Something for everyone
What does a library director do? A simple question with a not-so-simple, or quick answer. The Rhinelander District Library’s new director has been in place for about a month. In that time Virginia Roberts has taken visual stock of the book collections, checked out the physical structure of the building, attended town meetings, helped a patron ask the right questions to find a book publisher, completed the 2015 budget and shoveled some snow. Among other things.
“I think of myself as a collaborator,” Roberts said. “The best leaders don’t boss. And I don’t want to stop learning and doing. There is a great staff in place and we are all here for the community.”
The community is important to Roberts, who spoke at a recent town meeting to make that point.
“My job right now is a lot of telling people I’m on board and here for the community,” she reiterated. “The county, city, townships are our partners and I am interested in knowing what they want; the library exists for the community. We are the community’s living room.”
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, the daughter of a museum curator, books have always played an important role in her life. Roberts took a job working at Walden Books at age 16. After high school she attended the Art Institute of Chicago, then Michigan State where she double majored in art history and English.
It was working at Curious, a used book store in Lansing where Roberts met her future husband. An art history masters degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison included a library science class, which lead to a second masters degree, this one in library science.
“It was just very interesting to me, and I kind of thought…hmmmm I think I like this better!”
One might think the rest is history; a librarian stuck in the hazy filtered sunlight of a dusty reading room. But that would not be an accurate description of Roberts, who has work experience beyond the shelves of a library. She comes to Rhinelander by way of the Chippewa Falls Public Library, but it is her work in the private sector that influences her outlook today.
“In addition to book stores, I have worked as a teacher, worked in real estate and even sold insurance,” Roberts explained. “So I have the advantage of having worked in the for-profit business world and understand the need for partnerships within the community.”
Roberts likes the technology side of libraries, and has ideas in mind where things can be tweaked in Rhinelander to improve the functionality.
“I am used to wearing multiple hats as a library director, so my plan is to not change things, but see how they are working and tweak them,” she said. “I came from a different computer system at the Chippewa Falls library, so I’d like to bring the best parts of that, and see how we can use them here.”
Walking through the shelves and shelves of books, the new director can see, at a glance, areas for improvement.
“Like all library directors, I want more of everything,” Roberts laughed. “Seriously, I would like to hone the collections we have, update some and add to others, working within our space constraints, of course.”
Proudly proclaiming herself a former nerd who now has skills everyone needs, Virginia Roberts loves to help with research. And by research, she is adamant about one thing. “Google is not a synonym for research. Librarians can and do use search engines; we just know how to use them better. We are also able to help patrons find the printed materials they need right here.”
There is one thing of which Roberts is certain; that whether patrons like to look at pictures, read about adventure, graphic novels, page through art books, browse through the DVD collection, surf the internet or look through a magazine, the library is the place to be.
“We have a book for everyone. They might not know they want it yet, but we can find something that will interest each and every member of the community.”