Lance Werner, the executive director of the Kent District Library, originally thought he'd become an FBI agent. Instead, he's just been named the Top Librarian in the Nation by Library Journal. Werner is the first Michigan librarian to receive the honor.
"I'm so proud to represent Michigan and to kind of bring us into the national spotlight," Werner told Stateside. "In my opinion, Michigan's libraries are among the best in the world, and I think it's great that everybody's kind of watching us now."
In addition to the more traditional role of the librarian as a force in promoting literacy, Werner, and many of his colleagues, cares deeply about bridging the digital divide.
"Not only can we provide Wi-Fi hotspots and devices and electronic databases and materials for people, we can teach people how to use them," he said.
Werner sees this effort as essential to the mission of the public library.
"That's kind of almost your traditional library rule, teaching people how to access something. If you recall your experiences as a kid going to the library, the librarians at your school library were teaching you how to access the collection. And so librarians now are doing the exact same thing except for teaching people how to use their digital devices to best access the internet, electronic collection and things that are out there," Werner said.
But he's also interested in other kinds of literacy, such as music, math and science. He says one of the bigger challenges all librarians face is redefining the traditional image of the public library, making a departure from "the library of your grandparents."
"We love your grandparents, you know, nothing against them, but libraries are changing, and getting people aware of what the modern library has to offer I think is the biggest challenge," he said. "We are not your stereotypical libraries. We are vibrant places for the community, community hubs where people come to be transformed and connect with what's meaningful to them, and it's really a fantastic and exciting place, and you just have to visit your local public library to find out."