When Enumclaw Public Library Director Bob Baer retires at the end of December, it’s the people he will miss.
Not just the crew he works with inside the walls at 1700 First St., but the folks who come in looking for assistance with research, asking specific questions about the local history, or wanting a recommendation for a good read.
“I didn’t have a desire to be an administrator at a larger library,” Baer said, reflecting on his 30 years at the Enumclaw Public Library. “It would have taken me away from the front desk and the people.”
Born and raised a New Yorker, Baer went to college and worked as a librarian in New Jersey for a time. He also spent time in the Midwest.
He married Nancy in 1973 and after a while they were itching to leave the East Coast. They weren’t sure where they were heading, but Baer said they planned to land somewhere between Salem, Ore., and Bellingham, Wash., to be near Nancy’s family.
They hopped in their VW bus and took off south and west across America, visiting friends and family along the way.
When they landed in the Northwest, Nancy landed a job first in Tacoma. Shortly after, Bob was hired by the city of Enumclaw, where employees were encouraged to live in town.
When Baer arrived he found himself in charge of a library building stressed by a growing community, the Stevenson-Yerxa Building which now houses the city’s Department of Community Development. It took three attempts before voters approved the bond issue desired to build the current library.
It was one of the many changes during Baer’s tenure.
The people who use the library and the library’s place as a resource for the community have changed little during the past three decades.
Today, libraries continue to provide information. There are still children’s programs, where parents bring toddlers to learn a love for reading. It’s a sanctuary for the public to relax and read.
Baer said there’s been change, but it’s in the delivery method.
“When I started there wasn’t a PC in the building,” he said.
Staff doesn’t pull a 1963 Newsweek off a shelf these days, but if there’s a request for that particular issue, they help patrons find it online or in a video file.
“I still think libraries can be a good guide for helping people find things, especially in the information age we live in,” Baer said.
That information age, he said, makes the resources of a smaller public library greater today.
“Today, so much is online now, people need to know where to look, or aren’t aware of certain resources,” he said. “There are resources we still purchase that are subscription-based on the Internet that we provide.”
Subscriptions and other programs have been hard to keep during these tough financial times.
“The last two years the budget has been disastrous,” Baer said. “When you don’t get a book budget or materials budget, that’s disastrous. That’s the heart of the library, along with staff.”
As part of staffing changes in the city, Baer found himself leading Community Services in addition to his librarian job. The extra work was a pleasant addition, he said. As a former Vista worker and with his wife Nancy’s background in the field, social services was not too great a stretch for him. As a bonus, he said, he was able to work with wonderful people at the senior and youth centers and on the Human Services Advisory Board.
The past couple of years, the city has been considering turning library services over to the independent King County Library System. Although Baer will not be part of the plan, he will be watching to see how things unfold. He worries about the people.
“When you talk about the hard times it’s been hard on the staff,” he said. “I’m supportive of their needs.
“I never envisioned working forever,” he said. “I saw some point of an end, and I guess it’s now. Who knows what the future holds?”
The clearest part of the future, come Jan. 1, is to have a hot meal for Nancy at dinner time.
“Dinner on the table when she gets home, that’s Numeral Uno,” Baer laughed.
Also on the menu will be volunteering with the Enumclaw Education Foundation, where he will be joining its board of directors.
He would like to get Enumclaw’s history in order. Through the years, the library has become keeper of some of the town’s history – photographs, pioneer oral histories, the Rural Heritage Project – and he’d like to see everything organized and preserved.
“There are projects,” he said. “Ongoing projects that I’d still like to work on. Now I have the time.”
As time marches on, he said, some local history could be lost.
“There are cassette tapes that are 40 years old. They need a format to be better preserved,” he said. “There’s a lot of history. It’s not been a priority, but I think it is in a small town.”
Those are good rainy-day retirement projects. When the sun shines, Baer hopes to hit the road.
“I’d like to throw my bicycle in the back of the car when the weather’s better and ride some of the trails.”
TIME TO SAY GOODBYE
Community members are invited to send Bob Baer off at an open house celebrating his career from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 30 at the Enumclaw Public Library, 1700 First St.