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Kirkpatrick to retire from Whitman County Library

Kristie Kirkpatrick will retire from Whitman County Library this fall after 33 years with the library district, the last 21 as its director.

While library staff and the Board of Trustees have known of Kirkpatrick's pending retirement for some time, the public announcement was delayed to coincide with the publication of the position opening, which can be found on the library website and will be advertised in the coming weeks.

With the uncertainty of our current times, Kirkpatrick is very confident a strong replacement will be found, saying, "A new Director would be privileged to work with such a talented staff and supportive community. I can't speak highly enough of my experiences working on behalf of Whitman County residents."

In her time at the library, Kirkpatrick has seen a lot of change.

When she started as manager of the Rosalia Branch in 1988, the automated library catalog was new but problems transmitting data between its 13 branches presented huge technological and financial challenges.

Throughout the 90s, partnerships and grants to bring Internet to the branches made some headway with these issues but it wasn't until 2002 that quality computing and public Internet access became the standard. That year, a $104,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation finally provided equipment and infrastructure changes that were so badly needed.

That same year, Bill Gates made a surprise visit to the library in culmination of his 5-year, $200 million dollar project to bring Internet access and computers to 5800 libraries in all 50 states, including WCL. Kirkpatrick recalls, "It was such a surprise and honor to be selected for the personal visit from Mr. Gates, with Foundation officials citing "Whitman County Library's innovative and creative approach to rural library services" as the reason."

Along with Gates's donation, local partnerships with First Step Internet, St. John Telephone, Pioneer Telephone, The Port of Whitman and also, The Washington State Library have sustained and improved library telecommunications, not only through the difficulties of the 1990s, but even more so today.

Kirkpatrick also speaks proudly of the community's role in expanding library programs and facility upgrades. Because the library's tax rate is capped by state law, the district doesn't collect enough funds to offer services beyond the most basic. Thankfully, many individuals and businesses have generously supported the library beyond their taxed contributions, with private donations funding everything from building improvements, classes and lectures, to technology equipment and Summer Reading programs.

This kind of support helped to build new libraries in St. John, LaCrosse and Malden, and also, major renovations in Colfax, Endicott, Rosalia and Uniontown. Nearly every branch has seen a facelift and the library district now operates Colfax's Bettie Steiger Community Enrichment Center and Libey Gallery independent of library taxes thanks to generous donors and user fees.

Kirkpatrick adds, "The sheer number of donors, grant funders, community partners and volunteers who've generously and positively impacted the library is mind boggling and heartwarming. Look at any branch, any service or any program and you will see the community's fingerprint on it."

Use of the library greatly increased over the past 30 years as well, especially attendance at classes and educational programs. Prior to the Coronavirus shut downs, numbers were off the charts with nearly 50,000 people attending programs and classes last year. Kirkpatrick adds, "These counts don't even include people using libraries for materials, online products, Internet access or just hanging out."

Besides her work in the district, Kirkpatrick was active for many years at regional, state and federal levels. She says, "Among all of my extra endeavors, advocating for our own library and Washington's libraries in Olympia and Washington D.C. was both exciting and rewarding."

In summing up her career, Kirkpatrick believes, "Whitman County Library's growth and success is quite reflective of our community's values. Our citizens care about education, our towns and each other; a sure recipe for success."

With 6 children, 16 grandchildren (and 2 more on the way), Kirkpatrick is excited about her pending retirement. "My husband Al retired last spring, so we are eager to spend more time with our ever growing family."

Besides spending more time with grandchildren, Kirkpatrick has a very personal goal for her retirement. She says, "I've waited many years to enjoy our amazing library programs, to read more, and of course, to be an active volunteer and Friend of Whitman County Library."


For a complete list of events and programs happening in all fourteen Whitman County Library branches, visit the Whitman County Library website or our Blog at http://whitmancountylibrary.blogspot.com, the library's events calendar, Facebook, Twitter,  or call the library at 397-4366 or 877-733-3375 toll-free.