By Karen Stokes
Milwaukee native Joan Johnson is the 12th director of the Milwaukee Public Library’s 142nd year history. Johnson is the fourth woman and first African American in the position.
“I worked in libraries through most of college and in summer and all through high school. I went to West Division High School and the library was my sanctuary. I’m a proud MPS graduate,” Johnson said. “I was very close to the librarian that worked at my high school library and she told me I was going to be a librarian, I said no way.”
Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received her Master of Librarianship from the University of Washington.
Johnson shared a quote, “ A library is not only informational, it’s empowering” asking what was the meaning of the quote, Johnson replied, “One of my motivations for going into library science is that I love how it can help people find the answers to their questions because there are certain things that if you don’t know about it you can’t take advantage or have a benefit of something. It helps you realize your own potential. Knowledge is power.”
The Mayor will soon be presenting the new budget and there is a possibility that some library funds will be cut.
“We are being very proactive right now about how we plan for next year in the event we have to make some tough decisions,” Johnson said. “Right now we are in the middle of these community conversations. We are going to community organizations to try to engage people where they are if they’re not coming to the library. I got my management group working on a plan for next year so we can be really prepared if we have to make some tough decisions.”
Johnson continued, “Part of our proposed budget is that we would have four limited service branches. We would select four branches, two on the north side, two on the south side where we would cut hours and services. We already said what we would do if we had to make tough decisions. Community conversations help us raise awareness about what we’re already doing.”
There will be a community conversation on May 10 at Safe and Sound at their new headquarters at 4422 W Leon Terrace from 6-7pm.
“We’ll be feeding people that night and I’ll be facilitating the conversation and we’ll bring in a community engagement consultant. My goal is to reach 1500 people. It could be online, or in person,” Johnson said.
Concerning plans for the future of Milwaukee Public Library, Johnson said her top goal is to have all the buildings open with no hours or services cut. Add things that the community says they need and want. Digital inclusion, working on barriers to libraries. Creating spaces where the community can gather.
“Our next big project is the Martin Luther King Branch. Creating these places where people can come and support their academic goals and enrich their personal goals, literacy and reading programming,” said Johnson.