February 17, 2018

Kirsten Thompson | Movers & Shakers 2004

 Technology to the People


Considering Kirsten Thompson’s career in the Milwaukee Public Library (MPL), it’s no surprise that as an undergraduate she studied both computer programming and psychology. The combination is the driving force behind her multiple projects at MPL, which have all focused on bringing technology to users. ‘Having the computers is great, but you need to make them useful to people,’ she says.

To do that, Thompson believes in building from the ground up. One of her first projects wired the library’s bookmobile for online service. Making the truck Internet ready involved completely gutting its interior. ‘We literally ripped it down to the studs,’ she says. The reconfiguring of the vehicle also called for the installation of a satellite dish on its roof. ‘When it’s up, it’s pretty spacey looking.’ The new bookmobile scored a hit with the public, and service is growing every month.

Thompson’s current project is more stationary: a technology center in her branch facility. Although it is one of MPL’s smaller branches, since adding the new computers usage has skyrocketed. Thanks to a Community Development Block Grant, the library has been able to double the number of computer terminals from 23 to 46 in less than a year. The drawback, however, is that the terminals are spread throughout the building instead of in a single space. The library was built in the late 1980s when ‘no one was thinking about all the different tech requirements. We really had to cobble things together,’ Thompson says. She and her staff are working on developing a centralized space for technology. So far they’ve cleared an area, ‘but everything needs to be rewired.’

‘Technology has to be used to help people, not confuse them,’ says Thompson in explaining what motivates her career. ‘I really enjoy projects that bring technology to people on their level, so that they can use it the way they want to and not be frustrated by it.’

What’s next? Thompson says that after completing the computer center she’s ‘looking forward to running the library without ripping things apart for at least a year. Then I’ll think of something new,’ she laughs.




Current Position: Librarian-in-Charge, Center Street Branch, Milwaukee Public Library
Degree: University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1999
Previously: As a programmer for the University of Wisconsin she wrote software to allow students to register online