The Castlegar & District Public Library has a new library director.
Kimberly Partanen first decided to get more involved with libraries back in 1994, after taking her daughter to the public library. “That’s what sparked my interest in libraries as a career,” she says.
Partanen and her family also moved to Fort St. John in 1994, and that’s when her interest led her to start volunteering at the library there. By the time she and her husband left in 2011, she had become director of the Fort St. John Public Library.
In between, Partanen also worked toward her education goals. In 2002 she started a library and information technology program at Langara College, and afterwards decided that she wanted a master’s degree in librarianship. Her first goal was to complete her half-finished bachelor’s degree, so she could apply to a master’s program, which she eventually did in 2012. Partanen faced the added challenge of completing her school work while working full-time and raising a family.
“When you’re working full-time and you have a family you can’t really leave to pursue, so I’ve always just done it in the evenings after work,” says Partanen.
Fortunately after completing both her diploma and bachelor’s degree through online programs, Partanen found San Jose State University, which offered one of the first library and information science master’s programs with online courses.
After leaving Fort St. John, Partanen and her husband moved to Kelowna, where he was planning to attend school. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to find another library job, but in the end she received two offers.
“There was a job available in the school district in Penticton at a high school and I was successful in getting that job, but I was also successful in getting a casual library position at UBC Okanagan,” Partanen explains. “And so I chose the one at UBC Okanagan because then I wouldn’t have to drive to Penticton all the time.”
Partanen worked at the UBC Okanagan Library as a library services assistant and then as an access services coordinator, while at the same time working toward her master’s degree, which she received in 2015. She says that working in an academic library turned out to be much different than working at a public library.
“I think the biggest difference for me is, of course, the people — the population that uses the academic and the public library,” says Partanen. “So in an academic library you do serve the community where the library is at, but it’s largely for students and faculty. … It’s very researched focused.”
Another big difference, at first, was the hours. When she first started working at the UBC Okanagan Library, Partanen worked the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift. “When I was talking to my soon-to-be boss on the phone, I said, ‘Well, what do people do in the library at midnight?’” Partanen says. “Because my only experience had been in public libraries.”
The answer was study, and Partanen says she liked the part of the job where she got to know the students who used the library as a second home and spent their nights studying in the library.
In August 2015 she became coordinator of strategic projects at the UBC Okanagan Library, but then in April of 2016 she was seconded to the position of manager of the college of graduate studies.
That’s when she decided she wanted to return to working at a public library. “I considered staying in that position and I thought, ‘No, I worked really hard to become a librarian,’ and it was sad for me to think that I would never work in a library again.”
Her decision to return to the public sector brought her to Castlegar, where she started the second week of the year.
Asked what role she thinks a public library should play in the community, Partanen said, “I always see a public library as kind of a community centre, and I think that the Castlegar Public Library has really done a good job of being a hub in the community because we do an awful lot of outreach programs.
“I really see a lot of partnerships in our library and I’d really like to continue those partnerships, and build new partnerships,” she added.
Part of expanding the library’s role in the community is completing the basement renovation, an initiative that Partanen hopes will prove successful. She is also interested in the possibility of public libraries lending out things other than books, an idea that was recently raised on a library listserv. “I think it’s a very interesting idea to branch out into lending other things as well,” she said.
Anyone who’d like to meet Partanen or share their thoughts about the library can drop by the Castlegar & District Public Library.