Crystal Lake library director to retire after 32 years at helm

Current head of library’s youth services department to take on director role

Crystal Lake Library Director Kathryn I. Martens will retire after over 30 years in the role on May 20, 2022.

Crystal Lake Public Library Director Kathryn Martens is set to retire this month after 32 years as the library’s leader, but she said her affinity for libraries dates back twice as long, to when she was a child.

“I’ve always had a love for the public library,” Martens said. “I lived a couple blocks away from the Barrington library, and I was one of those neighborhood kids who would hang out there all the time.”

The new director for the Crystal Lake Public Library will be Becky Fyolek, the current head of the library’s youth services department whose appointment was approved by the library board last week, a library official said.

COVID-19 caused a tremendous shift in how libraries operate, including the Crystal Lake Public Library, Martens said.

Martens worked with the nine-person library board on a vision during the pandemic, when the library acted as a kind of call center with “amped up” e-services, Martens said. While the library has since shifted back to allowing people into the physical space again, virtual or take-home program offerings like craft-making are now a mainstay.

Fyolek was responsible for some of the library’s most successful programming coming out of the pandemic, including YouTube videos, seminars and classes, library board vice president William Weller said.

“I’m really proud of what the staff did during [COVID-19],” Martens said. “It was a really difficult time for us.”

During her tenure, Martens also helped oversee three major building renovations to the Crystal Lake library, including improvements to the building’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting systems in 2020 and 2021, as well as the addition of a drive-up service window, according to a news release. Within the past decade, Martens has advocated for building an entirely new library altogether.

“She was committed to Crystal Lake,” former library board trustee Don Peters said in a news release. “When she commits to something, she’s all in. That’s why she stayed around as long as she has. She’s going to be missed.”

Martens got her start in libraries at the age of 16 when she became a shelver at her local library. She worked there all throughout high school and college during the summer breaks.

She first became a library director for the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1980, before returning to the northwest suburbs 10 years later.

“Libraries have become less of a warehouse of materials and more about a place for the community to gather,” Martens said. “The world has become more online, but at the same time, there’s this human need for connection. Sometimes the library or staff can provide that.”

As she departs – her last day working is May 20 – Martens said she still wishes the library could do more to publicize their services and events.

“This is a big job, a lot of responsibility,” Martens said of her role as library director.

Now, Martens said she intends to spend time camping in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her family, or training and entering poodles in competitions.

A public farewell reception for Martens is being held 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the library in the Adult Services section.