Retiring library director looks back on career in Bensenville
Not many people stay put at the same workplace for decades, but Jill Rodriguez is one exception.
After 38 years with the Bensenville Community Public Library -- 31 of those years as the library's director -- she plans to retire Sept. 30.
"It was just a good fit, which is why I stayed here all these years," Rodriguez said.
The library's current assistant director, David Sieffert, recently was named as her successor by the library board.
Sieffert joined the library staff nearly four years ago. While he's looking forward to becoming the new director, he said he recognizes that taking over for someone with Rodriguez' long-standing status represents a challenge.
"It's not going to be easy," he said. "Those are big shoes to fill."
A storied career
Rodriguez grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey, earned her master's degree at Rutgers University and landed in Bensenville in 1977. At that time, the library building at 200 S. Church Road was under construction.
"I held a couple of different positions. I did a lot of outreach in the community," she said. "I got married and raised three children in the community. I just stayed because it was a great place to live and raise my kids."
Rodriguez became the library director in 1981. The library has evolved with the times, including the coming of the digital age, she said.
"We were the first library in the area to have an online catalog. And one of the first to have free Internet access for everyone in the community," she said.
In 1999, the technology boom was addressed with the building of a tech center.
"That was a joint building project with the elementary school district," Rodriguez said.
Overall good service has become a stock in trade.
"We have a reputation for outstanding customer service. We've always been known for that," she said, adding that the library has been rewarded with millions of dollars in state grants to continue to improve services.
Rodriguez said she has maintained strong relationships with several community groups on behalf of the library, including the Bensenville Youth Services Coalition, the Bensenville Arts Council, the Rotary Club, the Bensenville Intergovernmental Group and the relatively newly formed Early Childhood Collaborative.
Rodriguez is particularly proud of the library's efforts on behalf of early childhood education.
"In the last few years, we've taken a huge leap in early childhood services," she said. "Not all the kids in the community have the opportunity to go to preschool. We have programs for preschoolers every day of the week."
To accommodate the expansion of early childhood programming, the library is set to add a 1,000-square-foot programming space to the 27,000-square-foot building this summer.
Rodriguez said she is also proud of the library's physical aesthetic.
"It's a beautiful building," she said. "The community takes great pride in it."
Rodriguez credits "strong, progressive library board leadership" with helping her achieve success with community partnerships.
"They've always been very progressive and proactive in the community," she said.
Rodriguez said she is confident the board has chosen an able replacement in Sieffert.
"I have a strong person ready to take over," she said. "We'll make the transition easy for the staff and the community."
The next chapter
Sieffert, of Roselle, said his role at the Bensenville library is his first as a librarian.
"I previously taught high school English for a couple of years in Florida," he said. "I had always wanted to move to the Midwest."
When he visited the library to interview for a position four years ago, he immediately felt at home.
"The library, when you walk in, is very striking. It kind of looks like a ski lodge," he said. "The staff was very welcoming. It was the right place for me to be."
As director, Sieffert said he would like to work on building the library's popular fiction collection and its collection of foreign language books, especially books written in Spanish and Polish. He also said he plans to continue to improve and expand community services hosted by the library.
"The library is not just a place where books are warehoused," he said.
Initially his biggest priority, Sieffert said, will be making the leadership transition a smooth one. He commended the board on its decision to announce his impending directorship six months before Rodriguez is set to retire.
Turning the page
Rodriguez said that while it will be an adjustment to leave after all these years, she's ready to move forward.
"My third child is graduating from college this spring," she said.
She said she plans to travel. As a lifelong baseball fan, she wants to visit as many baseball fields across the country as she can. She also plans to visit her children, who live out of state.
And then, she said, there are plans for rest and relaxation.
"Spending some time back on that beach in New Jersey."