On June 1, the Waterloo Public Library (WPL) announced the appointment of Kelly Kipfer as the library’s new CEO starting on Aug. 29. Kipfer joined the library in 2013 as their Manager Community Engagement and Children’s Services.
Before joining the library, Kipfer earned her Master’s degree in Immigration and Settlement Studies and worked in settlement support, helping newcomers to Canada. In her current role at the library, Kipfer oversees programming for the library’s four branches, including the new Eastside Branch. Kipfer said her library career journey represents how she sees public libraries continuing to evolve to support their communities.
“My current role involves looking after all the programming for the whole system and the relationships that we have in the community. That looks at how we make our spaces accessible and welcoming for children and families and for seniors and newcomers. It’s a lot of different relationship pieces, and I think those are all a good fit towards being CEO,” Kipfer said.
Helping newcomers to Canada navigate their new home is an area in which Kipfer sees libraries continuing to play a significant role. In addition to being a place to find help and direction for newcomers, the WPL has a partnership with the KW Multicultural Centre, which offers on-site settlement services.
During the pandemic, Kipfer and the WPL team continued to find ways to offer programming, support, and other services to the community. In the first summer without pandemic-related public health measures, Kipfer sees a new mission for the library to help people reconnect and rebuild relationships.
“Libraries exist to be as barrier -free as possible. Libraries are easy to find, they’re free, and they’re accessible. We also have access to free resources like digital English learning and English conversation circles. We’re sort of a no -wrong -door access point to the community, and we can provide people with their next steps,” Kipfer said.
“We’re asking, what are our public spaces, what do we expect from our public institutions, how do we want to use them? Normal wasn’t great for everybody before, so what role can public institutions play in terms of building back a better community?,” Kipfer said.
The WPL is not alone in this work to build back better. As one of the four library systems supporting residents across Waterloo Region, Kipfer said that the library is always looking for ways to work with its counterparts in Kitchener, Cambridge and the Regional Library.
The four library systems can deliver to the localized needs of their respective municipalities while finding ways to work together to serve residents across the region.
“We have great working relationships with the other three systems in the region. We are able to come at challenges together that libraries can be involved in solving,” Kipfer said.
Kipfer’s tenure as the Waterloo Public Library’s CEO will start during an economic downturn and a few weeks before the October municipal elections. In Waterloo, voters will essentially be electing a new council, as many of the current councilors and Mayor Dave Jaworski have announced they will not be seeking new terms.
The change in council and economic challenges can potentially affect the library’s budget. It is a challenge that Kipfer said can be overcome by marketing the library and its services to everyone in the community. She said that people who use the library today understand the modern library experience and the benefits it offers for everyone in the community, from support for newcomers to help with early literacy skills.
“There are people that use the library—and they’re believers. They get it. But if you haven’t been in a library for a very long time, your perception of a quiet, musty place where you are shushed hasn’t changed. We have a marketing job to get to the nonbelievers, because I think once people come in, they then start to see themselves and other people that they know reflected in the decisions that are made about this community resource,” Kipfer said.
“They see how the library has kept pace with what our community needs, how it responds to what our community needs, and how it is a very valuable resource,” she said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.