By Eric Hansen
When John Sheridan first came to Vicksburg, he was struck by how friendly the people can be. In December 2012, he came to interview with the Library Board for a position as its new director.
Before the long drive back to Birch Run he decided to walk around the town. He discovered one of the defining characteristics of Vicksburg’s citizens: They did not know John, but they greeted him with warmth and friendliness.
Sheridan explained that the library, “is becoming more of a community center. We still provide books, audiobooks, DVDs, and other resources.” This emphasis on community is important for the success of the library because patrons rely on their smartphone and home internet access for research more than in the past.
“However, libraries are still an ideal place to find books and do research because the staff has years of daily experience helping with information searches. Library employees are uniquely qualified to help the community find information that is well-researched, peer-reviewed and trustworthy. Staff are also well-informed about the newest books and movies that are available,” he explained.
As Sheridan nears retirement he is thinking back on years of pleasant memories and successful hard work completed with the library. When he began, there were two or three programs that met perhaps five times a week. Now the library often hosts 10 to 15 meetings in a given week. These include community-building programs such as story times and play groups for small children, book groups and film showings for adults and youth, an active creative writing group, the Brown Bag Lunch program and an inter-community Library Hop with 19 participating southwest Michigan libraries.
In Sheridan’s time with the library, he has made a priority of improving its services and infrastructure. When he began, he could see that the building needed attention. He has led the library through replacing the roof, remodeling the interior with new paint and carpeting, revising the DVD shelving system to make it easier for patrons and staff to use and replacing the aging phone system. He has seen to it that the computer systems are updated and solicited donations to completely replace the heating and cooling system.
Community engagement is the reason why Sheridan and the library have been so successful. Citizens in Vicksburg have shown a great willingness to participate in programs like the library’s English literacy tutoring program through the Kalamazoo Literacy Council. Other patrons assist through the Ladies’ Library Auxiliary. Patrons also donate hundreds of books every year for an annual book sale, and many patrons donate money when paying for photocopies.
Sheridan has also created plans for a massive upload of historical newspapers from 1880 to 1950, Vicksburg High’s yearbooks from 1950 to 1989, and the library’s collection of obituaries. Library staff expect to complete uploading these items during 2018 and 2019.
“The impact of these changes is important for the comfort and security of patrons and staff,” he said. Sheridan has created lists of projected changes to continue after his June retirement. These plans include improving the existing elevator system and purchasing a new internet server and electronic building sign to announce events.
Office Manager Linda Adams summarized Sheridan’s impact on the library, characterizing him as a “manager who does not micromanage,” and said, “We have been fortunate to have this luxury. We have been allowed to be creative and we have been entrusted to perform tasks set before us so that we can take the initiative and do our best.”
Vicksburg community members are invited to enjoy refreshments at Sheridan’s retirement open house on June 29th from 2 to 4 p.m. at the library.