Humboldt County Library Operations Manager Ronda Wittenberg will receive the 2018 Helen Everett Award Dec. 10 at the Humboldt Library Foundation’s “Holiday Gala” at the Carson Mansion in Eureka.
“Ronda loves the library, she loves the public and she loves her job,” said Elizabeth Murguia, HLF board president. “For over 40 years, she’s embraced the mission of the library with grace and grit, all the while being unfailingly generous. She’s is widely admired by staff and patrons alike, and she’s stepped up many times to take on more. Ronda embodies the spirit of Helen Everett.”
Everett, who died in 1986, was an ardent supporter of the public library for much of her life. She came to Humboldt County with a master’s degree in librarianship from the University of California, Berkeley, and between 1939 and 1967, worked as an instructor and head librarian at Humboldt State College, Murguia said.
In her retirement, Everett was devoted to the mission of the public library in many ways, from working tirelessly on behalf of the Friends of Redwood Libraries to leading fundraising efforts toward the construction of the Eureka Main Library on Third Street.
To honor Everett’s memory, the Humboldt Library Foundation established the award to recognize other individuals and organizations whose contributions help to improve the quality of public library services in Humboldt County.
Like Everett, Wittenberg has a long and varied history of public library service, which began more than 47 years ago.
She first came to Humboldt County in August 1969 as a young newlywed with her husband, Ken. They both had just graduated from Bakersfield Community College and moved to the area so he could study kinesiology and play football at Humboldt State.
Wittenberg, who had a background in business and computers, went to work in retail, but soon realized that wasn’t what she wanted to pursue long term.
“I was in my very early 20s and decided that the employment that I had up until that point wasn’t that gratifying and I didn’t feel that suited for it, so I decided that I was going to look for something else,” said Wittenberg, who applied, and was hired, for a part-time book shelver job in January 1971 at the Eureka City Library, then housed in the old Carnegie Library building, which is now home to the Morris Graves Museum of Art.
“It was very satisfying,” said Wittenberg, who was promoted within several months to a full-time, benefited position.
When Wittenberg began her library career in the ’70s, there were two libraries in Eureka — the city library at the Carnegie and the county library, located in the basement of the Humboldt County Courthouse. By July 1972, the two libraries were consolidated into one entity — a county library — to serve the region as a whole. Because neither building could house all of the staff and content from both facilities, public services remained at the courthouse, she said, and administrative and related services were handled at the Carnegie until 1995, when the new Eureka Library at 1313 Third St. opened to great fanfare.
“There was such pride in the community, staff morale soared and it brought us to the top of our game. It continues to reinforce the value of the library,” said Wittenberg, who counts being part of bringing the new library to fruition as a career highlight.
During her years at the library, Wittenberg has worked not only in clerical and supervisorial positions, but also in management and higher-level management, including her current position as library operations manager.
“There’s not a department in the library that I haven’t worked in over time,” she said, “including out on the bookmobile for a year.”
According to the Humboldt Library Foundation’s HLF News, Wittenberg has worked with seven library directors, managed masses of volunteers and staff and been the in-house tech expert for each new computer or systems upgrade. She manages all in-house staff trainings and is the library’s safety manager. She also oversees the Trinidad Library and bookmobile and is the facility manager for the main library.
“I enjoy my job,” Wittenberg said. “I feel engaged in my job. I love the people I work with.”
Another one of her many career highlights, she said, has been helping to coordinate, and chair several times, the biennial Children’s Author’s Festival, which brings published authors from around the country to Humboldt County to talk with local schoolchildren about reading and writing and to meet the public at a special day at the library.
“Because I wear so many different hats, each one has highlights associated with it,” Wittenberg said. “There’s the technology side, the safety side, the author festival side and volunteer appreciation.”
When asked how she felt when she learned she’d be this year’s Helen Everett Award honoree, Wittenberg said, “It was just very humbling. It was kind of a ‘wow’ moment.”
The HLF’s “Holiday Gala” is by invitation only, with tickets costing $100 each. In addition to the award presentation, the festive event includes dinner, music and silent and live auctions, with Sen. Mike McGuire as the auctioneer. Limited seating is available. To make reservations to attend, go to www.humboldtlibraryfoundation.org or call 707-269-1991.