Change of Directors at
the Hastings Public Library
Thu, Nov 02, 2017
Peggy Hemerling (left) will begin as director of the Hastings Public Library Dec. 4. Current director Laura Ortiz will be moving to Manistee and stepping down. Taylor Owens
After serving two years as director of the Hastings Public Library, Laura Ortiz will step down in December. Youth librarian and 19-year Hastings library veteran Peggy Hemerling will be her successor.
“This was my dream job,” Laura said.
But when her husband was offered his dream job at the Munson Healthcare Hospital in Manistee, they had a decision to make.
“We felt it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” Laura said.
But it was difficult a choice to make. Ortiz has been at the Hastings Public Library 12 years and considers the staff to be her friends and family.
When Laura first came to Hastings over 20 years ago, she was used to moving around, because of her husband’s career.
“I’m not used to being part of a community,” Ortiz said.
She started work as a substitute teacher in Hastings Area School System, and then as a page at the library, putting returned books back on the shelf.
“I think we all started as a page,” she said.
Over time, Laura took on more responsibilities and eventually made it her goal to become a library director. But she never thought it would be at Hastings. Evelyn Holzwarth had been training Ortiz for a year and a half for a director position when she retired to spend more time with her family, which Ortiz did not expect.
“I honestly never thought I would be the director,” Ortiz said.
She started as the interim director and was officially appointed director April 1 of last year.
During her tenure, Laura has made community outreach her priority. When the new library was built just over 10 years ago, there was a large amount of community interest in the building, and people came to check it out. Over time, that initial interest naturally faded.
“We were the pretty building at the end of the street,” Laura said. “My goal was to reach out into the community and build relationships again.”
The library partnered with many organizations, such as the Downtown Hastings Business Team, Barry County Chamber of Commerce and many others to plan events and bring people into the library.
Laura said they did a lot of self-examination and looked at ways to adapt their services to fit patrons’ needs.
“This is our library; this is everybody’s library,” Laura said. “We can help you in many ways.”
At times people have told Laura that her ideas are too big to pull off, but what she’s seen of Hastings and Barry County says otherwise.
“I believe in this community so much,” Ortiz said.
After years of constant moving, Laura has lived in Hastings longer than any other place in her life.
“All of the sudden, I had this passion and grew to love Hastings and Barry County,” Ortiz said. “I consider Hastings my hometown.”
Since making the decision, Ortiz has been going to community events in Manistee, and Barry County Chamber of Commerce President Travis Alden, who is from Manistee, has been introducing her to people active in the community. She plans on fixing up houses for vacation rentals and dreams of opening an inn.
“I’m sad to go, but the library is just going to get better and better,” Ortiz said.
She has been training Peggy Hemerling for the position and is excited to see what she will do.
“I think she’s going to be a great director,” Ortiz said. “The staff and board have full confidence in her.”
“Peggy has a lot of enthusiasm for the library, and she’s done a fantastic job with youth,” said Kelli Newberry, president of the Hastings Public Library Board of Directors.
She pointed out Hemerling is well known in the community for the extensive outreach she has done through all age groups. Newberry also Hemerling said is the right fit to guide the library through its millage renewal next year, the expansion of its teen and adult programs and incorporation of new technology.
Hemerling also started as a page at the library.
“When we moved here in 1980, I didn’t know a soul,” Peggy said.
After a few months of only having her husband to talk to, she started work at the library. She previously worked in the music library at Wayne State University. She didn’t work at the Hastings library very long, but in 1998, she was asked to come back for a summer to help out. Over time, she worked more hours, and took an interest in the youth activities. She was named the Youth Librarian in 2005, and received her master’s degree in library sciences from Wayne State University in 2006.
As Youth Librarian, Peggy greatly expanded youth activities, formed a teen advisory board, and in 2013 received the Francis H. Pletz award for excellence in service to youth by the Michigan Library Association.
While Peggy is training to be the director, she is also working to hire her own replacement.
“I’m excited to have someone with new ideas and new approaches,” Peggy said.
She is looking to future projects, such as the B. Bus partnership to bring books to kids during the summer.
Ortiz’s last day as director will be Dec. 3, but people can still see her around Hastings since she will be back for community events.
“We’re very sad to see Laura go,” Newberry said. “She’s made the director position less about paperwork and more about people. She’s really worked hard.”
Peggy will start as director Dec 4.
“I’m excited,” Peggy said. “It’s fun to think ‘Where are we going to go now?’”
The award is given annually to a Michigan library staff person who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of library service to youth, ages 0-18, throughout their career.