Retiring director brought change, growth to Mt. Prospect library
When Marilyn Genther took over as the Mount Prospect Public Library's executive director in 1992, it was operating in a sparse and cramped, single-story space and still years away from offering the public access to the internet and other digital amenities.
When she retires at the beginning of June, she'll leave behind an award-winning library with about twice as much space, record-breaking circulation figures and the latest in technology, including 3-D printers.
"The whole mission of public libraries was the right fit for me," Genther said. "I loved the mission. People are here because they really care and feel they are doing something for people."
Genther, who has been in Mount Prospect for 33 of her 45 years as a librarian, originally intended to go into historical society and archival work. But when the Ohio native began work with her hometown Cincinnati Public Library, her career path turned. From Cincinnati, she moved on to the Indianapolis Public Library then the Indiana State Library before coming to Mount Prospect.
As deputy director at first, she benefited from the opportunity to wear many hats.
"I had been in big systems, and I was looking to broaden my experience some more," she said. "I was fortunate that I selected this one, because it gave me opportunities that I didn't even expect. In this size library, you can make things happen. When you're in a much larger system, there is truly bureaucracy and it just takes longer."
The early years of her tenure provided challenges. Voters rejected bond referendums in 1994 and 1995 to fund expansion of the Emerson Street facility.
Finally in 2002, a $20.5 million referendum passed, funding an expansion that not only added space, but spurred growth in outreach and services.
"Our services were able just to mushroom. We were doing outreach, but not to the level we could, because we were strapped for space," Genther said.
By 2005, patrons were able to use Wi-Fi; e-books and audio books were being offered; and circulation hit an all-time high of 802,000 items. That figure would hit the 1 million mark in 2009. The past decade has seen library continue to blossom, with the installation of public artwork, a transcontinental book discussion with the library in Mount Prospect's sister city of Sevres, France, and the addition of Express Checkout.
"(Genther) continually upgraded the library to keep up with the changes that were taking place," said former library board member John Zulaski. "The library over time became more of a real community resource."
Genther's involvement in the community extends to the Mount Prospect Historical Society, which she serves as a vice president.
"She has just been one of the mainstays of the Mount Prospect Historical Society," said Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek, a former historical society president. "She has just got this amazing community commitment."
Jean Murphy, a vice-president of the historical society, said Genther, has been invaluable in her ability to work with village administration and others to navigate confusing regulations and policy challenges.
Genther said she is proud of the services and programs brought to the library during her tenure, including a teen advisory board, technology training, language resources, readers advisory and book discussions, 3-D printers, meetings with congressional staff and more.
"It's still a suburban community," Genther said. "But it's become more diverse."
That diversity was addressed by the library in 2009 with the establishment of the South Branch in the village's Community Connections Center, which serves a multilingual population on the south side of village.
"It worked out so beautifully that the village and we had similar goals," Genther said. "I'm not sure the village could have done it alone any more than we were in the position to do something like that alone. But together we could make it happen."
Julie Kane, Mount Prospect Human Services director, said Genther and Kane's predecessor, Nancy Morgan, worked closely on the design of the center.
"Since I have been here in Mount Prospect and had the opportunity to work more closely with Marilyn, that partnership between our department and the library is really what makes that center so vibrant and such an asset to the community," Kane said.
While much has changed about the library and Mount Prospect in the past quarter century, Genther said the town still has "a hometown identity."
"Even though it is changing demographically, but, compared to some of the suburbs, it still just has this home feel," she said. "With the village and all the different leadership here, there is still this base of wanting to serve the community in the best way."