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Oct. 19, 2021 | Tuesday
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Debbie Krause breathes life into the library
Debbie Krause, community engagement coordinator for the NOTL Public Library. (Brittany Carter/NiagaraNow)

Debbie Krause is the embodiment of a community engagement co-ordinator, working for the community at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library.

She has been working at the library for five years, stumbling on a job listing for the children’s librarian position in 2014. Since then, her role evolved into planning events and community involvement until she became community engagement co-ordinator in 2016.

She has since settled in nicely and her focus is on bringing the library to the community, connecting with residents of all ages in town.

“As a library your mandate is to provide service and resources and information to every member of the community.”

Crediting the entire library team with collaborating on ideas for initiatives and events, Krause takes the lead when it comes to planning and organizing the follow-through.

A natural introvert, she says the job takes her out of her comfort zone, but you can’t tell that when speaking with her. Her passion for the job and the community shines through, dispelling any notion that she wasn’t built for the role.

She studied to be a teacher, but after some substitute work and taking time for her family - husband Kevin and their three children, Amanda, Jordan and Noah - she wasn’t sure she could carve out a career for herself in the school system.

“I am a certified teacher. I spent a lot of years supply teaching when my kids were growing up with the intention of starting full-time once they were a little bit older.”

It was tough to get into the school system full-time, but she still wanted to put the skills she developed to use. She says it got to the point where she had to decide if she was willing to essentially start over to earn a teaching contract. Instead, she pivoted in a different direction.

It was an interesting journey, she recalls.

“As a qualified teacher, but not in the teaching industry, what are you qualified to do? You’re pretty limited. I have the skillset that I think is valuable, but there aren’t a lot of places, other than schools, where I could do that.”

Upon discovering the children’s librarian posting, she says she immediately knew it was the job for her.

“I had no doubt I could do this job. I knew I could do it, and I could do it well.”

At the helm of the library-organized events, she tries to think outside the box, finding new and innovative ways to bring the community together and into the library.

Fay and Fluffy, Toronto-based drag-queen story tellers, were brought in to the library in September. In anticipation of some possible push-back, and to see what they were all about, Krause went to Toronto to see the show before deciding to book them, and she says she’s so happy she did.

“That was incredible. I had never experienced a drag-queen story time before either ... That’s their thing, so they’re good at it.”

She says Fay and Fluffy are all about kids. Both with backgrounds in children’s education, she says the drag-queen part is secondary; it’s all about the story time. Working through scheduling at the moment, Krause says she will deinitely book them again,

“To me, epecially as a children’s programmer, (a focus on the kids) is really important to me. In the end I want a really good children’s program.”

Wine and Words, a monthly gathering at an area winery with well-known authors, was in place before Krause took the role. Under her leadership though, the program has gained momentum and consistently sells out. Beer and Books is another adult program that takes residents out of the library and into the community, this time as a book club at The Old Winery Restaurant. Both events take a hiatus over the summer, starting up again in the fall.

Libraries are often seen as quiet and stale institutions. Krause is bringing the NOTL library to life – infusing it with constant activity, community events and a sense of belonging – while maintaining a sanctuary for those quietly working to remain undisturbed, most of the time.

“They know already that ‘Debbie likes to make it noisy’ once in a while.”

She says she tries to limit activities hosted during opening hours in the common space, but when they do happen, library patrons are generally accepting and receptive -- like the drum circle that took place in February.

“I had people sort of bouncing around the library. There’s a real acceptance of that.”

Born and raised in NOTL, Krause says she moved away for five years, but made her way back 22 years ago. She has been raising her family here, in a town that people tend to fall in love with, she says.

“I think what you find with people from Niagara-on-the-Lake is that they’re in a hurry to get out but then when they do, they realize how good it was, and they tend to come back if they can.”

“It’s such a great place. It’s a nice combination of rural with the amenities of a town.”

Her position at the library opened her eyes to what the town really has to offer. While she knew NOTL and called it home, she says she never truly understood what it was all about until she dove into her role reaching out to the community.

While the library is out of the way for many residents in the different villages of NOTL, Krause says a lot of thought goes in to bringing services to the community.

Building another branch isn’t feasible, Krause says, but she does what she can to reach out to those other areas of town. Book lockers are in place around town, with plans of expanding the service.

She says there are also plans in place to bring kids programming out to the community. Wi-Fi hotspots for migrant workers are in the works as well, she says, adding that the library is ironing out the details.

The town has a lot of need, but she says that need may look different than it does in other communities.

“There’s a lot of loneliness in this town. People, you know they have their own wifi and their own books, but they’re coming in for other reasons. I think that we play a huge role in that, as just part of people’s daily routine. That connection.”

It’s being able to provide that connection to the community that Krause says is so rewarding for her.

“The core of my job really is to just reach as many people in the community as I can and just make an impact. It’s finding the needs and how to fill them.”

Krause notes the library provides something for people from infants all the way up to seniors -- though she admits it’s been hard to reach the teens in town, especially since there is no high school. She says she is open to ideas for programs for teens.

It is important to Krause that programs remain free, or as low-cost as possible. Any fees the library charges for programs are to cover operating costs, and sometimes fees are enough even to cover that.

“If I do charge it’s going to be cost-recovery, and even then sometimes not. And I love that, to be able to offer stuff for free to people.”

Focusing a lot of her energy on community outreach, Krause says she was surprised how much she loves the role. If asked if she thought she was a good fit for the role before she started, her answer would have been very different, she says.

“It’s something that I’m finding incredibly rewarding. It was a nice surprise to find out that it was something that I could do, and I could do relatively well, even though it wasn’t in my box.”

With the success of adult programs such as the hugely popular Wine and Words it’s evident Krause is succeeding in the role.

“It’s nice to find those things about yourself a little later on in your life.”