Albrecht made building, software, and community relations improvements over 15-year directorship
by Jennifer Yos
LANSING, Ill. (October 13, 2021) – Library Director Debbie Albrecht will be retiring on October 29 after a combined 22-year service history with the Lansing Public Library.
Albrecht began working at the library part-time as a circulation clerk in 1999. One year later she took a full-time position as Youth Services Assistant, and eventually became Head of Youth Services. In May of 2006, she accepted the position of Library Director and has maintained that role for the past 15 years.
The road to the Lansing Library
“I’ve always been a reader, always been a book lover. Always,” explains Albrecht when asked what influenced her to go into library science in the first place. Yet the road to becoming Library Director was not a direct route. Albrecht grew up in upstate New York and first attended college in Pella, Iowa, with the intention of becoming a social worker. She majored in psychology and sociology at Central College, where she met Bill Albrecht from Lansing, IL. The two eventually married and moved to Lansing, where Debbie started work at a bank.
When their two sons, Dan and David, were young, Albrecht began teaching pre-school at Lansing Nursery School, loved it, and ended up staying there for ten years.
“It was with kids and with books,” she explained. “I started their first little library over there. And then, when I wanted to go back to school to get a Masters, [I had to decide] Early Childhood? or Library Science?“
Albrecht chose to take part-time work at the Lansing Public Library as a circulation clerk to test out how she liked working in the library environment. She loved it and began working full-time in the Youth Department. The experience convinced her to get a Masters Degree in Library Science as opposed to Early Childhood Education.
“So, I thought, yeah, when you’re fifty, better to be upright [rather] than down on your knees or sitting in the little chair. So then I went back to get my degree while I worked here,” she said.
Albrecht earned her Masters Degree in Library Science at Dominican University in River Forest, IL.
Digital innovation in the library
Reflecting on major changes that Albrecht has witnessed in the library system, the first that came to her mind is the consolidation of smaller computer catalog systems into larger networks like SWAN (System Wide Automated Network). SWAN is an ILS (Integrated Library System) that includes 100 libraries throughout the Chicagoland area.
“When I started here, we were a stand-alone library — part of the big system, but we didn’t belong to any other catalog, so we were all by ourselves. So it was harder for our patrons to borrow [through] interlibrary loan because they couldn’t do it through using the catalog — they’d have to see [a library staff member] — we’d have to write it down and order it that way. It took longer and it was much more tedious and nobody could do it themselves,” she said.
As library director, Albrecht looked into re-joining SWAN (The previous director had discontinued it), but the cost — $100,000 — was budget prohibitive. A few years later a grant opportunity became available through RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System), and the library was once again using SWAN.
“So when you’re searching the catalog now, as a patron, if you want a book, and we don’t have it, you automatically can order it from somewhere else and it takes like two days usually,” explained Albrecht. In addition to the convenience of resource sharing, the library, as a member of SWAN, has buying power, such as getting discounts for online resources.
Creating beautiful spaces
Reflecting on physical changes to the Lansing Public Library under her directorship, Albrecht said, “When I took over this building in 2006, it leaked everywhere — roof, windows, all over this place. It was in desperate need of repair, but we didn’t have any money at the time. So that set my whole goal to totally remodel this forty-year-old building and get it up to snuff. So that’s what I set out to do, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Three big renovation projects under Albrecht’s direction were the exterior remodel, which included the new parking lot and landscaping; the interior remodel, which included new carpeting, study rooms, an added stage area, added storage, new furniture and signage; and the lower level remodel with new maker spaces, expanded teen space, a story/family study room, new furniture pieces, new carpet, and new HVAC system.
Patty Higgins, a library staff member of thirty-plus years, has witnessed firsthand the magnitude of change brought about by Albrecht, saying, “Debbie has brought a lot of changes to the library, a lot of updating and remodeling. … As you can see, the whole appearance has changed. You wouldn’t recognize it from thirty years ago.“
Public involvement and staff praise
In addition to renovating the library, Albrecht’s biggest joys include working with the public, working with outside organizations, and providing what patrons need. “I love to work with the public. I loved to collaborate with other organizations outside. I loved working at Fox Pointe to do a concert series, and working with LACE. And I loved that we established our winter concert series in the winter for something for people to do for free.”
As Director, Albrecht not only initiated the winter concert series, but also the library’s annual block party, a popular kick-off summer event in Lansing. Though it was cancelled this year due to COVID, Albrecht hopes it will return strong. She also began the tradition of holding candidate forums for Village elections to help local residents understand their ballots and the importance of local elections.
Daniel Cuthbert, another library staff member, recognizes Albrecht’s openness to new ideas and her vision of the library. “She has been more than willing to try out new things. … She has allowed a certain measure of freedom for us to be able to kind of experiment and try out something — for instance like live streaming — where we’d never done it before, and she’s like, ‘Sure, go ahead with it,’ and it turned out to work pretty well in certain cases,” he said, adding, “The willingness to not think of the library as solely a place by which to get books and magazines and newspapers, but rather that it can be more of a community center, more of a place to be able to bring people together … I think she has helped to kind of foster that environment here.”
Debbie Boroviak, who has worked at the library for 31 years, concurs with Cuthbert: “[Albrecht] was open to trying new things. She wanted us to use our initiative and come up with ideas. She was good about that. For the most part, she would say, ‘Go for it!’”
Turning a new page
Finding someone to fill Albrecht’s director shoes was an involved process. After the library board hired a consultant to carry out a nationwide search and after interviewing people from all over the country, they hired Lisa Korajczyk, who has had over seven years’ experience at the Matteson Area Public Library District in her roles as Public Services Coordinator, Assistant Director, and most recently, Interim Director. Prior to her work at Matteson, Korajczyk was Director of Steger-South Chicago Heights Public Library (2008-2014) and Assistant Director at Richton Park Public Library District (2002-2008). Albrecht believes Korajczyk’s biggest challenge will be getting people back to the library — “when COVID lifts, getting people to re-establish that habit.”
In her retirement, Albrecht plans to read and hopefully travel. Her youngest son is getting married in Florida in the spring and she plans to vacation the entire month there. Her parting thoughts regarding retirement: “It’s just been a delight working with everyone in Lansing. I really, really have loved it.”
The Lansing Public Library is located at 2750 Indiana Avenue, Lansing, IL
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