Michael Smith started career in Forest Grove in 1974

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Library Director Michael Smith stands on the second floor of the Hillsboro Main Library, a facility he had a leading role in getting built.The world has sure changed since Michael Smith moved to Forest Grove and began his career in library services.

Smith started out as Forest Grove’s librarian in 1974, and the facilities, staffing and technology — there as elsewhere around the county — were a slim shadow of what is currently available.

“There was me, one clerk and a part-time college student,” Smith recalled. “That was the entire staff. And we each had a manual typewriter.”

Forty years later, Smith, who began working in Hillsboro in 1997 and has served as Hillsboro’s library director since 2008, has closed the books on his career. May 30 was his last day on the job.

One of the key members of the library’s management team, assistant library director Linda Lybecker, said Smith’s retirement will take some getting used to.

“Yesterday, as Mike gave me lists of projects that need to be continued this summer, I asked him not to tell me how much he will be enjoying retirement,” Lybecker joked. “I’m sure his absence will sink in after a week or two. Mike has a calm manner and is a great listener, with a keen and intelligent sense of humor. I appreciate bouncing ideas around with him.”

When Smith started, Forest Grove’s library — all 1,700 square feet of it — was on the corner of 21st and College Way, where it had been since it opened in 1909. But changes were coming fast for the library as well as for Smith.

He took a lead role in helping to plan the new Forest Grove library, which moved to its current site on Pacific Avenue in 1978. The library now encompasses 24,000 square feet.

In the wake of that successful project, Smith got another. In 1985, he was tasked with linking the computer networks of all the libraries belonging to Washington County Cooperative Library Services (WCCLS) so their combined collections would be available to residents around the county.

In 1997, Smith became head of technical services at the Hillsboro Public Library. Two years later, he was promoted to assistant library director and subsequently helped develop a plan for the new Hillsboro Main Library on Brookwood Parkway.

Smith was instrumental in planning and purchasing the main library facility, which opened in May 2007. More recently, he helped guide the opening of the second floor of the library, along with extensive renovation of the Shute Park Branch Library.

“Those are probably the biggest changes I look at over 40 years,” he said. “Those and the creation of the Washington County Cooperative Library System in 1975-76. Before that, these were city libraries, and the tax base was narrow. It made a huge difference. We could do things collectively we couldn’t do as well individually.”

Now Smith feels it is time to step aside.

“I feel I’ve accomplished what I wanted to,” he said. “These building projects have been a great end to my career.”

Lybecker said Smith has good reason to be proud after all the improvements that have taken place while he served as director.

“During his tenure as director, library space has expanded to meet the needs of the community, and library services have focused on what community members told us is most important,” Lybecker said.

The city has two libraries now, but plans are in the works to build another one — an 8,000 square foot facility — near the intersection of the TV Highway and Cornelius Pass Road, Smith said: “We hope to break ground this year or next.”

Smith, who still lives in Forest Grove, said he is gratified with the backing the library has received over the years.

“We have had tremendous support from the Hillsboro City Council. They voted to borrow the money to build the main library, and then to finish the second floor and renovate the Shute Park Branch,” Smith said. “That is just extraordinary for any public library to have that type of support. And we always had great support from the Washington County Board of Commissioners, and I’m extremely grateful.”

Now that he’s leaving, Smith said he wants to be more active as well as being able to spend more time with his family. He and his wife, Liz, have been married since 1967. They have two grown sons, Peter and Jacob, and three grandchildren, all living in Washington County.

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