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Library director checks out

The world has sure changed since Michael Smith moved to Forest Grove and began his career in library services.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Library Director Michael Smith stands on the second floor of the Hillsboro Main Library, a facility he had a leading role in getting built.

Smith started out as Forest Grove’s librarian in 1974, and the facilities, staffing and technology — there as elsewhere around the county — were a slim shadow of what is currently available.

“There was me, one clerk and a part-time college student,” Smith recalled. “That was the entire staff. And we each had a manual typewriter.”

Forty years later, Smith, who began working in Hillsboro in 1997 and has served as Hillsboro’s library director since 2008, is getting set to retire. May 30 will be his last day on the job.

One of the key members of the library’s management team, assistant library director Linda Lybecker, said Smith’s retirement will take some getting used to.

“Yesterday, as Mike gave me lists of projects that need to be continued this summer, I asked him not to tell me how much he will be enjoying retirement,” Lybecker joked. “I’m sure his absence will sink in after a week or two. Mike has a calm manner and is a great listener, with a keen and intelligent sense of humor. I appreciate bouncing ideas around with him.”

On Thursday, Smith reflected on the many changes the library system has gone through during his career.

When Smith started, Forest Grove’s library — all 1,700 square feet of it — was on the corner of 21st Avenue and College Way, where it had been since it opened in 1909. But changes were coming fast for the library as well as for Smith.

In his role as librarian, Smith took a lead role in helping to plan the new Forest Grove library, which, in 1978, was moved to its current site on Pacific Avenue. The library now encompasses 24,000 square feet.

In the wake of that successful project, there were several more milestones he was assigned to tackle. In 1985, for example, Smith was assigned to be project manager for the creation of an integrated library computer network connecting all the public libraries in Washington County.

In 1997, Smith was hired as head of technical services at the Hillsboro Public Library, and was on a fast career path from there. He was promoted to assistant library director in 1999, and subsequently helped develop a plan for the new Hillsboro Main Library on Brookwood Parkway.

Smith was instrumental in the planning and purchasing of the main library facility, which opened in May 2007. More recently, he helped guide the opening of the second floor of the library, along with the extensive renovation of the Shute Park Branch Library.

“Those are probably the biggest changes over 40 years,” he said. “Those and the creation of the Washington County Cooperative Library System in 1975-76. Before that, these were city libraries, and the tax base was narrow. It made a huge difference. We could do things collectively we couldn’t do as well individually.”

Smith had nothing but praise for the architects and the construction crews that tackled the recent opening of the second floor at the Hillsboro Main Library and the Shute Park reconstruction, which together cost more than $8 million to complete.

“I went to all the construction meetings, and the meetings were a pleasure to go to,” Smith said. “I never heard the phrase ‘change order’ even once. The project was on time and on budget.”

Now, after 40 years, Smith said he feels it is time to step aside.

“I feel I’ve accomplished what I wanted to,” he said. “These building projects have been a great end to my career.”

Lybecker said Smith has good reason to be proud after all the improvements that have taken place while he served as director.

“During his tenure as director, library space has expanded to meet the needs of the community, and library services have focused on what community members told us is most important,” Lybecker said. “That is a huge accomplishment for any librarian. His long-term vision included an automated return system before we moved into the main library building, and space for that was well-planned. I hope to see him continue to visit and walk around with a smile on his face to see how much the library is used.”

The city has two libraries now, but plans are in the works to build another one in South Hillsboro.

“We hope to break ground this year or next to put in an 8,000 square feet facility near the intersection of TV Highway and Cornelius Pass Road,” Smith said.

Smith, who still lives in Forest Grove, said he is gratified with the backing the library has received over the years.

“We have had tremendous support from the Hillsboro City Council. They voted to borrow the money to build the main library, and then to finish the second floor (of the main library building) and renovate the Shute Park Branch,” Smith said. “That is just extraordinary for any public library to have that type of support. And we always had great support from the Washington County Board of Commissioners, and I’m extremely grateful.”

Now that he’s leaving, Smith said he wants to be more active as well as being able to spend more time with his family. Michael and his wife, Liz, have been married since 1967. They have two grown sons, Peter and Jacob, and three grandchildren. All of them live in Washington County.

“There are no big travel plans, but I want to spend more time writing, and there are lots of things to do around the house we’ve been putting off for a long time,” he said. “And I like to kayak, so I hope to do more of that in the middle of the week with my wife.”

Smith said he can’t imagine what it will be like to get up on the morning of June 2 and not have to head to the library.

“Boy, that’ll be significant,” he said. “I might go for a drive, or go kayaking at Hagg Lake.”



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