WALLOWA — The Wallowa Public Library’s new director will be good medicine for an already cherished local institution.

Holly Goebel, a registered nurse, has a plan to increase the library’s use by children and families, and to make it the most safe and welcoming place in Wallowa.

“I’ve been going to the library several times a week ever since I moved here in 2008,” she said. “I love this place.”

Goebel instantly acquired the mantle of a county local when she married Jake Goebel, now a full-time firefighter for the Oregon Department of Forestry in Wallowa, after college at Eastern Oregon University.

Holly Goebel has been working as a registered nurse for the Enterprise and La Grande Veterans Administration clinics. She said her veterans were very concerned when she took the library job. But she plans to continue working for the VA on a limited basis to maintain her nursing license, Goebel said, so she will still be helping them.

What drew Goebel to the library job?

“I’m a late lover of books,” she said. “I did not like reading when I was young. But I know how important reading is for kids, especially when I had my daughter. There was nowhere else in Wallowa to take your kids, especially in poor weather. And so we became patrons of the library at least three days a week when I wasn’t at work.”

Goebel said that her experience in other libraries, including bigger versions in Forest Grove and Portland, showed her how much of a hub a library can be for a community. She said that retiring librarian Debbie Lind had worked hard to make the library into a welcoming space and community hub in Wallowa.

“I really visualize having a safe and nurturing environment at the Wallowa Public Library,” she said. “I was drawn to the job because I felt I could continue to make that happen here.”

Goebel wants the library to be a place not just for young parents and older populations, but that also serves young adults, providing activities and making the library a place that can be a social place and a safe spot for them and everyone.

“The library is more than just books,” she said. “My big mission has been to make the back room where we’ve had kid’s books and a myriad of other things, into an inviting place, and to create a better environment for kids in that space.”

So now, when COVID-19 has closed the library to browsing by patrons, Goebel has been weeding through the books that haven’t been checked out in “10-plus years,” and reorganizing the area into a place where kid’s books are easily and safely accessible.

Youth nonfiction will be housed on one wall, books for younger kids on the other side of the room and there will be another specific area for young adult fiction.

“It will be a welcoming space for families,” Goebel said.

Goebel is also working with Wallowa School District Librarian Heather Howard so that the Wallowa Public Library can support whatever version of distance learning happens over the course of the year, as well as supporting school curricula.

“I know that students will be going back to the classroom now,” she said. “But it’s uncertain what might happen in the future, especially in the winter months.”

In Goebel’s mind, nursing provides a great background for running a small-town library.

“There are a lot of overlapping things when it comes to providing what you might think of as customer service,” Goebel said. “I learned how to handle stressful situations, how to engage with people when they don’t really want to engage, and I think all that helps in a small community. ... As a librarian you have to meet people where they are, and make people feel welcome, safe, supported, and cared about.”

Nursing also required doing some good public relations, reaching out to people and being organized.

“We’re here to serve and we try to get things for people when they need it,” she said.

Goebel had high praise for retiring librarian Lind.

“She always made me feel welcome there,” Goebel said. “She made it one of the friendliest places in town. You could never tell if Debbie was having a bad day. She always had a smile and a greeting for you. That’s the way a library should be.”

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