Library chief to retire four decades in |

Library chief to retire four decades in

Staff report
Library Director Kathleen “Kathy” Chandler can count many accomplishments and beloved colleagues over her 44 years leading the Pitkin County Library.
Courtesy Pitkin County

Wait. Librarians don’t actually retire, do they? They’re only archived and then called up when some arcane piece of memorabilia, maybe a mislaid book or a useful passage only they might remember, seems impossible to find. It’s like the mob for them. They can’t ever truly leave. They know too much.

But if the message from Pitkin County is to be believed, that’s exactly what Library Director Kathleen “Kathy” Chandler intends to do and soon. She announced she will retire in early March. She only began in 1979. Let that settle in. Were Aspen’s streets fully paved then? Best ask her.

She arrived in June of that year with five years of experience as a professional librarian in Illinois and four years in libraries as an undergrad and then graduate student in college.

Selected to interview for the job out of a pool of 120 applicants, she recalled meeting with Library Board trustees in the basement of the former library across from Paepcke Park in Aspen. The interview questions centered around construction of a larger facility.

“I remember thinking that undertaking building a new facility may be an uphill battle, as people were still referring to the 1965 Main Street building as the ‘new’ library,” she said.

It took 12 years to accomplish, but in 1991 the current library opened on Mill Street. Architect John Wheeler designed the building with future expansion in mind. In the 32 years since its opening, the building has been remodeled and refurbished as it moved into unfinished portions of the lower level onto the mezzanine, and six years ago onto the library easement atop the adjoining parking garage. Its fresh modern furnishings and layout belie the building’s age.

“I think what she did was incredible,” said John Keleher, who served on the Library Board during the construction of the new library and its later renovation. “The library really is just a wonderful place, and it’s all due to Kathy. As the leader of the library, she was always calm and cool and knew what needed to be done. She was innovative, transitioning the library from a card catalog to a computer system and inclusive, adjusting the hours of the library to meet the needs of the community,”

She’s proud of computerizing the library’s checkout system and catalog. In 1985, Pitkin County Library was one of nine libraries that joined together to form the Marmot Library Network. Marmot, based in Grand Junction, now provides computer service to 36 Colorado libraries. 

Assistant Library Director Carol McArdell, who oversees the library’s technical services and circulation departments, is the staff member Chandler credited most with carrying out the work involved in switching the library from the old card catalog to the digital age. McArdell came on staff in 1979, too, just a few months after her.

“The day Carol applied to work here was one of the luckiest days of my career!” Chandler said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the library became a community asset for people isolating at home. Chandler worked to ensure the library’s resources continued to be available to everyone through curbside pickup and over-the-phone assistance with library staff for online and digital resources.

Through all these changes, the public continued to use the library. About 5.8 million items have been checked out during her tenure.

Other librarians who worked at the library for close to 40 years are familiar names in the community: Dave Gollon, who cataloged six decades worth of Music Festival recordings; Helen Palmer, with a passion for maps and local history; Susan Keenan, who gave many thousands of young Aspenites their first library cards.

“I am so blessed to have worked with Kathy. She has taught me so much,” said Susan Keenan, who worked with Chandler for 37 years, serving as the children’s librarian and assistant library director. “She’s the best boss because she listens and she’s caring, astute, and well-respected throughout the county. It’s an incredible job she has because, as library director, she oversees the staff in all aspects of the library’s doings and actively works with the Library Board on policies. And she is in charge of the physical building. She’s an incredible leader and understands what it takes to do the job well.”

Chandler credited the scores of library trustees who have helped guide the library since it was established in 1940. She said she looks at the library’s collection developed over the years by librarians with the board’s and community’s support and thinks, “I have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in this library.”