Blending old and new at the River Forest library

? New director says modernization and tradition can co-exist peacefully in a changing library culture. Dawn Bussey is busy doing both.

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By KEN TRAINOR

Dawn Bussey might as well be named Darn Busy. Since taking over as director of the River Forest Public Library Aug. 1, she's been working hard updating a staid old institution.

Technology has been a big part of it. Blending new technology with people skills and more open communication is the core of her strategy.

It's a whole new world at today's public library. Bringing that excitement to River Forest was one of Bussey's mandates when the board hired her?#34;to modernize a beloved old village institution.

To that end, she has upgraded the public computers with higher-end software (eg. Word Excel and Powerpoint), and they now provide one "Internet express" terminal, which allows two non-consecutive 15-minute access periods to patrons per day.

They purchased 18 new computers and Bussey is working to upgrade the old ones with more memory and add them to the network. In addition to being the director, Bussey is also the de facto staff "techie" (her office is often cluttered with old computer parts). They have a contract with a computer support service (eight hours a month), but she and her staff are trying to do as much as they can themselves. "We want to save the eight hours for major things," she said.

They'll soon subscribe to the Listen Illinois program, which enables them to download complete audio books onto an MP3 player for checkout. The program currently offers some 2,200 books to choose from.

Bussey hopes to improve the library's website by adding access to more data bases from home. Currently, patrons can place holds on books from their home computer, but the more remote services the library provides, the more it will help ease the parking crunch, Bussey said. She's also hoping to be able to make house calls, delivering material?#34;perhaps via courier or valet service. She's exploring the options.

Not that she's trying to keep people out of the library. Just the opposite.

"Libraries are changing," she said. "We need more programming. We want this to be a community gathering place, not just a place to grab a book."

Bussey and her staff are experimenting with various kinds of family programs, including scrapbooking and knitting groups. There are two fireplaces in the elegant old reading room upstairs, and on the first and third Thursday evenings of each month, a cross-generational collection of 12-15 patrons meets informally for crochet, needlepoint and knitting. "They talk and share their craft. At the last meeting, a couple of young girls were finger-knitting." Staff makes craft books available to consult.

"It's a family opportunity," she said.

They also have a film license now and plan to offer "movie afternoons" in the near future.

"We want to catch up with the times," Bussey said, "but that can be done in conjunction with traditional library services. They can complement each other nicely."

Computer digitalization, for instance, will eventually allow them to store periodicals more efficiently, freeing up badly needed space. Though Bussey calls this "a jewel of a building," it has little space for storage and no basement at all.

Though she came from one of the state's showcase libraries, she was attracted by River Forest's quaint facility as well as its dedicated staff and the fact that "the board is going in the right direction."

"I was also looking for a challenge," she said.

River Forest was a homecoming of sorts as well. Bussey is a graduate of Dominican University's Library and Information Science program. And, in fact, River Forest is now home for the Bussey family. They moved from west of Elgin the Friday before last, which, while adding to Bussey's busyness, at least simplifies the commute. It simplifies her daughter Kate's life as well. The sixth grader attends Roosevelt Middle School next door and frequently comes over to the library after school, though they live within walking distance. Bussey's other daughter attends the early education program at Concordia University.

And if Bussey weren't busy enough, she's joining Dominican University's adjunct faculty in January to teach Reference 704, one of the core library program courses.

Overall, Bussey is happy with the way things are going thus far. "We're working a lot on communication," she said. "We have two suggestion boxes, one upstairs and one downstairs. The first month there were seven suggestions, the second month over 20. Communication is the key to keeping things going."

Lately, she's been dealing with a lot of aging building issues (leaks, painting, etc.), but takes it all in stride.

"We'll never be the Oak Park library," she said, "but we're going to be the best River Forest library we can be."
Contact: ktrainor@wjinc.com


 

During Dawn Bussey's eight years at the Schaumburg Public Library, she helped develop an Internet reference "chat room" called MyWebLibrarian.com, which is now available through the River Forest library's website, riverforestlibrary.org.

Thirty-two libraries in the state of Illinois belong to the service, established with a state grant. Participating members help man the site, which is up and running from 9 a.m. till midnight, Monday through Friday, and 1 p.m. till midnight on Saturday and Sunday. River Forest librarians take the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift on Monday and Wednesday, plus a Saturday shift every four weeks.

Most of the questions are general enough to be answered by librarians as far away as Quincy, but if they are library-specific, the chat librarian will refer them to the local library's e-mail. Oak Park is not yet a member though Bussey said she plans to talk to them about it (currently, you can only access the service from the 60305 zip code).

Queries range from stock market quotes to biographical information on the inventor of the X-ray machine to the proper temperature for roasting a turkey. Kids sometimes stump the librarians with pop culture questions, she said, like "What does 205 mean?" Turns out it was the number one of the contestants had on his shirt on "American Idol."

Of the more than 11,400 questions the service fielded last year, many came from students doing homework.

"We don't do the work for them," Bussey said, "but we help them find the information."

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