When Barbara Kruser turned 50 last year she had what she calls a "midlife awakening."
Kruser's entire 25-year career, which began shortly after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison, has been spent working at the Niles Public Library.
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"We grew quickly and I had so many opportunities to grow," she said, working her way up from reference librarian to, beginning in 2009, assistant director.
But recently, after noticing how much time she was spending driving to visit friends in DuPage County, Kruser starting thinking about moving. That, along with the retirement of several longtime co-workers, made her realize she was ready for something new.
On Monday, Aug. 18, Kruser will take over as director of the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, where she hopes to work with staff to get more public input and rearrange the shelving and furniture.
"I just feel good getting that fresh start," she said.
The library's board of trustees selected Kruser last week. She replaces Robert Harris, who served as director for more than two decades.
Kruser, who describes her management style as "collaborative," said she looks forward to interacting with staff.
She plans to work a schedule that includes nights and weekends to get to know part-time staff members who may feel disconnected from some supervisors.
In addition, Kruser wants to set up tables periodically at shopping centers to meet with residents and have them fill out short surveys about possible library improvements.
"I just want to get a lot of feedback from the community and get the staff out of the building, too," she said.
Kruser said libraries are changing, but it's important to communicate how vital they remain to a community.
For example, while reference questions are declining, they are getting more complex and librarians still need to be trained to answer them.
Libraries are now "real community centers," she said, where people can go to watch movies, attend programs or host meetings.
"The library used to be a place that you walked in and took something home with you," she said. "Now it's a place you go to experience."
Kruser said she wants to get a feel for how many patrons are using e-readers and if they need help with them. She plans to have librarians at each desk trained with the devices so they can answer questions.
Another top priority, Kruser said, is to rethink the library's space. She said there's a need for more displays and places for people to sit and relax.
"I think the biggest thing is just looking at the physical state of the building and getting creative," she said.