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Oshkosh library director reflects on challenges libraries have seen as he prepares to retire

Oshkosh Public Library
Posted at 4:53 PM, Apr 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-25 17:53:49-04

OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — After more than 17 years as the Director of the Oshkosh Public Library, Jeff Gilderson-Duwe is getting set to step down on June 2.

As he nears the end of what he says "[has] been a great run," he's taken some time to reflect on the changes and new challenges he's seen since he first took the post in 2006.

Gilderson-Duwe says the library has seen a wave of new technologies since he first started. Gone are the days of VHS, DVD, and wired internet, replaced by WiFi, streaming, and smartphones.

He says that while many thought those advances would pose a serious threat to libraries, the Oshkosh Public Library has stuck to its mission, and keeps going strong.

“With smartphones and WiFi access, that revolution made a lot of people think public libraries aren’t going to be relevant anymore," Gilderson-Duwe said. "But people still love to read and they love to learn, and that’s really what our role is.”

Lisa Voss is the Assistant Director for Library Development, and says Gilderson-Duwe has done a good job encouraging community engagement and building new programming, that has allowed the library to stay relevant.

"That’s something I would say that under his leadership we have made progress in," Voss said. "Not just serving the community from this building downtown, but looking at ways that we can support literacy and learning out in the community.”

Still, many challenges face the library today.

In particular, Gilderson-Duwe says he's been seeing more and more efforts to ban certain books and says the library has been fighting to preserve access to those titles.

“We stand against censorship and banning books…" he said. "We have a strong stance that, you have a freedom to read, I have a freedom to read and nobody should abridge that.”

He says the library has implemented programs like banned book discussions, and a scavenger hunt where several of the most popular banned titles were hidden around town, to support what he calls the library's "fight for the freedom to read."

Despite all the changes and challenges he's seen over the years, Gilderson-Duwe says libraries are still an integral part of their communities; a part that can never be replaced.

“Public Libraries all over the country, are the repositories of the stories of their communities," he said. "Nobody else can do that.”