To tell the story of Charlyn Canada is to tell the story of the Eagle Valley Library District as well as the story of library services in Eagle County.
Although the EVLD was created in 1993, the story really begins in the early 1970s, when Vail’s first library was in a 1,500 square-foot basement and Canada rolled into town, fresh out of college.
Forty years later, Canada is retiring. The Avon Public Library is hosting a celebration from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, May 31.
“[Canada] literally helped build this district from the ground up,” said Michael Brown, president of the district board. “Her vision and her exceptional team have produced the outstanding community libraries that our valley enjoys today.”
EVLD currently encompasses all of Eagle County except Vail and Basalt. The Avon, Eagle and Gypsum libraries have a combined total of nearly 40,000 square feet and 184,338 items.
Canada comes to Vail
Canada first visited Vail on a ski trip from Chicago. She had recently graduated with a master’s in library science.
“On that trip I saw a newspaper article about Vail hiring its first professional librarian, and I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” she said. “When I got back home I started investigating employment opportunities in Colorado.”
She followed the state library’s quarterly publication that listed job openings and almost missed the most important one.
“There was a job in Denver listed on page 1 that sounded cool but I didn’t qualify for it,” she said. “I was carrying the little flier to the trash and thought, ‘This is really heavy stock paper.’”
She rubbed the paper between her fingers and discovered a second page of job listings.
“Vail was on page 2,” she said. “I almost threw away my opportunity.”
The Vail Public Library, which started in 1971, was replacing its first librarian. Canada moved there for the job in 1973.
Ruth Larson soon joined Canada as an assistant in the small basement space of Vail’s municipal building. It ended up being a fruitful partnership that lasted more than 10 years.
“Our goal was to offer ‘big city service in a small-town setting,’” Canada said. “We set the same hours as New York City Public Library. Just a couple years ago, someone in the Avon Library said we have better service than NYC’s library, and I thought, ‘Wow, to hear that after all these years!’”
Larson said that striving for excellence in service and setting the highest of goals for the library supported the cultural and educational opportunities that were key to making Vail a well-rounded young town.
“At the time, Vail had no TV and very limited radio broadcasts – magazines and newspapers were a much needed link to the real world,” she said.
Canada and Larson lobbied the community to pass a mill levy and start the Eagle County Public Library in 1975.
“Our shelves at the Vail Library were stacked two deep,” Canada said. “I kept cramming things into the small area so people would say, ‘Oh, they really don’t have enough space!’” she joked. “The levy passed handily.”
She said the Vail Library participated in the Eagle Countly Library while maintaining its autonomy.
“Vail residents essentially agreed to two taxes – one for the Vail Library and the other for the county library,” Canada said.
The Eagle County Library included small branches in Red Cliff, Minturn, Avon and Eagle.
“The Avon Library was in a leased space where City Market now has its produce department,” Canada said.
Vail couldn’t support two library systems forever and the town stopped funding the county library in 1980 so that the Vail Library could have a new building.
“Vail’s taxing was a good will thing,” she said. “There wasn’t much development between Eagle and Vail, and Vail’s revenue helped with that progression,” Canada said.
Larson said Canada’s influence had something to do with that growth.
“[Canada] facilitated community leaders in understanding and supporting the role of the library, thus allowing the library to better support the community in its turn,” Larson said.
Canada said the libraries are very well supported these days.
EVLD is born
Eagle County voters approved the formation of Eagle Valley Library District in 1992.
“The 2.75 mill levy was just enough to do it right,” Canada said, noting that there were a few key individuals who made a huge difference for the cause.
“It wouldn’t have happened without their dedication,” she said.
The district started the following year and Canada was appointed as the first director – a position she holds until May 31.
“I tried to stick to a decision to always hire the best and, boy, it has paid off,” she said. “There were times I felt like a new-hire had the potential to take my job but I stuck with my decision. The staff up and downvalley is so well versed in literature and library service, and the level of education – the depth of knowledge we have to interact with the public at a very high level is extraordinary.”
Canada said EVLD Assistant Director Anne Johnson and Business/Personnel Manager Julie VanNatta have been incredible assets for her.
“I couldn’t do my job without them,” she said.
VanNatta has known Canada for 21 years and worked with her since 2000.
“[Canada] has excellent leadership and personnel skills,” she said. “She has hired talented employees throughout her career with the Eagle Valley Library District. We currently have six employees who have been with the district 20 years or more; 18 employees have 10 to 19 years with the district. These figures speak for themselves and, as the business manager, not having to deal with retention issues as other organizations are is a credit to [Canada’s] management style.”
VanNatta said Canada has an eye for excellence that is apparent from her oversight of four libraries built under her direction.
“They are the most beautiful libraries that I have encountered and we hear compliments from patrons on a regular basis,” VanNatta said.
Johnson and Larson both mentioned how Canada embraced the latest technology.
“She moved the district by leaps and bounds,” Johnson said.
“The wisdom to participate in the fledgling automation efforts by a consortium of Western Slope libraries to network online library catalogs enabled small, isolated communities to share resources via an innovative interlibrary loan system,” Larson said. “It showed then how the ‘new information age’ could allow local residents – such as professional writers or advanced education students – to live in paradise and continue to be effective citizens of the larger world.”
Canada said she is looking forward to spending time with her only grandchild, who lives in Aspen, and catching up on reading that she never got around to during her busy career.
“People think a librarian gets to read everything,” she said.
She’ll enjoy hiking, biking and skiing as well, she said.
New page for EVLD
Canada said she was not involved with selecting her replacement (whose name is yet to be released) but she is impressed with the choice.
“I think she’ll be superb,” Canada said.
She is also satisfied to be turning over a district that is in a “great financial situation.”
“It’s nice to feel like I’m turning over an excellent product,” she said. “My hope is that the buildings are maintained – these wonderful facilities have been gifts to ourselves – and that cordial, competent service is maintained so that people want to spend time there.”
It’s likely that those wishes won’t soon be forgotten.
“Through these great libraries, [Canada] has left an enduring legacy that will benefit both the patrons and the staff for decades to come,” Johnson said.