Laurel Setser Is as Excited as Ever About Her Longtime Avon-Washington Township Library Director Role
Writer / Jamie Hergott
Photographer / Amy Payne
One might imagine that a job at the library simply consists of reading books all day and shushing loud patrons. However, Laurel Setser, who has been the Avon-Washington Township Library director for 30 years now, says that could not be further from the truth.
“There are never two days that are the same,” Setser says. “We laugh when people say they want to work here because you just can’t imagine all the stories we have. We keep saying we need to write some of this down.”
While Setser loves books, she loves organizing information and providing resources to the public just as much.
Her interest in the library started at a very young age.
“I’m a nosy kid from a small town, so this is a great fit for me,” Setser says.
In high school she got a job as a page, shelving books at the Plainfield library, and then got her undergraduate degree at a small liberal arts college in Colorado. She earned her Master of Library Science degree from Indiana University, where she took a class taught by the director of what was Washington Township Library at the time.
This connection led Setser to apply for her first job in Hendricks County. She began her career in 1989 as a reference librarian at Washington Township Library. She was hired as a library director in January of 1993, and served as acting director from September 1992 to January 1993.
“I agonized over whether to apply because I didn’t have a lot of experience, but I was born and raised here,” she says. “I understood the community, the staff and the patrons. No one else from here applied. I was a Hendricks County girl and that’s what sold them on me.”
The past 30 years have been nothing short of amazing, Setser says. The community itself has grown exponentially. In fact, when she began her career, the Washington Township census was 15,000. In 2000 it was 24,000, and close to 57,000 in 2020. Growing and changing has been an essential part of the library as a continuous resource for the community.
One significant way the library has grown is through technology and automation. Setser remembers when the library didn’t open until 10 a.m., and staff had to arrive at 9 a.m. to retrieve books from the book drop. In fact, as the community grew, some staff had to come in on Sundays to empty the drop because there were so many books.
The new automated system includes seven bins. As books are scanned into the drop, they are automatically organized into bins, making shelving much easier. This reduces the amount of mistakes made, and books get placed on the correct shelves.
Another area of change Setser has noticed over the years is the increasing amount of homelessness and mental health issues they deal with at the library. As a free space with Wi-Fi, it can attract those who have no place else to go.
“Typically if they don’t hassle us, we don’t hassle them,” Setser says. “It’s just an issue we’re dealing with a lot more here.“
Indiana has also privatized a lot of child protection supervisory work, so the library is often the location of many supervised visits in child protection cases.
“In all these instances we’re trying to deal with the human element, and the technology element that changes every time you pick up a journal,” Setser says.
Keeping up with changing technology, policies, financial statements and all the details that go along with being the library director can be tedious. Setser loves to take a break and go out on the floor, particularly to interact with kids.
“We’ve watched so many of them grow up,” Setser says. “That’s why COVID was so hard on us. We have Bouncy Babies, Toddlers and Preschool classes. We lost a whole cycle of that.”
Setser isn’t the stereotypical librarian who craves the quiet. As a child she went to a library that was dark with a (as she puts it) “shushy lady at the desk” and books from the 1930s. Setser is determined to make sure her library isn’t that way.
“I love hearing their voices, shrieking with happiness, making a racket,” she says. “I get so excited when they collapse when it’s time to leave. I feel bad for their parents, but I love that they love it here so much.”
One of Setser’s favorite library programs is the Summer Reading program. Kids can log pages and books read online for prizes all summer long. There are many programs for everyone, kids and adults alike.
In fact, the library offers a lot of information that people in the community may not know about, such as digitized artifacts, land deeds and minutes from social organizations. The library can help people access resources so they have what they need to do their taxes. Group and independent study rooms make community projects and group meetings even more accessible.
One of the most challenging aspects of running the library for Setser is the legislation that sometimes governs how her staff can run the library.
“We are not masters of our own destiny,” Setser says. “Tax caps are rough out here but we try and roll with it. We tend not to get too down about things, and do what we can.”
In her free time, Setser is very active at her local church. She also loves to spend time on the acreage she shares with her husband. She works in her flower beds, cooks, and sometimes even chases the occasional cow that figures out how to get through her fence.
“We always seem to have a cow-tastrophe every year on our anniversary,” Setser says, laughing.
The last 30 years have passed quickly for Setser, and the library has seen many changes.
“We have done five building projects in my time here,” she says. “I don’t even remember what it used to look like. We’ve added things to make our job more efficient and cost-effective.”
Setser wants people to know that her library isn’t a stereotypical library. They should come explore all that it has to offer.
“Don’t think of us as a dark place with old books and the shushy lady,” Setser says. “Think of it as a way to get to any resource you need to get to, whether it’s programming, a book, research, etcetera. We can hook you up with all of that. We want to steer you to the best information we possibly can.”