Heights’ new library director a team player:Blazek coached volleyball before hearing the call of library stacks

 

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Palos Heights Public Library Director Jesse Blazek is no stranger to books, libraries, research — or the volleyball court.

At one point in his wide and varied academic and professional career, Blazek, who holds two master’s degrees, was the assistant coach of the women’s volleyball team at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., an NCAA Division I school.

He had played on the men’s volleyball team at Eckerd College, a liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he graduated with the highest honors. His team won the NIRSA national championship in 2000.

Blazek took up his new duties as Palos Heights’ new library director on July 27. The high quality of the library staff is what struck him most about his new post in Palos Heights, he said, after completing his first week in Elaine Savage’s old office at the library’s helm. “The staff is truly phenomenal,” Blazek enthused. “They work great together as a team, and individually, as well, are extremely competent.”

The Palos Heights Public Library Board of Trustees announced Blazek’s hiring early in July. The board hired him as library director at a starting salary of $70,000. He succeeds former longtime administrative librarian Elaine Savage, who retired, along with that title, last spring.

A three-month search conducted by the library board culminated in Blazek’s selection from a field of 14 applicants for the position of library director, library Board President Susan Snow said. In the interim, the late Mary Johnson, head of public services, and library Business Manager Terry Fleckenstein served as the library’s co-directors.

Blazek comes to Palos Heights from the Stickney-Forest View Public Library, where he was assistant director. He began as a part-time circulation clerk and was promoted to head of the Circulation Department. He spent the past few years serving as assistant director under the mentorship of the library’s director, Heather Shlah.

A resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, Blazek, 36, and his wife Anne, an attorney, have a 1-year-old daughter named Penny.

Blazek’s first library job was at the Glenview Public Library after he switched careers from coaching volleyball to pursue a master’s degree in library science, his second one. It was a tough commute from Beverly to the North Shore community.

           Coming to the library with a broad base of experience in library administration and an enthusiasm for working with staff and community, Blazek is happy to take on the new role.

            “I applied for the position of library director at the Palos Heights Library for a number of reasons,” Blazek said. “It’s a relatively small library, and I like working in a library where I can really get to know staff and patrons and where I know that my work can really have an impact. I knew a few Palos Heights residents who told me a lot about the city and the pervasiveness of the sense of community, and it sounded like an amazing opportunity.”

He does not come into this position with a mandate to make significant changes, nor does he have specific changes already in mind because he sees Palos Heights as a library community that is ready to push the boundaries of what people have come to expect as good librarianship.

“I want the Palos Heights Public Library to be on the cutting edge of what has come to be expected of a 21st century library and to continuously surprise and delight our patrons both with the quality of our traditional services and with innovations that will redefine what a library can be for its community,” he said.

Blazek was born in England. His father was an American nondenominational Protestant minister serving there at the time. His parents brought him to the U.S. when he was 2 ½. He grew up “between West Texas and Central Illinois [Springfield],” the family moving when his father pastured different churches.

As an undergraduate, Blazek graduated summa cum laude with a major in philosophy and minors in chemistry and classical studies from Eckerd College. His first master’s degree was in philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago. He said he was on the doctorate track, but “ looking for a way out of academic career.” “Professors have a tough job,” he said of the travails of a career in academe.

He earned his master’s degree of library and information science from San Jose State University in California.

Palos Heights residents and library patrons are invited to welcome the new library director at an open house planned for Sunday, Sept. 13, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the library, 12501 S. 71st Ave.

Blazek met with Mayor Bob Straz, another city and library officials in the mayor’s office on Wednesday last week, his third day on the job in Palos Heights.

Looking ahead, Blazek said: “I’ve just completed my first week on the job, and I couldn’t be happier. The library’s staff is so warm and welcoming and great at what they do. The staff is a truly wonderful, idealistic, and committed group of people. They have such varied personalities and experiences while maintaining an amazingly strong sense of camaraderie, and that makes them an incredibly fun and interesting group. They’re so committed to the community and the library’s mission. Their energy is contagious, and I knew from the start that this would be a wonderful team to be a part of.”

 

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