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Prairie du Chien native new System Director for SWLS

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By Steve Van Kooten

 

The Prairie du Chien Memorial Public Library’s windows were filled with activity on the evening of Jan. 8. From the outside, the building’s large, rectangular windows were moving picture booths with children at tables assembling contraptions out of LEGO blocks, men around a table carving figures from small slabs of wood and patrons hard at work, bent over  their newspapers and computers.

Public libraries have functioned as an integral part of their communities for centuries. They’ve become the hub for historical information, a focal point for people to connect with each other and a playground for children’s minds; on a library’s shelves lie strange worlds and beautiful places to inspire verdant imaginations.

Now Angela Noel, who spent her childhood in Prairie’s library, has grown up and will take the lead of Southwest Wisconsin’s Library System (SWLS) as the System Director. 

Noel was born in Prairie du Chien, WI, and resided there until she went to college.

“I didn’t go to college knowing I’d end up being a library director, but the idea was always in the back of my mind,” Noel said. While a career at the library was not a definite goal at first, Noel gained substantial experience working for libraries during her academic career, including the Prairie du Chien High School Library and two specialized academic libraries while in college. Noel’s mother also worked for Prairie’s library, which Noel stated gave her a good idea of what life in a public library was like. 

After she finished her undergraduate degree, Noel decided to pursue a library career when she enrolled in UW-Milwaukee’s Library and Information Science Program.

Noel went on to be the director for libraries in Richland Center and Dodgeville before she was selected to become the SWLS’s System Director.

There are 15 library systems in Wisconsin that oversee and assist the libraries in their region. Jennifer Bernetzke, Interim Director for the SWLS, said it supported 28 public libraries with 30 total locations. Counties covered in the region include Richland, Crawford, Grant, Iowa and Lafayette. Additionally, the system facilitated the region’s CESA 3 school libraries’ delivery system.

The library system provided a bevy of supports to their libraries, including material delivery, technology purchases, professional/staff development and inter-library loans. “Anything that happens in their libraries, we’re in the background supporting those things,” Bernetzke said.

Noel explained the SWLS also acted as an advocate for their libraries on a regional level and ensured all libraries in their onus remained in compliance with federal and state library laws. “One goal I hope to focus on is increasing the communication between SWLS and libraries… Making sure the system is working to meet the needs of libraries we serve.”

According to Bernetzke, Noel was selected from a “very qualified” pool of candidates because she had the skills and experience to be successful in the position. “She’s really the leader in the way libraries are going and being supported for our region.”

An appointed committee comprised of SWLS staff, library board members and library directors pursued hiring a new system director. A wide net was cast over Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa to find quality candidates to fill the position. The board hoped to get a quick turnaround on a first round of interviews to leave room to extend the hiring process if needed.

“We wanted to make sure we got the right person, not just the first person,” Bernetzke stated.

After two rounds of interviews Noel was hired. Bernetzke said the board got what they wanted: the right person had to have strong communication skills, an extensive knowledge of state statutes and experience in personnel management and public library administration. Noel fulfilled those qualities and was also a home-grown talent, which Bernetzke said was a plus. “Getting someone who is native to our area and understands small town libraries is really exciting.”

Noel and Bernetzke said libraries have evolved radically over a short period of time, and both stated libraries needed to continuously change to fill the needs of their communities.

“It’s really a place where people gather and a place where communities gather rather than a transactional place,” Bernetzke said.

“Libraries in the 21st Century are very different than those in the 20th Century,” Noel added. “Depending on budget and space, 21st Century libraries really try to focus on providing services beyond books and research materials.” She added that libraries will likely continue to provide more spaces for people, from single rooms for studying to large meeting rooms designed for large numbers to hold events and community groups.

“Libraries are constantly evolving to make sure the needs—and as many of the wants as possible—are available to their patrons and communities.”

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