Fire, community center part of memories

Laurey Zwart of Sioux Center has worked 26 years for the Sioux Center Public Library. She’ll officially retire July 15 but the library is having an open house for her Tuesday, June 4, ahead of the busy Summer Reading Program season.

SIOUX CENTER—Change has been a constant in the 26 years Laurey Zwart has worked for the Sioux Center Public Library.

“When I started, the library had just gotten bar codes on books and a computer checkout system,” she said. “We had the paper catalog too but after a while that was hard to keep up. The bar codes have been great.”

The 65-year-old Sioux Center resident has worked in three buildings and under three different library directors.

“I’ve always loved books and reading; that has never changed,” said Zwart, who will have her last day July 15.

Library staff has planned a retirement open house for her 3:30-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June, 4, ahead of the busy Summer Reading Program season.

“What I realized most, I think, was all the work that goes on behind the scenes,” Zwart said. “Library staff don’t just shelve books.”

Zwart, who is has always worked part time for the library, began in 1993 as an outreach librarian through which she brought books to home-bound senior citizens.

As the Recency and Crown Pointe were developed, including libraries, her job included stocking those libraries with books as well. At one point, Zwart also took books to the New Homestead after Dinner Date.

Other services she’s helped with include leading storytime at Head Start and assisting with the adult summer reading program. She gave the outreach librarian duties over to another library staff member after 20 years. Her main focus the past six years has been helping at the circulation desk.

Zwart first worked at a building formerly at 327 First Ave. NE adjacent to Premier Communications. While the library was in need of more space, she won’t forget how the existing library came to be.

“It was a shock to get a call one morning in July that it burned,” said Zwart of July 23, 2003 fire that damaged the library building beyond repair. “A few of us did go into the building before fire marshal came. It was weird to stand there; everything was mostly wet and full of soot. What excites me is that the library still has one or two books that I read to my daughters when they were little. They survived the fire.”

Zwart helped the library move its remaining resources and donated books into the former community center.

“It worked very well space wise but there were no windows, which took its toll over time,” Zwart said. “On the other hand, we dared to use littler during preschool crafts. We could do messy things because no one had to vacuum carpet there.”

Though in a new building, Zwart said the library has retained the role of community center.

“We have a lot of people who feel comfortable coming to the library,” Zwart said. “They don’ have to shush their children. They can ask questions. We’re not just a place for books but books, we’re a place for lots of information in many ways.”

Working at the library has helped Zwart grow.

“When I first started I was not that much of a people person,” she said. “I was very quiet and shy so calling people up and inviting myself over to bring them books was a challenge, but I found I could do that. I made a lot of good friends that way with people in the community.”

Her favorite read most of the time is whatever book she’s reading at the moment.

“It’s dangerous if I have a cart of books to put away,” she said. “As I read the back cover of the book, if it sounds interesting, I put it on the bottom portion of the cart and take it home. I haven’t read every book in the library but I’ve read a lot. Makes it fun when people ask for recommendations and more fun when they come back two weeks later and tell me what they thought of the book too.”

With two adult children and five grandchildren not living near the area and a husband who also retired this spring, Zwart is looking forward to doing some traveling after retirement.

“I’ll always have a love for books, maybe I’ll get to read even more now,” she said.