Speaker Series: Chief Librarian Marcellus ‘MT’ Turner on Representation, Community and Support

Marcellus MT Turner

Our ongoing speaker series aims to highlight and elevate Black voices from our community and to foster productive dialogue within the walls of Luquire.

Marcellus “MT” Turner felt “the call of the library” from an early age. His first jobs included cutting out snowflakes and leaves for the bulletin board, shelving the read biographies and date-stamping books. Now more than a decade into a fulfilling career in library leadership, that love only continues to grow.

An academic librarian by training, MT spent the last 10 years as head of the Seattle Public Library before moving to Charlotte in April. Now CEO and Chief Librarian of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, MT knows that on any given day, he’s going to wear many different hats.

“I get to be an architect, and on some days I get to be a business manager,” he said. “On some days, I have to do finance. Some days, I have to be a legal analyst.”

Community Support Through COVID

MT spoke to the massive effects COVID has had on library systems, requiring library staff members to be nimble and find new ways to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Building up electronic libraries and shifting to virtual story times were just a few of the ways MT and his staff adapted over the past 18 months.

“When people say, ‘Are you going to get back to normal?’ I try to divest them of that thought and say that we’re just trying to get back to ‘familiar,’” MT said. “We want people to know what it’s like to come in and use the library.”

COVID also had an outsized impact on communities of color and those experiencing homelessness, both of whom often rely on public libraries as part of critical support systems. Access to internet and computers, homework resources for students, and even a warm, dry place to rest were all challenged and strained as access was limited. Library leaders and staff members had to find increasingly creative ways to help their communities.

Representation in Leadership

We were honored to hear MT tell stories about his experiences at libraries across the country, some funny and others soberingly real. Once, while serving on a panel focused on African American men in librarianship and the lack of representation, MT was asked what the library community could do about it.

“Anytime I’m asked to speak,” he said, “I never turn down that opportunity because I’m hopeful that someone will hear about what we do or get an opportunity or to experience it.” We encourage everyone to use and visit their local library, as this is a simple and effective way to support such an important pillar of every community. To show our gratitude to MT and the library, we’re