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Hazel Park

November 28, 2012

Hazel Park library director moves to Ferndale

Adult reference librarian appointed interim director

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

HAZEL PARK — Jessica Keyser, once the director of the Hazel Park Memorial Library, is now director of Ferndale Public Library, right down the road in her hometown.

Her last day at HPML was Nov. 16, after serving as director for nearly two years. Under her leadership, the library expanded its offerings for all demographics and secured a millage extension that allowed it to avoid cuts to staff and resources.

And yet, prior to HPML, when she was still a student at Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science, Keyser had no intention of going into library administration. At the time, she worked at Wayne State’s Kresge Library.

“I pictured myself going into academic libraries, where it would be more intensive research — a lot of digging into academic journals and publications, a lot of presentations, and a huge focus on information literacy for students, assisting them with their research needs,” Keyser said. “What helped me get the (HPML) position is I was a property manager before library school, so I had a background in managing staff and maintaining buildings.”

And so Keyser, who started as a part-time reference librarian in September 2008, was appointed to the role of director by the library board in March 2010.

One challenge was immediately apparent: the library’s dedicated millage was losing revenue, due to plummeting property values. It became evident they would need to secure a 0.49-mill extension in order to avoid cuts to staff, programming and materials. This would put the library at the perpetual 2-mill limit set by Michigan’s Public Library Act.       

Come November 2011, the option was on the ballot, and it passed by an overwhelming margin.

“The idea of undertaking a millage campaign was scary to me, but it wound up being a positive experience,” Keyser said. “It gave us a framework to get out to the community and let people know what we do, and we got a lot of feedback we used to shape our programming and services. And when the millage did pass, it was a huge relief, and very inspiring to have that much support from the community.”

Hazel Park benefits from its library in many ways, not the least of which is its robust year-round programming, all at no cost to patrons.

“I can’t take all the credit for it, since most of the programming is conceived by and executed by the staff,” Keyser said. “In some ways, I encouraged people to think of programs and supported what they did, but a lot of it speaks to the creativity and resourcefulness of the staff here, to do so much on such a limited budget.”

Diversifying the range of people they reached was another goal, seen in such additions as the Arabic-language collection and the revival of the senior outreach program, where materials are brought to senior living facilities. Youth-oriented offerings also saw an increase with the addition of Chris Walny as teen services librarian in 2011. And the addition of an e-book program made library books available to people from the comfort of their own home via their digital devices.

Of course, the library is especially valuable to those without an Internet connection, particularly job seekers, who can also work with library staff one-on-one to prep their résumé and cover letter, and for whom there are test prep materials available if they need to study for some kind of verification. 

Keyser said she knows how important the library is to the community, and that it feels “bittersweet” for her to go.

“I have felt really embraced by the community here, by the staff here, and it really is heartbreaking for me to leave,” Keyser said. “These last few weeks have been filled with tears. I’m going to miss everyone here so much.”

At the same time, she was looking forward to her new position. She and her husband worked on the Ferndale library’s campaign for a millage to renovate and expand in 2006. She has a lot of passion for Ferndale, she said, and when the chance came up to run her hometown’s library, she couldn’t refuse.

But she won’t be far, Keyser said, and she’ll stay in touch with her old staff at HPML. She has full faith in Corrine Stocker, the former adult services librarian who has now been appointed interim director of HPML.

“She (Stocker) is very customer-service oriented, which I think is most important,” Keyser said. “She’s a very conscientious individual, well-liked by the staff and the community here, and I know she’ll get a lot of support.”

Stocker said she and the rest of the staff wish Keyser well on her transition.

“Jessica has built a very strong and wonderful team. We’re like a family here; everyone works really well together,” Stocker said. “She (Keyser) has done a lot to move the library forward in the years she’s been our director. And personally, she’s been a wonderful mentor to me; I’ve learned so much from her.

“In the interim, I want to ensure the library a smooth transition and continue the works Jessica started,” Stocker said. “I think we’re a little library that does a lot, with something for people of all ages, and of different interests, too. We try to be the center of the community, and we’re going to look for ways for the two libraries (Hazel Park and Ferndale) to work together in the future.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.