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Laura Mischke Simon

From Artesia, Laura Mischke Simon received a significant gift – every librarian’s dream, really: To build a library from the ground up.

Mischke Simon arrived in Artesia from Sioux City, Iowa, nearly two years before the March 2015 completion of the new Artesia Public Library. She accepted the position of library supervisor in replacement of former supervisor Pam Castle, who continued to remain on board to aid in the facility transition.

Around one month after the new library opened its doors, Castle retired, and Mischke Simon settled fully into her new role.

“There’s nothing like being in at the beginning and building a library,” Mischke Simon said last week. “It’s such a feeling of ownership and pride, and this library is fantastic. It turned out so beautiful.”

Along with their support staff, Mischke Simon and her team of librarians – which includes adult services librarian Jo Scott, teen services librarian Erin Loveland, and children’s services librarian Geri Dosalua – went to work immediately on taking full advantage of all their new library had to offer.

“Coming over here just opened up so many possibilities, because we were so cramped and so limited in the old library,” Mischke Simon said. “We’ve been able to do so much more programming-wise and outreach-wise, and it shows in our numbers. Circulation has gone through the roof, and the number of people through the doors has doubled.

“It’s been such a pleasure to be in on that and the move over here, and everything that has allowed us to do.”

The library staff is now able to engage Artesians of all ages through a wide variety of special programs and events; each month, numerous activities can be found taking place at the library.

“Being able to come over here and encourage the staff to be as creative and open to new ideas as possible has been amazing,” Mischke Simon said. “I’m really proud of the things that they have done and been able to provide to the community just by being wide open to ‘Well, let’s try it and see what happens.’”

But there’s also the simple draw of the pleasing open floor design, numerous computer stations and meeting rooms, and, of course, Peter Hurd mural that make the library a favorite everyday destination.

“It’s wonderful that teens have more to enjoy now than just their little corner at the old library,” said Mischke Simon. “They can sit, read, hang out, do homework. And the increase in the amount of computers has been wonderful, as well. People constantly had to wait for computers at the old library. It also took up staff time, keeping track of who was on, how long they’d been on. Here, it’s never been an issue. We have enough computers for everyone who needs one, plus the technology has taken the pressure off the staff – it just automatically shuts down now when time is up.

“And it’s not just people from Artesia. Having this facility and having it be as well-known as it is, we have people come in driving from Roswell or Carlsbad or other places throughout the country who say, ‘I came here specifically to see this library,’ ‘I came here specifically to see the mural.’”

But although Mischke Simon has enjoyed her time helming the Artesia facility, a recent opportunity arose that was too tempting for her to pass up, and she spent her final day as library supervisor last Saturday.

“I accepted another position, and it’s as the executive director of the Jefferson County Library System in Arkansas,” Mischke Simon said. “It’s a county-wide system with five different branches in five different communities.

“They’ve also just passed a bond issue. Four of the libraries will be renovated, and the main branch in Pine Bluff, Ark., will be building an entirely new library.”

Mischke Simon is particularly excited to apply lessons she learned during the building of the new Artesia Public Library to her next endeavor.

“To be in on the design phase of a new library, you learn a lot going through that process, and there are a lot of things I learned that I will take with me and that will be of great benefit to me in that project,” she said.

The position of library supervisor is currently posted on the City of Artesia’s website, and while the library remains a bit short-staffed until it is filled, Mischke Simon is confident all will go smoothly as Artesia finds its next librarian.

“We’ve worked hard to spread out the duties so everybody’s helping out a little bit, which is what the staff has always done – worked together and helped each other out,” she said. “It’ll be a seamless transition when the new person comes in. They have a wonderful facility and a wonderful staff to take over, and it’ll go great places.”

As she begins her next project, Mischke Simon is proud of the legacy she and her staff have created and encourages Artesians to continue to take advantage of the biggest adventure a small town has to offer: its local library.

“This has been a wonderful experience, and having the opportunity to not just work in this library but really have my imprint on it has been fabulous,” Mischke Simon said. “The support I’ve received from the community was great, and to have that wider impact on everyone from infants to the elderly is really special.

“If you haven’t been to the library and you haven’t spent time here, it’s a wonderful respite. We not only have books and e-books but newspapers and magazines, and it’s just a great place to take a step out of the hustle and bustle, enjoy the ambiance, relax, and just get away from everything for a little while.”