A library love story | Opinion


Special to the Sounder

A preemptive apology to readers. This article is chock full of sentimentality. I tried to edit out any hint of schmaltziness but the task feels insurmountable. Here’s the problem. I just completed my five-year term serving on the Orcas Island Public Library Board of Trustees. Fifteen of those months I served as president. Last Tuesday I helmed my final trustee meeting. The feeling was similar to when I ran the New York City Marathon; a mix of exhilaration and exhaustion along with a wild sense of accomplishment.

I was nervous to serve as president after Alan Lichter’s death in July of 2013. I worried if I would know enough to lead the library into the future. The presidents who served before me seemed so knowledgeable and commanding. Was I up to the task? But then after a few months I had a realization: I do not have to emulate anyone. I could just be myself and guide fellow trustees with my own leadership style. This is when the fun began and I felt the freedom to lead with an inclusive style and an overwhelming desire to learn with and from each other. To me, this is how ideas are born.

My fellow trustees, Thomas Fiscus, Margaret Payne, Donna Riordan, Regina Zwilling and I could not be more different. What united us was our shared love affair with the library. Donna brings fiduciary wizardry and understanding of policy; Tom, with his razor-sharp mind, is able to ask questions that we haven’t even thought of, (and lovingly assist this writer to be concise with the written word); Margaret, with whimsy and a green thumb, makes sure the library grounds are beautiful; and there is Regina, who, like Donna, is talented with numbers and is able to attach the word “fun” to budget reviews. Then there is Phil Heikkinen, our library director who champions the staff, works with the board and aces the Herculean task of holding steady as the composition of the board changes with new personalities and leadership styles.

During the past five years I have learned so much about what makes a library successful and what helps people thrive in their roles. I am so pleased that my fellow trustees and I have been able to build on the hard work of the boards before us and embark on a building expansion project, Books and Beyond: The Next Chapter. Information about this project is on the library’s website www.orcaslibrary.org. I thank the Honorary Committee, community members who guide us and donors who have already given ample time and generous donations.

It is no secret that I love the library. I love the books, the orderliness, the magazines and the sense that when I step inside that beautiful building up on Rose Street I never know who I will have a conversation with or what treasure I might take home.  The library was my first stop upon arriving on Orcas Island nine years ago. I knew if I had a library card that all would be right in my world.

I want to thank the staff: Mary, Phil, Martin, Nita, Holly, Karen, Kathy and Tony along with the Friends of Orcas Island Library, all the passionate volunteers, the big-hearted, generous donors and Mike for keeping the library so clean and spiffy.

Toward the end of my last meeting I decided that I would try being traditionally authoritative and exercised my power as president. I put forth a non-negotiable charge to my fellow trustees and Phil. And what was this charge? On Jan. 1, 2015 the six of us (Moana Kutsche, as the newest trustee) will be holding hands and running into Cascade Lake at the Polar Bear Plunge supporting the Orcas Island Rowing Club. There was very little moaning and Tom even agreed to leave his wet suit at home.

I couldn’t think of a better way to start the New Year – with six people I admire and who have touched me deeply.


Rachel Newcombe served on the Orcas Island Board from 2010 -2014. She plans to continue as a library volunteer.