When Vicky Terry retired from her post as director of the Pocahontas County Free Libraries, the search was on to find someone to oversee the five county libraries.
With her love of the county and books, Linwood Community Librarian Cree Lahti, of Arbovale, felt up for the challenge.
“I think Pocahontas County libraries are wonderful,” she said. “They’re vibrant centers of the communities that they serve, and I was ready to take on the challenge of directing the whole library system.”
Lahti first came to Pocahontas County in 2004 as an AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer. It wasn’t long after she settled in that she knew this was where she belonged.
“I was really impressed with the Pocahontas County library system and how these libraries were real centers of the community – a place for people to gather and share ideas and take a class, and learn new skills,” Lahti said. “I was really impressed with that. I was sold after that.”
Lahti left the county to work at The Mountain Institute in Pendleton County, but in 2009, she returned to be the librarian at the newly formed Linwood Community Library.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to help start a library from an empty building to a fully functioning library,” she said.
With five libraries – Durbin, Green Bank, Linwood, Marlinton and Hillsboro – Lahti said she doesn’t think there is a need for big changes, but she does see an opportunity for the libraries to work as one.
“We are five separate libraries, but there are avenues where we could have – for example – one calendar of events and activities for all the libraries, because, no matter where they live – they often might live in between two libraries or work in one community and live in another community – so they do visit the different libraries,” Lahti said. “If we could have a calendar of events where people could see all the activities that are available through the county, that would be great.”
The main focus for all the libraries is for every individual who uses the library system to have a good experience. Whether they are checking out books, taking classes or using the meeting room – Lahti wants to make sure the libraries are seen as a welcome and inviting part of their communities.
“My goal as a librarian, and continues to be as a director, is for every person who comes through the door to have a positive experience in the library,” she said. “That helps them tell their friends about it and make them personally want to come back.”
Lahti knows first-hand how it is possible to not enjoy the library. She doesn’t want that the be the case in Pocahontas County.
“I didn’t have a great experience with libraries growing up,” she said. “They were not real welcoming places to go. It was kind of cold and impersonal. It wasn’t until I came to Pocahontas County that I saw how the library can be the center of a community.”
For those who typically don’t visit the library or no longer go to the library, Lahti urges they give it a second chance.
“I’m a firm believer that there is a book out there for everybody, you just have to help them find it,” she said. “With reluctant readers, it is a challenge to find that book that will spur their interest and turn them into a lifelong reader, but there is a book out there for everybody. That’s part of my job and the staff’s job – to help them find that.”
In Pocahontas County, the communities are fortunate that the libraries are more than just books. They are a hub for classes, meetings and general information.
Each of the county’s five libraries have meeting rooms which may be used by non-profit and civic organizations, as well as for-profit organizations and private citizens for a nominal fee.
“That’s one of the things that is so valuable about the library system is it’s for anybody regardless of their age, or political affiliation or economic status,” Lahti said. ‘It’s a free place where they can go and take a class, find information that they’re looking for. They can use the WFii. They can have a potluck or have a free place to have a meeting – get together and be a community.”
Classes offered at the libraries include early literacy programs. Both Marlinton Elementary School and Hillsboro Elementary School use the libraries on a daily basis because the schools do not have their own libraries.
Lahti said it is important for children to learn early to be readers because it will help them for the rest of their lives.
“There’s tons of research that’s been done about the links between early literacy and economic opportunities later in life,” she said. “I think that’s one of the ways the libraries can help serve the community now as well as to improve the community in the future.”
Lahti may not be a native Pocahontas countian, but she knew from a young age that she loved the area and could see herself living here.
“I’m from southern West Virginia, Fayetteville, and I used to come to Pocahontas County camping and hiking with my family when I was a kid, and I loved it,” she said. “It is a beautiful place. Like many West Virginians, I had to go out in the world and see different things and do different things, but that helps me appreciate where I come from and realize that the grass is really not greener anywhere else.”
Lahti and her husband, Kevin Stitzinger, are both members of the Pocahontas Artist Co-op, where he is the gallery manager. Lahti creates ceramic jewelry and Stitzinger is a stone carver.
“My father is a potter, so I really enjoy doing the ceramic jewelry as a hobby and as a creative outlet,” she said. “It’s very nature-oriented. I take little leaves and flowers, and use those to do the designs right in the clay. I take some creative liberties with the colors.”
The couple’s son, Matteus, is in the seventh grade at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, and has joined his parents in creating art.
“He likes to get in the clay studio and work with us,” Lahti said. “We’re a creative family.”
As an Arbovale resident and former Linwood employee, Lahti is ready to get to know the rest of the communities in Pocahontas County through her work as library director.
“Each library is a reflection of the community that it serves and while there are some commonalities, they’re all unique,” she said. “I’m excited to get to know each community better.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org