Note: photos were shared by Betsy Arand, Susan Hanzelka and Tracy Miller.
Tracy Miller’s practice of joie de vivre infuses her collaborations with library buddies Jayanne Bixby and Susan Hanzelka, and is evident in their popular programs at the Freeland Library.
At the end of the month, Tracy will retire from working, but will continue to volunteer.
Meeting for lunch at WiFire Cafe in Freeland Feb. 22, Tracy was joined by Susan. We met to chat for this story about Tracy’s retirement after a decade of working with Sno-Isle Libraries.
“Tracy has been such a willing and creative collaborator!” Jayanne Bixby texted recently. Jayanne is the teen/children’s librarian at Langley and Freeland libraries. “I’ve especially appreciated how she shares her love for art. I was so impressed with how she created a “no-paint” Jackson Pollock experience for kids. She put a canvas on the floor and then gave them pompoms, Q-Tips®, yarn, etc. to make their picture.”
“Basically I just have to show up and say that’s really great, Jay,” Tracy noted, adding that she enjoys hearing the stories Jayanne reads to staff before presenting them at story time. We recalled Jayanne’s enjoyment of becoming the cat character Pete the Cat, and singing his songs. “I never read Pete the Cat for story times, Tracy joked, “because Jayanne owns it.”
Creative ideas find Tracy, who is in her element with the people she meets and works with. One conversation may lead to the next great library event.
One time a woman approached Tracy about doing a talk about Native American basketry, which she combined in a program linking to the Island County Historical Museum’s Native American collection.
Working with children and adults and sharing her curiosity about art, culture, crafts, stories, history—having fun is what Tracy likes about her library work.
“Tracy IS a superhero!” said Susan Hanzelka, a Library Associate Tracy collaborates with. “She’s done hundreds of great programs that have benefited our community, and more story times for our young customers than we can count. On a personal level, I will miss her so very much.”
Susan recalled field trips she’d take with Tracy to forage for wild materials for an upcoming program. Or picking berries during the COVID closure to make jam as holiday gifts for staff.
As teachers working in Skykomish at the time, Tracy and her husband Brian moved to Whidbey Island in 1993. Tracy took a job as librarian at the South Whidbey High School. Brian worked for the district in several positions, but was not a teacher in SWSD. One of Tracy’s friends at the time was Don Wodjenski, a high school art teacher known affectionately as ‘Mr. Wodj.’
Recalling how teachers enjoyed meeting up in the library for chips and dip, and games like Scrabble, he added, “Tracy was the go-to librarian at SWHS. Back when students got their reading and research information from the library, Tracy knew practically all the kids. If a student needed help finding materials, rather than simply giving them the Dewey Decimal number, she’d walk them over to the section and if she had time, would talk to them about what they were working on and would make suggestions to help their search. Most students liked and got along with Tracy. The ones that didn’t would still get a smile and a ‘Have a nice day.’ I never heard her ‘shush,’ as the students knew and appreciated the relaxed atmosphere of the library. We all missed her when she left and went to work for Sno-Isle Libraries.”
“Wodjenki—he and I had some fun at the high school,” Tracy recalled. “Did he tell you about the job fair at the cafeteria? There was supposed to be someone there from a beauty school. When no one showed up, there are Don and I with no hair giving out brochures.”
Running the high school library—and for a little while, the middle school library—for 18 years, Tracy enjoyed her work. Then in 2012, the district reprioritized its funds and eliminated its librarian positions. Tracy applied to Sno-Isle Libraries and was hired as a substitute Public Service Assistant at first, then hired by Freeland Library Manager Betsy Arand as a Library Assistant.
“Sno-Isle is a great organization,” Tracy said. “For me, it was a nice change from high school, where we often work alone. At our library, I have colleagues. If I have to step away, I can. I taught elementary school before. The job never ends.”
Betsy Arand spoke highly of working with Tracy. I’ve included all she wrote in a recent email, because I think her words matter and give you a picture of what Tracy brings to her avocation.
“For the past 25 years, Sno-Isle Libraries has recognized one part-time and one full-time employee each year for excellent customer service and contributing creative ideas that engaged library customers. Tracy received the Library Leadership Award in 2017 for her work with library customers of all ages.
“Tracy has presented story times to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, visited the elementary and middle schools to promote the library’s summer reading program, facilitated book groups for upper elementary students, staffed a library booth at the Whidbey Island Fair, and even marched in several Maxwelton 4th of July parades! She collaborated with colleagues to plan special family programs, such as stuffed animal sleepovers, countdown to 12 (noon) children’s New Year celebrations, a family festival with a fire truck and dancing dinosaur, and a ‘Not Scary’ Halloween evening.
“In addition to working with children, Tracy has also facilitated many programs for adults, including, but not limited to, local author talks, craft programs for the intergenerational Made-by-Hand events, Island Shakespeare presentations, multiple showings of the “Whidbey Earthquakes” film produced by 4-H, the League of Women Voters Great Decisions discussion series, and Humanities Washington speakers. Tracy also served as Freeland’s representative on the Trudy Sundberg Lecture Series team, bringing nationally renowned lecturers to Whidbey. She has been willing to try new things, such as how to make pots using hypertufa, a class that fills up immediately!
“Tracy has been a welcoming presence at the library’s front desk, providing excellent customer service to people of all ages, from recommending book titles to parents of young children, demonstrating library databases to teens, helping someone use the library computers, and assisting adults with the copy machine.
“She greets everyone with the same degree of openness and genuine interest in their question and then provides a consistently high-level response.
“Throughout Tracy’s time in Freeland, I have been very impressed with her ability to thoughtfully analyze situations while maintaining a balanced perspective and also seeing the humor in many situations. It has been an honor and a joy to work with Tracy and I will miss her.”
After leaving her position, Tracy plans a road trip in March to Ashland OR for its chocolate festival. She will spend time with friends and family. Camping trips are planned. She will visit Ashland again for its Shakespeare plays this summer. She will travel with her daughter to San Francisco. “She’s a big old grown up at 21,” Tracy noted.
For April-June, Tracy will return as a volunteer to Freeland Library to host a third and fourth grade book club, which includes a craft. She returns by popular demand.
Though she will have more free time, she will continue to be a part of the Freeland Library community.
“I believe in public libraries,” Tracy said. “There is no other institution that is like it. Everyone is welcome. Everything is free. We go out of our way to find what you’re looking for.”