After nearly two decades as Blaine Library branch manager, Debby Farmer is trading books for retirement.
Farmer got her start as a librarian in 1996 when she began as a library page at Lynden Library. She was volunteering at her children’s school library in Custer and her church’s library, so the part-time position seemed only natural.
After a year, she was promoted to public services assistant and helped spearhead a volunteer group of over 70 people who moved the Lynden Library into a new building the summer of 2003. Shortly after, Farmer moved to the Blaine branch since her children were in Blaine schools.
“One of my passions is to communicate what the public library is today because there’s still a lot of folks out there who have this picture in mind of what libraries used to be,” she said. “It’s become a community hub and so many resources in the physical building as well as the digital world.”
Over the years, Farmer said she’s watched the technology change from using card catalogs to digitizing information. In 2003, the library had one computer station, which multiplied as technology went mainstream. Genealogy and Creativebug, which has thousands of videos on crafting, are types of popular library services accessed online, especially during the pandemic, Farmer said.
Farmer said one of her favorite parts of the job has been working with other staff members, who have been mostly new faces in recent years as older employees slowly retired.
A memory that stays close to Farmer is library staff putting on events over the years, like when a former children’s librarian arranged for a helicopter to land in the parking lot, gathering a crowd of over 500 people. Or the time when staff read “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” on a WTA bus filled with pigeons a library employee was raising at the time.
“So much of what we do is customer service. It’s not just library work. You’re wearing a counselor’s hat, you’re wearing a law enforcement’s hat, a social worker’s hat,” Farmer said. “It’s expanded to so many different things that I find the best employees are the ones who’ve had life experiences and dealing with the public.”
Elizabeth Stewart, a Blaine Library public services assistant, said Farmer worked hard to nurture strong connections with both staff and patrons. If it wasn’t for Farmer, Stewart said she isn’t sure if she’d be working at the library. Stewart started as a volunteer and was excited when she was first hired because it meant working with, and learning from, Farmer.
“The community feels a sense of loss with her retiring because there’s such a close connection with her and everyone who comes in,” Stewart said. “She goes out of her way to learn everyone’s names and interests.”
Blaine Library clerk Donna Grayston was also hired at the library in 2003, and said the past 18 years of working with Farmer have been a joy.
“She’s been an absolutely amazing manager. She’s kind and informed,” Grayston said. “It’s been years of niceness and kindness.”
It’s not just events the library uses to connect with the community. Farmer said she and other library staff helped a woman and her daughter who came from Yemen learn English through a conversation group.
“I’ll never forget the day she came in the door and said she had passed her test and had become a citizen,” Farmer said. “She was crying and we were all crying and hugging and jumping up and down.”
The library has also expanded over the years. In the early 2000s, it was circulating 100,000 items but by the early 2010s, that number jumped to 250,000.
“With the growth and all of the different services we provide in keeping up with the world and changes, it’s been a constant moving around of space,” Farmer said. “A huge part of my job has been trying to maximize every square inch of this building.”
As the library’s operations expand in the same 5,400 square feet of the old public works garage, Farmer has spent the end of her library career advocating for a new library with the Friends of the Blaine Library. In retirement, Farmer says she will continue to advocate for a new Blaine library.
Farmer decided to retire after turning 65, viewing it as a time that would allow her to spend time with her two grandchildren and parents living in Birch Bay. She also looks forward to spending time taking road trips with her husband and practicing Spanish. And, of course, reading.
“There are so many things I want to do in life and while this has been such a great opportunity and I’ve felt so privileged to be here, it’s been a lot of responsibility, too.”