The new director of Bishop’s Stortford Library as he arrives in the city after three years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Ben Holden, the new Library Director of Bishop’s Stortford Library, reflects on his young family’s experience of living in America and what he has in store in his new role…

I joined Hertfordshire Libraries in November 2021 and managed Hoddesdon Library for a time before taking on the role of Library Manager here at Bishop’s Stortford.

Prior to our arrival in this beautiful part of the world, my British family and I lived for three years just outside of Milwaukee in Wisconsin, USA.

Library, The Causeway, Bishop’s Stortford. New Library Director Ben Holden. .Pictured: Vikki Lince. (59539839)

We had moved from Bristol, where we lived at the time, to the United States as my wife had been promoted in her finance role by a Wisconsin-based global manufacturer and had been offered a relocation to corporate headquarters.

After taking advantage of a corporate stay offered to us as a family to see if we would like Wisconsin (we did), we moved.

For the first six months, I was the expatriate stay-at-home father of our two children. A typical morning for me involved driving a little girl and a little boy through snowstorms to the nearest cafe for babyccinos, muffins, and picture books.

On a family walk in Kettle Moraine State Park, Wisconsin (59519449)
On a family walk in Kettle Moraine State Park, Wisconsin (59519449)

After getting my work permit, I found work with the adult services team at a large public library in a suburb of Milwaukee called Germantown, where I scheduled author events, led groups reading and discussed books with the regulars, while our daughter perfected it. American accent in kindergarten.

Who were these reserved but welcoming people among whom we suddenly found ourselves, often nicknamed the Canadians of honor? Well, the people of Wisconsin are known for several things: their farms and dairy industry; their stoicism through brutal winters; their love for the Green Bay Packers football team and their fans’ Cheesehead hats; iconic manufacturers such as Harley Davidson and Trek Bikes; and brewers like Miller (honorable mention has to go to the over 200 microbreweries, statewide, churning out amazing IPAs to offset Miller Lite).

Milwaukee, a city of over 575,000, is known for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team, the nickname Cream City – after the cream-colored bricks that are made for the beautiful old buildings in the city – and, sadly, for being one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States.

On weekend road trips my wife and I fell in love with Wisconsin little house on the prairie-style farmland: an endless, rolling landscape of corn and soybean fields, old red barns, rivers, sandstone cliffs, evergreen forests, and glistening Lake Michigan.

Our closest beach to Lake Michigan (59519425)
Our closest beach to Lake Michigan (59519425)

In our time in America, we have lived through the Covid lockdowns, the murder of George Floyd, and Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

It was perhaps a bit too exciting – even for a librarian – so we headed back to the UK. We instinctively sought out a place that reminded us of the agricultural Midwest. My wife wanted Cambridgeshire while I preferred Hertfordshire. She won, so we live just across the border, but I made sure to get work in Hertfordshire.

Bishop’s Stortford is a very welcoming town. It’s full of hard-working, spirited people and, without shouting about it, it’s definitely a “book town”. I’ve stuffed my desk with great finds from all the charity shops.

On the way to school (on foot) (59519433)
On the way to school (on foot) (59519433)

Not that I need it – we have 19,000 books here in our beautiful library! This exciting collection is constantly updated, meaning everyone in Bishop’s Stortford can access – free of charge – humanity’s cultural treasures or, if you just want to be entertained, the latest best-seller.

We, the Stortford Library team, are on a mission to make it one of the busiest public libraries in England. If you want to advance educationally, creatively, artistically and financially, we’ve got you covered.

Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Madness at Cedarburg Chocolate Factory, Wisconsin (59519431)
Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Madness at Cedarburg Chocolate Factory, Wisconsin (59519431)

Give TikTok a rest and come and enjoy, as Coleridge said, “the best words in the best order.” But yes, follow us on Instagram.

We’re planning a series of events to keep you warm this fall, including these to celebrate National Library Week (October 3-9):

  • Babies love books! A workshop for making black and white books on monday october 35:30 p.m.
  • Open mic poetry on Thursday, October 66 p.m.
  • Pub-style quiz on Friday, October 7, 7 p.m.
  • A visit from Alice Hemming, bestselling children’s author of 50 books including fall favorite The leaf thief on Saturday October 810:30 a.m.
  • An afternoon of robots and coding where families can cast spells with Harry Potter wands and fly drones around the library on Sunday October 912:30-3:30 p.m.

All events are walk-in and completely free, except for the quiz and drones which have a small charge and can be booked at the library or over the phone.

The following week I will be hosting a new reading group called Specs & Mugs & Rock & Roll, a tribute to Stortford’s special place in rock ‘n’ roll history, who will meet every second Monday of the month to discuss a rock or pop autobiography. we read. Our first selection is Me of Elton John, whom we meet to discuss on monday october 10. Come to the library, borrow a copy and read!

Next time you’re in the library, stop me and say hello. Let’s discuss how the library can organize events you would like to attend or how we can tap into your interesting life! Want to give a conference, for example?

The Milwaukee River, far above the city (59519437)
The Milwaukee River, far above the city (59519437)

People should expect more from their public library. We are a vibrant community asset funded by taxes and the generous donations we receive in our donation boxes (please donate!) and where else literature, science, technology, can art, culture and learning sit so well under one roof? We are a marketplace of ideas. An agora. A campus.

A visit to the library and a chat with one of our friendly staff should be added to your weekly fruit and vegetable intake – good for you. So please keep an eye out for my articles promoting the library and please bring me an idea for YOUR library!

Children with their snowman (59519410)
Children with their snowman (59519410)
Cozy Christmas scene at Craverie Chocolatier Cafe, Kohler, Wisconsin (59519414)
Cozy Christmas scene at Craverie Chocolatier Cafe, Kohler, Wisconsin (59519414)
We bought a
We purchased a field-bred “Ginger Retriever” from a remote Minnesota farm called Penny. We brought her back to the UK (59519440)
Back in the UK, my kids are finishing their summer reading challenge at Hertfordshire Libraries!  (59519423)
Back in the UK, my kids are finishing their summer reading challenge at Hertfordshire Libraries! (59519423)
Dawn breaks over Lake Michigan (we were on the west side of this Great Lake) (59519427)
Dawn breaks over Lake Michigan (we were on the west side of this Great Lake) (59519427)

For the first six months, I was the expatriate stay-at-home father of our two children. A typical morning for me involved driving a little girl and a little boy through snowstorms to the nearest cafe for babyccinos, muffins, and picture books.



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