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.