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Jenni Gaisbauer and Karen Beach of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation share upcoming event

Updated: Jan 12, 2019

Jenni Gaisbauer, Executive Director of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation, and Karen Beach, Deputy Director, also with the Library Foundation, work tirelessly to ensure our public library system is the pillar of the community that Andrew Carnegie envisioned. I enjoyed a recent chat with them both.

Thanks for joining me. I’ll start with the first question I ask everyone: What brought you to Charlotte?

Jenni: I came for a job with the Red Cross.

Karen: I was born here.

What made you stay?

Karen: I wasn’t planning to stay. I thought I’d move to Washington, DC. But as happens in life… I met a boy. I needed to do an internship to finish up my graduate degree and the boy I met was moving to Charlotte. I figured I could do my internship here and then we’d see where life took us. We ended up staying and birthed another Charlottean.

Jenni: I stayed because my parents were nearby and it was nice to be close to them. I’ve had some great opportunities here and it’s been fun to watch the city grow.

Karen: Yes…when I began working downtown there was nothing here. I’d leave work at 5 p.m. and the streets were empty. Now people are everywhere all the time.

So, what do y’all do now?

Both: We work for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation. We raise awareness and private funding for our Library system. We are fortunate that our Library receives about 90% of its operating budget from Mecklenburg County, but there is still a gap between public funding and what is needed to create and sustain a truly great library system. The extra money allows us to be more nimble and to try more innovative initiatives. We get to envision and fund what our Library could do.

Why choose to work for the Library Foundation?

Karen: I’ve been with our Library system for 24 years. I joined the Library because my boss in a different organization suggested that I look at a specific job opening. It was a wonderful opportunity. I grew up in CLT and used the Main and Independence library locations a lot. When she mentioned the job, I came over to Main Library and walked around and thought I like this place. I like the mission. I think I could raise money for that mission. I like education and access to things.

Even though I was a Library user, I didn’t know the full scope of what the Library did and still does. Over the years, our Library has only become more innovative and engaged in more and more interesting initiatives. The mission has kept me here. Our Library is always evolving. It’s the one organization in this community that touches all people. For some it’s a social service. For some, it’s a link to arts and culture. For others, it’s education or access to technology. I love being a part of that.

Jenni: I came here because I was excited to build something. I stayed because I love seeing people from all walks of life come through our branches. Every day I see examples of how our Library plays a meaningful part in people’s lives. Libraries are an equalizer – a real example of true democracy. So the mission – to improve lives and build a stronger community - has kept me here too.

Both: We also really love the committed staff at the Library, because they truly care about people. They want to do great work and make a real difference.

What’s the best thing you’ve both done since being here?

The thing we’re most proud of is Verse & Vino. It was one of the first events introduced by the Foundation.

What is Verse & Vino?

It’s the Library Foundation’s annual fundraising event. Verse & Vino brings in 5 New York Times best-selling authors to celebrate with a community of readers the joy and importance of literacy and libraries. And it’s a FUN evening that allows us to raise awareness as well as dollars. Verse & Vino has really elevated the profile of the Library, and it fills a bit of the hole that Novello (a Library literary festival that ended in 2010) left in our community.

Through this fundraiser, we’ve netted more than $1 million dollars for the Library. This year, we’re at a capacity audience.

One of the greatest things that has come out of this event is that we’ve developed great partnerships with publishers, who now ask us to host author events like Emily Giffin’s book launch back in June. We have another great event at the end of November.

Oooohhhhh… What is that event?

President Bill Clinton and James Patterson will be here on November 29 to discuss the book they co-authored, The President Is Missing. We are partnering with Park Road Books for this event, and each ticket comes with a signed copy of The President is Missing. For more information, click here.

What other events and ways to get engaged are coming up?

EpicFest is a FREE family literary festival on November 3 at ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center. Get a full list of activities by here.

Final Draught was started by our Friends Council as a way to connect new audiences with the Library Foundation and with one another. It’s a quarterly, themed panel discussion over books and beer. Our next installment is November 15, and the topic is “Art is Hard: Surviving and Thriving as an Artist in Charlotte.” Learn more here.

What is your favorite book right now?

Karen: Vox, by Christina Dalcher It’s similar to The Handmaid’s Tale. The premise is that women can only speak 100 words a day. How do you use those 100 words to your best good? How do you use your voice as a woman?

Jenni: I just finished Tommy Tomlinson’s new book, The Elephant in the Room. It’s a really brave memoir coming out in January and we’re planning a book event for him.

What’s on the horizon for the Library Foundation?

We are raising private support to compliment the public dollars already committed by Mecklenburg County for the new Main Library. This will be a true public/private partnership. We are slated to start construction in 2021 with anticipated completion in 2023. The new Main Library will remain on Tryon Street, on the location of Charlotte’s original Carnegie Library.

We’ve gotten lots of community input so far and we are looking forward to sharing the final design with the community.

Thank you for spending some time with me today. Now, our readers want to know… What’s your favorite?


Restaurant: Roasting Company

Sports team: Duke Blue Devils

TV show: The Man in the High Castle

Movie: RBG

Book: Pride and Prejudice

Place to work out: Outdoors, walking around Plaza Midwood

App: Airbnb

New thing in CLT: All the murals popping up

Old thing in CLT: The trees


Restaurant: Kindred

Sports team: Carolina Panthers

TV show: Anything on the BBC

Movie: RBG

Book: She’s Come Undone

Place to work out: On the tennis court

App: Instagram

New thing in CLT: Brewery scene

Old thing in CLT: Library / Davidson College


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