City names St. James librarian as next Library Director

Mark Blando (Submitted photo)

By: William Morris
July 21, 2017

OWATONNA — The city has named the next director of the Owatonna Public Library.

Mark Blando, currently the library director Watonwan County, was the city’s choice out of three finalists, City Administrator Kris Busse said.

“We think that he has the necessary experience, and in different sized libraries, in different areas of the country, that will help us meet our vision of being an active, vibrant library now and into the future,” she said.

Blando — who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in library and information science, has previously worked at libraries in South Dakota, Iowa and Bayport, Minn. — has held the Watonwan position since November 2016. He said Owatonna has been on his radar since even before the job search began earlier this summer.

“I love my position, love my staff here, but … I had previously stopped in Owatonna on the way back from another library conference, stopped at the library and [we] just were in awe,” he said. “We kind of put it in the back of our mind, this would be a great place to raise a family, but when this position came up, it was one of those opportunities that was just too good to miss.”

Blando, 44, will be moving to town from St. James with his wife, Lydia, and children Harper, 10, and Joseph, 7. He said he’s looking forward at making Owatonna home.

“I’m really excited about getting to be part of the community, getting ingrained in the schools and whatever organizations I feel like I can make a difference in, settling down and setting roots and making Owatonna our home,” he said.

The library’s top spot has been filled on an interim basis by Community Development Director Troy Klecker since longtime director Mary Kay Feltes retired in October. The city held off on advertising the position until April to allow time for the library board to complete a new strategic plan, which then informed the city in its search for candidates.

Busse said that strategic plan will help the new director define the direction of the library, at least while getting started.

“I think we’re anxious to get his input as well as to how we can position our library for the future,” she said. “He’s really a library champion, and I think will continue the good work our previous directors had done in our library. It’s such a crucial role in the community that we’re excited about the experience and the passion he brings for libraries.”

Blando said he grew more excited the more he learned while researching the position.

“On a superficial level, you see the library and the building and it’s just a very impressive structure, a beautiful library,” he said. “Once I started investigating, what does the library do, how is it involved in the community programing-wise, how is it supported, everything was checked off.”

He also noted the active Owatonna Library Foundation and wide array of programming for all languages as factors he found enticing. And while he’s looking forward to putting his own stamp on the library, that first starts with learning and listening, he said.

“I really have to get my hands dirty with what’s going on at the library, and that all starts with talking to staff, just to get their impression of the library, where they are, then talk to Troy and Kris and the council and see, where does the library sit in the community, where are we in the bigger picture,” he said. “There’s some staff that have been there a long time and know much better than I do the position of the library, so I look forward to picking their brains.”

The starting salary for the position is $85,384. Blando’s first day on the job will be Aug. 21, and he says he can’t wait to hit the ground running.

“I’m just so looking forward to starting the next chapter of my career in Owatonna and look to make a great library even better,” he said.

William Morris got his start in the newspaper trade as a recurring editorial intern in Wisconsin and has been writing about business, government and crime at the Owatonna People’s Press since 2015. He now splits his time working with the newspaper and as Associate Editor for Forge.

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