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Women's History Month- An Interview with KPL Library Director Barb Brattin

Our final Women’s History Month blog post is about the current director of the Kenosha Public Library, Barb Brattin, who has been Library Director of KPL since 2014. Barb sat down with Simmons Library team member, Phillip Kuszel, and graciously answered questions about her life, her career, and her favorite place in Kenosha (hint: It’s Lake Michigan).

Barb Brattin’s journey into librarianship wasn’t as straight of a shot as one would expect. Raised in Ohio, she would frequent her hometown public library as a child and lose herself in the stacks as she dove right into reading whatever caught her eye. However, she planned to become a physician with her sister and enjoyed learning science in college. Barb’s life changed after taking a required history course for her program where she “fell madly in love” with history and how “the stories made sense of the world and how things fit together”, but she still wasn’t quite sure what she could do with the degree as far as a career. Luckily, a capstone project which had her working with archival materials in a muggy basement reaffirmed her choice as she felt she was in heaven while working there. As a result of discovering her true passion, and coming from a family which expected her to further her education, Barb decided to pursue a Masters degree in Library and Information Science. She attended Kent State University, earned her degree within a year, and has “never looked back.”

What was your first library job? 

Barb: Right out of library school I got a job just north of Cincinnati and it was a reference librarian position at the Lane Public Library. It was a county library and that was in the days before the Internet. So, I hit the ground running… the phone just rang off the hook. We were the county law library, as well as the county library, so we really needed to answer everything out of the book… That was the best possible training ground I can think of for any reference librarian. You just needed to know where to find the answer to everything.

Looking back, is there any advice you’d give yourself as a first-year librarian?

Barb: The Reference Interview, which we talk about a lot in the professional library world, is super important. How to “dance” with the customer, people that don’t know what they are really looking for. Get very good at that… have the skills to engage in conversation to figure out, “What do they really want to know?” Sometimes that can be very different than their first question… Now you can do keyword searches, but when I first started there was no such thing as a keyword. You had to listen and you had to educate yourself.  I would read up on world events so I would know how to spell world leaders’ last names. You had to have the spelling correct or you wouldn’t find it in the index. In those days, the publisher would vet the information so if it was printed, the source was checked. The struggle now is, is the quick answer you found online authoritative? 

Was there ever a time that your work made you feel hopeful?

Barb: Oh sure, there are many times. One I’ll never forget. In Illinois working in the Chicago suburbs, a young woman came in with her friend. The woman was obviously pretty shaken and she wasn’t going to ask any questions… but her friend spoke for her and said that she had heard on the world wide web that you could see a list of who was a sex offender. She [the friend] didn’t tell me much more than that but we went to the county website where there was a list of who had been convicted, where they lived, and their pictures. The young woman just broke down and cried. She had suspected that her boyfriend was molesting her children and there was proof right on the screen. I’ll never forget that, thinking that she would never have known whether that was true or not without that power of information and how that clearly changed her life. She wouldn’t be able to figure that out without our guidance. We don’t create the information, but we can get you to what you need to know and that’s so, so powerful.

Who’s the most influential person in your life?

Barb: I never have to think twice about this question. My parents were German immigrants and they came to the United States after World War II to live here, so I wasn’t exposed to my Grandparents until I was 8. That was the first time I met my Grandfather. We traveled to Germany and we spent the entire summer there and that was the most impactful period of my life. There was a language barrier, so to prepare he sat in the first grade classes and learned some English… I don’t know if you’ve ever met people like this in your life, I have, clearly, with foreign relatives, but it’s like there is no language barrier. You understand each other perfectly from the very beginning. It’s a feeling between you that you “get” each other. He was an extraordinarily strong man and obviously he survived two World Wars on his own land and had to reinvent himself after each one because everything was destroyed. So, whenever I face my great challenges, which you can’t compare to his great challenges, I just picture those steel blue eyes and I remember where I come from. He’s always been a great strength in my life.

What would you like your legacy to be as Director of Kenosha Public Library?

Barb: The legacy that I would want is that I left people confident. This library has always been full of potential, but there was a lack of confidence when I walked in seven years ago. I hope that my legacy is that I wasn’t afraid to dream of big things for Kenosha Public Library and that will stay long after I’m gone. Winning the Wisconsin Library of the Year Award is big and we are a Finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service medal and that is something you work for all of your life. That is like winning the gold medal at the Olympics… I want to walk away when I retire and have people believe that they are that quality and that they always can be and that they are just fantastic at what they do.


Women's History Month- Ginnie Cooper: KPL's Fifth Library Director and the Look of KPL

March is Women's History Month! Every Monday we will be posting information about the women who made Kenosha Public Library the important community resource it continues to be today.

Ginnie Cooper, Library Director 1977-1981

Born and raised in Worthington, Minnesota, Ginnie Cooper is the daughter of Lawrence “Coop” and Ione Cooper. Ginnie graduated from Worthington High School in 1963 and attended a local Junior College, later earning her Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Minnesota. Cooper worked in many different places throughout her career, starting out at the Washington County Library just outside the Twin Cities.

In 1977, Ginnie Cooper became the 5th Library Director of the Gilbert M. Simmons Library. It was also in this year that the library system officially adopted the name Kenosha Public Library. With a strong interest in library architecture and renovation, Ginnie oversaw the building of the Southwest Branch, which opened to the public on January 16th, 1981. She facilitated remodeling of the Gilbert M. Simmons Library in 1981, which was also her last year at KPL.

Ms. Cooper went on to work for the Alameda County Library in Fremont, California, the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, and the Brooklyn, NY Public Library. Ginnie ultimately accepted a position as the Chief Librarian and Executive Director of the District of Columbia Public Library (2006-2013). As Director of the D.C. Public library, she built on her experience with library facility work and oversaw the renovations of 17 out of 25 libraries within her seven years of assuming leadership.

Ginnie Cooper has received multiple awards from the American Institute of Architects, including the 2013 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture. Although she retired in 2013, her legacy in the library profession continues to be felt throughout the United States. As her LinkedIn profile states, Ginnie is a “Librarian for Life.”


Photographs courtesy of Kenosha Public Library Historical Archive

Cooper, Ginnie (n.d.). LinkedIn. Ginnie-Cooper-876b0472. Accessed 22 Mar. 2021.

Hesse, Monica. “D.C. Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper Announces Retirement.” The Washington Post, 29 May 2013. Accessed 22 Mar. 2021. 

Rivers, Beth. “Worthington Native Recognized for DC Library Work.” The Globe, May 5th, 2013. Accessed March 22nd, 2021.

Women's History Month- KPL's First Librarian Superstar

Cora M. Frantz (1881-1958)

Born October 5th, 1881 in Kenosha, Cora Frantz was the daughter of Captain and Mrs. Charles F. Frantz. Educated in local Kenosha schools, as well as the University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago, Cora earned her 1st grade certificate in Library Work. Cora was the second librarian hired to work at the Gilbert M. Simmons Library. She was promoted to Acting Librarian in 1911 and served as the Head Librarian between 1912-1946.

Highly dedicated to public service, her work in the library resulted in Kenosha residents becoming increasingly book-minded during her years of service. Miss Frantz established six branch libraries and several book stations in the city. The first branch library on Kenosha’s west side was opened in 1912/13, roughly two years after Cora was made Head Librarian. In 1925, a new West Branch Library building was built that housed 6,000 books in the location now known as Uptown Library (2419 63rd St). Additional library locations included a Reading Room at Bain School Social Center in 1916, followed soon by Library Stations in Mckinley, Washington, and Lincoln Middle Schools. In 1926, Kenosha was awarded first place in the Wisconsin Better Cities contest, partially due to Frantz’ hard work.

Cora was dedicated to early learning and literacy and was responsible for the institution of pre-school story hours at the Simmons Library. In 1929, she spearheaded the establishment of the Boys’ and Girls’ library on 8th Avenue, the only separate library building for children in the state. Cora was also very active in professional organizations and served as a member of the American Library Association (ALA), she was a member and President of the Beta Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma society for women educators, and served as a member of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA), of which she was President in 1932.

When Cora Frantz retired in 1946, Kenosha had four branch libraries; three in schools and the West Branch building (now Uptown Library). After she retired, Cora continued to be active in the community. She acted as President of the Kenosha Women’s Club from 1950-1952, President of the Past Presidents’ Group of the Business and Professional Women Association (BPW), a member of the Schuberts Club, and a member of the Kenosha Historical Society, to name a few. Cora Frantz died in the Kenosha Hospital on June 16th, 1958.

Interesting  KPLNews: On January 24th, 1946, Cora Frantz reported to the Kenosha Evening News that on January 23rd, Simmons Library had the highest number of checkouts to date at 1,362 items. 74 years later on the same date, KPL circulated 2,295 items between all four branches and the bookmobile.


Photographs courtesy of Kenosha Public Library Historical Archive

Wisconsin Library Bulletin. United States, Division of Library Services, Department of Public Instruction, 1957.

“Cora Frantz, ill short time, Dies.” Kenosha Evening News. Vol LXIV-No. 202, June 17th, 1958, pg. 1 and 7. 


Women's History Month- The First KPL Librarian

March is Women's History Month! Every Monday we will be posting information about the women who made Kenosha Public Library the important community resource it continues to be today.

Clara Parkinson Barnes (1854-1932)

Born on March 9th, 1854 in Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin to Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Parkinson, Clara Parkinson was educated in the schools of Oshkosh, graduating in 1873. Clara married an attorney, Walter R. Barnes, on November 6th, 1875, and had a son, Chester D. Barnes, who later became a leading attorney in Kenosha. She was widowed on December 7th, 1882 and moved to Kenosha where she resided with her sister Nellie P. Cavanagh and her husband, James Cavanagh. It was then that she began her work as the city’s first Librarian in 1896.

Clara fashioned the policy of the library in Kenosha and placed the institution on a firm foundation, encouraging its use by the people of the community. She pushed for public access to the books and a children’s room, which was not the norm at the time. Ms. Barnes ended her tenure as librarian in 1906. As a result of her work, the Woman’s Club room, formerly located in the basement of Simmons Library, was transformed into a Children’s room in 1907. 

Clara was active in the Kenosha community and was a member of the St. Matthew's Episcopal church where she had been a leader in its work. Clara Parkinson Barnes passed away when she was 78, on March 14th, 1932 and is buried at the Green Ridge Cemetery in Kenosha.



Photograph courtesy of Kenosha Public Library Historical Archive

JH Beers & Co. Commemorative Biographical Record of Prominent and Representative Men of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin: Containing Biographical Sketches of Business and Professional Men and of Many of the Early Settled Families. No. 26. JH Beers & Company, 1906.

“Mrs. Barnes, First Library Leader, Dies.” Kenosha Evening News, 15 Mar. 1932.

Poyner, Heather Larson. “We Love Our Libraries: Curious Reader Uncovers History, Eyes Innovations.” Kenosha News, 28 June 2017,


Living History Exhibit at Simmons Library on Friday, October 30

2020 is the centennial celebration of the United States Constitution recognizing voting as a right for women. Join the staff at Simmons Library on Friday, October 30th as they dress in Turn-of-the-Century clothing for a Living History Exhibit.

What is a Living History Exhibit?


A Living History Exhibit is a live, interactive event that recreates historical settings to simulate a past time period. The staff of Simmons Library is offering a glimpse into the early 1900s, right before the 19th Amendment was ratified, by dressing in Turn-of-the-Century clothing to honor the brave and bold suffragettes of the time. We also have Simmons Historians on hand to answer questions about the library and give impromptu “walks about the room” to highlight areas in the building.


How can I learn more?

Feel free to ask our Simmons Historian a question and ask for a special edition Simmons History pamphlet, as well. The pamphlet has an insert with a list of online resources. We also have displays of library items available to check-out.

Mingling Through the Decades- 1950s-60s

Join KPL as we explore how people would meet and greet in different eras. Immerse yourself in history and learn and practice techniques from each time period that you can use for upcoming holiday get-togethers. Each event will have opportunities for photos, so dressing for the theme is welcome and encouraged! View ideas for clothing by clicking here and choosing the time period.

Ages 14 and up.  Registration is limited and required. Register online by clicking on the title of the event or call 262-564-6130.

1950s-1960s- Table settings, “Mock”tails, and Weird Foods in Jello Molds. Photo op with a 1950s Chevy pickup (weather permitting).
Saturday, November 9
1:00 - 3:00 PM
Southwest Library

Workshop for Job Seekers

Looking for a job or thinking of changing careers? Join KPL and the Kenosha Job Center to learn about all of the resources available to you for employment success. Attendees will get a list of who is hiring in the area, templates to help write resumes and cover letters, and prep questions and tips for favorable interviews. Bring your current resume for a mini-review session at the end of class.

Saturday, September 21st at 1:30-3:30pm

Southwest Library

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