A changing of the guard at Cathlamet library: A storied career for Blix
September 21, 2023
Carol Blix has checked out her last book as a librarian after a 40 year career, mostly serving right here in this community.
Long before she became the librarian at the Cathlamet Library, Blix was inspiring young readers at Wahkiakum School District, working half days at the grade school and the high school.
When budget issues arose, Blix was hustled into the classroom to teach a variety of subjects, from art, to middle school science, eighth grade careers, or American Literature at the high school.
She had a K-12 teaching certificate, so it was whatever they needed.
Blix was born in Vancouver. When she was still quite young, the family moved to Texas for a few years. Eventually the family would return to the Vancouver area to be near an aging grandparent, and Blix would head to Seattle to attend the University of Washington. While there, she would earn an undergraduate degree in art education.
"They said make sure that you have as broad an education as possible," Blix said. "Art education? I thought, I can be an art teacher, a regular teacher, a librarian once I go to graduate school, I can be a school librarian, public librarian, or a fine artist at some point in time."
"I may head there next," Blix said. "I've just about covered all the bases for what I went to school for. It's kind of neat that it worked out that way that I could do a little bit in each of those areas and it kind of prepared me for how things changed over the course of my life."
In 2013, 30 years after she began her career, she became the librarian at the Cathlamet Library.
"I loved books," Blix told me. "When I was in middle school, the librarian, Miss Mary Mack, she said 'You will become a librarian,' and then when I got to Fort Vancouver High School, the librarian there, Ellen Toronto said, 'You will become a librarian.'"
Blix was the student library helper, and she knows that her high school librarian was trying to mentor her and give her good experiences in the library. She would take that knowledge with her when she got her first regular paying job, working as a page at Fort Vancouver Regional Library in the children's section.
"It would get really quiet and they would come looking for me, and here I am with my nose in a book reading it," Blix said. "I couldn't just put it away! It was so good. They would shake their finger at me gently, and I would go back to work."
She also remembers when she and another young co-worker would go down to the basement to pick up books as people would drop them in the return slot.
"Thank you!" they would cheer from below. "That was delicious."
Each of her jobs seems to have prepared her for the next. On three occasions she has moved whole sections, even whole libraries, from one place to another. There was the time as a page that she helped to move the children's section upstairs. When the grade school was remodeled, the library books had to be moved, and when the Cathlamet Library was returned to its present location from the River Street Meeting Room, it was up to Blix and volunteers to make that happen.
Once, budget cuts at the school forced her to pick up a half time librarian job at a school in Longview.
"They had computer software at their library," Blix said. "I got to learn how to operate that. At the grade school and high school, I started automated software for those libraries and got everything all barcoded there. And when I got here, guess what we were just starting? So I got to repeat that as well."
But her favorite thing?
"Being able to help people, when I can show people a great book and see their eyes light up, it melts your heart," Blix said. "I had a little boy come in earlier this week and say, 'You are my favorite librarian in the whole world.'"
The library's summer reading programs were always exciting, but lots of work, she said, and the state library had different stem kits that they could check out.
"Some of them had a very steep learning curve," Blix said. "You were doing good if you were a step ahead of the kids."
When she first started 10 years ago, Blix worked 69 hours a month with no benefits, but the job kept expanding as the library offered more services. It took a while, but the library board was able to talk the town into more hours and benefits before it was over.
"I worked hard at it," Blix said.
Patrons can check out books at other regional libraries now, and have access to educational and career resources online, and can check out mobile hotspots and laptops thanks to a couple grants.
As part of a book review group, Blix has been getting books from publishers, and reviewing them.
"It means a lot of reading, and I've been doing that as an extra, off the books," Blix said. "It means a whole lot of children's books for the library that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise."
It also means she doesn't get to do much reading for herself. She's looking forward to catching up on some adult series written by Louise Penny, Jacqueline Winspear, and CJ Box. And rereading some favorite young adult books, like the Queen's Thief series.
So much more has changed since Blix started, and even now it continues to improve. She will always be glad for those two women who insisted that she would be a librarian.
"I would not have made a good doctor or a nurse, but putting people together with a good book and getting them to love reading and good authors, and good books, that is where my heart is at," she said.
Along with reading just for fun, Blix is planning on getting caught up on the housework she's been putting off, and intends on spending more time in the garden, another place that is close to her heart, and take a few trips with her husband.