PO library manager steps down

Staying true to the nautical theme she nurtured at the Port Orchard library to the very end, retiring branch manager Linda Thompson chose her outfit carefully for her last day at work.

“I’m wearing flip-flops, and a skirt with little sailboats on them,” Thompson said Wednesday from her packed-up office. “Everyone wanted me to wear pajamas, but this is casual enough.”

Of course, such casual attire will fit perfectly into her new retired life, which begins this weekend at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, where Thompson and her husband recently bought a house.

“I’m ready to start a new chap-ter,” Thompson said, explaining that she is not sure yet what her retirement will look like, but it will include the couple’s boat, and, just maybe, volunteering at the island’s library.

That is, of course, if she manages to actually leave her current job.

“No one believes I won’t come in tomorrow,” she said with a laugh, admitting that it won’t be easy to leave. “I’ve been a librarian for 25 years, and this is this best job I’ve had.”

After nine years at the branch — “I wanted to stay for 10, and I almost made it” — Thompson can point to several changes she is pleased with, beginning with the “whimsical,” nautical-themed decorations both inside and out.

“When I got here, the building was pink,” Thompson said, explaining that another good change was creating the children’s section.

“That has been a huge benefit to community — I see lots of families back there using it,” she said, explaining that moving the children’s area from its “cramped” quarters in the hallway to the sunny area with windows overlooking the marina was an immediate hit.

But what makes her the proudest, she said, is a recently launched program she has wanted to start since taking over as branch manager in 1999.

“In May, we started a pilot program busing school children over to the library for lunch,” she said, explaining that over two days, 63 third-graders were driven from Burley-Glenwood Elementary to visit the library and have lunch.

“All 63 of them filled out applications for library cards, and I found out that 49 of them had never been here before,” she said, pointing out that Burley-Glenwood is one of the South Kitsap schools that is quite far away from the library.

“I was surprised to find out how many kids just didn’t know we were here,” she said, explaining that it has always been her goal to extend the library’s reach to as much of the area outside the city as possible. “South Kitsap is so huge, and it’s a really under-served community.”

Beginning in September, Thompson said the pilot program will expand to include all the third graders in the South Kitsap School District’s 10 elementary schools. She said that age was chosen because it’s the perfect time to really “capture” them as readers.

“They know how to read, but maybe the magic of it hasn’t taken over them yet,” she said.

The pilot program was funded by the local Kiwanis club, and Thompson said the expanded version is one of the programs she hopes the community will help fund — perhaps with a successful levy lift.

“I am very sad about the failure of the levy, and it is going to have an impact on this community,” she said. “I wish that people would have thought outside their own homes, about that kid or grandma down the block that depends on the library.”

Despite the levy loss — which Thompson said was her “fourth as a librarian” — she still felt welcome and appreciated in the community.

Before coming to Kitsap County, Thompson was running a larger and even more cash-strapped library in Chico, Calif., and said her “joy had plummeted. But here, it’s heavenly.”

Which makes her departure more than a bit bittersweet. Describing her farewell party last weekend, Thompson’s voice broke with emotion.

“This place, and this staff, was as good as it gets,” she said. “I feel like people really got that I was passionate about this place.”

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