2013 Award Winners

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Library of the Year: Verona Public Library

According to their nomination citing 2011 DPI annual report data, when compared to other libraries with similar service populations, the Verona Public Library ranks first in circulation, program attendance, users of public Internet computers, number of ALA-accredited master degreed librarians, and total materials and operating expenditures.  Additionally, a remarkable 85% of Verona’s 11,000 residents have library cards.  Holly Steger, a Verona Public Library patron nominated poetically, “The Verona Public Library is certainly a treasure: a proud ship of a building standing amid a sea of prairie grass and wildflowers.  When you step aboard, the first view of the horizon through the floor to sky windows is literally breathtaking.  Our library is not a static structure: it is a vibrant, pulsing vessel that carries Verona through the waters providing our community a bulwark of education.”  It is the Award Committee’s extreme pleasure to christen this proud ship, “Library of the Year!”


Librarian of the Year: Michael Gelhausen

The word “passionate” was used repeatedly to nominate Michael Gelhausen for Librarian of the Year. He is passionate about the Jack Russell Memorial Library where he has worked for almost 30 years, the two building projects he has led, three automation installations, the development and formation of both a county library service and a Friends of the Library, and the many offices held in the Wisconsin Library Association. Several nominations mentioned a truly remarkable recent accomplishment: helping to raise over $2 million dollars in twelve months during one of the worst economies in recent years. Writes Gary Koppelberger, Hartford City Administrator, “… Mike led a community-wide fundraising effort to construct a new, stand-alone library for the Hartford area – in the midst of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Nevertheless, the Hartford community responded. Under Mike’s leadership and boundless faith the impossible happened.” Now it is time for the library community to acknowledge Mr. Gelhausen’s remarkable career, dedication, accomplishments and passion, by naming him the 2013 Wisconsin Library Association Librarian of the Year.


Trustee of the Year: Helen Campbell

Helen Campbell has served as a dedicated and tireless trustee for the Prairie du Sac Library Board for over a quarter of a century and has been the President for the past 20 years. She has lead the board through dramatic increases in circulation, open hours and staffing; joining a shared automation consortium; and opening not one, but two, new libraries. Jennifer Endres Way, Director of the Ruth Culver Community Library nominated Ms. Campbell, “Helen’s passion and dedication to providing excellent library service has only grown stronger over these years. Her energy continues to be endless when it comes to supporting the library.”


Citation of Merit: Noon Kiwanis Club of Ripon

The Ripon Noon Kiwanis Club saw a need, and then developed and implemented a popular toy lending library at the Ripon Public Library to meet that need. Inspired by then Kiwanis President Dr. Richard Zimman’s daughter’s fond memories of a toy library growing up, Dr. Zimman convinced the Noon Kiwanis Club to take on the development of a toy library as the group’s signature project. In addition to fundraising for initial toy purchases, the Club also paid for remodeling the space to house the toys, storage and all cleaning supplies. Club members also volunteer time to clean the toys. Ripon Public Library Children’s Librarian Linda M. DeCramer enthused about the project, “In this age of technology, libraries are necessarily diversifying. It is interesting to note that the development of the toy lending library supports that trend, while simultaneously creating a foundation for traditional child development opportunities. It is hard to imagine another project which could bridge such a gap.”

2012 Award Winners

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Library of the Year: David A. Cofrin Library, UW-Green Bay

Paula Ganyard, Library Director, and her staff have improved the user experience by using technology and a customer service ethic to support research and learning. Their improved marketing efforts have increased library usage and engagement of the students, staff and faculty. In addition to all these activities, the staff has worked to improve involvement in the Green Bay community, fundraising, collections, staff development opportunities, and the physical facilities. Ganyard and the library staff have worked hard to make sure the library is not only the physical center of the campus, but the heart of the university, as well.



WLA/Demco Librarian of the Year: Stephen Proces

Stephen Proces, Director, oversaw the Neenah Public Library building project twelve years ago and has continued “building” the library into a premier destination in the Fox Cities for programming and collections that appeal to all ages, boasting an annual circulation today of nearly 1 million items. Steve is highly respected by his staff and community leaders for his service innovations, as well as his generosity in mentoring younger librarians and creating a working environment where staff is free to grow and experiment with new programs and services.

Trustee of the Year: James Backus

Having served for 11 years on the Wisconsin Valley Library Service board, more than 5 on the WLA’s Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends (WLTF) board, as well other library-related volunteer positions, Jim Backus exemplifies excellence. He advocates for strong board leadership and helps other trustees develop the knowledge needed to serve effectively.


Special Service Award: Anthony Driessen

Tony Driessen serves WLA as a hired governmental affairs consultant but much of his work for libraries is pro bono. He receives the special service award because of his broad knowledge of and concern for libraries, his great familiarity with education concerns and political issues, his principled approach to government decision-making and advocacy, and his collaborative nature.


Citation of Merit: Dr. Lelan McLemore

Though Dr. McLemore is not a librarian, his nomination supporters say, “…the library has been his great passion, and he has succeeded in creating a library populated with an excellent staff, state of the art library resources, and students and faculty that consider the Todd Wehr Memorial Library the center of academic life on campus.” 


2009 Award Winners

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Library of the Year

uw sheboygan staffUW-Sheboygan University Library

With the opening of a new, state-of-the-art facility in summer 2007, the UW-Sheboygan University Library now looks the part of a modern academic library. Housed on the first floor of the UW-Sheboygan Acuity Technology Center, it is appropriate that the library is situated at the main entrance to the campus. Exquisite architectural features, wireless Internet throughout, several full technology-equipped study rooms, a 36-seat computer lab and a variety of comfortable seating areas for study and research make this facility shine. But the library staff completes the picture of WLA’s Library of the Year.

Library Director Jeffrey Ellair and staff have been systematically building and enhancing a comprehensive program of progressive library services for well over a decade. By implementing a series of student surveys and assessments, the staff has considered user needs in the design of the new building, acquisition policies and service development. When interlibrary loan skyrocketed, the staff created an internship program funded by the UW-Sheboygan Foundation that allowed the library to manage an increased workload.

UW-Sheboygan University Library showcases its excellence by giving the greater community access to the library’s wealth of resources. In addition to welcoming area businesses and professionals, Director Ellair’s visits to local high schools and public libraries have already resulted in greater use of the library by the public. In the two years since the new building opened, the gate count has tripled and reference and computer questions have increased by more than 83 percent.

University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan University Library staff members include (from left) Karen McArdle, Senior Library Services Assistant; Amy Mussell, Academic Librarian; and Jeff Ellair, Library Director. Photo courtesy of UW-Sheboygan.

DEMCO Librarian of the Year

katiehansonKathryn (Katie) Hanson , Library Director at Graham Public Library in Union Grove, is WLA’s DEMCO Librarian of the Year. In 1972, Katie Hanson was hired as a library aide, and she later moved into the Children’s Librarian position. She became director in 1987. During that time, she’s learned the ropes of librarianship, making personal service her hallmark. Not only does she remember her patrons’ book preferences, she has been known to make personal deliveries to those who could not leave home to pick up library books.

During her first ten years as director, she doubled the size of the library, increased staff to four full time and three part-time positions, and earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration. She played an integral part in fundraising for the new library, and she recruited dozens of volunteers to set up the new space – and kept them happy and well-fed with home-baked cookies. You can also find her washing the library’s windows, planting flowers and emptying the book drop on holidays – just to keep the library running smoothly and looking its best.

Since the completion of the library addition in 1990, Hanson has overseen many improvements to library service: automation of the library in 1998, public Internet access in 2001, hosting the Lakeshores Library System’s Wide Area Network and being Union Grove’s only public Wi-Fi network. In a time of shrinking budgets, Hanson has continued to expand library offerings. Most recently, she’s increased service to older adults by expanding the large print and audio book collections, added programming for genealogy and local history groups, started needlepoint and quilting circles, and scheduled computer classes and talks by local authors. She also increased the scope of story times offered in order to include children as young as six months. She writes all about the library’s offerings in her regular column in the local newspaper.

As a testament to her importance to the community, Katie Hanson was named the Union Grove Business and Professionals Woman of the Year in 2000. She has inspired one of her staff and her two daughters to become librarians. As the longest serving employee in the Village of Union Grove, she will help the community celebrate the 50 th anniversary of the Graham Public Library in 2009. Fittingly, she will celebrate that milestone as WLA’s DEMCO Librarian of the Year.

Muriel Fuller Award

djkrausDarla Jean Kraus , Director of the Lakeview Community Library in Random Lake, is the 2009 Muriel Fuller Award winner. Kraus was appointed director of the library in 1976. In 1980, she worked to establish joint library service with four municipalities (Towns of Sherman and Scott and Villages of Random Lake and Adell). Many directors would find it a daunting task to gain support for such a joint library, not to mention managing that partnership successfully for nearly 30 years - not Darla. In fact, she even undertook the remodeling of a historic structure and moved the library in 1996. She then managed phase two of the building project in 2003, which doubled the size of the library.

Darla Jean is a tireless and creative library promoter, adept at getting news coverage of library events. She leads two book discussion groups herself and has initiated many other programs, such as a Senior Health Fair, women’s stress program, and Music by the Bay. She initiated hosting part of the late summer teachers’ in-service at the public library, thereby giving library staff the opportunity to demonstrate to the teachers the resources available. The activity fosters collaboration with the school on major assignments and class visits. She worked with Meals on Wheels to establish homebound delivery of library materials and, with the help of a local Lions Club, created a rotating book collection for meal sites.

Under Darla Jean Kraus’s direction, Lakeview Community Library has transformed from just another small library to a library with a big impact on the region.

Highsmith Award

ruffreadersThe Ruff Readers Program of the Racine Public Library is recognized with WLA’s Highsmith Award as an exemplary program with a measurable impact upon its users. The program began in the winter of 2006 as collaboration between the Racine Public Library and the members of the Racine Kennel Club who owned certified therapy dogs. The original intent of the program was to give the children of Racine an opportunity to practice their reading skills with a nonjudgmental and gentle listener, and foster a life-long love of reading. Though successful on that level with about 1,000 participating children, the program’s impact has extended well beyond its basic purpose. Ruff Readers has fostered a relationship between the school and the library because of the noticeable, positive impact on student readers, motivated pre-readers to begin reading, and even helped patrons learn more about pet ownership and responsible interactions with animals.

Racine Public Library has since helped other libraries start their own versions of the Ruff Readers program.

Special Service Award

red cliff studentsChelsea Couillard, Christina Johnson and Catherine Phan share the Special Service Award for their Community Needs Assessment for the Red Cliff Tribal Library, conducted when all three were students at the UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies. In the summer of 2007, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Bayfield County began to discuss closing the tribal library. The library was out of compliance with statutory requirements for system membership, usage was declining and little money was available from the tribal budget for the library.

The students were awarded a Kaufmann Entrepreneurship Community Internship grant for the summer and fall 2008-09 in order to conduct the needs assessment, under faculty supervision and staff cooperation, and in partnership with the Red Cliff Tribe. The students made monthly visits to the Red Cliff Reservation between June and November 2008, for community discussion and self-education. They collaborated with Joe Bresette, Red Cliff Tribal Operations Director; Jim Trojanowski, Northern Waters Library Service Director; Tim Kane, UW Extension Educator; and Janice Rice, UW-Madison librarian and then president of the American Indian Library Association.

Trojanowski, who nominated the group for the WLA Special Service award, reports that the Red Cliff Tribe is working hard to reopen the library. He states that though meeting statutory requirements for system membership is likely to remain a challenge for the library, “the fact that any library service will be available is a remarkable achievement that is unlikely to have occurred without the work of Christina, Catherine and Chelsea.”

The final report, Mazina’igan Wakai’igan: Red Cliff Tribal Library was released in December 2008. Currently, Coulliard is employed in Children’s Services at Baraboo Public Library; Johnson is the librarian in the American Indian Studies Library at UW-Madison; Phan is at MERIT, the School of Education Library at UW-Madison.

From left to right: Christina Johnson, Catherine Phan, and Chelsea Couillard--and the UW motor pool vehicle they drove one of many trips to Red Cliff. Photo courtesy of UW-Madison SLIS.

Citation of Merit

George MeadFor the third time, the Mead Witter Foundation, Inc. of Wisconsin Rapids, receives the WLA Citation of Merit for its third major noncompetitive grant program for selected public libraries in central and northern Wisconsin. Grants totaling $382,000 were awarded in 2008-09 to 68 libraries for reference materials, circulating print materials, library furnishings and computer equipment for public use, or special event programming and exhibits at the library. For instance, the McMillan Library in Wisconsin Rapids received $25,000 for its 2009 adult concert series, which is one of the best public library concert series in the nation.

The Foundation has now given a total of $1,206,000 through grants that have provided libraries and their patrons innumerable benefits, using a simple and straightforward application and reporting process. The Mead Witter Foundation’s extraordinary generosity is especially welcome at this time of economic hardship.

From left to right: Susan Feith, Cynthia Henke, Denise Sanger, George Mead
Courtesy of the Mead Witter Foundation, Inc.

2011 Award Winners

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Library of the Year


Waukesha Public Library

The Wisconsin Library Association Awards and Honors Committee confers the 2011 Library of the Year award upon Waukesha Public Library.  The award is conferred upon any type of Wisconsin library, library system or library network for distinguished achievement in service. The staff, library board or administering body, and the community or people served shall all be involved in the work for which recognition is sought. The award shall be based upon such activities or accomplishments as user oriented services, development and participation in networks and systems and cooperative planning with other libraries, collections, professional growth opportunities and employee job satisfaction, and changes or improvements in physical facilities resulting in better service.

Waukesha Public Library exceeds the five award criteria particularly in regard to strong community partnerships with organizations such as the School District of Waukesha, local businesses, UW-Waukesha, Carroll University, Waukesha County Technical College, Waukesha Civic Theater, the West End Artists Association, Waukesha County Project Head Start, Waukesha County Historical Society, and more. 

Waukesha Public Library has been fortunate to complete a two phase building project which has culminated in better service to patrons from children to seniors.  Waukesha Public Library has shown a history of being proactive as demonstrated by its initiation of an integrated library system with two other Waukesha county libraries, fostering the system for nearly a decade, and then recently gifting it to the Waukesha County Library System for the entire county to utilize. 

Waukesha Public Library recognizes the importance of public art and has made itself a destination for many reasons including a space to experience visual art.  Waukesha Public Library is clearly appreciated within its own community, and we are happy to recognize its achievements as well.  From the facility to the staff to the programs and community partnerships, Waukesha Public Library has much of which to be proud and is a great example of a Library of the Year. 

Citation of Merit

BBackusBetty Backus, Union Grove
The Wisconsin Library Association Awards and Honors Committee confers the 2011 Citation of Merit award upon Betty Backus, Volunteer at the Graham Public Library in Union Grove, Wisconsin.  The Citation of Merit is conferred upon Wisconsin citizens who are neither librarians nor library trustees, who have made outstanding contributions to quality library services.

Betty exceeds the award criteria by being an exemplary library volunteer for almost 20 years.  Betty not only maintains but created Union Grove's local history collection by indexing and creating metadata from local papers, collecting information on local families, businesses, and community events, and continually combing local resources for additional information.  She serves as the unofficial local genealogist and historian for Union Grove and its surrounding communities including Yorkville, Dover, and Paris.  As if that were not enough, she also organizes the library's profitable annual book sale including recruiting more volunteers.  Members of the WLA Awards and Honors Committee are happy to honor Betty with the Citation of Merit and envy Graham Public Library and Union Grove for having such a fantastic volunteer.  Congratulations!

2008 Award Winners

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Library of the Year

Menasha Public Library staff photoMenasha Public Library Elisha D. Smith Public Library 

Menasha is a second time winner of the Library of the Year Award, having also been designated as such in 1988. Supporters describe the library as a vibrant, collaborative, and vital part of the city. The staff, of course, is the winning element in any Library of the Year, and this library’s staff is adept at improving library service by using new technologies and collaborating with other organizations such as the Menasha School District and area nonprofits. They have doubled the programming for children and adults, initiated several blogs for staff and patrons, used podcasting, and developed the largest public library links collection in the United States – among many other notable service achievements.
Photo by Steven Platteter

DEMCO/WLA Librarian of the Year
bernie bellinBernie Bellin, Lakeshores Library System, Waterford

Bernie Bellin is director at Lakeshores Library System in Waterford. Praised for his success as a library director and system director, Bernie also stands out because of his commitment to statewide and regional library organizations. He has served as WLA Conference Chair a record four times and chaired the WLA Foundation Silent Auction four times, in addition to helping with numerous other library-related fundraisers and advocacy efforts. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Bernie has developed a huge network of personal and professional colleagues, fulfilling the role of both mentor and friend to many.

Trustee of the Year
Doug LayDoug Lay, Mosinee

Doug Lay, Mosinee, the Trustee of the Year, is a former librarian who has also served libraries with more than 20 years as trustee for the Wisconsin Valley Library Service. He served two 3-year terms on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Advisory Committee, and in 2007, he was appointed to a three-year term on the Council for Library and Network Development (COLAND), both of which are advisory to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. His involvement in the WLA began when he joined the association in 1980, and he has served on several committees. In addition, he has served many terms on the Board of the Wisconsin Library Trustees & Friends, a division of WLA. He currently is serving on the WLTF Board and on the WLA Board of Directors, as well. Supporters describe him as a tireless library supporter who is erudite, wise, and thoroughly enjoyable to have as a colleague – and a model for other trustees throughout the state.
Photo by Steven Platteter

Special Services Award
Bob BlitzkeBob Blitzke, Madison

Bob Blitzke, recently retired from the South Central Library System, could be called the father of the statewide delivery network that we all benefit from today. Of course, many people contributed to building the network, but those “other” people are happy to give Bob the credit for having the vision and the enthusiasm to make Wisconsin’s library delivery service a nationwide model. Kathy Pletcher, one of the many supporters of Bob’s nomination, recalled the early years of delivery service when she would see Bob on a delivery route. “He was always cheerful and knew his customers by name. There was no task that was beneath him. He saw all work as contributing to the sharing of knowledge and spreading literacy.” The long-lasting impact of Bob’s contribution to library service make him especially worthy of this year’s Special Service Award.
Photo by Steven Platteter