Honored as the 2020 Librarian of the Year by the Illinois Library Association, Peoria Public Library Deputy Director Roberta Koscielski is “a passionate, dedicated champion of her community, her library’s role in it, and the profession at large.” She is the first librarian at Peoria Public Library to receive this honor since the award was created more than 45 years ago.
Born and raised in LaSalle-Peru, Koscielski has forged strong connections with city leaders, area nonprofits and other organizations since moving to Peoria in 1985. A longtime adult literacy tutor and board member for Common Place, she now serves on the board at Neighborhood House. Her tireless volunteer efforts garnered her a Volunteer Service Award and a one-on-one meeting with then-President George W. Bush in 2007, while her work to raise awareness of the opioid crisis has been recognized nationally. She was dubbed “a new first responder” by U.S. News & World Report and named one of Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers in 2018.
Koscielski started Peoria Reads!, our one-city, one-book program, in collaboration with Common Place nearly 20 years ago. This year’s selection, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, speaks directly to racism and police brutality—and was selected even before the current focus on these issues. She played a key role in the city’s “Don’t Shoot” initiative to combat gang violence, and more recently secured funding for an Illinois Humanities series called Peoria Speaks. She lives in the heart of the city with her husband Chandler and their eight cats: Vivi, Fishie, Monty, Tiger, Gracie, Tommy, Charley and Stormy.
- Childhood dream job: A librarian, of course! When I was little, I had several shelves of books in my bedroom. Influenced by visits to the public library, I began putting homemade cards and pockets in them for my parents to “check out.”
- Last novel read: A Good Neighborhood by Anne Therese Fowler. It explores themes of racism, classism, and what it means to be a good neighbor. It’s timely and gripping to the end.
- Which of the five senses do you treasure most? Sight. I am a visual learner and avid reader. I keep notes and make lists to stay organized.
- What do you do when you want to relax? Weather permitting, I work in the garden. Pruning, weeding, digging in the dirt, and planting are relaxing and therapeutic to me.
- What book do you think everyone should read? Everyone should read the 2020 Peoria Reads selection, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Check it out at the library in print, eBook or audiobook—or watch the movie!
- What or who inspires you? Kindness. People who are kind are most impressive to me.
- Favorite treat: I seldom say no to ice cream.
- Favorite vacation spot: A city with an expansive botanical garden. I’ll take photos, make notes of interesting plants to supplement my gardens, and just sit and absorb the fresh air and peaceful setting.
- What’s one thing you’d rather pay somebody to do than do yourself? One of the first things I let my now-husband know, before we even started dating, was that I don’t cook. I can cook, but I prefer not to! Fortunately, he likes to cook.
- What’s your favorite way to unwind after a long day? I often play a game of Scrabble on my phone before I get out of bed in the morning, and again when I go to bed at night. In the morning it helps me wake up for the day and at night it takes away anything unpleasant in my head. PM