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New Berlin librarian leaves an improved facility and grateful staff

Dennis Sampson is retiring for a seecond time in his life

New Berlin Public Library Director Dennis Sampson works on one of the library computers with the stacks behind him.

New Berlin Public Library Director Dennis Sampson works on one of the library computers with the stacks behind him.

April 14, 2014

New Berlin — Not many people can retire for more than 10 years and then climb back into the ring and be as dynamic and strong as ever.

But that's New Berlin Public Library Director Dennis Sampson who will retire — again — this summer. Although he started in libraries more than 40 years ago, his first retirement was as administrator of an area retirement community.

But he remained true to libraries, his first love, and has been a library trustee for 33 years and continued as a library consultant and interim director for other libraries.

New Berlin brought him on four years ago as an interim director after Sampson had helped the Mukwonago Library get back on track. And the New Berlin Library also had problems.

"There were issues with the building, with record keeping and on the finance end," said New Berlin Mayor Dave Ament. Some lights could not be turned off and some sprinkler heads froze and went off, dousing the director's office. Circulation was foundering and the library was on the road to ending the year $100,000 in the red.

Sampson, the staff and the Library Board immediately started fighting their way through those challenges.

As that was going on, then Library Board President Diane Carr said, "Nothing seems insurmountable to him. He says we can work it this way or take a different approach or be patient."

Ament said last week, "He has got everything back on track and set things up for the future for whoever steps in."

Current Library Director Patti Orzel said, "He was the answer to a prayer."

The Library Board liked what they saw from the start and offered him the job permanently.

Sampson said that he had fallen in love with the library and its staff and was happy to be lured out of retirement.

But he knew it wouldn't be too peaceful of a stint. As he faced the library's difficulties he energetically brought improvements, too.

"One of the biggest is he made us a member of CAFE so we can have access to materials in the county," Orzel said. Libraries join the CAFE consortium, meaning that their patrons have borrowing privileges at other member libraries throughout Waukesha County.

New Berlin's circulation has risen and service to New Berlin patrons has been enhanced.

"With the way budgets are today, it's much better to share resources," Orzel said.

Sampson also brought informative program series to the library in which people read up on a topic and college professors lead discussions. The series are sponsored by the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

One was on the Civil Rights Movement and another on money and the economy.

"It gives people a better understanding of current events, a chance to share ideas and gives access to people who teach at the college level so it's a wonderful opportunity for people to get into depth," Orzel said.

Increasing numbers also have appreciated the Friday movies Sampson initiated. They started in an upstairs room and now have to be shown in the larger community room because so many people come.

Many also enjoy the outdoor concerts that Sampson initiated.

"He was the impetus behind that," Ament said. "It brings people into the library and the City Center and for a lot of folks it's a nice way to have an inexpensive evening with the family."

Behind the scenes, Sampson has been working hard, too.

"He has done a wonderful job of keeping the budget in control," Orzel said. And he worked with the city to make changes that have helped the library save a lot of money on energy costs, she said. And the library paid a lot less for those changes because of Sampson, she said.

For his part, Sampson said he is happy to have been able to replace a worn out automatic materials handler, upgrade computers and greatly increase band width for the use of patrons while keeping operating costs in check.

Sampson said he leaves with mixed feelings.

"I've been so excited at the array of programs and services we are able to offer in New Berlin," he said. "And there is such a talented staff."

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