Dixon’s path in life brought her to job she loves
By Laurelle Walsh
After 30 years and six months as head of North Central Regional Library’s Twisp branch, librarian Terry Dixon is leaving her post at the end of this month.
“My dad said, ‘You should always leave the party when you’re still having a good time,’” Dixon recalls. “I love my job, but it’s time to let somebody else have it.”
It’s partly her age, she says — she can now get Social Security — and partly a little pressure from her husband, Steve, who retired from his teaching job at Methow Valley Elementary School a few years ago.
Dixon admits she gets somewhat sentimental when she thinks about her days at the library, not only matching people with books, but also guiding people — young and not-so-young — into a life of learning.
“The most wonderful thing about it has been the chance to get to know the community … and seeing the kids grow up. Now I really am going to cry,” she said in a recent interview.
An indirect path to the library
Dixon never set out to be a librarian, she said; in fact the university-educated 66-year-old never studied library science.
She was a zoology major at University of Vermont, heading toward medical school, when a stress-related ulcer and some wise counseling compelled her to change paths, she recalls. “Life sometimes knows better than we know,” Dixon said.
The Maryland native had always wanted to go west, she said, so right out of college she moved to Denver, Colorado, and took a job as a zookeeper. “I loved that job too,” she said, but pollution and the stresses of living in the city pushed her on toward a more rural lifestyle.
Next, she moved to Lander, Wyoming, where she became an instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School, leading courses around the West, including Alaska.
It was in the off-season working as a land surveyor that Dixon met her future husband, Steve, both of them on a crew surveying mines in a remote area of New Mexico.
Steve was from the Northwest, and soon the couple moved to the Methow Valley, where they each got jobs with the U.S. Forest Service in 1977.
Terry worked as a timber marker for two summers until she “took a break for kids,” she said, giving birth to Sarah in 1980, and Peter in 1982.
Dixon started her job at the Twisp library in May of 1984, taking over for Crystal Pankowski.
Marjory White, who Dixon knew through the American Association of University Women (AAUW), was the Winthrop librarian at the time, and encouraged her to apply for the job, Dixon recalls.
“It was mostly on-the-job training,” Dixon said. “I spent a lot of time in libraries in college. The most important things is you have to be organized and figure out how to find what people are looking for.”
A career that evolved with the times
Dixon herself had to do a lot of learning, as the library and her own duties evolved over the years.
“Everything used to be so manual,” she recalls.
Checkouts were written on cards and she personally telephoned patrons who had overdue books.
Every week North Central Regional Library’s (NCRL) headquarters in Wenatchee used to call the branches with a “pull list”– a list of books that had been requested by patrons from other branches. Dixon then took the pulled books to the post office and mailed them directly to the requesting libraries.
Non-print media such as movies and audio books, as well as access to the Internet, have become a big part of the librarian’s job, Dixon said.
In fact it was a Twisp library computer that played a major role in a 2011 ACLU lawsuit that contested NCRL’s broad use of Internet filters to block the public’s access to websites, including YouTube, MySpace and Craigslist.
In the 1980s, “before the Internet,” the Twisp library got the first public computer among the region’s libraries. Patrons played computer games and created documents on the machine. “Chris Cherrington wrote all the grants and applied for nonprofit status to start Cascadia on that computer, under the iguana,” Dixon said.
That iguana, in its 8-foot cage constructed by a library patron, was just one of many non-human creatures that used to inhabit the library, Dixon said. The library was also home to gerbils, walking sticks, catfish and a tarantula. Neighbors going on vacation would even leave their pet hamsters with the librarian to care for when they went out of town.
As library use and circulation grew, Dixon’s responsibilities also grew. The Twisp Library Friends group played an important role in supporting the institution, said Dixon.
In 2010 Twisp Library Friends ran a capital campaign that raised $60,000 to double the library’s space in the community center building. “They have done so much for me and the library. I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done,” Dixon said.
Over the years book sales have grown into semi-annual community events that not only make money for the libraries, but also “spread good books around,” Dixon said.
The valley’s book clubs have also grown, from the first — Marjory White’s AAUW book club 32 years ago — to 20 or more active clubs today. “There’s one person in Wenatchee whose full-time job is just to deal with book clubs,” Dixon said.
The Twisp librarian herself is a member of three book groups, and is currently looking for members who want to form a new one. “I never get tired of books,” she said.
Fond memories and a promising retirement
The public library is a special institution where citizens learn not only the responsibility of borrowing a book, but also respect for other people and public spaces.
It’s also a place where character-building can take place. Dixon recalls one teenager who turned in $100 she found in a library book. “That showed a lot of integrity,” Dixon said. (The young lady later got to keep the money after no-one came in to claim it.)
She has also seen the deep connection people develop with books and reading. “It’s wonderful when books mean so much to people,” Dixon said, remembering another young girl who cried when she learned that her book hadn’t come in.
She recalls good times at the Twisp library where summer tie-dye parties drew 80 people and their T-shirts, and creating chalk drawings on the tennis courts that stood where the Twisp
Commons park is now.
Dixon has no specific plans for her life in retirement. “What’s next is unknown,” she said.
She will continue to be active with the Twisp Valley Grange, and she and her husband will keep operating a small business — Dixon Family Farm — growing garlic and selling dehydrated garlic products.
They also have horses which they take on pack trips into the mountains each summer.
Dixon would eventually like to join the Library Friends and even be a volunteer at the library, once her replacement gets settled in, she said. “I want the next person to be successful and enjoy the job as much as I do,” she said.
NCRL began advertising the position on Monday (Dec. 8), and a new librarian had not been hired at press time. Dixon’s last day will be Dec. 31.