Hatteberg's People - Independence Library: Julie Hildebrand

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

On Hatteberg's People, it was a close call. In 2009, the Independence, Kansas Library was in deep financial trouble. Julie Hildebrand was the new librarian and what she found was a financial train wreck. Just over two years later, the Independence Library was named the best small library in the nation. For Julie and her staff the news couldn't have been sweeter.

"I likened it to winning the Heisman Trophy, and I guess that sort of puts it in perspective," said Hildebrand.

The Independence Public Library not only came back from the dead, but now holds the distinction of being the best small town library in nation. That's according to Library Journal Magazine. But in 2009, when Julie Hildebrand was named Library director, it was a disaster.

"That was the first time I was actually able to see the books, and when I took a look at the financial situation, I realized that we didn't have enough funds to keep the library open through the end of the year," she said.

Today, it is a national example of how to do libraries right. So how did Julie pull the library from the brink of oblivion to national prominence? She says, the town pulled together and everyone helped.

"What the city did was give us additional funding and what I did was go to the Friends of the Library and they also kicked in a little extra additional funding. But what was the most difficult is that we had to let about half of our staff go.....very difficult decisions," she said.

But what was also needed was innovation. The library couldn't operated the same way it always had, and stay relevant.

What happens when you put a handful of librarians in a bad economy? You get innovation!

"What we did was institute a teamwork approach and in doing so, we gave each staff member some additional responsibilities and pride and ownership in what was happening with the library," said Hildebrand.

They added high-capacity broadband, created an iPhone app, used social networking and began an email newsletter. They began Loaning e-books to library patrons. That is zooming in popularity and this Library is on the cutting edge.

When local schools had to cancel their summer programs, the library offered classes taught by volunteers. Many of the learning programs designed by library staff.

Those who home-school came to rely more on the library as a necessary resource. The library also created partnerships with local businesses. Story time programs for children and moms continued to be successful, again taught and run by volunteers.

For those who support the library, winning the award was a welcome surprise. Julie says the library has changed her life.

"I found my niche in life now. And now along with our staff we're making a difference in the community and in people's lives and that's where the sparkle comes from," she said.

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