Among the many things people will miss about Toni Streckert when she retires from the Monona Public Library is her self-deprecating sense of humor.
The information service coordinator’s last day will be Friday. She handles much of adult programming, helps coordinate a couple book clubs, serves as the go-between with MG21, leads acquisitions for specific collections, organizes the art displays and is the creative force behind many of the library’s fundraisers.
But when you ask her what she does, the answer is very different.
“I just sit in a chair behind a big screen reading books and consuming vast quantities of dark chocolate,” she said.
Joining Streckert in retiring from the library is Ronda Pettey-Kucher, the circulation supervisor, who will leave at the end of July.
She’s in charge of everything to do with circulation and the front desk staff. She handles the staff scheduling, coordinates a lot of training for new employees and handles damaged library items.
Streckert has been with the library for 10 years; Pettey-Kucher has been there 20.
“There’s no replacing either of them, but for having another person in the position, we currently are in the process of interviewing for what we’re renaming the adult services coordinator position,” said Ryan Claringbole, library director. “Ideally, the person coming in will have a week to kind of shadow … although I’m not sure that will be happening (with Streckert).”
Neither woman started work at the library in their current role.
Pettey-Kucher started as a shelver in 1997. After a year, she moved up to a library assistant post and handled damaged library materials.
And then she became circulation supervisor.
“It happened abruptly, because a staff person left, and I had somewhat been filling in for that person, and the director at the time said, ‘I’m putting you in charge of this,’ and I just had to scramble and get busy,” she said.
Streckert began as a library assistant for the summer reading program, moved into teen librarian position and finally shifted to adult programming.
“I can remember my first day really well,” she said. “I was Karen’s (Wendt) assistant, and she came up to me. There was a class visit, and I was familiarizing myself with the library, and she said, ‘OK … I’m going to do a puppet show. Decide what part you’d like to play and why don’t you give the tour of the library?’ I broke out into an enormous tower of sweat. I got through it somehow that day.”
Both have created longstanding friendships with fellow staff as well as some regular patrons, some who were first encountered as children and now who bring in their own children. They’ve also attended a few funerals of longtime patrons.
Both agree they will also miss all the new books they come across at the library.
“It’s almost a curse working in a library,” Pettey-Kucher said. “It’s almost like you have this thirst (when you see all the new books).”
Streckert said one of her favorite annual events is National Library Week.
“One of the most gratifying parts of the job has been National Library Week and working with a lot of community partners like the Monona Starbucks,” she said.
The library also partners with Mystery to Me bookstore and has author visits. Streckert sets up the themes and displays in which each one is a menu course of reading materials and chances to win gift certificates to area restaurants.
“It’s a way to kind of support patrons that have supported us, and it’s a way to highlight local businesses,” she said.
Both have also faced challenges along the way.
Only a month into her job, Streckert had to go outside her comfort zone to convince members of the city council to read a book from a select list for a special collection as part of an overall plan to lead a discussion of the books.
“This idea of stretching beyond what you think you can do I think helped to set the tone for the position for me, and that was great,” she said.
Pettey-Kucher said there are challenges every day.
“One thing I tell new staff when I hire them is that the library is like a river; you can never step in the same spot twice,” she said. “That’s pretty much how it is. There are different things each day. You have to take each day as it comes and see them as challenges.”
Turning the page
Pettey-Kucher said her decision to retire was based on multiple factors, including her age and a belief that the library is in a good place with potential to be even better.
“We have very good leadership right now, and (I’m) very impressed when we would have interviews for library desk positions, the talent that’s out there,” she said. “I picked the summer because August and September are slow, so it should be a good time for a transition.”
As much as she loves books, Pettey-Kucher said botany is her first love, and she will spend time doing things related to that.
Streckert agreed that the library is doing well now.
“I wanted to have a summer. I’ve been working a long time without enjoying a summer,” she said. “I love the many directions the library is going. This is a wonderful, wonderful place to work, and … there are so many wonderful young people who are new and on staff with great ideas. And I have to clean my house.”
It’s Claringbole who now has the bigger challenge.
“We’re the No. 1 library per capita for visits, not only in our system but in the state by quite a margin. We’ve been in the top three for circulation, and our program numbers have always been very high,” he said.
The library has many visitors from other communities and when asked why they are in the Monona library, many reply it’s due to the staff.
“The challenge I have now is to make sure people come, because I know a lot of those people come because of Toni and Ronda, whether it’s their actual interaction personally with them or how efficient they’ve made the library, the process, the great programs, making sure the staff is well trained,” he said. “It’s a huge loss both for the library and the community, but I think at the same time, we’ll appreciate even more what they’ve brought to everyone.”