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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Adapt, adopt and improve: New director at the helm at Leavenworth Public Library

  • Libraries weren't part of Matthew Nojonen's plan. He had a much more specific idea.
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  • Libraries weren't part of Matthew Nojonen's plan. He had a much more specific idea.
    "I originally wanted to teach Shakespeare in the university setting," he said Tuesday. "That's why I went to college, to get my (bachelor's degree), get my master's, get my Ph.D, and settle down in some ivy-covered liberal arts college, get a tweed jacket with leather elbows, smoke a pipe and teach kids about Shakespeare.
    "Be the beloved old professor. … I had a couple of professors who I highly respected who took a shine off that fantasy."
    Turns out, he ended up with a much larger classroom, specializing in an infinite number of authors, rather than just the one.
    Nojonen, 51, began work March 5 as the new Leavenworth Public Library director.
    He has worked in an assortment of libraries since 1988, has a master's in library science from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and comes to Leavenworth after a short stint as assistant director of the Solano County Library in Fairfield, Calif., in the northeast Bay Area.
    Although his time at Leavenworth Public Library has been short thus far, he said he's made several observations in the early going.
    "The facility is in good shape," he said of the library, a two-story, 30,000-square-foot facility that once housed a grocery store. "The director-board relationship is healthy. There's a lot of good things going on programmatically. The library here is viewed as an important community resource, and that's not always the case.
    "Sometimes the library is almost a forgotten institution — it's just kind of quaint and good to have. But, this library is actively used. It's recognized as an important institution and that's a good environment to work in."
    Nojonen's career in libraries began, innocently enough, with an internship between jobs.
    However, he said it didn't take long for him to become hooked on the profession.
    "Within about a week or two, I realized this is what I ought to do," he said. "I was very comfortable with the profession, the goals of the profession, the ideals of the profession, our product, so to speak. … That was 1988, and I've been doing it ever since."
    An Ohio native, Nojonen said the Leavenworth job appealed to him because it puts him closer to his Midwestern roots. He and wife Maureen, who have been married nearly 29 years, will soon be moving to town, as part of the director's contractual residency requirement.
    The public will have an opportunity to meet the new director during a welcoming event from 9:30-11 a.m. Friday at the library, 417 Spruce St.
    Interacting with the public, learning more about their desires and expectations for the library, falls in line with the new director's philosophies.
    He said it's too early to begin making long-term decisions or changes to the current operation.
    Page 2 of 2 - "I'm learning a lot right now, that's my main goal, stick my nose in everything, meet with people regularly, ask what's going on, how we're doing things," he said.
    "That's my mode now — learning, talking, discovering how things are done, the way the organization is set up, doing a budget. Within a month or two, I should have a really solid foundation from an inside perspective. … It doesn't make sense to make decisions without having a solid groundwork on where we are and how we got here."
    Part of his early exploration of the library's operation, as well as the community it serves, involves evaluating the library's current role and how it can connect with patrons.
    Though some view libraries as antiquated, a relic facing extinction thanks to technology, Nojonen isn't among them. New media complements libraries, he said.
    "Libraries have always been very good at adapting, adopting and improving," Nojonen said. "As new media has come along, libraries don't look at them as a challenge, they look at them as a chance to enhance services.
    "My whole career, I've heard, 'Well, computers are going to put you out of business, print is dead.' If you look, at least worldwide, there were more items printed in the last five years than in the history of the world. … Then the Internet was going to put us out of business. All the Internet did was draw an entirely new audience into our buildings. … It's just another type of media we can offer."
    The new director said his leadership style centers on teamwork and consensus-building.
    "A director is supposed to be a leader, in a certain sense," he said. "But … every place I've ever been and the people that I learned from that I had the most respect for didn't dictate from above. … It's not like Caesar. … It's finding out."
    "The best planning, I think, involves more people, more opinions, more input and more information to make informed decisions."

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