A couple weeks after taking over as director of the Stoughton Public Library, Jim Ramsey attended a business expo at the Mandt Community Center, where he discovered how much his new patrons value their library.
“I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and said, ‘Oh we love the library,’” he said. “They would go on to tell me how they always bring their kids here or how they love to come and read the paper or how they come to use the internet.”
On April 1, the Beloit native replaced Richard MacDonald, who retired after eight years in the role. Ramsey said he has prioritized making connections with the Stoughton community and learning as much as he can.
After seven years working as the head of adult services at the Middleton Public Library, Ramsey was initially intrigued by Stoughton’s Norwegian heritage, the Opera House and the “wonderful mix of old and new” found in the library.
“What attracted me to Stoughton is it’s a unique community that has its own identity,” Ramsey said. “There is a tremendous amount of goodwill in the community towards the library.”
To start his tenure, Ramsey is concentrating on the facets of the job that are new to him, such as administrative responsibilities like budgeting, but in time he would like to become involved in adding programming the community is interested in.
“That’s really what it’s about, because the public library is for the people of the community,” he said.
A love for history
Ramsey’s career in libraries, along with his interest in nonfiction books, stem from a fascination with history. He graduated in 2004 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in history and then took a break from school to decide what he wanted to do next.
Originally wanting to attend graduate school to continue his studies in Russian and Eastern European history, Ramsey discovered that academic jobs were hard to come by, and realized he enjoyed a career in libraries.
“What I really loved about history was the research process and the times that I spent in the library and the archives,” he said.
In 2009, Ramsey completed his master’s degree in library and information studies at UW-Madison and scored his first major job with the Kilbourn Public Library at Wisconsin Dells. Next, he worked at with the Madison Public Library’s Hawthorne branch before being hired to lead adult services department at the Middleton Public Library in 2012, where his interest in history influenced his programming responsibilities.
“I started a lecture series there with UW professors and, because of my personal interests, I think it tended a little bit more towards humanities and social sciences,” he said.
Ramsey, however, tried to include a “broad array of topics” and was always looking for a variety of potential lecturers.
“We did a lot of work with the Wisconsin Historical Society, having their authors come and give book talks and I’d like to continue that here at some point,” Ramsey said.
In his new position at the Stoughton Public Library, Ramsey has enjoyed solving problems, planning and strategizing.
“I get to do something different almost every day,” he said. “I see my role as a director as being an advocate for the library, somebody who can explain to the stakeholders and to the community the importance and the value of libraries for literacy and lifelong learning and cultural engagement.”
Ramsey acknowledged that he can’t take on the library’s future challenges by himself, including a possible need for more staff workspace and patron meeting areas.
“I get to work with a fantastic staff who do great things every day,” he said. “The dedication to serving the public and to making the library the best it can be on the part of the staff is really what I noticed first and foremost.”
Ramsey also recognized the contributions of library volunteers, including the library board of trustees, as well as “tremendous support” from the City of Stoughton.
“The vast majority of our funding comes from the city and the City Council has been a great supporter of the library,” Ramsey said. “It’s quite a concept that we invest in these institutions, that we as communities and taxpayers decide that we are going to make these buildings and these collections and these services available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay and regardless of where they’re at in life, and that’s a pretty wonderful thing.”