Getting to know her staff as well as the community is one of Kate Buckson’s top priorities as the new director of the St. Charles Public Library.
“I really want to spend a good amount of time learning, learning from the staff and talking to patrons and seeing what people want and then start developing priorities based on that,” said Buckson, who started on Nov. 7 and was hired following a nationwide search. “And I’ve had the most warm welcome. The staff has been so kind and so welcoming and so generous. And I just feel really, really lucky to be here.”
An open house to give a chance for the public to meet her is planned for early next year. Buckson previously had been executive director of the La Grange Park Public Library District for the past seven years.
Like the St. Charles Public Library, La Grange Park Public Library is a district library and is its own taxing body.
“So she has the experience of this type of a library,” St. Charles Library Board President Robert Gephart said after the board voted to hire her. “We were looking for somebody to take us on that next step forward.”
Buckson replaces Edith Craig, who in April submitted her resignation letter announcing that she was stepping down after more than five years in her position. In her time as director, Craig oversaw the $18.6 million renovation and expansion of the library, which opened to the public in July 2021.
St. Charles Public Library serves more people than La Grange Park Public Library and Buckson said she is looking forward to applying her skills in a larger library setting.
“Finding a place where I felt I could have an impact and near the community where I live, St. Charles seemed like an amazing opportunity,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for anyone. I feel pretty privileged to have been chosen. It’s a privilege for me to be able to step into this role.”
Since 2019, Buckson and her husband, Ryan, have lived in Big Rock, which is located in southwestern Kane County near Sugar Grove. The couple has three children.
She was appointed to the Big Rock Township Board earlier this year.
“I am very interested in local government,” Buckson said. “I think that it’s important to serve your community. I thought this was something I could do to serve my community and be useful, but it’s also a great way for me to get to know the community, still being a fairly new resident.”
Buckson, 40, grew up in Downers Grove. She holds a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Wayne State University along with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northern Illinois University.
The St. Charles Public Library District is one of the largest library districts in the state, Buckson said. And she knows how the library is a vibrant part of the community.
“It’s a very special place,” she said. “I’m already learning just how meaningful the library is to the community.”
She noted how the St. Charles Public Library’s Outreach team will deliver materials to people who are in retirement homes or who are homebound. In addition, Buckson commended the library for being so innovative.
“You see the cutting edge of what’s happening in library services,” Buckson said.
Libraries have become a place for the community to gather and not just a place to go to for information and resources. But the St. Charles Library’s services aren’t limited to the physical confines of the building.
“What we learned from the pandemic is that virtual services are also incredibly important,” Buckson said. “People don’t necessarily have to come into the library if that’s not something they have time for, but we still offer resources to people. We really have expanded our reach and the pandemic has taught I think a lot of librarians that the virtual presence is very critical for people who don’t want to come into the library or don’t feel safe or just don’t have time. But we offer things they can access on a train, or on a lunch break or from home.”
Getting the word out about what libraries offer is a challenge that libraries continue to face, she said.
“Our team’s drive is to continue to look for ways that we can engage people with information so they know what the library offers,” Buckson said. “Most people don’t know that you can listen to free audio books from your phone with the library card. Many people don’t know that we have quiet rooms that you can rent if you need to do a Zoom call. We play a really important role, in people’s lives and in the community as a whole.”
In the future, Buckson will be working on a new strategic plan for the library. In helping put together a new strategic plan, she will be seeking feedback from the community.
“It can be a challenge sometimes to really grasp what the needs of the community are and what people want from their library,” she said. “Part of that can be because they’re not aware of what we already offer or because the things that they value can be so different. And we have to decide what to prioritize among all the different ideas we get. So I think a challenge for me personally and also for our library will be to find a way to really engage with our residents during the strategic planning process and to find ways to prioritize the feedback that we get so that we can continue to have the library be a place that really belongs to the community, that really serves the needs that they’ve identified.”