It wasn't until she was out of college that Jillian Aschliman realized what career path she wanted to follow.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in English from Augustana College in 2007, Aschliman was working at a book publishing company in Naperville, Ill., but felt like something was missing.
Originally from St. Charles, Ill., Aschliman returned to Augustana to work as a hall director, and heard one of her colleagues was planning to go to library school.
"A light bulb went off, like, that's a thing. You can do that," said Aschliman, who received her master's degree in library and information sciences at University of Wisconsin-Madison. "I loved working with publishing because I was really interested in promoting books and literacy and then working at Augustana in a residence hall, what I loved about that job was connecting students to organizations or the right departments. So the library really melded those two loves into one."
That love has led Aschliman to Bettendorf, where she has taken over as director of the Bettendorf Public Library. She succeeds Sue Sharp, who resigned on April 1. Aschliman comes to Bettendorf after serving as the DeWitt Library director since 2016. She knows the area well, having also served as library director for the LeClaire Library director from 2012-16.
"I've always seen the Bettendorf Library as, it really is a leader, even just regionally with other libraries, at least, that's how I always viewed it," Aschliman said. "To have an opportunity to be that person, to lead that library I've admired for so long, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
While in DeWitt, Aschliman helped secure a $5.7 million renovation and expansion for the library, a project she oversaw from start to finish.
"Having that front line knowledge of how libraries operate, it really helps me as an administrator think about how my decisions are going to trickle down to the front lines and how we can impact our community in the best way possible. It was really a great way to learn everything there is to learn about libraries," Aschliman said. "That experience really taught me that I am capable of overseeing a large scale project as well as those small day-to-day activities."
The Bettendorf Library isn't in dire need of an upgrade. The building was completed in 1997, and recently underwent a $1.5 million renovation project that included the addition of a Creation Studio on the ground floor as well as a second Creation Studio in the second floor Norm Kelison Room, a grand opening planned once COVID-19 allows it to happen safely.
The second space features 3D printers, a laser engraving station, a poster printer, video equipment and more, allowing the library to expand its programs and offer space to the public to work on their own projects.
However, despite these new additions, there's always work to be done, and Aschliman said the library has hired a consultant in May to study how the facility is using its space and make recommendations for any changes.
Aschliman recognizes the challenge she is undertaking. Though library use is still popular — a 2019 Gallup poll showed going to a library as the most popular activity among adults, outpacing attending a movie theater by nearly twice as many visits per year — the pandemic has made things difficult for public spaces, including libraries.
Her goal is to continue making the library as valuable a community resource as possible as things start opening back up.
"We've never been a warehouse of books, we've always been a center of activity but we're always looking for more ways to learn through experience," Aschliman said.
"My vision, especially after going through the pandemic, is to find ways where we can maximize flexibility and improve things like our technology infrastructure. There's such an emphasis this last year on being able to have hybrid meetings or being able to help students who are going to school online and making sure we're able to support all of those activities.
"We're doing that now, but there are areas where we can maybe improve, maximize or extend some of those experiences."