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posted: 6/20/2014 5:30 AM

Elk Grove library director retires Friday after 38-year career

He's going to read, of course!

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  • Elk Grove Public Library Director Lee Maternowski retires today after nearly four decades of employment at the library. He's been library director since 1997.

      Elk Grove Public Library Director Lee Maternowski retires today after nearly four decades of employment at the library. He's been library director since 1997.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer


Lee Maternowski has spent 38 years working at the Elk Grove Public Library -- the last 17 as its director.

Now at age 70, Maternowski says it's the right time to retire.

So what is one of things he's most looking forward to doing in his retirement?

"More reading."

The 18th-century novel buff's favorite author is Tobias Smollett, and his favorite book is "The Adventures of Roderick Random" -- the book that David Copperfield was reading in Charles Dickens' classic.

After long days overseeing operations at the 63,000-square-foot library, the only time Maternowski gets to read for enjoyment is about 15 minutes before bed.

The library director's job includes management of a 385,000-item collection, coordination of a $5 million annual budget and handling of capital projects. Today marks Maternowski's last day, when he will hand over administrative duties to the library's business manager on an interim basis while the library board searches for a permanent replacement.

Board President Bruce Barnett described Maternowski as a "low-key type of person" who has handled library business smoothly.

"He likes to do the job quietly and just get the job done," Barnett said. "He isn't the kind of guy to pat himself on the back."

Maternowski, a Milwaukee native, remembers in 1975 when he responded to a three-line job listing in the newspaper for a reference librarian in Elk Grove Village. A friend had just taken a job in Aurora, so Maternowski thought he'd also venture to the Chicago suburbs.

At the time, the Elk Grove library, then at 901 Brantwood Ave., was in a period of growth. A second floor was installed in 1977 to accommodate more books and meeting room space. But it became clear that location -- already prone to flooding from nearby Salt Creek -- wasn't the best.

In August of 1987, the building was left under four feet of water during a major flood, which wiped out a third of the collection.

The current library at 1001 Wellington Ave. opened in 1990, doubling the size of the old one. Along the way, Maternowski worked up the ranks until he became library director in 1997.

In one of his first major tasks, he oversaw the introduction of the Internet for public use. Other libraries in the area had already done it, and the public came to Maternowski and library staff asking for it, he said. Since then, more and more of the library's budget has been dedicated to electronic resources, including $160,000 for online databases and $15,000 for e-books this year.

The library's website -- once static -- is now updated daily, and offers databases and other resources for Elk Grove library users, who can log in with their library card from anywhere in the world.

Fewer people are visiting the library building itself and circulation has gone down. But, more people are using the library -- at least its website -- from home. The library had 417,000 visitors in 2013, down 4.75 percent compared to the year before. That doesn't mean printed materials have gone away, Maternowski said. "I still would like people to come in here. I believe it'll be a long time until books disappear -- if ever."

And so it's still the library's practice to order up to 30 copies of a popular, new release book.

"Some people think it's waste. But it gets checked out twice as much as one good history book," he said. About a year later, 25 of those books are typically sold by the Friends of the Library organization.

Maternowski admits he still prefers looking up information in "real almanacs and books."

"I'm still old school. Maybe that means it's time to retire," he said with a laugh.

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