RACINE — The Racine Public Library Board of Directors met in an emergency session on Monday in order to discuss appointing an interim director following the abrupt departure of Angela Zimmermann.
Following a closed session to discuss the matter, the board voted unanimously to offer the appointment to Nick Demske, the deputy director, who promptly accepted.
The appointment was final on the vote of the Library Board and will not require a confirmation of the Racine Common Council.
Scott Letteney, city attorney, was at Monday’s meeting. He said in the future the Library Board will create the process for hiring a new executive director.
Zimmermann resigned as executive director on Thursday without explanation or notice, sending an email to the board in which she announced her intention to vacate the position immediately.
Brian O’Connell, president of the library board, said “I wish Miss Zimmermann all the best.”
Shay King, head of business development, said many employees of the library “are struggling with not having had time to say goodbyes or plan for what’s ahead.”
“In some ways,” they continued, “there’s a sense of relief to have an answer to some of the questions raised earlier this year about the library’s future. At the same time, we’re all grappling with a lot of new questions.”
King said there’s one thing they all agree on, “We’ve got this.”
Natalia Taft, the newly-elected vice president, said the board was so proud of the staff as the library has continued to run well – despite the absence of senior leadership.
“We want the staff to feel valued and supported as much as possible through the transition,” she added.
The next step
It’s interesting times for the board’s president and vice president, who assumed their leadership roles on Thursday. O’Connell has served on the board for eight years, though Monday’s emergency session was just the second meeting he has chaired, while Taft was only recently appointed to the Library Board.
O’Connell said the first priority would be the library budget, which is due to the city on Aug. 31.
“That’s going to be our first order of business,” he said.
Typically, the executive director prepares the budget and presents it first to the library board and then the Common Council.
Taft said she had a discussion with Kathleen Fischer, the city’s finance director, earlier in the day and a little leeway was possible under the circumstances. Fischer pointed out the board did not vote on the budget last year until September.
Taft added since the Library Board officers were new to their positions, and she only recently joined the board, they would be moving forward with some caution.
“We are going to want to make sure we do the transition right, so it’s probably going to take some time for us to figure out the best process for moving forward,” she said.
Demske at the helm
Demske, the person who will be leading the library for the time being, knows first-hand that libraries can be transformative spaces in the community.
His time at the Racine Public Library began in 2007 when he was unemployed and looking for a warm place to fill out job applications.
Over time, Demske got to know the librarians, one of whom added an application to his pile after a position at the library became vacant. He started shelving books part-time.
From there he moved up to substitute Youth and Adult Reference Librarian and later was promoted to Youth Services Librarian.
In 2017, Demske became the Community Resources Librarian and in 2021 the Deputy Director.
Demske holds an MLIS degree (Master of Library and Information Science) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is currently a County Supervisor.
Demske is attending a professional conference and was not available immediately for comment.
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