Assistant Director of Southwest Public Libraries, Jan Niepert, sits in her Westland Area Library site office surrounded by over 35 years of mementos, pictures of her family and cards from devoted staff.
Niepert arrived at Southwest Public Libraries in 1972 – prior to the establishment of a library in the Lincoln Village area. The library, which had been requested by the Lincoln Village Residents’ Association as far back as 1967, opened on September 10, 1972 at 4740 W. Broad Street under the initial oversight of Sharon Shrum.
Niepert was one of two clerks who served as staff in the small yet eagerly anticipated center, then called the Prairie Branch.
“From the beginning, we wanted it to be a place where everyone felt welcome,” stated Niepert. “We especially wanted to introduce children to reading. That’s why, regardless of what has changed or expanded over the years, books for children and story times have been a constant.”
There have indeed been many changes. Niepert quickly assumed the lead management role when Shrum opted to work part-time following the birth of her first child. This promotion prompted the Baldwin Wallace graduate to return to school. Niepert earned her masters of library science from Kent State in 1981. She credited retired library director Frances Black with giving her the support and encouragement needed to complete a master’s program.
Black, who supervised Niepert for most of the 24 years they worked together, remembered that time. “I was so happy when she (Niepert) decided to go for her graduate library degree because it brought in just the kind of person the profession needed. She was always discreet, and her loyalty to the library, the Westland area, and the school district was steadfast,” said Black. “Janice Niepert is a warm, compassionate mother, friend, and librarian.”
The library’s growth and change mirrored Niepert’s own.
“The library’s grown to include services to the entire Westside," explained the assistant director, “We now have patrons from all over visiting the library – not just Lincoln Village.”
“I really celebrate the diversity,” she added.
Services have changed, too.
“When we began it was mostly books and records,” remembered Niepert. “We only had 6,000 books at the time.”
Today, in addition to an enviable book collection, the library offers a host of other services including DVD’s and computers. Niepert also cited self check-out and the automation of the traditional card catalog as major advances.
Library Director Mark Shaw acknowledged Niepert’s accomplishments.
“Jan was instrumental in the planning and building of the expansion of Westland in 1990 – 1991,” he said.
The library, which was once a small store front entailing less than 1,000 feet, expanded to 5,700 square feet in 1979 and, again, in 1991 to over 21,000 square feet in order to meet the public’s growing demands. Niepert honored two now deceased board members, well-known Westside residents, for their commitment to the library system’s unprecedented branch expansion.
“I have to give credit to the late Jim Kimmel and Barney Chappell. They always fought for expansion and were instrumental during that period,” she said.
The increased public usage may, in part, be a reflection of Niepert’s own commitment to the community in which she both lives and works.
Her dedication to residents earned her the presidency of the Lincoln Village Women’s Club, a civic group then boasting over 100 members. She was also instrumental in helping to establish the Westland Area Business Association (WABA) when South-Western City School’s Jim McCormick approached her along with other business leaders.
WABA recently announced they would honor Niepert for her long commitment as a former board member and active participant by naming her the grand marshal of their 2008 Fourth of July Parade.
In the end, it’s always about people for Niepert. Patrons naturally gravitate to her warm, nurturing personality. Niepert walks through the stacks greeting patrons by name, demonstrating genuine interest and concern.
Noted Shaw, “Jan has always had an excellent relationship with the patrons who use Westland (Area Library). Her philosophy has been to put them first and she has deep roots in the community.”
Niepert also, according to librarian Mary Allen, values her staff.
“I have worked with Jan at the Westland Area Library for over 11 years,” she said. “She has taught me everything she knows about librarianship and she was an inspiration to me. She is a great supporter of the Westland Area and a mentor and leader to her staff.”
Niepert, who’s earned some time off after a lifetime of public service, recently announced her retirement. Her last day overseeing the Westland Area Library will be May 31.
Niepert looked uncertain when asked what life will hold outside of her work at the library. But she quickly brightened as she thought about her husband, Bob, their grown daughters, Jennifer and Erica, and their four grandchildren.
“I think that I’ll sleep late and have more relaxed time with my family,” she said. “Of course, Bob likes to travel and I’ll always be active in the community.”
Niepert grew quiet when asked about her legacy. “I know that this library will continue to be a center for learning and a place where everyone feels welcome and benefits from the materials,” she said.