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posted: 6/17/2012 5:13 PM

New Arlington Heights Memorial Library Director has eye toward future

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  • New Arlington Heights Memorial Library Executive Director Jason Kuhl poses with his wife, Laura, his daughter, Jillian, and his son, Elliot. Kuhl began his tenure as executive director June 15.

    New Arlington Heights Memorial Library Executive Director Jason Kuhl poses with his wife, Laura, his daughter, Jillian, and his son, Elliot. Kuhl began his tenure as executive director June 15.
    Photo Courtesy of the Arlington Heights Memorial L

By David Conway

The Arlington Heights Memorial Library is under new management, as Jason Kuhl officially took over Saturday as executive director for the retiring Paula Moore.

Kuhl, who previously served as the library's operations director and manager of information services, brings a wealth of experience to a position that now calls for him to help map out the library's future.

He steps into the position at a time when the role of the public library is undergoing significant changes.

"The public library has been around for over 100 years, and probably for the first 90 of those years, very few changes (occurred)," Kuhl said. "But what we're seeing now is completely different uses of the library, being less about being a passive place for our residents to get stuff and go home. We're becoming a destination."

The library already has begun to account for this change by adjusting its services, including a new program that Kuhl helped develop in 2009.

The "Start Your Job Search Here" program seeks to teach patrons valuable skills if they find themselves out of work, including how to make a résumé, how to organize a budget and how to apply for unemployment compensation. The library featured a series of speakers on relevant topics and brought in human resources professionals to review résumés.

"We really wanted to respond very quickly to unemployment and the economic downturn," Kuhl said. "We were seeing so many people coming in who had just lost their jobs and just didn't know where to start."

It might not be the type of activity you typically associate with the library, but it goes hand in hand with Kuhl's vision.

"I think, at the most basic level, libraries exist to improve the quality of life of their residents," he said.

While traditionally that might have consisted largely of answering reference questions, widespread availability of the Internet means librarians have to find different areas in which they can help. This means a library has to be aware of the needs of its users in a way it might not have a decade ago.

"We have to become very local and really attuned with our community," Kuhl said. "Libraries can't be cookie-cutter anymore."

In some communities, that might mean a focus on improving literacy. In Arlington Heights, it's meant helping the area's thriving small business community. One of the most important jobs the library is tasked with is staying aware of those needs as they change over time, Kuhl said.

It's Kuhl's focus on the community that helped get him through the rigorous five-stage interview to select the new executive director. Library Trustee Luis Ramirez-Alonso, a member the search committee, said Kuhl stood out as specifically fitting the culture of the library.

"We were looking for someone not only with a strong résumé, but someone with a heart," Ramirez-Alonso said. "Someone that would have a very strong commitment with the community, someone that would be a true community leader, somebody that would be an effective partner with other members of the Arlington Heights community."

Kuhl fits that bill. Originally an art history major, he eventually got his library degree with the intent of working as an academic librarian. When that didn't happen right away, he took an open position at a public library. He was so taken with it that he eventually worked his way to the top of one.

"I love the connection with the community; I love the diversity of the people," Kuhl said. "You really see the impact you can make in a person's life at a public library."

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