing a picture of a litter of Chihuahua/Dachshund pups (affectionately called Chi-Weenies), Gary and Luis fell in love. They visited the Nebraska Humane Society, took their eventual pup, “Chico,” to one of their playrooms and discovered Chico’s gentleness and sweet heart. “We hit the jackpot with Chico,” Wasdin says. He’s a lapdog and is “very therapeutic, Wasdin says.  “After a long day, to come home to Chico is very soothing.”



Growing up, Wasdin and his family always had animals. A dog here, a cat there; often, the cats were Manx (a breed very special to this author). Manx kitties are very sweet little hunters with no tails. A genetic “defect” gives them a nub instead of a long, springy tail like other cats. Missing his own cats, Wasdin looked into feline friends during the summer of 2014. Fred and George were orange tabbies who were being fostered by a family via the Nebraska Humane Society. Luis and Gary debated getting one and eventually decided on both. Cats really do get along better with a pal, in case you didn’t know… So the family was made up of Gary and Luis two years ago; fast forward to today and now includes a Chi-Weenie named Chico and two little tabbies names Fred and George. The cat names come from the Weasley children of the Harry Potter series of young adult novels.

Luis has been in Gary’s life since 2004. They love to travel, love to enjoy new and favorite foods, partake in cooking for themselves and love to read. Gary’s reading varies, but he enjoys non-fiction more than anything. He listens to ebooks, downloads mp3s and takes in programs as a library administrator and simply as a library user. Recently, he’s read Donna Tartt’s award-winning Goldfinch, the Omaha Reads selection for this year, The Meaning of Names, and some other timeless favorites from the Modernist period including Truman Capote. He can be found reading news, non-fiction and novels on his iPad.

His job description as the Executive Director for the Omaha Public Library system is lengthy, but his goals for the future are clear. He started as Director in 2010 and has accomplished a lot, he says, but more improvements are in his sights. “Sixty-two percent of Douglas County has a library card,” he says. “We want that number up.” He also wants to communicate to the public that the library is an investment we all fund. There are wonderful resources and we’re paying for them, so why not use and share them? “We want to raise awareness. We want people to see what they get from their investment.” With programs like the aforementioned genealogy and summer reading schedules for kids, there are countless activities for all of us to enjoy, including animals!


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If you love to read, love the community and want to see what your investment produces, get to know your local branch and do visit the Omaha Public Library Web site to enjoy your library and what Wasdin has helped to build for Omaha.



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