(Crystal A. Proxmire, 10/8/2011)
When Kate Pohjola told a co-worker she wanted to try for the Director’s position at the Ferndale Public Library, the co-worker laughed and said, “I’ll know you’re serious about looking for a new job when you get your hair cut.”
To which the vibrant 40 year old woman with dreads in her shoulder-length auburn hair replied, “No, you know what, in the right place it won’t matter.”
And she was right. Among nearly 30 applicants, Pohjola stood out as someone creative, passionate, and as eager to enjoy Ferndale’s newly renovated, eco-friendly Library as the people in the community who helped make the project possible. After a series of interviews The Library Board hired Pohjola at an annual salary of $77,000, and she started the new job on August 1st. In a city known for diversity and inclusion, and a Library that prides itself on not being the quiet kind, Pohjola feels perfectly at home.
Ferndale was one of Pohjola’s stomping grounds as a teen. She grew in Berkley and often spent Friday nights cruising up and down Woodward with her friends, making the Michigan lefts just north of Eight Mile and out around Thirteen. “One of the many reasons this position appealed to me is this is home,” she said. Pohjola has spent the last six years working as Director of the Lapeer District Library, which was spread out among nine buildings in a rural community. “The biggest city we served had just 10,000 people so it was half the size of Ferndale,” she said. The libraries she served were so far apart that she found it hard to get to know people and feel part of the community.
“I love living in Ferndale now. There’s a familiarity that I really like. Ferndale is a small town but you have anything you could need nearby,” she said. “I’ve been in the press so much that people recognize me everywhere. It’s unnerving, but it’s fun having everyone know who you are. I am getting used to it.”
Pohjola’s passion for sharing books and knowledge with the public was firmly rooted in her psyche by the age of 15, when she took her first job working at the Berkley Library. “It’s all my mother’s fault. She made me get that job. I was a teenager and it was like ‘eew I don’t want to work at the library,’ but then I fell in love with it,” she said. “My mother was a page at the Detroit Public Library and I think she would have made a great Librarian.”
Over the years Pohjola worked part time in Libraries while she went to college. After getting her BA in Political Science with an emphasis in Public Administration she realized that jobs were scarce in her field. Again her mother intervened and encouraged her to carry forward with her education and get her Masters in Library Sciences from Wayne State.
When she started in 1986, libraries like the one in Berkley were still using card catalog systems that held information about books on index cards in long wooden boxes. “Libraries will always change,” Pohjola said. “And we always have to change too. But it’s exciting.” The energetic director is already working on expanding the Library’s offerings to include classes on computers, iPads, Nooks, Kindles, and other tools that pop up to help people share information.
“I’m putting together a ‘gadget zoo’ for employees where we’ll have a tech person come in to teach us how to help other people use the new technologies. People will come in after Christmas with their new gadgets and ask us ‘how do I use this?’ I want everyone here to be able to help when someone asks.”
Another project in the works is being able to offer Green Tours. When the Library opened last year after remodeling and expanding, the intent of the Board was that the ecological features of the building be used to teach others about green technology. “I’m still learning about all the features myself,” she said. The building has a geothermal heating system, rainwater collection and a rain garden on the roof among other “green” features. (read about them here). Sharing these with the public is part of her plan, as it continuing to make the Library a hub for community events that entertain, educate and bring people together.
“One thing that I love about being here in Ferndale is that we have a really active Friends group that puts on a lot of events,” Pohjola said. Ironically enough, members of the Friends group inspired Pohjola long before the possibility of working in Ferndale came on the radar. “When I was working in Lapeer it took us a couple tries to get the millage renewed for the Library, but in 2007 we were able to get it, partly because I had looked at what people in Ferndale had done to pass theirs. There was this wonderful Fact Sheet that had been done up, I found out later, by Kevin Deegan-Krause. It was a graphic of the ballot and he’d put the points on it of why people should vote for it. It was very effective and I used the same idea to pass it in Lapeer. It was funny coming here and realizing ‘hey, you’re the one who did that.’ Not that I believe in fate or anything, but it’s just another good sign telling me this is where I need to be.”
In another month Pohjola will have her three month review, where she and the Board will discuss her contributions thus far and set more specific goals moving forward. For more information on the Ferndale Public Library, including their many free events and online resources, check out their website at: http://www.ferndale.lib.mi.us.
To find out what news stories The Ferndale 115 News has done about the Library, check out or Library News section at: http://www.ferndale115.com/library.html.