Lake Oswego Library Director Bill Baars plans to retire Oct. 1
"How do you leave a job that you feel you were born to do?"
That's the question facing Bill Baars this week after he announced that he will retire on Oct. 1 after 11 years as director of the Lake Oswego Public Library — a role that allowed him to create a community hub filled with so much more than books.
"For many years, the Lake Oswego Library has been at the forefront of innovative programming, allowing us to be a central pillar in the community," says Cyndie Glazer, the library's coordinator of programs and volunteer services. "From the Lake Oswego Reads program to the volunteers and children's programming, we have seen what good leadership brings to our residents. Bill has been at the center of this transformation, and he has kept this community jewel reaching for the stars."
Lake Oswego's library now has the highest per-capita use of any library in the state, due in no small part to Baars' push for increased programming.
"We've always had great readers," he told The Review earlier this year, "but I knew that there was the potential for more activities around that."
The result: everything from classes and workshops for all age groups to concerts, movie nights, author presentations and guest lectures. This week, for example, the library hosted story times for youngsters from birth to age 3, a teen movie night, an afternoon concert and a reasoned discussion of the history and evolution of the Second Amendment, among a variety of other events.
"What I've seen change is not only the response to the library as a community center, but people actually participating," Baars says. "We get 1,000 people in here every day. They're checking out materials and coming to those programs. What I love is that they come here not just for those things, but to interact with each other because they understand that sense of community the library brings."
It was Baars who first suggested the Lake Oswego Reads program. Together with Glazer, he created the citywide book club-of-sorts that continues to this day to celebrate the joys of reading together — a program that prompted author Timothy Egan to declare, "If there is an earthly heaven for authors, it has to be Lake Oswego Reads."
Baars says the program, which just celebrated its 12th year, is a perfect example of the kind of collaboration that makes Lake Oswego unique.
"At the beginning, Cyndie said we needed to do this with buy-in from the community, with all these partners — including the schools — having different backgrounds but valuable input," Baars says. "It's a program that if you can provide an interesting subject and center, people will rally around it. It's become successful enough that it will live long and be part of the fabric of the community."
Baars began his career at the Multnomah County Central Library in 1985. He also served as the supervising librarian at the Beaverton City Library before joining the Lake Oswego staff in 2002 as head of adult services and reference sections. At the time, he says, the prospect of getting to work for his hometown library was an exciting opportunity — and that excitement never went away.
"I've been so fortunate to work in my hometown. It's brought such an extra level of satisfaction," says Baars, who was named library director in April 2007. "It's all about the community. The library is all about community. The relationships amongst each other, the relationships with different City departments and members of this community, it's nonstop."
During his tenure, Baars has forged partnerships with arts and cultural organizations throughout the city; the library works with the Oswego Heritage Council, for example, to digitize historical photos and documents. And he has taken on leadership roles in a number of civic groups, most recently completing a term as president of the Lake Oswego Rotary Club.
"Among so many other gifts he has given this community, for me, Bill's legacy will be relationships. He has had the magic of drawing great people to him as evidenced by his fabulous library staff and volunteers, and then inspiring them to do their best work," says Nancy Niland, executive director of the Oswego Heritage Council. "Bill's commitment to history was made tangible when he rewrote the library's mission to include the archives of OHC. Without his support, the scanning and digitization of over 19,000 items of Oswego history would not be possible. Forever more, when a photo or document can be pulled up in a keystroke, we'll have Bill to thank for it."
Everything that has taken place throughout his tenure can be attributed to collaboration, Baars says, but City Manager Scott Lazenby insists much of the credit should go to Baars himself.
"As library director, he's created an environment where the library staff are free to draw on their talents and try new things," Lazenby says. "It's easy to see the results: an amazing variety of programs and services that are enjoyed by so many LO residents."
For Adult Services Librarian Kiira Taylor, Baars' leadership has provided a standard to which everyone holds themselves, not just in their work as librarians but in their interactions and relationships with the community.
"He inspires the people with whom he works to serve with integrity and do the best job they can. He is kind, thoughtful and generous," Taylor says. "It is no coincidence that I hear library users describing the Lake Oswego Library using the same terms. I am so fortunate to have known and worked with Bill for many years."
Other library staffers echo Taylor's thoughts. Reference Librarian Todd Feinman calls Baars "super cool and hip" — his boss knows and loves great music and culture, Feinman says — and he points to Baars' "passion and vision for our library and its place in the community."
"Bill has a wonderful humanity and compassionate leadership style that has made him a real treasure for our community and a pleasure to work with over the years," Feinman says. "Things aren't going to be the same without Bill; I was really hoping he would never retire. I know life moves on and the years go by, but we'll all miss him in a very big way."
Glazer says she too will miss Baars, "not just for his leadership, but also for his jokes, his positive attitude and his great ability to be an ambassador for Lake Oswego. I will personally miss his guidance, collegiality and patient advice, all of which have made me better at what I do every day."
Youth Services Manager Andrea Milano says she'll miss Baars too, but she makes a promise.
"I guarantee that his spirit will continue to inspire those of us who are left to carry the torch," she says.
That respect and admiration goes both ways, according to Baars. He's grateful for all the support he's received from his staff and the community over the past 16 years, and for the mentors who helped him shape the direction in which he wanted to take the library — people like Dorothy Stafford and her son Kim, Virginia and Harold Campbell, and Jean and Jack Radow.
"They're all people who helped me get a feel for the direction and importance of this library when I started," Baars says. "It's a great community, and I'm going to miss it. It's hard to leave a job that you feel you were born to do."