Power in numbers

Small libraries reap benefits of working together

Cortland Community Library Director Barb Coward.
Cortland Community Library Director Barb Coward.

Peggy Wogen has been working in libraries since she was 10 years old.

"They got tired of me asking if there were new books because I had read them all," she said. So the library in Elburn, where she grew up, decided to put her to work. "They had me open up the books and rubber cement the envelopes where the checkout cards go."

After working in a number of libraries over the years, Wogen became director of the Malta Township Public Library about 11 years ago, despite not having a degree in library sciences. During a library systems meeting, she happened to meet a couple of other newly appointed library directors in the area who also lacked library degrees.

"We started talking and sharing ideas," Nancy Radtke, director of the Clinton Township Library in Waterman, said.

Out of necessity, Wogen said, the women formed what they call the Libraries Working Together group, consisting of library directors throughout DeKalb County and the surrounding areas who draw patrons from DeKalb County. The group meets once a month throughout the year, except in June and July, when everyone is busy conducting summer reading programs.

"It's hard to break away from the circulation desk for meetings (then)," said Barb Coward, director of the Cortland Community Library.

At first, Wogen said, the directors "just griped." But eventually, they began discussing mutual concerns about running a small library, usually on a small budget. Their talk also turned to legal issues and dealing with their boards of trustees. The group also works on many projects together, including writing cooperate grants, sharing new ideas, and conducting an annual development training program for staff members.

"We share our different areas of knowledge with each other," Wogen said. "If someone has a really great idea, we steal it from them."

The training sessions are especially valuable, the directors agree, since they probably couldn't afford them on their own.

Without a president or any actual leader, everything the group does is by consensus.

The group started with directors from Malta, Creston-Dement, Cortland, Flewellin Memorial in Shabbona, Clinton Township, Hinckley, Genoa and Kirkland. It has since expanded to include DeKalb, Sycamore, Maple Park and Hampshire, and now includes directors who do have library science degrees. Although they don't normally participate in the monthly meetings, libraries from Sandwich, Plano, Somonauk, Earlville and Paw Paw take part in the training sessions. Of the original group, only Wogen, Radtke and Coward remain.

"Others wanted to be part of it, so it just grew and grew," Radtke said.

One of the newest members is Jennifer Barton, who became director of the Genoa Public Library in 2011.

"It was recommended to me as a new director," she said. "They are like my local neighbors. They would be best to reach out to if I had any questions or concerns."

Although they do address many business issues, Barton compared the group to a support group.

"Sometimes we can do things as a group better than by ourselves," she said. "As directors of small libraries, we all understand each other's problems and challenges."

"We all like to talk libraries," Radtke said. "It helps to have librarians you can trust."

"It helps us survive what can be an isolating job," Coward agreed.

The libraries take turns hosting the meetings, and members said it's nice to get ideas from how other libraries are set up.

The ultimate benefit of Libraries Working Together, all the directors agree, is that library patrons get better service.

"The patrons reap the benefits of the training," Radtke said. "It just helps everybody."

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