SOMERSET -- It’s a season of change at the Somerset Public Library, as it welcomes a new director and completes its expansion project.
Kristina Kelley-Johnson, formerly of Grantsburg, took the lead as director, in the midst of not only an expansion project, but a global pandemic. That pandemic helped guide her into this new role.
“I think in a way the pandemic has encouraged me to take risks that I haven’t before,” Kelley-Johnson said.
After becoming an empty-nester, she and her husband were looking to relocate closer to family. She saw the opening in Somerset, but was unsure about it - until she visited the library.
“I thought there’s so much scope for the imagination here at the Somerset Library and there’s no cap to what our library can do,” she said.
As she comes into the position, Kelley-Johnson said she is focusing on getting the facility ready for the community, once it’s able to fully open up to the public. Currently the library is closed due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, but curbside pick up available as well as scheduled visits to browse books.
The library broke ground on the expansion back in August 2019 with nearly $1.9 million in funding approved by the Somerset Village.
The new expansion took the library space from 3,000 to 12,000 square feet, much of that in community meeting room space.
Additional features include a history archives room, quiet lounge for those who need to focus, study and huddles rooms and a maker space, which includes a full kitchen.
She hopes the newly improved library can become a resource for individuals and businesses to visit and meet in the space.
“I think it’s going to provide a place for them to come together, to learn from each other and collaborate,” she said.
The library already has a good impact on the community, and she plans to continue that.
“I think it’s also really neat to see this amazing space in a small, rural downtown,” she said. Libraries can help build communities, and she hopes the Somerset Library will do just that for this community.
“I also enjoy that there’s just so much imagination in libraries, and that we can really shape our library to what the community’s needs are,” Kelley-Johnson said.
Working with the team will also be one of her main focuses.
“We have some really well-qualified staff,” she said.
Grantsburg Library, where she formerly worked, was known for their programs, and she hopes to be able to do that here in Somerset as well. The pandemic has paused much of programming, but some is continuing at a distance, including a virtual escape room and take and make activity bags.
The people are her favorite parts of the job.
“What I’m really missing right now is connecting with community members,” Kelley-Johnson said.
The completion of the expansion project is a little bittersweet, as they can’t fully welcome the public into it yet.
“We’re all really happy, the board and the staff, that we have this opportunity to offer this beautiful library to the community, but we have to say we’re pretty disappointed that it's opening up at a time when we can’t have large groups of people,” she said.
She’s setting her sights to the future when the community can fully enjoy the new space, and she can fully interact with her new community.
“I’m really looking forward to the day when we can open the doors wide and just let everybody in,” Kelley-Johnson said. “I can’t wait for the moment when there’s activity and people in each of our many rooms.”