In Our View: Ultimate Librarian

After two decades of smiling leadership, library leader announces retirement

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Bruce Ziegman has earned a happy and rewarding retirement. He enters that new phase of his life on Oct. 31. Many people throughout Southwest Washington — particularly library patrons — have seen Ziegman’s glass-half-full smile even during tough times. They’ve watched that smile stretch during triumphs in library growth and management. So, at 63, he’s more than qualified for the smile-filled golden years.

On the broader plain, however, it will be difficult to replace the man who has led the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District for more than a decade, after serving as assistant director for more than 11 years. A national search for his successor will be conducted.

Ziegman’s legacy is built on a visionary spirit and collaborative outreach. That first trait is clearly manifested in the downtown Vancouver Community Library that opened last month as the flagship of a 13-library, four-county district, plus the opening of the Cascade Park Community Library branch in 2009. But that second trait — a cooperative and creative mind — has been spread across countless examples.

We’ll pick one. In 2005, library officials and supporters were dejected when a $44 million bond issue failed because “only” 59.3 percent of voters approved the measure. Supermajority approval was required. At the time, library leaders were being assailed by local activists who were angry that pornography was available on library computers.

Like many librarians fiercely aligned with free-speech rights, Ziegman vigorously opposed Internet filters. Slowly, he began to change his thinking. Likely, Ziegman has not changed his personal opinion, but he saw a change of policy as the only way for the libraries to grow and meet modern needs. The next year, after Internet filters were installed, voters passed a $43 million bond issue with 62 percent approval.

That kind of understanding of his community has marked Ziegman’s leadership. During his tenure, five community library buildings have been opened, including the two already mentioned plus new libraries in Three Creeks, La Center and Battle Ground.

In one way, you can say Ziegman is leaving while he’s on top. Not only have the downtown and Cascade Park libraries opened, but voters in the library district last year (in the toughest of economic times) narrowly approved a property tax levy lid lift, which increased funding. (The Columbian editorially opposed the measure, because of the economic crisis.)

In another way, though, Ziegman has a tough challenge facing him until Oct. 31, and that challenge will confront library leaders for many months to come. As usual, it’s financial. A Friday Columbian story reported that $1.25 million in cuts will be made in the system’s 2012-2013 budget.

What the district will not do is trim library branch service days or hours, because those service conditions were promised with the passage of last year’s ballot measure. But district officials are preparing to lay off employees at library branches and at the district headquarters, reduce professional services and capital improvements and permanently retire the Clark County Bookmobile.

Overcoming such grueling economic pressures will not be easy. But for two decades, Ziegman has shown how valuable a visionary spirit and collaborative outreach can be during tough times.

Enjoy your retirement, Bruce. Maybe check out some of the programs down at the library.