February 01, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
Library Director Linda Sickles (click for larger version)
One would think the last thing a library director would want to do upon retiring after 31 years is immerse herself in a book.
But that is what Linda Sickles, who is stepping down this week as the head of Orion Township Public Library, plans to do.
"This job has kept me very busy and I'm looking forward to some time to myself," she said. "If I want to spend an afternoon reading a book, I can now do that."
Sickles' love for books was kindled at a young age, growing up in a house of readers in Bloomfield Township. She became a book stacker in school and then at the Baldwin Library in Birmingham. Sickles studied political science in college.
After graduating, she moved to Boston for a couple years and worked in a medical library. Sickles returned to Michigan and eventually would up at the Rochester Hills Public Library.
She was named director of the Orion Township Public Library on Lapeer Road in 1981. There, she watched the undersized facility decline due to its older collection and lack of funding.
Sickles committed herself to improving the library's relationships with township, village and school officials. She also watched the population of Orion Township explode and support for a new building grow during the early 1990s. Sickles spearheaded the effort to build the new library on Joslyn Road, which opened in 1996. She says it is her greatest professional accomplishment.
In addition, Sickles has not only been able to stabilize funding for the library over the years, but also significantly improve its image and presence throughout the community.
"We've become not just a repository of information and the gatekeeper of books, but a community center," she said. "We offer a variety of activities for families and people of all ages. The library is now a cornerstone of sorts in Lake Orion."
Sickles said a key to this has been making the library more welcoming and customer friendly. Technology has become the "backbone" of the facility, she explained, helping make the library's circulation and records departments more efficient. The library also has a strong web presence now, with a circulation database available on a 24/7 basis.
"Libraries have to keep up or you're dead in the water," she said. "You need to be flexible in how you provide information, or people will go elsewhere."
To illustrate this point, Sickles pointed out that people with e-readers can check out electronic books today, something unheard of not long ago. She also noted that the library has seen a surge in interest in its classes that teach people how to use their e-readers.
"One of the first things I plan to do in retirement is master my Nook e-reader," she admitted. "But, I'm still one of those persons who likes to hold a book in my hand to read, rather than stare at a screen."
She also plans on continuing to peruse the shelves of the library, looking for books that catch her eye - something that she first enjoyed in her youth.
During her tenure at the library, the Director said she especially enjoyed working with young people and promoting reading as an adventure.
"When you pick up a book, you don't know where you are going to end up at the end of the voyage.," she said, noting that reading also promotes critical thinking - a valuable skill for people of all ages.
Besides reading a few good booksa month, what else does Sickles want to do in retirement? Her immediate plans include arts and crafts, becoming more physically fit now that she has some time and, most importantly, catch up with friends. She also hopes to travel.
"A lot of people only have one regret in their lives," she said. "They wish they had more time. I've got that now."
Sickles said she is at a point in her career that made it easy to retire. Her replacement, Karen Knox, starts on February 6. She comes from the Rochester Hills Public Library.
"I worked very hard to build this library," she explained, noting she has spent almost half her life with the Orion Township Public Library and its "great" staff and board. "But it's time to turn it over to somebody else now, with new energy and ideas."
Without Sickles' own vision and tireless dedication, the current library - a gem in our community - may not have become a reality 16 years ago.
Now she can just sit back and read.