FEATURE: Kelly Skovbjerg, Library Director for the Patrick Heath Public Library

0
84

by Ben Schooley

Photography by Paula VM Photography

Kelly Skovbjerg, the Library Director for the Patrick Heath Public Library for the past 20 years, spends most of her days doing exactly what she’s always wanted to do: to disappear in the adventures of her favorite books and to meet fascinating like-minded people. A life long lover of the written word, Skovbjerg has spent the majority of her career in Boerne, and has seen the Library through its unprecedented growth and expansion…and is set to lead it into even more exciting days.

Originally from Dallas, Skovbjerg knew early on that books would be involved in her future. “Books represented a way to escape for me. I could imagine being somewhere else and being someone different. I always loved the written word. I love to write and I love to read so I have forever known I’d have some sort of career with literature.”


Upon graduation, Skovbjerg quickly headed to Austin for her first real gig. She explains, “I started working for a small magazine publishing company in Austin. I learned the ropes – the mag was devoted to the study of psychology and I enjoyed it. I found it very interesting and it was an education. I learned all facets of the business and they even had a printing press. It was invaluable.”

After a couple of years in this role, Skovbjerg knew she wanted to increase her knowledge and skills, so enrolled at University of North Texas and received her MS in Library and Information Sciences. She explains, “You study all about information architecture, data, statistics…I loved it. I have an organized way of thinking and I like to understand how things work – you learn a little about MANY things and that’s what appealed to me. I was never going to specialize in something and if you’re in libraries, you get to explore a lot of things you couldn’t otherwise. For me I enjoyed the degree because it’s about working with books, but I also discovered that it’s very much about people. You have to love the books but you have to love the people as well.” Upon graduation in ’96, she was hired on by Harcourt Grace in the Fort Worth area as an Editorial Assistant.

“2 days after I got there, the guy that hired me got fired. It was baptism by fire. They sort of just moved me around the company and I went into the marketing department a year later – publishing is a very cutthroat business. Even textbook publishing. People were falling left and right and there was no stability. I was young and enjoying life but it was definitely a bit nerve wracking. I realized the corporate world wasn’t for me.”


And with that revelation in mind, Skvbjerg won the lottery (in her eyes) for her career and got a job in Germany with the US Army as the Reference Librarian on base. She continues, “They have libraries on every base. It was the public library for European Command. I’m a huge traveler and I love to travel so I got to meet people from all over the world. I always wanted to live in Europe. I was extremely happy – and I’m in my 20’s – so I’m crazy happy at this point. I could travel anywhere in Europe. The USO was two floors down and they did all kinds of trips. The job was challenging but I absolutely loved it.”

On a visit by her parents to her home in Europe, they went furniture shopping for Skovbjerg at a local furniture store. After seeking to find someone that spoke English, they finally found one clerk that spoke the language, and one particular Danish man was able to step in. That clerk, Jan Skovbjerg married Kelly in 1998.

Upon marriage, the new couple moved back to the US and Kelly got a job at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. However, she didn’t click with the job. She explains, “There was no people aspect to it. I was working with people that were very transactional in nature. We would have survivors every day at the library and they’re looking for their family information and we did not treat them with the respect and care that they deserved. It wasn’t all of them, but it was enough of them that it really impacted me – I felt like it was wrong. You can’t treat people like that. To add the layer that they were holocaust survivors and then they were treated poorly was so much worse. There was a lack of care for them. That’s when I realized why I do this work – it’s for the people and I knew it wasn’t going to happen at that place.”

So the duo moved to a constant presence in Kelly’s life: Central Texas. They both gained jobs at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, and one day a friend of Kelly’s called and informed her of a job opening at the Boerne Public Library. In 2002, Kelly became a reference librarian for the City of Boerne, and she couldn’t have been happier.
She continues, “I came back from maternity leave with my child and I was asked if I would be the Director for the Library. Obviously, I was over the moon…and have been doing it ever since.” Soon after she took the role, the task of funding, designing, constructing, and moving into the new Library became what would become a signature endeavor for Skovbjerg in her stewardship for the organization. She explains, “As a library, the old building was not ideal. It’s a super cool space but it was not built to be a library. It had functional issues – it didn’t have the right tech infrastructure – but it was an awesome space just not for a library. The spaces have evolved in libraries and while we had a meeting space, it took space from other functions. Our children’s areas were cramped and it had its challenges. There were a lot of things I knew we could improve upon with a new space. I was focused on creating something new here in town since I showed up. The planning for the new library was in process before I had arrived, but it was starting to get real. It had started in ’98 in terms of the brainstorming and they thought about some other ideas and putting the library in a few locations and they chose this location we’re in today in ’05 or ’06. The creation of the bond committee, the layout, the designs, the endless assessments to get to the point where we solidified the designs and layouts…it was so fun. We had a lot of fundraising and there were lots of moving parts and pieces. Lots of triumphs and lots of challenges. Probably the community was more on board than potentially city government at that time”.

Skovbjerg threw herself into her new role of leading the Library through such a huge transition, and excelled. “It was a fun process and lots of relationships and connections that you make and people pop up and offer help and it was truly amazing. An institution like a library is a very trusted institution in most communities, and knowing we were building something truly great was so exciting.”

And then in June of 2011, the Patrick Heath Public Library opened its doors.

But getting to that moment involved a lot of moving parts. She continues “We moved truck by truck if you can believe it. We got to go shopping for new materials as well – the design was the most fun for me. The back/forth with everyone involved. Some of my aesthetic ideas were fun but wouldn’t have worked day to day and I learned so much. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience”. But with the help of her loyal staff, Skovbjerg and the team were able to work cohesively to push the project to completion. She says, “I was planning the space and considering its usages – it’s less about books now – it’s more about a community center so everyone feels comfortable being here. The librarians were in charge of ordering the new materials and I left most of that up to Constance and Natalie and Robin (reference librarians). There were so many moving parts with this which I think is why I loved it – you never come in on any given day and do the same thing as the day before. It’s my favorite part. Between managing the building itself, the people, the visitors – you’ve got to rely on people to do this job and do it well. The information about how to do things comes from so many different sources and I just loved rolling up my sleeves and learning so much about the entire process and the challenges we were tasked with solving.”

And that problem solving wasn’t solely tasked upon Skovbjerg and her team – much of it fell to the planning and fundraising committees that were also involved. She explains, “The community here is so involved. They wanted to help. Whatever aspect is important to them was something that someone would dive into and assist and I’m forever grateful. It’s a continuous thing here in terms of community involvement. When we were planning the new library, from start to finish, from ’98 to 2011…that’s how long the library was being planned and there were so many people that helped. What I loved about the community was that things could change on a dime and we were always having to sort of address different variables, sometimes daily, and there was always somebody that I could call that would refer me to wonderful people that could help me and the entire team. I had never done fundraising, built a library, designed one…so the first line of defense was the community and the existing volunteers and their network of contacts. People would just step up all the time. People walk in all the time and just offer their time. A lot of times people would say ‘I’ve never done this, but I’d like to try’”.

And so as Skovbjerg celebrates 20 years with the Library system locally, and for the new Library itself to be coming up on its 10th birthday, she does find herself asking ‘What’s next?’ from time to time. She continues, “A lot of my plans hinges on kids. I want to be here for my kids through school and I want to be central for them. I love that they’ve grown up here in the library. I’d like to maintain that – after that, I’d really like to do something completely different. I don’t know what that is. I could try something different and realize it was a terrible idea, but I don’t know. There’s not a day that you do the same thing in the library so I’m not sure what those next plans might be for me.”

As for now, she stays active locally not only with her own career and aspirations, but with non-profits that inspire her. She explains one of particular importance to her, “For many years we’ve spent all our time on work and kids….but it can also be exhausting. I’m very much about giving back so I’ve recently joined Impact SA which is a group of women and I love it. I’ve been involved in many aspects already and it’s a very well-run organization and it’s all volunteer based. It’s a group of women that gets 500 members a year that put in $1000 each. We’re funding exponentially based on our number of members and we give $100,000 grants to community organizations. We’re currently working with a family violence services liaison that won last year. They grant money to different elements: Arts/culture / education/ environment / family / health and wellness – the 6 categories that we try to fund and empower. I love it because I don’t have a lot of time but I can give as much time as necessary and I get so much from the work we do there.”

From her office in the Patrick Heath Public Library, Skobjerg reflects on her decades of work here, and is both excited and nervous about what the future holds for her and her family. She finishes by saying, “Obviously I have no hard plans about next steps for me. Who knows! I’d like to work with animal rescue perhaps as an example. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about it. Libraries really consume my time and it’s truly a calling. I feel very fortunate to have done this for as long as I have, and to truly enjoy it is such a blessing. And to be able to do this in a community as amazing and supportive and diverse as Boerne…I couldn’t have scripted my life any better to be honest.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here