Wauconda's winning ways honored - Daily Herald Column - Sarah Long

Wauconda's winning ways honored
by Sarah Long
Daily Herald Reports
Posted 2/20/2005

In 1992, Tom Kern decided to leave his job as reference coordinator at the Skokie Public Library to become the director of a small library in Wauconda. He recognized that he was facing an uphill challenge, but he saw the potential for something special.

Thirteen years and a lot of hard work later, Kern is feeling pretty pleased about his decision.

The Wauconda Area Public Library District has just been named Library of the Year by the North Suburban Library System.

This prestigious award, now in its 13th year, has been given to libraries of all types from among the 650 member libraries. Anyone who knows libraries in this region knows that the level of service and usage is among the highest in the nation. To be a winner in this crowd is truly an achievement.

What makes Wauconda a winner this year? While library staff members have long been exemplary in community involvement, they've pushed the envelope by embracing the Community Calendar feature of NorthStarNet, making this calendar the central place for registration of all local events. The calendar helps groups avoid overlap and duplication while assuring community-wide publicity.

"The community calendar is a fantastic service," Kern said. "Our community considered various online events calendar alternatives. When I demonstrated the possibilities of the free NorthStarNet service to our community groups, they immediately and enthusiastically embraced the concept. This online calendar has helped make the library a central force in this community." Check out the calendar at www.wauclib.org to see if your community could benefit from NorthStarNet's Web-based calendar.

The library also pioneered by establishing an online electronic newsletter. Distributed by e-mail to more than 2,000 subscribers, the timely "eNews" has greatly enhanced the library's visibility and effectively promotes programs and services at minimal cost. Kern also noted that "eNews" subscribers are the people most interested in what's happening at the library, and this is a great way to keep this important group informed.

The annual Library Card Sign-Up Month campaign, now in its fifth year, continues to be a model partnership between local business and the library. Throughout September, 110 participating businesses offered discounts or freebies to customers presenting Wauconda Area Library cards. This collaboration resulted in 531 new library card registrations as well as increased sales for business participants.

The library's wide range of adult and children's services, including wireless high-speed Internet access and a new wireless computer training lab, were also contributing factors in winning this award.

This is not the first award won by the Wauconda Area Library. In 1995, voters approved a referendum resulting in the beautiful building at 801 N. Main St. The new library received the prestigious Distinguished Building Award in 1998 from the American Institute of Architects and more importantly, has become a beloved community landmark.

Usage of the library has tripled since 1992 and has reached a per capita annual circulation rate of 21 items, a score to be envied by any public library in the country. In 2001, voters approved a second referendum which enabled the library to expand both staff and services. Approval of these two tax measures is the most sincere compliment a taxing body can receive. The library's reputation for excellent service resulted in commensurate community financial support.

Kern is quick to point out that this award is the direct result of that support because the library is now able to play a much greater role in community affairs and NSLS activities.

In speaking of the NSLS award, Kern said, "With this award, the Wauconda Area Library has exceeded the potential I envisioned back in 1992. This year our accomplishments have been highly visible, but they were built on a solid foundation of effort and planning that was years in the making. This is really an achievement not only for the library staff and trustees, but also for our whole community."

The person who nominated the Wauconda Area Library characterized it as, "The little library that DOES." Expect more achievements from this library - the affirmation of the NSLS award will spur this library on to even greater accomplishments.

As Tom Kern says, "Winning this award has raised the bar. Our patrons can and do expect the very best - we wouldn't have it any other way!"

• Sarah Long is director of the North Suburban Library System.