Tate retiring Dec. 31Published 9:02pm Thursday, November 29, 2012
DECATUR — Sixty-five cents for a gallon of gas, interest rates at 11.75 percent, the Dow hits a high of 893 and Jimmy Carter is in the White House; 1978 is memorable for those reasons and others, but for book lovers in much of Van Buren County, the year marks a cornerstone in library service.
On Oct. 28, 1978, a young, and admittedly very green, librarian began a challenging, but fulfilling career as director of what was then known as Van Buren County Library.
David Tate, originally from Hart, was chosen to fill the vacant position after working four years at the Chicago Public Library.
Now more than three decades later, Tate says it’s time for a new adventure. On Dec. 31, he will lock the library doors for the last time and head to the sunny Southwest.
In the meantime, Tate is taking more than a few moments to reflect on his life as a library director.
“When I was hired, I quickly realized I didn’t have a clue about what to do. My experience had been in an academic library and big city library. I had no day-to-day experience in a rural library system.”
He credits a veteran library staff and patient library board in helping him learn simple leadership principles that he continues to embrace: set goals, organize and motivate. Tate’s leadership style has not gone unnoticed. In 1994, he was appointed to the Library of Michigan Board of Trustees by Gov. John Engler; then reappointed in 1996 and 1999.
In 2001, the Michigan Library Association named Tate “Librarian of the Year” in recognition of his leadership of the district library and service on the state library board. The Kalamazoo Gazette (Nov. 10, 2001) stated the “award commemorates the strides the Van Buren District Library has made under his leadership, but Tate is quick to laud the work of many people – employees, volunteers and others – who helped engineer the library’s progress.”
Lauding the contributions of others is another of Tate’s attributes. He credits two individuals, now deceased, who had the most influence on his development as a library director: Robert Winkel a library board member from South Haven and life-long Rotarian; and Jack Abrams, a board member from Lawrence.
“Bob taught me the value of service to others,” Tate recalls. “Jack mentored me on good personnel management practices, reminding me that the library staff is our most important asset. Although they’re both gone, I think of them often.”
Biggest challenge? Greatest achievement? Two questions Tate is taking time to ponder.
“The greatest achievement was the passage of P.A. 25 of 1989, the District Library Act,” Tate says. “Van Buren District Library was the first library in the state to reorganize under this reform legislation. Since then, over 150 other libraries in Michigan have followed.”
That achievement also brought the greatest challenge – getting voter approval for the district library’s one-mill charter millage, which finally occurred in 1991 after three attempts.
Since the library secured stable funding, Tate has supervised the continued growth of the district through expansion and renovation projects at six of the district’s seven facilities, installation and upgrading of technology services system-wide, collection and staff development, participation in Woodlands Library Cooperative, advocating on behalf of libraries to local and state governing bodies, and as most job descriptions list, “other duties as assigned.”
What will the University of Michigan graduate miss the most and the least?
“I will miss the staff the most,” Tate says. “It’s nice to come to work every day and work with smart and talented people. What I will not miss are the empty promises that come out of Lansing. When I arrived in 1978, state aid to public libraries under Public Act 89 of 1977 was set at 50 cents per capita. Despite having great local representation, it is now 34 years later and libraries only receive 21 cents. It is my greatest disappointment.”
Van Buren District Library is headquartered in Decatur with branches in Bangor, Bloomingdale, Covert, Gobles, Lawrence and Mattawan.
The public is invited to an open house honoring Tate’s retirement on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2 to 5 p.m., at Webster Memorial Library, 200 N. Phelps St. in Decatur. A program of remarks and recognition takes place at 3 p.m.