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.