Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Q&A with New Public Library Director Heather VanTassell

Photo by Pedro Lizardi

Heather VanTassell has recently joined the Walla Walla Public Library staff as library director, following years of work as a managing librarian in the Yakima Valley Libraries system.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Wire: Walk me through your past experience working in libraries.

Heather VanTassell: My background is in marketing … I went back to school to get my master’s degree online through Drexel University. I have 11 years working in Yakima Valley Libraries… I was in [my last position] for about seven years, where I was managing three libraries. A few months before I left, I was managing six of their libraries including the their busiest location, which is their West Valley location, which circulates about as much as [the Walla Walla Public Library] does, and sees close to the same number of visitors.

Wire: There’s a lot going on with book banning lately, both nationally and locally. Has the Walla Walla Public Library had any requests for books to be removed from the shelves?

HV: No, the Walla Walla Public Library has not had any requests for books to be removed from the shelves, which is fabulous. 

Wire: What would your response be if you were put in a situation where people were asking that books be removed from the library?

HV: You always hope you’d never be there. But I guess what it really comes down to is as a librarian, we take an oath that we are going to have a wide variety of materials available and those materials are going to have a lot of different ideas in them. And we have to put them on our shelves even if they might be offensive to some people, or even if it would be offensive to me, for instance. A good library has something in it that’s going to offend everyone, because we come from lots of different backgrounds. And we want to represent all of those different backgrounds. We want to represent our whole community. And if we don’t have all types of materials here, we’re not representing everyone.

Wire: What would you say you’re most excited about with this position? 

HV: I think I’m most excited to be part of the city team. [They] are really working together to make Walla Walla a great place to live. And the group of people that work here are fantastic.

A city library is run a lot different than the rural library system that I was from, in that we had different departments that did the ordering of the books, a different department that catalogs them, a whole different department that puts stickers [on the books], and then a  different department that does the programming. This group of 14 people that work in this library [WWPL] do all of that, which is amazing, and they’re passionate about it. So I’m thrilled to be working with them.

Wire: Is there anything about the library that you would want college students to know? 

HV: I guess the variety of items that we have, of course; the variety of programs that actually might tie into stuff that they’re doing. We also have two small study rooms if they [need] a place to study. Getting a library card is free to any Whitman student, so they can come in and use all of our materials, all of our spaces, any of our programs. It’s all free. 

Wire: Are there other things you’d like to mention?

HV: There is one thing nobody has asked me from the beginning: What led you to being [a librarian]? I didn’t know that this was something that I wanted to do [until] later in life [but] I grew up in libraries. My parents were both getting their undergrad degrees when I was little, and my sister was little, and so they’d bring us to the public library. We would play and run around and have a good time and read, and read and read while they studied.

It started there. And then when I moved to Ellensburg, I was a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t know anybody. And I took my son to the public library and there were storytimes and moms just like me, and I just think public libraries are a really great place for people to connect in order to grow, and to learn.

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