June 18, 2018

Lance Werner | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Change Agents

Lance Werner


Executive Director, Kent District Library, Comstock Park, MI


MLIS, Wayne State University, Detroit, 2004; JD, Michigan State College of Law, East Lansing, 2001


blog.kdl.org; writemichigan.org

Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry

Back from the Brink

In 2011, at Lance Werner’s very first board meeting as the new director of the Kent District Library (KDL), he asked for a half million dollars for ebooks. He had been convinced to do so by KDL’s existing library leadership—especially Melissa DeWild, then collection development manager (a 2014 Mover & Shaker and now with New York’s BookOps), who had long been frustrated with the scant ebook collection in a system of 18 libraries in 27 municipalities and 240,000 patrons.

“Many of my friends and colleagues thought I was crazy to make such a big request as a brand-new director,” Werner admits. But he saw ebooks as a great way to meet a key patron demand: convenience. “The ability to meet people on their own terms is critical to [our] success…. Ebooks [a]re a wonderful literary medium to support [that].”

The board turned Werner down. But at the second meeting, they decided to make a $400,000 investment in ebooks. Since then, KDL’s e-material usage has grown by 1,586 percent. It was the first public library in the state to offer e-magazines, e-movies, and e-comics, and, as of early 2016, streaming video games.

Werner also led efforts to bridge the digital divide, with pop-up libraries, Wi-Fi access in town halls for rural areas lacking a library, and iPads for checkout at all KDL branches. He brought KDL into the nationwide initiatives Libraries Simplified and Readers First and created the Write Michigan Short Story Contest, which awards cash prizes in adult, teen, and kids categories and produces an anthology of winners annually.

Yet it is his success at convincing antitax Tea Party activists to support a library millage campaign that—like his initial $500,000 request to the library board—is evidence of his ability to garner unlikely support for big ideas.

In 2014, in a notoriously tax-averse county, KDL asked taxpayers to approve a 45 percent increase in library millage. If it didn’t pass, says Werner, the library system would have had to close.

Werner was advised to avoid the antitax group. Instead, says Gail Madziar, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, “He looked toward potential millage opponents as friends who had legitimate concerns.”

“Rather than trying to feed them some generic talking points, we brought our finances,” Werner says. “They asked tough questions, and we answered them. [W]e all came away with a greater understanding of each other.”

One member of the group became an active campaigner for the increase, and several Tea Party candidates supported it, too.

“It didn’t turn out like I thought it would,” Werner says. “It was better, and we won! I learned that people are people, and it is a mistake to make assumptions. We managed to find a library champion that was anything but obvious.”

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. A footnote to the meeting with anti tax groups in 2014, what Lance was NOT aware of they had already put the vote NO committee in place and the meeting ( with K.D.L ) was simply to say they met prior to pulling the trigger on the VOTE NO campaign. But it was his OUTRIGHT HONESTY & humbleness where in the end the leaders voted 5-0 to stand with TEAM K.D.L rather then fight.

    I really enjoyed this story on Lance. I read it twice & from the moment I met Lance you could tell he was a very honest and sincere person who is very driven by helping the Kent County Community as director of KDL. He along with the team of KDL employees have taken the entitle K.D.L system to the next level while never loosing sight that their main goal is public service and they are the servants.

  2. Thank you Mike. You really are KDL’s hero in this whole thing. You always believed in KDL and carried the day.

  3. As a former classmate of Lance’s in law school, back when he had a much more creative hairstyle, I have to say you’re doing MSU née DCL proud.

  4. Thank you Dan!