After 10 years, Lisa Wilke Pope retires as Elkader Library director

Error message

  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 133 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to get property 'settings' of non-object in _simpleads_adgroup_settings() (line 343 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 157 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in include() (line 24 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/templates/simpleads_ajax_call.tpl.php).

Jan. 21 was Lisa Wilke Pope’s last day as director of the Elkader Public Library. She is retiring after 10 years in the position.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Since she was a little girl, Lisa Wilke Pope loved books and literature, growing up in a home where books were always within reach and being read stories by an older sister. 


She loved that books provided an “escape to another world,” especially in a childhood favorite, “A Wrinkle in Time,” about time travel and a journey through space, and in the “Little House on the Prairie” series, which she bought one by one to eventually collect the entire set. 


Within those books, Pope found characters she identified with, learned life experiences and saw a world that made sense. 


It was a love that had Pope playing library as a kid, making little library cards for books and placing them inside, like a real librarian. By the time she reached junior high, Pope was working in the Central middle school library as a student, continuing to develop that attachment to the printed word and bound pages. Throughout high school, she also witnessed the enthusiasm for reading from teachers, such as the late Paul Johnson and Dorothy Ibel, who had a positive impact on Pope as a student. 


After graduating in 1983, this all led Pope to UNI, first to get an undergraduate degree in English, followed by a graduate degree in library science. Of course, she did it while working in the college library. 


After graduation, Pope chose to work in libraries, utilizing that degree over the other because it just felt like the “perfect fit,” though the leap from English to library sciences is not exactly a difficult one. The two work almost in perfect tandem for any serious book lover. 


It wasn’t long after that Pope got her first job as a library director in Centerville, where she stayed for about six years before moving on to Nashua-Plainfield. She remained there another five years, before being let go due to budget cuts. 


Back on the job hunt, Pope settled in at Clear Lake High School, where she stayed for 13 years. 


While there, she started to miss home and her parents, who were getting older. It compelled her to make monthly visits to spend time with them and cross over the Keystone Bridge, which she admits to being enamored by. The two subjects elicit emotion in her voice, as does talking about Pope’s hometown of Elkader. There is an unbreakable attachment to the bonds of family and where you were born, and deep down, Pope envisioned returning. It would just be a question of when, not if. 


The “if” came in 2013, when Pope was visiting her parents. In the process of reading the local paper, she happened across an ad looking for a new Elkader Library director. She jumped at the opportunity, applying and securing an interview. By January 2014, she returned to Elkader, where she could marvel at the bridge, reconnect with friends and, most of all, spend more time with her aging parents. That almost certainly took some stress off that first year and diminished the “culture shock” of transitioning from Clear Lake back to a smaller community where “everybody knows everybody” and the people are “friendlier.” 


The rest of the stress came from simply learning new routines and the reading habits of the community, as well as overcoming Pope’s “perfectionist” nature that demands everything be done correctly. On this point, she joked she is a “recovering perfectionist.” 


As director, Pope is responsible for the bulk of the organization, creating efficiency within the library, purchasing supplies and books, dealing with mechanical issues as they arise, adapting to  changes in technology, managing social media and, of course, handling the budget. 


Within the list of duties, the most significant change over the previous 10 years has been in the development of the library’s social media presence, which went from almost nothing when Pope first arrived to now being a fully functioning and active Facebook page with daily posts and an updated website. 


Outside the day to day, Pope has, on some level, been involved in other areas and library improvements, including new windows in the children’s book section, getting the leaky roof fixed, bringing in whiteboard tables, repairing handicap access, fixing brickwork on the front sign, purchasing more bookcases and shelves, rearranging the layout and expanding the large print selection, to name just a few. 


Pope also created a procedural manual or “quick reference guide” for new staff members, or for existing staff who simply might need to look something up. It makes operations more efficient and is one thing she is most proud of. 


Pope is also proud of the fact the library never closed when the world was caught in the vice grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. As surrounding libraries closed up, she found a way to remain open and continue serving the community. It was a decision she made because, in her view, the library is “essential to a lot of people.” 


It was a challenge made all the more difficult by the fact her father also passed away in 2020, leaving her to manage the library in the midst of a pandemic while enduring the loss. But because of the move back home, she was able to see him more and spend that time with him, something she was glad she got to do. 


Perhaps the thing Pope is most proud of is advocating for raises in staff pay, especially for part-time employees. During her span as director, there was a fairness gap in terms of wages, so Pope fought for an equality of pay. As a result, staff make twice as much as they did when she started. It was an act of selfless behavior, especially considering she advocated more for the help to get a pay bump than she did for herself. 


Pope has enjoyed the community support over 10 years, as well as the crowds for programs and the compliments she gets from out-of-towners who walk through the library, commenting on its appearance, friendly staff and book selection. She also looks back fondly on the numerous friendships and relationships she’s developed with patrons who come in looking for their own escape into another world. 


Throughout her life, Pope has spent the bulk of her time inside libraries, surrounded by the books she loves, wrapped up in the worlds created by some of her favorite authors like Matthew Quick, Matt Haig and Catherine Ryan Hyde. She couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. 


This year, for the first time since high school, Pope will no longer spend  her days inside a library, at least not as a director, but as a patron. After spending over 30 years working in libraries and 10 years at Elkader, she has decided to retire. Pope’s last official day was Jan. 21. 


Though Pope will be leaving the library, she could never leave her love of books, and will return frequently as a patron and participate in the book clubs. As for stepping down, she just got “tired,” she joked. Behind the laugh is a host of reasons, namely some health issues and a desire to enjoy life and pursue a lengthy list of hobbies ranging from painting, drawing, writing, rock hunting, making jewelry, finishing her dad’s unfinished wood carvings and, of course, spending time with her mom. There is no shortage of retirement plans. 


In the world of books, this might be an epilogue to a story. In this case, however, it’s simply another chapter in Pope’s escape into other worlds, but with similar characters. After all, Elkader is the town where everybody knows everyone.

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)