Cultivating the Community Center

Leah Fritsche, Director
Deerfield Public Library, Deerfield, WI

I knew when I met Leah Fritsche 3 years ago that she was a force to be reckoned with.

At that time, she was involved with the Beyond the Page campaign, a collaboration between the Madison Community Foundation and the libraries of the Dane County Library Service, both Wisconsin-based organizations.

Leah’s Deerfield Public Library in Deerfield, WI may have been from one of the smaller communities in the Beyond the Page program, but she grabbed onto the opportunity to bring more meaningful programming to her community and has continued doing so ever since.

She also conveyed her enthusiastic attitude and aptitude for resourcefulness to our Marketing and Sales Team during a recent Demco meeting. In fact, she completely blew the group away with all of the exciting and engaging activities and events that are occurring at her library!

Leah has skillfully found ways to make the library a place for all ages and she welcomes one and all into her library. She also loves to share with other libraries. Here she shares some of her most successful programs to inspire you.

Leah’s Library Story (in her own words)

Addressing the Needs of the Community

Programming at Deerfield Public Library is designed to fit the community’s needs and wants, which means programs are organized on demographics for some and interest for others. Some examples include having Chair Piyo available for seniors who find traditional yoga/Pilates classes prohibitive because of mobility issues.

We have a partner for this program that funds the instructor, otherwise the class is offered for free to community members and it is held at the library, which also creates exposure to our library materials, etc.

Another example of community-centric programs is family programming that either entertains, such as a nature program or a performer, or engages, like our Lego® building program or gingerbread house building program. These programs bring multi-generations together to learn how to do something and spend time together.

Classes that focus on how to work with technology or fill out a resume/job application also serve the community by teaching patrons new skills and these types of programs/classes have been identified as need-based.

Most Popular Programs

Barbershop Quartet Program at the Deerfield Public Library
reaches a new generation.

Some of my favorite programs held at our library include the stuffed animal campout held every fall in which children drop off their stuffed animal for a night of camping fun.

The kids help fill out a questionnaire about their animal, enjoy some stories and songs together, along with a treat, and then they tuck their animal into their sleeping bag for the night.

Then our library staff takes pictures of the animals enjoying their “camping” adventure around the library, which are then posted on Facebook and our website.

Other personal favorites include the barbershop quartet performance we’ve had several times and our tea and chocolate tasting program.

Getting the Word Out

Making sure the word gets out about these programs is also a high priority, because there’s so much work that goes into making the program happen. We want to make sure people know about them and can attend.

We’ve found that there is no single approach that works anymore … no one source everyone uses to find out what’s happening at the library. So we have to use a multi-prong approach:

  • Posters in the library and around town
  • Flyers in the Tuesday Folders at school
  • Announcements on Facebook and our webpage
  • Email lists
  • Press releases in the local paper
  • Blurb on the local cable access channel
  • Word of mouth and personal invitations to the event — our most successful PR

Finding the Funding

Our funding for programs, as popular as they are, is very nominal or almost non-existent.

We rely very heavily on grants, donations, donated time, our Friends of the Library organization and being very frugal in our choices for what events we fund. We have also discovered how important partnerships can be.

We currently do a lot of programming that is done with financial support from Deerfield’s Bridges program, which is a continuing community education group based out of the school district that gathers its own funding and then sponsors or holds classes of all kinds.

We recently formed partnerships over the Chair Piyo classes, parenting classes (Love and Logic) and a Parent University event that brings community resources to parents in the school district.

We partner with the school district itself to provide extra literacy programming for all students, but especially the 4K program and we provide literacy programming for local day cares as well.

The Impact of the Programs

One of my favorite stories about how the library best serves our community is about a retired woman who lost her husband shortly after he had retired as well. This was devastating since they had many plans for their retirement together.

She started coming to the library to get out of the house, but she cried a lot and was very emotional. One day, she came in yelling that she just wanted to die and our staff took her aside, let her get out what she needed to get out and sent her on her way.

After this incident, in which she was not judged or left to feel unwelcome, she came back on a regular basis, eventually asking to volunteer because she wanted to give back. She now runs our Piggly Wiggly receipt program, which allows patrons to drop their grocery receipts off with us and we get 1% pay back from that program.

She continues to come in to check out materials and started bringing her new grandson to the summer programs as well.

Advice to Others

The best advice I can give about programming and community engagement is to leave the door open. Be the community CENTER. Invite people in. Be comfortable, be safe, be engaging, be available to your community and its members.

You never know when someone really needs your building or your staff or your sense of community involvement. Be open to new ideas, be open to having conversations you’ve never had before. Be true to your vision and mission and remind yourself and your staff why you do what you do and who you do it for.

This is the only profession I’ve ever wanted to be in. I don’t do it for the pay, I do it for the job, for the patrons, for the community.  I love spending my days, no two being the same, helping people, talking to people, spending time with all age groups and literature and matching them up with each other.

I have helped people with class work, proctoring exams and helping with research. I have helped people apply online for the first time for a job application or for state aid. I have helped people do research for their township to help with their civic duties. I have put exciting new series and titles in the hands of kids just starting to read or introduced a new author to readers who’ve been at it for a long time.

All of these interactions inspire me every day to keep doing what I’m doing. I never dread going to work in the morning, knowing I have no idea what that day will bring, but it will be interesting for sure and I’ll probably learn just as much as the person who walks in the door looking for information.


Janet Nelson

Janet Nelson

Janet is the former Director of Library Engagement and Solutions at Demco. She managed and developed relationships with key industry leaders to understand changing library trends and services.