The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Change comes to Westend library

 

February 2, 2017



“We worked so hard. We felt so proud that we were able to do this community center. I thought of it as a legacy. They are just dismantling all the work we did instead of focusing on other things that needed to be done.”

—Penny Gregory, former Johnson Park board member

By Diana Zimmerman

A rift at Johnson Park may eventually be a double blessing to the Westend community. There may soon be two free libraries, both largely possible because of Trudy Fredrickson.

When Fredrickson and the new Johnson Park Board could not agree to terms about her involvement in a library that she was instrumental in setting up, Fredrickson decided to remove a portion of the collection of books that she had given to the library at Johnson Park. The board agreed and allowed her to take all the books stamped “Disregarded by Bend/Deschutes Libraries.”

“I didn’t do this to be mean,” Fredrickson said. “I didn’t do this to be vindictive.”

County Commissioner Mike Backman carefully pointed out that it wasn’t Fredrickson’s library. It was the Johnson Park library. But he also watched her remove the books. He believes her.

“You could tell she wasn’t gleeful about it,” Backman said, “it was very upsetting to her.”

Two things were certain. She felt ownership in the project. And she was hurt.

Fredrickson has spent most of her life working around books. As a volunteer and Johnson Park Board Member for more than 10 years, she poured energy, time, and her own money into the origin and organization of the library there.

After sharing more than 9,000 books and other items that she personally had been gifted, being involved in finding and transporting used shelving and furniture, and taking a year to catalog the books through a program she purchased, she was told by the new board that she could only access the area as a volunteer during open hours and there would be a probationary period.

This coming at a time when by all accounts, the park is hurting for volunteers.

“I’ve been doing this most of my life,” Fredrickson said of library work. “I’ve had a library card since I was four. I started shelving books when I was 10 years old in our local library. When I was in junior high, I participated in a library aide program. Of course, back then it was the dark ages, so they did everything by hand, but that is where I started learning the workings. During high school, I helped run the book store at the school and worked in the library two or three days a week.”

After she married and had kids, Fredrickson helped set up a library in the private school her children were attending. She did it again when her youngest, who came 10 years after her last child, attended a different school.

When the Fredricksons moved to the area in 2000, Trudy made a beeline for the library in Naselle. She picked up several books and headed to checkout.

“That’ll be $65,” she was told at the time. That was the fee for living outside of Pacific County.

“I’ve never paid for a library card in my life,” Fredrickson said. “I never will. That’s what started it.”

“It” being the spark of an idea for a local free library.

“I was one of the active members of the beginning computer center through the grange,” Fredrickson said. “It was awesome. We kept thinking we needed to do more to bring more people in. Gradually we had a lot of things going on up there at Johnson Park. I got access to some books, so we decided to open a library.”

But books need shelves.

A friend heard a story on the radio about the Seaside Library closing. Fredrickson got on the phone and called their librarian. After she attended a board meeting there, the library decided to donate to the project.

“A group of us went down there in the pouring down rain,” Fredrickson remembered. “Oh, it was horrible. My husband rented one of the biggest U-Hauls they had down there, one of the three or four bedroom house ones. At our expense. Anything you can get in that truck, take it, they told us. We got some kids tables and chairs, as well as office furniture they had in the library. We brought it back and put it in the room next to the computer center.”

At the time, the library was set up in a room near the cafeteria at Johnson Park.

Fredrickson bought a program with her own money to catalog the library.

“It took over a year to get those books cataloged,” she said. “We got the library set up and we opened in early 2010, as I recall. We had a lot of people help us. In fact some students came in and helped us catalog the books and get them on the shelves. We did it to code so that people in wheelchairs could come in.”

One day, volunteers found a picture of the room at the other end of Johnson Park.

“It had originally been the library,” Fredrickson said. “It was a much better room because of the lighting, because the books were not exposed to direct sunlight.”

“We moved there and it was perfect, absolutely perfect,” she gushed. “There was a kids’ nook on one side where the heater was. There was no direct sunlight on the books, no direct heat from the heater.”

Things only a professional or serious book lover would know or care about.

By that time the computer center was next door. They had three computers donated by Bill and Melinda Gates. Three were donated and maintained by LCC. And Fredrickson’s husband donated a Mac Mini to the library.

“It’s not important,” she said when asked how much money the two spent on the library. “This was a dream and my husband supported it.”

Then some things happened that took Fredrickson away from the library for periods of time. Her home burned down. The year it was rebuilt, her husband suffered a stroke.

She stepped away from the Johnson Park Board and all her work at the library in February of 2016. So did other board members who loved Johnson Park but were burnt out or had other more pressing concerns.

Thus, new board members, and a new vision.

In September, while grieving her husband’s death, Fredrickson headed to California to visit family. It was no secret that she was going. While she was gone the library was moved into the room next door. According to Fredrickson, a board member called her after the fact to tell her what they’d done.

“I had no inkling,” Fredrickson said.

Books were shoved into shelves in no particular order, spines facing forward and back. They were in direct sunlight, near heaters, placed in the damp, cool hallway on shelves amongst the free books.

All that work, gone. All that care, gone.

Some books went missing. Old sets of Shakespeare’s plays and more. Fredrickson found some of the books in her catalog in boxes that had been moved to the stage in another area of Johnson Park.

She can’t find some equipment she purchased for the library as well, including a couple scanners.

“I went up after they locked me out,” Fredrickson said. “They wouldn’t give me a code. I built the library, have been there for 14 years, every volunteer had the code, so why is there a security issue for me?”

After some thought, she went to the board to offer to take on the library again. She suggested that the library separate from Johnson Park. She would set up a 501(c)(3) at her own expense in order to apply for grants. She figured the board would be happy not to have to worry about the library while they focused on operations of the center, fundraising, groundskeeping, volunteer recruitment and more.

The board wasn’t interested in her offer but they made another one. She could be a volunteer, work two or three days a week while the library was open. She, like other volunteers, wouldn’t be given security codes. There would be a probationary period. She also wouldn’t be allowed to rely on her experience while volunteering, she now had to follow directives set forth by a library board that she believed had no experience in running a library.

The probationary period wasn’t because they didn’t trust Fredrickson, according to Denise Blanchard, who is on the Johnson Park Board and a member of the library board. They just wanted to be sure that they could work with each other. It was there for her as much as it was there for them.

As for why the library was moved, Blanchard and Kimberly DeJesus, another member of both boards, insist it was in order to have another room to rent and to conserve heat by using only one room to house the books and the computers.

“We think it will be more beneficial to the community and center to rent the room,” Blanchard said. “We also want to cut down on heat and electricity.”

They, like the old board, are trying to draw people in to Johnson Park. They just have different ideas.

PJ Katims wrote a letter of support for Fredrickson, suggesting that the board “breathe a collective sigh of relief that the library will not need their constant attention because of Trudy’s experience” in December. In the letter Katims also praised the board for the good work they are doing.

“The new board of directors at the Grays River Valley Center has been working overtime to increase use of the center by additional activities and enticing past activities back into the building,” the letter said, “Good work! It’s nice to see more people using the center.”

The two parties could find no compromise. And Fredrickson decided it was time to remove the collection she had given. The collection that was being damaged by heat, direct sunlight, damp, and cold.

“I just want people to understand that I’m not doing this to be mean,” Fredrickson said. “I’m doing this because I was driven out. I can’t run the library I set up.”

Fortunately, the books will soon available for Wahkiakum County residents as Fredrickson is working to set up a library in another location.

 

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