Ask folks about the amenities they enjoy as residents of the city of Naperville, and it won’t be long before they are telling you about the city’s award-winning library system. Winner of a five-star rating from the Index of Public Library Service for six years in a row, it’s little wonder that Napervillians are proud of the three facilities that continue to attract national attention.
One of the most important people to keeping the library on top is Executive Director Julie Rothenfluh, 58, who took over last year in August.
She replaced John Spears, who left to take a position in Salt Lake City.
The board could have initiated a national search, but Board of Trustees President Sandy Benson said she and other members knew they had the right person for the job in their back pocket.
“We wanted a seamless transition when John left, and we’ve absolutely gotten that with Julie,” Benson said before a recent board meeting. “She knew the library and had all the expertise we needed, and there’s been no upheaval. She’s done a wonderful job meeting the needs of the community with things like eliminating fees for DVD rentals, partnering with community not-for-profit groups, and working now with the Naperville Development Partnership for our entrepreneur business initiative.”
Benson describes Rothenfluh’s leadership style as “collaborative” adding that she has “stayed true to the mission of the organization.”
Born and raised in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., Rothenfluh earned a degree in history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and later a master’s degree in library science at the same school.
Aside from working during her college summers with family, she has worked her entire life in libraries.
“We had a family-owned bakery where I would work during the summers when school was out, but as I was finishing my bachelor’s degree, I was talking with my adviser who asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I had no idea,” Rothenfluh said. “My family members were lifelong library users, and my mom said to me there will always be a need for librarians, so why not do that? It turns out mom knew best.”
Rothenfluh’s career in library work began at the Superior Public Library in Wisconsin where she served in children’s services and then moved to California for 10 years where she spent time with the Los Angeles Public Library and also in Kern and Fresno counties.
She found Naperville in 1991 where she worked for a year and a half as assistant head of children’s services and then left as her husband had to take a transfer.
“We returned here in 1997, and I’ve been at the Naperville Library ever since,” she said. “There was a vacancy for a library manager at the 95th Street facility, and after that, I became deputy director for seven years.”
Rothenfluh said making the transition from being a lover of books and a lifelong reader to handling administrative duties, budgets and more was attractive because she wanted to be able to affect changes in policy and procedures and services.
“When I was deputy director, I was told to think of it as the chief operating officer position — someone who managed the day-to-day operations,” she said. “I loved being aware of what was happening each day and the services that were going on. And as the executive director now, I’m proud of the changes we’ve made to make things here more efficient and effective and the reorganization that has taken place.”
Rothenfluh said one of the challenges she and the library face looking to the future involves what to do with resources and the fact that patrons want to have choices.
“We’ve moved from LPs to 8-tracks and cassettes and then to VHS and then DVDs and gotten rid of old things,” she said. “We have to continue to meet the changing needs of people as they want to add things.”
The health of the library reflects the health of its community, which is one reason Rothenfluh believes the Naperville Public Library remains on top.
“People here are big library users, and in a community like this, excellence is emphasized,” she said. “People here want to be well-rounded and aware. We try to meet their needs from cradle to college and beyond.”