New director sees library as community center

Covid was hard on libraries, but Laws says that now is the ideal time to make facility a repository of resources for everyone

STANDING AMONG THE bookshelves at the Oscar Grady Library in Saukville this week was its new director, Emily Laws. Laws, who worked at libraries in Cedarburg and West Bend before coming to Saukville, has already implemented projects begun by her predecessor, Jen Gerber, including a “smart locker” system that allows patrons to pick up and drop off materials outside of the library and solar power charging benches, where she charged her phone recently (lower photo). Photos by Sam Arendt

By DAN BENSON

Ozaukee Press staff

Two years of Covid was hard on local libraries, restricting access to services, limiting programs, suppressing fundraising efforts and all but killing volunteer opportunities.

Emily Laws sees that as creating an opportunity to relaunch the Oscar Grady Public Library as its new director.

“I see an opportunity to make Oscar Grady a real community center,” Laws said. “We have an excellent collection (of materials) and a great staff and we’re fulfilling our role as a business center, providing computer, and internet access and life services like printing, copying, faxing and notary service.

“It’s fulfilling to help people in our community achieve their goals. That is the mission of public libraries,” she said.

The 40-year-old Mequon resident most recently served four years as access services manager at the West Bend Community Library in 2018. Before that she was on staff for four years at the Cedarburg Public Library.

The Ashwaubenon native graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with a degree in communication and then earned a masters in information science from UW-Milwaukee in 2011.

Her interest in being a librarian grew at UW-Green Bay while working as a research assistant for Voyageur magazine, published by the Brown County Historical Society.

“It had me working in the archives at the public library and that kind of work just fascinated me,” she said.

Laws was the unanimous choice, from among three candidates, of the Saukville Library Board’s search committee, Library Board President Sonia Lear said.

“She’s very passionate about her profession and has wonderful skills,” Lear said. “One of the things we were really impressed with was her interest in getting to know our community. She wants to get involved in our different organizations and identify areas where the library could support our community.”

Even before her interview with the search committee, Laws visited the library, met with staff and looked at the library’s budget, Lear said.

Laws succeeds Jen Gerber, who served the Saukville library for 12 years and left in July for a similar position in Shorewood.

Under Gerber the library garnered statewide and even national attention for its digital media lab, which allows patrons to convert slides and reel film into digital files.

Law has already implemented a couple projects begun by Gerber. They include a “smart locker” system that allows patrons to pick up and drop off materials outside of library hours and outside, solar-powered charging benches where patrons can charge their phones and other devices.

Near the top of Laws’ priorities will be reviving the Friends of the Oscar Grady Library volunteer group, which languished the last two years because of Covid, she and Lear said.

“During Covid we lost our connection,” Laws said.

“Having a really viable friends of the library group would be such an asset to our program and everything we’re doing,” Lear said. “We need a strong friends group. We had one and we just need to get it going again.”

Fundraising by the group helps fund children’s and other programs.

“What attracted me to Saukville was really the community itself,” Laws said. “There’s something to be said about how a place makes you feel. And Saukville made me feel at home right away. It’s a beautiful place with great people.”

Laws said the library is a place where the community gathers

“My goal is to start a strategic planning process that gets the community involved in planning what that is going to look like,” she said.

Laws said a Friends of the Oscar Grady Library meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21, at the library.

“We will present all the wonderful opportunities,” she said.

 

 

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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