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Hired in 2009 to lead award-winning expansion of building, Maureen Cole is helping find successor

Oregon City Library Director Maureen Cole, the 2019 recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the state library association, has announced her retirement to be timed with the hire of a new director in January.

Maureen ColeHired by the city in August 2009, Cole is lauded for leading the Oregon City Public Library building project completed in 2016. Voters overwhelmingly approved bond funds to add 15,000 square feet behind an existing 5,000-square-foot 1913 structure on the National Register of Historic Places.

As previously reported, that expansion/renovation racked up various honors from preservation advocates, business groups and national architectural showcases for such a large expansion that doesn't diminish the original structure.

Cole said passing the library bond, the groundbreaking ceremony and the grand opening were the biggest thrills of her career.

"I couldn't believe that the dream of a new building was happening and actually came true," she said. "But my favorite memories all have to do with the wonderful people I was lucky enough to work with: library staff, city staff, library supporters and boards, library patrons and the people of Oregon City."

With about 70% of voters approving the library bond in 2014, it's easy to forget how Cole had to find consensus for the project. After a plan to move to a larger location fizzled in 2010, she went back to the drawing board and discovered that citizens still wanted their library in Library Park, where it had been for a nearly a century.

Oregon City Manager Tony Konkol credited Cole's leadership with bringing the community around "a beautifully designed building that will be a centerpiece of Oregon City for decades to come."

Lynda Orzen, head of the political action committee that worked to pass the bond, credited Cole's calm personality and strong work ethic with swaying voters to authorize the construction. Once it was referred to voters, Cole couldn't personally advocate for the library measure, but her presence at community informational forums may have played a key role in the bond's passage.

"Her being out in public, talking to people, saying, 'We have the money, but we just need your vote, and we won't raise your taxes,' made all the difference," Orzen said.

PMG 2016 FILE PHOTO: ELLEN SPITALERI - In this photo from 2016, Maureen Cole, director of the Oregon City Public Library, dons a hart hat in front of the building under construction.

Getting hands dirty

Orzen, chair of the library's Friends fundraising group throughout Cole's tenure as library director, had her image of a library director shattered when first meeting Cole during a public forum in 2009.

"She was so honest and outgoing and very personable," Orzen said. "She's irreplaceable, and it's been such a pleasure working with her."

Cole's influence extends at least statewide as a published author who has spoken at numerous conferences advocating for library services. A librarian in Eugene before taking the Oregon City job, she has held multiple positions with the Oregon Library Association and is a longtime member and past president of Oregon City Rotary Club.

Denise Butcher, the library's operations manager, said everyone in the library community statewide seems to have a story about how Cole played an important leadership role on one committee or another, but even more so, how they value her as a colleague and friend.

"I don't think that there is a person she doesn't know or hasn't worked with in Oregon libraries, all of whom have such high respect for her," Butcher said.

Cole has been willing to dress in costume or help serve food at parties that help raise money for the library, Orzen said. During one memorable instance, Cole had cakes made to look like books for the library's 100th anniversary party on June 22, 2013, which turned out to be an unseasonably hot day, perfect for drawing crowds to the outdoor event, but unfriendly to cake frosting.

"She's not afraid to get her hands dirty — or sticky," Orzen said. "She and I were racing to get all of those cakes cut and handed out before they melted."

Inviting trust

Cole has been noted for her compassion for all library users, especially those who may be underrepresented or underserved. She has a strong interest in building her staff by mentoring and leading by example, noting that building libraries and providing library services requires a lot of people working together.

"I have had the privilege and honor of working with people who, like me, think libraries are important," Cole said. "And we've had a lot of fun along the way. I'm so lucky to have been the Oregon City library director."

Oregon City librarian Aaron Novinger said he had never seen a supervisor strive so diligently to develop her managers, librarians and library assistants. Novinger noted that Cole offered numerous trainings in communications and conflict management, in an effort to create a team that coexists to provide superior customer service.

"She invites creativity, autonomy and trust in her employees," Novinger said.

Orzen and Cole are among those getting to help in the initial interviews with finalists for the library director position, with the final decision to be made by the city manager. Cole anticipates retiring in early January, depending on when the new director can start.

"My husband is retiring just a few weeks after me, and it will be winter time, so we plan on doing lots of skiing," Cole said. "Then we'll think about what's next."

Orzen said upcoming public events involving Cole should prove popular. Although most years the annual Friends' luncheon has a few dozen people attend, Orzen thinks that a Dec. 5 chance to hear Cole speak may pack the Ainsworth House.

"We're hoping to get at least 100 people this year," Orzen said.

Celebrate Cole's retirement

What: Friends of the Library annual luncheon will feature retiring library director as guest speaker

When: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5

Where: Ainsworth House, 19130 Lot Witcomb Drive, Oregon City

Tickets: $20 at oclibraryfriends.org

More: 503-723-0042

Open house

What: Retirement celebration with light refreshments

When: 3-6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13; commendations to begin at 4 p.m.

Where: Oregon City Public Library, 606 John Adams St.

Cost: Free


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