In this inaugural installment of our Coffee series, it seems fitting that we sit down with Ann Rohrbaugh, Director of the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL), and talk about her years at KPL. Having started as an aide in the bookmobile department while still at WMU, Ann held several positions and became director in 2005.
Tell us how you got to where you are today
I came to Western Michigan University (WMU) for graduate school in library science and expected I’d be here for a year! While at WMU, I had a part-time job in the reference department at KPL. When I graduated there happened to be an opening and I was offered a reference librarian position. From that position I became acting department head, then eventually to the library office in a variety of positions until I became director in 2005. Along the way, I returned to WMU and earned a masters in library administration, a degree program like library science that is no longer offered there.
Why do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
I expected to be here a year but clearly I’m here for the long haul! It has been a wonderful community in which to settle in, raise a family. I love the size of the community, the wide variety of activities, and of course, the strong support for libraries and learning.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
I certainly reply upon professional standards for the library profession….open access; freedom to read, listen, and view; the library bill of rights. I’ve learned to trust my instincts too – I think that comes increasingly with experience and a sense for what will serve our community best.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
Mentors early in my career certainly were staff at KPL, especially the Head of the Reference Department and later the library director. From both of them I learned how to operate within an organization, the importance of the long-range view, and appropriate risk taking.
What’s an average day like for you at the Kalamazoo Public Library?
Nine department heads report to me and I meet with each of them most every week, so most days I have one or two standing meetings. I’m usually preparing for some upcoming meeting or event, I often have an outside meeting AND I try to find time to sit at my desk and work….plan for our monthly board meeting, write my weekly blog, make progress on the ‘big-picture’ items. Some days email can be overwhelming – good and bad!
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
My overarching concern is the financial uncertainty facing public libraries in Michigan. On a shorter term basis, staff issues sometimes make me restless at night.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
I read the standard library publications and listservs, attend state and local conferences, talk informally with colleagues. Equally important in the library field is staying current generally – technology, current events and trends, government development that could impact us, local news. That’s a challenge but I do read a lot both professionally and, of course, for pleasure.
What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
I’d offer two pieces of advice: network with others both in your field and in related fields, both locally and at some distance. My small group of Michigan library directors of similar size public libraries has been invaluable both professionally and personally. We offer advice and support to each other. Second, live a balanced life. Nonprofit work can be all-consuming, don’t let it become so for you.
What do you geek?
I geek baking! I no longer select cookbooks for the library’s collection, but I still browse them frequently. I bake often, but now that our kids are grown and live elsewhere, I have to share it with others. Fortunately many baked items freeze well.
Enjoy what you do and if you don’t look for something else.