Q&A with Laurel Setser, Avon-Washington Township Public Library Director
Writer: Jamie Hergott
Where are you from?
I am from Cartersburg, IN, which is southwest of Avon.
Tell me about your family.
My husband Tom and I live on a small farm north of Danville. We have one daughter, Avery, who is a senior at Danville Community High School. Our grown son Dane and his family live in Putnam County.
What’s your background?
My mom always took me to the library as a kid. I was a very avid reader. I was at the Plainfield library so much that they offered me a job shelving. I went to Western State Colorado University to study history. I worked at the college library there. I went to the IU School of Library Science right after I got my undergrad. I worked there for a semester, but it was a culture shock switching from a small liberal arts college to big IU. I was barely 21, and most people in my class were adults who had been working or kids who came directly from IU. I didn’t fit in and didn’t like it, so I left and worked for about six years in the State Fire Marshall’s office. Interestingly enough, I got that job because I had taken shorthand as a blow off class in college. Well, this job required that, so I stayed there and worked my way up. Once I got as far as I could, I really started wishing I would have stayed in library school. So, I went back to IU. One of my professors was the director here at Avon and was teaching a management class. She had an opening, so I applied. I’ve been here since July 1989 and became the director in 1993.
How did you get into the library business and why?
I love books. I also think I liked the order that the library instills on information and the way that it allows people to get to the information because it is organized. It allows us to help you get to the information. That aspect really spoke to me and has been something I always loved. As a small kid, the library we went to was not at all a good experience. There was an old shushy lady in a dark, dreary building. I don’t look back fondly on the place as a child, but it was always the books that drew me.
What is a typical day like for you at the library?
There is no typical day. Especially in administration. In any job here, you never do quite the same thing. We spend more time back here getting ready for meetings and budgets and more of the administrative things. But even out on the floor, we never get the same question twice. We see the same people a lot. But every day is different. It’s never the same old, same old.
What is your favorite part about working there?
I love the people that work here. They love the patrons. They love the people that come in. They just spend their time trying to think of things and how to do them better. I have staff that work the front desk who know the things people like to read. They know people’s first names. They just really enjoy what they’re doing, and it’s a very convivial atmosphere here. It’s a real family. It makes it a joy to be here.
What is your favorite book and why?
That’s like asking me who’s my favorite friend. I have books I read once a year. Some books touch me at one point and then don’t touch me again when I reread them. I love them each for what they bring to the table. Just like my friends have different strengths they bring to the table, I feel that way about books. I have favorite authors and series, and I enjoy them. Some you enjoy and never think about. Others make an impression. I love them all.
What is your favorite book from when you were a child/young adult?
I was a voracious reader. One author I really enjoyed is Elizabeth Enright. She wrote three books in a series. The first book was called “The Saturdays” and the second one was “The Four Story Mistake” and then the last book was “Then There Were Five.” They were about children whose mother had died and their adventures in New York City during World War II. Their dad worked for the government. It was about siblings, which I loved because I didn’t have siblings, and it was just a life so different than mine. They pooled their allowance and each took a Saturday to do things they wanted to do. As an adult, I bought the books again on Amazon, and I was a little scared to read them because I didn’t know if they’d have the same impact. I finally reread them, and I enjoyed them every bit as much as I did as a kid.
What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I garden. I love to cook and try new recipes. And of course, reading. Those are the big three. I have a really good lasagna recipe I make for people. I have a salad recipe a friend gave me and that’s a real popular one too.
Do you have any advice for your younger self?
I am a very goal-oriented person. I tend to check things off and move straight on. I would tell myself to savor the moment a little bit more. Don’t be so quick to move on to the next goal that you don’t appreciate the fact you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do with this goal.
In a world of iPads, smartphones and screens everywhere, what’s something the library can offer that these things can’t?
We still offer the human interaction. Even if you never want to set foot here and only use our electronic databases and format, we still have a person that can help you if you have problem. We make appointments to help you set up your device. It’s the human touch that makes the difference. People ask me all the time, why do we need the libraries if everyone has a computer now? The feeling of librarianship has changed. It used to be very much a shushy kind of thing, and if you ask me the right question, I will get you the answer you want. But now, it’s more, let us help you phrase your question so you get the answer you need. That’s what we bring to the table in a world where we are inundated with info. What is the best info? What resource will give you what you need? That is what we do have here.
What’s coming up at the library in 2018 that you’d like us to get the word out about for you?
We are finalizing our strategic plan for the next five years. Libraries have been hit by property tax caps as much as schools and other government units, so we are seeing our income reduced but the amount of people we are serving is increasing. With our strategic plan, we are trying to figure out where we need to focus those dollars on.
Then you consider we have a very diverse group of people with wide-ranging income and diversity levels, and so we are hoping to find some niche areas where we haven’t been able to reach certain groups. For example, we have a hard time reaching teens. What fabulous thing are we going to do over here to possibly get teens who are engaged in 100 other extracurricular activities to come here? In our initial round of planning, we realized there’s nothing we can do neat enough to get that group of kids. But if there’s a group of kids who are not overextended, who are dying for something that appeals to them, we can pinpoint them. But we can’t reach all of them. We are a big library serving a big population, so examining things outside the lens of “we’ve always done it that way” is a challenge. We didn’t have a good turnout for focus groups this past year. Sometimes that’s because everyone’s ok with what you’re doing. We are hoping to put together a strategic plan that we can roll out in the community in 2018. I want to do some things that are creative and have real meaning for Avon and Washington Township.