The Carol Stream Public Library recently turned 50, but it's likely the past six months have been among its most tumultuous.
In that time, the sharply divided library board of trustees fired its director, put a 7.5-acre vacant piece of land once intended for a new library on the market, and censured a longtime trustee.
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Now two competing slates -- 10 candidates total -- are running for the board in an April election that will determine the direction of the library for the near future.
It's quite a time for Susan Westgate to start her new job.
Westgate, the unanimous choice of the board to succeed fired library director Ann Kennedy, on Monday officially took over day-to-day management responsibilities of the library.
The 52-year-old Elmhurst resident -- a Glendale Heights native and Glenbard North High School graduate -- becomes only the third full-time director in the library's history after Kennedy, who served as director for six years, and Lynn O'Dell, who served for 44 years. Westgate most recently was assistant director of the Bartlett Public Library.
In an interview with the Daily Herald, Westgate said she's a positive person and wants to bring that spirit to a library that's garnered headlines for being just the opposite.
"From my perception, I look at all that as happening in the past," Westgate said. "That was before me. I have a positive outlook."
Kennedy's dismissal last July was the apparent result of divergent views between she and a new board majority led by President Mike Wade, a longtime opponent of a new library on Kuhn Road and critic of what he characterized as high library taxes and improper spending.
Westgate takes over the library's key management role at a crucial time -- about two months before she must present an operating budget for the board's approval. Since the budget is a guidebook on how the library plans to spend taxpayers' dollars in a coming year, the board approval process sometimes proved contentious during Kennedy's tenure.
Personnel costs -- whether approving funding to hire new staff members, or giving existing ones pay raises -- were often at the heart of disputes between Wade and Kennedy.
Westgate said she won't be afraid to propose tax increases to the board if she believes it is for the good of the library -- and she had statistics to back it up. If the board said no, then she said she would go through the budget line by line and make reductions in areas that would have the "least detrimental effect" on services.
That could mean everything from a reduction in staff hours or the number of materials in the library's collection, or eliminating unused databases.
Beyond the mandatory budget approval process in March, it's likely Westgate won't introduce any new initiatives until after the April election, which pits Wade, trustees Jerry Clark, Susan Galle and two others, against Trustee Jim Bailey and four newcomers on the Support the Library slate.
Westgate attended the Jan. 16 library board meeting in which Bailey was censured -- likely due in part to statements he made in a Daily Herald article calling one trustee's girlfriend "a patsy" for filing objections to the candidate nominating petitions of Bailey and his slate.
"My hope is that whoever is elected to the library board, that first and foremost their commitment is to make the Carol Stream Library the best library it can be and put aside their personal feelings toward other board members or personal ideas about taxation or things like that," Westgate said. "They should always be thinking to make sure the library is doing its best to serve the community."