My day job is executive director at the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA). In this role I work closely with the WLA and the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation boards of directors and also spend a lot of time working with volunteer committee members and our 15 systems that make up the Wisconsin library system. The Wisconsin system model lets us leverage our spending on technology, online content and education, while allowing each library to shape themselves in a way that reflects the needs of their communities.
You might think Google and online search have eliminated the need for librarians, but just the opposite is true: Information overload and the reality of fake news mean libraries and librarians are more important than ever.
I’ve found it fascinating to watch how libraries are used to disseminate information. Whenever there’s a change in, say, a government program, people come to the library to learn more. One of the first projects I tackled when I came on board was overseeing the creation of best practices for sharing information about government programs.
I often say every library is an adventure and it’s my joy to visit libraries throughout the state. After spending two hours with library staff, I can know more about a community than if I lived there for a month because librarians take the time to understand their communities and the opportunities and challenges they face.
Everyone has their own story about what libraries have meant to them—I’ve heard hundreds of them and I’ve lived my own.
I view this role as my way to give back to libraries, which have been a trusted friend throughout my life. I spent a lot of time at the library as a child and the employees became my extended family. It’s an honor to play a role in helping ensure their future.
My most memorable caffeine was the coffee I’d drink with my grandma as a child. My parents died when I was a toddler and my grandmother raised me. She’d start her day with a cup of coffee and I’d get my own little cup and join her. My grandmother was a combination of Yoda and Confucius and she was an amazing storyteller with a proverb for every situation. One of her favorite’s was “Every goodbye’s not gone; every shut eye’s not asleep.” She was my compass.
My current caffeine of choice is hazelnut coffee from HyVee. I know connoisseurs will cringe at the idea of flavored coffee, but hazelnut is my favorite and I enjoy trying it at different places.
My favorite place for caffeine is Fa-Prong, a restaurant in Sakon Nakhon, which is a small city in northeast Thailand. I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe—if I never see another castle that will be ok!—and was always been fascinated by the idea of going to Thailand.
About five years ago I asked myself what I was waiting for and took my first trip there. From the moment I arrived I felt a physical response: my dreams changed, my breathing changed and I felt so relaxed. I couldn’t decide if I’d just imagined all that so I went back on a second trip a few months later and had the identical experience. In many ways, Sakon Nakhon feels like a Thai version of Madison in that it’s a city surrounded by farmland. They call Thailand the “land of smiles” and that’s certainly been my experience.
The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Barack Obama. He’s one of the smartest people around and I have a thousand questions I’d like to ask him. He grew up in a situation that could be seen as a liability—being raised by a young, single mom—but because the right adults were there for him, it became a huge asset.
I’d like to learn more about his commitment to build consensus on issues he felt passionately about, especially when his goals were demonized. And how he was able to do that with a sense of dignity and a smile on his face. Though I might switch our beverage to beer instead of coffee—that might make for some more interesting answers!
World problems that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: access to education and hunger. With all the resources available to us, I can’t conceive of why we’re still struggling with these two issues.
People who want an education should never be hindered by their economic status—civil societies benefit greatly from education and we should be acting accordingly to make education accessible for all. Think of the people who fall through the cracks because they lack opportunity and what they could accomplish if they had it.
I’m also just appalled by the waste I see with food. Before I joined the WLA I worked in a variety of other industries and was often responsible for putting on large conferences. We’d be hosting hundreds of people for three meals a day and the waste was just phenomenal. I was quite aggressive in trying to find ways to ensure those leftovers were being used, but there was so much concern about liability that in all my years of doing that only one hotel ever formed a partnership with a shelter. I’m frustrated by circumstances that turn America’s free market enterprise concept into a monster.