Kristi Howe is not a stereotypical librarian.
She doesn’t wear glasses, drab sweaters or sit alone reading. And she certainly doesn’t shush people.
“Glasses on a chain… no, I’m not a typical librarian,” she says laughing. “And I’m loud!”
As the director of the Vigo County Public Library (VCPL), Howe may be different from librarians of the past, but it’s that unconventional style that’s bringing big changes to Vigo County.
“I’m trying to get people in the community to open up and broaden their understanding of what libraries do and what the role of the library is in the community,” Howe explains.
A native of Casey, Ill., Howe returned to the Wabash Valley in early 2013, when she accepted the position as the director of the VCPL. Previously, she was the director of the Beloit Public Library in Beloit, Wis. and before that, was head of youth services at the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, Ill.
Known by her peers for being a dedicated and hard worker, Howe even applied that work ethic when seeking the library director position.
“I packed up the dog and headed down here for the weekend,” she explains. “I don’t go into things blindly. I wanted to make sure it was a good fit for me. … I went back to Wisconsin and thought, yeah, there is a tremendous amount of potential in this community.”
Howe not only recognized the possibilities, but also she’s been working hard since arriving to make them a reality. One of the first organizations Howe joined was the United Way of the Wabash Valley. She serves on numerous committees and is a member of the Board of Directors.
“Coming in, I didn’t have a true sense of the charitable nature of the community,” she explains. “That was such a wonderful benefit in working and volunteering, to see how everyone works to make things happen.”
And Howe is no exception. In addition to volunteering with the United Way, she also devotes time to Terre Haute Young Leaders and serves as a committee member for the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp. She also works regionally and statewide with the Indiana Public Library Association on legislative advocacy.
Howe has enough personal and professional commitments to fill a book, something her family says has been a trait since she was young. Howe’s sister, Lindsay Crain, says her older sister has always been a passionate over-achiever.
“Her goal is to make things better and she is doing that,” Crain says. “She has a heavy workload and does it like it’s no big deal … she talks about some of the things she is doing and I think, holy cow, I hope everyone is ready for her. She has high expectations, she works hard for the community and knows she has a responsibility, and she takes that seriously.”
That responsibility at the library spans everything from programming to managing a staff of around 90 to overseeing ongoing renovations. In 2014, the library began significant construction to address evolving needs, including an updated East Wing, full renovation of the West Wing, and a larger space for Special Collections and local history. The Youth Services Department and lower level will also receive a makeover to allow for more space and programs.
Howe says renovations have taken much of her time and energy over the last two and a half years. A testament to her character, she humbly says that time could have been spent dedicated to additional volunteering.
“I feel so much of my time and energy could have been spent in the community even more, but I have been focusing on renovations,” she says. “I have been in some form of renovation the entire time I have been here.”
It’s not just physical changes she’s brought to the library, but additional staff, innovative programs and a new strategic plan. Once the dust settles on the building makeover, Howe says she and her team will really get down to business, carrying out a new and updated vision for the VCPL.
“I’m glad people feel like we are doing a good job, but at the same time, I have high expectations for myself and my staff, so it’s nice when the work we are doing is recognized, but that’s not why we do it,” Howe says. “We have made some great strides and we have some really nice accomplishments, but also have a lot of work to keep doing. There is a lot of good that can still be done.”