Leslyn Shires, 2023 Library Hall of Fame Inductee

During her forty-year professional library career Leslyn M. Shires (1939-2015) made significant contributions to the improvement of library service to the residents of the communities she served and to the residents of the state of Wisconsin.

Leslyn M. Shires (maiden name Schmidt) was born in Hartford, WI on April 11, 1939. Shires received a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961, and a M.S.L.S. for Columbia University in 1962.

Shires worked at the Milwaukee Public Library from 1962 to 1974. Her positions included: Reference Librarian; Project Director for “Over 60” Service; Branch Head; and Coordinator of Adult Services. 

She served as Director of the Wauwatosa Public Library from 1974 to 1981.  Following her service as Assistant State Superintendent, Division for Library Services from 1981 to 1992 she served as Director of the Fond du Lac Public Library until her retirement in 2002.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

It was in her role as Assistant State Superintendent for Library Services at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) during the period 1981 to 1992 that she made her most far-reaching contributions.  Shires’ tenure in this capacity was characterized by active and positive engagement with the library community and the residents of Wisconsin to improve library service.  

Shires became head of the Division for Library Services following the passage of a law creating the Council on Library and Network Development (COLAND) whose function was to advise the State Superintendent of Public Instruction on the provision of quality library services to the state’s residents. She met regularly with this body as the State Superintendent’s representative and helped craft its agenda and produce required reports to the Governor and State Legislature.

Major task forces were created by the State Superintendent upon Shires’ recommendation to address major library policy issues. Two major Task Forces on Library Legislation and Funding made recommendations that resulted in significant changes in Chapter 43, Wisconsin’s library law and increased state funding.

The procedures for the administration of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) were significantly revised to allow a greater role for the LSTA Advisory Committee and more input on priorities for the library community.

Shires and Division for Library Services staff worked cooperatively with WLA’s Library Development & Legislation Committee to create legislative and funding goals supported actively by the State Superintendent. 

Shires was an active supporter of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) which was partially funded by the Department of Public Instruction.

An annual State Superintendent’s Conference for Public Librarians and Trustees was initiated. This was eventually merged with the Spring conference of WLA’s Public Library Section. 

A highly successful State Superintendent’s Conference for District Media Directors was carried out.  A School Library Media Task Force developed the School Library Media Programs: A Resource and Planning Guide.

Shires and Division staff worked closely with the System and Resource Library Administrator’s Association (SRLAW) to address legislative and funding issues of importance to this group.

Shires coordinated with Division staff the implementation in 1990-1991 of the Wisconsin Pre-White House Conference on Library and Information Services. This involved an elaborate statewide process overseen by an 18-member Steering Committee appointed by the State Superintendent. Hearings and meetings were held throughout the state to gain input from the state’s residents and library community. A highly successful Wisconsin Pre-Conference took place in Madison on February 7-8, 1991, to make recommendations and select delegates for the National Conference.

Shires was active in professional library associations. Her participation in the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) included serving as Chair of the Reference and Adult Services Section in 1974 and President in 1979. Shires received WLA’s Special Services Award in 1981. Her participation in the American Library Association (ALA) included serving on the Reference and Adult Services Division (RASD) Committee on Aging in 1967-74 and on the RASD History Section Executive Board in 1979-1981.

Community Involvement

During her tenure at the Milwaukee Public Library Shires served on the Milwaukee Council for Adult Learning and was a member of the Zonta Club of Milwaukee. While in Fond du Lac, she was involved in many community programs including, Altrusa, Fondy Food Pantry, Meals on Wheels, the Arboretum and the Fond du Lac Roundtable.

Shires is listed in Who’s Who in Library and Information Services, 1982 edition. 

 

 

Connie Meyer, 2023 Library Hall of Fame Inductee

Connie Meyer has a fervent love of public libraries, and an unshakeable belief that they can change lives. Connie has worked tirelessly to improve and promote Wisconsin public libraries since, at age 16, she was hired as a part-time page. She continued to provide excellent service as a circulation clerk, children’s librarian, public library director (1992), and library system director (2013). Connie has succeeded in creating positive change across the state because she is laser-focused on the end user.  As she said in a 2017 WiLS member interview, “One of the reasons I have so thoroughly enjoyed every position I’ve had is that I’ve understood the connection between the work being done and the person for whom it matters.”  

Connie invests her time, builds relationships, grows people, and seeks to understand and meet the needs of all stakeholders. She does nothing halfway.  She recognizes barriers to progress, studies them, and proceeds to knock them down or figure out how to detour around them. Her dedication to data use, planning, preparation, and transparency are additional keys to her success. Along the way, she never self-promotes; instead, she shines the light on the efforts of others.

Throughout her career at Fort Atkinson’s Dwight Foster Public Library, Connie cultivated relationships and participated in organizations in the community; in the process she ensured strong support for the library.  As director, she oversaw the 1993 automation and digitization of library records.  She followed this with a decade of planning a building expansion and renovation in order to accommodate new technology and provide more space. That building project, finalized in 2010, resulted in the library being featured in the architectural issue of American Libraries as well as winning local accolades.

After 37 energetic years in Fort Atkinson, Connie moved on to the directorship of the Waukesha County Federated Library System (WCFLS) in November 2013.  She quickly built strong relationships with Waukesha County library directors by listening attentively to their concerns and aspirations.  She earned the respect and trust of her board, County officials, and the County budget team through excellent communication and a demonstrated commitment to data-driven decision-making. In her first ten months, Connie reorganized her staff, located and designed new and less-costly office space, and wrote a budget that reflected what she had learned of the member libraries’ needs, by translating savings she had achieved elsewhere into additional new services to libraries and customers. She also identified the precise problem area in the complex County-codified WCFLS funding distribution formula that would, due to this formula not being constructed to anticipate the impending dissolution of a joint library, result in large political repercussions and greatly damage library service throughout Waukesha County. She then worked knowledgeably with the County’s finance staff to find a tweak that instead resulted in increased funding for most of the System’s member libraries; it was unanimously approved by the County Board.

In 2015, Connie was given an opportunity with a short timeline. She pulled together stakeholders representing sixty-four incorporated communities, twenty-four libraries,

two counties, and eight percent of the population of Wisconsin to achieve well-informed, enthusiastically unanimous agreement to enlarge the Waukesha County Library System to include Jefferson County libraries. This decision to create Bridges Library System was based not on a “bigger is better” assumption but instead on careful financial and service-level analysis that showed it would provide increased materials and services for users, greater stability for Jefferson County libraries, cost savings for Waukesha County libraries, and increased value for taxpayers of both counties. For the thorough and inclusive process used to achieve this system expansion, Bridges received a National Association of Counties Achievement Award, and two Salute to Government awards from the Public Policy Forum, in the categories of “Data Driven Management or Decision-Making” and “Intergovernmental Cooperation.”  Connie was also named Demco Librarian of the Year.

Connie is a strong believer in the value of planning, both county library planning and strategic planning at the system and local library levels. One of the legacies of her influence on Waukesha County library planning is that member libraries, no matter their size, are each required to have active strategic plans. These result in more focused service and a greater connection with the libraries’ communities. 

In addition to her local and system-level library work, Connie has generously shared her time and analytical abilities to work on statewide library issues. She was a member of the Department of Public Instruction’s Lean System Study Work Group, member and Director at Large of WAPL, a presenter at both DLT-sponsored boot camps for new directors and Trustee Training Weeks, active SRLAAW member, and part of PLSR’s Chapter 43 sub-workgroup.  She has excelled at bringing others into the conversations and has energized local library directors to get involved in statewide issues.  In a letter to the Bridges board president, a director stated, “Connie is passionate about libraries and the services offered in our libraries. She has motivated me to be a better leader, to contact stakeholders & to be more aggressive when promoting my library’s accomplishments in my community.”

In addition to these statewide initiatives, Connie joined the Wisconsin Library Association’s Library Development and Legislation Committee (LD&L) in 2015. There, as Co-Chair, she worked tirelessly to shepherd biennial budget requests to successful conclusions, meeting frequently with legislators in order to secure additional funding for library systems.  The result of these efforts was an increase of state aid from $15 million in 2015 to $20 million in 2023.

County funding is another big piece of overall library funding, so besides working on state aid to library systems, LD&L sought to establish a relationship with the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA).  Connie and two others gave a presentation at the WCA annual meeting, resulting in LD&L being asked to provide the bulk of the content for the March 2018 issue of Wisconsin Counties magazine, which has a readership of over 9,000. Connie coordinated the articles and infographics covering a broad spectrum of public library issues and highlighting the importance of county library planning.   

LD&L also formed a Cross-County Funding Subcommittee, with Connie as a member. This subcommittee created easy-to-understand informational sheets that libraries could use to both explain the benefits of cross-county funding to their adjacent counties and dispel misunderstandings. This sub-committee is called in to consult with libraries experiencing issues and with legislators who express a need to know more when contacted by the billed counties. LD&L members, including Connie, have given numerous presentations on county funding at conferences and to individual library system boards.  As a result of work on these issues, LD&L identified easily resolved concerns expressed by counties, regarding billing issues, and recommended Best Practices for Libraries That Bill for Cross-County Use, a document adopted by SRLAAW in 2017.

As LD&L Co-Chair, Connie was active in law-making.  She met with legislative aides and testified in front of committees to successfully pass three bills which streamlined multi-county system boards, gave libraries permission to use collection agencies and law enforcement to retrieve materials while balancing user privacy, and expanded previously-school-focused TEACH grants to small and rural libraries. 

Connie retired in March 2020 from Bridges Library System and moved away from the Waukesha area, although she continued her LD&L work through the end of the year.  But that’s not the end of her influence. In August 2023, she was appointed to the Nicolet Library System Board.  We look forward to seeing how she continues to support Wisconsin libraries in her new capacity.

 

John DeBacher, 2023 Library Hall of Fame Inductee

John DeBacher made a huge impact on the Wisconsin Library Community over more than 25 years. He served as the director of the Monona Public Library for 10 years before moving to the Department of Public Instruction as the Public Library Administration Consultant and later the Director of Public Library Development.

In his time at the Monona Public Library, John made considerable progress in modernizing the library. He started there in 1994 and immediately began the work of advocating for and providing access to computers with Internet service. During his time there, he also conducted a needs assessment and engineering study which led to an eventual expansion in 2002. This expansion allowed the library to increase their usage as well as look at more innovative programming to meet the needs of the Monona community. Due to this, the library was named the Wisconsin Library Association’s Library of the Year in 2010. John was no longer working at the Monona Public Library, but the foundation he laid paved the way for this success.

At DPI, he worked with libraries and librarians across the state to provide guidance and advice on library operations, state statute related to libraries, public library establishment, and open meetings law. He attended system and local library board meetings as needed, often during periods of great difficulty and contention. He was diligent in researching issues and providing objective analysis to complex issues.

As Public Library Development Director, he oversaw the revision of public library standards and managed the Library Services and Technology Act Grants to States program. He attended meetings of almost every statewide committee related to libraries as a representative of DPI including: COLAND, SRLAAW, LD&L, the LSTA Advisory Committee, and many others. Through this work he became one of the foremost experts of Wisconsin library history and was relied on to provide context on many occasions.

As the state looked to embark on voluntary efforts to further improve library services, John proved his leadership and was a pivotal player in shaping library history still being written. John acted as the business owner and team lead of the DPI Lean System Study Work Group providing recommendations that would become the Public Library System Redesign project. He served as the DPI liaison to the steering committee of that project. The recommendations from both of these studies proved instrumental in changes and improvements to the Wisconsin library landscape.

Throughout all this work, John maintained a WLA membership for the entire 26 years of his career and has continued as a member in retirement. He was a regular presenter at WLA and WAPL conferences and served as WAPL chair in 2003. He also regularly attended and presented at ALA and ARSL conferences on the national scale and worked closely with other State Library Agency Library Development Directors to ensure Wisconsin was keeping up with national trends.

Over the course of his career, John proved that he was not only a student of Wisconsin library history, he was also a key author of writing a chapter of that history. He is incredibly deserving of inclusion in the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.

Jane Botham, 2023 Library Hall of Fame Inductee

Jane Botham received her Master’s Degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Library and Information Science. Before becoming Coordinator of Children’s Services for Milwaukee Public Library (1980-1998), she worked at New York Public Library, San Francisco Public Library, New York State Library and as the marketing director at Bradbury Press.

As Coordinator of Children’s Services, Jane was a leader of youth services staff at the Central library and the 12 neighborhood libraries as well as the Mobile Library in the Milwaukee Public Library system. Jane was noted for her clear vision, passionate advocacy, children’s and teen book expertise, and unceasing commitment to bringing librarians, community organizations, book creators and kids together to provide respectful child- and family-centered library service.

Jane Botham was a true force in youth services in Milwaukee, in the state and nationally. Her leadership in youth services was well known and fell into a number of categories:

Innovation

Jane’s experience in other large metropolitan libraries as well as her five years in publishing gave her a unique perspective on creating responsive services. “After having worked in publishing, Botham was able to share with library colleagues a valuable understanding of the publishing industry and its relationship to children’s librarianship.” [“Botham Honored as DSA.” Children and Libraries, Spring 2009. pp 55-56,]. She celebrated books and book creators, championing author visits to Milwaukee and creating the highly successful Poetry Concerts in the 1980s that brought nationally known children’s poets to the city. While chairing the Caldecott Committee in 1992, Jane facilitated a series of discussions for children and parents to involve them in the process of evaluating art in picture books.  An extension of the Milwaukee Reads program, this project was done in cooperation with the Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Education.  [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. October 22, 1992 and MPL Brochure “Let’s Talk About Picture Books for Children”]

Collaboration/Networking

Jane felt strongly that the library was an integral part of the community. She forged many invaluable collaborations and networks between the library and Milwaukee arts, educational, schools and community groups and individuals. She brought together leading youth-serving organizations like museums, nature centers, and cultural organizations to meet bi-monthly and created vibrant community collaborative programs with them including one with renowned author Nancy Eckholm Burkert and the Milwaukee Art Museum. [“Art Literature and Poetry: Milwaukee PL Supports Culture.” School Library Journal, June/July 1987, pp 32-36] These creative and multi-faceted programs were beneficial to the citizens of Milwaukee, the organizations, the individual artists, authors, and community workers, as well as providing opportunities for librarians to grow professionally and become integral members of their neighborhoods and the city-at-large. As Jane herself said, “I think networking is the ultimate tool for children’s librarians. The more people you know, the better off you are.” [“Reading, Responsibility and Respect: Jane Botham on the Three R’s of Library Service to Children.” School Library Journal. September, 1994. pp.134-138]

Mentorship/Teaching

Jane was a mentor not just to the MPL youth staff but also to many, many Wisconsin Library Association Youth Services Section members and youth librarians throughout the state. Jane’s leadership, wise counsel, and support of youth librarians was legendary. There are many career librarians in Wisconsin – many now also retired  – who were fortunate to be counted among her proteges. She encouraged MPL librarians and youth librarians around the state to become active in local organizations and state and national library association work. Jane energized staff and proteges not only to attend conferences and seminars, but to take an active role in presenting and speaking on panels locally, statewide, and nationally as well. That support, which included making appointments of WI children’s and teen library staff to Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) committees, brought the voices of many Wisconsin professionals to the tables at ALA and created life-long library leaders in children’s work and library management positions on the state and national level.

Advocacy/Leadership

Jane was a strong advocate for quality children’s books, the importance of children’s library services in the constellation of services that libraries offer, and the training of youth services librarians to be leaders in their libraries and communities. Her voice was always an important one at any table of librarianship. She also recognized the fundamental powerlessness of children and advocated tirelessly for their right to read and to be informed by children’s literature. She was a strong leader and an exemplar of excellent library service locally, statewide and nationally and served as the President of the Friends of the CCBC during her career. After her retirement, she continued to advocate and support excellence in youth services and youth publishing and to mentor WI youth librarians.

Meeting Children Where They Are

Jane was a strong proponent of the public library serving the “whole child,” with their wide and varied interests. She focused on ways to listen to what children showed interest in and tying service and recommendations for materials conversationally into any interaction. She worked with others to create welcoming, supportive environments and services for children and families – always encouraging staff to get up and greet kids and families as they enter the library. She believed in respecting kids and treating them fairly. As Jane once said, “Children need to have adults who support them in their interests and who can respect them for who they are. That’s what a librarian can do more than anything else.” [“Reading, Responsibility and Respect: Jane Botham on the Three R’s of Library Service to Children.” School Library Journal. September, 1994. pp.134-138]

Supporting Professional Development

Jane’s leadership and coaching was evident on a daily basis within Wisconsin. She was an unstinting champion of making good books available to kids. She encouraged and developed MPL librarians’ critical skills in evaluating, critiquing, reviewing, and promoting children’s books, from both a literary and visual perspective. She helped facilitate appearances of many children’s book creators to Milwaukee for library programs, including Ashley Bryan, Kevin Henkes, Ava Weiss, Phillip Pullman and many others. She instilled in librarians an appreciation for the heritage and importance of children’s librarianship and literature and the role children’s librarians could play in the future of the profession.