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New job like a homecoming for county library director

Nancy Ledeboer holds a book in the Argonne Library branch March 15. Ledeboer is the new administrator of the Spokane County Library District. (Jesse Tinsley)
Nancy Ledeboer holds a book in the Argonne Library branch March 15. Ledeboer is the new administrator of the Spokane County Library District. (Jesse Tinsley)

A new director moved in the Spokane County Library District administrative office this month for the first time in more than two decades and the office reflects the change. Nancy Ledeboer has a dish of candy on her small meeting table and a purple quilt she hand-stitched hangs on her office wall.

At the beginning of the month, Ledeboer, 55, took over for Mike Wirt, who retired. He had served as the director since 1980.

Ledeboer, who previously worked for the 27-branch Pima County Public Library in Arizona, said she was a little apprehensive at first about stepping into a position that had been held by one person for so long. “I wondered about that,” she said. “I thought no matter what I do, I’ll create ripples.”

Instead she feels the district staff is dealing with the change in leadership just as they’ve taken ongoing changes in technology in stride.

“I find that they’re really open to new ideas,” she said. “My sense is the staff is ready and willing to take on new challenges.”

Ledeboer considers Spokane her home, but her only time here was from 1992 to 1998 when she worked for the Spokane Public Library, first as the youth services coordinator and then as assistant director. When she was a child her family moved often. She didn’t complete an entire school year in one place until the sixth grade. But then her two grown children settled here and she kept coming back to visit them and her grandchildren. When she walked the desert outside Tucson, Ariz., and dreamed of going home, it was Spokane she thought of.

When she first arrived in Spokane years ago everything felt so familiar Ledeboer called her father to ask if they had ever lived in Spokane when she was young. She hadn’t.

“It just really resonates,” she said. “I think it’s the mountains, the pine trees.”

She was ready to come home when she heard about the job opening at the library district. The library in Arizona was run by Pima County, which meant that it got bogged down in the bureaucracy inherent in a county of 1 million residents. “It was just a lot slower moving forward,” she said.

The Spokane County Library District is smaller, with only 10 libraries, but it is also independent and relatively nimble when reacting to change, she said. It has adopted new software, increased its online learning products and offered more classes in recent years. The buildings are well maintained, which wasn’t always the case in Pima County, she said.

“We don’t have to line up behind public works and finance to get something done on our computers,” she said. “You don’t see duct tape holding the carpet down. I think it’s really well-positioned in terms of infrastructure to move forward. It really isn’t about the size of your library, it’s about serving the community.”

Libraries are perceived to be all about books, but really there is so much more going on in the library district, Ledeboer said. “I think it’s actually much more innovative than it appears to be,” she said.

Ledeboer said she wants to lead the district forward into its next challenge – e-books. They are very popular with district patrons, but many publishers won’t allow public libraries to offer their books.

“We can’t buy the content people want,” she said. “That’s a huge challenge for libraries right now.”

She also intends to focus on the district’s other offerings, like educational software.

“The library continues to be an important information resource,” she said. “Instead of just an information place, we’re going to be the information and learning place.”

Ledeboer is midway through a tour of all the district’s libraries as she settles into a job she hopes she’ll have for a long time. “I’m really looking forward to putting down roots,” she said. “This is where I’m meant to be right now.”