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Blossoming out

For many Ashland residents, Amy Blossom is the heart and soul of their public library.

“She’s a remarkable person,” says author and longtime library patron Molly Best Tinsley. “I can’t imagine the library without her.”

Although Blossom “loves working at the library,” she says it’s time to step away. Retirement plans include “precious time” with her grandchildren and hiking and traveling with her husband, Brad Galusha, and friends.

A public reception and open house will be held in her honor from 1 to 3 p.m. April 3, her last day, at the library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd.

Blossom greets every one of the 650 to 900 library patrons who come through the door each day with a huge smile, patrons say.

“The library is an open, welcoming space,” says Maureen Battistella, a longtime friend and library patron. “Amy has created a culture of kindness and care. She meets everyone eye-to-eye with compassion and that huge smile.”

“She has been the library manager since my husband and I have been in Ashland,” says Midge Raymond, author and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press. “So to us, Amy Blossom is basically synonymous with our lovely library. She remembers every face, every story, and is a master at connecting like-minded souls, when it comes to books as well as so much more.”

Battistella, an Ashland-based writer and Southern Oregon University associate professor, says she's visited libraries all over the country. "The Ashland library operates how libraries are supposed to operate. That library is different than any library in the country and different than any other library in Jackson County.”

The credit, Battistella says, goes to Blossom.

“She’s the reason our library is so central to our culture and our community.”

A big chunk of Blossom’s 40-year career — 30 years to be exact — has been devoted to the Ashland library.

Blossom says she’s always believed a library should be “a community center.”

“That’s been my goal here,” she says. “And the Ashland library truly is.”

“She is such a huge supporter of and an advocate for the creative arts in town and has made the library a hub for so many of us,” says Raymond. “The Ashland literary community is so strong and vibrant because Amy is such a big part of it.”

Blossom has “given local writers an opportunity to be in the limelight,” says Steve Scholl, owner of Ashland-based White Cloud Press.

In addition to her work as library manager, he says, Blossom has been a key player in the Chautauqua Poets and Writers events, and she organized a number of Author Nights and book fairs at the library.

Scholl says he’s known Blossom for 22 of the 24 years he’s lived in Ashland.

“Amy and I share a profound love of books and literature,” he says. “She’s the bedrock of the local literary community. She will definitely be missed.”

Tod Davies, an author, screenwriter and small press owner, gives kudos to Blossom for hosting the Ashland Book and Authors’ Fair and making it a “great success.” The annual event has grown into a weekend festival.

“This is an incredible writers’ community,” says Davies. “And Amy has been incredibly supportive.”

Blossom, as an unflagging supporter of poets, also created events for writers and readers during the annual National Poetry Week, says Battistella.

Both Scholl and Battistella say Blossom was instrumental in the Jackson County Library Foundation’s Community Reads programs and Arts and Lecture series.

In addition, Blossom was host and commentator on the Rogue Valley Community Television program “Open Books, Open Minds.”

Produced by Battistella, the program ran for six years and kept Southern Oregon poets, authors, screenwriters and playwrights in the spotlight — a well deserved venue, Blossom says, for all the authors “in the valley who work very hard.”

Tinsley comments on the “enormous challenge” that writers have getting published and making a living.

Blossom, she says, gave space and time for writers to share their voice, their vision and “compare war stories.”

Blossom’s community connections stretch beyond the walls of the library. She sits on many citizen advisory committees, and as a member of Ashland’s Culture of Peace Commission, she helped guide the colorful, dramatic Peace Wall down the hill from the library.

Blossom’s career began in Chicago, where she worked in a private corporate library. She later worked at a public library in Colorado, where she discovered that public libraries are “definitely my calling.”

Soon after moving to Oregon in 1986, Blossom was hired as a part-time reference librarian at the Medford library. She transferred to Ashland and worked there as a part-time reference librarian for the next 10 years.

She was named manager of the Ashland branch in fall 2007. And for the past decade, she also has served as zone manager, overseeing operations at 10 other branches.

Blossom recalls summer 2007 as both a highlight and a low point of her career.

A decade ago, a $7 million deficit in federal funding sliced away nearly 80 percent of the county library budget; the county commissioners shut down the entire library system.

When the doors of all 15 branches were locked on April 7, 2007, it marked the largest library closure in U.S. history.

“We were demoralized,” recalls Blossom.

In the midst of what ended up being a six-month closure, Blossom rallied the troops for Ashland’s 2007 July Fourth parade.

“We wanted to keep libraries in the forefront,” says Blossom. “As soon as we turned the corner of Liberty Street, the crowd stood up and applauded.”

She says they received a standing ovation along the entire parade route.

“It was overwhelming and heartening,” she says. “It was not about me, it was about libraries.”

The support gave them hope, she says, that the libraries would reopen. And they did, after the county outsourced operations to a private firm.

In May 2014, Jackson County voters approved a special library district, independent of county government, and a permanent tax levy to stabilize funding.

Blossom says it's “wonderful to not have to worry daily if we will have the dollars to open the doors.”

Tinsley recounts the early days when the Ashland library was situated in the old Carnegie Building.

“A musty little library; so small up there on the hill,” she recalls.

Nevertheless, Blossom was “always thinking of the future possibilities” of a new library, she says.

Battistella believes Blossom’s collaborative spirit and advocacy for literacy helped win voters over in the successful campaign that passed a bond measure to renovate or rebuild all 15 branches in 2000, as well as the library district measure in 2014.

“Amy believes libraries are for everyone,” says Cathy Shaw, Ashland’s mayor from 1989 to 2000, and political action committee member who worked with Blossom on many library campaigns.

“She’s always upbeat and does everything she can to get to ‘yes.’ ‘I don’t know’ is not in her lexicon, just as ‘no’ is not.”

And in typical Blossom “self-effacing humility,” Shaw says, Blossom lets her staff take credit for many of the programs and activities at the library.

Whether it’s movie night for families, game day for teens, Baby’s First Book, Book Club in a Bag or Toddlerobics, Blossom, in fact does say, her staff “created it” or “it was their idea.”

“I just helped move it forward.”

Battistella says that Blossom’s legacy is her ability “to execute opportunity for others to shine.”

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Amy Blossom, right, meets with Alexander Mathews, 2, and his mom, Sera Mathews, after the toddler reading program at the Ashland Library. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]
Ashland librarian Amy Blossom is retiring after 30 years at the helm of the locally beloved institution. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]