Schmit ready for next chapter

Lynn Schmit vividly recalls the family vacations from her childhood.

She and her siblings — which eventually numbered seven — would pack for the trip.

“Our suitcases were cardboard boxes,” Schmit said. “We’d put our clothes in, and then our library books.”

From there, it was time for a camping adventure that might include any number of special guests.

“I grew up with the Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder books,” Schmit said.

She was raised in Port Washington, Wisc., a community of about 6,000 located 25 miles north of Milwaukee.

“The library was on the second floor of an old building, with a wood floor that creaked,” Schmit said. “The kids’ section was on one side.

“It was like Christmas in there for children.”

Schmit remembers her mother reading — but not bedtime stories for the children.

“She was an avid reader,” Schmit said. “She’d sit on the end of the sofa, with her legs curled up under her, with a book.

“The TV could be on, but she wouldn’t notice.”

One thing that Mom noticed was when Lynn began to read sentences in her primary ‘Dick and Jane’ books.

“I remember how proud I was coming home from school and doing some reading,” Schmit said. “My mom was a reader, so I got a lot of praise.”

With that background, one might assume what the person who has been director of the Mahomet library now for three decades would list as a major in her freshman year at Wisconsin State University (now Wisconsin Oshkosh).

Guess again.

“In high school, I loved languages,” Schmit said. “I studied French my first two years and German my last two.

“A group of us went to Germany (spring of her senior year) and stayed six week in people’s homes.”

There was time for sightseeing, but education was the top priority.

“We were in school,” she said.

The classes were taught in German.

As Schmit subsequently worked her way through college, it was as an education major.

“To be a high school teacher,” she said of her goals at the time.

Schmit had the good fortune of extending her college days past the traditional four-year stint.

It would be two decades after her high school graduation before she finished her final college courses.

Along the way, she transferred to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, got married and spent time with her husband Peter in Atlanta, the Chicago suburbs, North Carolina and California before they moved to Champaign County.

“I took a break (from college) and had children,” she said.

Raising two boys provided her a different kind of education.

“I had sons and I knew what junior high and grade school was like,” Schmit said. “I didn’t think I had the patience or personality for the (teaching) job.”

By the time she graduated from the University of Illinois, she held bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in English, Geology and German.

“When I finished, I had an instructor who said I should get a master’s,” Schmit said.

She remained a student long enough to earn an advanced degree in Library and Information Science.

“I had been an assistant at a library in California, and I enjoyed that,” Schmit said.

Her first full-time position after graduating was at Mahomet’s village library, then located on Main Street.

She started on June 15, 1988.

She was asked by the library director at another town how long she expected to remain on the job.

“I said I’d probably stay three or four years and find something else, Schmit said.Life intervened.

Exactly 11,156 days later, she will retire. Her end date is on Dec. 31, but she is not going to cut out early.

“I’m staying until 5 o’clock,” she said.

Her reasons for not relocating were relatively simple.

“I had kids and a family,” she said, “and needed to stay in the area. My husband had restaurants (Grandy’s and, later for 13 years, Za’s Italian Cafe).

“I love the people and the staff.”

Her first library board meeting — the month after her hiring — gave indications of her long-term project.

“I was told the (library) building was too small and we’d need a new building,” Schmit said, “so I knew that was my charge.”

It evolved into a lengthy process.

“The building was small and it became smaller and smaller as things got piled higher and higher,” she said.

Schmit’s desk didn’t include a fancy computer, like are prevalent in libraries now.

“I had a typewriter,” she said.

Just because Schmit and board members recognized the need for additional space — the former library had about 4,000 square feet — and other upgrades, doesn’t mean that view represented a consensus.

Area voters turned thumbs down to numerous requests.

In 1995, a referendum was held to annex the surrounding townships (that have children in M-S schools) into the Mahomet Public Library District.

Mahomet township residents voted to approve the annexation even though little more than 12 percent of its registered voters turned out.

But none of the other five townships approved the proposition. Collectively, those five townships had voter turnout in excess of 25 percent.

The closest to supporting it was Newcomb Township (north of Mahomet), where the nay votes won, 57-50.

The other four townships that voted were Champaign, Hensley, Scott/Bondville and Scott/Seymour. In those four townships, more than 72 percent of those who cast ballots, marked “no.”

To this day, those five townships are not part of the Mahomet Public Library District.

On Nov. 5, 1996, a ballot referendum failed that would have authorized construction of both a new building and operating funds.

“We had purchased property (a double lot) and hired an architect,” Schmit said.

The proposed building, about  21,000 square feet, would have been erected approximately where the current post office sits.

Voters rejected the plan 2,557 to 1,471 to issue $3.275 million in bonds to pay for the new structure on Main Street.

That referendum was the first for the library district since it had been formed 30 years earlier.

Another decade passed before there was another attempt.

On April 17, 2007, a referendum failed by 164 votes after 1,548 residents voted against the proposal, compared to 1,384 who were for it.

The ballot question would have raised the library’s property tax rate 33 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation.

For owners of a $100,000 home with standard exemptions, library taxes would have risen from $61.16 to $159.61 annually.

Ten months later, in February, 2008, voters faced two ballot questions.

The first was to issue a bond for $3.325 million to build a new library. That would result in a nine-cent per $100 dollar increase for taxpayers.

The second proposition asked for an additional eight cents per $100 assessed valuation for operating costs.

Had both passed, homeowners would have seen a $48.17 increase on their tax bills for a $100,000 home.

The plan also called for a scaled back building of 13,100 square feet. The ballot question the previous year would have authorized construction of an 18,430-square foot building.

Residents spoke at the polls, approving by 127 votes the construction of a new building (1,588 yes to 1,461 no).

However, the proposal to provide for the operating cost was defeated by 343 votes (1,651 to 1,308).

Construction was completed on the site, located at the south end of Hunter’s Ridge along Rt. 150, and the library opened on July 25, 2010.

“We wanted to operate the whole building on one floor so we could see when people needed help,” Schmit said, “and have a minimum number of staff.”

On April 6, 2011, Mahomet Township voters were again asked to approve a tax increase for operating funds.

The ballot proposal would have raised the tax bill for an owner of a $200,000 home by $33.33 annually.

In its early years at its new east-side location, the Mahomet Public Library District made do by raising more than $300,000 in donations and pledges, and implementing an endowment campaign.

They also relied more on volunteer staff.

That 2011 tax referendum met a familiar fate and was rejected by 164 votes, 735-571.

There have been no additional referendums for the Library District.

For Schmit, the rewards for her years of service included more than the new building and a paycheck.

“I love to see kids reading and participating in our programs,” Schmit said.

While technology has been a godsend in many ways, such as the addition of audio books and e-magazines, Schmit cautioned that the library still needs to serve everybody’s needs.

“Not everyone can use e-resources,” Schmit said, “so we also have to have resources in a physical form.”

Schmit’s home library looks nothing like the stacks at her office.

“I don’t own very many,” she said. “I have access here and I make use of it.

“You could go broke buying books. There’s so many new authors and they keep producing.”

Schmit can’t pinpoint a favorite author. Among those near the top of her personal list are Alan Bradley, Emily Dickinson, Andrew Sean Greer, Anthony Horowitz, Louise Penny, Anita Shreve and Graeme Simpson.

She’s not one who likes to indulge in multiple books at a time.

“I usually finish one before I start on another,” she said, “but I usually have multiple waiting.”

The best part of her job — besides the proximity to books — is the patrons.

“People to me are the most important,” Schmit said. “I’ve made a lot of friends.

“I’ll miss the people the most.”

Her job, at times, didn’t seem like work.

“I’m grateful my trustees throughout the years didn’t try to micro-manage,” Schmit said. “They let me do what I felt was necessary to have a great library here.”

Retirement doesn’t mean Schmit won’t still be active.

“I have work to do around the house,” she said, “photographs to weed out so the children won’t be stuck with them.

“I love yoga. There are classes during the day I haven’t been able to take.”

Both of the Schmits children live in Champaign as do all five grandchildren.

Schmit hopes to do some traveling — Italy is on her Bucket List — but added, “Florida will more likely be our first trip.”

The end of the year seemed to her like the ideal time to conclude this chapter of her life.

“Age told me that (it was time to retire),” she said. “I want to spend more time with family.

“I leave the library knowing I did the best I could. There’s younger people with great ideas.

“It’s time for someone younger to come in and take the library to the next level.”

Her replacement as director, John Howard, started work at the Mahomet library on Nov. 26.

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