While on vacation in Orlando, Fla., with his two children, Dean Gualco was giddy to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. The highlight was snagging five replicas of Harry Potter's magic wand without having to wait the two-and-a-half hours at Ollivander's Wand Shop.

"It stays on my desk, something to keep hands occupied," he said. "I wanted to get the wizard robe too, but we ran out of time."

For this bookworm, working as the director of the Lodi Public Library is nothing short of an adventure.

Gualco has worked for more than five years in the human resources department for the city, ironing out conflicting rules and renewing outdated procedures.

But now, he reckons, that problem is pretty well dealt with.

"I'm more of a fixer than a maintainer," he said.

Bringing the Lodi Public Library fully into the 21st century and transforming it into a community center looks like the next problem he could be fixing.

Nancy Martinez retired in December, leaving the library board to find a candidate to fill her place.

But Gualco, from his seat in human resources, didn't want to hire for a temporary solution. With his degrees in education and public and business administration, he figured he could do the job himself.

"I'm absolutely aware of what a library is to a community and what it should be," he said. "I can't tell you how excited I am."

After talks with City Manager Rad Bartlam, Gualco took on a hybrid job working at City Hall in the morning, and managing library duties in the afternoon. It's essentially three jobs in one, since there are no plans to hire a library manager.

Though Gualco has never worked in a library before, he certainly knows how access to a great library can improve a life. He's earned three degrees, written five nonfiction books and has taught several college courses, from California to Colorado.

"Life is education. I'll teach and I'll write until I physically and mentally can't do it anymore," he said.

Gualco grew up in Tracy, and got his bachelor's degree from Fresno State University. He earned two master's degrees from the University of Southern California and his doctorate from University of the Pacific.

When he's not working, Gualco likes to play tennis, work on writing his next nonfiction book and collect Harry Potter memorabilia. His favorite book is "Profiles in Courage" by John. F. Kennedy, which he said he reads every few years.

Gualco has lofty ideas on what a library can mean to the people of Lodi.

It's a place for them to build up a toolbox. It's a repository of free knowledge.

"We can't just have a building that exists and expect people to come in. We have to invite them," he said.

It may sound overreaching, but Gualco can back it up with results. In his first month on the job, the library went from being ranked 19th in the area, according to hours open during the week, to third on the same list. Staff voluntary worked out a new schedule, so the change didn't cost anything, he said.

Speaking of cost savings, hiring Gualco as half-time for the library means there is about $50,000 more a year to spend on new books and media.

More changes include requiring library staff to greet customers, monitor patrons more closely, and make the library an appealing and clutter-free place to spend time. He calls it a community living room.

His to-do list might sound idealistic, but Gualco couldn't be more excited.

"This could end up being one of the most gratifying experiences of my life," he said.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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