Roberta Koscielski realized her calling at an early age.
“I was an only child, and when I was small of course I had my own bedroom with a lot of books in it,” said Koscielski, deputy director of the Peoria Public Library. “And I actually made cards and pockets for my books and had my parents have me check them out.
“So, that’s kind of corny, but it’s the truth. My parents always took me to the public library and I always loved books in the library.”
That passion continued to blossom as Koscielski grew, thwarting notions of pursuing a career as a math teacher or an engineer. Library jobs in her high school and college days got her professional path started.
“It was always something that I enjoy doing; I enjoy the people–the people I worked with and the people who would use the library,” said Koscielski. “I didn't have a choice; librarianship is for me.”
Now, the Illinois Library Association has rewarded that passion and dedication Koscielski has displayed in a career of more than 35 years by honoring her as the state’s Librarian of the Year for 2020.
“It’s still is kind of hard to believe because I see some of the names on the list–because this award is given out every year and has been for over 45 years–and there’s people I know as library school professors back in the ’80s, or librarians I have heard a lot about and have a lot of respect for. So, to be in that list it's just really flattering.”
Koscielski said she found out about her selection on July 4, but had to keep the news a secret for a while.
“I was reading my work email from home and I had to read it a number of times to make sure what it was saying was really what it meant,” she said. “The email said I couldn’t tell anybody, that only I was being informed and the person who nominated me.
“When I came to work after the holiday weekend, I couldn’t say anything to anyone else at the library until the library association announced it.”
Koscielski is credited with spearheading the library’s successful “Peoria Reads!” program that is heading into its 20th year of getting community leaders and organizations to collaborate on an annual “One Book, One City” campaign. The program has addressed such issues as gun violence and substance abuse.
“Those are ways that the library can work with community partners to educate people about topics important to all of us,” she said.
So, how does Koscielski get residents to understand the library’s importance to the community?
“By making people aware of everything we have, that it’s more than just books and the materials that you can check out or that you can access online,” she said. “It’s also the connections you can make, whether it’s through book clubs, or coming for programs, or coming here to vote, coming here for a community meeting.
“There are connections you can make in so many ways at the public library to get to know yourself better and to learn more about your community and your neighbors.”
Koscielski said library work is always enjoyable even as new challenges arise constantly.
“That makes it interesting: public librarianship is different every day,” she said. “What you go into work expecting to do each day, often it changes within the first hour of the day.”
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