Whitefish Community Library director reflects on 36-year career

Nov. 23—Just as a library houses resources for its community, a good librarian is a treasure trove of knowledge and memories. Whitefish has been fortunate to have such a librarian for over 35 years.

Joey Kositzky, Director of the Whitefish Community Library, will be retiring at the end of the year in order to start a new chapter of her life, one that includes a lot of reading. She said as a librarian working six days a week, she didn't have time to read.

"I've got probably 100 books stacked up at home that I don't have to worry about getting fines on, because I bought them," she said. "When I run out of those I'll be in here, believe me, I'll be one of their best patrons."

Kositzky started her library career in 1986 as a volunteer at the Muldown Elementary School library when her daughter Bree was a student. Soon after, she took a job as a shelver at the Whitefish Library when it was located upstairs from city hall.

"So I started as a shelver and started training and workshops and programs and just worked my way up to director," she said.

Two major transitions happened with the library while she was climbing the ladder to the director position — the library moved to a new building and also became independent of the county.

Planning for the new library began in 1994, as Kositsky and other community members helped to raise funds and visualized the new building.

"We continued fundraising, and... built the library with the understanding the building would be turned over to the city once it was complete," Kositzky said. "So they own the building but the people own the library. That's how I put it."

The building construction was completed in 1997 and by 1998 the library moved into its new building. Kositzky recalls the transition and it also helped her through a difficult time.

"The library basically saved me because I'd lost my husband in March of 1998, so this gave me the opportunity to really focus on doing something good," she said.

The move to the new location gave about 180 middle school students in Whitefish an important job, too.

"We put books in bags at the old library and they walked them over here and sat them in the right places and on the shelf they went. It was cool," she said. "There are some photographs of the kids. It's fun to have them come in now and say, 'oh that's me,' as they come in with their kids."

The next major change happened when the Whitefish Community Library separated from the county in 2011 and Kotsitzky was hired to be the director. The board at the time thought Kositzky had the experience needed to "allow for a seamless reorganization," and they were right.

"Once the county was totally out of here, we opened the library and I don't think patrons even saw the transition," Kositzky said. "We had probably 40 volunteers in here re-barcoding books for us with our Whitefish Community Library over the Flathead County barcodes. It was a lot of work. It took a community but we did it."

Kositzky recalled once the transition was over, it was a relief.

"My feeling was that we didn't want to dictate to our community, we wanted to listen to them and they would tell us how they wanted their library run since it was their taxes paying for it," she said.

The library has not always been a stereotypically quiet place. According to a recent press release, Kositzky had to ask a man in a Samurai warrior costume performing rites before the circulation desk to leave. He proceeded to remove his shirt and direct traffic on Spokane Avenue while wielding a large sword.

She also shared a story about a telephone company mix-up that resulted in Kositzky receiving a call from a Lincoln County law enforcement officer who wanted her to meet him at the county border for a prisoner exchange. It took minutes to convince him that he was speaking to the librarian in Whitefish.

"Fortunately, we didn't end up with a new patron," she joked.

In the press release, Kositzky also added that a library is a great place to learn life lessons.

"It taught me to try not to be judgmental — I don't always succeed," she said. "I have learned that even the briefest of encounters can make a big impact on our lives."

HER RETIREMENT will free up time to enjoy the valley she's loved since she set eyes on it for the first time when she was a teenager.

"I was born in Denver and every time my dad got promoted, we'd move. So we moved from Denver to Seattle to Spokane," Kositzky said. "And then, in 1960, he had an offer here and I swear, the minute we drove into this valley, I knew I was home."

Her family lived in Evergreen and around the time she graduated from Flathead High School, the flood of 1964 struck. She said it washed away her opportunity to go to college. She worked at a Ford dealership in town and while her parents each worked at car dealerships too, her brother went to college and became a physiologist.

"I don't know where my brother went wrong," she joked.

Kositzky will retire on Dec. 31 because, as she said with a laugh, "That's pretty much when the trustees expect me to be out of the building."

She knows the library will continue to serve Whitefish in her absence and said that the community will determine the directions it takes because it's their library. She said she has been very blessed to be a part of it.