The Gooderham and Dysart branches of the Haliburton County Public Library will look a bit different in 2022.
That’s because two of the longest-serving staff members have moved on to new adventures.
Vicki Fraser and Marilyn Billings have retired; Fraser after 22 years with the Dysart branch and Billings after 41 years in Gooderham. Billings started at what was then called the Glamorgan Library in 1980.
“I never thought of it as a career,” she said, “it was just something I loved doing.”
Starting at two hours a week, Billings enjoyed developing a vibrant calendar of monthly events. She recalled everything from pumpkin carving night, pumpkin seeds found in books days later, to multiple craft nights and coordinating a heritage display showcasing old-fashioned devices such as ice-cream makers, laundry tubs and even a butter churner.
Billings said she was especially proud of the annual Authors Day which began in 2001 after she began noticing how many great authors called the Highlands home. “That was a personal interest of mine: I wanted to know who our local authors were,” she said. Once, a cottager suggested they host a ukulele club.
“Let’s give it a try and see what happens,” Billings said. The club went on to gather multiple enthusiastic members who play the ukulele to this day.
She said customer service was her favourite part of library work. Mingling with the patrons or “leading them to a real good book you’ve read yourself. That really makes a difference,” Billings said.
Fraser said the people that visit the library made her job rewarding.
“I hope I have encouraged a lifelong love of reading and learning for patrons both young and old in our community,” she said.
“All of my patrons from the old branch to my new branch have been so kind, generous and made each day a joy for me. Libraries are all about the people, and Dysart branch has the best people ever. It is the people I will miss the most and I am forever grateful for our time together.” Fraser thanked Sandre and Brian Daoust for a note in The Highlander recognizing her service and CEO Chris Stephenson who she said went “an extra mile to make me feel valued and missed as I begin my new journey.”
Fraser said library work suited her from the start. “The first day I started I fell in love with the whole thing: you can have a ton and a half of books but it’s about the people,” she said.
“People are generous, they’re thoughtful, if you’re stuck on the side of the road, five people will stop to help you.”
Fraser was known for her book recommendations. One co-worker suggested she might be the “Oprah of the Library.”
“I would promote a book, and they’d have to run out and buy five more, six more copies,” Fraser said.
Those around the community noticed Fraser’s dedication to library patrons. She was awarded a customer-first employee award from the Haliburton Chamber of Commerce in 2015. “That was fabulous,” she said.
While both women worked with books, magazines, newspapers, and later e-books, audiobooks and computers, it was the people who walked through the door who defined their careers.
“It’s about the people: the people who run the businesses in town, it’s one of those things where I loved what I was doing, the people and the patrons,” Fraser said.
Billings said the community expanded beyond year-round residents too. “The people who came back to their cottages for the summer were just as part of our family as the year-round community.”