Illinois native John Brdecka is the new Executive Director for the Hancock County Library System. He started his new position on Sept. 13.
Brdecka said he grew up in the Chicagoland area as a ward of the state, living in group homes and foster homes throughout his childhood.
At an early age, Brdecka said, he knew he wanted to find a wife, have children, and provide them with the childhood he didn’t have but knew other children were having.
“That’s one thing that gave me the drive, that motivation to succeed in order to be where I am today,” he said. “But I was lucky and fortunate enough to realize that at an early age.”
The group home Maryville Academy, where Brdecka lived for a time, provided anyone who graduated high school and wanted to continue his or her education with a scholarship. He said he also received a different scholarship through the Department of Child and Family Services.
“That motivated me to do well in my schooling,” he said.
Brdecka completed his undergraduate studies in criminal justice at Illinois State. While attending college, he worked as a ticket writer for the Office of Parking and Transportation.
Initially, Brdecka said, he thought he would become a law enforcement officer and started testing for many of the local municipalities.
However, a position at Northwestern University would change his professional course.
He found a job opening for a security coordinator for the libraries at Northwestern. He applied for the position, got it, and worked his way up these past 16 years.
“It’s funny how the world works,” he said. “With change brings opportunity and issues, problems brings opportunity and I was able to take advantage of many of the opportunities that came my way.”
Early on at Northwestern, Brdecka said, the administration liked his personality, liked how was able to build trust, and get people to do what they want to get done, and build teamwork.
Brdecka was promoted to assistant facilities manager and then facilities manager.
“That’s when I realized this organization really cares about me,” he said. “And obviously coming from my childhood, I really didn’t have much of that. I was like ‘what else can I do?’’’
So Brdecka decided to pursue his masters in library information science from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. He completed his master’s degree in 2015.
From there, he became a faculty librarian and head of a work group at Northwestern to his last title at Northwestern being Interim Associate University Librarian for Resource Delivery and Management.
“The one thing that I valued, when you work, you always have to make sure that your personal values are trying to align with your professional values,” he said.
During his tenure at Northwestern, Brdecka said, he met his wife, Baton Rouge-native Brittni during a visit to Biloxi.
The pair continued a long-distance relationship until she moved to Chicago, he said.
“And I told her, if the timing’s right and I find something, I’d be more than happy to move to the south to be by your family because obviously I didn’t have much family in the Chicagoland area and she has a big family in Baton Rouge and Florida,” he said.
The couple have four children, Presli, Brody, Brandon, and Berkli.
Brdecka said that working at Northwestern was “great” and it provided him with stability in his life.
“Prior to working there, I was in 14 different schools before I turned 13,” he said. “It was hard to leave Northwestern because of the growth and development and everything it provided me to get to the point that I am here today. It was a sad time, but something that needed to happen in order for me to continually grow, both personally and professionally.”
With having elementary-aged children, Brdecka said he wanted to be more involved with their lives — which prior to the pandemic — he said he wasn’t.
When the opportunity to apply for HCLS’s executive director came, Brdecka said, the “location couldn’t be more perfect for my life.”
“It was the community atmosphere, the family-oriented feeling that drew me in and allows me to more align my personal values with my professional values with being part of the community and more of a family man having kids and being more involved in their lives instead of the hustle and bustle of big city, living working 60 to 70 hours a week.”
Brdecka said he is excited to be in Hancock County and learn more about the community.
“I’m excited to continue to provide programming and services tailored to the needs of the community and really integrating the library into the county more, really making it part of the fabric of the community, woven in there,” he said. “I think, with my experience and everything that I’ve done, I’ve learned and I’ve been through my own personal childhood and everything, I think I can really contribute to the great work of Hancock County.”
Brdecka said that one of his main goals for HCLS is ensuring the creation of a system that gets children into the libraries with library cards in hand.
“Once they hit a certain age, like first or second grade, get them in our libraries with a library card over time,” he said. “So the next year, the same thing with new first-or second-graders that come in, get them a library card and so on and so on. Then as time goes, we’re able to interact and bring programming and really develop a great relationship with all the school systems in Hancock County so that we create a culture of library users for lifelong learning.”
Brdecka said he plans to offer programs for children in all grades, programs that “grow with them.”
“They’ll know a library is something they can utilize in their community, no matter where they go into the future,” he said. “So that we do develop lifelong learning.”
Brdecka said his ultimate goal is assessment.
“My first plan is to figure out where we are right now in terms of school age kids knowing about our services and whether or not they utilize the libraries and figuring out why and that’s our baseline,” he said. “Then we can start with this more systematic outreach. Then we can go back and have the same assessment done to make sure that what we are doing is actually working and getting more people in and creating more of a long-lasting relationship with the community.”
His first short-term priority is getting to know the culture, the organization, meeting with every staff member to hear their thoughts and values, and going out into the community to create relationships.
Brdecka said he is also looking forward to working with the Library Board of Trustees and the Library Foundation Board to complete a new strategic plan — inclusive to all — for the libraries, which includes engaging the community to understand its needs and assessments.