JOHNSON CREEK — Abby Armour has made a big mark in her three years as director of the Johnson Creek Public library, but now it’s time for her to pass the baton.
Armour announced late last week that she has accepted the position of library director at the Mukwonago Community Library.
Armour started her position as Johnson Creek Public Library director on Jan 2, 2018. Her last day in Johnson Creek will be May 7.
It was a difficult decision, Armour said, but the move offers her a chance to grow professionally and also allows her to work closer to her home in Waukesha and to spend more time with her husband, a children’s librarian in Hartland.
“Though I am excited for this new opportunity, I am sad to leave the wonderful community that I have gotten to know so well over the years,” Armour said.
The outgoing librarian noted that she has had the privilege of serving the community’s library needs in two different ways.
Before becoming the Johnson Creek public library director, Armour served as library director for the Johnson Creek school district.
“I can attest to how much this community loves reading and values their libraries, which has made working with the people of this village a true pleasure,” Armour said.
Over her time at the Johnson Creek library, Armour has overseen many changes — from the first major remodel the library has seen since it was established to expansions in programming and its collection of books and resources.
One of the most visible changes is the children’s area remodel completed early in Armour’s tenure. The remodel included new paint, shelving, furniture and decorations designed to brighten up that section of the library and to make it more inviting and interactive.
Less visibly but no less importantly, Armour also has worked to rearrange the library’s collections throughout the space to make them more accessible and user friendly.
“I wanted to make it easier to browse, easier to use, and to provide more spaces for people to meet and study,” Armour said. “I’d proud of what we have managed to do in this short time.”
In terms of programming, Armour carried on many of the established, traditional programs the library has offered, such as preschool story times, but has tried to bolster them with research-backed resources.
For example, she has worked with the Talk, Read Play initiative promoted by the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation to really focus on early literacy skills, giving preschoolers a head start.
Likewise, Armour continued and expanded the library’s summer reading programs.
In Armour’s first couple of years as library director, participation in the summer reading program grew 13 percent, with well over 400 people of all ages signing up.
That growth stalled a bit when every library in the system had to move to virtual programming during the pandemic this last year, but many area residents still seized on the opportunity to participate online.
In terms of in-person library programming, Armour tried to broaden Johnson Creek’s offerings, for example bringing in free yoga classes for kids, also funded by a community health grant.
She also increased the library’s technology offerings, tech help and programming, something that became essential for many residents during the pandemic.
Meanwhile she worked to boost teen participation through innovative live and online programs like “book tastings,” cooking challenges and do-it-yourself crafting kits.
Armour has worked hard to diversify the library’s collection of books and other materials, bringing in more graphic novels — a favorite with younger readers — and works by diverse authors from many different backgrounds.
In addition, the library has added non-traditional materials like coding robots, puzzles, play-away kits for youngsters and Kindles for adults during Armour’s tenure.
“People are looking for more out of their libraries,” Armour said.
The pandemic forced Johnson Creek — and every other library in the area — to think outside the box to meet community needs while keeping people safe from the virus.
For a time, the library was closed to patrons, but offered curbside service for those who still wanted to check out materials.
Meanwhile, the library really bulked up its online offerings, connecting people to vast virtual libraries via Hoopla and other similar digital resources, and even offering an online tutoring service for students struggling with virtual or in-person school.
During this time, the library also worked with the local food pantry and Women, Infants and Children to offer pop-up food pantries in the parking lot.
Armour said Johnson Creek’s library staff has been great to work with.
“It’s such a close, tight-knit team,” she said. “It wasn’t just a work relationship for us. We truly became friends and I will miss them very much.”
Among the favorite memories that Armour will take with her from her time in Johnson Creek are the big summer reading program kickoffs held on the library’s front lawn — complete with games, book giveaways and food.
“We’d get kids, teens, parents, senior citizens, everyone in the community coming out,” she said. “We’d have 300 people come through in three hours, and we’d sign up 200 readers in that short slot of time.”
She said part of what made Johnson Creek such a fun place to work was the intimate size of the community, in which the library was able to serve a central role.
“I will never forget the experiences I had and the people I met working here,” Armour said. “It’s a wonderful professional opportunity, but leaving Johnson Creek will be very bittersweet,” she said.
As she moves on to Mukwonago, Armour is preparing to serve a much larger community. The village of Mukwonago itself has a population of 8,035, compared to 2,992 in Johnson Creek, but the service area there is much more populous, with around 22,000 residents compared to Johnson Creek’s 4,300.
Meanwhile, the process of hiring Armour’s replacement is in the hands of the Johnson Creek Library Board.
The board met last week to discuss the issue and will be meeting again shortly to hone the process and to determine how best to staff the library in the interim before Armour’s successor is ready to start.