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News & Stories: 2008-09

Bruursema honored for library workMay 29, 2009

For the past 16 years Shirley Bruursema has run the dining room for faculty and staff at Calvin College, turning it from a place that served perhaps 40 people a day into a bustling hub that now sees 100 college employees, campus guests and others daily coming through the doors.

Shirley BruursemaBruursema has done so with a keen appreciation for discipline, respect and hard work, qualities those with whom she works appreciate.

"She has been the right person for the job,” said Henry De Vries, vice president for administration, finance and information services at Calvin College. “She gets things done.”

Recipient of national library award

Her leadership qualities also are a big reason why this month Bruursema, a longtime trustee of the Lakeland Library Cooperative, was named the 2009 recipient of the Trustee Citation by the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Founations (ALTAFF), a national organization that is a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

The award was established in 1941 to recognize public library trustees for distinguished service to library development and, “honors the best contributions and efforts of the estimated 60,000 American citizens who serve on library boards.”

In nominating Bruursema for the award, Martha Smart, Kent District Library director, wrote: “Ms. Bruursema is a person with strong ideals who lives out those ideals by giving selflessly of her time and expertise to promote literacy and learning through public library development. She is truly the embodiment of what it means to be an outstanding library trustee.”

Those words, and the award, said Bruursema are a little overwhelming.

"I've put a lot of time and effort over the years into building resources for libraries in the area,” she said. “I did it because I believe in libraries. It wasn't about any kind of recognition. But to get this award meant a lot. It's the pinnacle for me of the work I have done over the years.”

Rubbing shoulder with profs, politicians

Bruursema will receive her award at the ALA summer conference this July in Chicago. She will be recognized at the opening session, an event that includes some 10,000 conference attendees.

"It's a pretty big deal,” she said of an event whose speakers in prior years have included such notables as Madeleine Albright and Barack Obama. On the other hand rubbing shoulders with Calvin profs by day and politicians by night is not unusual for the gregarious Bruursema.

This year, on Mother's Day weekend, she paid for a trip to Washington, D.C. where she took part in the ALA’s Legislative Days, a program that includes training sessions, briefings on bills in Congress and visits to Capitol Hill as well as to state legislators.

While in D.C., Bruursema paid visits to a variety of Michigan politicians (“Stabenow, Ehlers, Levin, Hoekstra and a few others”) where she had a chance to remind her elected officials of the importance of libraries to the state of Michigan.

"We're singing to the choir when it comes to most of these people,” she said, “but it never hurts to pay them a visit and talk libraries.”

Member of Lakeland board for 16 years

"Talking libraries” is something Bruursema can do for hours thanks to work she has done dating back to the early 1980s: trustee of the Kent County Library System Board, library trustee workshop training leader, Michigan delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries, chair of the Kent District Library board of trustees, president of the Lakeland Library Cooperative Board and more.

But it is Lakeland to which she has the strongest connection. She represents Kent District Library on the Lakeland board, a board she has been part of since 1983. And although Lakeland counts 16 full-time employees it is run by its board and is a vital part of 42 library systems and 82 branches throughout eight west Michigan counties.

Through Lakeland, libraries from Howard City to Holland and Middleville to Muskegon are all connected by computer and all have internet service. Through Lakeland vans daily deliver books from one library in the system to the others at the request of patrons. And state aid that goes directly to Lakeland benefits all of the library systems.

"For a library to get state aid in Michigan they have to belong to a cooperative,” said Bruursema, “so that's a big incentive for libraries to work together. But I think the libraries who are part of Lakeland would say they get much more out of us than just access to state aid. We try to provide a real service to our member libraries, and through them to provide a service to the patrons who use the libraries.”

People make the work worthwhile

It's the people that make it worthwhile for Bruursema, whether that’s as part of her library work or her work at Calvin.

"I'm a people person,” she said, “and I'm an advocate. That’s been true in my library work and it’s true at Calvin. I believe in treating people with respect, no matter what their role. If they sweep floors or if they're the president, they deserve my respect. In turn I expect respect back; that’s a two-way street.”

Indeed her e-mail address,, speaks volumes about her passions and her personality.

The first three letters represent a lifelong love for libraries. The middle three letters are her initials. And the final four are short for Sergeant, her nickname, she admits with a smile, blue eyes twinkling.

To those who have watched her work, either behind the scenes or on the front lines at Calvin and in the library world, the moniker is no surprise.

Said De Vries: “She expects things to be done right. But she also likes people and under her leadership the Staff Dining Room has become a place people enjoy being part of.”

A different kind of social worker

Bruursema said now, as she ponders the next steps God has in mind for her life (“I'll be 73 this summer and I'll celebrate 55 years of marriage, so every once in a while I think about scaling back”) this summer's award also has her thinking back about the path her life has taken.

"I wanted to be a social worker after high school but I got married instead,” she said. Told that perhaps she did become a social worker she tilts her head back and chuckles.

"Maybe,” she said, still smiling. “Maybe I did.”

~by Phil de Haan, communications and marketing


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