Since announcing his retirement, Camas Public Library Director David Zavortink has been asked many times about his future plans.
“I’ve come up with some pretty wacky answers,” he said.
“Maybe I’ll become an Uber driver,” he recalled telling one curious person.
“I think I am going to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he replied to another.
Whatever Zavortink, 64, decides to do in his retirement, he will leave behind an impressive list of accomplishments.
“I have been in the library world for 40 years, more than half of my career has been here in Camas,” he said.
Zavortink was hired to lead the Camas Public Library in 1995. He had previously spent 13 years in Alaska, the last six as director of the public library in Palmer, located 40 miles north of Anchorage.
Planning a bond measure to fund the remodel and construction of a new addition to the library in downtown Camas was one of the first major tasks assigned to Zavortink by the Board of Trustees. It wouldn’t be an easy one.
In November 1999, the $7.9 million levy failed by just a handful of votes.
“We were very unfortunate to be on that ballot,” explained Zavortink. “It included one of Tim Eyman’s initiatives. There was a big anti-tax vote, so the fact that we only lost by six votes was pretty good, I thought.”
The City Council agreed to put the issue on the ballot for a second time, and in March 2000 it passed — this time by more than 500 votes.
Then came the real work, including the massive project’s design and construction. The latter necessitated the library’s temporary move to the National Guard Armory, originally constructed in 1927 as Forest Home School.
The building, located on Northwest 10th Avenue, was showing its age. Zavortink recalls its slanted concrete floors and English ivy growing through its walls.
“That was an experience. I think most of the staff would like to forget that,” he said. “Someone said, just think about it like it’s a camping trip. You’re going to be uncomfortable, but it’s for a short time and you’ll be back.”
The new 30,000 square foot library opened to the public 18 months later in March 2003. Its most prominent feature is a massive glass skylight at the main entrance, meant to represent the spine of a book that connects the old with the new.
“Every day we hear comments about how beautiful this building is,” Zavortink said. “It was a lot of work by a lot of people. It is called the jewel of Camas, and all sorts of nice names. The community is very proud of it.”
Barb Baldus, a former member of the library board and current president of the Second Story Gallery Society, remembers Zavortink’s dedication to the successful completion of the project.
“It really doubled his work load for the duration, but I think like most of us would, he enjoyed the process of seeing that beautiful building take shape,” she said. “The idea of a glass ‘spine’ that opened up the building — old construction on one side, new construction on the other — was a great architectural feat. I think anyone would want to have that building experience on their bucket list.”
During his tenure, Zavortink has also ushered the library through what has been a continuous stream of changes in technology.
The mass availability of the internet, as well as digital books, magazines and newspapers have changed its focus, and forced local leaders to also deal with public access issues that have come up along the way.
In 1995, the library didn’t have even one electronic book in its collection. By 2014, 26,000 were available. Twenty years ago, the library had one computer accessible to the public. Today it boasts 33.
Each year, an estimated 20,000 people attend the more than 600 programs that are offered at the library, ranging from children’s story times to computer classes for senior citizens.
“We are a place where people gather,” Zavortink said. “It’s a sense of community around the library. There has always been cultural and literary events. We are doing more of that, because there is less book work. Libraries are really seeing a decline in print materials because of e-books. People don’t need to come to the library to get those. Libraries are adapting to that change.”
According to City Administrator Pete Capell, with Zavortink’s leadership the library has adjusted well. A testament to his work, in 2008 it was rated the best in Washington State by the Hennen American Public Library Ranking.
“We have the community jewel that we have, much to his credit and to his work,” Capell said. “Most people when they take a job, especially a leadership position like that, they want to leave the place better than they found it. It’s safe to say David has accomplished that significantly. We have a wonderful library, and David deserves a lot of credit and appreciation for that.”
Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said Zavortink will be missed.
“David has been with the library for years through the remodel and expansion,” he said. “He shepherded the introduction of computers and e-books into the system and has been leading through the growth of services provided to our city. It is a big task to oversee a building project. It is a big task to serve a growing community. I have always appreciated his dedication and advocacy for our wonderful library.”
Zavortink compared working in a library to solving a new puzzle each day.
“One of the great joys of being a librarian is that it’s endless curiosity,” he said. “You never know what section in the library you are going to end up in to answer somebody’s question. You are forever learning new things, new techniques. It’s different every day.”
While Zavortink has enjoyed his career, the decision to retire was not difficult.
“There comes a time when you look in the mirror and there is more gray hair,” he said. “You start thinking about mortality and realize there’s other things you’d rather be doing than this. It was time for a change for me.”
Zavortink shouldn’t have any trouble filling his time.
At his Camas home, Zavortink has a library full of books he is looking forward to reading. He also enjoys traveling, genealogy and photography, and has list of potential household projects compiled by his wife, Amy Waite. She will continue to work at Clark College where she serves as the Cannell Library’s access services manager.
There are definitely a few things he will miss about working inside Camas’s crown jewel.
“What I will probably miss most is just the people,” he said. “All of the people associated with the library and all of the trustees, and all of the patrons that come in. Libraries are happy places, so I will miss seeing those happy faces.”