Library Lovers Month
Hearts. Flowers. Chocolate. It’s the season of love, but I’m not talking about Valentine’s Day. February is Library Lovers Month- the perfect time to celebrate everything libraries do to strengthen their communities. But libraries would be nothing without the people who work there. So what is it really like to work in one? I asked some of the staff at libraries in Jefferson and Waukesha counties to share what they love about working at a library.
“I love our community!” said Courtney, the Children’s Assistant Librarian at the Muskego Public Library. The Muskego Public Library started a community garden in 2021 to grow food for the Muskego Food Pantry. “If we ask for any kind of community involvement, our community steps up,” said Courtney. Last summer, the Muskego community donated plants and materials, and volunteered their time to care for the garden all season.
“Our patrons are the best,” said Sarah, a library assistant at the Jefferson Public Library. “We have regulars hanging out and new people wandering in. I also love being able to recommend the right book/author and help someone find the right resource.”
Jon, an Adult Services Librarian at the New Berlin Public Library, loves that “every day at the library is fun and unique. I can be helping a patron find books on different kinds of butterflies one moment, and the next moment be discussing the best 80s rock albums as a patron gives me their recommendations for our new vinyl collection.”
“I enjoy the little connections that are made with patrons. It is fun to confirm someone’s long awaited book has arrived or agree that they picked out a great movie,” said SJ, a library staff member at the Alice Baker Library in Eagle.
Kristyn, a customer service specialist at the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library in Whitewater, said she loves “seeing the new books and movies come in, meeting different people every day, and all the resources we have to offer. One perk I love about working here is finding books on the shelf that interest me while I’m shelving, when I probably would have never known about them if I didn’t work here.”
Building Community Connections
Jennie, the Oconomowoc Public Library’s Special Services Coordinator, visits eight senior living facilities every month to deliver books to residents who cannot travel to the library. “What were once transactional interactions are now personal connections filled with conversation and care,” Jennie said. When reflecting on the differences librarians make, Jennie added, “A thriving community doesn’t just need services. It needs relationships, and it is through these relationships that I understand just how important my work is.”
“Dwight Foster Public Library is my second home and the staff my second family,” Sandy, the circulation librarian at the library in Fort Atkinson, shared with me. “I am so connected to this library and the community I have the privilege to serve every day.” From visiting the library as a stay-at-home mother to now working there full-time, Sandy added, “Over 25 years, I’ve seen the power of words. Not just the words written on the page, but the spoken words we share with each other.”
Librarians Make Libraries Unique
When I asked what made their libraries special, Monica and Ed, library staff at the New Berlin Public Library, both mentioned the library’s unique collections, such as vinyl records, sleds, and baking pans, which are popular and useful for patrons.
Diane, the assistant director of the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library, said, “We have a little free library outside, we have a coat exchange provided to us by the Community Clothes Closet (a local nonprofit organization), and we have a little free pantry.” Because the library is open more often than the local food pantries, Jaroch added, “the community is able to access food at a time that is convenient for them. We stock the pantry every day, and sometimes more than once a day.”
Noah, Adult Services Coordinator at the Elm Grove Public Library, pointed to the library’s Friends group and community supporters, saying “It is such a comfort to have so many advocates in the village who appreciate the work we do and the value of the public library to the community.”
We Are All the Library
Finally, I asked staff if they had any favorite stories to share. Eric, the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Mukwonago Community Library, shared that he loved to play Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, but never had any opportunities to meet others who also played. Now, he leads a D&D program at the library “for those teens who want to go adventuring but don’t have a group of their own. Every session is filled, and I couldn’t be happier to provide that opportunity I didn’t have growing up.”
Reflecting on the weeks when the library building was closed during the spring of 2020, Sandy said, “I don’t think any of us will ever take for granted the gift of human connection within the library again. It’s wonderful to have our doors open and meet our community’s needs in person.”
When we think of a library, we may think of a building full of books and other materials. But the library isn’t a building at all. It’s you. It’s me. And it’s the people behind the desk, helping us use the computers, pointing us to the perfect book, or making crafts with kids and teens after school.
So next time you stop by your library, say thanks. Give them a smile. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.
Written by Jill Fuller, Marketing & Communications Librarian for Bridges Library System. A version of this article appeared in several local newspapers in February 2022. We are sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.