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Going by the book

Retiring Library Director Ed House reflects on 13 years in the stacks


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ed House, director of Beaverton Libraries, takes in a spring day outside the Beaverton City Library on Fifth Street, where he's toiled since 2001, when the building was brand new. After 30 years in the library world, House plans to retire in late June to enjoy hiking, camping, woodworking, music and life outside the daily workplace.In an era of diminished 401-K plans and unease about long-term financial viability, coupled with the promise of increased longevity, it seems almost quaint to hear about someone retiring just before the good, old-fashioned age of 65.

Yet, that's what Ed House, director of Beaverton's libraries for 13 years, plans to do by the end of June. The decision, he's happy to add, is strictly voluntary.

“The last few months I was sincerely looking at my options,” the 64-year-old said last week. “I've been in the library industry for 30 years. There are other things I want to do while I'm still capable of getting out there. I want to get out into the backcountry, hike around, take photographs. I'd like to have time to do that while I'm still able to.”

Interviews to choose House's successor are scheduled to begin in late May, said Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, with the goal of having a new director in place by late June.

“I couldn't make him change his mind. I tried,” Doyle said, noting House told him earlier this year that he was contemplating a more leisurely life. “I'm sorry to see him leave. He's done a fantastic job with the library. The city will miss his work ethic and his ability to manage people.”

The city's advertisement for the position lists the salary between $86,532 and $115,956, based on experience and qualifications. House earned about $112,370 in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

A nice place to read

Coming on board in Beaverton in January 2001 after leaving a director's position at the Albany Public Library the previous fall, House inherited a brand-new building on Southwest Fifth Street that replaced a former Albertson's grocery store on Hall Boulevard that housed Beaverton's library for years. That facility now is the highest-circulation library in the state, while the 3-year-old Murray-Scholls Branch Library is already bursting at the seams and likely to be expanded in the next year.

“This one building circulates more items than any single facility in Oregon,” the soft-spoken Tigard resident observed during a chat in the conference room near his second-floor office in the 13-year-old Beaverton City Library building. “This and the branch have the second-highest circulation, only behind Multnomah County, which has 19 branches. We stay very busy.”

House admits the Fifth Street building — with its high ceilings, plentiful natural light and wooden arches, as well as user-friendly layout — was a significant selling point to him taking the role when it opened.

“It's a beautiful building,” he said. “It was an opportunity to grow professionally. There were some challenges here I felt it would be fun to work with: Opening a new building and having the staff, resources and all the other things that had to be marshaled.”

He credits the staff with helping him get to where he needed to be in the untested new facility.

“Getting myself educated and up to speed to fulfill the expectations the community had of the library were the first things I had to do,” he recalled of his first weeks on the job. “Luckily, I had an excellent staff, who kept things moving pretty smoothly.”

Of course, in an atmosphere of success and growing popularity, what was an ideal facility in 2001 is showing some strain more than a decade down the road.

“One of the things we've worked on since I got here is space planning,” he said. “This is a finite resource. We've looked at how to use every square foot to the maximum potential, moved things around, added shelving, reorganized the back room to make it more efficient.”

Period of transition

Just a few years after the fun of settling into a new building, the failure of the Washington County Cooperative Library Services levy disrupted the idyllic setting.

“We had to make some cuts, cut back hours and lay off staff. That was a difficult time for all of us,” he said. “Myself, the managers, staff and the public were affected. Book budgets were cut.”

In 2006, Washington County voters supported a follow-up levy, which helped restore library hours, services, programs and staff. Despite, or perhaps because of a deep economic recession, circulation numbers have climbed every year since.

“Each year it's gone up quite a bit,” he said. “We opened the (Murray-Scholls) branch in 2010, at the end of June, and the branch has taken off too.”

Compared to 1 percent growth among other branches in the Washington County Cooperative system, the Murray-Scholls branch has seen a 12 percent circulation uptick since this time last year. Plans for the facility's expansion are already in the works.

“I knew it would be successful,” he said of the branch, noting its emphasis on materials and services geared toward children. “That area did not have a library readily available, especially for youths. That group of people had been disenfranchised.”

Man of all seasons

A graduate of the University of Nebraska, House worked in libraries in the Panama Canal zone, one of the locations his military family upbringing landed him. Earning his master's degree at the University of Washington, House landed a job at a small library in eastern North Carolina. After three years — which included getting married and having two children — House accepted a job in Albany in 1985, working his way up to the director's position.

“I was delighted to come back to Oregon after three years,” he said.

House considers himself more of a knowledge-seeker than classic bookworm.

“I'm a bit of an organizational wonk. You've got to have that when you work in libraries,” he said. “That organizational type of structure I find intriguing: How do you keep this going?”

Now divorced, with his daughters, Sarah and Caitlin, grown up and in the workforce, House feels free to pursue some less organized pursuits. In addition to hiking and exploring the outdoors, he loves listening to music — Robert Earl Keen and Bonnie Raitt are among his favorite artists — woodworking, and of course, reading.

In addition to accolades from Mayor Doyle, an achievement award he just received from the Oregon Library Association adds to the sense that he's leaving on a high note.

“I feel like I've done a lot for libraries and for the library community,” he said, noting he has no plans to leave the area. “There's always more work to be done, and whoever steps in will be doing it.”

As it turns out, House's organizational flair plays a role even in his plans to exit the workforce.

“One reason I picked the end of June is the weather's good, and I can get out and do things and get used to that retirement lifestyle,” he said, smiling. “So that when winter comes, and it's gray, I'll have something to get involved in. Whenever that comes.”

Library association honors House for years of service

Ed House, director of Beaverton Libraries since 2001, was among four Washington County Cooperative Library Services employees the Oregon Library Association honored last week for their exceptional service.

In a joint conference with the Washington Library Association held last week in Vancouver, Wash., House and Steve Skidmore, director of the Siuslaw Public Library District, were recognized for their successful careers in Oregon libraries and years of outstanding service to the association, according to a WCCLS news release.

House and Skidmore, who have served the association in a number of capacities, are both planning to retire this year. House, who will retire on June 28, has shepherded the library though numerous service improvements, including the opening of the city's first branch library at 11200 S.W. Murray Scholls Place, suite 102, in 2010.

The Librarian of the Year Award, went to Eva Calcagno, director of WCCLS, for her leadership in developing the new statewide Oregon Library Passport System, which increases access to library services statewide.

The program allows cardholders of legally-established libraries to use other libraries, and benefits anyone who lives, works or vacations in multiple places throughout the state and want to borrow and return items to and from the most convenient library, said Jodi Nielsen, senior program educator.

Calcagno chaired the library association committee that designed and promoted the Passport program.

“I’m honored to receive this award because it recognizes efforts to build cooperation and sharing among libraries for the improvement of public service,” Calcagno said. “It’s what Washington County libraries have done for nearly 40 years.”

Current library association President Michele Burke presented the President's award to Abigail Elder, past president of the association, and Tualatin Public Library Director Abigail Elder. Elder was recognized for her association leadership and her “grace and selflessness” in handling association leadership transition after the previous president departed.

For more about the Oregon Library Association, visit olaweb.org.



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