If you've checked out a book anytime since 1995, Barbara Dimick has had something to do with it.
Dimick, the director of the Madison Public Library, is retiring. "Her leadership was critical to the addition and expansion of several branch libraries," says Lisa Strand, executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. "Expanding information access to the people throughout the city - that's a big part of her legacy, along with the exciting new downtown library."
Dimick, whose last day is Feb. 24, is a native of North Prairie, in Waukesha County. She began her library work in Sun Prairie and liked it so much that she went back to the UW-Madison to earn a master's degree in library and information studies in 1979.
She worked as a library assistant at Madison's Lakeview branch and then took over the youth services division at the Central Library. In 1995 she was appointed director.
"Barb Dimick will be missed," says Mayor Paul Soglin. "She's been a great leader during a time in which changing demographics of the city and the changing technology of libraries have made her job as library director very challenging."
Dimick prefers not to talk about herself, but about libraries today and in the future.
How is a library defined in the 21st century?
Public libraries are really morphing into all kinds of things. For example, we're including something in the new Central Library called a "maker's space." People will be able to teach themselves with technology, which is a different thing than what libraries are used to doing - helping people create.
And people already use libraries in many ways.
Lots of Madisonians use libraries for lots of different reasons: computer access, Wi-Fi connections, meeting rooms, special events and learning programs.
The Madison Public Library is also something of a job center, isn't it?
We are. Staff are schooled in how to help people put out a résumé, how to talk about their skills and so on.
How has the Internet affected libraries?
When I began as director, the Internet was just being introduced to the public at a few of our branches. Since then, it has transformed nearly every aspect of librarianship - from how we order books and e-books, how people borrow them, to the types of questions library staff receive from our public, and how those questions are answered. Last year library users logged more than 721,000 hours of Internet computer use on 142 computers, and this doesn't include the many users of our wireless networks.
Hopefully people still read books?
Yes! Our libraries are busier. Since I began as director in 1995, we've seen an 84% increase in materials checked out and a 350% increase in attendance at library events.
Do people still use the reference desk?
Yes, but the nature of the questions has changed dramatically. Our staff receive more complex questions that people can't find via a Google search, and we spend a lot of time answering questions about technology and website content. As tax forms, job applications and government assistance move online, librarians connect people with these sources and help them navigate the technology along with the content. We are learning new technology every day, along with our customers.
How has the Madison Public Library expanded physically during your tenure?
Over the past 11 years, we've overseen the completion of seven Madison library building projects, including the opening of a brand-new library - the Alicia Ashman Branch on High Point Road. We've expanded and refurbished the Lakeview and Hawthorne branches, upgraded the Pinney, Meadowridge and Monroe Street branches, and, more recently, opened a new 20,000-square-foot Sequoya Branch on the west side, and a much-needed new Goodman South Madison branch on the south side.
The governor has cut aid to libraries. How much has this hurt Madison?
We do have a budget shortfall. It's not horrendous, but we could use more money for staff. We were so afraid going into this year that we would have to cut some hours, which is the worst thing you can do. You want your libraries open as much as possible, all over the place. Luckily we've been able to keep them going. In other ways, we're in very a good place right now. We spent the last 10 years either revamping, rebuilding or building new. We've been very lucky to get the community and Common Council support to be able to make sure the libraries are meeting the needs of the people.
And in late 2013, if all goes well, we'll have a new Central Library.
Yes. As part of the planning process we worked with the city and architects to gather community input from diverse audiences, and what we learned was that "library" means many different things to many different people. The new Central Library will meet all those expectations and will enable the library to continue to change and evolve as changes in technology and society continue.
What's been the best part of your job?
My favorite is when library users take the time to tell us how we're doing. What's really fun for me is the personal feedback we get from users, like the woman who wrote a letter to the library board about her preschool son, who always enjoyed the help of his favorite librarian during his weekly branch visits. The mom thanked our staff, as her 4-year-old has now learned how to read. His weekly trip to the library is the highlight of his week.