LOMBARD – Frequent sightings of a 2015 black Subaru Forester with a license plate frame that reads “Louis lives on” can be expected around Lombard starting later this month.
That’ll be Barb Kruser, 50, the new Helen Plum Memorial Library director, whose plate frame pays homage to jazz legend Louis Armstrong as well as her cat, Louis, who recently passed away. And if she’s not driving to the library itself, she’s probably out trying to reintroduce Helen Plum to the residents of Lombard.
“People ask why we even need libraries anymore because we have google.com and the Internet,” Kruse said. “But libraries should be cornerstones of the community and we have to get out in the community and address it and say we are one neutral place you can come to get information for free. We’re the go to.”
That’s at the top of Kruser’s to-do list when she starts her new job Aug. 18 in Lombard. Community outreach was a big role for her as assistant director at the Niles Public Library. She even represented the library on the Niles Chamber of Commerce, serving as president last year.
As soon as she arrives in Lombard, she plans to stock up on business cards and hit the streets to not only promote the work Helen Plum is doing, but to also find out what residents want from their library.
A place to gather is one thing library patrons want, Kruser said, and it’s the library’s job to create inviting, functional spaces where groups can meet for free.
“We can’t be all books and shelves. We have to recreate buildings to meet the changing needs,” Kruser said.
Kruser recently helped wrap up a $6 million renovation project at the Niles Library, where she has worked for 25 years, serving as assistant director since 2009.
“I don’t see that happening on such a grand scale at Helen Plum,” Kruser said of potential renovations. “But I’m coming in with experience getting creative with spaces.”
Technology is another focus point for Kruser as libraries, more and more, are called on to educate patrons on how to use their digital devices like e-readers and iPads.
“I get a sense that Helen Plum patrons are looking for guidance on technology,” she said.
Robert Harris is set to retire after 25 years as the Helen Plum director. The Lombard Village Board has declared Aug. 15, his last day, as Robert Harris Day.
Initially, Kruser was nervous about her transition but said Harris has been making the process a smooth one.
"I’m going to be a different type of director than Bob, but he leaves a huge legacy and big shoes to fill,” she said.
A keen eye may have spotted that black Subaru on Tuesday morning when Kruser was house hunting in Lombard. Kruser said it’s important that a village’s library director be a taxpaying member of the community. The Niles resident is targeting a possible moving day in September.
A new car, a new home, a new job – that’s a lot of change all at once.
“I’m calling it my midlife awakening,” she said.
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EDUCATION: Bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; master’s from UW-Milwaukee
FAVORITE AUTHORS: Karin Slaughter and Alex Kava
PET: Ella – a long-haired black cat named after jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald
UNIQUE JOB: Bartended in Dublin, Ireland for a year between undergrad and graduate school