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New Jackson County library director appreciates local support

New Jackson Country Library Director Tammy Westergard says moving to Medford from her position in Carson City, Nev., was like leaving a war zone and arriving in paradise.

"I am really grateful to be a part of this," says Westergard, who took over as director June 1, replacing Kim Wolfe, who retired. "This" includes relatively new libraries across the county and a recently approved, and funded, library district.

Westergard, a Nevada native with a degree in speech communication from the University of Nevada-Reno, didn't initially plan to find a career in libraries.

She was hired as deputy manager of the Carson City Office of Business Development, where her job was to help efforts to redevelop the downtown area. Building a new Carson City library was part of that vision, and the project soon became central to her own redevelopment process.

Starting in 2009, Westergard was one of the prime movers in an attempt to turn eight acres in the downtown area into a library and digital media lab offering a variety of business and technology resources. Carson City's Board of Supervisors said it would fund half the project by leveraging a .125-percent increase to the sales tax. Over the next three years, Westergard worked with private donors on a $21.5 million capital campaign to secure the rest of the funding.

In 2010, she moved into a deputy director position with the library to fully devote her time to the project. She raised more than $4 million working with the current and former Nevada first ladies.

As the 2012 election drew closer, however, the project fell victim to politics. Challengers running for the Board of Supervisors criticized the incumbents for not putting the tax increase on the ballot, and the pressure eventually forced the issue to a public vote. It failed, and the tax funding for the project was lost.

Despite the setback, Westergard rallied, taking over as interim director of the library when the director left in 2013. While finishing her master's degree in library sciences, she managed to secure funding for a manufacturing certification program to groom workers for a new Tesla Motors battery factory. But until her degree was finished in late 2014, she couldn't apply to be hired as the permanent director.

Library Systems and Services, which took over operation of Jackson County libraries in 2007, had noticed her, though. The company, also known as LSSI, reached out to Westergard about filling the director position in Medford when Wolfe announced her retirement. After interviewing with LSSI, she was one of three finalists presented to the Jackson County Library District board.

"We very much appreciated the fact that she was not a lifelong librarian," says board member Maureen Swift. "Tammy has certainly shown ... that libraries can be key in making a community better trained for opportunities like the Tesla battery factory."

Swift also says that Westergard's vision for the library's role, although nontraditional in its economic development focus, aligns with the board's philosophy.

"The only place in our democracy where you can access ways to level up your skills for free is the library," Westergard says. "And we take that for granted."

Westergard says she feels "like the luckiest person ever" to have been hired here and finds the county's voting record with regard to libraries encouraging. Voters approved formation of a new library district in the May 2014 election, after Jackson County indicated it would begin reducing funding for library services. Voters also approved a $30 million bond measure in 2000 to rebuild or renovate libraries across the county.

"Oregon really knows how to pull oars in the same direction," she says.

New Jackson Country Library Director Tammy Westergard sees economic development as part of the mission of the library. photo by Cathleen Allison