Story by Sharon Verbeten | Photos by Heidi Hodges
Including its outpost on Washington Island, the Door County Library system has eight branches—Sturgeon Bay is its main library, but you can find other branches in Sister Bay/Liberty Grove, Forestville, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Egg Harbor and Baileys Harbor. Community libraries in Door County have been active since 1866.
The libraries on the peninsula have the unique role, unlike perhaps other regions’ libraries, in that they serve not only locals but a regular and steady tourist base.
Current Library Director Becca Berger credits previous director Jane Greene with laying the groundwork for bringing all the libraries together in a county system. “She recognized the importance of tourism to the county economy, and she began the policy of giving library cards to any visitors, out of state and nationally.”
That policy of welcoming all has served the county well. And Berger agrees wholeheartedly. “I said I’d cover any charges for materials lost by out-of-state Door County borrowers,” she said. “I’ve not had to pay a dime.”
It wouldn’t be the job for just anyone, but Marcia Carr isn’t just anyone. For the past 29 years, she has been the librarian at the Washington Island branch of the Door County Library. But despite what others may think, Carr, 64, rarely gets lonely.
“It’s been an absolutely wonderful, perfect job,” she says. Her supervisor, Door County Library Director Becca Berger, agrees. “She’s been an Islander since she was born; she is certainly good with people and knows how to transfer her knowledge of her customers into her collection.
“She is a good match for the work,” says Berger, who has worked with Carr for 20 years.
Carr, a native Islander, never planned on being a librarian; in fact, she just kind of fell into the position when the previous librarian retired. “I saw the job and thought, ‘I could do it,’” she recalls.
“I kind of learned on the job,” says Carr, who studied at UW-Oshkosh but never finished her degree; she left college early when her father died. “It kind of threw me off the rails.”
But she soon fell into her niche as the only staffer at the Island’s small, but well-used, branch.
No woman is an island, so to speak, and, of course, the library is part of a seven-branch system, which includes the main library in Sturgeon Bay. “I do a lot of back and forth with [other] librarians, but I am a little more separated,” she says. “But I like working by myself.
“You do it all,” she says, including circulation—or checking books out—book ordering as well as programming for children and adults. And Carr says she likes it all. “It’s hard to pick a part that I like best,” she says, but notes that she especially likes doing storytimes for preschoolers.
And one of her favorite projects has been creating the library’s annual six-week summer reading program. “One year, many years ago, the theme was transportation, and we did a storytime on the Cherry Train,” recalls Carr, a former Cherry Train driver. “We’ve been doing that ever since. It’s become an island tradition; we’re now into the second generation [of patrons].”
With all Carr does, it may seem like a full-time job, but she has always worked part-time; the library is open just 24 hours a week. But those hours are filled, even when times are slow.
The library—which includes about 11,000 books, three public computers and a large selection of DVDs—is located in the Island’s community center, which also houses a medical clinic, gym and historical archives. “There’s a lot going on in the building,” she says, noting that traffic is usually steady when the building is open.
“It can be slow some days…” Carr admits, adding, “In my 29 years, I’ve only had one Tuesday evening when I didn’t get anybody. Some days are very, very busy.”
For Carr, a married mother of three grown sons and grandmother of seven, her time at the library isn’t just about shelving and checking out books and doing storytimes—although she does admit to having a bit of a “fan club” among the younger set. Being a one-woman library is gratifying because of all the people she meets.
“The island has such a diverse population and interesting people. It’s fascinating to see what people are interested in.
“Winter is great up here,” she says. “You definitely know everybody that comes in; it’s a little more intimate and cozy.”
But in the county’s busy tourist season, Carr enjoys meeting newcomers—who, she says, are often pleasantly surprised about the library’s offerings. “We get comments all the time from tourists,” she says. “They just rave about the library service in Door County.”
While the peace and tranquility—and beauty—of the Island are reasons Carr enjoys her job, she also recognizes the hardships of living on an island. For the library, that has one main impact—driving to the ferry dock six times a week to pick up and drop off supplies and books.
“You schedule your life around the ferry line,” says Carr, who notes the library deliveries are dropped off in Northport, on the mainland, and are ferried over six times a week. And picking them up, rain or shine, is just part of the job.
And that’s a job Carr doesn’t seem ready to give up just yet; it’s suited her just fine for almost three decades.
“It’s a lifestyle that isn’t for everybody,” says Carr, adding that she never considered moving or working in a larger library.