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Leadership profile: Pat Leach, 40-year champion of Lincoln City Libraries
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Leadership profile: Pat Leach, 40-year champion of Lincoln City Libraries

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In her talk she shares her idea about slowing down long enough to understand the world around, and by slowing down and spending time with some of the most colorful characters…who may or may not be real, we can learn a lot about ourselves and the world around us.

Pat is the Head of Lincoln’s Public Libraries and a lover of books of all sorts, shapes and sizes. She can think of nothing more wonderful than to spend time reading, unless it’s talking with people about the importance of libraries in our lives.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

Most passionate reader. That’s how Lincoln City Libraries Director Pat Leach wants to be known.

Others see her as much more: committed, consistent, anticipatory, and passionate about serving the community and promoting literacy.

As library director, Leach heads up Bennett Martin Public Library, its seven branches and 150 staff members. She was appointed to the role in 2008.

Retired assistant library director John Dale worked with Leach from the time she was a part-time youth services library aid in 1979 until his retirement in 2005, and even officiated at her wedding. During his initial encounter, Pat’s gigantic smile and congeniality struck him.

He recalled when she took a year off in the late ‘80s to get her master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Illinois. “My feeling was always that she would go as far as she wanted to go,” Dale said. Over the years he found her to be really, really smart, he shared. “She can come into a situation, and she clicks immediately. She’s good at reading the room.”

When problems arose, budgetary or otherwise, “Pat was always looking at the best way to deal with things so we could move on,” Dale shared. “She wanted to make sure the system was running well.”

Dale has fond memories of Leach sharing her passion for reading with others at the Nebraska Library Association annual meetings. In preparation, she would read books from the group’s book list and share reviews. “There was so much of her lovely personality mixed in with her reviews,” he said.

“I really do believe in the power of reading,” Leach shared. “The impact of reading on people is pretty remarkable.”

Pat Leach

Pat Leach, director of Lincoln City Libraries, at Charles H. Gere Branch Library. A passionate reader, Leach is committed to community literacy and a central library in Lincoln.

Vicki Wood, current youth services director and a 25-year employee, called Leach a consistent and competent director who is approachable. “She’s always great for any kind of reflection or advice.”

Leach often thinks aloud, allowing others the opportunity to share their thoughts, Wood added.

During COVID-19 conditions, the pair discussed how to adapt weekly story times. Virtual and out-of-doors presentations became the norm.

“We’ve actually added services we didn’t have,” Wood said, including going out to preschool sites to share books. “I know that a lot of that is Pat’s leadership.”

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Library board member and architect Lowell Berg worked with Leach designing the Walt and Eiseley branch libraries when she was youth services director. “She’s always been very committed to our library system and our city, and that’s apparent the way she does her job.”

“She’s measured – She’s the kind of person who anticipates questions,” Berg added. As a board member, he appreciates that she usually has a solution for anything that comes up.

Plan for a central library

Leach has been an integral part of the plan for a central library for the past 20 years, Berg shared. “She’s been a steady influence to keep us on track.”

Currently, BVH Architecture is working on a schematic design to be completed in November. Funding sources for a new central library will include a public bond issue as well as a capital campaign headed by the Foundation for Lincoln City Libraries.

Just a stone’s throw away from the existing library in the mixed-use Pershing Center redevelopment block, Leach envisions the new central library as a three-story Lincoln landmark that combines both function and beauty. Capping at 57 feet so it won’t restrict the Capitol view, the library will be a bit larger than the current 64,000-square-foot Bennett Martin Library with 90,000 square feet, and built to last 75 years or more.

The library board hopes to have a bond issue to propose to voters in 2022. A big focus of the design will be including more places for the public to meet, as well as spaces that encourage play and families to take home books.

“It’s an interactive place,” Leach explained. “For me, it always goes back to the people.”

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Although the downtown library currently serves just over 63,000 people within a 2-mile radius, its programs reach well beyond that. That’s something Leach hopes to expand even more.

“A central library works best when people from throughout the community use it,” she explained.

Being able to better showcase two of the downtown library’s “gems,” the Polley Music Library and Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors, is also part of the plan, as well as serving the public well through technology. A few years ago, the Library made a step in that direction by connecting to the city’s fiber-optic network to ensure more reliable internet connections at all locations.

For overall guidance, Leach said the Central Library Committee is looking at how future generations will use the new library. Adaptability is a key focus, developing spaces that can be used in a variety of ways.

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Leach said an investment in a new central library can be used as a springboard for strengthening all of Lincoln’s libraries. Branch upgrades are also being considered and could be included in the bond proposal.

Other library system enhancements

Over the past few years, Lincoln City Libraries has already been working to create more space for people and gatherings by reducing collections throughout the system. One goal is to continue making improvements to children’s spaces to ensure that they are appealing through a child’s eyes, Leach said. Another is switching to RFID, the next generation of barcodes. The technology allows for less time spent on the check-in and check-out process.

Leach’s passion for literacy and learning goes beyond the library’s walls as she thinks about those customers who don’t visit the library in person. Working with Lincoln Literacy, Humanities Nebraska and Prosper Lincoln, the library is putting people in touch with the library’s resources. Bennett Martin now houses a part-time staffer who oversees Read Aloud Lincoln, a program that encourages parents to read to their young children 15 minutes a day. The Library has also launched Books with Baby, a program that emphasizes the importance of reading from birth and provides a small reading library for parents enrolled in WIC.

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Clayton Naff, executive director of Lincoln Literacy, appreciates Leach’s investment in promoting literacy throughout Lincoln, not only as library director but as a member of the Lincoln Literacy Board since 2015. In 2016, the library began partnering with Lincoln Literacy. Through its own Summer Outreach program, Lincoln City Libraries provides programming for English Language Learners and their children ages 3-12 two times a week at two city parks.

According to Wood, “The same things have always been important to her (Leach) – that we provide the best service to our community and support our staff.”

The end result, Leach hopes, will be creating a community that reads.

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