Community

Beloved librarian closes a rich chapter in her life

Rayna Holtz will retire from the Vashon Library this month.  - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Rayna Holtz will retire from the Vashon Library this month.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

For the past 22 years, reference librarian Rayna Holtz has been a fixture at Vashon’s library, patiently assisting Islanders as they hunt down books, work on projects and attend public programs at the bustling facility.

But on May 1, this long chapter in Holtz’s life will close, and another will open, as she officially retires from her job as a librarian and moves on to explore new passions.

That’s right — passions.

It’s not a word that would spring immediately to most people’s minds when seeing Holtz for the first time. At age 65, she seems gentle and a bit grandmotherly, in the most modern, working-woman sort of way, with eyes that sparkle behind wire-framed glasses, salt-and-pepper hair cropped short in a sensible do, and a fashion style defined by comfortable pants, colorfully knit cardigan sweaters and bright enameled earrings.

But scratch the surface, and you’ll find a woman whose strong intellect and emotions have been stirred for years by her love of libraries, history, nature, ecology and all things Vashon.

“Rayna has a cape on under that sweater,” said longtime library page Monica Damore on a recent morning as she pushed a cart of books past Holtz. “She’s fighting for truth, justice and eelgrass.”

Holtz laughed at Damore’s description — but then she began talking about why she has loved working at Vashon’s library since 1988.

“I think that libraries are the most extraordinary combination of tools and inspiration that represent the best the human species has been able to come up with in every field of endeavor,” Holtz said, in a steady, fluent rush of words. “They house a collection of tools that tell you everything from how to fix your car to toilet train your child — very practical information — but they are also repositories of great wisdom, great art, philosophies and ideas about forms of government. Libraries have also sought to be relevant to what happens in communities — to maximize the appreciation of the artists and thinkers and doers in a community.”

She smiled and glanced around the library. “That, you can find here,” she said. “It’s the great ferment of the past and the ferment of the now.”

Holtz then waved her hand toward one of her favorite parts of Vashon’s library — a collection of Vashon authors and Vashon history that she has worked on and championed over the years.

“This really reflects the unique identity of this community,” she said.

But Holtz is equally enthusiastic about nature and ecology, and one of the reasons she is retiring now is to devote more time to environmental causes.

She’s looking forward to continuing her work with the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation, a Vashon-based group working to protect one of the ecologically richest areas in Indonesia. And closer to home, she plans to stay busy with Vashon Beach Naturalists, a citizen scientist group she recently founded with a cadre of other naturalists.

The group currently works under the umbrella of Vashon College, Vashon Park District and the Vashon Audobon Society — the latter, an organization Holtz has been deeply involved with for years.

The mission of the Vashon Beach Naturalists is to raise awareness of Puget Sound issues and train a corps of Islanders to interact with the public during low-tide celebrations and other beach tours, and Holtz hopes that in the next year, the small start-up group can get its own nonprofit status.

Holtz said that her “twin loves” — of serving the community in Vashon’s library and advocating for Island ecology — are closely related.

“I think there are strong analogies between natural communities like eelgrass and small human communities like Vashon,” she said. “We have lots of little biomes on the Island. ... There are so many things going on here.”

Holtz moved to Vashon in 1975 after receiving a master’s degree in library sciences from the University of Washington. She had worked in libraries while attending high school in Tacoma and while studying for her undergraduate degree in English literature at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. She had also worked in the University of Washington’s library.

But when it came time for her to look for a job after being certified as a librarian, the economy was in a downturn, and no positions were available.

“I thought I had prepared myself for a career where I wasn’t needed,” Holtz said.

So she turned her attention to living a busy and full life on Vashon — which included building a house from scratch with her husband Jay Holtz, raising two children and exploring a myriad of creative pursuits.

One of those endeavors came early on, when she co-founded Laughing Dog Press with her husband and a group of writer friends. The group, using a 1899 printing press press, published chapbooks and an anthology of Vashon poets for many years.

But in 1988, a job opened at Vashon Library, and Holtz dusted off her degree and put in an application.

Looking back on her first days as a librarian on Vashon, Holtz marveled at how much the facility has changed.

“When I started, we had just made the huge step of abandoning the card catalogue and putting everything on microfiche,” she said with a laugh. “We had multiple fiche readers — but the fiches were always getting lost or out of order.”

Now, as she gazed at a long double bank of computers in the libraries, she noted that change remains an ongoing part of her job description — and that she won’t mind walking away at this point.

“My job has morphed once again, and is moving away from the talents and resources I bring to the job,” she said. “The position now needs someone who is excited about social media, blogging and loves the new formats of e-books.”

With a smile, Holtz gestured again toward the stacks.

“I like books,” she said. “I think they have something very sensual about them.”

 

The public is invited to a reception honoring Rayna Holtz from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday, April 29, at the library. Refreshments will be served.

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