Archive for the ‘Change’ Category


We grew (in more ways than one)!

January 24, 2012

Dwight Foster Public Library annual circulation: 2000-2011

As we reflect on 2011 here at the Dwight Foster Public Library, we can know one thing for sure:  we grew!  We grew both physically and in terms of usage.   Our successful Foster Growth capital campaign allowed us to renovate and expand our library, adding 12,000 square feet to our existing 21,000.  That growth allowed us to grow in terms of service to our community.  More people than ever not only visited our library to see all that had changed, but they also checked out more items than any other year in the previous ten…by a considerable sum.

A library’s circulation numbers don’t tell the whole story because, by definition, a circulation is simply a count of a physical item that has left the building.   It doesn’t measure how many people read a newspaper, came to use a computer, asked a question, made a photocopy or used a meeting room.   It doesn’t even count e-book circulations.  (That’s a topic for another day.)   However, a library circulation, limited measure that it is, is still a very good way to compare a library to itself over time.   I think the chart above shows a remarkable pattern of steadiness and vitality, particularly in light of our world’s increasingly rapid move from the physical to the digital world.

If you want to ponder another measure, here is a chart depicting the number of library visits based on our people counter (purchased in 2010 and located at the front entry).

Dwight Foster Public Library visits - 2011 compared to 2010

All in all, it was a year of enormous change and significant growth for our library.  If you’d like to read more, you can find the full 2011 annual report here.


A matter of perspective

November 15, 2010

The front of the stained glass as seen in the future new books area

The back of the stained glass as seen from my office

Wow.  They have installed the stained glass piece designed and created by Rudy Bushcott.  Rudy is Fort Atkinson’s assistant city engineer.  He gave the library this work of art a number of years ago.  We had it hanging up high, way above our checkout desk.  It was the best spot we could find for it in our old library due to space constraints.    Many people remarked on its beauty over the years.  But just as many people may never have noticed it because the placement and lighting didn’t do it justice.

When we cleaned out the old library, Rudy kindly came in and boxed it up for us so we could transport it to safety because we had plans to reuse it in our new library.

Not too long ago I got a call from site superintendent, Tom Laufenberg.  He said they were ready for it.  So back to the library it went for installation as the window to the director’s office.   The front side faces the new books area; the back side is in my office.  It’s eye level and the light shines through the glass providing the stunning view you see in the photos.

You will notice the view in my office is better than the view from the public side.  I actually asked Tom (as politely and carefully as possible)  if they’d installed it backwards.  He smiled at me and said, “No, Connie, we knew you’d want the front side facing the public.  We asked Rudy which was the front before we installed it.”   He showed me that the cables running down the backside determine orientation.  The difference, of course, is the lighting.  Because my office lights were not fully installed, the darkness of my office lent itself to the perfect viewing of stained glass.  The light from behind illuminates the piece giving it unbelievable depth and richness.  In fact, I could hardly imagine something more beautiful. The first time I saw it I found myself speechless.

In life, as in art, perspective matters.  The stained glass is the same as it has been since the day we first hung it years ago.  But looking at it in a different place changes everything.   When you look at anything in life from another angle you may notice something you missed before.  When you are in the midst of difficulties, it helps to remember that sometimes you actually need darkness before light shines through and repaints your picture.  In my own life, I’ve found that you just have to keep looking until you find the view that yields clarity.  This library project was years in the making and would not have moved forward if many people hadn’t had faith that our library could be expanded and redefined, much like a fully illuminated work of art, because it was brought forward during a very dark economic time.

I’m forever grateful to everyone who shared in the vision and helped.  When all is said and done, libraries are about helping people find their best view of life.   They allow someone to step inside and right into the shoes of another.  They teach people to reach.  They inform, educate, enlighten.  They afford unlimited opportunities for growth.

A library can not only change your perspective, it can change you.

Thank you for helping foster growth in such a beautiful way, Rudy.


Two doors down…and other changes afoot

November 1, 2010

There is little about our library that hasn’t been considered for change over the course of the last year.  We moved our entire operation last March and have been working on changing our old library building from the inside out since our departure.  (Actually, Joe Daniels Construction Company and its subcontractors have been doing that part.)

As a part of our design, we made the decision to move our front door further down Merchants Avenue.   This is the second time we’ve moved our front entrance.  The first move was made as a part of the 1983 expansion.  At that time we didn’t change our address; we opted to keep it as an East Milwaukee street address even though that had become the side street to the library.  Over the past 27 years, we have realized that having your front door on a street other than your address tends to confuse people.  We are now in the process of making an address change to reflect the fact that our front door is on Merchants Avenue.   When we move back, our address will be 209 Merchants Avenue.

And there are many other changes as well.  The most significant is that we will have two floors of service when we reopen.  That’s a very big difference for staff.  The upstairs will house collections for adults, quiet reading areas, and our research/technology center.  Our lower level will have our checkout area, the children’s library and a room for teens.  Bathrooms and meeting areas will be available on both levels.  We’ll be changing from two meeting rooms to two that are accessible after hours and five that are within the interior of the library.  Our sidewalk has also changed drastically.  The two levels of steps are gone as well as the retaining wall alongside the curb.  The entry is grade-level making accessibility profoundly easier.   The elevator has changed to an machine-room-less (MRL), high efficiency style and is located in the center of the checkout area.   We will have a self-checkout station as well as a staffed checkout.  Our materials return will not be at the front desk anymore but in the entry area accessible from inside and outside.  Our delivery door will move to the back so that all deliveries will be able to go directly into the staff workroom.  Our story time room will be adjacent to the children’s department instead of one floor away.  We are also thinking about changing our library hours based on study of usage patterns and our need to staff our building differently.

Not everything has changed.   You will see parts of our old building you recognize, I promise.  You will also see our valued staff members, in a different space, but with the same service philosophy.

I know change can be daunting and scary.  But it can also be fun and exciting as well as a real opportunity for fostering growth.  I will share with you some words that I refer to for inspiration.


Home sweet temporary home

March 15, 2010

Temporary library at the corner of Janesville and Rockwell Avenues

We are now officially closed while we move our library from 102 East Milwaukee Avenue to our temporary library site at the corner of Janesville and Rockwell Avenues in Fort Atkinson.  This will allow our renovation and expansion project to be on a more efficient schedule, saving many dollars in construction as well as providing for far less disruption to library users.  You can read more about it in the Daily Jefferson County Union.  Regional Editor Ryan Whisner wrote a detailed and informative story.   

We appreciate your patience while we do the work to move about 90,000 items, our furniture, equipment, computer network, telephone system, IT infrastructure and every piece of shelving we own.  Our shelving has to be emptied, broken down, moved, reinstalled, and then reloaded with books, magazines, DVDs, and audiobooks.  Moving an entire library is no small task.  The library staff has worked diligently to prepare for our move and will continue to work hard during the transition.   Staffers have donated many hours of volunteer time and worked side-by-side with the best crew of volunteers you can imagine.   Thank you seems inadequate but I’ll say it anyway.   Thank you each and every one of you! 

Several companies deserve special recognition for their generous in-kind donations at the temporary location. 

Mark Haubenschild, of Spacesaver Corporation, arranged for our mobile storage system to be broken down at the library and reinstalled at our temporary site.  We would not be able to fit our collections in our temporary site if it weren’t for our Spacesaver shelving.  (It absolutely works as advertised.  It allows you to maximize your storage capacity.  With such a finite footprint, every foot is critical.)    We are indebted to Mark and Ron Jordan for arranging for John Cuder to do our Spacesaver installation.  John is an expert and very good-natured to boot.  I know about the good-natured part because…well…let’s just say I tested it while deciding on exact location of the rails.  Local merchants Goyer Ace Hardware, Sherwin Williams, and JM Carpets donated paint and carpeting that helped transform the facility.  We’re very grateful for their support of our community’s library! 

While our library is closed, you may return your materials in our new bookdrop at the temporary library site.  The book drop is located in the parking lot behind the building.  You must enter the parking lot on Janesville Avenue.  You may exit at either Janesville Avenue or behind the building at Rockwell Avenue.  We’re converting the back driveway to an “exit only” to accommodate the traffic flow for the bookdrop.  Making the traffic one way behind the building allows for drive-up access to the bookdrop from a vehicle’s driver’s side.  

The front door to the library is under the blue awning.  It’s not quite the same as entering between our library pillars but it is a very identifiable entryway!  The handicapped accessible entry is located at the back of the building.  

I will report on the move during the week.  Check back for more information.


Words to live by: Don’t settle, wear sunscreen, and for heaven’s sake, share

June 4, 2009

It’s graduation time.   I always enjoy this time of year because I think such an important life passage is to be honored, appreciated, and remembered.

Plus I love to read graduation-related books and speeches.  I have no idea why.  Maybe it is because graduating always made me incredibly happy! (As opposed to studying.)  Several years ago I read the commencement address Steve Jobs gave at Stanford and I thought it was particularly inspirational.  I found the speech on YouTube and thought I’d post it here for your viewing pleasure.

Then there’s the famous, Wear Sunscreen “commencement speech” that was actually not a speech at all, but a “Here’s what I would say if anybody ever asked me to give a graduation speech” essay.  A column originally published in the Chicago Tribune, it was written by Mary Schmich but initially attributed to Kurt Vonnegut incorrectly on the Internet.   Listen to a fascinating interview with Schmich here. (Note:  the actual program doesn’t start until about 30 seconds into the audio.)  You can also read the full text of the Schmich’s beloved column here.

I recently purchased a book called What Now?: Words of wisdom for life after graduation by Jennifer Leigh Selig.  I absolutely love this book for all the wisdom packed in 333 pages.   I was thinking I would give this book to my son as a gift since he’s graduating this year.

But I’m not sure I can part with it.  Maybe I’ll just have to distill it for him and give him a series of envelopes with the best of the words of wisdom collected from a variety of  sources such as I’ve mentioned and other books like, All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.   A batch of envelopes with advice will likely be a better delivery method than my usual barrage of motherly “guidance” because it can be managed…apportioned over a longer period of time…sort of like time released medicine!  (I can pretty much guarantee he’s not likely to rip open all the envelopes and pore over them on graduation day.  Unless he thinks there’s money inside.)   So that’s my plan.  I feel it’s appropriate that I send him on his journey with a box full of…words.

My son’s first envelope might look like this:

Wear sunscreen.  Never settle.  Always do your best.  Work hard.  Pay your bills. Vote.  Get a library card.  Practice the golden rule.  Don’t live beyond your means.  Be respectful.  Love deeply.  Live honestly.  Laugh often.  And for heaven’s sake, share.

Darn.  That’s too many ideas for one envelope.    Maybe I should just have one idea per envelope with supporting documentation.

Expanding on the sharing idea, how about this for the first one?

Give to a worthy cause.

It just so happens I’ve got the perfect supporting documentation for that idea  in the form of a Foster Growth library capital campaign brochure, complete with a form for easy donating.


Warmest congratulations to the entire class of 2009, especially to library staffers Eric, Elizabeth, and Tirzah as well as David and Hans (not staffers, but close).    You’ve worked hard to get where you are today.   May each of you find that your next chapter is filled with all the best that life has to offer.  And lots of bottles of sunscreen.


Business is Booming

April 16, 2009

That’s a rare headline these days.   However, it’s the reality for many libraries in our country.  It’s been the subject of quite a few national news stories.  They are conveniently gathered and available for viewing at the American Library Association’s web site press page.

I can vouch for it here in Fort Atkinson.  We’ve been extremely busy.  We’ve seen an increase of over 12 percent in circulation comparing the first quarters of 2009 and 2007.  If you look at Internet usage, the increase is even more startling.  We’ve had 28% more Internet usage (measured by time spent on our Internet computers) during that same time period.  That’s some pretty incredible growth in a relatively short time period.

It’s nice to be needed.  But I really wish it wasn’t because someone lost their job or home.  I’d prefer that people use us because they wanted to learn something new rather than because of some negative major life challenge.   When times get tough, people do turn to their libraries more than ever.

So here we are.  And here we’ll be.  Regardless of whether the market is labeled bull or bear.  Regardless of the price of gold or Goldman Sachs’s viability.  Regardless of the emergence of text messaging, Twittering, or reading on a Kindle.  (Doesn’t that sentence seem a bit like I’m speaking some kind of foreign language?)

Anyway, we’ll be here because we’re all about providing access…regardless of format.

We were here during the Great Depression, during the booming years, and for all the ones somewhere in between those extremes.

It’s National Library Week.  As we celebrate, we realize we’re a reflection of our community offering a variety of resources that are not only helpful but can actually be life-changing.

We’ll be here…with something for just about everyone.

Unshelved Comic by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum


The problems with disappearing ink

March 24, 2009

Last Tuesday evening, the Fort Atkinson city council approved the contract for services related to the library’s expansion project with Uihlein Wilson Architects.

We are very excited to enter this next chapter and will work diligently to ensure that we move forward in the most thoughtful manner possible.  More about that as the design process unfolds.

I wanted to take a moment to publicly thank James Debilzen, reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union…as well as all the staff and the Daily Union itself.  James wrote the story about the library’s building project that appeared on the front page of the newspaper the day after the city council meeting.   James not only wrote about what transpired at the meeting, but he also did his research regarding the history of our project which allowed him to write an informative, detailed, and accurate story.

James and I joke about the fact that when he first started work at the Daily Union he was told by staff that he’d have to cover the library’s building project…just like the five reporters before him.

Okay, so we’ve been at this project for quite awhile!

All this time, in fact for its entire history, the Daily Union has had a presence everywhere in the community.  They report on what matters to us.   They ask questions and share information. They hold folks accountable and, more often then not, bring people together.

I’ve been privileged to know most of their staff over the years.  I have yet to find a reporter who wasn’t interested in and passionate about telling our very own local stories.  The Dwight Foster Public Library, the treasure trove of stories, is more than a little thankful that we have an official storyteller among us.

There is enormous value in having a local newspaper.  As “the information place” our library needs the Daily Union to help us provide information to the community.  As a depository for local history, we would not have consistency and depth without them.  The newspaper provides a great community service.  Ventura County (California) sheriff Bob Brooks penned an editorial  in the Ventura County Star that thoughtfully details the many ways in which a local newspaper matters to citizens.

So what can you do?

You can subscribe.  You can advertise.  You can support the advertisers by spending your money with them.

At the library, we’ve made the decision to subscribe to several copies, one for daily reading and one for archival purposes.  We also purchase all of the newspapers on microfilm so that we have a permanent historical record.   We advertise our jobs openings in their classifieds.  As an individual, I support them with a personal subscription, have given it as a gift for others, and read the ads so I can frequent the advertisers in town.

As the world of publishing continues to change and some newspapers across America are ceasing publication, I think it’s vital that we make an effort to support and preserve what matters.  Web sources absolutely have a place at our information table.  A strength of the web is its speed and fluidity.  But that is also a fundamental weakness.  As a librarian, I’m not a fan of the unverified, undocumented or uninformed.  I’m also no fan of copyright infringement, plagiarism, or disappearing information caused by someone else pulling the plug on what’s accessible.  Whenever I think of the “here today, gone tomorrow” possibilities of web information I am reminded of that old childhood prank where you splash someone in specially prepared disappearing ink and…

…discover later (thankfully) it has magically vanished!

But I digress.  All of these troubling activities are happening on the web already.   That isn’t to say there aren’t worthwhile and valuable Intermet resources available (with unparalleled connectivity options) as well as entrepreneurial opportunities with enormous possibility.  What I am trying to convey is that I think as a society we must understand (in a way that spurs action) that worthy content costs money to create, produce, and preserve.

I sincerely hope newspapers will stop disappearing.  We need them to help us not only make sense of our world in the here and now but also to record it (with accountability and permanence) for later.  Newspapers…like libraries…are central to democracy.  They matter.   The Daily Union really matters.

The  disappearing ink thing wasn’t all that funny when I was 12.  It’s a lot less funny now.


Build a better library…and the world will beat a path to your door

January 29, 2009

At the beginning of every year library directors tend to pause to take a breath and reflect on the previous year.

It’s probably not surprising but I can report that we did experience a significant increase in use just as has been widely documented all across America.  It really is true that during difficult economic times people turn to their libraries.

Our increase in circulation was over 6 percent in one year.

Additionally, the number of library visits grew 6.5 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Those numbers don’t necessarily sound like much but, trust me, it is a challenge to our staff to keep pace with the increased usage, adapt to the technological and work flow changes, and attempt to provide the highest quality library service with ever more limited dollars.

A couple days ago I decided to dig up the annual reports going back to 1983.  I chose that year because that was when the library last expanded.

I entered the number of library visits per year into the spreadsheet, used the tool to create a chart, and sat back to review the resulting image.  Wow.  The first thing that popped into my head was the old saying:

Build a better mousetrap…and the world will beat a path to your door.

In 1983 we recorded 35,047 library visits.  In 2008, we tallied 192,744 visits which translated to 636 people every day we were open and an increase of 450% (from 1983).

The next thing that entered my mind (after deleting the slightly distasteful mental image of the mousetrap and replacing it with an image of our library) was that the staff deserves so much credit.  After all, a library building is just the framework.  Excellent library service cannot be achieved without people committed to making it happen.  And this staff is committed.

I believe this place has always been incredibly special, a combination of stunning architecture and outstanding people.  Before the 1983 expansion this library was special.  After the 1983 expansion it was even better…more able to accommodate the many needs of our citizens.  We are looking forward to the next round of improvements and know that our community will demonstrate just how much they value their community beating a path to our door (which, by the way, we plan to move down Merchants Avenue).

So here’s a picture of the path of the last 25 years…



*See* the change that has already happened

January 21, 2009

Every once in awhile, life forces you to see with new eyes, to take another look, reframe your mental image.

I had this experience just the other day.

I arrived at my daughter’s basketball game, studied the team enroute to my seat and silently wondered why she wasn’t there.  As a mother will do, I immediately began ticking off the possibilities on my worry list. She was getting a drink of water. She was still suiting up. She’d missed the bus. She’d been kidnapped. (As you can see, the seriousness ratchets up quickly.)

Within moments I spotted some parents who might know her whereabouts. Naturally, I inquired, “Have you seen Meredith?”  Much to my surprise they replied with, “Yes, there on the floor, number 13.”  This was accompanied by puzzled expressions and fingers pointing toward a girl standing in line to shoot.

“No,” I said [emphatically], “That’s not her.”

The parents then began attempting to convince me it was Meredith.  Their insistence eventually elicited from me, “Don’t you think I’d know my own daughter?”   (I’ve watched the movie The Changeling; I felt like the mother being told that some imposter was her child.)

Moments later Coach was called over and consulted on the whereabouts of my missing daughter.  He pointed at number 13.

She waved at me.

I could barely speak, could find no voice  as the realization (and complex set of emotions) came sweeping over me.  I was a mother suddenly aware that my daughter had changed, right before my very eyes, seemingly imperceptibly, but in reality, profoundly. I knew she was taller than me now. But when had she grown up? When had her face taken that shape and her hair, now pulled completely off her face, turned adult-like?  When had she changed beyond my recognition?

I cannot describe, in words, the feeling inspired by the revelation that I’d been looking at my daughter with such old eyes that I couldn’t even find her on the basketball court that day.  Time for a new mental image.

And that’s really the way it works I think.  You get a picture in your mind’s eye and it is stuck there until you update it.  Sometimes you are forced (by life events) to see the change!  Sometimes you make a concerted effort because you know it’s essential.

People sometimes tell me that the library of their youth is the definition of a library.  While that’s an extremely pleasant and personal memory, it is not truly an accurate picture of today’s library.  Libraries have changed a lot.  The world has changed a lot.

What is your mental image of a library?

If you’ve been to any library lately, your view is probably different than someone who hasn’t been to a library in years.  If you have visited libraries in other communities, it’s likely you have some images in your mind that are far different than the Dwight Foster Public Library snapshot. Your mind’s eye might even show you a “dream library”, a synthesis of a whole group of the best libraries that you’ve seen, anywhere…at any time.

Now is a great time for you to look and see, with new eyes, our own local library.   Look at the beauty of what we have, being mindful of the improvements we really need to make, so that we can foster important, vital growth for our community’s future generation.

See the change that has already happened.  Envision the change to come.


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