By Susan Elzey
Special to the Register & Bee
The career of a librarian often invokes the images of sternness and owlish glasses on top of a gray bun, plus a lot of telling people to be quiet.
But Jon Bradsher, the new director of Danville’s Ruby B. Archie Public Library, comes to his job by way of the Iraqi desert and intriguing work as an intelligence officer.
Originally from Person County, North Carolina, where Bradsher, 50, currently lives, he foresaw a quiet career in archival library work. He first graduated from The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1991, then earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1997.
“Afterwards I began to work in the Sand Hills area of North Carolina, which has the largest geographical library system in North Carolina, although the population is near the bottom,” he said. “The library covered five counties. I stayed three years and then became the director of the library of North Greenville University.”
After 9/11 he wanted to get an officer’s commission and join the Navy, but the Navy only was accepting prior service personnel.
“So I joined the Naval Reserve in 2003 and was later offered a commission,” he said.
When he joined, his score on a test showed him to be a good candidate for intelligence work and he subsequently became an intelligence specialist.
After being activated in 2007, he was attached to U.S. Army units as an intelligence officer and found himself not in a quiet library but in the middle of the Iraqi desert.
“Our mission in the desert was to kill or capture high-level intelligence operatives and interrogate them,” he said. “Then when I was in Bahrain, I was working on keeping ships in the Persian Gulf safe.”
Once back from Iraq in 2008 and again a reservist, he was contacted by a government-contracted intelligence company that asked him if he wanted to go back into intelligence work. He agreed and was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia.
“I was expecting to access to all sort of top-secret files. I thought I would understand Area 51 and know who shot John Kennedy, but it was run-of-the-mill stuff,” he said.
He stayed there from 2009 to 2011 and then spent two years in Charlottesville, also in intelligence.
By that time his parents were aging and having health problems, so he got out of the Navy and moved back to Person County, working in Greensboro as assistant director of the Greensboro Public Library. In 2015 he became the director of the Granville County Library System which he did until he started his new job in Danville last month.
“This was a fortuitous opportunity when it opened up,” Bradsher said. “Having grown up in Person County, there were two big cities — Durham and Danville. I always thought Danville was beautiful.”
Commuting 45 minutes to get to his job, he and his wife, LaRae, have plans to move closer to Danville. They were both in the Navy when they met and have a blended family of four children. Bradsher serves as an assistant scoutmaster in Person County, having become an Eagle Scout when he was 14.
“My son wanted to beat me and get his Eagle before he was 14, but he didn’t,” Bradsher said with a smile.
He said he is impressed with how well the Danville library is doing and called it “an outstanding institution.”
“I want to continue to expand the library and seek out new ways to assist the public,” he said.
At the present the position of adult services librarian is open, and one of his goals is to fill that position and continue to expand programming.
He oversees a budget of about $1 million, which includes the downtown library, the Westover Drive branch and the law library. The budget includes funding for programming, materials acquisition and staff.
He said there are more than 60,000 print volumes in the library, as well as 422,000 electronic books available and an annual circulation of about 177,000 items.
“Libraries aren’t just four walls and a bunch of books now. They are so much more,” he said. “They are places people get together and meet and a gateway to electronic resources. There is also programming to stimulate the mind. We always have a goal of providing for the public.”
Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7991.