Ann Zydek began her career at the Warsaw Community Public Library on Sept. 14, 1981, as a children’s librarian, becoming the library director four years later. Her 40th anniversary at the library was Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Ann Zydek began her career at the Warsaw Community Public Library on Sept. 14, 1981, as a children’s librarian, becoming the library director four years later. Her 40th anniversary at the library was Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
When Ann Zydek joined the Warsaw Community Public Library on Sept. 14, 1981, she was the children’s librarian and her favorite books featured the illustrations of Tomie dePaola, who was born Sept. 15, 1934.

Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, marked her 40th year at WCPL and while she still loves dePaola’s work, she cites the “Lord of the Rings” books by J.R.R. Tolkien as her favorite books. Tolkien was born Jan. 3, 1892, and died Sept. 2, 1973.

Zydek’s journey to Warsaw started in Michigan.

“I had a job in the thumb area (of Michigan). There were a couple of layoffs that were done, and I was young. I had only been there two years right out of graduate school and I had three libraries in the school system that I was responsible for,” she said in an interview in her office Tuesday.

When she was looking for a new job, she had the possibility of going into the public sector or schools. After her interview for WCPL, she was offered the job and Zydek didn’t go any further because the other possible job would have taken her to St. Louis, Mo. Most of Zydek’s family is in lower Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.

She earned her graduate degree from Western Michigan University. Before then, she had a chance to do her first year in Toledo, Ohio, at a private school, and finished up at Madonna College (now University) in Michigan.

“I sort of followed where my dad was teaching (sociology). So we sort of drove together and it worked out really well,” Zydek said. “And then I finished up at Western. I did a whole year and got my credits.”

She then started working at her three school libraries in Badaxe, Mich.

When Zydek started as the children’s librarian at WCPL in 1981, the children’s room was in the basement of the Carnegie library.

“That was fun. I had a good support staff who had been here a while and made my job easy,” she said. “I loved interacting with everyone who came in – the families and individuals.”

At that time, the Rubik’s cube was very popular. It’s a 3-D combination puzzle invented by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Erno Rubik in 1974. She remembered a young person at that time was able to do the puzzle behind his back without looking at it.

“We had some fun adventures in that basement. I think the biggest thing was that it was nice to start seeing that we were starting to do little renovations because the walls – because of how they were – water would come through during storms,” she said.

She also remembered the summer reading programs were big from the very start all the way through the years that Zydek has been at the library. She recalled the chess tournaments the library had for a couple years.

When Zydek joined the library staff, Cynthia Wiggins was the library director. Zydek served as the children’s librarian for about four years. In 1985, Zydek was asked to become the acting library director until a new director was found.

“What ended up happening was that the president (of the library board) at that time said, ‘Are you interested in applying? I noticed you haven’t,’” she recalled. Zydek told the president she was the children’s librarian but the president was OK with that, so she applied for the director job. “I ended up being the one who was selected.”

At the same time, it was the start of the building project. An architect was brought in to give the library a feel of what was needed. The choices were to keep the library downtown or look elsewhere. It was decided to keep the library downtown at the same location.

“When it first started, they were just trying to get a sense for what were our future needs. It ended up being that there were quite a few things that we needed to do for our community, what they were interested in. So as we started exploring it, we knew that the meeting room situation was not good, and there wasn’t enough space for the staff in order to provide the programming and collection development that we could see the public wanted,” she said.

They also realized the library needed to start getting prepared for automation.

“We had mounds of books because we had these bar codes that go in the back of a book, and they were smart, which meant they had to be specifically put on the right book. So we had volunteers and staff members that spent time trying to stick that particular card to the right book. And any books that we couldn’t match ended up in the basement, so we had stacks everywhere. We finally had to hire a part-time person to help us to finish that up at the end,” she said.

The old Carnegie Library was filled up. In 1917, there was an auditorium in the basement. That eventually got divided up with modern restrooms, a staff area and a little meeting area. By the time Zydek came along, that meeting area was staff space. “So we knew that was something that had to change. We had to get the staff close to where they were providing service, not in the basement. We had to make sure we had enough collection space for the needs,” she said.

The library grew from under 14,000 square feet to 41,000 on two floors.

“That was probably my most enjoyable but most challenging number of years,” she said, adding it was probably over a 10-year period from start to finish (in 1998). “... But when we discovered that circulation at this library almost doubled, shortly after the doors opened, we knew that we were headed in the right direction. And programming increased substantially after that as well.”

Based on what Zydek has seen at the library over the last 40 years, she said formats may change over the next 40 years, but physical books will stay around.

“I can get a book, and it will last. It’s more economical for this community for me to purchase a physical book to have in this library because the digital companies are charging more and more for access to their (electronic) material. What we’re having to put aside for our e collection, I think it really does a disservice to Americans for the rates that are being charged for us to be able to offer (them),” she said.

Everyone is moving toward digital, she said, “But we’ve got to make sure that we don’t end up in our community paying a lot more for resources that your community library can provide in that central location.”

She said, “In 40 years, I think it cycles, and what will happen is, I think people will realize again how important it is, and I think some people have realized that. For young, emergent learners, a public library is the best value you can have, because to provide the variety of material that you need for that young brain that is absorbing all this content, you would have to have a lot to get all the material that they would need in order to do that.”

She strongly believes a library is essential to every community. Each library will be unique and it really needs to try to serve the community it is in, she said.

“So my library will not look like the next library over,” Zydek said.

Enjoying what she is doing, she said she’d like to keep on at her job for hopefully another 10 years.

“I can’t imagine a world without books or being able to have access like I do here,” she said. “This collection is a nice size collection, I feel. For our size community, we have a good, solid (collection). And the collection is always getting better.”

From her perspective – somehow, someway – she’s hoping to continue to be in a library environment in some way, shape or form.

“I have been blessed to be able to work in a profession that I enjoy,” she said. “It’s challenging, it’s rewarding. It’s something that every day changes a little bit. It’s never been dull. I have found a niche. As long as I am able to do that, I want to continue to do so.”